Recent Business News...

  • If you still need to be convinced to exercise, read this.

    People often assume that SEAL training requires vast amounts of physical stamina and mental strength. They would be correct. Members of the most elite special operations forces are developed like professional athletes. From day one of BUD/s (Navy SEAL training program) you have to dig deep just to make it to the end of the day. Then you have to wake up early and do it all over again. As the saying goes, "The only easy day, was yesterday."

    The stress of knowing the pain you will endure can be overwhelming. Whether it's surf torture or running for miles on the beach carrying heavy logs, your mind and body are growing in strength without you even realizing it. But there is a scientific method to the madness, if you will. No battle was ever won by a team asking for a time-out so they can catch their breath.

    The same can be said for busy professionals. Beyond the battlefield, being physically fit and prioritizing healthy living can have a direct link to one's ability to perform well in the work place. NASA conducted a study showing that people who make exercise a habit are consistently more productive after seven hours of work than those that don't. Why? Because you'll have the following:

    • Better Executive Function. This skill set allows you to appropriately respond to the situation at hand, inhibit inappropriate behavior, and focus on the job in spite of distractions.
    • More Energy. When people are tired the last thing they generally want to do is exercise. But taking a nap won't get the job done. Exercising will boost energy and reduce fatigue in both the short and long term. With more energy you can accomplish more tasks. In a study posted in the Psychological Bulletin, 90 percent of the usually sedentary participants experienced increased energy when implementing a regular exercise program into their daily lives.
    • Less Stress. Fitness should be part of everyone's stress management program. Physical activity helps to bump up the production of your brain's feel-good neurotransmitters, called endorphins. It also improves mood and helps you sleep better. All of this helps your body control stress. When stress is reduced you make better decisions. Good decisions set you up for success.
    • A Clear Mind. This is one of the reasons I try to exercise during the workday. Instead of going to lunch, go for a run. This is an excellent way to break up the day and be ready to tackle whatever the afternoon will throw at you. Even if it's just twenty minutes of exercise, make it happen. When thinking clearly, you will be a more productive contributor to your team.
    • Confidence. Being physically fit gives a person more confidence. Training teaches you to live outside of your comfort zone for extended periods of time. That confidence bleeds into your performance at work, in meetings, speaking to a crowd, or whatever opportunities work provides. Confident people command respect, and that can go a long way for someone rising up the ranks.

    Nobody has ever regretted making exercise a part of their regular routine. You might think you can't afford to take time to exercise, but can you afford not to?

  • The most important time you spend is the time you spend alone.

    When did you last spend time alone?

    The CEO of a Fortune 100 company shared with me a remarkable experience he had. We were both in Florida for his senior leadership conference, but he arrived a few days earlier for a board meeting. With a day between the end of the meeting and the start of the conference, he found himself suddenly, unexpectedly free. It was, he told me, the first day in nine years that he'd spent alone.

    What was it like?

    Confusing. Exhilarating. Strange.

    The Importance of Solitude

    As business leaders, we find ourselves besieged by peers, colleagues, employees, board members, assistants, family members. Nobody gets enough of our time--and that includes ourselves. Instead, life becomes an unending tennis match, in which we're constantly responding to whatever comes over the net: successes, mistakes, challenges, doubts, needs. The most essential quality of an entrepreneur isn't boldness or creativity. It's stamina.

    People may feed and inspire you, but they also deplete you. And you need time to digest all the information that an interaction contains. If you think this isn't important, bear in mind that long term studies show that working eleven or more hours a day at least doubles the risk of depression. Working more than 55 hours a week induces cognitive loss, so that problem-solving and reasoning become weak. By contrast, creative and critical thinking are enriched by mind-wandering, by rest and by sleep: things you do best on your own.

    Time alone is recovery time. Here are three ways to find it--and protect it--even when it seems like everyone needs you.

  • Follow this CEO's example and book a buffer day into your schedule. This is time when you're out of the office and away from home. You might use the time to think, sleep, watch movies or catch up on work. But see no one. You'll be amazed how restorative it can be.
  • Use long haul travel as time off. If you're traveling with colleagues, don't sit together. (They might appreciate this too!) Do a few hours' work and then stop. Stare out the window. Daydream. Let your mind wander--but keep notes, because you're bound to get inspired.
  • Get home before your family does. Being home alone is a rare and delicious privilege and will recharge you for both your professional and personal life.
  • Would my CEO repeat the experience of a day alone? He was ambivalent. He found it immensely refreshing, he said, but uncomfortable. I'd say he needs to do it more often.

  • It's a jungle out there. The good news is that you can not only survive in it but thrive in it, if you follow a few basic leadership rules.

    Survey after survey identifies "uncertainty" as one of the biggest challenges facing business owners today. In the business world change is not only constant but massive and completely unpredictable. Labeling it the "new normal" doesn’t make it any easier to live with. However, you can keep up with and maybe even get ahead of continuous upheaval-;and help your people do the same-;by mastering these seven essential skills.

    1. Be alert, to everything

    Any business, no matter how successful, can become extinct (or at least weakened) very quickly by a rapid shift in customer preferences, the competitive landscape, or myriad other factors. Everyone from leaders to front-line employees must become highly attuned to the threats and opportunities your company encounters. Don't tolerate (let alone foster) a corporate culture that accepts complacency, hubris, or an internally focused, politically charged atmosphere.

    2. Understand what strong leadership really is

    The same characteristics that make people powerful leaders often pull them too far from the best long-term interests of their enterprise. Regardless, we do need strong leaders to get the best out of organizations and the people who work for them. This feature of human nature is not one that should be judged. Rather, it should be accepted, talked about openly, and managed. Be strong, in the right way, and demand the same of your top executives.

    3. Get everyone to lean in

    According to The Gallup Organization, about 70 percent of U.S. workers are not engaged or inspired at work. They ask a question in the form of an attitude: WIIFM, or “What’s In It For Me?” That is a very important question for each stakeholder in your enterprise. To invest anything-;capital, effort, time-;we must feel that there ultimately will be some benefit to us. Research confirms that obtaining the extra incremental effort from each individual can make the difference between marginal performance and extraordinary effort.

    4. Learn to balance the disparate needs of many players

    Today's competitive and ever-changing business environment requires complex interrelationships across businesses, as well as a keen focus on customer preferences. Leaders with a long-term view must adroitly balance the wants and needs of many external parties in ways that are mutually beneficial to all.

    5. Build the brand--from within

    A brand can bring people together internally and represent an enterprise to the world quickly and viscerally, contributing to the success of the enterprise. But to do that, employees, customers, and partners must consistently experience organizational behavior that complements the brand image and reinforces its authenticity.

    6. Be forever flexible

    Decision-making structures have changed over time, and then changed again. We centralize for a while and then realize that decision-making is too removed from the front lines. So we decentralize and then realize that we've lost efficiencies and focus. The best leaders recognize that their organizations cannot centralize or decentralize. Instead, they need to be flexible and adjust the balance over time.

    7. Embrace the power of evolution

    Today's most successful companies remain true to their core competencies while evolving their capabilities in response to their environment. Done right, these always-emerging capabilities will make a business more interesting, more profitable, and more continually relevant. By constantly evolving and innovating you won't merely survive, you'll thrive.

    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. Pitching Formula

    Do you really know how to pitch investors successfully? Hunter Walk, the co-founder of venture capital firm Homebrew, says you need to walk investors through three phases of commitment: Convince them your startup is in a solid market, that now is the opportune time for disruption, and your founders are the right team for the job. Easy, right?

    2. Twitter's Profile Makeovers

    The new Twitter profiles have arrived--and boy, do they look like Pinterest. Will the new look attract users? It's hard to tell now, but one thing's for sure: You'll love the ability to pin a tweet to your profile page.--Mashable

    3. Wage Debate

    The debate over whether to increase the minimum wage is unlikely to abate anytime soon. But the flip side--imposing a maximum wage--is far less discussed. Most CEOs probably won't like the idea, but there is some evidence to suggest that capping top salaries at a set multiple of the minimum hourly rate could go a long way to rectifying the country's growing income inequality.--The Week

    4. Speaking of Salaries...

    How much more money do you make than your employees? Bet it isn't close to this: According to a new report, the CEOs of the country's top fast food chains make 1,200 times more money than their front-line workers.--Mashable

    5. Late Risers

    The city that never sleeps affords its workers the most time to sleep in, as New York's median work arrival time is 8:24 am--about half an hour later than the U.S. median. You can see where your city ranks by looking at this recent analysis of Census data by data journalist Nate Silver.--Five thirty eight

  • In race for relevance, universities up the entrepreneurial ante.

    Universities have always been top-notch incubators of talent. Now they’re taking the lead in incubating entrepreneurial talent.

    I’ve written about the tidal wave of university entrepreneurship at length--and full disclosure, I’m on the faculty at Columbia University, so I may be a bit biased. But with the confluence of interdisciplinary potential and ample mentorship opportunities available in the university system, on campus is one of the better launch pads for startups.

    Here are seven factors I see further changing the landscape of university entrepreneurship and education:

    1. Entrepreneur-specific programs spread: A multitude of schools are developing campus-wide entrepreneurship programs that provide space, mentorship and education to their entrepreneurial community. Columbia Entrepreneurship, Harvard’s iLab and Stanford’s dSchool are just a few examples. Soon schools without such programs will be in the minority.

    2. The “lean startup movement” takes root: The “lean” startup philosophy proselytized by Steve Blank and Eric Ries has caught fire among student entrepreneurs. Similarly, those of us who teach entrepreneurship have for the most part adopted it wholeheartedly. It’s principles are simple: Find out what your customers really want before building a product by speaking to them and “getting out of the building” first! This is great advice for entrepreneurs of any stripe and age.

    3. Government grants get focused: Even some government SBIR programs, which traditionally have funded university research, have jumped on the bandwagon of a more “scientific” and lean approach to entrepreneurship. To qualify for a National Science Foundation grant, for instance, faculty now need to participate in a program called iCorps, which is a bootcamp based on lean startup principles. This way the government can make sure that their grants aren't wasted on building products with no customers. In other words, the government will only fund companies that have a real shot at growing instead of science projects posing as startups.

    4. Investors come to campus: Venture Capital firms have now designed miniature funds that sit alongside their main investment vehicles specifically geared towards attracting student talent that they can cultivate and support. Examples of this are the Xperiment Fund up at Harvard, the Dorm Room Fund (which is on multiple campuses and is operated by hand-picked students), as well as many others that have established deep ties with college campuses.

    5. Festivals and Hackathons take over: Universities and student entrepreneurship clubs are now more than ever hosting hackathons, administrating design labs and putting on entrepreneurship festivals and venture competitions. They’re all further means of helping stimulate the entrepreneurial ecosystem on campus.

    6. Administrations buy in: In many instances the entrepreneurial energy of the student body has caught university administrations flat-footed. The whole concept of an educational institution taking on a new role as a launchpad of entrepreneurial ventures is culturally alien to so many established universities. It is fascinating to observe institutions being slowly transformed (by necessity) to confront this new reality. But change they must, and change they are.

    7. Silo-busting becomes commonplace: Entrepreneurship is, by its very nature, a silo-buster. Problem-solving often requires multi-disciplinary teams to be effective and the natural silos that develop on college campuses do not encourage such cross-pollination. Entrepreneurship is changing all that and the administrators of the typical engineering, business, law, journalism and medical schools are realizing that there is a real necessity to facilitate cross-listing of courses and activities for their rapidly evolving entrepreneurship curriculums.

  • Giving your employees and open look into your compensation policies can ease resentment and help foster understanding.

    As the old saying goes, sunlight is the best disinfectant.

    The same can be said for wage transparency. After all, there's probably no issue more important, or emotional, to your employees than compensation. And whether it’s a cultural taboo to discuss how much you make, or because some workplace rules forbid actual discussion of compensation, lack of transparency can also foster real wage inequality, either consciously or unconsciously.

    In an attempt to make things clear on the federal level, at the beginning of April, President Obama issued an executive order to make pay transparent for employees of federal contractors.

    That order garnered less attention than the president's memorandum about federal contractors, requiring them to supply pay data to the Department of Labor in an attempt to close the pay gap between male and female workers. But it's just as important, as pay transparency and the gender gap in compensation are related.

    About half of all employees work for companies that prohibit or discourage discussion of wages at work, according to a January, 2014 study by the Institute for Women's Policy Research. The numbers are worse when you look at the private sector, climbing to more like 60 percent of companies that forbid such discussions.

    "While there may be no direct link between pay secrecy and pay inequality, pay secrecy appears to contribute to the gender gap in earnings," the study says.

    Though it’s a bit of a grey zone, workplace policies forbidding discussion of wages aren't legal. The National Labor Relations Act of 1935 protects the ability of employees to associate, organize and bargain collectively for conditions such as wages. According to the Act:

    Employees shall have the right to self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection.

    The president's executive order appears to have relied heavily on the language of the Act:

    Ensuring that employees of Federal contractors may discuss their compensation without fear of adverse action will enhance the ability of Federal contractors and their employees to detect and remediate unlawful discriminatory practices, which will contribute to a more efficient market in Federal contracting.

    While the federal government makes its own compensation scale fairly transparent, it's really startups that are pushing transparency in the private world. Among those is Buffer, an application-based online publishing company, which goes as far as posting online the salaries, and the equations for determining those salaries, of everyone who works for the company.

    "One of the highest values we have at Buffer is transparency," Joel Gascoigne, chief executive and founder of Buffer wrote on his last December. "Transparency breeds trust, and that’s one of the key reasons for us to place such a high importance on it. Open salaries are a step towards the ultimate goal of Buffer being a completely 'Open Company.'"

    Opening Up

    Want to give it a try? Online benefits and compensation company PayScale recommends these tips to help make compensation more transparent to your employees:

    • Explain how positions are slotted into different pay grades.
    • Show employees how they can progress through the company's pay ladder, which can function as an incentive to grow.
    • Convey and document the company reasons for pay differences, such as levels of education and degrees of experience.
    • Explain the total package of benefits and compensation to which employees are entitled.
    • Make someone available to explain compensation and benefits as a way to insure clarity.

  • You had better ensure it's fast enough if you want to hit this year's strategic goals.

    Ever watched (or, more painfully, been part of) a team floundering around an issue in a way that you know--and that the team knows--just isn't going to get it to an effective and efficient solution?

    Maybe you've wandered into a few meetings where the self-same topic keeps appearing over and over again, without your team ever achieving the breakthrough in understanding that's needed of the underlying issue to lead to a fruitful discussion of actual solutions?

    This pattern illustrates one of the key precepts in achieving predictable success: All other things being equal (i.e., you have a half-decent strategy and relatively adult individuals on your team), the primary factor in determining the degree to which you consistently achieve your organizational goals is something I've come to call "speed to clarity."

    What is "speed to clarity"?

    "Speed to clarity" is the lapsed controllable time between the emergence of an issue and its resolution ("controllable" because sometimes we have to wait for things to happen over which we have no control). And, all other things being equal, the faster your speed to clarity, the more likely you'll hit this year's strategic goals.

    One of my client CEOs calls it "from hunch to crunch," and it works like this:

    Let's say you notice that the sales of Product X are decreasing. How long is it before you know with clarity that it's happening because of a skewed commission plan; a new entry into the marketplace; cannibalization by Product C, or something else entirely?

    Say the pipeline from your research and development team has stalled out. How long before you know with clarity that it's because your top engineer has lost her mojo; or because your technology platform is outdated; or because the new neon-lit, windowless offices you moved R&D into are sapping the team's creative energies; or something else?

    For the viscerally managed business in the Fun stage, speed to clarity is innate--the organization typically isn't complex enough yet for problems to be that tough to work through. But when the business hits Whitewater, speed to clarity is one of the first things to suffer. And by the time the business enters Treadmill, the organization's structure is almost willfully built to hobble it.

    Losing speed to clarity is one of the main causes of leadership dysfunction. When I counsel a senior leadership team and sense a high degree of frustration in one of the key leaders, there is frequently a mismatch between that individual's speed to clarity and that of the rest of the team (which works both ways--the leader can be frustrated by having either a faster or a slower speed to clarity than the others).

    When I work with a team whose speed to clarity is tortoiselike--or, worse, one in which the trend is downward--there are usually one or more of three key factors at play.

    1. Overwhelmedness. Call it what you will: the post-industrial era, the social economy, the new normal--whatever term you prefer, the speed of information flow we all have to deal with now has reached levels that will swamp any leader lacking in basic productivity skills. And guess what? Your team members can't think straight if they arrive to every meeting already feeling overwhelmed.

    If the currency of success for complex organizations is consistently high-quality team-based decision making (which it is), then the foundational building block that allows those decisions to be made is personal productivity. Find a system and use it.

    2. Underpreparation. There's a rhythm to effective decision making, and it starts with the right preparation before your team even meets. Most teams with slow speed to clarity arrive at meetings underprepared and have acres of new information thrown at them during the meeting. Any wonder everyone gets befuddled?

    Start implementing a firm principle: no new information distributed during meetings. If information hasn't been circulated for prior consideration, unless there's an absolute emergency, it doesn't get discussed. (Of course, your team has to have implemented Point One above in order to find the time to read pre-meeting material.)

    3. Grinding monotony. Get the heck out of that windowless, arid conference room. Stop packing every meeting with 27 agenda items, 22 of which you never get to anyway. Call a shorts-only meeting. Hand out balloons. Do something, anything, to lift the grinding, soul-sucking monotony that most business meetings are drowning in--at least until you get your speed to clarity back.

    Looking for additional ways to enhance your team's performance? Download a free chapter from the author's book The Synergist: How to Lead Your Team to Predictable Success, which provides a comprehensive model for developing yourself or someone else as an exceptional, world-class leader.

  • Sometimes a breakthrough product is the one you create as an enticement or an add-on.

    You're probably familiar with accidental innovations like plastics and penicillin--products that only came about because of the inventor's inadvertent mishap.

    The history of vinyl records, recounted in a recent New York Times article about the quest to research two legendary female blues singers, should remind you that there are incidential innovations too--products invented for one purpose, but that end up serving customers in an entirely different way.

    The Customer Base You Haven't Considered

    The earliest vinyl records were not initially made by record companies, but by companies in other businesses: toys and furniture. They were intended to be accessories, rather than products in their own right. Here's the explanation, from John Jeremiah Sullivan's superb New York Times story:

    A furniture company, that's how it started. The Wisconsin Chair Company. They got into making phonograph cabinets. If people had records they liked, they would want phonographs to play them on, and if they had phonographs, they would want cabinets to keep them in. The discs were even sold, especially at first, in furniture shops. They were literally accessories. Toys, you could say. In fact, the first disc "records" were manufactured to go with a long-horned gramophone distributed by a German toy company. So we must imagine, it's as if a subgenre of major American art had been preserved only on vintage View-Master slides.

    When I read this, the first contemporary company I thought of was Marlin Steel, a $5-million Baltimore-based builder of steel wire baskets and sheet metal material handling containers. In 2003, CEO Drew Greenblatt radically revamped the company's business model. Previously, the company had specialized in selling wire bagel baskets. It was sinking fast because of competition from Chinese factories, which were selling bagel baskets for $6--half of what Marlin's baskets cost.

    But through Greenblatt's leadership, the company transitioned from making wire bagel baskets for customers like Bruegger's and Einstein Bros. to making custom baskets, hooks, and precision sheet-metal products for customers like Boeing, Caterpillar, GE, Merck, and Toyota. The baskets used to hold bagels; now they hold "everything from microchips to turbine blades," according to Charles Fishman's recent story in Fast Company.

    The Job You're Really Doing for Your Customers

    In other words: a product that Marlin Steel initially intended for one purpose ended up serving quite another one. What stands out about Marlin Steel's story is that the company was nimble enough to adapt.

    It did not fall prey to the textbook business-model mistake of the railroad industry, which is a failure to properly define its capabilities in customer-oriented terms. Here's Theodore Levitt in a legendary 1960 Harvard Business Review article, sounding like a brilliant forerunner to today's mainstream notions of customer-centric innovation. Boldface is mine:

    The railroads did not stop growing because the need for passenger and freight transportation declined. That grew. The railroads are in trouble today not because that need was filled by others (cars, trucks, airplanes, and even telephones) but because it was not filled by the railroads themselves. They let others take customers away from them because they assumed themselves to be in the railroad business rather than in the transportation business. The reason they defined their industry incorrectly was that they were railroad oriented instead of transportation oriented; they were product oriented instead of customer oriented....

    Had Greenblatt stubbornly believed Marlin Steel was in the bagel business--or even in the restaurant business--there's no way he could've successfully transitioned the company. Instead he was willing to consider broader views of the potential market for his company's capabilities. He didn't think strictly in terms of baskets. He thought in terms of the service the company could provide by quickly fuliflling high degree-of-difficulty manufacturing tasks. “The lesson for Greenblatt,” Fishman writes, “was that the wire basket was only part of his product. To Boeing, he was selling engineering, precision, and speed, too.”

    The Vinyl Records of Today

    Had the toy and furniture companies of yesteryear realized the profit potential of the vinyl record, well--the history of the music business would've been radically different.

    Of course, the company that learned from all this was Apple, who famously entered the music business in 2001, even though they weren't a classic "record company." Apple was not going to make the mistake of the railroads, refusing to consider entry into a new market because of some locked-in definition about its corporate identity.

    Here's the question: Are there incidental innovations in your own organization--or in your industry--whose potential you're ignoring or overlooking, because making the leap seems too difficult?

    If so, just think of the railroads. And think of the records.

  • Tips on how to keep your meetings productive from top business leaders.

    Americans sit through some 11 million meetings every day--with the unproductive ones costing companies $37 billion a year.

    Since we've already looked at the most egregious meeting mistakes, we decided to explore how the most successful executives run effective meetings.

    After combing through the business literature, we discovered that Yahoo's Marissa Mayer grills her employees like an expert chef, Amazon's Jeff Bezos can't stand it when people agree, and Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg wields a mighty notebook.

    Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg sticks to a strict agenda.

    Sandberg brings a spiral-bound notebook with her to every meeting. In that notebook is a list of discussion points and action items.

    "She crosses them off one by one, and once every item on a page is checked, she rips the page off and moves to the next," Fortune reports. "If every item is done 10 minutes into an hour-long meeting, the meeting is over."

    Tesla CEO Elon Musk demands that people be super prepared.

    Musk has incredibly high standards. He has a reputation for firing people if they miss a deadline. So if you're meeting with him at Tesla or SpaceX, you have to be ready.

    As one anonymous Musk employee shares on Quora:

    "When we met with Elon, we were prepared," the commenter shared. "Because if you weren't, he'd let you know it. If he asked a reasonable follow up question and you weren't prepared with an answer, well, good luck."

    What else would you expect from the most badass CEO in America?

    The late Apple CEO Steve Jobs kept meetings as small as possible.

    Jobs led Apple to become one of the world's most valuable companies, creating consumer-friendly products with sleek designs.

    He ran meetings with a similar minimalism. He hated when they were too big, since too many minds in a room got in the way of simplicity.

    In one tale, Jobs was in a weekly meeting with Apple's ad agency and spied someone who didn't regularly attend. He asked who she was, listened to her reply, and politely told her to get out: "I don’t think we need you in this meeting," he said. "Thanks."

    Jobs carried the same standard with himself: When President Obama asked him to a meeting of tech darlings, he declined. The guest list was too long.

    Google CEO Larry Page says no one should wait for a meeting to make a decision.

    Page took over as CEO of Google back in 2011.

    He immediately sent out a company-wide email. The subject: How to run meetings effectively. One of his tips is to designate a decision-maker for every meeting. But even more importantly, Page made the point that you might not need a meeting at all.

    "No decision should ever wait for a meeting," the email reads. "If a meeting absolutely has to happen before a decision should be made, then the meeting should be scheduled immediately."

    Nike CEO Mark Parker doodles through his meetings.

    Parker doesn't just manage Nike's $24-billion-a-year athletic empire, he brings his own designs. Parker walks into meetings with a Moleskine notebook under his arm--full of his sketches of new products.

    In 2009, cyclist Lance Armstrong was in a business meeting with Parker, who spent the whole time doodling in his notebook. At the end of the meeting, Armstrong asked to see what he drew.

    "He turns the pad over and shows me this perfect shoe," Armstrong recalls.

    The doodles help clarify the brainstorming process, Parker says, one that's a constant balance between what design wants and what business needs.

    "I think about balance a lot," Parker says. "Most of us are out of balance, and that's OK, but you need to keep your eye on the overall equilibrium to be successful."

    Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman meets with people individually.

    Stoppelman has a one-on-one meeting with each of his direct reports every week.

    "Sometimes I feel like the company's psychiatrist," he shared on a Reddit AMA, "but I do feel like listening to people and hearing about their problems (personal and professional) cleans out the cobwebs and keeps the organization humming."

    Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer aggressively vets every idea.

    As we've reported before, Mayer gets to the bottom of any proposal brought her way.

    Product managers or designers sitting down with the exec have their strategies thoroughly vetted through a series of questions, such as:

    • How was that researched?
    • What was the research methodology?
    • How did you back that up?

    These questions are just one aspect of the many strategies Mayer uses to shake up Yahoo.

    Evernote CEO Phil Libin always brings a high-potential employee to participate.

    At any given meeting at Evernote, there will be someone there who doesn't belong.

    This is by design. The cloud note-taking startup has an internal program called "officer training," where employees get assigned to meetings that aren't in their specialty area in order to explore other parts of the company.

    "They’re there to absorb what we’re talking about," Libin says. "They're not just spectators. They ask questions; they talk."

    Libin got the idea from talking with a friend who served on a nuclear submarine. In order to be an officer of such a sub, you had to know how to do everybody else's job.

    "Those skills are repeatedly trained and taught," he says. "And I remember thinking, 'That's really cool.'"

    Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos likes to get people arguing.

    If you work at Amazon, you'd better be comfortable with conflict. Bezos is famous for hating "social cohesion," that tendency people have for finding consensus for no other reason than it feels good.

    That distaste for agreeability is reinforced by Amazon's leadership principles, one of which reads:

    "Leaders are obligated to respectfully challenge decisions when they disagree, even when doing so is uncomfortable or exhausting. Leaders have conviction and are tenacious. They do not compromise for the sake of social cohesion. Once a decision is determined, they commit wholly."

  • If people are hoarding their best innovations, you'll need to change your company's culture.

    Is your company innovation-friendly? It's easy to talk about the need to innovate, create new ideas, and build new avenues of revenue, but if your employees aren't submitting ideas, it may mean they are holding on to them.

    Idea hoarding is not uncommon, but it can be a symptom of a culture rife with distrust and lack of employee commitment. But incentivizing your employees to bring new ideas using money or other rewards is no panacea, says Ron Ashkenas, managing partner of Stamford, Connecticut-based Schaffer Consulting and the author of Simply Effective: How to Cut Through Complexity in Your Organization and Get Things Done. One of his clients, he writes in the Harvard Business Review, once told him an employee refused to share her innovative idea without the company first signing a non-disclosure agreement.

    "Creating financial incentives for innovation does not necessarily prevent these kinds of issues. In fact, focusing too much on 'cash for ideas' may open a Pandora's box of unintended consequences--people innovating for their own benefit instead of the company's, competition arising between individuals or units, employees losing focus on current business, and so on," he writes.

    Ashkenas says if your employees are hoarding intellectual solutions, you must overhaul the prevailing mindset of the company.

    "What most companies should focus on first is creating an environment, or a culture, that fosters innovation. For example, in the case of the employee wanting an NDA before sharing her idea, the underlying issue may not have been money, but rather commitment and trust," he writes. "For some reason ... she wasn't excited about helping the company improve; she was only innovating because it was good for her. At the same time, she didn't trust her manager or colleagues to explore or implement her idea, because she was afraid that she wouldn't be recognized for her contribution."

    Below, read how you can make your company more innovation-friendly and get your employees to contribute those billion-dollar ideas.

    Educate the troops.

    The first step is to explain how important innovation is to the company's success. "Particularly in companies that have experienced years of efficiency management, innovation can be seen as just another way to reduce costs and get rid of people--which can exacerbate the defensive 'me-first' behavior that is antithetical to real innovation," Ashkenas writes in HBR. "So take time to talk about the importance of finding new solutions for customers, competing with [other] startup competitors, ramping up internal growth, or whatever other rationale makes sense for your company."

    Make innovation a goal.

    Once everyone realizes how important idea generation is to the company's survival, it's time to make it a formal goal and performance metric. "If you want employees and managers to innovate, then make it clear what that means, how it's measured, and how it needs to be part of their jobs--not something 'extra' to be done in their spare time," Ashkenas says.

    Highlight real results.

    You need to show your employees a concrete example of what innovation really means at your company. If it's a vague buzzword, it will fall by the wayside. "Find some early examples of innovation, where people did the right things, and either got good results or quickly learned from their failures," Ashkenas writes. "Publicize and communicate these situations, give the people involved recognition, and make it clear that this is the kind of behavior that's needed and wanted."

  • Indiegogo CEO Slava Rubin explains his equity crowdfunding plans.

  • Plus, Sam De Brouwer unveils the Scanadu Scout prototype.

  • Retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal explains how to be fast--and smart--about the way that you act.

    In 2003, Gen. Stanley McChrystal took command of the United States’ Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), an association of elite forces including the Navy SEALS, Army Rangers, and Delta Force. His mission: to defeat al-Qaida in Iraq.

    JSOC had superior technology and resources compared to al-Qaida, but “by the summer of 2004, we were also losing,” says McChrystal. That's because they were using an outdated organizational structure, one that prized efficiency, despite living in a time that favors adaptability.

    For decades, the principles of efficiency were taught in business schools, and businesses thrived because of it, McChrystal says. But with more information being shared at greater speeds, even the most efficient organization these days can’t keep up.

    The secret to success is adaptability, he says. You've got to be smarter--and faster--about the way you react, especially in today's world. With that in mind, here are five ways to get your team focused.

    Let go of “the right way.”

    McChrystal still marvels at JSOC’s old organizational hierarchy as a model of order, with groups operating in silos and a chain of command to communicate. The old way “assumed that an organization had adequate time for information to flow through those pathways," but took too long.

    Al-Qaida’s operations in Iraq, on the other hand, were a loose network of associations built on personal relationships. They were structured organically, which could be less efficient, but made them more adaptive.

    McChrystal decided to meld both approaches within his team: “We tried to take the best of what we do, put it together with extreme adaptability, and change the way we thought and operated to make it work.”

    Beware predictive hubris.

    Despite having more intelligence, JSOC couldn't anticipate events effectively. Having more data may feel empowering, but “[it] does not equal more predictability,” McChrystal says. He cites a classic decision-making study in which horse racing experts were given information to predict the outcome of a race, and asked their level of confidence in their prediction. For a second race, the experts received double the amount of information. With more information, accuracy didn’t improve at all, but the experts’ confidence in their predictions was much higher.

    The potential for predictive failure in today’s environment is even greater, McChrystal says, because not only do we have exponentially more data that can give us false confidence, but that data can lead a situation to shift quickly.

    The Arab Spring is one such example. “Exponentially, that which we are trying to measure and predict is more complex,” he says. “The danger is to take all this information, to watch in Tahrir Square and say, ‘we know what’s happening in Egypt.’”

    Strive for a shared consciousness.

    JSOC had the most elite small teams--the kinds of teams in which every member has the same information and a synchronized sense of purpose--in the form of Navy SEALS, Army Rangers, and Delta Force.

    When McChrystal took over command of JSOC, he held a daily update among 50 or so top leaders in the organization. “By the time I gave up command, it was more than 7,000. We did it every day,” he says, noting the 90-minute update he gave to essentially the whole command in order to get everyone on the same page. Of course, your business should take its own approach, but the bottom line is this: “you need a robust communication form for everybody to develop a shared consciousness,” he says.

    Make it personal.

    Not only does the larger group need to share information, it also needs to create broad emotional ties across the organization, he says. “You’ve got to be emotionally tied, because people act on emotion.”

    McChrystal began by moving everyone involved with a single operation to the same base location. So surveillance pilots typically were stationed with aviation personnel and on-the-ground operators ate in the same mess hall.

    “I wanted the pilot who’s going to fly that very sensitive reconnaissance mission during the attack to run into the operators who had been on the mission,” he says. “If one of them had screwed it up, I wanted them to see each other eyeball to eyeball.”

    He also began embedding Navy SEALS into Delta Force teams, and vice-versa--a move some considered a sacrilege. “But it worked."

    Empower “doers” to think.

    The old organizational model for the Army, as well as for business organizations, was to have the decision-makers at the top of the hierarchy and the doers at the bottom, taking orders from the thinkers. But this approach can’t work in a fast-changing world, McChrystal says, especially one where it’s important not just to get things right but to get them right quickly to win.

    The key for his command, he says, was to “change the thinkers into doers and the doers into thinkers, and everybody became both. Now we could get the information to everybody, and more people could control what they did, which allowed us to do what we call empowered execution.”

  • Indiegogo co-founder Slava Rubin explains how crowdfunding helped PayPal's system grow.

  • Indiegogo CEO Slava Rubin enumerates the value of crowdfunding beyond marketing.

  • Sam De Brouwer outlines how her company Scanadu raised millions on Indiegogo.

  • Slava Rubin, CEO and co-founder of Indiegogo projects the future of crowdfunding.

  • Indiegogo CEO Slava Rubin and Sam De Brouwer, who raised $1.6 million on the Indiegogo platform, divulge their crowdfunding secrets.

  • Surprise, surprise: Training and mentorship characterize the amenities at the top companies for college talent.

    With college graduation season just around the corner, a new survey finds cross-organizational training and mentorship programs for entry-level workers to be commonplace at the best places to work for recent grads.

    The finding comes as part of the annual rankings of the top 25 places to work for recent graduates, as compiled by ConnectEDU--a Boston-based company that helps prepare college talent for the workforce. It serves as more evidence of the importance recent graduates place on career development.

    ConnectEDU selects the top 25 companies from a pool of companies that plan on hiring at least 12 entry-level employees in the next year. The companies on the list range in size and industry--Sears, Verizon, and SalesForce all register on the list, which can be seen in full here.

    Companies as massive as Sears, or even as large as SalesForce, have the ability to hire many more entry-level workers than the very young startups that millennials consistently say they want to work for. Moreover, companies had to take part in the survey in order to be considered, and were chosen based on their answers to those survey questions.

    So I'm hesitant to consider the rankings as complete. The survey results, however, provide a good look at what companies that clearly value recent grads are offering--and they're consistent with what we already know young talent values in the workplace.

    According to ConnectEDU, of the top 25 companies, 88 percent offer rotational training programs for incoming entry-level hires. Such programs give employees some training in multiple areas of the organization, helping form a more holistic understanding of the company beyond a given employee's day-to-day. They also open doors should employees look to move into a different part of the organization some day--something young employees generally want to do shortly after starting their careers.

    And 92 percent of the top-ranked companies offer formal mentorship programs. This makes sense, considering that mentorship consistently registers as a top priority for young workers.

    Aside from that focus on training and mentorship, the companies with the top entry-level positions offered an average salary of $56,200. Entry-level employees at these companies work about 42 hours per week, and get three weeks worth of vacation time.

  • A new study finds that businesses aren't recruiting on the social networks that most people use to look for jobs.

    Job seekers don't really flip through the classifieds much anymore. Instead they turn to the Internet and social networks. Unsurprisingly, 92 percent of businesses now use social media as a recruitment tool.

    Yet that doesn't mean that you're looking for candidates in the right places. New research from iCIMS, a Web-based employment software company, makes clear that recruiters could be getting more eyes on their job postings.

    "It was very surprising was that job candidates were not engaging as much on Twitter as recruiters are," Susan Vitale, CMO of iCIMS, said.

    Indeed, the study found that 51 percent of all jobs posted on social media are posted to Twitter--and yet, a mere one percent of candidates expect to find a job on Twitter. The top social site job seekers expected to find job postings was LinkedIn, but the site accounts for only 23 percent of all jobs posted on social.

    "I view LinkedIn as more of a job board than strictly as a social media platform," Vitale says. "But the fact that other social networks besides LinkedIn are considered by job seekers is really refreshing to see and surprising."

    The study analyzed more than 60,000 jobs posted on social media. After LinkedIn, iCIMS found that job seekers are looking most frequently to Facebook and Google+.

    Based on the results, businesses looking to hire should consider taking greater advantage of Google+ for recruiting. The study found that less than one percent of companies are posting jobs on the platform, but jobs that are posted there get nearly four times more views per job than other platforms.

    In terms of actual conversion, however--how many people who applied for jobs they saw--Facebook came out on top. Nearly half of job seekers who looked at a listing on the site applied for it. LinkedIn and Twitter followed in this category.

    Vitale stressed that each platform has a different strength. For instance, Google+ was good for brand awareness because job posts on the platform are seen by so many more people, but that image-driven platforms such as Pinterest and Instagram were more frequently used by job seekers to understand company cultures and whether a job would be a good fit for them.

    "Companies need to decide what is the big goal that they have," Vitale says. "Is it number of conversions? Building their brand or following? Or is it engaging as many candidates as possible? Depending on what that is, the social media site that they engage should be reflective of this overall goal and where that aligns with the job seeker."

    Vitale added that you also need to make sure that social is not the only channel you are using to find new employees.

  • If you think you can just hand off financing and investor relations to a specialist, think again.

    Entrepreneur Dan Shapiro is a three-time CEO who has raised more than $30 million in venture capital. In 2011, Google bought one of his startups, Sparkbuy. Since then, he's worked at Google. He's writing about these experiences in a forthcoming book called Startup CEO Secrets.

    How does any of that help you today? In advance of the book's release, Shapiro has organized his experiences into some valuable lessons for today's entrepreneurs. He presented some of these lessons in a fascinating 20-minute talk at the recent Dent the Future conference, which took place at the Sun Valley Resort in Idaho last month.

    Shapiro's talk was called The Six Things You Can't Delegate, and the "you" he's talking about is the founder/CEO. Here are three of his six things:

    1. Fundraising. "Shouldn't you be able to hire someone who's done it before?" Shapiro asks the crowd rhetorically. "You can," he answers. "But you'll call her CEO."

    His point is that your investors will always want a direct line to the CEO. From the movies or from HBO programming, you may have visions in your head of restless founder/CEOs who get bored at investor meetings, and who just wish they could be out coding or creating instead of sitting at a table making deals.

    Shapiro's message, in a nutshell, is that you cannot be that person. You must be fully engaged in the financing. "The investors want to see you make a deal," he says. "They know it's how you're going to treat your other negotiations."

    You might be thinking: How can I be the one who makes a deal and does all the talking when I know nothing about financing?

    Not to fear. Shapiro recommends a book called Venture Deals: Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer and Your Venture Capitalist by Brad Feld and Jason Mendelson. "This book is the bible," he says, extolling the way it will help you grasp all the essential financing concepts that you need to master as a CEO/founder.

    2. Investor relations. How is this different from fundraising? Think of it this way. Fundraising is the actual act of raising money and cashing the checks. Investor relations are all of the conversations you'll have with your investors (some of whom will become board members) afterwards, explaining to them how you're spending the money.

    Why are these conversations important, after you've cashed the checks? For one thing, if you're building a company for the long-haul, you will know these investors for a long time--seven years or more, Shapiro says. You need to keep them happy. You need to continue to display that you're the best person to run the company. None of that will happen, if you delegate investor relations to someone else. "Investors also want to build a relationship, and they can't do it if they're always talking to a banker," he says.

    Moreover, happy investors will continue to nourish your company and help it grow. Not only will they be inclined to participate in subsequent rounds of financing, but they will also "send you reams of employee referrals."

    3. Company culture. "Whatever the culture is, it comes from the leader," Shapiro says. You probably already knew that, in principle. But can you act it, in practice?

    It's one thing to behave like your authentic self, all of the time. But now that you're the leader of a budding organization, you need to think about how your team will perceive your behavior. "You may be forming a cult of personality around your best or worst quirks," notes Shapiro.

    This simple fact should give you some pause. Shapiro encourages founder/CEOs to embrace it, and to "try to guide it toward something positive." If you relax about it--if you're a little too comfortable just speaking your mind or acting your will, authentic though it may be--you may be unwittingly creating a poor work culture, to the extent that your behavior is less than team-oriented.

    On the other hand, if you're a model citizen at all times, you have little to worry about.

  • Highlights of Reddit's Ask Me Anything with Brooklyn Brewery co-founder Steve Hindy.

    The best thing about Reddit AMAs is that they often do live up to their name--the Ask Me Anything of the title can be, well, anything. It didn’t get too crazy on today’s AMA with Brooklyn Brewery co-founder Steve Hindy, but Hindy did manage to address his biggest mistake, his days in journalism, and ants in beer.

    Here are a few highlights:

    On his biggest mistake: "In the late '90s, we were distributing our own beer and others. We tried to develop a dot-com to home deliver the beers in NYC. Big mistake. [It] cost us $1 million. Lesson: Stay focused."

    His advice for aspiring entrepreneurs: "If you have a partner, or partners, make sure you have a partnership agreement, sort of like a prenuptial agreement. I’ve seen many businesses fail because of disputes among partners."

    The most important thing Brooklyn Brewery did to spur growth: "From Day One, we committed all our marketing dollars to donations to not-for-profit and arts groups. We donate beer mostly, and some dollars. That has earned us goodwill in the communities we serve and has gotten our beer into the hands of many people."

    His favorite breweries, outside of his own: Deschutes Brewery in Oregon, Yazoo Brewing Company in Tennessee, New Belgium Brewing in Colorado.

    On the costs of starting a brewery: "[How much it costs] depends on your ambition. There are very small breweries and there are more ambitious breweries. You can probably start a nanobrewery for a few thousand dollars. Licensing can be costly though. As far as capital goes, you need more than you think you need, no matter the scope of your ambition."

    How he got started in journalism: "I worked for small newspapers in upstate New York and New Jersey and got noticed by the AP in Newark, N.J., in 1976. Then I started studying Arabic and volunteered for the Middle East. There aren’t too many people that want to do that, so I landed in Beirut in February 1979."

    On the dark days: Hindy said he always thought the brewery would be successful, but that "we were sweating bullets for the first eight years. In 1991 we could not afford to pay me so I went back to work at Newsday editing Gulf War copy. Newsday’s Pat Sloyan won a Pulitzer that year."

    On competition and collegiality: "It can be cutthroat on the street, fighting for a draft line. But the craft industry is incredibly collegial. I have learned much from my fellow brewers and I always make time for newcomers."

    About a recent report that some Brazilian brewers are using ants in their recipes: "Gives me the creeps."

    His very best life advice: "Don’t do business with assholes."

    Here is the full text of the AMA with Steve Hindy.

  • So far, few small businesses have signed up for group health insurance through the new exchanges created by Obamacare. Here's why.

    The Obama administration has been touting its success at getting 8 million Americans signed up for individual health plans through new health-insurance marketplaces. But so far, it has kept mum about the number of small businesses that have enrolled in group plans via SHOP marketplaces, designed to help companies with 50 or fewer full-time-equivalent employees find affordable coverage. These federally-run exchanges are the default option in 34 states that declined to manage their own insurance marketplaces.

    Based on what we know about state-run marketplaces, the numbers aren't likely to be very impressive. As of April 8, Connecticut's marketplace had sold plans to just 78 businesses, covering a total of 330 people. In California, where 1.4 million people have signed up for private insurance through the individual marketplace, only about 4,900 people are covered by SHOP plans.

    Low enrollment for small businesses can be blamed partly on the botched rollout--online enrollment for federal SHOP plans won't be available until November 2014. Until then, employers must complete the process offline, dealing with a broker or directly with insurance carriers. Many state-run SHOP exchanges also have clunky or nonexistent Web enrollment. But there's a growing consensus among industry insiders that, even if the online exchanges were all working perfectly, small businesses would prefer to relinquish their traditional role as middlemen for health insurance. Even Ezekiel Emanuel, who helped craft the ACA as an Obama advisor, predicts that by 2025, fewer than 20 percent of private-sector workers will have traditional employer-sponsored health insurance. Here's why:

    1. Employees don't appreciate it. Especially younger ones. Payroll and benefits firm ADP's 2014 Annual Health Benefits Report found that while the overall percentage of eligible employees participating in large-employer health plans has held steady since 2010 at an average 68 percent, participation among employees under age 30 has actually declined by 7.6 percent. Just over half of workers in this group have signed up for an employer health plan in 2014. Why? For one thing, those age 26 and under may be covered by a parent's plan and are holding out till the bitter end. But others may simply feel that the cost of premiums isn't worth it, and the individual penalty for not having coverage in 2014 ($95 per person or 1% of taxable income) just isn't very scary.

    2. It's complicated. Stride Health is an interactive online tool to help individuals in California compare and purchase health insurance. "We consciously built for individuals, not the business market," says CEO and cofounder Noah Lang. "But since launching this March, we've been surprised at the number of small businesses that are encouraging employees to sign up and use the platform to get individual coverage." In most cases, these businesses are still contributing to employees' health insurance payments--with some even footing the whole bill for premiums. But, says Lang, "business owners just don't want to think about health care. Especially in a 10-person business, you can't have someone who's an expert dedicated to making healthcare decisions on behalf of employees in a small-group plan."

    3. It's unpredictable. "The delays in implementing the employer mandate underscore for smaller employers that ACA implementation is far from resolved," says Abir Sen, president and co-founder of Gravie, a health-plan selection tool for individuals and employees that launched in late 2013. "It's nice to think only about how much I need to contribute." Some employers--especially those who will be affected by the mandate starting in 2014--will do just that through defined contributions to a group plan. But for small and mid-size companies that face little or no penalties for failing to provide employee coverage, simply giving employees some money to buy their own insurance is much easier. And, it eliminates the budgeting uncertainty that comes with not knowing know how much your group premiums are going to increase each year.

    4. Employees may get a better deal without you. "Individual plans can be 20 to 30 percent cheaper than comparable group plans," says Sen. Individual plans may also offer more flexibility in choosing health providers. Employees earning up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level may also qualify for exchange subsidies for themselves and their family members--but only if they don't get coverage through an employer. Which leaves many small businesses wondering, "Why would I want to interfere with that?"

  • Getting customers to download your app is only a first step. How do you keep them coming back? These Google Adwords changes just made things easier.

    Google announced a number of improvements to AdWords this morning, but the big news was all around mobile.

    U.S. consumers now spend 2 hours and 42 minutes a day on their mobile devices, on average, with 86 percent of their time spent in mobile apps. The mobile Web is in decline; consumers use it just 14 percent of their time they're on their mobile devices.

    Consumers aren't necessarily looking for apps, though, said Google's VP of AdWords Product Management, Jerry Dischler. "They're looking for solutions to their problems," he said. "If there's one thing that you take away from my talk today, it's this: it's no longer about devices. It's about connecting people with the content they care about, whether it's online, on mobile, or in apps."

    Dischler also shared that on Google Play as of May 2013, Google saw 50 million app downloads. Every day, he noted, users in 190 countries are downloading apps to their devices. Google's app strategy is all about connecting users with high-quality content in the right context, regardless of device or platform.

    These changes position Google at the front of the industry in terms of ad targeting and analytics for mobile apps. Here's what they mean for you and your business:

    1. You can direct people from TrueView ads right to your app install.

    TrueView Ads on YouTube really resonate with users; eight out of 10 viewers said they prefer them to standard in-stream ads.

    Now, Google will allow advertisers to add app installs as an enhancement to their TrueView ads.

    This is important for businesses trying to get users onto their apps. Instead of sending them to a download page, they'll be able to click and install the app right from the ad on YouTube. It's seamless.

    2. You can targeting based on which apps people use and how often.

    AdWords will now allow advertisers to promote their apps to people who are more likely to be customers, based on their existing app installs and usage.

    For example, if your company sells fitness clothing, you could choose to target people who have a running app installed on their phone.

    It gets even more specific, though--Google will let you factor in not only the install, but the frequency of app use and even the types of in-app purchases a person makes.

    This more precise targeting will help businesses with mobile apps get in front of more motivated consumers who show greater purchase intent.

    3. You can use deep linking to your already-installed app.

    Once you've convinced a person to download your app, the real work starts. How do you get them to keep using it? Only 16 percent of people will even try an app out more than twice. Even if your app is really cool, people need to be prodded to remember it's there and continue using it.

    Enter Google's new deep-linking to apps feature.

    Now, you can direct your ad traffic to specific pages within your app, instead of the download page or even the app's homepage.

    This allows for super-precise messaging and should help you reach app users with greater intent.

    4. Soon, you'll be able to measure conversions across the lifecycle of an app.

    The ability to measure the impact of each touchpoint in an advertising campaign is critical.

    Google will soon give advertisers the ability to measure conversions across the entire lifecycle of an app. You'll see the effect of the install, each engagement and the in-app purchase.

    This is a much-needed feature that is going to bring app marketing measurement more in-line with what advertisers have come to expect from AdWords for the Web and even cross-device.

    The Bottom Line

    These improvements don't solve all of the targeting and measurement issues with apps, but they give you more tools to make smarter app marketing decisions.

    Apps are where it's at. Is your business there? If you don't have a mobile app for your business, it's time to get one!

  • Here's an unconventional way to make hiring decisions: Ask the applicants to play a friendly game of ping pong. This Nashville company says it works.

    Can a friendly game of ping pong help you make better hiring decisions? Yes it can, according to Rob Bellenfant, CEO of Nashville-based TechnologyAdvice, a free service that helps companies decide which technology products to buy. And he believes he can prove it. As part of a study, in partnership with Vanderbilt University researchers, the company recently added ping pong as the final step in its process for evaluating job candidates.

    Here's how it works: When the rest of the evaluation and all interviews have been completed, a TechnologyAdvice executive explains that the company is participating in a study and asks candidates if they'd be willing to play some ping pong. Only one person has ever said no, Bellenfant says--only because that candidate had to quickly return to the office at a current job.

    The Questionnaire

    Before playing, the candidate is given a three-question questionnaire to fill out:

    1. On a scale of 1-10, how excited are you about participating in this study?

    2. On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate your skill level at ping pong?

    3. On a scale of 1-10, how aggressive do you think you are?

    The Games

    After filling out the questionnaire, the candidate plays three games, 11 points each, against Stephen Belcher, the company's director of data strategy, and "control player." Unbeknownst to the candidate, the games will escalate in difficulty, with Belcher becoming a more challenging opponent each time.

    "We're not looking at people's ability to play but at their approach," Bellenfant explains. "Are they open to trying something new if they haven't played before, or not in a long time? If they win, how do they celebrate? If they lose, do they take it in a difficult way? How seriously do they take it? Do they take it as a joke, or do they put in a lot of effort? As the games get more difficult, do they adapt? Those are the types of things we're looking at."

    To avoid intimidating candidates during the game, they play alone in a room with Belcher and the games are recorded on video. Afterward, Bellenfant watches and evaluates, along with a statistician from Vanderbilt, a psychologist from Vanderbilt, and the president of the Nashville Table Tennis Club. "We're making it as objective as possible," Bellenfant says.

    The Questionnaire Again

    Once the games are completed, candidates again are asked to fill out a questionnaire:

    1. On a scale of 1-10, how did you feel about the experience?

    2. On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate your skill level now that you've played?

    3. On a scale of 1-10, how aggressive do you think you were during the games?

    Bellenfant and the researchers believe these questions may reveal how candidates see themselves. "If they rated themselves a seven in skill level before the games and now they see themselves as a three, maybe they learned something," Bellenfant says. On the other hand, a candidate who rated him or herself as a three originally and a seven after the game may show hard self-judgment.

    There are no right or wrong answers, but what the questionnaires and the game reveal about someone's personality can help reveal if that candidate is a good match for a particular role. "For a position in sales, we're looking for someone a little more aggressive. For a job in data or research, we want someone who can think things through."

    Does It Work?

    Though the study is not fully completed, Bellenfant is confident that observing people's reactions to the ping pong challenge, as well as their self-evaluations, is revealing. Before beginning the study on new hires, he says, the company's then 30 employees all went through the process themselves. What the games and questionnaires revealed about them seemed consistent with their strengths and weaknesses and personalities, he says.

    How seriously does TechnologyAdvice take the ping pong? "It's another tool in our tool belt," Bellenfant says. Only candidates under serious consideration are invited to play, he notes. Would he decline to hire an otherwise attractive candidate who performed badly in the ping pong study? He might, he says--depending on how badly, for instance if the candidate had a temper tantrum. "It's one of several dozen things we're looking at," he says.

    One young woman recently interviewed for an intern position. "During the recruiting process she displayed a high level of confidence and enjoyed making people laugh," Bellenfant says. In the original questionnaire, she rated her excitement level at the prospect of playing at 13 (on the scale of 1-10), and her ping pong skill level at seven.

    When she played, it became obvious that she'd overestimated her abilities. "We would have put her at two or three," he says. Yet in the questionnaire after the game, she rated her skill level at six. "She maintained that high level of confidence, which we think is a positive thing," Bellenfant says. The company hired her, and he predicts she will be a strong performer.

    Does It Have to Be Ping Pong?

    "Apologies for the millennial cliché," wrote Keith Cawley, the company's media relations coordinator, when he first emailed me about the ping pong test. Indeed, Cawley, Bellenfant, Belcher, and a total 38 of TechAdvice's 41 employees are millennials. That's not part of some master plan, Bellenfant says, but an effect of the company's core functions--technology marketing and social media--and the large number of millennials in the Nashville area.

    But if millennials' favorite workplace pastime doesn't appeal, there are many other activities that could work just as well. In fact, Bellenfant says, "We're doing another study correlating people's approach to driving to their workplace performance. Do you make a lot of driving mistakes? Do you get road rage? Do you drive under or over the speed limit, and if over, how far over? How do you react to feedback about your driving?"

    The point is not ping pong or driving, but company culture, he adds. "We think it's important to get people outside their comfort zone, and we give people a lot of freedom and trust." When hiring for such a workplace, he says, "Throwing a curveball into the process like this is important."

    Like this post? Sign up here for Minda's weekly email and you'll never miss her columns. Next time: Want to be more confident? You can. Here's how.

  • The scrappy, 115-person NYC company delivered its plea to the high court Tuesday. Justices raised questions illuminating their awareness of the harm to cloud computing a broad ruling could bring.

    The Supreme Court stressed Tuesday the importance of protecting cloud-computing services from being unintentionally affected by their potential decision during arguments in a civil case filed by a coterie of major broadcasters against the scrappy New York City-based TV-over-the-Internet startup Aereo.

    The nine justices asked questions that seemed more concerned about the fate of companies such as Box and Dropbox than that of the company in question, Aereo, according to Re/code.

    Lawyers representing the broadcast consortium, which included ABC/Disney, CBS, NBC, and Fox, presented the case that Aereo, which uses tiny antennae to pick up broadcast signals before streaming them to subscribers' Internet-connected devices, is no different from cable and satellite companies that are required to pay hefty fees to rebroadcast their shows. (Aereo uses online cloud storage to stream and save programs.)

    The question at hand, according to the brief by the broadcasters to the court, is: "Whether a company 'publicly performs' a copyrighted television program when it retransmits a broadcast of that program to thousands of paid subscribers over the Internet."

    In the brief filed by Aereo, the question of public performance is presented, but what Aereo does is explained differently, as "supplying remote equipment that allows a consumer to tune an individual, remotely located antenna to a publicly accessible, over-the-air broadcast television signal, use a remote digital video recorder to make a personal recording from that signal, and then watch that recording." Aereo presented itself as, basically, an antenna-rental service.

    "Some justices wondered why Aereo shouldn’t be considered the equivalent of a cable company, which would give them the right to transmit TV programming--but would also require them to pay for it," Peter Kafka and Amy Schatz write on Re/code. "And others argued that Aereo seemed primarily designed to evade copyright law."

    Earlier this week, Gordon Smith, the president of the National Association of Broadcasters, told The Washington Post: "Quite simply, Aereo takes copyrighted material, profits from it, and does so without compensating copyright holders."

    It's not the first time the Supreme Court has decided the fate of a method for TV viewing. In 1984, the big media broadcasters appealed to the nine court justices to stop use of Sony's TV-recording device, the Betamax. The court ruled 5-4 that the sale of Betamax machines--which let individuals record shows for viewing or re-viewing later--did not constitute copyright infringement.

    The significance of the precedent of the Betamax decision is up for debate. As Reuters reports, the group of broadcasters don't mention the 1984 case at all in their main brief while Aereo's brief cites it 12 times.

    Aereo, backed by Barry Diller's IAC/InterActiveCorp who helped found the Fox broadcast network, does not pay the broadcasters for content the way cable companies do.

    Reporters at the court Tuesday tweeted hints at how the justices' lines of questioning might indicate their opinions on Aereo's legality.

    Oral arguments in the case began at 11 a.m. in Washington, D.C. Stay tuned for updates.

  • Several companies have emerged that replace expensive caskets and earth-polluting chemicals with pine boxes and shrouds.

    Here's a grim statistic: The estimated funeral costs for the baby boomer generation will be half a trillion dollars. Now many members of that demographic are looking for alternatives to expensive contemporary burials and funerals. It's not just about the money though; out of concern for the environment, more and more people are now opting for green burials, opening up opportunities for entrepreneurs who provide such services.

    A lot of the things people typically buy to lay their loved ones to rest can pollute the earth and downplay the element of death. Embalming fluid prevents the natural decomposition of a cadaver and is toxic to the environment. Burials often feature big metal caskets that look more like a Cadillac than a coffin, and AstroTurf around the grave that prevents mourners from seeing dirt.

    Going back to more traditional rituals from before the U.S. started using embalming fluid in the Civil War, a green burial does not use toxic chemicals. The dead are placed in biodegradable pine boxes or shrouds, and buried in holes dug by shovels without a cement vault.

    Joe Sehee, the founder of the Green Burial Council, a nonprofit that certifies cemeteries and funeral-related businesses as environmentally conscious, says the green burial industry is altering the traditional funeral industry. "We have this antiquated, merchandise-based model that is starting to change," he says. "People are entering the field on the cemetery side, a whole new breed of funeral directors, morticians, and casket makers have been born, and all of them find a great deal of honor in this work, but don't want to be merchants."

    Call for Social Responsibility

    Billy Campbell, a family doctor in Westminster, South Carolina, opened the first conservation burial grounds, or "green cemetery," in the U.S. in 1998--a 71-acre swath of preserved forest land in Appalachia named Ramsey Creek Preserve. Since then, Campbell and his wife Kimberley have buried 300 people and sold another 400 graves. But Ramsey Creek is not the only green cemetery of its kind anymore. With help from the Green Burial Council, there are now 36 green burial grounds across the country.

    "If there has ever been a business that needs social responsibility, it's the death care industry. The current industry is out of touch with what people want," said Campbell, who had just finished digging a grave, in a phone interview. "It's not the waste of land, it's the waste of potential. It's just weird, it's a denial of death--why would you want to bury someone who looks like they are sleeping? All the products you're buying and burying in the ground every year has made a lot of people feel like the process is not in touch with their values."

    Campbell cites an AARP report that found that over 30 percent of the baby boomer generation said they would like some kind of green burial. With the cost of a grave at Ramsey Creek set at $2,400--and no extra costs or merchandise to buy--people can save thousands of dollars in funeral costs while saving the environment from pollutants, Campbell says. Conservation burial grounds are permanent nature preserves, he adds--the more people buried, the more acres that will remain wild.

    Bringing Closure

    Luc Nadeau, the founder of Nature's Casket, a recycled pine coffin company in Longmont, Colorado, said he got the idea to enter the green burial industry eight years ago after realizing a pile of wood pallets in his backyard would make a good coffin. He ended up giving those pallets away, but in 2008 a beetle epidemic killed 3 million acres of blue-stained pine--the perfect wood for a traditional box. Since then, he has used that inventory to make 150 caskets by hand out of his garage, without cutting down any trees.

    Compared to metal caskets, which pollute graves and can cost more than $2,000, Nadeau's locally sourced caskets are sustainable and cost around $800. He says that although it can be a morbid field to work in, it's a meaningful trade to make environmentally conscious caskets for people in need.

    "It's a gratifying business," he says. "It's meaningful, my customers are grateful, and I'm able to help people at a vulnerable time."

    Nadeau says green burials help to bring a better sense of closure compared to the contemporary funeral, which has taken shape "to euphemize death--graveyards became cemeteries, coffins became caskets, and undertakers became funeral directors," he says. "People value the older tradition that brings us to deal directly with death."

    Signs of Change

    Green burials can take a variety of forms--Sarasota, Florida-based Eternal Reefs, for example, will mix your loved one's cremated remains into a eco-friendly cement reef ball and place it in the ocean--and awareness of the options is spreading. To further the cause, Amy Cunningham, the funeral director and celebrant of Brooklyn, New York-based Greenwood Heights Funeral & Cremation Services, hosts education seminars to help people learn the rules of green burial. She also runs a blog, The Inspired Funeral, which highlights green cemeteries and environmentally conscious urns, shrouds, and other products.

    Cunningham says she has overseen five green burials already this year. "Disrupting is too strong a word, but this year has seen a great deal of change," she says. "Pretty soon though, people will be coming in and asking about these services and will eventually come to expect it. The directors who aren't paying attention to it will become less relevant."

  • Indiegogo's Design, Tech and Hardware Lead Kate Drane reveals 1 effective strategy to generate buzz around your campaign.

  • When you're this close to signing a big deal with a client or investor, make sure you get these legal basics right.

    Legalities, if not handled correctly, can trip up any small business, but several pitfalls are particularly dangerous for tech startups trying to ink deals with customers, partners, and investors.

    That's according to Jason Boyarski and David Fritz, partners in the New York City law firm Boyarski Fritz LLP, who specialize in brokering deals involving entertainment, media, personalities, and technology. They say if you don't want a deal to fall apart you should avoid these common mistakes.

    1. Underestimate the costs of delivering your product.

    Good ideas are one thing but bringing them come to life is quite another. In addition to the upfront costs involved in building a product or service, entrepreneurs often fail to consider the ongoing costs later down the road.

    "Where that translates onto the legal side is that you often have an entrepreneur bring a potential investor to the table... a little too early," says Fritz.

    2. Create an overly rich feature set.

    Fritz points out that Instagram is a pretty simple app that's wildly successful and worth a fortune. Similarly, when you keep features uncomplicated and focus on what's most important your business benefits financially and legally.

    "If you don't have that crazy of a feature set, your terms of service, your terms of use, and the privacy policies [don't] have to be complicated because you don't have to worry about what you're doing with the data that you receive and what intellectual property is being acquired or created," he says.

    3. Fail to clearly communicate the scope of a licensing agreement.

    Getting intellectual property into the hands of users is critical for tech startups but you'll have problems if all parties involved don't completely understand the scope of the rights being granted. For example, since technology can be outdated or standardized someone could assume they're getting something that they aren't if an agreement is not clearly defined.

    "And so our job as the lawyers and dealmakers... oftentimes we need to work very closely with our tech company clients to assure we understand their technology so then we can accurately convey what the third party is getting in the agreement," Boyarski says. Create presentations or fact sheets--whatever you need to do to be very explicit about what your partners are getting.

    4. Operate in isolation.

    Input from seasoned veterans can help deals get done so it's imperative to have a great board of advisers--people from the industry in which you're operating as well as those from outside it. They should also be actively involved.

    "It's not about just putting somebody's name in a brand presentation; it's actually having the ability to tap the resources of that adviser whether it's running an idea by them by phone or sending them presentations for review," Fritz says.

    Legally speaking, it's important to spell out whether these people will be compensated, what obligation they have to the company, and if they require director and officer insurance which protects them in the event of a claim against the company.

    5. Hire a lawyer with no hands-on business experience.

    In addition to being attorneys, Boyarski and Fritz both have non-law business experience--Boyarski is a partner in a marketing agency and former GM and senior VP of Warner/Chappell Music. Fritz has invested in and actively helped manage toy company Myachi and has also owned a record label called Medalist Entertainment.

    "When you have a lawyer that has had the experiences of standing in the shoes of the client... they are able to say 'Wait a second, here's what you're going to face down the road because it happened to me,'" says Boyarski.

    Don't know where to find a lawyer with business savvy? Ask your great board of advisers.

    6. Skimp.

    Fledgling entrepreneurs can be tempted to cut corners when it comes to hiring vendors, consultants, and lawyers but doing so can cause problems down the road.

    "Unraveling mistakes is a lot more difficult and oftentimes more expensive than structuring something correctly from the outset," Boyarski says.

  • You have to give up things to start and grow a business, but don't give up the fundamentals that make life worth living.

    Twitter's CEO and co-founders have said that they won't sell stock when the lock-up ends on May 5. Why? It's not hard to guess. A sudden flood of shares hitting the market could send the stock price tumbling, and the company wants to keep a strong share value for possible acquisitions, adherence to lender demands, employee morale, and other reasons.

    In short, Dick Costolo, Jack Dorsey, and Evan Williams are doing what entrepreneurs often do: sacrificing for the greater good. The fear of failure runs deep, and for good reasons. It's ridiculously easy for a new company to crash and burn. But there are useful efforts and those that are wastes of time and energy. What you want to do is to work smarter.

    You can't avoid sacrifice in starting and expanding a company. However, you can be more intelligent about how you do it and avoid unnecessary privations that will actually set you back. Here are five ways to keep some balance and sanity.

    Set regular hours (as much as possible).

    Running a business, whether new or established, can mean long hours. But it shouldn't turn into a never-ending series of all-nighters. You'll burn out mentally and physically. Some significant time away helps you recharge, clear fuzzy thinking, and come back more able to succeed. Set regular hours for yourself. They'll probably be long, and there will be times when you can't leave when you're scheduled to. Set the hours anyway and do your best to keep them.

    Trade off advancement with family and me-time.

    One of the ideas that drive entrepreneurs to spend all their time at work is the thought that they are pushing their companies ahead. Often, that's wishful thinking. Track what an outsider would consider actual advancement, and you'll find that often you've indulged in wheel spinning. Maybe it's losing sight of a bigger picture or perhaps it's giving in to your inner workaholic.

    In addition to setting regular hours, make sure that you do something during your time away from the job. Maybe hang out with a significant other, kids, or friends. Or you might occasionally indulge in a hobby, or even take a course. Meg Hirshberg, wife of Greg Hirshberg, co-founder of Stonyfield Farm, says even "generally inquiring about [a] spouse's day" can help keep important family connections. You're not going for the big gesture so much as the little daily things that can help keep you and the people you care about sane.

    Treat yourself like an employee.

    Almost any entrepreneur will have stories about paying everyone else first or being the only one in the office on a holiday. You're the boss who stands to benefit most from establishing the company, so of course you're last on the list of anyone who gets a break.

    But that attitude can be a mistake. For example, forgo salary long enough with insufficient savings and you'll be in no shape to get anything done. Think of yourself instead as an employee. This doesn't mean you get to slack off, but it will force you to consider some things you need when planning strategy, forecasting financials, and scheduling operations.

    You don't always have to be the hero.

    Many entrepreneurs want to be the one who comes to the rescue in a problem. Unfortunately, that's something to feed your ego, not expand the business. Many times you will have to be the one to put in the last effort or work on a particular project. Other times, not only could others take over, but they might even be better suited to whatever has to be done. Give employees, family members, or whoever can help out a chance to shine in the spotlight.

    Remember that things change.

    This may be one of the toughest tips to implement. As a business grows, it's easy to fall into habits over how it has to run and what you can and cannot allow yourself to do. In a couple of companies I've run, it took me some time to realize that I could actually take a week of vacation, or even two, without putting the business into peril. Next year there might be room for a slightly larger salary for you. Perhaps you can afford a key hire that could take pressure off you and help drive the company to greater success.

    Creating a business always requires some sacrifice. Just be sure that the sacrifice you offer is one that is necessary and won't hurt your enterprise more than it can help.

  • Are you a social media savant? Have you covered business topics? Submit your resume.

    Inc. is the voice of the American entrepreneur. We inspire, inform, and celebrate the risk-takers and curious go-getters at the centers of innovation and new business development. Some of the best-known people we've "discovered" include: Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Tony Hsieh.

    Social Media Editor Job Description

    Inc. is growing this year, and we're looking to expand our voice on social media. While we already have a strong social presence -- 840,000 Twitter followers and 350,000 Facebook Likes, for instance -- we'd like to continue to increase it, build new social media audiences, and react to social media in new ways.

    Responsibilities Include:

    • Manage Inc.'s social accounts across multiple platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram, Google+, and Tumblr.
    • Engage, interact with, and learn from Inc.'s community across multiple platforms.
    • Grow Inc.'s social footprint and use it to drive traffic.
    • Regularly track and communicate with the editorial team about social media performance.
    • Attend daily editorial meetings.
    • Work with writers, photographers, and video producers on Inc.'s daily social report as well as longer-term packages.
    • Recommend how social tools can best be incorporated into the site.
    • Help promote the Inc. brand and events throughout social media.
    • Implement sponsored social media projects, including tracking and branding requirements.
    • Stay on top of changing social tools, algorithms, and audiences, and make recommendations.


    The ideal candidate will have experience managing social media for online brands as well as prior experience in business journalism. The person will demonstrate an in-depth understanding of social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Pinterest, and Instagram as well as digital analytics. The social media editor should be excited about social media, digital analytics, and entrepreneurship.

    Does this sound like you? Send an email explaining why and your resume to Miles Merwin at

  • Whether you want to change the world or simply reduce your company's environmental footprint, these books from Yvon Chouinard, Jeffrey Hollender, and more provide both advice and inspiration.

    In 1970, when Earth Day began, business was the enemy. The previous year, a blowout in a Union Oil platform had dumped more than 80,000 barrels of black stuff into the Santa Barbara Channel. Students and activists loudly protested pollution from factories and power plants. Today, business often is still the enemy. But it is sometimes a force for good--or at least a mouthpiece for good, as evidenced by the nearly 2,000 titles in Amazon's "Green Business" category. The best of these books combine concrete practices and provocative proposals with personal vision and a sense of urgency. Most argue that it makes good business sense to be a responsible citizen of our blue marble.

    Here are 10 recommended green books for CEOs and other business leaders. Download them to your e-reader and save a tree.

    1. Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered, by E.F. Schumacher (1973): Schumacher's early clarion call to conscience condemns "gigantism"--the trend toward ever-larger markets, companies, and production levels. The German economist and philosopher further argues that innovations that solve a problem but degrade the environment or society are of no benefit. He advocates instead for more humane forms of capitalism and the adoption of small-scale "appropriate technology" that is environmentally sound and labor intensive (as opposed to capital intensive). Today chiefly discussed in the context of developing countries, this classic deserves new readers in U.S. executive suites.

    2. Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution, by Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, and L. Hunter Lovins (1999): Hawkins, an early social entrepreneur and co-founder of the garden company Smith & Hawken, teams with the celebrated environmentalist couple to explain how growing scarcity creates opportunity as well as peril. The authors sketch out an economic model that values natural capital (energy, water, and topsoil) as well as manmade capital and recognizes the interdependence between the two. They urge companies to increase the productivity of natural resources, to redesign industry to operate on biological models, to shift from selling goods to providing services, and to reinvest in natural capital. Many themes picked up by later books had an early outing here.

    3. Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, by William McDonough and Michael Braungart (2002): Suppose you looked at recycling not as a social obligation but rather as a principle of design? McDonough (a designer) and Braungart (a chemist) lay out a vision for products developed with materials and processes that allow them to feed into other products down the line, rather than end life in a landfill. Their lifecycle approach relies on materials that fall into two categories: "technical nutrients" (synthetics that can be used over and over and don't harm the environment) and "biological nutrients" (organic materials that can be returned to the environment). Nature is elegant, and so are the prescriptions rendered here.

    4. Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman, by Yvon Chouinard (2005): Patagonia's mission statement reads thus: "Make the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis." Who would argue with that? Chouinard, Patagonia's founder, has a deep, personal connection to the natural world that is evident throughout this memoir. In it, he recounts his distress as he observed the natural world's deterioration during his wide-ranging travels. In response, Chouinard resolved to donate 10 percent of profits each year to small environmental groups--a practice that evolved into the respected "1% for the Planet" organization. And his green approach to things such as product design and distribution have made Patagonia into the environmental icon it is today.

    5. Green to Gold: How Smart Companies Use Environmental Strategy to Innovate, Create Value, and Build Competitive Advantage, by Daniel Esty and Andrew Winston (2006): Increasingly, going green isn't an option companies choose for themselves: Their customers and stakeholders drive them toward it. These two Yale professors offer concrete advice--including a toolkit--for reducing a company's environmental footprint. They encourage practices like "eco-tracking" (capturing data and creating metrics for all a company's environmental impacts); redesigning products and processes to reduce waste; and fostering a culture that folds environmental thinking into decisions at all levels. Unlike some similar treatises, Green to Gold acknowledges the many bumps over which such initiatives may trip. Among them: efforts to extract a price premium for being green and assumptions that customers will change their habits.

    6. Business Lessons From a Radical Industrialist, by Ray C. Anderson (2009): Anderson, founder of the $1 billion carpet company Interface and widely known as "the greenest CEO in America," died in 2011. His book is a reminder of what we have lost. Twenty years ago, Anderson set for his company the inspiring, jaw-dropping goal of taking nothing from the earth that could not be replaced by the earth. That goal ignited all kinds of innovations (the company holds numerous patents on machines, processes, and products that reduce waste). In the year this book was published, Interface had made and sold more than 83 million square yards of carpet with zero global-warming effect. What was once landfill fodder returns to the factory as "feedstock." There's lots of practical advice here. But it's also a compelling business yarn written by someone who truly walked the talk.

    7. Strategy for Sustainability: A Business Manifesto, by Adam Werbach (2009): Tales from global brands such as Toyota, Nike, and Wal-Mart inform much of this book. But entrepreneurs will instantly relate to many of its tenets for a sustainable strategy, including that cash flow matters more than quarterly earnings, that everyone's operating environment is undergoing massive change, and that internal cohesion and flexibility are required in a chaotic external world. In this context of complexity and interconnection, seeking to be green is no longer enough, argues Werbach, a former Sierra Club president now with Saatchi & Saatchi. Instead, he casts sustainability objectives as part of a strategic framework for responding to changes of all types: social, technological, cultural, and economic as well as natural-resource-related.

    8. Sustainable Excellence: The Future of Business in a Fast-Changing World, by Aron Cramer and Zachary Karabell (2010): Scarcity is the mother of innovation. Consequently, companies as diverse as Method and Best Buy have taken sustainability as a "design brief" for their research and development efforts, the authors explain. Cramer, an authority on corporate responsibility, and Karabell, an economist and author, urge companies to think big when addressing global environmental issues, to set the right internal and external incentives for responsible behavior, and to embrace the scrutiny of their every action (transparency and collaboration are your friends). The most committed companies educate customers about becoming more sustainable themselves.

    9. The Responsibility Revolution: How the Next Generation of Businesses Will Win, by Jeffrey Hollender and Bill Breen (2010): "Less bad" isn't good enough. When it comes to the environment, companies should strive instead to be "all good." This book presents case studies from a nice mix of organizations. (Those on Nike and Marks & Spencer are especially strong.) Among the excellent--and clever--best practices: Nike's Considered Index, which quantifies the ecological impact of design choices; and Patagonia's Footprint Chronicles, which document for all to see everything that goes into a product. Not surprisingly, some of the most compelling stories involve Seventh Generation, the iconic company once led by Hollender. He was ousted shortly after the book's publication, reportedly over tensions between green and and growth.

    10. What's Mine Is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption, by Rachel Botsman and Roo Rogers (2010): The more we share, the less we need to produce, the better for the environment. Collaboration expert Botsman and social entrepreneur Rogers discuss emerging business models for a consumer-driven, more environment-friendly economy. "Product service systems" like Zipcar make it possible to live auto-less; "communal economies" like Etsy empower small vendors against large corporations; and "redistribution markets" like Swaptree allow people to trade or barter rather than buy. There's plenty to think about here, even for entrenched companies. As consumers grow accustomed to these models and want to reduce waste and--perhaps more important to them--spending, the only thing left in the landfill may be old buy-it-keep-it models of commerce.

  • Here's how to influence others, while maintaining your trustworthiness.

    In his book, "How to Achieve Enchantment," Silicon Valley business advisor Guy Kawasaki explains how you can influence others while doing it ethically. In the infographic below, created on behalf of Kawasaki, Column Five depicts how you can enchant your employees -- and your boss.

  • If you want to hire big-picture thinkers, keep an eye out for these companies on a candidate's resume.

    These days, computers have made routine work cheaper and a tight labor market has made hiring average employees a breeze. So what’s still incredibly scarce and valuable? Good ideas.

    Stick any job ad on a board or in the paper and you’ll be bombarded with resumes. But to thrive, your business needs not just folks who can follow orders and plough through routine tasks but people who can survey the market and the competition and come up with fresh ways to move your company forward. You need, in other words, visionary thinkers. Where can you find them?

    British startup ViewsOnYou thinks it can help. The company offers a tool for job seekers (or the simply curious) to conduct a self-review of their personality and work style, as well as request reviews from colleagues and others who know you well. The results are then collated into a report aimed at helping you find the right role and company to fit your quirks.

    But that’s only half the story. ViewsOnYou also takes all the data it rounds up from inquisitive workers and aggregates it to draw a data-driven portrait of the types of employees that can be found at various businesses, painting a picture of each company’s current culture. The idea is that workers and businesses can then check how well their personalities match, but the data may also be useful for business owners on the lookout to hire strategic thinkers.

    Among the 23 traits that are measured during the review process is an employee’s level of visionary thinking.

    “Under the category of how you think, one of the key traits we look to understand is whether you are a detail oriented person primarily or a big picture strategic thinker,” explains ViewsOnYou. While people often display both traits in varying degrees, those who are highly visionary have a strong tendency to think strategically (though, on the downside, they sometimes also have a short attention span).

    So if you want to hire a visionary, where do you look? reached out to ViewsOnYou to ask which companies came back with the highest percentage of these big-picture thinkers. Keep an eye out for resumes that cross your desk that include these companies:

    • NBC Universal (part of Comcast)

    • YouTube (part of Google)

    • Virgin America

    • Guardian Media Group

    • WPP

    • Siemens

    • Bloomberg

    • Lloyds Banking Group

    • Boston Consulting Group


    • Kellogg Company

    • Tata Motors

    Are you surprised by any of the companies included? Let us know in the comments.

  • Alexa Von Tobel has one easy rule to follow to minimize the risk you expose yourself to as an entrepreneur.

  • Chet Kanojia is an audacious leader, to say the least. A look at the background that led to his unique management style.

    It's a singular and almost inconceivable position that Chet Kanojia, the founder and CEO of Aereo, has found himself in. The fate of his company rests on the outcome of a single day in court--and he supports the fact the life of the company he's spent the past three years buildling is in the hands of nine justices.

    Tuesday, the case of American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. v. Aereo, Inc., goes before the U.S. Supreme Court.

    Remarkably, Kanojia is not outwardly rattled by this Shakespearian--or perhaps even Seinfeldian--situation: "This is what makes sense," he told me he thought when deciding to not oppose the major broadcast networks' appeal to the Supreme Court to take up their case against Aereo. (If you're not familiar with the meat of the case being argued before the court, know that it hinges on Aereo's rights--or lack thereof--to broadcast network television programming to customers' computers. A primer on the legal arguments is here, if you'd like to read more.)

    In reporting on Aereo, I had the privilege of spending a couple partial days with Kanojia, and meet some of the other people behind this innovative company, both in its New York City headquarters in SoHo, and in its Boston office. I was intrigued not just by the technological solution Kanojia and his team had dreamed up, built, and sold to tens of thousands of people. I was also fascinated by the sheer pace of iteration that happened at Aereo. And one thing was clear: This had a lot to do with Kanojia himself. So I began to try to explore the roots of Kanojia's remarkable leadership traits. From my feature in the May issue of Inc. magazine:

    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."

    What didn't quite make it into the magazine is this: Kanojia possesses a placid demeanor, but it doesn't run deep. Even during his privileged boyhood in a well-off family in Bhopal, India, he knew he wanted to stand out. "I never wanted to be the kid who went to Harvard and who went to McKinsey," says Kanojia, who is 44 years old. "So there's a little anti-convention streak."

    After his father's heart attack, the years of recovery that followed influenced the younger Kanojia to a perhaps greater extent. Oftentimes after dinner, his father would take long walks, occasionally dragging teenage Chet with him. And they'd talk. The Big Talks. They'd talk about classic Hindu principles, of leading a Vedic life, or of yoga practice. As Kanojia tells it, a lot of these lessons stuck.

    "One of the things he would always say is, 'look at that dog. That dog can feed itself. In life, putting food in your belly isn't your problem. [Your problem] is: Have you accomplished anything,'" Kanojia says. "So I look at 'average' as that dog. How could you not want to be different?"

    Kanojia is familiar with soaring highs as well as hardship. His first company, Navic Networks, developed technology that allowed cable providers to collect data on subscribers' viewing and use that information to program targeted advertisements. The company's software at the time was quite widespread: It was in about 35 million cable boxes. After more than two grueling years of acquisition talks Kanojia describes in pained tones, he finally got glory: He finalized the sale of Navic to Microsoft in 2008 for a reported $250 million.

    Kanojia led Aereo through its early stages exceedingly well. He brought on CTO Joe Lipowski and hired principal engineer Jim Bingham, who together took the antenna from wisp of idea to prototype to proven concept in a mere 18 months. Their teams also engineered the hardware and software that are the horsepower behind the tiny metal rods, antenna-board's software and capacitors that change an antenna's electrical properties so it can tune into a single broadcast's 6-megahertz frequency, rather than the entire broadcast spectrum at once, as does a big rabbit-ear antenna at home. In the vein of Apple or Tesla, most everything is engineered in-house. And most equipment (with the exception of the copper antennae, which are stamped in China) is manufactured in the United States.

    Kanojia wasn't always a model CEO. He admits that his intense drive got the best of him at Navic--and employees at times reported disliking him.

    "I feel like if it's under our control, we should always be doing better. We should be able to be doing newer, better, more interesting," he says. Separately, when describing the two years he spent navigating a potential acquisition while running Navic, he says, "I drove everybody absolutely bat-shit crazy by just push, push, push, push."

    In the past decade, though, Kanojia has become an avid runner and golfer, has built a family, and focused quite a bit of effort on his management style. Today, his emotions are so controlled that when I ask him sitting down for an interview in the company's SoHo office in New York City, how he's feeling with the Supreme Court case looming, he simply repeats my question, "How are you feeling," pauses, and sighs. "I mean." Another pause. "I care very deeply about what happens."

    He continues: "I think anybody who's ever worked with a collection of people knows that your psychoses spill over to your colleagues very quickly. And in particular if you're a CEO, you can't ask people to stay focused and strong and do their jobs if you're falling apart."

    It's not just an act. When the ruling from the Second Circuit Court of Appeals was handed down--a significant win for Aereo--Kanojia says his reaction was "sort of like, 'OK, yeah whatever.' Same feeling with all of these things."

    That even-keel response should not be mistaken for indifference. Kanojia says one thing being a CEO for the greater part of a decade has taught him is to master those things one can command; and to not dwell on those one cannot. He explained: "If it's out of your control you just, woosh," he moved both hands up and away from his body in a dramatic sweep. "That's the distinction I would make. If things are not in your control, they're not in your control. It is what it is."

  • An in-depth, exclusive interview with guitarist Joe Satriani about his musical and entrepreneurial journey.

    Put aside selling millions of critically acclaimed solo albums. Put aside touring with Mick Jagger, Deep Purple, and Chickenfoot. Put aside teaching legendary guitarists like Steve Vai, Kirk Hammett, Andy Timmons, and Alex Skolnick and creating signature guitar and equipment lines. Put aside founding the long-running G3 concert series.

    World class musician? Absolutely--but inside 14-time Grammy nominated guitarist Joe Satriani also beats the heart of a true entrepreneur.

    This month marks the release of Satriani's new book, Strange Beautiful Music: A Musical Memoir, as well as his career retrospective box set, The Complete Studio Recordings. It's the perfect time to talk to him about the business of Joe Satriani. (Spoiler alert: While you might think entrepreneurs have nothing in common with musicians, you're definitely wrong.)

    So you're in a power-pop band, and one day you buy a book of business forms and overnight start a record company and a publishing company. Where did that come from?

    It really is a funny story. I was in a band called the Squares in the early 1980s. We were a three-piece working extremely hard in Berkeley, California, and had a rehearsal space in the warehouse district of the Flats of Berkeley.

    We shared part of the building with Nolo Press, a company that made how-to books with tear-out pages for all sorts of legal situations. Their dumpster was right outside the door where we would hang out and have a smoke and a drink in between practicing, and it was always overflowing with damaged books. So we're out there wondering how we're ever going to make it in the music business and start absentmindedly flipping through books. One of them showed how to start all kinds of businesses.

    I took it home and was fascinated. I thought the upcoming vacation the band was taking was an opportunity for me to just "do the book."

    And you had no business background?

    Not really. I got a real copy of the book and decided I needed to start my own publishing company and my own record company and then make a record. I just followed the advice in the book, filled out the forms, went to the Oakland Courthouse and paid my $12, and suddenly I was a record company owner.

    While it sounds like a joke, I realized that was actually how it works. It's not complicated.

    I wound up recording a very unusual, avant-garde record with no bass drums or keyboards. When I got back to the band rehearsals weeks later, I presented everybody with what I'd done on my Christmas vacation. I said, "Look, I've got a record, and I've got Rubina Records, a record company named after my wife. And I've got a publishing company, and all the money goes to me." Even though, of course, at the time there was no money coming to me.

    Few musicians did it that way, especially then. Most waited to get discovered, which for most was also an endless wait.

    Exactly. I realized I didn't have to go out and chase the brick-and-mortar powers that be. Today, the music business is more equal access opportunity. Back then, you really had to know someone. There was no way to go viral. That challenge was what gave me the energy to pursue the future I glimpsed in that little misprint of a book, How to Start your Own Business.

    What did you do with your first EP? Wasn't it actually reviewed by a mainstream publication?

    A problem I had as a record company owner was that I had to order about 100 copies of the actual record, and after I did, I came face to face with the problem of not being able to find my audience.

    "I don't think you can survive being just an artist or just a businessperson," says Satriani. "If you're only business, you will lack the flair that attracts an audience. If you're only flair, you'll be taken advantage of."

    There was a magazine at the time called Sonic Option Network that basically listed all the independently owned record stores around the world. So I picked 40 or 50 stores and mailed an album to those stores with a letter saying, "You don't know me. I'm nobody. Sell these and keep the money. I don't care."

    You weren't a particularly aggressive capitalist.

    Well, no. Then I was in a band rehearsal one day and our bass player said, "Hey, I think they reviewed your record in Guitar Player magazine."

    As I read the review I realized who I really was. The "Joe Satriani" they thought I was really appealed to me. That's when I realized that was who I wanted to be, not some guy stuck in a rehearsal flogging away at the industry standard. I realized I should chart my own course and continue in what you call the entrepreneurial spirit. I didn't know to call it that. But I just said, "I should just be this guy."

    That's who I am. I just hadn't realized it. So I quit the band and I dove full time into taking more control of not only my creative experience but also the business. I had no training in business so I was just flailing away but still, it was mine,and I just felt so empowered.

    Did that take you to your first "real" album, Not of This Earth, or was there an intermediate stage?

    It did. I realized I needed to make a record that would appeal to more people, which meant the obvious: drums, bass, keyboards, instruments a majority of the listening public relate to, because that first EP of mine was really odd.

    In my book, I detail the comedy that went into trying to get that record funded. Long story short, I did eventually figure out a way to make that record and eventually wound up with a production and distribution deal through a company in New York.

    Unless I'm wrong this is where the power of connections comes in.

    One of my former students, Steve Vai, had recorded an album too and been rejected by everyone except the company that became Relativity Records. One day he said, "Can I send a cassette of your new record to this guy I know, because your record is far less weird than mine, and if they like mine...." That company started the ball rolling for both Steve and I.

    It was great because the company was headed by and creatively managed by Cliff Cultreri. I hate to call him a "music industry executive" because it belittles his true talent. He was the kind of person an artist really needs because he was so supportive. He's what you dream of when you imagine what a great A&R [artists & repertoire] person should be.

    I was extremely lucky. Business always requires personal relationships. I still count Cliff as one of my best friends.

    It's almost a given in the music business that artists eventually regret the terms of their first contract. They're so happy to get signed that they will sign almost anything. Yet your experience was very different.

    Success came to me in my late 20s. I had started touring when I was a teenager so I had already seen the good, the bad, and the ugly side of the music business. Plus setting up my own record company taught me a lot.

    I walked into Relativity Records as a musician who could not be taken advantage of. That's why I wound up owning all my own publishing and making a deal that was quite advantageous for a new solo artist. But I really didn't think of myself as an entrepreneur. I thought of myself as an artist who felt strongly he should control every aspect of his art.

    From a business and market opportunity point of view, instrumental rock was not exactly a happening genre. If your goal was to strike while the musical iron was hot your timing was way off.

    What you just said is perfect. You encapsulated what I came to grips with when I looked for funding for my first record.

    I remember getting turned down by everyone in my local community, and I was just looking for a few thousand dollars. If I had been starting a company to make plastic cups I could probably have gone to a bank and gotten a loan. But a guitar player getting a bank loan to record a record? That was just never going to happen.

    After a week of being rejected by local studios and engineers I found this credit card offer in my mailbox. I was pre-approved because of, "My good standing in the community."

    Hey, well done.

    And it came with $5,000 worth of checks. I would never recommend this to anyone, but in a blind moment of enthusiasm I turned around and went back to John Cuniberti at Hyde Street Studios and said, "What if I pay you in advance? What kind of a deal could you cut me?"

    Instantly I got more than 50 percent off on studio time and engineering costs. So, like an idiot, I wrote those checks and immediately went into debt to record my record.

    Then of course I couldn't make payments on the credit card and was days away from entering collection. I was stuck and wondering what to do when the Greg Kihn Band called. Their guitarist was out and they were desperate. They were flush with cash, asked me to join the band, and paid me way too much money to solve their problem.

    Within a week, I went from being deeply in debt to being completely debt free and on my way to having my first real record released by Relativity Records. It was a very unusual twist of fate.

    I like to think that because I had the courage to take my shot, good fortune came my way, but it could have just as easily gone terribly wrong.

    I would imagine you're a record company publicist's worst nightmare because you've taken your music in so many directions. Do they ever say, "Come on, Joe. Can you just write another "Summer Song"?

    I've always had creative freedom. Instrumental rock wasn't really a genre but the success of Surfing With the Alien legitimized my approach. I think the record company thought, "Well, he dreamed this whole thing up himself and fought for creative control, all the way to refusing to have anything negative on his album covers...." And when the record sold, they started saying, "What do you want to do next?" And every time I opened my mouth they said, "Great. Go ahead."

    That continued from Relativity all the way through my very long association with the Epic Records staff at Sony Music. They've always been very hands off when it comes to giving me direction, and very hands on when it comes to helping me.

    That's definitely not always the case. Record companies are like venture capitalists--they're providing capital and taking a risk so it's natural to want a say.

    Every artist needs funding to get a record off the ground. The record company comes in with money and experience and that's really great for artists that know where they want to go. A great A&R department can help with personnel, experience, locations. They've dealt with thousands of artists over the decades so they know how to make things happen.

    But that's not so great if, in the process, you give up all control over your art.

    Tell me about your G3 concert series. That's another contrarian move because most artists don't go out of their way to showcase other artists. For example, stories about headliners sabotaging their opening acts are a dime a dozen.

    I had reached a level of success and was making records and touring. But one day I was sitting in the French countryside getting ready to play a show and realized my best friend Steve Vai was in Australia and all the rest of my buddies were spread around the world working. I was really happy that we all had gigs. But at the same time I thought, "Well, when do I actually get to play with my friends?"

    I came back from the tour and I went to [legendary promoter] Bill Graham's management offices. I said, "Everything's great...except for the fact that I feel completely isolated. My agent and promoters want me to be in a certain town two months before or after my other friend who's playing that town."

    I missed the camaraderie of being not famous. I missed the fun of friends who played music together just to play music.

    In a weird way, success can be oddly isolating.

    Certainly with the agenda of maintaining success came the negative artifact of being separated from other artists. So we sat down that afternoon to figure out how to formalize a way to interact with other musicians.

    That started the idea of a tour combining three guitarists in one tour, which eventually became G3. We went through all sorts of crazy ideas and finally realized the only logical way to do it--and the best way to do it from an artistic point of view--was for me to get onstage with my buddies every night.

    I was convinced the audience felt the same way I did. If I had opened a newspaper and read, "Brian May, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page are coming to The Warfield Theater for six nights of jamming together," I would have bought a ticket for every night. I would have been so happy to see them playing outside their normal gigs, not promoting their latest music, just playing together. To me, as a fan, that would have been the ultimate dream.

    "Surround yourself with smart people, and be secure in the knowledge that you can control your own art and your own career--because if you don't, someone else definitely will."

    I thought my fans would the same way. I was sure they would love to see Eric Johnson and Steve Vai together, the guys I wanted to be the first two guests.

    I'm surprised it hadn't been done before.

    As an owner of G3, it was a great idea, but like any idea it's only worth something if you can sell it. So our first task was to pitch it to local promoters so we could build a tour. That was very difficult because a promoter's business is based on never putting all their eggs in one basket.

    They'd rather book the three of you separately because then they have three shows to sell.

    And of course we came to them with a trio of headliners and they had to pay us the same amount. That took a lot of convincing. Then it took me quite a while, almost a year, to convince Steve and Eric it would not just be fun for us as players but would be good for us all to do.

    I think the main sticking point was the idea of competition. I kept telling them the story that I just told you, that if I was sitting in the audience and it was Jimmy and Jeff and Brian, I wouldn't be thinking about who was better. I'd just be in heaven watching my favorite musicians.

    I said to them, "It's not about that. The audience isn't going to compare us. They're not going to burn all my records and devote their life to yours."

    Actors used to say, "Never work with animals or children." With guitar players it's, "Never work with other lead guitar players." I said, "Let's do the opposite. Let's stand next to each other and have fun blowing each other away. What could be bad about that? One night I might be better, the next night you probably will."

    I think what I had to do was just say it out loud. Once they heard me say it, they thought, "Well, if Joe feels that way...I can feel that way. And maybe that's the way everyone feels."

    Say I'm a young musician hoping to make a living. What advice would you give me?

    Take control of as much as you can. Educate yourself not just about music but also the music business. On a musical level and on a business level, admit what you don't know and get to work solving those problems. Be voracious when it comes to uncovering the secrets of the music business and how people outside the music business behave as entrepreneurs.

    Then, somehow, learn to turn off all those practical, real-world voices in your head and go back to being the crazy artist.

    I know those two things seem diametrically opposed, but I don't think you can survive being just an artist or just a businessperson. If you're only business, you will lack the flair that attracts an audience. If you're only flair, you'll be taken advantage of.

    You have to be both. Then you can surround yourself with smart people, secure in the knowledge you can control your own art and your own career--because if you don't, someone else definitely will.

  • Being happy at work is the result of the everyday steps you take to get into a positive place and remain there. Here's how.

    I've written before about workplace happiness in terms of general rules like "don't obsess about things." Good advice, certainly, but general rules sometimes aren't enough.

    For most people, getting into--and staying in--a better mood comes down to the actions they take, rather than the rules they follow.

    With that in mind, here are seven specific actions that you should take each day if you really want to squeeze the most juice out of your work experience.

    1. Listen to or read something that inspires you.

    Rather than distract yourself with news or "entertainment" that only adds to your stress, fill your quieter moments with music, books, and TED-like talks that are uplifting and help you aspire to be your best.

    2. Make your body stronger and more resilient.

    When it comes to physical condition, there's no such thing as staying in the same place. At the end of the day, you've either gone downhill or uphill. Take time each day to exercise and eat well--at least enough so you're headed in the right direction!

    3. Review and hone your plans for the future.

    You'll make better decisions and be more satisfied with your results if you know that most of what you're doing fits into your long-term plans and goals. That's only possible if you keep those plans and goals in the forefront.

    4. Do at least one thing that's worthwhile.

    Hopefully your day-to-day work is a worthwhile endeavor, but if you're stuck in a holding pattern of busywork (it happens to all of us), make the extra effort to find something to do that makes a difference and improves the world.

    5. Help somebody less fortunate.

    Self-centered people are always unhappy because they're shoveling all their energy into the bottomless pit of their egos. The best and easiest way to get over yourself is to do something for somebody who needs your help. Do it anonymously, if possible.

    6. Spend 20 seconds appreciating what you have.

    If you're reading this blog post, you're probably striving to achieve an even higher level of success. However, if you don't stop and feel grateful, I guarantee that you won't enjoy yourself when you get wherever you're headed.

    7. Record at least one good memory.

    At the end of the day, take out your journal, smartphone, or tablet and write down at least one positive memory about that day. In future months and years, you can glance through these memories to give yourself a boost and remind you why you work so hard.

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

  • Yes, the cloud offers some incredible efficiencies and capabilities. But it can prove disastrous if you aren't well-grounded.

    There was a time when saying that someone "had their head in the clouds" was derogatory; the implication was that they were foolish dreamers or cock-eyed optimists, i.e., not the kind of grounded-in-reality person that you could believe in (or invest in). Thoreau wrote about people building castles in the air (which he said was where they should be), but then cautioned that the next step was to put solid foundations under them.

    Today many companies have their heads in the clouds, literally. You can't go anywhere without hearing another pitch for SaaS (software as a service) or endless arguments for putting your products and services in the cloud. The cloud is supposed to be way cool, and almost everyone will tell you that it's definitely the place for your business to be. I, however, say maybe, because it depends entirely on what kind of business you're building, and whether you've built the right foundation for growth.

    The Good, The Bad and the Deadly

    Sometimes, especially in the world of technology, the more things change the more they stay the same. I don't want to rain on anyone's parade, but the cloud is no more a panacea than any of the other wondrous tools and technologies that came before it. The cloud can kick-start you, or it can kill you if you're not careful.

    If your business plan and model are appropriate, the cloud could be a big help. But if your model makes no sense, then nothing, including the cloud, will make much of a difference. When you look closely you discover that the cloud is not magic, it's just an environment to operate in. For your startup to be successful anywhere, whether in the ether or down on Earth, you've still got to build a business that's well-grounded and smart. There's no question that the cloud is cheap and easy in many ways, but there are plenty of things that you should never do for your business, and trying to do them cheaply is much worse than not doing them at all. So do your homework before you head into the ozone. Begin by thinking harder about what exactly you're trying to build.

    The cloud encourages us to chase the world and boil the ocean from Day One because those opportunities are theoretically there for the taking. But, if you fall for the long thin line (essentially the polar opposite of the long tail), you'll find that you're stretched way out (a mile high and an inch wide) and that a relatively modest upset, piece of bad news, or other disturbance can knock your whole enterprise off course, because your real connection to so many of your remote and very distant customers is so tenuous. To build a smart business, you never want to be spread too widely or have too thin a connection to your users, yet this is how I see a number of businesses structured today.

    You want to be focused, but not single-threaded. You want to be straight, but not narrow. And you always want to have a couple of ways out of any tight spots. It's easy to drink your own Kool-Aid if you're not careful. For example, if you're disrupting and revolutionizing an industry where the standards of response time and performance were historically measured in days or weeks, you don't have to introduce your new solution in terms of minutes or hours. Give yourself some breathing room. It's always easier to improve than to walk customers back from some insane, unscalable and hyper-costly benchmark that you simply made up.

    Life in the cloud can encourage too much information, a tendency to be too data-driven. This can actually limit your opportunities, and your upside, because you can fall in love with the measurements and lose sight of critical relationships and your real business objectives.

    When we constantly measure our results against purely pre-defined goals and objectives, it's too easy to develop a case of tunnel vision. Even as the data tells us that we are drawing nearer to the goal ("Our uptime is great and our response time is terrific!") and as we convince ourselves that we're getting better and better ("We have customers in 50 countries!"), we lose sight of some very important facts: these may be easy things to measure, but they aren't necessarily the important things to focus on or optimize for the long run; too much of a good thing probably isn't a good thing if it's too soon to manage it; and there may be much larger and broader opportunities over the horizon and outside of our immediate zones of interest, so while we're feeling good about our near-term progress someone else is out there getting ready to steal the main prize out from under us.

    Because the cloud can so readily and inexpensively connect us to many users everywhere, and because it enables degrees of unimaginable and constant connectivity, it is very seductive and therefore it's very easy to run down these rabbit holes and lose your way. You can quickly end up over-extended, under-manned, and unable to meet the commitments you've made to your users and customers. It's pretty lonely and uncomfortable sitting on top of that pinnacle wondering what went wrong. But at least it's not crowded.

  • This relationship is almost as important as your marriage.

    I recently tried to help find financing for a client. As we went through underwriting, it came out that one of the new partners in the business had extensive legal problems from a previous career. As a result, the business was precluded from any reasonably priced financing.

    You spend ample time dating before you get married, and you should treat your relationship with a potential business partner the same way. Entering into a business partnership is a serious commitment of time, money, and reputation. Knowing as much as possible about your business partner before formally signing on the dotted line to partner will save you a lot of trouble down the road.

    It's important to understand your potential partner's finances, time commitments, personality, and long-term goals before making the relationship official.

    Money Talks

    How your potential business partner manages her money can tell you a lot about how she will run your business. Although it might be uncomfortable to ask about certain matters, knowing whether she is buried under a huge mortgage or monthly child-support payments could sway your decision to partner.

    Someone who has hefty outstanding financial obligations, an unreasonably low credit score, or is obviously living beyond her means is probably not someone you want to trust with the financials of a future business.

    Who's Going to Take Out the Trash?

    In a domestic partnership, there are certain shared responsibilities that each party is expected to carry out--cleaning, shopping, taking care of children, paying bills, etc. A business partnership works in the same way. Though business partners don't necessarily need to spend the same amount of time on the business each day, each partner is expected to carry the same weight in terms of business responsibilities.

    Sit down with your potential partner and realistically discuss how much time each of you can commit and what the job responsibility breakdowns might look like. If your potential partner seemingly will have trouble pulling his or her weight, it would probably lead to your taking on more responsibilities and stretching yourself too thin over time.

    Opposites Attract

    They say that in relationships, opposites often attract. The same is true for business partnerships as well. Creative types are often attracted to more detail-oriented business partners, and shy entrepreneurs are often attracted to people-savvy partners with a wealth of established connections. It's important that a business partner complement your personality and skill set. This means that the person might not share an identical outlook, but that together you form a well-balanced team.

    Look Long Term

    Equal commitment to the company is paramount for each business partner in order to run a successful operation. It's easy to be blinded by the excitement surrounding an idea in the beginning of a working relationship, but not as easy to keep that excitement and commitment running a few months or a few years into the venture. If a potential business partner isn't as committed to the business idea as you are, it will probably damage the business and the brand you are trying to build.

    After working through these issues and questions with a potential partner, it's up to you to decide if the partner is a good fit for you and for the business. Though some partners enter into business together with just a handshake and shared enthusiasm, it's best to put the partnership in writing from the start. Have a lawyer experienced in business formation and startups help draft the framework for the agreement. Putting the partnership details in writing and having each partner sign off will protect each of your interests in the business if unforeseen circumstances arise or the partnership dissolves.


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

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    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.