- My NYPL
Tools and Services
- Using the Library
I am a...
- Classes & Events
- Support the Library
Get the inspiration flowing again. It's not as hard as you think.
Trying to be more creative can be exhausting. In fact, sometimes it can seem like more work than your actual job.
I should know--I just went through this at my new start-up, an online greeting card company called Open Me. While developing our logo we hit a serious creative rut. Finally, after looking for inspiration in the logos of other major brands, we came up with a simple and elegant solution.
Need your own inspiration? Try one of these tactics to get your juices flowing:
1. Let go of your fears. Reaching your creative peak means dropping your inhibitions. So what if you make some mistakes along the way? Begin working with a mindset that's free of any fear or interest in immediate perfection and take it one step at a time.
Try this: Simply dive into your work without excessive preparation. Don't fall into the trap of to-do lists and detailed calendars--dive in and stop wasting time.
2. Let it be. Unchain yourself from your project or task for some time--you might be surprised what taking a step back can do for helping your creativity flow. Sometimes, focusing on one task for a long time clouds your judgment and impedes creativity in the process. Exiting your task for a short period of time and returning to it later will help you to see the project with fresh eyes and perspective.
Try this: Rather than flipping to a new task, walk away from your workspace entirely and participate in some sort of physical activity for 30 minutes.
3. Get inspired. Do as Jack London says, "You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club." Waiting around for a spark isn't always an efficient option when you've got clients and customers. Go out and find your inspiration yourself. The good news is, there are no rules for how you must do it. Do what works for you.
Try this: Thumb through the work of someone who inspires you creatively, or read blogs from thought leaders that get your gears turning.
4. Revisit past ideas. Whether you keep a notebook for your past ideas or you've just kept them stored away mentally, it's time to circle back. There may be something you've previously worked on that will help you reach a new level of creativity in the present.
Try this: Take a past idea and look for ways to improve or expand upon it. See if you can adapt it to your current needs, or simply reflect upon it as a way to stay inspired.
5. Share. If you're struggling with an idea or task, share it with someone else. Seek out a new creative perspective by having your coworkers or team members comment on how they'd improve the idea or where they envision the project heading.
Try this: Rather than sharing the details of your idea or task in full, disperse bits and pieces of your vision or goals to see if others can connect the dots in a new way.
6. Get some rest. It's amazing what sleep can do for your mind. Sometimes the most challenging tasks or creative roadblocks are better undertaken after a good night's sleep. If you've reached a roadblock or the creative juices have stopped flowing, sleep on it before driving yourself silly attempting to force productivity.
Try this: Take a nap and revisit an idea afterward, or save the task for tomorrow. Avoid tackling any important projects if your mind isn't sharp after a good night's rest.
7. Exit your comfort zone. Whether you've got a physical comfort zone--like your office or workspace--or a mental one, it's time to leave it. You may work more efficiently there, but that doesn't always leave room for creativity. Switch it up and create a change of scenery to get the juices flowing.
Try this: Do some of your work outdoors on a coffee shop patio, or take your laptop to a new part of the office.
8. There's an app for that. If all else fails, there are a number of apps that may do the trick of inspiring your creativity. Many provide a space to store your notes, visual displays for presentations, or brainstorming exercises to break through mental roadblocks.
Try this: Together with your team, download a few new apps for creative purposes and test them out for your project or current task.
How do you get moving when you're creatively drained?
Want to know what's really going on at your company? Ask a departing employee.
Fred Wilson, founder of Union Square Ventures, says every CEO should conduct exit interviews.
"I have learned more doing exit interviews than most other management techniques," Wilson wrote on his blog, AVC. "When people are on their way out and have no fear of saying exactly what they think, you can learn a lot."
But what should leaders look for in these meetings, really? Wilson says to seek patterns, which will become more evident with each passing interview. If you can pinpoint the pattern, you can pinpoint the reason your workers are leaving. Then you can come up with a plan to keep those who've stayed.
Here are some other guidelines Wilson recommends.
Find the cause.
Context is everything when you're trying to figure out why someone is leaving. They may state their reasons, but you need the whole picture, especially if things are tense. Make sure to speak with their manager and every party involved to get a true sense of their environment and why they left.
Don't be confrontational.
An exit interview isn't a "witch hunt." Make it an ongoing conversation about the good and bad aspects of your company, its operations, and staff. Be calm, don't get aggravated. "The less confrontational the exit interview is, the more you can learn," Wilson writes.
See both sides.
Everyone has his or her own opinions, experiences, and perspectives. Don't take everything they say "as gospel," especially if you hold this employee in high regard. Once you know the context, make sure you can see both sides and have a balanced conversation. As Wilson warns, everyone has an agenda. They could be leaving to prevent themselves from getting fired down the road, so don't let them dupe you during the interview.
Stuck on measuring yourself against the entrepreneurial greats like Steve Jobs? Don't--it's only self-defeating. Here's a much better goal.
"Entrepreneur" is an awesome word. Many people, especially those for whom the corporate world is anathema, can't imagine being anything but an entrepreneur.
Unfortunately, for many aspiring business owners "entrepreneur" is also an intimidating word.
Why? If we play word association and I say, "entrepreneur," it's possible the first thing that comes to mind is a success story. Depending on your generation, maybe you picture Kroc, Walton, or Knight. Or maybe you see the smiling faces of Branson, Bezos, Gates, or Dell. Or maybe Page and Brin, Cuban, Zuckerberg, or Cashmore pop to mind.
Or maybe you just think, "Jobs," since Steve transcends just about every generational and socio-economic divide.
Then again, instead of flashing on a famous entrepreneur, something on the opposite end of the success spectrum could come to mind. You might picture pulling that endless string of all-nighters while living on Ramen noodles (the stereotypical breakfast, lunch, and dinner of entrepreneurial champions.) Or you might picture all those lean months and years of hardship and sacrifice as you struggle to create a business no one believes in but you... and sometimes, in your worst moments, not even you.
No matter what the outcome of your particular free association exercise, the word "entrepreneur" can feel like a lot to live up to.
Even successful entrepreneurs feel they don't. I know people who have built great businesses. Huge businesses. Massive businesses. But however bright their entrepreneurial beacon shines, in their hearts they still feel their light is lost in the glow of those who made greater sacrifices or who have accomplished even more.
And maybe that's you.
Maybe you're afraid to start a business because you feel you could never compare to the brightest stars in the entrepreneurial firmament. Or maybe you shrink from the thought of having to work and sacrifice and struggle towards a goal you may never accomplish. Or maybe you think other people have some intangible entrepreneurial something--ideas, talent, drive, skills, creativity, etc.--you just don't have.
If that's the way you think, you're wrong.
Success is only inevitable in hindsight. It's easy to look back on another person's entrepreneurial path to greatness and assume every vision was clear, every plan was perfect, every step was executed flawlessly, and tremendous success was a foregone conclusion. It's easy to think Steve was always the iconic Steve.
He wasn't. His success was never assured. It was often in doubt. Only in hindsight does it appear Steve was destined to succeed.
Plus, not only do you already have what it takes to be an entrepreneur, in many ways you are already an entrepreneur. "Entrepreneur" is commonly defined as, "a person who organizes and operates a business or businesses, taking on financial risk to do so."
Let's see. You already organize your affairs. You already take on financial risk. Even if you currently work for someone else you're still an entrepreneur because you organize and operate the business of you.
So don't measure yourself against other entrepreneurs and find yourself wanting before you even begin. Don't measure yourself against some standard of effort and sacrifice and perseverance you feel you can never achieve.
Pick a goal and measure yourself against that goal. That's the only comparison that ever matters.
You don't have to try to be the next Jobs. You can try to be something a lot better.
You can be the next you.
With 13 remote programmers spread across the U.S., the start-up knows a thing or two about keeping in touch the new-fashioned way.
When Dan McCormick moved to a farm in Pennsylvania, he knew he wouldn't commute to Shutterstock's office in New York City.
As a workaround, he devised a robot with a Galaxy tablet. He logs in on Google Hangout and controls the robot's movements using his smartphone. It's as if the senior VP of technology never left.
Though there's only one robot, each of Shutterstock's 13 remote employees, who call each other iPeople, clock into work on Google Hangout using their iPads. The tablets are fixed with wide-angle lenses, fitted on stands, and sit atop lazy Susans.
"Having it on all day creates a community," said Travis Beck, an engineer in San Francisco whose Google Hangout won't expire until 2050. "We can joke around, but most importantly we're all on the same page in one shared space and culture."
Of course, the always-on culture of video conferencing requires some etiquette, so we asked Shutterstock's workers for some tips. Here's what they said.
Keep a calendar handy.
Many employees are in different time zones, so you'll need a shared schedule. For example, Belden Lyman, the senior software engineer, has Pacific Time employees work from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Since Google Hangout shares everyone's calendar who's been invited to the conference, you'll want to check to make sure that they're free. "If you don't have the always-on arrangement with a certain person, message them first," Beck advised.
Remember, people can see you.
"Some people don't treat the iPad like there is a video camera on it and don't care if you can't see them," said Beck. "It drives me crazy. It's not a phone, so don't treat it like one."
Don't fight the technology.
A bad connection, background noise, or an iPad with a drained battery can disrupt a workplace. Shutterstock follows this rule: Don't fight with technology if it's not working for you. "The first solution is move somewhere else," said Beck. "But we are programmers and we're introverts. Occasionally we like to turn it off and get the job done by ourselves. It's never worth our time to fight with the technology."
Don't ask for a tour.
Another rule is never to ask a remote employee for a tour of their home or workspace. "I don't ask my co-workers who are physically in the office to show me their homes, so you have to treat remote-paired developers the same," said Lyman, who works with employees in Oregon, California, Ohio, and Canada. "We are focused on writing code, not what's in the background of the video feed."
Remember, remote employees aren't in the room and an iPad's microphone isn't always the best. "It's hard for them to be involved in the conversation if they cannot hear what's being said," Lyman said, so check in at various points to see if your colleagues have anything to add. "If we don't stop to ask them what they think, then we're wasting money."
One way in which business owners handicap themselves is by conceding an important battle every single day between being just good....and being the best.
Growing a business is a complex process. As my mother used to tell me when I faced a difficult task, "If it was easy, everyone would be doing it."
Sometimes, however, we make it harder than it should be. One way in which I see business owners handicap themselves all the time is by effectively conceding an important battle every single day.
The battle? That would be the fight between the best and the merely good. I see, hear and talk with business leaders all the time for whom the best they have isn't the best there is.
Don't get me wrong. I fully understand that small businesses can't always compete with their larger brethren when it comes to resource-intensive, expensive outlays, such as plant and equipment, advertising spend and R&D. But the truth is, many of the most important building blocks of sustainable business growth can be just as world-class in small organizations as they are in large ones-- if not considerably better.
Here are the top three areas which, in your business, you should be truly able to say "Our best is as good as the best there is":
It's a canard to believe that only large businesses can hire the best talent. I've been helping small and medium-sized companies hire world-class talent for over 30 years, and I've yet to see a determined, patient business owner stymied in attracting the talent they want.
Don't put up with merely good employees. Every time you launch a new initiative, or plan a new product or service offering, ask yourself: Is the person you're putting in charge of it the best there is - or merely the best you have?
2. Product or service offering.
Speaking of products and services, take a look at your current offering. In your field, in your industry, in your geographic region, in the niche you serve, are they the best there is?
If not, why not? Are there genuine reasons why you're not delivering the best product or service possible (cost barriers that you'll only overcome through scale, for example), or is it simply that you've 'settled' over time for less?
Here's an important coda: the two growth cornerstones above are intimately connected. Delivering products and services that are the best in your industry requires that you hire the very best. And you'll only be able to attract the very best by committing to deliver best-in-class products and services. The two go hand in hand.
Here's one area where you can actually beat your large competitors hands-down. Frankly, the culture in most large companies sucks. Yours needn't - indeed, it mustn't.
There are all sorts of reasons why large organizations get culture so badly wrong, from laziness to ineptitude via complexity and entropy. But the reasons, for you, are irrelevant. What is (highly) relevant is that culture eats strategy's lunch, and there is no reason why a smaller company shouldn't have a vibrant, world-class culture.
If you're wondering where to start, this is as good a place as any.
Want more tips on how to make your business its best? Download a free chapter from the author's WSJ best-seller, "Predictable Success: Getting Your Organization On the Growth Track - and Keeping It There" to learn more about building a world-class culture that will rapidly accelerate the growth of your business.
Find out quickly which prospects might buy and, if so, exactly how to sell to them.
Once you've established that a potential customer truly needs what you're selling, asking the following four questions will help you turn that opportunity into a sales win:
1. "How would your company go about buying this?"
This question uncovers how the customer's firm makes the decision to buy and as the process steps that ideally will result in payment. It also provides a map of the people and players with whom you'll need to work to bring the sale to fruition.
2. "Whose numbers determine the budget?"
This question separates the players identified in question #1 into two categories: deciders and influencers. The deciders are the people who have financial responsibility and thus control whether money will be spent; the influencers are everybody else.
3. "Who else are you talking to?"
This question uncovers whether or not you're facing a competitive threat. If so, you'll need to adapt your campaign to counter the specific threat. For example, if your competitor has feature "A" but not "B", you'll need to show why "B" is crucial.
4. "What happens if you don't buy?"
This question reveals the customer's priorities when it comes to the problem or goal that your offering addresses. If not buying is a viable option to the customer, the customer will probably not buy, either from you or your competitors.
Like this post? If so, sign up for the free Sales Source newsletter.
Employment laws strictly determine how you pay your employees. Even being rich and famous doesn't exempt you from that.
Can you imagine what it would be like to have a personal assistant who is on call 24 hours a day? So, for instance, if you are watching a DVD at 3:00 a.m. and decide you want to watch a different one, you don't have to do the actual work of changing it yourself. Wouldn't that be awesome? (Errgh, no, but I digress.) Well, Lady Gaga (real name: Stefani Germanotta) got that for a mere $75,000 a year.
What could go wrong? Well, it turns out that $75,000 a year isn't enough to buy a super loyal assistant who won't decide, one day, that this whole 24 hour a day, 7 day a week job, isn't worth the hassle. And, furthermore, she was being paid unfairly. So, she decided to sue. And a NY Federal Court determined that the case can go forward.
Yes, she agreed to the salary at the beginning, but here's where the law kicks in. The federal government places strict rules around pay and regardless of what you and your pop star of the day decide, you must be paid according to the law, regardless of what you agreed to.
Assistant and former friend Jennifer O'Neill is what is called a non-exempt employee. This status is based on the nature of her responsibilities, not on the agreement she made with her employer. Which means, undoubtedly, the courts will determine that Ms. Germanotta (and Mermaid Touring Compay) owe Ms. O'Neill overtime to the tune of time-and-a-half for 16 hours out of every day.
Even though Ms. O'Neill wasn't with Lady Gaga all day every day, she was always on call. That point isn't disputed at all. Gemanotta testified: You don't get a schedule. You don't get a schedule that is like you punch in and you can play [badword] Tetris at your desk for four hours and then you punch out at the end of the day. This is when I need you, you're available.
This means that Ms. O'Neill never had time that wasn't subject to the whims of her employer, which means that she was always working. And because her tasks, such as fixing hair, having ice packs ready, making tea, and changing DVDs, do not qualify for a professional (or any other) exemption, she is owed overtime.
What does this have to do with your business? Most small business owners don't have employees on call 24 hours a day, nor do they wear dresses made out of meat, but all are subject to the Fair Labor Standards Act. You can't just decide what and how to pay people.
Unless your employees meet the very strict standards for exemption, you have to pay them overtime for every hour over 40 per week. (And in some places, over eight in one day) And furthermore, you have to do it going backwards. You may have negotiated what you think is a perfectly good salary, but unless it complies with federal, state and local laws, your employees can come back and sue for back overtime.
The default pay structure for all your employees should be hourly with overtime, unless you can confidently say the person qualifies for an exemption. When in doubt, hire an expert to help you evaluate. You may think it's saving you money, but in the long run, your employee may take you to court. And unless you have strong evidence that their responsibilities make them exempt, you'll owe big bucks. And that's not fiscally responsible.
Your focus on getting stuff done may not be helping you reach your goals, claims a seasoned entrepreneur who has founded nine businesses.
If your aim is to be more efficient, getting more work done in less time, there are certainly no shortage of people who claim they can help you. From time use gurus, to promoters of the Pomodoro technique to those peddling various schemes to keep email from running your life, being more efficient seems like an obvious way to increase your chances of succeeding in your business (and also your marriage).
But not everyone is merrily riding along on the productivity bandwagon. Writing for the Unreasonable.is, Daniel Epstein, who has founded nine companies, points out that if we chase efficiency, we can very well end up quite far from our original goals. He uses the metaphor of mountain climbing:
Let’s pretend for a minute that you have the aspiration of breaking a new record by climbing a mountain faster than anyone else in history. You are striving to be one of the fastest alpinists on earth. So you train painstakingly and relentlessly for years on end. You shape your entire life, your priorities, your sleep schedule, your friendships and your relationships around your singular goal. You spend your life savings and to afford the actual climb, you raise sponsorship and borrow money from friends and family. Finally, after having spent a small-fortune and many years of your life, the day comes for you to prep for the big journey. You reach the base of the peak and you push forward with focus, precision, and unfettered ambition. The weather is perfect and everything is clicking into place. Eventually, as fate would have it, you reach the summit. You look down at your watch and you realize that you have set a new world record. You have climbed that peak faster than any person before you! You just made history.
That said, the most important question, far more important than the pace at which you reached the summit, is whether or not you climbed the right mountain. Today, I believe one of the most common causes of failure in the startup world is simple: you climbed the wrong mountain and you felt great the entire way up because you were moving at an incredibly fast pace.
Covering lots of distance, in other words, is of course awesome, but only if you’re running in the right direction. "You must first work smart, then hard. Working hard first is an empty sense of productivity to an end not worth caring about," Epstein concludes.
So, to be fair, it’s not the Epstein is against efficiency in the right context. When you know where you’re going and roughly how you’re going to get there, efficiency is, of course, a worthy thing to pursue. But if you’re worried about systems, schemes and streamlined management frameworks but haven’t yet nailed down whether you’re headed in the right direction, you could end up like someone rushing frantically to an appointment only to realize when they come to the door that they’ve gone to entirely the wrong location. Speed is worthless without direction. Get that right first.
Do you worry about productivity to avoid worrying about more difficult questions like your vision and goals?
You can't make all the decisions all the time. Here's how to get your team up to speed.
Every day, your employees are making decisions.
While some are more important than others, it's in your best interest to help them develop a strong ability to make good ones. How can you do that? Read on for a few helpful tips.
Lead by example.
To help your employees make good choices, you should make good choices yourself. In other words, model the kind of behavior you'd like to see in your workers. You can't expect people to make good choices when you're setting a bad example. But when you make good choices, you'll set the bar high for your organization and people will follow.
Never dictate how your employees should do their jobs. Instead, tell them what the goal or desired outcome is, then let them figure out how to get there. You'll find that people develop their own approach to getting things done and will make many good decisions along the way. They won't always get it right, but by giving them the opportunity to try, you'll encourage them to make good decisions.
Give them permission to make mistakes.
Making mistakes and suffering failure is how we learn. If you don't allow your employees to make mistakes or if you punish them when they do, they will never learn how to think for themselves. Picture a bike with training wheels: If you don't take the wheels off, your child will never learn to ride without them.
Praise good decisions.
Most of the time your employees will make good choices, and when they do, you should let them know you appreciate it. You'll get more of the behavior you reward, so make it a point to praise the people who are doing things well.
Offer feedback--good and bad
If you don't offer immediate feedback, it will be hard to tell which choice was a good one or not. Make it a point to offer regular feedback, explaining the impact it had on your organization and customers and why you want to see more or less of it in the future.
Like this post? If so, sign up here to stay up to date with Peter's latest thoughts and goings-on.
Social media can be a great help in getting to know your customers -- unless your customers are using it to hide from you.
We all want to have that local spot where we simply walk in and the clerk behind the counter gives a quick nod of acknowledgment and produces our order without another word. The comfort and excitement that comes from an interaction that is yours alone is fundamentally what drives brand loyalty.
You'd think that, with the advent of social media, these personalized experiences would be relatively easy to create. Social media promised to help marketers evolve from talking at consumers to engaging in a two-way conversation. It was this conversation that would allow companies to personalize their approach based on a customer’s preferences and needs.
As with everything, advancement has come at a cost. While new channels and platforms offer enormous opportunities for businesses, they have also created a more complicated ecosystem. One individual often appears to be many different people across various media platforms. Imagine if you walked into your local store, but wore a new disguise each day of the week. Your experience may be positive, but impersonal: The store clerk would have no way of knowing that each day the person they were serving was you. Gone are the nods of acknowledgement and the personalized order waiting at the front of the line.
To make an already-difficult situation even more challenging, imagine that each morning, clerks from all the other local businesses are soliciting your patronage, encouraging you to try their goods. When the tailored experience and the recognition went away from your local haunt, you’d likely take these clerks up on their offers.
While amusing and strange to imagine, this is the scenario that’s playing out online and in stores everyday. There is more competition, more noise and more ways to reach a consumer than ever before. All the while, a consumer’s identity, which offers the potential for personalization and a tailored experience, is harder to recognize.
So what can you do?
• Recognize that social media is a tool like any other, complete with some serious limitations. Social media allows companies to gather customer feedback, build general brand awareness and affinity, introduce new products, and stay top-of-mind with their customers. That doesn't mean that social media alone is going to solve the customer loyalty puzzle.
• Invest in customer relationship management software. As technology becomes easier to develop and subsequently more affordable, there are more offerings in the CRM space than ever before. You don’t necessarily need to spend millions of dollars and years of time to build a system that suits your needs. Instead, think about how your CRM can help you manage a multi-channel world. Try reconciling your purchase data with the email information you have, and then connect that with online interaction data. The more you know about your customers, the better you can engage with them.
• Don’t just collect data. Use it. As the saying goes, with great power comes great responsibility. Customers who provide more information about themselves have an increased expectation for a more tailored and personalized experience. Whether you’re communicating through email, direct mail, or in stores, make sure you’re using the information you have to make customers feel recognized and appreciated.
• Recognize that your customers are more valuable than the money they spend. In a world where we’re now all connected, a customer’s value has expanded far beyond the money that moves from their wallet to you. Whether through social advocacy, reviews or word-of-mouth recommendations, consumers are pivotal when it comes to influencing their peers' purchase decisions. The new reality is that your best customers are not necessarily the ones spending the most money. Find ways to identify your most influential and loyal customers, and then cultivate deeper and more rewarding relationships with them.
A world filled with disguised shoppers would be a scary and intimidating place for marketers. Luckily, there are ways to recognize those who are most loyal. So while getting personal with your customers may seem harder than it was 60 years ago, customer data, when used effectively, has the potential to generate deeper and more profound brand loyalty than you could’ve imagined.
Gary Hirshberg, co-founder of Stonyfield Farms, talks about his own company's roots -- and how to know when it's time to let go.
After creating a successful company that achieved its mission, Gary Hirshberg, co-founder of Stonyfield Farms, recognized the signs he needs to make an exit.
Gary Hirshberg gives advice on keeping focus as your business grows.
Gary Hirshberg, co-founder of Stonyfield Farm, examined the signs that it is time to pull away from a leadership position in your company.
Gary Hirshberg, co-founder of Stonyfield Farms, says if you're bored with your business and dabbling in new ideas-- it may be time to make an exit.
Co-founder of Stonyfield Farm Gary Hirshberg gives advice after running a successful business for the last three decades.
If your advertising doesn't have a clear message and a specific audience, you're not doing it correctly. Advertising exec Curt Hanke explains what you are doing wrong and how to correct it.
“Many a small thing has been made large by the right kind of advertising.” So says Mark Twain, and I believe that there is more than enough evidence to suggest that he’s right. But note that he doesn’t say just “advertising”--rather, he qualifies this assertion with, “the right kind of advertising.”
Turn on a TV, open your laptop, get in your car, look in virtually any nook and/or cranny of our branded universe, and you will see a world filled with banal, ineffective, purposeless, poorly executed advertising that is frankly insulting to those with an active noggin.
In an era of growing competition, heightened performance expectations, and increased pressure on margins, there are sadly more and more brands with less and less to say. The result? Increasing homogeneity across virtually all business categories. Ineffective advertising (and marketing as a whole) is hardly the only culprit, but it plays more than a supporting role in the modern-day “blanding” of brands.
So let’s start a movement. Let’s stop bad advertising. Here’s how.
Stop advertising if you don’t know who you’re trying to talk to.
Imagine writing a letter to a stranger. Where would you start? Exactly. Great, powerful, meaningful advertising--the “right kind of advertising”--must start with consumer understanding. A deep comprehension of (and empathy and affinity for) who your prospects are, who they want to be, and the role that your brand can play in their lives. And just to be clear, we’re talking heart and mind stuff here, not 3 percent less salt.
Stop advertising if you don’t know what you’re really trying to accomplish.
Let’s buy an ad! Sounds great. But bear with me for just a second. What’s it going to cost? What do you hope will happen as a result? Best case? Worst case? Compared to historical or competitive information? How many new customers, or returning customers, or referrals will you receive? How do you quantify this value, short- and long-term? And how does the math look when you finish the equation? Far too many marketers start with the headline, not the bottom line--and that’s a certain formula for disaster.
Stop advertising if you don’t have anything to really talk about.
There’s a cynical saying among ad agency folk: “Nothing kills a bad product faster than good advertising.” While we can capture deep consumer insights and create delicious performance pro formas, at the end of the day, you have to have something worth talking about. In the words of advertising legend David Ogilvy, “What you say in advertising is more important than how you say it.” While I’d argue that was far more true in Mr. Ogilvy’s time than it is today, there nevertheless remains a minimum threshold where you need to bring the goods or keep your checkbook in the drawer.
Stop advertising if you can’t agree upon something interesting to say.
Advertising is art, and art is many things. Art is squishy. Art is subjective. And good art is undoubtedly difficult to make. But one thing that art shouldn’t be is boring--especially when you’re paying for someone to look at it. So if your advertising barely has a pulse, maybe it’s time to let it redline.
From a wide angle lens perspective, expectations and inertia are two of the most lethal villains in modern-day business. “Because my competitors do” or, “Because I should” are horrible reasons to do anything--much less when it comes to managing your advertising spend.
So consider the contrary for a second: What if you stopped advertising altogether? What would happen? Are you spending enough for it to matter (and would you even know)? Are you saying something interesting enough (and to the right people) to really move the needle?
Or ask yourself the inverse: What if you tried something more ambitious with your advertising? Saying something a little more bold, based on a deep consumer insight? Spending in a new way, with a more clearly defined set of metrics? Or dusted off that “great ad” you were afraid to run, because it seemed too, well, daring?
While Mr. Twain wasn’t speaking about advertising when he said the following, I believe it’s germane to our topic, nonetheless: “Do the right thing. It will gratify some people and astonish the rest.” On behalf of those who are tired of “blanding,” thank you for your consideration and support.
A coffee shop owner charges aspiring coffee shop owners $180 an hour for advice. He's known as Yale's Professor of Coffee Shops--and here's what you can learn from him.
Duncan Goodall, proprietor of New Haven, Conn.-based, Koffee on Audubon, charges aspiring coffee shop owners $180 an hour for advice on whether and how they should start their own.
I think of him as Yale’s Professor of Coffee Shops.
Some of Goodall’s advice rings true for entrepreneurs of all stripes. People with blue chip educations too often follow the crowd into the highest-paying job-- regardless of whether it makes them happy. Then they wonder whether they should start their own company.
It such a common problem that I was invited to speak to the New York Society of Security Analysts about Hungry Start-up Strategy. I was told that some NYSSA members who used to work in the financial industry need help deciding whether starting their own business.
In a recent interview, Goodall explained that after he graduated from Yale in 1995, he joined two consulting firms that turned him into “a big fat jerk, literally and figuratively.” Goodall quit and bought the coffee shop where he had hung out during college.
The success of Koffee on Audubon (it now employs 16 and pays him in the low six figures) and the failure of a pair of new shops he tried to start form the basis of his coffee shop consulting gig. He does it because “I enjoy teaching, and on a deep philosophical level, I believe people are more happy and free if they have their own business,” Goodall told the Times.
Of Goodall’s 20 rules, these three apply to almost any business.
1. Find a niche.
Goodall’s first rule is to focus on a group of customers and products rather than trying to be everything to everyone. This is good advice because the only way that customers will buy your start-up’s product is if it is better than anything else on the market.
If you do one thing very well, you can build a following. If you succeed, you can expand by finding similar customers in new parts of the world.
Goodall decided to focus on “the artsy crowd.” This focus drove other decisions - such as what kinds of people to hire. For example, one of his veteran baristas Shaina Hotchkiss, became famous in New Haven for her “Wacky Wednesdays” -- for one of those she dressed as a bunch of grapes.
One of Goodall’s failed businesses, Moka, also provides valuable lessons in the important of focus. While Moka was originally going to sell only coffee and chocolate, he expanded it to a panini, crepes, gourmet salads, high-end baked goods, Internet cafe, and music location.
As he told the Times, “We made the classic novice mistake of trying to be too many things to too many people, and as a result we were nothing to everyone. We lost our identity. Our customers didn’t know what we represented, so we became just another lunch place that also served coffee.”
To pick your niche, focus on two tests: Do you feel a strong affinity for the group of customers? and Are competitors meeting their needs? The right answers: yes for the first and no for the second. An affinity for the people in the niche will make you better at guessing their unmet needs and the solutions they’ll like. And if you are not facing competition there, you could be the one to serve them.
2. Make every detail support your value proposition.
All the activities in your start-up should help sell potential customers in that niche on buying your product. If your customers want the lowest price, do everything -- including skipping expensive offices space and furniture -- to lower your costs below your price.
And make sure everyone who talks to customers - from the receptionist, to the engineers, to the customer service people know how they should behave to make the customer want to do business with your venture.
At Goodall’s coffee shop, these elements included details from the décor of the shop to advertising strategy. For example, Goodall found that TV and radio ads were far less effective than putting posters on telephone poles.
3. Cut waste.
Avoid spending on things that don’t help you get and keep customers. Skip costly long-term obligations for equipment or office space. And look for ways to streamline operations.
Goodall added another good reason for being frugal - most businesses fail. And winding down the failures is harder if you have long-term obligations. So he advises people to lease their espresso machine until the business succeeds and buy equipment offered on Craigslist by struggling restaurants.
Goodall’s beloved garbage bag story boosted his annual income by $4,000. He noticed that his three shops were going through four packages of 100 garbage bags a week - each of which sold for $35.
His baristas were using the most heavy-duty grade and were double-bagging because a single bag tore when they dragged it to the dumpster.
He told them they could use more bags but should switch to medium-grade and stop dragging them. The stores immediately went from four packages a week at $35 apiece to two packages at $25.
These three pieces of advice from Professor Goodall can jolt your start-up’s cash flow.
This Silicon Valley start-up says it will give students a college education to rival the Ivy League--and at a quarter of the cost.
These days, everyone wants to disrupt higher education. But Ben Nelson, CEO and founder of Minerva Project, thinks he just might have cracked the code.
The San Francisco-based start-up announced Tuesday that tuition for its radical undergraduate program, which combines online and offline learning, will cost just $10,000. That's about a quarter of what most elite colleges like Harvard charge. And, claims Nelson, the quality of a Minerva education will be just as good, if not better, than the Ivy League.
Before you write Minerva off as another harebrained experiment to offload teaching to static videos, realize that Minerva is not just another MOOC provider. Far from it, in fact, says Nelson. Instead, Minerva Schools at Keck Graduate Institute, as the program is formally called, will be a university unto itself, with its own classes and its own professors. Its students will travel from all corners of the world to be housed in one of Minerva's own dorms. The only difference is once they get there, they will take all their classes online in a live video chat with a professor. That professor will get real-time feedback on each student's strengths and weaknesses, based on an algorithm developed by Minerva. Another difference? There are no lectures. Every course at Minerva Project will have 20 students or less, which is perhaps the most glaring difference between it and "massively open online course" providers like Udacity and Coursera. Minerva's courses will be far from massive.
"Those are technology companies," he says. "We're a university."
According to Nelson, the goal of Minerva Project, which raised $25 million in venture funding last year, is to provide students with a richer educational experience than they could get even at the world's best universities, and for a fraction of the cost. That means the school will not only offer traditional majors, but also mandatory courses on how to become better critical thinkers. In fact, says Nelson, the first four classes, which last all year, focus exclusively on analytical skills. After that, students will be free to select from Minerva's 20 traditional majors.
"We don't just hope you learn critical thinking by accident," Nelson says. "We want to teach critical thinking on purpose."
In addition to being well-educated, Nelson wants Minerva students to be citizens of the world, which is why after attending freshman year in San Francisco, students will spend the next six semesters in six different countries. "That way you get the best formal and informal education you could possibly have," Nelson says.
With room and board, the full cost of a year at Minerva is $28,850, but the company is waiving all fees for its founding class of 15 next fall. After that, it will offer financial aid like any other university. But while the low cost is likely to be the biggest lure for students, the biggest deterrent may well be the fact that employers will, by and large, be unfamiliar with what a Minerva degree means, a problem plaguing nearly every upstart education company around today. After all, there's more to a Harvard education than the education itself. A Harvard degree requires no explanation.
According to Nelson, however, convincing businesses that Minerva graduates will be qualified job candidates has been "the easiest of all our tasks. Employers are less than satisfied with the product they get out of the best universities, so when we explain our methodology, it becomes a pretty easy sell."
Earlier this year in a visit to the Inc. offices, former Nebraska Senator Bob Kerrey--executive chairman of Minerva's nonprofit research arm--said his biggest worry was gaining academic accreditation. But by aligning itself with the Keck Graduate Institute, Minerva is much more likely to get accreditation than than it would on its own.
What do you think, managers and CEOs? Would you be willing to take a chance on a candidate with credentials from an unproven school?
Read more about Minerva:
Last week opened with Titstare and closed with Pax Dickinson, but female tech entrepreneurs vowed to persevere.
Last week opened with not one, but two offensive presentations at TechCrunch Disrupt and closed with a fired chief executive of a start-up telling New York magazine, “Tech is just a kind of thing that a lot of women aren’t that interested in.”
With The New Yorker’s long profile on Bleacher Report founder Bryan Goldberg--whose kickoff of his female-focused website, Bustle, was deemed condescending by many in the media sector--it seems as if the week from hell, as far as female tech entrepreneurs are concerned, never ended.
The news sparked a dialogue about women’s current standing in tech, but many female tech entrepreneurs say they continue to face discrimination in their industry. “I'm still frequently mistaken for somebody's girlfriend or somebody's assistant at industry events,” said Kathryn Minshew, a Y Combinator alum whose site career-focused site, The Muse, draws one million monthly active users and raised $1.2 million in January. “As last week showed, there's still a long way to go.”
An imbalanced equation
Some female founders say they feel marginalized, while others have come to accept that sexism exists in the industry. “I’ve had people tell me that if I didn’t get a male founder, I wouldn’t be taken seriously,” said Kellee Khalil, whose online destination for brides-to-be, Loverly, launched over a year ago and net $1 million in funding.
Erica Mannherz, co-founder and strategy director of ClearHart, a digital innovation agency, said she started wearing glasses in an attempt to get more respect. “It was the best investment I’ve ever made," she said.
Though neither Khalil or Mannherz say they were surprised by last week's events, they feel the tech landscape, ever so slowly, is improving for women.
Filling the gap
Immature apps like Titstare and Circle Shake, which both debuted at TechCrunch Disrupt, are actually opportunities for women to stand out with something smarter. "If that's what they're going to spend their time making, that's a better opportunity for us," said Clara de Soto, ClearHart's other founder.
It also helps that the tech industry embraces transparency, said de Soto. Unlike in some male-dominated industries, tech founders are being called out for their piggish behavior.
That's not to say female tech entrepreneurs don't have to put up a fight to get ahead, said Khalil, but they're gaining ground. "Women are launching successful start-ups. Women are running companies. And that's only going to continue."
“She looks like she could run a $5 billion company”
So what can a woman do to improve her odds of succeeding as an entrepreneur in tech?
"My advice for female entrepreneurs is the same as I'd give to a man," said Khalil. "Be confident, develop a solution, and stop at nothing to achieve success."
"What's so powerful about tech is that it's a set of tools that anyone can pick up and it's meant to help solve problems," added de Soto. "Take advantage of those tools that are so much more accessible in the community and have faith in your perspective."
Minshew put it bluntly: “Ultimately, you have to play to your own definition of ‘she looks like she could run a $5 billion company someday.'" That kind of confidence makes you stand out.