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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

If the Shoe Fits: Silicon Valley Groupthink, Should and You

Friday, January 8th, 2016

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mOn one of the last days of 2015 I read a great article about the groupthink that pervades Silicon Valley these days.

It reminded me of how teens of every generation display their rebellion against society through their choice of clothes, while simultaneously making sure they “fit in” with their peers.

This is most easily seen in a subgroup like the goths, whose black clothing and makeup sets them apart from other teens, but within which a rigid dress code prevails.

Unlike the Silicon Valley I knew in the 1980s and 90s, today’s Silicon Valley is far more homogenized and undiversified, with little perspective on the “real” world.

The result is that it’s far less creative and exciting than it once was.

Silicon Valley groupthink is also the force behind what Danielle Morrill, CEO & Cofounder of Mattermark, calls the “tyranny of should.”

But sometimes when I am able to quiet that story down, I catch myself listening because it is just so much easier to have someone else figure out what I should do.

In the first days of this new year I urge you to choose between taking the easy road of groupthink and should or following Sam Altman’s path of most resistance.

“You should ignore what your peers are doing or what your peers or parents think is cool. (…) And that’s the hardest part. We’re all so much more susceptible to that than we think.”

Yes, another ‘should’, but not all ‘shoulds’ are created equal.

As always, it’s your choice.

That’s both life’s greatest joy and its greatest fear.

Image credit: HikingArtist

Golden Oldies: Of Porcupines and People

Monday, January 4th, 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.

I chose today’s Oldie for two reasons. First, it’s a new year and taking it to heart at the start assures you of a better more productive year, and second, it’s an election year, which makes it ultra-divisive, and there’s enough stress in the normal workplace without adding another element — especially such a vicious one. Read other Golden Oldies here

https://www.flickr.com/photos/nostri-imago/2854029427/

Sometimes good things arrive in my inbox amidst the silly videos and spam.

And so it was yesterday; I was thinking about what to write when this arrived and it seemed the perfect answer—assuming, that is, that you are as tired as I am of the rising tide of hit pieces so prevalent this election.

Fable of the Porcupine
It was the coldest winter ever and many animals were dying because of the cold.
The porcupines, realizing the situation, decided to group together.
This way they covered and protected themselves; but the quills of each one wounded their closest companions, even though they gave heat to each other.
After awhile they decided to distance themselves one from the other and they began to die, alone and frozen.
So they had to make a choice: either accept the quills of their companions or disappear from the Earth.
Wisely, they decided to go back to being together.
This way they learned to live with the little wounds that were caused by the close relationships with their companions, but the most important part of it was the heat that came from the others.
In this way they were able to survive.
Moral of the story:
The best relationship is not the one that brings together perfect people.

The best relationship is when each individual learns to live with the imperfections of others as opposed to dying alone in the cold.

What do you think? Will humans live up to the example of porcupines or die alone in the cold?

Flickr image credit: Cliff

Katherine Johnson: As Good As, But No Better

Tuesday, December 29th, 2015

Assuming you follow the tech news in one way or another you know that 2015 hasn’t been a kind year to women in tech.

Although it didn’t start this year, trolling, bullying, trashing, violence and death threats have become almost everyday occurrences.

As with most haters, they manage to ignore or deny the positive, such as Ada Lovelace, a Countess who wrote the first-ever computer algorithm and dreamed up the idea of artificial intelligence.

So in the spirit of positivity and hope for improvement in 2016, I thought I would share the story of Katherine Johnson, who calculated the trajectory of Alan Shepherd’s 1961 trip into space, which was America’s first, as published by NASA, where she worked for many years.

I wonder how many techies could do something similar today without using a computer or other current tech.

http://www.nasa.gov/centers/langley/news/researchernews/rn_kjohnson.htmlShe Was a Computer When Computers Wore Skirts

08.26.08
By: Jim Hodges 

Katherine Johnson was 90 on Tuesday, an apt date because it also was National Equality Day.

Not that she ever thought she wasn’t equal.

“I didn’t have time for that,” said Johnson in her Hampton home. “My dad taught us ‘you are as good as anybody in this town, but you’re no better.’ I don’t have a feeling of inferiority. Never had. I’m as good as anybody, but no better.”

But probably a lot smarter. She was a “computer” at Langley Research Center “when the computer wore a skirt,” said Johnson. More important, she was living out her life’s goal, though, when it became her goal, she wasn’t sure what it involved.

Johnson was born in White Sulfur Springs, W.Va., where school for African-Americans stopped at eighth grade. Her father, Joshua, was a farmer who drove his family 120 miles to Institute, W. Va., where education continued through high school and then at West Virginia State College. He would get wife Joylette a job as a domestic and leave the family there to be educated while he went back to White Sulfur Springs to make a living.

Katherine skipped though grades to graduate from high school at 14, from college at 18, and her skills at mathematics drew the attention of a young professor, W.W. Schiefflin Claytor.

“He said, ‘You’d make a good research mathematician and I’m going to see that you’re prepared,’ ” she recalled.

“I said, ‘Where will I get a job?’

“And he said, ‘That will be your problem.’

“And I said, ‘What do they do?’

“And he said, ‘You’ll find out.’

“In the back of my mind, I wanted to be a research mathematician.”

It didn’t involve teaching, though she did it for a while, starting at $65 a month. While on vacation from a $100-a-month teaching job in 1952, she was in Newport News. “I heard that Langley was looking for black women computers,” she said.

She was put into a pool, from which she emerged within two weeks to join engineers who, five years later, would become involved in something new called the “Space Task Force.”

That was 1958, when the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics became the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
She did the math.

“We wrote our own textbook, because there was no other text about space,” she says. “We just started from what we knew. We had to go back to geometry and figure all of this stuff out. Inasmuch as I was in at the beginning, I was one of those lucky people.”

That luck came in large part because she was no stranger to geometry. It was only natural that she calculate the trajectory of Alan Shepherd’s 1961 trip into space, America’s first.

“The early trajectory was a parabola, and it was easy to predict where it would be at any point,” Johnson says. “Early on, when they said they wanted the capsule to come down at a certain place, they were trying to compute when it should start. I said, ‘Let me do it.

You tell me when you want it and where you want it to land, and I’ll do it backwards and tell you when to take off.’ That was my forte.”

More flights became more complicated, with more variables involving place and rotation of Earth and the moon for orbiting. By the time John Glenn was to go up to orbit the Earth, NASA had gone to computers.

“You could do much more, much faster on computer,” Johnson says. “But when they went to computers, they called over and said, ‘tell her to check and see if the computer trajectory they had calculated was correct.’ So I checked it and it was correct.”

So the “computer” began using a computer. And in 1969, while at a sorority meeting in the Pocono Mountains, she gathered with others around a small television set to see Neil Armstrong land on the moon and take the first step by a human there. There was some marveling, but not much.

“It all seemed routine to people by then,” Johnson said.

But there was an extremely nervous “computer.”

“I had done the calculations and knew they were correct,” said Johnson. “But just like driving (to Hampton in traffic) from Williamsburg this morning, anything could happen. I didn’t want anything to happen and it didn’t.”

Her work at Langley spanned from 1953 to 1986. She is still involved in math, tutoring youngsters, and she remembers where NASA’s space program was, even as she watches where it is now on television.

“I found what I was looking for at Langley,” she says. “This was what a research mathematician did. I went to work every day for 33 years happy. Never did I get up and say I don’t want to go to work.”

Johnson also spends time talking with children, making sure that they know of the opportunities that can be had through mathematics and science. She laughs when she talks of being interviewed long distance by a fourth-grade class in Florida.

“Each of them had their questions, and one asked, ‘are you still living?'” Johnson says. “They see your picture in a textbook and think you’re supposed to be dead.”

Far from it. Instead, she’s celebrating yet another birthday on Women’s Equality Day, without admitting that there was a time when she didn’t feel equal.

Her father wouldn’t allow it.

Image credit: NASA

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