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If the Shoe Fits: How Old is an Entrepreneur?

Friday, July 22nd, 2016

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_m

Age is more a mental state than a physical one.

I’ve always said that smart people say/do stupid things and venture capitalist Vinod Khosla is proof of that.

“People under 35 are the people who make change happen,” said, “People over 45 basically die in terms of new ideas.”

The problem is that the data the tech world is so enamored with doesn’t back that up.

Vivek Wadhwa, a Duke University researcher, worked with the Kauffman Foundation in 2009 to explore the anatomy of a successful startup founder. That survey of more than 500 startups in high-growth industries showed that the average founder of a successful company had launched his or her venture at the surprisingly high age of 40. The study also found that people over 55 are almost twice as likely to launch high-growth startups than those aged 20 to 34.

The term “high growth” is key. 2010′s top two fastest-growing tech startups, according to Forbes, were First Solar, founded by a 68-year old, followed by Riverbed Technology, co-founded by entrepreneurs who were 51 and 33 at the time.

He should also inform the Merage Institute, which awards $100K to the top startup by a 45+-year-old founder (more runner-ups at the link).

  • In 2016 it was iSilla – Movement for people with disabilities
  • 2nd Prize –  SonicBone – Bone Age – Ultrasound Device for Bone Age assessment
  • 3rd Prize – Inensto – Aluminum Air Battery

In 2015 they were:

  • 1st Prize – NiNiSpeech
  • 2nd Prize – A new Hydrogen Energy Storage
  • 3rd Prize – Glasses for AMD Macular Degeneration

Brian Acton was 37 when he founded WhatsApp.

Notice that all of them solve a real problem — a problem of which they wouldn’t be aware if they hadn’t faced it directly or indirectly themselves.

Which meant they had real world experience.

Even Mark Zukerberg had real world experience; he wanted an easy way to engage and keep up with his friends. Remember, Facebook was originally started for college kids.

The reason Khosla is so far off base, is that an entrepreneur can only disrupt that with which she is familiar enough to figure out a better way or see a hole and fill it.

Hence young males created Tinder and its clones to hookup and Match and its clones for something more permanent.

If you look at socially oriented startups, many of their founders, both young and old, saw the need first hand, while volunteering and/or traveling, came home and created a solution that answered that need.

It’s not a matter of age.

It’s a matter of three things

  1. See the need/experience the want/desire what isn’t
  2. Think of a way to solve/provide it
  3. Possess the drive, tenaciousness, guts and slight insanity required to turn an idea into a reality and a reality into a company

And those three things can happen to anyone at any age.

My thanks to KG for reminding me of how important it is to help smash these myths.

Image credit: HikingArtist

Ducks in a Row: SAP’s Smart Hiring

Tuesday, July 19th, 2016

https://www.flickr.com/photos/treehouse1977/4664642792/

Some companies look spend millions in recruiter fees and poaching candidates from their competitors; others are more creative.

Those in the second category are open to staffing solutions far outside the box — even the standard race/creed/color/gender/national origin diversity box.

It’s called neurodiversity — those with some kind of cognitive disabilities, such as people with  Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

What do you do when you have highly repetitious work that also requires a high degree of intelligence — like software testing?

That is actually a viable description of people with ASD.

Of course, that means hiring people who, for most people, aren’t the most comfortable to be around.

Roughly 60 percent of people with ASD have average or above average intelligence, yet 85 percent are unemployed.

For smart companies, such as SAP, that group is a goldmine of talent and five years ago it set a goal to have 1% of their workforce comprised of individuals with ASD.

Hiring people with ASD isn’t about charity or financial exploitation; it’s about gaining a competitive advantage and partnering with Specialisterne goes a long way to providing the right program.

So far (as of 2013) about 100 people have been hired [by SAP] for jobs including software developer or tester, business analyst, and graphic designer, and pay is commensurate to what others in those jobs earn.

SAP use an analogy that individuals are like puzzle pieces with irregular shapes.

“One of the things that we’ve done historically in human resource management is, we’ve asked people to trim away the parts of themselves that are irregularly shaped, and then we ask them to plug themselves into standard roles,” says Robert Austin, Professor of Information Systems, Ivey Business School. “SAP is asking itself whether that might be the wrong way to do things in an innovation economy. Instead, maybe managers have to do the hard work of putting the puzzle pieces together and inviting people to bring their entire selves to work.”

That approach can benefit other forms of diversity like race, gender, and sexual orientation.

“Innovation is about finding ideas that are outside the normal parameters, and you don’t do that by slicing away everything that’s outside the normal parameters. Maybe it’s the parts of people we ask them to leave at home that are the most likely to produce the big innovations.”

Read the article and then decide what’s best for your organization.

Good bosses won’t have a problem with the approach; the rest will whine and resist.

Flickr image credit: Jim Champion

Ducks in a Row: Marc Benioff on How to Run a Company

Tuesday, July 5th, 2016

https://www.flickr.com/photos/techcrunch/15192444615/

By any measure Mark Benioff  runs a successful, highly profitable company.

Moreover, he runs one of the most socially responsible companies in the world.

This BI interview with Benioff captures in a short read how Salesforce is a perfect example of a founder who incorporated his values into his company.

His socially conscious approach began when he launched Salesforce as a startup;  long before it was profitable.

I view that as a critical part of my business. That’s why when I started Salesforce, on day 1, we put 1% of our equity, 1% of our product, and 1% of our time into Salesforce.org.

Where other CEOs talk, wring their hands and use media time to bemoan the problems, Benioff fixes them.

Gender pay disparity is a good example.

When he saw proof that women were being paid less he made changes to eliminate the disparity and did it without whining or handwringing.

Two women, one our head of HR and one who ran our women’s group said, “Hey, we’re paying women less than men at Salesforce.” I didn’t believe it at the time, when we actually looked at the information we were actually paying women $3 million less than we were paying men for the same amount of work, and so we made an adjustment to how we pay women.

When asked how other companies handle the issue he furnished not only the how, but also the why it doesn’t happen.

Every company has an HR system, every company knows their salaries, that’s obviously how they pay people, and all a CEO has to do is push a button and look at, “Do I pay women the same as men?” Most CEOs are afraid to push that button.

Furthermore, Benioff  sees an attitude from a few academics in the 1970s as responsible for much of today’s inequality, — in short, he doesn’t believe that that a company’s primary purpose is to maximize shareholder value.

I believe that for business, which is where I can speak, we have to shift from shareholder maximization to stakeholder maximization.

Salesforce has been ranked as one of the top innovative companies year after year for a very simple reason.

They can’t look to me for all the answers. I don’t have them, and that’s not our culture. They are coming to me with their ideas and their visions. It’s not my role to be the only visionary in town.

All in all, Marc Benioff is a superb role model, whether your company is large, small or just starting up.

Flickr image credit: TechCrunch

Entrepreneurs: Are You the Future or the Past?

Thursday, March 17th, 2016

https://www.flickr.com/photos/techcrunch/9716784497/

This post is for all the fact-loving, data-crunching guys who keep claiming that tech is a merit-based ecosystem where anyone with a good idea who is willing to bust their tail 80 hours a week will succeed.

If you are one of them you probably aren’t aware that March is Women’s History Month; a time to celebrate women’s accomplishments, especially in tech, since they are why you have a company/job.

How excited would you be if it took 10 years for your most important metric to double?

That’s what you see for founding teams with at least one woman — from 7.7% in 2006 to 17.5% today.

Whoopee.

It’s much worse for all-female founding teams — their funding dropped from 22.8 in 2014 percent to 18.9 percent now.

That totally sucks.

And it’s far worse when you add color to the equation.

What’s it going to take for this to change?

More female angels and VCs — happening very slowly.

More angels and VCs of color — a distant dream.

But more importantly, and hopefully sooner, more successful, entitled white guys will digest the numbers and decide it’s just plain wrong.

 Are you/will you be one of them?

BTW
Happy St Paddy’s Day to all my Irish and Irish wannabe readers!

http://free-extras.com/images/leprechaun_with_pot_of_gold-13323.htm

Image credit: TechCrunch/flickr and Free-extras

But Only If You Have A Brain…

Wednesday, March 9th, 2016

First, a disclaimer: this post is in no way a recommendation for the University of Phoenix. In fact, I have long been against for profit education, especially UP, which is not only the largest, but one of the worst.

That said, I’d like to strip the logos from the new ad running on national TV and make it required watching for every boss in every business, whether large or small.

Pay particular attention to the last spoken line.

Do you have a brain?

Video credit: University of Phoenix

Ducks in a Row: Diversity Solution

Tuesday, March 8th, 2016

Finally!

Arwa Mahdawi (@ArwaM) has come up with a solution to the whole diversity problem.

Isn’t that terrific? Finally, a real solution.

Check out Rent-A-Minority for your next board meeting, conference or media interview.

And while you’re there be sure to read the user Stories.

I’m sure you’ll relate — on one level or another.

rent-a-minority

Hat tip to KG for sharing the site with us.

Ducks in a Row: the Cost of the So-Called Bro Culture

Tuesday, March 1st, 2016

https://www.flickr.com/photos/bonniesducks/4612160187/

There is far more to diversity than gender, but I’ll save my comments on that for another post, although everything I say here applies to the wider exclusions.

Last Friday, in polite language, KG commented on the ignorance/idiocy of not hiring women, since they have to be so much better to achieve the same opportunities/promotions as men.

For proof, you have only to consider GitHub’s treatment of contributors.  

They found that when a woman programmer made a contribution to an open source project, that work was more likely to be accepted by their programming peers than contributions by men as long as those judging the work didn’t know the programmer was a woman.

If they did know the programmer was a woman, the work was more likely to be rejected.

For the unknowing, the bro culture refers to the culture found in most frat houses (although it exists in several other forms) and has become a hallmark of startups in Silicon Valley.

Jennifer Brandel, co-founder and CEO of Hearken, and Mara Zepeda, co-founder and CEO of Switchboard, wrote a terrific post that starts by depicting the startup ecosystem in sexual terms that perfectly drive the point home with the same class and light touch as Tootsie used to drive its point home back in 1982. (It’s a great read with serious analysis and suggestions for change.)

Startups, like the male anatomy, are designed for liquidity events. Consider the metaphors: “seed” funding, “up and to the right” trajectories, “acceleration,” “exit.” Paul Graham’s seminal essay “Startup = Growth” argues that explosive growth is the only measure of success. “Making it” means one of two things: go public or sell.

The bro culture also manages to turn a blind eye to just how much of their vaunted tech is the result of women.

Hilariously, it was not only a woman who the technology that paved the way for everything from Wi-Fi to GPS, it was film goddess Heddy Lamarr. She invented a secret communications system during World War II for radio-controlling torpedoes.

Dr Grace Murray Hopper invented COBOL, the first business-friendly programming language, in the 1940s. She was a computer scientist, a rear admiral in the U.S. navy and the first person to use the term “bug” in reference to a glitch in a computer system when she literally found a bug (moth) causing problems with her computer.

Then there is Ada Lovelace, the first computer programmer who wrote the first algorithm and dreamed up the concept of artificial intelligence; her notes were an essential key to helping Alan Turing’s work on the first modern computers in the 1940s.

Not to forget Dr Shirley Jackson include portable fax, touch tone telephone, solar cells, fibre optic cables, and the technology behind caller ID and call waiting.

Most of male culture runs on pizza and beer, which, according to Beer Historian Jane Peyton was developed, sold and drunk but Mesopotamian women centuries ago.

A few more that guys should be aware of,

  • Nancy Johnson invented and patented the ice cream maker in 1843 and is still in use today.
  • Margaret A Wilcox invented the car heater in 1893, as well as a combined clothes and dishwasher.
  • Elizabeth Magie invented Monopoly in 1904.
  • Anna Connelly invented the fire escape in 1887.
  • Maria Beasely invented life rafts in 1882, as well as a machine that makes barrels.
  • Dr Maria Telkes, a psychiatrist, invented residential solar heating.
  • Letitia Geer invented a one-handed medical syringe in 1899.
  • Florence Parpart invented the electric refrigerator in 1914, along with improving street cleaning machines.
  • Josephine Cochrane invented the dishwasher (where would guys be without it?) in 1887
  • Marie Van Brittan Brown invented CCTV in 1969.
  • Margaret Knight invented a machine that makes square bottomed paper bags in 1871, although Charles Anan tried to steal her work claiming that it wasn’t possible for a woman to create this brilliant invention.  She also invented a safety device for cotton mills when she was 12 that is still being used today.
  • Alice Parker invented a natural gas powered central heater in 1919 that inspired the central heating systems used today.
  • Stephanie Kwolek invented Kevlar 1965, to which thousands of guys, and more recently gals, owe their lives.

Unwelcoming/disparaging culture goes far beyond the startup world and the pro/con about women is a minefield for companies, as witnessed by the Lands’ End contretemps currently playing itself out on social media.

The catalog had the temerity to feature Gloria Steinem, which brought a strong reaction from a customer.

“This family will not buy one single thing from Lands End ever again unless this drive highlighted by Gloria Steinem is fully retracted. (…) Lauding Gloria Steinem is beyond what I can understand from a company that ‘appears’ to celebrate family.” (Posted to the company’s Facebook page.)

Lands’ End apologized and scrubbed all mentions of Steinem, along with references to the ERA.

This, of course, brought enormous reaction from the other side.

As of midmorning Friday, close to 4,000 people had commented on the company’s Facebook post that addresses the flap.

Oops. Damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

Lands’ End and other companies may lose customers when they end up in the middle of this no-win situation, but the bro culture has a much higher cost.

Talent.

And that can cost them the very breakthroughs that would put them on the road to an IPO.

Then again, with that attitude they don’t deserve great talent.

Which leaves KG and kindred spirits to scoop them up.

Flickr image credit: Duck Lover

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

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

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