Tag Archives: small business

Mistakes Are Good! Failure is OK

1 Dec

We are trained our whole lives to do the right thing, and to avoid making “mistakes.” Our lives are more and more bombarded with a million tools to help us make all the right choices, and help us avoid making the wrong decision, or making any sort of a mistake. Growing up you were constantly judged by how “perfect” your scores were, and how few mistakes you made on a test, a paper, etc.

Alina Tugend writes a fascinating article in the New York times entitled: The Many Errors in Thinking About Mistakes. The article includes information about an experiment done by a Stanford professor with a classroom of fifth graders. It is amazing to see how quickly a 10 year old reacts to being praised for “trying hard” vs. “being smart.” The children praised for trying hard were more apt to try harder tasks — at the risk of making more mistakes.

When you apply these theories to business, it’s even more interesting. A good manager, according to this article is one that is not afraid to make mistakes — but then learns from them. A manager that doesn’t make mistakes is probably not taking risks, and most likely won’t have big wins. In the context of being entrepreneurial, and running your own business, this idea make a lot of sense. People who start successful businesses are risk takers. Taking risks means not everything is going to turn out exactly as you planned, and you will have to be able to deal with mistakes and learn quickly from them to keep your business running.

People often say that they want to start their own business, so that they “can be their own boss.” As someone who has started several businesses I can vouch that this is not EVER true. The business is your boss. Your spouse who invested the same money with you to start the business is your boss. Your children who need their schools and daycare paid are your boss. The vendor who needs to be paid is your boss. You best client is your boss. You unfortunately are not your own boss. BUT if you are willing to take the risk, willing to learn from your mistakes, it can be one heck of a ride, and a successful and lucrative one as well.

Nataly over at Work It Mom posted an article about her fears about running her own business. I think this fits exactly into the idea that people are afraid to make mistakes. It’s this fear that makes someone afraid to just do it and start their business. But at the same time this is a healthy fear that can keep making mistakes in perspective, and fuel a business to success. While I am sure that Nataly is not the only business owner that has fears about her business, she took the risk, made the leap, and started her business. I am sure that she has made mistakes along the way, and I am eve more sure that she has quickly learned and adjusted so as not to ever make those mistakes again. That is what it takes to run a business.

Think about it when your child wants to do something that may be too hard for him/her. think about how if encouraged correctly, and with the right support what you may be actually teaching your child is that they should try anything (within safe reason) and that you are OK if they make a few mistakes along the way. You never know – maybe you are raising the next Bill Gates!


Great mention in the Wall Street Journal

23 Oct

The Wall Street Journal ran an article about Palo Alto Software, and our family succession strategy. It’s always fun to make it into the main stream press, and I think succession strategies are interesting and often very poorly implemented.

Tim (my Dad) wrote a little bit more about the article and his thoughts on his blog at blog.timberry.com    I think that often times family businesses fall apart when it’s time to figure out who takes over from the previous generation. Tim and I have worked hard to make sure that we do this as well as possible, and that the end result is a company that is better off for the change. I feel like we have succeeded, but of course only time will tell!

Nepotism vs. Family Business?

17 Oct

I am slightly disturbed by a post on Nepotism on the Harvard Business Online. Although it was written more than a month ago it has been featured this morning on NPR. While I agree with many of the sentiments about nepotism I think there is a distinction to be made between Nepotism and family business. A distinction which Gill Corkindale, the author of the post, does not go into at all. Let me present you with some very strong statistics about the importance of family business in the USA, from a  Business Week article :

  • Some 35% of Fortune 500 companies are family-controlled.
  • Family businesses account for 50% of U.S. gross domestic product.
  • They generate 60% of the country’s employment and 78% of all new job creation.

We can see that family businesses are extremely important to the US economy, and are part of what makes America what it is today. So how do you reconcile a family business and these negative attitudes towards nepotism? You can not pass a family business from one generation to the next, unless family members work and run the business. Family succession planning is very important to the health of a family business. Good family succession planning means the difference between a healthy business that keeps growing and running from one generation to the next, and a business that burns out and fails, or worse gets sold out of the family (often times for bargain price to be dissolved for assets).

I am a little sensitive about this issue – as I fight against the negative connotations of nepotism in the course of conducting business. I am CEO of Palo Alto Software, a business my father started and still fully owns along with my mother. I am the family member that will take the business though the next generation. Why? Because I am my father’s daughter? Well, yes of course – otherwise it would not be a family business. But I have also worked hard, and earned this position. I went to an Ivy League school, and then spent 7 years working in technology, outside the family business. I then spent 6 years working at Palo Alto Software proving myself to my parents and to the rest of the employees. Then I became CEO. I feel that I have earned the respect of all my employees, and that they all know that I have the skills, talent, and smarts to keep this business running and growing.

I think there are right ways to bring family members into a business, and there are wrong ways to do it as well. But I don’t agree that all nepotism is bad, and that family members should never hire other family members. I think its a strategic dance, and it has to be done for the good of the business, but it can be done well. And when it is done well it means the difference between the life or death of a family business.

3 nice letters for your resume?

4 Oct

I often wonder whether I should return to school to get an MBA. I work in technology, work with entrepreneurs, and I run a company that deals with business planning, marketing planning and business strategy — all big topics in MBA programs. Brazen Careerist, Penelope,  writes today in her post about whether MBA’s are becoming obsolete. It’s interesting to see that perhaps other people may begin to see the MBA as superfluous as I have struggled with whether an MBA would be worth it to me.

Don’t get me wrong – I would love to go back to school for 2 years, and spend some time studying. I would love to do an Executive MBA, but there are no good ones in my area. I have looked into programs like Duke and UT which have Executive MBA’s that you can do from far away, but they still require about 3 weeks per semester on campus.  While running a company, and being a mommy to 2 young children all those options are just close to impossible. I have thought about perhaps getting an MBA once my kids are a little older, but even so its a tough proposition for me at this point in my career.

The other problem is that I feel that I would be getting the MBA just for the 3 letters. Not that I wouldn’t learn anything, but that after 12 years in the business world, many of those years focusing on entrepreneurship and business management, I look at many of the class offerings and feel like I would not get as much as I would like to from them. I feel like being in class with people with only 2-5 years of business experience would not do as much for me. Obviously an Executive MBA program would put me in a more “equal” footing with my classmates, but as I mentioned, even those programs seem almost impossible for me to manage at this point in my life and career.

It would be interesting to hear more from people further on in their careers — who have or have not done MBA’s and hear their thoughts. For someone who did one later in their career – was it worth it? Did you learn a lot? Do those 3 letters mean more then just the prestige and potential salary increase?

“I want to be my own boss!”

2 Oct

I run a company that lives and breathes Entrepreneurship. Palo Alto Software creates tools for entrepreneurs and small businesses to start, grow, and succeed. I myself have been involved in 2 start-ups and have started my own business twice. I often find it interesting when people muse about running their own business one day and say “wow, I would love to be my own boss.” Little do they know…

While there is a lot to be said about running your own business, those of us who have done it, or are doing it know that we are not our own bosses. The business is your boss. You live breathe, eat your business 24 hours a day. Your children know exactly what you do, and at a very early age understand that the business is a part of the family. Your friends understand that often times you need to deal with emails, phone calls, financial worksheets, on weekend — not because your mean boss is making you, but because your livelihood depends on it. Your dinner table conversation with your spouse is 9 times out of 10, about business. While you shower, you make a mental list of all the things you need to deal with immediately when you get to the office. When the kids go to bed at night, you run down to the computer to check in on email, and try to finish up a few more things before the end of the day. And if you work with your husband, like I do, you go out to dinner, for once, without the kids, and all you do is talk about work. And all along, you LOVE IT! That is what running a business is about.

Aliza, from Work It Mom blog, wrote a great post about what it takes to be an entrepreneur. Its a great list. If you are thinking about starting your own business, read the list and think about whether you could do all of that. Running your business can be the most amazing thing, but it NEVER is easy, part time, or something to do on the side.

Mommy CEO

29 Aug

Recently I transitioned into the role of CEO at Palo Alto Software. It has been an exciting few months as I really sink my teeth into running Palo Alto Software with a new management team. But it has also been exhausting. Besides being the CEO of Palo Alto Software I am also mommy to Timmy, age 3 and Leo age 10 months. I feel like all the juggling that I do at home to make sure that everything runs smoothly with my 2 kids is inspiration for all the multi-tasking required to make sure Palo Alto Software runs smoothly and continues to be prosperous and to grow.

So I try to smoothly transition from breast-feeding and diaper changing, potty time and packing diaper bags, to reviewing product plans, going over marketing strategy, and planning our next fiscal year. As I walk into the office I do a double check — to make sure I don’t have kid stuff smeared on me anywhere.

I have embraced Mommy CEO to its fullest. When I travel for business my kids come with me. I am lucky enough to be able to have my mom come along with me to help me out. I’ll tell you there is nothing better after a long day at a conference, or a day of meetings than to come back to my kids at the hotel. And when possible I take a half day, or travel around a weekend, and take the kids to see the local attractions. How cool is it for me and for them to be able to travel like this? Sure its tiring — I don’t get to sit back and relax on the plane, reading articles or working on my presentation — but I also don’t have to be miles away from my kids in order to still be successful in business.

Despite how chaotic and busy this all sounds I look at my life, and all the things that I juggle and I feel happy. Happy to have such great career opportunities. Happy to have such a supportive incredibly involved husband. Happy to have 2 beautiful children. Happy to be at work. Happy to be at home. Happier if I slept more!