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Evernote Founder: Apps Will Soon Be Obsolete

Inc Small Business - Thu, 04/10/2014 - 12:36pm

Phil Libin has a bold prediction for the future, as mobile computing moves into wearables. What's next, beyond the app?

Evernote is easily one of the "it" apps of recent years. But Phil Libin, the founder of the popular cross-platform note-taking system, says apps, in general, are not the be-all-end-all of mobile computing. He went one step further, and predicted they are not long for this world.

Yes, he actually said it: "Apps will be obsolete."

Currently most Evernote users interact with it primarily on their mobile phones. But when Libin looks to the future of computing, he's extremely bullish on wearables. He said Thursday at the exclusive f.ounders conference in New York City that while productivity on desktop computers flows in cycles of two-to-three hours, productivity on a cell phone screen is achieved in much smaller chunks of time.

"It's not just that the screens got smaller, but on phones, you have to solve the problem of 'how do you make someone productive for two-to-three minutes,'" Libin said. And apps are ideal for short, minutes-long interactions.

Libin is a big believer that within a couple of years, smartwatches and eyeglasses will be mainstream. In other words, computers will be worn rather than held in a palm. And that will inherently change how individuals interact with the programs or systems the computers run--including Evernote.

"When you go to wearables, the session length is going to drop to a second," Libin said. When a computer user is only going to spend a second or two at a time to glance at a watchface or hologram, an app--as we think of them now--wouldn't even have time to open.

So, Libin said, the problem Evernote, which has 90 million users--along with other app and media companies--is: "how do we make someone productive for a second at a time?"

I asked him what we'd call an app that isn't packaged as an app--an app that's just there.

"I don't think we have a word yet. Let's just call it a service," he said. "But I'm horrible at naming things, so who knows."

Categories: Small Business News

Is This the Start of a Revolution?

Inc Small Business - Thu, 04/10/2014 - 11:00am

Anarchist group the Counterforce is taking its protest to entrepreneur Kevin Rose's doorstep--literally. Some see this as the start of class wars. Some as a misguided publicity stunt. Maybe they're both right.

Serial entrepreneur turned venture capitalist Kevin Rose revels in creating controversy. Many say he is an a-hole. On that front, I reserve judgment. Many tech entrepreneurs, like Steve Jobs, were also considered a-holes, but at least their a-holiness was expressed in pursuit of great products. Rose, not so much.

Though it's very easy to ignore the so-called jerks that inhabit every industry, it is a rare event when said jerk is worthy of a public demonstration. That's exactly what happened to Rose when the Counterforce, a Bay Area activist group, gathered to rally in protest at his San Francisco home last weekend. The protestors complained that as a partner at Google Ventures, Rose "directs the flow of capital from Google into the tech startup bubble that is destroying San Francisco. The startups that he funds bring the swarms of young entrepreneurs that have ravaged the landscapes of San Francisco and Oakland."

But it's not just a-holes who are the subject of their protests. In January, they demonstrated at Google engineer Anthony Levandowski's residence about what they say are the company's evil surveillance practices.

Google also caught a bunch of grief from the Counterforce and others over the private transit buses Google uses to shuttle employees to and from work. The buses, apparently, represent the gentrification of San Francisco by the elite, snobby, rich, tech hipsters "ravaging" the cityscape. Gone are the days when Bay Area environmentalists would rain kudos down upon Google for sparing the air with its mass-transit solution.

In general, then, the complaints of the Counterforce and its ilk are pretty illogical. They appear to center on an utter disdain for capitalism in all its forms, and the groups have singled out Google as the poster child. As we all know, these marauding bands of hipster entrepreneurs out ravaging the Bay Area are spending millions of dollars that would not otherwise be getting spent, buying lots and lots of goods and services, which, as it always does, creates more wealth among all the people selling. Some call this phenomenon economic growth. As a VC, I am guilty of creating economic growth, too.

I regularly travel this country, and I see regions in many states focused on becoming the "Silicon Valley of (fill in the blank)." The past five years have seen New York City explode onto the tech-startup scene. Cornell University is building a huge new tech center in NYC that will rival Stanford University. Boston has a booming biotech/life science segment, a specialization that evades Silicon Valley. And then there is Silicon Prairie--Boulder, Colorado--anchored by Brad Feld's Foundry Group. Let's not forget Seattle.

Detroit, our once great industrial capital, is teetering at Third World status. In its attempts to revive, it would welcome Rose and those like him with open arms and give him an open mike to spew whatever he wanted as long as he could attract some of those very highly paid workers willing to ravage their community with a little of their wealth.

So the question is this: Are these latest protests simply the collision of a whack-a-doodle fringe activist group and some overly abrasive tech characters? Or is something deeper going on?

I argue that the answer is both.

Income disparity is at the core of the activist message, despite how unfocused and illogical its actions are in the service of this message. Concerns about this disparity are not just the province of the SF activists. The Democratic Party has made it clear that income inequity will be the centerpiece of the 2014 midterm elections.

The devil will be in the details of how this disparity is rectified. I've lived through three tech boom-and-bust cycles. I can say with authority that the local economies thrive when things are booming, and when times are bad, the pain is disproportionately felt by the disadvantaged. Reducing startup investment, then, will accomplish the exact opposite of what both Obama and the Counterforce hope to achieve. More clear, logical, and economically astute heads must prevail in this conversation.

Though the Rose debacle may be silly on its face, it speaks to a bigger issue that we cannot afford to allow to be debated on the fringes. Activists need to study the history of economic growth and be grateful for the abundance of opportunity in Silicon Valley. And Rose, along with all of us in financial services, needs to think about what we bring to communities more holistically. A "let them eat cake" attitude has a history of unhappy endings.

Categories: Small Business News

The Intelligence Community Crowdsources Ideas. Maybe You Should Too

Inc Small Business - Thu, 04/10/2014 - 10:31am

U.S. intelligence groups are finding that crowdsourcing can provide remarkably accurate predictions. Learn from them to create your own secret weapon.

It's not easy to be an analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency. As the CIA says, these positions are filled by "some of the brightest people in the country" who bring "integrity and objectivity" to the work of evaluating information of all types from around the world. The agency lists 13 different types of analysts whose combined work with top secret information is supposed to illuminate what will happen so the U.S. can more intelligently plan strategy.

But it turns out that 3,000 regular people have been predicting world events as well as part of the Good Judgment Project (GJP), run by three psychologists with the backing of the U.S. Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity program.

Their predictions are often better than those oh so bright people with access to the latest in secret intelligence, even though the regular folk just use what they find on the Internet. According to NPR, one of the top is Elaine Rich, a 60-year-old pharmacist with no background in international affairs and little formal math training. Rich is one of the projects "superforecasters," whose work is 30 percent better than the professional analysts.

You're probably not looking to join the intelligence community, but there are some great lessons for entrepreneurs in this story about crowdsourcing.

Want a good answer? Ask a group.

One is the theory of the wisdom of crowds. Forget all the popularized stuff you may have heard as yet another technology fad that came and went. The idea is that if there is something true that a group of people respond to and you get enough diversity in a large-enough crowd, chances are their biases will cancel out and you'll get something close to reality.

Entrepreneurs will want to twist this a bit. You're not going to put each of your strategic decisions up for a plebiscite. However, consider widening your list of advisers.

Find the experts out there.

One of the problems with popular interpretations of the wisdom of crowds is to assume that a random group of people will outperform experts every time. That's not really the case. For example, GJP works with experts who are particularly good at forecasting. The difference is that they aren't all in one specialty.

Get people with different backgrounds, interests, and biases on your advisory board and not necessarily the typical list of experts and consultants. You still have to make the decision, but you might get some insights that you wouldn't otherwise hear.

Measure and take a reality check.

One of the keys to making crowdsourced predictions work is to record accuracy and provide feedback to the participants. Otherwise, the participants may not even know when they are right or wrong. It becomes impossible, then, to learn lessons and improve the process. It would be like asking someone to learn how to cook but then never letting them see, taste, or smell the results.

So when you're working with advisers, prepare reports after the fact and let them know how close they were, as well as what you ultimately decided. That way they can get better and might take even more vested interest in your success.

Categories: Small Business News

How to Talk to Your Employees About Compensation

Inc Small Business - Thu, 04/10/2014 - 10:15am

Discussing pay can be uncomfortable. Here's how to make the conversation easier and more productive.

Talking with employees about their compensation can be difficult--the sentiment that you are summing up their entire value with a dollar figure can be hard to avoid. But you're hardly alone in your struggles.

A recent survey by compensation research firm PayScale finds that 73 percent of company leaders do not feel "very confident" in their managers' ability to effectively communicate with employees about salary issues, the Harvard Business Review reports.

As awkward as they may be, "these are the most important conversations you have throughout the year," V. G. Narayanan, professor of business administration at Harvard Business School, tells HBR editor Amy Gallo. Below, read several steps you need to go through to prepare for those conversations and carry them out to your employees' satisfaction.

Discuss early and often.

Your company's compensation, raise, and bonus structure should be fully explained at the beginning of each year and repeated throughout. Your employees should never be surprised or left in the dark about company procedure. Narayanan says that you need to explain when people should expect raises, how people can achieve a bonus by meeting their goals, and what happens if they don't meet those goals. "The more frequently you have the conversation, the easier it is," he says. If you conduct regular check-ins, employees will not be surprised by anything and less likely to have a bad reaction when you explain your decision at the end of the year.

Make performance reviews separate.

Performance is linked to compensation, but these two topics should be talked about and reviewed separately, Narayanan says. "If you talk about money in the shadow of performance, it will sound like white noise and your employees will just fixate on the compensation," he says. You should first have a performance review focused on the employee's growth in the company and then a few weeks later talk about whether or not they will be receiving a raise or bonus.

Remove the appearance of bias.

No matter who you are, you're going to have favorite employees and less-than-favorite employees. But during sticky conversations about salary, you need to protect yourself from bias, or claims of bias. Narayanan suggests having two or three other executives with you in all meetings with employees about compensation. "When more people make the call, employees know there are checks and balances, and that the process is fair and consistent," he says.

Prepare your words.

Whether you're a master at discussing compensation or it's your first time, make sure you know what you are going to say and how you're going to say it. Karen Dillon, author of HBR Guide to Office Politics and coauthor of How Will You Measure Your Life? says to use empathy during these conversation and avoid being robotic. "Ask yourself: How is this person going to hear my message? It's unlikely that you'll be giving them a raise they'll be absolutely joyous over. But what you say should persuade them that what you are giving them is fair," she tells HBR.

Communicate the employee's value.

While a bonus can help employees feel validated, you also have to take this opportunity to tell them how much they mean to your company. "You're in a partnership with your employee and you have to let them know that you deeply value their contributions," Dillon says. Your words also should motivate them to continue working hard.

Ground the conversation with facts.

Your discussion needs to have a solid factual and contextual basis. If the employee is not thrilled with the bonus, or you're not giving him a bonus at all, you need to lay out the reasons why. "Ground it in facts. Explain what people are getting for this job with this title in this market with these skills," says Tim Low, vice president of B2B marketing at PayScale. "It's incumbent on you to understand what it means to be paid fairly." Don't talk about other employees, but explain how you came to your decision. The employee should walk away understanding the reasons and not feel that your decision is arbitrary.

Expect emotion.

Money makes people emotional, so you need to prepare for a strong reaction. If employees get upset, acknowledge their feelings, listen to their reasoning, but don't give in. However, if you agree with their arguments, tell them you're going to stand up for them. No matter what, don't give a bonus or raise to someone who acts out--rewarding bad behavior will cause problems for your compensation discussions with other employees.

Categories: Small Business News

LinkedIn Update: Employees Can Now See Internal Job Openings

Inc Small Business - Thu, 04/10/2014 - 10:08am

Employees want the opportunity to advance in their organizations, but too often fail to find it. LinkedIn is looking to change that with a new product announcement.

LinkedIn is hoping to take a bite out of turnover rates by showing members career advancement opportunities at their existing companies.

The "Internal Job Recommendations" feature was one of three HR-facing product updates unveiled by LinkedIn at an event this morning.

Previously, LinkedIn members would see opportunities at other companies when they visited the career-minded social network's Jobs section. Now, that page will also feature internal job opportunities, turning members onto opportunities right down the hall that they might not have been aware of.

LinkedIn's other job recommendation services--such as emails to members and a "Jobs You Might Be Interested In" widget on also now incorporate internal opportunities.

Keep Your Best Talent

LinkedIn has found that 42 percent of people who left a job would have stayed at the company if they could have found another job there, LinkedIn VP of Product Parker Barrille said during the event. People aren't necessarily looking to leave their companies, he said, just their jobs.

The new service, Barrille said, could help companies bridge that gap. A pilot program by LinkedIn over the past several months saw internal applications double at participating organizations, he said.

Internal mobility has been an object of consternation in recruiting circles of late.

Companies have a hard time letting their employees know about internal opportunities, often to their detriment. Recent surveys from LinkedIn have shown that 69 percent of HR managers think their employees are aware of internal mobility programs, but only 25 percent of departing employees agree.

That's bad news for a number of reasons, not least of which is the value young talent puts on the opportunity to grow and advance their careers.

LinkedIn also announced a new version of its Recruiters app for the iPhone and unveiled the app for Android. It also updated its Recruiters profile pages, which give access to information about potential candidates, with a redesign meant to bolster the user experience on the recruiters' end.

Categories: Small Business News

3 Ways to Know When to Quit on an Idea

Inc Small Business - Thu, 04/10/2014 - 10:06am

When is a setback something to learn from, and when is it a sign to abandon an idea entirely? Here's how innovation guru Scott D. Anthony makes the call.

During my first tenure at Inc. (1998-2002), I could count on one hand the times I heard an entrepreneur or CEO use the word "iteration."

These days, it's practically all I hear. Innovators at companies large and small have a strong grasp of "lean" startup principles. They understand that the way to launch almost anything is to vet ideas with potential customers; to use that feedback to build a minimum viable prototype or MVP; and then to get further feedback on that MVP, so they can "fail fast" and revise the MVP (i.e. put it through another iteration). PayPal, for example, famously didn't hit on their idea until their 10th iteration--what they called "Option J."

On one level, it's a wonderful business-world adaptation of the way artists and designers often work: By drafting and revising, until they've reached that sweet spot where their subversive creativity intersects with consumer appeal.

Here's the challenge: It's sometimes hard to tell when a setback or a failed iteration is just a wrong turn--a signal to "pivot" from Option A to Option B or Option I to Option J--versus when it is a sign that you should give up on an idea entirely.

'Fool's Gold White Space'

In his forthcoming book (due out May 6) The First Mile, innovation guru Scott D. Anthony, a managing partner at Clayton Christensen's vaunted Innosight consultancy, thoroughly dissects this challenge.

"The most frequent reason why innovators make wrong turns is the lure of fool's gold white space," he writes.

He defines "fool's gold white space" as a seemingly attractive market space that actually isn't attractive. As an example, Anthony discusses the idea of "medical tourism." You're probably familiar with the concept: Say a medical procedure in a foreign market is significantly cheaper than it is here in the USA. Say the cost difference is so significant that an insurance company could pay for a patient's travel, lodgings, and the procedure--and still come out ahead. It sounds like a superb business idea, does it not?

That's what Innosight team members and their partners thought, too. "However, not until they'd put in nearly six months of work and spent considerable money on travel did they decide to do something they should have done early on: run two simple, high-ROI experiments to test key risks," write Matt Eyring and Clark Glibert in a Harvard Business Review article summarizing the ill-fated medical tourism venture.

After conducting these two tests--a seminar explaining the concept to prospective patients, and a round of phone calls to U.S. hospitals to gauge their unpublished discount prices--the team learned that "patient demand was actually quite tepid...and that U.S. hospitals were willing to lower their prices...if patients paid cash up front."

The lesson here is that no matter how promising a market space looks, the first thing you need to test for--obvious as it sounds--is the risk that there will be no customers. And if you learn that there will be no customers, well--it's a sign that you should quit on the idea, brilliant though it first seemed.

When to Quit, and When to Try Again

The decision to quit on an idea--as opposed to moving on to the next iteration--is never an obvious one. "You can never know with absolute certainty," Anthony told me in a recent phone interview. Even in the case of medical tourism, for example, there was a potential market opportunity for a venture restricted to regional medical travel (within the U.S and Mexico).

How, then, does Anthony make the call on quitting versus iterating? He offers three pointers:

1. Use the 70 percent rule. The US Marine Corps trains young soldiers to gather enough data so that they can be 70 percent confident in their decisions. The idea is that, in the fog of war, 100 percent confidence or anything close to it won't be possible. Better to act now with 70 percent confidence than to wait indefinitely to amass 100 percent confidence. So if you're 70 percent confident that you should continue, by all means, do so.

2. Get specific evidence of customer demand. If you have evidence customers will pay for your product or service, that alone should be enough to keep you going. But remember: Whether customers pay is not a yes-or-no question. You need evidence of what Anthony calls the 4 Ps: a target population for your product or service; that this population will not just pay, but pay at the right pricing points; that, in addition, the population will provide the necessary purchasing frequency (i.e., how often will this target population pay the right price for the product); and, last but not least, that you'll achieve the required market penetration to achieve viable revenue and profitability goals.

3. Ask a dispassionate outsider. As an entrepreneur, your brain is almost hard-wired not to quit. You think optimistically, and you execute until you drop. For that reason, you can't expect yourself to be rational or objective about the ongoing viability of your idea. "Having a cold-blooded idea assasssin look at your idea is the best thing," says Anthony. "Find the natural skeptics, and have them pour cold water over your idea."

Devil's advocates, he notes, get a bum rap. But if you know someone who can play the role to perfection, they will open your eyes to the flaws in your idea--some of which could be fatal.

Categories: Small Business News

First Impressions: 5 Things Not to Screw Up

Inc Small Business - Thu, 04/10/2014 - 10:00am

All it takes is seconds for people to start forming a picture of who you are. Make sure they like what they see.

A first impression is a powerful thing. In seconds (or less than a second, depending on whom you ask), someone you meet is going to put you in a mental box. Are you trustworthy? Aggressive? Likable?

These qualities and many more are labels people inwardly attach to others when introduced to someone new. But how do you come off in the most favorable light so potential customers, partners, investors, and others want to have a relationship with you?

After years of work helping small businesses manage their relationships with customers, Larry Caretsky, CEO of online CRM software company Commence, has some ideas.

1. Prepare for every meeting.

Even if you've been doing your job for 25 years and think you know everything about your industry, you still need to do your homework. This can be as simple as checking someone's profile on LinkedIn.

"Maybe you are friendly with someone that I've known in the past," says Caretsky. "So now we have kind of a warm connection. You'd be amazed at the value of that kind of interaction. So getting prepared is, 'Whom am I talking with? What is their background? Do we have anything in common? What are their skills and expertise?' Maybe you even worked in the same company at some point. You never know."

2. Display confidence and passion.

The best way to be confident? Know your subject matter cold if you want to inspire confidence, Caretsky says.

As for passion, there's no hiding a lack of it. "[People] see and read body language very, very quickly," he says, "and from the minute you walk in the door: what you look like from the standpoint of a dress code to the handshake that you do to what comes out of your mouth five minutes later. So leadership is critical."

3. Focus on building relationships, not selling something.

Any agenda you may have in meeting with someone should take a back seat to your taking an honest interest in the person.

"You have to be an outstanding listener," he says.

4. Mind your nonverbal cues.

Smile, for one thing.

"I size people up very quickly when they come in and don't seem to be very happy and they're trying to sell me something," says Caretsky. "They shake my hand as if 'Well, I guess I have to shake the guy's hand because that's the right thing to do,' but they really could care less. You get that vibe from someone right out of the gate, and that sets the stage for a very productive meeting or one that's not so productive."

5. Put some thought into your clothing.

How you dress is a big one, as well, and Caretsky recalls with disdain a meeting his team--which intentionally dressed up for the occasion--had with an outside group.

"These guys came in the summer with golf shirts and T-shirts," he says. "So my impression was, 'How dare you come to my company looking like you just got off the golf course? What right do you have to do that?. And it still stays with me. I don't know how many people I've told about it."

Categories: Small Business News

Billionaire Mark Cuban Launched a New App Described as 'WhatsApp Meets Snapchat'

Inc Small Business - Thu, 04/10/2014 - 9:15am

Cyber Dust, a new messaging-based iPhone app backed by the Shark Tank judge, is now available for iOS.

Mark Cuban is a man of many talents. He is the billionaire owner of the Dallas Mavericks and one of the fearsome judges on ABC's "Shark Tank."

Now Cuban is attempting to dive deeper into the mobile-app arena with his latest project, Cyber Dust.

Forbes writes that this iOS app is described as "WhatsApp meets Snapchat."

It's a free texting app that lets you send messages and photos in a sort of chat room, but the messages self-destruct after 30 seconds.

The app leaves no trace of the messages, and they are not stored anywhere. It alerts you if the person has taken a screenshot, and it provides send and read confirmations so that you know if someone viewed your message. If your friend hasn't viewed the message within 12 hours, it will expire and be deleted forever.

This could be a viable Snapchat replacement. It promises more security and has more features coming in the future. You can only send pictures and texts for now, but videos are coming. Of course, a chatting app is only good if your friends are using it, too.

The market for these kinds of apps is becoming crowded, so we took a dive through Cyber Dust to see how it's different from the rest.

Categories: Small Business News

To Get to Know Your Customers, Spend a Day in Their Underwear

Inc Small Business - Thu, 04/10/2014 - 8:54am

If you want to create products and services that truly serve customers' needs, you need to find ways to get them to open up about very personal thoughts and feelings.

Secrets and insecurities. We all have them. Yet most of us only discuss them with a trusted confidant like a best friend or spouse, or behind a veil of anonymity such as in a blog post, comment, or discussion board.

But disclosing them to a brand in an open forum? That's scary stuff.

For more than a decade, that's precisely what men and women have done in private online communities--even with highly sensitive topics such as handling personal bankruptcy, having difficulty making ends meet, coping with a serious disease, or even struggling with something embarrassing.

In one community that my company, Communispace, built and managed for a leading personal care brand, it was critical to create a safe environment in which people could reveal personal thoughts and experiences. Recently, one member suggested that our community facilitators go a full day wearing adult diapers to fully empathize with what it's like living with incontinence. Our intrepid team was up for the challenge and spent the day commuting, working, and socializing wearing the undergarments. The next day, the tables in the community turned, as members became the facilitators, asking our team questions about how their day had gone.

The exercise was profoundly eye-opening and members' questions revealed genuine, candid truths around how it feels to be an incontinent adult and allowed the brand to fully understand their needs. Let's face it, incontinence is as personal as it gets.

So how can brands successfully get closer to their customers to create products or services that truly address their needs? From working with hundreds of consumers every day, here's what we've learned about getting them to open up and share some of the most intimate details of their lives.

1. Build trust by being yourself.

A trusting, open, honest, and respectful relationship--be it with a loved one, a friend, or a customer--is a two-way street. For brands, it's the road best traveled to reveal (often unexpected) consumer-inspired "aha!" moments that fuel innovation and new approaches to business. For example, U.K. telecom giant Everything Everywhere (EE) invited a small group of consumers to a collaborative workshop where everyone was encouraged to share "oh no" moments when they lost or damaged their mobile phone. These honest accounts revealed that it was the data inside the phone, not the phone itself, that was most precious. As a result, EE created the Clone Phone, a service that will replace a lost or damaged phone quickly, with all personal data intact.

But people will never be willing to divulge their innermost thoughts and feelings without a safe, secure environment and a trusted partner that is along for the entire journey. To elicit meaningful revelations, brands have to be willing to engage in a two-way conversation with consumers. "To get closer and dig deeper, I share my own real struggles," says David Ricaud, senior consultant and a team storytelling lead at Communispace Health. "The result? People see me not as a facilitator but rather as a trusted equal who, like them, has problems. My members appreciate knowing the real me--everything from my cat's name to my romantic experiences to the ways my friends drive me crazy! My openness helps them open up."

2. Step aside and let them build meaningful relationships.

When a woman in one of our communities tragically lost her husband, she turned to others in the group to help her cope with her loss. In another community, one woman traveled across the country to meet up with other members to socialize and share stories in person. There are even member-arranged trips, including one group that worked on a Habitat for Humanity project.

Such strong bonds--formed digitally and in person--not only enrich people's lives, but for brands, also yield insightful and unintended consequences. Stepping aside and letting consumer relationships evolve organically over time gives brands a unique window into the whos, whats, whys and hows of their customers, and shows where the brand can be of most value and create the most impact.

In communities dealing with very personal topics like money and health, it's the long-standing member-to-member relationships that often reveal people's struggles, frustrations, and deep-seated worries. Just by listening to people talking and bonding with one another, companies in financial services, health care, and other industries can tailor products and services to better serve their customers and create messaging that resonates with customers' real-life situations.

3. Treat them as partners, not respondents.

People in our communities want to be engaged as strategic partners and brand consultants, not "passive purchaser X" or "bucketed consumer Y." Each brings their particular perspective and opinions, and you'd be astounded at just how deep and how far they're willing to go to be heard.

Raela Ripaldi, vice president of client services at Communispace, told me about Skip, a member of a food brand community: "Skip really embraced the community and was the epitome of an über-member. He would start a ton of activities, and would jump in and facilitate," she says. "At one point, he actually analyzed his results and sent us his own 'report.' It was great, and the client loved his passion."

Whether it's Skip, a first-time mom who documents every step of her pregnancy through her newborn's first year, a teenager who films his own soda commercial, or a woman who releases her inner Don Draper and inspires elements of an actual ad campaign, some of the best and brightest insights come from our community members. They're the ones who often do and ask the things brands themselves would never think of.

Brands have an opportunity to create amazing innovations with the help of consumers--things that can change lives, shift opinions, and make the world a better place. Empathy is at the core. It all starts by encouraging openness and honesty, creating safe places to connect, allowing people's unique voices to be heard, and yes, sometimes even trying on an adult diaper.

Categories: Small Business News

VC Investment Reaches Highs Not Seen Since Dot-Com Bubble

Inc Small Business - Thu, 04/10/2014 - 8:47am

As companies take longer to go public, late-stage rounds get big. No, make that huge.

If you somehow have any doubt that the venture capital business is booming, the most recent quarterly report from CB Insights should put them to rest.

Unfortunately, that same venture capital data is also making it harder to argue that we're not in some sort of bubble. The real argument is going to be over whether the bubble is more likely to deflate gently or pop suddenly.

The first quarter of 2014 saw the most venture capital money invested since the second quarter of 2001, with $9.9 billion going into 880 deals. That dollar figure is up 44 percent compared to the same quarter last year. In March alone, VC investors poured $4.4 billion into young companies, which is easily more than any other quarter in the past two years.

Some $5.7 billion of the $9.9 billion total went to California-based companies, and $4.8 billion went to Silicon Valley alone.

Later stage deals are accounting for more and more of venture dollars, with Series D and E rounds eating up 47 percent of all venture money. Eleven companies--a record--raised their first funding round at a valuation of a billion dollars or more.

Those investments may seem a bit more reasonable given the recent generosity of public investors. Thirty-five U.S. based, venture-backed companies went public in the first quarter, the most since the third quarter of 2000. Healthcare IPOs continue to boom, with 22 companies in the sector going public compared to only four in the same quarter a year ago.

There were also 174 venture-backed mergers or acquisitions in the quarter. That’s a 69 percent increase from the same quarter a year ago.

Internet deals are continuing to hog cash, with 49 percent of all VC funding going to Web companies. Just one company--Cloudera--was responsible for $900 million of that. In New York, Internet deals attracted 63 percent of all venture money invested. The amount of money invested in mobile and telecom companies was up 30 percent year-over-year, but down compared to the most recent quarter.

Categories: Small Business News

How to Change Your Industry, One Interaction at a Time

Inc Small Business - Thu, 04/10/2014 - 8:30am

Automation creates scalability. But what happens to the personal touch?

Everyone knows that every customer interaction, no matter how it takes place, is ultimately about people. But how do you ensure digital media and automated tools enhance rather than detract from those interactions?

Here's another in my series of interviews in which I pick a topic and connect with someone a lot smarter than me. This time I talked to Devin Gross, CEO of Emmi Solutions, a health care technology company that develops interactive and multimedia communication solutions to improve patient engagement, satisfaction, and health outcomes.

The cost of care keeps rising and revenue keeps falling, so patient engagement has become a big issue for health care providers. But those words mean different things to different people.

We started with the fundamental belief that people are the most underutilized resource in the health care system. So we develop tech-based tools that effectively engage and empower people to take a more active role in their care.

That's good for the patient, obviously, but it's also good for hospitals, because when done well, it positively influences behaviors.

Say "patient engagement" and the first thing I think of are those long, rapid-fire disclaimers used in prescription-drug commercials.

To us, patient engagement starts with establishing an emotional connection. It's hard to connect with a boilerplate recitation of potential side effects. But when you educate patients on a chronic condition or an upcoming procedure or their health care options, or what to expect during treatment and recovery, in language they understand and during a time that they're proactively seeking the information, then they understand what needs to be done. Then they understand what they should do.

More important, they understand why--and will probably make smarter choices and take better care of themselves.

Engagement is all about creating an emotional connection; when you do, then you can better influence behavior in a positive way.

I often do stupid stuff--so I've spent a fair bit of time in hospitals. I've been given more pamphlets than I can count, and I never read any of them.

Before we came along, what people considered patient engagement was printed material. Maybe you were given a handout. Or watched an awful video. Most people were just like you: There was no emotional bond, so they discarded or ignored it.

We like to approach it as a friend-to-friend conversation. Most patients are less interested in where the incision will be made than when they can get out of bed, play with their kids, start playing golf again. The key is to talk to people as people, on their terms. When you do, they're part of the process.

That's an important point. Patients who are part of the process don't just benefit; so does the hospital. My wife is an anesthesiologist, and patients often show up having eaten that morning and the operation has to be postponed. That alone is a huge cost for the hospital.

Everyone who will have anesthesia is told not to eat. But no one really tells them why. Tell me what to do and I might listen; help me understand why, and why it's important to me, and I'll definitely listen.

That's why true engagement benefits the patient and the hospital: It improves the patient experience and prevents unnecessary costs for the hospital.

Let's talk about patient experience. Tons of surveys show that patients rate the quality of their care not by the technical skill of the providers (because most people aren't in a position to rate the skill of the providers) but instead on how they felt they were treated. Put simply, treat me with respect and kindness and courtesy and I had a great experience; treat me like a number and I had a poor experience--even if the operation itself was a huge success.

If you think about a health care experience, there are multiple touch points. People remember the exceptional moments and the really bad moments. When they receive a postcare survey, they remember the really nice person and the really mean person.

Our goal is to be an extension of that relationship. We give you a friendly voice. If we do our job right, there are no variables: There's just the really nice, really caring, really helpful person.

My problem with engagement programs is that, like social-media marketing, they tend to be tough to measure.

I often say we're the best in the world at engaging people and creating an emotional connection, but unless we solve real business issues for our clients, who cares?

We have to understand and work with our clients to make them successful. It's a lot more than just creating a technology and dropping it in and assuming it works. That's why almost half of our company is out in the field making sure our customers know how to get the most value out of our tools, and our retention rate proves we make our customers successful.

The key is for us--and our customers--to not see our products as a support or maintenance function. Because we track and document everything, our customers can objectively determine whether we've done our job. There's nowhere for us to hide--and that's a good thing.

So how do you stay ahead? Not only do the tools constantly change, you're also a provider in an industry where insurance and government programs and regulations constantly change.

We try really hard to be early, often. Years ago, we started talking about patient engagement and no one cared, but over the past 12 years, a lot has changed. For example, Medicare started talking about tying patient engagement to payments, and we were already there. Reimbursement continues to be a big challenge for hospitals, whether because of health trends, demographic changes, or at-risk populations, and we invested early on in a number of tools that help systems self-manage.

Think of it this way. If you're often early, even if a customer isn't ready to buy from you, it will still begin to trust that it can grow with you over time.

Lots of technology businesses focus on purely technical skill. Yet with half of your employees in the field with customers, how do you find people with the right blend of skills?

We attract people that really believe in the mission of what we're doing. Our employees believe they're changing health care by helping the patient and the patient's family during a difficult time.

One reason they feel that way is because we do so many patient focus groups. We bring in patients and families and ask, "What would you like to know? What do you wish you had known? How would you have liked to have been spoken to?"

Not only is that input important for improving our tools, it's also a great reminder that ultimately we're helping people. When you see the impact on your customers, it's incredibly motivating, and when you're motivated and enjoy what you're doing, you can do great things.

Check out other articles in this series:

Categories: Small Business News

$37 Billion is Lost Every Year on These 9 Meeting Mistakes

Inc Small Business - Thu, 04/10/2014 - 8:20am

Make sure that every time you assemble your employees it is productive--otherwise it will cost you.

There are about 11 million meetings taking place in America every day, and a third of them are unproductive. It comes at a cost: an estimated $37 billion is lost every year to unproductive meetings.

This shows that while we have lots of meetings, we're simply not any good at them. Tons of organizational psychologists have looked into why. Find the most common mistakes below.

You have too many of them.

Since a third of meetings "simply aren't productive," according to the research, you should consider having fewer.

You listen to the loudmouth, rather than the expert.

Studies from the University of Utah show that people have a terrible time of distinguishing experts on a given topic from the loudest person in the room.

As associate professor Bryan L. Bonner tells the Wall Street Journal, we rely on "messy proxies for expertise," like extroversion, gender, or race instead of actually listening to the content of what they're saying. Just because they're loud doesn't mean they're right.

You drink too much (or not enough) coffee.

A study on the effects of caffeine on meetings found a surprising gender difference. When men drink coffee during stressful meetings, they perform worse. When women do the same, they perform better.

While the researchers couldn't say for certain, they infer that the difference lies in how the genders tend to respond to stress. The psychology blog Research Digest reports that women take on a "collaborative, mutually protective style (known as 'tend and befriend') whereas men usually exhibit a fight or flight response," and the former is a better fit for meetings.

You count the time, not the tasks.

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg doesn't wait to end a meeting at the 15, 30, or 60 minute mark. As Fortune reports:

(Sandberg's) days are a flurry of meetings that she runs with the help of a decidedly undigital spiral-bound notebook. On it, she keeps lists of discussion points and action items. She crosses them off one by one, and once every item on a page is checked, she rips the page off and moves to the next. If every item is done 10 minutes into an hour-long meeting, the meeting is over.

In other words: set the agenda, accomplish each item, and then get out.

You show up late.

A whopping 37 percent of meetings start late, mostly because someone attending it was late. This leads to the latecomer feeling rude, while the waiting staffers feel disrespected, upset, and frustrated--all of which drive down performance.

You get exhausted from "surface acting."

There's lots of surface acting at work, where you manage your emotions by showing the "right" one for the context when you feel otherwise. Like if you just had a text-fight with your partner before talking to a customer--or attending a meeting--and then have to pretend to be happy.

A 2013 study found that surface acting takes attention away from actually getting the work done in the short-term and leads to burnout in the long-term.

You invite too many people.

Amazon's Jeff Bezos follows the Two Pizza Rule: no meeting should have more people than can be fed with a pair of pepperoni pies.

This not only allows for quicker decisions, it also lets teams test their ideas without the interference of groupthink--the Amazon exec's biggest pet peeve.

You eat during the meeting.

Unless everybody else is eating, you shouldn't: a Two Pizza rule for the team is great, a Two Burger Rule for you is awful.

If you're eating during a meeting, "you can make noise or give off smells" that disrupt the proceedings, etiquette expert Barbara Pachter tells Business Insider.

You use your phone.

Using a phone during a meeting is rude and distracting, says Pachter. It shows that you prioritize the emails, texts, and tweets of others over the people and agenda in front of you.

Patcher says you shouldn't even have your phone on the table, since alerts can distract the group, ultimately breaking focus and hurting productivity. "Put it in your pocket, keep it on vibrate, and leave the room if you have to take the call or return a text," she says.

Categories: Small Business News

Lost the Sale? You May Not Be Asking the Right Questions

Inc Small Business - Thu, 04/10/2014 - 8:04am

Objections are inevitable. Responding well makes the difference.

The objections come fast and furious, flying at your head as though shot from a tennis-ball machine.

"This is too expensive."

"I've never heard of you."

"We don't need what you are selling."

Salespeople know they will be shown the door more often than a Price Is Right contestant. But there is a difference between rejections (which are final) and objections (which must be recognized and addressed). Objections are a natural part of the sales process. If the buyer's not finding something to question, she's probably not paying attention.

Rookie salespeople want to dismiss objections as quickly as possible. So they "answer" before the buyer has a chance to explain her concerns. If a buyer has just told you, "The price is too high," you shouldn't come back with, "No it's not! Let's talk about ROI!" That's like giving the buyer a stiff arm to the face and will likely cause her to dig in further.

A better approach is to acknowledge the objection and offer a follow-up question. So, for example, you might say, "Tell me more. Is it way more than you planned to spend? Or is your budget spoken for by other things?" By starting a conversation around the objection, you demonstrate confidence and credibility. The buyer may say something like, "Well, a bit of both. Your pricing seems high. And because this is new to us, we hadn't budgeted for it anyway." Now you're talking.

Additional follow-up questions allow you to address the objection head-on. "I totally understand. Let's discuss both. Our pricing does skew higher because we include a level of service that we believe goes much farther than other options. When you purchase products, how do you factor in service quality?" Alternatively, you might say: "I totally understand. I realize that I'm bringing an entirely new opportunity to the table, and this may not be the right time for you. If that's the reality, I get it. When things like these come across your desk, how do you decide whether this is something you should explore?"

Stay in questioning mode as long as you can. Resist the temptation to dive to the answer. That can be hard, especially if you've already heard the same objection 10 times this week.

Once the buyer has had an opportunity to put some flesh on the objection, it's time to respond. Trot out your ROI argument. Tell her why you are here to stay. Show her how other buyers who didn't think they "needed" your product benefitted.

The final step of handling an objection is to close that part of the conversation. Probably you won't have radically altered the buyer's perspective. But you've given her something to chew on. "Thanks for walking me through that," you say. "I've got some perspective on your decision, and that's helpful. Can we leave that topic for now and move on? Or do you have additional concerns about this?" Show the buyer that your confidence isn't shaken.

Not all objections are surmountable, of course. But such conversations yield lots of information about how customers make decisions. You may not win the sale. But you will have learned something.

Categories: Small Business News

3 Ways to Help Someone Who's Failing

Inc Small Business - Thu, 04/10/2014 - 8:00am

When someone in your company is in over his head, don't just stand by and watch. Here, Inc. columnists share how you can limit the damage and salvage his ego.

Every once in a while, you'll assign a project to an employee or colleague and about halfway through, the person will start to fail. Perhaps the project was above his or her capability. Or maybe the person lost interest in the project or was distracted. Regardless, the impact is major.

You have to jump in before things crash. If you let it all fall down, you'll not only suffer the damage from the failure, but you'll lose the respect of the team and the self-esteem of a good team member.

In my companies, I always try to give my employees room to fail safely. I make sure there are safety nets and redundancy in the process so nothing completely falls apart before someone can jump in to support the effort. This way, people can take risks more comfortably and get used to collaborating with the team.

If a project does fall apart in the middle, I take the employee aside and have a heart-to-heart talk. Once I diagnose the issue, I encourage the employee to step up and solve the problems. If the person can't rise to the challenge, I bring the team in to support the effort and, if necessary, take over. I do my best to preserve the employee's ego, but there is always a point at which you have to put the company before the individual. Determining that point and taking necessary if uncomfortable action is actually what defines a great leader.

Here are additional insights from my Inc. colleagues.

Lead the employee through the tough part.

This issue gets to the difference between great leaders and mere managers. Is there a way to give the person additional support to enable him or her to achieve the goal? If you can't, admit your mistake, but if you can, a great leader would see this for the opportunity it can become. The difference is whether you're concerned only about the task or also about the chance to improve your team member's skills and confidence. To paraphrase T.E. Lawrence, better your trusted person do it tolerably (and learn) than you do it perfectly for them. Bill Murphy Jr.--DC Bill

Want to read more from Bill? Click here.

Don't let people stretch too far.

As a leader, when you delegate a task to an employee, it's important that you don't give that person something that he or she is incapable of doing well--or at all. Stretching capabilities a bit is OK, but not so much that you set the person up for failure. That said, when an employee is floundering on a task that you've assigned, provide him or her with the support needed to be successful. Does someone need extra resources, or maybe a little more training in some aspect of the project? If so, provide it. Or assign other employees to help out. Be sure to let your employee know that you still support him or her, and that you will do everything possible to ensure that the project is a success. Peter Economy--The Management Guy

Want to read more from Peter? Click here.

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Categories: Small Business News

3 Lessons From the 'Breaking Bad' School of Branding

Inc Small Business - Thu, 04/10/2014 - 7:30am

He may be fictional, but Walter White sure knows what it takes to make a hit product.

My wife and I have been binge-watching Breaking Bad on Netflix (I know--we're a little late to the party). I couldn't help noticing that, despite the fact that it's fiction, the award-winning TV show contains valuable lessons about brand marketing:

1. To build brand, focus on quality.

The reason that anti-hero Walter White's crystal meth becomes so valuable is that it's of much higher quality than the competition's.

Through a tight control of his manufacturing process, White creates a product that's almost 100 percent pure. The competitors can only manage around 60 percent pure.

As a result, the meth consumers (a.k.a. "tweakers") all want Walter's product, not that of his competitors.

When you look at all the great commercial brands, you see the same thing. The brand is built on product quality and suffers when quality declines.

A good example of this is GM, which has struggled for decades to return to its former reputation for quality, a struggle that its recent recall makes all the more difficult.

2. Tie quality to a visual hook (brand image).

As is frequently pointed out in the series, White's product has a blue tinge to it and consequently acquires the brand name Blue.

The consumers of the product quickly associate the blue color with the purity of the product. The color, in other words, becomes the brand image.

When other people unsuccessfully attempt to imitate White's manufacturing process, the lack of the blue color is as fatal to the knockoffs as the lack of purity.

Similarly, great commercial brands always have a visual hook--a logo or, better yet, a look and feel--that people associate with product quality.

Apple is a great example of this. Every iPod, iPhone, and iPad is easily identifiable--even from a distance--compared with their frequently shoddy competition.

3. Make distribution as important as brand.

Throughout Breaking Bad, White's main challenge (and the majority of his problems) come from his need for a distribution network. Needless to say, some of White's problems in this area are connected to the fact that he's selling a product that's illegal.

There's a deeper truth here: If people can't buy your product, having a great brand is worse than useless.

Thousands of great products have failed because their makers failed at the basic block and tackle of building a distribution network.

The example that comes to mind is the Tesla automobile. Tesla has got a great product but an almost impossible uphill fight to distribute both the car and the power it needs to run.

Anyway, my wife and I will be watching the final episode of Breaking Bad tonight (with cocktails, no less), so if you've got any comments, please don't include any spoilers.

Preorder my new book, Business Without the Bullsh*t, and get an exclusive bonus chapter (for you and a friend) as well as a signed bookplate. Details HERE.

Categories: Small Business News

4 Ways to Boost Your Company's Value

Inc Small Business - Thu, 04/10/2014 - 7:30am

It takes more than luck to sell your company for a premium price. You have to work on these 4 areas to generate interest.

Seneca, a first-century Roman philosopher once observed, "Luck is where the crossroads of opportunity and preparation meet." Some business owners believe they’ll be able to "get lucky" and sell their companies for higher than the market average. While luck never hurts, preparation is critical if you want to secure a higher price for your company.

Successful middle market business owners have dedicated their lives to building their companies. They understand their industry, are keenly aware of the competition, know how to serve customers and have developed well trained, capable management teams. Most of what they have accomplished is a result of hard work, not luck.

Surprisingly, 65 percent of these same owners do not know how much their business is worth and 85 percent do not have an exit plan. In essence they are relying on fate with a healthy dose of luck to ultimately secure a premium price for their company should they exit by choice.

Experience has taught us that managing these four variables helps to replace luck with strategic preparedness in securing a premium price for your business:

1. Your company should not be dependent on any one person.

If the future success of your business is dependent upon a few star employees or one person on the leadership team, it can impact the financial potential of the company and could degrade valuation. Ensure your company has great processes in place that could be executed by others if necessary. This makes it easier for a potential buyer or investor to envision how the company could continue to grow and expand even without the current owners or key employees.

2. Your company should be recognized as a great place to work.

Investors are attracted to companies that are great places to work. The employees are excited and happy, and turnover is low. Their compensation packages are fair and tied to performance. The company should strive for a reputation of honesty, fairness, and ability to deliver. In great companies, the employees feel lucky to work there and the owners will benefit when it is time to find investors or sell the business.

3. You company should have at least three growth markets identified at all times.

Companies, that sell for higher prices or secure the capital they need to expand, can demonstrate they will continue to grow. Investors are looking for an opportunity to make money. One proven way to make money is to invest in companies that are growing and will continue to grow in the future. To ensure future growth, owners need to adapt to changing technology, identify new markets, and continually train the workforce. Attractive companies know where they are going and have a definite plan to get there.

Companies who are attractive to potential investors or buyers seek out good advisors across all fronts. They seek the advice of experienced financial advisors, lawyers, HR consultants, and investment bankers. They’re among the 15% who have an exit plan in place and probably have had the plan in place for a long time. Their financial records are in order. They do not have any pending legal issues. They have a solid understanding of what their company is worth and they have clear personal and financial goals.

4. Your company should have at least one proprietary product or procedure.

Smart business owners develop new methods to accomplish everyday jobs in a more efficient manner. Really smart owners patent those methods or technology so they own it and it cannot be duplicated by a competitor. This concept is proven almost daily when technology companies that have not even made money, sell for millions and sometimes billions. Owning proprietary technology or patents is a great way to boost the value of your company and attract investors.

If an owner has built a strong, successful company with a great future, the likelihood that they will "get lucky" and sell for a much higher price is much more likely. They’ve simply followed the advice of the Roman philosopher, Seneca. They were prepared when the right opportunity became available.

Categories: Small Business News

5 Documentaries About Entrepreneurs You Need to Watch This Spring

Inc Small Business - Thu, 04/10/2014 - 7:26am

Looking for some inspiration, or just have some time to kill? Cozy up to some documentaries that explore the ins and outs of running a small business.

There's no shortage of documentaries that convey what it's like to be an entrepreneur. Which is a good thing because all too often entrepreneurs feel as if they're alone in their experience, or unaware of what it takes to succeed. Here's a roundup of upcoming small business-themed documentaries worth watching, if not for their festival buzz, then for their power to inspire.

1. Startupland

The plot: Structured like a television miniseries, Startupland consists of five major plotlines that unfold over multiple episodes. The series focuses on five early-stage tech companies in Washington, D.C. that are enrolled in an accelerator and going through growing pains.

The sell: Interviews with seasoned entrepreneurs such as Steve Case, Esther Dyson, and Alexis Ohanian make for some worthwhile teaching moments (and provide some star power).

Where to watch: Pre-order the series online for $24.99.

2. Print the Legend

The plot: A Netflix original, this South By Southwest Festival-approved film follows the ups and downs of the 3D printing trend and examines what it takes to stand out.

The sell: If access to tech stars like Brad Feld and Makerbot CEO Bre Pettis doesn't grab you, the case study of competition in a saturated market should hold your attention.

Where to watch: Netflix, later this year. The doc will also screen at the Independent Film Festival in Boston on April 27.

3. Dog Days

The plot: The website for the successful Kickstarter campaign, which generated $33,598 in funding in March 2013, describes it best: "An unemployed dreamer and a veteran hot dog vendor take a leap of faith to keep the American Dream afloat in a sinking industry."

The sell: The tensions between restaurants and food truckers take center stage, as an East African immigrant, Siyone, and a neophyte cook named Coite try to diversify the foods offered by D.C. hot dog vendors.

Where to watch: According to its Facebook page, the film is set to premiere on April 15 at the Guthrie Theater for Grove City College.

4. Nothing to Lose: The Documentary

The plot: It's the story of Ryan Blair, the single father of an autistic son, who beat the odds to become a serial entrepreneur worth millions.

The sell: Fans of Blair's bestselling memoir Nothing to Lose, Everything to Gain will enjoy seeing his story come to life on the screen.

Where to watch: In support of National Autism Awareness Month, Blair will donate $1 for every Like, share, or follow of the documentary to charities benefiting autism advocacy and research. The documentary was released on his site on April 9.

5. The Cola Road

The plot: What if anti-diarrhea kits were as ubiquitous in Zambia as Coca-Cola? In August 2012, New York filmmaker Claire Ward spent five weeks shadowing the team from the nonprofit ColaLife to find out.

The sell: The 40-minute documentary is guaranteed to make believers out of anyone who doubts the merits of social entrepreneurs.

Where to watch: The film is currently winding its way through the indie film festival circuit, but should be available to stream online soon.

Categories: Small Business News

9 Big Idea Business Books You Need to Read Now

Inc Small Business - Thu, 04/10/2014 - 7:16am

A business book needs to possess the chops of practical substance, and more than glint of mass-market flash, wouldn't you agree?So whether you need a new read for a beautiful spring day or for a weekend vacation, here's a list of nine titles that will challenge and inspire you this spring.

A business book needs to possess the chops of practical substance, and more than glint of mass-market flash, wouldn't you agree? So whether you need a new read for a beautiful spring day or for a weekend vacation, here's a list of nine titles that will challenge and inspire you this spring.

1. "Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make Competition Irrelevant" by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne. Blue Ocean Strategy is a contrarian business book and the only one I've ever read cover-to-cover," says Carey Smith, founder and CEO of $125-million Big Ass Solutions in Lexington, KY. "The authors emphasize searching for spaces without competition and then staying ahead of it. Opportunity is always in the unexplored." In other words: If disruption and business model innovation on your radar, this is the book for you.

2. "Start With Why" by Simon Sinek. All companies exist to make money. What separates yours from all the rest? Why does it exist--what is its transcendent, inspirational purpose--over and above profitability? Sinek's book can help you formulate these questions and articulate the answers. "The biggest takeaway from the book is, as Senek says, 'People don't buy what you do they buy why you do it,'" says Zach Kaplan, CEO of Inventables, a Chicago-based startup that provides software, supplies and machinery to digital designers and manufacturers. "His book and his TED talk on the same topic caused me to think hard about why we exist at Inventables."

3. "The First Mile" by Scott D. Anthony. Whether you're a startup or a mature organization, the lifeblood of your company comes from the process of turning ideas into action. Anthony's book (which comes out in early May, but which I've already read, thanks to the power of media-privileged advanced copies) is a primer on how to do it, by an innovation expert who's worked side by side with the legendary Clayton Christensen. (Christensen is the coiner of the term "disruptive innovation" and an evangelist of Peter Drucker's theories about articulating what "job" your customers are truly paying you to do.)

4. "The Innovator's Extinction" by David Ulmer. A footnote in "The First Mile" calls this unheralded gem "a fun, somewhat subversive book." Perhaps most enticing, Anthony warns readers: "Some of the advice in this book should be followed with caution, but Ulmer bears the scars of trying to drive innovation inside several large companies, and a lot of his observations ring all too true."

5. "Lincoln the Unknown" by Dale Carnegie. Everyone's heard of Carnegie's classic, "How to Win Friends and Influence People." Few have heard of this out-of-print (but still available on Amazon) rarity, which he wrote four years earlier. In an era where Lincoln's people skills have received their fair share of appreciation, this book, which Carnegie spend three years working on, provides even deeper insights about one of our nation's greatest leaders.

6. "Five Frogs on a Log" by Mark L. Feldman and Michael F. Spratt. If mergers and acquisitions are part of your future, this book will help you get ready. For Brian Twibell, CEO of RedVision, a $51 million provider of real estate title searches based in Parsipanny, NJ, Five Frogs is a well-worn bible. It guided him through RedVision's four acquisitions, helping him grow the company to 517 employees--up from 72 in 2007.

7. "The Circle" by Dave Eggers. First, a warning: This is a novel. Second, another warning: It's not a page-turner. The plot won't intrigue you, the characters (perhaps intentionally) won't inspire you. Where Eggers' book deserves high marks, however, is for its ideas about the contemporary workplace: Specifically, the way that company cultures and social technologies can lead to workaholism, a blurring of the lines between public and private, and a blinding self-absorption in the name of corporate zeal.

8. "Moments of Impact: How to Design Strategic Conversations That Accelerate Change" by Chris Ertel and Lisa Kay Solomon. Any book about how to run better meetings deserves your attention. Ertel and Kay make it easy, with actual tool and checklists that will prove fast and practical to your and your top team, every time out.

9. "Ask Not" by Thurston Clarke. As a leader, one thing you have to do is give speeches. Ideally, those talks will move and inspire people. Clarke's book provides an incisive anatomy of John F. Kennedy's inaugural address. Even if you're already a public-speaking ace, you're bound to find practical tips on giving better presentations from learning about JFK's process.

Categories: Small Business News

Current Good Manufacturing Practice and Hazard Analysis and Risk-Based Preventative Controls for Food for Animals

SBA Office of Advocacy - Thu, 04/10/2014 - 6:43am
Landing page summary: 

I am writing you for two reasons. First, I want to commend certain Food and Drug Administration (FDA) employees for the important contributions made by them during small business roundtables hosted by impacted industries designed to disseminate information and to answer questions on the Food Safety Modernization Act rules.  Secondly, I want to inform you of some small business concerns with the above-captioned rule.  It is my hope that the FDA will consider the affected industries’ comments and take them into consideration as the agency finalizes the proposed rule.
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Categories: Small Business News

3 Cybersecurity Steps You Need to Take in Response to the 'Heartbleed' Bug

Inc Small Business - Wed, 04/09/2014 - 2:16pm

The newly discovered security hole exposed millions of passwords, credit card numbers, and other sensitive data. Find out how to shore up your company's Internet traffic.

Back in 2012, a new version of popular Internet encryption software OpenSSL, which protects nearly 66 percent of websites, rolled out with a security hole. "Heartbleed" left Internet users' passwords, usernames, financial data, email exchanges, and more vulnerable to theft by hackers, according to a Google researcher and independent Finnish security firm Codenomicon, who together discovered and named the bug.

The lapse in Internet security means that even if your site has a lock icon or a URL prefix of "https://" in the browser--ostensibly signs that traffic is secure--it may not be safe. The security experts who discovered Heartbleed write:

"The Heartbleed bug allows anyone on the Internet to read the memory of the systems protected by the vulnerable versions of the OpenSSL software. This compromises the secret keys used to identify the service providers and to encrypt the traffic, the names and passwords of the users and the actual content. This allows attackers to eavesdrop on communications, steal data directly from the services and users and to impersonate services and users."

To check if your site is vulnerable, type in your URL here.

Giovanni Vigna, cofounder of security startup Lastline, says all businesses need to upgrade to the new version of OpenSSL, which includes a new certificate (the "secret key" the experts refer to), and then alert all users to change their passwords.

Heartbleed is a particularly scary bug because of the potential breadth of its impact, Vigna says. "It's difficult to understand how wide this attack was before it was made public, but someone could be banging a business right now and stealing every single bit of memory from their servers," Vigna says. "I doubt businesses will ever know, which leaves a big question mark hanging over you."

Many reports have suggested that small businesses are at the greatest risk, but Vigna disagrees. He says while small businesses are usually targets because they typically don't have great security, Heartbleed levels the playing field by making every company using OpenSSL susceptible. He believes criminals are going to go for big scores.

"There's going to be a very limited window to exploit this vulnerability, so the attackers are going to focus on sites and companies that manage the most sensitive information and are slow at upgrading their infrastructure," Vigna says.

The good news, says Jordan Edelson, a software developer and the CEO of New York-based app developer Appetizer Mobile, is that the bug is easy to fix. There's an OpenSSL patch available online and anyone can implement it without much technical know-how.

Below, check out the three things your company needs to do if your site is using OpenSSL and is vulnerable to Heartbleed:

1. Update your version of OpenSSL with this fix. It will close the vulnerability and make your software secure again.

2. Alert all of your users and employees that your site is now secure and advise them to change their usernames and passwords. Edelson says you should tell your users to do a series of password-change cycles. Change it now, in one week, and in one month from now.

3. A cyberattack can cripple your business, cost thousands of dollars, and do irreparable damage to your brand's image, so if you have not been investing heavily in your company's cybersecurity, it's time to start. "As the Web evolves, more vulnerabilities will emerge and companies need to be aware and stay updated," Edelson says. "You do not want your servers to be compromised. Cyberattacks can cripple a business. Pump as much money into IT as you can. It's not a department to overlook."

Categories: Small Business News
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