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Apple's newly-announced iPhone 5c will come in pink, blue, green, yellow and white. Here's why one expert is underwhelmed.
Yesterday, as the whole world now knows, Apple unveiled two new iPhone models. The iPhone 5c, which goes on sale September 20, broke the mold in two ways: its $99 price point and its colorful plastic casing. While the iPhone has traditionally worn neutrals, Apple does have a tradition of offering bolder options, dating back to the vibrant iMacs and iBooks of the late 90s. But what do the experts think about their iPhone color choices, which Apple famously takes very seriously?
Leslie Harrington, executive director of The Color Association of the United States, was disappointed, saying she thought the colors were in line with Apple’s palette, but also a missed opportunity.
"My first instinct was that I was not really excited or blown away or surprised," Harrington says. "The C doesn’t stand for courageous. It’s essentially red, yellow, green, blue. There’s nothing really interesting or different. You have to wonder whether or not there was a missed opportunity to strengthen their color leadership, which I think over the years they’ve started to lose."
Harrington predicts that yellow will be the poorest selling color, which, she says, "doesn’t necessarily mean anything--any line has a top and bottom seller." But it still serves a purpose, adding to the shelf appeal of the entire array. "It’s light and so happy that it picks the whole line up visually and grabs attention. It maybe won’t always be the best seller, but it brings with it a sense of fashion and of being on trend," she explains.
One thing that Harrington is fascinated by is the lack of creativity in the color names. Just like Nokia--which already came out with an ad telling Apple that "imitation is the highest form of flattery"--the names of the iPhone colors are straight-forward. "There’s no pride of ownership in having ‘green,’" she says. "Have some fun. Apple can do that. They’re at that point. That’s another place where they could have set themselves apart." Harrington notes that, in addition to giving the colors more personality, descriptive names would let Apple set the conversation. Instead, they’ve opened the door for others to frame the palette as "bubblegum" or "jelly bean" colors.
And to pre-empt the question of choosing a color for something that's only going to be covered by a case, Apple is also releasing a set of matching cases. While some have called the holey cases "ridiculous" or “like Crocs shoes,” the company describes them as having "unique circular patterns [that] let splashes of color show through."
The Yahoo CEO talked frankly to an eager audience at the final day of TechCrunch Disrupt Conference in San Francisco.
Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer fielded some pretty tough questions from the famously blunt Michael Arrington at the final day of TechCrunch Disrupt. From the company's new logo to long-term goals, Mayer spoke on a variety of topics, but perhaps the most compelling parts were when she talked about her own leadership.
When asked what she "sucked at the most" as a CEO, Mayer responded with a story about some advice she was given by a "top tech CEO" friend.
"He told me that I would be shocked by how few decisions I actually had to make--but that the ones I did have to make would have to be perfect," she explained. "So I would say if I view myself in that lens--I should be making fewer decisions." She added that she needs to remember not "to get pulled into the fray of the day to day."
She also revealed how she feels that all CEOs--from start-ups to big companies--are in a sort of community, supporting each other.
Later in the talk, the two discussed the super powers--or top skills--of two other tech big-wigs, Mark Zuckerberg and Larry Page. (Mayer said Zuck's was his insight into people and Page's was questioning the status quo). But when Arrington asked Mayer what her super power is, she paused for a few seconds.
"I don't think I have one," she said, but then quickly told a story about coming to Yahoo a little over a year ago.
"I think maybe it's my ability to empathize. When I came on, the company had been through such turbulence. I had to understand the state of the company, get there with the team, to find a path for growth. I t couldn't happen if I didn't understand them," she explained.
Yahoo has seen modest growth under Mayer's direction. The company has recently been on an acquisition spree, buying start-ups including blogging platform Tumblr (for a staggering $1 billion) and mobile gaming company Loki Studios, and adding young talent to its ranks.
Why you need to think twice before highlighting your decades of time on the job
On a recent trip to the hair salon, my lovely stylist told me about the marketing initiatives she had put into place to help ramp up her business. In particular she was talking about an advertisement that she had put together for the local newspaper, promoting the fact that she and her partner have more than 30 years of combined experience.
I commented on how impressive this was. Then, in a conspiratorial whisper, she mentioned that they actually have more 50 years experience between them. But they didn’t want anyone to know.
Now this struck me as very strange, surely the more experience you have the better, right? But as my stylist explained, if she promoted 50 years of combined experience, potential customers might think that the salon was run by a couple of old biddies who were still doing perms and blue rinse dyes from the 1970’s and would send anyone under the age of 70 running.
This raises a very interesting point. We entrepreneurs almost always boast about how long we have been in business. We use our tenure to make potential customers feel more confident in making a buying decision. Surely if a business has been in business for a long period of time, that is a good thing right?
Now I am not so sure.
In today’s world, it’s easy to see how decades of experience could have negative connotations. Are you as innovative as a young, hungry start up? Are you using technology as much as you should be? Has your service grown complacent? Are you at the cutting edge, or resting comfortably on your laurels? And will you charge more simply because you have been around for a long time as opposed to charging more because you are good at what you do?
Such questions have led me to rethink the idea of tenure as a marketing tool. Of course, there are merits in showing that you have been around long enough to be credible. But spotlighting five decades in business might work against you, especially if you are delivering products and services to customers who are more concerned about what you can do for them today.
Of course, it depends what industry you are in. If I was getting brain surgery to remove a tumor, I would much rather have the specialist who has done this operation a thousand times than the guy who is trying it for the first time.
For any business that has been operating for a long period of time, it is important to be really clear about the message you send to your potential (and existing) customers. What do they want? Are they looking for a business that has been around for a long time or one that is at the cutting edge of their industry? Maybe highlighting all those years of experience is a good thing. But give the matter some thought before you send a message that sends potential customers running.
The co-founder of Sun Microsystems and venture capitalist Vinod Khosla says 95 percent of advice VCs give you is BS.
Vinod Khosla issued a reality check to Silicon Valley Wednesday.
While on stage at TechCrunch Disrupt, the VC and co-founder of Sun Microsystems called out his fellow VCs, saying that most provide little value to entrepreneurs in the early stages of their start-ups.
"Ninety five percent of VCs add zero value, and 70 to 80 percent of VCs add negative value to a start-up," he said.
"Listen politely," Khosla advised the entrepreneurs in the audience, "and do what you want."
The problem, as Khosla sees it, is that entrepreneurs end up running in too many directions, often at the poor direction of a board member who knows little about the product or market. Ultimately, entrepreneurs are best served by trusting their own instincts--even if it means quietly ignoring the very person funding your company.
"This is what I believe," he said. "It's what I've seen. It's why I don't show to board meetings. It saves me a lot of time to not listen to VCs and spend the time to mentor entrepreneurs."
In a room full of entrepreneurs, Khosla emerged the hero, at least according to the Tweets that followed:September 11, 2013
September 11, 2013
I can very easily skip the coffee today, because Vinod Khosla is waking me up with his sass, moxie and wit. #tcdisrupt--annebot (@annebot) September 11, 2013
One tech-savvy business owner says the device isn't just a novelty--it's helping his staff make better food.
If you walk into a Capriotti's sandwich shop, look out for the cyborgs.
Employees are using Google Glass to watch training videos and to film the "lunch rush" to learn how to improve service and meet customer needs.
Jason Smylie, the CIO of Capriotti's, applied to test Google Glass a few months ago. He took a picture of his newborn son and sent it in. Surprisingly, he was selected as an early tester. "I said my son would be able to see himself through my eyes," he now recounts.
Once he received the product, Smylie decided the best use would be for employee training. He has also started investigating apps to use for store operations. So far, just Las Vegas locations out of the 95 sandwich shops across the country have experimented with Glass.
Capriotti's first created videos on how to make sandwiches, how to use the various technology in the restaurant, and how to work with customers. Then, they loaded the videos on Glass.
"The first-person perspective is pretty amazing because you only have to think about one person viewing the video when they are trained. Employees can use both hands as they work. We are also looking at ways to use this in an active environment. During lunch rushes we can record what they are doing during the rush," he says.
He equated this to filming a basketball game from the player's perspective. In the sandwich shop, employees can review the video and see if they are paying attention to the right things or making the most of a customer service opportunity. This kind of in-the-moment training is incredibly valuable, he says.
Another opportunity is to record interactions with customers--as long as they provide permission. "Glass gives us the opportunity to provide a look into a customer's soul," he says. They can capture emotions and interactions and then improve service in the shops.
Glass will debut sometime next year. Smylie says he would purchase more devices once they become widely available. He says he knows of other wearable cams, but Glass fits comfortably for his employees. There is also a cost savings that comes with the ability to film the actual process from the employee perspective as opposed to using a film crew.
Before Smylie is ready to roll out Google Glass to every employee, he wants to wait until they are more socially acceptable. He also thinks the apps need to evolve and become more useful. He could see using Glass to track inventory and as a way to improve store quality. If Glass eventually transforms culture in the same way smartphones did, he'll be ready.
Capriotti's started in 1976 in Delaware. In January of 2008, Smylie acquired the franchise. In 2012, revenues were $51 million across all stores. For the past five years, he has focused mostly on expansion and streamlining--which is why Glass has helped so much.
As with any new tech, there are a few interesting challenges.
"In it's existing form Glass can be fragile, so you have to train the trainers in proper use," he says. "It was not designed for the restaurant industry--or to be around mayonnaise!"
Another issue has to do with privacy. He says, if they do film customer interactions with Glass, he would use a release form. (They do film the lunch rush through the eyes of employees, but customers are only seen passing in the background.)
So, is Google Glass ready for small business? Smylie says it is ready for a trial in business--but widespread use will depend on how the apps pan out, the customer acceptance, and the final price. And, on whether Glass helps them make better sandwiches.
The Twitter co-founder talks about the role of instant messaging, the relevance of being emotionally-invested, and the reason for the 140-character Tweet limit.
Want your employees to stay fully engaged? Demand great work while remaining compassionate.
There are two types of leaders: those who push their employees to the limit and those who offer constructive criticism. Which leaders run the more successful company?
According to a new study by leadership development consultancy Zenger/Folkman published in the Harvard Business Review, the best leaders are a bit of both: "drivers" and "enhancers." Drivers demand excellence, while enhancers are more of a role model, treating employees like actual people.
The study, which collected data from 160,576 employees working for 30,661 leaders at hundreds of companies worldwide, found that 68 percent of those led by a boss who was both a driver and enhancer scored in the top 10 percent on "overall satisfaction and engagement with the organization." In contrast, 6.7 percent of those working for enhancers scored in the top 10 percent, and only 8.9 percent of those working for drivers ranked themselves in the top 10 percent.
"Leaders with highly engaged employees know how to demand a great deal from employees, but are also seen as considerate, trusting, collaborative, and great developers of people," chief executive Jack Zenger and president Joseph Folkman wrote in the study.
The pair also compared how "good" leaders and "poor" leaders might affect their employees. By their definition, good leaders ranked in the 90th percentile by their employees, colleagues, and direct reports, while poor leaders ranked in the bottom 10 percent. The best leaders had employees with an average commitment score in the top 20th percentile, while the worst leaders had employees in the bottom 10 percent.
Here's the bottom line: If you want to motivate workers, first be a good leader. Then decide whether to be a nice guy or a tough guy. Just remember, a nice-tough hybrid finishes first.
Muddling through is an important leadership strategy, for both political leaders and entrepreneurs.
“He can’t make up his mind.”
“He doesn’t have a clear direction.”
“He keeps on waffling.”
“He doesn’t take charge.”
These are among the common recent critiques we’ve heard about President Obama in the last week or so. They aren’t particularly new. They didn’t emerge whole cloth from the Syrian crisis.
The very same criticisms we hear about President Obama’s handling of Syria could be used for his management of health care reform.
But let’s take a step back. Let’s recast these criticisms. Perhaps there is more than meets the eye.
Adjustments, flexibility, and tactical reconsiderations are part of success, as long as you’re steady on your strategic intent, where you want to go, and how you want to get there. Any entrepreneur can tell you that. It’s crucial to hold true to your mission while being flexible with your tactics.
This is an especially difficult undertaking when you are trying to establish some degree of consensus. In your organization you may be the leader. You’re the entrepreneur, so you want to declare where the organization is going and how it is going to get there. You may want to lay out the direction, specify how you want to get there, and charge full steam ahead. Then you become a little pragmatic. You realize that in order to move ahead you may want to get the board on your side first. You may want some degree of consensus around your tactics, if not your strategic goal. You realize what all pragmatic leaders realize: You need to get people on your side.
That’s the challenge you face as an entrepreneur, and it’s a challenge President Obama has faced throughout his administration. The jury is still out as to whether or not he has mastered this challenge.
But it’s a given that leaders often attempt to build consensus by muddling through and taking things one step at a time. Leadership requires the capacity to make adjustments and to learn from each incremental step as you move toward a specified goal.
In a classic article published in 1959, Charles Lindblom pointed out that while it’s good to have an overall strategy, most policy is created through incremental adjustments as more information is collected and more ideas are digested. This is what muddling through is all about. It is not a pejorative term. It is the heart of pragmatic leadership.
President Obama hasn’t shifted his desire to prevent the future use of chemical weapons, but as we’ve seen in the last few days, he’s shifted the tactics he’s considering to achieve this goal. He’s taking one step at a time, as he gathers more information and builds consensus.
While we want our leaders to lay out specific, exact plans, they can’t always do it. Leaders, like children trying to climb a tree, can’t always plan a route to get to the top. They have to go one branch at a time, one step at a time. As we progress to the top, we have to test each branch’s ability to hold our weight, and its capacity to let us push forward.
Leadership is not simply laying out a plan and following it. It’s about our capacity to look to the top of the tree and climb it carefully, making adjustments as we step from one branch to another. Whether President Obama has mastered the art and science of muddling through or whether he’s making one uncalculated adjustment after another is open to debate. But muddling through is an important leadership skill, and it appears to be a leadership skill the President relies upon.
Unfortunately, while muddling through is at the heart of pragmatic leadership, it’s often seen as indecision. It’s only with the benefit of historical hindsight that we will be able to judge whether President Obama was a pragmatic leader or an indecisive one.
No matter the business, no matter the stage of the business, that's the single most pressing question. I wish I'd understood that sooner.
In our cool, hipster space here in Durham, North Carolina (we’re in a complex called the American Underground, which is part of a million square feet of old tobacco manufacturing buildings), I have the opportunity to bump into every sort of entrepreneur and would-be entrepreneur. We count 100-odd software companies within a half-mile of downtown Durham, and with that number, I don’t expect to go anywhere without bumping into somebody in my circle.
Last week, a peer investor of mine turned to me and asked, “What did you sell today?”
I loved it. Today, my Startup Factory investment fund sells to these constituents:
- Startup founders who will apply to be part of our program.
- Mentors who will volunteer their time to help these companies.
- Early-stage investors who will invest in these companies and help take them to the next level.
- Limited partners (our current and future investors in our fund).
I can’t be successful without the best of all of these groups coming together. So I take every opportunity to get in front of them and sell my company. Furthermore, we continually strategize on how to look for opportunities to get in front of these groups--especially the entrepreneurs, as without them the rest falls apart. Lately I have taken to the road to spread our message. (Need a speaker and a beer sponsor at your next meetup?)
Before founding The Startup Factory, I was a senior executive at seven companies over 20 years, and I draw upon those experiences every day as I advise the founders in our program. Despite the broad nature of the executive roles I held, there is one single, uber-dominant thread that rips through my soul every day.
At every one of these companies, I wished that I had put more firm-wide emphasis on sales. That emphasis includes both me personally and the sales and sales-support teams that reported to me.
Every company. It is a huge regret. What if I had sold more widgets?
You see, I am very much like most of you in that I love to plan, design, and build things. I wake up in the morning thinking about efficiency and disruption and speed to market. But none of that matters if you can’t sell something! Simple formula for start-ups is you run out of money eventually if you don’t generate revenue. You can only raise investment funds so many times.
So, whether you are like me and have to sell to start-up founders, investors, and mentors, or you are a current founder needing investors, employees, customers, partners, or just a friend, the question still holds.
What did you sell today?
A new crowdfunding service promises a lot more handholding for entrepreneurs.
It seems to happen over and over again: A budding entrepreneur creates a Kickstarter campaign to create a new product. Consumers get excited and fund said product. Then, for countless reasons--poor pricing, manufacturing issues, design flaws, or just plain inexperience--the entrepreneur fails to deliver.
Enter Dragon Innovation, a crowdfunding platform for product makers. Dragon, which exited beta testing on September 5, claims to offer fundraising with a bit more handholding. “Many entrepreneurs come to us without any hardware experience,” says CEO Scott Miller, who cut his teeth developing life-size robotic dinosaurs for Disney Imagineering, robotic baby dolls for Hasbro, and the Roomba for iRobot. “We can help them get there faster.”
Dragon is pricier than Kickstarter or Indiegogo: it charges $5,000 to list a project. Similar to Kickstarter, Dragon takes a 5 percent cut of the amount raised for every funded project. (Payment processors take another 3 to 4 percent.) For the extra money, entrepreneurs get consulting from Dragon on manufacturing and scaling. The company also promises introductions to larger electronics companies such as GE, Freescale Semiconductor, and Qualcomm.
I recently spoke with Miller about how Dragon works and why so many new entrepreneurs run into trouble on crowdfunding sites.
Start-ups like OUYA and Pebble received their share of bad press for not making good on their promises to backers. Do Kickstarter and Indiegogo have a hardware problem or does the issue rest more with entrepreneurs?
We're huge fans of both Indiegogo and Kickstarter, but they're just not set up for hardware. One reason is you've got to be able to do the math upfront to know what it will cost so you can raise enough money to actually deliver on what you need. The trick is, how do you convince the backers that they're going to get what they offer? I think almost 75 percent of start-ups either deliver late, or never at all. We’ve also seen that for platforms like Kickstarter, their mission is just fundamentally different from what we do. What we want is to build meaningful companies, so we're more interested in volumes of at least 1,000. If the projects are funded, we have confidence that they're going to deliver because they've raised enough money. Also, our listed projects can sell in quantities and to my knowledge, Kickstarter can't--those projects can only sell one or two units. We're so confident that the start-ups who work with us are going to deliver that backers can just type in however many units they want so we'll make sure that they're sent.
You’ve also said these platforms aren’t built for hardware start-ups in general. Why not?
Entrepreneurs have a perception that being on Kickstarter will drive more views to their page. But first, we have fewer projects that are only in the hardware sector, and second, we've got the whole team pulling for them to succeed, from our network of hardware investors to our media connections. We're much more of a mammal model: We want all of our offspring to survive and thrive. The others have more of an insect model, where it's up to the entrepreneur. There's really not a lot of support from the platform itself.
What makes Dragon’s guidance valuable to entrepreneurs making products?
Hardware is hard. The costs are much higher. You need some specialized knowledge that you just can't find on Google. Sure, you might find some stuff if you search for information on manufacturing in China, but it just won't be practical. A lot of this is experience and relationship-based, and you have to learn quickly what works and what doesn't. If you don't set yourself up for success, you can really hurt yourself downstream.
How does Dragon prepare its clients for a campaign?
We have our senior engineer do a thorough deep-dive and make sure they haven't forgotten anything. We make sure it's all out there, which means labor factory costs, the estimated cost of tooling, the design for manufacture and assembly review--that is, making sure what they’ve designed can be built. If that’s not the case, then we’ll get them to a point where they can start manufacturing. From there, we put together a cohesive manufacturing strategy. We start with a lower volume to build in the U.S., then if they want to stay in the U.S. or move to China, we'll help them with a strategy for that, so when they're funded, they'll know what to do. If they want to do it on their own, that's awesome, as long as they have a plan to deliver. If a start-up is funded, it will deliver above all else.
What advice would you give to entrepreneurs just setting out to build a product?
Get to the prototype stage and have confidence that what you’re building actually works. Be serious. If you’re funded, expect to spend the next year of your life working hard on this because that's what will be expected of you. Build up your social network. Let everyone know what you’re working on so you can drive traffic to the site.
Still skeptical that you or your employees can get much done at home? These common excuses just don't hold up anymore.
Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer stirred up quite a commotion earlier this year when she announced a the telecommuting policy that was heard around the world--as of June nobody at the Internet company could work from home. The rationale: Hallway conversations and impromptu team meetings foster innovation whereas remote working is slow and leads to lower quality work.
As someone who works from home, I bristled at the news. Some of the brightest, hardest working people I know rarely set foot in a company office.
It's no wonder, then, that I found myself underlining passages in the margins of "Remote: Office Not Required," a book coming out October 29 by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, co-founders of Chicago-based 37signals, the company behind popular Web-based collaboration tools such as Basecamp, Highrise, and Campfire.
The authors' viewpoints are certainly biased--37signals' products are well-suited for remote workers who need to work on projects with others and stay in close touch with teammates. Even so, they clearly know what they're talking about and practice what they preach. The company's 36 employees are scattered around the world and only come together for companywide gatherings a few times a year. Fried and Hansson also are proponents of a 40-hour work week and don't care how employees distribute their hours on the clock or calendar.
The duo identifies the many benefits of such flexibility, such as the potential hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars a person can save by not having to commute. But what it really boils down to is that if done right remote workers have an opportunity to determine the quality of their own lives. Want to travel the world? Go for it--most people can work anywhere there's an Internet connection.
Remote work isn't without its drawbacks, such as the tendency for people to work too much from home, while at the same time getting less exercise than if they had to trudge into an office.
The book is chock full of tips for employees on how to succeed as a remote worker as well as surprising advice for managers about how to hire and retain the best talent. For example, 37signals admits to spending less than 30 seconds scanning a potential hire's application, honing in on the cover letter because of Fried's and Hansson's insistence that remote workers need to be excellent writers. Oh, and be forewarned, you'll want to work for 37signals when you learn about some of their crazy-generous perks.
Here are just a few of many excuses managers often give for keeping workers chained to an office desk, wrong as they may be.
Remote Working Hinders Communication
Fourteen years ago I was employed by a large company that let me work from home several times a week but at the time I felt insecure about the privilege. Were my co-workers jealous? I think so. Did they think I was slacking off? Probably.
But that was before instant messaging, Skype, and all the other tools we have at our disposal today. In fact, Fried and Hansson say a shared screen on WebEx and a voice connection are quite capable of capturing collective thought. They also point out that screencasting--where you record video and audio of what you're doing on your computer so that someone else can play it back later--is a fabulous way share a new feature you're working on, for example.
And while it may be difficult to imagine a world in which you can't just put your head into someone's cubicle and get an answer to a question right now, your ability to do so in an office setting is actually what makes the office suck--it's full of interruptions. For true emergencies remote workers can use the phone. All other queries can be handled on email or IM, depending on how long you can wait for an answer.
Other Employees Will Be Jealous
Think if you let one person work from home everyone else on your team will feel slighted?
Fried and Hansson surface so many benefits to remote working they wonder why a company wouldn't want to let everyone do it.
"Is the business we're talking about just an elaborate scheme to keep everyone in their assigned seats for a set number of hours? Or is it rather an organization of people getting work done? If it's the latter, why not let people work the way they prefer, and judge everyone on what--not where--work is completed," they write.
Remote Workers Will Slack Off
If you don't trust your employees enough to do their jobs when you can't see them, why do they work for you in the first place?
"If people really want to play video games or surf the Web all day, they're perfectly capable of doing so from their desks at the office," Fried and Hansson write, holding up J.C. Penney as a company in which 30 percent of the company's bandwidth was at one point eaten up by employees watching YouTube videos.
Their take: Responsible adults doing fulfilling work don't screw around.
But the insight that hit me the hardest is that remote working pushes actual work to the forefront when it comes to evaluating an employee. Office workers are often judged by petty things completely unrelated to the quality and quantity of the work they do, such as what time someone gets to and leaves work, the number of breaks they take or if a passerby happens to notice they've got Facebook open. Perceptions of worker value can also be colored by how easy an office worker is to get along with as opposed to how well he or she actually performs.
Fried and Hansson list dozens of companies of all shapes and sizes allowing their employees to work remotely. They point out:
In health insurance, Fortune 100 provider Aetna has nearly half of its 35,000 U.S. employees working from home. In accounting, Deloitte, which has about the same number of employees, has a staggering 86 percent working remotely at least 20 percent of the time. At Intel, 82 percent of their people regularly work remotely.
They also hold up Virgin Group founder Richard Branson as someone who's got the right mindset about remote work.
"In 30 years' time, as technology moves forward even further, people are going to look back and wonder why offices ever existed," reads the epigraph quoting Branson in the last chapter of the book.
Want more help figuring out how to succeed as a remote worker? Check out Get More Done: 18 Tips for Telecommuters.
A recent survey of consumers and small businesses found that businesses aren't doing as well as they thought at connecting with consumers online.
Small businesses are missing out on the chance to build their consumer base through social media--and most don’t realize it, according to new data.
A recent study by Web.com found that small businesses underestimate the opportunity they have to build relationships with customers via the web and also overestimate their positive presence online.
Polling 2,150 consumers and 850 small business "decision-makers" across the country, the August survey found that 83 percent of consumers surveyed said a small business' social media presence and website influence their decision to shop at that business. But only 34 percent of consumers surveyed said that the small businesses they know have a website.
Even for the small businesses that do have a web presence, most aren’t doing enough, however. Only 50 percent of consumers surveyed reported that small businesses meet or exceed their expectations in terms of a web and social media presence--something most businesses owners don't realize. Of the small business decision-makers who were surveyed, 61 percent rated their websites positively, while only 46 percent of consumers shared the same view.
The report shed some light on why this difference in opinion might exist:
The survey revealed that these perception gaps may be a result of the two groups wanting different things. Consumers tend to seek empowerment, engagement and relationships via the web and social media, while small business decision-makers emphasize transactions, awareness and marketing.
About 58 percent of consumers would take positive action if a small business met their web expectations, this survey shows just how important it is for small businesses to use the Internet and social media to their advantage.
Don't try to sell at the beginning of a customer relationship.
Many sellers think that the best way to cultivate a prospect or sales lead is to start a sales pitch. Sales pitches consist of two parts:
However, sales pitches almost always fail because they flood the prospect with information and then demand a commitment. It's too much, too soon.
Rather than pitching, your goal at the beginning of the relationship should be to start a conversation. For example, suppose you're making cold calls. There are two ways to do this:
1. A sales pitch:
- You: I'm John Doe calling from Acme, a leading provider of cloud-based services that increase productivity and save money in the following ways... yada, yada, yada... Our product has these unique features... yada, yada, yada... If I could show you how to save 100%, would you be willing to meet with me for an hour for a free estimate at no obligation?
- Prospect: [hangs up]
2. A conversation starter:
- You: This is John Doe from Acme. Is this a good time to talk?
- Prospect: Yes [or No]
- You: Okay, I'll be brief. I'm calling because retail firms hire us to increase walk-in customers with curbside advertising. How are you currently enticing customers into your store?
With the sales pitch, you're lucky if you get to the end of the pitch before the prospect hangs up. More importantly, you have no idea whether what you said (your pitch) made any sense to the prospect. A prospect who really DOES need your offering may hang up, or say "not interested" simply because they didn't "get" what you were talking about.
By contrast, the conversation starter simply states in brief how you help your customers (from customer's viewpoint) and then invites a dialog. Because you're not overflowing the prospect with information, you can now discover the prospect's needs and whether your offering is a good match.
The same thing is true with sales emails. There are two ways to write them:
1. A Sales Pitch:
Dear Mr. John Doe
I hope you are well.
I represent Acme, a leading provider of cloud-based services that increase productivity and save money in the following ways...[yada, yada, yada...].
Our product has the following unique features... [yada, yada, yada]
If you call me at 800-555-1212, I can give you a quote. For more information, click on our website www.veeblefetzer.com.
If you have any questions please don't hesitate to call me at 800-555-1212.
2. A Conversation Starter:
I'm writing because retail firms hire us to increase walk-in customers with curbside advertising. If you're interested in how this works, I can send you a short summary.
The sales pitch will almost always result in the prospect deleting the email.
By contrast, the conversation starter is more likely to get a response because it places almost no burden on the prospect.
So, let's say the prospect responds to your conversation starter. You now provide a little more information, and continue the conversation, using email as the vehicle:
John, thanks for responding. Our customers hire us to paint their automobiles so that they're mobile billboards. When parked outside a store, they can increase foot traffic as much as 50%. How are you currently enticing customers into your store?
You may end up trading emails several times as the conversation proceeds. Because you've engaged the prospect in a conversation, you can now assess needs and craft a meaningful solution.
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So many interpersonal challenges in the office are the result of intolerance. Here, Inc. columnists share ways to make the office a happier and more inclusive place.
Today, the country reflects on the tragedy of September 11, 2001, an extreme example of intolerance at its worst. But, even on a far less devastating scale, intolerance left to fester can foster fear, anger and paranoia. Some will use their intolerance as an excuse to hurt people, verbally or otherwise. Others will hide their intolerance, playing nice, but find other insidious ways to make people feel unwanted or hated.
Most people aren't intentionally mean and hurtful. Many times, they are simply self-centered, unaware that they are acting on their fears and emotions. Often their intolerance stems from ignorance about people that are different or misunderstood. Years ago, I made a conscious choice to work on my intolerance. I decided that there is something to learn from almost everyone. I now choose to actively learn about the people around me, making it my responsibility to understand and relate. Strange and unusual people are now a magnet for me. In fact, it's generally the people who initially make me uncomfortable that teach me the most about myself.
I encourage you to take some time to engage and learn about those who make you uncomfortable. Share your own story with them as well. Who knows? Together we may all become a little more tolerant.
Here are some additional good ideas from my Inc. colleagues for making your environment a little more open and accepting.
1. Help People Learn About Each Other
People often make judgments from a lack of knowledge and experience. If an individual has never had a positive personal experience with someone of the Muslim faith, for instance, they may be more inclined to judge based on a global event like 9/11. Create opportunities for employees to learn more about one another. You might invite an employee to share something about themselves at the top of each weekly staff meeting. Organize small committees, schedule luncheons and after-hour events, and provide opportunities for people from different departments to pair up on projects. Marla Tabaka--The Successful Soloist
Want to read more from Marla? Click here.
2. Spread Tolerance From the Top
Leaders send messages by their deeds and their words. If the leader is known to make intolerant comments, even about something as simple as which school the company prefers to hire its candidates from or which generation of workers they think are the most effective, the impact can be far-reaching. If the leader appears to be intolerant in one of those areas, how else is their decision-making tainted? I often see this kind of bias get in the way of a leader's ability to take their company to the next level. For example, their perception about a generation's work ethic causes them to discount some of their employees' worth and potential, which can foster an undercurrent of resentment. Eric Holtzclaw--Lean Forward
Want to read more from Eric? Click here.
3. Remove Barriers
Not seeing other people as people is what enables all intolerance. Tribal sentiment is hard-wired into us from prehistoric days--our instincts are to defend our own clan and view others as the enemy. The only way to overcome this tendency is by getting to know people across those barriers of race, class, education and so on. That's why a simple move like temporarily switching desks can have such a profound effect. We may all be cave dwellers at heart, but once we've allowed a member of another tribe inside our cave, we will never quite view that person as "other" again. Minda Zetlin--Start Me Up
Want to read more from Minda? Click here.
4. Create Common Objectives
I went to an alumni event for my Catholic high school not long ago, and I ran into our old vice principal. I'd remembered as a very stern man, enforcing the school uniform and other rules, but now he seemed loose and relaxed. I told him this was the first time I'd ever seen him smile. "Mr. Murphy," he said, "that was by design."
Take a tip from Catholic high schools, the U.S. military and coaches of sports teams the world over. To help your people overcome their differences and work together, give them something to work against--even if that something has to be you! Bill Murphy Jr.--DC Bill
Want to read more from Bill? Click here.
5. Teach by Example
The best, most immediate way to counter intolerance in the workplace is to bring in guest speakers from groups that have been the targets of intolerance and let them tell their often poignant and troubling stories. For example, schedule a Holocaust survivor to speak to your employees about his experience, or a lesbian couple to discuss the challenges they've encountered. Help your people see the world through the eyes of others--even if only for an hour or two. Peter Economy--The Management Guy
Want to read more from Peter? Click here.
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According to recent data, the percentage of VC rounds going to female-founded companies is up--but still low.
New research from PitchBook, a private equity and venture capital database service, showed a marked increase in the number of venture capital going to female founders so far this year.
Pulling from its database of venture capital deals, PitchBook found that companies with at least one female founder have secured a record 13 percent of U.S. VC rounds so far in 2013--after nearly 10 years of slow or no growth. By comparison, in 2004, women-led companies secured about 4 percent of rounds.
According to the study, a breakdown of industries showed that this year female-founded companies received about 40 percent of the venture capital in the retail industry and 33 percent in the consumer services space.
Women-led companies had the smallest representation amongst software companies--where they only secured 10 percent the VC rounds in the space, below the average across all industries.
There have been extensive discussions about why venture capital favors male-founded companies--the leading argument focuses on the fact that women are at the helm of fewer companies. According to The Center for Women’s Business Research, women own 28.2 percent of all businesses in the United States, which could be one factor contributing to the low percentage of VC rounds going to women.
Conversely, The Kauffman Foundation approached the topic from the supply side--identifying that the fewer number of female venture capitalists could be factor. According to the Kauffman Foundation’s Gatekeepers of Venture Growth: The Role and Participation of Women in the Venture Capital Industry, women represent less than 10 percent of the high level venture capitalists but 70 percent of female venture capitalists had closed deals with female-led companies.
Incompetent employees can hurt organizations, but incompetent leaders can do far worse - they can, and often do, destroy them.
I have little patience for employees who aren't cutting it. If you give them all the tools and training they need to do their jobs and, for whatever reason, they can't or won't perform at least adequately, you're better off cutting them loose. Sooner rather than later.
If you think that's cold, it's about to get even chillier around here, because I have even less patience for lousy bosses. The reason is simple. While an incompetent employee can hinder organizational effectiveness, an incompetent manager can destroy it.
And the higher you go up the corporate ladder, the worse it gets. A bad CEO can take down a whole company. It may take a while, but sooner or later, bad leadership infects the entire organization like a viral epidemic. I've seen it happen dozens of times, sometimes too close for comfort.
Over the years I've worked with hundreds, maybe thousands, of managers at every level. Many were brilliant, but on the flip side, many should have been fired. They fall into five types that, in my opinion, are simply not redeemable.
The psycho-bully. Some managers run their groups or companies like games for their own sick amusement. Okay, that's not entirely fair. The truth is that they're usually victims of their own dysfunctions, meaning they're not usually aware of being egotistical, controlling, narcissistic bullies who treat everyone like pawns and act out their childhood traumas on those unfortunate enough to end up in their sphere of influence.
The Teflon-coated boss. Some leaders have a way of ensuring that nothing ever sticks to them. It's like shooting darts at Jell-O--there's no way to pin them down. They usually surround themselves with yes-men who, like them, always have an excuse or someone else to blame for their poor performance.
The smartest guy in the room. Some people have all the answers. At least they think they do. They pride themselves on being special, on being untouchable, on possessing a unique ability to walk on water without getting wet. They never think of the downside to any risk; it will pay off because they will it to be so. If not, that's okay--it's always someone else's job or money.
The master of chaos. The word organize means to bring order to chaos, more or less. Like organisms, organizations are supposed to do the same thing. Sadly, some bosses have the opposite affect. They actually diminish organizational effectiveness by creating fear, uncertainty, divisiveness, and chaos wherever they go. In my experience, there are far too many entrepreneurs with no management experience in this category.
Meet Peter--Peter Principle. What can I say? Some people are just incompetent. Why don't they get weeded out before they get to the top? Good question. They primarily thrive in bureaucracies that fail to hold leaders accountable and reward the wrong kind of behavior. Also, incompetent leaders tend to hire those even less competent than they are. So there are plenty of breeding grounds for the next generation of Peter Principle bosses.
Those are the five types of bosses I would fire immediately. Did I miss any?
Becoming a good workplace coach makes walking a tightrope look easy. A few tips for finding balance.
Building trust in a coaching relationship is just the first step. Good coaches also put effort into finding the right coaching balance.
What do I mean by that? As a coach you have to set the right tone for your protégé. This means you have to be sensitive to a number of factors: How do your actions and intentions come across to your protégé? How do you project yourself toward your protégé? And how does your protégé project back to you? Your challenge is to achieve consistency among these perceptions.
Balance your coaching approach by keeping these rules in mind:
1. Cheering: Be encouraging, not inflating
Good coaches understand the importance of encouragement. You want to provide your protégé with a sense of momentum and a feeling of confidence. This is the “you-can-do-it spirit,” the slap on the back, the extra emotional boost. When your protégé faces a difficult moment, you want to be able to be there with the right note of support and encouragement.
Cheering, while helpful, also has to be appropriate. To the degree that your cheering is seen as a celebration of your protégé's accomplishments, it is always positive. But sometimes cheering becomes too aggressive, and it seems as if you're trying to get someone to go further than his or her capacity will allow. So be careful and make sure that you cheer in celebration. When you cheer to motivate, make sure you are not asking the protégé to exceed his or her capacity.
2. Sponsoring: Be supportive, but don't push
Good coaches understand that they need to be supportive of the efforts of their protégés, and to give guidance regarding avoiding organizational pitfalls. When coaching, you are often acting as a political sponsor. Your role is to assist your protégé in maneuvering successfully around the organizational terrain.
Coaches, however, must avoid becoming micro-political consiglieres who become overly involved with a protégé’s tactics and strategies.
As a coach, you understand that your protégé is responsible for his or her own activities. While you want to be supportive, you have to be careful not to push too far or too much.
3. Counseling: Be empathetic, but maintain boundaries
Good coaches know they are responsible for helping their protégés think about and analyze their interpersonal skills in the context of the situation and the people they are dealing with. If you sense that your protégé is rubbing others in the organization the wrong way, take him or her aside and suggest ideas to handle the various office personalities.
Good coaches understand how to see the world from the eyes of their protégés to better help them analyze tough situations. The more you stand in the shoes of the other, the more empathetic you can be, and the more help you can offer. But you still have to maintain boundaries. Good coaches understand that they can’t lose their voice in helping others. Letting your empathy overwhelm your boundaries will kill your objectivity and weaken you as a coach.
4. Balance educating: Be authoritative, but not authoritarian
Good coaches never lose sight of their role as educator. When you assist your protégé in acquiring skills, knowledge, and processes, you are taking on a classic mentoring role. Your objective is to share your expertise and experience with your protégé, so your protégé can better meet his or her personal goals.
Coaches inevitably must speak with some authority, but they must be careful not to be authoritarian. They must share and explain their ideas, but must not dictate and insist upon them. When authority figures act in an authoritarian manner, they lose the balance of a partnership. They lose the balance they need to be a solid coach.
Ultimately, the best coaching relationships are balanced. As a coach, you do not want to dominate your protégé. Rather, you should work toward being accessible and ready to listen and assist when called upon.
Three ways in which success can be bad for business.
"It would be difficult to overstate Toyota's role in shaping the modern approach to quality improvement," writes Robert Cole in MIT Sloan Management Review, citing methodologies used by the company that laid the operational groundwork for Japanese total quality control. "TQC, in turn, provided the basic building blocks for the Six Sigma methodology, which has been actively embraced by leading U.S. companies such as GE and Boeing."
Then, in 2009, it all came tumbling down. That year, Toyota recalled more than 7 million vehicles for problems ranging from sticky gas pedals to ill-fitting floor mats. More than a dozen separate Toyota recalls followed in 2010, when 36 percent of non-Toyota drivers said they considered the cars unsafe. What caused this massive quality meltdown at Toyota? Harvard Business School professors Francesca Gino and Gary Pisano have an idea: too much success.
"Toyota, which built its vaunted production system around vigorous learning, was much better at uncovering the causes of its problems than of its success," Francesco and Pisano write in Harvard Business Review. "This was revealed by its recent recalls, when its leaders admitted that their success in pursuing higher sales and market share had blinded them to the fact that operations had essentially compromised quality to achieve growth."
What the Toyota case study reveals, Francesco and Pisano argue, is a critical weakness shared by most successful leaders: failure to learn from success. Here are three reasons why they say doing well can be bad for business.
1. Fundamental attribution errors.
We assume that our talent or strategy is responsible for our successes, giving short shrift to environmental factors and luck. "Any number of factors may lead to success, independent of the quality of a product or management's decisions," Gino and Pisano note. "Yet it is all too common for executives to attribute the success of their organizations to their own insights and managerial skills and ignore or downplay random events or external factors outside their control."
2. Overconfidence bias.
Success begets hubris, and we all know where that can lead. "Overconfidence inspired by past successes can infect whole organizations, causing them to dismiss new innovations, dips in customer satisfaction, and increases in quality problems, and to make overly risky moves," the Harvard profs observe. "Consider all the companies that grew rapidly through acquisitions only to stumble badly after biting off one too many; and the countless banks that made ever-riskier loans in the past decade, sure of their ability to sort good borrowers from bad."
3. Failure-to-ask-why syndrome.
No one's asking the tough questions that transform a success into a replicable strategy. "When you're confronted with failure," Gino and Pisano explain, "it's natural to ask why disaster struck. Unfortunately, success does not trigger such soul-searching. Success is commonly interpreted as evidence not only that your existing strategy and practices work but also that you have all the knowledge and information you need."
Amidst the craziness of running a start-up, your internal compass can get knocked awry. How to make sure it returns to true north.
As the CEO of a mission-driven, socially-conscious firm, I’ll be the first to tell you that vision and values are crucial, but it takes more than big-picture thinking to make a company sustainable. The balancing act lies in how to run, grow and scale a profitable business without diluting your vision and values. How do you remain a genuine CEO and lead an authentic company?
Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield started out, like all successful entrepreneurs, as dreamers. From their first homemade scoop shop run out of an old gas station in Vermont, they grew. Their company went public. They sold to Unilever. Debate ensued. Many patrons of this values-based brand, which had made a strong name for itself through its sustainability efforts, responsibly sourced ingredients, and anti-corporate corporate culture, saw selling as selling out. Yet the founders, who still sit on the Board of Directors today, acknowledged that they were also obligated to make the best possible decision for the company’s financial future and to maximize shareholder value.
But ethics and profits don’t have to be mutually exclusive. I set out to prove this is possible in finance when I founded Lexion Capital. Nonetheless, is there a risk that I could forget how important our work is? Of course. That’s true of any business leader. So, we build in practices, such as these, that guard against that risk.
Get back to basics--often
We constantly drill down to our company’s core ethics (our independence, our fiduciary responsibility, our client-centric approach). Every advisor works through the lens of the all-important question: Is this financial advice good enough for your mom? Create a structured system, such as a quarterly or even weekly meeting, where you convene specifically to reiterate core values and discuss how they are playing out in your current initiatives.
Bring your work to life
Don’t just talk about your core values. Write them down. Put them on posters -- everywhere. Having visual reminders reinforces the fact that these are not just words. They are guidelines, motivating and giving purpose to everything you do. In the early days of our company, I printed and framed the thank you letters from clients, words of praise from press features, and other good vibes about what we do. They served as tangible evidence of why it all matters. Especially in a field like finance, it’s vital to put faces and stories to numbers, because we don’t just work with money - we work with people’s lives and dreams. As a business owner, you have to connect your core values and the day-to-day in a way that helps them come alive for your team.
Even with a group of A-playing, mission-driven employees, business leaders must actively create a culture that always circles back to the company’s values. Otherwise, you may well end up as a well-marketed brand extension, in a massive global conglomerate, far away from the show factory and the milk co-ops of Vermont.
Don't wait for January 1 to roll around before you try to get your organizational habits in gear. Start now with these tips.
"The only thing you can never get more of as an entrepreneur is time."
That's what a mentor told me back when I was launching my start-up, and he was right.
As a wife, daughter, friend, and the founder and CEO of LearnVest, my schedule is anything but simple. But I learned early on how meticulously manage my time.
When I was younger, I used to play mind games in which I'd try to finish tasks in minutes. My favorite was when I would shower, lay out my school clothes, then devour my dinner--in 15 minutes flat.
Now of course, you don't have to play similar games--or scarf down your meals--to get a grip on your schedule. But you can adopt some of the habits I've learned in order to free up more time. Remember, as an entrepreneur time is the only asset you cannot get more of, so use it wisely--and keep some perspective.
Schedule meetings in 15-minute blocks.
Sound crazy? Try it--it works. I think of all my time as exisiting in 15-minute blocks. Most people think in terms of 30-minute chunks, but I've found that when I free up more time, I waste it. Of course, some tasks do require more time, so if a meeting needs to take 30 minutes, it will take 30 minutes. But otherwise, I try not to schedule meetings to last that long.
Upgrade your to-do list.
It's so easy to fall in the rut of letting your calendar or workweek dictate your priorities. So on Sunday evenings and Monday mornings, I ask myself, What's the most efficient thing I can do with my time? Most people lump everything into one schedule or list, but I take it one step further and clump my tasks into groups of three. For example, I'll list out the three most important things I need to accomplish at work, at home, and so on. From there, I can filter by impact so the critical things get done first.
Never meet on a Monday.
From 8 a.m. until 2 p.m. on Mondays, I don't have a single meeting scheduled. I just don't. When it's the start of the week, I'm clear-headed and ready to focus, so it's time to work. When it comes to productivity, people tend to focus on the low-hanging fruit, not the things that are highest priority. But that isn't a good use of your time. The task that takes seven hours might be brutal, but it might also be the most important to my company and the best use of my time. That's why I try to get these things done earlier in the week, say on a Monday or Wednesday. If something important comes up, I'll just move it to the beginning of the list and rejigger priorities.
Don't worship your calendar.
It's easy to say, "I've scheduled something, so I might as follow through with it," but it is OK to move things around when something important comes up. You have to defend your time. Sometimes that means outsourcing--I have my ace junior strategy associate do research or I enlist a TaskRabbit for weekend chores. And if there's something that needs to get done on the weekend but it isn't a great use of my time, I'll outsource that as well. On the flip side, I keep seven (yes, seven!) separate calendars to track all my schedules. There's an Alexa calendar, a LearnVest calendar, a PR calendar, and more. Each is color-coded, as I'm visually oriented, and every entry lists details that help me prepare for the meeting, from the location to the client to what time zone they're in.
When you're at work, it's about being present and getting as much done as humanly possible. When I'm LearnVest HQ, I'm not sending emails to friends, chatting, or checking Instagram. The Internet is designed to distract you, and the best way to avoid being distracted is by abstaining. I don’t shop online, and I don't get personal newsletters during the day. I consume my favorite media when I'm at home, or on Saturday. That's not to say I don't get inspiration from those things, but inspiration shouldn't happen mid-afternoon when I'm trying to execute on something for my company.
Do you have any time management tips you'd like to share? Let me know in the comments.