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If The Shoe Fits: Nasty Girl’s Sophia Amoruso

January 23rd, 2015 by Miki Saxon

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mThis post is dedicated to all the under-30 founders with the unshakable belief that they have the organizational chops to lead their company through every growth level, unlike Larry Page, Mark Zukerberg and Nasty Girl founder Sophia Amoruso,

A few days ago Amoruso told her 255 employees that she was stepping down from her CEO role to focus on creative and brand marketing and President Sheree Waterson assuming the CEO role and focus on operations.

Amoruso founded Nasty Girl in 2006 and built it to its current $100+M, but believes it needs different skills to reach the next level.

“What got you here can’t get you there.”

According to investor Index Ventures’ Danny Rimer it definitely was Amoruso’s idea.

“It shows a level of maturity that she knows what she can do well and what others can do better than her.”

Amoruso is confident enough to act on that knowledge.

True leaders know when to step aside and focus on what they do best.

Image credit: HikingArtist

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Entrepreneurs: Wind And Water

January 22nd, 2015 by Miki Saxon

Are you green? I love green, so today I thought I’d share two terrific super-green startups with you.

One targets energy and the other water.

One is from France and the other from Washington State.

Neither is one of the over-hyped hotbeds of innovation .

I adore the French approach to wind power, because it’s relatively small and draws its inspiration directly from the natural world.

Designer NewWind R&D has created a “silent” turbine called the Tree Vent that is supposed to blend into the landscapes which house it. It’s a 36ft-tall structure made of steel with 72 artificial leaves.

Pretty cool. In fact, I’d love to have one in my yard.

Next is Washington State startup Janicki Bioenergy; the company with the viral video of Bill Gates drinking water — water made from human poop. Its called an Omniprocessor.

The machine extracts water from sewage that’s piped in or delivered to the facility. The dry sewage is then incinerated to generate steam, which powers the entire machine.

And self-powering is what makes it perfect for entrepreneurs in emerging countries to start businesses.

Do you know of other radically super-green startups? Please share.

Image credit: Edip YALTIR and thegatesnotes

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A Hitch In The 1099 Economy?

January 21st, 2015 by Miki Saxon

https://www.flickr.com/photos/headovmetal/2264140208

Last fall I asked if the 1099 economy might crash and burn considering the IRS rules governing freelancers and contractors.

I think that companies, like Uber and Instacart, etc., whose success is built on the basis that their workers aren’t actually employees are in for a shock one of these days.

But it’s more than my opinion.

Way back in 2013 a group of strippers brought a class-action lawsuit claiming employee status — and won.

Rick’s, a chain of “upscale adult nightclubs serving primarily businessmen and professionals” based in Texas, argued that its dancers were independent contractors, more akin to stand-up comedians than fry cooks. But Judge Engelmayer was not persuaded. He said the list of rules Rick’s laid down could be described as “micromanagement.”

Rick’s provided “Entertainer Guidelines,” including required heel height and when to strip; the company also set prices.

Uber tells its drivers what to wear, car requirements and sets prices, as do other 1099 employers.

One day soon, a few fed-up drivers are going to file suit and their lawyers will likely cite the judgment against Rick’s.

When that happens, compensation will change, as it did years ago with Microsoft’s contract developers (who were also awarded stock retroactively), and, hopefully, the playing fields will be leveled.

I, for one, am looking forward to it.

Image credit: HeadOvMetal

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Ducks In A Row: Sisterhood? Not Hardly

January 20th, 2015 by Miki Saxon

https://www.flickr.com/photos/68397968@N07/14202695055

An interesting article from Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant shows exactly what woman in the workplace face and the thin line they walk when they speak up.

We’ve both seen it happen again and again. When a woman speaks in a professional setting, she walks a tightrope. Either she’s barely heard or she’s judged as too aggressive. When a man says virtually the same thing, heads nod in appreciation for his fine idea. As a result, women often decide that saying less is more. (…) Male executives who spoke more often than their peers were rewarded with 10 percent higher ratings of competence. When female executives spoke more than their peers, both men and women punished them with 14 percent lower ratings.

The critical words are, “both men and women punished them;” again, not a surprise.

The findings in the article aren’t new or even that surprising (here are two more from 2008 and 2009); I heard similar comments more than 30 years ago.

It gives the lie to the myth of sisterhood.

I never believed in the whole sisterhood thing — the idea that women supported each other.

I got support and encouragement from the men in my work world — it sure didn’t come from the women.

That’s not to say that women don’t form solid relationships and support each other, of course they do, but they aren’t based on an accident of nature, i.e., plumbing.

They’re based on common interests and ongoing discovery.

So while ‘sisterhood’ has worked for some, it’s dangerous to assume it works for all or all the time.

Image credit: MattysFlicks

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Customer Love vs. Competitor War

January 19th, 2015 by Miki Saxon

https://www.flickr.com/photos/-marlith-/3028444897/

Who do you channel? Sun Tzu or Lao Tzo?

I’ve cited Lao Tzu multiple times over the years, but, unlike most management gurus, not Sun Tzu’s Art of War.

I never liked battle analogies; never understood the idea of “killing the competition.” In spite of what I was told was my naiveté, it seemed to me that loving the customer was more important.

While those battle terms are still around, it seems like I was on to something way back then.

According to Frank Cespedes, Senior Lecturer at Harvard Business School and author of Aligning Strategy and Sales those fighting words get the focus wrong.

Strategy gurus constantly use analogies with battle plans for “competitive advantage” versus the enemy. But the metaphor is not suitable because business, unlike a war or battle, is not primarily about defeating an enemy. Business is primarily about customer value: targeting customer groups and tailoring products, sales and other activities to serve those groups better or differently than others. (…)  Peter Drucker emphasized, “The purpose of a business is to create a customer.” That’s also the purpose of any business strategy: make customers, not war.

Winning customers is actually pretty simple, delight them, amaze them and provide them with something they either need or want.

Do all that and the competition will fade away in the eyes of your customers.

And theirs are the only eyes that matter.

Image credit: Kevin Wong

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If The Shoe Fits: Fantasy vs. Reality

January 16th, 2015 by Miki Saxon

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mBackground: Long-term readers know I spend a lot of time in my yard. It’s taken 10 years for me to actually like it, although people have been stopping to compliment me for at least five years.

Back then a friend gave me a split-image picture showing two yards, one lush and the other bare dirt with a few scraggly plants. The lush image is labeled “fantasy” and the other “reality.”

Imagine my surprise when I scrolled through my LinkedIn feed (a rare occurrence) and found the startup (all life, actually) version of my split-image garden.

It was posted by Andy Adams CEO, GreenEcho, LLC and it speaks for itself.plan-reality

So remember, nobody ever said reality was easy — doable, but not easy.

Image credit: HikingArtist

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Entrepreneurs: The Value Of Old People

January 15th, 2015 by Miki Saxon

Adaptive Insights

Who does a company, with explosive growth, founded and built by old folks in their forties and fifties all with extensive executive management experience, turn to when moving to the next level?

The company hasn’t disclosed exact revenue figures, but it says it grew new annual recurring revenue by more than 50% in 2014, and claims more than 2,500 companies, including Coca Cola, Toyota, and AAA use its software. It’s raised $100 million in funding from investors like Salesforce, Norwest Venture Partners, and Bessemer Venture Partners. 

The company is Adaptive Insights and the guy is Tom Bogan, an even older guy, with even more experience.

A guy who is (gasp) 63 years old.

Gasp, because according to a recent study, old people shouldn’t even go out in public.

When a large sample of Facebook groups created by 20- to 29-year-olds was examined by a team based at the Yale School of Public Health, three-quarters of the groups were found to denigrate old people. More than a third advocated banning old people from public activities like shopping.

Of course, one assumes that the ‘old people’ to which they refer aren’t their relatives.

(I’d like to hear them on the subject 10, 20, 30 and 40 years from now.)

There is enormous value in having ‘been there/done that’ through multiple economic cycles, cultural change, globalization and technology evolution/revolution.

But to take advantage of it you need to be comfortable enough in your own skin to admit you need to learn — like Mark Zukerberg and Larry Page.

Image credit: Adaptive Insights

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Focus On Security

January 14th, 2015 by Miki Saxon

https://www.flickr.com/photos/kehrseite/9912155973

How about that. Target, the White House, CIA, FBI and a host of other companies have been hacked and people shrug it off.

The Sony hack was different — a political show of arms.

Last week I commented on the FTC chairwoman Edith Ramirez’s focus on security at CES.

Seems she’s not the only one.

According to a survey by Piper Jaffray, security was ranked as the top spending priority for CIOs this year, with a whopping 75% of the respondents saying they would increase spending in 2015.

That’s nearly 20% higher than last year.

It’s about time — if they follow through.

And it looks like they might, since the venture crowd has scented money.

Piper Jaffray’s survey asked only 112 CIOs across eight different industries, so the results should be taken with a grain of salt. Still, security seems to be a huge concern for everyone in tech, as some of the top venture capitalists in Silicon Valley also picked it as one of their biggest investment areas this year.

That concern is also being driven partly by users waking up to the fact that while companies are happy to take their money they haven’t given much of a damn about keeping their online selves safe, i.e., their information secure.

And that is turning up the heat on the privacy issue as those same companies splice, dice and sell personally identifiable information to enhance their own bottom line.

The dangerous, even lethal, ramifications of hacking are obvious.

Thanks to the hacks of 2014, culminating with Sony, tech’s laissez-faire, “it’s not our problem” attitude towards these dangers seems to be changing.

One can only hope that it changes faster than connectivity grows.

Image credit: markus jakobs

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Ducks in a Row: Intel, $300M And Diversity

January 13th, 2015 by Miki Saxon

 https://www.flickr.com/photos/intelfreepress/13476023723/Dozens of ugly stories in 2014 threw a spotlight on the lack of gender and color diversity and the prevalence of bigoted and frat house/misogynistic cultures in tech.

Individuals and companies are speaking out vowing to change things — talking, talking, talking.

Intel, however, isn’t talking; it’s putting its money where its mouth is.

Intel said it has established a $300 million fund to be used in the next three years to improve the diversity of the company’s work force [goal of 14%], attract more women and minorities to the technology field and make the industry more hospitable to them once they get there.

The big difference between what Intel is doing and the rest of tech is not just focusing on STEM training and recruitment, but on changing the workplace so that those who join tech will stay in tech instead of being driven out by the current culture.

Changing culture is difficult within a company, let alone within an entire industry.

Google is already working on it, while most companies are suggesting/funding issues that are external, such as education.

Hopefully, the clout and funds that Intel is bringing to the table will makes a difference.

Image credit: Intel Free Press

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If The Shoe Fits: Marc Benioff

January 9th, 2015 by Miki Saxon

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mWhen tech people talk about philanthropic role models these days they focus on people like Bill Gates and his foundation or Mark Zukerberg’s donation to schools where he grew up, which, obviously, are very important.

Sometimes they talk about a few million donated to San Francisco to off-set the anger directed at commute buses and general tech arrogance — which we all know is no more than a rounding error to companies like Google.

Marc Benioff has a different take on what companies owe to the cities that host them.

We have done a phenomenal job creating value for the world through our technology, but we are not really an industry known for giving that wealth back.

Benioff’s attitude isn’t a reactive to the current anger at tech; he instilled philanthropy in the company’s culture when he founded it in 1999.

He called it the 1-1-1 model of corporate philanthropy, in which the company would send 1 percent of its stock, products, and employees’ working time to the company foundation.

His approach inspired companies like Yelp, NetSuite, and Google to develop their own variations.

“Marc has been pounding the table getting everyone to pay attention and come up with their own philanthropic strategy,” says Jeremy Stoppelman, Yelp’s CEO.

Benioff has a new initiative called SF Gives (run by nonprofit Tipping Point Community) to change things.

SF Gives to raise $10 million for regional antipoverty programs. Benioff got on the phone himself and successfully pushed executives at Box, Google, Jawbone, Zynga, and 15 other tech companies to join.

His goal is to add another 85 companies in 2015 and I have no doubt he’ll succeed.

In short, Benioff is a true proponent of doing well by doing good and sees it as a substantial competitive advantage and recruiting tool for Salesforce.

Embedding your own version of Benioff’s 1-1-1 in your startup’s culture and joining SF Gives at the earliest opportunity may not guarantee you the same success as Salesforce, but it will certainly garner you good press, important connections and a significant competitive advantage, which won’t hurt your chances.

Image credit: HikingArtist

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