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Ryan’s Journal: Are Companies Replacing Governments?

Thursday, September 21st, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/gdsteam/26584933684/I was on LinkedIn today reading a post by an employee of a company that I was unfamiliar with.

In the post this guy wrote about how great his company is. They allow you to work remotely, pay for all insurance premiums for the entire family and also give a $150 credit towards a monthly gym membership. I’ll be honest I was a bit jealous at the perks and thought about the possibilities there. At the same time, I thought about how companies have come to exert great influence as well.

Governments are designed to keep us safe, build roads, ensure proper regulations and so on. Depending on who you ask and what generation you are speaking with there is also an expectation for access to proper education, low cost or free healthcare, and perhaps a living wage. Government has not really lived up to those dreams, though, and companies have stepped in.

Is this a bad thing? From a free market perspective it is the natural next step. As economies mature the workforce demands greater amenities. Of course a lot of these higher end perks are limited to one industry, tech.

So maybe the free market isn’t responding at all, this is merely a bubble. And if we take it one step further these companies we hear about with great perks are the outliers. Even most run of the mill tech companies do not offer unlimited vacation and in-house yoga classes.

As I ponder all this I think it can go a few different directions, because I really do not see government stepping up to the plate anytime soon. Companies that are offering these great perks are on the cutting edge and leading a sea change.

The next generation will take these amenities for granted and time will march on. The flip side is we determine these amenities are unsustainable and companies wind them down. As a result greater pressure is put on government to reform.

Without stepping into the hell called politics today, I will say this.

I like a path where we can chart our own course. We can choose the company that we want to work for based on our value system.

That way, as we mature as a society, we can learn to accept different beliefs of value and realize it is the differences that can make us good.

Image credit: gdsteam

Sheryl Sandberg’s Better Idea

Wednesday, September 13th, 2017


Everywhere you turn today you hear a reference to a person as a brand, with dozens of pundits telling you how to use social media to “build your personal brand.”

Four years ago, in another post, I said “In an oracular vision of the Twenty-first century Henry Ford said, “A bore is a person who opens his mouth and puts his feats in it.” These days it’s more accurate to say, “A bore is a person who opens their social media and puts their feats in it.””

The result is still a bore, but on a wider stage.

Branding yourself supposedly makes you more valuable, which is laughable, as is the current idea that being busy increases your value.

Sheryl Sandberg has a different take; she believes brands are for things and voices are for people.

The idea of developing your personal brand is a bad one, according to Sandberg. “People aren’t brands,” she says. “That’s what products need. They need to be packaged cleanly, neatly, concretely. People aren’t like that.”

“Who am I?” asks Sandberg. “I am the COO of Facebook, a company I deeply believe in. I’m an author. I’m a mom. I’m a widow. At some level, I’m still deeply heartbroken. I am a friend and I am a sister. I am a lot of very messy, complicated things. I don’t have a brand, but I have a voice.”

Focus on developing your voice, she says. Figuring out what’s important to you and being willing to use your voice for that purpose is incredibly valuable. “If you are doing it to develop your personal brand, it’s empty and self-serving and not about what you’re talking about,” she says. “If you’re doing it because there is something you want to see changed in the world, that’s where it will have value and depth and integrity.”

Sandberg’s comments on building a voice are just part of her thoughts on how to have a career that is successful and meaningful.

Additional thoughts from Emily Esfahani Smith, an editor at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and the author of “The Power of Meaning: Finding Fulfillment in a World Obsessed With Happiness” contribute to that goal.

Most young adults won’t achieve the idealistic goals they’ve set for themselves. They won’t become the next Mark Zuckerberg. They won’t have obituaries that run in newspapers like this one. But that doesn’t mean their lives will lack significance and worth. We all have a circle of people whose lives we can touch and improve — and we can find our meaning in that.

It’s worth your time to read both articles no matter your age or situation.

Hopefully you’ll agree and send them on to colleagues, friends and the young people in your life.

Find your voice; live the wisdom that’s been shared, and help change the world for the better.

Image credit: Wikipedia

Corrupting The American Dream

Wednesday, August 23rd, 2017


Do you watch Shark Tank? I do, but there is one thing that drives me nuts.

It’s the constant reference by all the Sharks, especially Mark Cuban, to the American Dream.

It’s the idea that starting a business and financial success is proof that the American (every country has it’s own version) Dream is alive and well.

Only problem is that making money and owning a house were never what the original dream was about.

The term was popularized in a 1931 book, “The Epic of America,” by James Truslow Adams, and referred to far more intrinsic values and I seriously doubt that even .05% of people are aware of the original meaning.

Mr. Adams emphasized ideals rather than material goods, a “dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for every man, with opportunity for each according to his ability or achievement.” And he clarified, “It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of a social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and recognized by others for what they are.

We’ve come a long way since 1931, but seem to have forgotten to bring our values along.

Thanks to KG for sending the article.

Image credit: ethos.org

GoDaddy: How A Leopard Changed Its Spots

Wednesday, July 26th, 2017


I’ll bet you remember GoDaddy’s incredibly sexist commercials and bikinied conference models.

But did you notice that they totally stopped in 2013; they didn’t taper off, just stopped?

Obviously, something changed. It couldn’t have been public outrage; that had never bothered GoDaddy bosses before.

What happened was the installation of Blake Irving as CEO.

Irving not only stopped the ads, he set out to radically change a toxic culture that could easily have destroyed the company.

Culture starts at the top and its values and attitudes seep down throughout the organization.

That means change must also come from the top, but seepage won’t effect change.

Change requires structural and enforceable process change.

The answer is more complicated than just stamping out overt sexism. GoDaddy also focused on attacking the small, subtle biases that can influence everything from how executives evaluate employees to how they set salaries.

This was partly accomplished by changing the language, so that managers would evaluate impact as opposed to character.

You can’t change a place just by hiring more women,” said Ms. Weissman, the senior vice president, who oversees a technical staff. “You have to create a safe space to talk about the assumptions all of us have. You have to work against the biases.

Are the efforts paying off?

Today, almost a quarter of GoDaddy’s employees are women, including 21 percent of its technical staff. Half of new engineers hired last year were female, and women make up 26 percent of senior leadership. Female technologists, on average, earn slightly more than their male counterparts.

Who’d a’thunk it?

Go Daddy as one of the nation’s most inclusive tech companies and a top workplace for women and a lodestone of gender equity.

The company’s policies on equal pay, its methods for recruiting a diverse work force and its approach to promoting women and minorities had been lauded inside business schools and imitated at other firms.

Uber et al. take note.

With truly committed leadership a leopard can change its spots.

Image credit: jdog90

Culture On Purpose

Wednesday, July 12th, 2017


Back in 2013 I wrote a post about intentional culture quoting Quicken Loans CEO Bill Emerson.

“If you don’t create a culture at your company, a culture will create itself. And it won’t be good. I sometimes hear people say ‘We don’t have a culture at our company.’ They have one. But if it hasn’t been nurtured, if no one has spent on any time on it, you can assume it’s the wrong culture.”

It’s well recognized that good culture doesn’t just happen — it requires conscious intention from day one and never ending vigilance ever after.

Sustaining culture requires a tough stance on hiring and a willingness to walk away from candidates who aren’t aligned with and enthusiastic about your culture.

However, no amount of vigilance and effort assures that the resulting culture will be what is termed ‘good’.

Whether the intentioal from the top or is allowed to rise from the ranks, the culture will reflect the values of the source and will be propagated by attracting candidates with similar values.

Uber’s bro culture reflects Trvis Kalanick’s values.

Zappos reflects Tony Hsieh’s.

For a great read on intentional culture and how to do it, check out Making Culture a Tangible Metric by Eric Blondeel and Moufeed Kaddoura, co-founders of ExVivo Labs.

Hat tip to the CB Insights newsletter for sharing this article.

Image credit: Richard Matthews

Ryan’s Journal: Can Culture be Defined by One Person?

Thursday, February 9th, 2017


Have you ever been a member of a group or team that is flat out terrible? I have. I have been a member of that soccer team that never won a game, the work group that wasn’t succeeding.

Did I like it? Absolutely not. Did I learn from it? I think in some ways I did.

Have you ever seen that same team or group start to succeed with different leadership? In my case I have a very real world example of where this came to pass.

I had the pleasure of serving for five years in The United States Marine Corps. During this five year time the US was involved in several conflicts and I found myself deployed to Fallujah, Iraq.

During my deployment I served with a team of 12 other Marines, together we were known as a squad. Now this is the military, but a small group of people working together can be found within any type of organization. 

Our squad was led by a leader who, while a good guy, was not well equipped to lead a group of Marines into life or death situations.

This person had some leadership challenges that ultimately led to low morale, loss of confidence and an overall lack of guidance.

To be completely clear, the group sucked. We moped around, were not excited about our purpose and lacked vision.

After some time our higher leadership realized a change should be made and they moved our leader to a role better suited for his skill set.

I will tell you right now, that was a life changer.

We had a new leader come aboard that had the experience needed, was motivated and challenged us to be better then we were the day before.

Now overall the same 13 people were on the team, but the outcome was completely different.

We worked better as a group, shared responsibilities and were proud of our accomplishments.

I look back on this one example often when I think of how one person can shape a culture. 

Now, obviously the military has a top down culture when it comes to leadership, but it also embraces servant leadership.

In this scenario our new leader embraced servanthood. He made sure we were taken care of before his needs and that reflected in our outcome.

Have you been on a team that isn’t performing to its abilities? What is holding it back?

I had a conversation the other day with my CEO and he said something that stuck with me. He said, “leadership isn’t a title, its an action”.

Isn’t that true of culture too? You and I are the ones who will set the tone.

Do I always get it right? Absolutely not! I fail more times then I succeed. I tear down when I should build, allow emotions to dictate over data and more. At the end of the day my personal culture and that of my team is dictated by my thoughts and deeds, no one else.

Who determines yours?

Image credit: David Spinks

Ryan’s Journal: Why Does Culture Matter?

Thursday, January 12th, 2017

http://www.fairwarning.com/For those of you who may have read my introduction I stated that my main question I want to always ask is ‘why’.

I learned this mostly through trial and error as I entered the workplace. I had the opportunity to see this inside of companies and organizations and better understand what made them succeed, or fail. The simple answer was and continues to be culture.

Why have some companies with all the talent in the world failed? Why do some people address hardships with a will to succeed rather than sit back and wallow? Why do those who have made it to the top of their profession continue to push themselves? I think it boils down to the mindset of the individual, who then influences the greater group.

I work within the MedTech industry, specifically within the cybersecurity sector. My company, FairWarning, looks at user behavior to determine who the bad actors are, so that you can have confidence that when you seek treatment your records will remain confidential.

You would expect that due to the fact that our mission is to determine who is stealing data and identify it our leadership would treat most people with suspicion. It is only natural, we see bad actors everyday! However, that could not be further from the truth.

I had an opportunity to speak with our leadership about why that is. How is it that the organization which only exists to prevent abuse and misuse of confidential materials can not have a negative outlook on life and people?

The answer surprised me. My company is privately owned by our CEO who founded it. He has the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps through hard work” mentality. He told me that his outlook on life stems from the fact that as an individual you can always make a choice to do the right thing moving forward.

A person always has the opportunity to start today with a clean slate moving forward. The expectation is that every day should be better than the last. Now this doesn’t mean there are no consequences for actions, but it does mean that there are no lost individuals. That at the root of it is the culture of my company and it influences every action I and my teammates make everyday.

Why does that one mindset impact the rest of the group?

Part of it, of course, is the fact that he started and led the company successfully. The other part though, which, in my opinion, matters more, is that he has remained consistent and transparent.

If he only applied that mindset to people selectively or didn’t live it himself then it would not truly be culture. It would be some mission statement that sounds great but has no impact.

As I continue exploring this topic I will speak to others about what influences their decisions and how they came to those conclusions.

Until next week continue asking and seeking.

Image credit: Marko / Zak

If the Shoe Fits: Lessons From MailChimp

Friday, October 7th, 2016

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mLast Friday I compared valuation based on investment vs. revenue with AppLovin as my example.

Put another way, it’s the difference between focusing on outside money and inside money, AKA, revenue.

“One of the problems with raising money is it teaches you bad habits from the start,” said Jason Fried, the co-founder of the software company Basecamp, who has written frequently on the perversions of the venture capital industry. “If you’re an entrepreneur and you have a bunch of money in the bank, you get good at spending money.”
But if companies are forced to generate revenue from the beginning, “what you get really good at is making money,” Mr. Fried said. “And that’s a much better habit for a business to work on early on, to survive on their own rather than be dependent on money people.”

That’s the approach embraced by 16 year-old MailChimp, with 2015 revenue of $280 million and will top $400 million this year.

As a private company, MailChimp has long kept its business metrics secret, but founder Ben Chestnut wants to publicize its numbers now to show the road less traveled: If you want to run a successful tech company, you don’t have to follow the path of “Silicon Valley.” You can simply start a business, run it to serve your customers, and forget about outside investors and growth at any cost.

Chestnut also doesn’t have a Silicon Valley ego, as demonstrated when defining the company’s values

I asked all of our managers and senior managers to help me out with them, and we came up with three: creativity, humility and independence.

and hiring.

I’m looking for that philosophy because I want someone to push me and make me better. I want people who are smarter than me, and who will push and fight for something they believe in while also respecting the values and unique nature of the company. We have to be creative in pushing our boundaries, but sticking to our values.

There is an interesting thread I find running through founders who bootstrap and build their companies by focusing on generating revenue, as opposed to fundraising and hypergrowth.

Both types have vision, focus, drive and grit, but, based on reading, those building their companies on internal money don’t seem to have the same need for validation — not of their vision, but of themselves.

Image credit: HikingArtist

If the Shoe Fits: Kickstarter, PBC — a Winner’s Choice

Friday, May 13th, 2016

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mDo you have values?

Do you clearly articulate them your team?

Do you strive to incorporate them into your company’s culture?

Do those values include building a sustainable business, kind to the environment, gives back to its community and actively contributes to the wellbeing of its workers?

Will you stay true to those values while growing, when both eyes are on the revenue/profitability of your company?

If so, you could apply to be recognized as a Certified B Corp, like Warby Parker, Etsy, and the Honest Company.

B Corp status is a step in the right direction — but…

When push comes to shove it’s not legally binding.

Public Benefit Corporations (PBC) are a step above and beyond.

And Kickstarter just joined their ranks.

There’s a profound distinction between a “public benefit corporation,” or PBC, and a “B Corp,” co-founder Perry Chen told me during a recent visit to Kickstarter’s Brooklyn headquarters. Both are for-profit companies who wear their missions on their sleeves, but B Corps have no legal responsibility to uphold their values. PBCs, on the other hand, have a legally binding duty to provide benefits to society. One is an accreditation, like “Fair Trade,” the other is an entirely rethought corporate structure.

Put another way, if a PBC puts maximization of shareholder value — the true north of Wall Street — ahead of the public benefits it declares in its charter, it can be sued by its shareholders.

“A value is only a value if it’s non-negotiable,” Chen told me. Kickstarter’s values are now codified in a legally binding document. They’re literally non negotiable.

What are those values?

In section one, the company restates its mission — thereby enshrining that mission in its legal foundation. The second sections lays out the company’s values, taking aim at five highly political corporate issues: Selling user data to third parties (it never will, unlike Google, Facebook, and pretty much most of the Internet), clarity in “terms of services” (it won’t seek legal gains just because it can, unlike, well, pretty much the entire Internet), political lobbying (it won’t lobby unless the issues aligns with its values, regardless of potential monetary gain — unlike … you get the picture), taxation (it won’t employ the “esoteric tax management strategies” beloved by giants like Apple, Uber, et al), and environment (the company is committed to reducing its impact across the board).

Most businesses incorporate in Delaware where the legal PBC framework was signed into law by Gov. Jack Markell in 2013.

Public Benefit Companies are a relatively new legal entity — Delaware, where many fast-growth startups incorporate, created PBCs just three years ago. Besides defining a public benefit as “a positive effect (or reduction of negative effects) on one or more more categories of persons, entities, communities or interests (other than stockholders in their capacities as stockholders),” Delaware’s code allows new PBCs to make “further commitments” beyond the state’s legal definition.

Method, Plum Organics, Alter Eco, and New Leaf Paper are all PCBs.

Kickstarter could just have easily chosen the road to unicornism, but chose their values instead.

What will you choose?

Image credit: HikingArtist

Happy Birthday Albert Einstein

Wednesday, March 16th, 2016


Are you smart? Are you impressed with those considered brilliant?

Do you look for signs of genius in your kids?

Can you really tell at an early age?

Monday was Albert Einstein’s 137th birthday.

Einstein was nicknamed “der Depperte” — the dopey one — by the family maid, because he was slow to learn to talk.

He couldn’t find a job teaching, so worked in the patent office in Bern, Germany, while he wrote some of his most important papers.

He was still there when he wrote the paper that underlies E=mc2.

He didn’t get an offer to teach for another four years — and almost didn’t accept because of the low salary and his description to a friend isn’t exactly complimentary.

“So, now I too am an official member of the guild of whores.”

Although Einstein’s family knew he was famous that didn’t understand why. His answer when his son asked him offers great insight to his attitude.

“When a blind beetle crawls over the surface of a curved branch, it doesn’t notice that the track it has covered is indeed curved. I was lucky enough to notice what the beetle didn’t notice.”

Entitlement was neither part of his life nor of his beliefs. He was a socialist and detested and fought the discrimination so rampant in his adopted US homeland.

He lived by his values, expeditious of not, and died by them, too, when he refused treatment (an attitude the “live forever tech crowd” should embrace).

“It is tasteless to prolong life artificially. I have done my share, it is time to go. I will do it elegantly.”

BI has a great overview of Einstein’s life that is well worth reading.

And after you’ve done so, take a look at how your own values stack up.

Image credit: Wikipedia

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