Monday, January 6, 2014

Entrepreneur Profile 6 - Tim Fargo of Alphabet Success

Timothy E. Fargo
Company: Alphabet Success (
Favorite Tweeter: @Tom_Peters

Link to Tim's Book: click here

1. Provide a 2 sentence biography of yourself and/or mission statement.

Define yourself lest others provide the definition for you. If a guy like me can do it, so can you.

2. Describe your business and why you started it.  What is it that differentiates your business model from others?
My business is sharing what I learned in building a 300+ person business in less than seven years.

That sharing might take the form of someone buying a copy of "Alphabet Success" or it might be a consulting arrangement with a company that wants assistance with growth issues.

My differentiators are: a) I'm providing actual experience having grown and sold a decent sized business b) believing that the most important elements of "success" are pretty elementary. Most people need to avoid unforced errors. And c) wanting to give people the tools they need and let them get on with it.
It need not be complex. Simple has always worked best, and in spite of innovation the core of every great business is a simple efficient model.

3. What is one challenge you’ve experienced with your business and how have you overcome it?

In the current business it would be a stretch to say I have overcome my biggest challenge, which is relative obscurity. We'll answer that one next time.

At my former company, Omega Insurance Services (an insurance investigation firm), a major challenge was the perception of investigators as “shady operators”. Through embarking on a mission of educating insurance companies through articles, speaking and seminars, we were able to overcome that challenge and position ourselves as a thought leader and a reputable firm.

4. Which entrepreneur inspires you and why?  What industry do they work in and what accomplishment is unique to them?

He's not often thought of as an “entrepreneur” but I'd say Warren Buffett. He took Benjamin Graham's investment ideas and turned them from a bottle rocket in a space ship. His temperament plays an important role as he isn't easily spooked by markets.  However, I think he embodies the idea of taking a few key measures and beating the heck out of it. Too many people are almost disappointed with the simplicity of business. It isn't extremely complex, but we sure work hard at making it that way.

5.    What is one development you foresee in your industry in the next 10 years? 

This is a funny topic for me. Obviously delivery devices and methods are in constant flux, but human nature is pretty steady state. As crazy as it might sound, I think the core of getting people focused on the actual goal versus other minutiae is likely to remain pretty unchanged. Certainly online learning continually grows, as do enhanced interactive teaching methods. That's the change area I suppose.

6.    What trait is most important to succeeding in entrepreneurship?e

 You need to be slightly, to perhaps seriously OCD. Sounds weird, but getting a start-up right is normally a consuming task. If you're not possessed of some serious drive the boot-up phase is going to grind you to dust. There are exceptions, but I'd say being extremely focused is usually essential.

7. What if one piece of advice you would give to someone considering starting a business?

Be extremely careful. The mantra of “You can do it” is likely true in some utopian sense. But in reality there are considerations like capital constraints, expertise blind spots, and the inevitable “reality check”. Sure, it is great being your own boss. But it can be daunting. In the end, you decide, and you live with that decision.

Bottom line? If you can live with the absolute worst case scenario, and have been honest with yourself in planning (including getting good honest feedback), then go for it. Going against long odds is romantic, until you're broke, at which point the romance fades.

8. What is your favorite book on entrepreneurship and one lesson you learned?

Jungle Rules: How to Be a Tiger in Business,  by John Imlay. It's the story of a turnaround in Atlanta. It lays bare much of the nuts and bolts it takes to make a business go. Perhaps my favourite element is its lack of romanticizing the process. There is certain amount of grit in most businesses which is often glossed over in biz books. John's pretty clear about reality.

Best lesson?: In the nasty event of needing to “downsize” don't slowly bleed the company. People get completely spooked by terminations, so if you have to cut back try to be as aggressive as is tolerable. Do it once, explain why, that it is NOT going to be ongoing and get everyone calmed down and back to work. Having had a staff of 300+ at Omega I can vouch for the merit of avoiding your staff wondering about their jobs daily.

The reality is that if you slowly eliminate the staff piecemeal, the first to leave are often the best, since they have the best “opportunities”. So you may end up with a smaller staff comprised of a less than optimal team. Plus it's really hard to work while you're looking for a new job.

Awesome book.

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