Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Top 9 Ways Herb Kelleher Can Help You Be The Perfect Entrepreneur

We have been discussing Stewart McGregor-Dennis's question, "What does the perfect entrepreneur look like?"  My answer is: the perfect entrepreneur imagines a new niche that needs to be in such detail that they literally breathe it to life.

Here are the top 9 ways that Herb Kelleher, founder and long-time CEO of Southwest Airlines, looks like the perfect entrepreneur...and how applying these 9 points can help you breathe your new business to life!
There is much that an entrepreneur can learn by studying other entrepreneurs.  I hope to discuss several exceptional examples here with you in the months to come, starting with nine of the core business truths that Mr. Kelleher used to breathe his new venture to life in the early 1970s.  (And breathe it to life he absolutely did.  An excellent read on his literal crusade to do so is Nuts! Southwest Airlines' Crazy Recipe for Business and Personal Success by Kevin and Jackie Freiberg.)

 The 40th anniversary issue of Spirit magazine, Southwest's on-board publication, published in June 2011, had an article entitled "40 Lessons to Learn from Southwest".  I have chosen to highlight nine of these lessons I believe are particularly beneficial to most entrepreneurs.  The numbers are those under which they appeared in the article.

1.  Set and renew noble expectations (#32).  Dare to dream big! Imagine your product or service solving real challenges many people face regularly.  Make this a core principle in your mission statement.  Get your team to individually buy into making it happen.  Make it part of your company culture.  Meet with your team often to candidly evaluate how you can continually improve how you deliver on your noble expectations.

2.  Put the worker first (#28).  The most important thing in your workers lives is not your business.  At the end of the day, they are part of your team because working with you helps them accomplish their priorities.  Truly care about your workers.  This applies to both your employees and your vendors.  Learn what they really care about.  Help them realize their personal goals by doing things that help both them and your business.  Be fiercely loyal to your team.  Your customers are always right.  And you rely on your workers to deliver for your customers.  Be loyal to your workers and the good ones will be loyal to you.  This works at Southwest and it will work for you (be patient, it is in the long term that it will work for you).

3.  Target the overcharged and underserved (#7).  I didn't say give your product or service away.  Study your market.  Focus on the segment that will pay a market price for good quality and service, so that you can pay your team well and have a return on investment that excites you.  Figure out how to give your customer more than you promise for less than you asked for.  And don't nickle and dime them to death.  Your customers will then become your cheerleaders.  (See #6 below)

4.  Raise more money than you think you need.  Now double it. (#4).  It is going to take time to make your business self-sustaining.  That time will cost money, over and above the hard costs you paid for equipment, fixtures, advertising, deposits, regulatory fees, and more ad infinitum, to be ready for opening day.  It is much easier to ask for enough money when you first seek it than it is to try to find it when you find you need "just a little more" to turn the corner and make it.  I cannot overemphasize this one, I have seen not raising enough start-up money kill more exciting new businesses than anything else.

5.  Two strikes is one hit away from a home run (#9).  In spite of all your planning and preparation, and even if you do raise more money than you think you need, you will face days when it absolutely looks like you are done.  If Southwest is not example enough for you, talk to Tony La Russa or any of the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals.  Not once, but twice they were a single strike away from losing the World Series in game 6.  First they then tied the game to force another inning.  Then the Texas Rangers scored and the Cardinals once again got two outs and then two strikes in their half of the next inning.  The rest is history.  The Cardinals found a way to come back, win game 6, force a deciding game 7 that they also found a way to win.  Take a deep breath.  Several if you need them.  Get up your courage, think outside the box, and keep trying.  Sometimes that's what it takes to finally get luck on your side.  Or just remember Winston Churchill in the darkest hours of the endless bombing of London in World War II ... "Never, never, never give up!"

6.  Gain talk equity. (that means free advertising - get people to talk about you) (#12)  Yes, you are going to have to pay for some marketing.  Maybe it will be traditional advertising, maybe it will be a good website or blog, probably it will be all of that and more.  If you really want your marketing to work, add the free stuff to it.  Make your customers/clients so happy with you (see #3 above) that they talk about you, recommend you, refer you.  Think of reasons to encourage them to do this.  Genuinely participate in causes and events that your customers care about for reasons that have nothing to do with business.  (Turns out what goes around really does come around.)  Have fun with your business, and include your workers and your customers in the fun.  That'll get 'em talking!

7.  Lack of money makes you frugal (#11).  Do you really need new equipment or will used at a fraction of the cost do just as well?  (This works particularly well for a two year old lightly used vehicle as a substitute for brand new).  Think of ways to do two or more things for the cost of one.  Make a game of it, you'll be amazed with the ideas your team comes up with!  

8.  Sweat the small stuff, but try not to lawyer it (#29).  Lawyers are much more useful when used to anticipate and prevent issues than when you have to call one to fix a problem.  Actually hold your board of directors meetings (or managers' meetings if you are a limited liability company), at the very least yearly, and ask your lawyer to participate in the review process.  Yes it will cost something.  About 1% of what litigation will cost if you don't catch an issue early.  If you are the only member of the board of directors, then your yearly meeting may be just the two of you by Skype or GoToMeeting.  Do it.

9.  It's about Customer Service (#35).  This one is number 9 on my list for a good reason.  I want you to never, never, never forget it!  Or take customer service for granted.  Monitor it as closely as you do your bank balance, make sure you always deliver exemplary customer service.  Period.

A Final Thought

You will want and need help.  You wouldn't build a house without detailed blueprints.  You would probably get quite lost on a cross-country road trip without some kind of map and an idea of where you want to go and what you would like to see along the way.  You also need to think through your business, in detail, before opening your doors (regardless of whether they are physical doors or the URL address of your new internet store).

I believe in you.  I would like to help you do this.  I have helped others like you as a business coach and as a  chief financial officer for both businesses and for individuals on a consulting basis for over 25 years.  The first visit is free and without obligation, so that we can get acquainted before proceeding.  Send me an e-mail at  I look forward to hearing from you!


Suggest a question or topic to be discussed here ... if yours is chosen for a future blog post, you become eligible for our quarterly drawing for a $100 Apple gift card!

No comments:

Post a Comment