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Archive for July, 2015

If the Shoe Fits: Understanding the Gender Fuss

Friday, July 31st, 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 for all the male founders out there who don’t understand the fuss about diversity, especially gender diversity.

After all, why bother finding female talent when it’s so much easier to find male talent?

What difference does it really make? (click “Resources”)

Venture-backed companies with females as founders or executives are more likely to go public, turn a profit or be sold at a steep price (source: DowJones)

Globally, companies with diverse executive boards enjoy significantly higher earnings and return on equity. (source: DowJones)

Download the Report

The difference is money, stupid; it’s the money.

Hat tip to KG for sending me the link.

Image credit: HikingArtist

Entrepreneurs: Think Security from Day One

Thursday, July 30th, 2015


There are dozens of startups working on wiring everyday products to become part of the Internet of Things (IoT) and a few weeks ago I cited an article that raising money in that arena was tied to building security into a product from the beginning.

Security used to be a function to which consumers gave little thought, but that is rapidly changing.

Anything can be hacked, but awareness was heightened recently when security experts hacked a Jeep’s entertainment system and took control of vital driving functions.

The result of their work was a hacking technique—what the security industry calls a zero-day exploit—that can target Jeep Cherokees and give the attacker wireless control, via the Internet, to any of thousands of vehicles. Their code is an automaker’s nightmare: software that lets hackers send commands through the Jeep’s entertainment system to its dashboard functions, steering, brakes, and transmission, all from a laptop that may be across the country.

And if none of this makes IoT startup founders rethink their cavalier attitude towards building tough security into their initial design, perhaps this comment from Colby Moore, a security research engineer at the cybersecurity firm Synack, will make them think twice.

“Really, the state of security on these things right now is pretty atrocious… A lot of these device manufacturers are just not security people and they really just don’t have security people on staff, especially when it comes to IoT start-ups. What they are doing is phenomenal with all of these new uses for technology. But security isn’t a concern for everybody. It’s ship now and patch later mentality.” (…)  If you are worried about it then don’t put yourself at risk. It’s kind of up to us to demand a higher security standard and hold the manufacturers to it.”

Flickr image credit: centralasian

Stop Humblebragging Now!

Wednesday, July 29th, 2015


Humblebragging (a brag veiled in a complaint, so as to sound less blatantly like a brag) has to be near the top of today’s more annoying trends.

It’s not really new; I’ve heard similar phrasing for decades, but it was much more rare.

It’s common now, but if you indulge you’ll do yourself more harm than good.

Humblebragging runs rampant on Twitter, but it turns out to be a lousy self-promotion tactic, especially in business situations such as job interviews… Research shows that when given the choice to brag or to humblebrag, it’s better to straight-out brag.

The research described is interesting, because it’s easy to remember being on the receiving end of similar situations allowing you to compare your own reactions to those in the study.

Humblebragging is a close relative of hints that are usually in the form of a poor-me complaint.

We’ve all been on the receiving end of “I don’t know how I can…” which practically forces an “I will help…” response.

An extended family aunt of mine was a past master of this approach, so I learned early on to recognize the words for what they were — manipulation.

Both humblebrags and hints annoy because they are inauthentic and sneaky.

But there is humor to be found when you realize that the worst practitioners are those most offended when others do it.

Flickr image credit: Area 224

Ducks in a Row: the Damage of an Overly Competitive Culture

Tuesday, July 28th, 2015


Last Friday we looked at the disturbing number of entrepreneurs who suffer from anxiety and depression, exacerbated by the pressures of founding a startup, and too often find their solace in suicide.

Mark Suster wrote how the same problems often haunt success.

Today’s New York Times had a complimentary article, Campus Suicide and the Pressure of Perfection.

There are several compelling points to consider;

  • almost all are young;
  • they are high achievers recognized for ‘crushing it’ — whatever ‘it’ happens to be;
  • they are driven to live up to outside expectations; and
  • they constantly compare themselves to others’ external images as depicted in social media.

The acts required to “keep up with the Joneses” have changed significantly from my under-35 days.

Back then it was your neighbors and school/social/professional circles that comprised the Joneses.

Now it is the no-holds-barred world.

The existential question “Why am I here?” is usually followed by the equally confounding “How am I doing?” In 1954, the social psychologist Leon Festinger put forward the social comparison theory, which posits that we try to determine our worth based on how we stack up against others.

Growing up and in the years since ‘how am I doing’ was never my focus, because I never fit in; never was part of any crowd and certainly never told I was special.

Fortunately, I wasn’t competitive; in fact, competitive has never been part of my personal vocabulary.

Somehow I’ve always known that no matter what I accomplished there would always be people who were richer/smarter/thinner/more popular/more whatever than I.

Unlike those described in the aforementioned articles.

And the pressures have increased exponentially for those susceptible.

In the era of social media, such comparisons take place on a screen with carefully curated depictions that don’t provide the full picture. Mobile devices escalate the comparisons from occasional to nearly constant.

“Curated” is the polite way to say that people lie — not only to convince the world, but probably to convince themselves.

Don’t get caught in this trap; teach yourself to talk about how you feel — to at least one real person, preferably more.

And take time to be there for others who are struggling.

Flickr image credit: Rodney Campbell

Entrepreneurs: Depression and You

Friday, July 24th, 2015

http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/prevalence/_148239.pdfIn 2011 I wrote You Are Not a God citing the need for the same reminder to be given to entrepreneurs as the Romans gave their generals when they returned from a successful campaign.

That wisdom should be given all entrepreneurs. It should be drummed into their heads at all stages of the entrepreneurial process.


Because they aren’t.

And if they can be convinced that they aren’t they will be more likely to talk about what’s bothering them.

Of the 242 entrepreneurs he surveyed, 49% reported having a mental-health condition. Depression was the No. 1 reported condition among them and was present in 30% of all entrepreneurs [as opposed to the US population at large, where about 7% identify as depressed], followed by ADHD (29%) and anxiety problems (27%). (…)  More surprising was the incidence of mental health in the families of entrepreneurs: 72% said they either had mental-health problems themselves or in their immediate family.

Depression is not uncommon in the US, but add the indescribable pressures that are part and parcel of entrepreneurism and you can end up with a deadly brew.

One reason for the high suicide rate among entrepreneurs.

But there is another major reason, especially in places like Silicon Valley, where entrepreneurs are considered some kind of god.

When you are a member of a god-like crowd you are unlikely to talk about personal problems, especially if the problem would affect funding, hiring and eventual success.

What happens if you don’t talk about it and you don’t look for help?

It gets worse — and worse — and worse, until death starts looking like a good option.

Which is a very stupid attitude for very smart people to have.

“There’s lots of people who go through depression without access to support. We are not those people. What creates that barrier to support is that notion that a CEO is a strong, tough male figure who acts masculine and doesn’t ask for help or assistance.”

Knowing how entrepreneurs think, it’s not surprising that a partial solution takes the form of a startup by clinical psychologist Glen Moriarty.

Moriarty’s 7 Cups of Tea is a free, on-demand, internet-based anonymous listening network, which has a special section dedicated to listening to startup founders’ problems. Since launching the startup section, Moriarty estimated there have been more than 10,000 anonymous conversations.

Moriarty is pretty pragmatic.

“I don’t think there’s an outlet for much of society. I don’t think we’re doing a particularly awesome job caring for people in other professions either. It just happens that we care about startups.”

So if you or someone you know isn’t doing too well and not talking about it it is your responsibility to talk to them, share information/links and encourage them to start talking.

Be vulnerable, not superior and, whatever else you do, don’t brush it off with some version of “don’t worry; you’ll feel better when…”

You wouldn’t ignore it and let your friend drive drunk, so don’t ignore the possibilities of depression — even when everything seems to be going right.

We are all our brother’s keeper.

Flickr image credit: NIH

Hacking Colorblindness

Tuesday, July 21st, 2015

Business Insider published an article today about glasses that let colorblind people see color, including the video below.

I’m sharing it to help along the effort for it to go viral, so more people will learn about this technology.

And also why you should never take anything for granted.

Ducks in a Row: Neuroscience and Bias

Monday, July 20th, 2015

Urko Dorronsoro

This isn’t the first time bias has been the subject of a post, from attractiveness to the inherent dangers of your comfort zone to Google’s anti-bias training and many others.

The most important thing to learn from all this is that you are biased.

So am I and so is the rest of the human race, no exceptions.

Now neuroscience research is looking at bias and what it takes to disable it within an organization well beyond Google’s training approach, which may not do much good.

Unfortunately, there is very little evidence that educating people about biases does anything to reduce their influence. Human biases occur outside conscious awareness, and thus people are literally unaware of them as they occur. As an individual, you cannot consciously “watch out for biases,” because there will never be anything to see.

First, some basics; what is bias?

Biases are nonconscious drivers — cognitive quirks — that influence how people see the world. They appear to be universal in most of humanity, perhaps hardwired into the brain as part of our genetic or cultural heritage, and they exert their influence outside conscious awareness.

The great problem is that people can’t recognize bias until after the fact — if at all.

If you are highly self-aware you can train yourself to know areas in which you are biased based on historical perspective, which, hopefully, will send up warning flags when you face a similar situation.

But the best solution involves a team effort, whether at work, home or during other pursuits.

How then can the negative effects of bias be overcome? Collectively. Organizations and teams can become aware of bias in ways that individuals cannot. Team-based practices can be redesigned to help identify biases as they emerge, and counteract them on the fly, thus mitigating their effect.

Bias is real and it’s not going to go away because it violates what we want to believe about ourselves.

I highly recommend this article, not just for you, but to share with the various teams in your life.

Flickr image credit: Urko Dorronsoro

Entrepreneurs: Emily White

Friday, July 17th, 2015

Emily White

Emily White is a long-time friend of mine.

We met at the end of the last century over our startups.

Like me, Emily isn’t a twenty-something-guy-in-a-hoodie.

She founded OnlineHR, one of the earliest social networks, in 1999. Then 47, “I didn’t know what I didn’t know.”

Emily is back with a vengeance as an entrepreneur, although she never really left. She reached into her past to pay the bills, while searching for her next startup idea.

In search of that next unidentified problem and solution, White returned to social work 30 years after earning a masters degree. Working for five organizations—all of them related to geriatrics, a personal interest and expertise—over the course of seven years, she “saw the problem was in care transition.”

In doing so, she also tapped into her passion for better senior care and combined it with technology to find a viable, affordable solution in the booming healthcare arena.

All of that led her, at the age of 61, to two 20-somethings, both MIT graduates, with a big idea. In 2014, White joined GeriJoy as co-founder and vice president of strategic alliance. GeriJoy is a tablet-based chronic care management and virtual caregiving tool backed by real health advocates. Bottom line? GeriJoy leads to lower hospital readmission rates. (…)GeriJoy has already successfully reduced emergency room readmissions for users and, in tests, had good results with people who are experiencing various forms of dementia. The combination of a human interface and artificial intelligence puts GeriJoy at the forefront of healthcare tech start-ups.

Contrary to popular media, nearly a quarter of startups are founded by the over 55 crowd.

Leaping in to entrepreneurialism as an older adult, White is not alone. According to the Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity, 1996-2011, 23.4 percent of American entrepreneurs in 2013 were people between the ages of 55 and 64, up from 18.7 percent in 2003.

Read the full story here.

Image credit: Emily White

See the Words that Mark You a Terrorist

Wednesday, July 15th, 2015


Did you know that the US, UK and many other governments keep lists words claiming their usage may indicate a terrorist.

These trigger words were revealed back in 2013 as a way for enforcement agencies to deem someone a potential terrorist. The list is currently growing and, in fact, may top 40,000 words. 

Knowing that, do you wonder whether the words you choose will be “noticed” and put you on a suspected terrorist list?

Emil Kozole did, so he decided to find out.

Created by a Slovenian artist, Project Seen is a typeface that automatically flags all the trigger words used by international law-enforcement agencies

Now you can download the font from Project Seen and stop wondering.

You will also find it amazing what words are considered a red flag.

Flickr image credit: jai Mansson

Entitlement on Steroids

Monday, July 13th, 2015

What’s the excuse these days for bad manners? Or no manners.

Click the video to see 11 seconds of 100% pure entitlement.

And self-absorbed doesn’t begin to describe him.

“New York Magazine reports the guy asked the ushers: “Well where can I charge it?””

YouTube credit: garruba1

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