49. Paul Tenney’s Global Entrepreneurial Journey Leads To Database Technology Success in Asia

On this week’s Economics For Entrepreneurs podcast, Paul Tenney describes and explains the 8 stages of his international journey to start, grow and manage a customer-success focused database technology company in Asia.

Key Takeaways & Actionable Insights

Storytelling can be a powerful aid to effective business strategy. A good story can identify both a destination and a path to get there, and unite people on a shared journey. That’s why we like to use the Economics For Entrepreneurs podcast to tell journey stories from time to time: to illustrate and inspire.

Paul Tenney's Global Entrepreneurial Journey

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This week’s guest, Paul Tenney, tells us a particularly illustrative journey story, since it combines an entrepreneurial career of achievement and purposeful geographic mobility.

First, pick a promising industry with a potential for long term growth.

In the 2000’s, Paul identified database marketing technology as a growth industry, with expansive future promise but current low maturity (“e-mail spammers” were disdained at cocktail parties).

Learn and build a track record working for a growth company in the growth industry.

Paul rapidly accumulated executive experience, since growth demands that all employees step up to new responsibilities.

Develop your customer focus.

A fundamental lesson of Austrian Economics is that understanding customers and their needs always comes first in business building. This is especially true in emerging business technology. It’s easy to become focused on “product” (the technology) and lose sight of the customer, who may not understand the tech but view it as a means to an end rather than an end in itself. Paul focused on customer success activities, which revealed customer problems to be solved, and taught him the primacy of customer care in building business relationships.

Accelerate your accumulation of experience.

Experience becomes knowledge and knowledge becomes a personal competitive advantage. A growth business can provide accelerated knowledge-expanding opportunities. In Paul’s case, the opportunity came via an international posting, opening new customer vistas and revealing new customer requirements from the same technology.

Identify a partnering route to launch your business.

Your goal is to establish an independent business to run. The challenge of the transition from employment to entrepreneurship can be modified in a number of ways. One is to find a partnership that can both bear some uncertainty for you, and provide you with a strategic resource advantage. Paul partnered with the company that had previously employed him to provide technology, so that he did not have to build it from scratch. He developed his own customer base using this technology.

Establish an initial value proposition.

The technology partnership supported a strong customer value proposition in Paul’s local geography: experience the benefits of world-class big company tech, with customized/localized service, and the low unit economics that come with the partner’s scale.

Then take the Customer Success route to deeper understanding of market needs.

Paul had learned how a well-developed Customer Success capability could generate insightful customer problem statements. These represent unmet needs for which Paul’s new company could develop new and unique local solutions.

Gain higher ground with an advanced business proposition.

Paul was able to establish new high levels of customized local service (e.g. language) while maintaining the global list price for technology. Insights gleaned over time led to the realization that simplifying the technology proposition – e.g. by reducing the complexity caused by hyper-personalization of e-mail marketing to end-consumers, and focusing on the binary question of whether or not e-mails generated sales – resulted in a better customer value experience.

This focus also resulted in new-to-the-world services (such as the “fatigue curve” and “rehabilitation rate”), further elevating the value proposition.

Paul shared a lot more of his experience: about raising capital, about value theory, about the role of resilience in the entrepreneurial journey, and about the customer success of de-complexifying technology. Don’t miss his inspiring journey story and download the free illustrated journey map here.

Learn more about Paul’s company Ematic Solutions from their company website.

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11. Per Bylund – What Is Competition?

How should entrepreneurs think about the economic concept of competition? Is there anything to learn? Is thinking about the concept useful for entrepreneurs running businesses? We asked Per Bylund to steer us through this thicket.

Show Notes

In mainstream economic theory, competition occurs between producers or suppliers of commodities. The good is pre-defined and undifferentiated, and competition is a matter of price and the production function. If this theory were looking for an example, it might find it in the gasoline market, where there are lots of gas stations with identical product, everyone has the same information, and price is the main means of competition. Economic theory calls this “perfect competition”, which is an ideal compared to “imperfect competition” (monopoly, duopoly, oligopoly, etc). It’s all pretty unrealistic and there’s nothing for an entrepreneur to learn.

Austrian economics sees competition as entrepreneurs competing for the customer’s dollar. The starting point is consumer sovereignty – the idea that the consumer (or the customer in B2B exchanges) is the one to exercise choice, and therefore determine what is purchased and, consequently, which brands, products and services are successful. An entrepreneur is competing with all the other ways a consumer could spend their dollar: by not buying at all, by buying a direct substitute, or by spending it in another category, or by deferring their purchase to a later time.

To succeed in this competitive environment, the entrepreneur should seek to create unique value. The Austrian logic of competition is value-centric. Value is subjective – it’s a perception of the consumer or customer. The entrepreneur competes for the consumer’s dollar by creating a value that the consumer can not realize from any other source – including non-consumption. The entrepreneur searches for uniqueness, to find a niche where he or she can serve the consumer in a way that no-one else has done before. This is what Peter Thiel calls a “monopoly” in his book Zero To One: a unique offering in a precise niche.

The way to compete is to develop a better empathic understanding of consumers’ needs. Every entrepreneur has the opportunity to be the best at developing an understanding of a target customer’s needs. In many cases, the competitive edge will be in choosing the right audience to serve – narrow enough that the empathic diagnosis is specific and precise and therefore more likely to yield an opportunity to serve the segment in a unique way. Generalizations and common denominators may not be precise enough and may cause the entrepreneur to miss precisely what it is about an audience’s needs that provides an opening for differentiation. Differentiation means a higher level of perceived value for that audience.

Positioning and telling a uniquely persuasive story are a big part of competitive value delivery. In so-called “perfect competition”, all players, producer and consumers, have the same information. Of course, the opposite is true in real life. One of the important differences in information lies in how value is positioned to the consumer, how the value story is told. Entrepreneurs compete to tell the best stories and communicate in the most persuasive ways.

In this way of thinking about competition, so-called “business strategy” is not particularly useful. Five-year plans and specific organizational goals (like doubling sales) are not useful and there’s a high likelihood of failure. They represent the wrong focus. The right focus is “how can we increase value for the consumer” or “how can we be unique?” How can we satisfy consumers in ways that no-one else does? Dynamism means that all players are changing all the time, including consumers, and so entrepreneurs must be learning and adjusting all the time, and always trying to create new value.

Can strategy tools be useful? Strategy tools can be useful to help structure thinking and help you to be sure not to have overlooked some element you should have considered. The VRIO method helps you to think about assembling a unique set of resources to support a unique value delivery to customers. Modern entrepreneurship education offers a number of frameworks to help entrepreneurs in starting a business, like the Disciplined Entrepreneurship Canvas and the Lean Startup Canvas. They are both pretty good at starting with consumers and the value the entrepreneur can create for those consumers. We’ve re-created a few versions of the Lean Startup Canvas for you to download here:

  • a version with explanatory notes, to help you better understand what each section represents and how it should be used (download);
  • an annotated canvas that can be printed on regular letter-sized (8.5×11) printer paper (download);
  • and a blank one that can also be printed, for you to complete yourself (download).

Bottom line: Austrian Economics’ value-dominant approach provides better guidance for entrepreneurs than the formulas for strategic thinking that come from business school. Start with the customer. Understand their needs, create value for them, and keep refreshing that value. In fact, this is a collaborative view of the market. Entrepreneurs share the desire to find a unique niche and establish a unique service, and they’re happy to compare notes and methods in order to help each other, which is one of our aims at Economics For Entrepreneurs.


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