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Archive for January, 2015

If The Shoe Fits: Marriage and the Startup Social Contract

Friday, January 30th, 2015

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mI rarely have time to read my Quora feed, but now and then I see a question that pulls me up short as happened when this question from last fall surfaced.

I am an entrepreneur about to get married. How do I make sure my future wife doesn’t benefit financially from our union?  

My reaction was that his fiancée should run as fast as possible in the other direction, since this guy doesn’t seem to have either the understanding of what marriage is or the maturity to build a successful one. (Most of the responses echoed my reaction.)

Thinking further, I wondered whether this entrepreneur honored what Matt Weeks calls The Startup Social Contract at his company, since he obviously didn’t with his wife-to-be.

Marriage, after all, is the ultimate startup and the risks are even greater when an entrepreneur is involved.

Image credit: HikingArtist

Entrepreneurs: A Lesson From IDEO

Thursday, January 29th, 2015


How would you respond to the following?

  • Would you hire a woman?
  • Would you hire an old woman?
  • A really old woman?
  • Could such a woman contribute significantly to a project?
  • What could she teach your hot, young engineers?

While most founders would answer ‘no’ or ‘nothing’, IDEO thinks differently.

The company recently hired Barbara Beskind and both she and IDEO consider her 90 years a major advantage.

She applied after seeing an interview with IDEO founder David Kelley, who talked about the importance of a truly diverse design team and hires accordingly.

The aging Boomer market has companies salivating and hundreds are developing products for them.

The problem, of course, is that younger designers have no idea what difficulties older people face; not the obvious ones, but those that are more subtle.

Beskind does.

For example, IDEO is working with a Japanese company on glasses to replace bifocals. With a simple hand gesture, the glasses will turn from the farsighted prescription to the nearsighted one. Initially, the designers wanted to put small changeable batteries in the new glasses. Beskind pointed out to them that old fingers are not that nimble.

It really caused the design team to reflect.” They realized they could design the glasses in a way that avoided the battery problem.

It’s the little things that make or break products and the knowledge of the little things comes mostly from having been there/done that.

That kind of insight is priceless.

Now how would you answer those questions?

Image credit: jm3 on Flickr

Foot-In-Mouth Advertising

Wednesday, January 28th, 2015


Procter and Gamble is known as a marketing powerhouse and no novice when it comes to social media.

So it makes you wonder how one of its divisions could have stuck its foot so deeply into its mouth on Twitter.

Vicks, maker of NyQuil, DayQuil and ZzzQuil tweeted the following

SLEEP LIKE he finally proposed. And you have been dating for a decade. #SleepLike #engaged #shesaidyes pic.twitter.com/r3MQNNjZM6

— ZzzQuil (@ZzzQuil) January 23, 2015

and was lambasted for 19 hours by women and men alike.

While the tweet sucks as an attempt at humor, it is right in line with two TV ads currently running.

In case you aren’t familiar, one is for dads and one is for moms.

The dads take NyQuil so they can go to work, while the moms take DayQuil so they can stay home and chauffeur the kids around.

Seems like all three would play better in the 1950s than now.

I suppose you could blame Vicks advertising agency for them, but Vicks marketing must have signed off on them.

It just goes to show that even the savviest companies can trip if they lose site of who their customers are, as opposed to who they were.

Image credit: theimpulsivebuy

Ducks In A Row: Affordable Reward

Tuesday, January 27th, 2015


Looking for a perk or bonus for your people that won’t break the bank?

Consider paying for them to take a course that interests them at sites such as Pluralsight or Universal Class, whether career oriented or just of personal interest.

Because it’s a perk/bonus, it’s similar to providing movie tickets, i.e., while you choose the theater you don’t pick the movie.

It doesn’t matter if they want to learn a new programming language or how to make wine.

The point is it’s a reward, beyond normal compensation, for their hard work.

Yes, the classes provide them with new skills they may choose to apply elsewhere, but if they don’t have the opportunity to learn new skills, face new challenges or get bored they will leave anyway.

Providing learning opportunities won’t hasten the process; what it will do is give them reason to sing your praises as a great boss/company to work for in the event they do leave.

All of which will positively impact your street rep and improve/enhance your recruiting efforts.

Image credit: Eric Harrison

Surviving And Thriving Through Life

Monday, January 26th, 2015


Good stuff comes and bad stuff happens; people come and go—and die; great bosses join—and leave; companies start, grow, get acquired, shrink, layoff and file bankruptcy.

It’s called life; and no matter what you do, it rolls on inexorably

You can influence it, but you can’t control it.

The only thing you can control in life is yourself and your MAP.

We all have a tendency to forget this.

For better or for worse, you are the only thing you will always have; the only thing you can truly count on, so why not appreciate yourself? Value the best and improve the rest.

There is only one you and you get to live only one life, so focus your time and energy on changing/adjusting/enhancing what you do control and let the rest go.

Image credit: Celestine Chua

If The Shoe Fits: Nasty Girl’s Sophia Amoruso

Friday, January 23rd, 2015

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

Entrepreneurs: Wind And Water

Thursday, January 22nd, 2015

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

A Hitch In The 1099 Economy?

Wednesday, January 21st, 2015


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

Ducks In A Row: Sisterhood? Not Hardly

Tuesday, January 20th, 2015


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

Customer Love vs. Competitor War

Monday, January 19th, 2015


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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