If we think of the federal government like a company (which is some ways it is, other ways not), then it follows that the scandals that have shaken the administration (IRS, AP phone records, Benghazi, etc.) are the responsibility of the president (or CEO) in this important way:
Obama-as-CEO is responsible for managing risk at the highest level, and that means that he has to ensure that people in the lower rungs aren’t making tradeoffs on behalf of the organization without guidance and full, transparent oversight.
In corporations, the risk challenge for a CEO are lower-level employees who introduce risk for two reasons:
To be “efficient”: They misunderstand their job, or are overwhelmed and start doing things in a such a way as to save themselves time (e.g., robo-signing at a bank, key word searching for “Tea Party” at the IRS).
To be “expedient”: They are protected or insulated by a manager who condones behaviors that create long-term risk, in favor of positive short-term gains (e.g., revealing a leak at Justice, betting big on derivatives at a bank).
While Congress debates who knew what when, it’s clear that the administration faces an even bigger culture-of-risk challenge that it has to clear up immediately, or the scandals will keep coming.
Photo cred: Timo (via Flickr)
Not doing a periodic check in on your competition is like living without an alarm clock, a scale, and a mirror.
Every year (and more frequently if you are a tech startup), company leaders should direct their teams to conduct a competitiveness assessment to compare their value proposition to that of their competitors. Here’s what they should dig into to learn:
■ What are the obvious strategic directions in which they are taking the product? Who are their core/prototypical users/customers (now and future-looking)?
■ To the extent they have issued a calendar of events/launches for the year, what do those things include? What extent might they overlap with our current or future product offerings?
■ What are the obvious product/service strengths in terms of features on-offer? Based on what you know/have heard from our own staff, what aspects of the offering (especially virtual—in website or mobile user experiences) just seem “cool”/on-point?
■ Similar to the above: what are the obvious product weaknesses we should be exploiting, especially in our marketing conversations, for “sell-against”? How do we most effectively differentiate?
This gorgeous snap was taken by my pal Alex Garcia.
Just responded to this press inquiry.
Q: What misconceptions did you have about the startup life before becoming an entrepreneur?
A: From giving to asking was the hardest leap to make as an entrepreneur.
One thing I underestimated is how much time you spend asking people for things when you start a company: time, money, and trust. It wears on you, especially if you came from an environment where at one time you controlled resources (a budget), or managed a team and had the ability to promote and reward.
Depending on your personality this can hit you hard or really hard, and finding a way to give back to people in other ways is key if you tend to be someone who needs that to fulfill their basic psychological needs.
How I deal is I spend time on the weekend scrolling through LinkedIn looking for people who I can help, either by supporting a cause or putting them in touch with someone who is in my network. I also volunteer with a nonprofit, since it helps you practice asking for something on behalf of an organization that is not your own and has direct positive effects (read: you don’t have to “sell” it).
You have to find a way to meet your emotional needs as an entrepreneur, or you’ll find yourself drinking vodka for breakfast and slow dancing to Richie Valens with your cat.
Mentors matter, but with a little self-reflection, you can develop yourself at work. Here’s how WSJ suggests you build yourself up (and get promoted).
Steps to self-reflection and development:
• “Compile two lists to use as an action guide. One should itemize what you do well and the second should list improvements others would like to see in you, says Gabriela Cora, an executive coach in Miami. ‘You have to be open for that feedback and willing to work on those points. And don’t just ask people that you’re friendly with. Ask a couple of people that you’re always competing against or people that you butt heads with.’
• “Learn to control your emotions, and you should see a quick improvement in your working relationships. Uncover what your emotional triggers are so you can predict and head off any potentially rash or embarrassing responses to peers or bosses. Emotional outbursts aren’t viewed favorably in most workplaces, which is why you should just excuse yourself from meetings or work if you feel emotionally overwhelmed.
• “Know your limits. This can not only preserve your health and sanity, it can keep you from exceeding your limits and making mistakes that can hurt your career. If you can only handle five of seven tasks, for instance, that’s something you need to talk to your boss about…”
We may have fallen a little in love with the technology and have taken our trusted friend — the idea — a little bit for granted.
Marc Pritchard, P&G Brand Building Officer. “Let’s Forget Tech, and Fall Back In Love With the Idea”
Mr. Pritchard who, despite being a marketing leader at one of the largest advertisers in the world, began his talk by lamenting that in his world — one of selling unsexy products like soap, toilet paper and diapers — it can be tough to break through and resonate with consumers. “Getting people to pay attention to our brands is a heck of a creative challenge,” Mr. Pritchard said. “We all know that our creative challenge has never been harder because of the dizzying array of connections” consumers are making, he said, referencing a long list of mediums — everything from radio and print to Instagram and Snapchat.
In some ways, he argued, technology is making it harder to find the creative ideas that will click broadly with consumers because ad people are getting too enamored with the medium instead of the message.
In an ideal world, 100% of digital media would have a call to action.
Why? Well, if people are taking action, they’re retaining more information than if they are engaging passively (e.g., “liking”, “loving”, and “retweeting”).
The importance of creating agency is based on adult-learning theory, which says if you’re passively receiving information, it’s not being stored in your long-term memory. It’s all about engagement, which may mean making someone really mad or inspiring greater degrees of emotion (think: Sally Struthers late-night infomercials on helping starving children in Africa).
This blog’s call to action: both creators of news and marketing messages must aim to create a call to action that has real-life — not just social network — implications in their messages, or they will go unheeded.
I’m sure you’ve all seen the sorority letter that shook the nation.
When I first read it I called it a hoax, believing it had been written by a McSweeney’s star. It’s pretty terrific.
Learning it was not a hoax, I then wanted to hire this woman (until I heard about her racist comments on Twitter). Here’s why:
Her tirade is really about manners and representing the organization to which one has “pledged,” and she’s right on all of her points. Being polite and engaging is at the core of every social interaction, and failing to meet a fairly low bar is inexcusable.
Her writing is good… no, great. It’s colorful, targeted, well-structured, and she even uses caps to great effect. It flows well and it makes you want to keep reading. I won’t repeat her words, but applying male body parts as metaphors to women’s behavior has never been done better.
At its worst, the letter is hilarious. At its best it is a commentary on her peers that is instructive and compelling. It’s also a good reminder to us all that we all need to pick it up a bit in the communications and manners department. Let’s not be sloppy socially, ladies and gents.
Former Baltimore mayor William Donald Schaefer was infamous for his “Schaefer-grams,” which were threatening notes calling attention to an issue, like a pothole “somewhere in the city,” and demanding it be fixed in 48 hours. In response, department of public works employees would ram around Baltimore patching up as many potholes as they could find, hoping that they fixed the one that irked him.
Also this: “He famously turned a construction delay of the Baltimore aquarium in 1981 into a public relations win by plunging into the seal tank while wearing a Victorian-era swimsuit and holding a rubber duck.”
If marketing is the act of creating lots of emotional touch points that convert into monetization points — as my friend Regan tells me it is — ideas and products that have local resonance with us will have a leg up.
Being from Ithaca and having lived in D.C. for many years, most things Ithacan and most things D.C. resonate with me. Because of this, I’m more likely to attach to products and ideas I associate with these places. I will be more loyal to them and more likely to pay for them (e.g., local music, coffee, etc.). That’s the idea behind community-based marketing, which I have been doing a lot of thinking about with some musician friends who want to extend their community.
Community-based marketing, as I’m calling it, connects people with their places and the things created there. Tech-based and people-based networks are the clear winners in terms of promoting a place and its products, but local businesses and creators aren’t doing enough to connect with diasporic networks — both to learn from (mentors) and to market to (customers).
I live in D.C., but drink Forty Weight Coffee and listen to Sim Redmond Band to connect where I’m from with where I live now. These products become part of my identity, which is hybridized by my two homes. I really think there is something to this.
Years ago I took a public speaking and presentation class given by The Actors Institute (my former employer CEB offered it to its consultants). It helped me enormously, and I still try to abide by TAI’s presentation rules.
The Real Purpose of Slides
1) To visually illustrate a point – to say something that will not be clear if it is only expressed verbally.
2) To allow you to reinforce an idea through an image.
3) To allow you to connect an idea to an image.
4) To support what you have to say, not to be the presentation!
Try to avoid having more than 10 slides in an hour-long presentation.
Adjust the amount of slides for other presentations accordingly.
Remember, there are two kinds of slides – the ones you create to help you remember what you want to say, and the ones that you actually show! You can use one set for notes and the other for presenting.
If possible, try not to give out the slide deck until after your presentation. Then it can be a follow-up and reinforcement, rather than a distraction.
Questions To Ask Yourself When Inserting Slides:
- What does this slide really add to my presentation?
- What is it illustrating that I cannot just say verbally?
- What is its purpose?
- How does it enrich what I am trying to communicate?
- How does it connect to the objective of my presentation?
(If you can’t find an answer to any of these questions, you should probably not put that slide into the deck.)
- Can this slide be easily read and understood by my audience? (Including the size of the font and pictures)
- Does it visually illuminate my point?
- Does it clearly relate to the topic – can people see what the picture or icon connects to in the theme of the presentation?
(If the answer to any of these is, “no” then you need to re-work it.)
Most of all, remember that you run the presentation and the slides; they should not run you!
Whenever you’re getting down about your business/life, just consider how the rest of the world lives.
We ran the geo-coordinates for a Russian developer we’ve been working with to develop an Android app, and below is a photo of where he lives and works.
I’m glad to make these global connections, play a role (however small) in helping create opportunities for others around the world, and so so glad we built in nice a bonus for the work he’s done.
Last week DC Startup Forum hosted Jim Bankoff, Chairman and CEO of Vox Media for a talk on, well, startups.
Some of Bankoff’s ideas are over-played at tech meetups, but others were helpful.
Find your niche. One thing that startups can do that legacy brands cannot is create niche content for a specific audience. The Verge, helps readers “understand the culture of now” (e.g., what’s the impact of google glass or the future or drones). SBNation focused on sports, obviously. And Polygon is for gamers.
Think like a tech company. Bankoff advised all companies, even BMW, to think about their brand as an information/tech/social company and consider how these tools can deliver a better product/experience.
Be opportunistic. Simultaneously launch verticals, instead of focusing on a single site since you can package advertising better for larger brands across platforms.
Be efficient in sales. Sell across all your platforms (Bankoff’s sales teams sell for Polygon, SBNation, and The Verge), which is more efficient and allows for bigger contracts and fewer account managers.
Don’t be low-end. Information is a commodity, and you can only differentiate if you scoop other sources, tell the story better, and provide a unique perspective. Ideally, a media startup does all of these things.
Make your tools multi-purpose. What can you consolidate? Bankoff had all sites working off the same CMS. He added this important insight: Don’t treat CMS/tech as simply meeting a predetermined need, give tech a seat at the table and design internal software platforms to align with purpose and mission.
Focus on one thing. While there was an opportunity to license SBNation’s CMS, Bankoff opted not to and instead use the software for its competitive advantage (better site —> more visitors).
Offer marketers something different. Instead of offering better metrics in terms of reader click-throughs to advertisers, position your site as one that enables marketers to create positive perceptions of their brands (always helps if your readers are young and rich). Help them see the importance of this approach and they will keep coming back.
Aside: He calls his businesses “investments”, but he largely built the enterprise through acquisition (albeit, early stage).
While I haven’t always ascribed to Christensen’s disruption theories, particularly as he’s applied them to journalism. (He ignores demand for high quality news products that new market entrants aren’t positioned to provide.) I do buy Christensen’s point that high-end brands are in danger if they don’t position themselves across more of the market:
“If a newcomer thinks is can win by competing at the high end, the incumbents will always kill you.
If they come in at the bottom of the market and offer something that at first is not as good, the legacy companies won’t feel threatened until too late, after the newcomers have gained a foothold in the market.”
Future victims: Tesla, Apple, academic institutions.
How to protect your legacy brand: develop a flexible strategy, establish partnerships with cutting edge businesses (read: don’t just acquire, since prices are high and acquisition value is highly uncertain — here are some rules for when to buy vs. ally).
Art: Caravaggio’s “David and Goliath”
The Young Entrepreneurs Council, of which I am a member and I highly recommend to other founders, sent this opportunity around earlier this week:
Seeking Successful Startups for Digital Documentary Series
Ish Entertainment and The Wall Street Journal are recruiting
innovative, exciting and dynamic startup businesses to participate in
a unique project - a serious journalistic effort to document exactly
what being an entrepreneur and creating a startup entails. To that
end, we hope to find the top 25 businesses across the nation to
represent the startup experience in various industries, including but
not limited to:
Energy & Environment
Media & Entertainment
Each of the 25 businesses selected will be considered for the title of
The Wall Street Journal’s “Startup of the Year.” They will also
receive the invaluable exposure of having their businesses featured
across all of The Wall Street Journal’s digital platforms, with
viewership of over 35 million people per month, as well as the
incredible opportunity to be mentored by highly successful business
leaders and entrepreneurs.
To qualify for this project, businesses must:
Have less than $10 million in revenue
Have a proof of concept and/or prototype in place
Be headquartered in the continental U.S.A.
To learn more, please email email@example.com with your
name, age, location and a brief blurb about your business, as well as
your photo, and a representative will contact you with further