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If you're not recharging when you're outside the office, you won't be productive inside the office. Here's how to reclaim your downtime.
Are your weekends your own?
Think about it. What did you do on Saturday and Sunday? Catch up on emails? Put out a few business fires? Or finally slog through those household errands you didn't have time to get to during the week?
If you returned to work Monday feeling more ragged than refreshed, you don't really own your downtime--and that's a problem.
You already know that taking breaks to refresh your mind is good for creativity and productivity. But I'd be willing to bet that most entrepreneurs have trouble putting this into practice. It starts by reclaiming your downtime. Here are four tips to do just that.
Schedule "me time."
Me time is different for everyone. But regardless of whether it's cooking, going to the gym, or relaxing at home with a book, make sure that you're getting it in. For me, Saturday is my quiet time to kick back with a magazine or get a 10-minute chair massage so I feel like I did something nice for myself. It's often how I find inspiration. For that reason, Saturday is my free day and I give myself permission to do absolutely nothing.
Set clear expectations.
Being the founder and CEO of LearnVest means people ask a lot of me during the week. I hate saying no and letting them down, but I've found saying yes to everyone means saying no to myself and the things I care about. Over time, I've learned to say no politely and with sincerity. Recently I had dinner with a few girlfriends. Since I'd said I'd be busy from the outset, no one was upset about the fact they hadn't seen me in a few weeks. However, if I'd tried to appease them and make plans only to cancel at the last minute, that would have been worse. It's just important to set expectations, and I do it with everyone from family to friends and even my husband.
Keep separate calendars for work and play.
Even on paper, my professional and home lives stay separate. I use several email accounts and separate calendars so I can see at a glance what my weekend looks like. If I check my personal email and see I have four errands to run, then I'll know to power through so I meet with some friends. Since my husband and I have limited time and work similar hours, we throw things in each other's calendar all the time. Again, it's about setting clear expectations.
Outsource what you hate.
If the weekend rolls around and you find yourself running all these awful errands, try outsourcing them. Personally, I love doing laundry. But it takes up to four hours, which isn't a good use of my time, especially if I haven't slept, gone to the gym, or seen family. If you find yourself dreading certain chores, pay someone else to do them and find a way to save money elsewhere, say by bringing your lunch to work. The point is to filter out what you dislike and don't really enjoy and maximize the things that you do love because, let's face it, the rest of the week you're maxed out.
In the beginning, you had to be your whole company. But if you ever want to grow beyond a one-person show, you need to learn how to let yourself go.
In the early days, you are many things to your business: founder, chief executive officer, sales manager, strategic planner, marketing guru--probably even the resident toilet scrubber.
But unless you plan to remain a one-person shop, at some point you're going to need to shed each of these roles. In other words, you need to "fire" yourself.
How do you know when it's time?
Kerrie MacPherson, a principal at Ernst & Young, writes in the Harvard Business Review, it's probably time when you find yourself "spending too much time working in your business, and not enough on it." At that point, it's time to build a dream team and start focusing on big-picture responsibilities.
Read below for four tips MacPherson says will help you fire yourself and delegate important tasks to your new team.
Know your most important role.
"Your time and attention should be reserved for those few things that only you can accomplish. For many entrepreneurs, this means focusing on the most valuable sales and marketing opportunities--meeting with key prospects and building markets for your product or service," MacPherson writes. "If you, too, need to focus on being the face of the company, then tap into others for help with the rest."
Hire growing professionals.
Stay away from one-trick dogs, MacPherson suggests. "Hire people who can grow with the company. If you hire someone who can perform a task required today, but nothing more, you won’t have the talent needed for the next phase of growth," she writes. "Make sure the people you hire understand the company's goals and where you want to take the business over the next three to five years."
Don't inflate your employees.
It's important to manage expectations of your staff. Even though your company is small, don't give a sales person or programmer an executive title unless he or she is executive material. "Be careful not to give employees inflated titles. Entrepreneurs are often inclined to give a new hire an executive title, such as vice president, in lieu of a high salary or an equity stake in the company. But if the person is not equal to the demands of that role in a larger company, then your growth will force you to bring in someone above him or her," MacPherson warns. "Why set yourself up for conflict that may distract you from the bigger picture?"
Surround yourself with challengers.
The problem with running a business by yourself is that you don't have any diversity of thought, you have no one to challenge your decisions, or help you make better ones. "Consider setting up an advisory board to help you secure talent and determine the overall structure and strategy of your business," MacPherson writes. "You need others to infuse new thinking and to help you figure out how to delegate your responsibilities."
Cal McAllister of Wexley School for Girls names the winners of his latest challenge.
Golf courses are in trouble. The game has been losing players and not creating new ones. One big culprit? Slow play. The courses are getting bigger because the equipment we use today allows elite players to drive the ball so far they should file a flight plan. Plus, most courses are residential developments and developers make more by cramming in more houses. But the main problem is that hacks like me emulate what we see the pros do on TV. Those folks take forever to set up their shots. Lining things up, tossing grass in the air, pulling the perfect club. So we do, too. Here’s the difference: pros usually have some idea where their ball is going. Even average golfers take an additional 30 strokes. End result? It takes five and a half hours to play a course, and few people have that kind of time. So, how can we get things moving?
When I posed this problem to Inc.com readers, I received dozens of thoughtful suggestions for speeding up the game and attracting more players. (I also got a note from the wife of a recent retiree, who’d love for someone to open a 25-hole golf course to fill her husband’s newly emptied calendar.) The purpose of this column is to use creativity to solve a problem rather than spend your way to a solution, so I systematically removed the helicopter-caddy or conveyor-belt-cart-path types of solutions. (Though I’d love to play one of those courses some day.) Here are my three favorite solutions, all of which are inexpensive to implement.
No. 1: Chop Up the Course
David Rothstein, Los Angeles
Take an 18-hole course and split it into three six-hole courses--each with one par 3 and one par 5. That way, the player can choose how much time to commit: one, two, or four hours to play six, 12, or 18 holes, respectively.
I like this idea, because it lets people who are in a rush play through. Plus, breaking up the course could provide new revenue opportunities like pro shops or restaurants and beer gardens on each turn. It also gives players a natural exit point on the course--something that isn’t always obvious at many courses.
No. 2: Charge by the Minute
Joe Sievers, Seattle
Offer a discounted green fee if customers report back to the pro shop or restaurant after the round within a certain time limit--or an extra bonus percentage off your their next round. You could also make groups who play significantly slow pay an additional surcharge on top of their green fee. This encourages people to move at a brisker pace, play ready golf and give up looking for a $2 ball for 10 minutes when the cost savings is more significant. The golf course wins by moving more golfers through during peak weather and weekend tee times.
Joe’s is a practical model and pay-by-the-minute was a popular suggestion. Golf is one of the only sports that allows players to think for a few minutes before every time they put the ball in play. Imagine what Steve Nash could do with that.
No. 3: Use Fewer Clubs
D. Adams, Auburn, New York
Occasionally, we have fun playing “One Club.” Two players who are partners must select one club to carry for each player and one golf ball. You have to improvise and use your one club in different ways, depending on where your partner just left the last shot.
Sorry, purists. D. Adams is having fun here, which is what everyone needs to do on the course. I got a lot of suggestions to make the cup bigger or to put a GPS in the ball. But this simple idea is a free way to put a little Caddyshack into your afternoon. It’s easy to imagine that the side bets and laughs will make for the most memorable rounds you’ll ever play.
Hiring can be a nightmare, especially when you make mistakes.
All the business owners I know spend more time worrying about their people than about any other single issue. How to find great people, how to keep them engaged and productive. Every one of them has made a bad hire and they're haunted by the memory. I don't blame them; I am too. So I've spent a lot of time thinking about what went wrong.
Let's call the bum hire Bill. Bill was recommended to me by a seasoned executive I admired--and still admire. He'd led a big sales team for an established software business for years and he had always outperformed his targets. He was fearless and well-connected. There wasn't, I was assured, a door Bill couldn't open. My company was young, unknown and I knew we needed help getting attention and credibility. Bill seemed just the thing.
When I met Bill, I was a little confused. He seemed to spend a lot of time talking about himself, not his company, not his customers, not his products. He also seemed to have phenomenal ideas about who we were and where we were going. They sounded exciting but I wondered where they came from.
Young and inexperienced, I was persuaded that we needed Bill, that he'd accelerate our growth and validate our technology. Sure he seemed brash and a little overweening--but I should expect that from a sales guy. I didn't especially warm to him but I've always believed (and still do) that you shouldn't hire only the people you'd like as friends. I'd like to say that I hired him against my better judgment because that would imply that, deep down inside, I knew he was a mistake. I didn't. I believed he could make our fortunes.
What was my mistake? I believed that the fortunes of my company could be transformed by a single person. If that is ever true, then there's something seriously wrong with the business and fixing that is more important than any hire. But I bought into the idea that somewhere out there is a messiah who, singlehandedly, will make your business miraculous. If you think that--and a candidate persuades you of it--then stop and think again.
Bill worked for me for about a year. He got us nowhere. He cheated on his expenses, created friction everywhere he went and was all noise, no heat. When I finally fired him, he argued that he should be promoted. And when he finally left the building, only politeness suppressed the cheers.
In hoping Bill would give us credibility, I nearly lost my own. No company is made by a single individual--not even the CEO.
Here's a checklist to prime your new device for maximum productivity.
Before you hand an employee (or yourself) a new iPhone 5S or 5C, there are a few things to do first. One is to hope they don't lose it. Another is to prime it for maximum productivity.
It's a good idea to preload a few apps. Below are the apps I always install when I'm testing out a new model. (They're in order of importance to me and my work needs.)
By the way, I glossed over the bundled apps like Twitter and Facebook, which are both integrated into the iOS even though you do need to install them.
Not everyone is going to think of Evernote as the first app to install. I use it for three things on every smartphone. One is to jot down article ideas. I also snap photos of receipts for expenses. (A new feature called Post-It Notes captures a square shot and converts the note to text.) I also use Evernote to record audio memos to myself.
2. Google Search
That's right, my next important iPhone app is one from Google. It's the bread-and-butter search app but also integrates Google Now. There are cards that show you things like flight info, and I love the way the search is so contextual. (Ask "Who is Barack Obama?," get the answer, then ask "How old is he?" and Google Now will know who you mean.)
I've been relying on this app more as I've been traveling lately. What I like most is the interface. You can find places around you like gas stations and hotels. There's one quick list of categories and the app uses location services to find points of interest. And if you've ever been in the situation of scrambling to find a place to stay at 2 a.m. after a flight cancellation, you'll appreciate the no-fuss approach. When you drill into the info, there's a summary, links, and photos to help.
I've mentioned SproutSocial a few times before. As you can guess, this social media manager is the one I use to create a post that I then send to multiple services (and multiple accounts on those services). I can also quickly scan through tweets, mentions, and direct messages.
I belong to several GroupMe chats, and not all of them are business-related. (I use one to see if any friends are playing disc golf.) On a few projects, I've noticed that GroupMe made all of the difference in having good direct communication between a few colleagues.
6. Yahoo! Weather
Part of going mobile is knowing what to expect. Yahoo's weather app is about the best one I've found because it shows a detailed forecast in just one up-swipe. I love how the app fills in a local photo that matches the weather for that day.
I know about a few recent travel apps that do a bit more than Kayak, but I like the expediency of the results. Sometimes I just want to know if there is a flight leaving SFO the next day and get the price. The app seems geared for speed as much as detailed info.
8. Google Chrome
Chrome is an obvious choice for me. Once you download the app, you can drop the Safari app into the app screen and add the one for Chrome ot the bottom row of icons. Once you login, you can then sync your browsing history. Also, Chrome is fast and reliable for most sites.
What, you thought a work iPhone was only for serious apps? Gifting an app like Badland, a side-scroller with some amazing small-screen graphics and awesome sound, means you are saying it is okay to take a break or while away the time at an airport.
Speaking of letting employees have some downtime: I also install iBooks right away. Even on the small iPhone 5S, it's great to read a book when you are waiting for an appointment. You can always use a large font--and the e-books are priced reasonably.
Any you'd add to this "must install" list? Post in comments.
The e-commerce site is the latest entrant in a hot year for Internet offerings.
Zulily, the daily deal apparel website for mothers and children, filed documents to the Securities and Exchange Commission this morning in preparation for an initial public offering.
The e-commerce company, based in Seattle, Washington, is the latest entrant in what is expected to be a hot year for consumer Internet IPOs coming in toward the end of the year. Unlike Twitter, which submmitted its financial papers, called the S-1, on October 3, Zulily is profitable, though only recently so.
Zulily reported net income of $2.4 million for the first six months of 2013, compared to a net loss of $6 million for the same six months a year earlier.
It reported rapid sales growth for the first six months of the year ending June 30, 2013; it more than doubled its revenue to $272 million when compared with the same period a year earlier. The company reported sales of $331 million in 2012, more than double what it reported in 2011.
The company valued itself, using an income and market comparison approach, at about $1.7 billion as of May 30, 2013, with internal shares valued at $3.08 each. As of June 30, it reported about 500,000,000 class B common stock outstanding.
Darrell Cavens, company co-founder, president, and chief executive owns about 20 percent of the company, which would peg his stake at $340 million. Co-founder Mark Vadon, who is chairman of the board, owns 30 percent, which could be worth $510 million.
Venture capital firms Andreessen Horowitz, August Capital, and Maveron each owns between 7.3 percent and 23.6 percent of Zulily.
Investment bank Goldman Sachs is the lead underwriter.
Zulily did not make any executives available to comment. The company is currently in a quiet period, an SEC ban on publicity, prior to the IPO.
New reserach suggests that many shoppers use smartphones in-store to do research.
It's what every small retailer fears: Customers come into their shops to check out a product in person... and then scan their mobile phones for better prices online, ultimately buying the item for a cheaper price somewhere else. It's called showrooming.
However a new Columbia Business School report called Showrooming and the Rise of the Mobile-Assisted Shopper found that smartphones could actually lead customers to make an in-store transaction.
Researchers from the Columbia Business School and Aimia Inc., a loyalty management company, looked at the habits of 3,000 consumers in the Unites States, United Kingdom and Canada. They found that 60 percent of mobile-assisted shoppers are more likely to make a purchase in the flesh when they find helpful reviews and information online.
This could explain why lots of consumers phone-glance while shopping.
Also among the researchers’ findings was that only six percent of smartphone wielding shoppers are “exploiters” -- in other words, individuals who had already decided to buy online and only visited stores to view products in-person.
The positive tone of this report contrasts with past research, which indicated showrooming could be a looming problem for retailers. Earlier this year The IBM Institute for Business Value had found that 50 percent of online sales are driven by showrooming.
When a crisis hits, doubling down on the personal strengths that got you here in the first place won't fix the problem.
Ever wonder why every month brings another tale of a badly-handled corporate disaster (just some of this year's haul: Nokia, Siemens, RIM, Zynga, JP Morgan), yet you have to go back to 1982 for the last example of truly outstanding corporate leadership in the face of disaster?
Well, one reason, of course, is the nature of reporting: good stories don't sell newspaper inches (or screen pixels), so the icky stuff gets featured much more heavily. But there is a deeper issue. The glorification of the leader as hero personified.
We live in a 24-hour news cycle which must, in order to not seem like simply a random collection of talking heads, impose a narrative on events. At the time of writing, we see it most clearly in the reporting of the current election campaign. Nothing is simply an event, a fact or a statement, instead everything must be parsed as part of an over-arching narrative--who's up, who's down, who's next, who's out?
As a result, when a crisis strikes, some unlucky so-and-so gets pushed to the top of the news cycle, and his or her leadership style is placed under the microscope.
And guess what happens? The besieged leader finds their every move under scrutiny, and, as a direct result, they double up on their instinctive leadership style as a Visionary, Operator or Processor. Time and again we see Visionary leaders under pressure who take even more risks, resort to even more hyperbole, swing even further for the fences than before. Or an Operator-leader who becomes more aggressive, more stubborn, more ferocious than previously. Or a Processor-leader who retreats behind more spreadsheets, more planning, more so-called risk control, and more second-guessing than before the crisis hit.
The answer? Behind any well-managed crisis you'll find either a natural Synergist (very rare), self-taught Synergist or, more commonly, a Synergistic team--one which knows that the answer to a crisis is not V-ing, O-ing or P-ing your way through it, but in using the team's natural VOP strengths in harmony, and with the proper choreography.
The lesson for the rest of us? When a crisis hits, doubling down on the personal strengths that got you here in the first place won't fix the problem. Instead, focus your efforts on building a world-class team - specifically, one that transcends the limitations of any one individual.
Ensure that your team is prepared for whatever comes next. 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 others as an exceptional, world-class leader.
More than two years after the nuclear meltdown, Japan's chief investigators reflect on what crisis leaders should have done differently.
The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster in March 2011, which began after an earthquake and tsunami hit Japan, was the worst radioactive accident since the explosion at Chernobyl in 1986.
More than two years after the nuclear meltdown, toxic radioactive chemicals continue to leak into the Pacific Ocean while Japan asks for the world's help.
Although the disaster was originally deemed an accident, officials with the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission claim the explosions and leaks were due to poor leadership and management. "It was a profoundly man-made disaster that could and should have been foreseen and prevented," Kiyoshi Kurokawa, a chairman of the commission, told the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania during a recent panel discussion on Fukushima.
The leadership lessons from the disaster are many. Knowledge@Wharton, the school's blog, rounded up a number of observations from the lead investigators' presentations on how to lead effectively through chaos. Here are three tips to keep in your back pocket:
Prepare for worst-case scenarios.
In 1933, an earthquake hit Japan triggering a tsunami of comparable strength to the one in March 2011. The Fukushima power plant was built on the known fault line, disregarding the area's own history--it's a known fact that about every 100 years a big earthquake hits and a tsunami follows. But the Fukushima disaster was so extreme because Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) did not prepare for the worst--there was no plan for how to prevent a meltdown after reactors break and the electrical grid fails.
Don't think it can't happen to you, says Howard Kunreuther, the co-director of Wharton's Risk Management and Decision Processes Center. The worst does happen to every business--it's just a matter of when. To help prepare for disaster, he says, “stretch time horizons, so you don't just think about the likelihood of this occurring next year but over a period of years." Look over the next 20 years, and prepare for what could happen.
Don't try to control--look for answers.
During a crisis, leaders need to make decisions quickly, with limited information. Prime Minister Kan got caught up in the details, refused to delegate, and contributed to further confusion after the meltdown, says Kenichi Shimomura, former chief spokesman for Kan. Instead of making decisions, he tried to collect all the facts first. During a disaster, facts will be scant. If you are a leader, you'll have to do without them. Eric Feldman, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania, says your job is to encourage ideas, blunt communication, and delegate decision-making to people "on the ground" in the disaster.
Practice your reaction.
After the reactors started to leak, Prime Minister Kan told the public that only people living in a three-kilometer radius of Fukushima had to evacuate. But when he got more information, he changed it to 10 kilometers, then 20. The public did not trust Kan and believed he was downplaying the crisis. Erwann Michel-Kerjan, managing director of the Risk Management and Decision Processes Center at Wharton, said that Kan should have taken notes from former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani's leadership during the September 11 attacks. Before 9/11, Giuliani had rehearsed large-scale crisis management four times a year. When Michel-Kerjan works with companies, he asks the CEO to go through disaster rehearsals. "When you look at companies that have handled crises well every one of them has had conventional and unconventional rehearsal exercises quite a few times, typically with the CEO present," he says.
It only takes $750,000 to $1.5 million to bring a product to market--or does it?
This post is Part III in a series of articles about incubating a company. See Part II on how to spot trends and capitalize on them.
After concluding there was a very real market for Shake, my team needed to figure out how much money to put in the company. As a co-founder, RRE was committed to putting in the money at a relatively attractive price instead of receiving any founders' equity. The question then became, “How much?”
The amount of money required to start a company has declined dramatically since I began in venture capital. Companies once had to buy servers and software licenses, and hire many programmers just to get a product up and running. Thankfully, computing in the cloud and open source software have changed the paradigm: $750,000 to $1,500,000 is now enough to get a product to market, particularly in the consumer space. The lean start-up was born.
But when raising money, there are two conflicting forces at work. The first is dilution. Obviously, the more money that a company raises at low Series A valuations, the more dilution founders must accept. The basic rule is to raise enough money to enable the company to hit a set of milestones that puts it in good shape to raise money at a higher valuation during subsequent rounds of financing and stages of growth.
The other force at work is the unpredictability inherent to start-up life: Everything costs more and takes longer than you think. The business you start with is often not what you end up launching. And even after launch, many start-ups pivot, changing focus to better meet the demands and needs of their customers. How do you deal with this? You plan and plan and plan, and when you are fully confident in the amount of money you’ll need to get to the next level, you add approximately 25 percent. Why? Pattern recognition. Companies historically always need about 25 percent more capital than they initially estimated.
The lean start-up world has made this calculus even more precarious, since after a single round of financing a company is either working well and is highly sought after by venture capitalists or it is not taking off and has a hard time raising more money. The success of an early-stage start-up is very often binary. So the first round of capital better be enough to get the company to a point where it shows very promising metrics, whether those be user growth, revenues, or other quantifiable goals.
Shake started with a ground-up analysis: How many people to hire? How much to pay them? What to outsource? How to get state of the art design and UI? How many months to get the product to market?
Abe’s analysis showed 18 months of runway and promising metrics for $750,000. We pushed him on it. He truly believed $750,000. So we agreed on $1,000,000. There’s no rocket science here. Scrub and scrub and scrub the numbers until you are sure you can get the company to the next level of funding at a higher priced round, then add a buffer for all the things that can and will go wrong. This sounds like hyperbole, but it can mean the difference between success and failure for a start-up, regardless of the idea and how good it is.
The idea proved viable, and the financing was complete. But despite how much effort has already gone into the process, the real work has yet to begin. A good idea is necessary but without execution, it's nothing.
Chasing short-term returns is bad for your customers, employees, the planet, and the long-term success of your company. So don't do it.
Last week, I read an article in The Atlantic that made a convincing argument: The doctrine that businesses must be managed to benefit their investors contributed to the economic collapse of 2008. CEOs whose main goal is to maximize return for investors (often including themselves) may find themselves ripping off customers, shafting employees, destroying communities, and trashing the environment at large.
As if to prove the point, a press release landed in my inbox the same day. It came from a "shareholder activists" group and lambasted Costco and Walgreen's for their membership in the Retail Industry Leaders Association, because the group encourages having sustainability goals. What's so wrong with sustainability? It has "the potential to reduce the company's bottom line."
If managing for maximum investor returns looks evil, there's a good reason: It's another way of saying, "Greed is good." That notion took a beating in the 1987 movie "Wall Street," but it has survived in the way people run companies today.
Especially start-ups. Angel investors and venture capital firms approach investing as a numbers game. They know that the vast majority of companies they fund will fail; they're betting that the few that succeed will provide spectacular enough returns to make up for the rest. That puts a lot of pressure on those lucky few to make lots of money very quickly, one reason investors constantly push start-ups to get their products to market as fast as they can.
That kind of short-term thinking is bad for the economy, disastrous for the environment, and probably isn't doing your company any favors either. There's a better way.
Don't hyper-focus on profits.
Yes, your company needs to be profitable. You also need to build a brand that customers will trust. Since you'll have to compete in an increasingly tight market for skills, your company needs a reputation as a good place to work. You also need the community around you to be a welcoming and healthy place. Pursue profits or investment returns at the expense of any of these, and your investors may be happy but you'll have done your company future harm.
Pick the long-term investor over the short-term investor.
This simple change in approach could fix much of what's wrong with Corporate America today. Instead of worrying about monthly, quarterly, or even annual numbers that should only matter to investors who want to cash out right away, think about what will help those investors (or their heirs) who still have a stake in your company 50 years from now. That should give you the right perspective to make tough decisions that may be painful in the short run but will make your company stronger in the long run.
Don't let anyone rush you.
At TheNextWeb's first U.S.-based conference last week, serial entrepreneur Soraya Darabi (Foodspotting, Zady) told the audience what she'd learned the hard way as a serial entrepreneur. "Most investors advise following the 80/20 rule--that you should launch when you've got things 80 percent right," she explained. "I don't believe that anymore. You can only launch once."
And, she noted, if you want to reach millennial customers, you can't do it with great products or great prices alone--you have to manage for the bigger picture because younger customers care about these things. That's why her new company is focused on saving artisan crafts at risk of disappearing from the world, and donates a portion of its revenues to The Bootstrap Project, which seeks to preserve traditional and disappearing crafts. "We're actually saving these skill sets for the long term," she said. "'Social good' isn't just a hook we use for marketing."
Free gift cards? Flowers and candy? It's all part of how ZocDoc tries to earn customers for life.
Whenever I ask business owners what sets their companies apart from the competition I almost invariably get the same answer: exceptional customer service.
While that may very well be true, it's an answer I'm usually reluctant to believe. After all, I'd rather hear about good customer service from, you know, a customer.
But this is one outstanding customer service story I can vouch for, since it happened to me.
I recently scheduled an appointment with my orthopedist, using ZocDoc, a company that lets users find and review doctors and book appointments online. After choosing an appointment time, I got a call from my doctor, saying that time was no longer available. In less than five minutes, we found a slot that worked for the both of us and hung up--a minor hiccup, but certainly not what I'd call an inconvenience.
But 10 minutes later, I got a call from a ZocDoc customer service representative, who apologized profusely for the mix-up and, though I told her it was no problem, offered to send me a $10 Amazon gift card for my troubles. That, I thought to myself, is exceptional customer service.
And so, I decided to head uptown to ZocDoc's New York City headquarters to find out more about how the company has institutionalized great customer service.
How It Started
ZocDoc was founded in 2007 after CEO, Cyrus Massoumi, popped his eardrum on a flight from Seattle to New York and couldn't find a doctor in New York City for four days. The ordeal inspired him to come up with a better way to find medical care using technology. But despite being a technology-oriented company, ZocDoc's three co-founders, Massoumi, Oliver Kharraz, and Nick Ganju, were committed to preserving a human touch with customers, or as they like to call them, "patients."
In the early days, that job fell to Kharraz. A doctor by training, he's now ZocDoc's COO. On my recent tour of ZocDoc's headquarters, he told me that during the first few years after ZocDoc was founded, whenever patients had a problem--say, a long wait time--he'd meet them at the doctor's office with a bouquet of flowers and chocolate to personally apologize for the trouble.
"People were definitely surprised that after using a free service on the Internet, which they kind of expected not to work perfectly anyway, they find a guy with flowers and chocolate waiting for them," he says. "Obviously that wasn't scalable, but we wanted in every instance to understand if something didn't work out, what was the root cause? We need to make it right for the individual and all of those coming after her to make sure the problem gets eradicated."
In ZocDoc's office, which is rapidly expanding to accommodate the company's nearly 500 employees, there's a wall covered in chalkboard paint, known as the Patients First Wall, which features a new piece of feedback from a ZocDoc patient everyday. On the day of my visit, the anonymous post read: "Thank you. Thank you, Thank you!!! ZocDoc has forever changed my life!!! It makes me want to be sick so I can use this amazing system/service."
"We hear all the time from patients about how cool the service is or how we solved a problem for them, and we like to make sure we share the love with the entire organization," Anna Elwood, director of operations, says.
Learning From Zappos
Since joining the company three years ago, it's been Elwood's job to formalize some of the informal policies Kharraz introduced during those early days. For inspiration, she started off with an office tour of that old paragon of customer service, Zappos. "We wanted to learn their best practices," she says, "and now, we have people touring with us!"
One stop on the ZocDoc tour that Elwood is particularly proud of is a monitor that hangs in the customer service section of the office. It displays all the Tweets coming in about ZocDoc, as well as the percentage of emails being answered within one hour and the percentage of calls answered after just one ring. On the day of my visit, those numbers were 93 percent and 78 percent, respectively. "If we're trying to offer access to healthcare, we need to be accessible ourselves," Elwood says. "If there's any industry where service should be paramount, it should be healthcare."
According to Elwood, the customer service team is expected and empowered to do whatever it takes to answer a patient's question, whether that means staying on the phone for hours to help an elderly patient browse the Internet or helping a concerned mother track down her son during a snowstorm to make sure he gets to his appointment on time. Then, there are the more mundane cases, like my own, for which ZocDoc has policies in place. Last year, for instance, the company launched its check-in service, which allows patients to fill out their medical forms online, so they don't have to bother with paperwork at the office. At the time of their appointments, patients get a text prompting them to reply if they have any trouble with their paperwork once they get to the office. Replying to the message triggers an automatic call from one of ZocDoc's customer service reps.
Elwood recently took one of those calls herself. "I was like, 'I'll talk to the receptionist for you or I can call them directly, and we'll figure it out,'" she says. "Ultimately, we did figure it out, and he Tweeted something very nice about us."
That patient, it seems, wasn't the only one. A quick search of ZocDoc on Twitter turned up mostly glowing feedback from users. "I am yet to see the doctor yet but I feel better already using @ZocDoc!" read one Tweet. "@ZocDoc great customer service, especially on a Monday morning. Thanks!" read another. At a time in which patients and the health system too often have an antagonistic relationship, ZocDoc's popularity among patients, which has propelled it to some 4 million members using the site every month and a reported valuation of $700 million, seems to be proof that exceptional customer service really can go a long way.
"I was trained as a doctor. If I do something, it should work, and if it doesn't work, I need to minimize the fallout," says Kharraz. "We have the aspiration to be part of the solution to all the challenges of healthcare, and we can only do that if we earn the patients trust. We want to make sure we deserve it."
Half of startup pundits stress not hiring too fast, the other half not hiring too slow. What's a founder to do?
Take a look at the chatter of the startup community and it becomes instantly clear that nearly everyone is obsessed with hiring. That makes sense -- intuitively we all understand that the team can make or break a business. But if you dig a level deeper looking for practical advice, it’s quickly apparent that the consensus ends there.
About half of commentators seem stressed that founders hire too fast, while the other half is just as worried they’ll hire too slow. What gives?Too Fast
The two fast camp has many famous backers and an equally famous mantra -- 'hire slow, fire fast.' Here’s a typical story of what happens when you rush to fill seats from Carrie Kerpen, co-founder of likeable media, "We started to grow--and grow fast. So fast, in fact, that we couldn't staff the clients that we had. We started bringing people in the door. If you had ever tweeted in your life, you were a great candidate to work at Likeable Media. Have a Facebook account? Come on board. Can you guess what happened? There was a bloodbath. A bloodbath of firings, lost clients, and the morale of the people who were still at the company just plummeted."
Blake Pierson, the CEO of co-founder of apartment rental platform Lovely, recently told Inc.com a similar story: "Early on we were very aware of the skill sets that were missing. At any startup there’s a ton that needs to get done, and the pressure to hire quickly is more pronounced when there may be ten other teams working on the very same problems, so you need to move fast. At least that's what you're thinking at the time. We hired people who could help us solve the problems of the day without giving enough thought to their overall fit and how they'd influence and affect the company of tomorrow."Too Slow
But hold on, say a number of high-profile dissenters. These cautionary tales aren’t to be taken lightly, but neither is the need to actually get the work done. Danny Boice, co-founder of Speek, has called the ‘hire slow’ mantra “complete b******t,” offering this analogy: “If your doctor gave you six months to live unless you got a liver transplant, would you hold out until you found the PERFECT liver? Or would you find the best liver available this very second and figure out how to make it work?”
VC Mark Suster agrees, adding that ‘hire slow’ is based on the incorrect assumption that longer hiring processes correlate with better hires. “You’re never really going to know how somebody is going to perform in the role, how good of a cultural fit he or she is going to be and how motivated they’re going to become until they’re on the inside,” he has written on TechCrunch, concluding “any team that I work with that struggles to hire people quickly knows that I’m likely frustrated.”The Goldilocks Principle?
So what’s a befuddled founder to do when confronted with fast hire horror stories as well as dire warnings against hiring too slow from frustrated men bearing big checkbooks? Is the the Goldilocks principle at work here -- not too fast but not too slow?
For Lovely’s Pierson finding that balance meant deciding on what constitutes his company’s must-haves values for candidates. "My co-founder, Doug Wormhoudt, and I sat down one day and came up with ten values that defined us as individuals. Values that motivate us and that we believe in. If you want to work with us, these are the values that are important for you as well." By focusing on a few essential must-have values, the founders avoided analysis paralysis or unicorn hunting but protected their fundamental company culture.
For others the balance is more about hiring help promiscuously, while being very scrupulous about who you actually take on full time. Serial entrepreneur Matthew Stibbe used something like this approach at his second company, having been burnt by too quick hiring at his first: “I kept things small using contractors, freelancers, and outsourcing and only recently have I begun to hire full-time employees again. I’ve made more money, and I’ve been far happier.”
How do you balance the competing demands to fill seats but only hire A-players?
They make you feel like you're the bad guy when you expect them to do their own jobs.
Probably the most difficult to manage employee (or coworker) is the "people pleaser." If a job candidate uses the term "people pleaser" to describe himself or herself in a job interview, do not hire that person.
When somebody says "I'm a people pleaser," it's always with an air of apology, as if they're embarrassed that they sacrifice so much to make others happy. The remark, however, is a self-compliment masked as self-deprecation.Understanding How They Think
People pleasers proudly position themselves (both publicly and in their own minds) as selfless and considerate, when in fact they're self-absorbed and controlling.
People pleasers pretend to be interested in other people's feeling but they're actually obsessed with how other people should feel about them, which is the exact opposite concept.
People pleasers take actions they believe you should appreciate, regardless of whether you have asked for those actions or not. They then expect you to be grateful for favors rendered and resentful if you ask for something else that you actually want.
For example, a people pleaser might stay late working on a report that's not due (or needed) for a week and then hand it in early because "he knew you would appreciate having it early."
To the people pleaser, it doesn't matter whether or not you actually wanted the report early. To the people pleaser, you now owe him something because he's worked overtime to "please" you.
Therefore, if you assign that employee a difficult project, he will accept the project (to "please" you, of course) but feel justified in doing a slipshod job because (after all) he "worked overtime and didn't even get a 'thank-you.'"
Here's another common example: the person who appoints herself as the office morale booster, spending large amounts of time and energy on birthday cards, anniversary gifts, snacks in the break room, etc.-- rather than doing work that actually needs doing.
In the opinion of the people pleaser, you should feel grateful that she's raising the morale of the organization, even if you believe that her efforts are a distraction from what you want and need done.
Later, if you present the people pleaser with a less-than-glowing performance review, she'll be surprised and offended because (after all) she's "given so much to this organization."
Despite their belief that they're trying to please other people, people pleasers are always working their own agenda while simultaneously trying to make others feel indebted.
For instance, the employee who handed in the (unneeded) report early may have done so because he wanted to clear his calendar. Similarly, the office morale booster undoubtedly enjoys socializing more than doing actual work.How to Deal
If you're not aware of what's going on and you genuinely care about the people who work for (or with) you, it's very easy to get caught up in the people pleaser's skewed viewpoint. They're very good at veneering their desires with ersatz martyrdom.
If you find yourself stuck with a people pleaser, the only solution is to be blunt and very specific about goals and measurements. This can be difficult if your corporate culture assumes that self-motivated people will do the right thing.
A huge word of warning: if you ever feel "guilty" or "demanding" when setting goals for the people pleaser or holding his or her feet to the fire, you're getting caught up in the people pleaser's head game.
As I said before, the easiest way to deal people pleasers is to not hire them. If you're stuck with them, set up up circumstances so you can move them out of your organization if they can't change their behavior.
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There's a myth that having a family and running a company are incompatible, but here are 3 reasons why kids can be a business advantage.
As a mother of two (with a third on the way), who started both a company and family at the same time, I'm always eager to dispel the myth that having a family will set back your business. This is constantly a topic of focus in the media regarding women-owned businesses (as if men don't have kids too), which make up only 35% of the total entrepreneurial population. Who knows how big that percentage might get if women felt like starting a family was an asset, instead of a conflict, with launching a business?
In fact, there are reasons why creating both a family and jobs go hand-in-hand:
1. Family-Owned Businesses Have a Bright Future
Family-owned businesses account for 50 percent of U.S. GDP, generate 60 percent of the country's employment and account for 78 percent of all new job creation. When you have children, you're potentially creating a succession plan for your company's future generations. And that's good for your company: family-run businesses have higher levels of employee loyalty, because they often treat non-family as if they were family. This means that when tough times occur, they are less apt than traditional corporations to do mass layoffs just because of profits.
2. Having Kids Opens Your Eyes to New Markets
When you become a parent, your business management thinking starts to change, in terms of who, what and how you prioritize. Your consumption habits change as well: Thinking about others' well being--most notably our offspring--enables moms, with an estimated $2.1 trillion in spending power, to influence 85% of all purchase decisions. As you begin to buy differently, you'll see new gaps in the market.
Take, for example, Brooklyn-based organic bread mix company Baked Better, co-founded by female entrepreneur Justina Hierta out of the need for better and healthier bread that is easy to make. Thanks to my angst in trying to be a better mom, Baked Better inspired me to bring my baking in-house versus buying from the store. But it's an area of the market I'd never have known about if I didn't have kids.
Or consider Texas-born entrepreneur and co-CEO of U.S. Virgin Island's Blue Shore Grill Restaurant Group, Nicole Boswell-Horstmeyer. Based in Saint Thomas, Nicole wasn't afraid to build her restaurants and her family simultaneously. But what's most special is her ability to go beyond just offering food to also making a difference. Her flagship restaurant, HAVANA BLUE, recently established a groundbreaking local farming initiative, sourcing from and benefitting the indigenous Caribbean community, allowing diners to eat well and indulge a bit, all while giving back to the local economy in the process.
3. Making Babies = Making Money
Last month, Nick Drydakis, a fellow at the Institute for the Study of Labor and economics lecturer in the business school at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, England, revealed that people who have frequent sex tend to be happier and have higher self-esteem, as well as better reasoning ability. Better reasoning ability ought to lead to smarter business decisions and therefore to higher revenue for your burgeoning enterprise. While, of course, causation versus correlation isn't as clear, at the end of the day, there's a real relationship between more sex and more money, leading to higher financial returns. So the more actively you're trying to get pregnant, the more of an improvement you may see in your bottom line.
If you've been using your business as an excuse to delay having a family, it might be time to rethink your strategy. So go forth and get busy (making money)!
Researchers looked at the effectiveness of coping tactics for entrepreneurs.
Taking time away from work has a positive impact on entrepreneurs’ psychological well-being, a recent study found. But there’s a catch: the coping mechanism seems only to benefit experienced entrepreneurs.
The study, led by the University of Colorado Boulder, included survey responses from 156 entrepreneurs. The researchers classified those who had previously been involved with at least one startup as “experienced.”
“No one has really studied whether experience in a venture actually helps in coping, so these are new and somewhat surprising findings,” Maw-Der Foo, co-author of the study and associate professor of management and entrepreneurship at CU-Boulder’s Leeds School of Business, said in a statement.
Foo suggested that taking work breaks backfired on inexperienced entrepreneurs because they felt guilty about stepping away, causing them to become even more stressed.
For the study, entrepreneurs’ psychological wellbeing was assessed using their answers to questions like “Have you recently been able to concentrate on whatever you were doing” and “Have you recently been losing much sleep over worry?”
Participants were asked about the extent to which they had used two different coping mechanisms to deal with the daily startup grind. One, called "avoidance coping", involves stepping away from a stressful situation and going out to see a movie, for instance.
The other, called "active coping", requires facing the problem head on. Foo said a future study might look at factors that predict stress for entrepreneurs and the ways that they can cope.
Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman says that if you rationally weighed the odds of success, you'd never start a business. Thank goodness for irrationality.
An expert on negotiating warns the GOP that they are playing a very dangerous game. Let's hope they understand the rules.
This weekend House Speak John Boehner talked with George Stephanopoulos about the debt ceiling and the government shutdown. The tonality was clearly one of brinksmanship. Indeed, brinksmanship has dominated the Washington dialogue for a while now. It has become part of the lingua franca of American politics.
Even though “playing chicken” like this is a risky venture, many leaders rely on it to get things done. This brinkmanship mindset, with the dramatic emphasis on the cliff, is one way that leaders, in frustration and desperation, use crisis as a way of forcing action. Brinksmanship can move agendas that could have stagnated otherwise. In politics, as is presently the case, parties not in the majority can use brinksmanship as a way of enhancing their power. Leaders can use brinksmanship as a way of bringing attention to themselves.
Leaders who use brinkmanship have to be very careful, tactical, and strategic. Misused, it can have precisely the consequences that everyone is working to avoid. And even when you play the brinksmanship game brilliantly, there are still permanent costs that you must be willing to pay.
So Before you use brinkmanship as a call to action or as a way to force a decision, keep the following eight points in mind. (And pray that the politicians in Washington are doing so now.)
Make sure there really is a cliff. If you try too often to stir up panic about the impending doomsday, your leadership credibility will suffer.
Do not bluff. Although bluffing is a useful negotiation tactic in many circumstances, it is not part of the brinkmanship strategy. In the do-or-die scenario, the cost of having your bluff called could be catastrophic. You may be forced to go over the cliff and live with the consequences.
Keep the collective interest in mind. For brinkmanship to be effective, you need the support of those who will be affected. It is critical that stakeholders and supporters do not see brinkmanship as a self-serving exercise in opportunism but rather an effort to solve a problem that negatively affects all parties.
Avoid creating a panic. Hanging out too long at the end of the cliff without coming to a deal may create anxiety and panic, which can have the same result as going over the cliff. That is, you may unwittingly create a stampede that takes all parties over the edge.
Don’t use brinkmanship on small issues. If something can be solved fairly easily and creates a win-win, don’t create a false crisis. That's not the way to the best outcome.
Don’t be taken by the short-term drama. Don't let yourself get drunk on your own rhetoric. The confrontation may give you a sense of empowerment, but you must be aware that this drama is short-lived.
Remember, over the cliff you have no allies. Once you’ve gone over the brink, your supporters will only remember who was responsible. They will forget their prior alliances.
Finally, even if you never go over the cliff, there is no coming back from brinksmanship. Things will never be the same. Going to the brink inevitably raises doubt about your leadership capacity. Foes and allies alike will begin to question your leadership capability. If you are a good leader why did you have to go the brink? Sure, the fanatic few who may get an adrenalin rush and admire that you stood the barricades may not question. But most will ultimately ask, “Why did you take it so far?”
After this debt ceiling storm, in quiet reflection, this is the question many will ask. It will be interesting to see which players will pay the price. But someone will. Hopefully, next time few will play “Chicken” on the brink.
Like many entrepreneurs who don't know any better, in the beginning he did everything wrong. In the process, Tom Clancy did a number of things spectacularly right.
When you think of some people, you may not think of them entrepreneurs--but they are.
In the 80s (yes, I'm old) I was a machine operator at an R.R. Donnelley book manufacturing plant. A fringe benefit of the job was getting to read books before they hit bookstores.
We weren't allowed to take books home, but a good operator could get a lot of reading done: On long runs the job mostly involved periodic quality checks, so if you cut the backbone off a kill book and discreetly placed a few pages at a time in a strategic spot, you could read under the Universal Theory of Flexible Supervision, which states that, "If you're getting your job done and don't make it obvious to everyone else we'll both just pretend that's not happening."
(Tell me you don't sometimes follow the Universal Theory of Flexible Supervision.)
A few of us liked to try to predict which books would become bestsellers, especially those by previously unknown authors. Sometimes we missed, but--and this will date me, too--we did guess right on The Firm, Presumed Innocent, The Name of the Rose, and Rules of Prey.
Our plant also ran textbooks and non-fiction titles. Books from some publishers I could automatically ignore: Springer-Verlag published titles that to people like me, who were not on speaking terms with math and science, were totally impenetrable. Another, the Naval Institute Press, published really dry non-fiction nautical titles.
One day we were setting up to run a Naval Institute job and I thought the forklift driver had staged the wrong jackets. Hunt for Red October didn't sound like a Naval Institute title. But it was. Assuming any novel published by the same folks that published books like Battles of the Malta Fighting Forces (surely a real page-turner) I sarcastically thought, "Yeah, that one will do really well," and didn't add it to my to-read pile.
As memory serves, the first print run was 2,500 or 5,000. Not many at all.
A couple weeks later we ran another 5,000. Then a week later we ran 10,000 more. Then another 10,000. Then the book took off, partly because of great reviews but also because President Regan named it his favorite recent book. Somewhere along the way I read it, loved it, and read the author's next four or five books as soon as they hit our plant. (I even borrowed the "blues" for Red Storm Rising and read it before it even went to press.)
Hunt for Red October was an unlikely bestseller by an unlikely author. Tom Clancy had never published a book and the Naval Institute Press had never published fiction. (Clancy wrote a query letter to a Naval Institute Press editor and asked to deliver the letter in person; the editor, finding out Clancy was an insurance agent, the editor assumed he wanted a face-to-face meeting so he could try to sell him insurance.)
Since Clancy had never served in the military or an intelligence agency or held any government position, fact-checkers spent eight months going through the manuscript. (To their likely surprise, he got everything right.)
Tom Clancy was just a guy--but a guy who loved all things military and over time developed a comprehensive knowledge of weapons systems and technical minutiae. So like most people without advanced degrees or experienced mentors or serial failures to learn from, he did everything wrong: He spent nights and weekends, totally on spec, writing a tech-heavy military thriller when no one was reading techno-thrillers. He pitched a specialty press that had never published fiction.
And in the process he created a new genre, wrote or co-wrote over 50 books that sold approximately 100 million books, saw actors like Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, and Ben Affleck star in movies based on his books, and licensed his name to a series of popular video games.
Like many entrepreneurs who don't know better, he did everything wrong--and in the process did many a number of things spectacularly right.
Tom Clancy passed away last week. He was one of the most successful authors of the last few decades, but at his core he just a guy: A guy with a passion, and a dream, and the willingness to bet on himself and try the unexpected.
Just like you.
Could Apple actually sell 10 million iWatches in one year? That's one prediction. Plus--another screen to keep on your radar.
Each Monday, I cover the tech trends, gadgets, business services, and apps of note. The goal is to highlight not just consumer flash-in-the-pan ideas, but real developments that could impact your business. Post in the comments if you spot other essential headlines!
1. Samsung & Apple: Stolen Ad Concept?
Branding experts, this one is for you. Business Insider posted about the similarities between a new Samsung Galaxy Gear ad and one from Apple back in 2007. You can watch both ads at the link. Did Samsung copy too much from the Apple ad? There is a similar feel--both ads feature people saying quick phrases. What do you think? Side note: The Samsung ad is one of the best I've seen recently.
2. AirBnB Faces More Scrutiny in NYC.
New York City is demanding data from about 15,000 AirBnB users who may have started using the service to rent out apartments. (A law in the city says you can't rent out a space for fewer than 30 days.) My take: this is part and parcel of an app that actually does something new. Cities will have to deal with services like Uber and AirBnB that provide a legit service that also might shake up their industries in the process.
3. Should You Get on the iWatch Bandwagon?
If the rumors are true, Apple is about to release a truly time-shifting product called the iWatch. An analyst at Piper Jaffray is predicting the Cupertino tech behemoth could sell as many as 10 million iWatches in one year. That would beat the original iPhone by a wide margin--Apple sold about 6 million of the first-gen model in the first year (plus one quarter). The estimate is based on surveying about 800 customers.
4. Need Start-up Advice? Try Quora.
Quora is fast becoming more than just a place to ask questions about raising kids and finding a good place to buy a pizza. It's a respectable outlet for start-up advice from fellow entrepreneurs. One recent question about how to find a good business partner is chock full of concrete resources and is better than what you'll find in some MBA classes.
5. The Phablets Are Coming.
While you're considering what the coming onslaught of smartwatch screens might mean for your business, there's another screen you might want to follow: the phablet. Big phones like the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 do have one big advantage: they are so big that the battery can hold more of a charge and last longer. (Of course, the screen size also uses up more juice.) Now, CNET is reporting that the Google Nexus 5 will also have a 5-inch screen and a amazingly fast 2.3GHz processor. An event on October 14 will reveal the next big thing we already know about.