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If the Shoe Fits: Drizly, Tough Questions and You

October 2nd, 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_mDid you see the story of Drizly Bear by founder/CEO Nicholas Rellas on LinkedIn?

Rellas wanted to disrupt the way liquor is purchased.

The idea was pure and incredibly simple: Alcohol delivery, connecting consumers to local retailers at the touch of a button to have alcohol delivered in just 20 to 40 minutes.

The problem is that liquor regulation makes the taxi industry look unregulated.

The question, given the amount of regulation and the fact that it differs state-to-state and even city/county-to-city/county within each state, was where to start.

Where many would have chosen to start in the least regulated market to get traction Drizly took the opposite approach.

We started Drizly in Boston, MA, a city steeped in alcohol lore and one that is so tightly regulated that there are no happy hours.

If you think he was crazy, then he was, as they say, crazy like a fox.

The definition of a tough (or hard) question is one of the the most critical things that everybody needs to know.

And it’s incredibly simple, too.

It’s something that every salesperson learns immediately, but it applies to any industry, field, situation or effort.

A tough question is any question that can draw a response of ‘no’.

Rellas believed if Drizly could address every regulation in Boston, then they could address regulations anywhere — and he was right.

What we formed was a cookie cutter model of adding supply to our network that now scales with minimal capital and human investment and has allowed us to expand to over 18 cities in as many months.

Rellas wraps your take-away perfectly.

So ask the hard questions. Answer them upfront. Be truthful about your answers. There are reasons why great ideas won’t, or didn’t, work. We fight those every day. Some are insurmountable, others are not. Knowing which mountain to climb is as much of the challenge as the climbing itself. But by not asking and answering the hard questions, for a new business or a new line of business in an existing one, we’re doomed to fail from the very beginning.

Image credit: HikingArtist


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Entrepreneurs: Two Kinds of Alphas

October 1st, 2015 by Miki Saxon


I wrote the original of this post five years ago and posted this follow-up three years ago.

Considering the media frenzy around the lifestyles of tech CEOs I thought it was time to post it again.

A couple of years ago I wrote a post about leadership that included a quote from the main character, a forensic anthropologist, in the TV show Bones.

Anthropology tells us that the Alpha male is the one with the crown, the most shiny baubles, the fanciest plumage, but I learned that the real alpha male is often in the shadows because he is busy shining the light on others.

Founders are typically alphas, whether male or female.

With that in mind I have a simple question to ask you.

Which kind of alpha are you?

Read the original post and then decide.

If you don’t like your answer choose to change.

There’s always a choice.

Flickr image credit: Tambako The Jaguar

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Will Aetna Walk Its Talk?

September 30th, 2015 by Miki Saxon


No matter your age healthcare is/should be a serious concern.

If not for yourself then for your parents and others you care about.

And not just a new app that delivers services a different way, no matter how good.

What needs to change is the culture of not only insurance companies, but medical service providers (doctors, labs, testing, hospitals, etc.), other various and sundry vendors within the ecosystem, not to mention the government in the form of Medicare and Medicaid.

When you look at the deeply entrenched interests on that list the possibility of anything actually happening in the near-term seems remote, if at all.

Not even the proverbial 500 pound gorilla, think Google or Facebook, has the clout to even dent that crowd.

But what about Aetna Insurance under CEO Mark Bertolini, a 1000 pound gorilla and long-time global player in healthcare that has the clout, since it insures two thirds of the Fortune 100 and a great number of the 500?

…Bertolini called the sector “too bloated and accountable to no one.” The system — which will cost US$4.6 trillion, or 20 percent of U.S. GDP, by 2020 “charges patients and rewards care providers on services delivered, not patient outcomes,”…

Aetna is taking a three prong approach that includes, paying for positive outcomes, as opposed to fees for services; changing corporate health offerings in order to tap into positive consumer behavior and eating its own dog food — as every good startup does.

The big question is whether Aetna will walk its talk.

Based on the comments it’s questionable.

Flickr image credit: Aetna

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Ducks in a Row: How to Communicate

September 29th, 2015 by Miki Saxon


All people interactions, whether short or longer, are, in fact, “relationships.”

They are grown and sustained through good communications.

When people are peers, both are responsible for making good communications happen — or should be.

However, when one person outranks the other it becomes the higher ranking person’s responsibility.

As a boss, what do you need to do to be sure you are heard?

What to do is simple; doing it takes effort.

Start by accepting that all people have a mental model through which they hear, so what they hear may have little-to-nothing to do with what is said.

The worst mistake a boss (or anyone) makes is assuming that the person listening has the same model as you.

That said, here is a three-point plan to make sure you are heard.

  • Start by carefully explaining your model and your assumptions when giving direction;
  • give your people clear, complete information; you do not want to be known as an information drip, i.e., the boss that makes her people come back again and again to fill in the details; and then
  • check to be sure that they have actually heard and understood what you mean, as opposed to their version of it.

Do it today, do it all the time and it will become second nature.

Your payback will come in rising productivity, more motivated people, and lower turnover—all positively affecting your bottom line.

Flickr image credit: Graham Dean

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September 28th, 2015 by Miki Saxon


There is nothing like the various advice columns to keep you abreast of societies attitudes.

One I enjoy is called Social Qs; I like the insight it gives into people’s attitudes and questions of how to respond to everyday happenings.

Now and then the attitude behind a question will leave me speechless.

Like this one.

I took my sweet little dog for a walk. He got agitated by a cat sitting on a porch, pulled free of me and raced toward the house, knocking over (and breaking) a large ceramic urn. I acknowledge that I am partly responsible for the damage. But don’t the homeowners have some responsibility, too, letting their cat sit out in the open? –ANONYMOUS

Not surprising that it’s anonymous; few people would have the courage to admit to that level of self-absorption.

The Social Q response was perfect (as one would expect).

You break it; you bought it. “And your little dog, too,” growled the Wicked Witch of the West. The cat is free to sit on its porch with regal impunity.

No kidding. It wasn’t even roaming around, just sitting quietly, minding it’s business and watching the world go by.

Yet it’s the owners who are somehow responsible.

And that’s today’s attitude in a nutshell.

Flickr image credit: Stefano Mortellaro

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Entrepreneurs: Maximizing Profit Isn’t Everything

September 24th, 2015 by Miki Saxon


That said, here are some stories that drive the point home.

A beautiful 23-foot air purification tower developed by a partnership of three Dutch companies that’s not for sale to the highest bidders.

“We’ve gotten a lot of requests from property developers who want to place it in a few filthy rich neighborhoods of course, and I tend to say no to these right now,” he says. “I think that it should be in a public space.”

Marco Arment built an ad-blocking app that blazed to the top of apple’s App Store, but he pulled it almost immediately.

But he said that building such a successful ad-blocking app “just doesn’t feel good.”
“Ad blockers come with an important asterisk: While they do benefit a ton of people in major ways, they also hurt some, including many who don’t deserve the hit,” Arment wrote on his personal blog Friday.

Finally, Kickstarters founders, with the full support of their board, reincorporated the company as a B Corp, i.e., a public benefit corporation.

“We don’t ever want to sell or go public,” said Mr. Strickler, Kickstarter’s chief executive. “That would push the company to make choices that we don’t think are in the best interest of the company.”

Still for profit, but focused on something more.

Other companies, including the e-commerce site Etsy, Warby Parker, Brazilian cosmetics maker Natura, Plum Organics and Method are B Corps — and Unilever is considering changing.

Doing good by good by doing well, as Sir Richard is so fond of saying.

Flickr image credit: opensource.com

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Technology Alone Can’t Save the World

September 23rd, 2015 by Miki Saxon


According to Kentaro Toyama, the W.K. Kellogg Associate Professor of Community Information at the University of Michigan School of Information and self-described “recovering technoholic,” technology isn’t the panacea it’s cracked up to be.

“Technology works best in organizations that are run well to begin with. (…) The technology industry itself has perpetuated the idea that technology will solve the world’s problems. (…) Everyone wants to believe the work they do is good for society. But a lot of people in the industry have drunk a little too much of their own marketing Kool-Aid.”

What is often ignored is that people are a necessary ingredient for the Kool-Aid to actually work.

The tech eco-system forgets a lesson driven home by Bill Gates in the 1995 book The Road Ahead.

“The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.”

Aetna Insurance found this out when they first equipped their claims processors with their own terminals connected to the mainframe (before the advent of personal computers).

The effort was considered ground-breaking and was touted as a way to streamline the claims process.

It failed miserably, because the process itself wasn’t redesigned.

In short, claims had multiple steps with approval required at each. Because the process stayed the same, i.e., claims stalled in electronic form when someone in the approval process was on jury duty or out sick just as they did in the paper version.

Once people redesigned the process the desired efficiencies were reaped well beyond expectations.

Technology is a tool, not a silver bullet; the only real silver bullets are found within the human mind.

Ultimately the right thing is for us to find the optimal use of technology — not to eliminate it, but also not to assume that it can replace human skills.

Flickr image credit: Jason Rogers

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Ducks in a Row: Destroy Morale? There’s an App for That

September 22nd, 2015 by Miki Saxon


Want to integrate almost real-time employee action analytics to give your people better feedback and potential career boost?

There’s an app for that.

Imagine a tiny microphone embedded in the ID badge dangling from the lanyard around your neck.

The mic is gauging the tone of your voice and how frequently you are contributing in meetings. Hidden accelerometers measure your body language and track how often you push away from your desk.

The app is from Humanyze, the test subjects work for Deloitte, participation was voluntary and the anonymous results positive.

“The minute that you get the report that you’re not speaking enough and that you don’t show leadership, immediately, the next day, you change your behavior,” says Silvia Gonzalez-Zamora, an analytics leader at Deloitte, who steered the Newfoundland pilot.

“It’s powerful to see how people want to display better behaviors or the behaviors that you’re moving them towards.”

But only when there is choice and trust.

Then there’s the truly evil app that records everything employees do 24/7, with no anonymity .

The U.K.-based company The Outside View, a predictive analytics company, also recently gave staff wearables and apps to measure their happiness, sleep patterns, nutrition and exercise around the clock in an experimental project.

So your boss knows when you decide to watch your favorite TV show, instead of taking a work-related course, or sing karaoke, instead of going to bed early.

“It’s bad enough that we lose control of our identities with threats of identity theft. I think it’s even worse if we lose the privacy of our actions, our movements, our physiological and emotional states. I think that’s the risk.” –Kenneth Goh, professor of organizational behavior at Western University’s Ivey Business School

They actually think that employees will be motivated by coming to work and having their boss ask why they didn’t work-out, but were up until 2 am.

I don’t think so.

As with so many inventions through the centuries, no matter how pure the motives of creators, anything can be corrupted and its use perverted by other humans.

Hat tip to KG Charles-Harris for pointing me to these stories.

Flickr image credit: Hans Splinter

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Watch This and Weep

September 21st, 2015 by Miki Saxon

Assuming, that is, you care at all about the future.

Sometimes I post about subjects not really business-oriented.

In this case, because 300 years isn’t all that long…

And disruption isn’t always progress.

Video credit: Business Insider

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If the Shoe Fits: Innovation vs. Marketing

September 18th, 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_mThere is a myth out there that large companies aren’t creative and don’t innovate.

Not only is it a myth, it’s pure BS.

Watch this video for a look at pure innovation as done by Samsung.

So why the persistent myth?

There’s a great answer in the comments.

In two years Apple will come out with the same thing for their semis, call it iPass, and be lauded as innovators. –CommanderCorner

It used to be that if you built a better mousetrap the world would beat a path to your door, but these days the mousetrap matters less than the mystique of the builder and the skill of the marketers.

Image credit: HikingArtist Video credit: Leo Burnett

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