Should being the best version of yourself be your ultimate goal?

Rise of SupermanAmazon.com’s Jeff Bezos has been taken to task over a recent article that appeared in the New York Times. A follow up article on August 18th h suggests a brewing debate over work culture. In my view it’s long overdue.

The seemingly never-ending quest for the highest efficiency is seductive for any leader of any business. That makes sense from a strategic perspective, right? ‘Optimizing Everything’ (perhaps that should be the title of Mr. Bezos’ next book).

The drive for efficiency and optimization transcends business and has entered our personal lives with tracking devices meant to monitor one’s health and physical activity. Monitoring your health and fitness is of course all in the interest of helping you improve your performance. It does not end there since for example, continuing education and learning surely adds to your ability to be effective. Eating and drinking the right food and drink are other ways in which personal performance can be improved.

Outliers are the kinds of people that truly drive the human condition to higher performance and heights. In Steven Kottler’s interesting book “ The Rise of Superman” among other things he explores the thoughts and habits of people that ‘push the envelope’ above and beyond where it has been before. Clearly human achievement advances in large part not from the masses but from these outliers. It also must be understood that MOST people do not fit the category of ‘Superman’. And there’s nothing wrong with that!

This brings me to my question – how far will non-‘Supermen’, (Superpeople just does not work) people be willing to go to create the best or even Super-version of themselves? The answer is it depends on the person. Individuals need not be concerned with their own place in the pursuit of their optimal selves. The Outliers always help define what is in the middle.

Amazon’s work culture appears to be hyper-competitive and the weeding out reminiscent of Jack Welch’s ‘fire the bottom 10%’. In an environment of continual performance optimization Amazon’s pushing of the envelope is not surprising and not necessarily altogether wrong. That hyper-competitive environment is not for everyone and when employees are hired at Amazon.com surely they are aware of that into which they are buying.

What Mr. Bezos and his compatriots cannot do is have it both ways. Amazon.com cannot be the hard-driving, high-stakes company it has demonstrated it prefers AND be warm and fuzzy and a wonderful place to work where everybody holds hands, gets amazing compensation and perks, and employees also have substantial flexibility on how, when and on what they work.

Amazon can try to come back to the middle a bit from its Outlier position as sometimes too much is….just too much. Being the best version of yourself you can achieve is a good overarching goal.  It’s also exhausting!

 

Posted in Best business practices, Personal Development, Professional Development | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Tech Crunch and the exuberance of start-ups

Tech Crunch NY Meetup Pitch off 081815I’ve been a fan of Tech Crunch for some time now and even more so since I’ve been watching HBO’s Silicon Valley (I so want to go to Disrupt!). This past Tuesday night I attended a NY Meetup and Pitch-off
at Les Poissons Rouge (The old Village Gate) in downtown Manhattan. I’ve never attended one before and it was a very interesting evening but for reasons different than I anticipated.

The event was a centered around 10 start-ups each having 60 seconds to pitch their concept. Moderator and Tech Crunch Senior Editor Jordan Crook deftly managed the proceedings which included 5 panelists who acted as judges. The description of the event 666from Tech Crunch:

“Judges included Greycroft’s Alan Patricof, Foursquare’s J Crowley, FirstMark’s Amish Jani, Quire’s Erin Glenn, and TC East Coast Editor John Biggs.
Each pitch concludes with a brief Q&A session and at the end of presentations, judges will determine a winner.

First place will receive a table in the Startup Alley at TechCrunch Disrupt SF in September. Second place gets two tickets to the conference and the Audience Choice winner will take home one ticket to the big show.”

The event was a sell-out – and then some. For a modest fee of $25 you were granted access to the event, (which went a little less than two hours though it was scheduled for one) including pizza and open bar which was cleverly unadvertised. It was so crowded that I had an eye on the closest exit in case of emergency. I probably would not have made it however.

What made it different than I anticipated was the warmth of the crowd, which was made up of young wanna-be entrepreneurs, frustrated millennials working in finance trying to find a way out, and real entrepreneurs who wanted to get the feel of pitching at an event such as this. As one of the few guys wearing a jacket, I stuck out more than I would have preferred. The warmth of the crowd was in stark contrast to what were almost entirely modestly interesting tech concepts almost all without any real revenue model.

About half the presenters were able to get through their base concept in the allotted 60 seconds and the other half were cut-off by Jordan Crook in mid-sentence. Follow-up questions from the panel generated more revealing information on the concept and the possible ways to advance that concept.

Having a founder present their concept is a tech specialty. There are no spokespeople as investors and people in general prefer to hear the idea from the creator. My first advice to potential technology company creators is to be more polished in the presentation of the concept (how could you run over when you KNEW the time was one minute? Ever hear of rehearsal?).

And there’s the whole pesky revenue model thing. The idea that if we build it correctly the people will come and then we can think about monetizing is – well, short-sighted at the least. Investors know that pre-revenue valuations are most often better than post-revenue. So not claiming any particular revenue model seems to be being worn as a badge of honor. Those days cannot end soon enough as far as I am concerned. It’s fine if there are several possible revenue models and the decision has not yet been made on which to put in the front. But there are not many Facebook’s and Google’s out there and Twitter and Amazon have huge audiences and are still looking to return a substantial profit on operations.

In order for a tech concept to have a chance at success the product has to have utility, scalability, and some ways to make money. If they do not possess all three why would any investor be interested?

I love the energy, intelligence and can-do attitude endemic to the start-up community. I also feel that it’s not only acceptable for founders to offer possible means of monetization around their idea, it’s critical. Do you agree?

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Mobile technology continues to flatten the world

hypnophoneHave you ever met a billionaire? I have met a few and in somewhat casual circumstances. No I am not ‘good buddies’ with any of them nor will I ever be. I’m here to let you know that the billionaires I’ve met all have been very nice (why shouldn’t they be? – They’re billionaires!) and thoughtful people.

At the other end of the socio-economic spectrum I do know a good many more people who are living less than what is considered lower middle-class economic lives. In other words, by economists’ standards they are ‘poor’. I am friendly with lots of these people whom I get together with in varying degrees of frequency.

The two ‘groups’ – that is billionaires and those that live above and below the poverty line (which in the United States in 2014 was $23,850 for an individual), do have something in common. Their smartphones.

Earlier this year an article reported that 75% of Americans who had mobile devices had smartphones. That number was projected to approach 85% by the end of 2015.   So think about the fact that American billionaires AND the least prosperous Americans all use the same iPhone or Android phone, (Or Blackberry, which may or may not have the right to be called a smartphone).

So why is there not a luxury/high performance smartphone experience that can be purchased from Apple, Samsung, or any other manufacturer? I don’t mean studding your phone case with beads, wood, diamonds, or any other precious gems. It’s what’s on the inside that counts and smartphone manufacturers surely could create a high-end exclusive model and sell it for an exorbitant price. People would buy it. And not only billionaires would buy. In recent years China‘s young entry-level workers have found ways to set aside months of salary or more just to purchase an authentic iPhone.

For now smartphone utility is the same independent of economic status. The same apps area available to all, the same functionality, as well as the same frustrations when one’s smartphone performance begins to degrade – and eventuality that (sadly) is also a universal smartphone customer experience.

As user daily mobile interaction continues to increase so will the habits and the similarities in behavior of billionaires and everyone else. After all we’re all staring for hours a day at our 4-inch screens. It’s never before been possible for the super-rich and the extremely poor to exhibit such similar daily behavior.

In an odd twist smartphone behavior brings us all closer together in some ways.  Is that important?  I think so.

Posted in Consumer Behavior, Living in the World Today | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

U.S. luxury retailers want to go out for Chinese

china-louis-vuitton-line-super-169This past Tuesday morning I attended an interesting session at the SUNY Confucius Institute for Business in midtown Manhattan. I was invited by my friend and colleague Michael Zakkour of Tompkins International (who is co-author of the 2014 book China’s Super Consumers). The session was part of the China Business Series and entitled “China Going Global”.

Introduced by SUNY CIB Director Maryalice Mazzara, Michael had just returned from a trip to China. The audience was primarily executives and even nearby Madison Avenue store executives and personnel whose stores have one or more significant customers from China.

Mr. Zakkour’s remarks included updated information from his 2014 book (in China information updates so fast that what was written last month is out of date at times!), and noted that there are soon to be 700 million online shoppers in China alone up from 550 million today.

Today’s luxury Chinese consumer is a worldwide shopper – Shanghai and Beijing yes, but also Paris, London, and New York City are increasingly important to the luxury Chinese buyer who is interested in exclusivity and a great customer experience.

One question from the audience was posed regarding how to best communicate with Mandarin speaking shoppers in New York City (but it could be any non-Chinese speaking major city). Mr. Zakkour was quick to answer that the need was to hire one or two Mandarin speaking sales associates and to have one on the floor at all times. This makes total sense to me as one big sale to a Chinese customer could cover that expense for months.

It also will not be long before China’s economy is the single largest in the world supplanting the United States. China now invests so much all over the world that the country is a net positive FDI investor – that is more money for investment flows out of China around the world than into China. That was unthinkable not so long ago.

Some other interesting bits from Mr. Zakkour,

Age 57 – Average age of American millionaires

Age 37 – Average age of Chinese millionaires

This is important since catering to a 57 year-old American millionaire is vastly different to catering to a 37 year-old more recently minted Chinese millionaire. At the least it would present a substantial merchandising challenge.

Mr. Zakkour rounded out his comments by mentioning that 1 out of 3 luxury purchases are made by Chinese citizens. And 70% of those purchases are made outside of China. U.S. luxury retailers had better be paying close attention to these details in order to not miss what is a great opportunity.

It’s not too late.  Yet.

 

Posted in Brand Advertising, Business in Asia, Business in China, China, China Marketing, Consumer Behavior, Luxury Marketing | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Reddit and Gawker are moving in the right direction

Gawker_Media_Logoreddit-logo-01-674x5011

‘Reddit.com is turning its back on the foundations on which it was built!’ ‘Gawker.com is selling out and risking everything!’ Well if you ask me I will tell you that for veteran internet companies like Reddit (founded 2005) and Gawker (founded 2002), their two principals Steve Huffman and Nick Denton are 100% right. Of course when it comes to moving to or maintaining a sustainable revenue model I will almost always be a brand’s champion.

For those unfamiliar, both stories are quite interesting and important. For Reddit to admit that unregulated hate threads are not what the brand stands for, was an about face from their heretofore core principles. This is not the Reddit of 2002, or even 2010 for that matter. Reddit has millions of dedicated users. Despite its desire to be appealing to the widest possible amount of people – even those with extreme opinions, Reddit today is too big and too important to cater to fringe audiences.

For those that will leave Reddit (those fringe audiences), they will find other forums in which to foster their hate and vitriol. And if they cannot find those forums they will build new ones and that’s just fine. In the meantime Mr. Huffman has done the public and his company a great service in the process. The not-unimportant by-product is securing a more successful business model and future.

As for Mr. Denton’s undoubtedly excruciating decision to pull down content not due to legal concerns, let those on the fringe travel down those narrow corridors of ‘pure-truth’ posts independent of who might be antagonized.   Apparently those people do not have businesses to run or employees, rent and vendors to pay.

There will always be need and reason to test the outer limits (see Donald Trump’s attempt to win the 2016 Republican Presidential nomination), and in a country that values free speech, fringe forums will and should continue to exist. When there is a business to be run however, choices have to be made and as far as I am concerned the right choices have been made in both cases.

Agree or disagree?

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In-car navigation systems offer little utility

google maps in carIt’s summer here in the U.S. and since we Americans are still so keen on driving navigation assistance remains very important. Today most people don’t use AAA for TripTiks and maps any longer (cue nostalgic music).

Just last week Nokia’s GPS app HERE, (The Financial Times reported), was being pursued by BMW, Daimler and Audi. Audi has tried this before as has Kia but as yet Google Maps has not taken hold as the default car navigation platform.

Clearly car manufacturers and people expect more from in-car navigation services. Resultingly, stand-alone navigation devices such as a Garmin, Magellan, and Tom-Tom (remember this company?) have all been forced to change their business models.

Back in 2013 Forbes ran an article on the changing fortunes of Garmin. It has not gotten better for Garmin since then.

I thought of all this while I was sitting in traffic recently. The reason I was sitting in traffic is that I was driving alone and used my car’s navigation system. When I first drove the car the in-car navigation system worked well although did not include real-time traffic results.

After having the car for one year the manufacturer offered me the opportunity (at $99 per year) to update the navigation system. It would still not have real-time traffic reports but the display is nice and convenient.

A little more nostalgia – remember MapQuest? It’s still around but I don’t hear much about that company anymore and I don’t know many people that are users. Why? Google Maps!

In fact, Google Maps is what most people I talk with are using all the time. You may be aware that Google purchased Waze – real time traffic reports by people on the road, (who are hopefully passengers or else we have hit the mother lode of using phones while driving not texting while driving but maybe even worse).

Thanks to Waze, Google Maps’ ‘time to destination’ fluctuates based on real-time traffic conditions. Alternate routes are offered when there are traffic issues. I have had my bacon saved a number of times by Google Maps – to the tune of saving me 2 hours or more on a given trip due to a horrible accident that Google Maps smoothly navigated me around.

Did I mention that Google Maps is FREE? Why would I EVER want to pay to update my in-car navigation system for an inferior piece of technology that is obsolete the moment it is delivered? Are car manufacturer’s that hard pressed for new revenue as to offer something with utility that does nothing more than degrade day by day?

Wait, please don’t answer that one – it’s too easy. I agree that in-car navigation systems should be as non-distracting as possible. Why not just allow your phone to plug into a cradle in the car that would then display the Google Maps real-time data on the car’s screen? Or is that a trick question?

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Boomer and Gen X parents contributed to the disaffection of working Millennials

Barney_610You hear it all the time from experienced professionals both baby boomers and Gen Xrs – Millennials have way too much of sense of entitlement, lack a work ethic, expect rewards for what might be seen as just doing their job, and expect salary raises and promotions to happen in a matter of months.

As a parent of two Millennials I’m here to tell you that we were part of the problem. And by the way Millennials are really not all that messed up. Maybe a little but then aren’t we all?

Back around 2000 when I was heading up the ‘Board of Directors’ for our local Little League (how sad is it that there’s a need for a board of directors to administer baseball games for 5-12 years olds?). Sitting in a board meeting, a past board president mentioned that across all leagues there should be trophies for all the kids since they loved trophies – for some even more than playing the game. The board voted yes and, for us at least, the trophy generation was created. I was not in favor but the vote was with the majority.

Let’s be clear. Players on the sixth place team in a six team division that may have only tasted victory in a game or two, all received trophies.   Even the players thought it was odd but they had no problem accepting the trophies. We’re all winners, right?

Then there was Barney. That cute (a cute dinosaur?) and sensitive purple dinosaur that constantly promoted that every one is special “in his or her own way”. As Dana Carvey’s church lady character would say – “Isn’t that special?).

Fast forward to 2015 – what I hear almost daily is that Millennials are lazy, don’t want to come in on time and want a flexible work schedule. They want to be able to check social media during the workday (could you imagine?), and text their friends during work hours. When Millennials accomplish a setout task they want recognition, or a raise, or a promotion.

Is it possible that Millennials are modeling a behavior that we, Millennial their parents, created through our misguided efforts to build up the self-esteem of an entire generation? All that’s left is for Millennial parents to complain about how today’s young people just don’t get it. I seem to recall a similar opinion on Boomers from Greatest Generation parents when we were coming up through the ranks.

From my vantage point Millennials are incredibly versatile, and can be extremely driven to achieve either a short or a long-term goal. And just as surely Millennials can be confused and disaffected about the ‘traditional’ working world, which is undergoing massive changes on a daily basis. Boomer parents worked more like their parents than Millennials ever will. And now Millennials, on their own, must try to figure out how to shake that trophy generation dogma.

Boomer Millenial parents – can we admit we own some of disaffection on behalf of Millennials? (you referred to them as millennial parents everywhere else.)

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