Recent Business News...


  • In a lecture at Stanford's business school, the Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers partner talks about the most important lessons he has learned in his years investing in new ventures.



  • Get even more done with some of these new and updated applications.

    Whether you're an avid user of personal productivity apps or you're downloading one for the first time, consider this refreshed list of options. -- Laura Montini

    A Magneto Calendar was designed for quick meeting scheduling. It gives users a clearer idea of one another's available times by allowing them to share snapshots of their calendars--with the option of leaving out all of the details. After one user draws a box on the calendar to propose a meeting time, the other accepts or rejects it. The iOS app syncs with both Microsoft Exchange and Google Calendar and is available for free in beta.



  • Sales contests can be a valuable opportunity to coach members of your sales team and get them to work together better.

    Stop for a second to think about what really motivates a salesperson. Recent research from Aberdeen Group found that the No. 1 motivator is money. (Shocker!) Following that is competition with peers and recognition for a job well done.

    Sales leaders focus on financial motivations by giving commissions and employee bonus plans that rightly reward the end result--closing business. However, capitalizing on salespeople's desire for competition and recognition is often missing.

    Research from McKinsey showed that praise and recognition from managers is the most effective way to motivate employees, yet only 41 percent of leaders actually offer much praise. And the Corporate Executive Board's Sales Leadership Council finds that coaching from a manager accounts for a 17 percent increase in sales performance, making the difference between those who make and miss their sales numbers. This is a big reason why sales coaching tools such as Work.com, which show managers other ways besides financial incentives to motivate reps, are seeing such explosive growth.

    So what in the world does this have to do with sales contests?

    When a manager runs a sales contest, the purpose is typically to create energy and focus around some key sales initiative. That might be taking a new product to market, getting more face-to-face meetings with clients, or upselling to existing clients. (Here are some more examples.) But to make a contest really take off, a manager needs to use it as an opportunity to work more closely with the team and get team members working with each other.

    Here are three ways to maximize the impact of your sales contests by aligning them with coaching moments.

    1. Launch

    Talk with your team about why you're launching this initiative and how they will be measured, so the team is fully aligned. Let's say you're trying to quickly onboard some new salespeople. You can explain to the new recruits that you want them to get off to a fast start, and the best way to do that is to get them pitching one or two specific products that you know are easy to understand and sell.

    A contest helps here, as it makes all the participants aware of how others are doing, and makes the onboarding process a little more interesting. This is particularly helpful to get teams in different offices working together more.

    2. Get executives to chime in

    After the contest goes live and the leaderboards start to populate, get a key executive to weigh in. It could be something as simple as an email or Salesforce Chatter post to the team such as, "Hey gang--thanks for putting your attention around this key initiative for our business. Kudos to Jen, Dave, and Jessica, who are off to a fast start here! Who's going to give them a run for their money?" That simple message will go a long way by recognizing people for a job well done and showing further evidence of the importance of the initiative.

    3. Coach performance

    Sales numbers are often shared publicly, but coaching reps to actually get more sales can be difficult. Real coaching gets into the weeds on the behaviors and approaches that lead to sales. A sales contest brings that to life, as it creates attention around a key initiative and presents results in an objective way, on a leaderboard that gives you data you can use in your coaching.

    For example, let's say one of your team members is in the middle of the leaderboard. With those results so front and center, this is a fantastic opportunity to understand what they're doing and share your thoughts on how they can perform even better. It also opens the door for reps at the bottom to have a discussion about what they can do to take home the victory the next time around.

    So the next time you're looking for better ways to coach your team, think about using contests as a catalyst.



  • If you aren't first, you're last. Don't let your company get left behind.

    No business can afford to blindly follow the crowd. Your company needs to be driving innovation, not sitting in the passenger seat. You need to be ahead of the trends.

    I recently talked to RED Interactive Agency's CEO, Brian Lovell, and president, Donny Makower, about leading the way. RED Interactive Agency is a full-service digital agency that works with big clients, from Disney and ESPN to MasterCard and Guggenheim Partners.

    "A lot of people in our business are driven to either change audience behavior or follow it," Makower said on the topic of staying ahead of trends, "and the truth is, you have to be ready to do a little of both."

    Leading the way isn't easy in any industry, but here are three lessons the team at RED learned about staying ahead of the pack:

    Get Clients Involved

    Whether your company is focused on clients or catering to customers, far too many organizations encourage an approach that is too hands-off. The best work happens when everyone is working to accomplish the same goals.

    "Our mission is to always be learning as much as we can about our client's business, and to work closely and collaboratively to reach the goals we set together," Lovell said. "We try to push the limits strategically, creatively, and technically to achieve success."

    For RED, this means building tools and technologies to get clients involved in the process. A collaboration with Lionsgate and Microsoft's Internet Explorer group centered on the new Hunger Games film, created the Hunger Games Explorer website, which logged nearly one billion Twitter impressions in the first 24 hours of launch, and has over 15 million pageviews to date.

    By fostering a collaborative environment with your clients and customers, you can use those relationships to provide greater quality. Enmesh yourself in your client's world or your target customer's way of thinking. By looking outside your company to deliver the best results, you'll be learning what your company needs to do to cater to your target demographic.

    Encourage Teamwork and Collaboration

    Teamwork with your clients is important, but teamwork within your organization is essential. You need your best people working together, sharing ideas, and not being afraid to fall down in the pursuit of something new. This means creating a culture of innovation and collaboration.

    According to Lovell, the key to great teamwork is threefold: people, culture, and workspace. The agency goes out of its way to recruit the best people, whether they're local or a plane ride away. These candidates go through a lengthy interview process, complete with assessments, to ensure they have the right skills and are a cultural fit.

    "We believe great ideas can come from everyone at the company," Lovell said. "We empower our employees to think beyond their job description and encourage them to have a voice in the creative process."

    The company organizes informal brainstorming sessions called "concept-a-thons" in which employees from every department come together to work on a new project or toss around ideas. These brainstorming sessions let employees get out of their boxes, foster new skills, and stretch their creative muscles. It also provides projects and existing teams with fresh ideas and innovative concepts to explore.

    Finally, the workspace at RED is built with collaboration and teamwork in mind. The office has lots of open space and communal areas for brainstorming and collaborative work, while also featuring work pods for when employees really need to hunker down with their project and get things done.

    People, culture, and workspace all set the tone for your company culture and feed into each other. If you're ignoring any part of this three-tiered approach, your company and your best people are suffering.

    Be Mindful of Trends--But Don't Stop Forging Your Own Path

    Forecasting trends isn't easy; if it was, we would all be ahead of the pack. Though you need to get off the beaten path and make your own way to be successful, it's downright foolhardy to ignore what's happening in your industry. You need to strike a balance between being trendy and being forward thinking.

    "An overwhelming part is simply listening to people," Makower said. "After all, trends are just expressions of human behavior, so it's imperative to listen to what people want and where they want to go."

    Thank goodness, this should be easy if your team and your clients are collaborating seamlessly. Encouraging a collaborative culture is really the best way to stay ahead of the trends, forecast the Next Big Thing, and pivot before you end up in the lurch. When many voices are part of the conversation, you can truly listen to everything your team and clients have to say.

    "You want to consider the trends, but you don't want to be handcuffed to them," Makower said. "It's about doing what's right, not only what's popular."

    What do you think? How do you foster collaboration? How do you stay ahead of trends? Share in the comments!



  • The Quantified Self movement has tremendous potential in the workplace--just don't use data analytics technologies to monitor people's bathroom breaks.

    People are going crazy for self measurement. Fitbits and FuelBands track our activities and sleep. Mobile apps have gone far beyond counting calories to support mood tracking, time spent meditating, and the progression of chronic disease. There are bathroom scales that feature Bluetooth so they can tell your phone how you're doing with your diet. (It won't be long before your phone reports back to your refrigerator.)

    But while the "quantified-self" movement is a multibillion-dollar industry, the idea of a quantified workplace lags far behind. To be fair, there are some companies that have benefited greatly from workplace analytics. Call centers saw tremendous productivity improvements as they rolled out better measurement tools in the '90s. UPS reduced its fuel consumption by more than a million gallons a year by optimizing driver routes with its "right turn only" rule.

    On the other hand, workplace analytics can be creepy. European supermarket chain Tesco has employees wear electronic armbands so managers can track how fast they walk around the warehouse, but workers complain their bathroom breaks are measured too. Other companies are tracking their employees' non-work activities, including eating, exercising, and sleeping habits. The federal government has built a system that monitors the work-related and personal activities of more than 5 million of its employees to flag those who might be a security risk.

    Stories like these raise questions about how far employers can go to keep tabs on their workforce. The state of California even passed a law making it illegal for companies to implant microchips in their employees after some companies began evaluating that technology as a replacement for issuing keys.

    Declining Productivity

    But creep factor aside, employers need to take this seriously. Lost productivity in the workplace is a huge problem. A 2013 Gallup survey found that 70 percent of American workers are either "disengaged" or "actively disengaged." My company, Enkata, has conducted research that found even a small number of actively disengaged workers can have an outsized impact on overall productivity.

    And the problem is getting worse. There are more and more distractions in the office, from smartphone games to online cat videos. Telecommuters have even more things that pull them away from their desk, and some have a hard time staying focused. When announcing her company's ban on telecommuting, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer cited VPN usage data that showed many remote employees weren't even logged in for most of the day. Other large employers including Best Buy and Hewlett Packard are following suit in scaling back telecommuting.

    Effective Quantification

    But the quantified-self movement is about making positive changes, and the quantified workplace needs to be positive as well. No employee wants to work for Big Brother, and no good manager wants to be Big Brother. Employers need to find the right balance to maintain effective oversight without killing their culture and driving away their best employees. This can be done, but it isn't simple.

    First, the program needs to be about improving, not policing. Think personal trainer, not overbearing parent. Some companies offer spyware-type products that secretly record everything that happens on an employee's computer but do nothing to help anyone get better at their jobs. Worse yet, they reveal a distrust of the workers that will alienate employees.

    Second, employees need to be involved. They should know what information their company is capturing, as well as when the company is taking it and why. They should have the same access to the data as their managers, and they should understand how the company will use the information. If they believe the program is in place to help them, they'll be more welcoming.

    Third, employers should be very clear that they won't "sweat the small stuff." Even hardworking people check Facebook once in a while. People's productivity has peaks and valleys, and everyone has days when they have a hard time getting things done. Improvements come from identifying and changing problematic patterns of behavior, not from triggering alarms every time someone does something out of policy.

    Finally, companies should follow through on the process of using the information to actually help people. Too often, useful information is ignored because managers don't have time to share it with employees. In the worst-case scenario, information is captured for months, but the first time the employee sees it is in a negative performance review.

    As computers and technology become more pervasive, people are seeing them as more intrusive. But it's also the case that computers and technology have given people unprecedented freedom in the workplace. They can stay connected with the outside world, blend their work life with their personal life, and even work completely out of sight of their managers and co-workers. To help managers in the new workplace, you must give them the oversight abilities and tools they need to help employees perform at their best.



  • A banking license? For a social network? Here's why Facebook's latest move is more forward-thinking than it seems.

    Facebook wants to bank its financial future on more than online advertising. In fact, the company wants to become a bank.

    According to the Financial Times, Facebook is awaiting authorization from Ireland's central bank to become an "e-money" institution, which would allow users in that country to store money on the site and make payments to individuals throughout Europe.

    In addition, Facebook has allegedly been in discussions with some startups in the international money transfer business, including mobile solutions.

    Is this a smart move or a desperate pivot à la Google Glass? Probably a bit of both, and that offers a lesson for entrepreneurs.

    A Little Bit Desperate...

    On one hand, things are going well for Facebook. Revenue in 2013 was up 55 percent over 2012; earnings climbed by more than two-thirds. By the end of the year, monthly active users were up by 16 percent.

    And yet, all is not bright. Pressure on advertising rates continues to squeeze companies. Google got punished in its earnings call the other day, even with 19 percent year-over-year growth. Aside from questions about the wisdom of Google's acquiring and then selling Motorola, the true issue was the price of ads. Even as the number of paid ad clicks climbed last quarter compared to 2013, the average price per ad dropped by 9 percent.

    This particular story has been ongoing for some time. Google is getting more thoroughly into mobile ads, where prices are lower because they don't seem to do as well for advertisers. And regular ads are getting less expensive, as smarter ad buying, alternatives, and other factors keep the pressure up.

    Yahoo just saw a similar pattern. Even though Wall Street was delighted that revenue for display ads was finally up 1 percent instead of down single digit percentages or more, the story was volume was up 7 percent, while price per ad was down by 5 percent.

    The people who run Facebook aren't stupid and they can see the industry trend. Sustaining the growth that its investors expect will only get tougher so long as the price for ads continues to drop. Plus, its user expansion comes in regions where the ad revenue per person is a fraction of what users in the U.S. and Europe generate.

    But Also Pretty Darn Smart

    That's the desperation. Now for the smart move. Facebook has continued to become stronger in mobile. The basic premise for a smart business pivot is the rough opposite of the "innovator's dilemma," Clayton Christensen's concept that when companies become big, they get too dependent on their once disruptive, now cash-cow products and services. Management goes into denial over potential new disruptions that could tear their business apart.

    In the smart business pivot, management looks at disruptive forces and recognizes that it may have to cannibalize its current strategies to avoid being made irrelevant. Just as importantly, though, the company looks for new opportunities in the disruption.

    Facebook sees the wave of disruption that mobile offers. It has undertaken various attempts to make its mobile software more attractive to both users and advertisers. Facebook even tried to push a software package that would effectively make it the top screen on Android phones, though it found little interest.

    What Facebook does have is a massive number of mobile users. The question now becomes what else these users might want. Payment systems have become a standard answer. And payment card companies, banks, telecom carriers, electronic payment systems such as PayPal, online conglomerates including Google, and others are all trying to get into the game.

    However, Facebook has an enormous advantage: relationships with well more than a billion consumers globally. It effectively overcomes the serial balkanization of hardware vendor, operating system, and wireless carrier.

    And as Leonid Bershidsky writes at Bloomberg, it may be that Facebook is aiming at the developing world:

    Facebook has about 100 million users in India. One can send the euro equivalent of $200 from Germany to India for $1 in a matter of days using a London startup called TransferWise, set up by Skype's first employee Taavet Hinrikus and another Estonian, Kristo Kaarmann. Facebook might be able to improve on that by guaranteeing instantaneous transfers, and perhaps by offering lower prices, because it is so huge. Facebook is reportedly talking to TransferWise and its peers about some kind of partnership.

    Bershidsky argues that Facebook would have to enter the remittance business to get cash to people. Perhaps--though in the last quarter of 2013, the company had a total of 1.2 billion monthly active users, with 368 million of them in Asia. If you have enough people already using your banking service on smartphones, do you necessarily need remittance businesses to hand cash to people? (However, it likely would make the overall business more effective.)

    The point for entrepreneurs is that no business lasts forever. What can continue to thrive are relationships with customers. Focus on them and keep asking how new technology might let you provide even more value. That's the way you keep a business going.



  • While CEOs understand the value of meticulously maintaining their company's image on the Internet, most don't pay enough attention to their own.

    If I had a dollar for every CEO I've met who thinks his online presence is unimportant, I'd be a one-percenter. In today's column, my colleague Sam Ford, co-author of Spreadable Media, argues why it's critical for every CEO to pay close attention to his digital footprint. Take it away, Sam.

    Often when I've met with CEOs and their teams at companies that are experiencing or poised to experience high growth, we've discussed the issue of how the executives manage their online profiles. This includes bios and other material from the company, social network profiles, speaking engagements, media mentions, press releases, articles she has written, comments about her from people outside the company, or anything else that comes up when you search for her name.

    And the most fundamental question they ask is how and why that process is a business priority. Based on lessons learned (sometimes painfully) here at Peppercomm and elsewhere, here are my seven most common responses.

    1. You typically have a digital profile, even if you aren't active in social media or online publishing.

    Many executives over the years have told me that they aren't active in online communication and thus don't have a profile to manage. But of course any public appearance you make, article you're quoted in, or other public mention of you may be shared online, meaning that you do, in fact, have a profile that's available to anyone who types your name into a search engine, whether you've actively managed it or not.

    2. Without management, your online profile may be confusing.

    We've represented young entrepreneurs who have yet to build a holistic online presence, as well as serial entrepreneurs whose various business endeavors paint a picture online that doesn't seem to fit together. Without active management, your profile may be painting a misleading, outdated, or less-than-strategic picture of who you are.

    3. Having a strong online profile is about reputation, not vanity.

    Many executives say they care about their company rather than their own profile. But recent press hits, videos in which you address the issues in your industry, or an ongoing column at a leading publication in your field give you a higher degree of credibility, which in turn bolsters the reputation of your company. As your organization grows and you start branching out to audiences outside those that already know you, that individual reputation may be key for your business.

    4. You want to show rather than tell your customers and potential employees about your passion and leadership as an executive.

    Corporate bios highlight what you've done, but a compelling online presence includes materials that demonstrate your expertise, passion, vision, and leadership. Executives who take the fullest advantage of their digital profile infuse some of their personality into what you find about them online as well. For customers and recruits to believe in your company, that presence is much more authentic and telling--as well as cost-effective--than scores of traditional marketing materials that try to tell people who you are.

    5. Reporters' online research is key to their choice of sources to interview for a story.

    Journalists are working on deadline and often must be economical in the sources they choose to interview or the companies they choose to feature. They need someone who's knowledgeable and charismatic, and who has a strong reputation. Many times, all the pitching in the world from a media-relations partner like our firm won't matter if the journalist looks you up and they aren't impressed by what they find.

    6. Investors and other key business audiences will be watching.

    I've heard from colleagues working with high-growth companies that investors are increasingly looking to the online reputation of a company and its leadership to make decisions about where to put their money. For companies looking to raise capital, the strong presence of the executive in charge might be the difference between ripening and withering on the vine.

    7. Often you have competition for your name, which means there can be a lot of clutter in search results.

    Unless you have a unique name, there can be a lot of other professionals' profiles to sift through when people look you up. For me, "Sam Ford" is also the name of a Washington, D.C. journalist, a rock and roll drummer, several college athletes, and a porn star. That means there are a lot of competing pages (and pictures) to contend with if people look me up. It has been my goal to make sure that compelling content about me is easily found amid all that competition.

    Whether or not online sales or social media are a vital part of your go-to-market strategy, making sure you have a strategic online presence that truly reflects who you are is crucial to building your business.

    Sam Ford is director of audience engagement at Peppercomm and co-author of Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture (NYU Press, 2013). He is an alumnus and affiliate with MIT's Program in Comparative Media Studies/Writing and acts as co-chair of the Ethics Committee for the Word of Mouth Marketing Association.



  • There are three kinds of decision makers--but only one type gets the best results.

    While it might be true that good leaders excel at consistently making good decisions, great leaders try to involve others in the process, at least when there's the time and opportunity to do so.

    That's according to John Canfield, management consultant and author of Think or Sink: A Parable of Collaboration. Canfield says leaders fall into one of three categories: the competitor, the accommodator, or the collaborator. Whereas the competitor isn't worried about getting buy-in from others before making a decision, the accommodator is overly concerned with it. As a result, neither achieves an optimal outcome.

    In contrast, the collaborator gets input from others who have ideas that can help make the best decision or who can support the decision later down the road.

    "The principle that you're taking advantage of here is people support what they help create," Canfield says. "And so, assuming I have the time for dialogue, I would want to get this group involved in not only coming up with the ideas but then sharing the ideas to some sort of a scoreboard, some listing of a goal. When the team can have that kind of conversation--I'm going to call it robust dialogue--and when they're truly collaborating, the best idea wins."

    The Power of Robust Dialogue (a.k.a. Brainstorming)

    A simple brainstorming session can do the trick, but these three kinds of leaders may handle these sessions differently.

    A competitive leader might sit at the head of a table and ask people to voice their input in an environment of social pressure. Even if a decision is made, little buy-in accompanies it.

    A session led by an accommodator might be more enjoyable and include things like snacks and lots of encouragement, but the goal the team is working toward may be unclear and the quality of ideas may suffer.

    To be a collaborative leader and get far better results, Canfield suggests first visually delineating desired results on a scoreboard and giving team members five minutes to write ideas for a decision on Post-it notes in silence, with no social pressure. When the time's up, gather the group around a flipchart or white board and take turns offering individual notes, which can then be collaboratively organized and compared with the goals defined at the outset of the meeting.

    "So in a much shorter period of time, I get a data-driven decision about what our goals are that everybody contributed to. And because it was on Post-its, I'm able to move the data around and make it more useful," he says.



  • A new book tells women how to boost their self-assurance, but the advice is good for men, too.

    I just listened to one of the most interesting interviews I've ever heard on NPR, It was a talk with Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, authors of The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance--What Women Should Know.

    The interview and book are about women and self-confidence, but the advice I heard on the program applies to everybody, IMHO. Here are the takeaways:

    1. Strive for excellent imperfection.

    According to the authors, women have a tendency to feel bad if they don't do everything--from how they look to how they parent to how they talk--perfectly. As a result, they sometimes fail to take risks lest they fall short.

    In my experience, though, it's not just women who feel this way. I've known plenty of men who are absolutely obsessed with never looking foolish. Heck, I have that tendency myself, which is why I never try to ski, even though I live in New Hampshire.

    Regardless of your gender, perfectionism is the enemy of self-confidence because if you're trying to be perfect you'll always find yourself lacking. Instead, try to be excellent or even outstanding--which means falling flat sometimes.

    2. Don't apologize before the fact.

    Some women, argue the authors, have a habit of saying "I'm sorry" when expressing an opinion or taking action. In the interview, they said that the automatic "I'm sorry" was intended to make the listener feel more comfortable.

    I respectfully disagree. I think that people who apologize for doing normal stuff are doing it to make themselves feel better. People (women and men alike) are protecting their self-esteem in case the other person gets upset.

    However, to be successful in business you need to offend people. Sometimes, you even need to step on (or at least over) other people to get to where you want to go. That's just the way it is.

    Rather than preemptively apologizing, take the action that needs doing, say the thing that needs saying, and then apologize afterwards--if and when it becomes clear that an apology is appropriate.

    3. Stop turning statements into questions?

    The interview spent 10 minutes or so discussing the habit that some women have of adding a little uptick at the end of each spoken sentence, whether it's a question or not.

    While women reportedly do this irritating uptick more than men, I've heard plenty of men do it, and it really flushes their credibility down the toilet, too.

    It doesn't really matter who's doing it. The verbal uptick is just a bad habit, similar to the "uhhhh..." pause or peppering your speech with "like" or "you know."

    To break this (or any other) verbal habit, cultivate the ability to listen to yourself as you're speaking. Pause before saying something, form the gist of what you want to say, and then deliver it as a statement or a question. Not some weird hybrid of the two.

    4. Ignore "mansplaining" (and "womansplaining").

    While it may be ironic that I'm writing this, mansplaining is the irritating habit that some men have of telling women what to do based upon analytical bullsh*t.

    The flip side to this is when women tell men what they should be feeling and how they should be communicating those feelings, based on some psychological bullsh*t.

    What's funny about this is that men do a lot of mansplaining when talking to other men and it's just as annoying. I'll bet the same thing is true of womansplaining among women.

    The net effect of all this genderizing is to leech your self-confidence by treating your gender as if it's determinate of your behavior. But that's utter nonsense.

    Specific differences between individuals of either gender are almost always far greater than the general difference between men and women. Put another way, men and women alike are from Venus and Mars.

    What's important is your behavior--not whether it falls into some preconceived notion of how somebody of your gender should or shouldn't behave.

    5. Cultivate your overconfidence.

    It turns out that successful people of both genders tend to overestimate what they can accomplish and the value of their contributions. As long as your overconfidence is grounded in the possible, it's a good thing, not a bad thing.

    Being overconfident means saying "yes" to stuff that you've never done before. It means being "dumb enough" to really believe you can start your own business and make it successful. Without overconfidence, people don't stretch themselves.

    I have to admit that, previous to hearing this interview, I never understood the value of overconfidence. I always thought that it's important to know your capabilities and how to apply them most effectively.

    However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that every accomplishment of which I'm actually proud emerged from me being unrealistic. My writing career is a perfect example.

    Everybody I knew told me that I was crazy when I left the cushy corporate world to write freelance full-time. However, I was such a cockeyed optimist about it that I was absolutely convinced it was the right thing to do.

    In retrospect, though, it was crazy. Most freelancers struggle for a couple of years then give up, or eke out a living by rewriting marketing brochures. And that was before the newspaper and magazine sectors collapsed.

    When I look at my friends (men and women), I see that it's the ones who overestimate themselves who always seem to be doing something exciting or achieving something big. Think of it this way: When you're overconfident, being self-confident is automatic.

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



  • High achievement isn't just about what you do, it's also about what you believe, says HubSpot founder Dharmesh Shah.

    Here at Inc.com, we frequently round up things you can do to be more successful. That makes sense--we all want to know what we can do to achieve more, but as Hubspot founder and CTO Dharmesh Shah recently pointed out in one of his LinkedIn Influencer columns, success isn’t just a matter of what you do but also of what you believe.

    Think about things in an unproductive way and it’s highly unlikely that your actions are going to end up driving you toward success, so if you want to accomplish your goals, it makes sense to start not with tweaking your daily habits (though certainly that's a good idea down the road) but with examining your core beliefs. So what kind of thinking does Shah feel characterizes the "delightfully successful"? He says they share several core beliefs, including:

    Self Selection

    Business owners are often told not to "ask for permission." Go out there and do what you want to do--approval will follow initiative. Another way to say that (which is perhaps less grating to those who think "don’t ask for permission" sounds self-centered or entitled) is "don’t wait to be selected." Successful people believe they can select themselves.

    "Once upon a time most people had to wait: to be accepted, to get funded, to be promoted--to somehow be 'discovered,'" writes Shah. "Not anymore.... You can do almost anything you have the desire and skills and drive to do; you don't need to wait for someone else to discover your talents. You get to discover yourself. The only thing holding you back is your willingness to take the leap and try."

    Forget Fate

    If you have not yet achieved the success you dream of, it’s easy to fall into the trap of believing you lack a certain something--character, skill, or maybe simple luck--to get ahead. Successful people, on the other hand, know that success only looks predictable in hindsight, and no one is predetermined to fail.

    "Success is never inevitable. It's easy to look back on an entrepreneurial path to greatness and assume that every vision was clear, every plan was perfect, every step was executed flawlessly, and tremendous success was a foregone conclusion," says Shah. "Success is never predestined. If you're willing to work hard and persevere, who you are is sufficient--because when you work hard and persevere, who you become is definitely more than enough to do something significant."

    Service Beats Selfishness

    You might think that the truly great have tunnel vision and focus maniacally on their personal goals. Nope, says Shah. The truly great get that way by trying to be of service to others. "When you're in it only for yourself, initial success is always finite--and fleeting. When you're in it for others, they succeed--and so do you," he writes.

    What beliefs do you think are the foundation of success? Let us know in the comments.







  • Here's what happens when a luxury-goods company ignores a customer's valid and stunning complaints. One million YouTube views later, Porsche is dealing with much more than Nick Murray's lemon.

    If I asked, "Which luxury-car company most recently extinguished a big engine-fire problem?" you would probably say Tesla. You would be wrong.

    Last month, Porsche reportedly issued a recall for all 785 of its 2014 911 GT3s. An improperly installed fastener led to two fires in European vehicles. The press reported the recall, but no government investigation followed. Porsche simply told drivers to stop driving, and that it would replace the engine. Conversely, Tesla's three fires prompted an investigation by federal safety regulators. Automakers piled on to attack CEO Elon Musk, while dealers claimed he "wants all the profits for himself."

    Chances are, you didn't even hear about the Porsche recall--and if you did, you no doubt didn't see reports on the fires themselves. Whereas Musk's detailed response did little to calm the public, Porsche's CEO, Matthias Mueller, was greeted comfortably when he told us that "[Porsche] is not taking any risks when it comes to the safety of our customers." Both acted ethically and properly--one simply exerted significantly less effort. The difference? The Porsche brand is powerful and protected by multiple layers of owners, reporters, and PR movements.

    The Blacklist

    "The owners all know about the problems, but we're reluctant to tell anyone," says Jack Baruth, editor in chief of TheTruthAboutCars.com and owner of two Porsches. "It lowers the value of the car. [Talking about the problems] makes us seem like status-seeking underendowed simpletons."

    In other words, owners fasten their own golden handcuffs, regardless of any risk. "Most of the owners don't expect the car to work every day. We never had," Baruth says.

    Porsche's protective bubble has also been built up by an internal PR team that regularly gives reporters "experiences"--invitations to drive beautiful cars in beautiful locations. "Porsche uses the carrot and stick very well," Baruth says. "The carrot is so big that they can and will fly you business class to Sicily to drive mountain roads. It's effectively a $20,000 vacation if you write what they want you to write."

    Baruth cited the American Journalism Review's condemnation of car-review standards, which attacks the world of car reviewing for being "replete with expensive perks and fantasy vehicles--consumer advocates need not apply."

    The same article also discusses Porsche's blacklisting of Baruth after a scathing Panamera review. Porsche denies that bad press was a motivation for no longer interacting with Baruth, saying "one of the key questions we ask is whether a reviewer writes for a demographic that can afford a Porsche." According to a 2011 media kit, 50 percent of The Truth About Cars's readers earn more than $75,000 a year.

    Rewarding allies isn't an uncommon practice in PR. Video-game reporters at times find themselves unable to get games in advance from PR people, meaning they have to buy them on their own, releasing their review later than those that got "code" earlier.

    Picking up a $59.99 game is within budget for most journalists. If you can find a Porsche 911 for rent, the cost can easily exceed $290. Per day. To quote Baruth, "Carmakers can make you noncompetitive."

    Lemon Law

    In today's world, however, reporters aren't the only source of criticism. And it's much harder to shut up an angry, eloquent, and entertaining customer.

    Enter Nick Murray, a Connecticut-based Porsche-enthusiast who saved for five years to buy a Porsche 911, and his tale of woe (viewed on YouTube nearly one million times). Upon buying his dream car, Murray says, he immediately ran into problems ranging from self-dropping mirrors to a draining battery to dashboard technology that turned off after hitting speed bumps. According to Murray, he took the car to Porsche for a series of repairs that he was assured would fix the problems. Upon the car's return, it began leaking in the rain--and suffering other problems.

    The video suggests that Porsche would not refund the cost of the car or replace it but instead offered to give Murray a percentage of what it thought he'd get through arbitration. It appears--but is not obvious--that Porsche was offering this discounted purchase price for the car; Murray would end up with less money and no car. Porsche did not respond to my request for comment.

    Ten years ago, one customer's lemon wouldn't have been an issue for Porsche. Today, Murray's saga has been well documented in passionate, entertaining, and high-quality videos that have inspired a swell of social-media critiques, ranging from regular tweets demanding a refund for Murray to a response from the wildly popular car blog Jalopnik.

    On Google News, the buzz around Murray's lemon has pushed down a gushing LA Times profile of Porsche's latest 911. Anyone checking for Porsche 911 news can't avoid Murray's story--and even those simply searching for Porsche will be hard pressed to avoid it. This story also overshadows a Reuters story discussing Porsche's success "looming over" Maserati's sales push.

    In essence: One mistreated customer has gut-punched Porsche's PR efforts on the eve of the New York International Auto Show. Two press releases issued in the last day about the 911 are utterly submerged (much like Murray's passenger-side floor) under negative press.

    Angry customers (and Internet users) descended upon Porsche's Facebook page, repeatedly posting the video and demanding a resolution. One eventually came. This week, Porsche agreed to refund the full cost of replacing Murray's vehicle. But still, we're left with the impression that he was only an important customer once he recruited an angry mob. And despite the make-good, that Porsche is stuck in a past in which the consumer is the enemy and the brand controls all.

    Here are four lessons you can learn from Porsche's public flogging:

    1. As a Company, Fix Problems Before They Reach the Press
    If a customer has a reasonable complaint (the thing you sold them is, for example, turning off at random), fix it. And if you can' fix it, give the person a new one. Don't hope to weather the storm to save a little cash.

    2. You Can't Blacklist Your Way to Success
    Samsung's Galaxy S5 recently launched to a particularly lukewarm reception from reporters like Geoffrey Fowler of The Wall Street Journal. This isn't the first time reporters have received review devices and said bad things--and yet the review units keep being delivered. Why? A reporter is not a blank vessel for your brand--you can only control the message insofar as you can tell the press what you know and make a good product. If there's a problem, you cannot edit or blackball your way to making sure people stay in line.

    If your product has problems and the reporter reports them, you should have made a better product. Sorry.

    3. You're Not the Reporter. She Is. And It's Her Article
    Baruth told me a story of a car manufacturer demanding to edit a story he had posted. When he pushed back, he was told "other reporters let me."

    I would love to say that this has never happened with my clients. It's very uncommon, but many clients in the past have asked, "Can we see the article before it goes live?" If you want to make a reporter hate you, this is a very good way to do it--you are a PR person. You have no rights to a reporter's work. Ultimately, the reporter is doing you a favor by writing about your client, or you have given the reporter a story--not a press release that you wrote.

    4. If There's a Problem, Just Fix It
    The other day, I used Shyp, a company that picks up whatever it is you want shipped, packages it for you, and sends it. I asked for two-day shipping, but I was charged more than $50 for overnight shipping. I (rather unprofessionally) lost my cool on Twitter about it. I am by no means a Twitter superstar, and yet Shyp jumped on my tweets, called me, apologized, refunded the difference, and told me about the company's next update, which would include shipping estimates.

    Porsche, on the other hand, has not yet issued a full response. Yes, it's significantly more expensive to fix a Porsche. However, a company that sold 50.1 percent of itself to Volkswagen for $5.6 billion and has a history of wooing reporters with expensive trips could have--and especially at this luxury level, should have--simply taken the car away and handed over a like-for-like model. The problem could have been over before it began; now, the brand damage is only getting started.



  • If you say or do something that offends your customers or the public, your efforts to save your company and your leadership position have to be authentic and fast.

    The litany of executives, public figures, and politicians whose careers have unraveled because of a discriminatory statement, extramarital affair, crime, or even controversial personal beliefs, shows just how easy it is to fall. But when controversy or disaster strikes, you don't necessarily have to go down permanently. America loves to give second chances--but whether you get one depends heavily on how you deal with your scandal.

    If you're a leader fighting for a second chance, Eric Schiffer, reputation-management expert and chairman of Reputation Management Consultants, is here to help. His Irvine, California-based company, which ranked #81 on the 2012 Inc. 5000, helps clients including prominent politicians, A-list celebrities, and some of the wealthiest men and women in the world. (Schiffer declined to name any of Reputation Management's clients.)

    Schiffer says leaders fall because they don't realize their own responsibility. As a CEO, everything they do and say matters. When a CEO forgets about that aspect of their job, things can go very badly. "Leaders have a responsibility--they carry with them more gravitas and their words have a lot more power," he says. "They have an obligation because of that power to be more sensitive and meticulous in how they communicate to the public, customers, and others who will amplify that message. To the extent to which they want to be involved in politics or engage in controversial issues, they do it many times at their own peril. Not unlike taking a grenade, pulling out the pin, and leaving it on their desk."

    If you maneuver correctly when what Schiffer calls the "maelstrom of fury" is upon you, you can return things to normal. "It comes down to authenticity, being a real person, and taking responsibility. Forget all the corporate stuff, business is people," he says. "At the root, people identify with people who are genuine, open, and come from good intentions. People realize people make mistakes and, especially in America, the public is forgiving."

    Below, check out the steps Schiffer says you need to take after you make a serious mistake, get swept up in controversy, or get into legal trouble.

    Establish your goals.

    Say you've publicly expressed your views on political or social issues, and now you're suffering a backlash. Immediately you must figure out what's most important to you--your position in your company or furthering your political agenda. "The leader's first move is to determine what's their goal. Do they want to use their success and position as a platform for secondary gain on a political, religious, or controversial [topic]? Are they willing to pay the price?"

    If you decide to continue espousing unpopular opinions and the situation spins out of control, you need to be willing to retreat and make amends, Schiffer says. "In my experience, leaders don't think of these things before the error is made. Part of the process is therapeutic. It's about making a clear distinction on what matters to them at the time, what caused all of this. Make sure it doesn't happen again, and be clean and clear with what we will decide upon, because it needs to be authentic and real."

    Decide on a strategy and stick to it.

    Once you know what you want from the situation, it's time to hammer out a plan. "Next, you have to decide on a strategy and be very consistent with that strategy," he says. "To me, it's all about accepting responsibility and stating what you have learned. Then you need to share that insight and try to gain forgiveness through making an apology."

    Move fast.

    This aspect cannot be stressed enough. You cannot let this kind of situation snowball. "Speed matters. You have to move quickly and get in front of it as fast as possible. Then you need to be in front of the decision makers who are deciding your fate--customers, clients, board members, partners--and you need one-on-one communication with them about how you're accepting responsibility and correcting it," Schiffer says. "This has to happen, or else the forces will make your fate. If you don't, the decision makers will be more interested in saving their own reputations and protecting their own turf."

    Do a deep clean.

    Once you have executed your plan and gained forgiveness, it's time to reinvigorate your reputation and brush the dirt off your shoulder. "After the fury, it's all about cleanup. We focus on the positive things the individual has done, highlighting the good and putting it all in perspective," Schiffer says. "That may mean leveraging the preexisting good things and fine works the executive has done, influencing with our technology, and utilizing our veteran strategists on the Web." If it's a legal problem, Schiffer says, he has a team of media-savvy attorneys to help leaders get out of trouble. "It all requires meticulous care and precision. You have to be extremely persuasive and organic."



  • It's grotesque, but income inequality isn't as harmful as we think.

    Last weekend the New York Times published its annual list of executive compensation, with Oracle's Larry Ellison topping the charts at $78.4 million (and Disney's Bob Iger in a distant second, at $34.3 million). Pay packages have increased by an average of 9 percent since 2012, continuing a steady and spectacular rise even as average wages in the United States and throughout much of the developed world have stagnated.

    These figures are often presented as evidence in an ongoing debate that assumes a direct link between the accumulation of wealth at the top of the income pyramid and the stagnation of income for the vast middle and bottom. The Times article quotes the current leading critic of the inequities of global capitalism, Capital in the Twenty-First Century author Thomas Piketty: "The system is pretty much out of control in many ways."

    That may be true. Business school professors who study the effect of excessive executive compensation are resoundingly convinced that too much comp hurts the overall performance of companies. Fifty years ago the ratio of average CEO comp to average salaries was 24-to-1; now it is 204-to-1. Many business scholars believe tying so much of CEO comp to stock and the performance of a company's shares incentivizes CEOs to make quarterly earnings look good whether or not it benefits the company's long-term health.

    But does the widening gap between the pay of those at the top of the wealth heap and the rest actually harm those who are struggling or sinking? The underlying assumption tends to be an unequivocal yes. It's one of Piketty's claims-;in sync with his overall view that capital benefits capital while chronically undermining wages and labor. Studies by University of California scholar Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman have been used as Exhibit A in the case for the pernicious influence of wealth inequality. These studies have been the subject of dozens of articles in the past month alone and are part of the corpus of evidence that accumulation of wealth is harming the middle class. Nobel Prize winner and former World Bank Chief Economist Joseph Stiglitz has made similar arguments.

    But as New York Times economics writer Eduardo Porter noted recently, claiming that wealth inequality is unambiguously harmful is more about ideology than evidence. He cites the struggles of Harvard scholar Christopher Jencks, a leading chronicler of the middle class, to complete a planned book on income inequality. After years of research, Jencks was convinced that the only true statement about whether and how income inequality harms society is "It's hard to tell." Progressive economist Jared Bernstein has also found that we can't prove the assumption that inequality leads to slower growth, given available evidence. It may be true, Bernstein wrote, but we do not have enough concrete proof.

    The work of Jencks and Bernstein complicates the neat narrative of robber barons and a new Gilded Age harming the middle class. Because those views lack black-and-white simplicity, however, they tend to receive less attention. Which is a shame, because they're probably closer to the truth.

    The assumption of a causal link between excessive pay at the top and low growth and stagnant incomes fuels the drive to reframe the tax code toward greater redistribution. There is a strong moral case for that, especially insofar as massive gaps between the rich and the rest can be so insurmountable as to severely dent the idea of equality enshrined in the founding of the U.S. That said, even aggressive redistribution will not fundamentally solve what now ails us.

    First, this is not an American phenomenon. Capital everywhere--from the corporate CEO in the U.S. to industrial titans in India to party leaders in China--is reaping the greatest rewards of global economic growth. Altering CEO pay structures would do little to alter that trajectory.

    The top 100 CEOs in the survey took home a total of $1.5 billion. That's rather nice for them, but redistributing, say, $1 billion of that would do almost nothing to help the 100 million people at the bottom of the economic pyramid in the U.S. Even if you included upper management and got to, let's say, $100 billion, the extra income distributed across American society would barely improve living standards. Boards could mandate that, say, Larry Ellison of Oracle should be less wealthy so that Oracle employees could be more wealthy, but Oracle employees are already on the winning side of the global economic equation. They are not the ones who need help.

    Let's say then that you created an inequality tax, as Robert Shiller of Yale has proposed. That could certainly generate some extra billions, which could then be redistributed. But even there, the super-rich would only become slightly less super-rich, while those whose incomes are stagnating or those tens of millions underemployed and caught in a web of structural unemployment would see marginal improvement at best. In short, measures to reduce inequality might be modestly helpful, but they wouldn't solve much.

    No matter what redistributive measures we took, we'd still be faced with an economic system in dramatic flux based on the erosion of traditional wage industries in the developed world over the past decades. It is not inequality that has caused the middle class to lag and suffer. Inequality rather is a symptom of a system that reached the limit of what it could provide wage earners performing jobs tied to 20th-century manufacturing.

    Ballooning CEO pay is in turn a product of the globalization of capital, labor, and business (as Piketty highlights) without a commensurate evolution of some sort of global government and tax regime. Almost all of the companies that employ the top-paid CEOs are increasingly multinational and answer to no single government. That is a dramatic structural shift of the past two decades, driven by an emerging global middle class.

    The focus on compensation has the virtue of a neat explanation for a real challenge. CEOs are paid egregiously; many, many people barely earn enough. But no amount of tweaking executive compensation will generate a vibrant, innovative economy. No amount of redistribution will reinvigorate the American dream or preserve the European system. Only if such tweaking goes hand in hand with a new growth engine--or a rethinking of the necessity of relentless growth--could it be constructive. Obsessing over executive compensation does nothing to contribute toward the hard work of making a generational transition away from the industrial economy that was and toward the information economy that will be.



  • Sorting through your inbox can be a huge time suck. Here are a few ways you can make the process more efficient.

    Office workers spend about two hours a day on email.

    Cal Newport, author of "So Good They Can't Ignore You," argues that this is terrible for your career.

    While sending emails might feel productive, he says, it doesn't help you grow your professional skill set.

    With that in mind, we gathered these time-saving hacks.

    To stop typing the same thing all the time, use "canned responses" in Gmail.

    If you're always sending the same email--your address, your elevator pitch, your availabilities for the week--then craft a few canned responses in Gmail and dish them out quickly.

    To do so, open Gmail, click on settings, click on Labs, then "canned responses," and then click enable. Or watch this sweet walkthrough, care of blogger Amy Lynn Andrew.

    To avoid unnecessary emails, send a text, IM, or just walk on over.

    Productivity consultant Jason Womack says to find a way to "escalate high-priority messages" with your colleagues.

    If a matter is both urgent and important--and there is a difference--use a different medium than email, like instant message, text, or just walking over to their desk. While emails get lost in a pile, a tap on the shoulder is hard to miss.

    Use "the Email Game" to hustle through your messages.

    If you want to have some fun and increase your pace as you churn through your inbox, play the Email Game, which turns sorting through emails into a type-as-fast-as-you-can web game. When you open up the Email Game, it syncs with your Gmail. It opens up one message at a time, which you deal with right away and then click onto the next one, all in a race against time. Productivity guru Tim Ferriss swears by it; he says it doubles his inbox-cruising speed.

    To slow down the pace of incoming messages, get rigorous about unsubscribing.

    If most of your messages are spam or unread newsletters, get rid of them. How? Set a filter for the word "unsubscribe"--which should catch all those unwanted mass mailings--and archive all that stuff immediately. This way you're not actually unsubscribing to the emails, which might have searchable value down the line, you're just shoveling them into a folder.

    To sprint through your inbox like an Olympian runs a race, get to know how your email client works.

    Business Insider has done a lot of the work for you; watch this video on mastering Gmail or this rundown on Outlook productivity hacks.

    To compress your inbox for speed, stop using your email as a to-do list.

    Using your inbox as a to-do list is dangerous. Any email you don't act on immediately will get pushed down to the bottom of your inbox by the end of the day. For a better to-do list, try Any.do or Trello.

    To aid with sorting the good from the bad, enlist some algorithmic help.

    When Harvard Business Review editor Sarah Green set out on a quest to conquer her inbox, she realized she was relying too much on herself.

    "I stopped expecting a human brain to solve a problem created by technology," she writes. "I used to feel bad--really bad--when important emails would get lost in the impenetrable wall of unimportant near-spam that took over my inbox every day."

    She opted for SaneBox, an algorithmic filtering app that learns what your most important messages are. Those are guided into your now-tidy inbox, while the filtered-out emails are filed away into a "SaneLater" folder.

    To keep yourself from getting overwhelmed, make a careful routine.

    Some of the greatest artists have had rigorous daily routines. LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner shows a similar commitment to sculpting his days--how else could he communicate in a 4,300-person company? As he shared on a LinkedIn post, the routine goes like this:

    Wake between 5am and 5:30am; spend roughly an hour on my inbox; catch up on the day's news; have breakfast and play with the kids; workout; go to the office; carve out roughly two hours for buffers each workday; come home; put the girls to bed; have dinner with my wife; and then decompress, typically while watching tv (sporadically cleaning up my inbox via mobile during commercials and the boring parts of whatever we're watching.)

    When days get particularly hectic, Weiner says he loses the routine and consequently loses control of the inbox. Thus the importance of forming a habit that sticks.

    To save clicks and keystrokes, use keyboard shortcuts.

    For example, on Gmail, via Business Insider:

    • (Ctrl + Enter) to send message.
    • (Ctrl + .) to move to the next window.
    • (Ctrl + Shift + c) to add Cc recipients.
    • (Ctrl + Shift + b) to add Bcc recipients.

    (Swap Ctrl for Command if you're using a Mac, and the same keystrokes will work.)

    On Outlook.com, via CNET:

    • (R) to Reply
    • (Shift+R) to Reply all
    • (Shift+F) to Forward
    • (F7) to Check spelling
    To make emailing on a smartphone faster, use Mailbox.

    When Mailbox founder Gentry Underwood was first drawing up the app, he realized that most mobile email clients were clunky ports of desktop experiences. So Mailbox redesigned the inbox for mobile friendliness. Unwieldy email threads get condensed down into chat-sized bubbles. Messages get archived with a swipe of a finger. To see more, watch this:

    To avoid unnecessary work, quit with the filing system.

    Gmail and other clients allow you to set up filing systems to allow users to better organize their inboxes. But it can just get in the way.

    "Email folders are categorically the worst way to look for email messages," says Alex Moore, CEO of the email management service Baydin, the company behind the Email Game.

    A folder system is self-defeating, he says, because even if you make a bunch of great folders, you might not recall where you put a given message. A search is way faster.

    To save you time and get your messages read, write shorter subject lines.

    Marketing company Retention Science did an analysis of email replies and found that "emails with subject lines containing six to 10 words were the most effective at getting the recipient to open them up."

    As we've reported before, there's a science to subject lines.



  • Aereo's CEO says the Internet is changing every industry, and that's a good thing.

    The future of Aereo, an online service that provides over-the-air TV channels, hinges on a battle with broadcasters that goes before the U.S. Supreme Court next week.

    For as little as $8 a month, Aereo subscribers in New York and 10 other markets can watch shows live or record them using Aereo's online digital video recorder. Subscribers access programming with computers, smartphones, and other devices, as well as with TVs with Roku or Apple TV streaming devices. Aereo resembles a cable or satellite TV service, except it costs less and is limited to over-the-air channels, plus Bloomberg TV.

    Cable and satellite TV companies typically pay broadcasters to include TV stations on customers' lineups. Aereo argues it's exempt because it merely relays free signals. When recording or watching a show, subscribers are temporarily assigned one of thousands of small antennas at Aereo's data centers. Aereo likens its antennas to the personal antennas in people's homes that pick up free broadcasts.

    Broadcasters argue that Aereo built the individual antennas specifically to skirt copyright law, as there's no technical reason such a service would need them. Millions of dollars are at stake: If people ditch cable service for Aereo, broadcasters would be able to charge cable companies less.

    Oral arguments in the copyright challenge are scheduled to go before the court on Tuesday, with a ruling expected by this summer.

    Aereo founder and CEO Chet Kanojia recently spoke to the Associated Press about his company and the industry. Questions and answers have been edited for length, and the order of some questions has been changed to improve flow.

    Q: Why shouldn't broadcast and cable companies fear Aereo?

    A: What they should be afraid of, and I'm sympathetic to this, is the Internet is happening to everybody, whether you like it or not. It happened to books, news people, it happened to music people, it happened to Blockbuster. There is nothing in our Constitution that says there is a sacred set of companies that will never be affected by new technology.

    Q: A lot of people who may think about cutting service and going with Aereo may be reluctant because of the one or two cable channels they watch regularly.

    A: The market is going to evolve. If you think about what Netflix is doing (with original programming), it is going to force change in the paid TV business. Here's a channel effectively operating as a paid channel. If Netflix can pay the bills, the next hit show is going to be on Netflix. It's not going to be on HBO. That's going to force the change.

    Q: How did you come up with this idea?

    A: My last company, we pioneered how to measure viewership in cable systems. When you started looking at the data, it was obvious that nobody watches more than eight channels. Half of them happen to be major networks, which are free to air.

    Q: If you prevail, what do you think that will mean for the industry?

    A: Change is a long process. I don't think anything is going to change anywhere because of Aereo. What is happening is the entire market base is changing with access to alternatives, whether it's Netflix or iTunes or things like that. Aereo is simply providing a piece of the puzzle. After we win, it's not that a sea change is going to happen overnight. It is just going to be that we will be allowed to continue to fit that missing piece in a consumer's life as they're evolving. These things take decades to play out.

    Q: If Aereo wins, a couple of broadcasters have threatened to become cable-only channels so that they can't be shown on Aereo.

    A: They're individual companies. They can do whatever they want. I think the question becomes, on an overall-reach basis, you're giving up 60 million eyeballs. That's how many people use antennas in some way, shape, or form, which kind of correlates to about 18 percent of the household basis.

    Q: Your Plan B should the Supreme Court decide against you?

    A: We don't have a Plan B.

    Q: For a $100 million investment, that seems to be a lot of faith.

    A: We apply all of our energy in making sure we're ready and continue to grow the business. To me, if we optimize for loss or a potential loss, we give up optimizing for a win. If you believe your position, the only thing you should do is play to win. We've never been dishonest with our investors. Everybody knows what the risks are.

    --Associated Press



  • Instead of just waiting for the work week to end, use those last few hours and these tips to make next week start out fantastic.

    Most people get excited that Friday is here, especially if the week has been hectic and packed. But often Fridays can seem like a waste (especially before holidays). Your brain, in anticipation of the time off, just says: I have had enough! Bring on the downtime. Then the afternoon just drags on and on.

    You don't get a lot of help from your colleagues because the afternoon Friday lull is a commonly shared experience. Everyone's already thinking about the weekend and ready to go home, so productivity drops. But instead of giving in to the impulse to window gaze and daydream, you can use the opportunity to get next week off to an awesome start. Here are seven ways:

    1. Set up some exciting contacts. Give yourself something to look forward to. Spend the afternoon emailing new prospects or perhaps mentors. Set up a lunch for next week that makes you anticipate good things to come. People may be slow to reply since it's Friday afternoon, but in the worst case you'll come back Monday to some positive responses.

    2. Organize the week. Go through next week's calendar and plan out the entire week. Set reminder alarms on your computer or smartphone calendar. Include all meetings, deadlines, and "to-do" items. Lay out a specific task list with apportioned hours. You'll clear your mind of that nagging feeling that you forgot something and have a truly relaxing weekend, leaving you happier on Monday.

    3. Get one thing off your desk. Fridays are the time when it's most tempting to look at projects and tasks and say, "Oh, I'll just pick it back up Monday." So choose one of your ongoing projects and commit to getting it done before you leave. The satisfaction of accomplishment may even motivate you to do more today. And next Monday, you'll have the relief of knowing that task won't be on your desk to taunt you.

    4. Shake up your routine. Reflect for a few moments on your usual weekly routine. Make a list of your typical distractions, the habits and stressors that keep you from starting the workweek with a bang. This can be anything from "chatting about the weekend over coffee with officemates" to "reading the accumulated junk e-mail on my laptop" or "hiding from my annoying boss or colleague." Make a list, then write down what you will do instead. Create a new routine that's uplifting and energizing. Put it where you will see it first thing Monday morning.

    5. Work on your future. If you feel you simply can't push any more paper for your company today, put on some inspiring music and spend a little time writing some thoughts about your current career and life. Are you working towards your preferred future? Do you know where you want to be in five years? Make some notes and take them with you to consider over the weekend. When you come back Monday, you may have some needed clarity that can help you decide how to spend your week--or whether it is time to start looking for new opportunities.

    6. Surprise yourself. Hide some small treat in your desk drawer or file cabinet. It could be a gourmet chocolate bar, a $10 iTunes card for new music, a new scented candle, or another little indulgence you like. Put it there Friday afternoon and you'll have something delightful to look forward to on your return. The best part is when you forget all about it and make a startling, pleasant discovery during the week. It's kind of like your very own Easter egg hunt.

    7. End the week on a high. Plan to show someone your appreciation. Pick someone in your office who has been extra helpful this week, done a fantastic job on a project, gone above and beyond, or been everyone's ray of sunshine. Plan a nice gesture such as a thoughtfully worded thank you e-mail, a small bunch of flowers, or a gift card to their favorite coffee place. (If there's anything to purchase make sure you do it on Sunday night so you're not running late!) Execute your gesture of gratitude after you arrive Monday morning. You'll be excited all weekend about making that person's week start out with a bang!

    Like this post? If so, sign up here and never miss out on Kevin's thoughts and humor.



  • Your company's purpose is important to employees, so you probably better let them know about it.

    Every company, at some level, has a purpose. How well you are able to communicate yours internally could have a major effect on your employees' engagement levels.

    That's one of the more striking findings from a new survey from Deloitte. To put it in terms of numbers, 73 percent of employees who say they work at a "purpose-driven" company are engaged, compared to just 23 percent of those who don't.

    A purpose-driven company, as Deloitte defines it, is one that has "an important objective that creates meaningful impact for stakeholders"--those stakeholders being customers, employees, their communities, and investors.

    Purpose and Awareness

    The data on employee engagement is self-reported. That is, employees themselves were asked whether they consider their companies purpose-driven and themselves engaged.

    From that spectrum, the correlation makes sense. After all, if an employee thinks their company has a purpose, of course they're more likely to say they're invested in their work.

    In an interview with Inc., Deloitte chairman Punit Renjen agreed with that likelihood.

    However, he said, what that really drives home is how essential it is for companies to make their purpose clear to their employees, and to establish systems within the organization that reflect that broader purpose.

    That's because purpose on its own might not directly impact employee engagement so much as awareness of and exposure to that purpose might heighten employees' interest and commitment to their work.

    It's not a layup that employees can identify with a corporate purpose. Consider the following, also found in the Deloitte study:

    • 47 percent of executives strongly agree that they can identify with their company's purpose, compared to just 30 percent of employees.
    • 44 percent of executives say leaders set an example of living that company's purpose. Only 25 percent of employees agree.
    • 41 percent of executives say the company's purpose plays a role in major business decisions, compared to 28 percent of employees.
    • 38 percent of leaders say their organization's purpose is clearly communicated, compared to 31 percent of employees.

    In other words, even if you think you do a good job of bringing your company's purpose to the forefront, you might very well be wrong.

    What is a purpose, anyway?

    Punit says that articulating and communicating your purpose isn't as easy as it sounds. "You have to really understand the essence of why you exist," he says. In addition to crafting a mission statement, it also involves embedding the purpose into the entire organization (like through volunteer or employee development programs that reflect it) and through leadership buying in to that system as well.

    But from a mission statement perspective, a couple of examples come to mind.

    One involves Asana CEO Justin Rosenstein and involves one three-letter word: Why? An easy way to re-inforce your company's broader mission to employees who might be too caught up in their day-to-day to see it is to simply go up to them and ask them why they're doing whatever task they're doing. Their immediate answer might be because it's part of the project they're working on. Ask them why they're working on that project. When they give an answer, ask why again. Follow this chain long enough and you should eventually arrive at your company's mission statement.

    The second example is an oft-cited but unconfirmed urban legend of employee engagement. It involves a janitor at NASA, being asked what he was doing, saying he was "helping to put a man on the moon."

    Gallup has also created a seven-step plan for developing your company's mission statement, specifically for the purpose of leveraging employee engagement.

    Beyond Engagement

    Employee engagement isn't the only thing Deloitte found mission to impact. It also has wider-spread effect on corporate confidence.

    For instance, 82 percent of leaders who say their companies have a strong sense of purpose expect to grow in 2014, compared to just 67 percent of leaders who didn't feel that sense.

    Meanwhile, 91 percent of leaders at purpose-driven companies felt their companies would stengthen or maintain their brand in the next 5-10 years, compared to just 49 percent of their counterparts.

    The common thread with the engagement data isn't necessarily that purpose drives performance (though that takeaway would also appear valid, based on Deloitte's data) as it is the sense of confidence generated by understanding that purpose across the entire organization--leaders and employees alike.



  • Odds are very high that many of your employees are disengaged, but you have the power to change that. Forget about awards and bonuses. Here are the five gifts that keep on giving.

    According to research conducted by the Gallup Organization, only 30 percent of U.S. workers are engaged in their jobs--that is, they are “involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their work and contribute to their organization in a positive manner.” That leaves 70 percent of workers either not engaged or actively (you might even say disastrously) disengaged. According to Gallup, companies pay a heavy price for all this disengagement, to the tune of about $500 billion in lost productivity.

    But all is not lost. As a leader, some of the most effective things you can do to develop and sustain motivated, energized employees cost little or nothing at all. Forget the employee-of-the-month award or the big holiday bonus; they have little lasting effect on positively motivating employees. Instead, focus on daily interactions. And be sure that you provide your employees with these five things:

    1. Interesting Work

    No one wants to do the same boring job over and over, day after day. Though a certain amount of routine and repetition is part of almost every job, make sure each employee finds at least part of his or her job highly interesting. As management theorist Frederick Herzberg put it, "If you want someone to do a good job, give them a good job to do." Find out which tasks your employees most enjoy and use that information when you make future assignments.

    2. Information

    Information really is power, and your employees want to be empowered with the information they need to do their jobs better and more effectively. And, more than ever, employees want to know how they are doing in their jobs and how the company is doing in its business. Open the channels of communication so that employees are well informed, can ask questions, and can share information. Be transparent, honest, and forthright. Those qualities will have a direct impact on employees' effectiveness.

    3. Involvement

    As the speed of business continues to increase, the amount of time you have to make decisions continues to decrease. Involving employees in decision making, especially when the decisions affect them directly, is both respectful and practical. Those closest to the problem typically have the best insight as to what to do. Involving others will increase their commitment and speed the implementation of new ideas or changes.

    4. Independence

    Few employees want their every action to be closely watched and monitored, or for their every decision to be questioned or micromanaged. Most employees appreciate having the flexibility to do their jobs as they see fit and to make decisions independently. Giving people latitude increases the chance that they will bring additional initiative, ideas, and energy to their jobs.

    5. Increased Visibility

    Everyone appreciates getting credit when it is due. Occasions to celebrate employee successes are almost limitless, and you should never let one pass. One of the best and most highly motivating forms of recognition is to give your employees new opportunities to perform, learn, and grow in response to their recent achievements. They will always rise to the occasion, becoming even more engaged, productive, and effective.

    Like this post? If so, sign up here and always stay up to date with Peter’s latest thoughts and goings-on.



  • A roundup of the day's news, curated by the Inc. editorial team, to help you and your business succeed

    1. Attention, App Developers

    Dropbox has been quietly snatching up small app platforms to help the cloud storage company become more of an app platform itself. Recent acquisitions, which have happened at a rate of roughly one per month, include Loom, Zulip, and Hackpad, among others. App developers eyeing an exit strategy might want to try to get on Dropbox's radar.--Re/code

    2. A Wall in Berlin

    Doing business in Europe has been a challenge for tech companies such as Google and Facebook, which have faced scrutiny and fines in the past. The latest Bay Area company to face rebukes abroad is Uber: A Berlin court banned some of its services, saying the company didn't have approval to operate there and threatening drivers with $13,800 fines.--The New York Times

    3. Shooting for the Moon

    Think you have a big idea? Check out Swedish company Brighter Moon, which has secured $52 million in funding to, wait for it, make the moon brighter. The startup claims it can save the world billions of dollars in electricity by placing highly reflective material on the moon's surface. Is it real or a hoax? Keep an eye on this one.--Mashable

    4. Divorcing Your Co-founder

    For couples who have started companies together, the end of their marriage doesn't necessarily have to mean the end of the business. Here's how ex-husbands and wives can make a postsplit professional relationship work.--NPR



  • Companies making a trade-off between user protections and revenue are still coming down on the wrong side of the privacy debate. And soon they'll begin to pay for it.

    Last October, Facebook drew fire for allowing teens to post publicly for the first time. Critics blasted the social network for monetizing kids and teens. Newsflash: Facebook has been and will continue to monetize every living being on its platform. And that makes Facebook no different than all of its capitalist predecessors; making money is not the real issue here.

    No, what we should hold Facebook accountable for is its too-slowly-evolving stand on privacy.

    Opening up Facebook is the right thing to do, but it's also complicated because doing so means the social network (and others like it) must do a better job of educating users. They must have a clear-cut privacy product. I don't mean a shortened privacy statement but a product that clearly and succinctly states what piece of data is being used for what.

    On a very simple level, any social network should have a "take me private" button--one that shuts out the world--and another that lets only specific connections see specific things. The default setting should border on obsessive--what's shared should be in the hands of the user, not the network. Terms of data use should address actionable choices the user has made to share information, not a way of legally covering the company in the event that something bad happens.

    This isn't to say that social networks haven't become more privacy-friendly with their settings, but we're far from a point where it's easy to shut out the world.

    The obtuse crystallization of this lack of product privacy is Internet security company AVG's PrivacyFix. PrivacyFix is essentially a sophisticated Chrome plugin that tells you exactly what your Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google Plus pages are sharing, and what potential mistakes you're making with your privacy. While this is an excellent and easy-to-use product, it's also ludicrous that it has to exist.

    Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, and other companies are leaving traffic (and money) on the table because they don't want to commit to a privacy-focused product. Their anxiety could be that the virality of content on Facebook will be stifled by easily letting people control the privacy of their platforms. Twitter, which has a borderline binary way of controlling privacy (your tweets are private, not private, or directed at one user), still has over 240 million monthly active users, which pales in comparison to Facebook's 1.3 billion.

    However, judging by Facebook's creation of embedded posts to compete with Twitter's embedded tweets, there's a clear interest in tweets' immediate public impact.

    The truth is that Facebook (and other networks) could solve the problem by dropping the "everything is public" mantra entirely and making it very clear what's being posted publicly or privately. Having a vague tab that says a few different things (public, friends, etc.) isn't obvious enough--make the button say where the post is going. Instead of having the privacy button hidden at the top right in a small, non-specific icon, why not a "privacy" tab underneath "messages"--or even under "edit profile"?

    So why aren't they already doing this? The answer may not be simple greed but the anxiety of a public company over its revenue stream. With a potential exodus of teenage users to messaging apps, and an initial worry over revenue generation via mobile (which they have now righted), Facebook could be desperate to keep making money and so they continue to make privacy missteps.

    We the people need to hold them accountable, and not accept vague privacy policies as an excuse for making people’s information public when they don't want it to be.

    Obfuscating privacy settings is not a trick that will work in the long run--and while Facebook may currently be the king of the social networks, it only takes a few missteps to fall. Just look at MySpace.



  • Molly Graham, who was once tasked with helping Facebook to define its company culture, talks about what she learned from the job.

    For founders, defining company culture is really an exercise in self-awareness.

    Ask yourself: What are your strengths? What makes you different from everyone else ambitious enough to start a company? What are you terrible at?

    This introspection is important because it will offer an almost exact preview of how your company will operate down the line. Founders have demonstrated time and time again that the essence of your grown-up company is going to reflect your own key traits.

    For example at Amazon, CEO Jeff Bezos' competitive nature and his tendency to move fast has extended to almost every level of the 97,000-person company. Similarly, Airbnb co-founders Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia hail from the Rhode Island School of Design, which explains why the company has stuck tightly to its design focus over the years.

    "Eighty percent of your company's culture will be defined by its core leaders," says Molly Graham, head of business operations at word processor company Quip. Graham was previously Facebook's director of mobile, and was tasked with helping the company define its culture when she came on in 2008.

    In a recent talk at First Round Capital's CEO Summit, covered on First Round's blog, Graham spoke about how an early list of values laid down by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has guided the way the company has hired for years.

    'One of Us'

    In 2008, Facebook had 400 employees. As Graham tried to draft a company-culture description, which would help them acquire new like-minded hires, she was at a loss. She realized she was writing down the same boring and cliché descriptors--like "fast learners" and "team players"--that everyone else was using.

    Luckily, she found out that Zuckerberg had already captured a lot of what she really needed to say. When the company had first started to grow, Zuckerberg jotted down a list of what it meant to be "one of us." Deeply familiar with his own values, he was easily able to articulate the ones he wanted to see in the members of his company. Zuckerberg's list of desirable attributes:

    • A very high IQ
    • Strong sense of purpose
    • Relentless focus on success
    • Aggressive and competitive
    • High quality bar, bordering on perfectionism
    • Likes changing and disrupting things
    • New ideas on how to do things better
    • High integrity
    • Surrounds themselves with good people
    • Cares about building real value over perceived value

    Graham said she was impressed by how honest--and even controversial--the list was. But the list, written in 2006, stuck. And it has continued to shape much of the philosophy behind Facebook ever since.



  • What the entrepreneur and his team gleaned from introducing students to the lean startup model

    Our Stanford and Berkeley Lean LaunchPad classes are over for the year, and as usual we learned as much from teaching the teams as the teams did from us.

    Here are a few of the lessons learned from the two classes.

    Have each team talk to 10 customers before the class starts

    Each year, we learn how to move more of the Lean LaunchPad class logistics outside our classroom so teams have more time for in-class learning.

    A few years ago, we moved the formation of teams to before the class started, and in doing so, saved a week of what normally would have been class time. To make this happen, we held three information sessions two weeks apart before the class started. In these info sessions, we described the purpose of the class and then let students mix, meet, and form teams. During this preclass time, we shared a Google Doc in which students who had ideas could find other team members. Students without an idea could find a team that matched their skills and interests. Application and admission into the class was by interview with a fully formed team.

    Info session announcement (click to enlarge)

    The next thing we learned was to make applying to the class an integral part of the learning process. Teams applied by filling out both a business model canvas and a competitive petal slide. Having the teams do this accomplished three things. First, it forced the students to read and understand "what's a business model canvas" before they even came to class.

    Team application: business model canvas

    Second, the competitive slide enforced a modicum of due diligence on the product and market. We got tired of knowing more about a team's market by doing a Google search as the team presented--so we made it a team's job.

    Team application: competitive petal slide (click to enlarge)

    Finally, having teams spend time on the canvas and competition as part of the application process saved weeks of what would have been class time (and as a bonus gave the team a heads-up about the difficulty of the class and showed whether the team members were serious about the class or just shopping).

    This year, we learned to raise the bar once again. Could we get the teams to come into class having already talked to 10 customers? Instead of using the first class to have teams just present their business model canvas, this time the teams' first presentation was about what they learned outside the building about their value proposition. We pointed them to our tutorials on customer discovery and how to conduct customer interviews but didn't expect them to be experts in Week One.

    1st-week team title slide--11 interviews before class started (click to enlarge)

    We did an A/B test when we required our teams in one school to do this while we didn't require it for the teams in the other school. The result? Teams that had to talk to customers before the class hit the ground running. There was a substantive difference in team trajectory and velocity that continued throughout the quarter. The amount of learning between the two felt quite different. Though there may have been other factors (team selection bias, team makeup, etc.), we'll now make this an integral part of all the classes.

    Have each team put the number of mentor interactions on its weekly title slide

    The second innovation this year involved mentors. Each team was assigned a mentor as a coach. We've been trying to figure out how to make mentor engagements with their teams a regular rather an ad hoc activity. Though we have required the teams to add a summary of any mentor interaction to their LaunchPad Central narrative, we felt we didn't have sufficient high-level visibility for these essential interactions.

    (Click to enlarge)

    But this year, a seemingly minor change to the teams' weekly cover slide had an important impact. As teams presented each week, their cover slides showed the number of customers interviewed for that week (>10) along with the cumulative customers interviewed. This year, we added one more metric for their cover slides--the number of mentor interactions for that week (>1) along with the cumulative number of mentor interactions.

    This enhanced the visibility of the teams' interactions (or lack of) with their mentors and allowed us to intervene early if there wasn't sufficient interaction.

    Here are a few of the Final Presentations (see here for all of them)

    If you can't see the presentation above, click here

    If you can't see the video above, click here

    If you can't see the presentation above, click here

    If you can't see the video above, click here

    If you can't see the presentation above, click here

    If you can't see the video above, click here

    If you can't see the presentation above, click here

    If you can't see the video above, click here

    If you can't see the presentation above, click here

    If you can't see the video above, click here

    If you can't see the presentation above, click here



  • In its three-year lifespan, Aereo has angered all the major TV networks, major-league sports, and the government. Here's a portrait of the scrappy company--and its audacious CEO--that could change American television as we know it.

    Chet Kanojia peels the wrapper from a piece of nicotine gum and stares calmly into the middle distance. He seems unfazed by the DJ beats or the commotion. Or the fact that he's just been interviewed about his company in front of a couple hundred tech enthusiasts in an Austin bar at the South by Southwest Interactive festival, where half the audience was concerning itself with throwing back tequila, searching for the free T-shirts, or exchanging business cards. His is the still gaze of a man who has achieved much and yet has enough on the line for it to matter. Just 45 days after this event, Kanojia will have to defend Aereo, his ambitious tech startup, in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.

    From Day One, Kanojia anticipated that the fundamental idea behind his company--which streams TV-network programming to customers' computers--could rattle the establishment. He built the company anyway. As CEO, he has propelled Aereo's rapid expansion into 11 cities, attracting nearly $100 million in funding in the process. For most of Aereo's three-year lifespan, the little, 115-person company has been under legal assault by the same media titans that urged the Supreme Court to take up the case: Disney/ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox, among others. The case is expected to yield a landmark decision not just for Aereo but also for the future of American television as we know it.

    Since it first launched in New York City in 2012, Aereo has changed the way people watch TV. Its customers can watch about 30 channels of network programming on a computer or mobile device. It's a dream for cord cutters who miss sports games or the occasional morning show, and it isn't just for real-time viewing: Aereo uses the cloud for DVR-like storage. At about $10 a month, subscribing to Aereo is a fraction of the cost of a cable package from a major provider.

    The establishment is fuming--and crying copyright foul--because Aereo doesn't pay a penny for the content it streams to customers. The crux of Aereo's legal arguments is: Why should we?

    "We're perfectly within the law," Kanojia says. "We have been accused of overengineering our system purposefully to comply with the law. What's wrong with that?"

    Aereo's innovative (or exploitative, depending on which side you're on) solution to bringing broadcast programming to the smaller screen involves taking the antenna out of the home. The company provides a tiny, half-inch antenna for each subscriber. Broadcasters call the fact that these mini antennas are located on rooftops rented by Aereo, rather than in American homes, a "loophole" in the law that Aereo is exploiting. The broadcasters claim the startup's method of streaming content amounts to an illegal "public performance" of the material.

    Kanojia sees it differently. He and his investors--including Barry Diller, the mogul responsible for creating Fox Broadcasting--argue that simply because the ways television networks make their money have changed over the past few decades, it doesn't mean they get a "do-over" when someone builds a more efficient system. (The major networks have become increasingly dependent on fees paid by cable and satellite companies to carry their programming.)

    The first lawsuit came four weeks after Aereo launched its service. More suits followed in other states. Most judges have sided with Aereo so far, but most recently, bad news came from Utah, where a federal appeals court upheld a U.S. District Court injunction against Aereo. The service went dark in its affected markets, Denver and Salt Lake City. When the networks petitioned the Supreme Court, Aereo's reaction was: Bring it on.

    If it sounds a bit unhinged to risk the fate of the company on a single day in court, consider the alternative: litigating lawsuit after lawsuit in every new place Aereo launches. "We can't do death by a thousand cuts," says Kanojia. Now, he's in the unenviable position of pursuing the very decision that could instantly bring down his company. Remarkably, he's not outwardly rattled. "He's a steady hand on the tiller," says Aereo investor Dan Nova of Highland Capital Partners. "Very calm under pressure."

    Kanojia, who grew up in Bhopal, India, learned early that life can change in an instant. When Kanojia was 10, his father suffered a heart attack that left him unable to work for years, crippling the family's finances. Kanojia says this informed his thinking, to always have a "Plan B and Plan C. And D."

    Kanojia moved to the United States to study engineering in 1991. In 1995, around the time Netscape went public, he struck out on his own. "I had that star in my eye," says Kanojia, now a U.S. citizen. "Every punk who could write two lines of code was going to be the next Marc Andreessen or Bill Gates." His first company, Navic Networks, which developed technology that allowed cable companies to collect data on subscribers, sold to Microsoft in 2008 for a reported $250 million.

    Venture capitalist Amish Jani made one of his first investments in Navic. Now managing director at FirstMark Capital, Jani says funding Aereo was a no-brainer. "He's incredibly motivated," Jani says. "Maybe it's the immigrant effect, but there's not a lazy bone in his body."

    Kanojia and his team designed the antennas and engineered the hardware and software that make Aereo's service work. For most of Aereo's short life, it has had all the growth challenges of a typical startup: the iterating, the rapid hiring, the pressure of product launch after launch. And, well, that little litigation problem.

    Legal experts have speculated that by taking up the case, the Supreme Court is raising an eyebrow at Aereo--and might be concerned that the broadcast networks are in danger. And the networks have a powerful slate of friends: Filing supporting briefs to the court are the National Football League, Major League Baseball, the Screen Actors Guild, and even the U.S. government.

    It's natural to think that Aereo's Plan B might be an acquisition by a major cable company--or even one of the networks trying to shut it down. Sitting in a tiny conference room in Aereo's New York City office, Kanojia scoffs at the idea of accepting an acquisition offer at this point in the company's life: "I look at where we are now, and it's probably the first half of the first inning."

    He'll soon know whether there are more innings in this particular game. I mention this, but Kanojia refuses to get riled up, or to acknowledge whether he does have another plan--a Plan C or Plan D--tucked away. Instead, he cracks a smile and leans back.

    "To go from doodling on the back of a napkin three years ago to center stage in national policy and this level of consumer passion?" he says. "You couldn't write the script any better."



  • When an employee has the courage to give you negative feedback, you need to accept it as a gift.

    It's tough to receive negative feedback, but as a leader you must treat it as if it were a fine wine. Once the cork is out of the bottle, you need to identify its nuances and understand its valuable characteristics.

    Roger Schwarz, an organizational psychologist and leadership consultant, says you must be open to listening to employees when they tell you things you're doing wrong. As uncomfortable as it may be to hear it, he says, the criticism is a "not-so-nicely wrapped" gift. "Effective leaders open these gifts, regardless of the wrapping, to learn what they are doing that's negatively affecting others on their team," he writes in the Harvard Business Review.

    Schwarz, who is also the author of the book Smart Leaders, Smarter Teams: How You and Your Team Get Unstuck to Get Results, says the worst thing you can do is to dismiss the feedback or ignore it. Instead, take the opportunity to learn something valuable and improve your leadership skills. Here are his tips on how to do that.

    Realize you feel threatened.

    Schwarz says when an employee says something negative about your leadership, you'll immediately get defensive. But before you respond, recognize these feelings. "Notice when people say things that lead you to feel upset, surprised, or threatened," he writes. "When you feel this way, there is a good chance that you've just been given a gift that's poorly wrapped."

    Find the gold.

    It may not feel good, but there's a valuable lesson behind the criticism. The employee may be blunt or inelegant, but the delivery is unimportant. "When you focus on how the gift was delivered, it's easy to dismiss it as off-topic, ungrateful, or whiny," Schwarz writes. "But rejecting a gift doesn't make the underlying issue go away; it just prevents you from becoming aware of it and being able to address it. There is a Talmudic saying, 'Who is wise? He who learns from everyone.' Suspend your judgment about the wrapping, and focus on your opportunity for learning."

    Be curious.

    When it's time for you to talk, your response should elicit more explanation. Get to the root of the complaint and try to find out more. "This leads you to open the gift by saying something like, 'I thought I was fully supporting you, but it sounds like I wasn't. What was I doing--or not doing--that you thought wasn't supportive?' When you respond with curiosity and compassion, you learn things that people were previously unwilling to discuss with you," Schwarz writes. "Discussing these previously un-discussable issues enables you to solve problems that were previously unsolvable."

    Foster trust.

    If you follow these tips, you'll be giving a gift back to your employee. Accept the gift of criticism and be curious and compassionate--no one wants to work for Blake from Glengarry Glen Ross. "You are creating the trust needed to talk about things that really matter and that will lead to better results," Schwarz writes. "This type of gift is priceless."



  • Even more employees leave before the end of their first year.

    Forty percent of employees who left their jobs voluntarily in 2013 did so within six months of starting in the position, according to data recorded and processed by the work-force insights arm of credit-reporting agency Equifax.

    And another 16 percent of all employees who left on their own choosing did so within 12 months, meaning more than half of voluntary turnover happens within a year of new hires' start dates.

    Equifax Workforce Solutions director of product Kristen Lewis tells Inc. that many employees approach new jobs with the belief that "they can find something else if it's not a great fit right away."

    The rate at which employees left inside of six months was about twice as high for employees paid hourly than those who pocket a salary.

    However, Lewis says, that doesn't necessarily mean finance was a driving factor of employee movement. Only a slight majority of employees who left voluntarily did so for greater pay, with 44 percent staying even or taking a pay cut to switch positions. "It supports the concept that culture and opportunity play a big role," Lewis says.

    A cut in hours for hourly employees, meanwhile, makes a big difference in when they'll eye the door. Lewis said Equifax's data shows that for every four hours cut from an employee's schedule, there's a corresponding 5 percent jump in the likelihood he or she will take a new gig.

    The idea that fast voluntary turnover--that is, turnover after less than a year on the job--is higher for hourly employees might call to mind transient industries such as retail and restaurant work, the kind of job that's dominated by hourly work. And indeed, more than 64 percent of new hires in retail and about 66 percent of those in leisure left in that time frame.

    Likewise, the business services industry--largely composed of temporary staffing--sees 65.7 percent of new employees move on within a year.

    However, even though the numbers are lower, they still might surprise you in other, more stable industries.

    More than half of voluntary turnover in the transportation industry happened in less than a year. In the information industry, that number is about 43 percent. In financial services, 37.5 percent. In health care, nearly 37 percent.

    And across all industries, employees are more likely to leave voluntarily inside of their first six months than in months six through 12.

    Voluntary turnover in general was up 3.5 percent in 2013, according to Equifax. The Department of Labor has also seen a recent increase in the "quit" rate, according to the The Wall Street Journal.

    Voluntary turnover is generally lauded as a positive sign for the economy, indicating that enough jobs are out there to allow employees to hop around the market. And many companies embrace the idea of being net exporters of talents, as a positive sign of their ability to nurture talent.

    But even with those optimistic qualifiers, you would probably like to get at least a little bit more than a year out of your new hires.

    So you might want to check out Inc. columnist and HR expert Suzanne Lucas's pointers for keeping turnover low.



  • Leading up to oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court, the scrappy company that brought broadcast channels to computers through the cloud, explains itself.

    As the days tick down before Aereo presents its case to the U.S. Supreme Court, the company is going on the PR offensive.

    On Apr. 17, the New York City-based startup launched ProtectMyAntenna.org to inform users about the tech behind the company's Internet-TV streaming. It reads: "Aereo's technology provides a consumer the ability to use a remotely located individual antenna to access free-to-air broadcasts, make a personal copy of a program on a remote DVR, and play back that copy only to him or herself. Using the cloud, Aereo was able to develop a smarter, more sophisticated antenna, purpose-built for the 21st century consumer."

    High Stakes

    The case before the U.S. Supreme Court on April 22, American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. v. Aereo, Inc., is expected to yield a decision that's fateful not just for the existence of this scrappy, 115-person company but also for the future of America's broadcast airwaves--and possibly for cloud computing, too. The broadcasters argue that Aereo's act of streaming content through the cloud constitutes an act of "public performance" of copyrighted material. It's natural to wonder: What else do we access through the cloud that could be affected by this ruling?

    Not only are the stakes high leading into Tuesday's arguments and the following deliberations, but the decision is highly uncertain. As Jonathan Handel wrote Apr. 15 in The Hollywood Reporter: "The case is so complex and the copyright and communications statutes so intricate that one advocate said the decision could end up as lopsided as 7-1--in either direction."

    There was concern that the Court's decision could be locked in a 4-4 tie, because Justice Samuel Alito had recused himself from participating, possibly due to he or his family owning stock in a litigant. But this week in a surprise move, he reversed that, and his renewed participation is listed on the case's public docket as of Apr. 16.

    You can read more of Aereo's argument here.

    And here's the brief filed by the broadcast establishment, including ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox, among others.

    Check out Scotusblog for more documents, including amici briefs, as well as the briefs of the petitioner and respondent.

    Also this week, Aereo gave TechCrunch a look at its rooftop antenna farm in Boston. It's not much to see from the outside, as the thousands of tiny antennas and their antenna boards, and the shelving units that hold them, are all encased in a 10-foot-wide beige plastic box. Yes, it's not even translucent, but the signals can travel through it.

    I spent a lot of time with Aereo CEO and founder Chet Kanojia while reporting a feature on the company that will appear in the May issue of Inc. magazine. We'll publish that piece online shortly, so stay tuned.

    Update: Here's the feature, "This Startup Is Shaking TV Networks--All the Way to the Supreme Court."



  • Here's how you can help your team sell smarter.

    If you have trouble keeping up with the latest tools and strategies your sales team should have in its arsenal, you're not alone. On behalf of software corporation SAP, Column Five created the below infographic, a roundup of the best ways you can help your inside sales team optimize its efforts.



  • The rock legend's PonoPlayer portable music device raised $6.2 million, becoming one of the most successful campaigns ever on the crowdfunding website.

    Neil Young is on a mission to rescue the art of recorded sound, and thanks to his recent Kickstarter effort, he might pull it off. His widely publicized campaign for the Pono music player, a portable device that aims to deliver sound as rich as your grandfather's vinyl, generated $6.2 million in pledges on the crowdfunding site--no small feat for a startup helmed by a guy known far better for his songwriting ability than his business prowess.

    But there it is, plain as the Guardian headline that announced the news Wednesday: Neil Young's Pono is the third most-successful Kickstarter campaign ever in terms of money raised, trumped only by the Pebble smartwatch ($10.3 million) and the Ouya game console ($8.6 million).

    How did the startup, which PonoMusic CEO John Hamm once dubbed one of the "worst-kept secrets in the world," thanks to a reveal on David Letterman's Late Show, take Kickstarter by storm? With star power, obviously. But more than that, it took an entrepreneurial mindset.

    The Startup That Wasn't

    The story goes that Young heard his songs on a CD for the first time in 1982, around the time the discs were first coming to market. He was disappointed at how bad they sounded; he didn't hear the plainspoken folk songs he'd played, but something much flatter and more condensed. The sound lacked the soul of his music.

    As he told Mashable, he grew even more disheartened as the industry shifted to MP3 downloads and streaming music and the fidelity worsened. Meanwhile, Apple's iPhone was quickly becoming the go-to music-listening device and no one seemed to notice the problem.

    "People started buying their music through their devices, and the fact that you could get so many songs on the device had a blinding effect on consumers. They realized, 'Whoa, I can get all these songs; it's so great.'" Young told Inc. in an interview earlier this month. "After a while, it dawned on them that the music was slightly compromised. Some of the depth was lost."

    By the early 2000s, Young believed there was a business opportunity to restoring quality sound. He began to tinker with the project that would eventually become the three-sided PonoPlayer (pono means "righteous" in Hawaiian) and gathered a board of advisers to help. Young even met with Steve Jobs, but says he found the late Apple founder more interested in his iPod than with recreating authentic sound.

    A couple of CEOs came and went on the project without fanfare. Then in October 2012, Young's fledgling Santa Monica startup, then called Ivanhoe, raised $500,000 from an undisclosed investing group, solidifying PonoPlayer's potential as a hardware disrupter. Young also put his extensive Rolodex to use, tapping friends such as John Tyson of Tyson Foods for angel investments. Soon Ayre Acoustics was on board to help manufacture the device, and Pono began to truly take shape.

    The company "got a lot done on that money; we built a prototype player and got our music label contracts done," Hamm told Inc. in a recent interview. But in many respects, the company was at the point "where Neil needed to make something of it." Hamm joined the company after becoming acquainted with Young through a board member. But it would take time--and many failed prototypes--before either Hamm or Young felt satisfied.

    At one point, Hamm says, "we had to stop and start the player design," as well as adjust plans for Pono's online marketplace, which will function much like iTunes but with a broader array of studio master-quality recordings. (It's set to launch sometime this year.) "We wasted a little bit of engineering time, rewrote the firmware," Hamm continues. But overall, "we kept evolving, figuring out ways to make it better."

    Today, Pono is a full-fledged business with a product, a vision, and as Young puts it, soul. The device has 128 gigabytes of memory (good for storing from 1,000 to 2,000 digital albums), comes in black or mustard color, and retails for $399. And of course, as listeners attest, it sounds really good.

    A Star-Studded Kickstarter

    "That's the best sound I've ever heard in a car ever in my life; as a matter of fact, it might be some of the best sound I've ever heard," David Crosby says in the Kickstarter video as he exits Young's boat-size Cadillac Eldorado. "It's starting to sound like an amazing, warm, dynamic analog recording," says a beaming Chris Robinson, the Black Crowes's frontman, at a concert. "It's vinyl quality," says a young music fan. Chimes in another: "Yeah, it's a lot different than, like, a regular iPod. It sounds like I'm actually there."

    On March 15, Young began taking discounted preorders for the music player on Kickstarter. Within a day, it reached its $800,000 funding goal, powered by the celebrity-filled video. The wow factor the artists project when describing the PonoPlayer's sound also proved effective--so many of them seem so astonished by what they've just heard that you can't help yearning for that feeling.

    Perhaps the best testimonial of all comes from Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters, who hops in Young's car for a listening session. On rotation: Aretha Franklin's "Respect." The car windows rattle and the bass is insistent, turning the vehicle into a concert on wheels. "You could definitely hear that it's not as compressed so that music can open up a little bit wider," Grohl says later while lounging in his tour trailer. He stretches his arms to convey what what he means: This sound is really huge.

    "There are a lot of people who miss music," Young said of the Kickstarter success. "They miss hearing it and feeling it. There's a magic in music that's missing when you take away 95 percent of the data. That's what an MP3 is."

    Vickie Nauman, the North American president of 7digital, a digital music distributor, offered a different take. "First and foremost, Neil Young is very authentic, and people respond well to authenticity," Nauman says. "It's rare these days. Second, the Pono story of 'hearing music as the artists intended it to be heard' brings the artist back into the dialogue, and fans care about the artist. And finally, the message about higher-quality audio is also timely--music fans are demanding better-sounding audio."

    The third point may be what sets Pono apart from other music startups, even those like Beats that use sound quality as a selling point. "Beats is basically an earphone with a bass boost in it," Young says. "It gives you that fat sound, and it's a good sound. But you can plug into Pono through a Beats set of headphones. You can play Pono through anything. Pono is music that you buy. Beats is a pair of headphones and a streaming service."

    Not that Young is averse to a little competition: "We will [make] whatever set of headphones you want to see," he says. "The better the headphone, the better the Pono is going to sound."

    Whether delivering superior sound will attract a critical mass of customers remains an open question. "Convenience trumps quality," James McQuivey, VP and principal analyst with Forrester Research, tells Mashable. "It's why MP3 works. It's why streaming works." At nearly $400 for the hardware (song and album prices have yet to be determined), Pono may remain a niche business that caters mainly to die-hard music fans. But it could still be a very lucrative one.



  • An expert weighs in on the elements that separate a great brand emblem from a forgettable one.

    Every day consumers are confronted with countless logos but remain mostly unaware of how these icons are constantly transmitting a slew of messages aimed at the subconscious.

    "A company's logo is its shorthand, a visual cue that tells a story of the brand's culture, behavior, and values," said Su Mathews Hale, a senior partner at the New York brand-strategy and design firm Lippincott. Because a logo may only have a second to tell this story, creating one "can sometimes be the most difficult aspect of branding," she says.

    We had her guide us through some of her favorite projects she's worked on, as well as some of the corporate logos she most admires.

    Walmart Stores

    In 2005, Wal-Mart, as the company then styled itself, recruited Lippincott to reimagine its brand. It wanted to shed its image as a big corporate outlet for cheap products and become seen as a place where people could wisely save money and buy premium groceries. The corporation debuted its new logo in 2008.

    Mathews Hale and her team felt that the old logo's all-caps, dark blue letters screamed "corporation" and had become inextricably linked to the popular view of critics who saw Wal-Mart as a malevolent giant crushing small businesses across the country. They deemed the star that served as a hyphen in its logo generic and forgettable. They also believed that businesses with hyphenated "mart" names conjured up images of corner stores and cheap outlets, hence the new styling, Walmart.

    They decided to keep the color blue, which Mathews Hale calls the world's favorite color, but to go for a brighter hue they believe evokes modernity and trustworthiness. They replaced the sharp angles of the original letters with "a more humanistic font." Finally, they decided on an asterisk-like symbol that looks like "a light bulb going off in your head," a metaphor for Walmart shoppers being smart for taking advantage of affordable, quality products. They chose a hue of yellow that appears hopeful but didn't make it too bright because "bright yellow is associated with low-cost items in retail," says Mathews Hale. She was happy to find that focus groups also interpreted the spark as a sun or flower, both positive associations.

    eBay

    In 2012, eBay basically had the inverse problem from Walmart: It wanted to finally grow up, and its playful logo was getting in the way of its ambition. Mathews Hale says that when Internet companies have electric, jumbled logos, they conjure up memories of the companies that died when the dot-com bubble burst. So for eBay, she and her team stuck close to the original design but refined the typography, toned down the colors, and put the letters on the same baseline. The resulting logo is "more grounded" and better suited for a company that takes business seriously, Mathews Hale says.

    Hyatt Place

    Hyatt Hotels Corporation bought AmeriSuites in 2004, and Lippincott was responsible for rebranding the chain as Hyatt Place, which launched in 2006. Hyatt and the designers believed that AmeriSuite's affordable business-suite market was beginning to be seen as a boring, cheap alternative to upscale hotels. The way to turn that perception around, the company believed, was to make the suites seem like a good option for younger business travelers who may not be very wealthy but who still appreciate luxury.

    A fundamental component of the relaunch was to give every Hyatt Place an attractive, engaging lobby. The final logo combined two different shapes: In design, says Mathews Hale, "a circle tends to be seen as modern and approachable" and "a square tends to be steadfast and disciplined." The design team chose vibrant colors for seven of the circles and picked black for two. When Hyatt Place signs are illuminated at night, the colored circles create an "H" for "Hyatt," which Mathews Hale finds to be a fun, extra dimension of the logo.

    Starbucks

    Over the past several years, Starbucks has grown into a global powerhouse and has been heavily promoting its non-coffee products, such as pastries, sandwiches, and teas. In 2011, it decided it wanted a simpler logo not tied to the word "coffee." Mathews Hale wasn't involved in the project, but her Lippincott colleagues were.

    The redesign started with a basic premise. When focus groups were asked what color Starbucks' logo was, explains Mathews Hale, participants almost universally said "green." But the thing is, only the ring around the former logo was green--the siren character was outlined in black. Mathews Hale says the designers freed the siren from her constraints and imbued her with the color with which customers were already associating the brand. They nixed the word "coffee" and brought the text outside of the circle, since the siren had become iconic enough to stand on her own.

    "It's a great example of how a logo can evolve," says Mathews Hale.

    NBC

    Lippincott hasn't worked with NBC, but Mathews Hale says the NBC peacock is one of her favorite logos. She thinks the logo has improved and grown simpler over time, and that even though the peacock's colors originally celebrated the advent of color television, the array still transmits feelings of joy and energy.

    FedEx

    FedEx's logo is another one of Mathews Hale's favorites. As shown by her work with the Hyatt Place logo, she likes images that have surprises in them, and the arrow formed by the "E" and "x" in FedEx is one of the best-known examples. She also appreciates the timeless nature of the logo. "It could have been designed in 1970 or it could have been designed yesterday," she says.

    It was actually created in 1994 by Lindon Leader, and it has won more than 40 design awards, partially for the reasons Mathews Hale mentions.

    Apple

    Mathews Hale thinks Apple's emblem is a perfect example of how a logo needs to adapt to the changing direction of the company it represents. One of Apple's co-founders, Ronald Wayne, designed the first Apple logo, a weird, detailed etching of Sir Isaac Newton that was supposed to represent Apple as an ambitious outsider. That same year, Steve Jobs hired Rob Janoff to replace that image with something more modern. Janoff came up with the now iconic image of an apple with a bite out of it, and Jobs decided Apple's unique approach to computers would be represented by making the apple rainbow-colored.

    It became monochrome in 1998 to fit into the clean, simplistic designs that the company decided to pursue.

    Regarding trends and presentation

    When tackling a branding project, Mathews Hale differentiates between the "true and new." She says a logo needs to be "true," in the sense that it should not be fundamentally tied to a trend, or the "new." The trendiness is more appropriate in supporting elements of branding, like store experiences or website interfaces. That said, a logo should be fundamentally sound but also be adaptable to the ways it will be presented.

    "Logos used to have to be recognizable down to the size that they would be represented on a business card. Now they have to work at much smaller sizes, because they'll be seen on mobile screens," Mathews Hale says. That's actually the reason why so many logos have become "flatter," in the sense that they've been stripped of techniques such as shadowing that add a dimension of depth or movement.

    Here's an example of how Google went flat last year:

    "I personally like more simple designs," says Mathews Hale. "Gradients are my worst nightmare."



  • Kids make mistakes. Parents won't let go. Everyone suffers.

    "What's wrong with family business? The family."

    So says New Hampshire attorney John Hughes, who frequently counsels clients on succession planning. John tells me he has seen "way more failures" than successes when it comes to bringing children into a business. Paul Karofsky, a family business consultant, puts it even more bluntly. A dysfunctional family enterprise, he cautions, "is like no other hell on earth."

    Given the poor odds of a successful transition to the younger generation, why would any company owner consider it? Well, most entrepreneurs spend their lives nurturing two things: their companies and their kids. So it's natural to want to pass one down to the other. On the practical side, family companies are ideal vehicles for transferring knowledge and experience to offspring. They provide welcome employment and leadership opportunities and can act like domestic magnets, pulling family members together. And, of course, there's great pride in perpetuating a family brand.

    For most families, the process of transitioning to the younger generation is a mixed bag. Gloria and Dave Sharrar founded Richmond, Virginia-based CityParking in 2004. Two years ago the Sharrars' son (who shares his father's name but goes by David), took over as CEO, and Dave transitioned to chairman. David's sister, Katie, also works in the business. Together, the siblings own 40 percent of the company, with plans for their shares to increase.

    Gloria, who is retired from CityParking, says that Dave "has evolved from CEO to Guardian--of his kids and of the business he founded." Dave tries not to meddle in operations, Gloria says, but "sometimes he'll just walk in on the kids, and ask how they're handling this or that. The kids will say, 'Dad, you don't need to be engaged in this.' But it's hard for Dave to let go."

    And for good reason. The "kids" are unseasoned and still make mistakes. "Your children will do nothing but reassure you that they're ready and can do the job," Gloria says. But certain things at CityParking fell through the cracks, and some critical client relationships became strained. Gloria takes the long view and reminds Dave that mistakes are opportunities to learn. But she blames both her husband and herself for overestimating their children's readiness to take the helm when they did.

    And no wonder. Business demands something not normally required of parents: an objective assessment of their kids' strengths and weaknesses. Family succession only works when offspring are competent leaders who are passionate about their work. Consultant Karofsky says entrepreneurs must make a decision: Does the family serve the business or does the business serve the family? If parents take the attitude that blood is thicker than ability when choosing a successor, chances are the business won't be around long enough to serve anybody.

    Luckily for the Sharrar family, this isn't the case. The next generation may be making its share of mistakes, but Gloria says that overall they're doing a good job of steering the growing company. Both kids now have healthy incomes for their families and are proud to be recognized in the community as good business leaders.

    For Gloria's part, she's glad to be out of the company. "My conversations with my kids are more personal now," she tells me. "Being in business with your children adds a layer of tension and decision making that can diffuse the fundamental love and caring of the parent-child relationship. Over a long period of time, it creates an undercurrent that can become an undertow."

    Anyone with a family business should hire an attorney to help with estate planning and recruit an outsider who can mediate and advise--as well as make clear-headed evaluations of the capabilities of the next generation. That's a role Gloria no longer feels comfortable playing. "I just want to be a Mom and a grandmother," she says. "I don't want to have to assess my own children."



  • No matter how you define rich, this is the only way to get there.

    Want to be remarkably successful? Want to get really rich? (While there are many ways to feel "rich," in this case we're talking about monetary wealth.) Then check out this little gem of an investment opportunity.

    It's a simple investment. You only have to invest almost all of your money. On the upside, after a year you might earn 3 percent more. The downside? Any day you could lose it all, for reasons usually outside your control and that you will almost never see coming.

    Would you make that investment? Of course not.

    Yet millions of people do--every day they go to work for someone else.

    Of course the analogy isn't perfect. Until you're laid off or fired you do earn a salary. But when you work for someone else, your upside is always capped--sure, you might occasionally get a raise, but in most cases 3 to 4 percent is the best you can expect.

    Yet your downside is always unlimited because getting fired or laid off can make your income disappear overnight--and with it the considerable investments you've made in time, effort, dedication, and sacrifice.

    Extremely limited upside. Unlimited downside.

    That's a terrible investment.

    Rich in Wealth

    So if you hope to get really rich, working for someone else will never get you there. But don't just take my word for it, the government agrees.

    The IRS Statistics of Income Division, a place where fun surely goes to die, has published "400 Individual Tax Returns Reporting the Largest Adjusted Gross Incomes Each Year, 1992-2009," or in non government-speak, "400 People Who Earned a Freaking Boatload of Money."

    In 2009, it took $77.4 million in adjusted gross income to crack the top 400. (That just barely got you in; the average income of everyone on the list was $202.4 million.)

    Where it gets interesting is how the top 400 made their money:

    • Wages and salaries: 8.6 percent
    • Interest: 6.6 percent
    • Dividends: 13 percent
    • Partnerships and corporations: 19.9 percent
    • Capital gains: 45.8 percent

    A few conclusions are obvious:

    • Working for a salary won't make you really rich.
    • Making only safe "income" investments won't make you really rich.
    • Investing only in stock of large companies won't make you really rich.
    • Owning a business or businesses could not only build a solid foundation of wealth but could someday...
    • Generate a huge financial windfall--and make you really rich.

    Don't trust the IRS? Fine. Check out the top 10 on the Forbes billionaires list. Gates. Buffett. Ellison. Koch. Walton. Adelson. All entrepreneurs. (I worked my way down into the 200s and still couldn't find an employee, so I got bored and stopped looking.)

    Clearly getting really rich in financial terms is the result of investing in yourself and others, of taking risks, of doing hundreds of small things right...and then doing one or two big things really right.

    But what if you don't get one or two big things really right? There's another way to get really rich.

    Rich in Life

    I've spoken to hundreds of entrepreneurs, and each and every one does the same thing. When we talk about the financial side of being an entrepreneur--exit strategies, revenues, IPOs, cashing out--they're interested but far from animated.

    But when we talk about the life of an entrepreneur, about how it feels to be an entrepreneur, they all light up. They start to gush about the challenges, the responsibility, the sense of mission, the sense of purpose, the sense of fulfillment and excitement of working with and for a real team, the amazing feelings of empowerment and the control over their own destinies....

    It happens every time.

    The bootstrappers with infinite dreams and negligible revenues light up.

    The successful entrepreneurs such as Joel Gascoigne, who helped expand Buffer from a personal project into a business with a talented team with real revenues, light up.

    The hugely successful entrepreneurs such as Scott Dorsey, who helped steer ExactTarget out of a garage, into an IPO, and then into an acquisition by SalesForce.com, light up.

    Every entrepreneur lights up when we talk about being an entrepreneur because they feel alive: free to chart their own courses, to make their own decisions, to make their own mistakes--to let the sky be the limit not just financially but also (and almost always more importantly) personally, too.

    And in that way, regardless of financial return, they feel really rich. And they are really rich -- regardless of income or wealth.

    Really, Really Rich

    That's why the only way to become really rich financially and really rich personally--in other words really, really rich--is to start your own business. Even if it's just on the side. Even if it's just a slightly stepped-up hobby.

    There's no reason not to. You don't have to quit your job right away; in fact, you probably shouldn't. (One of the best ways to minimize your risk is to keep your full-time job while you build your foundation for success.) Plus the basics of starting a business are easy; you can do it in one day.

    Here's the deal. In return for less freedom, less control, and less fulfillment, every day you go to work for someone else your upside is always capped and your downside is always unlimited.

    The downside for entrepreneurs is also unlimited--but in return, they enjoy the possibility of an unlimited financial upside and an unlimited personal upside.

    Take a chance on yourself. Try to get really, really rich. Maybe you'll only become really rich.

    One out of two is still awesome--and you will have achieved it on your terms.

    If your friends and family think you were crazy for starting a business, show them this article. If you've been thinking about starting a business and people say you're being foolish, show them this article.

    If the people around you don't understand how personally fulfilling taking a chance on yourself can be, have them check this out.

    And then get started on your entrepreneurial journey, even in the smallest and safest way. Every step you take will bring you closer to becoming at the very least really rich--and maybe, just maybe, really, really rich--and will let you join a group of people who live their lives their way, on their own terms.

    Who are those people?

    Entrepreneurs. Be one.

    It's the best investment you can make--because it means you're investing in yourself.



  • True innovation has nothing to do with your company's size or industry. It's a way of thinking. Here are three ways to make sure you're on the right track.

    You might think that the business world is split between two camps: companies that innovate and those that don't. And you'd probably be right. However, is the divide between the successful behemoths and the barbarian entrepreneurs pounding at the gates? Not at all.

    Successful innovation is a matter of attitude and practice, not of size. There is nothing sacred about being an entrepreneur--many will fumble around without hitting a spark of genius. Large companies? Some manage to keep churning out new products and technologies on a regular basis.

    Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup, has an interesting view. In an interview with McKinsey & Company, he explains how tech startups successfully challenge incumbents. Though some of the mechanics apply specifically to that industry, the places where incumbents fall down are a matter of attitude. They also aren't a simple matter of size.

    In other words, there's a chance that you're leading a dinosaur. A little baby dinosaur, to be sure, but one as doomed to extinction as its brethren. Here are the basic problems exhibited by companies that will ultimately lose, no matter their size.

    Are You Relying on the Old Answers?

    In high tech, it's now possible for a "kid with a credit card--with a $1,000 budget"--to create something that, to a consumer's eye, looks like the polished mature product of large competitors, notes Ries. That's an industry dynamic, to be sure, but it doesn't mean other industries escape the fate.

    Everything is running on computers. You can model problems and solve them on computers. Computers can run inbound sales and make a company look big and sophisticated. In addition, service providers run on computers. Want someone to provide fulfillment for your products? Amazon has it down pat, all riding on computation that helps make things affordable. Need to manage a more complicated sales process? There's Salesforce.

    So, large technology companies not only face direct competition, but those in areas other than high tech might find competitors using sophisticated simulation, automation, and communications to grind down the barriers to competition.

    Now, realize that none of this is restricted to a large versus small view of the world. Ries said, "And so you're not dealing with one potential competitor but with thousands or millions." But the same is true for a small company. Are you up to the level of innovation necessary when everyone in the world is out to eat your lunch?

    Are Your Failures Productive?

    Businesspeople, whether entrepreneurs or the heads of legacy corporations, don't like to fail. That's a shame, because you don't get anywhere without failure. Failing is the reconciling force in this great laboratory of life. You try something, it doesn't work, and you go on to something else.

    Only, as the great Samuel Beckett once wrote: "All of old. Nothing else ever. Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better."

    Failure is scary, but it's necessary because without it you can't progress. Just make sure you--and the people who work for you--learn from all those mistakes. Your company's culture must welcome failure, even though it can be enormously scary. If a big company slips up, no one may notice it. If you lose a big gamble, it could be the end of your company.

    But there is no other approach that can work. Make productive failure part of your corporate culture, even making its smart existence one of the ways you judge employees (and yourself).

    Are You Keeping Your Head Above Ground?

    When it comes to competition and innovation, the absolutely worst thing to do is to bury your head in the sand. You might not want to hear about all the dangers, or consider the amount of hard work success will take, but it's the only way.

    Be ready to face reality, and make sure your employees understand that it's the only thing you want to hear. Any size company can be willfully blind. Make sure it doesn't happen to you.



  • Listen carefully: Sometimes the best opportunities knock softly at your door.

    Opportunity has a way of making a soft tap-tap on your door. Smart entrepreneurs listen for these signals--they have ears specifically attuned to the sound.

    A recent book called Opportunity Knocking: Lessons From Business Leaders, by CNBC senior talent producer Lori Ann LaRocco, focuses on the sound of these opportunities--from how to take advantage of a burgeoning industry to how to take on a challenge that's bigger than just one company. I recently caught up with LaRocco, and she explained four ways to make the most of any opportunity.

    1. Ride the wave of a challenger.

    One of the most interesting points LaRocco makes is that many small companies ride on the coattails of other companies as a way to grow quickly. She says one of her favorite examples is from Anthony Wood, the founder of Roku.

    "Roku continues to blaze a trail with its legion of consumers and is laying the groundwork to becoming an operating system for television," she says. "For six years, they have been competing with Apple TV, and they continue to grow despite Apple's constant versions of their system." Wood told her that Roku sales doubled when Apple TV launched.

    2. Turn big setbacks into big wins.

    Another favorite example, she told me, has to do with Uber, the popular ride-sharing service. Anyone following the peer-to-peer car-sharing service knows there have been constant legal challenges, especially from taxicab unions. LaRocco says Uber learned how to turn a setback into a win. When the D.C. Taxicab Commission added a snow emergency fee of $15, Uber didn't raise its rates in response--it might have seemed like an opportunity to increase revenue. Instead, the company pounced on the opportunity and kept rates the same to attract new customers away from its legal challenger. "If the taxi unions want to be competitive, they have to think like a business providing service rather than a cartel holding consumers hostage," says LaRocco.

    3. Turn down opportunities that don't match your strengths.

    There's a reason Apple became so successful early on--the company focused on engineering prowess and marketing savvy. However, Apple didn't take on IBM and Microsoft in the realm of business process or enterprise software. LaRocco says successful companies need to do the same thing today. Growth happens when a company emphasizes a strength and skips opportunities that exploit a weakness.

    "Not all opportunities are created equal," she says. "You have to run each opportunity against your checklist of what your mission statement is, and assess the lay of the land and see what you can do differently."

    4. Always weigh the risks.

    Every opportunity has an associated risk--it might stretch your staff or your financial resources--but any new partnership, product, or even a big sales opportunity can cause stress on operations and your customer service. LaRocco says one example of how to weigh the risks comes from Ford Motor Company's CEO Alan Mulally. There's a chapter in her book dedicated to how Mulally met the challenge (and risk) of financial insecurity during the 2008 economic meltdown. Mulally knew the risks were great in going to Washington during that time and taking on Congress. He was advocating for an entire industry, not just for his company. Yet, the eventual outcome--not taking any bailout money--meant Ford came out of the meltdown relatively unscathed. "When you are at the crossroads of deciding on an opportunity, you have to weigh the risks," says LaRocco.­ "If the risk of not doing it outweighs the risk of doing it, you have your answer."



  • How to keep your choices under your control.

    President Obama only wears blue or gray suits.

    As he tells Vanity Fair, it's a way of managing his willpower.

    "I'm trying to pare down decisions," he says. "I don't want to make decisions about what I'm eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make."

    Obama's focus on routine is backed up by research. Social psychologist Roy Baumeister has found that willpower is like a muscle--it can be strengthened or fatigued with use.

    It's a crucial insight, given that a 2011 study of 1 million people around the world found that people think that lack of self-control is their biggest weakness or character failure.

    As Baumeister details in his book Willpower: The Greatest Human Strength and a New York Times Magazine cover story, willpower and decision making are interconnected. The house you grew up in, the number of decisions you made today, and what your friends are doing, all affect your decisions in weird ways. Here's a look at how.

    Make your most important decisions in the morning, before you experience "ego depletion."

    "Freud speculated that the self, or ego, depended on mental activities involving the transfer of energy," the New York Times reports. "[His] experiments demonstrated that there is a finite store of mental energy for exerting self-control."

    As the day wears on, your energy reserves are further depleted.

    Your brain needs glucose in order to make good decisions.

    "Even the wisest people won't make good choices when they're not rested and their glucose is low," Baumeister tells the Times. "That's why the truly wise don't restructure the company at 4 p.m. They don't make major commitments during the cocktail hour. And if a decision must be made late in the day, they know not to do it on an empty stomach."

    Grocery retailers discovered this decades ago. Researchers found that, "just when shoppers are depleted after all their decisions in the aisles--with their willpower reduced, they're more likely to yield to any kind of temptation, but they're especially vulnerable to candy and soda and anything else offering a quick hit of sugar."

    Our finite supply of "decision making power" means that making a series of decisions can be exhausting.

    Which would explain why shopping is so tiring.

    Researchers found that shoppers who "had already made the most decisions in the stores gave up the quickest" on a math test.

    Once you're mentally depleted, you're more likely to make bad decisions.

    "To compromise is a complex human ability and therefore one of the first to decline when willpower is depleted," reports the Times.

    At the end of the day, when we're more physically and mentally fatigued, we're more likely to skip the gym after work or drink more during happy hour.

    Developing routines helps you eliminate stress and conserve energy for important decisions.

    "The most successful people, Baumeister and his colleagues have found, don’t use their willpower as a last-ditch defense to stop themselves from disaster," the Times reports.

    "Rather, they conserve willpower by developing effective habits and routines in school and at work so that they reduce the amount of stress in their lives. They use their self-control not to get through crises but to avoid them. They give themselves enough time to finish a project; they take the car to the shop before it breaks down."

    If you want more willpower, get better sleep.

    Studies equate sleep deprivation--getting less than six hours a night--with being drunk. As Stanford health psychologist Kelly McGonigal says, sleep deprivation messes with the prefrontal cortex, a region of the brain associated with decision making.

    When you're sleep deprived, "the prefrontal cortex is especially hard hit and it loses control over the regions of the brain that create cravings and the stress response," she says. "Unchecked, the brain overreacts to ordinary, everyday stress and temptation."

    Your unconscious plays a key role in helping you make good decisions.

    President Obama's decision to "sleep on it"--with "it" being whether or not to raid Osama Bin Laden's compound--aligns with psychologists' recommendations for complex decision making.

    "Because your conscious attention is limited, you should enlist the help of your unconscious," according to the Harvard Business Review.

    Even if you don't have the option to delay your decision for long, engaging in another activity will take your mind off your dilemma and allow your unconscious to surface.

    Your decisions are shaped by your friends and family.

    Breakthroughs in network science--the study of social groups--have revealed how many things we tend to think of as being individual, like whether you get fat or stop smoking, are actually collective.

    As James Fowler of the University of California, San Diego, and Nick Christakis of Harvard Medical School have found, our behaviors are contagious. If your best friend becomes obese, you have a 57 percent greater chance of growing obese too. If a close colleague quits smoking, you have a 34 percent greater change of quitting smoking, too.

    Sometimes, it's best to run your ideas by others.

    Network science has insights into productivity, too.

    When researchers tracked the successes of individuals at an aerospace company, including patents and products those individuals brought to market, they found that who a given engineer knew was tremendously important.

    After experience, the relationships that an individual had were the greatest predictor of success. The people who had relationships up and down hierarchy and across departments were the most likely to succeed by the company's metrics.

    Why? Because when you have quality relationships with people, you can combine ideas, gather feedback, and earn buy-in for your projects--another reason that generous people succeed.

    It can be valuable to cave in and say "yes" to the "wrong choices" once in a while.

    Occasionally giving in to your desires can reinvigorate you, so you don't feel completely deprived all the time, according to the Times. It helps you stay on track for the long-term.

    There's a reason why people celebrate Mardi Gras before the Lenten season.

    If you make an obligation to someone, the decision gets easier.

    Are there decisions you don't have to make right now, or you can have someone else make for you?

    "Instead of deciding every morning whether or not to force themselves to exercise, [smart people] set up regular appointments to work out with a friend," reports the Times.

    If you prepare for your moments of weakness, you'll be better able to make good decisions.

    "Good decision making is not a trait of the person, in the sense that it’s always there," Baumeister says. "It’s a state that fluctuates," the Times reports:

    His studies show that people with the best self-control are the ones who structure their lives so as to conserve willpower. They don’t schedule endless back-to-back meetings. They avoid temptations like all-you-can-eat buffets, and they establish habits that eliminate the mental effort of making choices.... Instead of counting on willpower to remain robust all day, they conserve it so that it’s available for emergencies and important decisions.

    "The best decision makers are the ones," he says, "who know when not to trust themselves."

    If you can exercise your willpower, studies suggest you're more likely to succeed.

    In the famous 1972 Stanford marshmallow experiment, school children were asked to sit at a table with a marshmallow in front of them and not eat it--for an excruciating 15 minutes. They got a sweet pay off if they made it: a second marshmallow.

    As has been widely reported, the students that could wait for the second treat had higher SAT scores and lower levels of substance abuse than their more impulsive friends.

    But the waiting game might not be the whole story...

    But sometimes what looks like weak willpower could be quality decision making.

    If it looks like the opportunity to act might disappear, it can be better not to wait.

    In 2012, University of Rochester researcher Celeste Kidd published a study that challenged that marshmallow experiment. When she was younger, Kidd spent time working for homeless shelters--she remembers wondering how growing up in such an unstable situation would affect decision making.

    Those kids, she thought, would eat the marshmallow right away.

    But not because they didn't have enough willpower. Rather, they grew up in situations where you they couldn't trust adults to follow through on their promises.

    "Our results definitely temper the popular perception that marshmallow-like tasks are very powerful diagnostics for self-control capacity," Kidd said. "Delaying gratification is only the rational choice if the child believes a second marshmallow is likely to be delivered after a reasonably short delay."

    In Kidd’s study, children were primed to think that researchers were either reliable or unreliable. In one part of the study, the experimenter gave the kids a piece of paper and crayons, giving each child the choice of using those art supplies or waiting for better ones. Then came the twist: for one group of students, the experimenter brought back markers and more crayons; for the other, the experimenter came back and apologized, saying there weren’t any nicer art supplies.

    Then came the marshmallow test. Nine of the 14 kids from the "reliable" set were able to wait 15 minutes for the second marshmallow, but just one of the 14 who were disappointed waited it out.

    The lesson: What looks like willpower might also be trust.



  • Almost every position in every company requires some kind of selling. Here are the essentials you need to know to do it well.

    There are thousands of "how to sell" books and training courses available everywhere around the world. However, everything you need to know about selling really boils down to the following simple rules:

    1. Specialize in selling one thing.

    The notion that a great salesperson can sell anything to anybody is as stupid as the idea that a virtuoso musician can play any instrument. The more you specialize in terms of product, service, and industry, the more likely you are to sell successfully.

    2. Winnow down your sales leads.

    When you're selling, the last thing you want or need is a huge list of sales leads. You only want to spend time on prospects who will probably buy. Therefore, the tighter your target list, the more likely you'll find someone who's actually interested.

    3. Do your research first.

    Never, never, never contact a prospect before you've checked out the person's LinkedIn profile, researched his or her company and industry, and found at least one good reason why the prospect should to talk with you, today.

    4. Get into a conversation.

    Your initial goal is not to sell but to get into a conversation to find out if it the prospect is a potential customer. Therefore, a sales pitch--whether spoken, written, videoed, or whatever--is not just a waste of time; it's actually preventing a sale from ever happening.

    5. Be a person, not a salesperson.

    There's absolutely nothing wrong with selling for a living or having to sell in order to make yourself or your firm successful. However, most people dislike any behavior that smacks of the showroom. Be yourself, not a clone of Ron Popeil.

    6. Qualify the prospect quickly.

    When you do get into that conversation, your goal is to find out whether that prospect has a need for what you're offering and the money to buy it. If not, eliminate that prospect from your list. Don't waste your time or the prospect's.

    7. Focus on the customer's customer.

    When you're assessing needs, what's most important is always what your prospect's customers need from your prospect to be successful. Your job is to help the prospect meet those needs. Your own needs, of course, are utterly irrelevant.

    8. Adapt to the buying process.

    Selling is not something that you do to a customer. It's something that you do for a customer. This means understanding how the customer buys the sort of thing you're selling and providing assistance as needed to make the purchase happen.

    9. To sell you must close.

    When you've got what you hope is a bona fide potential customer, it's hard to risk hearing a no that smashes your dream of a big sale. Nevertheless, if you don't ask for the business, or wait too long to ask for it, you're going to lose the sale anyway.

    10. Build long-term relationships.

    The only way to make selling easier is to build up your Rolodex, not just of contacts but of people whom you've personally helped become more successful. Eventually, you won't need to sell any longer because your friends will do your selling for you.

    Readers: Is there something in this list that's missing. Leave a comment!

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



  • If you think coffee gets you kickstarted, just wait until you try gratitude.

    Everyone has a unique way of starting their day off on the proverbial right foot. What do successful entrepreneurs do every morning to ensure they are über-effective at getting things done? We asked members of the Entrepreneurs' Organization to provide their tips and tricks for maximum productivity.

    Say thank you.

    "Every morning, before I even put one foot on the floor, I think of one thing for which I am thankful. Starting with a positive thought and reminding myself of the good things I have in life gives me perspective for the day, should any unpleasantness unfold."

    --Michael Zwick, EO Detroit

    President, Assets International

    Work on the business, not in it.

    "I keep a recurring one-hour meeting for myself called 'Working on the Business.' This is a time to think about those higher-level issues that are so important and too often trumped by other meetings and 'urgent' emails. Though this meeting lasts an hour every day, it makes all the difference. Why wouldn't you spend at least five hours a week working on your business?"

    --Kevin Menzie, EO Colorado

    CEO, Slice of Lime

    Prioritize.

    "In order to have a productive day, I start out every morning writing down my top three MITs, or most important tasks, that I need to focus on for that day. I write them down at home before I leave for work, prioritize them, and then make sure I schedule time on my calendar early in the morning for each one of them. This process only takes a few seconds and ensures that every day is productive."

    --Jay Feitlinger, EO Arizona

    CEO, StringCan Interactive

    Exercise.

    "I made a promise to work out at least 45 minutes every morning before doing anything else. This has made a huge difference for both myself and my business. Through exercise, I start the day refreshed and ready to take on the many challenges of startup life. I'm more able to approach challenges with an open mind, remain healthy to work long hours, and keep a positive outlook when met with roadblocks."

    --Amy Balliett, EO Seattle

    President, co-CEO, chairman of the board, Killer Infographics

    Start earlier.

    "One day, I had to get to my office at 6 a.m. to be on a conference call with a London-based client. The call only lasted about 20 minutes, and I was left with two and a half hours before my employees started to arrive. I accomplished more in that time of solitude than I ever had in a standard eight-hour day with a fully staffed office. As more and more staff arrive, my productivity tends to decline dramatically. I now regularly work from 6:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m."

    --Jeff Cooper, EO Philadelphia

    President and CEO, Expo Logic

    Meditate for five minutes.

    "I start every day with a five-minute meditation and relaxation breathing exercise. This gives me the focus and peace to tackle my hectic day as an entrepreneur. I used to check my phone first and get stressed out, but now this short exercise gives me the balance I need."

    --Nick Friedman, EO Central Florida

    President, College Hunks Hauling Junk

    Podcast with the kids.

    "Once I hit the office, there is very little time to explore new trends and topics in my industry. I start each morning with a curated list of podcasts. First, I listen to two of my shows (10 minutes each), but I also listen to a podcast with my 5-year-old and 3-year-old. Everyone's happy, I'm up to date on my industry, and the commute goes quick!"

    --Nicholas Holland, EO Nashville

    President, CentreSource



  • Having problems with your superstars leaving rather than moving up? Out-of-date promotion practices may be part of the problem.

    For those who lead companies, how difficult do you make it to promote someone? Is all the effort worth it to your managers, supervisors, and the person themself? Or are you practically posting an Exit sign for your most ambitious, talented workers, who will inevitably seek jobs elsewhere?

    Here are a couple of promotion practices that may be out of date and hindering your efforts to keep employees engaged, contributing, and moving up the ladder.

    Promotions happen only once a year.

    In corporate America, there's a long-standing practice of doling out promotions once a year at annual review time. Though this may have worked well once upon a time, it seems old, outdated, and just plain antiquated at this point.

    Nowadays, we move fast. People change, jobs change, and organizations change.

    An employee might be ready for a promotion in February. Do you really wait until the end of December to promote her--if she even sticks around that long? In this competitive hiring environment, your best employees may get scooped right out from under you if you fail to promote them when they deserve it.

    True, many of us are still using this once-a-year promotion schedule because we're tied to it with budgets, approvals, and so on. But I think we can be more creative. Though some companies pooh-pooh off-cycle promotions because it "looks bad," I'd argue that it's actually really motivating for employees to see deserving folks getting promoted and proving there's a viable career path in the organization.

    Job descriptions and skills are not defined.

    In many organizations, it's unclear how to even get promoted. Job descriptions aren't published, and skill sets that are needed for each job aren't clearly defined. Distinguishing an associate from a manager from a director gets muddied up. An employee asks his or her manager the million-dollar question: "How do I get promoted to the next level?" And the manager is placed in the precarious position of trying to make sense of something that's undefined.

    This leaves a lot of room for inconsistent practices and could result in some very unsatisfied employees who may choose to explore opportunities elsewhere instead of trying to figure out what they need to do to move up the ladder in your organization.

    If your job descriptions and required skill sets aren't clear and shared within your organization, work with your human-resources team and supervisors to outline clear roles and responsibilities, and also what differentiates one job (or title) from another. These subtleties are what your employees and supervisors need and want, to be able to clearly articulate what each level does and the skills and abilities an employee will need to get there.

    If you enjoyed this post, sign up for the free VR Buzz and check out the VerticalResponse Marketing Blog.



  • Author and Duarte Design CEO Nancy Duarte on the right way to use slides, how to cure stage fright, and taking lessons from 'Star Wars' for your next presentation.

    No matter how frustrated you are with your presentation--no matter how bad your slides currently seem--chances are that Duarte Design has seen worse. The 90-person company has worked on hundreds of thousands of presentations, for clients including Twitter, ESPN, and the Food Network.

    Duarte is probably best-known for its work with Al Gore and the environmental documentary An Inconvenient Truth, transforming Gore’s passion and mounds of research into Oscar-winning storytelling. Inc. editor-at-large Kimberly Weisul spoke with author and Duarte Design CEO Nancy Duarte about presentation mistakes, investor pitches, and why speakers should think of themselves as Yoda.

    Your company, Duarte Design, has worked on literally hundreds of thousands of presentations. What mistakes do you see over and over?

    The biggest thing is that people don’t have enough empathy.

    When you have an opportunity to present, you tend to start to processing information from your own perspective. Usually, it’s all about the information you want to give, instead of being about the information the audience wants to receive. You need to spend an enormous amount of time thinking about what the audience wants to receive. You need to really think through who you’re talking to, and how to make a deep connection with them. Then you need to create content that supports that.

    Think: How do I want the audience to change? If they spend an hour with me, how do I want them transformed? Then everything you create needs to support that transformation in them.

    How does a great presenter use slides? Most people know they shouldn’t read the slides, but what should you do with them instead?

    There are two ways to use slides.

    You can use slides as cinematic visual aids. The slides should be breathtaking and easy to process. They should pass what I call the glance test. It should take no more than three seconds to process a slide.

    Or you can use slides to create your documents. I call these slide docs. That’s when you have your whole presentation--almost like a script--in your slides.

    If your PowerPoint makes sense on its own, without anyone presenting the slides, you’ve created a slide doc.

    Sometimes sending a slide doc ahead as a pre-read and then doing a glorious presentation is the way to go.

    How do you handle a pitch to an investor? Is that a "real" presentation, or are you writing a slide doc?

    If an investor is interested, he’s going to ask you to send five slides. In that case, you’re asking your slides to be your emissary--the emissary that opens the door. Pack as much information as you can on those slides.

    Then when you get in the door and get asked in for a meeting, instead of preparing 30 minutes of content, you need to do 10 minutes or 15 minutes, tops. Then let the investor take over. To do a 10 or 15 minute talk well takes an enormous amount of time.

    You can put your entire script in the "notes" view in PowerPoint. You can do a nice big layout and make it almost like a brochure. Then it can travel without you. That goes along with the slides you’ll show the VCs, but it's not projected. Print it out. When you present to the VC, hand out the "notes" section right away. Say "Here’s a handout where we can dig into the numbers." Then do your presentation, and use the handout for the question and answer part.

    Are there times when you should just ditch the slides entirely?

    Sheryl Sandberg did a great talk at TED Women, but she had no slides.

    She didn’t need slides. The subject matter was very personal to her. She had plenty of stories. The words that came out of her mouth were visual. She’s beautiful, and that helps. She’s articulate. She’s riveting. It’s not like she had to display a piece of data. It made it feel like you were sitting in her living room having a conversation with her.

    One of my favorite lines from your TED talk is, "You’re not Luke Skywalker, you’re Yoda." Could you explain that a bit?

    Think about movies and myths. There’s often a likeable hero who encounters obstacles and, in overcoming them, is transformed. That’s Luke Skywalker. When you're presenting, that's not you.

    People go up on stage and set themselves up as if they’re the hero. The attitude is, "I'm going to give you this information and it’s going to help you." Or, "I’m going to give you this information and you're going to admire me." That’s an arrogant stance.

    In movies and myths, there’s also often the mentor, who comes alongside the hero to help them get unstuck or give them a magical tool. That’s Yoda. When you're presenting, that’s you. If you look at it that way, suddenly you’re more humble.

    The presenter's success is completely dependent on the audience adopting the idea. The presenter is not the protagonist. You need to take that and respect that. The audience has the power to take your idea and spread it far and wide. Or it can die.

    Do you get nervous when you go on stage?

    I do when I’m doing new material that I only feel kind of rehearsed for. And I get nervous if the audience astounds me. I had Deepak Chopra and James Cameron in an audience at the same time. That’s kind of intimidating. They were very kind.

    How do you handle your nerves?

    The best tip I have comes from [speaking coach and author] Nick Morgan. When you’re about to go on stage, sometimes your fight or flight reaction kicks in. You think you’re being threatened. What you need to do is flip the chemistry back. So when you’re backstage, think about someone you love that you haven’t seen for a long, long, time, and convince yourself you’re going to see that person when you go out onstage.



  • A roundup of the day's news curated by the Inc. editorial team to help you and your business succeed.

    1. Unwearables

    Hardware founders take note: Naveen Selvadurai, the co-founder of Foursquare, isn't convinced the future of tech is all wearable. "What if we didn't have to/weren't meant to carry our technology with us as we moved around town? What if the technology was actually already in the room when we got there? Maybe that's the kind of Internet-of-things that will be more sustainable and will win long-term." Selvadurai has a name for this tech, by the way: "there-ables."--X.naveen.com

    2. Bonus Behavior

    Maybe it's time to ditch the sales bonuses. Deirdre Connelly, president of North America Pharmaceuticals at GlaxoSmithKline, says bonuses should incentivize more than selling. "Ultimately every leader knows that you get the behavior you reward," Connelly writes. If you create a business that incentivizes people to do good and make customers happy, you'll create more value.--HBR

    3. The Digital Divide

    Moleskine's dive into digital is a lesson in what can happen when a decidedly offline brand tries to go online. Known for its trendy (or pretentious, depending on who you ask) notebooks, Moleskine has tried to branch out online, with moderate success. The luxury brand is still selling its analog notebooks, but its fans aren't all that interested in connecting online. Go figure.--The New Yorker

    4. Clean Slate

    If your smartphone is a mobile trove of your most valuable personal and professional data, take comfort in knowing that by 2015, all new phones will come with a "kill switch." Apple, Google, Samsung, and Microsoft have agreed to equip phones with a system that will allow them to be wiped remotely.--CNN

    5. The Honest Selfie

    Do you spend your time online wisely? If you really want to know, check out the Surfkoll tool, which will tell you just how much time you spend where.--Fast Company



  • Your comfort zone feels great, but it isn't where you need to be. To push your company forward, you have to take risks.

    As entrepreneurs, we crave a challenge. It's a critical component of peak performance because it provides stimulation. Without it, when we get too comfortable, we are bored, which can be the death of motivation and creativity for an ambitious business owner. Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone is key. If you don't, you risk stagnation.

    Remaining challenged and staying out of your comfort zone, however, is not easy. When you step too far out in business, you risk making costly mistakes; not out of it at all, and you are bored and underutilized. For example, say you are a CEO running a business that you love, but you are constantly reacting to your work versus being proactive. You don't have time to stop and think if you are really challenging yourself in a way that maximizes results to achieve your long-term goals.

    Busyness can get in the way of optimizing your talent, and before you know it, you are spending all your time in your comfort zone. If that is happening, you are probably feeling less inspired, more tired, and unsure of how work that you used to love is now more taxing.

    To avoid the comfort-zone blahs or the risks associated with going too far out, review the list below. These 10 indications can help ensure that you are staying in the sweet spot of challenge and remaining a healthy distance from your dreaded comfort zone.

    1. Your activity is linked to your overall mission. It's clear that working on this challenge will get you a step further in your company's path forward.

    2. You are the originator of the challenge. You are not doing this because someone else has dictated it. Someone else could have a fantastic idea, of course, but you want to avoid getting into a situation in which you feel out of control or as if you have no autonomy within the challenge. This can be tricky, especially if you are answering to a board of directors or investors. You may think you are in control of your work, but overbearing board members could be thwarting your ability to challenge yourself in the way that you want.

    3. The challenge leverages your unique genius or natural talents. If not, then rethink the ownership if this particular challenge--and find a better fit within your company or your job responsibilities.

    4. You enjoy the challenge. Being mentally switched on is the best way to succeed.

    5. You're excited to push your abilities to overcome this challenge. It's not an easy challenge, but the thought of conquering it is energizing. It's a comfortable uneasiness because you don't know how you are going to succeed, but you know figuring it out will be a blast. And you know if you fail, it's OK.

    6. You don't let this challenge take over your life. You are able to focus on it, step away, and then come back without it affecting your ability to sleep, socialize, or have some downtime.

    7. Your stress levels are manageable, despite the challenge. You are not feeling overly anxious about the process or the outcome of the challenge--which, in turn, makes success more likely.

    8. Others respond to your energy for this challenge and show interest and support. Your team, partners, or colleagues are motivated by your enthusiasm. You can tell because they share that with you or offer to help you succeed with what you are doing.

    9. You make positive and incremental progress with the challenge. You see regular indications of progress in spite of the disappointments. Which means you are making a difference and are engaged in the process of actualizing this goal.

    10. You have moments in which you are super-energized, to the point where you feel like you are buzzing. We all have those moments when we are so aligned with our work that we feel like we are on a high. These are what a challenge junkie lives for, and if you are experiencing these, then you know you are pushing the limits of possibility--and are on the right track.

    
Forums
Featured Video

Mark Verge, WestsideRentals


What the Media is Saying...

Mark Verge will be speaking at Santa Anita Race Track; this will be our first monthly

meeting with different speakers each month to help inspire your entrepreneur spirit.

 June 2, 2012

Santa Anita Race Track | 285 W Huntington Drive, Arcadia CA 91007

2PM - 4PM

$10.00 per person | Please RSVP (limited seating available)

E-mail RSVP | info@perfectbusiness.com or call 310-255-7940

Perfect Business is founded by serial entrepreneur Mark Verge, whose vision is to share his business knowledge with entrepreneurs who may be just starting out, as well as seasoned business owners who may be struggling in today’s challenging economy. As part of the Perfect Business mission, Mark actively volunteers his time performing speaking engagements for high school and university students.