Even if you’re too young (or too old?) to know where the line “show me the money!” comes from, everyone knows the phrase “follow the money”. When it comes to attracting investors and getting them on board with your vision, it’s all about the money potential.
Many entrepreneurs, especially in the tech field, are under the mistaken impression that it’s all about the product. If the product is sexy, fresh, or disruptive, investors will be falling over themselves to put their money behind it. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
Consider the case of Bombas. What was their big idea? Socks. Hardly disruptive, right? Yet the co-founders of Bombas went onto the show Shark Tank and secured $200,000 in funding to launch their idea. Yes, they presented some nice ideas about making a better athletic sock, but they were still trying to pitch a sock. So what made Bombas so attractive to invest in?
The co-founders of Bombas had a laser-focus on their product and market. From personal experience and lots of interaction with potential consumers, they understood that people were generally unhappy with the comfort of socks, especially for athletic activities. After lots of product testing and user feedback, they identified several areas of improvement for their future products.
By the time Bombas reached Shark Tank, they had already been through two funding rounds. Before their official launch, they secured more than $140,000 through crowdfunding. In the year after their launch, they raised $1 million from friends and family. They also had a track record of sales to show to eventual investor Daymond John, offering a better understanding of the potential return on investment.
Unique Business Model
At the core of Bombas is a business model committed to giving back. It’s not a marketing gimmick but part of the guiding principles of the company and its founders. For every pair of Bombas socks sold, one pair is given to the homeless. Not only does this uplift the spirits of consumers who are willing to pay $12 for a comfortable pair of socks, but it addresses a real need in the community, as socks tend to be the single most requested item at homeless shelters.
Take a Punch
Bombas proved that they were ready to take a punch, from consumers and in the market. Their extensive work in market research before even creating a product provided them with a network of targeted consumers who were willing to give detailed opinions and feedback on a product and how it was delivered. When the Bombas team created their initial prototypes, they were applauded for creating a better sock, but willing to listen and make changes to the product. Their team of consumers didn’t disappoint, but came back punching hard. As a result of the critical market feedback, Bombas made two additional improvements to their products before a general market launch.
The co-founders of Bombas were able to convince investors of their ability and dedication to execute on the business vision. So while the product was “just socks”, the co-founders had a vision they were able to articulate to investors that made them consider “but look at what socks can do.”
Through these five areas, Bombas was able to convey who was driving the bus, who the competition was in the market, the investor’s potential for a financial return, and how consumers would relate to the product, their company, and their marketing model. As a result, Bombas grew from zero in 2013 to $4.6 million in 2015 to $46.6 million in 2017. In 2019, Bombas exceeded $100 million in revenue. By April 2020, they have donated 35 million pairs of socks.
What will your story be?
To learn more about creating an epic fundraising story for investors, contact me for a complimentary consultation by phone at 314-578-0958 or by email at email@example.com.
Ines LeBow is the CEO, Transformation Executive for ETS. She is a known catalyst for business operations, bringing 30+ years of hands-on experience. Ines has a long history of being recruited into senior executive roles to improve the execution of business operations and to drive revenue growth. You can see her LinkedIn Profile at www.linkedin.com/in/ineslebow, view the ETS website at www.transformationsolutions.pro, or email her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s still happening. We hear about companies that are shutting down, laying off workers, or filing for bankruptcy because of Covid-19 or our sputtering economic re-launch. What we don’t often hear is that investors are still looking to put their money into action.
Even if your product or service isn’t targeting the “Covid economy”, this still may be the best time to get your business funded. Your competition for investor dollars may be back on their heels or simply waiting for what they perceive as a better environment to secure funding.
Prepare (and practice) your pitch using digital solutions.
Include information on the business and financial impacts of extended government mandates related to Covid (work or school shutdowns, travel restrictions, economic depression, unemployment, supply chain shortages, etc.).
Consider ways your product or service can disrupt the existing market.
Highlight members of the executive team or advisory board who have experience helping companies to navigate and thrive during tumultuous times.
Showcase the market opportunity presented by changes to the competitive landscape or potential changes from government or industry regulations.
Now is the time, because if not now, when? As the Nobel Prize-winning novelist Doris Lessing said, “Whatever you’re meant to do, do it now. The conditions are always impossible.” Or, as Napoleon Hill, the controversial self-help author on success, said, “Are you waiting for success to arrive, or are you going out to find where it is hiding?”
To learn more on how to create an epic fundraising story for digital presentations to investors, contact me for a complimentary consultation by phone at 314-578-0958 or by email at email@example.com.
Ines LeBow is the CEO, Transformation Executive for ETS. She is a known catalyst for business operations, bringing 30+ years of hands-on experience. Ines has a long history of being recruited into senior executive roles to improve the execution of business operations and to drive revenue growth. You can see her LinkedIn Profile at www.linkedin.com/in/ineslebow, view the ETS website at www.transformationsolutions.pro, or email her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Herodotus, the ancient Greek intellectual who became known as “The Father of History” coined the phrase “Culture is King”. Companies rise and fall based on their culture, and challenging situations like we’ve faced here in 2020 test company culture to determine if it’s real or just a façade. In a recent article, I gave advice on how to “Pandemic-Proof Your Funding Pitch Deck”, but as an entrepreneur, are you really able to pandemic-proof your company culture? The answer is a resounding “yes”! In fact, you can create a culture that thrives in any market situation, including Covid and beyond.
How you, the entrepreneur, and the executive team lead at the outset of your business and through “normal” times sets the tone for your culture that will carry you through times that are trying. As Frances Hesselbein so succinctly put it, “Culture does not change because we desire to change it. Culture changes when the organization is transformed; the culture reflects the realities of people working together every day.”
For the leadership team that truly prioritizes the culture of their organization, there are a few core values that will be emphasized down the management ranks to the front-line employees and a call to have the actions of all personnel align with these values. The top core values include:
Two-Way Communication – Consistent and ongoing opportunities for the executive team to interact with staff (both speaking and listening) and for all team members to interact with customers (again, both speaking and listening)
Engagement – Fostering a sense of ownership and a common purpose throughout the organization to energize all employees and get them working toward a uniting vision
Wellness and Balance – Setting policies that value employees’ work-life balance, mental and physical health, and general wellness
Programs and Tools – Enacting programs and implementing tools that allow employees to thrive in personal and professional development, workplace collaboration, idea innovation, mobile and remote work setups, knowledge sharing, and more
The combination of forced and voluntary business shutdowns that occurred nearly overnight as a result of the Coronavirus response quickly led to 88% of companies that either required or encouraged their employees to work from home, according to a Gartner survey. Some companies were ill-prepared for this rapid shift. Many of the companies with the technical capabilities for hosting a truly remote workforce, however, lacked the type of culture that would keep employees engaged, communicating, and thriving when not in an in-person environment.
Having a great framework in place is essential and must include employees who come to a physical office location as well as employees who work from home, in the field, or from a remote office. As companies return to work, executives and board members are going to re-imaging how the company operates. The old approach of leasing large office spaces may alter significantly, causing companies to adopt a more aggressive mobile and remote work model. Re-thinking how these core values that contribute to the corporate culture can be dealt with is just as important to strategize over.
To learn more about creating an engaging culture or how to create an epic fundraising story for digital presentations to investors, contact me for a complimentary consultation by phone at 314-578-0958 or by email at email@example.com.
Ines LeBow is the CEO, Transformation Executive for ETS. She is a known catalyst for business operations, bringing 30+ years of hands-on experience. Ines has a long history of being recruited into senior executive roles to improve the execution of business operations and to drive revenue growth. You can see her LinkedIn Profile at http://www.linkedin.com/in/ineslebow, view the ETS website at http://www.transformationsolutions.pro, or email her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Recently, I was interviewed by the Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation about The Big Idea CONNECTpreneur Forum, of which they are a sponsor. Following is the transcript of the interview. I have been a Board Member of this tremendous organization for the past 4 years.
CONNECTpreneur recently entered our 9th year. To date, we have hosted 47 events, the last 4 being “virtual” events. Over 20,000 business leaders, investors, and entrepreneurs from around the world have attended our events. Our website is connectpreneur.org. Please check us out!
THE BIG IDEA
IN CONVERSATION WITH TIEN WONG, CEO, OPUS8, AND
FOUNDER & HOST, CONNECTPRENEUR
Get to know CONNECTpreneur, a unique forum which attracts the region’s top entrepreneurs, investors, innovators and game changers. Organizers of the top tech and investor networking events in the region.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO MAKE CONNECTIONS BETWEEN BUSINESS LEADERS OF ALL STRIPES – CEOS, VCS AND ANGELS – TO EARLY STAGE COMPANIES?
Not just for early stage companies, but all businesses of all sizes, the old adage, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” still applies very relevantly. People want to do business with people. Early stage companies, in particular, have many needs: capital, talent, customers, vendors, partners, product development, marketing, etc. and having a large and deep network gives an entrepreneur a huge advantage in the marketplace, for obvious reasons. There is a proven correlation between the size and quality of one’s network, and one’s overall success — in entrepreneurship and most endeavors.
WHAT IS THE SECRET SAUCE THAT MAKES CONNECTPRENEUR A TOP TECH NETWORKING EVENT IN THE REGION?
It’s our ability to attract the region’s top entrepreneurs, investors, innovators and game changers. We pride ourselves on organizing the top tech and investor networking events in Montgomery County and the Washington region as a whole. We think that the reason that over 70% of our surveyed attendees rate CONNECTpreneur as the “number one” tech and networking event in the Mid-Atlantic region is because of the high quality and seniority of our attendees, which is unprecedented. Over 20% of our attendees are accredited angel investors or VCs, over half are CEOs and founders, and we intentionally keep the ratio of service providers as low as possible. This makes for more meaningful connectivity among the participants.
HOW DOES CONNECTPRENEUR SUPPORT FEMALE ENTREPRENEURS AND ENTREPRENEURS OF COLOR?
CONNECTpreneur is very intentional about providing a diverse set of presenters and speakers in our programming. Our community of entrepreneurs and investors is highly diverse, and our selection committee is very tuned in to the benefits of gender and cultural diversity. We actively work with and partner with local, regional, and national players who share our values of “double bottom line” ethics which value social impact as well as financial gain. Some of our partners include Maryland Tech Council, TEDCO, Startup Grind, Founder Institute, Halcyon and Conscious Venture Labs to name a few.
WHY IS MONTGOMERY COUNTY A GOOD LOCATION FOR AN INNOVATIVE STARTUP COMPANY? AND, WHAT’S YOUR BEST ADVICE FOR SUCCESS?
Montgomery County is a top tier County nationally for startups, and that’s evidenced by numerous awesome success stories. MoCo has a tremendously educated talent base, world class government institutions, top schools, and a large base of angel and high net worth private investors who can provide seed funding. The best advice for success is to understand thoroughly your customer and their needs and pain points very deeply. That way you can get to “product market fit” more quickly, de-risk your opportunity, and be more capital efficient. Too many companies get enamored with their product and design, or culture, or getting media coverage whereas the true essence of any successful business is to provide excellent products and solutions to its customers and sell into their markets like crazy.
WHAT ARE SOME UNIQUE CHARACTERISTICS OF AN EARLY STAGE COMPANY THAT SPARK YOUR INTEREST TO EXTEND AN INVITE TO PARTICIPATE IN THE FORUM?
We are looking for presenting companies which have truly disruptive ideas, products and/or solutions which could be sold into huge markets. And of course, the most important criteria are the quality, expertise, and coachability of the founding team. We have had presenters from all kinds of sectors including life sciences, cyber, telecom, blockchain, wireless, mobility, e-commerce, marketplaces, fintech, medical devices, IoT, etc.
Learn more about CONNECTpreneur at our website: connectpreneur.org
It made sense to sell to Coca-Cola in 2011 for greater distribution, scale and purchasing power. The Honest brand is selling billions of servings through McDonald’s, Subway, Chick Fil-A, and Wendy’s while supporting communities through fair trade and a healthful alternative. He says that his work with McDonald’s alone has removed 1 billion calories from the American diet.
CONNECTpreneur founder, Tien Wong (L), interviews Seth Goldman at George Washington University.
Seth said his company has been connected to Coca Cola for longer than it was an independent company: “The brand has its own life, its own momentum. The teams in Atlanta and Europe we’ve seen they’re doing the right thing with the brand. They are innovating the right way and it’s large enough that I can’t see anyone saying ‘Let’s make it sweeter or discontinue certifying it as organic or Fair Trade.’ I’m not putting a toddler out into the world. This is a 22 year old entity with its own personality and it’s strong enough to survive on its own.”
Seth remains Executive Chair of the Board of Beyond Meat and says he will continue to support the alternative protein brand as it pursues its mission to transform the supermarket’s meat case into the protein case.
He summarized Beyond Meat’s approach: “Rather than define meat by its origin, which says meat always comes from animals, we’re going to define it by its composition. So when you look at it that way, meat is just an assembly of amino acids, which form the proteins; lipids that form the fats, 70% water and some trace minerals and carbohydrates.”
Although some are concerned that products such as Beyond Meat are “processed,” Seth says it is produced with the same equipment used to extrude pasta. And, the sustainability benefits are well worth pursuing.
“It will take 2 1/2 worlds to feed the growing population the same kind of protein diet we have in the United States, but we have only one,” Seth observes. The brand counts the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation among its early socially responsible investors out to feed the world responsibly.
Seth also remembers fondly another major “investor” without whom Honest Tea would not have been able to fill its first order for 15,000 bottles for Fresh Fields, which became Whole Foods. He’s referring to the bottle supplier in Pennsylvania who helped him respond to the cyclical nature of the beverage industry by agreeing to extend payment through each difficult winter. Seth is proud of bringing the payments each spring, well before the seasonal 90 day payment terms were up. The weekend before his fireside chat at GW, Seth learned the bottle supplier who had believed in him since the beginning had passed away.
“I would not have been able to succeed without him,” he says.
Read more about Seth Goldman’s detailed account of his co-founding Honest Tea here.
About Janice K. Mandel
I’m a multimedia storyteller following evolving voice-first opportunities. Early adopter experience in New York City included: Sr. Editor, EIC/Intelligence, the first online, commercial database (1980s);Communications/Voice of Equinta.com, like Zillow but in 1999; and Reach networks — like Mosaic, only four years sooner. I’ve recruited speakers for VOICE Summit (https://voicesummit.ai) and conducted its microcast leading up to the event. Would love to do more microcasting in the future.
This is a Guest blog post from Jeff Cherry, Founder and Managing Partner of The Conscious Venture Fund and Founding Partner of The Laudato Si Startup Challenge. He is a tech CEO and mentor, investor, philanthropist, and community builder.
I recently listened to a thought-provoking episode of the TED Radio Hour on NPR entitled What We Value. Its premise was that this economic and societal crisis in which we find ourselves is accelerating the move towards a new set of values when it comes to the practice of capitalism. Those of us in the social impact and Conscious Capitalism space are heartened to see this discussion gaining momentum, but the question remains: How will capitalism change now that the unhealthy state of business and our major societal institutions have been laid bare?
There are many indications that this shift was in the offing far before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Although late to the game, the statement released by the Business Roundtable in August 2019 signaled a transformative move away from the outdated notion of shareholder primacy and towards a more human and effective form of business. It certainly garnered the attention of the press. And others in the business mainstream who had been either unaware or hostile to the market forces driving this change, are now finding it hard to ignore discussions of stakeholder management and whether business should have a broader role in society.
These ever-expanding discussions about the purpose of business in society are now taking place in the context of what does a return to “normal” look like in the economy. And a growing sentiment that the normal we were experiencing — where greed, inequity, declining living standards, crony capitalism, rent-seeking, regulatory capture, share buy-backs, corporate welfare and environmental depletion were the norm — isn’t in fact normal. Nor a state of being for which we should collectively yearn. As you might imagine, I agree.
The challenge we face now then, is how do we actually execute on this new idea? Many people talk about business for good and changing the purpose of the firm. But in the real world of competitive advantage, pricing models, customer needs, shareholder demands, supplier, employee and community relationships, knowing what to do is hard. We speak to entrepreneurs all the time who are philosophically aligned with a new narrative about business. They can cite anecdotes about others who have been successful, and they lack a cognitive frame that they can use to build an organization that embodies this day-in and day-out.
I’ve written at length about why I believe a focus on stakeholders in business and capitalism needs to replace the old story. In this article, the first of a two-part series, I’ll describe a framework to begin the journey to business as an institute of societal well-being: Or Human Capitalism.
The New Narrative of Business in Society: Human Capitalism What does a new story about the practice of business and capitalism look like in practical terms?
In order to fully bring this new narrative to life, I believe we need to re-define the purpose of business as a societal institution. Then, we need to translate that definition into tools that real entrepreneurs and executives can use every day to guide how they formulate strategy, individual decision making and implementation.
When a new cohort of the Conscious Venture Lab convenes, I ask a question to frame the work we’ll be doing over the ensuing 16-weeks: “What kind of world could we create if investors, executives and entrepreneurs cared as much about people as they care about profit?” It isn’t a question I expect any of the teams to answer outright. It’s a rhetorical challenge to think about how these ideas impact their businesses and the broader society.
Over the last few months, I’ve reframed that question: What kind of world could we create if we decided our first duty in business was to simply care for each other? This is the essence of Human Capitalism.
This version of the question doesn’t pit people against profit, which I believe is a false construct. Instead, it captures the meaning we’re all experiencing in this moment: can we be a complete society if the overarching purpose of business is only to increase profits and not primarily to improve the human condition? Both of these questions are variations of the age-old investigation of “What is a business for?” Academics, economists, politicians, social scientists and businesspeople have been asking this question for decades, if not longer.
Liesel Pritzker Simmons, co-founder of the impact investing firm Bluehaven Initiative, has said, “A crisis gives us an excuse to have conviction earlier.” What we are experiencing in this moment has emphasized how interconnected we are as a society and as a world. It has emphasized the importance of health as a public imperative. The importance of economic, community and personal resiliency as interdependent societal imperatives to which individuals and all societal institutions, even businesses, need to contribute. This crisis is bringing along those who may not have reached a level of conviction to move to a more human form of capitalism had things stayed … normal.
In this new reality it’s clear that the question about what type of world we want to create can no longer remain abstract or rhetorical. The coronavirus pandemic has exposed the truth, that a focus on our interdependent well-being is necessary for society’s survival. Succeed together or fail together the choice is ours, but we can no longer hide behind a narrative that separates individual financial self-interest from our mutual survival.
In the post-COVID world, the new narrative of business in society is a narrative about authentic caring, societal resilience and collective well-being.
Practical Ways to Integrate Human Capitalism Herb Kelleher, the legendary founder of Southwest Airlines, once said, “The business of business is people — yesterday, today and forever….” But what does it actually mean to structure your business around people? What can you do tomorrow to transform the structure of your business, respond to this new reality and become the type of leader that society needs?
Caring is Job 1: Above all there is one thing leaders must do first in order to be successful in this new world: They must actually care! To be clear, leaders who embrace the idea of caring for stakeholders as a core value and primary motivation for running a business will be well-positioned to succeed in this new world. They’ll be more able to execute on the ideas described later in this article and more likely to attract talent, customers and investors in a post-COVID world of business as a vital instrument of society.
At first this seems obvious and perhaps, some would say, no different than the status quo. But the nuance of authentically treating employees, suppliers, customers and communities as individuals deserving of your care for their own sake, as opposed to primarily as fodder for creating returns is critically important. Not only to how your company will be perceived, but authentic caring — or the lack thereof — will have a tremendous impact on your competitive performance. People understand instinctively if you are treating them fairly simply as a form of manipulation for other ends. And, unless you’ve created a true culture of caring in your organization, you’ll be tempted to abandon that care when it comes into conflict with your “real goals.” The best leaders however will understand this simple truth: how we think about creating financial value is now, more than ever, clearly tied to the way we create societal value. Authentically caring is a key component of this new narrative.
With that as our foundation, there are two things that every leader can do to build caring into the operational DNA of their business:
First, adopt a specific set of guiding principals about what it means to care for each other in service of societal well-being. And second,
Institute a practical business operating system that provides a framework for living into those guiding principals.
Here in Part-1, I’ll discuss a set of guiding principles we’ve created at the Conscious Venture Lab to help entrepreneurs execute upon these cultures of caring.
Guiding Principles: The Five Promises of Collective Well-Being In order to seed this new culture of caring into the DNA of your operations, it is crucially important that you articulate and codify a set of guiding principles that the entire company can use to organize your thought processes and create operating norms, policies, procedures and metrics that will keep your culture on track in good times and in challenging times…like during a pandemic.
Companies that will lead us into a more effective model of capitalism and a future of broadly-shared prosperity have structured their business to deliver on what I call The Five Promises of Collective Well-Being, through which we vow to use business to make the world:
More sustainable and
More prosperous for all.
Let’s examine each principle:
Business as a path to a More Just society: Leaders who are best at this will work to create social justice by structuring their organizations to level the playing field and authentically create access to opportunity for all those in their ecosystem who want to contribute.
Conscious Venture Lab and SHIFT Ventures portfolio companies Hungry Harvest and R3 Score have built this promise into their business models, which drives impact and returns.
Hungry Harvest creates a more just world by providing fresh food to communities that wouldn’t otherwise have access to it and dignified work opportunities to people in need. As a result, they create scores of “Harvest Heroes” who loyally buy wholesome food from the company that otherwise would have gone to waste. In the process they have increase sales by more than 34,000% over the last 4 years.
R3Score creates a more just world by providing a dignified return to civil society for millions of formerly incarcerated Americans and allowing banks a way to engage with people they would otherwise ignore. Thereby expanding the banks’ customer base, putting financial assets to work that would otherwise lay fallow and giving the 1-in-3 Americans with a criminal record the opportunity to build a new life.
Business as a path to a More Joyous life: Leaders who bring more joy into the world will do so by focusing on a combination of the quality of the human interactions in their operations, eliminating misery as a core aspect of their business and/or creating products that bring authentic joy to more lives.
One of my personal favorite companies, Union Square Hospitality Group, uses a culture of caring and enlightened hospitality to bring joy to employees, customers and suppliers alike.
Startup Aqus Water, that was a part of the Vatican Laudato Si Challenge in 2017, has created a product that puts “three years of clean water in the palm of (the) hand(s)” of people in places where lack of clean water has been causing extreme hardship for centuries. With more than 780 MM people in the world lacking access to clean water, bringing joy will undoubtedly bring prosperity to many.
Business as a path to More Equitable communities: When leaders focus on creating a mutual exchange of value between all stakeholders, they move their organizations away from the negative consequences of shareholder primacy and create more equitable communities for everyone. Paradoxically, an equitable approach to business, or removing the shareholder blinders, often creates new paths to greater value for shareholders.
Greyston Bakery in Yonkers New York is a pioneer of open hiring. They create a more equitable world by focusing not on the tyranny of weeding people out in the hiring process but by providing the dignity of work to anyone who wants it.
Here in Baltimore, Jacob Hsu and his company Catalyte have created an entirely new way of identifying undervalued individuals who have the aptitude to become exceptional engineers. Creating new paths to equity and unleashing massive financial potential for communities, his clients and the company.
Business as a path to a More Sustainable world: The winning leaders of the new narrative think and plan for the long-term. They understand that sustainability in every sense is the key to enduring organizational health. They establish a circle of growth for the planet, the people who serve or are served by the organization and the organization itself.
Billion-dollar clothing company Patagonia has rejected the world of “fast fashion” by creating high quality, long-lasting products and offering a repair and reuse program to discourage customers from buying things they don’t need.
Business as a path to a More Prosperous existence for us all: The best leaders view value creation with a polarity, or both/and mindset. They actively look to create real wealth for employees, customers, communities, suppliers and shareholders. They work to manage the polarity of creating value for all stakeholders by asking themselves questions like: “How do we simultaneously achieve the upside of paying our employees as much as possible, and, the upside of creating great returns for shareholders?” This is in contrast to shareholder value leaders who see all stakeholder relationships as tradeoffs that need to be solved for the benefit of shareholders.
Starbucks has fed more than 10 million people through its FoodShare program, redoubled its commitment to eliminate gender pay equity gaps, and committed to becoming “… resource positive — storing more carbon than we emit, eliminating waste and providing more clean fresh water than we use …” — all while rewarding shareholders handsomely — even during the coronavirus pandemic.
Why Human CAPITALISM? In Part-2 of this series I will discuss how the tenets of Conscious Capitalism and stakeholder management will allow organizations to clear the clutter and build these principles into everyday operations.
For now, a note before we end to my main audience: The Skeptics:
I spend the majority of every waking hour thinking about how to support entrepreneurs who have previously been neglected and who are creating world changing companies despite the immense hurdles they face. I also spend a majority of that time thinking about how to invest on behalf of my limited partners in a way that will create exceptional returns. I am a capitalist who believes capitalism can and should be practiced in a way that unleashes its power to elevate all humanity. That we can create a more humane form of commerce and human cooperation. What I am suggesting is that capitalism, like any man-made system, must evolve as society evolves. To paraphrase my friend and mentor Ed Freeman, professor at the Darden School at The University of Virginia, the alternative to capitalism as we know it today is not socialism, but a better, more human form of capitalism.
For those who would push back on these ideas as leaving shareholders behind and giving away profits I would simply ask you to suspend disbelief for a bit. Take a few minutes to think not about what you might lose, but about what you might gain. What kind of world could we create if we decided our first duty in business was to care for each other? Look around…I think that time has come.
Jeff Cherry, is CEO and Managing Partner of SHIFT Ventures, and Founder & Executive Director of Conscious Venture Lab, an award-winning and internationally recognized early stage accelerator. He is also Founder and Managing Partner of The Conscious Venture Fund and Founding Partner of The Laudato Si Startup Challenge. Jeff is a pioneer in conscious capitalism and double bottom-line investing. He can be reached at email@example.com.
This is a Guest blog post from Thomas Ma, an awesome up and coming entrepreneur whom I have had the pleasure of watching grow these past few years. He is the LA-based Co-Founder of Sapphire Apps Media. This is great reading for any young person or aspiring entrepreneur. Lots of lessons learned. Enjoy!!
I still remember it like it was yesterday. I was heading home from my last final of the semester to wrap up my junior year in college.
I had no internships lined up, and no idea what I wanted to do with my life. All of my friends had internships and it seemed they had their professional career figured out.
Nope not me. No one called me back. Since it was the last day, I decided to take one final stop at the college career center to see if they could help me out.
This is when I bumped into one of my friend at the career center and we started talking. Suddenly I started to get all these ideas in my head.
From that moment, I went back to my apartment, and continued to carve out my idea. I didn’t stop. I put 100% into it from that day. Of course it started out slowly. I had a lot to learn.
One Fun Fact:
It took me from May 9, 2015 — April 2017 before I had my own company bank account. That’s nearly 2 years!
In light of this 5 year mark, I wanted to put time and share what I would do today especially in this pandemic. My hope is to get other people to progress with their own journey. This advice is good for any type of industry.
1. Marketing yourself on upwork.com
2. Building out your network
3. Be vulnerable and share your journey
4. Learning a New Skill
5. Tools that you should know about
6. Outsourcing Talent
7. Digital Marketing
8. Building your digital brand
1. Create an upwork.com account to market yourself
Study other people in your industry. If you are into consulting, you look up consulting on upwork.com
Look at the following:
Hourly rate, $ they’ve earned, success rate, and country their from.
In this case, Kim has a great profile. He has a high success rate and over 6 figures earned.
Here’s his profile:
Look at is his hourly rate, title and what he is putting in his summary. It’s clear that he’s getting reached a lot.
Below his profile is his work history. Study how much he has earned and how much people are paying him.
Do this for 5–10 of the top earners int his category. This is the benchmark.
Try your best to optimize your profile so that it matches up with some of the best on Upwork. When you apply, at least you will stand out.
As you build your account in the beginning, it’s going to be tough. You’re going to have to be relentless. This means applying to as many jobs as you can. It may even mean not making a lot of $ to build up your profile.
Review and job success rate is critical to standing out as an applicant.
2. Build out your network
When starting out, it’s critical that you have a network. In order to thrive in what you do, you have to surround yourself with like minded people. These are the people who you will hang out with the most and learn from. You will also progress with these people and it’s amazing to celebrate milestones together and also being there for one another when things don’t go as planned.
If you don’t have a business network, it’s okay 🙂 I will share some of the things that I would recommend.
Before you build your network:
Make sure to optimize your social media profile with what you do. That includes Instagram, Facebook, Linkedin, etc…
This way people get a sense of what you do when you connect with you.
Here are a few places you can find events or meet people:
The strategy applies to all the platforms below: When you join the platform, go to the search bar and enter keywords that relate to your niche. If you were in fitness, you could try wellness, health, fitness, coaching etc.
Eventbrite (Tons of free online events)
Instagram DM (search out hashtags in your industry and engage with people)
If you join a new group, read what members are posting. Engage with their post if you like it, and add them as a friend.
If they accept you as a friend, shoot them a compliment and let them know you liked their post. If they respond, ask if they are interested in connecting with you via zoom.
While on zoom, spend time genuinely getting to know the person.
Things you can talk about:
How covid has impacted you
Your background on how you started
Sharing what you’re passionate about
Why you started
The purpose of this is to build your own network. If people genuinely get to know you, they’ll support you. You never know who they know.
After you connect, you continue to stay in touch with them and invite them to events that you hear about.
As you continue to evolve your network, you will have access to more events.
This strategy can even be applied to zoom hangouts. To engage on zoom, you can send them a private message and use the same strategy.
In the space of creating your own brand, showing up is half the battle. You have to show up and build your network every day. Make it a goal to fill up your entire calendar with zoom events and zoom meetings.
Things to avoid at networking events:
1. Don’t ask the “what do you do” question. That’s straight to the point of what they do and it shows you don’t even want to get to know them for who they are
2. To be efficient with your time, you can state that you have 30 minutes or whatever at the beginning.
3. Don’t talk too much about yourself unless people ask you questions. If you talk a lot, you’ll never be able to learn about the other person. You have to make the other person feel special that you are talking to.
A small recap on networking:
If you are starting out, you can do the following to ensure you progress every week.
Start off by booking one event per day on your calendar
Make a goal of how many zoom connect meetings you want to take. Maybe in the beginning, make a goal to meet 5 people per week and then scale up.
If you meet someone and share common interest, offer to collaborate with them. You can collaborate by co hosting a happy hour with your joint network. This way you meet more people and so does your new friend.
If you are able to host events, you become the go to person for that event. People will get to hear you. This way you expand your network at a faster pace.
If you host great events, make sure to do it on a weekly bases. As you host more events, people will bring their own network.
3. Be vulnerable and share your journey
When I started, I used to take a selfie photo everyday of my Starbucks cup or wherever I was at in the world. I’d post most of the stories on Linkedin.
I wanted to show people what the journey was like. Overtime, I was able to build more followers because people liked hearing my story.
The reason for doing this is because it builds your digital brand. The more people know about you, the more they can potentially help you.
One networking tip here is to connect with people who like your post. Right away you have something in common.
4. Continue to learn
One of my favorite podcast to listen to is NPR how I built this by Guy Raz. It has stories from some of the great entrepreneurs in the world.
It’s nice to hear how someone started and made traction.
Read articles on medium.com especially the entrepreneurship articles
Stay active in the reddit entrepreneur community. A lot of people post insightful advice on there, and it’s an easy way to connect with a small group
When you make your job listing, you want to have the following:
-Catchy Header (study other people)
Clear instructions on exactly what you want and keeping it short and brief
Follow up questions that the applicant should respond to
Here are some I recommend:
What is your hourly rate
What is your working hours
Have you read the instruction? If so, how much and how long would it take to complete
Do you have a portfolio?
All the questions above help filter out who is a good candidate and who isn’t.
If you like their answers, you can give them a small paid tester. If they pass it, you can give them a larger project.
Always let people know if they do good work that you will have more projects for them.
When you find someone you like, you can add them to your roster.
If you master the ability to outsource, you can scale a creative agency. This means you can find clients who need a service. An example is if you had a bunch of designers you liked, you can market yourself as a creative agency who does graphics.
Add your creators work to your portfolio. Show people your work. Find clients who are willing to pay.
Once you find clients who are willing to pay, you give the work to the person you liked.
Recap for Agency via Outsourcing
Test talent. If their good, add them to your roster
Show case their work
Find clients who are in need
If client is in need, then they will pay you for the services.
Give the project to the remote person. Make sure they meet your deadlines
7. Digital Marketing:
Learn how to run paid media ads on Facebook.
Steps I would suggest:
Start to do a deep dive on free courses that they offer online
OPTIMIZE the keywords. They give you 10 for a reason. Think of words people would search if it was someone looking to attend your online class.
Leverage all the keywords in the main title
State the time, timezone, day, and date in the header
Find a clear stock photo that stands out. I use Unsplash.
Add questions they have to answer. In my eventbrite, I ask people where they come from. I also suggest they join my Facebook fitness community.
Facebook Groups are key! It reaches more people. If you post an event, you are able to invite every single member in the group.
Nurturing your audience:
Engage with people before class. Ask them where they are from
Throughout your class find a way to get users to engage. In my fitness class we do virtual high fives and fist bumps
Bring people together after the event. At my events, we take a group photo online
Reach out to people who attended your class and thank them. They’ll appreciate it
Remember people’s first name. Especially if they come back.
Livestream your events. This way more people have access.
Why you should build out a digital brand:
People can learn about you. If they like what you do, they will come back. If they continue to come back, they will bring friends to join them. Overtime, this is your fan base that supports you. It’s important that you are able to identify your super fans.
My hope is that this will give you the small push to get you started.
No matter what happens, be proud of what you do. Do things because you want to. Don’t do it because of someone else telling you what they want for you. It’s your journey. Make sure you can smile and have fun with your choice.
If you are looking for a good community to join, this is the one I created:
Sapphire Stories: A Community of Passionate Doers
Community of Doers who are pursuing their passion. Our goal is to connect and inspire you with your own journey. Follow…
For sure we are in the very early days of “Snapchat for business.” I presented an award a few days ago at the Institute for Excellence in Sales annual awards program. I asked the audience of 250+ B2B and B2G (business to government) sales execs who was on Snapchat, and only 4–5 hands were raised.
I was very surprised because Snapchat is currently the fastest growing mobile social media platform in the world, and has now become one of the largest. This favorite social media app of teens and millennials has over 200 million users, of whom 100 million are “active daily” users who are viewing 10 billion photos and videos from their smartphones every day. This past week, Snapchat surpassed Instagram and is now the number 2 app among US iPhone users behind Facebook, as ranked by time spent in the app:
Credit: App Annie and Business Insider
If you’re not thinking about how Snapchat can help your business, then you’re ignoring these stats at your peril. Yes, the demographic is young right now, but I remember when I joined Facebook 9 years ago, college students and recent grads were the vast majority of users. Eventually Facebook attracted older demos, which is inevitably what will happen with Snapchat.
Here are 10 ways you can use Snapchat for business:
Sell. According to comScore, 60% of US 13–34 year old smartphone users are on Snapchat. If this is your target market, you have their attention right now, and properly crafted offers, discount coupons, contests, etc. can drive revenue. If your target market is older, you may as well get a head start on Snapchat now before older users join.
Community building. With Snapchat “stories” (the killer app), you can now build and engage your audience in a unique way, by posting a series of 10-second snippets that aggregate into a “story.” This can be done with video and photos, and in creative and interesting ways. Stories only last 24 hours, so your community has a particular urgency in “tuning in” to your channel every day since the content is perishable.
Business development. Snapchat also offers you 1 to 1 engagement opportunities because of its private chat capabilities, so you can reach out to prospects, potential partners, vendors, consultants, etc.
PR and branding. Brands like T-Mobile, Taco Bell, and Acura are using a variety of techniques on Snapchat to brand their companies and products, through their own stories, partnering with “influencers,” offering coupons, buying custom filters, showing “sneak peaks” of new products, and other creative ways. Snapchat is an ideal B2C platform, but I am seeing successful B2B branding also being done.
Personal branding. Celebs, social media stars, business leaders, and even politicians (Bernie Sanders and DC Mayor Muriel Bowser) are using the platform to brand themselves by giving fans a glimpse into their day to day lives. You can also cross promote other social media platforms and websites for greater visibility and discoverability overall.
Customer service. Like you can on Twitter, you can have direct conversations with customers, and answer questions and concerns. You can incorporate announcements, new product offerings and features via stories, and sending group snaps. With Snapchat, you can also solicit feedback, conduct surveys, take polls, and play “games” with customers.
Recruit talent. If you want to hire recent grads, you have to go where their attention is focused. Today, Snapchat is the perfect vehicle to convey to potential employees and contractors a feel for your company’s vibe and a behind the scenes look at your operations and team.
Find opportunities. Justin Kan (follow him at justinkan), a partner at Y Combinator is using Snapchat to find new investment opportunities. Interested startups apply to be selected to take over his Snapchat account, which they would then use to pitch their ideas via his story.
Learn. I’ve learned a ton about a variety of highly applicable and interesting things from people I follow, including Saba Sedighi (sabasedighi), Brian Park (brianbpark), Erica Blair (theericablair), and many others.
Teach. Mark Suster (msuster), a VC at Upfront Ventures uses the platform to teach. His daily “snap storms” offer a wealth of great business and investment information. Likewise, Suzanne Nguyen (stringstory) does an excellent job teaching different aspects of technology and social media, and Justin Wu (hackapreneur) shares his vast knowledge about “growth hacking.” By the way, Suster has solved the 24-hour perishability problem by saving his stories and then reposting them onto a permanent website: snapstorms.com. Others repost their stories onto YouTube.
OK, so how can you get started?
Step 1: Download the Snapchat app onto your smartphone and sign up.
Step 2: Add friends. From the app itself, plus you can find other friends and people to follow by downloading and using GhostCodes, a discovery app for finding Snappers with mutual interests. Because Snapchat has limited native discovery functionality, Snappers create profiles on GhostCodes, listing their short bios, areas of interest, and links to other social media accounts including LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.
Step 3: Jump in by following stories, creating stories, snapping your friends, experimenting and having fun with it.
Step 4: Get some Snapchat hacks from your or your friends’ Gen Z and millennial kids, as well as by watching YouTube tutorials and videos.
Step 5: Figure out the best way to leverage the platform for your business, and execute!
So there you have it: 10 ways to boost your business using Snapchat, and 5 easy steps to get started. Please follow me on Snapchat at stienwong or via the Snapcode below, and let’s snap about how your business is benefitting from Snapchat.
Thanks for reading. If you found this post helpful, please subscribe to this Blog and share with folks who may also like it. I’d greatly appreciate it. Thanks!
Note: this piece was adapted from an article I wrote entitled “You should be on Snapchat. No, really” which was published on June 3, 2016 in the Washington Business Journal.
I’m really thrilled to start writing a weekly Blog post for the Washington Business Journal as of today. Thank you Roger Hughlett and Alex Orfinger, Publisher, for the opportunity to express my opinions and thoughts about a wide range of business ideas and topics.
As a novice and inconsistent blogger, I now have a “boss” and weekly deadline, so there are no more excuses NOT to post consistently. And to have the WBJ platform distribute my content?! What more could I ask for?
I’ll be blogging on leadership, entrepreneurship, technology (all kinds), strategy, private equity, venture capital, international business (particularly in China and Brazil), and probably a bunch of other random stuff.
Last week I had the pleasure, along with Devin Schain of CampusEd and Mark Richardson of CASE Building and Design, of speaking to Professor Andrew J. Sherman, Esq.’s University of Maryland class on Entrepreneurship. The topic: Challenges to Growing Your Business.
I co-founded and ran CyberRep, Inc., a call center/customer relationship management business which, over a 12 year period, grew from 0 – 2200 employees and $0 – $80 million in revenues. So I broke down the types of challenges we faced into 4 categories: 1. Keeping Clients Happy, 2. Keeping the Culture Pure, 3. People Issues, and 4. Personal Growth Challenges. These 4 types of challenges are all integrated and interdependent with each other.
Keeping Clients Happy– When you are small, it’s relatively easy to focus on thrilling your clients. As you hypergrow, you start working on lots of other very important things in addition to client matters. Things like capital raising, shareholder matters, hiring and staffing, technology issues, etc. start to command your attention. It’s natural. As a hypergrowth company, we had our share of growing pains and glitches especially with people, processes, and even technology. What was key for us was that “Client goals are our goals”was our #2 corporate core value and “Client satisfaction” was one of our “4 Pillars of Success” so we were able to ingrain this client-first thinking into our culture. When hypergrowing, it’s critical to never forget who signs your paycheck – your clients!
Keeping the Culture Pure – As CEO, my job was to establish, evangelize, and enforce the Company culture. As we grew, and acquired 3 companies, and hired people from competitors and companies which didn’t have our company’s value set, we risked diluting our culture. When a company loses its culture, it will eventually die. We kept the culture pure by repeatedly dispatching our senior leadership team into all of our offices (we had 10 in 6 states) to evangelize like crazy. We lived by our “Top 10” core values and developed our own lingo and reward systems to train all associates on what was important to the Company. Very tedious, grinding work – very challenging, but it did pay off. Our leadership team studied Jack Welch and the GE way, and what GE was doing at Crotonville, and we were inspired by their commitment to nonstop repetition in inculcating culture into the organization.
People – Dealing with people issues is one of the toughest parts of running a business. As you grow, your people necessarily must grow…or they will be left behind or worse. I would say that less than 1/3 of our first tier of management were able to “keep up” with company growth and client demands as we grew from $5 million – $20 million in revenue. We saw the Peter Principle at work for dozens of our managers. It pained me to have to let some of them go, especially the ones who had been with us from early on. Others just stayed in their jobs or grew a little more slowly than the Company. The bottom line here was not sacrificing quality or settling for less than excellent performance. So that meant lots of training, reorganizing the org chart appropriately and often, and being able to recruit new talent for the right positions. The main challenge was maintaining focus on what was best for the Company, and putting those needs first and ahead of any one team member.
Personal Growth Challenges – This set of challenges may have been the most trying of all for me. At each stage of our growth, our executive team and I were all in uncharted territory. We’d never grown a company this fast or this way. As startups hypergrow, the Alpha Male or Female startup entrepreneur has to develop into a professional executive. I have seen many fail at this. So, I had to make the transition from manager to leader, and I had to develop soft skills and become more diplomatic. The realization that my decisions could affect 2200 families was another eye opener, and I was forced to deal with the psychology around that fact. Also, as our company progressed, we had to all become more thoughtful, analytical, and process-oriented. Company and CEO must both face this reality of “growing up.” The challenges are too many to enumerate here but these were just some highlights.
So that ends my inaugural WBJ blog post. Please comment or email me your thoughts and experience. I’d love to hear of your personal experiences and challenges in hypergrowing your company. Thanks for reading!