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Updated: 7 months 1 week ago

Attention Leaders: Embracing Your Softer Side Makes You Stronger

March 26, 2014 - 12:01pm

More women in the workplace boosts empathy and flexibility, too.

Women now make up 50 percent of America's workforce. More women than men graduate from college and earn advanced degrees. As a woman who started a business and got a Ph.D. while raising three sons, this shift is both fulfilling and mildly surreal.

But today let's consider the effect of these changes rather than the changes themselves.

Both male and female leaders are changing.

It is impossible to deny there's been a significant change in the workplace dynamic as more women have come onto the scene. A behavioral assessment over the last 30 years reveals that men consider themselves more social and flexible, while women are rating themselves as more assertive. It is too simplistic to chalk these trends up to there simply being more women in the workplace.

So I'll phrase it this way: Because there are more women in the workplace and in leadership positions, there is a different kind of dynamic present. There is more empathy, intuition, patience, accommodation and selflessness in the workplace and in leadership positions than ever before.

Women have brought those so-called "feminine" qualities to the business world, and it's made a gradual impact. Men have begun to understand and accept empathy as a key component of effective leadership. They're tapping into the relational potential they possess and getting a positive response.

In her book Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, provides numerous examples of senior men being more empathic, such as the time where Google Founder Omid Kordestani reassured a crying Sheryl "that everyone gets upset at work. It's okay." Or when Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, offered a hug in response to her becoming emotional while discussing a work challenge.

Sheryl states, "Emotion drives both men and women and influences every decision we make. Reorganizing the role emotions play while being willing to discuss them makes us better managers, partners, and peers."

It's no wonder that more and more of us are identifying empathy, intuition and open communication as traits we value in our leaders. It actually works!

Here are six ways you can be more empathetic at work:

  • Be present.Walk the halls, greet people, and participate in special events.
  • Be sensitive. Understand office politics and the workplace dynamic.
  • Accommodate the desire for collaboration and team work. At the same time, understand that some employees may prefer to work alone.
  • Be interested. Talk about news, sporting events or any other non-work subject with your employees. Ask about their lives.
  • Seek other opinions. Show appreciation for your team's thoughts and ideas.
  • Send personal notes of recognition. A simple note will do. "Thanks for your valuable work on the project. You are an asset to the team!"
  • A little bit of empathy may go a long way, and adding it to your leadership toolbox is something your team will appreciate.

    These Charts Reveal How to Negotiate With People From Around the World

    March 26, 2014 - 12:00pm

    Business crosses cultural divides constantly, and as a result it is important that people understand cultural differences and how to communicate effectively across cultures.

    So you've got a meeting in France. Speaking French is a good idea, but it's also valuable to understand the French communication patterns that will define your meeting.

    British linguist Richard D. Lewis charted communication patterns as well as leadership styles and cultural identities in his "When Cultures Collide," now in a 2005 third edition. His organization offers classes in cross-cultural communication for big clients ranging from Unilever to BMW.

    In support of cross-cultural studies, he writes: "By focusing on the cultural roots of national behavior, both in society and business, we can foresee and calculate with a surprising degree of accuracy how others will react to our plans for them, and we can make certain assumptions as to how they will approach us. A working knowledge of the basic traits of other cultures (as well as our own) will minimize unpleasant surprises (culture shock), give us insights in advance, and enable us to interact successfully with nationalities with whom we previously had difficulty."

    Although cultural generalizations can be overly reductive, Lewis, who speaks ten languages, insists it can be done fairly, writing: "Determining national characteristics is treading a minefield of inaccurate assessment and surprising exception. There is, however, such a thing as a national norm."

    In his communication diagrams, conversational range is shown with increasing width, obstacles are marked in gray, and cultural traits are noted as well.

    Americans, for instance, lay all the cards on the table, respond confrontationally to discord, and resolve with necessary concessions, finishing as quickly as possible.

    French, on the other hand, approach negotiations as a vigorous logical debate, using language like a rapier.

    We'll go over the rest in brief after a selection of charts taken with permission from "When Cultures Collide."

    Click to enlarge

    As you may surmise, "When Cultures Collide" spends relatively little time on today's emerging markets, which is unfortunate but not surprising since it was originally published in 1996. The book does offer some commentary on Africa, South America, and other places not mentioned here, however, as well as much further commentary on these 25 countries--and we advise anyone interested to check it out.

    Let's go over the other diagrams in brief, paraphrasing and quoting from Lewis:

    Canadians, compared to Americans, tend to be more low-key and inclined to seek harmony, though they are similarly direct.

    English tend to avoid confrontation in an understated, mannered, and humorous style that can be powerful or inefficient.

    Germans rely on logic but "tend to amass more evidence and labor their points more than either the British or the French."

    Spanish and Italians "regard their languages as instruments of eloquence and they will go up and down the scale at will, pulling out every stop if need be to achieve greater expressiveness."

    Scandinavians often have entrenched opinions that they have formulated "in the long dark nights," though they are reasonable conversationalists. Swedes often have the most wide-ranging discussions, Finns tend to value concision, and most Norwegians fall somewhere in between.

    Swiss tend to be straightforward and unaggressive negotiators, who obtain concessions by expressing confidence in the quality and value of their goods and services.

    Hungarians value eloquence over logic and are unafraid to talk over each other.

    Bulgarians may take a circuitous approach to negotiations before seeking a mutually beneficial resolution, which will often be screwed up by bureaucracy.

    Poles often have a communication style that is "enigmatic, ranging from a matter-of-fact pragmatic style to a wordy, sentimental, romantic approach to any given subject."

    The Dutch are focused on facts and figures but "are also great talkers and rarely make final decisions without a long 'Dutch' debate, sometimes approaching the danger zone of overanalysis."

    Chinese tend to be more direct than the Japanese and some other East Asians; however, meetings are principally for information gathering, with the real decisions made elsewhere. Hong Kongers negotiate much more briskly to achieve quick results.

    Indian English "excels in ambiguity, and such things as truth and appearances are often subject to negotiation."

    Australians tend to have a loose and frank conversational style.

    Singaporeans generally take time to build a relationship, after which they can be shrewd negotiators.

    Koreans tend to be energetic conversationalists who seek to close deals quickly, occasionally stretching the truth.

    Indonesians tend to be very deferential conversationalists, sometimes to the point of ambiguity.

    Israelis tend to proceed logically on most issues but emotionally on some.

    And that's how one respected, well-traveled, and highly multilingual linguist sees the world.

    Spotify Gets Hip to Smart Pricing

    March 26, 2014 - 11:51am

    By cutting the monthly fee for its premium service in half, the music-streaming startup could win a key demographic.

    Spotify may have just found a way to scale. On Tuesday, the Swedish music streaming startup cut the price of its premium service from $10 to $5 a month for college students, a demographic the company has been trying to reach because of its heavy reliance on mobile devices. Spotify will continue to offer a free version of its service with commercials.

    While the music streaming landscape has been treacherous for startups--most of which charge $10 a month for subscriptions--Spotify's pricing strategy could be a key element in aiding its survival. As venture capitalist David Pakman wrote recently, most American consumers aren't willing to spend much more than $50 a year on music, and will spend even less when presented with an increasing number of options such as apps or television.

    By that logic, Spotify may tap into what Pakman identifies as the "sweet spot" for paid subscriptions and gain valuable market share. Also importantly, the company will be in fighting shape just in time for its rumored initial public offering.

    Spotify, which launched in the U.S. in 2011, faces a two-pronged challenge in its goal of long-term viability: its need to add more users and the high royalty costs it must pay whenever customers stream one of its 20 million songs. However, the startup does have some things going for it, including $250 million in venture capital, a valuation of $4 billion, and an increasingly strong presence abroad. About a year ago, Spotify was in only 17 countries. Today it's in 32.

    In terms of pricing, Spotify will do well to make its service affordable to students. These millennials are social, media savvy, and eager to try what their friends recommend. If more of them subscribe to Spotify's now-cheaper service, the company should build tremendous momentum the old-fashioned way--by word of mouth.

    video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player

    4 Ways to Make the Most of Millennials

    March 26, 2014 - 11:00am

    Millennials can be both energizing and challenging. Here Inc. columnists share how to keep them focused and productive.

    Hiring young people can add a breath of fresh air to a company.

    They have objectivity and energy. But their lack of experience and their impatience can often disrupt their productivity and that of others. It's tough to understand in your twenties that some things just take time and that the biggest successes don't usually happen impulsively. But if you are just out of college, a three or four year project feels like a lifetime and it's hard to contain yourself. And I've noticed that the more talent a young employee has, the more impatient they seem to be.

    Of course that impatience properly harnessed can help drive a project forward fast and furiously. You need that energy and drive to stay agile and competitive. As a leader it's your responsibility to help young employees gain perspective so they can relax a bit without losing their momentum and objectivity.

    When I work with young people I make them find their own path to understanding. Rather than teaching by lecture, I prefer to give them projects and let them fail safely. They learn more from the failure and gain better understanding of cause and effect. This helps them approach new projects with a little more caution and attention to detail. It also helps them gain respect for us older folk who seem to easily accomplish those difficult tasks.

    Here are additional insights from my Inc. colleagues.

    1. Tell the truth.

    I have found that in working with younger employees it is best to be brutally honest. The more you tip toe around and tolerate a behavior or approach that isn't successful, the harder it is to course correct later. I hire many students from local colleges and their work with me is their first "real job". They are used to receiving feedback and criticism from their instructors and their classmates on their work. I learned to build on that theme and find that it is better to be frank about what I like or don't like about their work or their work style. They always appreciate and learn from the feedback. Eric Holtzclaw--Lean Forward

    Want to read more from Eric? Click here.

    2. Show them the big picture.

    Millennials I've worked with have a real need to know the big picture and their place in it--to understand the larger purpose of their work. If you want them to be engaged and productive, make sure they know how they fit in to your organization's mission and goals. Beyond that they need to know that both they and their ideas are being taken seriously. That can be daunting--one very bright Millennial I know presented his employer with 40 suggestions, large and small, to improve how the company was run. The fact that there was no meaningful response is one reason he moved on from that job. Minda Zetlin - Start Me Up

    Want to read more from Minda? Click here.

    3. Give them space.

    Having been raised with loads of positive reinforcement and a high tech gadget in each hand, Millennials can confuse and challenge their managers. Motivate and reassure them with verbal appreciation and offer some flexibility, as this generation usually doesn't do well with old-fashioned dress codes or punching the clock. But these smart, tech-savvy Gen Y'ers can feel more at home and produce excellent results when given the space to unleash their creativity and expertise. Give your young employees clear guidelines and details, then allow them some amount of freedom to dig in and spread their wings. Marla Tabaka--The Successful Soloist

    Want to read more from Marla? Click here.

    4. Partner the generations.

    Unfortunately, Millennials, Gen-Xers, and other young employees often think that they have all the answers. While they may be able to run circles around their older colleagues when it comes to social media and the latest tech gadgets, they are missing one important thing: experience. The acquisition of experience comes with time, but you can accelerate the process by paring up your younger employees with mentors drawn from your management and executive ranks. Not only will your upstart employees gain vital perspective, your older employees will enjoy the shot of energy that comes from working with someone whose perspectives and approaches to problem solving are not yet set in concrete. Peter Economy--The Management Guy

    Want to read more from Peter? Click here.

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    Leadership Secrets of the Walkabout CEO

    March 26, 2014 - 10:45am

    Jim McCann, founder and CEO of 1-800-Flowers.com, shares his most effective leadership tool: good conversation.

    When Jim McCann says, "Tell me something I don't know," he's not being sarcastic. McCann is CEO and founder of 1-800-FLOWERS.com, the $735.5 million florist and gift company, based in Westbury, New York. His recent book, Talk Is (Not!) Cheap: The Art of Conversation Leadership limns a management style based on curiosity, relationships, a sincere interest in other people, and a smidgen of goofiness. In a recent conversation, McCann explained to Inc. editor-at-large Leigh Buchanan how he chats, jokes, and queries his way to insights and information.

    You are the boss. How do you put people at sufficient ease to have a conversation with you?

    There are two things. This goes back 100 years to when I worked in a group home for young men. The mistake I made at first was to try to have a relationship with the group. You don't have relationships with groups. You have relationships with individuals. I had to find different ways to make contact. There was this one kid, Joe, who was very tough to connect with. He had a touching issue. If you touched him, he would go off. Lose control. It was very tough for me to reach Joe. But, slowly, we built a relationship. It got so that on my shift, when I first saw him, I would purposely bump into him. Two months earlier, that would have caused a riot. But now he realized that was our special way to say hello. It would go to the extreme where I would sneak up behind him--he always knew I was coming--and I would mess up his hair. He had long black hair that was always combed just so with a clean part off to the side. He'd say, "Oh, he did it again." And he would have to go to the bathroom and comb it, just so. That's my thing to this day. I don't always mess up people's hair. But if you are walking down the hall, I will make believe I am bumping into you. Or I'll make believe I am going to trip you while I am standing there in conversation with someone else. You can't help but laugh. And you get the sense that I am approachable and that I want this to be a place where we don't take ourselves too seriously. So I use humor and I use the bump.

    How do you turn a meeting into a group conversation?

    People value the conversation proportional to the time they participated. So if we are doing a dinner, if we are doing a meeting, I want everyone to speak. We're not leaving the room until everyone contributes. I did a dinner at Cheryl's [a cookie company owned by 1-800-FLOWERS.com] a couple of weeks ago. Everyone expected they would have to sing for their supper. They knew that I would want to know what's new and what's interesting. What ideas do they have for the business? But first I want to know about them. Something I didn't know already. If they are new, I am going to ask a lot more stuff. This time, instead of calling on everyone, which I would have done in the past, I called on the first person and said, "After you talk, your job is to call on the next person. And it can't be the person on either side of you." So now they are looking across the table at each other: "Oh, I knew you were going to pick me!" It was real good relationship building. We had a debate at our end of the table about how big the company could get if it just focused on cookies. It was a great conversation. Three hours in, nobody was looking to get up and leave.

    You describe yourself as a "walkabout" CEO. Do you do that in a systematic way or just kind of wander?

    It's not systematic. It's a chance for me to stretch my back as well as get a feel for what's going on and create a level of casualness. So I might just pop into a meeting. I might start a conversation with someone in the hall. Then two other people come off the elevator and I will call them over and say, "Hey, we were just talking about this." The conversation starts to take shape. Eventually, I suggest "Why don't you guys meet with Mark about that? Because I think it suggests a whole different direction for us in point of sale." And then I am able to leave the conversation and they follow up on it. So I am the instigator. I cross-pollinate.

    If a conversation isn't going well or you're not getting much out of it, how do you get it on track or politely bail?

    Say I'm interviewing someone, and after 10 minutes I know they are not right for the job. How long do I need to talk to them from a courtesy point of view? Selfishly, I am going to steer the conversation around to something that is helpful to me. I'm going to turn them into a focus group on B-to-B business. I am going to turn them into a focus group on the brand or consumer behavioral patterns. I'm going to find out if they have children and, if so, how old they are and what kinds of technology they are using. Are they still on Facebook or is everything now Instagram or texting? What price point would they pay for this product? What companies have they had contact with recently that impressed or disappointed them? Why? I am going to turn the dialogue into something I can learn from. I am going to make the remaining 20 minutes interesting to them and to me.

    When and why do you sometimes practice conversations in advance?

    I did that today. My brother [company president Chris McCann] and I were talking about someone in a performance situation. I told him exactly how I felt about it. He said, "There are five things I heard in what you just said." And then I took those five things that he told me, and I said, "These are the messages. Take the emotion out of it. How do I want to start? How do I want to leave it?" That's what I mean by practicing. It's especially helpful if the conversation is around a negative situation, where you really have to take a person to task. You lay it out unfiltered at first with someone listening to you, or you tape it. But it's better if you can do it with someone who knows you and whom you trust. They can help to make sure you are getting across the important things, putting the right emphasis on them, and getting the outcome that you want.

    I like this idea of leaders being intrigued by a word or phrase used by someone else and then using it themselves in conversation to see how others react. David Kelley of IDEO described something similar. He said he keeps trying different things on different people until he sees "a sparkle in their eyes." What's your version of a sparkle--where you know some word or idea you're putting out there is catching on with people?

    Vocabulary matters a lot. Not long ago I was having a conversation with my brother Chris about how we need to fine-tune things. You get expense creep everywhere. I said, "We need to come up with a new program." So starting this spring we will look in the organization to say where is there some waste? Where is there inefficiency? Chris and I batted around three or four names for the program. Now we will be socializing those names in our conversations with people, trying them out until we see a look of real understanding in their eyes. "Ah! Got it!" We call that "wallowing." We will be wallowing around on those names until we find the one that best describes this program.

    How do you turn a short-term conversation--two people chatting in the moment--into a conversation that ranges over time and multiple media to develop important relationships?

    It's about making an investment. I met a fellow a few months ago, whom I thought was a really neat and interesting guy. I wanted to keep the dialogue going. So I read a couple of articles on things I thought would be appropriate for him. I sent him a copy of an article, and I wrote in the margin, "When I was reading this, I thought about the problem you were talking about. I was wondering if this was relevant to you?" So he knows I am still thinking about the things we talked about. That I am investing in the conversation, the relationship. He gets two or three of those. And then, just the other night, he says, "We're getting a group together to go to Madison Square Gardens to see the Nets versus the Knicks. I thought you might like to join us." So now we're both investing in this relationship. It's about caring. You take a lot of notes during conversations.

    Any best practices there?

    I'm always writing when I am talking. I make different symbols or circles or squares around things that are important. If I talk to somebody new, I will dictate for the Rolodex their personal information so if I chat with them again I can refresh my memory. It's the kind of thing [businesspeople and motivational speakers] Harvey McKay and Zig Ziglar used to teach. I'm always taking notes, at our dinners, during conversations. I don't do it when I'm standing by someone's desk and get two or three people talking about something. But if a couple of points come out of that, then when I get back to my office, I'll whip out my iPhone and do voice notes so I can follow up later. I often ask them for a scrap of paper out of their garbage pail to make sure I don't forget.

    Do you try to turn your presentations into conversations?

    It depends on the audience: the size and the circumstance. I did a presentation last week with 35 or 40 people in the room, and the fellow who runs it wanted to do a Q&A with me. But there were all these interesting entrepreneurs there. And I said, "I want to enjoy this too. So if you want to have a conversation, let's have a conversation. But I want to have a conversation with this audience." There were two chairs at the front, but I said, "If you don't mind, I'd rather not sit. I'd rather move around." After he went through his first couple of questions I said, "I'd like to know who some of these folks are." So we went around the room, and it really got good. It became fun because they were participating. It was supposed to be 50 minutes, and I think it went two and a half hours. It's different in a big room where you have to wait for people to get to the microphone. People at conferences always say, "Our people want Q&A." But if it's a big room, I try to talk them out of it. If you've got a good momentum, it interrupts the flow. I'm happy to talk to people afterwards.

    Zappos gets a lot of attention for hiring nice people who are willing to chat helpfully with customers for as long as those customers want. You folks were doing that 20 years earlier. How did you figure out that a practice so seemingly inefficient actually made good business sense?

    We had a call center in Worcester, Massachusetts in the late '80s, 'early 90s. This guy, Vinnie, a former New York City policeman, was managing it. There were all these people sitting in rows, working on screens with their headsets on. One day Vinnie was walking around, and he had a roll in his hand of smiley face stickers. Every so often he would walk over and put a sticker on the frame of someone's computer. He didn't say why. People were wondering, what's he doing? Now some people have 10 stickers around their screen. Now some people have their computers completely covered. Vinnie's starting to put stickers on people's foreheads. And the place is a laugh fest. Because people realized: whenever Vinnie saw somebody smiling when they were on the phone, he gave them a smiley sticker. He did this for hours. Yes, it was corny. But he had created a currency, and he was rewarding the behavior he was looking for. When we looked at the stats at the end of the day, we had the highest close percentage, the best customer satisfaction scores, and the highest average tickets. Because people were enjoying what they were doing. That lesson became an important ingredient in what we do to encourage our service folks to laugh with the customers, to compliment the customers, to smile on the telephone. Because you can't help but hear it in their voice. Zappos invented the branding around it, which is clever. When I was reading about Tony Hsieh, it reminded me that everything old is now again.

    What things can leaders can do today to become better conversationalists?

    One is be genuinely interested in what other people have to say. Listen more than you talk. And be self-deprecating. Let people know that you don't mind putting yourself at the risk of embarrassment to make them feel relaxed.

    Global E-Commerce: How to Get Stuff There From Here?

    March 26, 2014 - 10:40am

    New technologies and clever collaborations may help more goods get more places more cheaply.

    Earlier this year, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, a panel was convened to discuss the future of international e-retailing. Taking part were the CEOs of major international logistics, supply chain, and retail companies. The panel began by tackling the question as to why, despite evidence of substantial interest on the part of many would-be consumers, barriers to effective global e-retailing remain formidable.

    The panel looked at three major obstacles. The first is the sheer costs involved in shipping products, paying customs duties, re-labeling packages and parcels to meet local regulatory requirements, and so forth. For instance, the CEO of a major postal services pointed out that goods sent from his country to another typically have to have their original labels removed and be relabeled for the target country, which is enormously time-consuming and costly. A related issue is verifying what is actually in the boxes, a particular concern to governments when the packages originate with smaller companies. At some point, even the most homesick among us, who otherwise would comprise a strong customer base for products shipped from one country to another, rebel as prices go sky-high.

    The second barrier concerns the generally poor experience people have if an item needs to be returned. Just as it is expensive to get the item shipped in the first place, it is a nightmare if it doesn't fit or if the item wasn't shipped as expected. Providers with a local presence can overcome this by having customers return items to brick-and-mortar facilities, but this obviously isn't an option for someone who does business solely via the Internet.

    I had an experience like this myself. I ordered a coat as a gift for a relative, only to be caught off-guard when it was shipped directly to him (from China) rather than to me. It got worse. When the package was opened he found that the coat, which had been advertised as a men’s medium, appeared sized for a 10-year-old. Oh well, the perils of e-commerce. When I tried to return the package I received an email from the Chinese vendor politely asking me whether I would accept a 50 percent refund for the coat and simply keep it, as it was too expensive for them to take it back. I replied that I really had no use for it, whereupon the vendor offered an 80 percent refund and the opportunity to keep the coat. That worked out well for the charity that I donated the coat to, but for me it clearly was not a very satisfactory e-commerce transaction.

    One CEO panelist said, to much laughter, that the vendor was keen to try to make me happy because otherwise a negative experience like this could result in the vendor being dropped by its e-tail partner (in this case, Amazon) and thus cut off entirely from burgeoning international markets.

    The third barrier discussed was the reliability and convenience of receiving deliveries. Obviously, shipping products any distance increases the risk that something will go wrong, but those last few yards turn out to be particularly problematic. Indeed, stories abounded this past holiday season of thieves following delivery trucks around and making off with the deliveries as soon as the driver turned the corner. Also, for many working people, packages sitting around are a sign that no one is home and thus their house is vulnerable. Having products shipped to your place of work often earns you the boss's ire. Solutions discussed included something that Alliance Boots is trying in the U.K., what they call "click and collect," in which buyers order goods online but collect them in stores.

    So, where did we land on the future of international e-tailing? That it will develop, probably slowly, but that advances in identification and sensor technology might solve these barriers (creating electronic labels that can be easily reconfigured, for example). Companies may find ways to share resources as a way to cut shipping and returns costs. And reliability and convenience might be as simple as hiring out your car to help people get those e-commerce packages to their doors when the time is right.

    Stop Asking the Wrong Hiring Questions

    March 26, 2014 - 10:00am

    A great resume only tells you that a candidate is good at resume writing, says HireVue founder Mark Newman. Here's how to recruit right.

    How Old Is Too Old to Found a Company? (Infographic)

    March 26, 2014 - 9:49am

    Hint: It's never too late.

    You may have the feeling that Silicon Valley favors young, sweatshirt-wearing tech founders who drop out of college to start their own companies. And recent stories in the The New York Times Magazine and The New Republic give the distinct impression that ageism is rampant in the tech world.

    Although venture capitalist Fred Wilson writes on his blog that he'll fund anyone at any age if he likes their idea, it has been suggested that some VCs have an unwritten rule about only offering startup capital to younger founders. Fortunately many prominent entrepreneurs in a variety of industries have managed to make it big over the years despite starting out at a relatively advanced age. Below, check out how old some founders were when they launched their now well-known companies.

    Source: FundersAndFounders.com.

    How to Prepare for a Worst-Case Travel Disaster

    March 26, 2014 - 9:30am

    The story of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 is terrifying. But there are ways for business travelers to take comfort and continue their explorations.

    As terrifying, frustrating and downright horrible as it sounds, we may never find out exactly why Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared.

    While Malaysia's prime minister recently announced that the airline went down in the southern Indian Ocean, this generic revelation of location does little to answer the many questions we all have. Why did the airline fly off course? Who orchestrated the disappearance? How could various radar systems fail to perceive a Boeing 777 aircraft? And perhaps most importantly, how can we all do our very best to make sure that we're never involved in such a freakish disaster?

    When thinking about this troubling situation, I'm reminded of the European explorers from hundreds of years ago: Prince Henry the Navigator of Portugal, Sir Francis Drake of England and, of course, Christopher Columbus, the Italian who explored for Spain. They were, in my opinion, yesteryear's equivalent of today's business travelers. Armed with goods, ideas and specific instructions on behalf of their countries, the explorers of the Age of Discovery set sail to discover lands unknown to Europeans. Some were never seen again. And yet, the period of exploration continued for hundreds of years, with expeditions setting out from various countries in every direction imaginable.

    Today, while we may have a comprehensive map of the world drawn out, and little, if any, land remains unclaimed on the globe, the spirit of exploration is still present. From a managing partner on a multi-leg international trip seeking to acquire new business for her company, to a road warrior business traveler on a recurring monthly trip to check out a branch of his organization, to leisure travelers exploring Machu Picchu on a backpacking trip, the world has much to offer to those of us who are willing to travel.

    And while accidents are inevitable, there is much to be gained from exploring.

    And yet, people are still scared. At my company alone, travel consultants are reporting a number of travelers who are refusing to book international tickets that connect through, or even go near, Kuala Lumpur. Additionally, some travelers have had trips on Malaysian Airlines cancelled and rebooked exclusively on domestic carriers. But avoidance is not necessarily a sustainable long-term solution. So, what can you do in the face of Malaysian Flight 370 to better prepare yourself for a worst-case scenario?

    1. Be calm.

    While a flight that's disappeared off the grid can seem terrifying and like a good reason for a staycation, if you stop and consider that you have a greater risk of drowning, being in a car accident or of being accidentally poisoned than you do of being in an airplane accident, it might seem less so. Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 is the exception to safe air travel--not the rule. While we might want to exercise caution in traveling to certain parts of the world, for the most part our skies are safe and thousands of air travelers get from point A to point B every day without a hiccup.

    2. Invest in information.

    Many travel management companies offer what we call "risk management" or "duty of care" services to our clients. These services typically include traveler tracking and pre-trip and post-trip security reporting to subscribers and are available through companies like iJet, iSOS and Anvil. Whether you're a CEO of a multinational corporation or the owner of a regional business with two global travelers, a strategic and solidly founded risk management program is the difference between knowing where your people are, and losing track of them during any type of disruptive incident. Prices vary for these services, but being in the know is priceless in my opinion.

    3. Have a good travel agent.

    From a flight being cancelled, to a volcanic ash cloud, out-of-control hurricane, devastating blizzard or--now--global suspicion surrounding a missing airplane on a particular airline, calling a travel agent for travel-related assistance is like calling 911 during a medical emergency. It just makes sense. If you were experiencing lightheadedness when walking around, you would call your doctor and schedule an appointment ASAP. You wouldn't go on WebMD, write a few things down and hope for the best. The same is true for travel-related emergencies. While you may be good at what you do professionally, if you're not a travel agent, you are not best-equipped to handle a travel emergency for yourself. Trust me on this: Leave it to the professionals.

    5 Fast Ways to De-Stress at Work When Firing Everyone Isn't an Option

    March 26, 2014 - 9:30am

    Why being a great leader means focusing on yourself once in a while.

    While there are no easy answers or shortcuts to being a great leader, your focus should always be to stimulate thinking and promote action (or inaction, sometimes). It's tough work.

    I recently had a conversation with a leader in a large professional services firm about how he could make his life just a little bit easier, a little less stressful. This list includes some of the things we discussed.

    1. Take a time-out every so often.

    Whatever provides restorative energy for you, make time for it. Active or passive activities, being alone or with other people, new or familiar endeavors. You must know what you can do to give back to yourself in order to have the resources to cope with the demands of leadership.

    Give yourself and others a break by knowing when and where to lead, and when and where to not. Your family and loved ones couldn’t care less about your title and importance.

    2. Quiet your inner critic with laughter.

    Our inner critic is constant, and we need to calm it in order to see other options. When you hear thoughts of self-castigation and negativity, don’t try to banish them. Accept them, and set them aside by asking yourself for another voice that articulates a different point of view. The key is to find multiple interpretations, and not let your inner critic be the loudest voice.

    For example, what can you tell yourself privately to laugh-off the critic and reduce stress and frustration? I had a client who reminded himself that things could be worse at the office by thinking, "At least I’m not wearing a clown costume." A calming non sequitur can help you, and others who look to you, to make clear decisions when times are cloudy.

    3. Reach for inspiration.

    What matters most to you? What are you trying to accomplish in the deepest part of yourself? If you were to cut corners to achieve this goal and compromise your integrity, what would that do to you? These are questions that point to your values and will help you sift the important from everything else.

    In other words, make your inspiration a permanent part of you. What do you breathe in when you really need to show up as a leader? What inspires you and enlivens you with passion? Name it and repeat it when needed. A routine (something you say, think, or do) helps you focus and provides an extra boost, especially at those moments when you don’t want to lead.

    4. Ask for help.

    By genuinely asking for help, you remind yourself and others that you don’t have all the answers and that everyone needs to pitch in. Many leaders take or keep responsibilities that should be carried by others. What is one item in your portfolio you can turn over to someone else? What should, or could, be completed by someone on your team? And when you make the handoff, see if he or she can also give away something to a member of their team.

    5. Accept compliments.

    If you accept compliments reluctantly, try saying "Thank you" simply and with a smile. And if you accept compliments badly, with an air of self-aggrandizement, tone it down and try this way.

    What other tips make your life as a leader a little easier?

    T.H.I.N.K. Before You Speak

    March 26, 2014 - 9:00am

    Before you send out your next email or have a difficult conversation with an employee, take the time to review this guideline. You'll be glad you did.

    With each column I write, I carefully consider the point I want to make. I draft the column, reflect on it, tweak it, and review it before I submit it to my editor, who does some of the same.

    Unfortunately, that type of careful thought and reflection doesn't always happen in the business environment. Today’s technology and social-media platforms enable us to express top-of-mind, unfiltered thoughts to the world--often to disastrous results. Remember, just because we can say something doesn’t mean we should.

    My sister shared a poster with me that appears throughout the high school where she teaches. While it is good advice for students, I think it is equally good advice for leaders. It reads:

    Before you speak, THINK…

    T - is it True?
    H - is it Helpful?
    I - is it Inspiring?
    N - is it Necessary?
    K - is it Kind?

    Using this guideline does not preclude you from having tough conversations with your team. Even constructive feedback, if delivered correctly, meets these criteria.

    So, regardless of what or how you feel, T.H.I.N.K before you speak.


    Download free chapters from the author's book Leadership Matters for more insights and inspiration.

    Dealing With Disruption by Adapting Your Business Model

    March 26, 2014 - 8:30am

    The bromide is that disruption can be the stimulus companies need to innovate, but disruption doesn't feel that way when it happens to you. Here's how Joie de Vivre Hospitality responded.

    “Show of hands: How many of your business models have been disrupted?”

    Roughly half of the large crowd raised their hands when Chip Conley, founder of Joie de Vivre Hospitality (JDV), posed this question at a Build/Live event.

    Conley never expected his industry to fall prey. “When you get into the hotel business, you don’t expect to be disruptively innovated,” he admitted. “This is a business that’s been around forever.”

    But in 2001, it happened. Orbitz, Expedia, and Travelocity came along. Instead of selling rooms directly to consumers, JDV now had to pay a 25 percent commission on sales coming through the travel sites. “How many of you,” Conley asked the crowd, “have never used one of these sites?”

    One person raised her hand. And Conley sadly nodded: Exactly.

    The impact on JDV was game changing. “We lose 25 cents on the dollar, overnight,” Conley explained. All this after 9/11, when the economy was tanking and travel was on the downswing. “I didn’t know how we were going to make payroll,” he said.

    He survived by adapting his business model.

    Using the psychologist Abraham Maslow as his muse, Conley took customer satisfaction to a higher plane. In Maslow’s hierarchies, social belonging and esteem trump basic survival needs. Conley realized that he, too, had to go beyond basic customer and employee satisfaction.

    He strove to meet emotional desires--aspiring, even, to make his guests and staff feel self-actualized. It sounds hokey and a bit new-agey, but it worked: JDV survived a disruption and a recession. In an era when travel sites created new levels of customer promiscuity, JDV found a way to breed loyalty.

    This article was originally published at The Build Network.

    8 Easy Ways to Embrace Change

    March 26, 2014 - 8:30am

    Mediocre companies struggle with change. Great ones evolve to meet new challenges. Here's how they do it.

    "Nobody likes change except wet babies."

    I actually heard a consultant say that to a group of managers at Rubbermaid, all of whom laughed and nodded their heads in agreement. This was right before the company tanked and an acquirer snapped it up.

    In today's business world, it's not good enough to "manage" change. Instead, you've got to love change and that's only possible if you know how to adapt to change and use it to your advantage. Here are the new rules:

    1. Have a long-term vision but short-term plans.

    It's a truism that "failure to plan is planning to fail." However, while having no plan will indeed get you nowhere, planning too far ahead (as in more than a year) is wasted effort.

    Even if you've got a very clear picture of where you want to get to, your focus needs to be on your next few steps. Gazing at the horizon is a good way to trip over the first bump in your path.

    2. Decide quickly rather than thoroughly.

    Today's business environment is too volatile for you to take time to ponder all alternatives before making a decision. Instead, you've got to think creatively, press to a conclusion, and then act promptly.

    Remember: It's always better to make the "wrong" decision quickly and then adjust tactics than to make the "right" decision when it's too late to matter.

    3. Build small, autonomous teams.

    Because they have less bureaucracy, small product-focused teams make it harder to hide problems. This creates an early warning system so that you can fix it more quickly when things go wrong.

    For example, if you see a team struggling, you might shift resources to get it back on track or alternatively shut the team down before its failure damages profitability.

    4. Draw on your team's collective wisdom.

    While it's essential to make decisions quickly, that doesn't mean making them arbitrarily. Employees have a right to influence and discuss any decision that's going to affect them.

    However, after the decision is made, the time for debate is over. Even employees who think a decision is wrong should do their best to make it the right one.

    5. Keep assignments fluid and flexible.

    Conventional wisdom says your organization should be an orchestra, with the boss conducting the employees, each of whom has a well-defined part to play.

    In today's fast-moving markets, though, it makes more sense to think of your organization as a jazz ensemble, where everyone knows the basic song, improvising as needed.

    6. Throw away those org charts.

    Pop Quiz: Organization charts are the business equivalent of:

  • navel-gazing
  • deck chair-arranging
  • tetris-playing
  • all of the above
  • Employees should be constantly forming and reforming into teams that accomplish tasks at hand, not wasting time in political struggles over some boxes on a screen.

    7. Alternate between crunch and slack.

    Sometimes, your entire organization will need to go full bore, with everyone working around the clock to see that a deadline is reached. Being permanently in "overdrive" however, burns everyone out.

    To be effective, crunch times must alternate with corresponding slack times, where it's OK to goof off or even just stay at home and chill.

    8. Demand achievement rather than compliance.

    Back in the day, employees went to work in the morning and left in the late afternoon, Monday through Friday, like clockwork, except for holidays and vacations.

    Today, you want employees to get things done rather than just warm seats, which means letting the employees decide when they're needed in the office and when it's better to work remotely.

    Preorder my new book and get an exclusive bonus chapter plus a signed bookplate. (Note: Once the book's published, both will be unavailable forever.)

    How to Tell If Stress Is Destroying Your Performance

    March 26, 2014 - 7:00am

    Here's how to find those subtle signs stress is impacting your productivity.

    We all know that stress is bad for us.

    According to the American Medical Association, it’s the number one proxy killer disease today because it’s the basic cause for more than 60 percent of all human illness and disease. You can’t argue with the facts, but stress is a reality that we all experience on a daily basis. To further confuse us go-getters, having some levels of positive stress is a key ingredient to reaching peak performance, while too much of it causes illness and burnout.

    Some of these gradients of stress are easy to self-diagnose -- for example, being bored out of our minds, operating in our Zone of Genius, or being burned out. We can tell when we are experiencing each of those extremes, because it’s obvious. What’s less identifiable is when stress mounts subtly and we continually push ourselves in response to the increased stress. It’s not easy to tell when it’s subtly affecting our performance. In fact, you probably can’t tell. We miss those subtle and not-so-subtle signs that appear before the total burnout wakes us up to the impending danger. Burnout equals total shutdown, and nothing could be worse for performance (or your business) than that.

    So how can you better notice the telltale signs of stress impact?

    Take this quick questionnaire and use the score key below to see if you are currently experiencing a level of stress that could be impacting your performance in a way you want to avoid.

    Answer “yes” or “no” to the following scenarios:

    1. There is something impending in your life that feels as though it’s out of your control and despite continued efforts to get a desired result, it’s not happening, (i.e. a deadline, a result, getting a client, making payroll, a key relationship in your life).

    2. Your typical stress relievers aren’t working as well as usual (i.e. talking to a friend, working out, taking a deep breath).

    3. You feel less productive, even though you are working longer hours

    4. You are easily distracted and have to work harder to have clarity of thought for problem solving.

    5. You aren’t as excited about things that generally excite you.

    6. You feel tired and are having a hard time getting out of bed, even though you are getting your usual amount of sleep.

    7. You are more irritable than usual.

    8. Your ability to focus is strained and your mind is thinking of 10 things at once all the time.

    9. You feel guilty when you stop working because it feels like there will never be an end.

    10. You are not being proactive about how you structure your day, you are constantly reacting, and feel like you are juggling to get the basics done.

    If you answered “yes”:

    7-10 times: You are stressed out. At this level, your performance could be taking a hit. Especially if you’re accomplishing tasks in this state. Realizing that your stress levels are high is the first step to managing them down. Figure out what you can do to change your situation or how you are operating within it before you head into burnout, which could be inevitable if you continue down this path for more than a month or two longer. At this stage, I would seek out some support from a mentor, friend, or performance coach that can help you re-think how you are structuring your work day.

    4-6 times: You are potentially teetering back and forth on the edge of your performance being negatively impacted by your stress. Because you’re just starting to show signs of being at the level that it could negatively impact your performance, you can quickly do something now to go back into the space of positive stress. Re-think what’s providing you with this added stress and see if you can create a new mental model around your situation. Seeing something from a valid, different, positive angle can be a powerful tool to subside stress and keep you from going off the rails into the negative decline.

    1-3 times: You are managing your stress well. You may have had a recent stressful event or day, but it has not derailed you from keeping your head in the game and having positive stress be a tool for you to create great results and experience top performance.

    Stress is something we all have to manage. The key is staying conscious about good stress versus bad stress. If you are feel like something is wrong, it probably is, but it may not be too late to avoid burnout. Rather than take that risk, pay more attention to your stress and use it as a tool, rather than a roadblock, to creating great performance.

    Are You Telling the Kind Truth?

    March 18, 2014 - 6:30am

    Tell the truth: Would you rather have a frank conversation with an employee who's causing headaches - or just fire him? Why the easier way forward is hardly ever the best one for your company or your team.

    Maybe the bitter cold weather is to blame, but recently I've had several long conversations with managers considering how to approach difficult conversations with their employees. This is not an easy thing, even for the most seasoned executive. But it is slightly less daunting, I've found, if you keep in mind one of my favorite Pat Lencioni sayings: Tell the kind truth.

    This advice comes from Getting Naked, his book about client service and loyalty, but I found it applied perfectly to my friends' predicaments. In both cases, the leader was so fed up with an employee's behavior that they considered doing something drastic (read: getting rid of the person). Their day-to-day lives were made increasingly difficult by the team member, whose value was being questioned from more than one direction. The leap from "challenging personality" to "poor performer" is not a big one. But is that the right conclusion? And how will you know?

    As a leader, you have two choices. You can talk to an employee about their behavior, or you can keep quiet and hope things change. I'm going to take door #1, which is pretty straight forward -- and therein lies the problem for many of us. We know we need to have a very frank conversation about the problem and the impact it's having, but we cringe at being mean or confrontational. The thing is, it's not mean -- telling the truth is actually far more kind than ignoring the problem.

    How do you tell the kind truth? It's as simple -- and as difficult -- as it sounds. (The bible in this area is Crucial Conversations.) If you are having trouble with an employee who routinely overestimates his value or uses passive aggressiveness to undermine a peer, you absolutely need to sit down with him and say so directly, lest you are guilty of the very same behavior he's displaying.

    The list of reasons why we shy away from doing this is long. "I don't like getting personal." "I don't want to undermine his confidence at what is already a difficult time." "I don't want her to get angry and yell at me." "I don't want him to get upset." "I feel like she should know these things." "It's uncomfortable for me to say them to him." "I don't know how to say it."

    The bottom line is we are sometimes more comfortable firing someone than we are having a truthful conversation and giving feedback. This sounds ludicrous, but it's absolutely true. It's also true that if you belly up to the conference table and have that difficult, but truthful conversation, it may not work out. But at least you'll know that you did everything you could to help that person succeed. At some point, I'm almost certain, that will have a positive impact on both of you.

    Onboarding's Newest Feature? Videos That Don't Stink

    March 18, 2014 - 6:01am

    Here's how to make employee orientations a lot less onerous--and possibly entertaining.

    An employee's first day on the job doesn't have to be a paper-cut inducing slog.

    "Hi! Welcome to our new company. On your first day, I'd like you to read through these 43 pages of documentation, and decide which health insurance, what 401k plan, and if you want to receive part of your salary in stock. If you have any questions, I'll refer you back to the documentation. Plus, let's talk about the employee handbook. We have a lot of rules. Sign this saying you've received the handbook."

    Have you been through this type of employee orientation? Did it make you want to tear your hair out? And those types of meetings don't stop once you're hired. Every year, there's some new boring technical meeting or paperwork about your employee benefits. And no one--not even the people who run the meetings--wants to be there.

    Keith Kitani, CEO of employee-communications firm GuideSpark.com has come up with the solution: Videos. These are not the 1970s-era instructional videos that you're used to. They are short, to the point and chock full of information. I was skeptical (and I've been the person presenting the boring information), but the videos won me over.

    They also won over investors, to the tune of $15 million. Not too shabby for a company that focuses on explaining employee benefits. No matter if you use GuideSpark or some other company, here are six reasons why you ought to consider showing employees videos instead of the standard first-day routine:

    1. Your employees are already watching videos.
    We're on our computers all the time--and when we're not at work, what are we doing? Looking at our smart phones and watching YouTube videos. Your employees are used to receiving information via video format. So why not do it for employee benefits information?

    2. It works for employees of all stripes.
    But what about businesses where most of the employees don't sit at desks in front of computers? Videos are still an option, says Kitani. Among others, GuideSpark works with Chili's restaurants, even though the bulk of the company's employees are on their feet. Another neat feature? You can track who opens it. So employees can't just chuck it in the trash like they might with standard employment brochures.

    3. You get the feedback you need.
    That's another perk with web based videos: They can tell you how many of your employees have seen the videos and, if you wish, which individuals still need to watch them. This isn't so you can bother and annoy your employees with needless data. Instead, it offers peace of mind. You'll know your message has been received, and that people can make informed decisions as a result.

    4. Participation is an easier pill to swallow.
    GuideSpark videos don't replace your legal documentation, of course, You still need that. And, they have to pare down the information into 3-5 minute videos, which means some info won't make it through. (Kitani explained, "We could do a 20 minute video that no one would watch or a three minute video that everyone will watch. Which is better? No one ever reads the employee handbooks.")

    5. It's not just for the young.
    One GuideSpark client, Synopsis, was making big changes to its health insurance plans. (Many companies have signed on precisely for explanations of how Obamacare affects their business and their employees.) They gave their employees the option of coming to a meeting or watching a video. They're average employee age is in their late 40s, yet two thirds opted for the videos.

    6. You can cut your orientation time.
    Another company, Ochsner Health has a lot of employees and a lot of new hires. The new hires need training before they can hit the floor and be productive. They say the video orientation method shortened the time necessary for orientation and saved the company $800,000 per year in training costs. That's a smart use of funds.

    One thing to remember if you go to a video version of employee orientation and benefits enrollments, you still have to pay people for watching the videos. Sure, they can use their own smart phones, but it's on the clock. But, it's a lot less time on the clock than that mandatory benefits meeting you held last year.

    The Impending Disruption of Traditional Business Schools

    March 17, 2014 - 6:49pm

    Some think B-schools are headed online. Others don't think B-schools can even teach entrepreneurship.

    "Half of the business schools in this country could be out of business in 10 years--or five," is the prediction Richard Lyons, the dean of University of California, Berkeley's Haas School of Business, made to Bloomberg Businessweek not long ago.

    Robert Lytl, an education consultant at the Parthenon Group, is advising directors at B-schools "to stop dallying and start building [online] programs," according to the Bloomberg Businessweek article. "Once you get out of the top tier of schools, you're either already online, on your way there, or dead in the water," he observes.

    Which raises two questions for entrepreneurs: (1) Is traditional B-school education going the way of Blockbuster video? (2) If so, does it matter for you, as the leader of a startup or growing business?

    Online Learning vs Business Schools

    Why might business schools go out of business? Lyons believes more top MBA programs will start to offer degrees online. That could cause trouble for lower-ranked business schools. "When the big players start offering online degrees, they'll draw far-flung students who might otherwise have opted for the convenience of a part-time program close to home," notes the article.

    Fair enough. But is it a sure thing that top MBA programs will start to offer online degrees?

    I'm not sure it is. I presented both Harvard Business School and Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business (neither of which currently offers an online MBA) with Lyons' theory, as it was presented in the Bloomberg Businessweek article. Then I asked: How do you make the case that attending B-school in person, in the flesh, in classrooms, on campus, is actually important in 2014, in a way that provides a legitimate value-add over pursuing an online degree?

    HBS's Director of Media Relations Jim Aisner promptly replied (the bold emphasis is mine):

    Each year, the Harvard Business School MBA program brings some 900 students with at least two years of work experience to campus from about 70 different countries to immerse themselves in a program that requires constant interaction among students and professors via the case method....Students learn from their professors, but they also learn from one another both inside and outside the classroom via their courses, numerous experiential and entrepreneurial learning opportunities, and extracurricular activities. One result of this is a deep-felt camaraderie among the students, most of whom live on a 40-acre campus community....

    As you can see, Aisner mentioned (and I highlighted) a few aspects of a B-school education that are harder to come by in an online setting: Interaction, experiential learning, camaraderie, and community. As for Tuck, here's what Penny Paquette, assistant dean for strategic initiatives, had to say (boldface is mine):

    As Dean Paul Danos recently wrote in an article for Tuck Today, the school's alumni magazine, "Virtual, online experiences will never be the same as immersing oneself for two years of intensive learning with talented, like-minded people from all over the world and interacting one-on-one with faculty who are thought leaders in their fields and passionate about sharing that knowledge. There is no synthetic substitute for that. There will always be a place for full-time residential programs like Tuck's if we continue to provide a truly transformational experience." A Tuck MBA is so much more than a collection of courses--it is an experience in the best sense of the word and our students live and breathe it 24/7.

    I'm not trying to make this article an advertisement for HBS or Tuck. But it's telling to read responses like these to a media inquiry about the rise of online B-school degrees--and the potential demise of formal B-schools.

    Do Entrepreneurs Need Business School?

    Mind you, whether entrepreneurs or small business owners truly "need" B-school degrees is an open (and often hotly debated) question.

    And the parameters of the question change every day. For example, it's possible undergraduate institutions will increasingly cater to aspiring entrepreneurs. Just last week, Emerson College announced the launch of The Emerson Accelerator, a two-year program providing funding and space for students to launch businesses.

    Moreover, so much of the B-school question depends your individual career path. Cliff Oxford, a three-time Inc. 500 CEO and former IT manager at UPS, has persuasively argued that business school is a bad idea for aspiring entrepreneurs. But simultaneously, Oxford says that for other parts of his career, he found his M.B.A. (from Emory in 1994) to be helpful: "It gave me exposure to other disciplines beyond information technology, like marketing and strategy. The accounting and strategy courses were useful even when I was building my business," he writes in the New York Times.

    Then there's the question of getting capital. Chamath Palihapitiya believes there's a bias against Harvard MBAs, when it comes to raising money from investors. He is the founder of the venture capital fund Social+Capital Partnership, as well as an original member of Facebook's management team and co-owner of the NBA's Golden State Warriors. "It's really unfair to you guys, but I think you're discriminated against now," he said at a conference organized by HBS's venture capital and private equity club, as reported in The New York Times.

    So: Should aspiring entrepreneurs go to business school? I sent a tweet to Palihapitiya (@chamath) asking him this very question. Specifically, I asked: If MBA's are being "discriminated against" by many investors, would you advise entrepreneurs, then, to avoid business school?

    His reply: "I would advise everyone to learn to code. What you do afterwards is your own moral hazard."

    March Madness 2014: Pick Your Favorite College Startup

    March 17, 2014 - 5:25pm

    Inc.'s 2014 Top 16 College Startups compete for your vote.

    College isn't just a time of self-discovery; it's also a chance to prove your mettle.

    While the founders of Inc.'s 16 top 16 top college startups been coached, corralled, and graded throughout the years, they've never been judged like this before. Here we bring you Inc.'s version of March Madness.

    Each week, we'll ask you to pick your favorite college startups, and based on that input we'll narrow the list of 16--first to eight contenders and then to the Final Four. Come early April, a championship round between two final contenders will reveal Inc.'s top college startup of 2014.

    In addition to bragging rights, the winning team will get free tickets to Inc.'s 2014 GrowCo conference in Nashville, Tennessee in May. At that event, billionaire investor and well-known Shark Tank judge Mark Cuban will keynote.

    Happy judging and tune in next Monday (March 24th) for the results from Round 1.

    1st Round Voting

    Why Alibaba's Giant IPO Could Launch U.S. Businesses

    March 17, 2014 - 3:43pm

    China leads the pack, but other countries are listing on U.S. exchanges too. That could create more interest in your company.

    In the immortal words of a prominent American newspaperman, foreign companies are heeding the call: "Go West, Young Man."

    Specifically, more overseas companies are filing for initial public offerings on U.S. exchanges. The latest and the biggest since 2012 to announce such plans is Alibaba, the Chinese company founded by entrepreneur Jack Ma, of which Yahoo owns more than 20 percent.

    Contrary to fears that foreign companies, in particular those based in China, won't abide by U.S. accounting and oversight rules, really big IPOs are good for American startups, says venture capitalist John Backus, founder and managing partner of New Atlantic Ventures.

    "Alibaba and other foreign domiciled companies, once public, create a bigger pool of buyers for U.S. startups," Backus says. "More buyers means more 'liquidity' in the buyer market, and can also result in higher prices if more than one of [the investors] gets interested in buying a startup."

    Although Alibaba did not set a specific timetable for the offering, it's widely expected to raise up to $16 billion through its listing, catapulting its company value to some $130 billion, and putting it in league with Facebook for biggest IPOs in recent history.

    Alibaba, one of the largest ecommerce companies in Asia, is both an Internet payment service like PayPal, a shopping platform like Ebay, and a cloud services provider like Amazon and Google.

    Chinese companies listing in the U.S. are hardly a new phenomenon. In 2013, eight companies listed in the U.S., Renaissance Capital reports in its 2013 Annual Review of the U.S. IPO market. Collectively, they raised $800 million. That's actually far below the 41 that listed in 2010, raising just under $4 billion.

    "We think it is possible with Alibaba, Sina’s Weibo, JD.com and a host of others in the pipeline that 2014 will see the most China-based IPOs since 2010," says Kathleen Smith, principal at Renaissance.

    That reverses a trend where foreign firms had fled the U.S. for a decade following the passage of Sarbanes-Oxley, whose strict oversight and audit rules were expensive and onerous for public companies to obey, according to law firm Pepper Hamilton. Eight German firms, including Allianz, Bayer and Deutsche Telecom all delisted from the New York Stock Exchange following passage of Sarbanes-Oxley.

    Eased requirements for foreign companies, and greater flexibility in reporting regulations, has led to overseas companies to return in recent years. In 2013, a total of 28 foreign firms listed in the U.S., Pepper Hamilton says.

    This year, Alibaba will be joined by King Digital Entertainment, maker of the Candy Crush Saga, whose IPO in the coming months is likely to vault the game-maker's value to nearly $8 billion. King will offer shares at a value between $21 and $24, double the price of competitor Zynga, whose IPO in 2011 crashed and burned. (Its shares currently trade around $5.40. King is based in Dublin.)

    Foreign companies like Alibaba are also enticed by the enthusiasm in the U.S. surrounding IPOs, Smith says.

    "For U.S. startups, we do not see crowding out here, but an affirmation by non-U.S. companies that the U.S. IPO market has greater trading depth and understanding of technology companies' business models," Smith says.

    Good News for Pet Startups: Spending By Pet Owners is at an All-Time High

    March 17, 2014 - 3:30pm

    In 2013, American's spent more than $55 billion on their pets and the market is expected to grow even more.

    Dogs and cats have become part of the American family's inner circle over the past 20 years, sleeping in their own beds or yours, eating food bought specially to help their digestive tracts, drinking purified water and cuddling up in chairs on heated pads made to fend off arthritis.

    In addition to veterinarians, some pets have their own groomers, trainers, sitters and occasional walkers.

    All this suggests a bright future for an industry that has grown alongside the popularity of pets, expanding at a steady 4 percent to 6 percent a year since the American Pet Products Association started record-keeping in 1996.

    Americans spent an all-time high $55.7 billion on their pets last year, and spending will creep close to $60 billion this year, association president and CEO Bob Vetere told buyers and exhibitors at the Global Pet Expo in Orlando, Fla., on Thursday.

    The biggest chunk of 2013 spending, $21.6 billion, went for food--a lot of it more expensive, healthier grub. In 1996, total pet spending was just $21 billion. Adjusted for inflation, that's $31.3 billion.

    The humanization of our pets started about 20 years ago, Vetere said in a telephone interview. As pets accepted their new perch in the family, manufacturers introduced products that helped animals move from the backyard to the front room.

    "What is feeding a large part of the growth now are the baby boomers who have become empty-nesters and are looking for some other ways to find the love and affection they used to get from their kids," Vetere said.

    "In the past, children were a reflection of us, and people are now extending that to their pets," said Dr. Jessica Vogelsang, a San Diego veterinarian who owns the website pawcurious.com.

    People don't bring their pets in just for health reasons anymore--they also want them to look good and smell good, she said. "From my perspective, it's a good thing. It's nice to see people care as deeply as they do."

    People have always spent more on food than any other pet spending category, and pet food trends follow human food and diet trends, according to Vetere.

    That means if you are on a health kick, chances are your pet is too.

    "Food choices are extraordinarily confusing," Vogelsang said. "I think people spend more time in the dog food aisle than they do in the rest of the store."

    Sales numbers show owners are buying more age-specific, breed-specific, vitamin-infused or additive-enhanced foods, Vetere said.

    Dave Bolen is president and CEO of Pet Supplies Plus, a chain of 294 specialty stores in 24 eastern states. His 25-years-old business has expanded every year--it opened eight stores in 2013 and plans to open 30 this year.

    "We are bullish about pet ownership," he said.

    It can only get better, Bolen added, as people discover all the healthy benefits of owning pets.

    Other spending last year included $14.4 billion for veterinary care; $13.1 billion for supplies and over-the-counter medicines; $2.2 billion for live animal purchases; and $4.4 billion for other services.

    How much did Americans spend on other popular industries? They spent just under $44 billion on carbonated soft drinks in 2012, based on the latest year of data available, the Mintel Group said. In 2013, Americans spent $83 billion on beer, Mintel said, although Beer Marketer's Insights set sales at just over $100 billion.

    Other pet industry spending last year included $14.4 billion for veterinary care; $13.1 billion for supplies and over-the-counter medicines; $2.2 billion for live animal purchases; and $4.4 billion for other services.

    Those services include grooming, boarding, training and pet-sitting and grew by the largest percentage last year--6.1 percent.

    Health and wellness products, supplies and over-the-counter medications--which grew by 7.4 percent in 2012--grew only 3.9 percent in 2013, Vetere said.

    Sales of live animals--everything except dogs and cats--has fallen off in the past few years, Vetere said. He expects it to drop off another 2 percent this year.

    American pets include an estimated 95.6 million cats and 83.3 million dogs, the APPA said. There are also 20.6 million birds, 8.3 million horses, 145 million freshwater fish, 13.6 million saltwater fish, 11.6 million reptiles and 18.1 million small animals.

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