Observations on the Graton Resort and Casino

My son and I had dinner last night at the Casino in Rohnert Park. We did this for 3 reasons. First, we needed a place to eat as neither of us felt like cooking. Second, I wanted to look around at the place. Third, he needed to do a restaurant secret shopper for one of his classes at the SRJC Culinary School.

We decided to go long after the opening so that we would get there on a night that was not crowded. I was shocked by how full it was. The Casino has 4 large sit down restaurants and 9 establishments in the food court. Two of the sit down restaurants had lines. I had not anticipated that the Casino would be that full. I am not sure if it is due to the newness of the place or this is how it will be going forward.

My first impression going inside was that the Casino was massive. I have been to Vegas many times for Trade Shows and never had an impression of a Casino floor that large. I believe that this is an illusion as in Vegas they want to stretch out the Casinos as you walk through the hotel. Everwhere you go you have to walk through gaming. In Graton, gambling is clearly the primary attraction and the gaming floor is most of the center of the room. The main room was either a square or a rectangle.

This main room was organized into 4 tiers. The outside of the main room is a walkway that allows you to go around the perimeters. There were large walkways that created a cross that allowed one to go through the center of the gaming room. As you walk towards the center, a Tier of Slot Machines were toward the outside. The next Tier inward consisted of Gaming tables. At the very center of the room was a raised bar. Though there were non-smoking areas, most of the casino allowed smoking and you could smell this almost everywhere.

Outside of this perimeter were other parts of the Casino. This included all the restaurants, the Event Center, VIP Area and Poker Room.

We went to Tony’s of North Beach and had a Roman Style Pizza. This was a flat-bread Pizza with toppings broken into 3 sections. The Pizza and service were very good but a bit pricy. For the 2 of us (no drinks and 1 desert for my son), the bill ran over $60. Not horrific, but it did feel a bit pricey.

Now neither of us really gamble, but I did look around at the Blackjack tables and found the minimum bets were between $10 and $50.

My one question when I went there from a Business Coaching standpoint was: “Is this going to have significant synergy with the Winery Hospitality Business?” My answer to that is no, at least not directly. The crowd, services, location, and feel are so different that I see these as attracting different groups. If some that come to the Casino begin to think more about Sonoma County as a destination, I am sure that will help the Wineries and Wine Tourism. I think this will be a small effect.

But for everyone, this is clearly a HUGE business with LOTS of people coming there daily. Businesses located near it will surely get some overflow business. On top of that, the Graton folks should consider using local business services wherever possible to help create positive local feelings.

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving!

 

Jim Sackman
FocalPoint Business Coaching
http://www.jimsackman.focalpointcoaching.com/
We Focus On Your Business – Time, Team, Money, Exit
Coaching, Sales Training, Web Marketing, Behavioral Assessments, Financial Analysis
https://www.eventbrite.com/e/sales-training-sales-success-intensity-powered-by-brian-tracy-tickets-8404400789

 

Sonoma County News and Notes

First of all, I want to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving. It is a family time of year and I hope you are with your and yours. I know next week will be extremely busy for me and I am planning to spend a bit of extra time with my son.

Before I get to the meat of today’s posting I wanted to remind everyone that the Early Bird Pricing for the Sales Training Event I am holding at the Doubletree at the end of January ends soon. Buying now saves money! This will be a great way to make sure you will make quote in 2014.  Just follow the link:  https://www.eventbrite.com/e/sales-training-sales-success-intensity-powered-by-brian-tracy-tickets-8404400789

Earlier this week I got a chance to speak to Eric Imbuelten of A.E.I. Financial. He is a great resource for those going into those unsure times of the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a Obamacare). He is also someone you might want to chat with about retirement planning. He lives and works here in Rincon Valley. I wanted to learn more about his business and share it with you!  You can also learn about his business at http://www.aeifinancial.net/

Question: Why are you a Health Certified Insurance Agent and Financial Planner?
Answer: I am a financial planner with over 15 years of experience including 13 years of Medicare and Health Insurance experience for individuals and small groups. I feel that health is the first step toward wealth and is foundational to being a contributing individual. Sonoma County residents have to at least recognize and educate themselves on what financial well-being means.

Question: What are the common issues that your clients face?
Answer: Understanding how their health coverage works and finding alternatives that are affordable.

Question: What is the advantage of working with an independent advisor over using a larger corporate entity?
Answer: The advantage of working with A.E.I. Financial as your independent advisory is that you get personalized attention and a trust-based relationship with a local professional who cares about clients.

Question: If you had one piece of advice that you could give people about planning for retirement what would it be?
Answer: Start saving early as soon as you have an income and save 10% of your income.

Question: I know you have a business in Personal and Small Group Health Insurance. What is the most important aspect of the Affordable Care Act?
Answer: The most important aspect of the Affordable Care Act is that every person needs to have health coverage by January 1st, 2014 or pay a tax penalty of 1% of their gross income.

Question: What do you like about living and doing business in Sonoma County?
Answer: I really enjoy living and doing business in Sonoma County, because we have beautiful surroundings, friendly people, and lots of business opportunities to be of service to our community.

I want to thank Eric for his time and be sure to out A.E.I Financial!  On Friday, I will summarize where we were in the Access Space in June 2003.  I suspect that most of you will be recovering from Turkey overload.  On Monday, we enter the last 18 months of AFC as we talk about the BPON RFP.

Jim Sackman
FocalPoint Business Coaching
http://www.jimsackman.focalpointcoaching.com/
We Focus On Your Business – Time, Team, Money, Exit
Coaching, Sales Training, Web Marketing, Behavioral Assessments, Financial Analysis
https://www.eventbrite.com/e/sales-training-sales-success-intensity-powered-by-brian-tracy-tickets-8404400789

The Skunksworks Projects – Organic Growth at AFC

Last time I posted about AccessLAN, but we did not only go after inorganic growth. We did not only pursue that path, but we worked on organic growth as well. As I have blogged earlier, we had concluded that we would not win a head to head battle in the DLC space with Alcatel. Alcatel had too big of a lead and there was no compelling event that we could find to make the carriers switch.

So, we went after the DSLAM space with AccessLAN. We also prepared for a potential technology change that would create an RFP. Now we did not know exactly what would happen when so we went after two separate paths. The first was the change of voice switching to Voice over IP or VoIP. The second was extension of Fiber to the Home or FTTH. Our plan was to build proof of concept products in each space and find some early customers. That way when a large carrier was ready we would have the products ready and field proven.

We had one other Ace – Sprint LTD (later Embarq and now part of CenturyLink). When Marconi pulled out of the Access Market, Sprint pushed all of its business to AFC. This meant that we had a large relationship with Sprint and they quickly became our largest customer (over $100M annually both internally and as a distributor). Sprint was looking at both of these technologies.

On the VoIP front, you may recall Sprint did a huge deal with Nortel on updating the switching infrastructure. AFC got involved when the Nortel also pulled out of the Access Market. We worked with Centillium to build a Access Gateway so that we could provide a packetized voice interface to the Nortel switch. Nortel was unhappy with this whole thing but also did a very strange version of the Interface.  This made the direct product created unmarketable to other firms, but the technology base could be changed to do other things.

On the FTTH front, Sprint did an RFP and selected vendors but told us privately if we showed up with a product that we would get the business. They had a huge investment in our infrastructure, and they were a long way from a large scale FTTH build. We looked for FTTH technology partners and approached Terawave and OSI. Both companies agreed to license technology for $10M. We then had a visit from Broadlight and they were going to develop technology for free. I estimated that if Broadlight went out of business, that I could buy the technology and finish the development for less than $10M so we went that way. In a later blog, I will talk about this relationship but that is all I am going to say for now. Now, I chose that we would build this on BPON because of two simple reasons: I did not want to invent a new method and it matched our technology base better. Should/could we have done EPON? Maybe – but we had no Asia channel and there was no progress for EPON in North America.

Both of these efforts proceeded out of our Florida office. Both were on display with some parts working at Supercomm 2003. Nobody really paid much attention to either of them, but they were there.

Now, I was handicapping the race between which one would happen first and my bets were always around VoIP. Given the lack of new 5Es and DMSes, I thought the network would move to VoIP before we would have a significant FTTH build. In this case, I was completely wrong.

I want to say one more thing here. The use of the Florida office was highly controversial within the organization in total. I want to say as well these teams were small (under 10 people each), but people in California were unhappy in that they could not have any access to newer technology.

 

Jim Sackman
FocalPoint Business Coaching
http://www.jimsackman.focalpointcoaching.com/
We Focus On Your Business – Time, Team, Money, Exit
Coaching, Sales Training, Web Marketing, Behavioral Assessments, Financial Analysis
https://www.eventbrite.com/e/sales-training-sales-success-intensity-powered-by-brian-tracy-tickets-8404400789

 

After the Business Plan – The Acquistion that Failed: AccessLAN

 

In 2002, AFC bought AccessLAN for a product that was called Baracuda at the time.  AFC renamed it to Teliant.  This acquisition was made in line with the 2001 Business Plan and ultimately failed to achieve its aims.  It became clear that AFC was not likely to defeat Alacatel in the DLC market in the Tier 1 carriers.  The RBOCs had built many systems that optimized deployment of DLCs based on Litespan.  Some of these elments were noted earlier in my blog.  Our idea was to open up another front against Alcatel in the market share battles in Telco Access.  Even though the UMC could be deployed as a CO DSLAM, it was neither cost nor density effective in this application.  Some smaller customers used the UMC this way since they had some free slots, but the product was not optimized for this application.

We had chosen CO DSLAMs to be the market target because they were the other major market in Telco Access.  On top of that, the Alcatel product that was originally chosen 5+ years ago had significant limitations as things moved forward.  What we expected was an evolutionary change at this spot in the network from ATM to IP.  This was expected to be an opportunity to introduce a new product to the Tier 1 carriers.  We went off to search for companies that might have the solution and ended up looking at 3 companies:  Copper Mountain, Paradyne, and AccessLAN.  We did not move forward with Copper Mountain because it was clear that their architecture and plans were best utilized by the CLECs.  We did not choose Paradyne because its products tended to be deployed outside the US or in small carriers.  AccessLAN had a new product that was targeted at the Tier 1 North American Carrier Business.  This product was in development and came to market after we started the process of acquisition. 

Our major flaw in this acquisition is that we had not recognized the change in buying behavior at the Tier 1 Carriers.  For many years, Carriers re-issued RFPs for existing spots in the network.  From a supplier standpoint, this meant that about every 3 – 5 years there would be a chance to introduce a new product to an existing market.  This stopped in the late 90s, but it was not evident yet to us.  One of the reasons we chose AccessLAN is that it could support the existing ATM model and evolve to an IP model.  We expected carriers would want to migrate to IP DSLAMs but would like to do so slowly.  This evolutionary change is what had happened in the past.  The new behavior is a one and done model.  Once a product or products are selected for a technology, there is no follow on.  The next RFP will be for the next technology. 

To manage the transition from ATM to IP, it meant that the Teliant had to have an ATM core overlaid by an IP capability.  In the case of Teliant, this was modular and was added to existing modules.  So the ATM product could be made at a relative cost point to other ATM DSLAMs.  The IP add-on could not compete against the newer models of IP DSLAMs that did not support ATM capability. Additionally, the new IP DSLAMs were really Ethernet DSLAMs.  Teliant was a layer 3 IP device.  Again, this was a more costly model than it needed to be.

Because of this, we were never able to crack the Tier 1 CO DSLAM business.  This is not to say we found no value in the portfolio for Teliant.  The primary application that we found for it was in the IP Video over DSL space (also called IPTV).  Tim Flood developed an end to end product line based on partnerships for the non-access parts of the portfolio.  We used the routing capability of Teliant to become our IP Video Router for these networks.  From a strategy standpoint, our plan with this was to mitigate any traction by Next Level Communications who were pitching an ATM video product.  IP Video was never easy for us. Given the time and technology available the solution had many limitations.  But this solution did work and we ended up with over 50 small carriers that did Video over DSL.

We also sold Teliant as a standard CO DSLAM and small carriers also used it as either a core or edge ATM switch.  But the product never did what we wanted it to and this was a fault in not understanding the customer.  Next up we will explore the Skunks works that led to FiOS.  Then we will enter the last 18 months of AFC, which was a VERY busy time.

 

Jim Sackman

FocalPoint Business Coaching

http://www.jimsackman.focalpointcoaching.com/

We Focus On Your Business – Time, Team, Money, Exit

Business Coaching, Sales Training, Web Marketing, Behavioral Assessments, Financial Analysis

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/sales-training-sales-success-intensity-powered-by-brian-tracy-tickets-8404400789

Sonoma County News and Notes

I have been putting this out for a few weeks now and have decided that this is the point to talk about what I am doing now. My plan for this slot in my blogging calendar longer term is to speak to some local business owners and introduce them to you through this platform.  If you want to be interviewed here just let me know!  I am being my own guinea pig in this process and would love feedback on this (and anything else).

Question: What made you become a Business Coach?
Answer: Well, it seems like a good fit for what I am good at. I have navigated my way through some tough challenges in organizations. For example when I joined Red Condor, they were 6 weeks away from effectively being bankrupt. I hope that I helped folks there through the transition and provided a simple path forward to grow the business once we reached stability.  That kind of experience is why I think I can be a Business Coach. I have seen the best and worst of what can happen and I help others through their challenges.

Question: What made you join FocalPoint?
Answer: I liked the content and relationship with Brian Tracy. I could develop a plan on my own for people, but those who know me well know that I don’t feel that I am the only person with the answers. The content that was created out of Brian Tracy’s work for FocalPoint has been proven in 1,000s of organizations. Why would I think I am smarter than that? On top of that, we have an ongoing relationship with Brian. This means we can bring updated thoughts to our clients before anyone else. I also have a team of other coaches that I can work with.

Question: What do the other coaches bring to the table?
Answer: There is a wealth of experience in different industries. I can find a coach who is an expert in just about any field and help with any specific technical issue in my client’s business. On top of that, coaches have produced other services that I can offer my Clients.

Question: What other services are there?
Answer: Through FocalPoint at the moment there are 3 other services that I can offer. These are:
– FocalPoint Assessments: We use the DISC Behavioral tools to help people this includes Career and Sales Skills, 360s, and single and team behavior assessments.
– FocalPoint Reach: This is a web marketing arm that goes beyond the implementation of your web presence to focus on your branding.
– FocalPoint Finance: This is a set of specialty accounting services like valuations, benchmarking, and cost reductions that you may not be able to afford from your accounting firm.

Question: Anything else?
Answer: I do workshops and seminars for folks and am submitting some to the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce for next year’s schedule. I am also a Brian Tracy Sales Trainer and offer 1 day Sales Training workshops.

Question: Why “We focus on your business”?
Answer: It all means something. We – because the owner and I are partners in growing his or her business. Focus – because clarity and focus are required to make a business great. On – Because we are working ON your business not IN your business. Your Business – because that is what this is about, and a great business can change your life.

So, expect this kind of format from other businesses in Sonoma County. The early bird pricing on my Sales Training in January is running out soon. There is a link at the bottom to sign up today. Thanks for reading!

Jim Sackman

FocalPoint Business Coaching
http://www.jimsackman.focalpointcoaching.com/
We Focus On Your Business – Time, Team, Money, Exit
Business Coaching, Sales Training, Web Marketing, Behavioral Assessments, Financial Analysis
https://www.eventbrite.com/e/sales-training-sales-success-intensity-powered-by-brian-tracy-tickets-8404400789

After the 2001 Business Plan

Now we have reached the end of the AFC 2001 Business Plan. We steeped ourselves in Present Position. We created a Vision. We created Goals and Action Plans. I wrote about 1 of those goals and how it impacted the business. Before I move on to the first big move after the Business Plan, I want to talk about how we implemented and monitored the goals and action plans.

We rolled out the Business Plan to the larger organization. This meant Senior people, typically Directors and Senior Managers. These folks would then take the Business Plan to their groups and align their organizations with the overall plan. Each Senior Executive would ensure that the group plans lined up with the overall Business Plan. On top of that we created cross functional teams to complete several goals. These were run by one of that larger group of Senior Team members and the Executive Team sponsored one or two of the teams. The intent of all of this was to help the larger organization buy into the plan and make sure that it got implemented. The Executives were in charge of making sure that the overall ship remained pointed in the right direction, but we knew that we needed the nearly 1,000 people to go with us.

This is one of the essentials of Leadership and I want to highlight it here. As a Manager whether front line or higher, you can not ensure that every action taken by your people is correct. The whole point of Mission Statements, Visions, Goals, and other larger statements is to provide people with guideposts to make decisions. When I was a design engineer, I made dozens of individual choices a day about the end product. If I did not have directive on how to weigh the choices, then I would use my own judgement in making those decisions. As an Executive, that is one of your most important functions. Tell people how to weigh the choices. If they do not weigh them properly, correct them. If they constantly make bad decisions or contrary choices, then exit them from the business. Building an effective staff that is all trying to achieve the same goals is very important. This does not mean that you want “Yes Men”. I remember Mike Cooney chiding me for not wanting to make an organizational change in a group I ran temporarily. Mark Abrams and I used to go toe to toe on portfolio investment issues. I like and respect both of them.

We also created a dashboard of Key Peformance Indicators (KPIs) and Key Results Indicators (KRIs). I was at a smaller firm where we had about 50 elements we were supposed to track at an Executive level. I found this overkill and we did a terrible job of tracking them. At AFC, there were about 10 we tracked at an Executive level. There were others that each of us tracked in our functional organizations. Unless they were very wrong or very right we never talked about them at an executive level. We held a Monthly Business Review to go over the Dashboard and Team reports. We talked to the whole organization at a quarterly meeting about the dashboard.

Again all of this is about three things:

– Leadership through education. Make sure that everyone in the organization knows about the plan and we were doing about it.
– Accountability through reporting. Make sure that we tell everyone about how we do and both our wins and our losses.
– Course Correction through monitoring. Make sure we stay on track by making sure that we are meeting our KPIs or changing our plans.

In summary, have a plan – keep track of the plan – and fix things when they go off course. If you can do only those 3 things, you will likely have a good business. Tomorrow, my local content post. Friday, our first major action…a failed acquisition.

 

Jim Sackman
FocalPoint Business Coaching
http://www.jimsackman.focalpointcoaching.com/
We Focus On Your Business – Time, Team, Money, Exit
Coaching, Sales Training, Web Marketing, Behavioral Assessments, Financial Analysis
https://www.eventbrite.com/e/sales-training-sales-success-intensity-powered-by-brian-tracy-tickets-8404400789

 

The 2001 AFC Business Plan – Part 4: The Goal that saved AFC

Now that we had the vision in place, it was time to work on action plans to achieve our goals. Many of the goals were directly attached to the end vision of a Tier 1 carrier focused business. This goal was different and was built out of executing better on our present position. There was a big win here for us financially and got us to buy into the plan for the long term.

We were asked to pair up into small teams and write goals. I believe at least 2 of the teams came up with this type of goal and our plan around it will make it clear why this was important.

The Present Position of AFC in 2001 included the availability of what was known as System 8. System 8 was a combination of Hardware, Software and ASICs that turned the UMC from a TDM based phone product to an ATM based data product aimed at DSL. This was a huge investment for AFC. We had done a step-wise release earlier. We had released new cards, new software, and new chips. This was literally 150+ Man Years of effort into building a DSL system. We were selling very little of it.  About 60K ports of DSL in a year. We sold more POTS port than that every month.

As you can imagine, this was distressing. We were spending a lot of money not to sell the product. The TDM business was continuing so we were making money, but we knew the future was somewhere else. How to make this product invested in work?

What we did was assign individual Salespeople quotas for DSL Sales. Normally we did it by sales volume, but we wanted to ramp up the sales of DSL. We quadrupled our previous year results and gave the numbers to folks and it would be a big part of their commission.

The reaction was immediate. Instead of the pablum we were getting about why customers loved our solution we finally got the objections back inside HQ. If you are in Sales, you need to take the toughest objections to your marketing and product teams. In our case, we had 3 technical objections and 1 price objection. These were all about how to deploy in our existing systems, not new systems.

Technical – Power, Cooling, Battery
Price – Upgrade Cost

When we went through our Present Position we found that 50%+ of our cabinets were small (under 200 lines). These cabinets had been built specifically to hold our TDM products in low density deployments. Because absolute cost was high for the bended metal compared to the rest of the installation, they was no overhead in any part of the design.

Power: DSL takes more power than POTS and our DSL cards were also POTS cards. Many of these small cabinets were network DC powered (which could no longer work) but even locally AC powered units had challenges.

Cooling: POTS uses a lot of the power required to power the end customer’s phone. DSL added all that additional power inside our enclosure. This killed our cooling capacity.

Battery: Telco systems required 8 hour backup and adding this power meant we needed to augment the batteries.

Upgrade: We did not just upgrade the DSL plugs for System 8. We changed many of the common control cards. This meant the cost of the first DSL port was high even though a fully loaded cost would be good.

Once we had these issues, we built teams to go after solving them. Resolving these issues sent DSL sales through the roof. We hit and then exceeded our goals. I already noted that many customers were augmenting networks not replacing units. This meant our solutions now played well in our installed base.  Given that we were a majority market share owner, this locked folks into our solutions.

AFC was not going to go out of business without this goal. We were profitable and had nearly $1B on the Balance Sheet. This goal showed us how powerful that alignment of Sales Teams, Product Teams and Management could be when we were all trying to accomplish the same thing. This was really important to the Executive Team and buoyed the morale in the company. That is how this goal saved AFC.

Jim Sackman
FocalPoint Business Coaching
http://www.jimsackman.focalpointcoaching.com/
We Focus On Your Business – Time, Team, Money, Exit
Coaching, Sales Training, Web Marketing, Behavioral Assessments, Financial Analysis
https://www.eventbrite.com/e/sales-training-sales-success-intensity-powered-by-brian-tracy-tickets-8404400789