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- Bill Gates: Good Feedback Is the Key to Improvement
- Fri, 17 May 2013 22:05:46 GMT -
The world's richest man says everyone needs feedback beyond one-word descriptors.
Bill Gates, who recently reclaimed the title of the richest man in the world, took to the stage earlier this month for a TED talk on one of his pet causes: improving the quality of education. Specifically, the Microsoft creator focused on the need of quality feedback for teachers.
"We all need people who will give us feedback. That's how we improve," Gates told the audience. He continued:
"When Melinda and I learned how little useful feedback most teachers get, we were blown away. Until recently, over 98 percent of teachers just got one word of feedback: satisfactory. If all my bridge coach ever told me was that I was 'satisfactory,' I would have no hope of ever getting better. How would I know who was the best? How would I know what I was doing differently?"
Gates feels thorough peer evaluations, as well as evaluations of teachers by students, might help teachers improve in their career. As an example, Gates used the high-achieving province of Shanghai, China, noting their key to success has been "the way they help teachers keep improving."
"They made sure that younger teachers get a chance to watch master teachers at work. They have weekly study groups, where teachers get together and talk about what's working. They even require each teacher to observe and give feedback to their colleagues."
In other words, real dialogue engendered real feedback.
Like teachers, employees need feedback from their boss. Rather than rely on impersonal one-word evalutations, identify specific aspects of the job workers need to improve on.
How have you helped your employees improve?
- 6 Start-Ups Tackling the Student Loan Crisis
- Fri, 17 May 2013 21:37:00 GMT -
A group of community-minded start-ups hope to ease the burden of college tuition with the concept of crowdfunding.
Striking out on your own is hard, but it's even harder with college loan debt.
It's no surprise, then, that a number of start-ups have popped up recently with the mission of tackling America's student loan crisis.
According to Federal Reserve Bank of New York, this debt has almost doubled since 2007 and is nearing $1 trillion. In fact, it's already surpassed the mark of auto loan debt, which is somewhere in the neighborhood of $783 billion, and credit card debt, which stands at $679 billion.
With almost 40 percent of student loan borrowers owing up to $10,000 and 30 percent more owing up to $25,000, these start-ups have their work cut out for them.
Here are six hoping to lessen the burden:
Campus Slice This "social funding platform helps you slice your tuition bill by getting support from your family and friends," says its website. By setting up an education and funding goal, and then inviting family and friends to help reach them, students can effectively crowdfund their education. Supporters are asked to make small monthly contributions, thereby keeping costs down while providing the student with a steady flow of income.
GiveCollege On this crowdfunding site, parents must register their child's 529 college savings plan on GiveCollege's platform, taking care to mention fundraising opportunities--birthdays, holidays, graduations, etc.--and invite friends and family to contribute.
By selecting the type of college parents want their child to attend, GiveCollege can predict the cost of the tuition. "We do this based on the college type you chose, your child's age, the average cost of that college currently, and then the average increase in the cost over the past few years," says Angela Merrill, co-founder.
GradSave This start-up aims to crowdfund college tuition, allowing young people to receive monetary birthday and holiday gifts that directly go toward college savings plans, CEO Marcos Cordero told Inc.
"Friends and family can contribute directly to their savings in lieu of other temporary gifts," so graduates can "focus more on accomplishing dreams of entrepreneurship rather than on paying back loans."
Pave With Pave, prospective students can set up an "innovative social-financial agreement." What does that mean exactly? Students accept a one-time payment from backers in exchange for "a small, affordable percentage of income over a period of 10 years," sort of like selling stock in themselves. The success of the prospect is in their best interest, so backers might opt to provide career guidance, mentorship, and network connections.
Tuition.io This start-up is "saving students and graduates time and money, while working with the lenders to streamline the entire process so that everybody wins," says founder Brendon McQueen. Like Mint.com but with a focus on loan debt, Tuition.io helps users manage their student loan portfolio by providing helpful reminders, personalized advice, and tools such as customized payment plans.
Upstart Similar to Pave, this start-up lets grads barter funds for "a small share of their future incomes," per its website. "The idea of Upstart is, can you provide a window of economic freedom as well as some guidance and mentorship for people that want to take a non-traditional path?" says founder Dave Girouard.
- B-Reel Ad Company Wins CLIO Awards
- Fri, 17 May 2013 20:57:54 GMT -
The innovative production company received top honors for its brand-driven content this week.
It's no secret the advertising production company B-Reel is changing the industry. The company made waves last year with the viral sensation The Wilderness Downtown, and this year it released The Beauty Inside, an interactive branded film that invites viewers to play the lead role.
On Friday, B-Reel announced it had swept the prestigious CLIO awards, winning not one, but two Gold distinctions in the Film and Branded Entertainment categories. Other recent award wins include six One Show awards, two Golds for SXSW, five Art Directors Club awards, and four Webby awards.
"The Beauty Inside is a truly integrated project, where the boundaries between traditional storytelling and user interaction is totally blurred,” Pelle Nilsson, executive producer and founding partner, said in a statement. “And it shows that a great collaboration between agency and production company is what makes for outstanding execution."
B-Reel, which has its roots in Scandinavia, has traditionally shied away from straightforward ad work, even as it lacked the technology.
"Limitations are frustrating, but they can also trigger a really creative side in you," Petter Westlund, the company's chief creative officer, said of the company's hacker mentality. To date, the company has created dazzling ad campaigns for Mitsubishi, State Farm, Doritos, and Google.
The Beauty Inside is not the first B-Reel production to receive accolades this year. Both that film and another short for Google Maps Cube received numerous nominations and won four Silver Pencils and one Bronze Pencil from The One Club, which promotes excellence in advertising and design.
B-Reel currently runs six offices worldwide and five divisions, including commercials, content, digital, feature films, and products.
- What USC's Degree in Disruption Needs to Succeed
- Fri, 17 May 2013 20:15:19 GMT -
Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine gave USC $70 million to fund a degree for creative entrepreneurs. The program's success may depend on these things.
With a modest $70 million grant from Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine, the University of Southern California announced a program for creative entrepreneurs this week nicknamed "the degree in disruption."
The program, featured in The New York Times, sounds like an entrepreneur's dream come true. Beyond attending an academy conceived by the mind behind the hip hop hit, "Let Me Ride," students will dive into the business world by way of music, marketing, patents, and prototypes. The four-year program culminates in a senior thesis project, in which students team up and spend a year designing a prototype.
Iovine and Dre told The Times' Jenna Wortham they never expected to start a university program. But at a time when Internet giants like Yahoo are acquiring young start-ups in order to stay relevant, the degree offers the hope of discovering the next Steve Jobs. That's a good look for USC and a strong selling point for cash-flush VCs, who might scour the campus in search of young talent.
The only question is: Will it work?
The true test of the program's success depends on three factors, says Chris Vance, a Kellogg School of Management graduate and CEO of the start-up Playground Sessions.
Vance says, "It's going to come down to the strength of the curriculum, the teachers, and admissions committee's ability to accept--and nurture--students with that entrepreneurial spirit, which is a difficult thing to teach and define."
Given USC's track record for turning out top-notch talent--both Don Bayne (Trader Joe's) and Henry Caraso (Dollar Rent-A-Car) graduated from the Marshall School of Business in the late 1960s and early 1970s--this endevour should have no problem churning out winners.
Although, Vance is wary of any entreprenurial program that is too narrowly focused on business. "It has to have a strong liberal arts foundation," Vance stresses. "Philosophy and even foreign language should be taught on top of the more focused coursework." He agrees that the marketing curriculum will be important because "you've got to know how to sell your product," and that working in groups helps to "develop leadership qualities and listening skills." The latter is what makes an entrepreneur sensitive and aware of the fact that "the best idea is the product of many," he says.
- Reflecting on the Facebook IPO, One Year Later
- Fri, 17 May 2013 20:02:10 GMT -
Despite some early pitfalls, the social network has successfully made the transition from start-up to publicly traded company.
It's the eve of Facebook's one-year IPO anniversary, and what a strange year it's been.
The Menlo, California-based company has successfully ginned up revenue to the tune of $1.46 billion in its first reported quarter, up 36 percent from $1.06 billion a year ago, according to The Wall Street Journal.
But while the company has made good on its decision to ramp up advertising, the jury's still out on whether users appreciate it.
According to The Journal, the days of relying on desktop ads in the right-hand column of its website, which the company did before filing for its IPO, are all but over.
Facebook's begun running ads for the first time on mobile devices and in its News Feed, and created "special widgets" for ads that promote installments of third-party applications. The company also launched a now-fledgling e-commerce store, which some say has dilluted the user experience.
To be fair, Facebook admitted a year ago that it was "not originally created to be a company," but was "built to accomplish a social mission--to make the world more open and connected." The company has succeeded on both counts, of course, but as The Journal points out, the idea that revenue would stem from user engagement hasn't "been enough to push Facebook's stop back up to its IPO price last May of $38.
Although that's not to say Facebook hasn't tried. After changing its tone on revenue last year, the social network made efforts to connect with advertising clients, going so far as to organize boot camps for employees and trips to meet with bigwigs like Procter & Gamble.
To date, Facebook has not delivered on all its shareholders' expectations, but some companies told The Journal the revenue-friendly attitude has encouraged them to spend more money on the site. Online retailer JackThreads.com, for example, says he's taken advantage of Facebook Exchange, a real-time marketplace that sells ads based on what sites users are visiting.
- Ex-McKinsey Consultant: 'Grit Is Living Life Like It's a Marathon'
- Fri, 17 May 2013 19:39:07 GMT -
The missing link between intelligence and performance is grit, says Angela Lee Duckworth.
Angela Lee Duckworth, a former consultant at McKinsey, knows all about pushing past limits.
At the age of 27, Duckworth left her high-flying post in management consulting to teach math in New York City's public schools. As a teacher she realized some of her strongest performers didn't have "stratospheric IQ scores," but would fare better on their tests than their smarter peers.
What was the missing link between their limited abilities and their performance? Duckworth knew immediately it had to be grit. All the students could learn the material if they worked long and hard enough at it. Innate intelligence wasn't a factor--what mattered was doing the work.
"Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals," Duckworth said in a recent TED talk. "Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it's a marathon, not a sprint."
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about grit, she continued, was how little scientists understand it. So far, the best idea she's heard is growth mindset, the belief that the ability to learn is not fixed and can change with your effort.
"We need to take our best ideas, our strongest intuition, and we need to test them," Duckworth said. "We need to measure whether we've been successful, and we have to be willing to fail, to be wrong, to start over again with lessons learned."
How have you applied grit at your business?
- From Ivy League to Intimates
- Fri, 17 May 2013 17:40:00 GMT -
Harvard Business School grad Angela Newman left a high-paying consulting career to launch her own line of high-tech women's undergarments. Below, she shares five tips that any start-up CEO can learn from.
When Angela Newman was getting an MBA at Harvard in 1994, creating a line of undergarments couldn't have been further from her mind. "Never in a million years," she laughs now. But after graduating with her MBA in 1996, she landed a consulting position at McKinsey where she became an expert in textiles. It was something that was already in her blood. She grew up North Carolina, the heart of the U.S. textiles industry, and for many years watched her father hard at work as an executive at Milliken, a high-tech textile company that was big on R&D.
In 2009, Newman started developing what would eventually become Knock out!, a line of specialized undergarments made from odor- and moisture-absorbing fabric. In April, Newman beat out some 130 global entries to become the first woman-owned business to win Harvard Business School's Alumni New Venture Contest. Below, Newman shares some of the lessons she's learned from spending 11 years in the textiles industry and five years at the helm of her own company.
1. Play the Field
Every founder has "positions" they love to play, but this is a hazard in a start-up! With my passion to make undergarments, I spent nearly all of my early time on R&D and production. I eventually had to force myself--sometimes over strong objections--to get involved in EVERY area--including IT, legal, distribution and customer service. My goal was to gain an understanding, not necessarily do everything. Knowing enough about each area to ask the right questions and establish the right measures should be a part of every CEO's tool kit. Plus, it keeps life interesting!
2. Stay close to the customer
With all the breadth of work and pace of change that occurs in start-ups, it is easy to lose contact with the most important aspect for success of any business--the customer. We don't have a big market research budget, but I get valuable information by going direct to our wholesale and retail customers on everything from marketing messaging to prototype testing. These unfiltered customer opinions help us avoid mistakes and actually enhance the overall relationship between our company and our customers--which is invaluable in our over-marketed world.
3. Enter business competitions
Start-ups are often operating on a tight budget and everyone is going 200 miles per hour, so the idea of adding some non-critical item to the TO DO list is not popular. But the benefits business competitions offer cannot be overlooked--feedback on the concept, new contacts, and publicity to name just a few. I entered Knock out in three business plan competitions within our first two years--investing over a full month of my time toward these contests. Was it worth it? Absolutely! Knock out won the Harvard competition and was chosen one of the Top 15 Global Startups by Kauffman Foundation. The payoff was enormous. Experienced feedback, money, many contacts with venture investors and faculty, and lots of publicity.
4. Don't forget to live
No person can keep up the start-up pace indefinitely. It is easy to become engrossed in the business and forget friends, family, fitness, and hobbies. Every founder must learn to step back and enjoy life--not only will it improve health and happiness, but it will provide the much underappreciated time to take a step back and reflect on the business. I never miss my gals trips.
5. Be willing to let go
Every entrepreneur will tell you the "new venture" is more like a new baby. Full of energy, endless needs, joyous and frustrating all at the same time and all consuming in the early days. But just as babies grow up and become more independent, so should the startup. Building infrastructure, hiring great people and making yourself "expendable" should be the goal of every startup that wants to grow up.
- Become a Better Leader by Studying Kim Kardashian's Marriage
- Fri, 17 May 2013 16:25:00 GMT -
Four simple, destructive behaviors that doom a marriage--and a business.
Kim Kardashian and I have one thing in common. Neither of us would know the other if we tripped over them.
Before a few days ago, I was aware that she's famous, that she's had reality shows and a sex tape, that she had a 72-day marriage to the NBA's Kris Humphries, and that she has more Twitter followers (17.8 million million as of last count) than all but three U.S. states have people.
But then, the other night, a friend posted a link on Facebook to Scientific American: "How to Have a Longer Marriage Than Kim Kardashian."
I clicked. I read. I learned. I learned about Kim Kardashian--but I also learned some great tips for running a business.
The article was based on a study of married couples that lasted 14 years (about 71 times the length of the Kardashian-Humphries marriage). As I read, I realized that psychologists John Gottman and Robert Levenson's advice about saving a marriage also adds up to great practical advice for leading stakeholders in your business.
Gottman and Levenson didn't actually study the Kardashian-Humphries marriage, but they wanted to identify early signs that couples would split. So, they asked 80 Midwestern married couples to describe a recent argument. They recorded how the couples interacted with each other--and then they tracked them for 14 years.
Here's the amazing part, according to writer Melanie Tannenbaum:
Gottman and Levenson eventually realized something incredibly important: They didn't actually need to note down all that much. In fact, there were just four behaviors that could be used to predict which couples would still be married 14 years later -- with 93 percent accuracy.
Gottman and Levenson refer to the troublesome quartet of behaviors -- contempt, criticism, defensiveness, and stonewalling -- as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. (This is where the Kardashian part comes in, because Tannenbaum cleverly illustrated each behavior using clips of Kardashian and Humphries arguing on TV.)
Avoiding these four behaviors might be good for a marriage, but they're also an excellent guide for any business leader who wants to improve communication. So here's an examination of the four, along with what you can do to avoid them in your business.
1. Avoid contempt by building a culture of appreciation.
Contempt "is a potent mix of anger and disgust," Tannenbaum writes. The Kardashian clip she chose to illustrate contempt shows Humphries telling his soon-to-be-bride that her career is "essentially worthless" during a heated debate over what state they should live in.
To avoid contempt, Gottman and Levenson advise leading by example, with constant, proactive, respect. This might mean giving credit for accomplishments, but also offering admiration for their work in things that you don't do as well. (Think of the marketing person who shows sincere interest and respect in how the product developers learned their craft.) It also means demonstrating that you, as a leader, expect the same kind of respect in return.
2. Make criticism about actions, not people.
Gottman and Levenson draw a distinction between personal criticism and legitimate complaints. Tannenbaum illustrates this with a video clip in which Kardashian tells Humphries that his messy tooth-brushing habits are "gross" and that people like him are "one of [her] pet peeves."
The old adage, "praise in public, criticize in private" has fallen out of favor, so it's even more essential now that you promote a culture in which expressions of contempt are verboten. People need to think about whether they're legitimately criticizing their colleagues' performance, or launching more ad hominem attacks.
3. Avoid defensiveness; be responsible.
The best offense may be a good defense, but defensiveness only gives offense. Tannenbaum illustrates this with a clip in which Kardashian blames Humphries when she loses of a $75,000 pair of earrings in the ocean--refusing to accept her possible responsibility for say, wearing $75,000 earrings in the ocean.
Gottman and Levenson advise avoiding defensiveness by actively accepting responsibility when things go wrong.
"This doesn't mean shouldering all the blame," Tannenbaum writes, but simply acknowledging your acts and omissions that may have contributed to someone else's less-than-stellar performance. Doing so might help you quickly navigate the personal minefields in a difficult situation and approach the real problems.
4. Don't tolerate stonewalling.
They say the opposite of love isn't hate, it's apathy. To illustrate this Tannenbaum chose a clip in which Kardashian told Humphries she did not plan to take his last name.
"This clearly bothers him," she wrote, but "rather than talking this out and coming to some sort of compromise or reasoned conclusion, Kris completely shuts her out."
Stonewalling can be a behavioral response to stress, she continues, "accompanied by increased physiological responses like an accelerated heart rate, higher blood pressure, and sweating." If you feel yourself reacting in this way, or if you observe it in your employees, Gottman and Levenson's advice is to "engage in something called 'physiological self-soothing,' which basically just means taking deep breaths and trying to mindfully relax."
In other words, take a deep breath, count to 10, and remind yourself that your business (or your relationship) is well worth the price of this momentary stress. As H.G. Wells said, "The crisis of today is the joke of tomorrow."
- Tech Company Tableau Software Goes Public
- Fri, 17 May 2013 16:12:23 GMT -
The fast-growing data visualization software company puts Seattle back on the IPO map.
Tableau Software, the Seattle-based data visualization software company, joins the sparsely-populated ranks of tech start-ups that have gone public so far this year, pricing its stock at $31 per share for Friday's IPO.
Under these pricing terms, Tableau will have a market capitalization of $1.7 billion, Forbes reported. The company is offering up 5 million shares Friday, while stockholders are offering up 3.2 million, GigaOm reported. Shares will trade under the symbol "DATA" on the New York Stock Exchange, and co-founder and CEO Christian Chabot rang the opening bell this morning.
Tableau's first-quarter revenue in 2013 reached $40 million, up more than 60 percent from $24.7 million in the same period last year, Forbes reported. Even if pricing stays flat all day Friday, GigaOm's Derrick Harris wrote, the company stands to rake in $155 million from its 5 million shares.
The company has landed on the ranks of the Inc. 5000 for five consecutive years starting in 2008. That year, the company had $13.2 million in sales revenue which increased 373 percent to $62.4 million in 2011.
Tableau is the first Seattle-based tech company to go public since Zillow's public offering in July 2011, GeekWire reported.
- 3 Reasons Not to Crowdfund
- Fri, 17 May 2013 15:54:32 GMT -
Yes, crowdfunding is cool. It's democratic. It's disruptive. And it's a bad idea for a lot of start-ups.
There are two completely different ways of looking at crowdfunding. It is either a) the best thing to happen to start-ups since Red Bull; or b) while sometimes useful, it’s no serious substitute for other sources of money, including family & friends. Even bootstrapping.
This may not endear me to some of my friends, but increasingly, I lean towards the latter.
Yes, I know, I know. Crowdfunding is revolutionary. It lets you raise funds without sacrificing ownership or having to face relatives across the table at holidays, or needing to promise a return besides a free sample of your product or some other “reward.” At least until the SEC weighs in with rules on how you can crowd-source equity investors, you don’t need to do much of anything to apply for that money except create a decent color scheme and tell a nice story. Even so, crowdfunding has drawbacks. Here are three:
1. It makes it too easy to kid yourself
Ever written a business plan? If you have, you know how much painstaking thought you have to put into crafting mission statements, identifying supply chains, forecasting sales and determining costs, etc. It’s like going to college--you put in the effort to show what you’re capable of. Granted, not every professional investor will demand a business plan, as such, but all of them will demand to get under the hood of your business proposal. Until you’ve validated every decision you made in creating your company and developing your product, you’re not getting anywhere with them.
With crowdfunding, it’s a bit different.
Even if you have a real business in mind--as opposed to, say, a campaign to cover your expenses while you study art in Florence--you know one thing: No one on Kickstarter, Indiegogo or their imitators is going to ask you to estimate your cost of customer acquisition or the size of your potential revenue streams or any other tough business questions.
Yes, running the numbers is hard, let alone using those numbers to win over skeptical investors. But there’s a reason for that. Business is hard. Convincing real investors that you’ve got what it takes is your company’s first reality check. Crowdfunding can let you postpone reality, but not indefinitely. It’s better to ask the hard questions before you’ve burned through a year of your life and $100k of other people’s money.
2. It isolates you from people who can actually help you
Raising money from professional investors forces you to be think hard about your company and be honest with yourself. But it also gives you the benefit of having real, seasoned experts thinking hard about your company, too.
A seasoned angel or VC can help you decide, say, whether to incorporate, how to cope with a cash crunch (which you will have, trust me), and where to turn for advice about a thorny business development question. Crowdfunding may connect you with seed money, but ultimately your company stands a higher chance of success with the benefit of the tactical savvy, strategies for market capture, and smart financial practices that a seasoned investor can provide. Also, a well-connected veteran with a serious stake in your success can open doors that a pack of starry-eyed strangers chipping in $50 apiece simply cannot.
3. I'd never recommend investing in a crowdfunded company. What does that tell you?
I recently reviewed a crowdfunding proposal from a company that makes nutritious snacks using a global supply chain in West Africa. The company is looking for $50,000 on indiegogo.com to fund production. The campaign offers 11 contribution categories, with perks ranging from a personal thank you on their website to a weekend in Napa complete with wine tastings, hikes, and quality food.
After researching this company's team, it became apparent to me that no one had any financial experience. In fact, only one team member had any qualifications listed on the crowdfunding site at all. If you are serious about starting and building a company that lasts, why would you want to surround yourself with company like this?
Realizing your dream as an entrepreneur is hard. Crowdfunding sites, in my opinion, distort the dream. Granted, funding can help supplement other sources of money and help you try out a product, but the true test of a business is what happens after the funding is done. And that’s when you’ll need the discipline, expertise and sense of urgency that comes putting your own money at risk or that of serious investors who expect a real return.