56. Steven Phelan on Building Trust and Exerting Control in Collaborative Business Relationships

All business relationships have downside risk: your counterparty / partner / vendor / customer / investor may not perform as you expect or require. In today’s interconnected economy, more and more elements of your business model are provided by relationship partners. It’s wise to recognize downside risk potential and to know how to mitigate it.

Key Takeaways and Actionable Insights

There are two relevant types of risk to consider:

  1. Relational risk, sometimes thought of as character risk: that your business partner may not perform as you’ve agreed to because they are taking advantage of you in some way.
  2. Performance risk, sometimes thought of as competence risk: your business partner intends to perform as agreed, but is incapable of doing so for competence, capability or resource reasons.

For entrepreneurs, there are two levers for risk mitigation: trust and control.

Trust includes Goodwill Trust and Competence Trust — trusting your partner’s character and capabilities respectively.

Control includes output control, behavior control and social control.

Output control is generally thought of as setting measurable targets and monitoring performance relative to those targets. Did your partner meet the agreed-to sales targets in dollars or units? If they did not, they are not performing. This is a means of performance or output control.

Behavioral control focuses not on output but on behavioral inputs: did all the team members check in at 8am this morning as agreed? There is no guarantee that the desired behavior will lead to the desired output performance, but you think they are correlated and the behavioral commitment sends a signal of positive intent.

Social control is thought of as shared values and norms. If the collaborating teams or individuals have shared values and a highly-networked clan-like environment, they are more likely to have shared commitment to the goal.

Trust is much more positive for business relationships than control.

When people in business relationships exhibit integrity and good character, and perceive it and experience it in their collaborators, there is less need for output controls and behavioral controls. They’ll do the right thing without those controls in place.

From an economic point of view, trust reduces transaction costs — the cost of making sure that people are following agreements and doing what is expected of them.

Trust is a business competency.

Trust holds relationships together. For this reason, it is a business competency. It’s the kind of competency that fits well into the Austrian economics mindset: it’s a soft skill, not quantifiable, highly individualistic, with a significant moral component to it (doing the right thing).

Viewing trust as a business competency means that entrepreneurs are able to develop trust-building as a skill, one that can be reinforced and strengthened over time. It starts with an individual’s nature: you are someone who can be trusted. Such a nature attracts others who value it. Business speeds up, and runs more smoothly, with less need for high-litigation problem solving and more instances of viable handshake agreements. Start with your own character and seek to identify the same character type in those you deal with. There’s an element of Austrian subjectivism: there is no formula for “how I can trust someone”, but you can develop the skill over time, even learning from entrepreneurial error when you mistakenly trust someone who doesn’t deliver.

Trust is a value.

People want to feel trusted and seek relationships that feature trust. Trust is a business skill that’s as valuable to you as operational knowledge or financial expertise. Learn how to build and maintain trusted relationships with other stakeholders.

Trust is a resource.

Resource and competency are two sides of the same coin. Trust is a resource that fits into Austrian Capital Theory as an asset that generates revenue from customers. Think of relationship capital and social capital and the culture of the organization that generates trust as assets on the balance sheet, even if conventional accounting can not recognize them.

The 4 Cores Of Trust

In The Speed Of Trust: The One Thing That Changes Everything, Stephen M.R. Covey identified 4 cores of trust.

Integrity: Honesty — telling the truth and gaining credibility by doing so. Leaving no gap between what you say and what you do. Humility — being concerned about what is right and not just with being right. And the courage to do the right thing.

Intent: People judge you by your intent, which grows out of your character. If you “declare your intent” and your behaviors are consistent with your stated intent, people will trust you. Your motive is clear and honest, and your agenda is open.

Capabilities: Can you do what you say you intend to do? Do you exude confidence in your own capacity?

Results: What’s your track record? Do you take responsibility for results?

Integrity and Intent relate to character, capabilities and results relate to competence.

In a high trust relationship, everything speeds up. Trusting people give you the benefit of the doubt. Morale is high, people volunteer to go the extra mile, and they don’t resist changes you want to make. High trust liberates the relationship and its potential.

But don’t trust too much, or where it’s not justified.

In the long run, we all gain by trusting each other to give and not to take. But at the outset, you may not know if you are dealing with a taker or a giver. You should maintain a contingent element in your business relationships.

When you have many opportunities, you should be very intolerant of people who do not live up to their word. Do not be forgiving at all.

If you have fewer opportunities, maybe you have to be more tolerant of others doing the wrong thing and try to remedy the situation while maintaining the relationship. But giving people more than 2 or 3 chances to do the right thing is about the limit. Be willing to cut people off. Re-evaluate and measure the level of trust continuously. Be on guard especially at the earliest stages.

Trust-building Mechanisms

Trust in relationships is a business principle, and, as always, entrepreneurs need mechanisms to apply their principles effectively. Steve Phelan gave us the story of a large and successful General Contractor in the building industry. This GC put an enormous amount of time and effort into relationships with sub-contractors, so that there came to be tremendous trust between the parties. He would start them on small jobs, and gradually increase the size of the job in which they were invited to participate. At each escalation, the sub-contractor had the opportunity to prove that they could handle both the competence and character aspects of the relationship, as well as the capability and results aspects. Trust was built over time — a learning process for trust.

The same was true on the customer side. The General Contractor would decline to bid on very large jobs from a developer with whom he had not worked before. He would always start with a small commitment, and demonstrate mutual integrity and shared intent at that level, before proceeding to larger jobs.

Over time, as a result of this trust learning process, the General Contractor’s reputation and relationships became stronger and stronger, enabling smoother and more efficient operations in good times, and resiliency in downturns.


You can build trust in relationships and you can recover it. Don’t just think in terms of compliance, think about building a network of trust around you with customers, suppliers, employees, investors and partners. You can lower transaction costs and make your business run more efficiently. Make the investment to strengthen your capabilities in trust-building. Build a culture and a set of norms where people mange themselves and don’t have to be watched around the clock 24/7. Shape the organization you want to operate and live within for the rest of your life.

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51. David Rapp on Harnessing Accounting To Your Purpose

Accounting is a tool for entrepreneurs to achieve their business goals. There are plenty of options for you in how you use it to serve your purpose. In this episode, Dr. David Rapp, who teaches Accounting and Management Control in the elite Grandes Ecoles system in France, takes us inside the “purpose orientation” approach to accounting.

Key Takeaways & Actionable Insights

When we asked international technology entrepreneur Paul Tenney (episode #49) about the pre-requisites to entrepreneurial business success, he said, “Learn accounting”.

Accounting – or economic calculation – is one of the four pillars of entrepreneurship. And when it’s viewed through Austrian eyes, it becomes a more powerful business tool than, perhaps, you might have realized.

Whether we are talking about retrospective accounting (P&L accounting and financial reporting) or commercial pre-calculation to plan future actions (management accounting or cost accounting), how you use the tool makes a difference to the results you get.

Dr. David Rapp is an international leader in the field of Accounting And Management Control, a subject he teaches at one of Europe’s top business schools. Below are some key takeaways from the podcast, and we’ve also compiled a Free PDF Download of Dr. David Rapp’s technical analysis of accounting from an Austrian Economics viewpoint.

Accounting is a means to help you achieve your desired ends – apply judgment when using the tool.

Austrian economics teaches us to subjectively choose goals and then select the best means to achieve those goals. Accounting is just another tool to help the entrepreneur. There are plenty of explicit and implicit options in how to use it. David calls this attitude “purpose orientation” – one of the most important aspects in the field of accounting. Any computation should be shaped by its underlying purpose.

Financial reporting is subject to local rules – but there are always options in applying them.

If the purpose is to pay as little tax as possible, for example, a firm may apply depreciation or amortization rules in such a way as to reduce taxable profits. If the purpose is to present the firm in the best possible light to secure external funding, the same rules might be applied in a different way to display a different calculation of profit. There are options available for valuation of assets and of inventory that can materially affect the balance sheet.

Entrepreneurs should be rigorous in ensuring that their own managerial accounting does not mislead them.

Some modern finance theories and models are unrealistic – such as the standardized Capital Asset Pricing Model and the Weighted Average Cost Of Capital approach. The entrepreneur’s task is to apply real world judgement in deciding on future actions. Austrian Economics guides us towards realism not models, and the insights from Austrian Economics are the best ones to integrate into managerial accounting.

Entrepreneurs should bear in mind core Austrian Economics principles to guide their options in accounting.

Dr. Rapp mentioned these principles:

  • Subjective value
  • The importance of opportunity costs
  • Distinguishing between value and price
  • Understanding that prices determine costs rather than vice versa,
  • Differentiating between uncertainty and risk

Does accounting send reliable signals of business health to the entrepreneur? Not necessarily. Entrepreneurs should be on their guard.

Dr. Rapp advises us that general guidance to the firm’s owners and management is not possible via accounting. Accounting is not neutral and not a perfect tool for measurement or reporting.  Again, the choice of reports comes down to the goal the entrepreneur is pursuing.

If the goal is a sale to an external buyer, then an accounting focus on EBIT might be the best channel for the most relevant business health monitoring. If the goal is external financing from a bank, a more appropriate signal might be found in a solvency measure such as debt-to-equity ratio.

Can accounting accommodate the Austrian Economics mandate for dynamic flexibility – continuous adjustment to changing customer preferences in the marketplace?

Yes says Dr Rapp: by emphasizing the P&L to reflect the profit-and-loss outcomes of entrepreneurial actions and to reflect how well changing allocation of resources serves customers. Sub-dividing accounts into shorter time periods and different lines of business can more accurately reflect the dynamism of a business. And extensive use of notes to accounts in reports can provide a qualitative flexibility in reporting.

Accounting plays a primary and noble role in the advance of civilization.

Our complex market economy could not have evolved without accounting. It’s an important part of the system that allocated capital to its highest and most profitable use. Accounting is not boring, dry or dispensable. Rather, it’s a mainstay of human progress.

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48. Chris Casey’s Journey To A Distinctively Austrian Financial Services Business

Learn how directly Austrian Economics can be applied in entrepreneurial business design. A creative founder of a financial services firm demonstrates to customers how an understanding of business cycle theory and monetary theory can be applied to investment portfolio design.

Key Takeaways & Actionable Insights

Chris Casey's Entrepreneurial Journey

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Innovation often emerges from the combination of existing components in new ways. 

In Chris’s case, the new combination was his knowledge of Austrian Economics – specifically Business Cycle Theory and Monetary Theory – and of Finance. He invested a great deal of time and effort in mastering both parts of this knowledge combination.

Chris Identified An Unmet Customer Need, A Dearth Of Available Solutions, And A Potential for Market Growth. 

There were a few – probably a very few – customers for a financial services offering designed with recognition of the relevant principles of Austrian economics in mind. But the fact that there was at least some customer need provided evidence of potential. Then external stimuli such as the 2008 financial crisis and the Ron Paul Presidential Campaigns caused a growth in demand.

A value proposition naturally emerged. 

For a narrow but highly receptive target audience, the value proposition that “Austrian Economics is vitally important to designing investment portfolios” proved to be very effective in generating a value anticipation.

Communication skill is a critical element. 

A value proposition doesn’t sell itself. Chris utilized – and continuously polished – his communications skills to help customers fully appreciate the direct link to their desired value: a feeling of improved financial security because the uncertainties identified by Austrian Economics are accounted for in portfolio design.

Chris’s implementation was consistent with the value proposition, and capable of delivering. 

In portfolio design, the product of Chris’s service firm, the inputs from business cycle theory and monetary theory are top-down elements. Chris added the bottom-up element of personalization of the design process to the individual customer. This is classical Austrian entrepreneurship: understand the customer’s needs, empathize with them, and customize the service so they feel individual satisfaction of idiosyncratic needs. In subjective value analysis, portfolio performance is not the sole criterion for the value experience. Customer feelings are far more significant.

Chris keeps an eye on the competitive frame of reference to maintain the uniqueness of his offering. 

Chris’s competition is not other investment advisors. It’s the general demeanor of Wall Street sales-focused firms. “Stay fully invested” and “Don’t try to time the market” are typical sales communications of these firms that don’t truly have customers’ best interests in mind. He can always utilize this contrast as a value frame of reference.

Chris’s success exemplifies the clarity that results from candid entrepreneurial self-assessment and the embrace of the entrepreneurial process. 

Self-assessment = In what field am I best resourced to enter and do business?

Entrepreneurial process = Identify opportunity by identifying customer dissatisfactions in that field.

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47. John Chisholm’s Tools And Techniques For Success In The Entrepreneurial Process

In this episode, Hunter Hastings talks to John Chisholm, author of Unleash Your Inner Company: Use Passion And Perseverance To Build Your Ideal Business.

John is a very successful repeat entrepreneur (he founded and grew multiple businesses in multiple fields and had multiple successful exits). He looked back on his successes and formulated a 10-step process that all entrepreneurs can follow, with a full suite of tools we can all use.

This beats the business school case study method!

Key Takeaways & Actionable Insights

Entrepreneurship is a process. Taking this view enables successful navigation over time, whatever the interim ups and downs. 

Sometimes the process can feel like stumbling through a jungle, tripping over rocks and vines, always picking yourself up again and marching onwards. Don’t expect the process map you start with to be the one you continue with. Don’t plan too far ahead. Do be adaptive. Nonetheless, the process view is a source of support during the journey.

Processes require operating tools. John Chisholm’s toolset starts at Need and Advantage. 

“All you need is a Need and Advantage.”

Need = “A real, unsatisfied customer need in an area about which you are passionate.” 

He defines Need in an Austrian way: a subjective value sought or anticipated by a customer. He defines Customer as a living breathing person (or group of people, as with a corporate customer) rather than an abstract “market need”. Unsatisfied means that the need is not addressed by currently available products and services (requiring the entrepreneur to understand customer dissatisfaction). And Real means shared by a sufficient number of customers or sufficiently intense in one or more customers to make it worthy of you to satisfy. 
The entrepreneur must have an advantage for satisfying that need. John’s process is aimed at establishing and extending that advantage, in spite of the fact that existing businesses will have more and better resources than you.

John offers a 10-step process for entrepreneurs to follow. 

You’ll find John’s process pretty complete, cogent, and consistent with Austrianism. We didn’t cover every step of the process in the podcast, but we did pick out two tools and one principle.

Make a STARS inventory of your resources and strengths and turn them to your advantage. 

John recommends making and continuously updating an inventory of your individual strengths. The STARS acronym stands for Skills, Technologies that you know and can use, Assets and Achievements, Relationships and Reputation, and Inner Strengths. He has wise advice on each one of these subjects, and he suggests multiple uses for the completed STARS inventory:

  • Use it to assess the fit of your strengths with the customer needs you have identified.
  • Use it to identify strengths gaps you’ll need to fill.
  • Use it to build your own self-confidence (most people under-estimate their own strengths).
  • Use it to innovate by making new combinations by pairing STARS elements in new ways.

We provide a template with directional examples here. 

Map out a logical and sequential growth path with John’s “bowling pins” methodology. 

John’s advice is to avoid tackling too large a market and too large a target customer group at the outset. Focus on a best fit intersection between your resources and customer needs. Label it. Then identify the next most logical adjacent customer need you can fill, ideally leveraging your learning from the first market. Keep on building up the map of adjacent needs to fill. When you’ve got to 10, think of them as bowling pins. Knock them down one by one, starting with the first – that’s your early focus – and ultimately completing them all. That’s your vision – the largest set of customer needs you can possibly fill.

John calls this process Upsizing A Customer Need, and notes that this bowling pin strategy is particularly persuasive to venture capitalists – they like it that you are focused, and also that you have a map to growth.

We reproduce John’s bowling pin map here.

Make the most of limited resources: Different is better than better. 

How do you overcome the fact that existing businesses in a market you are trying to enter have greater resources than you? John’s answer: focus on being different rather than better. If you can identify how to be different – with a different solution, for a different target audience (even if it is small to begin with) you’ll evade competition.

John has additional advice about scalability, network effects, partnering and other tools for growth. Listen to the complete podcast for a rich reward of process tools and methods.

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44. Mark Packard on The Value Learning Process

Entrepreneurs are redrawing the Customer Journey Map. Based on the latest knowledge from both economics and neuroscience, Dr. Mark Packard explains the five stages of the Value Learning Process on today’s episode.

Key Takeaways and Actionable Insights

To be able to adopt new ideas and successfully apply new techniques, it is sometimes necessary to discard old ones that are barriers to clear thinking. The theory and vocabulary of value illustrate one such barrier.

The language of business schools and many business books is that firms and entrepreneurs create value. That terminology implies that value is somehow embedded in the product or service the firm designs and markets, and that value is formed in the firm’s domain.

The business world has made a little progress in the last few years by opening up to the idea that value is somehow co-created by the provider and the customer. In co-creation, customers’ own usage of the service causes the value to be realized, and their comments, criticisms and suggestions become useful feedback to the provider to further improve the offering.

But we have known since 1871 that value actually lies entirely in the customer’s domain. Carl Menger wrote:

“Value is a judgment economizing men make about the importance of the goods at their disposal for the maintenance of their lives and well-being. Hence value does not exist outside the consciousness of men.”

Now, Mark Packard sheds more light on exactly how value forms and develops “in the consciousness of men” – or, as we would say today, in the customer’s experience.

Mark introduces the concept of value learning. This is the mental process through which the customer advances in response to a value proposition from an entrepreneur or a brand. It’s important for entrepreneurs to understand, monitor and measure the customer’s value learning. There are five stages, illustrated by our Knowledge Map Graphic below.

Value Is A Learning Process Knowledge Map Graphic

Predicted Value

Customers evaluate an offering that’s available to them with a mental prediction: I think that this offering might be valuable to me (i.e. make me feel I am improving my circumstances / make me feel better / help me towards my goal). Predictive value is translated into a price one is willing to pay for that experience. This willingness to pay is then compared to the price of the product. It’s a yes or a no.

Entrepreneurial action: Manage predictions strategically. Persuade customers that the predicted value is worth the cost, but don’t overhype your product. Identify those customers whose predicted value relative to your price is positive. These are your only current target (unless or until you redesign your value proposition).

Relative Value

The customer’s next cognitive action is to identify whether the predicted value is high or low relative to alternatives. These alternatives include not just other products in your industry (if any), but all other ways your customer might also satisfy the need that your product addresses. For example, one alternative is to keep their dollars in their wallet, if they think they can satisfy their own need for themselves at a lower cost (all in). The predicted value of your offering must be greater than all alternatives in their perception.

Entrepreneurial action: Calibrate your offering to the customer’s relative value calculation using price, features and benefits.

Exchange Value

If the customer’s Relative Value perception is sufficiently positive, they’ll exchange dollars with you. But remember to account for the customer’s uncertainty. If the relative value is comparable between alternatives, customers will generally prefer the more familiar (certain) value over your uncertain offering.

Entrepreneurial action: Use price discovery techniques to align price and relative value.

Value Experience

The customer uses or consumes the product or service. They’re generating feelings and perceptions as they do so, either positive or negative. Many of these are in response to a mental comparison with Predicted Value – is the experience better or worse than predicted?

Entrepreneurial action: Monitor the customer’s perceived experience. Be aware of variables in circumstances (time, place, mood, competitive environment) that can change their perceptions. You may need to guide the customer’s first consumption experience(s) to ensure proper use and optimal experience.

Value Assessment

The customer, either concurrently or subsequently, makes a mental value assessment based on their experience. Good or bad? Better or worse than predicted? Does my assessment result in predicted value for a repeat purchase or subscription?

Entrepreneurial action: Measure. This is the stage where measurement becomes useful. Find a measurement that works for you. It could be in sales dollars, purchase volume trends, or customer satisfaction metrics. Such metrics are mere approximations, however, and are neither precise nor set in stone. Be careful how you interpret measured results.

This value learning process is mutual. The customer is always evaluating and re-evaluating and the entrepreneur must keep pace in service, relationship management and innovation. It’s a never-ending cycle of value.

In future podcast episodes, Mark will share some of the new tools he has developed to help entrepreneurs master the cycle. Follow Mark on Twitter to keep updated between now and then!


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39 Rick Rule: Deep Understanding of Markets Opens a Pathway to Entrepreneurial Leadership

Rick Rule is CEO at Sprott US Holdings. His lifetime focus on natural resources finance enabled him to carve a unique pathway to entrepreneurial success. Like many entrepreneurial journeys, Rick’s had some twists and turns. Here are some of the key stages.

Key Takeaways and Actionable Insights

Find out early what you love. Rick enjoyed the outdoors, nature and therefore natural resources, the associated science of efficient and effective use of natural resources, and finance. All of us have a combination of likes and preferences that may stimulate us but may not initially appear to present us with an entrepreneurial recipe. But as Curt Carlson explained in episode #34, combining knowledge from different people and fields can result in compounding insights.

Rick Rule's Entrepreneurial Leadership

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Combine Knowledge In New Ways. Rick combined natural resource science with principles of corporate finance, specifically debt and equity finance for extractive industries. As a result of the special properties of natural resource markets, and firms’ needs for customized financing, an opportunity niche emerged. Rick’s application of his special combination of knowledge placed him in a competitively advantaged position.

Learn By (Hard) Experience. Rick learned not to confuse a bull market with brains, as he puts it. He did business through a complete commodity market cycle in the 1970’s through the early 80’s, experiencing volatility and ups and downs first hand. Theory is no substitute for experience. Nevertheless, his knowledge of Austrian Business Cycle Theory, Austrian Price Theory (“the cure for high prices is high prices, and the cure for low prices is low prices”) granted him a superior perspective in interpreting market signals.

Develop Deep Market And Customer Understanding. In his focus market, Rick developed a business segmentation that focused on participant firms of a defined size (<$250MM market cap). He studied those customers and understood their circumstances. The consequence of limited information flow (data about these firms did not flow easily between conventional market analysts), was that the firms had limited access to capital. Rick was able to overcome these information gaps, making him a preferred supplier of scarce finance.

Identify A Need You Can Fill For Your Carefully Selected Audience In Your Carefully Selected Market Segment. The business model came together in a way that Rick describes as “lender of last resort to high-quality management teams in high-quality companies that were not popular” and were therefore capital constrained. In addition, Rick’s understanding of business cycles and commodity prices further strengthened his confidence in lending when others would not, the market rewards for which turned out to be high.

Combine Empathy, Trust and Courage. Rick confirmed the E4E emphasis on empathy as an important skill for entrepreneurs – primarily, in his case, empathy for the customers whom he financed. He sought to combine empathy with trust: in a market where information is scarce, it is imperative to have trust in the sources. “Without trust,” says Rick, “I have no information, and therefore I can not make decisions.” The third emotional attribute he identified is courage – the courage to have the conviction that your model indicating a future upcycle or price rise is well constructed, and not to second-guess it during the time that the trade is underwater.

We’ve summarized these journey milestones – and the Austrian foundations underlying them – in this free PDF download. 


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