When you’re starting a business, it’s crucial to find the best lawyer to protect you. With the right expertise on your side, you can feel confident you’ve got your legal ducks in a row. Over at the Daily Muse today, I sit down with start-up lawyer Steve Kaplan to get the low-down on how to choose a lawyer and what to expect from the attorney-client relationship. Read it here.
Quick background: I spoke at the meetup DC Tech earlier this week, which is a monthly event that rivals the NY Tech scene with more than 1000 attendees. My brief talk was about how you can “fake it until you make it” when learning how to code. It was so well received, and so many people requested the presentation notes, I thought I would share a special screencast version of the presentation created just for this blog.
Also, the sound on this video seems loud to me, so you may want to turn down your volume a bit before watching.
Transcript of this video:
I am not a developer. No one would ever hire me as an engineer. But I do love to tinker.
I believe that anyone can build a site and in the process, begin to learn how to code. And I’m going to share with you how I’ve done that today.
For many of you, this will seem too simplistic, but I wanted to show the non-techies out there how easy it is to create a minimum viable product with little to no knowledge of code.
Last year, I tested several of my start-up ideas. One of the last ideas I explored was for a site called Design Pluck – a sort of Pinterest meets Craigslist. The idea was to help design enthusiasts discover design one-of-a-finds in their local neighborhoods. It’s not something I’m pursuing, so feel free to steal the idea. It’s gotten great feedback.
I used three different approaches to “fake” my way into building Design Pluck with only rudimentary knowledge of code:
1. The Search Approach.
I used Google to find a pre-made theme that I could just download and install on my WordPress site. WordPress only takes a quick ten minutes to set up and allows you to change and interact with your site without looking at or touching the code.
Now if you’re not familiar, WordPress themes are completely useable out-of-the-box, but I specifically searched for a theme that was fairly plain and simple, so that I could treat it more like a paint-by-number canvas and customize it the way I wanted.
Most of the differences between the original theme and my site are purely stylistic, or what the web world calls CSS (Cascading Style Sheets). If you had a set of boxes in your living room, you could fairly easy paint them different colors, and that’s exactly what I did.
What was once mostly white and pink on the original theme is now mostly gray and blue on Design Pluck.
CSS isn’t difficult. You just replace one color code with another, and like switching out lipsticks, you’ve just given your site a makeover.
2. The Ctrl-C, Ctrl-V approach (i.e., Copy-And-Paste).
When I wanted to have the search bar functionality follow the user as they scrolled down the site, similar to how Pinterest’s navigation bar follows you, I found a Java code snippet via search that I copied and pasted into the site’s documents. And let me back up and say, I had no idea what I was doing or where to put this Java snippet. I just tried many different places until it worked.
The lesson here is that you’re allowed to experiment. You won’t break anything. A voice in your head may tell you, “no, don’t touch that!” but you can and you should. Your site is your sandbox.
(Just make sure to copy or back-up the existing code before you do anything so you can go back and reference the original if need be.)
So as you’re browsing, the Java snippet allows the search bar to follow you, so when get overwhelmed and decide there are too many choices and you only want to see red items, you can tell the search bar just show me red items in my neighborhood, and voila!
Now, the Java snippet allowed me to have this search bar follow the user, but it didn’t create the custom search in the first place. The way I created my custom search was through my third and final approach.
3. The Download/Upload Approach.
It’s very easy to find different plugins that again, similar to themes, allow you to create the functionality you want on your site out-of-the-box. You simply download them from the many repositories out there, and upload them to your site.
Plugins are modules that allow you to completely bypass the overwhelming process of coding everything from scratch.
Like legos, plugins are out-of-the-box blocks that play nicely with others, and as you fit more and more together, you can create something very complex and very powerful.
The plugins on the Design Pluck site include the custom search boxes, the sign-up form, custom fields, custom posts, the like button, which allows users to like their favorites which will then show up on a favorites page – also a plugin – location maps, an email plugin and more.
All of that functionality is as easy as clicking download, and then clicking upload.
Learn to Code
Of course, eventually you will hit a wall, and will want to do more than these three approaches will allow. In the process, you’ll begin to learn how to code. For this site, I learned a ton about PHP, a bit about JQuery Masonry, and a whole lot more.
I ended up writing some simple code, but what I’m most proud of is that I wrote several of my first functions simply by mirroring the code I saw in other places.
Just one example of those functions is on the individual store pages. I wanted a store’s products to show up below their store information, and wrote a function to make that happen.
So if you click on a store page like Miss Pixies on 14th St, you would be able to see their store information at the top of the page, and at the bottom, you’d find all of their current inventory to shop.
To you, it may seem like a minor win, but to me, when I figured this out, it felt like I had literally changed the world.
I hope you enjoy changing the world in your own way with these approaches.
Have you ever used any “fake-it” approaches in building a website, or just in business and life?
Liam (name changed) runs an online business where he sells digital goods on a subscription basis. After approaching nearly $1 million in revenue, he experienced a mindshift. The shift was subtle and unconscious; he didn’t realize the harm he caused until later.
On the side, I consult for Liam’s company. For weeks, I tried to convince Liam to test changes on the site that could potentially increase sales to no avail. I couldn’t understand, why didn’t he want to make more money? Or at least try? Wasn’t that why he was paying me?
Exasperated, I exclaimed, “You’re essentially telling customers to cancel during every step of the process! And then they do. How can we ever expect to grow revenue?”
Liam paused. “You know what, Rebecca,” he said. “When we came close to $1 million in revenue, I thought, is this bad? Are subscriptions evil? Am I taking advantage? Is my business model inherently wrong?” His answer was to place detailed instructions on how-to cancel everywhere on his site.
More than 150,000 people have downloaded Liam’s products. He’s a smart guy. He’s also part of the Google generation where “Do No Evil” is the motto for life and business. Increasingly, that means making stuff, but not making money.
“I wanted to get this into as many people’s hands as possible,” she said, “to pave the way for a bigger package that will be a set price. I’m hoping that people find it super valuable and share it around and that brings in more people.”
She told me readers paid more than what she would have charged, but I still cringed. I had heard about the amount of work she put into those essays. Not to mention, she already wrote (for free) about these topics on her blog. If she believed the essays to be super valuable, why not come out swinging with a price that indicated that value?
The truth is, unless you have an extremely wide reach, discount or zero pricing does not work. And hardly anyone has that kind of reach. The majority of us (start-ups, freelancers, small business-makers, entrepreneurs) are in markets with smaller audiences and niche targets. And that means premium pricing.
Charging for your work or products, however, just doesn’t seem to jive with the so-called basic rules of the Internet. Somewhere along the line, Free! became an acceptable business model, and revenue and sales became a sign that you didn’t get how the new economy worked. Suddenly, we’re afraid to make money.
“It feels weird to be selling to my blog readers,” Amber says. “The lines are a little blurred and I’m working to draw them more firmly. I’m very emotionally attached to my blog and it feels weird to try to turn it into a business space.”
But the lines don’t get less personal when you aren’t marketing to friends. Liam spoke to me about how his customers are from modest means, and he is often more concerned that his customers save money, rather than he make it himself. Even with a healthy level of success most would be envious of – and a growth rate a fully-backed and funded start-up would salivate over – Liam is often worried. And he seems to feel bad and apologetic at his success.
A good many of us want to start and grow businesses (or nonprofits or blogs or something). But the majority of us cannot. Our minds won’t let us. We put up all sorts of barriers and paradigms that tell us no, this isn’t right. Even if you manage to get an idea off the ground, your negative nellies will tell you that the product isn’t great/has bugs/isn’t ready/is stupid and the big one: you’re not good enough.
We all tell ourselves these invisible scripts every day, and they go into overdrive when we try anything new. We literally have a physical and biological reaction that tells us to stop, back away and let it go. Financial expert Ramit Sethi has an exercise in one of his courses where he asks people to identify these scripts. Here is a sampling of what people say:
What will I do if I succeed? Do I deserve to succeed?
Not good enough – Just writing those words makes me irritated as hell. But that’s what I battle with.
What skills, expertise do I have that someone will be willing to pay top dollar for? I’m afraid I’m just not good enough, special enough, have great enough ideas to warrant the financial life I so desire.
And the fear of not being good enough, or un-deserving, does all sorts of weird things to us when we try to implement our ideas. We decide it’s more important to be right, than effective (we don’t want to fall flat on our faces, after all), and we move forward with assumptions that are clearly incorrect.
Despite the current obsession with tracking, testing, metrics and analytics in the start-up world, we still primarily make business decisions based on emotions, not data. Business risk doesn’t depend on your conversion rate, but what you say to yourself in your head.
“It did feel more comfortable for me to do pay-what-you-can,” Amber said, “because I’m still a little uncomfortable with this whole Pricing My Work thing. There’s definitely some fear involved.”
For Amber, having people pay-what-they-could helped her plow through that fear. “Most people ended up paying the suggested $5, but a large number paid in the $10 range,” she reports. “One person even paid $50. Only one person paid less than $5, at 99 cents.” Amber plans to charge upwards of $50 for her next product.
As for Liam, I asked him to reframe his worldview. Instead of worrying if he was ripping people off, he should focus on providing as much value as possible to his users. If you are providing value, there is no reason not to charge, no reason to feel bad. We don’t need to be so wrapped up into “do no evil” that we talk ourselves right out of profit.
Instead of our emotions plowing us into despair over success – or potential success – we should focus on the fact that growth, even and especially financial growth, is healthy. Of course it will take work. Things will change, and with it will come more responsibility and expectations, but only if we can accept that we’re worthy and good enough to provide mad value and make mad money in the first place.
A born entrepreneur, the ex-CEO of Seventh Generation talks about today’s labor movement, changing the rules of business and politics, and the biggest failure at his old company.
More than twenty years ago, Jeffrey Hollender founded Seventh Generation and went on to build the fledgling company into every affluent customer’s favorite badge of sustainability. In October of last year, Hollender was forced out of the company. Today, he continues his fight to provoke business leaders to think differently about the role they and their companies play in society.
K: What’s going on with business and politics nowadays? The Federal government almost shut down last Friday. Are business and politics inseparable with the amount of lobbying, influence and corporatism?
Hollender: Business has far too much influence in politics and that is bad, on the one hand, because citizens feel disenfranchised and don’t feel that they have a vote and don’t participate in the political process. But worse, we have a situation where a relatively small group of very large companies have our political agenda and our economy effectively held hostage to their own interests.
If you just look at the recent controversy surrounding the fact that General Electric pays no taxes and in fact will get a $3-4 billion tax refund, we have also created a terribly uneven playing field. How can small and medium-sized companies that create most of the jobs and are critical for our economic recovery compete with large companies who get large subsidies from the government and don’t get to take advantage of the loopholes that a company like GE gets to take advantage of?
It’s a serious, serious problem that is, I think, crippling our economy and spoiling our environment.
I want to circle back to that, but first let me ask you this. I just moved to DC from Wisconsin, and am wondering, have you been following the fight with WI Governor Scott Walker and his attempt to eliminate collective bargaining?
To me, it seems like Walker was trying to destroy the Democratic party and it wasn’t really about labor unions. However, the idea of eliminating labor unions doesn’t seem all that outdated to me in a world where transparency is king. Curious to know your thoughts.
Over a 30-40 year period we’ve seen membership in unions fall roughly around thirty-five percent to under ten percent. A significant amount of that decline is a result of business’ influence on politics that have increasingly made it difficult for unions to organize and acquire new members.
There is no question that there has been a campaign by politicians as well as certain companies to marginalize, if not totally eliminate, the union movement in the United States. And I think that’s dangerous because the unions were probably the only significant political counter balance to big business in America.
As a co-founder of an organization called the American Sustainable Business Council that has 65,000 small and medium-sized companies as members, more of these businesses have taken a position to support labors like collective bargaining and we don’t see that as bad for business. We believe, as I do, that we need more good-paying jobs because an economy where people are making minimum wage is an economy where the government will endlessly have to subsidize families because they can’t afford the services that they need to survive.
Do you see any differentiation between public and private sector unions though? Where public sector unions might not be as necessary as private sector unions?
No, you know, I don’t see a large difference. I think there are a huge number of challenges with the way the teachers’ union has functioned. And I think the challenges that we have in eliminating bad teachers from the system are problematic. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have a teacher’s union. I think the issue is that we need to make some changes in the way a teacher’s union functions. But I would not ever go as far as saying teachers should not be unionized.
Okay. Let’s move on. It seems like a lot of your initial drive in this area of social justice was a result of the privilege that you had growing up. Do you see, at all, that being socially conscious is a luxury of the privileged class?
No, I think that being socially conscious is in no way something that is a luxury of being privileged. There is a tremendous social consciousness within the union movement. There is tremendous social conscious in all aspects of society. I wish there was more social conscious within the privileged. I think too many people who are very comfortable and affluent don’t accept their responsibility to share that wealth with too many other people and to advocate for people are aren’t was well off as they are.
It’s sad that, statistically, lower income people give away a greater percentage of their income than affluent people do, and I think that one fact alone would cause one to not come to the conclusion that the privileged are more socially conscious than the unprivileged.
What about being environmentally-friendly? Is that a luxury of the privileged class?
Well, environmental consciousness has become too much of a luxury of the privileged class for a couple reasons. One, environmental products are often more expensive than traditional products and one would not expect people from all economic classes to choose to pay a premium. Secondly, because people who are more affluent tend to take advantage of and access higher levels of education, they better understand the reasons why sustainable products are important.
I have always said that one of the biggest failings of Seventh Generation was that it reached primarily more affluent consumers who were already healthier and living more sustainable lives, and was not effective at reaching more people broadly.
That is true generally of all types of green products and organic food, and underlying that is an economic problem. Why is it that green products or organic foods should cost more money? They shouldn’t. They cost more money because those businesses don’t externalize their costs on to society the way other businesses do. By internalizing those costs, the product costs more money. But it shouldn’t be that way; it should actually be the reverse. Sustainable products – because they don’t have as negative an impact on society and the environment – should actually cost less money.
I completely agree. What is the solution?
Well, the solution goes back to where we started the conversation. As long as large companies control the political process, we won’t make much headway in changing the tax laws or any of the issues that allow businesses to externalize their costs. We take one example alone, global warming, and we can’t even get there to be a price on carbon. We’re a long, long, long way from changing that playing field. Unfortunately, we live in a society today where we make products that are often bad for your health and bad for the environment artificially cheap. People consume those products that adversely affect their health and the environment and we move more quickly down the road in the wrong direction.
So what’s bad for you is good for the economy? Is that how it’s playing out?
What’s bad for you is good for a select group of large companies.
It’s actually not good for the economy because when people eat the wrong things and don’t get healthy, what we see is rising health care costs that ultimately make America less competitive with the rest of the world.
What we have today is a paradigm where companies are making the most money they’ve made in sixty years. Corporate profits are at an all-time high and growing faster in the fourth quarter of 2010 than they’ve ever grown in sixty years. At the same time, as we have massive unemployment and an environment that is being degraded. And unfortunately we’ve created a system that allows companies to make huge profits while people are unemployed and the environment suffers. So we have systemic problem in the way we’ve designed our economy.
In Part 2 of this interview (coming next Friday), Hollender talks about how he would launch a company today, the tensions of scale, and what motivates him the most.
Tech Crunch founder Michael Arrington argued in “Too Few Women in Tech? Stop Blaming Men” that he and other men already do plenty for women: he has a female CEO, two out of four of his senior editors are women, and he begs and pleads for women to speak at his conferences.
Arrington’s counter-point, an article in the Wall Street Journal, is equally insidious. The Journal reports that Mediaite founder Rachel Sklar “co-founded a group called ‘Change the Ratio’ to shine a light on women in entrepreneurial roles, and to address the dearth of women at start-ups” and goes on to report that technology investor Fred Wilson said “the industry needs catalysts to spark a virtuous circle of more successful women-led tech start-ups leading to more women in tech start-ups.”
Wilson pledges to “write about successful women entrepreneurs and prod conference hosts to include women on panels. ‘Little things like that will make a big difference,’” he says.
Arrington, Skylar, Wilson, and the many, many other opinions in an uproar about this are really arguing the same thing: we need more exposure and awareness around women and tech. Their points of differentiation center on how much exposure will actually move the needle and create an acceptable number of women in tech. But how much or how little is irrelevant.
Women don’t need exposure. We need strategy. We need equality.
Interviewing women and inviting women to conferences and reporting on women-founded start-ups and creating women-focused events and so on and so forth might make everyone feel a bit better and be politically correct, but does little to actually support women. These obvious proof points make it easy for Arrington and Wilson and Sklar to say, “Look! I’m doing my part!”
But women are less likely to advance in their careers despite all this “support.” And that’s because they’re not actively sponsored the way men are, the Harvard Business Review reports. “Many women explain how mentoring relationships have helped them understand themselves, their preferred styles of operating, and ways they might need to change as they move up the leadership pipeline.”
Arrington’s ideas are a good example of such encouragement; he argues that women may be too nurturing and risk averse for tech and alludes that changing that behavior is the key to more start-up companies founded by women.
“By contrast, men tell stories about how their bosses and informal mentors have helped them plan their moves and take charge in new roles, in addition to endorsing their authority publicly,” the study says. Men develop a special kind of relationship with other men that goes “beyond giving feedback and advice” and instead has men using their influence to advocate and ensure the success of male friends.
The rules of the old boys club have already been passed down to the young boys and without the key, women have somehow garnered special attention and kid glove treatment. But we need more than well-meaning supporters and intentions.
Just let us play the game on the same field.
To Michael Arrington’s credit, his walk seems to outpace the talk of Fred Wilson and Rachel Sklar. But watching the pendulum swing between who to blame neglects the obvious: equality isn’t about keeping score. That’s what business is for.
See you in the club.
My adrenaline starts to pump and the anticipation in my stomach rises so quickly that a little laughter escapes. But at 10:03 pm on Monday, the 22nd this is a bad time to laugh.
I yell to my boss Mark, “Tech Crunch just published!”
“What?” he yells back.
I run into his office, “Tech Crunch just published their post!” The rest of the sentence, that they published an hour early, an hour before they were supposed to, an hour before the embargo lifted and we were going to launch the site doesn’t need to be said. Hundreds of people are already on the site. Are we ready? I’m not ready! I thought we had an hour.
“We’re going live!” Brian exclaims. “Right now! Go! Go! Go!”
He sweeps through the office as excitement sweeps through our fingers. It’s bad that Tech Crunch published early, but their article is good. I’m shaking a little and smiling. Mashable emails me. They have to publish their article now too and I tell them it’s okay. We’re turning on the site now. We’re opening the doors. It’s starting. Alice.com is launching in beta.
The rest of the night is quick, blurry, surreal. When new press comes out, we yell, “CNET is up!” “Business Week!” “Financial Times!” and I throw the links onto Yammer. I refresh my screen every few minutes to watch the bar on the new customer graph rise. I work more than seventeen hours, my co-workers even more, and none of us really notice.
Some of the developers bring sleeping bags, the customer service girls bring a blow-up mattress, and the rest plan to sleep under their desks. At Alice, each employee is assigned an animal. I am a crane, which means, in part, that I’m particular. I want my own bed, so I drive home in the middle of the night.
The highway is completely empty, black and shiny. I own it. The asphalt, everything beneath and all the buildings lined up along on the side are mine. No other cars or people or lumbering trucks. I drive fast because I’m tired, and I want to sleep, and I want to get up and do it all over again.
Considering my co-workers only got two or three hours of sleep, I know they feel the same. The Alice team is more than dedicated, more than hard-working. This is the start-up life, our life.
There’s a lot of talk about balance. Some of the most popular authors preach zen-like attitudes, getting out of work, and lifestyles that are built on, well, not a whole lot. And then there are those who talk about sacrificing your health for your start-up, who talk in terms of not just passion, but obsession for your profession, and whose idea of fun is innumerable hours spent on a single idea.
Fighting balance across the fence is blur. And that is where I live. A life that should preclude me from having any sort of relationship with anybody or anything other than work, but in reality, betters those relationships. A place that makes me excited to be young and in love and working hard.
Peace, it seems, can not only be discovered in the quiet pauses of life, but also in the often forceful and uncertain flow that rushes against walls and norms and status quo.
Update: A version of this post was published here as an opinion editorial, and another version was featured here on Brazen Careerist.
The pull Madison has is inexplicable, but powerful. It is this magic that sleeps in the winter, and then explodes in the spring like confetti on your twenty-first birthday, that makes me love the city. Even the winters become part of the voodoo that creates the vibrant mix of people and food and ideas and lakes.
Madison defines who I am. My career, friendships, and relationships are delivered to me from the city stork, like they were birthed directly from this intoxicating energy.
My affair with the city is an epic romance. But the city doesn’t know it.
Madison isn’t alone. Despite consistently placing in the top of every list imaginable – from Playboy to Forbes – Madison, like many other cities, is ignoring one of its most competitive advantages. That is, young people.
See, as cash cows go, Gen Y is a big one, and cities are ignoring us – the young leaders, entrepreneurs, professionals and creatives – in their plans for economic development.
Partnering with Gen Y should be of the utmost priority for cities since we are uniquely positioned to stimulate economic development. For example:
1. Good jobs come from good people. Economic development starts with human capital. The war for talent is one of the most interesting and challenging issues that cities face today. Young people actively promote and contribute to the high quality of life in cities, and need to be able to connect to both people and ideas. We are the quality workforce that is indispensable to basic sector job growth. Without a strong cadre of young talent, employers will be unable to expand.
2. Competitive advantage starts with entrepreneurship. More than any other generation, young people today are entrepreneurs. To meet the small business owners, the tenants of research parks, and other key entrepreneurs in cities is to meet an under forty demographic. There is ample opportunity to provide dynamic support for young entrepreneurs and the talent coming out of universities. Young entrepreneurs are a powerful determinant of a city’s future economy. They cannot be an afterthought.
3. To new customers, cities have no legacy. Gen Y knows little about the negative perceptions that have been prevalent within the business community. We don’t know the history or the mistakes. This is an opportunity for cities to build positive goodwill through superior customer service for this new generation. Young people can help cities to think innovatively. Cities can then borrow that energy and willingness to change to jump-start a perception shift in the existing business community.
4. Spiky should be funded. Place is extremely important to Gen Y and largely determines our destiny in today’s spiky world, to borrow a term from Richard Florida. To become a taller spike in the world’s economy – to compete – cities needs to attract young talent. In turn, young people will develop businesses and new markets. Cities should allocate money to young talent groups that promote and build upon the city’s strengths and spikiness to create the competitive advantage that allows us to expand business.
Cities must proactively reach out to Gen Y. Young people represent growth, and must be engaged in a city’s future development. We are a natural partner and ally in stimulating economic development.
It’s a myth that the workplace is turning into one big leaderless state. Just as decisions made by committee often require head banging, life without leaders would be one big headache. Yes, leadership has changed and decentralized organizations are here to stay, but there will always be leaders. We want success. We want to win, and winners have leaders.
Once you’ve tossed aside the crutch of hierarchical authority though, “knowing how to build relationships, use influence and work with others is crucial to achieving the results you seek,” according to Valeria Maltoni, a specialist in connecting ideas and people.
A Generation Y leader inspires by enabling others to be leaders. They know the strengths of those they lead, and exploit those for the success of that person. A Gen-Y leader delegates to help the worker achieve their goals. They are motivated by relationships and have an obsession with seeing others succeed.
By making room for other leaders, “you attract people who aren’t followers, who aren’t looking for the kind of leader who will save them from the anxiety of responsibility,” according to Michael S. Hopkins. And the millennial generation does not follow.
Instead, we create our own content, build our own businesses, do things our way. Be an entrepreneur or die, says Sam Davidson at Cool People Care. For the Gen-Y leader, it isn’t about ego, but about sharing ownership and building a community of ideas. An effective Gen-Y leader helps our generation to embrace entrepreneurship at every level.
A Gen-Y leader is inclusive and collaborative, and not just within their sphere of influence. An isolated organization will perish. Successful organizations are defining themselves as the gateway expert in their field. On the playing field, in this instance, companies must pick the competitor to be a part of their team for bigger and better results. It’s not enough to have a quality product; you must reach out and promote others. Teamwork is no longer just within a company. It’s industry-wide.
As a result, lines haven’t just been blurred; they’ve been pulverized on high in a blender. Competitors are partners, work is play, and boundaries no longer exist. As such, Gen-Y leaders must be leaders by example, and in every aspect of their life, whether family, work, or play.
Generation Y leaders, however, can and will be easily replaced by their peers. We are a starfish generation. Go ahead and try to chop one of us down, and we’ll grow a whole sprawling forest in that person’s place. We’re that strong. We’re that motivated. We don’t respond lightly to pressure or corruption.
A Gen-Y leader’s efforts to maintain influence will be harder for that reason. Especially because it is often our peers doing the chopping. As a generation, we’re remarkably good at calling bull. We have no qualms about holding our leaders up to the light to check for transparency.
Gen-Y leaders then must know themselves first, and project their authenticity. They must also be constantly learning, experiencing, doing, networking, creating, giving. It won’t stop. Our generation won’t put up with selfish thoughts, unethical behavior, or tired ideas. The Gen-Y leader must be constantly on.
That’s how we will become the next great generation. We won’t stop.
Change is in the air; inhale deeply.
The dynamic leadership requirements for Gen Y are causing Masters in Public Administration, MBA and other education degrees to put an extra emphasis on leadership.
We won’t all be Steve Jobs, but many of us will be the top executives in our respective cities. I recently met with seven of the top Executives, Presidents and CEOs in Madison, Wisconsin. Here are their keys to business and leadership success—
Share your success. It is incumbent on the person being promoted, according to Mark Meloy, President and CEO of First Business Bank, to pull others along with them. Make sure that as you become more successful, your leaders feel that their careers are moving forward as well.
Network to problem-solve. Finding groups that help you problem-solve will save many a headache, according to Brett Armstrong, CFO of the IT company Trident Contact Management. Like if you’re being audited, the group will have your back. But choose your involvement wisely, Armstrong advocates, since you only have a certain amount of time and need to spend it wisely. If you’re only half-involved then that is how people will know you.
Balance… well, it’ll all even out in the end. First, you have to decide if you want a job or a career, according to Mark Meloy. If it’s a career you decide upon, make sure you’re engaging in a two-way street. Work and life won’t always balance out that day, week, or month, but equilibrium will be found. Eventually. Meloy walks the talk at First Business Bank. When his employees go on vacation, they are not allowed access to email and have only limited access to voicemail. The company gives vacation, he says, for a reason.
A vision can’t just be a pie in the sky. A vision must be a concrete vision, according to Donna Sollenberger, President and CEO of UW Hospital and Clinics. To create the right vision, you must find the right direction for your organization to take. To do this, look at the industry trends and listen to your market. Then build a case, a good solid argument, and back it up with data to demonstrate where you need to go.
Entrepreneurs – socialites, control-freaks, risk-takers, and self-promoters. So says Curt Brink, a successful real estate developer. You must not only deal with a wide range of people in entrepreneurship, he argues, but you must also follow through on getting things done. Don’t be afraid to try something new, because once you’ve done it, you then understand how to do it better. A successful entrepreneur likes being in control, but can delegate fully. If you don’t, no one will grow. By the way, Brink was unconsciously promoting his current and past projects the entire time he was talking. That’s called passion. Get some.
Do a lot, and make sure everyone knows. Don’t let anyone pigeon hole your talents, says Annette Knapstein, Vice President of Office Administration at American Family Insurance. Stretch yourself, develop new talents and volunteer for different committees. And then, make sure everyone knows it. If they don’t know, it doesn’t exist.
Leadership is lonely sometimes. A good leader and manager makes effective decisions and communicates clearly, while putting the right people in the right spots. Not always easy, according to Gary Wolter, President and CEO of MGE. To illustrate his point, Wolter told a story about a receptionist he saw year after year. Each morning, the receptionist would say, “Hello, Gary.” Yet, when Wolter was promoted to CEO, the next morning was different. “Hello, Mr. Wolter,” the receptionist said. Leadership fundamentally changes relationships and people expect different things of you. People who were your peers, you now supervise, and while you can still be friendly, you can’t talk about the boss anymore because you are the boss. The support group that you had developed, who had remained loyal to you, and helped you along your journey has changed. Be prepared.
Throw an open door party daily. Reaching out to younger people for fresh air is essential, according to Richard Lynch, President of J.H. Findorff & Son, who had a great sense of the upcoming workforce. He recognizes that young workers are entrepreneurial, and need a flexible and honest environment to work in. He has an open door policy for this purpose and subsequently attracts the brightest young workers.
Speaking of honesty… Surround yourself with people who will tell you that you’re an idiot, says Gary Wolter. Look both inside your organization, and outside, for individuals you can bounce ideas off of, and who can communicate with you effectively and honestly.
Follow the Leader.
I got to meet Penelope Trunk, of Brazen Careerist fame, in person today. That’s because Penelope lives where I live, in the great city of Madison, WI, and I thought the least stalkerish way to meet would be to invite her to come to one of my networking events. She graciously did just that, and spoke to a small group of us over ravioli and stale breadsticks. And when I say spoke, I mean she almost made somebody cry.
Penelope is tough.
Authentically tough, blatantly honest, and wearing some of the dirtiest shoes I’ve seen at a networking event in a long time. I loved every second of it. We all did. Trying to figure out what you want to do in life? Try stuff out. Shop around. Think you’re content? Content is boring; there’s probably something wrong with you. Found your passion already? Set crazy ambitious goals. People like to be pushed to their limits and that’s what Penelope did. She pushed each and every one of us to go farther, reach deeper and come out triumphant. Except for the woman who almost cried.
If you missed it and are lucky enough to live in Madison, WI, come to the next event I invited Penelope to speak at, the Madison MAGNET Networking Breakfast. You can skip the coffee that morning.
Don’t forget to read my related post: “Personal branding, accountability, and how to just be yourself already.”
This post was also published at Damsels in Success.
I know a lot of awesome Gen X and Gen Y women. In fact, the city of Madison, WI ranks in the top ten of both female creative class, and female super-creative class percentages in the nation (Charlottesville, VA and Bakersville, CA, rank first).Generation Y women, Hannah Seligson argues, are “making one of the fastest and unprecedented career ladder ascents in history.” Here are some observations about one of the most powerful groups of women in history:
Women are more business-minded than men… Springboard Enterprises reports that “women in the United States have an ownership stake of 50 percent or more in nearly half of all privately held businesses.” In fact, women are starting businesses at a rate of twice that of men, attracted to the flexible lifestyle of being your own boss.
And we’re successful at it. The gross sales of women-led companies grew 39 percent compared to 34 percent for all firms. Barron’s predicts that by 2010 a woman has a one in seven chance of having a powerful job post. In Australia, studies show that “women-led companies on average outperform those where there is no female leadership at the top,” while “law firms with more female partners have a higher per partner income than those with fewer.”
… but women don’t always want a man, or children. While men in leadership positions often have a family to support them, Gen X and Gen Y women put careers ahead of settling down. While this can be a lonely proposition, many Gen X and Gen Y women are not in a huge rush to find a man, get married and start popping out children.
In relationships, the men increasingly stay at home or hold a less stressful position. If we’re even in a relationship. Many of us are doing just fine without a man as a result of our highly independent lifestyle.
A lot of us aren’t even sure we want to have kids. And if we do, we want to adopt (anything to avoid having a foreign object pop out of our fitness-club bodies). The vast majority of women that do plan on having kids also plan on staying in the workforce.
Women are natural leaders. The millennial woman brand of leadership is more about changing the world than our own egos. Moreover, we’re change makers willing to defy the traditional structures of “command and control” leadership for a more collaborative and inclusive model.
Anna Quindlen writes, “by its very nature women’s leadership is about redefinition, while men’s leadership has been about maintaining the status quo… You’re less wedded to the shape of the table if you haven’t been permitted to sit at it.”
I’m not surprised to learn that women and men are switching roles. I see examples all around me of women embracing the power of now to lead the next generation. The more young women that get others to not only look past their age, but also any perceived inequities, the better off our world will be.
One last note. Over in the UK, academics have dubbed young women leaders as “’the Monstrous Army on the March’, women who cannot, will not be stopped.”
Well then. March on ladies.
These boots are made for leading.
I just spent the last twenty-four hours (and months of thinking and planning), working on this website. Not just this blog, but an events calendar that is far from going “live.” Creating this blog was fun for me. I know enough HTML to make some creative design decisions in order to create a clean modern site, with enough whimsy that expresses my style and brand.
The events calendar, however, sounds simple enough, but my desire to create something that fully expresses my brand got me in trouble. For some reason, I thought that since I could build this blog on my own, with a few tweaks, that I could build the events calendar as well, with just a few tweaks. Never mind that I only understand basic HTML and CSS, and that AJAX and MySQL remain distant acquaintances in the long line of tools I’d like to meet. Never mind too, that when I spoke with real web developers they estimated months of work to achieve the quality I was speaking of, and tens of thousands of dollars. I thought I could create a stellar web application. With no web development expertise whatsoever. In a few short days. In fact, I was sure of it.
It’s arrogant, certainly. And a little cocky as well. Along with the rest of my generation, my mother told me I could be whoever I wanted, do anything. What I want for this website is to engage the next generation. A lofty goal, sure. But I am confident that I will succeed. I have a lot of ideas, buckets of enthusiasm and energy, and a drive to get things done.
So, do I buy into the hype that Generation Y is arrogant? Yes, sirree. And proud of it.
Then again, I could fail.
I already discovered I was (way) over my head when I decided I could learn developer code in just a couple days. I have an events calendar that I could link to, but I don’t like it and it’s not up to my standards. But I’ve learned from doing, instead of just talking. While I couldn’t take my idea past a certain point without help, I gave it my all, tried my best, and built up my base of knowledge. I now know more then when I’ve started. For full millennial effect, our confidence needs to be combined with the assertion that it’s okay for us to fail. That allows us to turn challenges into opportunities, failure into success. Here’s to the success of this blog (or possible failure). I hope you stay tuned – cheers!