The 3 Pitfalls of Scaling Your Business Processes

You hear about scale all the time.  That magical moment when your company really starts to get traction, and you need to start taking what a couple of you were hacking together and blow it out big. 

Scale your marketing, scale your team, scale your technology, scale your customer service.  But what a lot of tech companies are really doing, especially those in high growth mode, is scaling some kind of process.

This is a process that, in the early stages of growth, may have been performed by 1 person, but now requires 10 or more people just to keep up with rapid customer acquisition and product growth.

While scaling sounds very appealing to an early stage startup struggling to get by, is not something that comes easy – in fact it takes extreme discipline, a commitment to measurement and reporting, flexibility and a relentless focus on driving efficiency.  

Over the last several years I have seen scale firsthand – both in my own company, as well as in the rapidly growing venture-backed companies we work with. Through these experiences I have observed avoidable pitfalls when it comes to scaling processes – especially after raising a large funding round or gaining a big new customer.

Pitfall #1 – Not adding enough structure to keep up with growth

“But we’re a startup, we don’t need all that hierarchy, process, structure – it will just slow us down!”

While true to a certain extent, as you get bigger, complexity grows as well. Bob Sutton, organizational behavior expert at Stanford’s School of Engineering, advises companies to put in just enough structure and process to deal with this added complexity. He says, “The reality is you do need more roles, more hierarchy, more process. It’s unavoidable.”

So how do you know how much structure to add, and when to add it?

Kyle Lacy, VP of Marketing at Lessonly, follows the “5 P’s” to scaling: People, Principles, Process, Programs, and Performance.  

Kyle Lacy says, “the biggest challenge as a marketing team when you are scaling is the focus on continuous, rapid improvement.”  With the “5 P’s” he stresses that the foundation of any strong marketing organization is measure everything (Performance) to discover better ways to reach customers, and that it is critical to align team members with other parts of the organization.

As important as the “5 P’s” are, Lacy stresses that hiring talent is the most important part of scaling: “The most expensive thing a start-up can do is hire bad talent.”

Neil Patel, the man behind success stories like Crazy Egg and KISSmetrics, talks about the right moment to hire. His advice is not to throw labor at growth problems, but rather, to be aware of key triggers that tell you when to bring on people, and when not to.  

His advice is to look at hiring for growth through the lens of A) when the tasks being done will generate money, and B) when the tasks to be completed fall under a particular skill set.  In this way you can keep complexity at bay as you scale.

Pitfall #2 – Assuming your tech can scale without humans

Speaking of humans, do we even need them anymore?  AI and machine learning are becoming more and more common not just in the tech media but everywhere else as well, and it may seem like humans are pretty much going out of fashion.

But anyone building any type of artificial intelligence (and according to Saman Farid AI will be essential to pretty much every tech startup in the near future) will tell you that it may be achievable to get machine learning up to speed on 80% (give or take 10-20% depending on who you’re talking to) of what you want to do, but that last 20% is extremely hard to do with without human intervention.  

For one, you need lots of data to train algorithms.  And two, so much of what you are likely doing as you disrupt your space is new territory – you’re collecting data, experiencing nuances and learnings along the way that require judgment, insight, and flexibility.  All of which still requires humans.

Emily Hurd understands that balancing act between scaling tech and scaling labor very well.  As VP of Operations at one of the fastest growing companies in the travel benefits space, Rocketrip, she has scaled multiple functions of their business through a series of funding rounds and the acquisition of large, enterprise customers.  

As Rocketrip scaled in the early days, they focused technology resources on customer-facing and/or core product innovations first, and maintained a “delicate balance” of when to build out more product features, and where to add more headcount.  She explains, “If there are areas of the business where we can provide coverage with headcount, without sacrificing user experience, we’ll opt to do that while our technology has a chance to catch up.”

Erik Bloch, a director with PatternEx, talks about the relationship between humans and machine learning as well.  This is especially relevant in the security space.  He stresses that with AI/Machine Learning platforms you want the system to replace people doing repetitive tasks, and allow humans to train the system to help them out so they can do other things.

Pitfall #3 – Getting stuck in “hero mode”

Bloch, who is a veteran of 4 high growth startups, warns that when many startups start to scale, they continue to do things the way they were doing it in the early stages – for example, the CEO or early employees try and continue to work 24/7 and do everything themselves.  He stresses that it is critical to bring in the right people at the right time after securing your Series A funding round.

Hurd also talks about the tipping point for leaders to to get work off their plate. She follows a rule that if you find you’re spending 20% of your time on any one area of the business, it’s time to figure out a way to get it off your plate – whether through headcount or technology or both.  “And hire good problem-solvers who can make the tasks more efficient; you won’t scale if everyone just clones what you were doing.” 

In fact, in the early days Rocketrip’s CEO was even doing some of the manual data processing work himself, but once they started to land large customers the team realized it wasn’t scalable to have everyone do all the extra processing work on top of their regular day-to-day jobs.

The approach that they took to solve this and avoid “hero mode” was two-fold:  they developed a dedicated in-house support team that works in shift schedules to cover business hours as well as evening/weekend shifts, and they developed an offshore team to provide 24/7 coverage on back-office processes.

Tyler Leshney, President of ultra mobile, talks about the shift in thinking that occurs between early stages and scale.  “It’s so tempting to continue to react the way a start-up would.  In the start-up world the wins are dramatic, the losses tragic.

In the scale-up phase victories take longer to materialize and may be even tougher to recognize.”  He goes on to pinpoint what is perhaps the single most quality critical to success during the early days of scaling: “All you need is just a little patience.”

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Favorite Startups from TechCrunch Disrupt 2017

The winner of TechCrunch Disrupt 2017 Startup Battlefield is Pi.   They developed a device that allows smartphones and other devices to charge wirelessly .   Amazingly, they were able to demonstrate this on stage in front of a live audience.  In comparison, in the previous week, Apple annouced their wireless charging pad, Mophie,  which is clearly an inferior product.  Along with the bragging rights, Pi received a $50,000 cash prize.

Pi and the runner-up, Oneva,  got the limelight but there were literally hundreds of startups that particpated at the event that don’t get any attention .  I spent three days wandering the floor at Distrupt; talking to scores of startups and I would like to highlight a few of my favorites.  So, in no particular order…


Hashgraph has a bold claim. They stated that their patented algorithm is faster and more secure than blockchain (the underlying technology that enable cryptocurrencies ).  Blockchain has been the basis for other startups that have figured out innovative uses for its distributed ledger system.  If Hashgraph’s claims hold true, they can potentially replace blockchain in a rapidly growing space.


Being a dog owner, Waggit caught my eye.  Their high tech collar captures the vitals for dogs which can be tracked on an app.  Their point is that dogs can’t tell us when they’re in pain (since they can’t talk-we’ve tried) and that their platform can help diagnose your dog’s health.   This can be a useful diagnostic tool for veterinarians .


One of the new areas of coverage at Disrupt is Cryptocurrencies and Blockchain.  SparkleCOIN is a new cryptocurrency that had their ICO (Initial Coin Offering) at the event.  Every SparkleCOIN will be backed by $5 worth of diamonds.  In addition, they plan to build a whole ecosystem including an exchange and an ecommerce site.


UnitOneDose is a robotic pharmacy dispensary.  Their  system accurately dispenses the drug in containers that can be only opened by the patient with their wrist band. Having seen how pharemaceutical drugs are dispensed in hospital and retail settings, I immediately saw the  benefits.  The current process is manually intensive and prone to errors and abuse.   I can easily see their device being the standard in hospitals. 


On the final day of Disrupt, Mexico was hit with a 7.1 magnitude earth quake.  Coincidentally, JumpStart had an earthquake demonstrator that simulates a 7.9 magnitude earthquake.  To see a video click here.  It was a pretty impressive demonstration.   By the way, JumpStart provides supplemental earthquake insurance.


eggXYt is an example of a startup that solves a problem that most people are unaware of (inlcuding myself).  In a nutshell, 6 billion male chicks (of a breed that’s meant to lay eggs) are killed annually.  Their technology is able to detect the sex of the egg shortly after they’re laid and prevents them from going through incubation process.  Their technology can also potentially save $1.5 B annually.


Equbot uses artificial intelligence to analzye investment opportunities.  Pretty intriguing.  They’ve already been using their platform to make investments and claim that it’s done amazingly well.  However, because they are currently working in negotiating their A round, they couldn’t provide specifics. 

Aris MD

Aris MD has developed a platform that enables surgeons to superimpose patient data (like an MRI) over a live patient using augmented reality (AR).  This is probably one of the most practical and innovative uses of AR that I’ve seen.


Stemless has developed a solution that allows for online ordering and payment for cannabis dispensaries.  For those not familiar with the cannabis industry, it’s primarily an all cash business.  Their solution is not just a technical solution but also a legal solution where they had to work and negotiate with banks willing to work in cannabis industry.


Chemotherapy is painful process as an oncologist goes through trial and error with FDA approved chemical cocktails on cancer patients.  Ourotech has developed a testing platform where they can test various cocktails on cancer cells obtained from the patient in a lab environment and then recommend an optimal course of action.  This process totally makes sense to me and I can see it becoming standard practice with oncologists. 

In the 3 days at TechCrunch disrupt, I talked to scores of startups.  I wished I could have highlighted more in this article.  It will be interesting to see which of startups become the next big thing.

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3 Reasons Why I Never Incentivize My Employees With Money (And You Shouldn't Either)

“Come on man! Okay, let me make you a deal. If you can close IBM in the next 3 months, we are going to promote you and also add $10k to your salary. How does that sound??? Okay, then let’s get to selling!!”

How often do you hear business owners and CEO’s giving money as an incentive to employees in hopes of getting them to over-perform?

Quite often, right?

However, research does not support this obvious positive reinforcement as a solid means of getting more out of employees.

The reality is that money is nice and all, but it alone is not enough to motivate employees to perform better, work harder, be more productive and time efficient and take initiative.

Lots of small business owners think  that if they can just get the right people on the train with them, there will not be any more need for any extremal motivation.

Even though these top performing individuals will be insistent on getting competitive salaries, they do not require any extrinsic motivation.

They seem like natural go-getters.

They don’t seem to be people who would ever consider doing anything less than their absolute best, no matter what the situation is.

As a general rule of thumbs, people tend to work harder if they think that there are prizes for great results and penalties for bad ones.

With the exception of absolutely creme employees, most companies need to have some sort of way to motivate their workers.

It is of no question that money is definitely a driving force, but we all seek and desire more than monetary compensation by itself.

My personal experience working with people as employees has shown me that people also want to be acknowledged as key players who made a difference and are part of the reason behind a winning team.

This basically means that people want to rest assured that the company they are with is making progress and is doing well.

They want to know that their work is playing a role in creating success.

They want their hard work to be recognized as part of the winning team’s success.

Anytime you get the chance, take time to celebrate success.

Just meaningless “good job” will not work. If the company is actually not performing well, management needs to realize and take note of that reality and let the employees know.

But, even when a business is in trouble, if at any point, it starts doing well again, that progress needs to be noted to all people at the company, not just within the upper management.

1: Celebrations let employees know that the company is doing well and things are going great.

This is the first of the three things which are required to motivate employees.

2. Second thing is that employees need to know exactly how what they are doing is the reason for the success of that company.

So, how will they be made aware of this? Their direct supervisor needs to tell them. And as a CEO, if you cannot think of what ways an employee is contributing to the success of your company, then maybe you should reconsider that employee or that position in your company as a whole.

3. Finally, most employees want their hard work and efforts to be highlighted in some way shape or form.

Money is definitely one way to do that.

But even simply just saying “ thanks man!” when they do a good job on something can be immensely rewarding to an employee.

Instead of always calling out your employees on what they are doing wrong, try to catch them doing things correctly and acknowledge that they are doing it well and thank them for it.

Also, take that time to remind them how much you appreciate them and how valuable of an asset they are to the company, because after all, they are!

When you address an employee on his or her good works, be very specific in what they did correctly and what you are thanking them for.

Also, be sure to link that particular behavior to the company or a professional goal.

Things such as extra vacation time, a timely gift certificate, and awards at company meetings and ceremonies will go a long way to motivate and incentivize employees at any company anytime.

Carrots are awesome, but my experience shows that in order for it to be super-effective, we need to have some stick along with it as well.

Employees need to understand that poor performance and negative behaviors also have consequences.

So, yes, you can definitely make the argument that there are a few rock stars who don’t need any motivation at all, but the thing is that most people do need some form of external motivation to perform at their peak.

These rockstars are very expensive. Mom and Pop shops can’t afford them.

So, if you are a small business owner and you want superstar employees who help you make a lot of money, you need to focus on more than just money.

You need to see them as people and barrow it down to what specifically makes another human being happy and makes them want to do their absolute best at work.

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Data Hygiene: Five Ways You Can Do It Best

Precise data is exquisite to your business. However, in nature, B2B database is highly dynamic and thus degrades apace. A bad or outdated data harms the sales performance of your organization ruthlessly.

To solve, all you need is to maintain its hygiene — a comprehensive process that needs to be followed systematically. From detection of inaccuracies to data appending, data hygiene is an actionable plan that demands consistency.

Is aging data hurting your marketing and sales goals?

If yes, you certainly need to clean it up! Data hygiene refers to cleaning-up or appending your B2B database aiming at removing or updating lapsed or outdated contacts. As data hygiene is not a new term, marketers of all-sized businesses accept its relevance unarguably.

However, how to cut the scrap out of a database, often, becomes troublesome for many marketers. Data cleansing initiatives fall in tune only if its hygiene plans and execution fall in place with the goals and expectations of your business.

Here I have summed up some ways you need to know before implementing data hygiene in your strategy:

1. The Detect Plan

You can’t clean anything if you are clueless of what to discard and what to keep. Same is with your data.

Begin with auditing all the customer databases. Create a set of validation rules to standardize your B2B database and develop a Detect Plan to determine the data discrepancies and errors.

Rely on specific statistical methods of analysis and identify the inaccuracies that might comprise of the duplicity of contacts, domain errors, expired addresses, spelling-flaws (yes it matters!) or incomplete data.

As it is an inclusive process, the impact will go beyond your sales team reaching other departments too. So, using the collaborative intelligence of your team can simplify the process.

2. The Correction Plan

Once the loopholes are ascertained, commence with the second step- The Correction Plan. The standardized validation rules need to be integrated more comprehensively at this phase.

B2B customer data degrades apace and thus keeping it up-to-date becomes a strenuous job. To untangle, all you need is to define your records as per data type and then to remove duplicate contacts accordingly.

Eliminating duplicates is critical to the data clean-up as sending multiple messages or emails to the same organization can take you to the spam folders your readers.

Once you have brushed-out the duplicates, pick-up the lapsed contacts. These expired records are like dead leads that eat out the time of your sales team unnecessarily.

Move towards editing misspelled contacts as messages sent to wrong names are not going to reach your targets and even if they do, they are definitely going to annoy them.

3. The Verification Plan

To ensure the accuracy of the first two steps, verification becomes imperative. Invest in data tools and verify that the edited records are error-free and precise. Make sure the data that has come out battles the challenges and goals of your business. Validate it and edit it again, if required.

4. The Automation Plan

Maintaining data hygiene is not a one-day job, it demands consistency.

Go for automated cleansing. Create a systematize workflow to cleanse the data on a weekly or monthly basis. Prepare a calendar and stick to it. Appoint certain team/teams to work on it without missing a schedule.

This automation can be applied to old as well as newly entered records.

5. The Append-Plan

Regardless of how better you cleanse your customer database, you might skip the tails. Data appending serve as helping hand here, especially for the records that do not come in the reach of automation.

Opt for some reliable third-party sources that can append your data. Going for appending-data can benefit your business goals by providing you complete information that you might skip.

 #Bonus Tip – Legal Consent

Confirm that the data you are supposed to use does not surpass the rules laid down to safeguard business-people and individuals against un-welcomed emails or messages.

The database is exquisite to your business. Make sure you maintain its hygiene!

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Nine Reasons Why your Business must have a Live Chat on your Site

A Website is an online identity of your business. It ought to be interactive to hold a customer’s attention. Live chat helps reckon a human touch to your digital website.

This interface acts like a Consumer Relationship Representative available for everyone and everywhere across the globe.

A Survey of American online customers shows that clients prefer sites containing live chat. According to the survey, 68 percent of the visitors engage in live chat and 63 percent come back for repetitive purchase.

As a part and parcel of live chat, many advantages come live with it.

1. Guaranteed convenience.

Customers are comfortable with Live Chat rather than Phones. With Live Chat, customers can be assured of immediate attention which is practically not possible with Phones. For Online purchasing, customers love the idea of immediate help and assistance.

The hassles of finding phone numbers, dialing them, waiting for busy lines, long IVR Input processes and many more puts the customer off of his shopping experience. Thus, Live Chats are essential to have a smooth interface.

 2. Cost effective interface.

Phone calls require one-on-one attention, whereas during a Live Chat, one candidate can manage multiple clients simultaneously. This helps cut cost and, thus save the company’s resources. Maintaining a separate call center can be an expensive affair. The firm needs to hire executives, purchase phones, pay phone bills, even incorporate a call routing software.

On the other hand, a Live chat on the site helps save on these expenses. All that needs to be done is to install the software and you are ready to go.

With this businesses can keep directly in touch with their customers. Moreover, it is cheaper for the customers as well. They need not worry about their phone bills while talking to you. This helps instill goodwill among customers.

3. Synthesizing multitasking.

With Phone calls one needs to bear the pain of holding the receiver, waiting for the reps to pick up call. This process captures all time and attention of an individual. The automated responses overcome the hurdles of waiting.

Live Chat facilitates other variant tasks like Email updates and other Project Tasks. The Customers are notified by a beep sound when the representative is available for chat. Customers can get into the discussion with them right away.

4. High-tech solution. 

In this fast paced world, everyone loves speed. Your customers too ! In Live Chat, a customer can be addressed more speedily than a traditional call system. This yields better customer satisfaction by  eliminating the waiting in a Queue. Customers can get access to the reps whenever the need arises.

5. Providing 24/7 service. 

The Offices can be closed for holidays on the weekends or other public holidays. Online live chat can be utilized to provide 365 days service to the customers. With live chat, queries can be answered from anyplace, anytime.

With some inbuilt replies, customers reach can be maximized even for non-office timings. This round the clock availability will help build trust among the customers.

6. Storehouse of data.

Live chats facilitate storage of data for future reference. Vital information about the customer: his history, his path of landing, activity status during a chat, and so on, can be stored. This information can be utilized for better functioning of the sales department.

If a problem is arising simultaneously with multiple customers it can be tracked and one can arrive to the solution by utilizing the stored data. Further steps can be taken to curtail these problems in the future.

7. Burgeon the conversion rate.

Leveraging the availability of users in real time and persuading them to purchase products is a sale technique that can be used with a Live chat.

This serves as a boon to the business. Personally convincing the prospects to buy from your company facilitates gaining their confidence and helps in up-selling and cross-selling.

Trained Reps can advise the customers about the benefits of buying from them, they can also provide discounts/ free gifts persuading prospects to become actual customers.

8. Cut-throat competition. 

To survive the rat race in this competitive world, one always needs to introduce new strategies. Nevertheless, with changing business trends live chat has become an integral part of any business.

Yet, there are many companies who refrain to introduce it. This gives an edge of being a preferred choice to your customers over your competitors who still haven’t incorporated Live chat.

9. Customer retention.

Live chat helps to increase the satisfaction level of customers. Satisfied customers promote repetitive sales. Furthermore, the customers tend to become less concerned about what they are paying, a long as they feel comfortable.

That means comfortable with your company and the products. It helps to develop a long-term relationship with the customers.

Live chat, the most viable and essential business trend, provides an unmatched potential to your business. Still not convinced? Take our advice and  give it a shot. Setup a live chat and you will be surprised to realize how it provides wings to your business!

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Why Working Remotely Can Be Bad for Creative Tension and How to Fix That

With businesses like Bank of America, IBM, and even newer tech companies like Reddit all pulling workers back into their offices, remote work policies seem to be vanishing. As far as fostering creativity and promoting creative solutions go, though, this shift back into the workplace is actually a good thing.

Forty-three percent of American workers reported working from home some of the time last year, and according to a TINYpulse survey, employees who work remotely feel more valued and are happier than those who don’t. But those same employees also rate their relationships with co-workers lower than non-remote works, a problem that can lead to a lack of creative tension.

With employee productivity, satisfaction, and creative tension all being the end goal, companies need to address the “to-work-from-home-or-not” question with greater balance. Implementing strategies that don’t keep workers chained to their desks but that do bring people into the office to foster the kind of collaborations necessary for creative accomplishment is the best option.

What Creative Tension Means

Virtual communication channels like Google Meet and messaging apps like Slack have allowed individual creativity to blossom in remote settings and are a big reason remote work became more common. While individual creativity may find a suitable home remotely, though, creative tension — that mild or extreme disagreement that’s one of the driving forces of team innovation — is possible only during face-to-face interactions.

Our brains are hardwired to close the gap between our vision and a solution that renders the final product. Because of this, creative tension allows a release of more energy and creativity that helps us find ways to close that gap. Remote work reduces that process to an individual and internal struggle, which can stunt creative and company growth.

As an example, look at Corning Inc., the more than 160-year-old glass-blowing company whose customers have included Thomas Edison. Corning understands the freedom its creatives need in order to pursue the kind of innovations and inventions that have kept it viable for centuries, but it also believes in the rigors of accountability and collaboration that its in-house Sullivan Park research facility initiates.

Why Creative Tension Matters

Creative tension stimulated by collaboration such as an in-office meeting often sparks new and organic perspectives and ideas that may change the initial direction of a project but enrich its result.

Undertaking a similar process via Slack can make a conversation sound more like a list of requests or tasks, and those organic threads that may initially seem like tangents but can become integral to the creative process get lost in the more mechanized form of delivery.

Likewise, creative tension can improve problem-solving. Not only does this problem-solving offer employees greater emotional and mental stability by letting their brains rest and reducing the anxiety and worry over decision-making, but it also allows them to take greater risks with their ideas by alleviating the stress of failure. It sounds ironic, but creative tension can actually create an emotional safety net for people by affording them individual gratification and assurance.

When my company was working on our game Dead Last, our goal was to create a product that best fit the project requirements. The key engineer had envisioned the product going one direction, but after the entire company met to provide input, other ideas that combated that vision came into play.

The project got more complicated, as it became clear that an illustrator, a sound designer, and someone to assist with storyboarding those ideas were needed. But if we hadn’t opened the project up to companywide collaboration, then its success would’ve fallen solely on the engineer, and it may not have become what it is today.

Harnessing Creative Tension by Finding That Balance

Some team leaders who’ve tried brainstorming sessions in the past may cringe at the suggestion of an open-floor or all-inclusive meeting. Likewise, their workers may have negatively reacted to increased meeting times, as that decreased their ability to work from home. But creating an environment fueled by creative tension isn’t as difficult as it may seem. Here are four strategies for striking that home-office balance:

1. Implement Creative Meetings (With Non-Creatives)

Creative meetings are an opportunity to share and develop ideas, so they shouldn’t consist entirely of announcements or delegating tasks. If the same end result can be accomplished via email or Slack, then it doesn’t require a meeting.

As well, leaders should devote certain meetings like client kickoffs to companywide attendance, including people who don’t consider themselves creatives: project managers, quality assurance, developers, sales, and operations staff. Outside and diverse opinions can ignite creative tension because of their penchant toward disagreement. Companies that don’t work toward fostering this type of collaboration can wind up cloistering their creatives in little bubbles, which results in myopic thinking.

2. Stagger and Flex

Creativity is a paradox: It’s free-flowing, but it needs structure to really take off. Holding endless brainstorming sessions every day of the week can burn out your employees. Instead, stagger meetings throughout the week; for example, try holding them on Tuesdays and Thursdays or Mondays and Fridays.

A staggered schedule provides time for reflection and individual productivity. Moreover, you can offer employees one or two flex days when they can choose to work from home during those non-meeting days. Some employees really are more productive and independently creative from home, and those flex days cater to that.

3. Put Your Hat On, Then Take It Off

It’s important for leaders to set clear ground rules for ideation and delivery during the meetings by reiterating that nothing is personal. Even though there is no such thing as a bad idea, finding and developing the best idea means that there will always be a certain amount of rejection and disagreement.

During the actual meetings, though, leaders need to cede the floor and let their teams know that they can speak their minds. By eliminating the top-down mentality — i.e., that the best ideas come from upper-level employees — leaders can ensure that they’re optimizing creativity from all individuals across all levels of their company.

4. Be Willing to Adapt

After the meetings, leaders should solicit feedback about the creative process through various channels. Messaging apps like Slack, email, individual meetings with employees, or online and anonymous surveys can all work well.

Even if the process seems to be working, this feedback gives you greater insight into employee experience. While unrestrained meetings can be great for bouncing around several ideas, they’re not everyone’s ideal process for effective collaboration. Every company’s culture is unique, so tweak these processes until you find the most productive fit for your people.

Remote work policies capitalize on comfort because comfort is an effective tool for maximizing productivity. But being creative often means stepping outside of comfort zones. Creative tension is essential to company growth and employee empowerment, and understanding how to harness it will only make your next big idea that much stronger.

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7 Ways to Jumpstart Your Business According to Alibaba Founder Jack Ma

Once a tour guide, teacher, and three-time entrance exam taker, Jack Ma seems to have struggled a lot early in life. But when people look at the man now, they see a multi-billionaire, Alibaba’s founder, and arguably China’s most famous and well-loved entrepreneur.

Too often, people highlight the beginning and the end of rags-to-riches stories. You have to think a little differently to see that the in-between is full of lessons and exciting moments as well. It’s true not only for Jack Ma but also for others who lacked certain privileges when they were younger.

Certainly, you can take a page from the life of the e-commerce mogul and apply the lessons to your business. Here are seven ways for starters. You’ll never know which ones will work for you.

Turn people’s complaints into opportunities

Almost five years ago, Ma said 80% of China’s industries presented business opportunities, particularly those related to the environment. So keep an eye on local industries. Also, listen to what people are complaining about, according to him. You may find your next idea there.

Better yet, look into what bothers you. Ma created Alibaba because no Chinese beers came up when he searched for ‘beers’ on the internet. He has since been known for introducing services, such as Alipay, that turned out to fulfill huge gaps in his country’s economy.

See the future

What is next for technology? The billionaire places his bet on Artificial Intelligence (AI). “The new wave is coming. Jobs will be taken away,” Ma told CNBC at the Gateway ‘17 Conference, referring to the rise of AI. Job automation is a subject that looms in the horizon wherever in the world you may happen to be.

Imagine a future in which machines can do what humans can’t. What are the possibilities? And of course, what can you build to integrate or support these machines?

Improve your products and services

The Chinese entrepreneur puts a premium on listening to the feedback of both customers and employees. By tuning in to what people are saying, you’ll be able to gather ideas that will help you improve your products and services.

The same goes for brands who have been engaging their customers on social media. Let the data speak for itself. Understand what the shares, likes, comments, and statuses are telling you. Then build a strategy around what you learn.

Do not be afraid of competition

Business Insider shared what Ma said in the book Alibaba by Liu Shiying and Martha Avery: “I was never afraid of opponents who were bigger than I.” He often got into fights with his classmates when he was younger. It seems that he has kept the never-back-down attitude, which proved to be useful in his days as a startup founder. 

Avoid starting a business with friends

Instead, work on becoming good friends with the cofounder/s you have chosen, Ma said. The point here is not to avoid future confrontations with friends but to find someone who can share with you the burdens and joys of starting a business. That person has to have the same vision and tenacity. In reality, that person may exist outside of your intimate circles.

Be stubborn

Be relentless. It can be that there is only one person who believes your idea will work out and 23 who don’t. This situation is not your cue to quit. Ma persevered. He didn’t give up on his desire to create a business based on the internet, even if only one among 24 friends thought his idea was possible. You have to follow in the master’s footsteps, my friend.

Stay curious

Well, that’s a Steve Jobs line. But Jack Ma has also lived the quote it might as well be his. Back in 1994, when he was 30, the then-college teacher Ma went to the United States and discovered the internet. He didn’t quite understand it but still resolved to do a startup on this curious thing. He tried to explain his plans to the school president, who was a Stanford graduate, and some of his friends. But they did not quite get it, too. The 30-year-old submitted his resignation and went on to build internet companies. The first two didn’t pan out, while the third became the big online marketplace that we know now, Alibaba.

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Apathy: The Unsung Ingredient in Success

Business: To care or not to care?
The connotation that most people associate with the term ‘apathy’ is, that of not caring anymore. But, not caring to the extent of negligence. The unhealthy kind.

This one exists, say, when you have reached ‘breaking point’ with an emotionally inconsiderate, significant other; and you don’t care anymore. You can’t wait, and need, to leave him/her. Then, there is the other connotation to apathy:  where there is a lack of concern for anything.

This is the apathy that plays a critical role in success.

The difference between the two?

With the latter, you are usually in situations where you have to make the best of the best, even when you feel as if you may not. You see, with the first version of apathy, you can leave the toxic spouse or partner.

In the second version, most times, you cannot afford not to reach the goal of 1000 people. A target that was set for you by big-name corporates, for them to be able to take you seriously and negotiate deals with you for your food promotion business, as was the case with my business partner and I.  

For if you do not meet the target, your business will not take off the ground. Meeting the goal is imperative, you have no other option.

Next to the ability to persevere, apathy stands, to make an exquisite recipe for success. 

As always, there is light before dark

Anybody who has run a business, failed or not, knows how difficult it is to get the name of your company out there, in the beginning. The constant effort and people not responding entirely the way you had hoped for them to.

For example,  managing the company’s Facebook account, and posting posts that ‘reach’ 300+ people, but when looking at the stats, you notice that, only 12 of the 300 people actually clicked on the post, and five people liked the post.

Finding ways to better those numbers, can be difficult, stressful, and at times, just draining. Especially if your business is an online business. Even if your product is interesting, and you know people like it. There can be increased interest every day, more people are ‘liking’ the page. You can even have more people email to your inbox you every day, and so forth.

But for some reason, that rate of interest is not the same as the one you had wished for or need. But then again, in a world where most of us want things to come immediately, the rate of absorption will never be as good as we want it to be. But you still have to reach the ‘1000 people’ target, regardless.

Apathy in action

Picture this:  At the moment, your business has an insanely tight budget. The numbers of customers, however, are increasing at a higher rate, as more people know about the business. It’s still not as good as you would like. You have to make it better, you have a trick in the bag. You can expand your target market.

Instead of targeting your local neighborhood, go to schools or universities. That will increase the numbers. But you encounter some ever-unpleasant ‘red-tape’ within these organizations. The challenge of getting the brand out there continues.

We had the idea to present to classes of students in my university. At that point, we had 435 of the 1000 people needed. Within 3-4 classes of 250 students, we would surely reach the ‘1000 people’ target in no time.

Naturally, I went to one of my lecturers and asked to present.

She said she didn’t have the authority to make such decisions, and suggested I go to the Head of Department. I did.

He then sent me to the Registrar.

The Registrar sent me to the Director of Student Affairs. Finally, she outlined the process for getting permission to present.

Apathy’s aftermath.

Long story short, this whole process of getting permission was going to take two weeks (if I was approved by the various boards).

Two weeks, for a five to ten-minute presentation?!

Yeah, it didn’t make sense to me either. Especially because we had a deadline to meet that goal. At this point, you can picture this. Slowly escaping from ‘slower than wanted’ rates of acceptance, and a bucketload of red tape, sinking into–you can imagine–despair and apathy. My energy was sapped. If I was a car, I would have no more gas in my reserve fuel tank. And, indeed I did not.

A slice of success.

A delicate mix of frustration, apathy, and untiring perseverance can fuel your drive to go on. I decided that I was just going to do whatever I wanted, circumnavigating the routes provided by the University. Especially if they weren’t illegal.

You see, I had no concern for any of the structures anymore. I had a target, and I needed to meet it. As long as it was legal, I was going to meet the target by any method possible. So, I did that. I printed posters and stuck them around campus, went into lectures where I got permission and so forth, and promoted the daylights out of my business.

As we stand, we are 100 odd people away from the target. The confidence and perseverance that comes with running a business, was driven despite that paralyzing apathy and then by that apathy. Apathy that comes from frustration – the justified kind. It kicked me in the butt and sculpted the fervent belief that I was of value and my product or service had value.

You have to know that you will do whatever it takes to put your product out there. When you are just starting out, and do not have the amount of traction that you need — you can’t allow apathy to chart your path unbidden. Undoubtedly, all the obstacles that will confront you along the way will tire you out. But it is how you respond to them, that makes or breaks your business.

Lessons learned

In business, there is a tendency to just speak about perseverance. Which is good. But, people never explore further, and speak about the point where, you genuinely think of giving up and then you genuinely give up. You are done. DONE. But what you are really doing is running your business on ‘autopilot.’ 

You see, apathy comes in when you are drained and have no emotions left.

You don’t feel anything, not sad, not tired, you are just numb. However, you know that you won’t quit, and you have goals to reach. That is the beauty of apathy. Alongside perseverance, it fuels success.

By all means, you can choose to adopt the first connotation of apathy and ultimately give up, and leave your dreams behind.

Or you can reach that point of not giving a shit, and use that. Not giving a shit is apathy, and it can help you if you will let it.

Use that type of apathy in conjunction with perseverance, to make something awesome happen. The choice is yours. Apathy is a beautiful thing. It is probably, as an entrepreneur, your biggest asset, next to the ability to listen to what people are saying, and never giving up.

For more inspiration, check these Startup Grind guests out:

(Katlego Maphai, CEO of Yoco). The good stuff starts at around the 10:00 minute mark. It’s better to watch the whole thing, though.

(Catherine Luckhoff, Founder of NicheStreem). The good stuff starts at about the 10:30 mark. Here, it is also better to watch the whole thing, just for context

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Which is better? Data-driven or data-informed?

A month ago I got a chance to speak at Tech in Asia Product Development Conference in Jakarta about data-driven versus data-informed. Post-conference I was approached a few times to discuss more and speak at other events about the topic. Since people attended my talk found it useful, I thought I might as well share it with the global community.

Recently, the term data-driven started to become a buzzword, adding on to the list of other cool, techie jargon: disruptive, pivoting, design thinking, and many more. So, let me first attempt to get us all on the same page.

What’s Data-Driven?

Being data-driven means letting data be the center of a team and company’s decision making process. Data then plays an essential part of your company. Decision makers reply mostly (and sometimes solely) on data. Some decisions can be made without human being involved.

Some of the conversations that came up from a data-driven company are:

  • “Let’s A/B test this, and implement the version with the better result”
  • “Don’t talk to me unless you have have data”
  • “We’ll just follow what the data tells us,”

The truly data-driven organization will implement this process across teams and functions. This means that every team (product, marketing, customer success, operations, etc.) uses data intensively for all their decisions.

So, what are the benefits?

It eliminate a lot of human biases involved in decision making

In fact, a mentor of mine Misha Chellam created flashcards to help you memorize them. Data helps get the team members and stakeholders on the same page with less of their own judgement.

It is a lot less time-consuming because we take human out of the equation

How many of you have been in a 3-hour long meeting that people argue back and forth with no sign of compromise? Even better if you work in at a startup. Sometimes we discuss and argue for the sake of doing it, then the HiPPO made the final decision. (Yep, I know how you feel).

In fact, a study from MIT has proven the benefits of being data-driven. Prof. Erik Brynjolfsson and his colleagues studied 179 large publicly-traded companies and concluded that those companies are 5% more productive and profitable than their competitors.

However, being data-driven also has its drawbacks.

It requires a huge amount of data for the decisions to be accurate

You have to watch out for outlier distortion. Outliers are a data point from which are radically different from your average data. In gaming, positive outliers are considered “whales.” Those customers whom make either big purchases or make them very frequently, generating a significant amount of revenue for the company.

At my previous company, we even coined the term, “whale hunting.” In other industries, it might be those customers who use your product to solve a different problem than most of your customers. Their behaviors are so different, thus should be excluded from your data to make decisions about your average customers. Few data points together with the outliers can lead your company toward the direction that you don’t want to go.

It requires someone with data science knowledge and a lot of resources to be beneficial

For startups and big organizations that just started Data Science department, it might be hard to be completely data-driven due to lack of capabilities and resources. Current employees might not have enough knowledge to build the infrastructure to support. Some might not even have anyone who has expertise with data. At my previous company, we have 10 data scientist and at Kulina, we have 0.5 person (myself and our head of tech).

There is still a bias in the way we gather data

Most of times, what people say is not what they do. So, if we gather data by asking them implicitly, we risked making decisions on the wrong information. For example, during the scandalous time of Uber and the #deleteuber movement, most of my friends said they would never use Uber again. When Lyft (its main competitor in the US) has a surcharge, they went back and ordered Uber for their regular rides!

Let’s look at an example from my experience

Another great example is when we were trying to figure out which social media platform we should spend more time and money to engage with our users. We sent out a survey asking them, and the result was quite surprising. We saw Facebook on top of the list, which is expected. However, what puzzled us was the fact that Google+ was second on the list (no hard feeling to the team at Google).

A few team members asked if I would agree with letting them spend more time building our Google+ presence. “Maybe we didn’t know our users well,” a team member mentioned. Being data-driven, I would probably greenlight this. But being stubborn as usual, I discussed with another product marketing manager on what could’ve gone wrong.

We came to a conclusion that our users might not understand the difference between Google and Google+. In fact, when we look deeper into the way the question was asked. Instead of using the icon, we used the wording Google+ in the questionnaire. If you didn’t pay close attention to the survey, you probably thought we were asking if you use Google!

So, what is a data-informed decision?

Making data-informed decision takes data only as a factor that can be dismissed from time to time. This kind of decision making allows other factors such as customer experience, gut feeling, brand consistency and the HiPPO to take the lead.

The benefit is that data is put to be challenged

Because we don’t purely base our data, we use it to create a hypothesis. No matter how good data is, it has its limitation. It is just a snapshot of reality that doesn’t paint the full picture of our customer journey and behavior. We are forced to user other factors to help make better decisions, including our own judgement.

One of the example was at my previous company. To give you a little bit of background information, the nature of our gaming business was having great revenue on the weekend because that’s when our users played games. On a Monday, one of the new product directors approached me regarding a low weekend revenue, and he was very worried.

With some experience and guess, I suspected that our revenue was down because we ran sale the prior weekend. The same effect occurred for the past five times we ran sales. If we look at the same cycle before, our average was actually better. In fact, we figured out later that it was because one of the marketing campaigns that were launched to encounter this specific problem.

Facebook’s Newsfeed version that moved the key metrics was actually done without being data-driven

Adam Mosseri and his team back then decided to create the newsfeed without data. In fact, it got a lot of negative reactions that users were angry and even created a Facebook group I AUTOMATICALLY HATE THE NEW FACEBOOK HOMEPAGE (watch his talk here).

“At the end of the day, we have to have a gut to make bold decisions without data.” Adam Mosseri

This doesn’t mean that data-informed decisions don’t have their drawbacks

It requires a lot of time to discuss and analyze, and conclusions could not be formed easily. But remember at the end of the day:

“All the data in the world won’t fix a fundamentally bad product.” Andy Carvell.

In order to be innovative and build the right product for our customers, we cannot just sit in the room looking at rows of data and charts. Hint: Data doesn’t have to always be big data. Gather qualitative feedback by talking to your customers, observing customers struggles through usability tests and figuring out the jobs customers are hiring you for are key to building products.

So, my recommendations to you is

For smaller companies, you should always aim to be more data-driven. You probably don’t utilize the data you collect (or even collect them at all). The more data you have, the better hypotheses you will generate.

For larger companies, you should be able to make bold decisions that not move the key metrics but also improve customer experience. We should use data to help us make better decisions, but don’t reply on it a hundred percent!

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3 Strategies for Effective Collaboration in a Remote Environment

The remote-work phenomenon, long trending upward, has suddenly taken a downward shift. Companies like Yahoo and IBM — the latter touted as a pioneer in the remote-work environment — are all pulling their workers back into the office.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the overall proportion of people who worked remotely either part-time or every day dropped from 24 percent to 22 percent in 2016.

If remote-work policies are being revoked across a range of industries, then what exactly went wrong with them? The truth is that large companies can have difficulty with these policies because they require unique employee skill sets and more comprehensive managerial approaches.

Rather than giving up on them as viable solutions to the traditional workplace, though, businesses should invest more in their implementation.

Ultimately, leaders can learn to balance employee needs with company needs and foster the most effective collaboration through a combination remote and in-house work environment.

Why Balance Is Essential

At its heart, remote work offers employees freedom. That freedom is essential to innovation and creativity and is exactly why that kind of work environment is promoted by the Silicon Valley work culture at companies like Facebook.

In fact, Millennials rank remote-work policies as one of their highest values, in large part because of the work-life integration these policies foster.

Moreover, when leaders establish clear employee expectations and successfully implement remote work, it can offer a slew of company and individual benefits. Management no longer has to baby-sit each team, and communication bottlenecks disappears because employees are responsible for (and understand they’re responsible for) their own actions.

Essentially, each individual is treated like an adult, and as a result, they act like adults. Employees are also happier, which lends toward greater efficiency and productivity in their roles.

Successful implementation of remote-work policies, especially when a project requires regular collaboration among team members, though, is a process. If companies aren’t willing to work with employees to find the right balance and help them gain the necessary skills, of course, this can be a problem.

Or if employees don’t explicitly understand the benefits that sort of environment affords, then working from home can quickly degrade both the collaborative and autonomous efforts in an organization.

How to Achieve That Balance

Effective remote-work policies understand the dual need for collaboration and autonomy in the workplace. These policies don’t have to present an “all-or-nothing” scenario — especially these days. There is the advent of messaging apps and other communication channels such as email.

It’s all about balance, and leaders can better structure their workplace environments by following these three strategies:

1. Better Manage Perception (Both Yours and Others’)

One of the biggest hurdles for many leaders and employees is the perception surrounding remote work.

For leaders, this amounts to a lack of trust in an employee’s ability to get the job done when left to his own devices. According to Global Workplace Analytics, about 33 percent of managers feel the need to have employees in-house in order to ensure work completion.

To combat this, leaders can outline explicit goals for their workers and use probationary periods during which they build employees’ autonomous skill sets, such as accountability and engagement.

For employees, the stigma that follows remote work policies can be equally damaging, with a Polycom Inc. survey indicating that about 62 percent of remote workers worry their co-workers think they’re less productive when at home. This stigma prohibits workers from taking advantage of flexible policies even when they exist.

Leaders need to make it clear that remote work is just as valid as in-office work by establishing clear guidelines for its application, such as designating certain days when employees can work remotely.

This way, employees know when their team members will and won’t be around and can structure any in-person collaboration needs accordingly.

2. Take Advantage of Technology

Remote work policies don’t have to abide by the “out-of-sight, out-of-mind” mentality. Quite the opposite, in fact. With messaging apps and other digital communication tools, technology can transform remote workers into a cohesive and collaborative team.

Take Slack, for example: The 3-year-old company has 5 million users and is growing, but the key to its success is that it’s a low-pressure, fun way for team members to keep in touch and work together wherever they are.

Plenty of options like this are available to companies that want to make sure the lines of communication stay open, from low-stakes chatting tools like Slack to project collaboration tools like Asana to video conference tools like Google Meetups. Even taking a conversation offline and talking on the phone from time to time can erase the physical distance by adding that little bit of human contact.

The key for leaders is to focus on a few tools that every employee can use, to establish some ground rules for their usage. Slack usage is typically for quick questions but phone calls for lengthier discussions.

Make sure that your people know how to use them. In this way, communication won’t get cut off just because an employee is working from home.

3. Develop and Implement the Processes and Systems Collectively

Working with employees to create and implement your policies and having a system in place for evaluating those policies is vital.

If employees buy into the value of the policies and have some degree of ownership in them, then they will feel more invested in their efficacy. This initial collaboration also prevents the top-down approach to implementation that can be destructive to worker engagement.

In addition, the only way to truly understand whether these policies are working is to establish a system for evaluating their effectiveness along the way. Techniques can range from in-person review sessions to online tools like 15Five that can help you catch lapses in productivity early on and deal with any dissatisfaction.

Most importantly, though, don’t abandon remote-work policies just because they don’t immediately work. Instead, adapt the operating procedure as necessary.

If remote work is declining, it’s not due to any inherent flaw in the concept — namely because no such singular concept exists.

The benefits to both the collaboration and autonomy that remote work offer are due to its versatility. It’s all about implementation. Leaders who work to find that balance within their organizations by governing perception, using technology, and working with their teams to establish and execute the specific policies will quickly find that flexible workers are better workers.

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