Recent Business News...


  • Data journalist Nate Silver recently ranked the country's earliest and latest arriving employees.

    If you are a night owl living in New York City, San Francisco or Boston, then you're in the right place. In each of these cities, the median work arrival time is later than the national median.

    This is according to results from FiveThirtyEight journalist Nate Silver. He recently analyzed data from the US Census Bureau in order to determine where in the country people are rising early or sleeping in.

    Silver said that as someone who's averse to early mornings, he's happy to be based in the Big Apple now. But when he was traveling frequently for a consulting position 10 years ago, things weren't so easy. "Sometimes I’d travel to cities such as St. Louis and Omaha, Neb., to visit clients. Meetings as early as 6 or 7 a.m. were not uncommon," Silver wrote.

    While most Americans think of the typical work day as taking place from 9 to 5, these results show otherwise. Even in New York, where employees arrive at work about a half hour later than the national median, the median start time is still 8:24 am.

    Silver noted two important things about the results. First, it's not really your location that determines what time you'll have to get up in the morning. It's the type of work you do. For example, in Hinesville, Georgia, the median start time is 7:01 a.m. But take into consideration that a large portion of the city's workforce is in the military. Second, the information doesn't represent the increasing number of employees who work from home, Silver said.

    Here's a summary of the results:

    Where Night Owls Dwell

    The median start time for the U.S. as a whole is 7:55 a.m. Employees in New York City, Atlantic City, New Jersey, and San Jose, California arrive to work significantly later with median start times of 8:24 a.m., 8:23 a.m. and 8:21 a.m., respectively. Interestingly, though, one quarter of Atlantic City's workforce doesn't show up until at least 11:26 a.m., as much of the city's economy involves tourism-related jobs.

    The early bird gets the worm

    You'll find America's top three earliest rising cities down south. They include: Hinesville, Georgia -- with a median work arrival time of 7:01 a.m. -- Pascagoula, Mississippi -- 7:06 a.m. -- and Jacksonville, North Carolina -- 7:14 a.m. Interesting Honolulu makes the list with a median start time of 7:29 a.m. Silver suggests that's because many employees try to use the early morning hours to coordinate with the U.S. mainland.



  • A 90 percent success rate also means a 10 percent failure rate that can cause major ripples.

    Even the very best recruiters are going to make a mistake from time to time. And even a razor-thin margin of error can have a big effect on making sure your company is identifying top talent. Here's the math to prove it.

    This logic problem comes from the fortchoming book from Harvard Business Review Press, written by executive search expert Claudio Fernández-Aráoz, It's Not the How or the What but the Who. It goes a little something like this...

    Imagine you are able to correctly gauge talent 90 percent of the time. Fernández-Aráoz writes that this would basically be impossible--even the best interviewers and recruiters hit about 70 percent of the time--but for the sake of argument, let's say you are just spectacular.

    And let's say you're interviewing 100 people for a position. You probably don't have the time for that, but again: sake of argument.

    So what percentage of those candidates will you correctly identify as top talent?

    "I've done this exercise hundreds of times, all over the world, with thousands of students, professionals, and executives," Fernández-Aráoz writes. "The responses I typically get from a large crowd usually range from 9 percent to 90 percent. Very few people give the right answer intuitively, and not many more can calculate it.

    "The answer is 50 percent."

    Wait, what?

    Stick with me. If you're interviewing 100 people, 10 of those people will necessarily represent the top 10 percent of talent in that larger pool. Of those 10, you will choose nine to pass on to the next round, and wrongly dismiss one.

    You will then have 90 other candidates who are not top talent. You will rightly dismiss both of them. However, since you are only right 90 percent of the time, that 10 percent margin of error will lead you to incorrectly pass 10 percent of that group on to the next round.

    So in the end, you'll have nine people who are top performers and nine lesser candidates moving on to the second round of interviews. That's a sobering showing to come from your 90 percent rate.

    (Did I mention, Fernández-Aráoz is also a former industrial engineer?)

    Okay, now that you're adequately shocked, here's the good news. Just because the numbers work out this way, it doesn't mean you'll be hiring all those people and wind up with nine less-than-ideal hires. (Unless, I guess, if you have 18 spots open for people with similar qualifications and experiences and don't plan on doing any further vetting.)

    Instead, the numbers really drill down the importance of the second and third interview process, and making sure your colleagues conducting those are also strong judges of talent. This kind of "filtering" process, as Fernández-Aráoz puts it, should ultimately widdle things down to the right candidate.

    If you, a second interviewer, and a third interviewer are all very skilled at gauging talent, by the end, there's only a 1 percent chance that you'll wind up with a low performer in the pool when it's time to make a decision, Fernández-Aráoz writes. That suddenly doesn't look so scary.



  • You know the overt benefits of crowdfunding (cash, gauging customer interest). A recent article by Marty Lariviere, a professor at Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management, explores two less obvious benefits: inventory management and operational flexibility.

    Crowdfunding is called crowdfunding for a reason: You're getting money from the masses, because they believe in your business or perhaps even because they just owe you a favor. Put your company or a product on a crowdfunding site and, if you're fortunate, you'll come away with cash and a sense of consumer demand.

    According to a recent article by Marty Lariviere, a professor at Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management, there may also be some hidden benefits to crowdfunding: inventory management and operational flexibility.

    Crowdfunding and Gustin Jeans

    When it comes to inventory management for short-lived products (such as fashion goods), Lariviere points out that product variability is costly. "Having to commit resources before knowing what will sell means risk," he writes. "But that risk also suggests an opportunity: If one can find a way to reverse the order of things and commit resources only after knowing what will be demanded, then an otherwise unprofitable business can be a profitable one."

    That's where crowdfunding comes in. If a company can use a crowdfunding platform to learn which products customers demand, then it can offset the risk that comes with product variability. In other words: If you have a precise sense for the quantities of customer demand, then you'll do a a better job of stocking and turning over your inventory. You won't have to commit resources to buying or making products, before you know which ones will sell.

    As an example, Lariviere cites Gustin, a maker of high-end jeans. He writes:

    It initially sold its jeans through boutiques, which bought jeans at a wholesale price near $80 but then marked them up to around $200. Gustin had to front all the cost of production and then wait for stuff to sell. Now, they have reversed the order of things and take orders directly from customers ahead of production.

    That's the inventory management piece of it. Another benefit for Gustin is operational flexibility--specifically, the ability to offer more variety. The reason? Gustin no longer has to take risks buying one type of fabric or another before knowing what customers want. This gives them the flexibility to source based on what they know will sell. They're no longer hemmed in by risky sourcing choices made in advance of gauging customer orders.

    The Bigger Picture

    All of the above is clearly working for Gustin, but as Lariviere mentions, there are reasons clothing companies have traditionally relied on wholesale-retail distribution. "An established brand that has built a broad distribution network could be doing quite well in that model and may be at a scale that cannot be easily reached with Gustin's model," he writes.

    Plus there's the whole try-them-on-before-you-buy-them thing with jeans--a category of clothing where finding a perfect fit isn't easy--or any piece of clothing for that matter. "If customers find testing the fit of jeans important, being in stores is helpful and may point to a limit to how much Gustin can grow," he concludes.

    For some context, I reached out to Nudie Jeans, a global brand based in Gothenburg, Sweden, to get their take on Gustin's model, as described by Lariviere. Public Relations & Marketing Manager Ruari Mahon emphasized that the inventory management benefits Gustin gains through crowdfunding are feasible in wholesale-retail arrangements, too. "Orders are placed ahead of the assigned season, before production gets underway," she says. "The 'selling season' usually closes at least 4-5 months before the product would become available in stores."

    She adds that there are potential retail benefits above and beyond the initial trying on of the product. For example, repairs: Nudie happens to run 17 standalone locations which not only sell the brand, but also offer to fix your holes. "This promotes creating less waste to the end consumer, but in a tangible and original way."

    Interestingly, Gustin touts the waste-free attributes of the crowdfunding model. "We use crowdsourcing to line up supply and demand for every product we make. This creates zero waste cycle and we return the savings to you," notes the company web site.

    The silver lining, of course, is that both companies are respecting consumer concerns about life cycles and wastefulness.



  • If you're satisfied just to keep pace with your competitors, eventually they're going to pass you by permanently.

    This isn’t the first time I’ve written about an awesome innovation from Amazon. I would stop if they would stop.

    While the company’s new streaming media box, Amazon Fire TV, received a greater share of recent headlines, it was the Amazon Dash that grabbed my attention. The Dash is a wand-like wireless device that includes a microphone and a barcode scanner, enabling users to add items to an AmazonFresh shopping list by scanning a product’s bar code or speaking its name. Need apples? Say, “apples” into the microphone and apples will arrive the next day, touts the Dash launch video.

    There are plenty of massive retailers that are still trying to figure out how to migrate their bread-and-butter brick-and-mortar business to an e-commerce model, which brings up a new set of challenges in fulfillment and customer service. Meanwhile, Amazon is installing a checkout lane in the kitchen.

    I know much of this technology lives inside the smartphones we all carry today. Still, Amazon should be applauded for taking a calculated risk on building a device dedicated to making shopping easier for the things you need every day.

    I’ve never used Dash. It could find its way into American homes and quickly settle in that seldom-pulled drawer that acts as a graveyard for remote controls. (For now, the device is available only on a trial basis to Amazon customers in San Francisco and Los Angeles who pay for Amazon’s new Prime Fresh membership, which includes grocery delivery.)

    But I believe it’s a glimpse at a whole new era of businesses inventing technologies aimed at making the customer experience frictionless, fully informed, and easy to fix. No matter if you’re selling motorcycles or health care, there exists a better way to provide goods and services to your customers. For instance, consider custom suit maker Arden Reed, which will send a "Tailor Truck" equipped with cutting-edge 3-D body scanning technology to your door. The scanner takes more than 1.5 million body points to create a perfect-fitting suit. Or Hointer, which provides retailers with technologies such as robots that deliver items to an in-store pickup area or a fitting room within 30 seconds.

    I see a lot of companies that are constantly playing catch-up. Maybe they’re just now rolling out social media for customer service, or they’re finally getting around to optimizing their website for mobile.

    With today’s lightning-quick pace of innovation, a failure to keep pace can turn into a big problem quickly. Businesses become overwhelmed with keeping up with their peers instead of devoting attention to the initiatives that will wow customers and keep them close.

    Can you imagine that meeting at Amazon where Dash was hatched? Someone probably said, “What if you could just say ‘apples’ out loud and apples appeared on your doorstep?” Then they made that idea a reality.

    I know, I know, Amazon has an army of engineers and the resources to create amazing inventions. But that’s not the point.

    The point is that instead of playing catch-up, Amazon built something that customers didn’t even know to ask for. And everyone concerned with creating happy customers has that opportunity.



  • Here are a few topics the executive should be prepared to cover.

    It has been a huge quarter for Facebook. In the last three (fiscal) months the company has bought messaging app WhatsApp for $19 billion and virtual reality headset maker Oculus VR for $2 billion. It has opened the door for video advertisers, and begun carving out its messaging business into a separate app, Messenger. Lastly, the company has begun rolling out an off-Facebook advertising network.

    At the same time, Zuckerberg has begun to outline his vision for the future of Facebook, "unbundling the big blue app."

    But high drama isn't the same as good business, and Zuckerberg ought to answer these questions on his call with Wall Street tonight:

    1. How much cash do you have left?

    There have been two big deals totaling a value of $21 billion since the last call. But there was only $3.3 billion in cash on the balance sheet at the end of last year. The cash portion of the WhatsApp and Oculus deals totals a possible $4.7 billion. Facebook almost certainly doesn't have a liquidity problem, but nonetheless, the spending has been dramatic and investors need to see the cash management plan. Will it restrict Facebook's use of cash in the future?

    2. How much is WhatsApp going to cost before it starts generating revenue?

    Zuckerberg has been a hands-off acquirer, in the sense that he prefers to let acquisitions grow their user bases and perfect their products before they need to generate sales. WhatsApp has no intention of selling advertising in the next several years, its CEO has said. But that luxury won't last forever. Some guidance on whether WhatsApp--and its 500 million users--will be profitable or a sinkhole is appropriate.

    3. Why have we not seen any video ads yet?

    Autoplay video in the Facebook news feed is potentially one of the biggest needle-movers for Facebook revenue. Yet their launch has been delayed for nearly a whole year. What the heck, Facebook?

    4. Do you actually know what you are doing with Oculus?

    Until recently, Facebook's acquisitions had all been obvious fits with the existing company. When it acquired social location app Glancee, for instance, it turned into Nearby Friends, a newly launched location feature. Oculus, however, is a hardware product not a software product. It's a gaming device not a social device. And it's on a platform that does not link with Facebook. Of course, it's an impressive product that blows away anyone who experiences it. But being a good manager of a social network is not the same thing as being a good manager of a virtual reality platform. What's the plan for Oculus, and does it make sense?

    5. How successful are the ads on Instagram?

    Instagram hit 200 million users and is threatening to eclipse Twitter any day now. But we hardly see any ads on Instagram. That's great for users but lousy for EPS. Does this product show any signs of financial life?

    6. Does the Messenger plan make any sense at all?

    As far as we can tell, the Messenger app competes head to head with WhatsApp. If Messenger is successful, it might cannibalize WhatsApp. Currently, Facebook is forcing users to use Messenger by ending the message feature inside Facebook if they have the Messenger app. The ultimate goal is to make Messenger a standalone message platform outside Facebook. This sounds duplicative of WhatsApp at best, and competitive at worst. We need reassurance here.

    7. How much is Internet.org going to cost?

    Zuckerberg has said that to get the users Facebook needs to grow in the future, Facebook and its wireless carriers must connect the world, free of charge. This won't be cheap. It would be nice to see some numbers applied to the pipe dreams about drones, lasers and satellites.



  • It's a classic tale: A hot startup is acquired by a larger company, the startup falls apart, and everyone asks what happened.

    For decades large companies have gone shopping in Silicon Valley for startups. Lately, the pressure of continuous disruption has forced them to step up the pace.

    More often than not the results of these acquisitions are disappointing.

    What can companies learn from others' failed efforts to integrate startups into large companies? There are two types of integration strategies, and they depend on where the startup is in its lifecycle.

    The Innovation Portfolio

    Most large companies manage three types of innovation: process innovation (making existing products incrementally better), continuous innovation (building on the strength of the company's current business model but creating new elements), and disruptive innovation (creating products or services that did not exist before.)

    Companies manage these three types of innovation with an innovation portfolio--they build innovation internally, they buy it or they partner with resources outside their company.

    Five types of innovation to buy

    If they decide to buy, large companies can:

  • License/acquire intellectual property
  • Acquire startups for their teams (and discard the product)
  • Buy out another company's product line for the product
  • Acquire a company for the product and its installed base of users
  • Buy out an entire company for its revenue and profits.
  • Silicon Valley: a corporate innovation candy store

    Corporate business development and strategic partner executives are flocking to Silicon Valley to find these five types of innovation. In response, venture capital firms--like Sequoia and Andreessen/Horowitz--are hiring new partners just to work with their portfolio companies and match them to corporations. They are actively organizing annual and quarterly activities to bring their portfolio companies and Fortune 500 decision makers together--both large events and one-on-one visits. The goal is to get a corporate investment or an outright acquisition of their startups.

    VCs like acquisitions as much as IPOs because the acquiring companies often can rationalize paying large multiples over the current valuation of the startup. For acquirers, this math makes sense since they can factor in the potential impact the startup has when combined with their existing business. These nosebleed valuations, however, make it even more important that the acquired company becomes integrated correctly. The common mistake acquirers make is treating all acquisitions the same.

    Is the Potential Acquisition Searching or Executing?

    Not all new ventures are at the same stage of maturity. Remember, the definition of a startup is a temporary organization designed to search for a repeatable and scalable business model. A business model is all the parts of a strategy necessary to deliver a product to a customer and make money from it. These include the product itself, the customer, the distribution channel, revenue model, how to get, keep and grow customers, resources and activities needed to build the business and costs.

    Startups are companies that are still in the process of searching for a business model. Ventures that are further along and executing their business models are no longer startups, they are early-stage companies. Large corporations come to the valley looking to acquire both startups searching for a business model and early-stage companies executing business models.

    Companies that acquire startups for their intellectual property, teams or product lines are acquiring startups that are searching for a business model. If they acquire later stage companies who already have users/customers and/or a predictable revenue stream, they are acquiring companies that are executing.

    What gets lost when a large company looks at the rationale for an acquisition (IP, team, product, users) is that startups are run by founders searching for a business model. The founding team is testing for the right combination of product, market, revenue, costs, etc. They do it with a continual customer discovery process and while iterating, pivoting and building incremental MVP's.

    This phase of a new venture is chaotic and unpredictable with very few processes, procedures or formal hierarchy. At this stage the paramount goal of the startup management team is to find product/market fit and a business model that can scale before they run out of cash. This search phase is driven by a startup culture that encourages individual initiative and autonomy, and creates a shared esprit de corps that results in the passionate and relentless pursuit of opportunity. This is the antithesis of the process, procedures and rules that make up large companies.

    In contrast, early stage companies that have found product/market fit are now in execution mode, scaling their organization and customer base. While they still may share the same passion as a startup, the goal is now scale. Since scale and execution require repeatable processes and procedures, these companies have begun to replace their chaotic early days with org charts, HR manuals, revenue plans, budgets, key performance indicators and other tools that allow measurement and control of a growing business. And as part of their transition to predictable processes, their founders may or may not still be at the helm. Often they have brought in an operating executive as the new CEO.

    Predicting Success or Failure of an Acquisition

    So what? Who cares whether a potential acquisition is searching or executing?

    Ironically, the business development and strategic partner executives who find the startup and negotiate the deal are not the executives who manage the integration or the acquisition. Usually it's up to the CTO or the operating executive who wanted the innovative technology (and at times with a formal HR integration process) to decide the fate of the startup inside the acquiring company.

    It turns out the success of the acquisition depends on whether the acquiring company intends to keep the new venture as a standalone division or integrate and assimilate it into the corporation.

    Actually there is a simple heuristic to guide this decision.

    If the startup is being acquired for its intellectual property and/or team, the right strategy is to integrate and assimilate the startup quickly. The rest is just overhead surrounding what is the core value to the acquiring company.

    However, if the startup is still in search mode, and you want the product line and users to grow at its current pace or faster--keep the startup as an independent division and appoint the existing CEO as the division head. Given startups in this stage are chaotic, and the speed of innovation depends on preserving a culture that is driven by autonomy and initiative, insulate the acquisition as much as possible from the corporate overhead. Unless you want to stop innovation in your new acquisition dead in its tracks, do not pile on the corporate KPI's, processes and procedures. Provide the existing CEO with a politically savvy "corporate concierge" to access the acquiring company's resources to further accelerate growth. It helps if the acquirer has incentives for its existing employees that tie the new acquisition's success to those that help them. The key insight here is that for a startup still searching for a business model, corporate processes and policies will kill innovation and drive the employees responsible for innovation out of the acquiring company before the startup's optimal value can be realized.

    If the acquisition is in execution mode, the right model is to integrate and assimilate it. Combine its emerging corporate KPI's, processes and procedures with those of the acquiring company. Unless it's the rare founder who secretly loves processes and procedures--transition the existing CEO to a corporate innovation group or an exit.

    Lessons Learned

    • Corporate acquirers need to know what they're buying - is their acquisition searching or executing
    • If the startup is acquired for its IP, talent or revenue, it should be rapidly integrated into the acquirer
    • If the startup is acquired for its products and/or users, preserve its startup culture by keeping it an independent unit
      • Appoint a "corporate concierge" to access the acquiring company's resources
      • Incentive programs need to tie together the new acquisition's continued success and the rest of the company
    • Acquirers need a formal integration and on-boarding process


  • If work life seems blah and the team is bored, you need to make it fun! Here Inc. columnists share how to put fun in any workplace.

    For some people work is an exciting opportunity to use their talents and skills to achieve great things. But sadly, for many people work is considered an act of drudgery that's the price you pay for getting a living wage. I personally don't see why nearly any work environment can't be purposefully fun and entertaining. I was inspired this week by sales guru Jack Daly's new book. In the book, Daly insists you have to put the F-word back into business. Forget simple Band-Aid fixes like birthday parties or a foosball table in the middle of the office. Opt instead for integrating fun into your culture.

    When I ran my Inc. 500 finance company, I found that the fun factor had a direct correlation to hiring the right people. People who were passionate about our work and the growth of the company were able to find fun in nearly everything we did. Sure combing through hundreds of pages of financial documents sounds like a snorer to many people. So I looked to hire people who liked business and finance and had natural curiosity. Then I would give them enough context to learn the details of how people spent money and lived their lives. That's when each file became a wonderful storybook that was both fascinating and entertaining. Simply put, you can't create fun where there's no interest in the first place. Find people who love what you do and give them the opportunity to make the most of the opportunity creatively.

    Here are additional insights from my Inc. colleagues.

    1. Make it a game.

    One common thread we all share is the desire to play games. Turning the work into a game is a great way to keep everyone motivated and engaged. For example, I turned an outdated training program into a "choose your own adventure" version of The Game of Life. The group was broken up into teams and they competed against each other to see who would make the right choices and come out on top. Instead of a dreaded four hour lecture with boring slides, the group saw it as a bonding experience, and the next group was eager to sign-up and attend. Eric Holtzclaw--Lean Forward

    Want to read more from Eric? Click here.


    3. Let 'em rock!

    We believe in fun so much, we recently added "Our work is fun" as a core value at Likeable Local. We like to make noise--a large gong in the middle of the sales pit rings each time we add a new customer, and at 5:00 pm each day, we celebrate our successes with a "Moment of Rock." Fun is hard to systematize, but through emphasizing its importance in our core values, culture, and talent, you can ensure that a fun office prevails. Dave Kerpen--Likeable Leadership

    Want to read more from Dave? Click here.


    3. Let the people decide.

    While research indicates that employees who have fun at work are generally happier and more productive, be careful: recent studies also show that fun activities imposed by management can actually decrease performance. Long story short, the best fun activities in the workplace are those developed and implemented by employees themselves--not by their bosses. In my first 9-to-5 job after graduating from college, my team made work fun in a variety of different ways, including giving out an award for the employee who processed the most purchase orders in a week, along with an award for the weirdest item purchased. (I once won that award for purchasing a pool cover for the President's vacation retreat at Camp David.) When it comes to fun, let your people take the lead, and support them when they ask for it. Peter Economy--The Management Guy

    Want to read more from Peter? Click here.


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  • What is getting in the way of you getting things done?

    One of my long-standing clients, National Motor Club, is a provider of roadside assistance and other safety and security benefits for its members. Soon after Matt Krzysiak was promoted to CEO, he showed leadership courage by rolling out an initiative called “the dumb things we do.”

    It was a lighthearted, nonthreatening way to uncover goofy policies and inefficient processes that chipped away at customer loyalty, profit margins, and employee engagement. Over the course of a week, employees submitted short descriptions of any activities they felt did not add value and should be stopped or changed. All the feedback was compiled into a single list.

    Krzysiak shared the list with the entire company--with an open mind, no judgment, and lots of laughs--to reinforce his team’s courage in revealing these issues. Then he involved the employees in fixing or stopping the “dumb things we do.”

    My clients’ stop doing lists tend to cluster into three main areas: email, reports, and meetings. Here is a list of the most common things they choose to stop:

    1. Stop continuing email strings of more than three replies by picking up the phone or walking down the hall to talk to the other party.

    2. Stop audible email alerts to prevent from constantly reacting to incoming emails.

    3. Stop using “Reply All” with email.

    4. Stop asking for reports that I do not use to make decisions and improvements.

    5. Stop requesting reports that I do not review or do not use to make decisions/changes.

    6. Stop allowing upward delegation by asking “What do you recommend?”

    7. Stop holding “meetings after the meetings.”

    8. Stop leaving most important items for last.

    9. Stop scheduling meetings back-to-back each hour and instead schedule them for 45 minutes.

    Stop these nine activities today and start winning tomorrow.

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  • Most new products fail. Here are three ways to you can capture customers' hearts--and wallets.

    An estimated 75 percent of new products earn less than $7.5 million in their first year. How can you make sure yours is not in this woeful heap?

    Information Resources, Inc. (IRI) recently analyzed 190,000 CPGs introduced in 2013 to identify the clear winners, and found that each had its innovation origins inspired by "understanding the deep context of consumer attitudes, usage and shopping habits." Across the broad spectrum of CPG categories--food and beverage, household health and beauty, and convenience items--three factors emerged as key. In order to inspire early adopters to become repeat customers and spread the word to family and friends, new products must meet critical expectations that using them gives consumers results that are fun, fast, and functional.

    Here are some tips to make your product a must-have for consumers.

    1. Make your product fun.

    Who would have thought a healthy product like yogurt could spawn billionaires (think Chobani)? It all comes down to the success of marketing your product as fun and as the “it” product of the moment.

    Take Müller Yogurt efforts. Pepsico/Quaker Oats introduced the product to the US market in 2012-2013 and made nearly $100 million in first-year sales by combining the traditional function of yogurt as a healthful fast food with a concept of fun. Its quirky European spelling is the first element of fun, and Müller’s innovative compartmentalized packaging gives consumers of choice of whimsical mix-ins such as crispy crunch and choco balls. Müller literally turned the yogurt package upside down with its additional offering of FrütUp flavors--yogurt cups with mousse-like fruit right on top, where consumers can smell and taste it right away.

    So when you look at your product line and how to market, think of how to apply the fun factor to get an added sales boost.

    2. Make your product easy to use.

    According to IRI, consumers embrace household products that save time and money with innovative packaging: "a strong majority of 2013 home care innovation winners, 82 percent, make it easier to get household chores done. Fifty-five percent of winners make home care more convenient."

    Far and away the most successful trend in this category has been the introduction of pre-measured cleansing agents for the laundry and the kitchen. Tide, ARM & HAMMER, and Purex all offered a version of a toss-in dose of detergent that eliminates the need for measuring and the mess of dripping laundry liquid. The same pod technology has taken the dishwasher detergent market by storm. This new technology also racked up some $325 million in sales for Proctor & Gamble’s Tide Pods.

    Same product, different packaging. That should be a no brainer when you look across your product line and think of ways to make customers experience easier.

    3. Make your product multi-purpose.

    Last year's successful products delivered on their promises to consumers. The most successful ones delivered on multiple promises. In the huge (14 percent) market segment of health and beauty products, consumers look for items that save them time and money by giving them professional results from in-home preparations that condense multi-step procedures into one.

    One such family of products, Proctor & Gamble's Pantene Age Defy hair treatments, had Good Housekeeping testers singing its praises: "We were certainly impressed--Age Defy shampoo/conditioner or shampoo/deep conditioner gave some of the best results we've ever seen." Evidently consumers agree. Reports Procter & Gamble: "Pantene Expert Collection Age Defy Advanced Thickening Treatment launched in North America in January 2013 at a premium price and is already the #1 treatment in the Salon Inspired segment of the Hair Care category."

    Why was P&G so successful? It was able to convince consumers its product was doing double duty. Think of your roster of products, and see if any can be used in unique ways that the one you are currently pitching.

    You don’t have to radically alter your product line to get great sales--take a look at your current line-up and see how a more fun marketing approach, ease of use and multi-purpose approach can change the way you sell the product to customers. Sales are sure to follow.



  • Automattic founder Matt Mullenweg was always reluctant to grow his staff, even as more and more people were using his WordPress.com software. Here's what changed his mind.



  • At a recent conference, Stanford's Bob Sutton explained what he thinks are the most important ways a team can achieve balance.

    When it comes to your outlook on your long-term business success, is it better to be an optimist or a pessimist? Researchers have long studied this question.

    "The answer is sort of 'yes,'" Bob Sutton, a Stanford University professor of management and science engineering, said. He spoke Tuesday at Office Optional, a San Francisco-based event focused on remote working strategies that drew about 500 attendees.

    "People who are good at scaling and long-term planning in general have a really weird combination of optimism and pessimism," Sutton said. Take Steve Jobs who had a grand vision for the way that Apple products would change millions of lives. Yet Jobs fretted on a daily basis over how to get the smallest product details right.

    "The best kinds of people -- and it's very important for scaling and anything that you're doing -- are what I would call 'happy worriers,'" Sutton said.

    Granted, not everyone naturally maintains such a balanced disposition. That's why Sutton advised assembling a well-balanced team. If you have an employee who is unreasonably worried about everything, make sure he's paired up with someone who's impossibly optimistic.

    Happy Warriors

    Toward the end of his talk, Sutton fielded questions from viewers watching the livestream and using a chat tool to send in questions. One person wanted Sutton to clarify if he had said "happy worriers" or "happy warriors."

    "I said 'happy worriers,' but 'happy warriors' are good, too. So let's talk about happy warriors," Sutton said. "When it comes to creative work, one of the most important things you can do is learn how to fight."

    Sutton said past research has shown that the best creative teams are skilled at fighting productively. They know which conflicts are worth battling over, and they know when to stop fighting in order to join hands and get something done.

    Intel is perhaps the company best-known for cultivating this skill in its employees. There, workers are actually trained in "constructive confrontation," Sutton said.

    "Having taught at Stanford now for 30 years … one of the things I think that we're failing even in our elite education -- and we're failing at Stanford although we're trying -- is teaching people to fight constructively," Sutton said. "And to me it's really an important thing."



  • Twitter is beginning to look a lot like Pinterest. See how the site's new look can help you raise your brand's profile.

    The new Twitter profiles are finally here--and boy, do they look a lot like Pinterest. They retained a bit of the old Twitter flavor, but look admittedly splashier with all those big photos and media embeds. Here's a quick primer for the uninitiated, or those, who like me, rarely visit their profile page unless they're changing their photo. As an aside, anyone can switch to the new design as of April 22.

    A New You

    Want your brand to be larger than life? You got it. The new profile makes everything big, from the profile picture to the full-width header to the tweets themselves. Tweets get larger the more users engage with them, so don't be surprised if you're squinting to read some of the tweets that never gained traction. Most notably, the profile picture appears at the top left, along with other pertinent info such as your handle, bio, and when you signed up. Much in the way Facebook flaunts the date you joined, Twitter wants users to build up a habit that goes beyond the here and now, or just musing on news.

    The Big Picture

    Pictures are everything on the new profile page, which means you'll have more than one opportunity to showcase your brand. (It also means you may want to do a little spring cleaning and delete anything you don't want your customers to see.) Photos appear right underneath your profile info, while a menu bar under your header allows visitors to peruse your following, followers, favorites, and lists, if they're public. Use the full header to show off your brand's logo or what you stand for.

    Self-Promotion

    Perhaps the most exciting addition to the roster of features is the ability to pin a tweet. Click on the little more menu in every tweet (a.k.a. those three dots), and select "Pin to your profile page" to make it happen. Everyone will see that tweet first when they come to your page, although you may want to keep this one updated, lest it go stale.



  • Here's why marketers have come to value native ads.

    In light of some recent promising figures, marketers have increasingly invested in native advertising. More than half of consumers who click on native ads do so with the intention of purchasing something, compared with just 34 percent who click on banner ads. MDG Advertising created the infographic below to provide a snap shot of the state of native advertising today -- and where it's headed.



  • By the time you try to give them raises, they're already out the door. If you want to retain your best people, you need to start much sooner.

    If you're in a war for talent, you've probably read more than you can stand about hiring so-called "Rockstars." About finding the best-of-the-best. About not settling, and all that. And indeed, in my experience as a two-time successful founder/CEO, the No. 1 most important thing you can do is put together a great team. It is absolutely true.

    But the No. 2 most important thing you can do is retain your employees. Today, frictional unemployment for experienced tech engineers, salespeople, marketing stars, and other leads is basically negative, near as I can tell. The country is in a very bifurcated mode, where unemployment in general remains stubborn, but there is unlimited demand for almost all key roles in high-growth companies.

    So when you actually land great employees, especially senior hires, you have to do whatever it takes to retain them.

    I did many things wrong as a CEO in both my startups. But one thing at least quantitatively I did well was retain the team. I tried to copy my old boss, whose motto was Zero Voluntary Attrition. In my first startup, not a single person left. In my second, I only lost one person that I really wanted to keep. You will lose some pure startup people once things scale up. But after that, I lost no one that we needed to keep but one.

    Now I'm not saying it was all roses. Some of my employees could barely stand me at times. Others needed to find a way to change or modify their roles. And--importantly--a number of the best folks on my teams almost left. They came very close. But they didn't leave.

    So, how did I keep them? Here are my key learnings:

    1. By the time you give them a raise, it's too late. They're already out the door.

    You have to get compensation right, as best you can, all the time. These days, anyone good is going to get a raise to move--and maybe a signing bonus on top of that.

    The thing is--you can't counter. It's too late by that point. Once they tell you they have another offer they're already out the door. A raise won't do it at this point, at least not for the good ones.

    2. Always pay market or above as soon as you can afford it. At least for the great ones.

    The other night I was at an event with a number of other CEO founders. One CEO told me the story of how he lost a top up-and-coming engineer, who was making a five-figure salary, to a real boring company that doubled her salary. That boring company had to. How else can a boring company steal a star engineer from a hot startup? The answer is: lots of money.

    My point here is this seasoned engineer should not have had a five-figure salary, even if it made sense in a historical context (she had joined as a very junior person, consistent with prior salary). Pay market, or above, as soon as you can. It's a sign of respect. And most of the best ones won't ask. They'll just eventually get frustrated and leave.

    3. It's probably not too late when they interview. So be paranoid--and intervene.

    There are some very tell-tell signs of someone interviewing. They may be out of the office at weird hours. They may be talking on their mobile phone on the sidewalk or in the parking garage and move away from you if you approach them to say hello. You can also see signs of frustration in their posts on Twitter, or in new connections on LinkedIn.

    Now by the time they take another job, it's too late. Even if a raise would work then, which it won't, the relationship is damaged at that point anyway.

    But it isn't necessarily too late when they start to interview. It may be, in its own way, a plea of exasperation as much as anything else. If you can fix whatever is at issue, you can usually keep him or her.

    4. Find a growth path for everyone, especially the great ones.

    You have to find a growth path for the great ones. The great ones will join your company to grow, to learn, to do new things. If they can't grow, they die a little every day. It's your job to understand the career path for all your key employees. And do whatever you can, within the boundaries of reality, to help them achieve it.

    5. Talk to people. Get real feedback at least once a quarter.

    Formal, annual reviews don't work, at least not to combat turnover. You need to meet one-on-one, in an unstructured way, with all your best people--at least once a quarter. Quietly. And ask them what's frustrating them about their job. What they want to be doing--but aren't getting to do. Be friendly--but blunt. You need to learn. Get it out of them.

    You may think if you have drinks together, or socialize together, that you'll know if they're happy. But you won't. Even if people complain in those contexts, it will be general complaints. You won't learn, or know, what your top people need to find their growth path at your company. Where they feel stalled out and frustrated. You have to ask.

    These are just some ideas that have worked well for me, at my companies.

    Because there's absolutely, positively, nothing worse when you're trying to grow quickly than losing a rockstar employee that you could have kept. It just kills you. Later, when you have hundreds of employees, and tens of millions of dollars in revenues, well, you sort of can swap people out, at some level. Including maybe even yourself. Everyone should be redundant at that scale or you've failed as CEO. But until then, every key player is critical.

    If nothing else, treat retaining your top troops at least as seriously as you do recruiting them. And whatever you do, don't ignore the ones that don't complain.



  • America Online co-founder Steve Case answers questions about startups, impact investing, and all those free AOL CDs.

    Reddit’s Ask-Me-Anything with AOL co-founder Steve Case got off to an interesting start, when a questioner said that, at age 15, he had become the target of a federal investigation after he hacked into Steve Case’s online accounts in an attempt to impersonate him. The questioner then took the opportunity to apologize to Case.

    "Yikes!" replied Case. "Well, I'm glad you got this off your chest! :)" Case went on to say that when he first met Mark Zuckerberg, Zuckerberg told him he had learned how to program by hacking AOL's instant messenger service, AIM. "Thankfully," said Case, "rather than focusing on bring[ing] AOL down, he shifted to build Facebook up!"

    The rest of the AMA was wide-ranging, with Case giving relentlessly positive answers to a variety of questions and quite possibly blowing through his entire monthly quota of exclamation points. A number of entrepreneurs asked how to get the attention of Case as an investor, but Case seemed to prefer questions related to his mission with UP Global, a non-profit that aims to empower startup community leaders and entrepreneurs. Here are some of the highlights:

    Advice for entrepreneurs looking to build "100 year" companies: Case compared companies "built to last" with companies "built to flip," saying, "I hope over time more entrepreneurs will … focus on revolutionizing learning or health care or energy or transportation. These are big challenges--and frankly harder challenges--that will require more patience and more partnerships and often more engagements with governments--but ultimately have the potential to have a broader impact on society … So swing for the fences!"

    On the Internet’s role in politics: "We need to use the Internet to rebuild a sensible center in politics. About 30 percent of people say they are Democrats and another 30 percent say they are Republicans. The other 40 percent are independent and want less noise and more compromise. But their voices don’t get heard. We need this "silent majority" to rise up, and the Internet can play a role."

    Advice for recent graduates: "It is going to be more common to jump sectors--maybe starting in business, then going to a nonprofit, or vice versa. So the key is to remain curious, always be learning, and meeting new people. By exposing yourself to people and ideas you maximize the likelihood of bumping into an idea or an opportunity that can change your life--and perhaps also change the world!"

    On the minimum wage: "I lean toward supporting an increase in the minimum wage but I think it is even more important that we take steps to rebuild the idea of the American dream which includes giving people the tools to create better lives."

    On B Corps and investing for social impact: "I'm a fan of B Corps. I think a growing generation of entrepreneurs and investors want to think out of the box and rather than just be focused on profit [or purpose] they'll want to pursue hybrid models. … We believe impact investing is at a tipping point…. Just as we saw startups and venture capital develop over the past fifty years, we think we'll see social enterprises and impact investing develop over the next fifty years."

    "Those discs AOL would send in the mail were so damn annoying:" "Yeah, I know, they were annoying to some, maybe for many. But we also provided a lot of people with a lot of free discs to use for other purposes! And we did help get America online, which was the idea."

    Click for the entire text of the Ask-Me-Anything with Steve Case.



  • What's Trending's Shira Lazar talks to Ben Huh, CEO of the Cheezburger Network, about how his company has evolved with web's demographic trends.



  • You had a great year. Profits are up. But where's the cash to pay the tax bill?

    "I don't get it. You tell me I owe more taxes because I made more last year. So where's my cash?"

    I hear this from my clients all the time. And apparently, it's not just my clients who have this issue.

    A recent Spark Business OmniPulse Survey conducted by Research Now found that only 41 percent of small business owners feel confident that they are maximizing their tax benefits this year. So this is part of the problem. But there are other explanations for why you don't have as much cash to pay your taxes as you thought you did. And no, it's not President Obama's fault. It's not (entirely) due to rising taxes rates, less available deductions and sales taxes.

    So why do you owe taxes when there's no money in the bank? Here are seven all-too-familiar reasons.

    1. You took money out of the business.

    Oh yes you did. Remember? You took a distribution early in the year to pay for that new kitchen upgrade in your home. You took another distribution in the fall to take care of your kid's college bill. And during the year you sneaked out a few bucks through petty cash for "walking around money." None of this is illegal. We all do it. But know that the cash you took was not recorded as an expense on your income statement. It was just a distribution. So your income stayed up, but cash went down.

    2. You bought capital items.

    During the year you bought a few pieces of equipment on sale. You got new computers and tablets for the sales people. You put on a new roof. It's all good and necessary. Except these aren't expenses. They're capital items. The payments went on your balance sheet, not your income statement. You get to take depreciation, of course. But that's spread over a few years, so you're only showing a fraction of the payment you made as a deduction. Even so, the money went out.

    3. You have too much inventory.

    You bought lots of stuff this year. And you intend to sell it. But you haven't yet. It's still sitting there. Not only on your warehouse floor. But on your balance sheet too. So while you wait for the sales to come, the inventory you purchased (and paid for) is a non-deductible expense until it ships.

    4. You have too many receivables and too few payables.

    You know that you're not going to collect that invoice from the firm in Florida who promised payment months ago. You're pretty sure that there are a few other open invoices that are questionable because there were quality problems with the shipment to one customer and another customer had concerns about the service. This happens. And whether you're right or wrong, you're still owed the money. Meanwhile, you're paying your bills, right? You make it a practice to meet your obligations in under 30 days so that you've got a good relationship with your suppliers. And that's a good way to be. But not if you're trying to conserve cash.

    5. You have debt.

    You own your building. That's good. You got it for a great price last year, and now you're paying rent to yourself. But now you've noticed something: Rent is deductible. Mortgage and other debt payments are not. Interest expense is showing up on your income statement. But your principal payment is not. So your cash is going down each time you make that payment. The real estate market might be giving you some benefit. But the IRS isn't.

    6. You're not putting money away for retirement.

    You can take significant deductions if you just make payments into a retirement plan, like an SEP (Single Employer Pension), 4019k) or even an IRA. But you're not doing that. You're concerned that once you make this payment you can't get access to the money until you retire. (That's not entirely true. You can withdraw the money if you're willing to pay a hefty penalty. You may be able to borrow against it too). Making a pension payment not only reduces your income (and your tax bill), but is also akin to paying yourself. You're just moving money from one account to (albeit a more restricted) another account. You need to do more of this in 2014.

    7. You mismanaged your estimated tax payments.

    Last year your accountant told you the minimum quarterly payments to be made during the year, and you did what she said. But these aren't deductible. You, like most business owners, probably file an S-Corp return, which means you had to withdraw cash from the business (like a distribution to yourself) and then personally pay in your estimates. The cash came out. But your current year's earnings did not go down.

    Now what if you did not pay enough in, even if you made your estimates on time? You failed to meet with your accountant during the middle of the year to see if your estimates should be adjusted. You paid a couple of your estimates late, incurring penalties. And your files are mess. You may be one of the 22 percent from the previously mentioned survey who filed for an extension because you needed more time to get everything together. Underpayment, late payments, disorganization ... it all results in more cash outlays than you planned.

    See? You did have a good year last year. You showed profits. But showing profits doesn't always mean you've got the cash left over to pay your taxes. And this past year you were short on the money.

    Now that you have this explanation don't you feel better? Yeah, me neither.



  • Captivating presentations are like stories--they're dramatic and unpredictable. Constructing one isn't as difficult as it sounds.

    Listeners like a vertebrate speech or presentation--a talk with a spine. They dislike gelatinous, invertebrate talks.

    They like all the parts of the speech hanging together, all the ribs connected to the back bone, the knee bone connected to the shin bone.

    Good opening lines ignite interest, solving a problem captures attention, and good conclusions call people to action.

    What are the best ways to organize a speech or presentation, beyond "introduction, body, and conclusion"? How can you make your talks more like stories, more dramatic and less predictable?

    Model Your Talks on Google Earth

    About a year ago I was using the software to look for my childhood home outside Katonah, New York. I caught a glimpse of it from 30,000 feet, then zoomed in and saw my mother’s herb garden at the bottom of the lawn.
    I could tell the image was created in late fall or early winter because part of the lawn was brown: My father planted Zoisa grass in the early 1960s when he was waging war against crabgrass, and Zoisa turns brown in the cold.

    I saw no Jack Russell terriers leaping after tennis balls that my Dad used to smack with a wiffle bat. I only saw a still image, a soundless moment, at a house I knew well.

    It reminded me that filmmakers use wide angles and close-ups to tell their stories. Wide angles create the setting, and close-ups bring us face to face with uncertain human realities.

    Abraham Lincoln did this in the Gettysburg Address. With his first sentence, he invites his audience to gaze at the continent and 87 years of history.

    "Four score and seven years ago," he begins, "Our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation..."
    In one majestic sentence he summarizes national history and the view from the heavens. And then comes the close up. "Now we are engaged in a great Civil War…" With that sentence he locates his audience in time.

    "We are met on a great battlefield of that war." Now he locates us in space, in Gettysburg, PA.

    The President goes on to say that the deeds of the dead cannot be honored by the words of the living, and that we can best honor the fallen with a renewed commitment to the principles of representative democracy.

    Like me looking for my childhood home on Google Earth, Lincoln first fixed his listeners' eyes on the big picture--the wide angle, the arc of history, and the curve of the earth.

    And then he brought to their attention the current conflict, and the bloody field where the bodies lay--zooming in on the problem, and on what needed to be done.

    This is a powerful model for presentations. Start with the big picture, the setting in which the story takes place. Then zoom in on the problem that clamors for a solution, and offer an actionable and evidence-based answer.

    But equally powerful can be the reverse: moving from the close-up to the bigger picture. Locating a vivid and telling detail at the start of your talk can focus the your listeners before you zoom out to provide context and meaning.

    For instance, my wife, Sharon Dennis Wyeth, an author of many childrens' books, often begins her talks with the image of her coming home from school with a piece of paper in her hand, on which she had written B-E-A-U-T-I-F-U-L, the first word she ever wrote. In her story, she gives it to her mother, and her mother puts it on the refrigerator. And then Sharon zooms out, to speak about the importance of nurturing young readers.

    I zoomed out from my childhood home so I could see the wide woods surrounding the house--the woods where I played with my friends.

    Still there, now owned by the Nature Conservancy, I saw the canopy of bare branches that shadowed the ruins of our forts, where we fought battles with each other, and went home for supper when it got dark.

    From a distance of 50 years, and after a close look at the lawn and garden, I have to say I was a lucky boy.



  • Do you always have to be in control? Do you hate having emotions? Take a look in the mirror, you might be one.

    You're more likely to find a narcissist in the c-suite than on the street, research suggests.

    This is because the traits that make narcissists so difficult to hang out with or date--including a constant need for validation, a willingness to control people, a ruthlessness in getting their needs met--happen to make them super effective at rising up the ranks.

    To help you figure out if you (or perhaps your boss) are a narcissist, we combed through the psychology literature looking for patterns of narcissistic behavior.

    Here's what we found:

    You enjoy leading others and telling them what to do.

    Narcissists typically enjoy leadership positions since they are able to dominate others and fulfill their need for constant positive reinforcement.

    You are an entertainer.

    "A narcissist monk would not be good, but to be Kanye West and a narcissist is fantastic," said University of Western Sydney psychologist Peter Jonason, an expert on social psychology.

    You hate having to feel emotions.

    The "very fact of having a feeling in the presence of another person suggests you can be touched emotionally by friends, family, partners, and even the occasional tragedy or failure," says Harvard Medical School psychologist Craig Malkin.

    That's why narcissists abhor them.

    Feeling an emotion "challenges their sense of perfect autonomy," he continues. "To admit to a feeling of any kind suggests they can be affected by someone or something outside of them."

    As a result, narcissists tend to change the topic of conversation when feelings come up--especially their own.

    You are likely young and male.

    After 34,653 face-to-face interviews, psychologist Frederick Stinson found that men tend to be more narcissistic than women across their lifespans.

    Narcissism is believed to peak during adolescence and decline with age.

    You are regarded as attractive and dress better than other people.

    Narcissists are generally rated as more stylish and physically attractive, according to a study conducted by Simine Vazire, a psychologist at Washington University.

    You really like to swear at people.

    Psychologists Nicholas Holtzman and Michael Strube from Washington University in St. Louis found in a study that subjects who scored higher in narcissism are argumentative and curse more than their modest counterparts.

    They also tend to use more sexually explicit language.

    Instead of listening, you just wait to speak.

    Anita Vangelisti, a psychologist at the University of Texas in Austin found that narcissists typically prefer to keep the conversation centered around themselves "making exaggerated hand movements, talking loudly, and showing disinterest by 'glazing over' when others speak."

    You cheat in relationships.

    Psychologists Joshua Foster at the University of South Alabama and W. Keith Campbell at the University of Georgia found that narcissists are more likely to cheat once they think their partners are committed.

    They also seem to get a rush out of convincing others to engage in promiscuous sexual acts that they normally do not participate in.

    People dump you after you've been dating for about four months.

    Through his research, Campbell found that the four-month mark--the apparent satisfaction peak in any dating relationship--is typically how long it takes for someone dating a narcissist to see their true colors.

    You put some people on pedestals.

    Malkin says the logic goes like this: "If I find someone perfect to be close to, maybe some of their perfection will rub off on me, and I'll become perfect by association." With that ideal in mind, narcissists cozy up to people they find perfect--be it a colleague or a crush--and then get really disappointed when that person isn't as impeccable as they imagined.

    Because for a narcissist, everything has to be perfect.

    You like to put other people down.

    Narcissistic people intentionally put down others in order to maintain a high positive image of themselves.

    "Seeking admiration is like a drug for narcissists," said Mitja D. Back, a psychologist at Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany. "In the long run it becomes difficult because others won't applaud them, so they always have to search for new acquaintances from whom they get the next fix."

    This also explains why narcissists typically maintain only weak relationships.

    Your parents ignored and adored you.

    According to Sigmund Freud, a combination of parental rejection and excessive admiration is more strongly linked to adult narcissism than if one childhood experience consistently existed without the other.

    The inconsistency and whiplash of the parent's attitude towards their children will eventually cause for a "deep craving for admiration" and lead the narcissistic to lead a life searching for fleeting ego boosts.

    You choose your friends to look cool or take advantage of people.

    Narcissistic men and women have different ways of choosing friends.

    Women choose male friends with high social status so they can feel a sense of worthiness. Dudes choose bros who can "wingman" for them when they're trying to pick up girls.

    If you're not grandiose, then you're introverted, hypersensitive, defensive, and anxious.

    Psychologists talk about the "two faces of narcissism." On one end there's the hyper-aggressive, super-loud Donald Trump type. But there's a softer form of narcissism, too. It's called "covert narcissism," which is denoted by introversion, hypersensitivity, defensiveness, and anxiety.

    "Both shades of narcissism shared a common core of conceit, arrogance, and the tendency to give in to one’s own needs and disregard others," Scientific American reports.

    You always have to be in control.

    Just as narcissists hate to talk about their feelings, "they can't stand to be at the mercy of other people's preferences," Malkin says. "It reminds them that they aren't invulnerable or completely independent--that, in fact, they might have to ask for what they want--and even worse, people may not feel like meeting the request."

    This is why they can be controlling without getting angry. In the case of romantic relationships, narcissists control people with disapproving glances, calls to change plans, and chronic lateness. This allows narcissists to undermine other people's ability to make choices. By doing that, narcissists maintain their sense of total autonomy--which they so desperately need.



  • Email has been around forever, yet few of us know how to send good messages. Here are the top five things you should think about before sending any important business email.

    Business email accounts aren't sexy. They've been in widespread use for decades, and even the services that so many of us use have been around forever. (Gmail turns 10 this month, and Hotmail is going on 18 years old.) Despite a remarkable lack of innovation, however, email is still by far the most popular electronic communications method for business.

    If you're like me, you're probably inundated with new email messages every day, and despite your best intentions, you probably wind up ignoring a big portion of them. That human tendency can present a great opportunity for you, however--whether you're trying to sell products, connect with colleagues, or motivate a team. Since the standard of all the emails around yours is pretty low, writing just a bit better can give you a disproportionately positive impact.

    It is a matter of both email etiquette and best practices.

    Here are five key ways to improve your email etiquette, get your emails read, and spark action.

    1. Keep it short.

    I believe it was Mark Twain who said, "If I'd had more time, I would have written you a shorter email." Regardless, keep your word count low. Just as you keep your tweets under 140 characters, keep your best emails under 150 words. (For comparison's sake, this column runs about 700 words.)

    Here's a master example. If you ever have a complaint about Amazon, you're welcome to email Jeff Bezos directly, at jeff@amazon.com. If he in turn thinks it merits a response, he'll forward it to relevant employees with a single addition--a question mark--which according to author Brad Stone, prompts recipients to "react as though they've discovered a ticking bomb."

    2. Be direct.

    Get to the point. Delete adjectives and adverbs. It's very unnecessary to add many additional words that make your most important emails seem overly lengthy. (See what I mean?) Otherwise, you risk "tl;dr."

    If you can't follow rule No. 1 and keep your emails short, at least include a brief summary at the top, and indicate whatever action is required. (In the Army, we called this a "BLUF" statement--bottom line, upfront.

    3. Reply quickly.

    Last year, Snapchat CEO Even Spiegel tweeted some of the first emails he'd traded with Mark Zuckerberg before turning down a reported $3 billion takeover offer. Most interesting from these is how short and fast these introductory messages were.

    Zuckerberg's first 46-word email came at 6:23 p.m.; Spiegel replied a half hour later with 19 words (plus an emoticon). Zuckerberg replied again with 14 words just three hours later. Even though the deal didn't come together in the end, there's a clear lesson: When something is important, reply fast.

    4. Reread before sending. And do it twice.

    Speaking of emails that weren't supposed to be public, when Steve Jobs died, one of Samsung's top sales executives emailed fellow company leaders to suggest seizing the moment to attack the iPhone. Within a month, they pounced with commercials mocking people who waited in lines for new Apple products.

    While it was a smart strategy, it looks a little skeevy now, which is probably why these emails are marked "Highly Confidential--Attorneys' Eyes Only." You can read them here. The lesson: Reread your emails before sending them--a task that is much easier, of course, if you've kept them short to begin with.

    5. Add the address last.

    You may have noticed that I have a very common name. (I'll wait here while you scroll up and look at the byline on this article.) A few years ago, I was negotiating to buy a company, it turned out that one of the top executives of the target company actually had the same name, with only a middle initial separating us. As a result, some of the people on their side of the deal kept cc'ing me by mistake on confidential emails in which they talked about their negotiating position. (I let them know, but it kept happening.)

    The deal didn't work out, but it led me to learn an important lesson: Make darn sure that you double-check the addressees on any important email you send. Even better, don't address an email until you've finished reading and editing it. There's nothing like accidentally hitting the "send" button too early, and firing off your unfinished thoughts to an important business contact.

    Want to read more, make suggestions, or even be featured in a future column? Contact me and sign up for my weekly email.



  • A little known cognitive bias means managers often dismiss creative ideas that are right under their noses.

    It’s not hard to see that managers value outsiders. Every year, American business no doubt spends billions on consultants. A small army of professionals make their living as hired guns who get paid to sweep into organizations with an outsider’s perspective and shake things up. But does this faith in the newfangled and fresh actually come at a pretty steep cost?

    That’s the suggestion of new research outlined in an interview with Jennifer Mueller of the University of San Diego and Shankar Vedantam, author of The Hidden Brain: How Our Unconscious Minds Elect Presidents, Control Markets, Wage Wars, and Save Our Lives, on NPR recently. The discussion delved into research findings from Mueller’s team that show that managers often miss great ideas that are right under their noses and free for the taking.

    The Allure of the Distant

    The team looked into how the point of origin of an idea affected people’s perception of it. You would hope that whether an innovative idea came from the next cubicle down or a half a world away wouldn’t matter. A good idea is a good idea, after all. But that’s not what the study showed at all.

    "We found that when we told people the idea was generated far away, they rated the idea as significantly more creative than when the idea was generated nearby," Mueller explains in the interview.

    Why are so many managers missing out on great ideas just because they come from familiar sources? It appears how close to something we are influences how we think about it--things that are familiar get examined in a detailed way, while distant things are thought of more abstractly. "Most creative ideas are risky, and the risks are obvious when you look at the details. So when you think about it with this detail-oriented mindset, you're more likely to shoot the idea down," Vedantam says.

    No More Missed Ideas?

    For employees, this could possibly be among the most annoying research ever (right up there with findings that show while managers say they value innovation, they actually find it annoying and scary). And sadly, the interview is light on ideas about how to counteract this frustrating bias, though Vedantam does joke that it might pay to call your boss with your great idea and tell him you’re telephoning from Antarctica.

    For bosses, too, the takeaways aren’t crystal clear. You can’t excavate unconscious biases like this out of your skull, but you can make yourself more aware of the fact that your knee-jerk reaction to ideas from in-house employees is likely to be unfairly tilted towards the negative in order to compensate for the tendency (and push yourself think twice before calling in that consultant). The interview also suggests that attempting to think about any ideas that come to you in a big-picture, abstract way initially can help you from dismissing them prematurely.

    Do these findings line up with your experience? Let us know in the comments.







  • High tech's favorite pundit weighs in on entrepreneurs, tweeting, and why William Shatner is his role model.

    Social media is more than just a way to communicate; it's an art form. Twitter, for example, forces people to encapsulate a thought in such a way that it piques the reader's interest and hopefully causes the reader to pass the tweet along.

    Like 1.4 million others, I've been following the intriguing and often surprising Twitter feed of Guy Kawasaki (@GuyKawasaki), so I wasn't surprised when he won a Shorty award--the social media equivalent of an Oscar.

    To put the prestige of the award into perspective, winners this year included Aaron Paul (Jessie on Breaking Bad) and Jerry Seinfeld.

    I've interviewed Kawasaki in the past, but this time I asked him about his use of social media as well as his advice for entrepreneurs (which contains a couple of real gems). Here is our (tweet-like) interchange:

    What's the most common mistake that entrepreneurs make when trying to create a great company?

    They scale too fast because they "know" that their rockstar engineers will deliver a "revolutionary" product on time and that people will love it. They're usually wrong on at least one of these assumptions, so they burn cash too fast.

    What do they most frequently get right?

    There are three basic factors in a startup: people, market, and technology. Hardly anyone gets all three. A lucky few get two. Most get one or none. That's the nature of the game. Every company is different.

    Many of your tweets are not about business per se. Which non-business tweets won the most retweets? Why do you think that is?

    The more I use Twitter, the less I think I know. My tweets are peripatetic if not random. The commonality that I hope they all share is that they are interesting enough to be retweeted. My editorial goal is that someone will retweet everything I post.

    A number of previous Shorty award honorees come from the world of Star Trek, so I'm going to guess that you're familiar with the genre. Kirk or Picard: who's the better boss and why?

    Not really a Trekie, but I love William Shatner for what he portrayed in Boston Legal. He strikes me as a person who doesn't give a shiitake what people think of him at this point in his life. He is my role model in this way.

    Is there any chance whatsoever that you'll tweet my new book "Business Without the Bullsh*t" when it comes out on May 13?

    Sure, if it's good!

    Like this post? If so, sign up for the free Sales Source newsletter.



  • Want to streamline your social-media functions? Want to know more about your followers, your competition, and your customers? Want to attract more customers? Try a few of these.

    I know a little about social-media tools, like how to get more leads and referrals on LinkedIn, how to find awesome LinkedIn groups, how to optimize your LinkedIn profile so other people can more easily find you, and how some people use the power of LinkedIn to irritate the living crap out of others.

    But since my knowledge tends to be mainly LinkedIn focused, that means I don't know a lot about the myriad of social-media tools available for businesses.

    So I asked for help, and Kevan Lee of Buffer, the tool that lets you schedule, automate, and analyze social-media updates, rode to my rescue.

    He's tested over 100 different tools and narrowed the field to the 60 he likes best. The list is broken down into categories: Twitter tools, Facebook tools, analytics tools, visual-content tools, monitoring tools, content tools, WordPress tools, and miscellaneous tools, so feel free to jump ahead to the sections you're most interested in.

    Here's Kevan's reasoning: "Banana Republic and Susan's Neighborhood Shirt Shop could be using the same social networks--Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, etc.--but their marketing plans and their marketing tools are likely quite different. Enterprise solutions are great for the big guys, but the rest of us are in the market for something more our size.

    "Small businesses are eager to find valuable tools that take a lot of the time and trouble out of social-media marketing and that do so without costing an arm and a leg. Hopefully you find one or two here you can use in your marketing that will produce big results."

    Here's Kevan's list:

    Dashboards & Management Tools

    SocialBro

    A complete Twitter management tool (that also comes complete with Buffer integration), SocialBro can tell you everything you want to know about your Twitter account: community information, analytics on all your posts, and much, much more. There's a 15-day free trial to test out all the features.

    Put it to use: The community insights are fascinating, and there's real value to be gained from the tweet analytics that show which posts got the most engagement, and when.

    Tweetdeck

    Now owned by Twitter, Tweetdeck is one of the most popular tools for complete Twitter management. Tweetdeck lets you track, organize, and engage with your followers through a customizable dashboard where you can see at a glance the activity from different lists, followers, hashtags, and more.

    Put it to use: What do you find yourself checking when you go to Twitter? Whatever that is, add it to your Tweetdeck dashboard to see everything in one view. Could be a huge time saver.

    Tweetcaster

    Tweetcaster is a Twitter management tool for iOS and Android devices and provides the basics of what you'd expect from a Twitter dashboard plus a few fun extras: enhanced search and lists, hiding unwanted tweets, and photo effects for your images.

    Put it to use: Keep the app on the first screen of your phone and tablet so you can easily dip in and out of your Twitter streams when time allows.

    Twitter Tools

    Followerwonk

    Followerwonk is one of our favorite ways to analyze and optimize our Twitter accounts at Buffer. With Followerwonk, you can do all sorts of amazingly helpful things, like analyze your Twitter followers, compare different users, and search through bios--all for free. There are even more features--like tracking and sorting your followers--that you can access with a 30-day trial.

    Put it to use: One of our favorite uses of Followerwonk is to take the time-of-day charts and sync to a Buffer account. You can also take a close up look at various stats from the people you follow to see which accounts you could prune because of, say, inactivity.

    Social Rank

    Social Rank identifies your top 10 followers in three specific areas: Best Followers, Most Engaged, and Most Valuable. Your most engaged followers are those who interact with you most often (replies, retweets, and favorites); your most valuable followers are the influential accounts; and your best followers are a combination of the two. Social Rank will run the numbers for free and show you the results today, then follow-up each month with an email report.

    Put it to use: Social Rank can help you hone your Twitter focus so you're aware of followers who might deserve extra attention. You can even place these MVPs onto a specific Twitter list.

    ManageFlitter

    For quite a while I read the name of this tool as Manager "Filter," which actually isn't too far off from what ManageFlitter does. The Twitter tool helps you filter whom you follow and easily unfollow, say, those who don't follow you back, who've never changed their profile photos, and who are inactive.

    Put it to use: You can batch select groups of inactive or non-following users in order to give yourself a better following count (and closer to a golden ratio).

    Must Be Present

    Built by the team at Sprout Social, Must Be Present searches your Twitter account to find how quickly you respond to mentions. Their engagement reports place you in a percentile based on other accounts so you can see how you stack up to the speed of others.

    Put it to use: Set goals for response time on Twitter and use Must Be Present to track them. Aim for a certain percentile or a particular average response time.

    Tweriod

    Find out when you'll receive the most exposure for your tweets by letting Tweriod analyze your account. A Tweriod reports breaks your account down into daily and hourly windows when you can expect the highest engagement.

    Put it to use: If you use social-media scheduling apps for your automation, it goes without saying to share at optimal times. Use your Tweriod insights to check your scheduling or plan your social-media drive-bys for those times.

    Tweepi

    Tweepi has a number of useful Twitter features, many of which fall into a couple categories: managing your followers and supercharging who you're following. For management, you can unfollow in batches those who don't follow you back, and you can bulk follow another account's complete list of followers or who they're following.

    Put it to use: Try the cleanup section to bulk edit your connections on Twitter.

    Tweet4me

    To schedule tweets from any app, simply ask Tweet4me to do it for you. Once you're signed up, you can send a direct message that contains a certain prefix containing information on when and what to post.

    Put it to use: If you find yourself double-booked and needing to post to Twitter in 30 minutes, Tweet4Me could be your saving grace.

    Commun.it

    Commun.it can help you organize, increase, and manage your followers, and can do so across multiple accounts and profiles. At a glance you can see different aspects of your community management, like the latest tweets from your stream and which new followers might appreciate a welcome message.

    Put it to use: Keep on top of whom you should follow by listening to Commun.it's advice on the most influential accounts around your brand.

    Twtrland

    Twtrland provides a snapshot of your Twitter profile and can even track Facebook and Instagram as well. Two of Twtrland's most helpful tools are a live count of how many followers are currently online and advanced search functionality that includes keywords, locations, and companies.

    Put it to use: Local companies can perform a location search to see which area accounts are most popular and potentially worth following.

    NeedTagger

    A super-powered Twitter search tool, NeedTagger runs language filters and keyword searches to determine which Twitter users might need your products or services. The tool shows you real-time search results and sends a daily email digest of new finds.

    Put it to use: Build a Twitter list of potential customers so you can learn and understand their needs and how they communicate.

    Tweeter Spy

    The click tracking at Tweeter Spy can determine which tweets result in the most traffic back to your site. To install it, you'll need to insert a line of code on your website.

    Put it to use: Tweeter Spy has a neat feature that allows you to "Say Thanks" (with a tweet) to Twitter profiles who refer big traffic to your site.

    Twitter Feed

    For those looking to feed an RSS of a blog straight to Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn profiles, Twitter Feed has you covered. Simply enter your feed, connect your social accounts, and send your posts complete with tracking tools for follow-up.

    Put it to use: If you have feeds for separate categories on your blog, you can set up Twitter Feed to blast only particular content, such as product announcements or featured content.

    TweetReach

    This Twitter tool shows you the reach and exposure of the tweets you send, collecting data on who retweets you and the influence of each.

    Put it to use: Identify which of your tweets has spread the furthest (and why) and then try to repeat the formula with future tweets.

    Twazzup

    Twazzup offers real-time monitoring and analytics for Twitter on any name, keyword, or hashtag you choose. The Twazzup results page delivers interesting insights like the top influencers for your keyword and which top links are associated with your search.

    Put it to use: You can track your first and last name to see what is said about you outside of direct @-replies. You might be particularly interested to peek at the links and influencers associated with your name.

    Topsy

    Topsy is as a powerful search engine for Twitter content. Want to know how a certain term is being used on Twitter? You can search links, tweets, photos, videos, and influencers.

    Put it to use: See how often your blog is being linked to on Twitter. Type in "site:yourdomain.com" and you can see how many tweets have included links back to your website.

    Facebook Tools

    LikeAlyzer

    What changes should you make to your Facebook page? LikeAlyzer will tell you. This Facebook analysis tool comes up with stats and insights into your page and begins every report with a list of recommendations.

    Put it to use: Keep track of where yours stands compared to other pages by following the comparison to average page rank, industry-specific page rank, and rank of similar brands.

    Fanpage Karma

    Fanpage Karma shows a variety of valuable information related to your Facebook page, such as growth, engagement, service and response time, and of course Karma (a weighted engagement value).

    Put it to use: FanKarma also provides insight into Twitter and YouTube; the latter could be particularly valuable if you're creating a video marketing strategy.

    Wolfram Alpha Facebook Report

    The knowledge engine of Wolfram Alpha has a neat tool to analyze your Facebook profile. Their Facebook report (a free feature with any Wolfram account) is incredibly detailed--everything from the content you share to the relationship status pie charts of your friends.

    Put it to use: See at a glance how your profile updates are received. If you use your personal Facebook for marketing your business, you can optimize the type of content you share to your profile.

    Facebook Custom Audiences

    If you're advertising on Facebook you can use a handy, built-in tool to cater to a specific audience of your choosing by telling Facebook whom to target. Upload an Excel file or link directly to your MailChimp lists. Facebook will create a custom audience based on which of your contacts are on Facebook. This feature can be added by clicking on the Audiences link inside Facebook's Ads Manager.

    Put it to use: Create custom campaigns that target a list of leads or customers. You can be extremely specific with ads, since the demographic already has a familiarity with your brand. (Facebook recommends that audience sizes be at least 1,000 people so that your ad dollars are well spent.)

    Social Media Analytics Tools

    Rival IQ

    Ever wonder what your competition is up to? Rival IQ tracks a list of brands of your choosing and monitors their activity on Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, LinkedIn, and even SEO. Your free 14-day trial gives you full access to competitor tracking and the dashboards for each of the different networks and search factors.

    Put it to use: Rival IQ provides insight into the competition but also insight into an industry as a whole. For instance, learn from the "Day of the Week" chart when content from your industry is most likely to go viral.

    Buzz Sumo

    Curious what the most popular content is on any given topic or website? Buzz Sumo has this covered with a search tool that tracks content and ranks according to shares on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google Plus, and Pinterest.

    Put it to use: With Buzz Sumo you can use the insights to steer the content you create and share on social media, learn how to craft headlines, and determine the types of content each network is most interested in.

    Klout

    Klout is one of the more-well known tools on this list. It collects information on a person's various social profiles to come up with a popularity score of 1 to 100 and then lets you follow your score over time as it ebbs and flows.

    Put it to use: The site has added quite a bit of functionality beyond Klout scores. You can now track topics, view content suggestions, and post straight to your connected social profiles.

    SharedCount

    There will be times when you'll need or want to know how popular your content is (like perhaps in a weekly metrics report.) SharedCount quickly shows how far and wide a piece of content spread.

    Put it to use: Click over to SharedCount's multi-URL dashboard to see a table of multiple URLs for a week's worth of content.

    Google URL Builder

    If you're dabbling in advanced campaign tracking, you've likely read about UTM tracking codes in links. A UTM code is basically extra characters at the end of a link that help flesh out your analytics reports, showing you where your traffic came from and what campaigns they are associated with. URL Builder is a free tool that creates UTMs for you.

    Put it to use: Add a UTM tracking to all links that are associated with a single marketing push so you can better measure the impact and ROI from a particular event.

    Visual Content Tools

    Infogr.am

    Infogr.am helps you build sparkling infographics by entering information directly into the Infogram spreadsheets built into the editor. Standard features are there, too, like design templates and a full design editor.

    Put it to use: Visualize a monthly report for your business and share this on social media. You'll get the boost of visual content plus transparency.

    Piktochart

    Piktochart is a free-to-try infographic creator with a full editor and themes to turn your data into a work of art.

    Put it to use: The next time you have overly complicated (or lengthy) numbers to share, try putting them into a visual design.

    Visually

    If you'd like an extra hand creating visual content such as infographics and charts, you can hit the Visually marketplace and find professionals to do the work for you. Visually specializes in infographics, videos, interactives, and presentations.

    Put it to use: While prices are relatively low, it's still an investment (infographics start at $1,000, for example.) Save your Visually needs for a rainy day and then make a big splash with a feature announcement video or a presentation for investors.

    Canva

    There's a lot to love about Canva. This graphic-design app has an incredibly intuitive drag-and-drop interface, and the tooltips and templates make it ideal for beginner designers. Everything is free unless you choose to use an image from Canva's library of stock photos.

    Put it to use: One of Canva's default templates is a Pinterest graphic that comes premade with optimal size for a pin (735 pixels wide by 1102 pixels tall.)

    Compfight

    A tool we use regularly on the Buffer blog, Compfight is our source for creative commons images to accompany our content. For social-media posts, images like these can be great additions to a visual-content strategy (just be sure to give credit where credit is due--each Compfight picture comes with attribution.)

    Put it to use: Build a small library of free-to-use photos for upcoming social sharing. Sometimes you may come across a good image that just doesn't quite fit your needs. Save it for later in your Dropbox or on a private WordPress page.

    BeFunky

    A good graphics program can be a boon to your social-media marketing. BeFunky is one of the best--and easiest--around, with a complete suite of image editing tools for cropping, scaling, filters, text, and more.

    Put it to use: I'm sure you've seen inspirational quotes placed beautifully onto photos. Visual content like this is ideal for social networks, and you can pull it off easily with BeFunky.

    LICEcap

    Who doesn't love GIFs? If your social-media presence is strong on a site like Tumblr or Google Plus then having GIF-making capabilities can come in handy. LICEcap is a downloadable program that creates GIFs from what you see on your screen.

    Put it to use: Create a GIF of your product or service in action so you can share with fans and potential customers.

    Social-Media Monitoring Tools

    Mention

    A good problem to have is when it's difficult to keep track of all the different places you get mentioned on social media. Mention prides itself on "going beyond Google Alerts" to track absolutely anywhere your name or your company might be mentioned online.

    Put it to use: You might be surprised to find out how often people tweet and share your name online without an @-mention (I know I was). When you subscribe to Mention's daily email you get all these wayward hits right in your inbox, and the Web dashboard even flags certain mentions as high priority.

    NutshellMail

    Digests can be a neat way to track your social media metrics, and NutshellMail collects your activity on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter (and even places like Yelp and Foursquare) to provide an email overview of your accounts. You set how often and when you want to receive the recap emails.

    Put it to use: If you have a weekly metrics plan you can have NutshellMail send a message once a week with an overview of your accounts. You can then extract the data and insights straight into your weekly report.

    SocialMention

    As a tracking tool, SocialMention has some neat bonus insights beyond their in-depth keyword tracking. SocialMention tracks areas such as sentiment, passion, reach, and strength to not just tell you what's being said about your search but how those reactions feel.

    Put it to use: While you track your brand or yourself, you can also see how your sentiment changes over time. Are your mentions positive or negative? And how will this change from month to month and week to week?

    Keyhole

    This tracking tool keeps track of your hashtag campaign or keyword on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook with a full dashboard of analytics, demographics, and influencers.

    Put it to use: Start a hashtag around an upcoming event and keep track of the popularity of the tag before, during, and after.

    Social-Media Content Tools

    News.me

    The daily email from News.me contains the top five stories shared by your networks on Twitter and Facebook. (The email is co-branded with Digg.)

    Put it to use: The News.me email arrives every morning, so you can add the email to your social-media workflow. Check what your networks are most interested in and then respond right away.

    Feedly

    Feedly is one of the best RSS services because it does all the basics of RSS well (feed organization, display, etc.) and innovates with some really helpful new features. Plus it works and looks great on any device.

    Put it to use: You can follow any number of relevant blogs and sites in your industry and if you're pressed for time, simply scan Feedly's share counts next to each story or turn on the Featured posts section to quickly pick out the content that is most valuable and shared.

    Pocket

    With Pocket you can grab the content on your social networks and read it later in a stripped down, easy-on-the-eye view.

    Put it to use: Combined with IFTTT or Zapier (see below), you can send favorite stories straight from Pocket to Twitter.

    Paper.li

    Paper.li lets you create a daily newspaper of your favorite tweets and stories to share with your followers.

    Put it to use: Create an industry-specific daily or weekly newspaper, and take advantage of the extra opportunity to connect with and recognize some of your influencers.

    Swayy

    Looking for new content to share? (Aren't we all?) Swayy can be a helpful tool for finding stories based on your interests as determined by what you've shared before. Connect your Twitter or Facebook account for free and Swayy will check your audience for the type of content they might like best and make suggestions.

    Put it to use: Sharing interesting content on social media is a great way to build your authority and expertise on a topic. Customize Swayy's suggested topic matches so that you get only the most accurate suggestions.

    Pie

    Team collaboration on social media can be a very helpful asset when it comes to keeping a queue filled. Pie is designed to make this process as simple as possible since you can collect the great stories you find online and chat about them with your team. There's even a Pie extension that makes it possible to add stories straight from a browser.

    Put it to use: Collect the cool stories you find online, and use feedback from your co-workers to decide what gets shared to your social accounts. You can make it as simple as a two-like minimum for getting the go-ahead to post.

    Bottlenose Lite

    The free version of Bottlenose's enterprise tool helps you search and discover new content from Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. The tool highlights trending content based on your interests.

    Put it to use: If your brand is big into LinkedIn, this may be a helpful tool for discovering popular content from the network.

    WordPress Plugins

    Digg Digg

    Built by the team at Buffer, the Digg Digg plugin adds a floating share bar to all of your posts so your readers can easily share to Twitter, Facebook, Buffer, and almost 20 more sites.

    Put it to use: If a floating bar isn't your style or doesn't fit with your blog layout, customize the Digg Digg bar to appear fixed at the top or bottom of every post.

    Flare

    Built by the team at Digital Telepathy, Flare is a social share plugin for WordPress sites and part of an overall website-boosting suite of products delivered through the Filament plugin. Filament allows you to drag and drop your social share buttons wherever you'd like on your site.

    Put it to use: Find the place that makes the most sense for your share buttons--sidebar, header, footer, etc.--and fix it up easily.

    Ivy

    Another part of Digital Telepathy's Filament plugin is Ivy, a simple tool that allows your website visitors to highlight any passage of text and share directly to Twitter, Facebook, or email.

    Put it to use: Ideally your visitors will be the ones putting this tool to use, but you can help them along with a little prodding to "highlight to share."

    "Pin It" Button for Images

    Add a "Pin It" button to all the images on your blog with this free WordPress plugin. Each time a visitor hovers over an image, they'll see a stylized "Pin It" button appear on the image and can share directly to Pinterest.

    Put it to use: If you are hoping to attract more Pinterest shares to your blog, the Pinterest button for images could be a real boon. It's great for blogs with lots of highly visual content.

    Miscellaneous Tools

    FiveHundredPlus

    This tool for LinkedIn connections works as a digital tickle file. Place your contacts into different columns for weekly, monthly, quarterly, or annual reminders to get in touch with your contacts.

    Put it to use: Place your key influencers into a monthly column to make staying regular contact automatic.

    Rapportive

    With Rapportive you can get a heap of information on each of your email contacts, including the social accounts they're connected with and where they are employed. (Currently Rapportive works only with Gmail.)

    Put it to use: When you make a new connection over email, Rapportive can show you how to follow up for connections on their various social networks.

    Bitly

    Shortening a URL on Twitter can be a must as you try to squeeze inside the 140-character limit. Bitly is one of the original link shorteners (and integrated with Buffer, too). If you use Bitly on its own you'll get a full history of the link's performance as well as an overview of all the links you've ever shared.

    Put it to use: You can use Bitly outside of Twitter. Consider cleaning up some long or ugly URLs when you're posting to Facebook, LinkedIn, or Google Plus or even when you're writing an email or e-book.

    Rev

    Rev is a complete transcription and translation service that can help convert audio or English into the format and language you need.

    Put it to use: If you conduct interviews of your customers, use Rev to convert audio to text for easier assimilation into marketing personas or social-media profiles.

    ShareRoot Board Cover Creator

    ShareRoot has a handful of tools for boosting Pinterest engagement, promotion, and measuring. Some tools are inactive or under development, but one that is live now is a Pinterest Board Cover Creator that lets you create images to use as the cover for your different pin boards.

    Put it to use: Build some really awesome Pinterest covers to make your overall page stand out to new visitors.

    Jelly

    An app for iOS and Android, Jelly is billed as a social search engine--you ask questions with photos, maps, and friends and then receive answers from people who know best. For instance, show your location and get recommendations from locals on where to eat.

    Put it to use: Brands can connect on Jelly and then view which of their followers on other social networks are active on the service. This gives brands an extra opportunity to connect and add value where their customers spend their time.

    SteadyDemand's Google Plus Page Audit

    For an overview of the health of your Google Plus page, use SteadyDemand's tool to investigate what's working and what's not. The tool couldn't be simpler: just input the URL of your company's Google Plus page (ours was https://plus.google.com/u/0/+Bufferapp/posts) and then see the report on all your page activity.

    Put it to use: Google Plus insights are much harder to come by than those on Facebook and Twitter, so tools like this can help show you if all your G+ marketing has been worth it.

    Powtoon

    Are videos a part of your social-media marketing plan? If you're anxious to jump into video content, Powtoon can be a free way to test and see if it might work for you. With Powtoon you can create and edit video clips and upload them straight to YouTube.

    Put it to use: Put together a product demo for what you sell and share on social media to give people a visual demonstration of your business.

    CardMunch

    This free iOS app lets you take a picture of a business card, store the information in your contacts, and find the person on LinkedIn. It's great for expos and conferences.

    Put it to use: Scan the business cards of new contacts and quickly see on LinkedIn any connections you have in common.

    IFTTT

    Social is just a small part of what IFTTT can do. The Internet automation app can do everything from texting tomorrow's weather to automatically updating Twitter with your Instagram photos. IFTTT connects with more than 90 channels, including Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram.

    Put it to use: You can sync IFTTT with your Buffer account to schedule things like Buffering each Twitter post you favorite.

    Zapier

    Zapier is a bigger version of IFTTT--more channels to connect but not quite free. You do get to create five free recipes before upgrading, so you can try out Zapier with tools like MailChimp and Disqus and 250 more.

    Put it to use: You can sync your email campaigns with your social accounts, sending links to your campaigns as tweets, posts, or Buffers to all your favorite social places.

    Any of your favorites that weren't included? Share in the comments below!



  • The wine and social media entrepreneur sits down with Inc. Deputy Editor Allison Fass to answer viewer-submitted questions about platforms, strategy, and more.



  • To grow, B2B companies should think of themselves like media properties.



  • Gary Vaynerchuk talks about what lessons small businesses should--and shouldn't--take away from Beyonc's sales strategy.



  • Use Twitter's search function to find conversations where you can add value.



  • In order to make the most of your Facebook following, you need thoughtful content that users will want to share.



  • Gary Vaynerchuk clarifies the true story behind Wine Library's success, including the role of social media.



  • Gary Vaynerchuk offers his advice to aspiring entrepreneurs and their parents.



  • The way to develop a positive reputation on social media is to have the right balance of giving and asking.



  • Gary Vaynerchuk offers up his top strategies for entrepreneurs and small businesses on social media.



  • Some people just have that "it" factor. Here are five things every born leader does every day.

    When you're in the presence of great leaders, you just know it. Their energy is infectious, they inspire with ease, and when they speak about their mission, you want to get involved. Great leadership, however, is not necessarily something you are born with--it's honed over years of experience and fine-tuned by emotional awareness, refined skill, clarity of purpose, and vulnerability.

    I was reminded of these qualities after attending a conference in San Diego earlier this month. The event was run by a movement called conscious capitalism, founded by Whole Foods co-CEO John Mackey and Babson College professor Raj Sisodia as a way to help organizations be more human and conscious about their impact in the world. The all-star lineup included great leaders like Whole Foods co-CEO Walter Robb, JetBlue co-founder and chief people officer Ann Rhoades, and Motley Fool co-CEO Tom Gardner.

    Throughout their presentations, this group addressed--and demonstrated--several key themes of leadership. So if you're looking to emulate their success, keep some of the following in mind:

    1. Treat employees like family. This is not easy. When you think about it, treating your employees like family requires trust--doing anything to insure that their emotional and professional needs are being met. This type of care requires time, a willingness to invest financially in your people, and an ongoing commitment to evolving how that's executed. All of these speakers spoke specifically about how they saw their employees as humans, not resources. This is key.

    2. Be humble. I met and spoke with many of these leaders and their employees. They all demonstrated humble behavior. One specific example was from Sisodia, who is a beacon for humbleness. Despite being the co-founder and co-author of the book "Conscious Capitalism" and speaking to hundreds of organizations about the principles of the movement annually, he routinely says he has done nothing and is in awe of the people that have been working along him for years.

    3. Walk your talk--all the time. Saying one thing and doing another is a common trap that leaders find themselves in. Most of the time, it's not intentional. They want to do what they say, but other priorities take over and their words become empty promises. In order to be a great leader, you can't do this. When you say you're focused on people, your behavior and your priorities need to mirror that verbal commitment.

    4. Have a clear mission and purpose. Great leaders aren't driven by financial gain. They do what they do because they have a higher calling. They also regularly share this, which is why great leaders are easy to follow. You know what they stand for and you can connect with their story. Consider Robb, who lives and breathes the mission of "Whole Foods, Whole People, Whole Planet." One way he does this is to visit up to 100 stores a year and spend three hours in each, specifically shaking the hands and looking into the eyes of each person in those stores. He says this is how he knows if the store is living the mission and purpose.

    5. Be insatiably curious. Great leaders are non-stop learners and they know they don't have all the answers. Their curiosity is a byproduct of their humbleness. They don't think of themselves as great leaders because they are constantly refining and evolving their thinking and how they approach problem solving. There is no destination--and they want to learn from people along the way.



  • It's paramount to know the playing field because customer service is a relative concept.



  • Make sure you've evaluated these hazards before signing on the dotted line.

    Do you shop online? According to a 2013 report by Forrester, e-commerce will outpace U.S. brick-and-mortar over the next five years, reaching a total of $370 billion in annual sales by 2017. The robust growth outlook has not gone unnoticed by small business buyers. In growing numbers, aspiring entrepreneurs are targeting online business opportunities in the business-for-sale marketplace, eager to tap into the benefits of a model that features lower overhead costs and greater flexibility for owners.

    Based on industry estimates, there are more than 100,000 e-commerce businesses in the U.S. that generate at least $12,000 in annual revenue. When the owners of these businesses angle toward an exit, they follow the same basic process as the sellers of brick-and-mortar companies, i.e. working with a broker, establishing an accurate business valuation, listing the business, etc.

    But here's the catch: Buying an online business comes with unique risks.

    So, when performing due diligence, it's important to focus on specific dimensions that determine the value, risk and financial forecast for online businesses. According to Bryan O'Neill, co-founder of Centurica, a web asset due diligence and maintenance company, there are five main issues you should investigate before signing on the dotted line.

  • Unsustainable Site Traffic. In the online universe, success and site traffic go hand-in-hand. Although online companies advertise through Google Adwords and other mediums, these companies rely heavily on organic search capabilities to achieve sustained site traffic. During due diligence, it's important to evaluate traffic sources for issues that could threaten search rankings and ultimately reduce the number of users who visit the site.
  • Technical Trickery. You don't have to be a computer programmer to be a successful online business owner, but online companies do require a certain amount of technical know-how. Unless you are extremely adept at the technical aspects of online assets, you should consider hiring a contractor or online due diligence firm to evaluate the site for black hat SEO tactics, tampered traffic totals, plagiarized site content and other issues.
  • High Maintenance Requirements. Online business owners often play a key role in normal site maintenance routines. Talk with the current owner to estimate how much time you will need to devote to site maintenance on a daily, weekly and monthly basis and to determine whether or not you have the technical chops to maintain the site without assistance. If you require additional help, you'll need to include the cost of outsourcing or of hiring an additional team member in your budget forecast.
  • Competition with the Seller. The possibility of competing against the seller post-sale is a serious risk for acquirers of online companies. The ease of launching a new online business and the inability to enforce non-compete clauses overseas (where many acquisitions are based) mean that you will need to go the extra mile to research the background of the seller before you commit to a deal.
  • Fraudulent Finances. Most online businesses don't audit their financial records. To verify financial disclosures, sellers are often forced to rely on secondary checks using a combination of site metrics and industry benchmarks. If a certain aspect of the site's financial information doesn't fit with the larger story being told by site metrics, it could be a sign that the financial information is flawed or fraudulent.
  • Once you've cleared these hurdles, you can safely reap the benefits of the online market.



  • Lessons I learned juggling fatherhood and a startup that will help budding business owners.

    "You are too selfish to be a dad."

    My wife told me this on our first date. The funny thing was that she was spot on. I had just founded my company, Wild Creations, and I was consumed with growing the business and securing my reputation as a successful entrepreneur (still working on the latter). Additionally, as someone who spent the better part of thirty years a bachelor, living a Seinfeld lifestyle, the whole idea of disrupting it with children was the last thing on my life's to-do list.

    As fate would have it, I fell in love, and she eventually agreed to marry me despite my selfishness (as well as a great number of other flaws). We have since had two amazing children, both as I continued to run Wild Creations. Having children has changed my life, as they tend to do, though I have found that the greatest impact has been on how I approach business.

    Here are three ways being a dad has helped me be a better business leader and entrepreneur:

    1. Parenting helps you prioritize.

    When I was single, my car was my most prized possession. I would detail it weekly and was religious about servicing it every three months. Now, when I pick up business associates, I find myself clearing Cheerios from the backseat and apologizing for the juice stains. To lead a business effectively, you need to prioritize the tasks that will make the most significant impact on the bottom line. What I learned was that there are far better uses of my time than detailing my Honda Civic every week.

    In the past, when I would visit friends with children, I was amazed at how they could sit and read with loud kids tugging relentlessly at their pant legs and plastic Legos haphazardly whizzing by their head. I was also impressed how they could identify the cry of their child through a chaotic chorus of noise on a playground. Now I understand. Running a business also requires this innate ability to listen through all the "noise" and be able to identify the most meaningful and useful information that comes before you.

    2. Parenting teaches patience.

    I used to be someone who walked fast and expected results faster. These days, I can only walk as fast as that three-foot tall tike that has my pinkie in a vice grip. Early mistakes I made in my business were often due to rushing into a decision or chasing an urgent hunch. Taking time to assess a business opportunity can pay off long-term, even if that means passing on it altogether.

    3. Parenting makes it very clear that it's not all about you.

    In the past, I would meet with my business partners after work and find myself discussing work all through the night. Now when I come home, I find that my children don't really care about my angry customers or late-paying clients. I instead find myself leaving work at the door to indulge in a game of Eat to Win or casual cup of make-believe tea. I have always believed it important to turn off work from time to time to clear your mind and relax, even if that respite comes in the form of Frozen for the 42nd time.

    My wife was right about me when we met (brutal honesty is what I admire about her). I was selfish and always believed that you should prioritize yourself above all others. After having kids, however, I find myself much more attuned to the happiness of my family, friends and colleagues. As an entrepreneur, empathy and compassion are incredibly important for leading a business, especially through the tumultuous growth periods, and having children somehow naturally endows you with this quality.

    These personal changes will differ from person to person, and I am in no way advocating that you have children just to be a better entrepreneur. In fact, if you still enjoy clean cars and indulging in weekend-long marathons of cable shows like House of Cards, then take it from me, having children does not help.

    If you are thinking of becoming a dad or happen to be one already, however, I encourage you not to fall into the "family or company" conundrum. They can, in fact, coexist and even thrive together. You'll just have to make a few priority changes, like swapping House of Cards for Frozen.

    For what it's worth, Frozen is actually a really good flick.

    Are you a dad entrepreneur? Please share your stories about how your children have helped make you a great entrepreneur below.



  • How Sunny Bonnell took the fire in her belly and turned it into one of the most buzzworthy design companies of 2014

    Sunny Bonnell is a branding expert and serves as the co-founder and creative director at Motto. Here's how she breaks away from the mundane and utilizes her rebellious energy for good.

    A Maverick Spirit

    As far back as I can remember, I've always been an insatiable overachiever. I was often described by my parents as the one with the lionheart. In my early 20s, with my co-founder Ashleigh Hansberger, I channeled that maverick spirit into starting Motto, a branding and design firm that helps visionary leaders around the world build inspiring brands using their most meaningful asset: their purpose.

    The company that started in a 14 by 14 room with $250 and a no guts, no glory approach has since been recognized in Inc.'s 30 Under 30, GDUSA's Top Creatives to Watch in 2014, and several of the design industry's leading publications. Though I have had many mentors in my life who gently nudged me north when I got lost at sea, I also believe in trusting your instincts. There have been several times when I've been given advice that I didn't listen to in favor of my own values and convictions.

    Still, the beauty of entrepreneurship is the journey we take and sharing that learning with others. To that end, here are a few pieces of advice that I carry with me each day.

    1. Be loyal to the nightmare of your choice.

    I heard Anthony Bourdain say this on Parts Unknown as he endured a difficult and dangerous trip across the eastern part of the Congo. The journey was harrowing--he called it the most stressful, terrifying trip of his life. But he braved the nightmare because he is committed to his dream and his work.

    I was so taken with the phrase that I decided to research it. I learned that it originally appeared in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness and speaks of fully committing to the path you have chosen, for better or worse.

    2. Remember the fire in your belly.

    My parents have always been very influential in my life, and they were also entrepreneurs. As a result, I grew up with an entrepreneurial spirit that made it nearly impossible for me to work for someone else. My mother in particular never failed to inspire me with her courage, fiery point of view, and remarkable attention to detail.

    Over the years, both of my parents have given me incredible advice, but there's one thing in particular that's always stuck with me. Anytime I've ever become discouraged or arrived at the point of giving up, they would remind me: "You can go on, and you will. Remember the fire in your belly--it will be the only thing that sees you through."

    3. Don't be a slave to the ordinary.

    This is a mantra that Motto has adopted. You're always presented with opportunities to either fit the mold or break it, to fall in line or buck the status quo. We've worked with hundreds of entrepreneurs and companies over the years on issues of brand positioning, naming, and design, and the one trap we see most often is that they know, in theory, that "different" is a competitive advantage, but fear of failure keeps them bumbling around in the sea of sameness. In order to be remarkable, you can't be a slave to the ordinary.

    There's an old Namibian proverb, "Learning expands great souls." When I embarked on the entrepreneurial journey almost a decade ago, I realized very quickly that I didn't have all the answers, nor did I need to. Navigating through business is much like navigating through life--an ongoing process of learning about who you are, what you stand for, how you can be better, and what you can offer to the world. Now go do it.



  • Big, crazy ideas? Check. Lots of risks? Check. Fearlessness? Oh, yeah. Welcome to Inc.'s annual list of the Most Audacious Companies.

    What's an "audacious" company? It's a superlative we chose very carefully. On the one hand, such companies are defined as bold, courageous, even heroic. Yet, on the other, they are defiant, presumptuous, irreverent, and even cocky. They see a better way to do something and work to make it happen, fearlessly committed to not only making their vision a reality but also spreading that vision.

    These are the companies we celebrate. Below, you'll find an interview with the crown prince of audacity, Mark Cuban, on what it takes to build and run a bold company. Then continue scrolling to see our list of winners divided into five categories: technology, marketing, social impact, design, and culture.



  • In our search for 25 companies that could change the world, we asked five experts to weigh in on what audacity means to them.

    Though it doesn't guarantee success, audacity has long been a key ingredient behind the most inspiring entrepreneurial ventures. It is certainly represented in the individuals below. As we searched for our list of 25 companies that could change the world, we asked a panel of experts to define what audacious means to them, in their particular area of expertise. Here's what they said:

    Design: Bre Pettis

    Co-founder and CEO of MakerBot Industries, a leading manufacturer of 3D printers
    "Innovation and the absurd are a paper-thin distance apart. One of the ways toward innovation is to explore the absurd. When you do that, you get innovation. Being playful, exploratory, trying things out, no matter what you do, you learn from it. Simplicity is one way to be audacious. I've spent more money making our software simple than making it powerful. The biggest challenge is to make something accessible, friendly, and simple. If you do it right, nobody knows you did it."

    Marketing: Anthony Sperduti

    Co-founder of Partners & Spade, a creative studio whose clients include J. Crew and Target
    "Audacious marketing is not the lowest-common-denominator marketing. It's marketing that's all right with not everyone liking it and some people even hating it. It's all right with having a particular point of view. A lot of companies aren't comfortable with doing that. Audacious marketing is when a brand decides to take a chance, not talk to everyone, and have a contrarian point of view. When you do that well, you have big benefits. You wake people up and command attention."

    Tech: Cheryl Cheng

    Partner at BlueRun Ventures, a VC firm that has invested in tech companies, including PayPal and Waze
    "One of the markers of an audacious company is definitely whether it's going to disrupt a category that's either highly entrenched or hasn't seen innovation for a long time. There are incumbents who own the market, and they're going to lobby and resist change at every point. The key to audacity is that it has to be timed perfectly. You can say, 'I'm going to send people to space and vacation on Mars,' but if it's outside the realm of possibility, it's not really audacious."

    Social impact: Bert Jacobs

    CEO of Life Is Good, a clothing company that has raised millions of dollars for children's charities
    "Audacity is when there are 999 other people who are looking to reduce their negative impact, but then there's one out of 1,000 who actually wants to solve the issue completely. Those people catch you off guard and turn a system, culture, category, or industry on its head. They say, 'What if?' You have one wild and precious life. The people who are part of real change, not just something that chipped away at a problem, deserve credit."

    Culture: Jason Fried

    CEO of Basecamp, a Chicago-based software company with a flat organizational structure
    "People who are audacious are willing to be misunderstood. They're ahead of the way others are thinking about things, and it's hard to make a decision when the rest of the world says it doesn't make any sense. But it can't just be one person who's willing to do that. Those ideas and the willingness to be misunderstood need to extend throughout the organization. Audacity has to be pervasive."



  • He's known for being irreverent, bold, and--yes--cocky. Here are five classic Cuban moments.

    What does it mean to be an audacious entrepreneur? Ask Mark Cuban, he ought to know. The Shark Tank star and Dallas Mavericks owner is known for being bold, irreverent, and--yes--cocky in his business dealings. Read on for five classic Cuban moments.

    1. Trolling Yahoo.

    Cuban and his partners sold Broadcast.com to Yahoo in spring 1999 for a hefty $5.7 billion, which made Cuban a billionaire. Maybe it was worth it, but the audio product eventually disappeared from Yahoo's offerings.

    2. Always the Maverick.

    Since buying a controlling stake of the NBA's Dallas Mavericks in 2000, Cuban has been fined 20 times by the league--a total of $2 million--mostly for criticizing officiating. This year, he said he wanted one last fine from outgoing commissioner David Stern; he got his wish, for $100,000.

    3. Swimming with Sharks.

    Forget the show-biz convention of air kissing your co-stars. Cuban says the tension on the five-season ABC show Shark Tank is real: "Trust me, there are times when you just want to reach over and punch Kevin or Lori."

    4. Taunting Regulators.

    Many people would be quietly grateful if they were cleared of an insider trading charge. But when a federal jury acquitted Cuban in 2013 for a questionable stock sale, Cuban challenged the SEC to "treat American citizens the way they should be treated."

    5. Playing Trump's Cards.

    The two TV billionaires have been sparring for most of the 21st century, but Cuban's cheekiest jab came in 2012, when he offered Donald Trump $1 million to shave his head for charity. Whatever is atop Trump's head stayed intact.

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