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July 16th, 2011

The Ingredients of Success

Posted by liveBooks

Flying has always been exciting for me. Something about being high above it all, traveling at high speed, with views to forever – well, it simply gets my creative juices flowing. So on my recent trip to our office in Romania, with stops in Berlin, and NYC, I had plenty of air time to think about all the little things that make up the ingredients for success.

We launched the new version of liveBooks – Scaler – this past week. We’ve known that the market wanted scaling websites, large images, new thumbnails, but the trick is to do it right. A few other companies having scaling sites, but after studying the compromises made in design, technology and price, we knew we could do it better. It is one thing to design for a specific size and ratio window, but to allow for that design to scale up and down without compromising the integrity of the site—well, that’s tricky— and our brilliant development, design and production teams knocked it out of the park! And our clients still have the flexibility to customize their sites or work directly with our designers for a fully unique design.  Check out the home page to see more about SCALER.

So what lessons are available to us thorough this process?

For more than a year liveBooks teams have honed the vision for Scaler. We met with clients, prospects, art directors and photo editors to understand the market’s needs, wants and perceptions. We assessed the design and technical challenges, and the long term product road map for liveBooks. Defining a clear vision is imperative at liveBooks. Once the vision is defined, we write it down and all the teams use this statement as a guiding principle for driving strategies. Do you have a vision of what success looks like for you? If not, how will you know when you get there? Write it down!

Once we had our vision statement, we began the painstaking exercise of planning. At liveBooks this includes all aspects of the company, from how the product will be built, to how it will be marketed to existing and prospective clients, to how we will support our clients in the transition. For example, Scaler is the photo industry’s only custom scaling website solution. So in our planning we needed to determine how to build the product to allow for this customization, keep the price affordable for our clients, while sustaining the business in the long term. As your plan is developed remember to include allowances—time, money, and resources—for unknowns that will inevitably appear along the way. “Measure twice, cut once” as Dad used to say.

Once we had agreement on the plan, then we set out to execute the plan. A major part of working the plan is continual evaluation of how we are doing. Things change, and new information may challenge your initial thinking. Are the things that you are doing on a daily and weekly basis aligned with your vision? If not, perhaps it is time to reassess your vision or rework your plan. Have you made time in your schedule, in your life, to regularly assess and adjust your plan?

In my experience, another thing happens when you set your vision, create your plan and begin to work it – magic happens! When I say magic, I just mean those special surprises, the unexpected little pieces of help that can come your way. Recently, my friend and old business partner, Bernie DeChant, happened to be in Eastern Europe while I was working in our office in Romania. Bernie was the Art Director at Adjacency and designed many of the very first e-commerce sites in the industry for top clients like Apple, Patagonia, LandRover and Virgin Megastore. He stopped by the liveBooks office in Brasov and spent a few days hanging out with us. It didn’t take long before Bernie was meeting with various team members and providing valuable input on the new product, marketing ideas and our website. Everyone was energized after meeting with Bernie. It was that alchemy of an amazing group of creative people in multiple locations around the world successfully collaborating toward a common goal. So stay open and awake to the unexpected ‘magic’ that may come your way, signaling you’re on the right path.

Clear vision, solid planning, continual evaluation, keeping your eyes open for the magic… and lots of hard, smart work.

“In human endeavor, chance favors the prepared mind”– Louis Pasteur, 1822-1895,

So here’s wishing you lots of success!

March 27th, 2011

Embracing Change

Posted by liveBooks

I’m back in the San Francisco office after a couple of weeks due to the passing of my mother. She was an amazing woman who taught me many lessons, not the least of which was the importance of story-telling and how to embrace change. I recall my first semester of Sophomore year in college. I was disillusioned with school and decided that I would walk across America in the foot steps of the author Peter Jenkins. Upon hearing this news via phone one night, my dad suggested I finish out the semester and come home so we could talk about it and plan out the trip. My mom added that I might want to take some workshops on the various skills I would need to complete such an adventure. She would later find an incredible teacher from the National Outdoor Leadership School who lived in our home town and was willing to take me under her wing. My mom & dad always supported me in this way, respecting me enough to make my decision, while asking insightful questions and providing me the support to find needed answers.

So, it was in this spirit of embracing change that I took the news that one of our wonderful employees was leaving the nest after nearly seven years with liveBooks. The hard core businessman in me wanted to fight to keep him on, as one never wants to lose such talent. But, Taylor Smith is more than just an employee to us, and the lessons of my mother seem ever more relative. We’ll miss Taylor, but we can’t wait to see what he accomplishes next.

This is one of my favorite parts of being a leader – watching those on my team learn, achieve, find happiness and evolve. When Michael Costuros first created what we now know of as liveBooks, it was called Evolution Studios. How appropriate! Michael himself has evolved, leaving the day-to-day activities of liveBooks and creating another successful venture. Miki Johnson, trusting in my vision and herself, left New York for San Francisco and a position at liveBooks. Now she is out on her own conquering project after project. And just as we continue to work with Michael and Miki on a project basis, I’m sure we’ll find our paths crossing again with Taylor.

At the funeral service I listened intently to my mom’s friends and family tell stories about her. What struck me most was the tremendous impact that she had on people’s lives. The little things that she did and said in a spirit of caring and giving. Regardless of the type of creative professional you are, remember that those around you are paying attention and your impact is significant. Don’t take this opportunity for granted for you never know how important your actions will be to someone close by, whether someone in the studio, on a shoot, in a wedding, or in the field. Do your art with integrity, intent and insight and you’ll create an ever-lasting legacy.

Be well Taylor – make us proud!

Please read more about “my last day at liveBooks” on Taylor’s blog

Posted in Leadership
February 22nd, 2011

Accepting Advisor Advice

Posted by liveBooks

Actively seeking criticism and advice is vital to the successful entrepreneur. As a creative professional the chances are good that you are on your own most of the time when it comes to business decision-making. So what do you do to assure that your decisions are sound, timely and relevant to what is happening around you?

I have been an entrepreneur since I was a kid. Whether syndicating the neighborhood lemonade stands, starting social ventures to help the homeless, or my role here at liveBooks over the past six years, I’ve been leading teams of people toward the successful completion of common goals for most of my life. Ultimately I credit my advisors with a large part of this success. I’ve known some of them for nearly twenty years, which means they have a unique perspective because they can include knowledge of me in our discussions and decisions. Some of my advisors I speak to on a weekly basis with a set day and time, others I talk with every few weeks, while others I may only call on occasion.

Like any relationship, advisor relationships need nurturing and respect if they are to be of true value. Although most of our discussions never have a set agenda I try to prepare for the discussion by reviewing my notes from the last call or meeting and by creating a good question or two that I hope will be the cornerstone of a wonderful conversation. For instance I might ask, “Hey Jim, what type of things have you found to be most effective in staying connected with your customers?” Often times these discussions are the highpoint of my week as I listen intently for what my friend Cory refers to as “nuggets of wisdom’.

So, don’t be afraid to reach out to a person or two and ask if they might be interested in becoming an informal advisor for you and your business. As with building any team think about creating diversity of knowledge, experience and reach. Who do you know that you deeply respect and have found to be insightful and helpful in the past? Simply ask, “Hey Jim, I am putting together an informal group of people that I greatly respect that would be willing to chat with me from time-to-time and act as advisors and mentors for me – it would mean a lot to me if you would consider joining my team.” The worst that can happen is that they decline, but I guarantee they will be honored that you thought of them. Start small, make it simple, and let me hear of your experiences with advisors. As always, I hope you’ll find a little something good in this advice.


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