business, Entrepreneurship, guidance, marketing, self-help

New Year New Me?

I don’t think there is a better example out there of a holiday you shouldn’t take seriously than New Year’s. And I don’t mean the celebration itself. Go out, go nuts and have yourself a day.

But when you wake up, (likely hungover) on the first and reach for the water, it shouldn’t be in an existential funk.

We put far too much pressure on ourselves to create New Year’s resolutions that are a far cry from the people we can actually become. If you’ve hardly worked out in your entire life, then in what scenario will you start hitting the gym five days a week?

For some reason, New Year’s is designed to make us think that we have to become drastically better versions of ourselves each and every year.

This rarely happens, simply because we set the bar too high. The goal shouldn’t be to suddenly become an amazingly fit person or have an amazing relationship or business success out of the blue.

Instead, there should be more of a subtle, daily approach to improving yourself.

Like writing a sentence a day journal on what you accomplished that day, or as esteemed blogger James Altucher swears by, write down ten ideas per day.

Maybe a workout goal could look more like doing 20 push-ups or riding the bike every day.

But in addition, I don’t think the goal should be for a set time-frame, like 30 days or one year.

I think it should just be to do it. Every day. You shouldn’t even give your mind the chance to consider a date where you get to give up. Especially if you’re enjoying the success and reaping the benefits.

The 30 day challenges kill me. What happens on day 31? It’s not that these challenges are bad for you. They’re very good for your health and overall well-being if you stick to them. However, you need to have a plan in place. If there is no plan in place, then as expected on day 31 you will simply stop working out (especially if you were someone who had no regular workout regimen before the challenge).

If the plan is simply to do it EVERY DAY you won’t allow for this drop-off, not to mention it will just become part of your routine. Besides, a broad goal like 30 minutes of cardio means that you don’t have to do p90x every day, you can substitute with running or an elliptical.

The worst-case scenario in any New Year’s resolution would be to have a goal so specific that it not only gets monotonous, but also doesn’t allow you to consider a substitute when you are far too sick of the specific task.

Whether it’s working out, starting a business, becoming more creative or just working on yourself, keep it simple and stick to it.

Oh, and one more thing. If you can’t for the life of you, bear the idea of putting more into an aspect of your life, you aren’t unmotivated, you just need to fix it (i.e. you probably hate your job/career or boyfriend/girlfriend).

branding, business, marketing

When A Re-Brand is Necessary

Companies change names, but they shouldn’t

Every so often, you see a company “re-branding” with a different name.A few in recent memory include Ernst & Young simplifying to become “EY” and Dunkin’ Donuts dropping the “donuts”, one of their main offerings outside of coffee.

Why brands choose to change names can at times be a mystery, and also involves a lengthy process of hiring a naming consultant and recurring board meetings and approvals. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t.

My opinion is that more often than not, it doesn’t work. And the reasoning doesn’t have so much to do with pursuing the wrong name change or alienating customers, as it does to do with why the name change was initiated in the first place: not enough customers or profits coming in.

If you have a shortage of consistent customers or are having difficulty selling, sometimes the name is the problem. “People don’t know what we’reselling” or “our name doesn’t make it obvious what we do” are common gripes.

It is fair to say that if your customers don’t know what industry you’re in or what you sell, that a more relevant and recognizable name change could help.

However, I would argue that the reason people don’t know what you do is because you don’t have consistent messaging in your marketing and advertising efforts, and as a corollary you aren’t reaching your target audience.

Finding your target audience on the channels where they consume content and advertising to them (social media sites, industry sites/publications, etc) are a good place to start.

Another reason a name change doesn’t work is because of branding itself. They are not fearing a lack of customers or profits, they’re just getting greedy (see: Dunkins).

This is entirely opinion and speculation, but Dunkins’ name change to me is an effort to get away from their coffee-and-donut-on-the-run specialty that they’ve made into a monopoly.

Instead, it gives them the right to go in different directions, like a wider lunch menu and a more diverse offering overall. Before, a premium-priced frappe or avocado melt would’ve seemed absurd for them considering their target demo and breakfast chain brand.

Now, they are free to go after whatever they want without repercussions. Not a terrible move, and I don’t think they’ll lose many (if any) customers over it, but in an industry like theirs my advice is simple:

Do one (or a couple things well) and stick to it (the whole coffee and donuts/breakfast sandwiches thing satisfied that).

In an era where everyone wants to be everything, you’re better off just being yourself. There’s nothing wrong with being the industry leader, and being nimbler isn’t always better.

What about EY? My thoughts are that was an effort to appeal to a younger demographic and create the image of an old-school company willing to shake things up (and to become less nauseating to say).

So whether you’re EY or Dunkins’, whether you lack profitability or feel like you’re missing your niche, don’t change your name. Go back to the drawing board, make it clearer what you’re selling and meet your target audience where they are.

Oh, and maybe create a better product. If your product sucks, your name change won’t save you. Then, if all else fails, change your name.

What’s Next?

  • Tonal Profile: The Smart Gym Start-Up
  • Is Getting your MBA Worth It?
business, Entrepreneurship, marketing, Startups

A Former GE and Aetna Exec and Current Healthcare CEO On: Obstacles in the Healthcare industry, GE’s struggles and securing venture capital funding

Ben Bulkley has had a long career in a variety of sectors. He started out as an engineer and worked in transportation before holding positions as an advisor, founder and senior executive of companies in healthcare and venture capital. Recently I caught up with him to get a better sense of how he ended up where he is and what he’s learned along the way. Below is a transcript of our conversation.


Matt Sexton: You started your career at GE in the transportation area. How did you end up in healthcare and what was that transition like?

Ben Bulkley: My boss in GE Transportation (he was CEO of a joint venture company) moved to GE Medical and he invited me to join him. Transportation and healthcare are two different worlds – biggest difference is the commitment to reliability and safety in transportation and not so much in healthcare.


MS: GE has hit a rough patch the last few years, between replacing Jeff Immelt as CEO and planning to sell off GE Digital, a division they have invested heavily in. Did you see any of this coming and what do you think it means for GE’s future?

BB: I didn’t predict it, but am not surprised. I had a closer look at one of the assets being sold from GE Healthcare and was surprised by the poor performance.


MS: As a healthcare executive, what do you view as the biggest obstacles facing the healthcare industry today? Is it equal access to high quality care or the continually rising rates?

BB: Biggest obstacles are the policies which encourage consumption and an over-reliance of the medical model… fee for-service and a supply chain indexed to prime movers of price (providers and pharma). If our goal is health, then we are deeply over-invested in the medical model crowding out investments that improve health more effectively (food security, transportation, living wages, safety, access to healthy spaces, exercise, reducing risky behaviors)…


MS: How far away do you think we are from enacting universal healthcare in the U.S.? What do you think the major impediments are?

BB: I don’t think we will have universal healthcare because of the political distortions in the narrative.


MS: You’ve held executive positions (CEO, COO, VP, etc) at both Fortune 500 companies and start-ups. What’s more exciting to you and how do the challenges differ between building and scaling a business from scratch and creating or growing a division within an established company?

BB: Each offers a different kind of challenge. To me it is all about moving health and healthcare in a more favorable direction (per above).


MS: Securing funding from venture capital firms and angel investors is something you have a great deal of experience with. Is there such a thing as perfecting a pitch, and is there a rhyme or reason to what gets funding and what doesn’t? Some pitches are better than other, none are perfect.

BB: Yes, there is good reason for what gets funded: value creation (some kind of advantage is generated), probability of success, strength of management.


MS: Was there ever a company or idea you were personally involved in that you felt sure would be successful but failed (or vice versa)?

BB: None. Fluidnet, the infusion pump business, is taking longer than we expected but that is more an engineering problem than a bad idea.


MS: When it comes to your personal investing, what are the biggest factors you look at before investing in a company?

BB: Who I hire to manage it for me.


MS: From a leadership perspective, what have some of your biggest lessons been in terms of effectively managing people and walking the fine line between motivation and micro-management? Was there any advice given to you when you first started down the management track?

BB: Big question. Your self-awareness is the key. Never stop learning. Stretch yourself.


MS: When hiring an employee or investing in a new business, how easy is it to see through a “blow-hard” or someone who may present well but lacks authenticity or integrity?

BB: Some are easy, some are very difficult. It’s the difficult one’s who matter. I do my own reference checks because of this.


MS: Having accomplished a lot in business, are there any specific milestones that you’re still working towards?  What would it take you to retire?

BB: I hope I can keep working until I drop. Active mind is a healthy mind.


MS: Thanks a lot for taking the time to talk, Ben. Good luck with everything in the future.


business, marketing

SEO and Negative Keywords

When it comes to search engine optimization (SEO) a lot of time and effort is put into what keywords that companies and brands want their websites to show up for. Whether it be software, sporting goods or cleaning supplies, every industry has specific keywords that are necessary to show up for in order to be successful in that niche. Showing up for these keywords can be vital, especially if you have an online-only business and/or are just opening up shop and don’t have the luxury of word of mouth to galvanize your brand.

However, one tactic rarely mentioned (or mentioned far less often than I would like) is the implementation of negative keywords. Quite simply, adding negative keywords to your SEO strategy makes it impossible for your brand to show up for the particular keywords that you select. Much like how the software company wouldn’t want to show up for keywords consistent with the cleaning supplies industry and vice versa.

Once you know what keywords to target regularly (i.e. what you actually want to show up for) you will be able to reverse engineer and set up negative keywords. There is no limit on how many you can set up, and you don’t have to bid on them like regular keywords, since you are actively trying NOT to show up for them. Google Adwords, or whoever you use for your SEO, will simply take you out of the running for these keywords.

The bonus of this is that anyone coming from the wrong places clicking/engaging with your ads will no longer be targeted. Since these people were never real customers anyway, the wittling down will likely improve your conversion rates. It may sound counter intuitive, but once this happens, it will help to ensure that a higher percentage of your engagement are legitimate consumers of whatever it is that you’re putting out there, thus more thoroughly refining your target audience. The longer you have negative keywords in play, the better equipped you will be to catch other keywords that you are still actively showing up for but shouldn’t be. It should also help to give you a better picture of how your real keywords and ads are performing.

business, Entrepreneurship, marketing, Startups

My Interview with an MIT Sloan School Alum, and How MIT Changed Everything

Bruce Baron is a successful Boston-area entrepreneur that I’ve had the pleasure of meeting a few times while I was a lowly intern. VoiceFriend is located in the Boston area and was designed to allow seniors in various living situations (senior living, skilled nursing, hospice) to be more social as a result of their technology, which reminds and notifies them of events, as well as alerting seniors, staff and families of emergencies. The company was founded in 2006, but Bruce didn’t become involved until later.

What is your company’s mission?  To enable Healthcare providers to improve outcomes at a lower cost.

When and how did you become involved with VoiceFriend?  In 2010 I invested in VoiceFriend.  In 2011, I became the CEO.

Explain the product/services you provide. Web based Solutions for healthcare providers.

What area did your funding come from? (VC, federal grant, research center, etc.) and were any of the following present in funding: gov, philanthropy, anchor institutions (schools, hospitals, etc),  intermediary institutions (NGO’s).  Funding has come from the Founders, an Angel investor and the CEO.

Talk about some of the challenges you’ve faced as well as tradeoffs you’ve had to make in building a startup. Was the accessibility of funding for scale a challenge?  Funding is always a challenge. Not just the capital, but the right capital coming from sources in which you are strategically aligned.  Major challenge is the risk vs. reward.  Salary is much lower than a mature business would offer, but the upside is far greater.

What are opportunities VoiceFriend has had or future opportunities? These can be elements that enabled growth or any other support (financial or otherwise) that have helped you succeed. Can also answer as it relates to you personally (Opportunities you’ve had in life by being an entrepreneur).  My past success in business enabled me to build a nest egg that offered me the opportunity to take on a risk that otherwise I would not be able to do.

How do you define success for VoiceFriend or of how you do business in general?

Revenue growth and client acquisitions are the key metrics we monitor as a measure of success.

Who are the beneficiaries of your success and what does that look like?  Seniors, healthcare providers employees and shareholders are all beneficiaries.

Was there ever a goal in terms of the number of rooms or facilities (senior, hospice, etc.) that you wanted VoiceFriend to be in? Yes, they are all part of our business plan.

I was absolutely blown away by the impact MIT founders have had on Massachusetts’ economy. 6,900 MIT alumni companies with worldwide sales of $164B are located in MA and represent 26% of sales of MA companies. What about your education there prepared you to be an entrepreneur?  Incredible stat!  Tactics and strategy, interactions inside and outside the classroom.