Most people never even knew their brains could work so fast. The Internet has sped everything up, from when we receive our news to how long we'll wait for a site to pop up to the window of opportunity any business has when making a decision. As an entrepreneur, whether you're in an online business or not, you no longer have the luxury of making 'em sweat when moving forward with a decision because no one is waiting around any more. If you don't move, your competitors or technology or employee prospect will.
No one is more familiar with this whacked sense of time than Mark Breier. He got his executive chops in at several leading food companies and joined Amazon.com as its vice president of marketing just before it went public. Since then, he's also served as the president and CEO of Beyond.com, and is now an advisor and investor for start-ups. To share the knowledge (http://www.10secondmanager.com) he gleaned from years in the trenches, he's penned The 10-Second Internet Manager. Here, Breier shares a few of the tips that made him a success in the online and offline world.
Entrepreneur.com: Why did you decide to write this book?
Mark Breier: I had been speaking at Internet conferences throughout my Amazon.com and Beyond.com days, and after I spoke, [there would be] a long line of people [wanting to ask me questions]. And 35 percent of these people were starting a company and wanted to know how to hire a VP of engineering or how to establish a company culture to attract employees. Or [they'd say,] 'I'm playing with an idea. How do I move fast?' Or, 'I can't get my idea off the ground.' They were looking for advice. So it became clear to me that there was both a commercial opportunity and a service opportunity. I believe firmly in the Internet adding value to the world. So if I could help hundreds or even thousands of entrepreneurs or people who want to become Internet managers advance their lives, then I felt [I should do that].
Entrepreneur.com: What are some of the qualities of a 10-second Internet manager?
|"One quality of a 10-second manager is a bias toward action. In general, it's embracing this idea of 'ready, fire and then aim,' vs. what traditional businesses do, which is 'ready, aim, aim, aim, then fire.' "|
Breier: One is a bias toward action. In general, [it's] embracing this idea of 'ready, fire and then aim,' vs. what traditional businesses do, which is 'ready, aim, aim, aim, then fire.' Another quality I identify is the ability to take limited information and extrapolate a solution from it. You find that when you're working on the Internet, you never have enough information about what the traffic or conversion rates will be. But you have to take what limited information you can and come up with an answer.
Another one-and I don't have any data on this besides observation-is a lot of the fastest people in the Internet industry actually pace around and wiggle in their seat and jiggle their knees. They've got excess energy. Lots of the Internet people I meet just seem to be on sugar highs. They're acting fast like a hummingbird needs to act fast.
Entrepreneur.com: To create a fast-acting culture in your business, what do you need to ask job applicants?
Breier: Ask someone a seemingly unsolvable question like, how many traffic lights are there in Manhattan? The person doesn't have to come up with the right answer, but they should show a methodology to get to the answer. Maybe there are one hundred streets [multiplied] by one hundred streets and maybe 90 percent of them have traffic lights. You can watch a logic process. And you weed out the people who act fast without any rational explanation and the people who are paralyzed because they need to be too exact to answer.
Entrepreneur.com: You recommend several steps that literally save only minutes or even seconds-like being able to log on to your PC in less than 30 seconds or waiting until your car's gas tank is 1/8 full rather than 1/4 full to fill up. Why are these small steps important?
Breier: I think people get all rabid about paying dollar taxes, but the real villain in modern life is time taxes: Things that take time every day or every few hours squeeze productivity out of your life. If you can save five minutes or a minute or even 30 seconds on a recurring basis, you've freed up time in an overall time-pressed business environment.
Entrepreneur.com: What are some time-saving tips for the office?
Breier: Reducing the number of e-mails you get and the number of e-mails you send out is absolutely key to a modern manager. There are a number of other e-mail tips in my book. Reply to the sender; don't reply to everybody. Don't do attachments. Attachments just make your computer wait to pull up a program you don't have but the person who sent it to you has. E-mail efficiency is one big bucket of tips.
The other [main way you can save time] is meeting efficiency, which is another chapter in the book. Have very flexible agendas to capture of-the-moment important projects. Have a white board and have leaders stand up and move the meeting along. And don't make many decisions in the meeting. A lot of what you're saying in the meeting is, 'Let's get some quick input during the next minute, but John is going to manage this decision to the finish.' Or, 'We don't have time to talk about it here, but Mary is clearly smart and can handle this thing.' So what you're doing is assigning responsibility and getting input, but you're not making decisions using a committee, which is inherently bad.
Entrepreneur.com: What big mistakes do you see people making when they're developing an Internet brand?
Breier: Well, a big one is [launching a] guerilla PR [campaign] with no company message behind it. The age-old thing in advertising and public relations is you've got to get breakthrough, but you've also got to communicate your company brand and value proposition. So shooting hamsters on TV-a classic case-doesn't reinforce anything about the brand or what the brand does.
A lot of companies overestimate [the value of] getting their name out there and underestimate customer happiness and the whole feedback loop, which is asking your customers what's making them happy and what's making them unhappy. That process will not only catch unhappy customers and turn terrorists into evangelists, but it will make your value proposition better.
Entrepreneur.com: The pace at which Internet companies must move is so quick and so time-consuming for employees. What can Internet managers do to alleviate employees of stress and to be mindful of this?
Breier: I devote a chapter in the book to just building a fun culture. People are spending a lot of time [at work]. They need to release energies. If they know each other better, even on a social basis, I think it helps lubricate this heating-up Internet engine. I would embrace the worker's outside passions. At Amazon, we had crayons and construction paper set out every 10 yards so people could draw and recreate and let their creativity flow. At Beyond, I had everybody post their top two to three outside work passions. Some people would post pictures of their kids and some would post a photo of their bike-things you try to hide in a normal business-but you got an idea of who the person was and what they were up to.