Credibility from Stability

Success can be fleeting. Everyone wants to capture lightning in a bottle, but if you can’t keep it on the shelf why bother?

Repeat successes demonstrate a strong team or player. Can you harness that talent consistently?

Credibility is more than just winning repeatedly. It’s also about stability, the belief that you can not only count on someone (or a brand) to perform for you, but also when you need them, now and in the future.

One of my friends from Georgetown used to say showing up is half the battle. He meant that performance was part of the equation, but so was the simple fact of everyday presence.

Markets need stable players they can rely on. Always strong, these blue chips can be trusted as service providers, as sources of intelligence, as persons/organizations that can help. They offer lightning when you need it.

Building the Business for the Long Term

When I look back at Livingston Communication and then Zoetica, I regret selling the first company. If I had the fortitude to make it through that period… But, at the same time those experiences made me understand the value of stick-to-itness. You can’t change yesterday.

People ask me if I am excited about Tenacity5 Media. Excitement is not the right word. I am having fun, but my enthusiasm is tempered with a healthy sense of realism.

After two start-ups, I am conscious of what it means to build a business. It takes at least five or ten years to really develop something worth keeping. There are many late and sleepless nights (I typed this line in at 11:54 on a Saturday night, for example). There is a constant tension of investment versus cash flow. There are periods of intense work. This is what stops me from being excited. I know what lies ahead.

The good news? There is no disillusionment. I look forward to meeting these challenges.

It is how I imagine a marathon runner must feel before they start their race. You don’t get crazy about the first mile. You envision the whole race, and are ready to finish it. All of it. The hills and valleys will still be there, they’ll just be less dramatic.

This is about building a stable services team for the long-term. Talk is cheap, and I get that. So let the walk do the talk.

Image by Doug Mall.

Lessons Learned with Amazon, iBooks and Lulu

Good news! Exodus is finally available in print on Amazon and Barnes & Noble as well as electronically via the iTunes store. If you want, read Ralph Rivera’s review here.

It took much more than expected to distribute Exodus via these distribution channels. Jess Ostroff (her business Don’t Panic Management serves as a virtual project manager for my company) and I cowrote thispost detailing our lessons learned.

We both recommend APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur, but there were several proverbial “devils in the details” missing from the text. In publishing this post we hope to help folks avoid these same issues.

CreateSpace versus Lulu

The current version of the book is published on CreateSpace, Amazon’s independent publishing service. Originally, I published it on Lulu, and that was the primary reason why the book took almost two months to become available on Amazon.

First, let me explain my original logic. APE reviewed the two services; CreateSpace was considered very good, and Lulu was good. I took the lesser of the recommendations because I didn’t want to support the Amazon empire. From a book publishing standpoint, they are the alpha and the omega of the business, and pretty much dominate everything. So whenever possible, I try to support competitors.

In this case, that was a bad decision.

Lulu does not distribute books immediately on Amazon and Ingram, which distributes to B&N and other bookstores. Instead, it takes six to eight weeks. Thus the problem.

I decided to live with it in spite of smaller margins and what I perceive to be a slightly lesser quality product. But then I had a significant layout error in the book, which I decided to address, both in the electronic Kindle and print editions. I updated Lulu, and guess what? Another six to eight weeks, further delaying the print release.

That’s when I asked Jess to format the novel for CreateSpace. The ringer? Lulu’s version on Amazon became available late last week. However, it takes one to three weeks to receive a Lulu print on demand book. Amazon’s CreateSpace ships in one day. It was too little too late for Lulu.

One issue we experienced was linking the Kindle edition to the print one. However, I filed a ticket in Author Central, and the matter was resolved promptly. I wish I could say the same thing about the iBooks customer service team, but that is Jess’s story… You can avoid this issue altogether by publishing to Kindle from your CreateSpace account.

AuthorCentral

All in all, the lesser capabilities of Lulu demonstrate another example of Amazon’s monopoly strength, and clearly they are using it to their advantage. In the end, I abandoned Lulu so I can get the book out there as quickly as possible.

Jess’s Experience with iBooks

It started in June, when Geoff asked for help distributing his new book, Exodus. Geoff sent me a copy of APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur (which is the first technical book I’ve read since college) and I followed the instructions closely for Nook, Kindle, and iBook, which are the “big 3” when it comes to online publishing.

Because I don’t own Illustrator or Publisher, as APE recommended, I decided to try a free software called Calibre that was recommended by other book publishers as an easy tool to convert .doc or .pdf files into the appropriate files for distributors like Amazon and iTunes. Perhaps that was my first mistake.

Screenshot 2013-10-18 16.33.43

It’s not surprising that Apple wants users to use their own software for creating ebooks, iBooks Author. It’s free and elegant, and can probably help non-designer types create really good looking books.

In the case of Exodus, we were hoping to simply distribute the novel across multiple platforms, not start from scratch with each platform. The latter was essentially what iBooks Author wanted us to do.

We couldn’t import the Kindle or Nook editions of the book; instead we started from scratch. It’s a post-apocalyptic science fiction novel, not a coloring book. So, I decided to use the .epub output from Calibre in the iTunes delivery tool, iTunes Producer, another free download that promised iTunes distribution once the file had been approved. Or so I thought.

The set up of a new iTunes account was required because Geoff’s current account (that he uses daily) was attached to another e-commerce setup on iTunes. We had to create a “publisher” account, including his company bank account information, tax ID number, address, and other sensitive information. Every other platform had us enter this information, but iTunes was the only one that made us set up a brand new account.

After reading this giant iTunes FAQ, I thought I had my ducks in a perfect row. The .epub file I had created for iBooks passed the test on the EPUB Validator. I had the cover image all set, the tags and categories sorted out, and the author and publisher information entered correctly.

But my file would not be accepted by iTunes. Why? Well, at first we got some error messages. For example, what do you think this means?

ERROR ITMS-4062: “Vendor identifier ‘Exodus_The_Fundamentalists_-_Geoff_Livingston_-_Geoff_Livingston’ is invalid according to the configured pattern ‘[a-zA-Z0-9]\w+’ for provider LadySoleilInc” at Book (MZItmspBookPackage)

Imagine things like that times 600. That’s how many error messages spewed out when we first tried to upload the file. The iTunes Producer output a series of numbers and letters that were completely useless. Not only were they gibberish, but they also repeated several times, mentioning that the same error was found, but not showing what or where exactly the error could be found. At first, it was something to do with the metadata, the margins, and the table of contents, but would you be able to glean that from a message like this? Me neither.

I’m used to saying “yes” to projects I have never done before. With the speed at which technology changes, I understand that the nature of my job requires me to be on top of everything, including learning how to do tasks on the fly (or finding workarounds if what we originally wanted to do doesn’t work).

I’ve never been so stumped during a project as I was with trying to get Exodus onto iTunes. Application  approval took weeks, and the support team was completely worthless. Their canned “we’re working it” messages never felt genuine, although I would expect nothing less at this point. We even got a message in French one time! The fun never ended!

Screenshot 2013-10-18 17.25.33

I still don’t know how we actually got the thing to be accepted by iTunes. It was a series of different export files and different upload methods, each containing one minor adjustment that I thought might make iTunes happy. I spent nearly six hours one night attempting to correct any issues, and I’m not exaggerating on that one. This comedy of errors left me exhausted, but man, did I sleep well once we got the glorious confirmation of a job well done!

Screenshot 2013-10-18 16.37.03

What do you think of these issues? What are your best practices?

Done with Traditional Publishing

Books to be returned...
Image by Hash Milhan

Brian Driggs asked me to discuss self-publishing after reading my sordid Fifth Estate story. While I don’t want to dismiss traditional publishing altogether, I can only speak for myself. I will self publish my next book.

There are several reasons, but first let’s discuss two reasons to consider traditional publishing:

Prestige

If you are published by a traditional house, particularly one of the majors, there’s a prestige element. Most “published” authors, some business people, and at least outwardly almost every publisher looks down on self published authors.

As someone who attended American University and then Georgetown University, the published prestige is comparable to Ivy League snobbery. And for the record, American challenged me more intellectually than Georgetown (which is perceived as on par with some Ivy League schools).

Traditional publishers will tell you to never self publish, that you won’t ever have a chance of getting published in real life. But then you hear stories of successful self publishers who get signed, people like John Scalzi, Mark Schaefer and Amanda Hawking. Self publishing has become a minor league for traditional publishers.
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Women Rock It!

Women Rock It

This Thursday night is the Women Rock It event in San Francisco highlighting inspiring women and conversations about how they became successful. Speakers include Deborah Lindholm, whose foundation has helped over 300,000 women work their way out of poverty.

“The event is both inspirational and practical, and will be the first of many Women Rock It’s we will be producing around the country and beyond to encourage women to start businesses and pursue what they love to do,” said online marketing wizard Evan Bailyn, one of the co-producers of the event. “Eventually we will be getting even more deeply practical to complement the inspirational nature of the event by partnering with high-level mentoring programs and granting scholarships to women.”

In a revealing post, Evan discussed who he and co-producer Hyla Molander both shared how their failures and fears inspired their successess: “When you get into a room with people and one person admits it, suddenly all the walls come down. Suddenly it’s OK to admit that you’re scared.”

This event is spot on. In working with many people and supporting several women’s causes over the years (such as the NextGen Tech Women Fundraiser), fear, self valuation and failure are huge detractors. Working through those real issues — issues that every human being faces in business and life — are critical to success. Talking about how common these problems are, and how others have worked through them can make a huge difference.

There are so many brilliant women out there, and many have walked along the same path, from my grandmother and mother and their entrepreneurial successes to recent business partners Beth Kanter and Kami Huyse and current co-author, Gini Dietrich. It only seems natural to give this San Francisco and soon to be national movement a big thumbs up. Because women really do rock it!

Please support this valuable event and cause if you can.

Cause Competitiveness: Keep Your Eye On The Prize

Who's Getting Off First?

by Estrella Rosenberg & Geoff Livingston

If the last two marathon weeks of cause-related conferences are any indication, competition isn’t just something the for profit sector is thinking about – the cause community is too. How do we compete for market share? How do we compete for visibility? How do we compete for more money? Much has been said about competitiveness in the for profit sector, but what is the right role of competition in causes? Is there a right role?

Some would have full on competition, while others would have singular causes or coalitions within each sector. Are either of these right? They both are in a way. Competitive spirit definitely has its place: Finding the fastest, most efficient, most impactful way to resolve the problem the cause addresses.

Non-profits are not in business to make money. They are a business to be sure, but unlike a for-profit, which seeks to dominate markets and yield profits, a cause or social enterprise seeks to provide a solution. When a for-profit business is successful, it keeps its doors open for years and expands and keeps looking for more market share. When a non-profit is successful it should close its doors because its business – or mission – has been completed.

Are you competing just to raise the most money? Competing in the sense that a cause seeks to beat out its competition helps no one. It actually hurts the cause space by creating distractions and wasted resources.

Consider Komen for the Cure’s use of $1 million spent to legally enforce its rights to term “for the Cure.” How does that help anyone resolve health or larger issues? Worse, last year during The Cause Marketing Forum, Komen for the Cure proclaimed that it was their mission to reclaim the pink ribbon from other non-profits in the breast cancer space – organizations that they themselves support with grants! Imagine if that money and energy went towards finding the most innovative way to discover the most impactful solutions in breast cancer?

Competing to be the first to the finish line with the same approach as ten other organizations in your cause space isn’t the right kind of competition either. Wealthy founders and well meaning activists who think they can do it better without any unique theory of change are creating distractions too and just making more choices for donors, often paralyzing them. Yet another voice with nothing new to add creates a longer path to the answer.

The ability to see the problem and a unique answer to it (or a part of it) is at the heart of social entrepreneurship. Innovation means finding better faster ways to provide answers. In essence, this is the Ashoka model of social entrepreneurship where a changemaker seizes on a unique approach to a problem and deploys ambitious actions for wide-scale change.

For these social entrepreneurs, and for forward thinking non-profits, competition means cooperating with other organizations within the same space when they have to because they have their eye on the prize: an answer to whatever problem they’re trying to solve. That doesn’t necessarily mean sharing resources, but it does acknowledge that everyone is trying to reach the same end goal. Forming coalitions and cause verticals can have great impact if each organization is working on their own piece of the puzzle.

Ultimately, causes should want to end their business by resolving their problem. They shouldn’t want to be the organization who uses social media the most cleverly. They shouldn’t want to be the organization that raised the most money at their annual event. They should want to shutter their doors. Period.

What kind of cause are you? Are you competing to make change or just competing?

Confessions of a Start-Up Junky

Geoff Livingston in Palermo

Confession: Giddy joy pervades my fingertips these days. The reason? The challenge of starting anew.

See, I’m a start-up junky. And next week my two partners and I are launching our newco. I can’t wait!

I’ve been engaged in start-ups since 1996, when I joined CommunicationsNow as an editor to successfully launch several publications serving the wireless industry. Then I did a stint as media relations manager for a dot-bomb in Southern California called IPNet Solutions.

This past decade saw the successful launch of Widmeyer‘s Design & Advertising practice. After that I helped get Sage Communications‘ PR practice off the ground. And most recently, I started, built and sold Livingston Communications, a social media boutique.

The Next Venture

So with my sixth venture (second as owner), what have I learned? What five suggestions will I bring to the table that will benefit my partners and clients?

1) Do what you love! Most people hate their jobs, but if you own your own company, then that’s your fault. In fact, it’s all your fault. There’s no one to blame, so make it worth loving!

2) Love your critics/enemies, too. Plenty of naysayers out there will tell you that it will be hard, that most newcos fail, etc. This time, it’s “Well, the economy is not that great,” or “Your focus won’t yield the most cash.” These people should be seen as a) sources of information about possible weaknesses that you can address, and b) points of inspiration.

Listen to criticism even if it burns. They may be right about your offering, and don’t you want to address that?

Conversely, I always love winning when I’ve been told it’s unlikely or impossible. When I receive resistance from naysayers, it only fuels me. To me, success comes from personal commitment to achieving a goal as opposed to what other people tell me I should be or can achieve. Many times the reasons find basis in their own fears.

3) Play to your weaknesses. If you’re not good at something, own it. Then outsource it or hire people to fill that role. In this new entity, my partners’ strengths play to my weaknesses and vice versa. I am very grateful for that. Now I can focus on areas that I truly excel in.

4) Embrace failure. Most of the companies I’ve been involved with sustained themselves or were sold, so ultimate failure is not my experience. Failing is. Failure in ventures always happens, but serves as the experience necessary for improvement and excellence. The question isn’t whether you will fail or have disappointments. It’s how fast can you get up, and evolve.

5) Don’t get set on facts. Markets change, people change, situations change, everything changes. The only thing in life and business that you can be certain of is change. Be ready to handle the comings and goings of relationships and situations. Impermanence is the rule of thumb.

That’s my big five, the rest stay in my head for now. But if you’re an aspiring entrepreneur, please read Pam Slim’s Escape from Cubicle Nation. It’s the best book I’ve read on the topic.