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Walmart Shafts Again

February 10th, 2016 by Miki Saxon

https://www.flickr.com/photos/jeepersmedia/14573485711/

I loathe Walmart; in fact, it is the only thing I have ever completely boycotted. I’ve never purchased anything there and only set foot inside once, because I was with a friend.

Even when I was in a deep financial hole I found what I needed elsewhere or went without.

I’ve written about Walmart before, but their latest move is truly disgusting.

A few years ago Walmart announced a major expansion into small, rural towns. They claimed their low-cost model would save residents money and create jobs.

As recently as 2014 they claimed these stores were a huge success.

What they were most successful at was forcing long-time grocers to close.

The Town’n Country grocery in Oriental, North Carolina, a local fixture for 44 years, closed its doors in October after a Wal-Mart store opened for business. Now, three months later — and less than two years after Wal-Mart arrived — the retail giant is pulling up stakes, leaving the community with no grocery store and no pharmacy (emphasis is mine).

Oriental residents now face a 50-minute round trip to buy groceries.

Residents in these small towns are often seniors, but fear not; Walmart cares (see sign upper left).

And that scenario is being repeated all over the country.

Oriental is hardly alone. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said on Jan. 15 it would be closing all 102 of its smaller Express stores, many in isolated towns, to focus on its supercenters and mid-sized Neighborhood Markets.

But never fear; Walmart still cares.

“In towns impacted by store closures, we have had hundreds of conversations with elected officials and community leaders to discuss relevant issues and we are working with communities on how we can be helpful,” said Wal-Mart spokesman Brian Nick.

I’m sure the residents really appreciate those conversations when they are reconfiguring their budgets to account for the additional gas required to drive 50-plus minutes to shop.

But the efforts to burnish its image have never been brighter; the TV ads that brag about how they are investing in their greatest asset — their people — will bring tears (of laughter) to your eyes.

And for those of you who believe that these actions are required to provide the best return to shareholders, consider Walmart’s stock is down 29% in the last 12 months.

Walmart’s stock is $65.8, while Costco, its complete antithesis is $147.02.

Or, as Kyle Murau, a self-described “ruthless, rightwing, baby-eating, blood-sucking capitalist Republican,” said  on Quora, “…this just goes to show that publicly traded corporations aren’t, in themselves, evil. It depends how the company’s culture works.

Flickr image credit: Mike Mozart

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Ducks in a Row: Gary Kelly and Southwest Airlines

February 9th, 2016 by Miki Saxon

https://www.flickr.com/photos/akandbdl/4929952917/

What drives a company’s success as it grows?

Its people.

What drives a company’s culture?

Its people — all of them from CEO to entry-level grunt.

Since Southwest started in 1971 has grown to 47,000, but what is truly amazing is its employment record over those 45 years.

The most astonishing factoid about Southwest is that it has not had a single layoff in its 44 years—a stunning accomplishment in an industry that leads the economy in bankruptcies, re-organizations, mergers and companies that have disappeared. Think Eastern and Pan Am.

SWA was number 13 on Glassdoor’s Best Places to Work in 2015 and nearly 180,000 people applied for work. What criteria does SWA consider most important?

“We have a passion for what we do and we look for people that share that passion. Our mantra is, we hire for attitude and we train for skill. Since our early days we seek people who don’t just have the skill, but also have the passion and the attitude to take care of each other and to take great care of our customers. We work hard to identify that. Many people want to be a part of a team like this. But many times we’ll have employees that say, “You know what? This just isn’t for me and it’s not the right fit.”

Southwest’s CEO Gary Kelly has been with the company for 29 years, the first 15 as CFO, but doesn’t claim hero status.

In an eye-opening interview Kelly talks about the importance of SWA’s culture as a competitive edge and how it’s been maintained over the decades.

If you’re going to have a team, you’ve got to invest the time to create the relationships. The bigger the company gets, the more effort it takes. We use a variety of techniques to do that. Right near my office is a group called Internal Customer Care that keeps track of important things happening in our employees’ lives. (…)I get a pile of thank you notes and in turn I send out thank you notes. It’s creates a very human connection. It’s basic, but very meaningful. That’s why we put the heart symbol in our logo. We’re not the American Heart Association, but our employees believe in the heart and when we deviate from living by the golden rule, people call each other on that. It makes for a very powerful culture.

In short, management spends time walking as opposed to time talking.

Read the interview. While you/your company may not have the money to match Southwest’s benefits, you can certainly create the relationships.

Flickr image credit: Keith Laverack

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Golden Oldies: ERing Means Progress

February 8th, 2016 by Miki Saxon

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. I recently read an article in Inc. on a better way to move yourself forward then setting goals or making resolutions and it reminded me of something I wrote back in 2009. Same idea; different language. Read other Golden Oldies here.

ERing-notice

I write and talk a lot about what happens when you choose to change your MAP through awareness and the resulting boos to your energy and creativity.

What I can’t remember sharing with you is a critical ingredient in the change sauce that I call the Philosophy of ER.

I consciously developed it formally and have shared it for decades to offset all the talk about failure when people are working to change.

First, you have to understand that I don’t believe in failure; I don’t think that someone has truly failed unless they’re dead. As long as they’re breathing, the worst bums on skid row have the potential to change, i.e., the possibility is there, even if the likelihood is not.

For decades change has focused on setting goals and if they aren’t achieved as stated, then you had failed.

Over the years I’ve worked with a lot of people (including myself) whose self esteem was at best badly bruised, at worst like Swiss cheese.

They started by telling me how they had failed at this or that, but in more detailed discussions it turned out that, although they hadn’t achieved their stated goal within the deadline, the goals and deadlines (one or both) weren’t exactly reality based or had changed along the way and not been restated.

To be valid, goals must come with delivery dates, but those dates must be achievable—not easy, but achievable.

When you set goals without taking into account minor details, such as friends/family/spouse/kids/working/sleeping/eating, then you’re setting yourself up for failure.

Beyond being reality-based, we all need an ongoing sense of accomplishment, especially for that which can’t be done in a few days, to sustain the long term effort that big goals take—thus came the Philosophy of ER.

Over the last couple of decades I’ve ERed almost everything (even when it’s grammatically incorrect).

  • I may not be wise, but I’m wisER.
  • I may not be rich, but I’m richER.
  • I may not be patient, but I’m patientER.
  • I may not be skinny, but I’m skinniER.

You get the idea.

So start ERing today and tomorrow you too will be happiER, smartER, healthiER and successfulER.

Just keep reminding yourself that to err is human, but to ER is divine.

Try it. You can do a lot worse than adding some ER to your life!

Image credit: Warning Sign Generator

 

 

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If the Shoe Fits: Crowdfunding and Taxes

February 5th, 2016 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_mForbes had a a useful article bringing spotlighting a prime point abut crowdfunding that often takes a backseat.

Taxes.

This is especially true if you raise substantially more than your stated goal.

Sure, you will probably spend what you raise on development and operations, which eliminates the problem — assuming you have enough of the year in front of you.

Near the end, the article does you a serious disservice.

You may be able to sidestep the whole issue by claiming it was a gift. Here’s where the rules start getting funky, and unclear. That’s because if a backer gives you a lot of cash for a minimal reward, it’s arguably a gift rather a sale. Get a good accountant. (Any gift taxes would be owed by the giver, not the recipient.)

Don’t count on it. When it comes to the IRS, making assumptions in areas that are murky and don’t have clear rules can be a recipe for disaster.

And, as it does say, you need to deal with sales tax State by State.

There’s no question that launching and running a successful crowdfunding campaign takes focus and hard work, but it also requires special expertise.

Just as you wouldn’t ask your a programmer to design hardware, don’t assume that your own skill extends to the tax code.

The cost of a few hours of financial/tax expertise, with proven knowledgeable of the startup world will save you much more than money in both the short and long run.

Image credit: HikingArtist

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Entrepreneurs: the Arrogance of Paul Graham

February 4th, 2016 by Miki Saxon

http://www.paulgraham.com/images.html via w:en:Image:Paulgraham_240x320.jpg

Paul Graham is a poster boy for many of the things wrong in Silicon Valley — unlike Y Combinator president Sam Altman.

Graham says he won’t fund people with strong accents or women with young kids or who are planning on having kids, whereas Altman believes that eliminating gender bias is very important.

It seems that Graham’s arrogance knows no boundaries.

January 27, Graham took to Twitter to condemn Shark Tank, and shows like it.

Startups: Instead of appearing on Shark Tank, spend that energy fixing whatever makes your product so unappealing you think you need to.

 Mark Cuban, a Tank investor, was not amused.

@paulg you mean like the sense of entitlement and arrogance they get when they become part of a YC class ? It’s hard to wash it out

Chris Sacca, a guest this season, chimed in.

@paulg Yeah, because a free 10-minute pitch to 7 million Americans is something every startup should turn down.

Beyond the sheer arrogance, it’s obvious Graham has never watched the show. He also doesn’t believe time should be wasted on marketing.

The entrepreneurs aren’t just in tech; they span multiple industries and many of them have already built their business and are at the point that they need not just money, but enterprise-strength expertise, which the Sharks offer.

Cuban hit it on the head when he said “arrogant and entitled.” Not to mention where he sees Y Combinator’s future.

@paulg the real question is why does a startup become part of YC any more ? The good old days of YC are just that

Read the whole thread here.

Image credit: Sarah Harlin via Wikipedia

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Miki’s Rules to Live by: My Way

February 3rd, 2016 by Miki Saxon

https://www.flickr.com/photos/pictoquotes/15547214905/

A mistake is simply another way of doing things. –Katharine Graham

I make a lot of them, I’m told, because I do it my way.

Flickr image credit: BK

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February Leadership Development Carnival

February 2nd, 2016 by Miki Saxon

leadership-carnival-5-300x134The Leadership Development Carnival is alive and well this month at The UPwards Leader.

Click on over for some interesting insights.

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Golden Oldies: Shift Happens

February 1st, 2016 by Miki Saxon

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. Interestingly, the original link didn’t work anymore, but Shift Happens was easily searched and it turns out that it has been updated several times since 2007; visit Shift Happens’ home. Read other Golden Oldies here.

I don’t usually frequent video sites (dinosaur that I am), but I received a link to a video called Shift Happens and it had some very interesting information. I don’t know if the number stats are 100% accurate, but the information in it parallels other sources I read.

Three of the points confirm a critical hiring attitude—

  • One week of the New York Times contains more information than a person living in the 18th century came across in a lifetime.
  • More unique, new information will be generated this year than in the previous 5000 years combined.
  • Half of what students starting a four-year degree learn in their first year will be outdated by the third year.

Given the third point, it’s reasonable to assume that a similar pattern holds for work experience, too.

And that brings us to the critical hiring attitude that every manager needs to have—it’s not just what a person knows, but also how well they learn combined with their ability to extrapolate new insights from their previous knowledge and experience that makes them a more valuable addition to your team.

In other words, think not only of where they have been, but also of where they can go in the future.

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If the Shoe Fits: Lucas Duplan and Clinkle

January 29th, 2016 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_mYesterday we looked at the bootstrapped success of Tuft & Needle and before that at bootstrapping serial entrepreneur Andrew Wilkinson.

All very successful sans venture money.

Sure, thousands of bootstrapped companies fail, as do hundreds of funded companies; some go with a bang and others with barely a whimper.

But a few provide a cautionary tale for both founders and investors.

Lucas Duplan’s Clinkle is one such tale

Clinkle was supposed to be what Apple Pay is today.

In what is termed a “party round” 22 year-old Duplan raised $25 million dollars, mostly in convertible notes, from high profile investors, including Richard Branson, Peter Thiel and Marc Benioff, as well as VCs Accel Partners, Index Ventures and Andreessen Horowitz.

“In a typical party round, no single investor cares enough to think about the company multiple times a day,” wrote Y Combinator President Sam Altman in a June 2013 blog post. “Each investor assumes that at least 1 of the N other investors will be closely involved, but in fact no one is, and the companies sometimes wander off into a very unfocused wilderness.”

However, in the 5 years since founding, 3 since funding, the company has done nothing, gone nowhere and in an almost unheard of action investors are asking for their money back.

Clinkle had a polished demo that came before things like Apple Pay, said one former employee, who declined to be named. But most importantly that person added, Duplan “was charismatic when he wanted to be” and could “raise money in absurd abundance.”

“It was his one skill,” they said. (Emphasis mine.)

The takeaway is beware of great stories, charm and party rounds where the person at the helm has never sailed a boat.

Knowing the correct names of the equipment doesn’t mean a person knows how to use it in the real world or in what order.

Image credit: HikingArtist

 

 

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Entrepreneurs: Tuft & Needle’s Bootstrapped Success

January 28th, 2016 by Miki Saxon

https://www2.tuftandneedle.com/

You hear it all the time, “build a product that solves your own problem.”

That’s exactly what JT Marino and Daehee Park, both software engineers, did when they quit their jobs to create mattress company Tuft & Needle, seeding it with $3000 from each each of them.

They didn’t take venture money because they wanted to build the company for the long term and borrowed the money they needed to grow.

“The reason why we turned them down all those times is because we figured it would change the way we operate as a company.”

Instead, Marino, 30, and Park, 27, took out a $500,000 loan, at a rate of 10%, from Bond Street, one of the new breed of alternative lenders, in order to keep control of the company and continue doing things their own way.

They built the business online — no showrooms and no salespeople.

No hassles returning a mattress you hate. And, perhaps most important, no gimmicks on prices, which range from $350 for a twin to $750 for a king.

They’ve considered other products, even developed a few, but with no investors to force them to expand, they are focusing on the mattress business.

Is it paying off? Absolutely, so no problem meeting their loan payments.

By its first year in business, Tuft & Needle had reached $1 million in revenues. And then it just kept growing, hitting $9 million in 2014, then $42 million in 2015. This year, Marino and Park expect revenues to reach between $125 million and $225 million, a three- to five-fold increase over last year. And, yes, it’s profitable.

However, recognizing that not everyone, especially older buyers, are comfortable buying a mattress online, they are opening their first retail store at 637 King Street in San Francisco (where else?) — first and possibly last.

“It could very well be our first and last store, or it could be the first of many,” Marino says.

That’s the priceless reward for bootstrapping.

Call your own shots, experiment as you choose and stay true to your values.

Image credit: Tuft & Needle

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