Small Business News
Brad Feld, VC and co-founder of TechStars, sounds off on why immigration policy must change--before the start-up community starts to suffer.
Editor's note: This is the first post in a series on immigration policy from Engine, a Silicon Valley based advocacy organization for tech start-ups.
We’re playing a global game for talent and, as Washington, D.C. continues at its own pace on immigration policy, the rest of the world is moving faster and faster around us. When I think about the United States in comparison to other countries, it’s clear that we need to seriously rethink our positioning and catch up.
Canada, for example, unveiled a new Start-up Visa this year touting short processing times, a pathway to citizenship, and lower taxes. The UK is also well on its way to attracting young, bright talent: as of April this year, anyone approved for the TechStars London accelerator is automatically approved for an UK Entrepreneur Visa. With our dysfunctional immigration system and stalling reform efforts, it’s clear why some entrepreneurs are actively choosing to leave the United States for other countries.
In true startup fashion, these newer startup communities are growing at a rapid pace and have already produced some exceptional companies. Prezi, founded in Hungary, is changing the way many of us give presentations and London-based Wonga, a real-time risk-profiling startup, is bringing small loans to the 21st century. Since we no longer have a monopoly on innovation, we cannot afford to turn away the entrepreneurs knocking on our door. In fact, our economy depends on us throwing the door to the United States wide open to any entrepreneur who wants to start a company here.
The current status quo around the United States immigration policy is bad for innovation and bad for our economy. In this context, we cannot afford to turn our backs on the efforts of some Senators on reform. One of the most exciting prospects in the Senate bill is the INVEST visa for foreign entrepreneurs that will create a new class of non-immigrant visas for founders who already have American investment in their business. In addition, this visa rewards successful entrepreneurs with a pathway to citizenship. This is real innovation--not just iteration--and it’s essential for startups, broader startup communities, and our country as a whole.
I know some people in Washington get it, but political morass is already seeping into the mechanism for change. House leadership has vowed to create its own immigration bill, in effect rejecting any Senate bill even if it passes with a supermajority. Representative Goodlatte has already introduced four new immigration bills, favoring a piecemeal approach rather than a comprehensive solution. What they are failing to see is that most Americans support a comprehensive immigration bill, and they’re ready for change now.
In keeping with the American public, I’m supporting Engine Advocacy’s Keep Us Here campaign. Startups in Boulder cannot wait for this immigration fix. Nor can the startup communities in Silicon Valley, New York, Boston, Seattle, Austin, Portland, Kansas City, or anywhere else in the United States. Let’s give Washington the nudge they need to be safe in the knowledge that this is what America wants, as well as what we need.
EPA published two proposed rules on formaldehyde in composite wood products: Formaldehyde Emissions Standards for Composite Wood Products and Third-Party Certification Framework for the Formaldehyde Standards for Composite Wood Products.
On June 10, 2013, EPA published two proposed rules on formaldehyde in composite wood products: Formaldehyde Emissions Standards for Composite Wood Products and Third-Party Certification Framework for the Formaldehyde Standards for Composite Wood Products. In the Emissions Standards rule, EPA is proposing new requirements under the Formaldehyde Standards for Composite Wood Products Act, of Title VI of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). The proposed requirements will implement the statutory formaldehyde emission standards for hardwood plywood, medium-density fiberboard, and particleboard sold, supplied, offered for sale, or manufactured (including imported) in the United States. Amongst other provisions, EPA is also including provisions related to laminated products, products made with no added formaldehyde or ultralow-emitting formaldehyde resins, testing, requirements, labeling, and recordkeeping.
On June 10, 2013, EPA published two proposed rules on formaldehyde in composite wood products: Formaldehyde Emissions Standards for Composite Wood Products and Third-Party Certification Framework f
Credibility is everything in the business world. It's hard to build but easy to destroy. And your success depends on it.
In the business world, your credibility is everything. It tells people whether they can count on you. It tells your customers, employees, bosses, and coworkers what they can expect from you. Whether they can trust you or not.
Over time, that becomes your reputation. It becomes one of the most important factors in determining how far you go in your career. How successful you'll become.
It's not rocket science, so let's not complicate things. Your credibility is largely a function of the perceived gap between what you say and what you do. If your actions match your words, you might go places. If they don't, look out below.
Credibility is a powerful thing, not just because it has so much impact on your future, but also because you have so much control over it. With rare exception, it's more or less in your hands. And here are the biggest pitfalls you need to avoid.
Having all the answers. Some people act like they know everything. They can never, ever be wrong. They just have to show how smart they are. Funny thing is, really smart, experienced people know how much they don't know. And those people will see right through you when you act like a know-it-all.
Overpromising and under-delivering. Remember Facebook's initial public offering, the most overhyped IPO in history? Look how that turned out. It was a complete disaster. Now Zuckerberg and company have to work that much harder to win back their credibility. It's okay for goals to be reasonably aggressive. But when you're making a commitment, make sure you do what you say you're going to do. Simple as that.
Flat out lying. We all occasionally have to spin, pivot, deflect, or redirect. That's fine. But for God's sake, never ever flat out lie. It's not about morals or ethics. It's purely pragmatic advice. When you get caught, and you will, it'll ruin your credibility. That's why none of us trust our politicians anymore.
Filling the air with feel good fluff. It's good to inspire people. And it's okay to be optimistic about the future. But if you're going to be Mr. Feel Good, then you'd better deliver. I can think of a whole string of CEOs who destroyed their reputations by spewing feel good fluff and failing to deliver. They're no longer CEOs. Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, on the other hand, said he could turn the company around, even in a recession. And he did. That's credibility.
Trying to be something you're not. I see it all the time, all over Silicon Valley: people dressing, speaking, or acting like they're Steve Jobs or Barack Obama. If you're so uncomfortable in your own skin that you have to put on somebody else's, then folks will think you don't have much going on under the hood. It shows that you lack self-confidence. Be the genuine you, flaws and all. You can work on becoming the best version of you without trying to be something you're not.
Being too politically correct. Ever hear someone trying too hard to be politically correct? It's painful to listen to, like they have to parse and process every word to make sure they're not offending someone. It takes them forever to make a point. It comes out sounding choppy and disingenuous. It's far better to be genuine and straightforward than to sound like you're pandering and afraid to speak your mind.
Telling people what they want to hear. Some people are yes-men. They sugarcoat the truth and tell people what they think they want to hear. They're also slippery. They change their story based on whoever's in the room. Holding them accountable is like throwing darts at Jell-o. Those people have zero credibility. It may work in government bureaucracies, but not in well-run businesses.
Being condescending. If you talk down to people and treat them like children it doesn't reflect well on you for all sorts of reasons. First, people will think you're a jerk. And nobody trusts or wants to work with a jerk. Second, the only people that will respect you are the ones who don't get it, and those people rarely play decision-making roles. Makes sense, doesn't it?
Being defensive. Funny thing is, when you tell people they're being defensive, 9 times out of 10 they say they're not. Then they go right on being defensive, overly sensitive, or thin-skinned. If you can't take criticism or conflict, if you have trouble openly debating issues without taking it personally, nobody will trust your abilities to make solid decisions, manage, or lead.
Having no sense of humor or humility. One of the biggest mistakes leaders make is being full of themselves or self-important. It's generally a sign of immaturity and that hurts their credibility. With experience comes wisdom, and with wisdom comes the knowledge that the world doesn't revolve around you and you're not nearly as smart or important as you thought you were when you were younger. That's why humor and humility are such important leadership traits.
Look, credibility is serious stuff. It's your reputation. It follows you wherever you go. It's hard to build but easy to destroy. Don't take it for granted. If you've got some chronic issues, get to work on them now, before you do some things you can't undo.
Innovation is not about process, it's about people, says Mauro Porcini.
When it comes to innovation, playing it safe is too easy.
But nurturing growth and true innovation means taking risks, said Mauro Porcini, chief design officer at PepsiCo, during the World Innovation Forum on Wednesday.
One way companies limit risk-taking is by relying on focus groups.
Imagine if the wheel had to be approved by a focus group when it was first invented, said Porcini. What if the group didn't like its round shape and suggested one that was square?
By relying on focus group feedback, sometimes "we kill the idea, but we think we are making it more approachable to people or more understandable to people," he said.
And when the modified product fails, it's easy to blame the original idea. But it's the process that's to blame.
"Innovation is not about the process. The process is important, it is a tool -- like brush is a tool for painting. But give a brush to Andy Warhol or Leonardo DaVinci and you'd see the outcome will be completely different," he said.
"Listen to your consumers, but do not believe them," he stressed. To be a successful innovator, you have to interpret what they are telling you.
Don't let them stop you from inventing the next wheel.
Staying local means being flexible and accessible, advises Mark Suster.
I travel the country a lot. And I am often approached by entrepreneurs in cities which don’t have a vibrant VC community. They often ask whether they have to move to SF, NY or LA to get financed.
I have the same response always, "Where do you want to live? Where do you want to build your community, your relationships, your family?" I'm trying to get a feel for their commitment to local community versus being in a place where financing is easiest.
If their commitment to staying local is weak I normally say, "Well, it certainly would be easier on you to be in a larger community. It would be easier in terms of getting access to angels, VCs, the media, whatever. So if you’re really indifferent you might consider it." On the other hand, if they have a strong preference to staying local I usually tell them that I believe you can build a business anywhere these days.
You can build a meaningful company just about wherever these days. Just ask the people of Portland, Seattle, Boulder, Iowa, Princeton, Dallas or countless other cities that don’t have enough venture capital.
Ask SuperCell. Or Rovio. Or UrbanAirship. NewToy, Dwolla, Pollenware or Wonga.
If you don't live in a major VC zone, I have some tips for how to make it easier to raise Venture Capital.
Before I explain, let me give you some backgrounds why it's harder to raise money if you live outside "the zone."
Let's start with "oversight." Most VCs view it as their responsibility to mentor, debate, cajole and generally assist with investments they make. They also view it as a responsibility of the money they manage on behalf of others to provide oversight of these companies. And it is significantly easier to help when you are local.
Take me for example. This afternoon (Saturday) I have a coffee meeting with a portfolio company founder. Tomorrow I’m meeting with a senior exec who is considering joining a company in which we’ve invested. He would be a very senior hire for us and filling an urgent gap. I know local talent. I know who is perceived as good and who has a fancy resume but others think didn't perform. That’s what local allows. I know the whole ecosystem: VCs, CEOs, tech teams, founders, angels -- and I know people who have worked together for 15-plus years.
Local knowledge runs deep. Thus, a desire to invest more locally where I think I have a competitive advantage. Otherwise I'm just money.
But I do invest outside of LA. Examples include DataSift (San Fran and London), MyTime (SF) and awe.sm (SF).
Every year I'm in the SF Bay Area 12 to 14 times. I'm in NY six to eight times. And then there are smatterings (Dallas two times, D.C. three times, Philly three times, Austin, Boulder, Seattle not to mention San Diego eight times, Santa Barbara eitht times -- where I invested in RingRevenue).
This isn't a complaint. It's a goal to help you understand the life of a VC. And I no longer control my calendar. When DataSift sets up a board meeting (next one in London, last was in NYC) we have investors from NYC (IA Ventures), SF (Scale Ventures) and the founding team plus chairman in London. So when dates and locations are set -- they're set.
Am I looking to add eight trips a year to [name your location not already on my annual itinerary]? Not easily. Of course, if it's a company on fire, I would travel to any two-hop city from LA.
So how do you overcome that given that all VCs must have a similar pattern to me other than super-human VCs like Brad Feld or Dave McClure who have insane travel schedules but an unbelievable ability to put in the air miles and be whenever, whenever?
Here's what I would do if I were you (I'll pick a mythical company in Kansas City):
- For starters, I'd try to raise my initial capital locally.
- Next, I'd research every VC in the country and find people who grew up in or near KC. Why? Because you know they must already come back one to two times a year anyways. Plus, they know the local market better and therefore don't have the uninformed biases of those that don't. If these people work for reputable firms and have the right industry knowledge they ought to be on your pitch list.
- Importantly … I would pitch investors in SF, NY, Boston, LA, etc. and say the following:
"I live and work in Kansas City. I have the tremendous advantage of access to a hard-working, loyal and technical talent pool. So I want to stay here and build my business.
That said, I want the best VCs in the industry and for that I know I need to be in a major VC hub.
So here's the deal. I will commit to traveling to NYC seven times per year for board meetings. I'll make your life easier because I know you travel all the time anyways and KC isn't exactly on your normal path.
Heck. I need to be in NYC a lot anyways. All I would ask is that you hold one to two board meetings a year in KC.
You're going to want to do that anyways to always kick the tires of the local team. Plus, we have some rocking bbq to make it worth your time."
I know some people will cringe at this idea, "if the VC really wanted me they would come to ME."
Maybe. But until you've achieved the kind of success you know you're capable of, it's a harder ask. And with my strategy, you take their biggest objection off the table. By the way, no VC will ever tell you, "I don't want to come to KC eight times a year," because it would sound bad.
But as I always tell entrepreneurs, "Better That You Deal with The Elephant in the Room."
This post originally appeared on Both Sides of the Table.
What do smart people want? Sue Khim answered that question by launching a problem-solving site for STEM learners.
In many places, a student's "intellect" is measured by a standardized test, where the only real skill is memorization.
"Instead of waiting for the national exams to change, or colleges to adapt, I started Brilliant to go and find these people and create a more meaningful way for them to get noticed," Sue Khim told the crowd at TedXUChicago.
She began with a simple question: What do smart people like?
Slowly, she realized the answers: Smart people like a challenge. Smart people like socializing with brainy peers. And smart people like to be noticed--and commended--for their hard work.
In launching Brilliant, an online community that boasts 80,000 users from 135 countries, Khim created a challenging intellectual environment that checks off all three.
"We built a site where students can solve hard problems in math, science, and engineering--going deeper--and are much more advanced than what is usually covered in school," she said.
Start-ups have a huge demand for talented people, especially in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. But those job requirements are rapidly changing, so students must "adapt to jobs that may not exist yet, using skills we don't yet have words for, using technologies we're still inventing," she said.
Brilliant can help them prepare, which in turn may improve the economy.
"Countries that focus on developing their people are much more prosperous in the long run," she concluded.
Will you give Brilliant a try? Let us know in the comments.
Google has asked the government to let it disclose the number of FISA requests it receives. Even if the government says no, it's a step in the right direction for Silicon Valley.
In an attempt to clarify Google's role in the NSA surveillance scandal, the company's head lawyer, David Drummond, took the podium to clear the air.
Since the scandal broke late last week, Google has maintained that it does not let the NSA have open access to its users' data. Google will, however, work with the government when Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act requests are delivered to the company. And the company seems willing to be transparent about when it receives these requests--just as it is transparent about other government requests for user data.
The only problem is that right now, its hands are tied. According to FBI law, Google can't release those FISA requests due to nondisclosure obligations. In other words, what Drummond is saying is that Google isn't complicit in spying--it only looks like it is, because it is not allowed to talk about it.
As Drummond wrote yesterday:
Google has worked tremendously hard over the past fifteen years to earn our users' trust. For example, we offer encryption across our services; we have hired some of the best security engineers in the world; and we have consistently pushed back on overly broad government requests for our users' data.
We therefore ask you to help make it possible for Google to publish in our Transparency Report aggregate numbers of national security requests, including FISA disclosures--in terms of both the number we receive and their scope. Google's numbers would clearly show that our compliance with these requests falls far short of the claims being made. Google has nothing to hide.
Whether you choose to believe Google...well, that's another discussion. And frankly, the more pessimistic PRISM-ites would probably allege that Drummond's post is just a distraction--and that this request is just a sideshow meant to confuse the situation and throw PRISM investigators off the trail.
So far, no one really knows. Google continues to deny that the NSA had direct access to its severs, and Snowden's supposed proof hasn't yet fully been investigated. Mike Arrington, the TechCrunch founder, weighs in with his own smart theory:
My guess is that Google and the others have agreed to receive FISA requests in an automated way, process them in an automated way, and fire off the data in an automated way. That whole process could take a very small amount of time. Milliseconds for small sets of data, easy. Anything beyond that is from any human intervention at Google to read the order and decide whether to accept it. From what I've seen, it's extremely rare for companies to push back on orders, since the secret FISA court always, without exception, tells them to settle down and get that data over to the NSA, pronto.
So Google complies, and the whole thing has been handled "in accordance with the law."
Regardless, it does bring up an important question that companies will be grappling with from now into the future. As more sensitive data inevitably moves to the cloud, and that data is managed by private entities (think: Dropbox, Box, etc.), tech companies must begin thinking about how to approach transparency in an era of FISA and other government-related surveillance requests.
It's not just tech companies that should be concerned, either. As Robert McMillan of WIRED pointed out yesterday, one company has already put a project to move e-mails into the cloud on hold.
"They are simply concerned about their data being accessed by a third party without their knowledge or consent," the company's lawyer told McMillan. "They have all kinds of things that they're working on, and they don't want that information used unless they understand who's using it."
The FBI and Department of Justice will likely not respond to Google's request. If they do, they'll probably just say no, and the argument will be that releasing FISA requests to the public could compromise national security. And that may, in some sense, be true. But for tech companies to retain any semblance of trust with their customers, they'll need to figure out new ways in which they can be both transparent and compliant with the law.
"We want to be able to be more transparent about what we do do, which is occasionally comply with national security orders, as we're required to do," David Drummond told PBS last night. "What we would like the government to do is to allow us to say more."
At Edison Nation, you'll find high-tech design studios, 3-D printing labs, and ultra-modern offices bursting with products that have made millionaires out of amateur tinkerers.
Exoskeletal body armor designed for protecting guards in prison riots. Infinitely gyroscoping bowls designed for spill-prone toddlers. High-powered pneumatic pogo sticks designed for… people who are really into falling from extreme heights.
They’re the kind of instruments of miscellany you would expect to find in an MIT engineering lab or a Silicon Valley incubator. Turns out, they’re housed in a renovated grist mill on the outskirts of downtown Charlotte, North Carolina.
Hop the ragged chain-link fence behind Panthers stadium, scale a gravel embankment, scramble across the old train tracks, and you’ll come upon a nondescript warehouse with an unmarked door. This is Edison Nation, and inside, you’ll find a winding labyrinth of high-tech design studios, 3-D printing labs, and ultra-modern offices bursting with products that have made millionaires out of amateur tinkerers who came to the company with little more than an idea. Hope you brought a good one.
“Ideas on their own have no value,” says Louis Foreman, chief executive officer of Edison Nation. “You may have come up with something extremely innovative, but without a complex team of engineers, marketers, and lawyers, it won’t go anywhere.”
That’s where Edison Nation steps in. For a 50 percent cut of the royalties, the 55-person company will take your idea from a table napkin to a store shelf, handling product design, patent filings and pitches to corporate executives who are increasingly looking beyond their firms’ R&D departments for innovations. General Electric, for instance, said in April that it had inked a deal with Quirky, an online community of inventors, to give its users access to GE’s huge portfolio of patents.
Edison Nation, however, runs more targeted searches for large companies looking to launch particular types of products. One such company, Bed Bath & Beyond, partnered with Edison Nation in 2009 to conduct a search for new dorm room gadgets.
As with all product searches on Edison, anyone could submit an idea confidentially via the firm’s site for a $25 fee.
Bed Bath & Beyond chose Jonathan Smith’s idea for a bed riser that features a built-in AC outlet and USB charger. The retailer plans to carry the item in all U.S. stores during this year’s back to school season, enriching Smith and Edison Nation as the royalty checks come in.
According to Edison Nation, the company runs between 50 and 60 searches per year, charging retailers $5,000 each time.
To be sure, Smith, an industrial designer by trade, could have earned twice as much had he taken it upon himself to develop the product, instead of handing over those duties--and the intellectual property--to Edison. But he would have had a tough time getting a prototype in the hands of Bed Bath & Beyond execs without Edison’s support.
“It’s not easy to access the attention of the companies we work with,” says Mary Dickson, an Edison spokeswoman. “Big corporations are wary of working directly with inventors given the proprietary nature of inventions.” Rubbermaid, for example, accepts online submission forms from inventors but will typically only consider patent-pending product ideas, Dickson notes.
For its part, Edison has been involved in more than 700 patents during its 12-year existence, serving in most cases as a middleman between large corporations and inventors who don’t have the time, money, or expertise to deal with the patent process.
Foreman, the CEO, is quick to point out--showing off a wall of framed patents in the company’s front foyer--that inventors get to keep their name on each filing. After all, each plaque has a personal story behind it. The IBM employee in Charlotte who came up with a new kind of trash can is now collecting checks from its sales at Williams-Sonoma. The parents in Wilmington whose idea for a spill-resistant bowl for kids became a breakout hit, having generated close to $60 million in sales since 2011.
“They came to us hoping to earn enough money to remodel their kitchen,” Foreman recalls of the Gyro Bowl creators. “Now they’ve bought a few homes.”
Edison Nation’s newest initiative is Edison Medical, a partnership with Carolinas HealthCare System that seeks to bring the ideas of medical professionals, from doctors to physicians’ assistants, to the market.
“We’re looking for innovations that improve patient care, lower the cost of producing care, or improve the patient outcome,” says Foreman in Edison’s brand new medical wing, flanked by massive water jet cutters and buzzing 3-D printers.
Already, Edison has helped produce everything from a prosthetic hand that employs pulleys instead of robotics to a simple latex glove with measuring marks on the index finger. Why? “Nurses were actually sticking Q-tips into people’s wounds to eyeball their depth before,” Louis explains, adding that the gloves allow for a quicker and more accurate measurement in situations when seconds count.
Statistics on the average depth of wounds from extreme pogo-stick crashes were unavailable at the time of publish.
Tour Guides Nate Hindman and Joe Epstein are "On the Road With Free Free Enterprise," visiting small businesses and entrepreneurs checking out local events, and telling the story of free enterprise in more than 20 American communities this summer. Follow their travels on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
The founder of Stonyfield Farm explains why he stepped down as CEO--and the lessons he learned along the way
Woody Allen put his finger on the problem, said Gary Hirshberg, co-founder and chairman of Stonyfield Farm, addressing the 400 attendees of Inc.’s third annual Leadership Forum. “He said, ‘I’m not afraid of death. I just don’t want to be there when it happens.’ I think that’s why it’s hard to think about leaving your business, but the day is going to come.”
He was referring to the end of his own journey, which had begun with the founding of Stonyfield in 1983 and concluded with his decision to step down in date January. The key turning point had come in 2001, when he’d engineered a unique merger with his largest competitor, Groupe Danone. Danone agreed to purchase 85 percent of Stonyfield stock over a two year period, while keeping Hirshberg as CEO and letting him retain three of the five seats on Stonyfield’s board, thus giving him operating control.
Over the next decade, Stonyfield continued to grow under Hirshberg’s leadership, eventually reaching more than $370 million in annual sales. Along the way, Stonyfield introduced one innovation after another that revolutionized the industry and set new-;and very high-;standards for businesses seeking to promote environmental stewardship.
And yet it was not his considerable accomplishments that Hirshberg had come to talk about. He mainly wanted to share with the audience the mistakes he’d made and the lessons he’d learned. There were six of them:
1. Keep clear on what you do and don’t do well and stick with the former.
2. Have your own personal advisory board that can warn you when you lose focus-;because you yourself won’t see it until it’s too late.
3. When everything is going great but you suspect you might be missing something, take a two- or three-month sabbatical.
4. In hiring a successor, it’s best to date before you get married. Remember that you can’t know whether the fit is right without working together, and that you’ll be handing over to the person something extremely dear and precious.
5. Don’t underestimate the insecurity that results when you leave. Make sure that you give people enough warning, so that they have time to prepare themselves emotionally.
6. It’s not what you’ve done that counts. It’s what you’re doing. The past is over. You can’t go back and change it. The best way to predict the future is to invent it.
When customers took to social media, calling a start-up's product ugly, the company went with it--inadvertently fueling a meteoric ascent.
Twitter and LinkedIn "are the two greatest management tools that have come along since the invention of e-mail," declared Gregory Shove, the founder and CEO of SocialChorus, speaking to a packed session entitled "Leadership in a Digital Age" at this year’s Inc. Leadership Forum.
But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. To do it right, social media cultivation requires nearly-constant monitoring, transparency, and an unsctructured, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants ideology that can be tough on some company founders and CEOs.
"You and everyone who works for you need to walk around with your phone and constantly monitor what people are saying. It returns marketing to what it used to be: hard, manual labor. But you have to do it. If your competitors do it and you don’t, you’ll pay."
Shove was joined in the session by Alejandro Velez, the 25-year-old co-founder of Back to the Roots, perhaps best known for the mushroom growing kits that it sells through major retailers like Whole Foods Market and Home Depot. The company has grown from zero to $4.1 million in sales in just four years, a meteoric rise that owes much to social media, which was not what Velez and his partner, Nikhil Arora, were expecting.
"For us, it just happened," said Velez. "It wasn’t planned. People bought our mushroom kits, and the mushrooms they grew were really funky and ugly. They began posting the photos online. We decided to embrace it. We said, 'Yes, they look ugly, but they’re good for you.' And we started a mushroom naming contest, which people really got into."
Shove said he uses Twitter to keep track of what’s going on with customers, competitors, and prospects. "If one of our prospects tweets about being at a great conference, we get on a plane and go there immediately." He looks at LinkedIn for changes in people’s titles and to see who’s been promoted and who’s moved on to something else.
Shove and Velez agreed that the key to success in social media is being totally transparent. "That’s a tremendous advantage for entrepreneurs over their big, well-funded competitors, who hate transparency," said Shove. "They think the less the customer knows about them, the better--because they’re set up to have their sales reps control the customer relationship. But that doesn’t work in the world of social media."
"It’s about authenticity," said Velez. "Social media is an authentic way of marketing. Customers watch you fail, and then watch you pick yourself up." That type of interaction helps to cement the relationship, he suggested.
"That’s right," said Shove, agreeing. "As soon as I find myself censoring what I tweet, I know that I’m becoming less effective."
Ellie Cachette, CEO of ConsumerBell, reflects on the middle ground of running a business.
There were so many times our start-up almost failed, we joked it was a cockroach, a life form in its own right that, simply put, would never die.
There were times when we barely could pay our Rackspace bill, and one time I distinctly remember our blog being down because we forgot to pay that bill. There was also the time one of our investors cut our credit line in half, unexpectedly, right as we made a huge payment. And then the time our lead customer, two days before integration, committed suicide. Then the time a few weeks after that when our CTOs wife committed suicide.
There are so many things privately and publicly known about ConsumerBell that its nearly a miracle that we’ve made it where we are today. Any person close to us will say we have had no shortage of miracles and most startups that really make it far have similar stories; years where founders did contract work, or full teams were let go. We even moved my full apartment into the office hallway for a day while I was 24 hours between a lease, and experienced two hurricane blackouts in NYC and an earthquake that rocked our Park Ave office one summer.
Many of these things happened in our first year as a startup when our sole focus should be product. I remember after a trip to D.C, a water pipe exploded above our printers. We just went around the corner to a cafe. There’s always a wifi spot, a cup of coffee or an employees apartment to stakeout. ConsumerBell just would not die.
Similarly to a recently engaged couple and the way grandparents always ask, “When are you having kids?” there reaches a point where for a startup people are wondering, when you are going to IPO or raise the next round? Or have rocket ship growth? And sometimes it just never happens or even worse, sometimes like with Pandora or Tumblr it takes a while. There is this correlation between staying alive and rocketship growth. To get there the first part is staying alive and many other variables added to rocketship growth. Simply put just breath.
Yet at some point something changes: the founder gets bored, the company starts making money in a pivot that wasn’t part of the original vision or even funds run low but not low enough to justify shutting the doors - especially when there's revenue involved. Sometimes a startup is well funded but just can’t seem to see a path of success like it thought and returns its money to investors, sometimes the market changes or the industry changes and now what was a “big” idea is only a feature but something need and so is true for the opposite when what was once a feature in time becomes a company. Not every startup becomes a huge success like Facebook but not every startup fails either. There are plenty of startups in the middle, in purgatory of success waiting for the right VC or new CEO or market environment to change.
In the meantime, what is a team or founder to do?
From what I have heard, founders who take sabbaticals or vacations actually come back refreshed and with a new sense of balance. There's a couple reasons for this: after massive sleep deprivation and zero separation between work and personal life, taking a step back often reminds a founder of the things that they want in their personal life and gives motivation to the work life and while in a lull this can upset investors or look like avoidance, its in almost every case helped the company and lets be honest, if a company is going to die it isn't going to die in one week but be surprised at how much sleep a founder might need and you probably wouldn’t want many friends around. Stories of founders sleeping for days straight are not uncommon.
2. Reflect and Document
Having a lull or time for reflection can also be inspiring, its a good time to document all HR files, product road maps, organize digital assets, clean up email boxes and media content accounts like YouTube, upload missing content, re-share content on twitter. In many cases potential acquirers will be want to know many of these things like how many digital assets (files and images) to taxes and press lists. It never fails that when the acquisition opportunity arises founders are usually too busy with other things so doing it when possible is not only therapeutic but efficient. Also in the process you might find a gem or two of inspiration.
3. Help Other Startups
Dedicate a portion of time to help other startups in different phases. This will be refreshing to transfer knowledge and also help spread the word of what you are working on in a way that could spark new ideas or allies. When all seems lost helping others often reminds a founder of the world outside its own startup and can give perspective.
4. Do Something Different
One thing founders certainly give up is their personal lives and can albeit even forget what a personal life is making decision one sided. Take a class, do something random, spend a week with family somewhere far. Do something totally different and step out of the founders role.
5. Don’t shut down
airBnb had to sell cereal at one point to keep their company alive, in the early days of FedEx their CEO gambled his money at blackjack to win and make payroll. Evernote the night before closing its doors received a $500k investment from a user in Sweden and Blogger (which sold for rumors between $20MM and $50MM) to Google had to lay off every single employee before finally getting acquired. That founder, Evan Williams went off to start what is now Twitter today, so the greatest thing a founder can do when their startup isn’t failing is to make sure it doesn’t die. Timing is everything.
This post originally appeared on Business Insider.
Want a sustainable business? Start telling employees what you value, says Rebecca Henderson.
Becoming a sustainable business isn't easy, but you have to take the risk, said Rebecca Henderson, co-director of the business and environment initiative at Harvard Business School, during the World Innovation Forum on Wednesday.
"I am familiar with why innovation is hard. But I am also familiar with the fact that [innovating with a focus on sustainability] is an enormous source of new growth and opportunity," she told the New York audience.
The shortcut to sustainability -- whether it means cutting costs or creating a new business from scratch--is by committing to change and acting on it.
"Lead with values, manage from the heart," she said. "You need a business model. You've got to have the numbers that add up. But that alone is not enough."
Here's why focusing on values--and speaking up about them--works:
Values are inspiring. Values make people motivated because they offer a reason to work, and work hard. When that happens, "people know what they are doing ... and they are excited about it," said Henderson.
Values create trust. You can't manage a team without trust. As industries look to become more sustainable, firms will need to trust their employees--and each other. Industry self-regulation is a much more powerful driver of change than government mandates, said Henderson. So explaining what you value in public will help to create a community. Be aware this takes time, so start small, she advised.
Values drive change. Becoming a sustainable organization is hard, but once a whole company is on board, it gets easier. When employees know why something is happening and believe it's important, the transition will be within reach.
Government deserves credit for entrepreneurship in the U.S. But it needs to register a return.
In recent months, a head-to-head contest has come to be seen as government vs. business. And according to one narrative, government is the problem. But that narrative, according to economist Mariana Mazzucato, is wrong.
Speaking at TEDGlobal this week, Mazzucato laid out an impressive argument that the biggest investor in the United States is none other than: the United States government.
Case in Point: the iPhone
Taking the homely iPhone as an example, Mazzucato pointed out that most of its key capabilities came from government-financed research projects:
- Internet access (which makes it a smart, not stupid phone) grew out of DARPA
- GPS grew out of the defense department's NAVSTAR
- Touch screen technology was funded by the CIA and National Science Foundation
- Voice recognition software SIRI derived from defense or military research spending
And Apple got its start (along with Compaq and Intel) with investment from the Small Business Innovation Research Initiative.
As for the other lauded behemoth, Google, well that was started when the National Science Foundation invested in its original search algorithm.
Government Funding Is a Good Thing
Mazzucatto isn't dismayed by this information; she's delighted by it. When Europeans ask (as they always do) what makes the U.S. so much more entrepreneurial than Europe, her answer is: government investment.
There is a problem, however. Having invested millions in basic hard core research, the government gets nothing back. Venture capitalists, on the other hand, come in late and reap all the reward. The taxpayer who made the original investment and has taken the biggest risk receives nothing.
When the federal government made the original investments in what became the Internet, the risk of failure was huge--very much higher than it was by the time Sandhill Road pitched in. And only the government was prepared to take the original risk.
Where There's Risk, There Should Be Reward
What the U.S. needs now is a payback mechanism so that the government coffers that make innovation possible can grow, invest more, and create jobs--and further innovation. Imagine, Mazzucatto asked her audience, if just .5 percent of the revenue derived from the original investment in Internet technologies went back to reinvest in green technologies, nanotechnologies (a word coined by a federal program), or more biotechnology. That rate of return--a very great deal more modest than any VC demands--could change the economic landscape.
It isn't just high tech, of course, where this problem resides. The National Institutes of Health, in funding billions of dollars of core medical research, makes possible the army of scientists and vast resources of learning and data that eventually turn into drugs and health care. But U.S. citizens pay for it twice: first in the core research and then again when they buy their pills. Shouldn't the system which fuels this industry be repaid and thus renewed?
It's arrogant and simply wrong to imagine that in a world as complex as our own, wisdom, truth, and ingenuity are the monopoly of any one sector. Great partnerships aren't about dominance; they recognize the value each party brings to the table.
Big government isn't the problem; the failure of business to understand the ecosystem in which it thrives is.
Since the beginning of the year, Twitter has rolled out at least 16 significant changes businesses should know about. Do you?
In the race for users and revenue, Twitter has unleashed a collection of changes--many designed to attract marketers. Here's a recap of the major changes this year to date so you don't have to hunt around.
Vine launched. (January) Vine is a simple to use micro-video (six seconds, to be exact) filming app disseminated through Apple's App Store. "Vines" loop and can be produced and tweeted instantly. Vine content has become digital users' newest obsession.
Improved photo, video and related-conversation viewing. (January) Click-to-enlarge photos shown on Twitter.com profile pages or search results. Video content is now also included in a user's media gallery and expanded tweets. Tweets related to an original tweet are pulled in to directly show conversation and context.
Twitter Ads API. (February) Twitter opened up its Ads API and partnered with companies to help marketers more easily manage their Twitter ad campaigns.
Older tweets in Twitter search results. (February) Instead of just showing tweets a week old or less, through an algorithm that evaluates "a variety of types of engagement, like favorites, retweets and clicks," Twitter began to incorporate relevant older tweets into its search results.
Improvements to self-service ad tools. (March) Improvements included targeting by users with the same interests as followers of @usernames or a list of 350-plus interest categories and access to Twitter's advanced interface which enables "deeper campaign controls, detailed reporting and analytics, and multi-campaign optimization."
Updates to Twitter Ads center. (March) Improvements to campaign analytics reporting and insights.
Keyword targeting in Timelines. (April) Advertisers can now target users based on the keywords in their recent tweets and the tweets with which users recently engaged.
Revamped Twitter for Business launched. (April) More help for businesses looking for ways to market and advertise their business through Twitter.
Twitter #Music. (April) Making a play at audience expansion, Twitter rolled out its new music service that uses "tweets & engagement to detect and surface the most popular tracks and emerging artists."
TV ad targeting. (May) Beta test for national TV advertisers to synchronize, extend and enhance TV ad campaigns.
Lead Generation Cards. (May) A direct response tool built into an expanded tweet that makes it easy for users to immediately express interest in a brand offers.
More and Longer Twitter Lists. (May) You can now make up to 1,000 Lists (up from 20) and each list can include up to 5,000 accounts (up from 500). Think about this for prospects, clients, favorite sources of news and information, and other segments worth tracking.
Login Verification. (May) After multiple account hacking scandals, Twitter enhanced its login security with improved authentication.
Twitter sunsets popular TweetDeck phone apps. (May) Perhaps it was inevitable. One year after purchasing the popular TweetDeck application, users of its phone app version had to migrate to a different Twitter phone app.
Twitter for Google Glass. (May) Maintaining its edgy cool, Twitter enables users of Google Glass to share photos and receive notifications.
Vine for Android phones now available. (June) And we've come full circle! Vine can be downloaded from Google Play if you have an Android phone. Once you have the Vine app, look me up by my Twitter handle (@hollisthomases) and view the special Vine I made just for this article!
Well-trained employees are happy and productive employees. Plus, they will eat, sleep, and breathe your company if you ask them to.
I know. Employee training isn't cheap. But I also know that the positive impacts are worth every penny.
Well-trained employees are happy, engaged, productive--and they will eat, sleep, and breathe your company if you ask them to.
Of course, not all training methods work properly for every position, company, or industry. To gain some insight on some interesting (and successful) training methods I talked to Millard Cull, president of Avidity, a scientific research and product manufacturing company.
Cull's business employs scientists. This means his employees require high-quality--and highly specific--training to be successful within the company and the field. His scientists are often asked to perform tasks outside of their "comfort zone."
Here are some tips I gained from Cull's impressive pressure-free training methods:
1. Train for the specific types of people you hire.
Cull's perspective on training his employees is highly influenced by the fact that scientists often showcase a trait of distrust and contempt for authority. He adapted his company's training methods to sell the importance of the processes used within the company.
Improving your training will involve trial and error. Does training in a group setting have better end results than training independently? Find out, and adapt accordingly.
At Avidity, Cull's employees frequently perform jobs that vary from the routine--some are even highly creative. Depending on the size of your company, you may need your employees to step into multiple roles. Cross-training is the way to make sure your employees are more likely to take initiative in times of need by performing tasks they may not otherwise have been trained for.
3. Train on the company concept, vision, and message.
Don't limit your training methods to specific knowledge a position requires. Train your employees on what your company stands for: company culture, mission, values, goals, and everything in between. Through this knowledge, your employees won't just be acting as worker bees. They will have a deep understanding of their importance to the overall company and be a better representative for the brand.
Cull notes that his career has taught him the power of conveying a clear, strong vision. Employees function better, practically without guidance, if they understand the company vision. He uses brief, daily morning meetings as an important tool for keeping his staff on the same page, identifying problems early, and sharing the vision of the company.
4. Remove the fear of failure.
Cull teaches his staff that failure within their experiments isn't a personal failure. To minimize pressure during onboarding training, Cull gives new hires a "practice round" where they are free to fail after giving their best attempt. His training method also utilizes a structured approach for better understanding--the employees write down and plan out the steps they will take before they begin their attempt.
What kind of training methods have worked at your company?
American bigwigs expect an uptick in sales and hiring in the next six months.
CEOs feel slightly stronger about the American economy than they did last year, though they're aware of the long road ahead, finds the Business Round Roundtable’s second quarter 2013 CEO Economic Outlook Survey.
The survey, a composite index of CEOs' expectations for the next six months, covers issues such as sales, capital spending, and employment. BRT took responses from 141 CEOs of leading U.S. companies with more than $7.3 trillion in annual revenues and nearly 16 million employees.
BRT found the index increased to 84.3 percent from 81 percent in the first quarter of 2013, meaning CEOs expect more economic expansion. Their optimism is at its highest since the second quarter of 2012.
Here are some other highlights from the survey:
- 72 percent expect their companies' sales to grow in the next six months.
- 38 percent expect company spending to increase in the U.S., a slight dip from previous forecasts.
- 29 percent expect hiring to ramp up in the next six months.
“Overall, CEOs see the U.S. economy still on a slow road to recovery," said Jim McNerney, chairman of BRT, and chairman, president, and CEO of The Boeing Company. "Relative to economic conditions, business performance remains strong, but the U.S. government’s unresolved long-term fiscal path and an uncertain political environment are key obstacles to more robust economic growth and hiring.”
How do you feel about the economy right now? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Some of the nation's leading business-for-sale experts offer their tips to help you find the broker that is the right fit for your sale.
When it comes time to sell a small or medium-sized business, most owners will benefit from working with an experienced business broker. Although it's possible to sell your business on your own, few business owners have the necessary experience and time to execute a successful business sale while simultaneously operating and growing their business--a critical focus as a performance downturn is the last thing an owner wants when selling his/her business.
To maximize their business sale outcome and ensure they sell for a fair market price, most owners will find it helpful to assemble and utilize a sales team consisting of an experienced business broker, a trusted attorney, their CPA and other professionals. By leveraging the expertise of business transfer experts, sellers can concentrate on keeping their companies strong--which ultimately results in a higher sale price.Why Use a Business Broker?
There are several reasons why it's important to enlist the assistance of a business broker when selling your business:
For starters, business brokers are advisers who offer in-depth insights on valuation, marketing, prospecting, negotiations and other fundamental sale elements. Additionally, most have extensive prior business experience that allows them to understand the financial, operational, and legal issues of your company and help guide you to make your company more saleable. Their role as sale facilitators streamlines the process, allowing them to focus on the deal while you continue to operate the business.
Experienced business brokers understand the art of getting multiple qualified buyers to the table for any given business sale. When there are multiple parties interested in buying a company, two very good things happen: First, the seller has much better chances of getting the fair market value for their business and reaching more favorable sale terms. Second, the risk that a sale is never consummated is greatly reduced.
As professional negotiators, brokers know how to overcome the many obstacles that often prevent a sale from closing. They don't fall prey to personal emotions and can leverage their experience to help you receive the best possible price and terms for your company. Additionally, they keep the deal on track ensuring that all parties meet the necessary deadlines--a key contributor to a successful sale as time kills deals.
Business brokers know how to preserve confidentiality during the sale and marketing process. Most sellers appreciate this as it helps them control the timing and way that their customers, employees, suppliers and competitors learn that they are selling their business.
In essence, business brokers are "quarterbacks"--experienced business people and proven sale pros who can assess your business and tap into an array of resources and professional networks to help you best achieve the objectives that matter to you when you sell your business.Tips for Finding the Right Broker for Your Sale
My role at BizBuySell.com allows me to routinely interact with top business brokers and industry leaders. If there is one thing I've learned over the years, it's that finding the right broker is an essential part of a successful business sale.
Since it may be difficult to find a broker that is the perfect fit across all dimensions, it's important to consider your selection criteria and focus on the broker characteristics that are most important to you.
With that in mind, here are some tips about how to find the right broker from the experts themselves:
1. Tom West, founder of Business Brokerage Press
As a business seller, you need to make sure your broker understands that he or she represents your interests--not the buyer's. Rather than just facilitating the deal, the broker should do everything possible to help you achieve the highest sales price. If he or she doesn't build your confidence in this regard during your first meeting, look for someone else.
While conducting a proper valuation is a critical step early in the sales process, you should be wary of brokers that are interested in getting money up-front for a valuation. While not always the case, these brokers may be more concerned about selling their valuation service than they are about selling your company.
Sellers need to understand that the success of their business sale will be influenced by their relationship with their broker. Throughout the process, you must be comfortable enough with your broker to speak honestly, be certain that they will speak open and honestly with you, and trust your broker's advice and decisions. This strong two-way relationship should be evident early, even during your broker selection process.
Additionally, sellers should consider prospective brokers' track records and professional credentials. IBBA (International Business Brokers Association) membership, attainment of their CBI (Certified Business Intermediary, a designation awarded by the IBBA to members who have satisfied the educational requirements and conform to the high ethical standards of IBBA) and other accreditation can ensure that brokers have met certain professional standards and are accountable to their peers.
3. Roger Murphy, president and CEO, Murphy Business & Financial Corporation
The first thing a broker should do is to analyze the seller's goals and reasons for selling. This information forms the foundation for the proper marketing strategy the broker will employ. If broker candidates rush through this part of the discussion, it could be a sign that you should move on to a different broker.
Likewise, prospective brokers should take an interest in learning the mechanics of your business and ask questions that provide insights about your business model. In addition to helping the broker market your company, a thorough understanding of your company's strengths and weaknesses will prove invaluable during the negotiation stage.
4. Andy Cagnetta, CEO of Transworld Business Advisors
Your broker should be a trusted adviser in the community and respected by his peers. It's important to make sure that broker candidates have solid relationships with law firms, accountants, bankers and other professionals. A track record of giving back to the community or serving on nonprofit boards is yet another sign that the broker is well-connected and established in the area.
When you evaluate prospective brokers, it's critical to ask them about their advertising budget and how they plan to build awareness for your business sale. In addition to listing your business on top business-for-sale marketplaces like BizBuySell.com, your broker should articulate a comprehensive online and offline strategy for promoting your business opportunity to targeted buyers.
5. Ron Johnson, chairman of ABI Business Sales andfellow of the IBBA
When you first meet with a prospective broker, he/she should discuss how they plan to identify and screen potential buyers, detailing the types of questions they intend to ask. In general, the best brokers interview buyer prospects for several hours to ensure that only the most qualified reach the later stages of the sale.
There are countless details your broker will manage throughout the sale process. However, you should also make sure that your broker will help manage the emotions of the sale. How? By asking you about and clarifying your sale goals early in the process and repeatedly discussing and helping you manage your expectations to facilitate a smooth exit from the business.
When everything is said and done, the success of your business sale will be largely determined by your broker's efforts and abilities. Consequently, one of your most important sale actions is to invest time and energy in finding the broker that is the right fit for your business and your specific sale goals. Nobody's perfect, but with a little work you can find a great business broker that will help you achieve your most important sale objectives.
Virtual activists on Reddit are planning a global July 4 protest in the form of dozens of rallies--in real life--that aims to end online government surveillance.
For the last several days, Reddit activists have been meeting virtually, planning a large-scale protest of government surveillance that is set take place on July 4. The activist group, which is being called "Restore the Fourth," already has more than 12,000 members, who have rallies planned in 68 cities, and the support of at least one major U.S. politician.
"The primary objective of this protest and the larger movement will be the immediate end of indiscrimanant [sic] government surveillance of the American people," the creators write in a press release drafted late Tuesday evening. They continue:
On Independence Day, we will be holding a series of rallies worldwide. The purpose of these rallies will be to demonstrate to the world that the will of the people is that the United States Constitution remains a living, breathing document. An emphasis will be placed on the restoration of the fourth amendment in response to the NSA PRISM Program and all warrantless search and seizure of physical and electronic communications. Our intent is that these demonstrations will be in cooperation with local law enforcement.
So, who is exactly is this group being led by? According to the moderators of the group's official subreddit, Restore the Fourth is:
a non partisan group of concerned citizens dedicated to restoring our fourth amendment rights. We come from all across the political spectrum, but what we all have in common is this: The right to be secure in our persons against unlawful search and seizures is a basic human right; a right that has been violated severely by our current government.
They're formalizing, too. There's a video in the works, and they've even gotten recognition from Gary Johnson, the 2012 Libertarian candidate for president.June 12, 2013
So far, it's been pretty remarkable to watch how the group has formalized online. They've held several virtual town hall-style meetings, and published the chat logs for all to see.
If this protest happens--and it likely will (to some extent, at least)--it will mark a significant turning point for the Reddit community, a community that's fiercely vocal online about a variety of privacy-related issues, but whose physical presence--in terms of rallies and protests--has been somewhat limited.
It also brings up an interesting analogy. If Facebook and Twitter helped organize the backbone behind the Arab Spring, it's worth asking: Can Reddit become the impetus behind a large-scale--and real-life--Internet privacy movement?
Successful tech entrepreneur MaryAnn Bekkedahl shares valuable lessons learned when raising investment capital for her organization.
VCs and angel investors know that a good idea is nothing without the right people to bring that idea to life. They invest in people as much as they do in products or services. After a successful $43 million fundraising round, MaryAnn Bekkedahl, co-founder and president of New York-based start-up theSwizzle, shares some of the valuable lessons that helped her team get the edge.VCs bet on the jockey, not the horse.
The "jockey," of course, is the founder and leadership team. The "horse" is the idea they're building towards. History shows that original ideas change time and again (pivot) at start-ups; it's most important to know that the leader(s) can manage that change well and build value for the investors. It's just as important to showcase the leadership team's strengths and experiences in investor presentations as it is to detail the product vision and its eventual grand success.Get customers, then funding.
No amount of investment can buy customers if your product itself can't earn them. And with customers, funding follows easily. Customers, then funding, always.Choose the right leadership style for you.
In my traditional career prior to becoming an entrepreneur, I was a typical "top-down" type leader who set the vision, laid out the strategies, and delegated execution to team leaders and their subordinates. The culture where I worked very much emphasized the value of experience and seniority, and leaders made big decisions, and then oversaw their progress.
My mentor at Keep Holdings, Scott Kurnit, has a completely different leadership style that I try to adopt as often as possible. His view is to hire excellent people, empower them with full accountability and then let them make all the decisions independently, encouraging them to seek input from those around them as they go. This style certainly gives people a strong sense of ownership of their work--which ALWAYS motivates their best work, often derived from long hours, sleepless nights, and incredibly passionate output.
The drawback I see to this leadership style is this: because the more junior person doesn't always have experience in what they're doing (most start-ups are inventing, after all!), they can take much longer when working independently and without experienced guidance. And their final result--while passionately developed and delivered with pride--is not always good enough. Leading them from their best work to the best product for the company requires delicate management, and more time.The best advice for fellow female leaders.
I believe that everyone should use their natural powers of persuasion, their passion, and their unique personalities to their best professional advantage. I am not in that camp that says women should act like men to succeed in a man's world. At all. However, I see a lot of women put themselves into a disadvantageous situation by demonstrating culturally "female" linguistic styles at work that in my opinion, get better results outside the office. What do I mean? The valley-girl question mark at the end of each sentence--it may be cute at the bar, but it screams of uncertainty at the office. The flirty interactions with men which can be fun, of course, but I've yet to see them generate respect from those men or the observers around them. Opening each presentation with a joke or self-deprecating anecdote--why, again? Lead with your smarts. I am so impressed when women command a conference room, a conference call, a boardroom, or a packed auditorium with their straightforward, educated, and knowledgeable presentations.How others can learn from theSwizzle.
Perhaps others at my company would answer this differently, as I'm sure we all feel challenged in different ways at different times. For me, the biggest challenge has been the long stretches of time (weeks) between major feature builds or consumer acquisition spikes. Innovating takes time, and the valleys where nothing SEEMS to be happening (while the developers are heads-down building, for example) can be very difficult. Then again, I'm a bit of a "milestone-junkie," and need the thrill of success hourly to keep me sane!
Entrepreneur Vanessa Merit Nornberg developed a clear-cut roadmap that makes recruiting more predictable from the start.
Entrepreneur Vanessa Merit Nornberg knows the incredible importance of strong salespeople.
The founder of New York-based Metal Mafia, a wholesale line of body jewelry, sells over the phone 7,000 products like eyebrow and belly rings that cost just 2 cents to $2.
But how your employees sell--and how you allow them to sell--is not just about moving your product, she said Tuesday at the Inc. Leadership conference outside San Diego. "It's what your company stands for, and what customers can expect from your company when they order or call to ask for help."
As a result, if you don't get a new-sales hire right, it is catastrophically expensive for your company, not just because of the time it takes to post a job and do interviews, but because of the longer-term damage that can happen when you allow bad salespeople to meet your clients, answer your phones, send your bills, and generally create a poor perception of your company.
So Nornberg developed a 10-part process that weeds out bad sales hires every step of the way.
1. Know who you're looking for.
At Metal Mafia, Nornberg categorizes sales job candidates into three types: a) those who want to sell and have done it for a while b) those who would do sales because they would do any job and c) those who have never done sales but consider it an intriguing opportunity. Which would she take on, after nine years leading her own company? Only the third. Why? They're open-minded, and interesting. The first group already has bad habits, and the second won't be passionate about the work.
2. Make your job post matter.
You should tell candidates about what your company does and stands for. Include your mission statement. Make clear what your expectations are, from the start. For instance, Nornberg doesn't allow employees to use Facebook during business hours, so she includes that fact in her job descriptions. You want potential employees to proactively identify with what you're all about--before they even submit an application.
3. Test your applicants.
You can find out if people are detail-oriented and care about your job opening--and you can do it long before you take time to meet them. Nornberg plants three questions in her job descriptions that seekers must answer in their application (but without automated fields that prompt them to do so). She asks: a) What drives your principle motivation? (If you're motivated by money or perks, forget it. That said, recognition would get you in the door.) b) Have you ever played a sport and, if so, which position? If not, what competitive activity have you participated in? (Nornberg skips soccer goalies, for instance. She's not looking for those are "waiting for the ball to come to" them.) c) If you could do anything in the world, what would it be? (Nornberg has no interest in "yes men" who say they'd like to open an accessories company.) But if a candidate doesn't respond to all three of these questions, in the manner that was requested, she won't look at his resume either. "Delete," said Nornberg.
4. Screen out applicants through a 10-minute phone interview.
Nornberg recommends you find out how the applicant sounds, what information she learns about your company between application submission and a call--and if she makes you excited to continue the conversation, like you would want her to do with new customers. "A great salesperson would be pouncing on the opportunity," said Nornberg. In addition, suss out what sales means to the individual. You can do this by having the person talk through what they might do in a sales scenario. In her case, Nornberg asks, for example: If we open up a new line of rings, and the first customer you call says he already has rings, what would say? ("Thank you, good bye," is not the right answer.)
5. Bring candidates in for a face-to-face interview with you.
At Metal Mafia, an in-person interview with Nornberg lasts an hour to hour-and-a-half. Nornberg uses the time to look analyze actions more than words. First, she pays careful attention to the candidate's time of arrival. If he's late, even by three minutes, she won't see him. She notes his walk. A purposeful, enthusiastic walk is what she's on the lookout for; she cuts a meek meander. She also notices if he brings anything "extra" to the meeting (say, a cell phone or coffee cup) and eliminates those who do. Of course, a deadfish handshake or interaction is a no-go.
6. Find out how the person thinks.
During the interview, Nornberg poses questions like, "You have 30 days to open 30 accounts, how do you know who to call?" If the potential hire says he'll turn to Google, he'll get 50,000 results, and no specific direction; he can't work for Metal Mafia. But, if like a recent candidate, he says he'll start by going to Korean beauty shops because he's fluent in Korean, and they carry jewelry on their counters, he's onto something. Nornberg also asks potential hires to tell her about a difficult or challenging situation they overcame as a child, and if they can, she takes note. "As a salesperson, you face objections and rejection on a regular basis," explained Nornberg. She needs to know if they're "the kind of person who's reflective enough to learn from situations"--even the good ones.
7. Try a candidate out at the job.
Since Nornberg is keen to hire those who have never done sales before, she needs to find out if they can actually do it, and like it. She gives candidates a list of 12 to 15 shops to call immediately during an interview to find out if they'd like to carry Metal Mafia products. Those who get through the whole list and come back with a lot of interesting insights (which could be used to follow up) are on track; those who skip some, with no notes, are not going to like the job, and can't work for the company.
8. On the fence? Get your team to weigh in.
Nornberg invites her eight-person sales team to meet with any iffy candidate who made it this far, and each person can pose one question. "These people sell for my company on a daily basis, so they know what it takes to get the job done," she said. If they too have some sort of misgiving, the candidate can't work for Metal Mafia.
9. Train your new hire.
Recruitment doesn't end with the offer letter. You've got to give new people the tools to do the job well. Nornberg trains new staffers herself--for three weeks, eight hours a day. She focuses on teaching new people about Metal Mafia's products. "No one wants to talk on the phone with someone who says, 'Uhh, I don't know. Let me ask my manager'," Nornberg said. She also makes sure new people study competitors' product lines, so they can offer up Metal Mafia's in contrast.
10. Instill new behaviors.
When it comes to sales, Nornberg needs new people to focus not just on making deals but on listening to what customers say. She wants them to "not only hear what's said, but also what's not said." She emphasizes the value of accuracy so that what new hires hear turns up correctly in an order, and that they communicate with customers exactly when to, say, receive an order. She also introduces a sense of what Metal Mafia's value is to her customers, which is not price. Instead, they need to know it's shipping on the same day as long as you order by 3 p.m., with packages 99 percent complete (compared to a 65 percent competitors' fulfillment rate), and always getting a person on the phone in two rings or less if you call Metal Mafia between 7:30 a.m. and 8 p.m. eastern time. "Every time you make a sales call, your competitor can undercut you at any moment by a penny, $1, or $10 dollars," she said. "It's not going to get you where you need to get and your sales team won't either."
Only once a candidate makes it through all 10 steps is she confident of his candidacy. "If I think my customers are now willing to put their faith in your judgment, that everything you do screams Metal Mafia, you can sing my anthem, you can work for my company," said Nornberg.