Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Risky Business or Crazy Business?

Have you ever watched the TV show, The Dragons’ Den? Five multi-millionaire venture capitalists, with backgrounds in Technology, Marketing, Oil and Gas, Finance, and Franchising, listen to pitches from entrepreneurs and then decide, based on many factors, whether the investment is viable. Sometimes the Dragons argue with each other, sometimes they compete for the opportunity to invest, and sometimes they humiliate the candidate with a dressing down, such as “That’s the stupidest idea I have ever heard.” They can be sentimental and kind, encouraging and supportive, or scathing and downright nasty. They can make grown men cry.

I think it’s a great show! Not because they make grown men cry, but because we get to see a multitude of fascinating ventures and hear how the entrepreneurs got their businesses off the ground. These are wonderful case studies even though we only get a snippet of the picture. You never know how the Dragons will react to the presentation or to the person. They can love you or hate you and they don’t hold back. After all, they have the power and you are just a squirming little bug. Of course, they are much more inclined to like you and your idea if you know your business, have made some money, and have already achieved a respectable level of success. They are not interested in mere potential, but, rather, want to see that the groundwork has been done, that you’ve made decent headway, and that you haven’t been spinning your wheels and wasting your money.

I would never go on this show. Why? Because

a) I am not much interested in the spotlight and
b) I wouldn’t want to be crushed like a bug (especially on national television)

Even if I had a successful business that needed a cash infusion, I wouldn’t go to the Dragons. Maybe I don’t have thick enough skin. However, I think the show can do a great service to the candidates, as they get exposure for their products and free advice from shrewd, successful business people. Sometimes the Dragons take an active role in an investment and bring additional value through their goodwill and knowhow.

The most investively (I just made up that word) active and often the nicest Dragon, Brett Wilson, has recently left the show after four seasons. Apparently he and the CBC couldn't agree on the terms of his new contract. The show will not be the same without him. But now, he—the dragon with the heart—will be hosting a new show this fall on slice TV called Risky Business.

Here is the premise from a news release published on Brett Wilson’s personal website:

In each episode of Risky Business, Brett will give the daring couple a chance to risk big and win big. As host, he will guide the investors as they choose between pitches made by two different entrepreneurs, each looking for capital and offering a big return. The options will be unusual – such as investing in undervalued vintage wine labels or betting it all on a high stakes one-night-only event. The duo will stake their life savings on one investment, and Brett will invest in the other. It isn't until the end of the episode that it is revealed how each investment performed. Will the risk-taking couple win big or lose it all? Do they out perform Brett? Or does Brett prove he can make money just about anywhere?

I’m glad to see that Brett Wilson will be back on the screen as he is a shrewd (and seemingly affable) businessman with a sharp wit, but I do have concerns about this show. Are they really calling on people to invest their entire life savings? How can amateurs make an intelligent decision to invest in a venture based on a quick pitch? Great for those who succeed, but detrimental for the others. Not everyone has the wherewithal to carry on after that and, in this economy, it’s not simply a matter of moving on to a new venture or a new job.

I think Brett Wilson is great - loved him on Dragon’s Den, but his reputation as “an investor with a heart” may be seriously compromised here.

It’s one thing to solicit people to invest, but it’s another to expect them to gamble with their life savings. I’m wondering if the network has considered what the stakes truly are and what the fallout from this show could be. Why not do a show about people gambling their life savings in Vegas? Or putting all their money into one stock? There is risk and there is risk. And to me, gambling all your hard-earned cash for a possible win (which you have little control over) and a few minutes in the spotlight is far from worth it, even with the nicest dragon prodding you on.

The Director of Casting and Research for "Risky Business" told me in an email that I needn’t worry. He said, “We are taking all people’s interests into account and are maintaining the highest level of respect and concern.” I hope this will be the case; otherwise, the network will be spending a lot on lawyers and psychologists.

I wish them the best of luck and I hope I'm wrong about my concerns. Stay tuned!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Writing tips to help your message stand out

In school we learned general grammar rules and writing principles. For our essays we were taught to include an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. For fiction we may have learned about character development, dialogue, and point of view. But teachers often neglected to delve into the mechanics of writing. Written communication is as important as ever and following a few simple rules will lead to a more concise, clear, and cohesive message.

These tips apply to all writing styles, from web content to business reporting (even emails) to fiction:

1) Use active rather than passive language

The meeting was being chaired (passive) by the marketing director. Instead write: The marketing director chaired (active) the meeting.

2) Use strong verbs rather than an adverb with a weak verb

When she realized she was late for the meeting, she ran quickly to the boardroom. Instead write: When she realized she was late for the meeting, she bolted to the boardroom.

3) Use one strong adjective rather than two adjectives with similar meanings

The shy and quiet trainee gave an interesting and thoughtful presentation. Instead write: The introverted trainee gave a compelling presentation.

4) Avoid unnecessary repetition

Don’t hit the reader on the head with your point.

Times are tough; we are all reeling from this economic slump. If only we weren’t in this crippling recession we’d be able to hire more people.

5) Use simple, straightforward language

The best way to lose your reader is to over-complicate the message:

Due to unforeseen budgetary circumstances, ABC Ltd. will not have the resources to continue implementing the advertising schedule, which was previously determined by the communications committee (too wordy).

Instead write: Due to budgetary constraints, ABC Ltd. has revised its advertising schedule. (simple and to the point)

6) Vary your sentence structure (and rhythm)

I had my performance review. My boss said I was brilliant. He gave me a raise and a promotion. I celebrated with my friends (monotonous).

Instead write: At my performance review, my boss said I was brilliant. I celebrated my raise and my promotion with my friends.

7) Don’t use clich├ęs; they give the impression that the writer has no imagination.

The sales team gave their competitors a run for their money in landing the account, and the effort paid off in spades.

Instead you could write: The sales team competed vigorously to land the account and the effort was well rewarded.