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As our world becomes increasingly interconnected it seems as though our values are starting to blend into a muddied puddle of uncertainty. The rise of high speed, mobile communication and the mass dissemination of accessible data has resulted in a great deal of complacency in regards to the dangers of group thinking. While community formed from our shared humanity is a step closer to world peace, it also blinds the individual of their own unique needs and leads them to unwillingly pursue aspirations that might not best serve them.

Take for example the definitions of success or happiness. These terms will never be universal. That being said, if you ask any sample size of individuals to define these words they are likely to answer in relatively simplistic terms: health, family, friends, stability, shelter, fun and love. What they are less likely to say is: riches, fame, admiration, attention, popularity or the like. However, when we interact with strangers and with the world around us it seems that we tend to project the later rather than the former. We are wired to need to project a level of success & accomplishment and shamed if we cannot.

For the entrepreneur, this presents an interesting conundrum. The push & pull between the pursuit of a place in history... of legacy and the alternative: a lifestyle of quiet contentment. Today's advertising messages, media coverage and interpersonal communications via social platforms would have us believe that the pursuit of happiness is a pursuit of more. More consumption. More belongings. More experiences. MORE. We have created economies dependent upon such practices. We have created entire industries around fame and attention (see reality TV). It is more & more difficult to distinguish between what we value or need and what we want or think we have to have. This brings me to the story of The Fisherman and The Banker, which was recently sent to me by an entrepreneur & colleague who (like me) is always navigating the fine line between the desire for more success and a casual lifestyle of balanced contentment. I will not suggest that one is more virtuous than the other. I will instead share this proverbial tale and allow you to apply it to your own life as you see fit.

The Parable of The Fisherman And The Banker

An American investment banker was taking a much-needed vacation in a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. The boat had several large, fresh fish in it.

The investment banker was impressed by the quality of the fish and asked the Mexican how long it took to catch them. The Mexican replied, “Only a little while.” The banker then asked why he didn’t stay out longer and catch more fish?

The Mexican fisherman replied he had enough to support his family’s immediate needs.

The American then asked “But what do you do with the rest of your time?”

The Mexican fisherman replied, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siesta with my wife, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos: I have a full and busy life, senor.”

The investment banker scoffed, “I am an Ivy League MBA, and I could help you. You could spend more time fishing and with the proceeds buy a bigger boat, and with the proceeds from the bigger boat you could buy several boats until eventually you would have a whole fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to the middleman you could sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You could control the product, processing and distribution.”

Then he added, “Of course, you would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City where you would run your growing enterprise.”

The Mexican fisherman asked, “But senor, how long will this all take?”

To which the American replied, “15-20 years.”

“But what then?” asked the Mexican.

The American laughed and said, “That’s the best part. When the time is right you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich. You could make millions.”

“Millions, senor? Then what?”

To which the investment banker replied, “Then you would retire. You could move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siesta with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos.”





 
 
I often spend precious minutes in my day wishing there was someone to take a project or admin task off of my always over-flowing plate of responsibility. We all know that being an entrepreneur means accepting the hours, demands and surprises that come with running a business. As a consultant, this can mean taking on even more of those extra time wasters personally. However, delegation is possibly the greatest tactic we have available to us in order to save our most important commodities: time & energy.

Until recently I assumed that delegation also required other people or subordinates. It is awfully difficult to move something off your plate if there isn’t another plate at the table. Usually in that scenario, the task just falls onto the floor, gets stuck to the bottom of a shoe and ends up as a weird stain somewhere on a sidewalk a few blocks away.

I have been searching for a C2Bseen intern for a few weeks now and come across some real gems (sarcasm). It could be that my personal dedication to professionalism clouds my ability to admit that not everyone wants to work quite as hard as I do, but I am starting to think that this generation of young people is simply ill-equipped for the workplace. The interviews and responses I have received have lacked enthusiasm, direction and understanding of what it really takes to inspire an employer to grant you an opportunity. Since my search has yet to yield a proper candidate, I am now examining other ways to delegate, outsource and run C2Bseen as efficiently as possible as we rapidly grow.

One incredible discovery I made was New York City’s Small Business Services division, which offers incredible classes and programs to help entrepreneurs start and cultivate efficient businesses. Perhaps coolest of all, Mayor Bloomberg’s commitment to growth in the sector means that the programs are well-funded and usually free.

Take for example the FastTrac New Venture course created by The Kauffman Foundation. I was fortunate to apply to this incredible program and be accepted for their April session. It  has led me to better understand my own business model, observe and interact with my customer base (other entrepreneurs) first hand and evaluate a potential new service offering to decide if it is viable for the marketplace. Furthermore, it has exposed me to resources I was unfamiliar with; my favorite being access to incredibly expensive research databases at no cost in the Science, Industry and Business Library (SIBL) on 34th street.

Classmates from the FastTrac program have already become clients and vendors of C2Bseen. Others now serve as soundboards or collaborators in sharing paid resources (such as web, accounting and legal services). The databases at SIBL have helped to drastically reduce the time needed to conduct accurate research for our clients too. Incredibly, access to a network of over 2,000 other graduates of the course is also available to us upon our course completion. In just this one complimentary city program I have unearthed an amazing list of cost-cutting, efficiency generating benefits.

Why this is relevant to you is in the underlying message learned from my process. There are an infinite number of resources and creative ways to make your life as a business owner easier. Entrepreneurship does not have to consume all of you and you don’t always need to hire another set of hands. By forming partnerships, accessing free resources and establishing a broad network of connections you are positioning yourself to run a lean profit-making venture.

 
 
_ As we continue to dodge the effects of an on-going recession, 2011 demonstrated that Americans reached their boiling point with both corporate greed and politics. We saw Occupy Wall Street lead to passionate protests nationwide and presidential candidates struggle with what average Americans want. While the message and purpose of these gatherings may have lacked a cohesive focus, one thing was apparent: too many of us feel we’re not getting our cut of the pie. It seems that only a small percentage of our population is allowed in the kitchen these days.

While I by no means endorse the notion that all corporations are evil machines, nor do I think OWS was the answer, I do see a necessary shift in a big box mentality that has gotten out of control. Our nation’s wealth is concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer businesses who maintain power over the lives of an enormous percentage of citizens; capable of dangling employment by a thread when the bottom line starts to thin. The trend of large companies to diversify their ownership across multiple industries has also gone too far. We now have an abundance of choice in terms of product diversity, however our options for where to conveniently make purchases are inversely declining. This has ramifications on price point control and access that put small businesses at a severe disadvantage.

On a positive note, what grew out of the frustration of the 2008 recession and was amplified in 2011 are two significant movements.

Specialized Online Boutiques
Big box companies are typically incapable of giving consumers one product offering. To keep shareholders happy and profits rising, they must add to their product portfolio. At a certain growth point, most corporations are forced to shift from their core offering and bring new products to the marketplace to protect themselves long term. Often, a company will find that their secondary launches out-do their primary product and evolve to make it their priority. This thinking exemplifies the fact that when a business gets too big, it is required to function solely for profit. Often times, social and environmental impact, employee well-being and product quality suffer as a result.

I am noticing a shift in how average consumers are spending the limited funds they have. As our cars, clothes and apartment décor all started to look similar it seems that we grew tired of being force fed. We began looking for fresh and new while finding the same old cookie cutter products at the few retailers we regularly had access to. The cool, responsible, contemporary, vintage and classy goods we desired were all beyond most American’s price point and resting in the luxury category. We were aware that the Internet had vast aisles filled with potential shopping finds, but we were never sure where to start or look and Amazon or Overstock only seemed to link us back to the products found in the same big box stores that rested together in clumps off the interstate.

Then, Groupon and LivingSocial took deals digital and made coupon clipping trendy again. The discount list-serv movement was born. The communal buying mentality brought us highly focused list servs, such as Fab, that link purveyors of specialized goods with eager buyers at discounted prices. Etsy and like-minded sites revolutionized the handmade industry. Zaarly made buying/selling hyper-local. We now have incredible curators of well-crafted, specialized and accessible goods at our fingertips and word is spreading virally to bring them to more consumers.

In 2012 I only see this trend continuing. The US Commerce Department reported sales of $48.24 billion dollars in Q3 of 2011. This is up over 13% from Q3 of 2010. With the holiday stats from Q4 still pending, all signs point to continued growth in the online shopping sector. Innovative boutique sellers will continue to find opportunities to carve out their niche of this skyrocketing retail foothold.

Communal Commerce
Outside of the online model, this trend toward small group economics is being brought to life in cities of all sizes. Terms such as: co-op, free-trade, locally grown and organic (while often misused) each reflect a concerned movement away from mass production and distribution and toward more conscious spending. 2011 saw a rise in the number of communal gardens, backyard chicken coops and even free curbside mini-libraries. Crop-shares are also becoming commonplace amongst families with access to local farmers. In Minneapolis, employees keep Hard Times Café running as both employees and co-owners; just one example of dozens of worker cooperatives functioning in the US. What we’re clearly realizing is that there was some logic to the local economies of yesteryear.

I believe we are actually in a golden age as consumers-- if we choose to be involved. We now live in an era where spending $4 on a fresh baked pie a few blocks away is as easy as having an intricately designed baking pan sent to us from Portugal for 40% off. What smart consumerism comes down to falls on each of us. If we engage the marketplace, investigate our options and decide what is best for our budget, values and needs we can find an intelligent balance for where we send our dollars that has less strain on planet earth, is better for the economy and results in more satisfying purchases.  Larger brands will follow-suit in finding ways to deliver their goods on a local level. A more responsible consumer will thus result in more responsible producers.

The timing is ripe for specialty services and products to continue to steal their share of the pie. As we take commerce back to the community we strengthen our neighborhoods, infrastructure and lives. If you have an entrepreneurial venture you’ve been considering, do your research and find the avenues for distribution that can cost-effectively bring you to the marketplace. What better year than 2012?