Entrepreneurs 2014: Successful Business by Boiling Down to the Right KPIs

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The Right Set of KPIs: successful business
Successful business with the right set of KPIs

Recently I had a very interesting meeting with a young entrepreneur. This entrepreneur found a smart solution for a latent business problem and started his own business.

But like many start ups he changed his execution plan several times. He had the feeling that his target group didn’t adopt and buy his product fast enough. He asked me to take a look at his business what I did.

My impression was:

  • He developed a “Blue Ocean” product (and therefore found a niche market)
  • His business plan was comprehensive and clear
  • His goal setting was based upon market research and realistic
  • His business model was good
  • His launching strategy was good.



But he forgot to set the right KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) to measure his progress.

Why are KPIs important?

KPIs must reflect the organization’s goals. They must be key to its’ success, and they must be quantifiable (measurable). Key Performance Indicators usually are long-term considerations. (source: management about)

What is the ideal number of KPIs?

There is no “ideal number” of KPIs. What matters is choosing the right KPIs.

The most highly cited paper in psychology “The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two” is often quoted that the number of objects an average human can hold in working memory is 7 ± 2. And this applies very well how many KPIs a single person can handle!

What are the advantages of a right set KPIs for this entrepreneur?

  1. He can raise the red flag at the right time and respond directly
  2. He has good focus because of only using 7 KPIs
  3. Instead of looking back he gets predictive insights
  4. Clear KPIs are aligned with his strategy, mission and vision
  5. Right group with KPIs aligns company with requirements of (future) venture investors: Financial, user, acquisition, sales, and marketing.

What is the challenge?

The main challenge for start ups is the lack of history. Great companies have a history and have better insights in what really counts to achieve their strategy.

Choosing the right set of KPIs seems easier for them… But in practice they are also struggling with KPIs and cannot boil them down to 7 KPIs to measure their performance level!


  • KPIs give a clear picture of the start up’s (long term) performance level
  • Steering on a good set of KPIs enables an improvement of results
  • Start ups are already prepared for further conversations with venture investors.

And that’s is exactly what turned out in my meeting with this entrepreneur:

He got nervous because he couldn’t pay his bills anymore. Too many changes in strategic directions had the effect that the business didn’t had enough time to develop and grow.
With serious effects for his company. He urgently needed an investor. And a solid basis for further discussion!

I wish you a good set of KPIs!

Successful business figures
Successful business figures

More information:


Why Modern Entrepreneurs need the 64 Years old Deming Feedback Wheel

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I wrote in my article “Start Ups 2014: Generation of Entrepreneurs Without a Business Plan?” about the importance of a business plan.

In this article I want to outline the importance of checking of & feedback on business/product planson regular basis because plans are never set in stone.

I met a lot of entrepreneurs. In general they have a clear vision of the future and a good sense for possibilities and opportunities (that’s why they started their own business). Entrepreneurs are often change makers in a traditional set world.

Modern entrepreneurs need to revitalize their entrepreneurship on regular basis and add tools like PDCA (or Deming wheel*) to their toolkit if they want to keep ahead of competitors.


Quote from Deming
Quote from Deming


Testing (checking – feedback) is not a one-off. Once you’ve started this cycle pattern, it continuous in spirals. This is the power of PDCA. Using knowledge based on real feedback to improve your product/concept and start a new cycle for new products/ideas.


Why entrepreneurs don’t take the benefit of PDCA

In my opinion:

1)   Most entrepreneurs don’t take enough time to check or the results after the launch (or test) of a new product/idea
2)   Selective hearing
3)   They choose the most obvious explanation why a launch succeeded or failed
4)   In this stage entrepreneurs actually never learn.


When I ask entrepreneurs why they don’t do a proper check, I often hear:

1) I am facing to many day-to-day affairs so I don’t give myself sufficient time to do a better check for good feedback
2) I jump often to a conclusion because I think that making decisions “on the fly” is the best way to solve problems
3) Every minute counts and only large companies have the resources and time to do proper research.


But this is wrong! A proven method doesn’t cost more time than “jumping to a conclusion”. Actually a proven method saves time because it enables entrepreneurs to implement new products/ideas through focused processes. It enables entrepreneurs to make way for better improvements & innovations.



W. Edwards Deming already stated: “it’s not enough to do your best; you must know what to do, and then do your best.”

In my opinion entrepreneurs should:

–       Step 1: Write a short business/product plan so others know their vision, mission and strategy

–       Step 2: Implement this business/product plan to keep focus while executing implementation

–       Step 3: Check & ask for feedback from customers

–       Step 4: Refine business/product plan to improve results, innovate and keep ahead of competitors.

The PDCA cycle is a good start for entrepreneurs of reinventing & testing their ideas in a very simple and proven way.

I wish all entrepreneurs a lot of feedback & improvements!


Quote Ken Blanchard
Quote Blanchard

If you want more information:

–       PDCA:              

–       The W. Edwards Deming Institute:

–       PDSA worksheet:

–       Six Sigma:        

–       Kaizen:             


Note*: it’s a myth that Deming introduced the PDCA cycle. Actually Shewhart introduced the PDCA cycle and Deming used this cycle as a base for his own PDSA cycle: Plan – Do – Study – Act.

Start Ups 2014: Generation of Entrepreneurs Without a Business Plan?

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Business Plan
Business Plan? Strategy? Product development plan? Financial plan?



I was invited for “The Hot Seat Sessions” at The Hub in Singapore this month.

Members of The Hub can book a time slot to talk about challenges/problems they are facing:

In The Hot Seat with Patrick Nelissen

Get your one-on-one consultancy with experts in specific fields (eg. mobile, social media, branding, funding, etc.) to answer the challenges/problems you are currently facing. Book your time with Patrick, specialist in: marketing, sales, business development, business improvement and entrepreneurship

Every month, experts from The Hub community jump into the hot seat, and are available exclusively for members of The Hub weekly for two hours.
This July, join Patrick Nelissen in the Hot Seat for some sage advice!

Most of the members are start ups and have many ideas about new (innovative) products. They are super enthusiastic, strongly convinced, very detailed, full of energy, probably the next Facebook or or Google or Tripadvisor, hopefully disruptive, highly motivated, etc.

So talking with them is really great. It gives you a lot of energy and is also challenging because you are aware about their vulnerability at this stage.

Now that I’ve done a number of meetings with start ups, I’ve come to realize that none of these start ups has a business plan, product development plan and/or financial plan. And this is no exception. Already in The Netherlands I experienced a lack of motivation and sense at entrepreneurs to write a business plan. It was always a struggle to get them thinking and writing about how they want to execute their business.

I realize that good writers aren’t always the best entrepreneurs and vice versa. But the good thing about writing a business plan is that you have to step back to get a holistic look about your product, pricing model, personnel, distribution channel, customers and competitors. Based on this holistic look, you are able to define the best strategy and business model to launch your product. The result is: reducing vulnerability!

Fortunately, there are models for condensed business plans. My favourite is Business Canvas Model from Alex Osterwalder. Author of Business Model Generation. Business Model Generation is a practical, inspiring handbook for anyone striving to improve a business model – or craft a new one.

Other good options are:

  • The One Page Business Plan from Jim Horan. Jim is the author of “The One Page Business Plan” the best selling business planning book on He is also the developer of The One Page Planning and Performance System.
  • The $100 Start Up from Chris Guillebeau. A guideway to show you how to lead a life of adventure, meaning and purpose — and earn a good living.



Give yourself a break, take a blank sheet and start outlining your business model (on 1 page). It will:

  • Make your business stronger
  • Keep you focused
  • Reduce your vulnerability
  • And it’s fun to do: it’s the journey not the destination what counts!


PS some other recommendable books (thanks to

What Do You Prefer: a Blue Ocean or a Red Ocean Strategy?

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Blue or Red Ocean Strategy
Blue or Red Ocean Strategy


A short note about the advantage of a Blue Ocean Strategy.
Imagine you are going to dive. What is more attractive?

Jumping in to a blood filled red ocean? An ocean full of sharks who are fighting to eat and survive?

Or jumping in to a blue ocean? An ocean where you can swim and there is enough space for growth? Probably you would answer that a blue ocean is far more attractive.

But what about your business model? What strategy are you following? Did you also jump in to a blue ocean when you founded your company? Probably not. It’s very likely that you jumped straight in to a red ocean at that time.

My next question is: why? Why didn’t you jump in to an attractive blue ocean where there is enough space to grow your business? I’ll give an example why you should have considered this.

Cirque du Soleil is a classic example of a successful Blue Ocean Strategy. In 20 years they achieved more revenues than the world’s leading circuses Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey had in an entire century!

According to Harvard Business Review ( this is the explanation of their success:

…any new entrant to this business would be competing against a formidable incumbent that for most of the last century had set the industry standard.

How did Cirque profitably increase revenues by a factor of 22 over the last ten years in such an unattractive environment? The tagline for one of the first Cirque productions is revealing: “We reinvent the circus.”

Cirque did not make its money by competing within the confines of the existing industry or by stealing customers from Ringling and the others. Instead it created uncontested market space that made the competition irrelevant.

It pulled in a whole new group of customers who were traditionally non-customers of the industry—adults and corporate clients who had turned to theatre, opera, or ballet and were, therefore, prepared to pay several times more than the price of a conventional circus ticket for an unprecedented entertainment experience.


W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne studied over 150 Blue Ocean strategy examples in over 30 industries. Based on their study they wrote an excellent book about Blue Ocean Strategies. Everyone who wants to create a new market space and a sustainable business model, has to read this book!

This book uses many examples to demonstrate how to break out of traditional competitive strategic thinking. The four principles of Blue Strategic thinking are:

  1. How to create uncontested market space by reconstructing market boundaries
  2. Focusing on the big picture
  3. Reaching beyond existing demand
  4. Getting the strategic sequence right.


Five examples of companies that created new market spaces in the opinion of Kim and Mauborgne (source: Wikipedia):

  1. Cirque du Soleil: Blending of opera and ballet with circus format while eliminating star performer and animals
  2. Southwest Airlines: offering flexibility of bus travel at the speed of air travel using secondary airports
  3. Curves: redefining market boundaries between health clubs and home exercise programs for women
  4. Home Depot: offering the prices and range of lumberyard, while offering consumers classes to help them with DIY projects
  5. Dyson: Cyclonic Vacuum Cleaners.



Step back and take a good look at your business model. In which market are you fighting and what are you offering? Try to imagine what the unknown market space, untainted by competition looks like. Start reconstructing your business model to enter the Blue Ocean.

And move from the Red Ocean to the Blue Ocean. It’s a far more rewarding path!


I wish you a great Blue Ocean!


Do you want to know more? Please take a look at:



There are a lot of tools that you can use. For 2 very useful tools to start with:


Refine your business model with these tools: