Inc Small Business
As income inequality grows, companies that target middle-income consumers face a dwindling customer base.
"The rich get richer and the poor get poorer." This crusty old saying, unfortunately, describes economic trends that are dominating the United States. Some economists call it the "hourglass economy"--there are growing numbers of people at the high and low ends of the income spectrum, and fewer and fewer in the middle.
Though hiring a former Apple executive to be a telecommuting CEO was certainly a bonehead move for J.C. Penney, the hourglass economy is the real reason the company is struggling to stay alive, according to Rita Gunther McGrath, associate professor at Columbia Business School, and author of the new book The End of Competitive Advantage. Failure to understand how the economy was changing harmed the retail chain, which traditionally has targeted those shrinking mid-level earners, she says. The hourglass economy can take down your company, too, if you're not careful. That's why McGrath recommends three key tactics.
1. Pick your target market carefully
"Look at the market in two dimensions," McGrath says. "Are you going after large volumes and a bigger footprint at the low-income end, or will you be a niche player with bigger margins and probably slower growth at the upper end? It's going to be much harder if you try to land in the middle."
A company targeting low-income customers needs to be aware of the dynamics that can govern their daily lives, McGrath notes. For instance, many people at the low-income end of the scale live paycheck-to-paycheck, which means that they're only able to make large purchases early in the cycle, right after they've been paid. At the end of the cycle, they can only afford necessities. If you're a retailer, it's smart to stock your shelves in accordance with your customers' pay cycles.
On the other hand, McGrath says, "If you want to reach people who have more discretionary spending power, be aware that they don't want to buy the same things as all the other people with discretionary spending power." Small companies have a natural advantage in this arena, she adds, in that a customer who buys one of your products is unlikely to find that everyone he or she knows has one too.
"If you're targeting there, think very hard about the emotional component of what you're selling, and how does it set the buyer apart and make that person unique?" she recommends.
2. Don't ignore early signs of trouble.
If you own a small business and have been running it for a while, and you're starting to see a downward trend, take that very seriously, McGrath advises. "Don't make the mistake of assuming you're seeing a cyclical trend. You hear people say that sales are down but they'll be better next year. It may well be a permanent structural shift, and entrepreneurs often wait too long to ask those questions."
3. Stay flexible
In this economy, your best shot at safety is to be able to change your organization on a dime, McGrath says. "In this hourglass economy, be careful about fixed costs, or fixed commitments to a given business model. Leverage your partners' resources if you can, rather than building things for yourself."
This piece of advice comes with a helping of irony, since it was exactly this phenomenon that created the hourglass economy in the first place, according to McGrath. Companies seeking to stay nimble in uncertain economic conditions have sought to restrict the size of their full-time staff, relying on outsourcing and temporary or hourly workers. Those without highly marketable skills are left without any guarantee of continued employment, or even of full-time hours from their current employer. "For people who don't have valuable skills, 'I can replace you with three people tomorrow,' is not an empty threat," McGrath says. She notes that in retail, 15 years ago 70 percent of employees were permanent and 30 percent were temporary. Today, those proportions are reversed.
Whatever you do, keep in mind that the hourglass economy isn't going anywhere. "It's a continuing and growing phenomenon," McGrath says. "We're seeing a shift in power toward owners of capital and away from owners of labor. And so many institutions would all have to change at once to reverse this trend."
A fascinating new study took an in-depth look at how custodial staff understand their work and uncovered wisdom for those on every rung of the career ladder.
What’s the worst job in the world?
Answers certainly differ based on personal preference (my vote goes to anything involving heights). But cleaning up after hospital patients would surely be towards the top of most people’s lists. So what could janitors possibly have to teach entrepreneurs about career satisfaction?
A fascinating recent study uncovered a surprising answer.
Amy Wrzesniewski, now a professor at the Yale School of Management, had the radically simple idea of talking to the custodial staff at a hospital in detail about their jobs to discover what strategies they might employ to find satisfaction in their admittedly low-skilled, low-paid jobs. The wisdom she uncovered should serve to humble anyone who has ever made the error of thinking of those who work in the profession with condescension or not at all.
Turns out, they have much to teach even the most high-flying professionals about maximizing career satisfaction. The essence of this wisdom, author David Zax reports, is the idea of "job crafting." That doesn’t mean changing your work, it means carefully crafting how you think about your work. Some of the custodial staff, he reports,
Felt their labor was highly skilled, they described the work in “rich relational terms,” says Wrzesniewski, talking about their interactions with patients and visitors. Many of them reported going out of their way to learn as much as possible about the patients whose rooms they cleaned, down to which cleaning chemicals were likely to irritate them less. “It was not just that they were taking the same job and feeling better about it, pulling themselves up by their bootstraps and whistling. It was that they were doing a different job.”
This second, happier group didn’t see themselves as custodial workers at all. One described forming such a bond with patients that she continued to write letters to some of them after they were discharged. Another paid attention to which patients seemed to have few visitors or none at all, and would make sure to double back to spend some time with them... What these workers were doing, Wrzesniewski came to realize, was quietly creating the work that they wanted to do out of the work that they had been assigned -- work they found meaningful and worthwhile. Wrzesniewski and her colleagues call this practice “job crafting,” and they think it could be the key to happiness in all sorts of jobs.
The idea of job crafting is available to everyone, Wrzesniewski believes. Though there are obviously times you should quit a terrible job, the impulse to always look for the perfect career situation rather than try to find ways to thrive in your current one and connect with the value of the work you already do, makes a lot of people unnecessarily miserable.
Could you use the idea of job crafting to reconceptualize any of parts of your work that drive you nuts?
Start-up founders love to talk about wellness and fitness, but are you actually helping your employees achieve it?
Employees today value a healthy work-life balance as much as they value a promising paycheck. Not only does an offering like an employee wellness program provide a more positive work experience, but it can also boost camaraderie, morale and--best of all--productivity at the office.
What are the must-have elements of an employee wellness program at a start-up? We asked nine successful founders from the Young Entrepreneur Council to suggest a few program investments that will pay off.
1. Look for Programs Catered to Your Needs
I would suggest looking into organizations that are catered to helping companies with their wellness programs. If you are a knowledge worker, I would suggest something like Keyboard Athletes. --Michael Bruny, The New Art of Conference Networking
2. A Dedicated Nap Room (Really!)
We offer our employees the use of a dedicated nap room, with a sofa and comfortable sleeping space. A short rest can make all the difference between a tired employee and a fresh, motivated one. --Robert J. Moore, RJMetrics
3. Host Wellness Workshops
Corporate employees tend to suffer from lack of sleep, poor eating habits and burnout. Tony Schwartz of The Energy Project created a fantastic program to raise awareness of each of these areas. Awareness is what will ultimately lead to action; after the workshops, get feedback to determine what is most needed (i.e. napping pods, accountability groups, food or gym stipends or standing desks). --Jenny Blake, Life After College
4. Make Fitness a Part of Your Company's Culture
When developing an employee wellness program, be sure to have a goal in mind and a purpose for the program. Provide a tangible goal that your employees can reach to increase motivation. Whether it's training for a 5K or competing on the company's softball team, providing something your employees can participate in will help them remain active. --Heather Huhman, Come Recommended
5. Get Fitbit for Every Employee
I love my new Fitbit, a high-tech pedometer with wireless sync that allows me to compete against my friends or team for the most steps each day. Create a group for the start-up to see each other's progress and build in friendly competition. It'll encourage more "Let's walk to lunch" and activity around the office, as well as building the team as a unit.
--Kelly Azevedo, She's Got Systems
6. Give Your Kitchen a Makeover
The strongest wellness programs are holistic in nature. After creating an exercise routine, give your kitchen or snack shelf a makeover. For starters, stock your fridge with ready-to-eat quinoa (e.g. Minsley) and salad greens, fill your shelves with organic seeds and nuts (e.g. sunflower, sesame, pumpkin, pistachios, pecans) and get a robust water filter (e.g. Berkey).
--Kevon Saber, Fig
7. Consider Social Wellness
At 'ZinePak, we recently implemented the rule that every employee can take two paid days off per year to volunteer for a charity of his/her choice. It's an excellent opportunity to empower employees to help our community and help them feel like they're a part of something larger. Wellness isn't just about physical fitness; social and emotional wellness are equally important to overall well-being. --Brittany Hodak, 'ZinePak
8. Implement More Standing and Walking
By offering standup desks and encouraging walk-and-talk meetings, our team can make small changes to existing routines. Our employees have found that standing and walking throughout the day, instead of constantly sitting, keeps them more energized and better-focused. --Bobby Emamian, Prolific Interactive
9. Offer Flexible Working (Out) Hours
The biggest challenge facing employees who want to be healthier isn't always the cost of a gym membership, but the time to fit it in. Gyms are packed before and after work, so allowing employees gym time anytime can inspire everyone to get up and get moving instead of the typical post-lunch afternoon slump. --Derek Flanzraich, Greatist
Setbacks are inevitable; it's how you deal with them that determines your ultimate success.
It's easy to stay motivated when you're winning; what's challenging is staying motivated when things are going badly. Ultimately, success depends upon your ability to handle inevitable setbacks, according to Jeff Keller, author of the Attitude is Everything. Here's how:1. Realize they're temporary.
Every successful person has encountered setbacks, learning what doesn't work is an essential part of learning what does! Setbacks are a sign that you're making progress. Remember: God's delays are not God's denial.2. Recommit to your goals.
If you truly want to succeed, banish all thoughts of giving up before you accomplish your objective. Be willing to do whatever it takes to succeed, within legal and ethical bounds. You will get there eventually.3. Contact some positive colleagues.
Positive emotions are contagious, so this is a great time to reconnect with people who believe in themselves and believe in you. Give positive encouragement to others and they'll return the favor. Get energized together!4. Reset your timetable.
You may not be achieving success as quickly as you'd hoped, but success generally comes one small step at a time. This is a great time to "retrench" and think through what you might do differently to achieve your goals.5. Take action today.
Pursuing success is like riding a horse; if you get thrown off, you've got to get right back on it. Rather than dwell on the setback, take some action--right now--that will continue your momentum.
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What happens when your company's business model doesn't necessarily jive with local law? You go on the offensive. Companies in the "sharing economy" space are doing just that.
Some of the fastest-growing comanies in Silicon Valley have capitalized on the idea of collaborative consumption and asset sharing. The only problem, of course, is that local regulators around the country don't always have such a breezy view of the sharing economy. (Think, for instance, of the Airbnb hosts sued by their cities, or the cease-and-desist orders delivered to ride-sharing start-ups in San Francisco, as well as the legal battles faced by SideCar.)
According to multiple sources, groups of these peer-to-peer start-ups are beginning to band together in the face of regulatory scrutiny. A source at ride-sharing start-up Lyft told Inc. there are at least two initiatives in the works that that will bring together policy (and potentially lobbying) efforts to the sharing economy. It's a little unclear at this point how many groups are actually being formed and who, exactly, is involved, but the wheels are in motion.
In a time when tech companies are starting to behave like industry giants of the past, taking their interests--and their money--to K Street to influence legislation (consider Mark Zuckerberg's immigration lobby), it seems natural that several of these scrappy sharing-based start-ups are beginning to band together.
On May 24, Poltico.com first reported that Airbnb, Etsy, and travel start-up Vayable were teaming up to create a "new advocacy effort." But it seems that more than one group is actually in discussions about how to approach both advocacy and political/regulatory influence.
Airbnb did not respond to our request for interview. However, our request was apparently diverted to FitzGibbon Media, a Washington, D.C.-based communications firm, which confirmed via email that there will be a "major announcement in the coming weeks." Vayable did not return a request for comment.
Etsy, also named in the Politico article, denies its affilition with any particular group. However, in a statement e-mailed to us, its director of public policy, Althea Erickson writes:
We haven't joined any organization specifically, but we've been involved in many conversations with Airbnb and other companies about joint efforts to support the peer economy, which we believe can be a powerful engine for sustainable economic development. Our top priority is to advocate for Etsy sellers and ensure that they can start and build independent, creative businesses on their own terms. A good part of our policy work is to educate legislators, academics and the small business community about how Etsy sellers are a really different kind of entrepreneur.
While it's unclear so far which group, exactly, will be leading the charge, Inc. has confirmed the existence of at least one: BayShare, which describes itself as an "advocacy organization in the San Francisco Bay Area whose mission is to make the Bay Area the best place on the planet for sharing." Its site lists several notable member companies, including Airbnb, Lyft, RelayRides, and several others.
Its spokesperson, Milicent Johnson, says that although the site is live--along with an accompanying Facebook page--the group has not yet officially launched. She was careful not to divulge too much information before its member sites had a chance to prepare official statements.
"So much of this work is in its infancy," she said in a phone interview. "We're still trying to figure out how we want to have our coming out party."
Johnson said the group's mission will be three-fold: To unite companies facing similar issues, to educate the public about the sharing and peer-to-peer economy, and, most importantly, to work with city regulators when it comes to legal matters.
"There aren't that many peers in the sharing economy," she says. "There was a real need to seek out your counterparts."
Not suprisingly, San Francisco politicians have jumped on the collaboration economy bandwagon.
Last March, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee announced the formation of a "sharing economy" working group, which would "bring together City Departments, neighborhood and community stakeholders and sharing economy companies to...explore policy alternatives and legislation to modernize those laws and/or address emerging impacts and issues."
In a statement, Lee said that the "growing 'sharing economy' is leveraging technology and innovation to generate new jobs and income for San Franciscans in every neighborhood and at every income level...San Francisco must be at the forefront of nurturing its growth, modernizing our laws, and confronting emerging policy issues and concerns."
Blogger and venture capitalist Fred Wilson has a dream for the future of data science. The data's out there, he says. Analyze it yourself.
Call it DIY data science.
In March, venture capitalist Fred Wilson blogged about what he sees as a trove of publicly available data just waiting to be mined from the Internet. What's more, he thinks hobbyists and curious Internet users--not just professional data scientists--ought to be the ones mining it.
It appears that Wilson's hopes for do-it-yourself data science may be coming to fruition.
Last week, blogger and New York Times tech developer Alastair Coote dove into a pile of publicly-available data from the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and emerged with a digestible list of New York City's most popular commuter stops. After discovering that the MTA collected data on the number of subway turnstile swipes for each specific station, Coote decided to created a map of the 10 most popular rush-hour stops in the city.
This style of citizen science has Wilson excited about the possibilities for business owners and curious laypeople, and he was quick to re-post Coote's project to his own blog. Wilson views the easy accessibility of data as an opportunity for entrepreneurs to do what they do best: Create and innovate.
"I hope we all get into data hacking and start collaborating on this stuff together publicly. We might learn some interesting things about ourselves and our world at the same time," he wrote in another post on Thursday.
Before you ditch your existing data experts, however, consider the rebuttal: Shrikant Narasimhan, a data scientist and author of the blog TechSwamp, sees Wilson's vision as "unworkable at best." In a response to Wilson's DIY data science pitch, Narasimhan wrote:
"What is preventing the layperson right now from becoming data wizard is, quite simply, the lack of knowledge. The world of data science is quite exciting--and tools, techniques and education will only continue to improve and wow us--but 'DIY data science' will never be a thing."
You're more likely to succeed as an entrepreneur if you're motivated by helping solve other people's problems, not your own.
When you decided to become an entrepreneur, what reasons motivated that decision? For some people it is the opportunity to make a lot of money, the freedom to live by their own convictions, or to live a certain lifestyle. While these are great personal goals, too much focus on these things can lead you down the wrong path.
The decisions we make every day build upon our existing goals, values, and beliefs. We call upon these foundational thoughts to inform the decisions we make so that we don’t need to re-evaluate every detail and consequence every time we make a decision. Imagine how your product or service offering might be affected if your decisions are driven primarily by a desire to become wealthy or to set yourself free from mundane work. Do you immediately filter the options by what has the biggest immediate profit margins? Or, do you limit yourself to opportunities that you could do from a laptop while traveling the globe? If this is your focus, then are you actually solving any problems? Are you contributing value or focusing on extracting value?
Contrast this with setting your attention upon helping others. If you start by talking to prospective customers to understand their pain and find a problem they need solved so badly they will pay you for a solution, that’s a customer who not only will be thankful and loyal over time, they’ll likely spread the word and do your best marketing for you. That loyalty and vitality is startup gold, but is rarely accounted for in our early calculus of the best opportunities.
If you’re focused on calculating profit margins, you will likely miss the nuance of what problems truly need solutions. You’re also less likely to connect with a base of customers so deeply that they spread the word on your behalf or stick with you after competition enters the market. You’re less likely to realize the real opportunities, because you are less likely to be solving a real problem.
If you’re focused on high margins and high volume, this will often lead you to a market that is already peaking and nearing consolidation. Volume usually comes from the market having matured and high margins attract competition. One should be wary of this scenario-if it’s too good to be true, there’s a good chance you’re late to the party. This is the classic problem with chasing money: You’re one step too late and end up facing market consolidation before you’re ready to contend with it. Any value you may feel that you are contributing is likely redundant or inferior to others already entrenched in the market.
A similar challenge awaits if you limit yourself to looking for opportunities that fit your lifestyle. If you limit yourself to opportunities that you could pursue in your free time or while trekking the globe, for example, there’s a good chance you’ll land upon a thin business model that’s easy to setup and quick to generate cashflow, but never invests in building your value chain (better sourcing, delivery, customer service, etc). Affiliate marketing, drop-ship e-commerce websites, and “me too” mobile apps that add minimal new value to the market are examples that come to mind.
With these businesses, you are only contributing a thin layer of value over the top of other businesses who have made the necessary investments and own the entire value chain; you are putting a metaphoric cherry on top of someone else’s ice cream sundae and pretending it your own. But this won’t last for long. Businesses that facilitate your profit margins will eventually capture the inefficiency you’re exploiting, particularly if you do not make significant investments to reinforce your long-term value and capability to stand on your own as a business.
Neither chasing money nor chasing a lifestyle gives you the opportunity to build a lasting or meaningful business. They are temporary opportunities that only exist because of a gap between market demand and what suppliers are yet able to provide. Once the inefficiency of the market is corrected and there’s no longer that temporarily gap between supply and demand, the jig is up. And if you are focused on enriching yourself rather than helping others, this is the sort of opportunity you will most naturally align yourself with.
If you are serious about starting a lasting business, stop focusing on your own goals and instead focus your attention on serving others, discovering their needs and how to help them. Think about how to create significant value for a core group of people and how you can help them live a better life or accomplish their goals. This approach will naturally align your efforts with the market and put you a step ahead of competition, rather than always being a step behind. Who knows, you may even sleep better at night, knowing you’re making a difference somehow.
Tax and banking reforms could help the industry grow in more ways than one.
Two bills winding their way through Congress could help pot sellers launch their small businesses in the U.S.
First, Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., introduced the Small Business Tax Equity Act on Wednesday, which would change section 280E and allow medical marijuana dispensaries to take standard business deductions on their taxes. Another bill would help these dispensaries open bank accounts with more ease.
Similar bills have come and gone before, but lawmakers are hopeful our changing attitude toward pot--more than 52 percent of Americans support legalizing the drug--could push more legislation through Congress.
"There is an opportunity with lots of moving pieces in Congress," Blumenauer told U.S. News & World Report, noting these reforms could be tacked onto larger bills like tax reform and the farm bill. "These are relatively minor technical adjustments and in times past, things like this would find their way to be part of larger pieces of legislation."
Since 2011, the IRS has audited companies citing section 280E, which was meant for drug kingpins and companies who trafficked in “controlled substances.” But Henry Wykowski, a defense lawyer in California, told The Huffington Post, "The IRS is using this law in a way it was never intended to be used." In fact, a 2010 memo sent to members of Congress explains "neither section 280E nor the Controlled Substances Act make an exception for medically necessary marijuana."
Since only filing taxpayers can be hit with the section 280E penalty, "the result is, unfortunately, you're better off not filing," Wykowski said. It's what kept the market from retaining any sense of legitimacy and most sellers from wanting to enter.
Do you think pot sellers should have a stake in the small business landscape?
It's tough to land top engineers--let alone keep them around for a while. Are you giving them what they really want?
Over the last few years, I've studied what makes people happy at work. Most want very similar things--stable relationships with colleagues, engaging and challenging work, progress toward goals, and a sense of control in meeting those goals. For most people, happiness at work has little to do with a paycheck.
As soon as I packaged my insights into a theory I could stand behind, I read Michael Halligan's post "Benefits Matter, or Why I Won't Work for Your YCombinator Company." Halligan states that not only do benefits matter when hiring top tech talent, but so does commensurate pay. The problem is, commensurate pay for someone with 20+ years of engineering experience may not be commensurate with what a fledgling start-up can pay--even if it wanted to.
What Engineers Really Want
Surely my theory wasn't that off the grid? So I went back to my engineer comrades and asked them, what do you really, really want? Money and benefits, or happiness and meaning?
They didn't rattle off a list of health benefits, high salaries, or paid time off. The refrain was the same among just about every single one I talked with. What they want is freedom.
One path to freedom is money. Another path to freedom is time.
To keep your tech talent, you have to give them one or the other--time or money. To recruit and retain the best tech talent, you have to give them both.
But what's really happening in many start-ups is that engineers are squeezed from two ends--both their salary and their life (i.e. freedom) leaves a lot to be desired.
They're necessarily paid a smaller wage than they could garner elsewhere (usually off set by an equity stake that may or may not pay off) and they're pressured to work longer hours, leaving little time for a life outside of work.
If they're not building their own product or working for a company they really believe in, then this two-ended squeezing takes an unwelcome toll, which is when most of the good ones walk away. It's just not worth it.
However, Halligan's compensation ($18,000/year toward conference attendance, $2,500/year FSA, full health insurance with paid premiums, 30 days of PTO, to name a few) sounds more like magical thinking than solutions that could actually work in start-ups. Most large corporations can't afford these benefits.
Start-ups are not meant for everyone. If you want the high salary, a month of PTO, and full paid health insurance, perhaps the start-up gig isn't for you.
I see more tech talent leave, not because they aren't paid well, but because the financial sacrifice they're making to stay isn't offset by some other tangible work-balancing activities--weekends off to travel, meaningful side projects, positive company culture, flexible schedules, healthy relationships, or building something with the potential to make a real impact.
Without these humanizing activities outside of work and time to focus on them, engineers are little more than hired guns used to propel other people's dreams. Most of us won't stick around for someone else's dream. We will work, sweat, and bleed to be a part of something we believe in. Engineers are no different.
Want to keep your tech talent? Pay them well (enough). Treat them better. Empower them to dig deep creatively. Make sure they believe in what they're building, and get the hell out of their way.
What if you walked into a store and the clerks automatically knew your buying preferences? It's coming--and so are other technologies that change everything.
Part of my job is to pay attention to new trends in technology. In recent weeks, I have seen several new advancements that will dramatically change the way we interact with brands and each other.
How we choose to implement these technologies and who controls that interaction is yet to be determined, but one thing is clear: The entire concept of privacy and just how much we're entitled to as customers and citizens is up for debate.
Two very interesting new technologies:
Facedeals: What if a business recognized your face--and offered you personalized deals when you came through the door?
I don't know about you, but I love it when I walk into my local Starbucks and they already know what drink I am going to order. What if I could receive that same level of service if I drop into a Starbucks in another part of town--or even across the country?
I was on a panel with Dave McMullen from Red Pepper Agency a couple of weeks ago. His company has created a cool new technology called Facedeals. The technology recognizes you as you come into a store or restaurant and offers up a promotion based on information you have shared via your Facebook account. Think of it as Foursquare without having to sign in.
From my research with consumers, some will embrace this with open arms, while others will avoid it all costs. That has real implications for businesses that are considering it.
Node Gadget: What if your smartphone could measure body temperature from across the room?
Now imagine having a device you can carry with you anywhere that lets you point at someone across the room and read their temperature. Or detect the humidity and CO2 levels in the air? The possibility of this is already working, at least at a close proximity, via a technology created by George Yu called the Node Gadget.
Yu's cylindrical devices connect with your smartphone and provide an easy way to determine things about your environment--things as simple as detecting the air temperature to the exact color you might want to match from a paint or fabric swatch. There are infinite uses for both techies and businesses. Imagine, for example, the advantage if you are working with a customer and they want to match a specific color for their brand refresh or marketing campaign.
But there's a flip side. One of the applications for this technology could be the ability to detect if someone near you has a fever. What if the sensor can detect chemical residue from bomb-making or other illegal activities? Where does protection stop, and invasion of privacy begin?
Questions like this will have to be addressed as more technology comes onto the market that allow us to "know" more about each other and our customers. As a business owner, it's important that you understand the concerns and motivations of the customers you are working with to be successful with any new technology. Give your customers the opportunity to participate, or not, and be upfront with them about how the technology will be used to pave a road to a trusted relationship.
Awards can be a powerful marketing tool. Here's how to apply for them, win and tell the world.
Last week the company I founded was named the No. 1 Trademark Firm in the United States by Intellectual Property Today magazine. It was a tremendous accomplishment and a testament to all those who have worked so hard for us over the years to reach one of our initial goals.
A famous sports coach once said that awards are nice, but they are nothing more than reminders of your past accomplishments. What's next?
Although this may be true in sports, in business the landscape is slightly different. If used properly awards are tremendous marketing tools instantly establishing your credibility with prospective customers.
Consumers want to see accolades. They want to know something good about you. Awards provide valuable third-party corroboration of your value propositions.
So in reflecting upon our most recent accolade I thought I would share how we use awards in the day-to-day marketing of our business.1. Research
First, establish a program wherein you routinely seek out awards and ratings in your industry. A great starting point is your local Better Business Bureau wherein you should endeavor to apply for membership and maintain that all important A+ rating. Also, make sure to check industry-specific publications as well as general business and entrepreneurial publications as they often have awards for various criteria.2. Apply
Second, after understanding the qualifications, apply for the awards you have identified that would be indicias of reliability for your goods or services. Keep a list and know when and how you have to re-apply each year.
3. Shout It from the Mountain
Finally, when you win awards or are rated highly by a rating service shout it from the mountain. No one knows how great you are unless you tell them. Make sure when an award is bestowed upon you your potential consumers are surrounded with information announcing your accomplishments. Press releases. Advertisements. Banners on your website. These are just a few means to let them know.
Whether you're starting a company, developing a product, or selling yourself, your success is always dependent on the needs and wants of whoever you're trying to appeal to.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Everyone knows what that phrase means: beauty is subjective. But to me, it's always meant far more than that because so many things in life are subjective.
In business, your product is only good if customers are drawn to it, find it useful, and enjoy the experience. You can develop the world's greatest device or application, but if customers don't want it, need it, or enjoy using it, they won't buy it.
Likewise, your capabilities as a worker are only marketable if employers need what you have to offer. Lots of companies may pass on you, but as long as you find the one that likes your capabilities and style, that's a match made in business heaven.
In other words, real world success is always about understanding the needs and wants of your customers, your management, whoever you're trying to appeal to. It's very subjective and it isn't easy but it's nearly impossible if you lack that understanding because the truth is that your success is always in somebody else's hands.
Whether you're starting a company, developing a product, or selling yourself, I always tell people to take their perspective up a level. Before you start planning, developing, or selling, first do your best to understand what folks are looking for. Then figure out how to deliver the goods.Really Understanding
Said another way, the most successful companies are the ones with a deep understanding of the application for their product. How their customers want to buy it, use it, experience it. And guess what? They want their employees to have the same perspective.
Steve Jobs was always a brilliant marketer, but what propelled him and Apple to the top was his unique ability to understand what people wanted to do. Then he designed products to meet that application. He developed devices that effortlessly did what people most wanted to do.
It didn't surprise me in the least to hear that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is looking to restructure the software giant and turn it into a "devices and services company." Why do you think that is? Ballmer learned the lesson from Jobs and Apple. Software may be Microsoft's expertise, but that's not what customers care about. They want complete solutions to their problems.
Also, demand for Xbox 360 has exploded since Microsoft began focusing not on the games, but on how people played them. Inventing Kinect, the body motion and voice-activated game controller, was a real breakthrough. And now Microsoft hopes to take that advantage to the next level by making the new Xbox One the hub for your living room.
Similarly, Intel Capital just launched a new $100 million fund to invest in what it calls perceptual computing technology, meaning how human senses interact with computing devices using voice recognition, facial recognition, eye tracking, or gesture control. Intel understands that demand for chips is all about making devices that use them more human-like in their interface.The Takeaway
Business success isn't really about you and your capabilities. It isn't even about your company's expertise or your product's cool new features.
It's about elevating your perception to understand the needs of your customer, your management, whomever you're trying to appeal to. Once you get a handle on that, then, and only then, look at what you've got and figure out what you need to deliver the goods.
That's when you should start planning your company, developing your product, or selling yourself or your ideas to management. These days, it's hard enough just to get a shot at an opportunity. In all likelihood, you won't get a second chance. Don't waste it.
Remember, beauty is always in the eye of the beholder. And your success is always in somebody else's hands. Always.
Smart tips for navigating management foibles in an open-plan environment.
The open-plan workspace may be the biggest boon to productivity in decades because it fosters collaboration, innovation and creativity among employees. But plenty of bosses stumble and even fall when it comes to managing effectively in today’s team-centered set-up.
Many leaders want to excel at collaboration, but instead are stuck in the behavioral patterns that worked well for them in the hierarchical and authoritative org structures where they first cut their executive teeth.
Carol Kinsey Goman, a management coach and career adviser, says that when these leaders “move to today’s collaborative environment, leadership - instead of being about power, status, authority, competence - becomes more about engaging other people, about getting workers to contribute and talk to one another, about building bonds and relationships for success.” High-status cues can now be the enemy.
The transition hasn’t been easy for many - and workers everywhere know it.
Goman recalls how one executive royally messed up at a weekend retreat for his team. “People were dressed in their khakis, their jeans, all the other informal clothing that are typical at retreats,” says Goman, who was sitting in the background.
Then in strode the exec - dressed as if he were about to attend a boardroom meeting in 20 minutes.
“He had the power tie, the briefcase, the Rolex watch, the Gucci - the whole bit. I saw what happened the minute he entered the room,” says Goman. “He was late, first of all - so, non-verbally, he was signaling that the meeting wasn’t really that important to him. Second, he came in dressed like he was in charge, which is fine if that’s the message he wanted to send.
“But he started out by saying, ‘I’m so glad to be here. We need all of your contributions, all of your collaborative work in order for us to hit our goals.’ The problem was,” adds Goman, “his words were derailed by the way he looked. And then, third, he stood at the head of the table, which again signaled that he was absolutely in charge.”
The workplace as a central location for collaboration and productivity isn’t going away any time soon. In fact, studies such as The Smart Workplace in 2030, by global manufacturer Johnson Controls, show that flexible workplaces will continue to respond “to a complex and competitive world [that is] focused on collaboration, innovation and creativity.”
While circumstances will vary, here are seven smart tips for managers (and the rank-and-file, for that matter) to succeed in today’s open-plan environment:
1. If you want other people to speak up, listen closely and use eye contact when they’re talking. “Face them - with your shoulders, your feet, knees, hips,” says Goman. “When you start to turn parts of your body away, even your feet, well, it looks like your feet want to leave the room, which is usually the case. Instead, align your body toward people.”
2. Remove barriers between yourself and others. That means laptops, briefcases, papers, books, purses - and smartphones.
3. Expand your presence, rather than compress yourself. “Women in particular tend to hold their arms tightly to their bodies.” Instead, take your place at the table, as it were. Demonstrate your involvement to those around you.
4. Dress as a member of the team, which you can do effectively no matter what your role.
5. Try sitting in the middle of the table, rather than instinctively grabbing the lead spot.
6. Know how you come across to others - and adjust that if necessary. Allow yourself to be videotaped and examine the results, Goman advises. “I’ve had executives tell me afterward, ‘Hell, I wouldn’t hire me,’” she says. A third party such as a career coach or valued colleague can share advice and insight.
7. Show empathy toward others. Younger employees in particular, says Goman, who are so adept at technology, may not always have the body language skills that can help them succeed in a collaborative environment.
This article was originally published on The Fiscal Times.
Thinking outside the box sounds great, but a bad out-of-the-box idea can kill your company.
The capacity to create a business idea and get someone else to understand that idea is a fascinating human trait. Ideas can only come from humans. There is not an app for generating unique ideas.
I believe business ideas come in two major forms: “inside the box” and “outside the box.”
Have you ever asked someone or a group of people to think outside the box? This question usually comes up with something isn’t going quite right or needs to be improved upon. The response is usually, "Sure, I'll think outside the box with you." These sessions are usually filled with a storm of ideas.
But have you ever considered thinking inside the box? More than likely you haven’t, because we don’t often define this box we refer to all the time.
If you have not defined your business box, an outside the box idea could kill your business. Defining the box is actually quite simple, but simple doesn’t necessarily mean easy. Dieting is simple, for example. You just need to consumer fewer calories than you expend. Yet few would say that dieting is easy.
So what is the box? It’s got three parts. The first, which is composed of what I call Way One thinking, is the development of business objectives. What I refer to as Way Two thinking is the creation of SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time-bound) plans designed to support the business objectives. And finally, Way Three thinking is the enormous amount of energy the tasks require to execute the plan.
At my digital marketing agency, Mojo Media Labs, we have four categories of key business objectives: finance, customer, culture, and internal business operations. Within each key objective are two foundations, for a total of eight objectives. Each of these objectives is tied to multiple documented strategies that are needed to accomplish them. I could not count the tactics we use on a daily basis to ensure we are on plan. This is our box.
We are constantly thinking of inside the box business ideas that will help us be more efficient at our tasks, increase the R (results) in our SMART plans, and ensure we hit our objectives. An objective is a target. The shaft of the arrow is the plan and the fletching of the arrow is the tasks. Everything must be aligned in order to hit our intended target.
We define “outside the box” thinking as any business idea that falls outside our current objectives, plans and tasks. This structure allows us to keep the team focused on the target for longer periods of time. We evaluate the box every twelve months and build a new box. Can you see then how an “outside the box” business idea could pose as a distraction during the course of normal day-to-day business operations?
The box also helps identify if you are working "in" the business opposed to working "on" the business. Some people are more creative in the box, or working in the business. Some are more creative and more passionate while thinking outside the box, or on the business. The ROE® methodology helps define the box; that thing we both think and work “in” or “out” of.
MeUndies announces an ad campaign on a porn site. Crazy or brilliant?
"We're always looking for new ways to get our brand in front of people. If that means a little bit of controversy, so be it."
This is what MeUndies founder Jonathan Shokrian told PandoDaily about the company's sexy new ad campaign...which just launched on a porn site.
MeUndies, a Los Angeles-based subscription underwear and apparel start-up, will reportedly host an ongoing ad campaign on a 2-month-old porn site called PaintBottle.com.
According to Shokrian, the idea came from one of MeUndies' investors, who read favorable coverage of the Canadian-based porn hub in a mainstream news publication.
Of course, MeUndies is also accustomed to bucking taboos: The company already tucks condoms in with its skivvy shipments.
So what's the pay off for MeUndies?
Try a huge, virtually untapped audience.
“Half of the Internet-connected populous watches adult content. That’s more than the viewership for Netflix, Hulu, HBO GO, Amazon Instant Video, and all other forms of TV-on-the-Web entertainment combined. Yet adult sites remain littered with low-resolution images and giant banner ads--artifacts of an Internet that is a decade past," PaintBottle founder John Phillips told the outlet.
"We offer an adult platform through which non-adult, mainstream advertisers can target this massive and mature audience."
Nothing is more important--and less predictable--than recruiting. Here's ways to get better at it.
Hiring is the Achilles heel of all small companies, including mine. Good candidates are hard to find, and the recruiting process always seems to take more time than I plan for.
That said, over the last eight years, I've learned some tricks to reduce both the cost and time it takes to continue building my team as Metal Mafia grows.
Here's what they are:
1. Allow six months for the recruitment process.
Hiring when you have a start date in mind that is just around the corner causes you to accept candidates you would have otherwise passed over. Give yourself three months to search for and screen applicants, one month so a new hire can give notice to her current employer, and at least two months to train a new person.
2. Write a job post that accurately describes your company.
Believe it or not, you don't want to emphasize the qualities you need in a candidate in a job description. You want to tell a prospective candidate about what makes your company a different or special place to work, to insure you get interest from people who are the right cultural fit. It's far less expensive to teach skills than attitude to a new recruit.
3. Make the interview process several steps.
Candidates who want any job--and not necessarily the job you are hiring for--rarely take the time to apply if they know they have to go above and beyond a one-click submisssion just to get looked at.
4. Handle at least one part of the recruiting process yourself.
Whether it be screening resumes, doing phone interviews, or conducting the first interview. The earlier you get involved in the recruiting the better the chances you have of finding the right candidate (and weeding out the others!). No one knows your company's needs better than you.
5. Identify the five most important qualities for the positiong you're filling.
Create interview questions that measure these five qualities to allow you to determine if a candidate possesses them or not.
6. Do more than ask questions when you interview.
Set up opportunities to observe how an applicant handles herself in situations similar to the ones she will be asked to handle if she's hired. For example, if she will be organizing data for your company, give her data to classify, and pay attention to the way she does it. Does her approach match how you do things at your company? Does she follow a logic you can understand?
7. Bring others in on your recruiting process.
Make sure strong candidates are evaluated by at least two members of your team in addition to you. Instincts are important in picking the right candidate, but sometimes you end up on the fence. Having someone to talk about the candidate with can help you get clarity when it matters.
8. Create a training program.
Make sure your training program truly reflects the tasks a hire will be called upon to do. And then formalize it so the new hire can understand where she is at in the training process at all times.
9. Reevaluate both what you teach a new hire and what he retains on a regular basis.
Never be afraid to slow down the training process, teach a concept again, shift gears, or add new modules as you go. The idea is not to train fast, but to train right. Taking the time to do it once and thoroughly will shield your customers from errors, and your company from lost loyalty.
10. Be honest with yourself throughout the training process.
If you make a hiring mistake, don't waste precious time and money hoping it will eventually turn out okay. It won't. Let the candidate go immediately. It is better to have no help at all than to have the wrong help.
Recruiting the right team can seem daunting, but it is also extremely exciting. Taking the time to make the best hire rather than just any hire is a chance to expand your team's competencies, grow your customer base, and take your company to a new level. Hopefully my 10 tricks will help you.
Why the famed entrepreneur and author credits the military for advantages his civilian counterparts just didn't have.
For years, entrepreneur and author Steve Blank kept a secret from the people he worked with in Silicon Valley, he told me recently. The secret was that he'd first learned about technology and leadership in the U.S. Air Force.
If you're into entrepreneurship and customer development, you probably know Blank.
He's credited along with his former student, author Eric Ries, with developing the lean start-up paradigm. He's a serial entrepreneur who had big failures (Rock Star Games) and great successes (Epihpany, sold for $329 million in 2005), and a best-selling author in his own right. (His books, The Four Steps to the Epiphany and The Startup Owner's Manual are perennial Amazon bestsellers.)
Blank also writes columns for Inc.com. In reading one of his latest entries, I noticed that he'd served in the military. When I called afterward to ask about his experience in uniform--and whether it had any measurable impact on his later entrepreneurial success--he was eager to talk.
(I'm pretty convinced that military experience can offer fantastic, if misunderstood, preparation for life as an entrepreneur. I got some great responses to my recent column on the subject, and I'm always eager to hear about more of these stories. So feel free to reach out to me here.)
As Blank tells the story, his military career began in 1971, after he dropped out of Michigan State, hitchhiked to Florida, and got a job at a Miami airport. He "fell in love with avionics," and enlisted in the Air Force to learn more about the field. He served for four years, including a year in Thailand repairing aircraft.
Afterward, he kept quiet about the experience, at least after he stopped working for big military and intelligence contractors and entered the world of start-ups. In the post-Vietnam era, he explained, there was little upside to mentioning a stint in uniform.
"It was very different than today. To say it wasn't respected was an understatement," Blank told me. "You did not advertise that you were ex-military in Silicon Valley."
Nevertheless, that military experience was Blank's secret advantage, he told me, a place where he'd "learned some of the best things I learned in my life." Here are five ways Blank said the military prepared him to become a successful entrepreneur.
1. Technical Training
Transferability of military training to civilian workforce skills is a huge issue in veterans affairs these days. Not all military specialties are created equally, but in Blank's case, he says his military training was a path to success in Silicon Valley.
"The Air Force at the time had the best vocational school in the world. They taught hundreds of thousands of airmen," he said. "We were at the bleeding edge of electronics."
His training also showed that he had a gut feeling for how systems worked.
"I learned I had great pattern recognition skills. If you're a tech, you can do it by the manual, or you can recognize over time that the manual doesn't teach you. That turned out to be my strength," he said.
2. Creative Problem-Solving
Creative people find a way to shine in spite of rigid environments, and the military can be a real proving ground for that skill. Blank said he realized what he'd learned when he returned to college after the Air Force and was trying to register for classes.
"I'm standing in line again like 'I'm going to get my fourth choice?'" Blank said. "[The heck with] this. I'd spent four years scrounging parts and figuring ways around red tape, all for the good of the country. I remember laughing like, 'you call this a bureaucracy?'"
He turned to his military schmoozing and scrounging skills, and emerged from registration with all of his first-choice classes.
3. Recognizing Opportunity
Blank threw the military maxim, "don't volunteer for anything" to the wind, and instead raised his hand just about every time someone asked.
"Ten percent of the time you wound up cleaning latrines, but the other 90 percent of the time I got to do amazing [stuff]," he said.
That included being stationed for a time at Homestead Air Force Base in Florida (considered a plumb assignment), serving in Southeast Asia, working on some of the most advanced avionics around, and even flying at times on board combat aircraft.
He saw later how the combination of experiences affected him: "Playing it safe is the antithesis of entrepreneurship."
In his book, Making the Corps, Tom Ricks described putting his life in the hands of a 22-year-old Marine on a patrol in Somalia. In his Washington office, he marveled, he wouldn't have let a 22-year-old "run the copying machine without adult supervision."
Blank discovered first-hand how that worked. "If you operated well in chaos, you got 'promoted,'" Blank told me. "By the time I was 19, I was managing 15 people. It wasn't because I had the rank. I was still a single- or two-striper then. But I was good at it."
Blank is the first to admit he wasn't often in direct physical danger when he was in uniform. There were a few incidents when he was an in-flight repairman aboard an AC-130 gunship that came under North Vietnamese anti-aircraft fire, but by and large his job involved fixing airplanes, not getting shot at.
Still, he told me about the moment it suddenly clicked in his mind he was connected to a real life-and-death enterprise. He was working on a plane when he saw a group of airmen congregating at an empty revetment nearby, where an A-7D close support aircraft was normally parked.
"I wandered over, young and stupid and thinking this is a party," Blank recalled. The plane had been shot down, and the pilot was dead.
Fast-forward a few years: When Blank faced tough days in the first companies he started, he said he would think back to that moment. Failure is a relative term.
"You can describe that until you're blue in the face, but unless you've lived through it you never had the context," Blank said. "If you were anywhere near a combat zone--then, or now if you were in Iraq or Afghanistan--failing had a very different connotation."
Stop asking candidates to tell their "story." A better tool for assessing candidates' skills and competencies is a behavioral interview. Here's an example.
Managers are bad at assessing job candidates in almost countless ways. But according to Claudio Fernández-Aráoz, a global expert on hiring and promotion decisions, two of these ways are especially egregious:
1. Managers, like all people, make snap judgments.
Neuroscience breakthroughs have revealed that "we make judgments about people much faster than we do about things," Fernández-Aráoz observes. "Amazingly, in your first encounter with someone, the relevant areas in your brain are making your initial judgment (pro or con) in just one-twentieth of a second."
2. When interviewing prospective hires, managers completely eschew structure and instead "just let the candidate tell his story."
In his book Great People Decisions: Why They Matter So Much, Why They Are So Hard, and How You Can Master Them, Fernández-Aráoz offers an approach to conducting a structured, "behavioral" interview that will help. He provides examples of the kinds of questions that elicit the most useful responses.
The first goal of any hiring interview, Fernández-Aráoz says, should not be to decide whether you like the candidate or even whether he or she fits into the organization. It should be to determine whether the candidate is competent at handling the key tasks that, if he or she is hired, will be required to succeed. Before interviewing anyone, the recruiting executive must identify those requisite competencies and then craft questions that will help determine to what extent a given candidate possesses them.
Thus, the preparation for the interview is as important as the interview itself. "We have found that for a two-hour interview to yield meaningful information, it could take at least that much time to get ready for it," Fernández-Aráoz writes.
Above are some of the questions Fernández-Aráoz asks in a sample search for a marketing director for a "fast-moving consumer goods company." They are "focused on facts and behaviors, not opinions or generalities" and designed to assess the candidate's possession of a specified competency.
Here's why Amazon, Microsoft, and Facebook are opening local development offices there--and why you might want to do the same.
If you've ever been to Vancouver you know the Canadian city is chock full of coffee shops, cyclists, and cultural diversity. Consistently rated as one of the most livable cities on the planet, the British Columbian locale is also a hotbed for start-ups and big business alike.
Here's why the picturesque coastal city, which hosted the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, is where you might want to kick off your next big idea.
Superb Support From the Government
More than 100 tax cuts have been introduced in British Columbia in the last eight years so that the province boasts some of the lowest taxes in North America.
Kia Rahmani, co-founder and CEO of ShareDesk, a Vancouver-based company that lets businesses all over the world rent unused office space to other firms, says the combined provincial and federal tax rate is 25 percent for small businesses that make up to $500,000 in profits a year.
"And in addition to this, a lot of start-ups and tech companies in Vancouver benefit from R&D rebates. In some cases they get up to 40 percent in rebates from the government," he says.
Rahmani also points to an initiative the Canadian government recently rolled out called the Start-up Visa Program.
"Essentially it's making Canada in general a very favorable platform for launching a start-up because of lax immigration policies. So if [a foreign entrepreneur has] investment from a Venture Capital firm or if you're accepted into an accelerator the government will immediately issue a permanent resident status," he says.
Top-Notch Software Development Talent
Brian Shuster, founder of the virtual reality platform Utherverse, says the skill level of software developers and artists in Vancouver is the best he has ever encountered--a pretty big statement considering the serial entrepreneur has operated several companies in Los Angeles, Lake Tahoe, and San Jose, including the website creation tool Webjump, which he sold in 1999 for $25 million to TheGlobe.com.
"Vancouver has become home to the world's largest game developers. Electronic Arts, for example, has a campus here along with hundreds of other game and app development companies both large and small. Schools in Vancouver are churning out students specializing in 3-D graphics, game development, and programming in general. I've also noticed that Amazon and Microsoft have begun snapping up offices throughout the city," he says.
Rahmani agrees and says half of the city's population has a college or university degree and British Columbian skilled information and communications technology workers include 67,000 people in engineering, IT, and production.
"This makes for world class R&D," he says.
Proximity to Silicon Valley
Dr. Boris Wertz, founding partner of Vancouver-based Version One Ventures, an early-stage venture capital firm says there are benefits to running a start-up outside of Silicon Valley, where talent is a premium and turnover is high.
"Vancouver is a great place to build a company and hire strong technical and design talent for much lower salaries than in the Valley. Many Vancouver-based startups like Clio, HootSuite, Indochino, or Unbounce have benefited from that and build really strong product teams," he says, also echoing Shuster's point that big name Web companies have recognized Vancouver's advantages and opened local development offices.
"At the same time you're super close to [the Valley] when you have to do business development or talk to VCs. It's an easy two-hour flight down there," Wertz says.
Canadian Work Ethic and Politeness
Shuster says Canadians are more dedicated to their jobs and take more pride in their work, compared with what he saw with many of the people he employed in the U.S. who were interested in an impressive title, higher salaries, and getting stock options with the hope of going public right away.
"In Vancouver, building something meaningful seems to be prioritized over the quick hit," he says.
Aaron Rallo, founder and CEO of TSO Logic, a Vancouver-based company that helps businesses reduce server farm and data center energy consumption, agrees.
"There is a culture here that's 'What can I do that's cool and interesting' and not necessarily 'Who's going to pay me the most money,'" Rallo says. "One of the things you have to give is empowerment so they really get input into what's going on because people here do thrive off of that."
As a former New Yorker, Rallo says it took him a while to get used to the emphasis on work-life balance in Vancouver. He wondered why someone would take an hour-long lunch break to do yoga. After years of running his company there he now sees it differently.
"They come back and maybe they work late or maybe they work a little bit extra but... when you have that balance I think it does let you put a little bit more effort into your work," he says.
And while there's a stereotype that Canadians are easygoing and polite, Shuster says they really are friendly, caring, and courteous--traits that make them good co-workers and better customer advocates.
"This is true even in areas that don't interact directly with the public, things like creating legal agreements or business agreements," he says. [My employees in Vancouver] have an empathy that makes our business run more smoothly in general."
Greenest City in the World by 2020
Rallo, whose company is all about helping customers around the world use less power in their data centers, likes that Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson is a big green advocate and has initiated a campaign to turn it into the greenest city in the world by 2020.
Server power costs are also relatively low in British Columbia.
"When we look to sell to people we're actively looking for people that spend quite a bit more on power [per kilowatt hour]. You go to California and you're in the high teens; Toronto you're at $0.13 to $0.15. In Vancouver you're like $0.07 or $0.08 cents."
Quality of Life
Last year Mercer rated Vancouver No. 1 in the Americas and No. 5 in the world for quality of living.
Geoff Mair, CTO of Vancouver-based enterprise app store provider Partnerpedia can see why.
"Vancouver has a rare combination of outdoor living and city culture making it a truly great place to live, especially for young people starting their careers. It's one of the only places in the world where you can windsurf or ski during the day, go for great sushi or live music at night, all in a thriving city that supports career growth," he says.
The Apple CEO encouraged Duke undergrads to make their own rules and soak up the value of learning.
On a recent visit to Duke University, Apple CEO Tim Cook was asked by a student, "When should we listen to our professors and when is it OK to break the rules?"
Cook smiled. "You should rarely follow the rules," he replied. "I think you should write the rules.
"I think if you do follow things in a formulaic manner, you will wind up, at best, being the same as everybody else."
When companies follow the rules, he continued, they are successful for a little while, but ultimately they won't succeed.
That said, Cook doesn't dismiss formal training. What Duke's Fuqua School taught him so well is how to learn, collaborate, and work with people who have different perspectives.
"To me, that was the overwhelming value of being here--not the specific rules of marketing or strategy or operations," Cook said.