If candidate screening on social media allows for prejudice, businesses are probably better off leaving well enough alone.
Reasonable minds can disagree about whether a job candidate should be disqualified because their Facebook profile picture shows them doing a keg stand.
But there's no debating that not hiring people based on their religion is straight-up prejudiced. And, according to the Wall Street Journal, this is occurring as a result of hiring managers screening candidates on social media.
A Gray Area
According to the Journal, a study of companies that screen social media profiles before calling candidates in for an interview, Muslims receive a lower callback rate than Christians. This is particularly pronounced, the Journal reports, in conservative states, where 17 percent of Christians received calls compared to just 2 percent of Muslims. The study, out of Carnegie Mellon University, did not find a similar discrepancy among straight and gay candidates.
Information like this has the capacity to change the way we consider social media screening, from an iffy but reasonable process that helps managers learn more about candidates to one that has the capacity to tread into unethical hiring practices. In other words, things could get legally murky based on this information.
To that end, employment law attorney James McDonald tells the Journal companies should cut their losses and move on from social media screening.
"I advise employers that it's not a good idea to use social media as a screening tool," McDonals says. "You need to control the information you receive so you're only getting information that is legal for you to take into account."
Every year when Inc. Magazine announces the newest Entrepreneur of the Year award winner--it begs the question "what happened to the other?" Well, we have an the answer for you.
Inc. Magazine has awarded the title 'Entrepreneur of the Year' (occasionally, 'Company of the Year') for decades. Here are some of the notable winners over the years--with updates about what they have done since they took the title.
At just 24 years old, Michael Dell--founder and CEO of Dell--was named Inc. Magazine's entrepreneur of the year in 1989. Today, after 24 years at the helm of the world's third largest computer hardware manufacturer (by revenue), Dell the entrepreneur has not slowed down. After two decades on the public market, Dell took the PC conglomerate private in October 2013 with a $25 billion deal and restored control over the company he started in college.
Growing up in China during Mao's Cultural Revolution, Ping Fu was expelled from a Chinese University for an outspoken college thesis against China's One Child Law. After, she left China and studied computer science at the University of New Mexico and in 1997, co-founded Geomagic, a 3D software development company. The 2005 Inc. Magazine Entrepreneur of the Year award winner served as CEO of Geomagic until February 2013, when the company was acquired by 3D Systems Inc., reported Inc.
Inc. Magazine named Elon Musk Entrepreneur of the Year way back in 2007 when he was best known as the co-founder of PayPal--but it is clear the South-African entrepreneur has moved on to bigger things since. Today, the CEO of SpaceX and Tesla Motors is one of the most talked about names in the start-up world from his work with NASA to his latest big idea he unveiled this August, the "hyperloop"--a high speed train that would take passengers from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 35 minutes.
In 1997, a severe car accident left Alison Schuback with a traumatic brain injury that confined her to a wheelchair, but the injury was merely a setback. In 2002, Schuback invented Invisibib--a washable, transparent bib for adults with disabilities. She launched a company around the invention; and in 2008 Inc. Magazine named her Entrepreneur of the Year for her work with the inspiring company. After appearing on PBS's "Everyday Edison's," Schuback formed a relationship with the Head Injury Association of America and today, the association helps with the distribution and marketing of the Invisibib to Schuback's fellow traumatic brain injury survivors.
When Inc. Magazine named Kevin Surace Entrepreneur of the Year in 2009 , he was known as founder and CEO of Serious Materials (the name has since been changed to Serious Energy) a start-up focused on saving carbon with improved building materials. Surace was with the company for over nine years, but today serves as the CEO of Appvance and has launched numerous other Silicon Valley companies. He was also recognized by CNBC for his innovation and featured as a TED Talk speaker.
In 2011, Inc. Magazine named Evernote the Company of the Year for the start-up's ability to basically change how we remember. The company, with $251 million in funding and CEO Phil Libin at the helm, has since been valued at more than $1 billion for its array of products and service that help consumers keep track of everything from voice memos to emails to photos.
Since its 2001 inception, Zumba Fitness has grown--rapidly. In 2012, the company--founded around the latin-inspired dance-fitness program--was named Inc. Magazine's Company of the Year for its ability to build an empire around a fitness program. Today, people can take Zumba classes at 140,000 different locations across 185 countries according to the company's website.
Inc. Magazine just named Aaron Levie, the 28-year-old CEO of Box Entrepreneur of the Year for 2013. His Los Altos-based cloud computing company, with about 20 million users across 180,000 businesses has been valued at $1.2 billion. With high hopes for the young entrepreneur, it will be interesting to see what he does next.
This is an easy gift to give--and one you can start giving out right away. Believe me: your employees will thank you.
When was the last time you looked a colleague in the eye? During a first meeting, an initial interview? Hard to say. As we bury our faces in smartphones, phablets, tablets, and laptops, an office full of smart, creative people can start to seem like a team of zombies--distracted, disconnected, and isolated. Small wonder there's so much talk of open office spaces and revitalizing company culture. Too many workplaces are suffering from workplace ADD.
As you embrace new technologies, it becomes difficult to stay focused. According to late Stanford psychology professor Clifford Nass, multitasking, while seemingly productive, is actually killing our creativity and concentration. While some employees may shake heads and roll eyes, the benefit of deliberately detaching from personal devices during work will reconnect the office in a way no technology can offer.
Bringing the focus back to the here and now in the office can't happen without some managerial implementation and good old group effort, though. Around 2002, when my friends and I had our first BlackBerrys and we'd get together for drinks or dinner, we implemented a system we dubbed "call the call." That meant if you sat down with us at dinner and you did not mention who was going to call you or why you needed to speak with them, then you couldn't answer the phone during the dinner. So, if I sat down and said, "I'm expecting a call from my mother, who's driving from Arizona," I could pick up that call. If you didn't announce the call and still answered the phone. the rest of the group was free to call the person out on it. Let's bring this back: call the call, call the text, call the email. Keep each other accountable.
As the holidays approach, it may be a good time to come together and combat this ADD as an office. Instead of downloading the latest Christmas app and laughing at screens alone during coffee breaks, here are some ways to countdown to the holidays together and collectively become more present in the new year:
Put Your Phone Away When You're Talking to Someone
Seems like a no-brainer, but it happens all the time. Texting, looking at emails, or browsing Instagram while engaged in a conversation with your colleague isn't a conversation at all. Your colleague is apt to feel slighted, as if what's on the phone is more important than they are. In some cases, maybe it is, but that's when you politely excuse yourself. You'll be seen as disengaged and aloof if you're on your phone while talking to someone in person.
Silence Your Phone (and Close the Laptop) During Meetings
Close the computer, join the meeting. If the meeting isn't important enough to silence phones while it takes place, it probably shouldn't be happening in the first place. Often times when people are on their devices during meetings, the session drags out. There are so many instances of "Wait, can you say that again" and "Sorry, I got distracted" that it really disengages other members and brings down the morale of the entire room. An easy 15 minutes can turn into a grueling 60 minutes if people remain distracted on devices.
Be Real During Meals
Business lunches are ripe for distraction. How many times have you seen an entire table of suits out to eat, each engaged in their own separate conversation on their own separate device? This has to stop. Being mobile conscious and staying present is something that takes a village, though, so one way we can all stay more present is to encourage one another.
Hold a Weekly Device-Free Meeting
Preferably at the start or finish of the week, this meeting can work as a way for all team members to check in with one another. When we hide behind our computers and our devices we place a barrier between ourselves and our colleagues. This meeting may feel a little uncomfortable at first, but it will help each team member understand where the other is with work as well as personal life (yes, this stuff is starting to matter more and more as the line between work and life continues to blur).
Take a Device-Free Hour
Just like you take a lunch hour away from work, take a break from your device. Set aside a time each day to stop touching your device for one hour. Another way to help curb the urge to check is to disable needless push notifications. Any social, non-work related push notifications should be disabled in order to help each employee stay focused at work without a constant urge to check Instagram or respond to a Facebook chat. These are simple suggestions, but they go a long way, and your employees will be thankful for the push.
The new group of tech companies with astronomical valuations actually may be undervalued, but the real proof will come with performance.
The crop of new tech companies that entered the $1 billion valuation club last year, such as Zulily and Evernote, made entrepreneurs breathless. But that was so 2012. Now it's all about the $4 billion club, or so it seems.
Among the companies that have reached into this stratosphere in recent months are Pinterest, which raised $225 million in series E funding in October; Spotify, which raised $250 million in late-stage funding; and Snapchat, whose young owners swatted away a $3 billion offer from Facebook, because they thought it was too low.
Snapchat will soon eat crow for its hubris, many naysayers believe. All these developments are evidence that we are at the perilous bursting point of a new tech bubble, for which these extraordinary valuations signal the endgame, others say.
Well, maybe not. There's no intrinsic significance to reaching the $4 billion level, and those valuations could move even higher, says John Backus, founder and managing partner of New Atlantic Ventures. But until these companies bear out their values in financial metrics such as free cash and profits, it's all inside baseball trading.
It's hard to tell what math, if any, investors are using now to calculate these colossal valuations. As private companies, Snapchat and others don’t have to make their numbers public. So the usual markers that valuation experts employ don't exist.
"As a generic valuation practitioner, I would not have any rational way of determining a value" for these new tech companies, says Bruce Bingham, executive director of Capstone Valuation Services.
But valuation is as much an art as it is a science. For Backus, the $4 billion premiums are a discount to what the companies' values might ultimately be. New Atlantic specializes in technology companies, and Backus theorizes at least some of the new tech stars will emerge as the future Amazons and Googles.
Doing the Math
As the companies in question are generally consumer-facing, Backus says it might be useful to compare their value per customer with those of more established tech players.
First, Backus assigns the companies into three tiers. The first tier is the old-guard tech companies that have been around for more than 10 years, ones with established business models like Amazon, eBay, Google, and Netflix. The second tier consists of the recent entrants to the public markets such as Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin. The third tier includes the companies that have not gone public, but which have received $4 billion valuations.
Backus then determines the value of customers for each company by dividing the company market cap by the number of users. Generally, the first-tier value per customer is about $700. For the second-tier companies, the value is closer to $100 a user, which is not surprising because the companies are newer and are still proving their business models. For the third tier, whose numbers we know next to nothing about, Backus makes some educated guesses.
For example, Snapchat says its users post about 400 million total "snaps" a day. If each individual user posts about four a day, that would mean there would be about 100 million users, Backus says. If we use our mid-tier valuation for companies like Facebook and Twitter, or $100 per user, that would put Snapchat's value at $10 billion.
In other words, $4 billion might significantly undervalue the company in today's market terms, Backus says.
Today's high-flying companies have strong user bases that can be monetized, Backus says, in contrast to many of the failed ventures during the tech bubble a decade and a half ago. "The big difference between 1999 and today is that back then the companies that got funded at very high valuations did not have much more than a business plan, maybe some modest revenues, and big ideas," he says.
Determining which of the young businesses will own a particular category, as Amazon owns e-commerce and Facebook owns social media, and which ones have the ability to scale quickly, are key question marks.
Investors are placing their bets on these companies. Whether they're right is anyone's guess. And there may be other, non-monetary things at stake. "This is partly about perception and investors who want to be associated with a hot company," says David Zilberman, a partner at Comcast Ventures in San Francisco. "To be affiliated with the high-flying companies benefits potential deal flow, and your ability to get in other investors who can't get into those rounds."
If you don't grab customers with your subject line, you've lost them. Check out these pointers for crafting one that makes people click.
Think you know email marketing backwards and forwards? Able to dash off a contact email or sales pitch without a second thought? Check that impulse, because you may get only a fraction of the responses you could receive with some thought and experimentation.
That may not seem surprising if your professional life has been steeped in direct response. Some of the old tested rules of thumb in print would have been startling the first time you heard them, like use the word "you" in copy and write headlines longer than seven or so words. Such fundamentals came from experts who had done extensive testing that pitted one variation against another, time and time again, from many marketers, to learn what patterns tended to hold true.
When it comes to email marketing, mass email vendor MailChimp has just added to what marketers know with a big comparison of subject lines to response rates. The company looked at 24 billion emails sent and 22,000 words in emails sent in the U.S. with tracking. Each email had to go to at least 500 people and the client must have sent at least 10 previous campaigns. In other words, no complete novices and stick to one national demographic for a more reasonable analysis. Even though it was somewhat self-selecting, as only MailChimp clients could wind up in the data pool, the results are still worth considering. Here's what they found.
Personal Works, Chumminess Doesn't
Put the first and last names of recipients into the subject line and you're doing a third of a standard deviation better in open rates than average. That's almost double as effective as using a last name only and close to four times as effective as using a first name only.
And while talking about first names, the effect depends heavily on the industry. Government gets the biggest email open bang for the buck when using a first name only. Creative services and agencies get maybe half that amount. Politics, less. At the bottom is the legal industry, where using someone's first name in the subject line will actually drive many people away from opening the message.
Don't Use the Word 'Free' So Freely
"Free" is supposed to be one of the magic words that make people open messages. When it comes to email subject lines, however, adding free often does nothing. According to MailChimp, on average it helped 0.02 standard deviations. Compare that to the term "freebie," which resulted in a 0.26 standard deviation. In other words, freebie rules. Furthermore, the use of free varies widely in effectiveness, with recruitment and staffing, restaurant, and beauty and personal care enjoying the most benefit. The industries where it did badly, actually lowering response, were surprising--travel and transportation, real estate, and retail saw drops in their response rates.
Keep Things Positive
Creating the perception of time sensitivity is an old direct marketing trick. "Urgent," "breaking," and "important" all performed relatively well. But go too negative, like using the word "cancellation," and you could see a drop in response.
There is more that you should read for yourself. The big point is that the need to test and refine language, images, concepts, and every other aspect of marketing has only become more critical.
With consumers shopping online 24/7, Black Friday is becoming less important. Here's how small businesses can make the most of the shopping season.
With deals cropping up throughout November and December, shoppers are less convinced they should care about Black Friday--and Cyber Monday, billed as the e-commerce blowout of the year.
According to the National Retail Federation, online holiday sales are expected to increase as much as 15 percent to $82 billion this year. Those numbers will only keep rising as shoppers whip out their smartphones and tablets to make on-the-spot purchases and perform price comparisons that help them make decisions in stores, says Jordan Edelson, CEO of New York-based digital agency Appetizer Mobile. Here are some tactics--via Edelson and Scott Steinberg, CEO of TechSavvy Global, a consulting and marketing research firm--that small businesses can use to bolster sales as the Black Friday hype begins to fade.
Provide Passbook and Wallet integration
Passbook allows Apple smartphone users to store promotions and coupons redeemable in store, similar to the Google Wallet feature on Android. Both are powerful tools with geo-targeting features that let retailers send notifications about sales to customers within spending distance. These tools can also alert shoppers of price drops as they occur, equally powerful in a cash-strapped economy. “A lot of applications allow retailers to set notifications as items change in value,” says Edelson.
Track customers in stores
Small businesses are just as concerned about showrooming (when customers peruse products in stores, only to buy them from a different retailer online) as their big box counterparts. Some businesses are fighting back by offering their own applications with highly targeted information. “These are designed to keep you in stores,” says Edelson. Plus, the technology provides stores with a general sense of where shoppers are browsing. With the aim of creating a more engaging ecosystem within the retail environment, Edelson expects these stores to track customers' movements so that when they hold up their phone to a product, they’ll not only receive a pop-up with information but a video showing just what’s inside.
Create eye-popping promotions
Retailers that lack the tech tools mentioned above need to find even more creative ways to stand out, says Steinberg. For some, that might mean pushing sales even earlier or creating "jarring promotions" that clash with traditional promotions (think Patagonia's "buy less" campaign, which encourages consumers to wear their products until they're ruined). Companies can look for ways to create perceptions of value by marking down excess inventory. Or compete on customer service, say, by adding extended warranties free of charge. "It's a constant crush to compete on price and value and for a customer's attention," he says. "Shopping is done 24/7 and is practically infinite."
Encrypting all Web traffic may entice legions of spy-leery customers to buy online again.
Recent events have given the impression that any information sent over the Internet goes straight to the NSA. Cue the image of a shadowy figure, nefariously poring over every detail of your life just because you forwarded a funny cat video to your Aunt Ethel in St. Louis.
But just when you thought it was unsafe to use the Internet, a group of engineers is developing new code that would encrypt all the data flowing between your browser and the remote servers you access. If all traffic is encrypted, theoretically NSA spooks would no longer be able to harvest your personal data like bears plucking salmon from a stream.
The new protocol is being developed by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), a consortium of technology experts whose mission is "to promote the open development, evolution, and use of the Internet for the benefit of all people throughout the world." Their goal is to have the technology ready by the end of next year.
Many e-commerce sites and other businesses already use encryption, where algorithms make data unreadable to third parties, for some of their traffic. If you see "https://" in your browser's address bar (instead of "http://"), for example, the data you send and receive on that site is encrypted.
Benefits to Encryption
While businesses would not be required to implement the new protocol when it's ready, doing so could offer an advantage. Customers may prefer to use vendors that have websites with higher privacy standards. Companies could even entice new customers who previously had been reluctant to buy products online for fear of subjecting their personal information to government surveillance.
To reap these benefits, companies will have to successfully demonstrate to a wary public that the new encryption technology will make a difference. That's difficult to pull off, but making the effort is worthwhile, says e-commerce consultant Ron Rule.
"Any messaging that lets consumers know the company is proactive about security and protecting their data is positive, and will increase conversions to some degree," Rule says. "Heck, adding a simple TRUSTe or HackerSafe badge to your site can increase conversions by up to 22 percent, so letting a customer know their entire Web experience is encrypted will help score points."
Of course, adopting new standards and changing consumers' perceptions does not entirely eliminate the underlying issues. Even the IETF concedes that ensuring Internet privacy is ultimately an issue that's beyond the reach of technology-based solutions.
Rule, too, warns that encryption is not the panacea it might appear to be on the surface. "The problem with Internet security has very little to do with the transfer protocol," he says. "It's more about how the data is stored once it's received. If a cloud provider turned your data over to a government agency, all of the transfer protocol protection in the world won't protect it from prying eyes."
Want to know more about cyber security? Check out Inc.'s special feature:
Will customers ever be comfortable shelling out $10,000 online? They will if companies inspire more trust. Here are four ways to do it.
Trust in e-commerce has been getting stronger, but companies still a long way to go before customers are willing to make a $100,000 purchase online.
Going on eBay, Etsy, Zappos, or Amazon and spending $10 to $100 is no big deal. Catching a $20 ride with Uber, or renting a room on Airbnb is relatively low risk. But currently there's no place online where people feel comfortable enough to spend the big bucks. And here lies an opportunity for entrepreneurs, Boris Wertz, founder of Version One Ventures, writes on his blog.
"There's an enormous opportunity for marketplaces to emerge that handle high-value, complex transactions," he says. "However, to find success, they'll need to make customers feel comfortable reducing the high-ticket purchase and complex deliverable to a few clicks."
User reviews can help a vendor's reputation and VeriSign and McAfee logos can make people feel safer. But what else can you do to inspire trust? Below, find Wertz's four suggestions:
Offer more information.
If you want customers to feel more comfortable to make bigger purchases, you have to start providing more information. They need to know everything about the product or service, considering they cannot inspect it, test it out, or truly know if it's real or fake. "If you're buying a book online, the ISBN and a rough description of the condition is usually enough information for you to feel comfortable making the purchase. But what about booking a wedding photographer? In this case, you'd want to see his/her portfolio, numerous reviews for previous clients, and possibly a write-up of the photographer's approach and style," Wertz writes.
Make big transactions easy.
If making a complex transaction is easier, more reliable, and safer in person, why would anyone want to venture online? Big transactions need to become uniquely easy, Wertz says. "Professional services companies are increasingly looking to create boxed offerings that include pre-defined scope, pricing, duration, deliverables, results, and other relevant parameters," he writes. "The 'productization of services' helps speed up traditionally lengthy sales cycles, and enables customers to complete complex transactions in a few clicks."
Cater to the inexperienced buyer.
How does your site help first-timers make decisions during the purchase process? You need to provide help before they ask, or worse, before they decide to get up from the computer and venture off in the physical world. "Offer project planners, cost calculators, instant messaging before and during the sale," Wertz recommends.
If customers feel like there is a risk to their purchase, they will not go through with it. You need to reduce risk and take the pressure off the sale--ease the customer's mind. "Just like online retailers have found success via free shipping/free return models, transactional marketplaces also need to reduce risk for the buyer--such as by offering full money-back guarantees with purchase," Wertz writes.
You're the captain, which means you're going down with the ship. It also means you need to lead your employees to dry land.
It's a fate no entrepreneur accepts easily: All signs seem to indicate a near-certain death for the company and you're doing down with the ship. But your job isn't over. It's in these tough moments when how you lead your employees matters most.
"Good management is good management," says Kim Cameron, a professor at Michigan's Stephen M. Ross School of Business and author of "Positive Leadership: Strategies for Extraordinary Performance." "Treating people well, helping them flourish, and unlocking potential are all good practices regardless of the environmental circumstances," he tells Amy Gallo, the contributing editor of the Harvard Business Review.
That doesn't mean, of course, that managing employees on a sinking ship is easy to do. Below, read Cameron's four principles for how to do it well.
Find a life preserver.
Don't lose your business savvy--continue to look for ways to turn around your failing business. Amy Edmondson, a professor at Harvard Business School and author of "Strategies for Learning from Failure," says there are a few things you should try before handing over the keys. "There is often a short window of opportunity to do something differently," Edmondson tells HBR. She suggests getting input from customer-facing employees and conducting small alternative business model experiments. "What kinds of products and services would customers welcome that we don't offer?" she says. Steer your company away from its failure and find a new way to revive it.
This is not the time to withhold information--be honest and authentic. "Whatever you know, share it with your employees," Cameron says. You have to be grounded in reality and tell your employees exactly what's going on, why the company is sinking, and how it happened. If you think you're protecting your employees by keeping them in the dark, you're wrong. If the staff finds out you're lying, they will not try to help and leave in droves. "Be as honest as you possibly can," Edmondson says.
Create a bigger purpose.
Reinforcing your company's goals, mission, and why statement will not work here--your company is dying. You need to find a larger purpose and motivate your employees to work towards something bigger than the company. Cameron suggests pushing your employees to "prove the critics wrong" or to learn a new skill that will help with a new job. If you're getting bought out, the new bosses may be looking for a leader--motivate your employees to be proud and turn a bad situation into an opportunity for their career.
At a time of uncertainty and failure, your employees will be scared, angry, and sad. You cannot ignore their emotions. "It only drives them underground and makes them more deeply felt," Edmondson says. "It's important to acknowledge feelings, especially negative ones." Listen to your employees, be there for them, and encourage group discussions without your presence. "The best practices I've seen are lots of huddles--people getting together and just having conversations about what's going on," Cameron says. But, if people are in serious mental anguish, refer them to an outside specialist.
When you're hiring, you should be on the lookout for those with this little-known "degree."
I'm fortunate to speak regularly with talented entrepreneurs and students. Regardless of location, industry, or experience level, the most common question I get is how someone should prepare to thrive in a startup environment. Most people expect that I'll advise them to get an MBA, study finance, or learn to code. All of those skills can be great preparation, but the real key to succeeding in a startup lies in one core learnable skill: the ability to GSD, otherwise know as "get stuff (or s&%t) done."
Sounds simple right? It's harder than it looks. The world is chock full of Monday morning quarterbacks, "strategists," and people who want to advise on your business without actually getting their hands dirty. These people are lethal to your organization, particularly when you're still running an operation that is lean and mean. They compromise speed, efficiency, and progress, and favor paralysis by analysis over shipping code and experimentation.
These are the three most important characteristics of GSDs I know:
They solve for the enterprise every single time.
Regardless of whether your organization has three people or 3,000, there will always be factions competing for resources, time, or energy. The very best GSDs pay little attention to office politics and focus instead on solving for enterprise value. In other words, they boil every decision down to what is best for the business in both the short term and long term, instead of optimizing for their own success or the teams they manage. And the results speak for themselves.
They choose guts over glory.
While many people focus far more on recognition than results, GSD people do just the opposite. Startups do not offer clear stair-like trajectories for your career. Each quarter at HubSpot, we give out an award called the Jim O'Neill Award, which ironically enough is named for the man at the company who cares the absolute least about trophies and accolades. Jim is our CIO, and was one of our first employees. If a project arises that is sticky, challenging, messy, and complicated, he has been the first one to raise his hand to tackle it for six years straight. Startups reward people who take on risky, challenging projects, so don't be afraid to take on projects that seem daunting to your colleagues: they are often a springboard to success.
They demand the remarkable.
The best GSDs live what Jim Collins noted: "Good is the enemy of great." Presentations, meeting agendas, customer webinars, and systems can all be "good" and still function. But great companies like Google and Tesla never settle for "good": they demand remarkable. Anyone, in any role, can demand quality that far outpaces the norm in ease of use, functionality, or impact. The best startup employees treat every spreadsheet, every meeting, every presentation, and even the most seemingly menial task with a goal of delivering something exceptional. GSDs fight regression to the mean at every turn, and each team in your organization is better off for it.
It's imperative that the next generation of entrepreneurs be smart, analytical, digital natives, and social-media savvy. But the most universally applicable trait required for startup success is the ability to put your head down and get stuff done. If you're an intern applying for a job at your dream company, don't tell them you can revolutionize the business--show them instead.
The best companies and teams in the world spend less time talking about how awesome they are and more time showing it: apply, hire, and work accordingly.
Good question. Here's how one Silicon Valley insider is trying to find the answer
Male academics don’t inspire female innovators. Female innovators inspire female innovators. So when Vivek Wadhwa sought to highlight women’s struggles and achievements in the innovation economy, he teamed with journalist Farai Chideya to solicit stories from women around the world. Wadhwa, whose CV includes Stanford, Duke, and Singularity University, took a break from editing the book to discuss the project with editor-at-large Leigh Buchanan.
Why this topic?
After coming to Silicon Valley from North Carolina a few years ago, my wife made me realize something strange. You don’t see women here at tech conferences. You don’t see women on the boards of tech companies. You don’t see women CTOs.When it comes to the workplace, women aren’t there. It’s like the Twilight Zone.
So I started researching the causes of the problem and speaking out about it. And the more I spoke, the more attacks I endured from the Silicon Valley elite. I said, Aha! This is the root of the problem.
Why did you decide to crowdsource the book?
I started a major research project at Stanford [on women and technology], which we are wrapping up right now. But academic papers have to be boring. I said, Let’s do a book about this issue where I can express all the opinions I want. But it doesn’t make sense for a guy to tell women how to fix their problems.
I used my private mailing list, hoping I would get women to help me spread the word. My goal was to get 30 to 50 women to tell their stories. I ended up with more than 500. I also crowdfunded this, so it wouldn’t be just my project. I wanted to raise $40,000. I got $96,000.
Which stories, in particular, impressed you?
The stories are all amazing. You see how from the time they are young, women are not encouraged to take on hard mathematical tasks or to do world-changing innovation. They are discouraged in school and then in college and then they join the work force and find they are the only female engineer in the department or the whole company. And they get treated differently. Every woman who contributed told us about a hardship and how she got over it.
In your experience, do men and women innovate differently?
Women are more sensible in the businesses they start. They are not going to ask for a gazillion dollars from a venture capitalist for some harebrained scheme to do yet another photo-sharing app. They focus on the practical. Which also means their companies are initially smaller than the guys’ companies. Which is OK. They have lower failure rates. I like those companies better.
Much of innovation involves teamwork. Does that help women--because they are naturally more collaborative--or hurt them, because the men in the group may be more assertive?
Women benefit from being more collaborative. They generally talk a lot more about their partners and the support that they got and mentorship. They value teamwork more than the guys do. But the guys can hold them back.
What do you hope female readers will take from these stories?
Women face the same problems everywhere, but they think they are alone. Reading the stories of how other women surmounted their difficulties is going to provide inspiration. I have no doubt about that.
What about male readers?
I think the majority of readers will be women.
Cosmetics company Julep launches 300 products a year. Here's how it makes sure customers will buy them.
Julep, a Seattle-based cosmetics start-up, is constantly launching new products--about 25 a month. How does it prevent flops? By testing customer demand in several different ways:
About 5,000 customers have joined Julep’s Idea Lab. Once a week, the product development team sends them an email survey, asking what they want in, say, a mascara. “For instance, do they want lengthening, curling, thickness?” says founder Jane Park. “A lot of times, there are compromises we have to make.”
Julep frequently places text ads on Google for not-yet-available products to see which marketing message gets the most clicks.
Every month, Julep asks its fans on Facebook and Instagram to vote on which products they prefer. The results aren’t always a reliable indicator of sales, says Park, but customers like being involved in decisions.
In the Seattle area, Julep operates four nail parlors in which it tests products in development on paying customers. “You can get a lot of great data online, but sometimes it’s nice to get firsthand feedback,” says Park. After salon customers raved about a new skin-repair serum, Julep marketed the product online. It quickly became one of the brand’s top sellers.
Need a little advertising inspiration? Look no further: Check out the year's most-shared video ads, and the hooks that compelled viewers to share them.
Digital marketing firm Unruly has just released its 2013 Top 20 Global Social Video Ads Chart, a list of the most shared ads of the year. Making ads shareable is now marketers' top priority, because the number of shares is actually a better indication of a video's effectiveness than total views are. Here's a look at the year's top 20, and the hooks that compelled viewers to share them.--Doug Cantor
Number of shares: 4.24 million This ad is a three-minute reminder that too often people underrate their own beauty and worth. If the women's reactions alone aren't affirming enough, the treacly piano music in the background surely bludgeons the message home. Click to watch video
Number of shares: 4.03 million Talking animals are always a crowd pleaser, and sharing an ad about getting over the hump of the workweek is a natural way to commiserate with fellow cube dwellers. Click to watch video
Number of shares: 3.34 million Just like the mid 90s--from whence the ad's concept and song originate--dancing babies are adorable. So much so, in fact, that you'll want to share the video before realizing how completely unrelated it is to anything having to do with bottled water. Click to watch video
Number of shares: 3.04 million When in doubt, go lowbrow. With a litany of shoppers kinda-sorta wink-wink saying something gross, Kmart manages to stop just short of a level of crudeness that would turn off viewers. Click to watch video
Number of shares: 2.91 million A Turkish import with no dialogue and a sweet, simple storyline about forbidden young love that supersedes the foreignness of the setting. You won't know what you're supposed to be buying, but you will keep watching. Click to watch video
Number of shares: 2.72 million Fleetwood Mac. Beer. That special bond between a man and his horse. This ad was destined to go viral from the start. It's Advertising 101. There's even a clever Twitter contest tie-in at the end, further increasing audience engagement. Click to watch video
Number of shares: 2.69 million A car salesman appears to get punk'd diet soda-style when NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon dons a disguise and takes him for a high-speed joyride. The driving footage is excellent and at first blush the prank comes off as legitimate. Click to watch video
Number of shares: 2.17 million Another elaborate and well-executed prank video, this time pulled off by the producers of the horror movie "Carrie." The victims' confused and terrified reactions are worth watching on a continuous loop. Click to watch video
Number of shares: 1.88 million Either this earnest tribute to the American farmer resonated with viewers, or they just really missed Paul Harvey's signature homespun narration. Given the response, it may have been both. Click to watch video
Number of shares: 1.82 million The effect of viewing of JCVD suspended between two moving semi trucks is undeniably mesmerizing. The video creates an unquenchable need to know how he pulled it off, and why Enya is playing. Click to watch video
Number of shares: 1.35 million Sort of a live-action version of Grand Theft Auto, it's five minutes of uninterrupted violence in what appears to be not much more than one single long camera shot. Whatever you think of it, it's impossible to watch without having a strong reaction. Click to watch video
Number of shares: 1.26 million Be prepared: By the end of this video from Thailand about a man returning a years-earlier act of kindness, it might get a little dusty around your computer screen. Click to watch video
Number of shares: 1.24 million When trying to sell a spray that eliminates your bathroom odors, the best approach is to embrace the inherent humor in it. Using a prim British-accented spokeswoman to push the product does the trick flawlessly. Click to watch video
Number of shares: 1.23 million GoPro aims directly at the coveted adorable-animal-loving demographic, and heralds an inevitable future in which its action-sports cameras are used mainly for making kitten videos. Click to watch video
Number of shares: 1.08 million Not since "Schoolhouse Rock" has animation been used to simplify a multifaceted concept this effectively. In less than three minutes you learn about the huge problem Phoneblocks is meant to solve, how the phone is made, and how to get involved in the project. Click to watch video
Number of shares: 1.06 million The second appearance of Fleetwood Mac on the list, and the second time one of the band's songs has been paired with a lovable equine co-star. After stumbling upon this cosmic connection, British telecom company Three runs with it to great effect. Click to watch video
Number of shares: 928,000 Guy Ritchie and David Beckham, two of the world's most British people, team up for a frenetic chase video that's mainly an elaborate way of showing Beckham in his underwear. This one was a no-brainer, in all senses of the term. Click to watch video
Number of shares: 841,000 The video successfully peels back the curtain on the game's gorgeous, highly stylized virtual vistas and gives a sense of the vastness of the in-game environment. Even viewers turned off by the game's notorious violence and sex can't help but be intrigued. Click to watch video
Number of shares: 764,000 Here's a lesson in stripping down the message. It's the one-note-iest of one-note gags, but still a refreshing change in the top-this genre of video game ads. Click to watch video
Number of shares: 754,000 Code.org trots out NBA player Chris Bosh and Black Eyed Pea will.i.am to trumpet the merits of coding and show that it's not just for geeks. It's a smart choice of spokespeople and a powerful message, even when the ad veers off to become a recruiting video for some of the companies depicted. Click to watch video
The kinds of scams security expert Chris Hadnagy sees these days are dangerous and psychologically sophisticated. Here, he explains what you need to know.
Editor's note: A shorter version of this Q&A appears in the December/January issue of Inc.
Chris Hadnagy breaks into businesses for a living. But not to worry--he’s on your side. Companies hire his firm, Social-Engineer, to test the strength of their security both online and offline so they can identify where they’re weak. Hadnagy and his colleagues specialize in clever social engineering hacks. Social engineering isn’t all that different from the ways con artists have always tried to persuade victims to divulge sensitive information (eg. impersonation scams). But technology has helped fuel ever-more sophisticated cyber security attacks.
I talked to Hadnagy recently about how these hackers operate and what business owners need to know to protect themselves.
Explain the psychology of social engineering.
Here’s the way a con man works: it’s not that he makes you trust him, it's that he makes you believe that he trusts you. When you feel someone else trusts you, your body releases oxytocin, those good chemicals (also called moral molecules), and it builds feelings of rapport. Think of when someone wants to tell you a secret--it automatically endears you to that person. That’s a powerful lesson. Psychologically the goal of a social engineer is to get someone to take an action that may or may not be in their best interest. If they really want you to comply they’ll do it through influence--they use psychological principles to comply with your wishes.
Why are social engineering attacks on business on the rise?
Of the last 20 major attacks on corporations, 12 involved social engineering--that’s over 70 percent. When an ex-Anonymous hacker sparky blaze was interviewed a year and a half ago, she said every attack launched involved social engineering. We see it on the rise because it’s the easiest way into companies. It’s easy to spoof any email address: you can go online and create 500 email addresses in an afternoon. You can get a Skype account and spoof a phone number. You can be anyone on the internet--a 16-year-old woman, a 50-year-old man. Why spend days trying to hack software when I can pick up the phone or look at your social network profile and learn everything about you? It’s very simple and it merits a lot of profit.
Walk me through a particularly pernicious social engineering scam.
WHMCS is a firm that makes online billing and invoicing software that ties into your company’s client data and your financial backend. One of their database administrators loved social media. Now, he wasn’t putting passwords out there or detailed data about company. But the hacking group UG Nazi used his social media profiles to create a document on him that included everything from his kids’ names and his anniversary to his hobbies and interests outside of work. They called WHMCS, impersonating this guy, to supposedly reset a forgotten password. When the rep asked the standard security questions, they knew so much about this guy that they knew all the answers. So the company reset the password, UG Nazi was in, and they proceeded to download 1.1 gigabytes of credit card numbers and erased all of their databases.
Knowing what you know about social engineering what won’t you do online?
I was against Twitter and Facebook for years, but you can’t exit the Internet entirely and run a business successfully. It’s how companies market and how people buy stuff. So here’s what I won’t do: I’m on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, but you won’t find information about my family, hobbies, likes, dislikes. You won’t see pictures of me and my kids on vacation or check-ins from where I buy coffee. Also, I follow a meticulous process when I receive emails from companies like Amazon. I hover over links to make sure it’s coming from Amazon but I don’t click links from my email. I open a browser, type in the url, and then log into my account. It only adds a couple of seconds.
I do online banking but again, follow procedures. Never log in from a hotel or from a computer that’s not yours. And don’t ever use the same password you use anywhere else. This isn’t about your bank getting hacked, it’s about someone hacking your Facebook account and then trying the same password on your bank account. The chances of running into a scam like that are very high.
One issue, I think, for small businesses in particular is how to train your customer service team to be wary of people who are trying to scam them, but at the same time be helpful to legitimate customers.
It’s about critical thinking--we don't teach that enough. Think of customer support people. Often they’re constrained by unreasonable rules: If you’re on the phone longer than two minutes your pay starts to go down. A malicious social engineer can find that out and then use a delay tactic. Critical thinking goes out the window because now this rep is thinking of his pay grade, so he starts answering questions he shouldn't answer. If you just want people to follow the rules--don't think, just do--you create an easy environment for a social engineer.
Involve people in critical thinking skills: help them think through what do I do if… and tell them where to go to report incidents.
Anything else companies should do today to be more secure?
It doesn’t matter whether you’re a three-person company or a 3,000-person company, review your information release and social media policies. You can't just not release info online--but you can't let employees do whatever they want. What can and can't an employee do on corporate email? Should they be allowed to attach social media pages to corporate accounts?
Second, get security audits or pen tests. It's like going to a doctor and getting a check-up. You need to know your vulnerabilities. Go with a company who can help you fix them.
Third, and most important, do security awareness education. And make sure it’s based on real life examples.
On Thanksgiving, a business owner offers his reflections on what's good in his life and work.
I am grateful for my customers, who give me feedback to build a better company.
I am grateful for my prospects, who ask smart questions to make my sales team get better.
I am grateful for my vendors and partners, who help our company do things we couldn't do well on our own.
I am grateful for my management team, who leads the company through good times and bad.
I am grateful for all of our employees, who work hard everyday to accomplish our mission.
I am grateful for our advisors and investors, who give me the guidance and cash necessary to grow.
I am grateful for the media, both the kind that still prints on paper and the kind that has has a lot of Twitter followers, for helping get the word out about what we do.
I am grateful for my fellow entrepreneurs, who teach me though their experiences and insights.
I am grateful for my friends, who understand the sacrifices I make with my time.
I am grateful for my family, who loves me and supports me unconditionally.
I am grateful for God, or whatever higher power exists, for guiding me on the right path.
Today, and every day, I am a grateful entrepreneur.
Silence is deadly (and other rules of healthy executive teams).
Ultimately, the degree to which your executive team is aligned is inseparable from the larger concept of "organizational health."
Like employee engagement and customer delight, organizational health sounds both highly desirable and difficult to quantify. But management consultant Patrick Lencioni says there are some clear indicators. "You know you have [organizational health] when you have minimal politics and confusion, high degrees of morale and productivity, and very low turnover among good employees."
For a deep dive on how to address potential problems, see the sources referenced in "The Plus" below. For a quick take, The Table Group created this abbreviated team test exclusively for Build.
A look at American Express's dominance of Small Business Saturday--for better or worse.
American Express's Small Business Saturday campaign is an obvious win for Main Street, but is the company's own bottom-line boost getting in the way?
Since its launch in 2010, Small Business Saturday has quickly taken on a life of its own. The credit-card giant began the shopping holiday, which sits between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, with the goal of increasing engagement among independent small businesses. And since attracting the support of everyone from Barack Obama to Facebook--and helping reel in billions for small retailers in the process--some wonder if now might be the time for American Express to politely bow out.
On numerous levels, AmEx's helpful influence on the shopping holiday, which will take place on Nov. 30, can't be denied. Obviously, the company's subsidy has been a big enticement for consumers. In the first three years of the initiative, AmEx provided a $25 refund for every shopper who spent at least that amount at participating small businesses. This year, the subsidy is just $10, but the amount of marketing gusto the company packs into the initiative should also be taken into consideration.
It's difficult to surf the web without seeing ads that remind consumers of the shopping holiday. This year, the company is also sponsoring 50 towns across the country to provide free short-term metered parking in each city's main shopping districts.
But it's hard to be rosy about AmEx. After all, the company offers a subsidy only to consumers who have American Express cards--and register them--can get reimbursed. And while shoppers are welcome to shop at any small business this upcoming Saturday, only the merchants that accept AmEx cards are able to participate. Then only those owners who spend the man-hours registering for the event in the first place will get featured on AmEx's Shop Small Map.
The company can boast helping shore up billions in sales for small businesses, but make no mistake: AmEx is also profiting. The interchange fees (anywhere from 1.5% to 3.5%) that merchants pay to issuers that then get rerouted to credit-card companies like AmEx when consumers wield plastic, aren't cheap. And among the bunch, AmEx has long been known as the most expensive. Though, merchants may negotiate this rate.
So that $5.5 billion in sales that AmEx boasts helping reel in for small businesses last year--and the estimated $5.3 billion bump expected this year--surely netted AmEx a pretty penny too.
In a press conference yesterday, small-business advocacy group Main Street Alliance broadcast its dissatisfaction with AmEx's continued dominance of the holiday--calling the company's influence nothing but a marketing ploy. Critics including Gene Marks, writing for the Huffington Post, have similarly skewered AmEx.
To be fair, AmEx did in fact launch Small Business Saturday as a marketing campaign. It was originally conceived by agency, Digitas. And by all accounts it's been a success.
Corporate partners such as Facebook, Twitter and FedEx have thrown their support behind the initiative. The U.S. Small Business Administration's acting director, Jeanne Hulit, wrote an open letter this week asking merchants and consumers to participate. Congress has recognized the holiday. And Barack Obama, famously, at this point, stopped into a D.C.-area bookstore last year to shop small.
American Express Vice President May Ann Fitzmaurice Reilly acknowledged the day's popularity, in speaking with Bloomberg Businessweek. "We couldn’t be more proud and more humbled by how small businesses have taken ownership,” she says. “It’s become a part of the shopping culture, along with Black Friday and Cyber Monday.”
But this year, maybe you ought to shop small and use cash.
Giving gifts to employees doesn't have to be so hard. Here's what they really want.
With Thanksgiving just around the corner, managers start thinking about what gifts to get their employees. (And for the record, presents only flow downward, not upward. Your employees should not be expected to purchase you a gift and you should put a stop to it if one of your people is trying to bully their peers into getting something for you.) But, what to buy? What do people actually want?
Well, money. Most people want a raise and a bonus. The latter is not seen as a present, and bonus may or may not be seen that way. If the bonus is tied to performance, it's not a present. It's part of a compensation package.
Nevertheless, people like money. If your budget is too low to give people meaningful raises, here are some ideas, gleaned from real, actual humans, and not marketers. You'll notice some are contradictory. This isn't bad editing on my part. It's reality. Get to know your employees!
My husband's boss gives his managers steak. We have really appreciated that!
It is easier to say what I don't want. I don't want lottery tickets, a bottle of wine, or sports tickets.
If anything, something "consumable." I don't want or need any more do-dads. Food is good--a nice bottle of olive oil, a good bottle of balsamic vinegar, anything that can be used and enjoyed and then gone!!
Truly, from bosses I liked, anything was great because I appreciated that they thought of me. From "bad" bosses, anything would annoy me. You can't make up for being a jerk with a token of any kind once a year.
Gift cards to grocery stores or department stores are nice, in general.
My boss gives me a gift certificate from Amazon with a nice note. He does it at his own expense.
I've liked the pine wreath sent by one of my clients, the frozen turkey by a boss and the "homemade" gift boxes with yummy treats ordered by a client. You also can't go wrong with Harry & David fruit.
I had one boss and every year he gave a whole Christmas dinner to over 150 employees. I mean everything from the French's onions for your green bean casserole to the after-dinner mints, pie, turkey, butter everything. He was the best!
My former boss was not nice to work for. So, despite the generous gifts and bonuses, they weren't as appreciated as the $50 grocery gift cards are here. I did totally love it when his gift was an iPad mini, though. Not gonna lie.
$100 gift cards to a nice restaurant have always been my favorite.
We get paid time off between Christmas and New Years. It's lovely.
A sales account manager I worked with once sent me a package of pears from Harry and David for Christmas. I confess that this simple act was enough to make me completely forget what a useless sales rep he was.
One of the best gift I've ever received was a gift card for a movie and meal night for 2.
A small fleece blanket was the corporate gift one year at a job I had. We use it!
I always liked hampers with stuff in it that I wouldn't regularly buy. I don't care for the "tin of salmon, bottle of wine" types of hampers, I'd buy that for myself. But something different, like organic juice, luxury chocolates and in a box that you and re-use (instead of just cardboard).
A paid "family day off" or extra day off in addition to the current days, after the holidays.
Nothing but a gift certificate! Plain and simple.
My husband's boss at a past job was a voracious reader. He bought hardcover books he thought each person would enjoy. He was spot-on in getting a great book for each person.
My boss usually gets me a $50 gift card to some place like Bed Bath and Beyond or Kohls. I like it and use it every year.
Money, time off, gift card to a place that sells general merchandise (Target), a note of appreciation in that order.
Really good Scotch. It is well received.
Personally, I prefer no gifts. It feels awkward, especially if there are non-Christmas-celebration employees on the team. If the gift is a trinket or company branded item, it feels pointless as a gift. If it has value, employees are better off with cash. The reason we give gifts rather than cash is to foster a personal relationship, and that gets sticky in work situations. Or the boss chooses the same gift for all, it has varying value to the recipients, but if the boss chooses a meaningful gift for each person, it emphasizes their rapport and lack of rapport with various employees.
One guy took all of us and our spouses/significant others to the horse-track. He dressed up as Santa, and handed out $10 bills all night long for betting. That was a fun night. There were door prizes, too.
One of my previous employers gave us a ham every year. At the time I was in my early 20s, lived w my parents and didn't cook. I thought it was a weird gift. Now I would appreciate it more.
One of my employers gave us gift certificates to the local grocery store. That was much better than any logo item.
Tom Gimbel, CEO of LaSalle Network, advises managers to find ways of connecting with individual employees to learn their specific motivations.
If the new health care law has a winner, it has to be start-ups. Here's a few good reasons why.
For months now, the debate has raged over the impact that the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, will have on businesses. A number of the law’s provisions are only beginning to take effect, so the jury is out. But one thing seems clear: For start-ups, the law’s impact is almost entirely positive.
Unlike your larger peers with 50 or more employees, you won’t have to pay penalties if your start-up doesn’t offer health insurance starting in 2015. That alone could be an advantage as larger competitors struggle to ensure they are in compliance. Moreover, your start-up is likely to qualify for a sizable federal subsidy if you do decide to offer health benefits.
Companies with 25 or fewer employees making an average annual salary of less than $50,000 are eligible under the new law to receive a refund up to 50 percent of their outlay on health insurance in 2014, provided they purchase through the federal Small Business Health Options Program, or SHOP, exchanges.
A major benefit of the SHOP exchanges is that the plans offered are specifically aimed at businesses and typically cost less than comparable plans on the open market. If your employees’ pay averages more than $50,000, you can still purchase through SHOP, although you won’t qualify for the tax benefits.
The benefit of being able to offer employees health insurance shouldn’t be underestimated for start-up founders. Your business is now in the running for talent that might have shied away from working at a start-up for fear of not having health coverage. Beyond that, having access to health insurance will presumably keep existing employees healthier as well.
Affordable health insurance also holds the promise that aspiring entrepreneurs will be able to take the plunge and pursue their business ideas. You have to be comfortable with risk to start a business, but lack of health insurance has long been one gamble too far. If you are a sole proprietor, you can purchase health insurance from your state exchange or the federal exchange--once the technical bugs are worked out. If you’re just starting out and have little or no income coming in, you will also probably be eligible for a tax subsidy.
Craig Garthwaite, an assistant professor of management and strategy at Northwestern University, has studied the phenomenon of “job lock”--in which employees hold on to their jobs purely for health care benefits.
He estimates close to a million people could leave their jobs as a result of the ACA, a number of whom will go on to start companies.
“This will allow people to be entrepreneurial, because it lessens the risk that you will go without health insurance until the business is a certain size,” Garthwaite says.
A recent poll of small-business owners with fewer than 50 employees demonstrates just how much misunderstanding still exists about Obamacare
1. Percentage of small-business owners who believe they will be required to provide health insurance to their employees. (They won’t be.): 32
2. Percentage of small-businss owners who believe they will be required to pay a penalty if they fail to provide health insurance to their employees. (They won't be.) 24
3. Percentage of small-business owners who can confidently define or explain what a health insurance exchange is: 18
4. Percentage of small-business owners who said they trust the government for reliable health insurance information. 24
Source: eHealth Small Employer Health Insurance Survey