Leadership

Your Company’s Diet

I like to think of a company as an organism (legal representations aside). Like any healthy organism it is important to maintain a healthy diet, and that starts with the people you bring into your company. Having now worked for a variety of organization types, there are a few consistent needs I’ve noticed:

Define your organization’s values. Not only will they set expectations with your existing employees, they will serve as goal posts for hiring new employees.

Remember your mission. Everyone you hire in the organization is, or should be, working towards the same overall goals.

Skill is only one attribute. You can hire smart people, but if you can’t work with them effectively, they’re useless or can actually cause harm.

Your culture is sacred: treat it that way. That means addressing people issues immediately to protect the organization as a whole.

Easier to implement when your organization is smaller and/or growing, but vital nonetheless. Keep your company healthy.

 

 

Standard
Technology

Evolving the In-Store Experience

This past weekend, the first Masters of Code (MoC) hackathon took place in Sydney, Australia. It was an exciting event with some terrific teams creating great solutions. Each MoC event has a theme and this one was focused on enhancing the mobile retail experience “in-aisle.” One of my favorite teams built a connected shelf that, using a weight and measurement system, could tell which items were being placed on it, provide contextual related product recommendations and complete payment for that item through an app. The experience was seamless and removed the burden of “payments” from consumers.

A couple of years ago I wrote about the Future of Retail, in which I discussed the transition from current consumer experiences in-store to seamless, and in some cases invisible, ones. This is a trend that I expect will continue. Lately, I have thought a lot about the future needs of retail, and there are direct and related areas we should keep an eye on:

Easy Application Development

According to Multichannel Merchant, more than 75% of retail merchants do not offer their customers an app. I strongly suspect that this will change, so tools that allow a merchant to efficiently build a secure, scalable application will continue to be useful.

Wearables and Mobile

Consumers that walk around in-store are using their phones (and now and in the future their wearables) to search for product reviews, look at alternative pricing, etc. While the evolution of hardware will continue continue, the interaction of that hardware with a retail environment though digital mediums is a great opportunity. Payments, loyalty, information – many areas are ripe for enhancement with the consumer use of mobile technology.

Energy and Internet

Just as consumers are using more mobile devices in store, retail has differing infrastructure needs. Whether it be reliable and scalable wireless capacity or the advent of wireless power for devices (and I’m not talking about inductive charging), there are many infrastructure requirements for a great retail experience.

Delivery

There has been a relatively new development of what some have termed the “on-demand economy.” It is becoming experientially important for merchants to provide goods in a rapid fashion. Originally this started with online merchants providing same-day delivery, but now retail stores are differentiating themselves by allowing customers to have the in-store experience of shopping and payment without the hassle of having to bring their purchased items home themselves, instead having those items delivered to the proper shipping location.

Loyalty and Marketing

One of the biggest costs (and in many cases, sunk cost) that in-store merchants incur is putting in the time and effort to get a potential customer in the door only to have that customer leave empty handed. Tools that improve customer acquisition and retention for the real-world will continue to be needed.

Supply Chain Management

Trade and commerce is becoming even more global. Manufacturers and merchants will need improved systems that provide real-time (or close to it) data on goods being transported and shipped. SMBs need better quality information to make smarter inventory supply decisions.

Personalization

A personalized experience is often a more effective one and the in-store experience is no exception. The delivery of this personalized experience doesn’t necessarily need to be digital, either, but it does require structured data in order to deliver something effective to the consumer.

Digital Security

There are two immediate opportunities in my mind that merchants can do to make sure their digital infrastructure is more secure: ensure that servers are in fact secure through multi-factor authentication and compartmentalization of data and environments, and begin to tokenize data (in addition to payments) to ensure that if a compartment is indeed compromised, that information is useless to unauthorized individuals or systems.

Payments

As I wrote previously, from a consumer experience perspective, payments needs to disappear (though much of what happens in payments is invisible to consumers already). The Apple Store’s and the Covers of the world do it terrifically. Through the convergence of digital and physical platforms, we can expect seamless and secure payments experiences.

Standard
Entrepreneurship, Leadership

Book Review: The Hard Thing About Hard Things

Practical. Insightful. Honest. I was highly impressed by Ben Horowitz‘s book “The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers.” This is a must-read for anyone interested in the business world – startup or not.

Ben does an excellent job of not just describing a series of events and points of recommendation but of illustrating the emotion behind the same. He does so in a very realistic fashion, as well. Reading the book, I felt as if I was experiencing a fraction of this emotion, appreciating both elated and dark moments. With his recommendations, Ben was not afraid to show both sides of an argument. His examples were not hypothetical or academic, but built on real experience, making the read much more enjoyable.

On top of the content value, Ben is also donating 100% of the book earnings to the American Jewish World Service.

I strongly recommend this book.

Standard
Leadership

My Day with the Chief HR Officer of MasterCard

Human Resources. Unless you’ve worked in the field or worked with someone in the field, HR can seem like a black hole where decisions on promotions, raises, and layoffs are made. “Don’t mind the man behind the curtain,” so to speak. But unlike in the Wizard of Oz, many employees do not have the ability or the will to discover what the world of HR is really like. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to do so.

Last month, the Chief Human Resources Officer of MasterCard was kind enough to host me for a day at the corporate headquarters. I spent the day attending meetings with him and was sure to record my experience. The following is a log of my day. All names have been changed to protect the identity of individuals, when appropriate.

7:20am – I get to the global headquarters a little early and find a comfortable chair to check my email in. My day is supposed to start at 7:30am, so I want to make sure that my host has time to go though his morning routine.

7:30am – Time to meet Ron. I go into the executive wing and find his office. He is at his desk, probably checking on emails as well. He greets me, allows me to put my things away, and makes sure I know where the secret kitchen is “just in case.” We spend a good amount of time talking about my history, my professional goals, and where I see myself going. We also talk about company culture, especially as it relates to the new NYC office. He tells me about himself, a little of his professional history, and describes his role at the company. It is interesting to hear about the different constituencies he serves and he often is the one to deal with intra-executive tensions.

8:40am – A quick break. I take the time to write some of these notes and catch up on email.

8:50am – Ron shows me some slides that he has previously presented to the company’s board of directors. They outline the status of the company’s people organization, and some of where we are headed. It is interesting to see the amount of tremendous diversity in the company, but we still have more to do.

9:00am – Gregory comes in to meet with my host and discuss some exciting new recruiting programs in the works. Again, it was interesting to hear about the different constituencies involved and the tensions that can arise between them.

9:25am – Simil pops in to tell my host about a recent hire. The person’s title is Director of First Impressions and can be found at the front desk of headquarters.

10:15am – Our next meeting, Angelica comes in to talk about an upcoming TEDx style talk she was invited to give. She is planning to talk about the value of reverse mentoring. We talk about the difference in work styles between different generations, and the need to expect differences and find common ground.

10:55am – Email break with a tweet.

11:15am – We stealthily join a feedback call on a new online training program for people managers; stealthily because we don’t want to skew the feedback. The group on the call were all beta testers, and provided both very positive feedback as well as a few opportunities for improvement. Someone brings up one of my (many) favorite quotes from Albert Einstein: “I never teach my pupils. I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.”

11:50am – Time for a walk. We visit the different HR folks around the office. Perhaps unsurprisingly, my host knows each by name.

12:05pm – We grab lunch and chat about our travels. My host gets something healthy and I do not. Enough said.

1:05pm – We have a meeting with the head of employee relations who also acts as my host’s human resource business partner. Essentially, this person is “HR for HR,” which is an interesting dynamic in itself. I can imagine the experience being relatable to a doctor’s doctor.

2:10pm – One of the things our CHRO likes to do is have a little fun once in a while, so we took the opportunity to prank call an employee we mutually knew well. Unfortunately, she wouldn’t pick up her phone, so we had to leave a prank message instead.

2:15pm – We have a short meeting about employee engagement and an associated program being developed.

2:50pm – We call back the employee we pranked. She said she fell for it for a couple seconds, but then started to recognize voices. All well, we tried.

3:00pm – Ron has a call with a potential high-level hire. It is an introductory call to see if there may be any good fits. I silently listen in, and we compare notes afterwards.

3:50pm – Another email break. Unsurprisingly since he is a corporate executive, and I getting us ready for an upcoming hackathon.

4:05pm – An interesting meeting between us, the CHROs Chief of Staff, and the head of internal communications.

4:55pm – The conclusion of a great day. I say thank you, promise to keep in touch with my host, and head home.

Overall, I had a fantastic experience with MasterCard’s Chief Human Resources Officer. My experience taught me that there is a lot of planning and work that goes into running a people organization. I would strongly recommend that anyone who is interested in running an organization take some time to learn how to manage and plan for a company’s most important asset – its people.

Continue the discussion by tweeting me with #HR!

 

Standard
Entrepreneurship, Leadership

The Key to Startup Success?

A friend of mine recently asked me what I thought the key to a successful startup was. Even though I’m involved in the entrepreneurship community and have heard many others speak on this topic, I wanted to make sure I gave him a thoughtful answer. I kept thinking of everything I’ve learned over my number of years engaged in entrepreneurship from both an operator and facilitator standpoint: Business Model Canvas, Learn Canvas, the importance of customer development, user experience design, etc. The one thing that kept sticking in my mind, however, is the need for great people. What I mean by this is leaders who have complementary skills with the ability to productively work in concert to accomplish a goal. There are several important parts of this definition:

Leaders – individuals who can inspire and enable the success of others. This includes the recruiting, training, and retaining of employees and cofounders.

Complimentary Skills – See previous post.

Productively Work in Concert – This doesn’t mean that founders have to cover favorite bands at the local coffee shop every night, but teams should have compatible working styles.

To Accomplish a Goal – Your end goal will change along the journey but whatever it changes to, the team must still work together to reach it.

Want your startup to have the best chance of success? Have the best team possible. You need only read the latest startup news in your favorite tech publications to see the impact this can have. By the way, this doesn’t just apply to the startup world: in any size corporation, the most fundamentally important asset is great people. Tweet at me with #startuphire, and tell me whether you agree or disagree!

Standard
Community, Entrepreneurship, Leadership

Inverse(STEM) – What Happened to Well-Rounded?

For a few years now, some of the most notable technology executives have impressed upon today’s youth the importance of learning to code and the importance of STEM. Even President Obama jumped on the bandwagon in 2013. When I served on the board of the University of Connecticut, we worked with our Governor to launch a new operational and capital investment initiative by the state called NextGen Connecticut. The focus of this initiative, as you can read about, was additional STEM faculty, facilities and programs. STEM initiatives, in general, are good for the long-term health of our businesses and society as long as they are not created through or with the debilitation of other initiatives. It is that last part I’m a little worried about.

Dave McClure and the 500 Startups team, who are doing tremendous work globally in entrepreneurship communities, focus on finding great companies that have three key team ingredients, succinctly called “H2D”: a hacker (software developer), a hustler (sales/business development), and a designer (product architect/humanist). This team formula can create fantastic results, as we’ve seen from many of their portfolio companies. Yet STEM only focuses on one or two of these three legs, those being hacker and (maybe) designer. Not even discussing the broader needs of society, have we become to narrowly focused on STEM while forgetting other important fields?

Fortunately, I have been able to become somewhat fluent in particular programming languages, enough to have a certain level of conversation with software developers. As a kid, I went to a computer science camp and learned some game design (yes, I was/am a nerd, let’s move on). Later, I took courses on Codecademy and I continue to work with many of our product groups at MasterCard who were building APIs. I never have any intention of being a developer, but a certain level of fluency has been useful. My job at Apple was sales and marketing focused, so that box has certainly been checked. You could say I have filled in two parts of Dave’s formula so far, which just leaves some design experience. I’ve been able to take on some prototyping projects, but I am sure I will lean on resources like GA to help fill the gap.

So while the President, industry leaders, and many individuals are correct in suggesting that individuals learn to code (or more specifically, gain some level of fluency in coding as one might learn a spoken language in school), it is also important that our leaders recognize, even from an economic development persecutive, the importance of other skills and fields.

Thoughts on educational investment for the next generation? Tweet at me with #edu, and let me know!

Standard
Community, Entrepreneurship

Other Side of the Island: Startup Weekend New Jersey

newJersey_v02

I didn’t have to do much traveling to facilitate Startup Weekend New Jersey, but the amount of energy here would have certainly made a longer trip worth it. There were some great pitches on Friday night, and I’m excited to see these teams progress over this weekend and beyond. One in particular (that shall go nameless since they are still developing) is an app that, if developed, I would use immediately and every single day.

The space where this event is being held is very dynamic. If you’re a New Jersey company looking for coworking space, I definitely recommend checking out JuiceTank. Private, semi-private, and open space is available (with parking!!).

Startup Weekend is an organization that is focused on building entrepreneurship communities around the world. Now, we can add New Jersey to that long list. Looking forward to Sunday night pitches!

Be sure to follow the action on Twitter, or tweet at me directly.

Standard