NOTA BENE Fall 1998


Howard A. Tullman co-founded the highly successful, JAMtv Corporation, in September 1996, and currently presides as Chairman and CEO. This startup is simply another, in a long list of successful business ventures for Mr. Tullman, after his distinguished legal career in federal litigation. He has been named Entrepreneur of the Year by three organizations, and teaches a venture capital / entrepreneurship class at the J.L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management.

Mr. Tullman's current venture, JAMtv, is now the premier music mega-site on the Internet, due in part, to an October 1997 strategic partnership with Rolling Stone magazine. JAMtv and Rolling Stone combined their on-line sites to create the Rolling Stone Music Network on the World Wide Web. This strategic partnership, and the critical considerations in creating a successful partnership, were the topic of Mr. Tullman's presentation.

The backdrop for any partnership is: Why? Answer: Joy's Law, which states that most of the bright people don't work for you - no matter who you are - so you need a strategy that allows you to take advantage of changes and innovation that occur outside of your own company. Mr. Tullman also noted that most business people have been involved with a strategic alliance, or they will be involved with one. Partnerships are pervasive in business today and will probably become more common, not less. The following are considerations in establishing a successful strategic partnership.

There must be a sound business reason for creating a partnership, because, one can't succeed by creating the cure for an unknown disease. While this is difficult, it is even harder to find a partner that shares the same vision. Without a shared purpose, there is no focus, which is expressed succinctly with: "you can do anything you want, but not everything."

When two strong organizations come together, there is a good chance that two strong leaders will emerge. There can only be one leader. Without a clear leader, organizational authority can be blurred. The ball can get dropped, and employee camps can develop. There can be conflicting visions and egos, which will delay decisions and kill a project. Business is personal. People commit themselves to other people, not companies. And commitment, not authority, produces results.

A corporate culture has to be built on expectations of performance, not rules of behavior. Real values should be the guideposts, not rote rules - you don't have a second chance to make a first impression. Every member of a company is an ambassador for that firm. All members of the firm should adopt the guiding values, which stem from the corporate culture. Another aspect of culture deals with the willingness to take risks to move the company forward. Growth is inherently embarrassing and mistakes are inevitable. The name of the game is to win, not to be right all of the time. Young companies and new strategic partnerships need to develop a culture that encourages aggressive behavior. After all, "if you're gonna walk on thin ice, you might as well dance."

Speed to Market
Speed is critical. Sequencing and priorities must be carefully established - no one ever loses a game, they just run out of time. A new idea is delicate. It can be killed by a sneer or a yawn. It can be stabbed to death by a quip and worried to death by a frown on someone's brow. And, of course, it can be strangled by a committee. Decision-making must not hold back good ideas. Successive approximation is superior to postponed perfection. A good plan violently executed right now is a lot better than a perfect plan that never happens. Today the fast eat the slow.

Information flow
Information deteriorates as it moves upward in most companies. You'll never have all the data you need for certain decisions - if you did, they'd be foregone conclusions, not questions. Information is likely to be spotty with respect to decisions. To combat this, you should adhere to the axiom that "consistency is easier to defend than correctness."

There is no such thing as an over-financed business or venture. You should not try to do something cheaply that shouldn't be done at all. Conversely, anything that is worth doing is worth doing right, and that costs money.

Environmental Change
Business is fast-paced, and new ventures need to move even more quickly to survive. There are no skid marks in start-up businesses - he who hesitates is toast. The ready, fire, aim mind-set has merit in this setting. Mind-boggling change is the only constant, and focusing on the avoidance of major blunders yields better results than the single-minded pursuit of the big win.

Planning is important, but only when used to recognize and measure change - not to run a business. Don't try to make the circumstances fit the plan - change the plan. Planning should be forward looking - you can't water yesterday's crops. And planning should be realistic, because refusing to look at unpleasant facts doesn't make them go away.

After this plethora of sound business advice, it is interesting that Mr. Tullman chose to leave us with this one final thought. 'We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life when all we need, to make us really happy, is something to be enthusiastic about."

by Joseph Wanner