Inc Small Business
Entrepreneurs and political leaders react to the death of Mandela, the man who fought to bring down apartheid in South Africa.
When the stakes are high and an employee slips up big time, what you say next is crucial.
Sooner or later, someone on your team is going to screw up. Hopefully the stakes will be low when it happens. Either way, be prepared to say three words that may not come so easily, at least not right away: I forgive you.
Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries, a distinguished professor of leadership development and organizational change at INSEAD in France and Singapore, says one of the most important skills a leader can learn is forgiveness. "The ability to forgive is an essential capability for any leader wishing to make a difference," Kets de Vries writes in the Harvard Business Review.
If you do not absolve and exonerate your employees of their trespasses, you run the risk of creating a toxic environment for your entire company: "Leaders have such an important effect on other people's lives that their lack of forgiveness can create a climate where anger, bitterness and animosity prevent a team, an organization, a society, and even a nation from being the best they can be," he writes. "Good leaders, of course, are aware of how costly it is to hold on to grudges and how an unforgiving attitude keeps people from moving forward."
Forgiveness, of course, doesn't mean you excuse hurtful, inappropriate, or unprofessional behavior. But it does mean you let go of an instinct for getting revenge and causing further harm. "[Forgiveness] is about healing the memory of the harm, not erasing it," Kets de Vries says.
In Kets de Vries' research on leadership and psychodynamic-systemic orientation, he found three tendencies that get in the way of forgiving someone.
1. You tend to obsess over the past.
Kets de Vries found that "obsessional rumination" can make people vengeful. "Unforgiving people spend their time obsessing about their pasts," he writes. But you need to move on. He suggests taking advice from Mahatma Gandhi's mantra: "An-eye-for-an-eye only ends up making the whole world blind."
2. You're unable to empathize with your employees.
A major roadblock to forgiveness is a lack of empathy, an inability to see situations from a different perspective. "Imagining and feeling what another person experiences--putting yourself in the other person's proverbial shoes--allows you to consider the motivations of the transgressor, giving you a route to forgiveness," he writes. he says empathy is learned early in life, but it is also a skill you can work on by not rushing to judgment, conclusions, or rash interpretations of your employees' motivations.
3. You suffer from envy.
A sense of deprivation, or a fixation with what you do not have, can make you feel negatively towards your employees--especially when they achieve success. And this envy can translate into emotional explosiveness and outbursts of rage--hardly the kind of emotions that help with forgiveness.
One or more of these sound familiar? You probably need to work on mastering the skill of forgiveness.
It's hard enough to change a small company, but Mandela transformed an entire continent. Here's what gave him the authority to do it.
Every entrepreneur, almost by definition, sets out to change something--an inefficient market, a previously unsolvable customer problem, an ossified internal culture. Compared to what Nelson Mandela changed in his country’s political arena all that seems rather minor. But what allowed him to succeed against utterly improbable odds were the same characteristics that you need to employ in effecting lasting change in your business arena. Leading through change takes earned authority, authenticity, commitment, mastery of communication and consistency of message.
As researchers of strategy and organizational change,we’ve found unbelievably rich examples of transformational leadership in Mandela’s life. Today, on the news of this great leader’s passing, I wanted to relate two favorite anecdotes that illustrate why he was so successful at giving people a reason to follow him--and to feel better about themselves for having done so.
He appreciated the power of symbols and the moral persuasiveness of genuine acts of magnanimity
One of Mandela’s greatest legacies is starting the national healing process from the moment he was released. An exceptional symbolic act in this regard was his visit to Betsie Verwoerd, the wife of the “architect of Apartheid” who was assassinated later in his life. Not only did Mandela visit his widow, but he was willing to do so at her home in Orania. This was an Afrikaner homeland and a striking anachronistic symbol of racial separation. Mrs. Verwoerd chose to live there as a widow after apartheid had been abolished. Mandela’s recurring emphasis on mutual forgiveness was truly remarkable. In 1993, after his recent released from 27 years in prison, he said: “I am working now with the same people who threw me into jail, persecuted my wife, hounded my children from one school to the other… and I am one of those who are saying: Let us forget the past, and think of the present.” Later, in a 2000 interview with the Christian Science Monitor, Mandela reiterated the same message: “For all people who have found themselves in the position of being in jail and trying to transform society, forgiveness is natural because you have no time to be retaliative.”
He set an example of reconciliation and vision for his countrymen and then let them know he expected them to live up to it.
By the time Mandela became President in 1994 he already knew many high profile business leaders and companies personally. It was not uncommon for him to summon some of them to support a project such as a health clinic for a rural area. One such leader received a call from Mandela’s office requesting that he accompany the President to the Eastern Cape. This leader was less than enthusiastic and pleaded that he had an appointment around mid-day clashing with Mandela’s request. But there was no denying Mandela, so the leader agreed to go--but first consulted with his financial director to set a reasonable limit on the size of the anticipated donation request. They settled on 500,000 Rand, or about $50,000 in those days.
When the Air Force plane landed, the President and he were whisked off in a military helicopter. The final destination was a large football stadium in an area that had been devastated by flooding. Mandela was visiting there to support and review the re-construction efforts. Upon landing, about 80,000 black school children--all adorned in crisp white shirts--simultaneously bowed to acknowledge the great man’s arrival. As they were climbing down from the helicopter, Mandela planted his hand firmly in his guest’s back and said, “Now, I hope you are not going to disappoint me?” The business leader decided in that instance to double the donation to one million Rand. After all, how could he tell a man who sacrificed as much as Mandela that he couldn’t afford to be more generous?
This article was co-authored with Brian Isaacson, a management consultant based in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Forget about leaving your legacy. Here is a story to inspire you to live it, starting now.
Inheritance is what we leave to others. Legacy is what we leave in them. Here is my favorite, true story of living and leaving a legacy.
In the early 1900s, Al Capone virtually owned Chicago. Capone wasn’t famous for anything heroic. He was notorious for entangling the Windy City in everything from bootlegged booze and prostitution to murder.
Capone had a lawyer nicknamed "Easy Eddie." He was Capone’s lawyer for a good reason. Eddie was very good at what he did. In fact, Eddie's skill at legal maneuvering kept Big Al out of jail for a long time. Capone paid him very well, and Eddie and lived in mansion with live-in help and all of the conveniences of the day. The estate was so large it filled a Chicago city block.
Eddie enjoyed the high life and gave little consideration to the serious wrongdoings that went on around him, but he did have one soft spot. He had a son he loved dearly, and saw to it that he had the best of everything--clothes, cars, and a good education. Nothing was withheld and price was no object.
Despite his involvement with organized crime, Eddie even tried to teach his son right from wrong. Eddie wanted him to be a better man than he was. Yet with all his wealth and influence, there were two things he couldn’t give his son: he couldn’t pass on a good name and he couldn’t set a good example.
One day, Easy Eddie reached a difficult decision. Wanting to rectify wrongs he had done, he decided he would go to the authorities and tell the truth about Capone, clean up his tarnished name, and offer his son some semblance of integrity. To do this, he would have to testify against the Mob, and he knew that the cost would be great. But he testified. Within the year, Easy Eddie's life ended in a blaze of gunfire on a lonely Chicago Street, but in his eyes he had given his son the greatest gift he had to offer, at the greatest price he could pay.
Fast forward to World War II, a war that produced many heroes, one of whom was Lt. Cmdr. Butch O'Hare. He was a fighter pilot assigned to the aircraft carrier Lexington in the South Pacific.
One day, his entire squadron was sent on a mission. After he was airborne, he looked at his fuel gauge and realized he would not have enough fuel to complete his mission and get back to his ship. His flight leader told him to return to the carrier. Reluctantly, he dropped out of formation and headed back to the fleet. As he was returning to the mother ship, he saw something that turned his blood cold. A squadron of Japanese aircraft was speeding their way toward the American fleet.
The American fighters were gone on a sortie, and the fleet was all but defenseless. He couldn't reach his squadron and bring them back in time to save the fleet, nor could he warn the fleet of the approaching danger. There was only one thing to do. He must somehow divert the oncoming aircraft. Laying aside all thoughts of personal safety, he dove into the formation of Japanese planes. Wing-mounted 50-calibers blazed as he attacked one surprised enemy plane after another. Butch wove in and out of the now broken formation and fired until all his ammunition was spent.
Undaunted, he continued the assault. He dove at the planes, trying to clip a wing or tail in hopes of damaging as many of them as possible. Finally, the remnants of the Japanese squadron fled in another direction.
Butch O'Hare made it back to the carrier, where he reported the event. The film from the gun-camera mounted on his plane showed the extent of his daring attempt to protect his fleet. He had, in fact, destroyed five enemy aircraft. For his actions Butch became the Navy's first Ace of WWII and the first Naval aviator to win the Congressional Medal of Honor. A year later, Butch was killed in aerial combat at the age of 29. His hometown would not allow the memory of this WWII hero fade, and today, O'Hare Airport in Chicago is named in tribute to the courage of this great man.
So what do these two stories have to do with each other? Butch O'Hare was Easy Eddie's son.
The life we live today affects the generations to come. We were meant to give away our lives, so focus on living your legacy instead of worrying about leaving your legacy. If you do, you will define yourself and others by an inspired life.
One of the most joyful moments for leaders is to pass the baton to someone they have invested in, and then see their values reflected in the new leader. Just like Butch O'Hare.
Who is the next future leader you are inspiring today?
Ryan Buckley and his partners sank $70K into a tech startup they didn't have the know-how to maintain. It took them three years to recover.
This is the first in a periodic series of columns in which entrepreneurs recall the invaluable lessons they learned from their biggest blunders. Kicking off the series is Ryan Buckley, the cofounder of Scripped.com, a screenwriting software product that spawned Scripted.com.
My entrepreneurial journey started with a text from my cofounder. It read, "I have THE idea that will make us rich." He was wrong, of course. Mostly.
I had just turned on my cell phone for the first time since returning from an adventure-filled European backpacking trip. Up popped the text. This was 2006, just as I was beginning a Master's program at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. I had quit my consulting job and had every intention of returning to the public sector. I wanted to go into politics.
That path quickly changed as we moved from initial conversations to resource commitments. There were three of us then: Zak Freer, Sunil Rajaraman, and me. I took calls at cafes in Harvard Square and answered e-mails in the hallways in between classes. I decided to go in. We each committed $10,000 cash (I didn’t have it, so I used my student loans) to hire an outside developer to build an online screenwriting software product.
That was my biggest mistake.
It may seem obvious now, but back then not having a technical cofounder seemed reasonable. How hard can it be to re-engineer Google Docs for a screenwriting environment? Thirty grand should do it, right? Oh yeah, easy.
This was at a time when the iPhone hadn’t launched yet, MySpace still had users, and Google had only recently purchased Writely, the collaborative text editing software behind Google Docs. "Cloud" simply meant "rain" and there we were, three people on a mission to merge Silicon Valley technology with Sunset Boulevard production.
In other words, for the first time since the 2000 tech bubble, it felt like open season for startups. Anyone could hire overseas talent and slap a website together. You didn't need to worry about being mobile, going viral, or checking in. I look back on 2006 and can say with certainty that life was simpler then.
We built and tested Scripped throughout 2007 and launched in January 2008. At its core, Scripped was Google Docs (or Draft in today’s terms) with the features that screenwriters care about: hot keys for Character and Dialog formatting, and page cutoffs that don’t follow Word standards. We had the first purely Web-based screenwriting software product on the market.
The problem was, since we owned the tech but couldn’t maintain it, we were completely hamstrung by cash. A technical cofounder would have allowed the rest of us to focus on growth opportunities and partnerships while he developed new features. We could have worked our way into film schools and screenplay competitions. There would have been time to think through a revenue model. Most importantly, investors wouldn't have looked at the three of us econ majors and shaken their heads while asking, "So, guys, exactly who is developing your product?"
This is what happens when you launch a technical company without a technical cofounder:
You don’t pay yourself. Ever.
Despite not paying yourself, you still run out of money.
Without money, you can’t fix bugs.
When bugs persist, users leave.
When users leave….
As of our 2008 launch we had spent $30,000 of our own money and another $40,000 of friends', family, and small angel money on outsourced developers. We were giving away the product in order to get attention from writers who might help us break into the Hollywood studios. In other words, we had no revenue model, no cash, and no reasonable hope of ever making it.
In a strange way, that's what saved us.
Not having a technical cofounder forced us to be scrappy. While competitors in our space doubled down on technology, we became innovative marketers. My cofounder was at UCLA and leveraged his resources to meet other entertainment entrepreneurs like Keith Richman from Break.com. We got some celebrity screenwriter endorsements. Competitors emerged with better tech, but we had a better brand, and we persevered. When a competing company was on the verge of collapse, we merged with them. It bought us more time and a great partner and angel investor.
It took us three years to pivot Scripped over to Scripted, our fast-growing original content company. As soon as we raised our seed round, we hired the best engineer we could find and built Scripted on the hot Ruby on Rails web framework. We now have five terrific engineers on our team and plan to hire several more in the next six months. We still don't have a technical cofounder, but I've taught myself a lot of programming in the last five years. I can't do what a real engineer does, but I can at least understand the lingo.
Yes, we absolutely should have teamed with a technical cofounder early on. That was a big mistake. But the silver lining is that it forced us to be scrappy. We earned our stripes, and out of necessity, I learned to code. Ultimately, we beat the odds and made it to a big Series A led by Redpoint Ventures.
But I wouldn’t recommend this path to anyone.
Only a handful of people in a century command the global authority that Nelson Mandela does. These three crucial judgments cemented his greatness.
Nelson Mandela's life story has long since become a legend, one that transcends borders, race, language, or culture. His leadership truly belongs to the world.
It would be absurd--let alone disrespectful to Mandela's achievements--to suggest that the issues you face as a business leader are as grave as apartheid, or that the stresses you encounter compare with his decades of imprisonment. Still, Mandela's decisions at key points in his career do hold lessons for everyone who aspires to be a great leader. In my opinion, these three decisions especially stand out.
1985: Turning down Botha's offer of conditional amnesty
In a 1985 speech to the nation, pro-apartheid President F. W. Botha offered Mandela freedom if he renounced violence and other illegal activity. The President tried to shift the blame for imprisonment to Mandela himself: after all, he was now free to go, provided he would be law abiding. Mandela did not fall for this transparent ploy. Yes, he very much desired freedom after decades of hard labor and confinement in a small cell. But he also felt it would betray his principles, his leadership and the ANC’s long struggle. Here is how Mandela replied, in part, to President Botha’s disingenuous offer:
“What freedom am I being offered while the organization of the people remains banned?.... What freedom am I being offered if I must ask permission to live in an urban area?.... Only free men can negotiate. Prisoners cannot enter into contracts.”
Mandela turned down Botha and opted to stay in his cold, dark prison cell -- about 8 feet by 8 feet in size -- and was prepared to serve out the remainder of his life sentence. This strategic decision was enormously powerful, since it greatly elevated his position as the face of the ANC’s opposition, while also drawing attention to his enormous personal sacrifice.
1993: Finding a way to make peace in the wake of Chris Hani's assasination
The second strategic decision occurred shortly after Mandela became a free man but before he was elected President in 1994. The trigger was the 1993 assassination of Chris Hani, a popular black leader fighting for equal rights. Hani was shot in cold blood by a right-wing white extremist when stepping out of his car. The killer was identified by a white woman, who turned him in. The assasination ignited widespread fury and triggered huge demonstrations. Many blacks wanted revenge, and the atmosphere was ripe for looting, violence and mayhem. Recently out of prison, Mandela rose to the occasion and appealed for calm. Here is part of what he said:
"Tonight, I am reaching out to every single South African, black and white, from the very depths of my being. A white man, full of prejudice and hate, came to our country and committed a deed so foul that our whole nation now teeters on the brink of disaster. A white woman, of Afrikaner origin, risked her life so that we may know and bring to justice, this assassin. The cold-blooded murder of Chris Hani has sent shock waves throughout the country and the world….. Now is the time for all South Africans to stand together against those who, from any quarter, wish to destroy what Chris Hani gave his life for - the freedom of all of us."
1994: Refusing to stand for a second term as president
His third strategic decision occurred after his election as president: He decided early in his first term not to stand for a second, although two were possible under the constitution. This was a remarkable gesture in a continent where leaders tend to seek maximum power (such as Robert Mugabe, president of Zimbabwe). Mandela knew that his speech would be watched by about a billion people on television around the world, and he wanted to signal clearly that he was pledged to democracy and that he represented all the people of his country, regardless of color. The most famous lines of this landmark speech are inscribed in stone on Robben Island. Here is part of what he said:
“We have, at last, achieved our political emancipation. We pledge ourselves to liberate all our people from the continuing bondage of poverty, deprivation, suffering, gender and other discriminations. Never, never and never again shall this beautiful land experience the oppression of one by another….
Mandela’s extraordinary achievement was to encourage racial harmony, forgiveness without forgetting, power sharing, and a strong focus on the future, not the past. As a master of symbolism, Mandela supported his strategy by being magnanimous towards his former enemies. For example, in 1995, he visited the widow of the very man who was the main architect of the apartheid regime and in effect put him in prison (Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd). He rejoiced when the national rugby team Springboks won the world championship even though this team had been a symbol of racism and Afrikaner power for decades. He proudly wore the team’s shirt during the championship match, waved his hands in support and signaled to the world at large that he truly supported a rainbow nation. Such leadership is as precious as it is rare.
Mandela passed away December 5th, 2013 at the age of 95.
*Editor's Note: This article was originally published on July 28th, 2013.
House passes legislation to cut down on frivolous lawsuits that can stifle innovation and cost businesses billions.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill Thursday aimed at cracking down on "patent trolls," the term given to individuals and businesses that acquire patents mainly for the purpose of suing others for infringement.
HR 3309, known as the Innovation Act, passed by a vote of 325-91. The bill received wide support from both parties.
If passed into law, the Innovation Act would discourage frivolous patent lawsuits by making patent holders detail the products and patents in their claims from the outset, as well as by requiring courts to examine patents before defendants have to begin the onerous process of document discovery. It would also allow winning defendants to recover their court costs from plaintiffs.
Facing potentially long and expensive lawsuits, companies that patent trolls have targeted often elect to pay a settlement. According to one study, claims filed by trolls--known officially as patent assertion entities, or PAEs--cost defendants $29 billion to fight or settle in 2011. The study also found that most of the defendants were small- or medium-sized companies.
"Small businesses and startup companies--who are working to create jobs and grow the economy--are being suffocated by these egregious lawsuits," Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) said in a statement. "The Innovation Act is a commonsense solution that protects the little guy and penalizes those who file groundless claims."
The Innovation Act would allow small businesses to postpone patent lawsuits until similar suits between larger companies and the same plaintiff have been completed.
Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) is the bill's chief sponsor. Goodlatte is the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which approved the bill in November.
A companion bill was introduced in the Senate last month.
Twitter just added its first woman to its board. Here's how a woman's perspective could help the company.
After widespread criticism over its all-male board, Twitter revealed Thursday that Pearson CEO Marjorie Scardino will join its board of directors, according to an SEC filing. Scardino, 66, is the first woman to fill a seat for the company, which went public last month. According to a Bloomberg report, during her time at Pearson, Scardino has doubled headcount and tripled sales--increasing the education and publishing company's share price by almost 80 percent. Experts tout her experience running a media company has a major win for Twitter.
Why should you care? It's a good reminder that gender diversity can give a company--any company--a serious advantage.
Women make up just 19 percent of directors on the boards of Standard and Poor’s 100 companies, according to investment management company Calvert. Meanwhile many experts agree that a lack of diversity stifles innovation. In addition to adding a diverse voice, here are three ways that companies like Twitter can benefit from having a woman sit on its board:
Collaboration. According to Stanford professor and entrepreneur Vivek Wadhwa, who is also writing a book about the lack of women in Silicon Valley business, women tend to value working in teams more than men do. "They generally talk a lot more about their partners and the support that they got and mentorship," he told Inc.
Doing more with less. Research from the Kauffman Institute found that women-led startups launch with about half as much capital as male-led startups. In general, they are just plain better at bootstrapping.
Financial gain. Researchers from the University of Michigan and Cornell University found that companies with greater gender diversity saw better results from IPOs -- as much as 30 percent on average.
For more research on how diversity impacts the workplace, check out this full article.
With demand for programmers skyrocketing, perks at tech companies have moved way beyond free lunch and discounts on transit and gym memberships. Here's the new world order for HR when it comes to luring software engineers.
The shortage of computer-programming talent is persistent and growing, at least in perception. In a survey by the Technology Councils of North America, the vast majority of small-business executives said they'd be hiring developers within the next 12 months, and 69 percent said they thought there was a shortage of talent. As the likes of Google and Facebook drive up salaries, small companies are competing for top software engineers by offering a new level of perks that goes far beyond standbys like free meals, transit, and laundry service.--Christine Lagorio-Chafkin
Unlimited time off? That's so obvious. New hires at Sojern, a San Francisco-based ad platform that targets travelers, also get 40 hours of paid time to benefit others. Employees can volunteer for the equivalent of a week each year on the company clock. It's good for the community, sure--and new research shows volunteering might even be good for one's health.
Amicus, the New York City-based company that helps nonprofits fundraise, of course has a feel-good perk upon joining its team: It will donate a cow to a family in need in a developing country through Heifer International. But what fun would warm fuzzies be without some swag? On offer at Amicus are an adult mask from Iron Man 3 (why not?), an iPad, $2,000 in cash, all you can drink of your favorite beverage, and a fixed-gear bicycle.
Like many companies, San Francisco-based startup Exec, which facilitates on-demand home cleaning, incorporates its business service into its perks. Employees get free house cleaning, as well free errands run for them (another service the company facilitates). On top of that, free lunch and dinner are catered daily, and every hire gets a custom dinosaur hoodie, which the executive team is known to wear when hanging out en masse around San Francisco.
Time.ly, a Vancouver-based startup that makes calendar software, allows hires to work flexibly from home and to have a great deal of autonomy at work. But the biggest perk of joining the team? Being able to join on coding retreats to exotic locations. Its latest job posts add another, similar enticement: "In fact, if you join us now, we'll fly you to Thailand to join the team in Bangkok."
At Autodesk, an international company headquartered in Mill Valley, California, that makes 3D design software, it's common sense that two weeks off a year just isn't enough. Every few years, employees are eligible for a six-week sabbatical. There's a perk on regular workdays, too: Dogs are always allowed in the office.
Get a job at San Francisco-based salon-booking website StyleSeat, and your coif will never be unruly. That's because the company gives you a budget for haircuts, massages, and shaves. There are also regular happy hours for the team, and new hires are indoctrinated into the "Whiskey of the Month" club.
Scopely, a Los Angeles-based mobile-entertainment company, is used to putting its money where its mouth is in terms of hiring. It offers a $5,000 referral bonus, and, during one unusual recruiting campaign, offered hiring bonuses of $11,000 in "bacon-wrapped cash," along with a year's supply of beer, a custom-made tuxedo, and an oil painting of the new employee.
San Francisco-based Airbnb, which lists apartment rentals across the globe, is well known for being a dog-friendly workplace. It's also embracing its role as a travel company, providing each new hire with a $2,000 stipend to go somewhere exotic and check out the local digs. Just working out of the SF HQ can feel like a trip: Conference rooms are decorated to look like rental listings from far-flung locales.
Playing on the stereotype of the lonely, loveless programmer, Zoosk earlier this year offered to put every new hire into the running to win a date with either "Samantha" or "Steve." This isn't totally condescending, nor random: Zoosk is an online dating site based in San Francisco.
If you're working at a startup, you are pretty likely to get the itch to start out on your own. But most companies won't hold your hand as you jump ship. Enter Redfin. At its headquarters in Seattle, the real estate site not only encourages every engineer and project manager to take ownership of a "significant set of features," but also hosts courses on entrepreneurship to feed its engineers' desires to learn more about being a founder.
At iCracked, a San Francisco-based provider of iPhone repair services, the main perk for new hires is pegged to the location: free, unlimited rides on the company's yacht, which iCracked claims is "parked right outside the office on the water." That's on top of endless food, free gym membership, and "pretty much whatever else you want."
Well, hopefully someday. RapGenius, the Brooklyn, New York-based rap, rock, news, and poetry-annotation site, is building a new headquarters in Williamsburg. Its founders tell Inc. they are dreaming up some major perks for developers, such as individual huts (indoors) for each programmer, replete with all the hardware they want, and a porch.
Google's numerous perks are legendary: on-campus scooters, unlimited snacks, even allowing employees to spend 20 percent of their time on their own ideas. The search giant paved the way for a lot of the other companies whose insane perks made this list. But did you know the company also offers recreational bocce games and on-site spa services, including eyebrow-shaping? Yup. Here are more of some Google employees' favorite perks.
Launching a website is only half the battle. Now, find out how to get it right.
So you finally got around to building a website, but now you're wondering why it's not driving the results you'd hoped for.
According to David Chen, CEO and co-founder of the Y Combinator-backed startup Strikingly, that could be because you're falling into one of the four big traps business owners often overlook. Strikingly is tool that lets you build a website in less than 10 minutes. This week, the company even launched a "one-click" website builder that literally allows people to build a personal website in one click of a button.
I recently asked Chen to share some of the top mistakes he sees on startup websites, as well as advice on how business owners can right their wrongs online. Here's what he said:
1. You're making customers click too much.
Blame it on society's increasingly shortened attention span, but Chen says most websites overestimate the number of hoops their customers are willing to jump through in order to get to the product or service they're looking for.
"Every single click is an action point. When people get distracted by all the different actions, they don't click on the one button you want them to," Chen says, noting that e-commerce is a slightly different story. "The best websites we've seen that increase action are the ones with only one action point."
His advice: decide what action you want customers to take, whether it's making a call, finding your address, or placing an order, and emphasize that button over all others.
2. You're thinking about mobile last (or not at all).
According to the National Small Business Association's 2013 small business technology survey, nearly one out of five business owners has a mobile website. That's progress. And yet, Chen says, most of those business owners aren't making the best use of the fact that they have a mobile website, because they're still designing for the Web. As mobile traffic becomes increasingly important, Chen says, entrepreneurs should begin designing their sites with mobile first in mind.
A good mobile website, he says, should look like an app. Users should be able to navigate it by swiping, rather than clicking, a motion that's native to the mobile phone. There should also be a constant action point visible to users, so they don't have to zoom in and out to get what they want and where you want them to be.
Plus, Chen says, a good mobile design with minimal clicks and clear action points translates to the Web much more easily than a complex website translates to mobile. "If you start by thinking about mobile and then bring that experience to the Web, it fixes a lot of other problems," he says.
3. You're using overly complex, jargon-laden descriptions.
As someone who makes her living talking to entrepreneurs, I can personally attest to this point. Entrepreneurs, brilliant though they may be, are often terrible at explaining what they actually do. Face-to-face, there's time for clarification. On a website, there's not (For a quick refresher, check out Jason Fried's 2011 story for Inc. on why most business writing sucks.).
Chen believes most business owners suffer from simply knowing too much about their own companies. "They're trying to tell everything they know about themselves to users in a short period of time, and in the end users don't know who they are at all," he says.
Instead, Chen advises, try to distill your value proposition into one sentence, keeping in mind that once you hook a customer with a clear, concise pitch, you'll likely have time to expand later.
4. Your website has too much content.
Different from trap No. 3, this is not a matter of what you're writing, but how much you're writing. "One type of content people always go overboard on is text," Chen says.
Thinking about mobile first should alleviate this problem, because mobile websites have less space you might be tempted to fill with text. Instead, Chen says, whenever possible use a video, diagram, or other type of media to get your message across. Chen says, "If it's just your website, and not an article or something people want to read, the less text you have, the better and more beautiful it will be."
"There's no such thing as, 'I started my business and it just took off -- it was awesome.' When you hear people saying that, they are lying."
Lots of successful business people like to wax philosophical about the single most important trait that an entrepreneur must possess. For Tracy DiNunzio, founder and CEO of clothing buying and selling site Tradesy, that trait is adaptability. But coming from DiNunzio, the advice carries serious gravitas: DiNunzio was told as a child that she would never walk, due to a birth defect. On the contrary, she formed several successful businesses--and she learned to dance along the way.
DiNunzio recently shared her insights as part of UC Santa Barbara's Distinguished Lecture Series. Here are some key takeaways about the amazing power of adaptability. (Note: I am an investor in Tracy's company via Rincon Venture Partners.)
"There's no such thing as the guy who's like, 'I started my business and it just took off--it was awesome.' When you hear people saying that, they are lying."
Instead, expect rejection, failure and deadly market conditions, she said, and always come back to that adaptability.
"It's grueling and difficult for every single entrepreneur, no matter what their circumstances. The ones who win are the ones who're adaptable."
When DiNunzio's artistic career in New York hit a plateau, she decided to make a major life change. Much to the surprise of her friends and family, she gave up the life of a celebrated, young artist to pursue an entirely different path--uprooting her life and moving to Mexico.
"I tried to say, 'I can't dance. I can't even feel my feet.' I assumed that not being able to feel your feet would kind of eliminate you from being able to dance. As it turned out, not so much."
DiNunzio suffered from a lifetime of pain, due to a birth ailment which affected her back, legs and feet and prevented her from walking. That changed during her time in Mexico, when a Salsa instructor showed her that what she thought of as a limitation could be construed as an asset. "Because he was a really good partner, he was able to compensate for the things that I couldn't do. (He) even used the fact that like my feet were fused and I couldn't feel anything to do some crazy tricks that would've probably hurt someone else's feet. We toured different parts of Mexico doing dancing exhibitions, which was crazy, because I thought I wasn't even going to walk, let alone dance."
"You're probably making assumptions...about what you can and can't do. They might be true, I don't know. But they might not be true, so you have to test them."
At healthy start-ups, unbiased, verifiable, empirical data trumps assumptions, preconceptions and opinions every time. It was the opinion of medical experts that DiNunzio would never walk--and so she assumed she could never dance. It wasn't until she summoned the courage to test her assumption that she realized it was wrong. She took that lesson with her to business and applies it relentlessly--something I also suggest entrepreneurs do, by writing down and challenging each of the assumptions that are holding you back.
"Data wins," she says. "So whatever you're thinking is going stop you or the circumstance that's dictating the decision that you're making, just make sure you test it first because you might be able to dance, you don't know."
Canada has been working to pick off skilled U.S. energy workers just as we're trying to become energy independent.
The late-night comedians are having a field day with the buffoonish antics of the mayor of Toronto, but I don’t think those of us on the American side of the border should get too smug about our friends to the north.
One wacky mayor aside, Canada has been working to pick off skilled U.S. energy workers just as we’re trying to become energy independent. And it’s also actively recruiting high-tech talent from Silicon Valley amid frustration with Washington’s inability to agree on immigration reform, according to news reports.
And now Canada’s coming after me.
After multiple attempts to reach me by phone, I recently received this email from the province of Ontario (Yes, a message from a province):
“Ontario is Canada's economic powerhouse and offers a competitive business environment with a stable and growing economy, skilled workforce and low corporate taxes. In fact, The Economist Intelligence Unit has ranked Canada as the best place in the G7 to do business from 2010 to 2014, and on January 1, 2011, Canada's federal corporate income taxes were cut from 18% to 16.5% compared to the US federal rate of 35%.”
Ouch. That’s an aggressive case for why manufacturing companies like mine should move there. It basically goes like this: If we can cope with colder weather, our taxes would be half. On top of that, Canada’s tax includes health insurance. (I had to scramble to replace my company’s insurance plan last month after being informed my rates were being raised a whopping 49 percent in the disarray over health care reform.)
The attempt to lure U.S. businesses like mine is rooted in a broader problem: Our business landscape is becoming less competitive in the global marketplace. And our competitors are exploiting this handicap. Canada was among the countries, including China and the European Union, where the U.S. was running a trade deficit in the most recent monthly trade reports.
My company makes all our steel containers for material handling in the U.S. and we export to 36 countries, including Canada. We believe our quality, engineering skill and fast delivery give us a leg up on our global competitors. But those competitors also have advantages we don’t, and they’re clearly seeking to capitalize on them.
Manufacturing companies have a large multiplier effect on the economy. They are vital to middle-class prosperity. Ontario, for one, obviously recognizes that.
Washington, are you listening?
Cash the VC check, but spend it wisely and act like the startup you are.
Successful startups are often the most innovative, efficient, and scrappy companies around. They have to be. What makes leading a startup so special is that you're making magic happen, most likely on the cheap. And when you have no money, you have no choice but to make the smartest decisions with the limited resources at your disposal.
All of that can change when you cash your first venture capital check and find yourself ripe with capital. It's tempting to stop behaving like a lean startup and to reach into those deep pockets too soon, and too often.
Here's how to avoid that temptation.
Think Lean, Not Cheap
Cheapness isn't a smart tactic, nor is it wise to get sloppy and lose your edge with a lot of money floating around. That edge is what makes a startup, well, a startup. Don't pinch pennies unnecessarily, but don't allocate capital like you're a big company with an endless bankroll, either.
Money allows you to experiment and survive some mistakes, but it can also make you complacent or reckless. Allocating capital like a large company or in the wrong places will get you in trouble quickly. Stay scrappy, invest wisely, and don't lose the startup edge.
As a startup, the goal is to generate the highest return on investment because you don't have much to invest from the get-go. But once you are VC-backed, it's easy to lose focus. The solution to nearly every problem will seem to be adding more people, whether they're engineers to build the product, salespeople to sell it, or marketers to market it. It's important to make your customers successful, but investing in service doesn't always mean adding staff.
You can often generate higher ROI without spending money on increased staffing by creating user experiences that are intuitive and communities that enable users to support one another. I've learned first-hand the power of communities since founding dotloop four years ago.
As I've written previously, it takes a village to compete in the modern people economy, and we've built and nurtured a community of users who are always willing to answer questions and to swap notes with new and prospective customers, whether on the phone or on social media. Our community is a big reason for our success, especially during high-growth times when we simply couldn't hire (or train) hands-on customer service staff quickly enough.
Stay True to Your Roots
Be prepared to overcome resistance by staying true to your roots. One example is the story of Square versus VeriFone. Both companies offer mobile payment services. VeriFone essentially owned the mobile payment space for several years until Square came along and disrupted it. Square was innovative, efficient and scrappy in the beginning--and it still is. But with disruption comes resistance.
VeriFone responded to Square's disruption by raising the specter of Square's security vulnerabilities, writing open letters to the industry and eventually, yet unsuccessfully, trying to mimic its scrappy startup's concept. Square stayed true to its roots and prevailed, attracting investments from behemoths such as Visa and Starbucks.
The most successful startups don't lose their edge. That means they're efficient, focused, and spend every penny like it's their last--no matter the bank account balance.
Sometimes how you move matters more than what you say. Check out eight ways to use your body language to your advantage.
We're all students of body language. Too bad we're not students of our own body language.
Here are some tips to help ensure your body language works for you and not against you:
1. Prep with a power pose.
It turns out Leo was on to something: According to Harvard professor Amy Cuddy, two minutes of power posing--standing tall, holding your arms out or towards the sky, or standing like Superman with your hands on hips--will dramatically increase your confidence.
Try it before you step into a situation where you know you'll feel nervous, insecure, or intimidated. (Just make sure no one is watching.)
It may sound strange... but it works.
2. Dial up your energy level.
Imagine you've just led a meeting. Now rate your energy level on a scale of 1-10.
Most people will give themselves an 8 or 9. Unfortunately, most of the people in the room will give you a 3 or 4. What feels high energy to us can come across flat and lifeless to others.
Next time, remind yourself to dial up the energy by 20 percent or so. You don't have to go all Matthew Lesko, but you should definitely display more enthusiasm and passion than you would under other circumstances.
3. When the going gets tough, start smiling.
Frowning, grimacing, glowering, and other negative facial expressions send a signal to your brain that whatever you're doing is difficult. That causes your brain to send cortisol into your bloodstream, which raises your stress levels. Soon stress begets more stress--and pretty soon you're a hot mess.
Instead, force yourself to smile. It works.
Plus when you smile, that helps other people feel less stress, too. Most of us mirror the actions of others, so if you smile, other people will smile. If you nod, others will nod.
And if you frown, soon others will be frowning, too.
4. Play supermodel to reduce conflict.
Standing face to face can feel confrontational. One way to reduce the instinctive level of threat you and the other person may feel is to shift your stance slightly so you're standing at an angle--much like models who almost never stand with their bodies square to the camera.
If you're confronted, don't back away; just shift to a slight angle. And if you wish to appear less confrontational, approach the person and stand at a 45-degree angle (while still making direct eye contact, of course.)
Best of all, try to find a way to stand side by side, because that implicitly signals collaboration.
5. Don't gesture above your shoulders.
Watch any Steve Jobs presentation. He never raises his arms above his shoulders.
That should be enough of a reason for you not to, either.
6. Talk more with your hands.
The right gestures add immeasurably to your words. Think about how you talk and act when you're not "on."
Then act the same way when you're in professional situations. You'll feel more confident, think more clearly, naturally punctuate certain words and phrases, and fall into a much better rhythm.
7. Use props to engage.
Body positions affect attitude. People who stand or sit with their arms crossed and heads tilted forward are naturally more resistant and defensive.
So pull them out of their resistant poses. Shake hands. Ask for their business card. Offer a drink. (I have a friend who is the king of, "I'm going to get a water, can I bring you one?" He feels the act of handing someone a bottle of water is not only courteous but also forces them to open up their body position, which also helps overcome resistance.)
Or if you're speaking to a group, ask questions that involve raising hands. Pass around relevant items. Find a way to get people to stand or change seats.
The more people move and open up the more engaged they feel.
8. Think before you speak.
Eye contact is important, but it's hard to maintain eye contact when you have to think. Most of us look up, or down, or away and then we swing back when we've gathered our thoughts.
Here's a better way. If you have to look away to think, do it before you answer. Take a pause, look thoughtful, glance away, and then return to making eye contact when you start speaking.
Then your words are even more powerful because your eyes support them.
I've been particularly struck by a single recurring theme I've seen play out over the year.
The list of events--and people--that could be cited in a review of leadership lessons in 2013 (for good or bad) is long. The cultural shifts being attempted by Pope Francis; the use of social media in the aftermath of the Boston bombing; the backstory to the Twitter IPO; the achingly slow economic recovery and how various business leaders responded--these and a hundred other stories contain much about leadership wisdom (and otherwise) that we can learn from.
I've been particularly struck, however, not so much by a series of unrelated events such as those above, but by a single recurring theme I've seen multiple times this year, in numerous environments.
Briefly put, it goes like this: Leader achieves 'mojo'. Leader is recognized and lauded. Leader develops hubris. Hubris breeds a bubble where contrarian views and speaking truth to power is discouraged. Hubris + bubble kills mojo.
Here are just five examples of this pattern in action, from the many I've seen this year:
1. RIM (aka Blackberry). Blackberry was, for many years the market leader in so-called smartphones (hard to believe that in the era of the iPhone and Android, but that's more or less the point). That market dominance led it to do some very dumb things (are you listening, Tim Cook?), eventually retreating into a senior management bubble that resulted in atrociously bad decision-making.
RIM is currently on the chopping block, waiting to see who will come in and pick up the pieces for cents on the dollar.
2. Marissa Mayer / Yahoo. While at Google, Ms. Mayer was lauded as a genius and feted by the press. She arrived at Yahoo with her reputation very much in full sail before her. Her first executive action (more or less) was to surround herself with people she knew, thus pretty much guaranteeing she'd be operating in a bubble from day one.
Now into her second year, Yahoo's long-lost mojo is nowhere to be found, and Ms. Mayer's is deflating faster than a bean bag with a hole in it.
3. Steve Ballmer's exit at Microsoft. Microsoft once ruled the business world. Top of every top ten list, it seemed destined to eat everything in its sight. Then Steve Ballmer became CEO (to be fair, that was just bad timing; in retrospect, it is obvious that B Gates Esq. headed for the exits at least partially because he knew he had no answers for what was about to happen).
Most damagingly, Ballmer pretty much constructed his own private bubble. Passionate in his hubristic belief that so long as he said it, it (whatever 'it' was) could - and would - be done, and convinced that so long as he loudly trashed any competing product or service that would be the end of it, Ballmer oversaw the rapid decline of Microsoft into The Big Rut.
Forget all the talk about a super-CEO taking over Microsoft and turning it around - its mojo is gone, and the only hope for a future is a breakup into four or five competing companies.
4. The rollout of Obamacare. There is no doubt that the election of President Obama was a transformational moment in US and world leadership. There is even less doubt that Barack Obama began his presidency with enormous mojo. But as the undoubted and unavoidable flood of 'tick-tock' stories about the debacle at the heart of the launch of the Affordable Healthcare Act will undoubtedly show, that mojo quickly morphed into hubris. Add to that the airtight bubble that is the Obama White House, and it's not surprising that this became a train wreck in the making.
5. Snapchat's rebuffed acquisition offer. Ohhhhh, tech world, how we love you for your wonderful gadgets and your adorable idiocy. A single app sells like crazy (mojo), its founders turn down a reported $3bn from Facebook and a rumored $4bn from Google (hubris), and...sigh, I'm tired of even typing this it's so predictable. Just Google 'Andrew Mason's life after Groupon'. Apparently Snapchat's founders didn't.
What this means for you: This list could go on. Jamie Dimon and JPMorgan Chase; News International and the Murdochs; Blockbuster-- and those are just the bold-faced names - it doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of similar patterns playing out in hundreds, if not thousands, of small and medium-sized businesses. It happens all the time.
The lesson? Stay humble, always. The greater your success, the more you need to stay in touch with fresh opinions and perspectives and welcome real, truly challenging feedback.
Oh, and don't believe your own PR. That helps, too.
Looking for more lessons on how to lead? Download a free chapter from the author's WSJ best-seller, "Predictable Success: Getting Your Organization On the Growth Track - and Keeping It There" to learn more about building a world-class culture that will rapidly accelerate the growth of your business.
Everyone "zones out" sometimes. Make sure you do it when it doesn't matter.
We all zone out. We even do it during the workday. We just don’t do it--hopefully--when we’re supposed to be driving a passenger train around a sharp curve into Spuyten Duyvil station in the Bronx.
Wednesday, the engineer of the Metro-North Railroad train that derailed over the holiday weekend said he had become “dazed” just before the accident. When the engineer came to, he attempted an emergency braking maneuver, but it was too late.
In this instance, the consequences of zoning out were fatal: four people killed, and more than 70 injured.
It’s unreasonable to think that you’ll never zone out on the job, ever. Even gung-ho entrepreneurs crash sometimes. But it’s worth putting some thought into the rhythm of your work. Often, it’s easy to predict when you’re most likely to be spaced out a bit, and when you’ll be at your best. The trick is in designing your work so that those inevitable moments of inattention don’t cripple your business.
Before you say that's impossible, consider this: When lives are at stake, the pacing of work is something we manage to control. An airplane pilot, for instance, faces some of the same challenges as a Metro-North engineer: long periods of time during which there isn’t much to do, punctuated by take-offs, landings, and turbulence that require the pilot’s full attention. What the pilot has--and the engineer doesn’t--is autopilot. When the plane’s cruising at 30,000 feet, the pilot can relax entirely until he or she actually needs to fly the plane. That makes it easier for the pilot to be alert when it’s truly necessary.
Autopilot represents the very healthy admission that we can’t be at 100 percent all the time. So we’d better plan to be at our best when it’s absolutely crucial.
Literal autopilot is probably not feasible for most entrepreneurs. That doesn’t mean there’s no other way to compensate. There were systems available to Metro-North to make sure the engineer was alert when he needed to be, even though they appear not to have been installed on this train. Some trains have an alert system: If the system detects inactivity, it sounds an alarm. If the alarm isn’t shut off within 15 seconds, the train automatically brakes.
That sounds great, and may well have helped in this instance. But it points up another problem: Such systems don't allow any downtime. The alarm is supposed to make sure the engineer is always alert, always. That may prevent an engineer, or anyone, from falling asleep, but it's not going to do much to get peak performance out of anyone.
So how can you make sure you’re on top of your game when you’re heading into a curve? You’ll have to set up your own systems, and work in cooperation with your body’s natural rhythm. Many of us are at our best, alert and chipper, at the beginning of the workday, after a good breakfast. We tend to crash (zone out) around two or three in the afternoon, depending on what time we usually go to bed. Your mileage may vary, but you get the idea.
That means that for most of us, important meetings should happen in the morning, after a good breakfast. That’s when we have the most willpower and the capacity to make the best decisions.
You absolutely should not waste those wide-awake hours tackling a big pile of boring paperwork. Ideally, you’d delegate that, but if you can’t, try playing some music or even locating to a coffee shop or some other location with a bit of hustle and bustle. That’ll help keep part of your brain amused while the other part deals with the mundane.
Maybe there’s no alarm you can set on your calendar that will say, “Hey, things are getting interesting here. Look alive!” But you can certainly schedule smartly, focus where it counts, and cut yourself some slack when boredom or repetition rear their ugly heads. Think of yourself as a pilot, not an engineer.
How to ensure that brainstorms don't turn into braindrizzles.
I recently came across a newly-published book, SmartStorming, which got me thinking about the dozens of brainstorming sessions in which I've participated. Here's my take on what worked:
1. Only invite brains. Every organization consists of two general types of people: a) those who agree with the boss all the time and b) those who have their own ideas and opinions. The Yes-men and Yes-women only spout regurgitated pap, so don't invite them.
2. No wet blankets. Among the opinionated at your company, there are probably some whose opinions are usually negative. They'll come in handy later when you're sorting through the ideas, but but they're not useful when you're generating them.
3. Suspend your judgment. To be an effective brainstorming leader, you must not just squelch your natural tendency to judge ideas and people, but approach all ideas--even ones that normally might seem lame--with a sense of wonder and possibility.
4. Welcome "bad" ideas. If you're brainstorming, the dumbest thing you can do is characterize an idea as "bad." Yes, there are bad ideas, but they're the fertilizer out of which good ideas grow.
5. Go for quantity. The object of brainstorming is to get as many of ideas on the table as possible in as short a time as possible. There will be plenty of time later to sort through the ideas and decide which are worth pursuing.
6. Get everyone all wired up. Two magic words: 1) caffeine 2) sugar. Apply in large doses before and during the session.
7. No electronics. No laptops, no phones, no exceptions. Keep track of ideas by writing them on a flip-chart and taping the pages to the walls.
8. Keep it short. When it comes to brainstorming meetings, the terms "long" and "productive" are an oxymoron. Think 15 to 20 minutes. The moment everyone's energy starts to flag, end the meeting before the storm turns into a dull drizzle.
9. Sleep on it. It's often (usually!) the idea that seemed crazy at first that turns out to be the most useful. Use the passage of some time to get perspective and only then consider and sort out the ideas that were generated.
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According to Gilt founder Kevin Ryan, checking references will tell you more about a job candidate than the interview.
Sometimes even data's deepest devotees prefer to think beyond numbers.
“My job is not to come in and create some stupid metric for everyone to look at.”
No, we’re not quoting a curmudgeonly executive in data denial. The above quote comes, quite remarkably, from data scientist John Foreman, who works for the data-heavy email-marketing company MailChimp.
Foreman obviously recognizes the importance of data. But companies sometimes just need to leave well enough alone, he says.
One place this plays out is in branding. Foreman tells Mashable’s Lauren Drell about MailChimp’s billboards, which are devoid of calls to action, keywords, or hashtags that could make their impact measurable. The signs don’t even include the company’s name, only a cartoon monkey -; MailChimp’s mascot, Freddie -; winking at passersby.
“People will often ask us, ‘What’s the ROI for that? What metrics are you tracking?’ And the truth is, we’re not,” Foreman tells Drell. “We just stay in constant conversation with our customers. We’re constantly taking their pulse to get their sense of what’s right, what’s wrong -; and I really love that, which is weird for a numbers guy.”
On MailChimp’s blog, nonprofit brand manager Lain Shakespeare elaborates on the unconventional approach. “After a brief discussion about exactly why MailChimp would want a billboard, the consensus was that we wouldn’t try to sell anything, we wouldn’t pander to anyone, we wouldn’t even advertise any features. . . . Instead, we just wanted to make MailChimp users smile.”
Shakespeare adds that the company does keep tabs of the photos of the billboard that people share via social media. But, as Foreman explains to Drell, MailChimp is careful not to overemphasize data -; because doing so can have unintended or negative consequences.
Few companies are so associated with an emphasis on data as Amazon. But Amazon, too, sometimes casts numbers aside. As Brad Stone writes in Bloomberg Businessweek, “It’s one of the contradictions of life inside Amazon: The company relies on metrics to make almost every important decision, such as what features to introduce or kill, or whether a new process will root out an inefficiency in its fulfillment centers. Yet random customer anecdotes, the opposite of cold, hard data, can also alter Amazon’s course.”
Get a glimpse at how an airline and other businesses are using content to breakthrough and engage customers.
I'm a die-hard advocate of Virgin Airlines, but on a recent trip to visit family over the Thanksgiving holidays, I had to choose Delta because Virgin didn't fly where I was going.
Virgin America was recently in the news for their new in-flight safety video that garnered rave reviews on social media. So, as I settled in for my flight on Delta, I expected the same old traditional video I've seen on every airline (except Virgin) a million times over. But to my surprise, Delta has video that was the perfect mix of information, content and entertainment. Even businessmen in suits were cracking up watching. Now we all know, getting frazzled travelers to actually stop what they are doing to watch that video is no small feat. And as I looked around, nearly everyone was intently watching. Not only were they watching, but they were smiling, chuckling and listening. Wow.
A week later, I was on my post-Thanksgiving, Black Friday flight and sat back to watch the video again, and much to my surprise, Delta had a holiday version of the video. It had nostalgic and beloved holiday characters such as the Nutcracker, Santa Claus and the Abominable Snowman, and a festive cast of passengers in ugly holiday sweaters. The video was targeted, timely and, again, entertaining.
It's encouraging to see conservative businesses like airlines and even K-Mart (with their Show Your Joe commercial) embracing content as a way to better connect with their customers. Take a nod from these examples to think about how you can present expected content to your customers and prospects in a new and entertaining ways.
Do you give them the same old how-to? Try having a funny or unexpected character show the how-to. Do you present a standard video about your product or service, or do you show a real-life customer using it in a cool way or with awesome results? Do you use the same old background music or mix it up?
All these ideas can be used to get your creative juices flowing and help your business create content that can breakthrough the boredom and engage your customers right here, right now.