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Archive for February, 2016

Golden Oldies: Are You an Original or a Copy?

Monday, February 29th, 2016

It’s amazing to me, but looking back over nearly a decade of writing I find posts that still impress, with information that is as useful now as when it was written. Golden Oldies is a collection of what I consider some of the best posts during that time. Read other Golden Oldies here.

Are you and original or crowdsourced?

I’ve always been an original, much to my family’s consternation when I was growing up and to friends, bosses and colleagues since.

Being an original isn’t the easy way to go. It’s far more comfortable to be a copy; to follow without question the ideology, religion, parents, friends—anyone or anything that takes away the fear of making the wrong choice.

I don’t remember feeling scared as I careened through my early life taking sometimes crazy risks, but never without doing worst case analysis first.

I even adopted Frank Sinatra’s My Way as my personal theme.


FRANK SINATRA – MY WAY (FROM THE ROYAL FESTIVAL… by Mukhran

For what is a man, what has he got?
If not himself, then he has naught.
To say the things he truly feels;
And not the words of one who kneels.
The record shows I took the blows –
And did it my way!

Do you have a theme for your life?

Or do you need to ask your friends?

If the Shoe Fits: KG, Women and the AA-ISP Conference

Friday, February 26th, 2016

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

kg_charles-harrisYesterday I shared my experiences and the enormous value I found at the AA-ISP conference.

AA-ISP is an international association dedicated exclusively to advancing the profession of Inside Sales. The association engages in research studies, organizational benchmarking and leadership round tables to better understand and analyze the trends, challenges, and key components of the growth and development of the Inside Sales industry.

One of the most interesting occurrences at the AA-ISP conference was an encounter I had in the Exhibitor’s Area.

I was walking along and checking out the different booths during a coffee break and came up on a booth with two middle-aged (like me) women who started to tell me of the advantages of hiring women.

How ridiculous, I thought. Why are they wasting my time with this? Isn’t it obvious that women who have reached a certain level in an organization are generally significantly better at what they do than men in the same position. Why?

Because we live in a chauvinist society that systematically discriminates against women (and minorities), and so to reach the same perk they have to display a level of competence that is clearly stronger than other candidate’s to get the same position. On top of that, they are often underpaid for the same level of work.

My two fellow middle agers were Lori Richardson and Deb Calvert, two female sales pros who lead their own businesses and are working to provide more women with opportunities within sales and sales leadership. Not only were they women, but also wonderful people.

Lori Richardson moderated a panel discussion on “The ROI for More Women in Sales”. On the panel were:

  • Marilyn Nagel, Co-founder & Chief Mission Officer, NQuotient
  • Jeanette Nyden, Negotiator, Sound Partnership Strategies Inc.
  • Bridget Gleason, VP Corporate Sales, SumoLogic
  • Leslie Gay, Director of World Wide Programs at Hewlett Packard Enterprise

It was a tremendous panel on the efficacy and benefits of hiring women. This came across based on the comments, but also on the charisma and competence that exuded from these women – I was thoroughly impressed.

My only selfish concern is that by them leveling the playing field it removes one of the few strategic advantages I have as an underfunded startup CEO — our team is almost 50% women and we are a mostly engineering driven software company.

I’m joking, of course, but it is astounding to me that people don’t hire the best, regardless of who they are.

Lori ascribed this to the fact that people hire people who are like themselves, but if gender and race are more determinative than competence and attitude, this says a lot about the superficial nature of most hiring managers. And it explains why most organizations are so average.

I hope that these women are successful and I have resolved to continue what I’ve always done – evaluate people on deeper criteria than the superficial ones of race and gender. I want to work with the best; this is the only way to be truly successful.

And I hope you will, too.

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mImage credit: HikingArtist

Entrepreneurs: KG at the AA-ISP Conference

Thursday, February 25th, 2016

kg_charles-harris

FANTASTIC! An absolutely fantastic, no-frills conference that went to the core of what any startup CEO needs to know about starting and scaling sales, how to align with marketing and what types of people to hire and how.

AA-ISP stands for the American Association of Inside Sales Professionals and is an international association dedicated exclusively to advancing the profession of Inside Sales. The association engages in research studies, organizational benchmarking and leadership round tables to better understand and analyze the trends, challenges, and key components of the growth and development of the Inside Sales industry.

When I arrived I was exhausted after pulling an all-nighter and having had only 1.5 hours of sleep. I was sitting in the parking lot before to going into the conference (of course I was an hour late for the start) and kept nodding off as I was collecting my thoughts prior to going into registration. Eventually I did go in, registered and went to my first session, which I mostly dozed through.

However, by my second session called “The Uberization of Sales”, I was perky and awake, and the subject matter held my total attention. It continued this way until I left the conference at about 8:30 pm, elated that I’d had lucked out in this manner.

In fact, I had been dubious about whether I should attend at all, as I had slept so little and my impression was that it would be of only limited interest or relevance to Quarrio and me personally. I was embarrassingly wrong.

This conference is among the best I’ve attended as a startup CEO and addressed a number of issues I’ve struggled with throughout my career in startups.

After creating a product, the most challenging aspect of making the company successful is not continuous rounds of funding, but rather building the sales organization, getting the product out to customers and driving revenue.

The AA-ISP conference was wholly devoted to this. In fact, it’s the first conference I’ve attended with this focus.

In my experience, sales is the most under-emphasized area of knowledge for the startup CEO.

For some strange reason, we are just supposed to understand the process, how to build the team, how to hire reps and managers and how to manage them.

We are supposed to be able to know how to hire people whose profession it is to sell, while being immune to their ability to make us like them and make us oblivious to their weaknesses.

They are professional sales people — this is what they do every day, and most of us just have no defenses or ability to properly identify a good sales person from a bad one.

I know this has certainly been one of my areas of failure in the past.

This conference should be attended by every B2B startup CEO – other than creating the product, this is the best way to learn and network with people who are in the business of selling, building sales teams and getting new products into the market.

This is the place to learn how they think and how to hire and collaborate with them. I’d say that this is a must attend conference for anyone who hasn’t built several B2B companies.

I highly recommend joining the AA-ISP to gain knowledge and save yourself a ton of pain.

Yelp Follows in Walmart’s Footsteps

Wednesday, February 24th, 2016

https://www.flickr.com/photos/javmorcas/8528220016/

Have you read yet the story of Talia Jane?

She is a customer service rep at Yelp, whose pay puts her right down there with Walmart and bank tellers.

“I got paid yesterday ($733.24, bi-weekly) but I have to save as much of that as possible to pay my rent ($1245) for my apartment that’s 40 miles away from work because it was the cheapest place I could find that had access to the train, which costs me $5.65 one way to get to work. That’s $11.30 a day, by the way. I make $8.15 an hour after taxes.” (Minimum wage in San Francisco is $12.25 an hour.)

She was fired two hours after writing an open letter to Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman on Medium.

Yelp, of course, says the letter had nothing to do with her termination.

Stoppleman has a solution.

“The reality of such a high Bay Area cost of living is entry level jobs migrate to where costs of living are lower. Have already announced we are growing EAT24 support in AZ for this reason.”

Stoppleman’s solution seems to be to kick out everyone who doesn’t earn a fat salary — how dare “them” have the temerity to want to enjoy the pleasures and opportunities of life in San Francisco/Silicon Valley.

That said, I’ve never understood why Walmart, banks, Yelp or all those who follow in their footsteps, pay their front-line people—the actual “face of the company”— what can amount to starvation wages in urban areas and then are surprised when those same people lie, cheat, steal or speak out publicly.

Tony Hsieh, of Zappos fame, Costco and Trader Joe’s are a different story.

What it comes down to is that the further away from contact with customers the greater the money, perks and benefits.

Crazy.

Flickr image credit: Javier Morales

Ducks in a Row: How Deep is Your Bias?

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2016

Research has proved that there are humans are chock full of inherent biases, looks, gender, height, etc.

Now it turns out that we humans even have a bias regarding fruits and vegetables.

Yup, we want our fruits and veggies to be pretty.

Before you scoff, think back to the last time you went produce shopping. How willing were you to buy something lumpy, bumpy or funny-looking?

Every year some six billion pounds of United States perfectly good fruits and vegetables go largely unharvested or unsold, for aesthetic reasons. These outcasts are being called “Ugly Produce” or “imperfect produce” by the media – or produce that is deformed, wonky, crooked, or long-necked.

Bias is probably one of the most inclusive human reactions.

Think about the general reaction to a hairless cat or dog.

Research has even shown that unattractive babies aren’t held and cuddled as often as attractive ones.

No question that bias runs deep.

But just like the wasted food is the wasted talent.

But some very smart folks who don’t like waste are creating successful companies selling ugly produce and reducing wasted food, too.

So if you’re having problems filling your positions, take a cue from them and drop the bias in favor of finding talent, filling openings and raking in revenue.

You’ll be glad you did.

Golden Oldies: Entrepreneurs: A Lesson From IDEO

Monday, February 22nd, 2016

It’s amazing to me, but looking back over nearly a decade of writing I find posts that still impress, with information that is as useful now as when it was written. Golden Oldies is a collection of what I consider some of the best posts during that time.

Seniors are already a giant market and growing every day, but the solutions are being done most often by twenty/thirty/forty-somethings who have no real idea what seniors face. Don’t believe me? Try this. Lightly smear your glasses (or sunglasses) with Vaseline and wear them for a few hours. You’ll end up with a much better understanding of the world in which your parents/grandparents see. Or you can do as Ideo did. Read other Golden Oldies here.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/jm3/519148031How 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

If the Shoe Fits: Parker Conrad and Zenefits

Friday, February 19th, 2016

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mZenefits founder Parker Conrad traded over-the-top growth predictions for the kind of excessive funding that gooses valuation and earns the company unicorn status.

In doing so he did exactly what Sam Altman warns against, “If a company is profitable, the founder is in control. If it’s not, investors are in control.”

Investors brought pressure (it’s what they do), so corners were cut.

Zenefits never was and still isn’t profitable and, worse still, was cutting corners when those corners are highly regulated.

Now Conrad is out and new management will pick up the pieces.

Conrad could have learned from serial entrepreneur Xenios Thrasyvoulou, who warns, “sanity is more important than vanity” when it comes to fundraising and Andrew Wilkinson’s belief that revenue-based horses have it all over funding-based unicorns.

Instead, once again, the emperor has no clothes.

Image credit: HikingArtist

Entrepreneurs: Know and Control Your Burn Rate

Thursday, February 18th, 2016

https://www.flickr.com/photos/gowestphoto/3921760653/

Last summer David Bladow, co-founder and CEO of flower delivery startup BloomThat, had the worse kind of ah-ha moment after deciphering the company’s accounting — a self-described “convoluted mess.”

What he found was a monthly burn rate of $550K that meant the company would be out of cash in just 4 months.

That knowledge drove a laser focus to change.

Now instead of shutting its doors in November, its self-diagnosed death date, the startup launched nationally on February 3. The company that was burning through half a million a month is now down to $15,000 a month.

BloomThat did early what every founder should be doing now.

Yesterday Mark Suster wrote about how to figure the right burn rate for your company and last week we talked about doing more with less.

Actually, I think the tightening of funding is a very good thing, although it will create a certain amount of carnage, it will force founders and their teams to grow up.

If that sounds harsh, so be it.

Funding based on unproven future sales is driven by hopes that are heavily shaped by outside circumstances — circumstances beyond any founder’s control.

Sam Altman warns that funding is not a guarantee of success and in the next few years David Bladow, Andrew Wilkinson and dozens like them will prove that horses have the staying power that unicorns lack.

Flickr image credit: Tsutomu Takasu

Booze, Sex, Drugs and — Google?

Wednesday, February 17th, 2016

http://www.amazon.com/The-Show-Filip-Syta/dp/1941758150Is it possible that Google’s vaunted culture has a dark side?

A dark side composed of booze, sex, drugs and lies.

Sound unlikely?

It’s always dangerous to take the word of an ex employee without at least a pinch of salt or, maybe a few pounds — or sometimes none.

Filip Syta worked as an ad sales executive at Google for two years until 2014, when he became disillusioned with his work. So Syta dropped out and wrote a novel, “The Show,” about a fictional search advertising giant. The story describes a San Francisco company called Show that employs a lot of 20-somethings who make a lot of money, have a lot of parties, drink a lot of booze, sleep with one another indiscriminately, and take a lot of cocaine.

Is it possible? Or likely?

Yes and yes.

Just as possible as in any situation where young, immature, mostly male humans suddenly have a lot of cash and are seriously bored.

“You get bored after a while, you get everything there, basically. They do everything that your mother doesn’t do for you anymore. There’s a dry-cleaning service, swimming pool, dentist, doctor, food, massage — you don’t have to think about anything. You just go to work and it’s all taken care of.

“And also I think a lot of talent is being wasted there because we hired smart people. We will hire smart people, but they hire overqualified people because they have such a strong brand. Many people are bored at their job … It’s kind of chill and might get boring. These other people seek out other adventures when they’re together — they don’t have to care about anything. They know Google has their back. It’s like a kindergarten for grown-ups. And obviously there was a higher and more adventurous type who obviously take more risks. Everyone is very relaxed, and they don’t take the safe way.”

But what’s really troubling is what he claims goes on in sales.

Syta told Business Insider the company was “extremely data driven.”

“They measure everything, and you want to look good to your manager and your manager wants to look good to their manager and up the chain it goes, so you want to report great numbers,” (…)   Does nobody check?

“No, no because no one cares.”

But surely there are numbers and metrics that can be easily verified?

“No, no, not always,” Syta said. “Because the upper manager will not go down to the account manager-level and check. Of course they will see real cash flow coming in. But in specific cases of a specific client, they won’t check. As long as it looks good everyone is happy because everyone cares only about their own task to look good to their next upper manager.”

So we [Business Insider] were curious: How much of this is true, or inspired by real events?

“Ninety percent,” Syta told us.

90%? That would definitely worry me if I was advertising with Google.

I haven’t read the book and, to be honest, it doesn’t hold much interest for me.

Obviously, the majority of people in either the fictional or real company aren’t involved in the shenanigans, but still…

Do I think it’s different/better at Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter or other high flyers?

Probably not, but maybe that’s just my own cynicism.

I saw the results of too much money too fast up close and personal decades ago, although I admit it wasn’t even close to what goes on in the Valley today.

So yes, there probably is a dark side at Google.

Image credit: Amazon

Ducks in a Row: You Get What You Pay For

Tuesday, February 16th, 2016

https://www.flickr.com/photos/37254648@N07/5000767635/

The way you treat your employees affects more than your retention rate.

It can have a major impact on your company’s trainsecurity.

Banks are an excellent example. They are notorious for the low pay,  haphazard training and opportunities and iffy managers that frontline employees, i.e., tellers, endure.

But it is the pay that is especially erroneous.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual income for tellers in 2014 was $25,760, a salary that prosecutors say does not match the high-risk nature of their jobs.

Raising a family and paying bills on $25K a year is beyond difficult, which increases temptation, yet these are the people who have the most access and opportunity to rip off customers.

And many of them are doing just that.

Rich and elderly bank customers are particularly at risk, prosecutors say, when tellers and other retail-branch employees tap into accounts to wire funds without authorization, make fake debit cards to withdraw money from A.T.M.s and sell off personal information to other criminals. Accounts with high balances and those with direct deposits of government funds, like Social Security payments, are especially coveted.

If you haven’t already guessed, the banks don’t want to spend to fix the problems.

Despite their importance, tellers and many low-level bank employees are not subjected to rigorous background checks. (…)  Kevin Streff, managing partner at Secure Banking Solutions, a security consulting firm, said the sluggish controls came, in part, from banks’ outdated view that tellers handled only low-risk transactions. (…)  Despite the warnings, progress has been slow. “There is a reluctance to provide real oversight, rigor or even security training because it costs time and money,” Mr. Streff said.

What will banks do?

Reimburse you for money actually taken, but that does nothing if your personal information has been shared or sold.

Based on their actions, as opposed to their words, executive attitude in many banks, insurance companies and others in the financial services industry seems be one of keep costs low, bonuses high and caveat emptor for customers.

That attitude is deeply embedded in their cultural DNA, which means changing it isn’t going to be simple — or quick.

Which means you had better embed caveat emptor in your DNA.

Flickr credit: Daz

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