What it takes to launch a profitable startup in 2020 hasn’t changed for decades and won’t change any time soon. The best advice for entrepreneurs who are looking to launch a startup this year is not to wait until next year.
Remote work is at an all-time high, unprecedented access to global talent, startup investment keeps increasing, paid advertising channels are becoming more effective, and the list goes on. To launch a profitable startup in 2020, you should get started. A lot can happen in twelve months. “When you want something, the whole universe conspires to help you,” Paulo Coelho.
The three steps below can be accomplished in six months even if you work on your startup part-time. They’ll set you on the right path towards profitability this year.
1. Scan Your Idea
If you want to build a profitable business this year, there is no room for easily avoidable mistakes starting with investing resources in a product you could easily know if people need and will pay for. Therefore, the first step is to test your idea before moving forward and committing significant resources.
The least you can do is ask ten potential buyers about their needs and expectations. The goal is to uncover the urgency of a need for a better solution. Products that make things just a little better will make your goal of building a profitable business this year a lot harder. By the end of this phase, you should refine your idea by identifying a problem worth solving.
2. Scan It One More Time
Many ideas look great on paper but fail as real businesses. Furthermore, the excitement of potential users (interviewees) can quickly fade away and should not be taken as a definite YES to, “I really need a solution.” If you want to build a profitable business this year, you need to invest a little more resources in this critical pre-product validation stage. There are many things you can do. Here are two.
Building a product will take time and money but sketching your idea is relatively quick and cheap. Run product designs by those first ten potential users and ten more. This simple test can help you avoid an expected bias from the first group while seeking everyone’s feedback and comments that will help you identify key product features.
The second thing you can do is offer your product for sale while rewarding the first buyers. Perhaps with a discounted yearly offer or even a lifetime offer for the first 50 buyers. This will not only provide you with a strong validation signal but also, help you fund the next stages of the business.
Some products are easier to presell than others. If you find it hard to come up with a compelling presale offer, think how you can quickly start serving the first buyers by introducing a concierge service of your product. This is where you take the role of many features. It’s an effective approach to also learn how the product should work since you will be the product.
3. Build Your Product
The first two stages will provide you with all the insights you need to build a product that converts. Best of all, it’s an inexpensive approach to learn if the product won’t work. Which means you can quickly pivot to focus on what will work.
If you’ve validated your idea through conversations, designs and presales, you’re more than half-way through building a profitable business this year because building a product is the easy part. If you know what to build, the right team will make it happen. In the meantime, your job is to get more of the people you interviewed excited and committed to the solution.
This is a quick roadmap for your path to launching your idea this year. If you don’t do it now, the path won’t change next year. It’s up to you!
In 2010, Michael Landau, Alli Webb and her then husband Cameron mustered together enough capital to open their first Drybar location in Los Angeles. It was a crazy idea: a salon that did just blow-drys for women. No hair color, no cuts, no additional spa features. But the simplicity worked.
A decade later the idea has evolved into a $100 million business with locations across the country and put more than 3,000 stylists to work. Using a franchise model, Drybar spread beyond the coastal cities of San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York City to the heartland of the US, suggesting that the founding trio had spotted a gap in the market.
As a woman with curly hair who had struggled to blow dry her own hair, knowing how taxing and time-consuming it could be, Webb knew the concept of Drybar would work. And then she hired Brittany Driscoll to do the marketing who was ready to hustle, helping make Drybar the largest chain in its category in America.
The same team is tackling a different problem: massages.
Before the core market was just women, Webb says. Now, it’s anyone with a body, Driscoll jokes. This is not geared towards one gender but to anyone who has been to a massage studio in a strip mall and had a less than stellar experience, she explains.
Yes, there are national chains selling massages by the hour. But the experience Driscoll, who is now a co-founder of Squeeze with Webb, says is lacking: “The discount chains can be clunky, and it can be hard to make appointments. There was an opportunity to do it better.”
Much like how the team streamlined the process of visiting the salon for a blow-dry, they’re doing the same for massages. The Squeeze locations charge from $29 to $129 depending on the length of the massage; shorter messages can be focused on a specific area of the body.
But what’s unique about the Squeeze model is that it’s all digital: the booking is made online; the therapist is selected at the time of the booking; how one likes the room (temperature, lighting, mood music) can be all preset; and payment is entirely done on your phone, including tip. “The therapist might change but you get the same experience.”
The goal is to get you to “float out,” Driscoll says. “So you’re not standing in line after that relaxing massage, waiting to pay. But on your way to having a better day.”
The flagship location in Studio City, which opened in 2019, reflects their teal blue branding in the physical space; the outside and inside are adorned in this calming but noticeable shade. There’s a spa-like, relaxing feel with the added bonus of a fully digital, automated experience.
Just as Drybar was a franchise model, Squeeze will be too. “We know the demand for a better massage experience is there,” Driscoll says. “The technology that we’ve built on the backend to make this all happen will help us grow this quickly.”
Unlike Drybar, which had its offices in Los Angeles, not far from Webb’s hometown, Irvine, Squeeze will be headquartered out of Nashville, Tennessee. Webb and Driscoll certainly see Squeeze as a national chain. In fact, the learning curve, Webb says, could be simpler with Squeeze.
Whereas they had to explain to new consumers how Drybar worked, Squeeze, she says, is much easier to explain: “It’s simply a better experience of what you’re already doing — going for a massage.”
With wellness becoming an integral part of life for many Millennials, massages fit right into the paradigm, and are unlikely to go out of style.
The duo also wanted to give back like many brands today. “We knew we wanted to have some philanthropic ties from the onset. We are all animal lovers,” says Driscoll.
Inspired by service animals and how they’re essential for everyday life for many Americans, Driscoll said she wanted to bring animals together with messages. But not have it result in goat yoga. Instead, how could the brand give back to a cause they cared for? Each membership sold will result in a donation to Canine Companions for Independence, a non-profit that provides service dogs to individuals with disabilities free-of-cost.
Webb started Drybar with no ambitions of building of a national brand a decade ago. Now her success is enabling them to launch another venture. Her wise words to other entrepreneurs? “Just get going. You can hire people smarter than you later, down the road, after you build the foundation.”
RPA (Robotic Process Automation) is software that helps to streamline tasks and activities within the workplace. The technology has been shown to lead to significant ROI (Return On Investment), as seen with companies like Intuit. Back in 2018, the firm launched an RPA pilot program using the UiPath platform and the initial focus was on the finance department, which had about 450 full-time employees.
All in all, the results have been standout. For example, Intuit created a bot to verify chargebacks, which shortened the process from one day to on-demand—saving 745 hours. Then there was another bot that processed customer returns, which cut the time from ten days to on-demand. There were about 450 hours saved.
This success, of course, was due to a variety of factors like buy-in from senior executives as well as extensive planning. But there was something else that was critical: the creation of a Center of Excellence (CoE). This is a team that helps to manage the RPA system.
“There are two major things that successful CoEs accomplish,” said Yasir Qureshi, who is the senior director of strategy and business development of IoT and Analytics at Software AG. “First, a COE helps standardize on the framework for deployment for the company so that it can execute a project that has faster time to market. Second, CoEs provide leadership in helping a business unit define the requirements for a successful business case and optimize the resources required to implement and operationalize the project. At its core, a CoE is a central governance structure that provides leadership, best practices and support for any business initiative. A CoE also allows these disparate technical and operational groups to quickly align on the initiative and openly collaborate, discuss and sort through any roadblocks or challenges along the way.”
No doubt, assembling the team should take much consideration. “A CoE that isn’t agile by definition or exists solely in conjunction with IT or one specific business area is likely to fail, given that the CoE’s role is to align areas that typically are disjointed,” said Agustin Huerta, who is the VP of Technology, AI and Process Automation Studios at Globant. “To achieve this, RPA should be executed, when possible, by teams that are close to the business and specialized in a certain domain. The CoE must also avoid becoming static, as it’s crucial the team can adjust as quickly as business and customer needs change, and evolve the technology as necessary to remain competitive.”
As for Intuit, it’s CoE has a team of four:
Leader: This person is responsible for the strategy and execution of it.
Analyst: He or she manages areas like the roadmap, backlog, business process assessment, reporting and tracking of ROI.
Two Developers: They design, create, test and deploy bots. They are also responsible for ongoing support and enhancements.
The team has a set of guiding principles to help with the decision making. Here are some of them: partner with tech teams to achieve digital transformation; optimize a process before automating it; minimize the technical debt; follow the Software Development Life Cycle methodology; and ensure security and controls are maintained. To help with this, Intuit also uses project management tools.
“We use Aha for backlog management as an intake tool where we go through prioritization and roadmap for each quarter,” said Maaly Mohamed, who is Intuit’s Finance Automation COE Leader. “We also use it as a development project management tool, where we track RPA development life cycle phases and its related activities, starting with completing an assessment to determine the right approach for automation, as well as define any process improvement that needs to take place before automation, followed by solution design, build, test and deploy. We track each phase with a related set of deliverables in Aha to help us report on SLA and identify where we can improve our development process.”
And of course, there is ongoing education. “We encourage our employees to become certified developers, leveraging the UiPath academy online program to build the skill set and capability in their teams,” said Mohamed. “So far, we have two finance employees complete their certification and 25 others signed up to get certified and develop automation processes for their teams.”
Bottom Line About The CoE
There are certainly many ways where a CoE can go off the rails. Hey, there are enough jokes about committees to attest to this!
So what are some ways to help keep things on track? Well, consider this advice from Pat Geary, who is Blue Prism’s Chief Evangelist:
Ensure that the CoE is aligned to a company’s vision for digital transformation (which, of course, assumes there is one).
There needs to be some level of technical expertise.
There is a clear-cut definition of success and how to achieve this.
There must be an understanding of business processes before there is an RPA implementation.
Yes, all this means that the CoE needs to be a priority. But it is well worth it and will provide the foundation for going beyond RPA, such as with implementing AI and other next-generation technologies.
“As we think about the larger digital transformation happening, Intuit is constantly innovating to stay ahead of the pace of technology, which includes finding ways to be more agile as an organization and provide better overall customer experiences,” said Mark Flournoy, who is the VP Corporate Controller & Chief Accounting Officer at Intuit. “Our approach is to optimize our usage of existing systems through continuous enhancements, invest in new systems in core capabilities like Month End Close management tools and Money Movement. We are also exploring how to combine AI with RPA, as well as exploring Business Process Mining.”
Playing Not To Lose and even Playing To Win are the biggest detriment to people’s mindsets when it comes to having true wealth. Yes, even Playing To Win, which is worn as a badge of honor by most entrepreneurs is limiting to success.
These ways of looking at the world and success are governed by scarcity, require sacrifice, become toxic to quality of life and sustainable success. Ultimately, whether you are Playing To Win by hustling, grinding and trying to outwork everyone or just Playing Not To Lose by holding on to every cent you earn and trying to save yourself rich, you will find that either way will come with more sacrifices than gain and more regret than success.
Below are overviews of different personas that encompass these four losing games and mindsets.The same characteristics, with a new paradigm, a new mindset will set you free and engage a completely different game.
Not one of competition, but one of value creation.
Not one of sacrifice, but one of collaboration.
If you see yourself in any of these, then you can use this awareness to discover the same characteristics that can become winning personas.
First we will take a look at the two personas in the Playing Not To Lose game.
Playing Not To Lose
This person is governed by fear.
All of their decisions about business and money are made with worry and stress. They are constantly defending against losing what little they have. They are pessimistic and often bitter. If you share your vision with a Miser, they will tear it down. They think the world owes them something and take whatever they can glean from it, then retreat back to safety, rarely contributing anything of value in return.
They are also judgmental about how everyone else goes about business and financial practices. They either think everyone is doing it wrong, are taking too much risk or are stuck in the “wrong thing”. They live with a scarcity mindset and their life is built on a scrimp-and-save philosophy.
They use their talents to scrimp, save and sacrifice. By coupon clipping, budgeting and spending most of their financial life looking for deals, they become selfish and do all they can to hold on to what they have. Expect them to resist change and complain.
This has nothing to do with the political ideology, but is instead a way of using your personal resources and wealth. This person feels a little condescending. The Conservative has been talking for 20 years about something they’ve always planned on doing one day, someday, but it never actually happened. Maybe it’s a vacation they’ve always wanted to take or a home they dreamed about, but never ended up buying.
The Conservative is always hesitant. They overanalyze everything and use what has gone wrong in the past to predict what will inevitably fail in the future. They save for retirement, where they expect life to be better, which is the reason they are willing to delay gratification for everything today. They feel entitled to a better future, but have little control since it is about investing in markets they don’t control.
Both of these personas play losing games because they have a scarcity mindset that focuses on survival which tends to be selfish and limiting. No amount of hard work will ever create wealth in this worldview. Even if these people create a good nest egg, they are unlikely to enjoy it.
Now let’s look at another form of scarcity where people are stuck in the future are rarely enjoy the present. The following are two different personas in the Playing To Win game.
Playing To Win
This person is all about the hustle. They are always busy, are very impatient and often hard to please. Nothing is ever enough for The Striver.
They are the ones who have the Bluetooth earpiece in their ear while you are trying to have a conversation with them and you can’t tell if they are talking to you or someone else. They brag about how they hardly get any sleep, as if that’s a good thing! They think they are just going to out-work everyone else to achieve their vision.
They have a ‘do-whatever-it-takes’ mentality and they will take any costs to get there. They don’t stop to think to themselves what those costs may be and are always working for more, but more of what?
The Striver is the one who feels the guiltiest when they are not working. If you confront a Striver about their toxic tendencies, they are going to tell you that they are doing it for their family, so that they can put food on the table. They say they are doing it for you. The truth is that they are actually doing it for themselves.
The High Roller
You know this one. They wear their sunglasses inside. If you’ve ever met or spoken to a High Roller then this description probably sounds familiar. They pretend to show a great interest in you and have you believe they will take you to a whole other level if you just do all you can to earn their favor. They don’t learn much about you, but spend most of the time telling you everything about themselves; who they are, what they’re doing, what a big deal they are and then name-drop. They name-drop like crazy. They finish by asking you to invest in something that you know nothing about, which they try to convince you is the coolest thing ever. They only talk in terms of revenue, but pretend like it’s their profit. They are very disconnected from others in general. Their vision is only big enough to see themselves in it. Think narcissist.
The good news: If you choose abundance, value creation and have a paradigm shift, you can immediately create results through cooperation over competition.
People Who Always Win
There’s only a certain amount of money you can save, but the amount of value you can create has expansive possibilities.
Let’s look at 4 different personas that are the opposites of The Miser, The Conservative, The Striver, and The High Roller…
The Mindful Manager
Who is the Mindful Manager? This individual will pay attention to details that others may ignore. When they look to save money in business, they don’t do it by cutting things out. Instead they look for superior alternatives or substitutes. With their way of handling it, you never lose anything to costs—you only gain. In this way they are extremely resourceful.
They consider utilization. If there is something in your company that you pay for and don’t use (which many of us are guilty of), they are the first to notice it. They get the team to consider if they are using that resource regularly and to its potential and if not, then they look to remove the clutter. They pay attention to those kinds of details.
The Mindful Manager looks to optimize efficiency. When it comes to money, they look for innovative ways and methods to save more of what you make. They pay attention to money leaks having to do with taxes, insurance and other things that are mandatory to pay, but easy to over-pay.
The Miser’s only thought is about what to eliminate—the Mindful Manager thinks about what to create.
The Planner is going to look for how to create stability, instead of deferring to delaying gratification, which is the calling card of The Conservative. They strive to create long term security, as opposed to just not doing anything because they fear it will be too risky. They act to mitigate risk over just avoiding it.
The Planner is thoughtful. They take time to think and assess through things, which is all a part of the planning process. This brings structure and order to your team, which allows for optimum efficiency when carrying out your vision.
They are strategic. They look to see how something would work if implemented and consider what factors might keep it from performing. They are the ultimate risk mitigator.
The Creator is going to focus on growth and make sure there’s progress—but not growth at all cost! Growth through innovation and effectiveness. Growth that scales and expands your company in a sustainable and positive way for everyone involved.
They are going to ask better questions than their counterpart, who would be someone too “busy” to take the time for more careful consideration. The Creator asks why you are doing something a certain way and if there is a better way, they’ll be the ones to find it. They look to see if you can reach more people with your message. They look to add more to your impact.
The Creator is motivating to others because they lead by example. Their energy can become contagious. Instead of looking to others to fix problems, they make sure they are part of the solution. And this is how they motivate and create momentum; because they are determined.
They don’t let the little obstacles derail everything. Instead they ask what they can learn from it, and move everyone forward.
No one is quite as adaptable as The Catalyst. This character is a talented connector. They are constantly bringing different people with different complimenting skill sets together, they are bringing in people who have relationships that can advance or give you the advantage for whatever you are up to. In this way, one of their most important functions is building and adding invaluable players to your team.
They are the ultimate delegator. They are not going to get stuck in all the minutiae of details on their own. Instead they are the ones who are going to go out and find the Mindful Manager’s and others to build an A-Team. They make sure all of the previously mentioned personas get put to good use. The Catalyst is usually the one who has a compelling vision which others catch and are inspired to follow.
It Takes A Team
When we work alone we are easily pulled down by the negative parts of our personality that creates a bad persona for us. But when we involve others and seek to share our vision with those who believe in it, it can bring out the best in ourselves and everyone involved.
Your vision is big. Your vision is expansive. It can be so easy to drown in what you are trying to accomplish along the way.
Don’t brave it alone.
With the right people—the right team—you will find that not only is your vision possible, but that it will have an even bigger impact than you ever could have imagined.
Which persona best describes you? Which one is least like you? Who do you know that is great where you are not? Which skill can make the biggest difference right away?
When you focus on working with others to solve problems and serve people, you avoid the limited results that the losing games create and instead expand your means by reaching more people or more deeply impacting existing clients.
Scarcity tells entrepreneurs if you want something done right, do it yourself and they are again trapped in the losing games. On the other hand, I heard John-Paul Digorio say “ If you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, bring others with you”.
The losing games come from rules dictated, fed and determined by society. Whenever people get stuck in any of these personas, there are proverbial body-bags left everywhere. Relationships that have been destroyed, health that has been forfeited and experiences that never happen in the name of hard work or saving. It’s not true wealth!
None of these make a bad person, it’s just wrong methodologies that don’t let them reach their full potential. Use value creation as the change agent to move from a losing game to an infinite and winning game.
From survival to thriving.
True wealth is a life where you are the best version of yourself. True wealth is where those you love and care about are provided for, safe and where you are no longer steered by fear or greed, but by a desire to give value and live a life you really love.
As a generation, young entrepreneurs get a fairly bad rap. The millennials and centennials of the bunch are often stereotyped as lazy, entitled, and overly addicted to their smart devices. They often fall victim to a type of reverse ageism, in which they may not be taken seriously due to their youth in age or appearance.
However, there are many young entrepreneurs who have made a positive impact in their chosen career paths, armed with wisdom and work ethic that’s way beyond their years. These are heroes and heroines that broke the mold in their own unique ways to create a positive impact in this world. Thanks to their digital savvy, they successfully managed to nail their personal branding in addition to their initiatives as well.
Here’s a quick look at some young entrepreneurs worth knowing and learning from.
Sarah Snow of Snow Media
Anyone with even the slightest social media presence as undoubtedly come across several Sarah Snow videos over the years. Snow is known for her emotional motivational videos which have gone extremely viral time and time again- to the tune of over 300 million views on Facebook. From forgiveness, to bouncing back after heartbreak, to coping with rejection – her videos resonate with people of all ages, and possess a timeless quality. Her string of successes led to a partnership with superstar motivational podcaster Jay Shetty, and due to popular demand Snow later launched the Sarah Snow Viral Video Academy in which she thoroughly teaches others how to replicate her success.
Lauren Bush of FEED
A former fashion model and designer, Lauren Bush co-founded the non-profit company FEED with Ellen Gustafson in 2007, including a partnership with the United Nations World Food Program. FEED is a lifestyle brand that aims to give children around the world access to nutritious meals in schools. They sell a variety of bags, as well as artisan made goods, while each product has a number that specifies the number of meals you are providing to a child.
Bush prefers a traditional hands on method, and you can see her frequently visiting children in need on her Instagram.
Alexa Hirschfeld of Paperless Post
Paperless Post was founded in 2009 by Alexa Hirschfeld and her brother James Hirschfeld. It is an online stationery service with all the intricacies of physical stationery that has since sent over hundreds of millions of invites. Hirschfeld faced a lot of cynicism in the earlier stages of building her company and personal brand, mainly due to her age, and raised money pretty slowly in the beginning. Due to the initial struggles she faced, Hirschfeld is always quick to offer words of wisdom to novice entrepreneurs who are trying to make their mark.
Hirschfeld maintains her brand digitally through her Twitter page, where countless other celebrities have endorsed her company.
Steven Dorn of XYZ Media
A talent scout, entrepreneur, and social media expert, Steven Dorn is also the founder of music management and VC firm, XYZ Media. He consults for various high net worth athletes and celebrities. He has also helped budding artists such as David Bowden (more often known as Pink Sweat$) as he sees their true potential and drive.
Professionally, Dorn operates in an ironic and unconventional manner which he made work for him- as XYZ Media has no website or marketing collateral, and instead relies on word-of-mouth. Dorn believes in building authentic relationships through work and in-person.
Kylie Smitley of Barley & Birch and the Detroit Achievement Academy
Few are accomplished as Kylie Smitley, who founded Barley & Birch in 2008. Barley & Birch is a children’s organic clothing line, which has since switched to eco-friendly creative crafts for kids. Smitley then moved to Detroit in 2013 to create the Detroit Achievement Academy (co-founded with Chris Robb), a free public charter school that serves kindergarteners through seventh grade.
Smitley primarily brands herself through speaking engagements, and by very closely involving herself with her school, and it shows through her love for the work.
Temple Naylor – Sales Leader & Influencer in High Ticket Sales
It’s safe to say that negotiations and sales isn’t the same as it used to be. People aren’t receptive to cold calls and pushy salespeople. As a leading figure and influencer in high ticket sales, influencer Temple Naylor uses leadership tactics to close off big deals, and is always quick to pay it forward.
Naylor instructs students on his leadership-based sales technique to not only close off deals, but to figure out what’s best for clients and their respective businesses. Naylor cultivates his brand by frequently updating his Instagram.
Thanks to the brilliant efforts of these brilliant minds, positive changes are taking place at scale, starting from the most granular level. There is much that novice entrepreneurs can learn from them, both in terms of getting things done despite all the roadblocks, and in terms of personal branding for credibility and awareness of impact. There is no time like the present to turn a passion into a cause that will change the world for the better.
It used to be that the main reason for hiring remote workers is access to talent and cost savings. Today, small and large companies hire remote talents for reasons beyond access and savings. In fact, research shows that remote workers accomplish more in less time, experience lower levels of stress, feel more connected with their colleagues and are less likely to quit their job.
Higher productivity means better team performance which leads to faster growth. When you combine lower overhead with higher productivity you get higher margins. Faster growth with higher margins means more revenue with higher profits.
Especially for early-stage startups, the ability to hire remote talents is probably the biggest disruption that happened to entrepreneurship in the past few decades. Today, no matter your location, budget or the skills you need, as long as you have an internet connection, you can build and manage a team.
Despite the advantages, hiring remote team members has also come with challenges. In fact, without proper management, the benefits of remote work can turn into drawbacks such as lack of transparency, low reliability, poor communication, low productivity, and security issues. Here’s how to measure the performance of your remote startup team and avoid the drawbacks of hiring remote team members.
1. Hire To Delegate, Not To Manage
This rule applies to any and every role, even for interns. Just by hiring the right talents, you save a lot of time and headache managing their input so you can focus on the output. It can seem enticing to hire less experienced candidates with the lowest hourly rate. In most cases, you will end up spending more time and money in training and management while getting inferior results.
Especially if you are looking for skills that complement yours, take all the time you need to find the right candidate with experience successfully completing similar projects. Candidates who can plan, lead and execute on their own while keeping everyone on the team informed.
Finding the right candidate is 80% of the work. Setting clear expectations, frequent communication, using productivity and management tools, and everything else is a way to make what’s already great, exceptional. None of those matter without the right person or team who knows their space and are trusted to get things done on time.
2. Qualify And Quantify Expectations
The right candidates will always try to exceed expectations. Nonetheless, as an employer you should have clear expectations about the end result and how they will get there. As such, for every project, start with your goal and then ask your hire to create a plan divided into milestones with a mini-goal for each milestone and the steps needed to achieve these goals.
This roadmap is like an accountability schedule that provides for a transparent and planned path to your goals. Furthermore, taking the time to create a roadmap will allow you to uncover and address unexpected challenges that could waste significant resources later on. A platform like Trello can be used to list the end goal, milestones, the steps required for each milestone and the deadlines for each step.
3. Shorten Evaluation Cycles
Setting smaller goals gives you an opportunity to evaluate progress frequently. Many startup founders fail not because they’re not committed or have a weak value proposition, many fail because they hire the wrong people.
For example, in app development, it can take months before you can see and test a functional product. By then, you would have spent tens of thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours. If the product does not meet the promises, chances are more development time will not make a significant change. In fact, it will probably cost more. Even with the right candidate, shortening evaluation cycles allows you to minimize hiring risks and ensure progress as planned.
Sometimes measuring and evaluating progress in unfamiliar areas is easier said than done. In this case, I suggest hiring an expert in the space who could spend as little as thirty minutes to evaluate progress and perhaps even help your team members solve problems and move quicker.
In sum, before thinking about how you can measure performance, think about who you can hire that you trust will deliver results. Focus on goals not activity, set clear expectations, and treat remote as local through communication tools like instant messaging, Slack or Skype. Finally, remember that more experienced candidates may be costly but their work will most likely save and make you more than what you’d spend on less experienced hires.
Will Jackson started Village of Wisdom to help parents and teachers unlock the gifts, talents, and prior knowledge of Black students. Ashoka’s Simon Stumpf caught up with Will to hear more about his vision for making school a true and supportive home for every student, and why his approach is so important now.
Will, why is it important to focus on the education system versus individual students?
Because the system is actually what’s causing harm. I use the metaphor of fish and water. Let’s say you arrive at a lake and you see that not one but all the fish are sick or dead. You probably will want to examine the water quality, right? Same with race and education — the problem is not within Black children, it’s within a system that’s disproportionately suspending them, disproportionately not recommending them for gifted or advanced classes, disproportionately not looking out for them when it comes time to prepare for college applications. A child can’t fix this, a child can’t say “put me in an AP course.” The teachers, assistant principals, counselors are making those decisions and they’re often deciding based on the kid’s skin color.
How is race reflected in education today?
Nearly 80 percent of the teachers in America are white. Close to 40 percent of K-12 students are Black and brown kids — about 20 percent are Black kids. This mismatch is important for a few different reasons, but the one we’re focused on has to do with prior knowledge — the set of experiences and knowledge that students and teachers bring into the classroom.
Why is prior knowledge so key?
Because learning is the act of connecting new information to prior knowledge. So when a teacher says, “well, these kids don’t come to school knowing anything” or “their parents aren’t invested or investing in them,” what is actually true is that the child is coming with prior knowledge that doesn’t match the knowledge relied upon to teach in this country. For example, teachers may use analogies that students miss completely because the teacher is trying to connect to prior knowledge that the student doesn’t have because it’s not a part of their cultural experiences.
How do we bridge or close this knowledge gap?
Hiring with a new lens can help with part of this, but that’s longer term. What we are doing at Village of Wisdom is developing new tools, measures, and communication processes that allow kids and families to communicate all the strengths and knowledge that a student is bringing to the classroom to educators. This new information actually helps teachers do what they love — design creative learning challenges that captivate their students, inspiring them to learn and grow.
Your Black Genius planning tool helps with this translation. Tell us about it.
It’s a strength-based, individualized learning tool that frames Black culture in positive ways and challenges students to think about how to fight against injustice. Any parent can go to our site right now and set up a profile for their child. You start with the Black Genius brainstorm that’s a series of questions you can ask your child. How does he think about his Blackness? What are some of the cultural environments she moves across? What types of injustice is she most moved by? Who does he trust? Older students can do this on their own, of course. So this is a tool for parents and students to use on their own, then take to schools and teachers.
Interesting. Schools often push information to parents — you’re proposing the opposite.
Yes, because all strong relationships are two-way, right? So this is a tangible way that parents can add value to the education system by giving teachers more information about their children. We’ve begun to support teachers with what to do with the information: “Okay, you get this Black Genius Profile of one of your students. Now, as you think about what you’re teaching in the next six weeks, can you embed one of this child’s interests into one of the lessons? Can you think about, oh, they’re really interested in Simone Biles and use that.” The new information helps teachers activate the student’s prior knowledge and draws them in a way that engages their curiosity and interests in new and more meaningful ways.
You’re based in Durham, North Carolina — what results are you seeing there?
We want to become a bright spot for the country, to say, “Hey, this is what this looks like. You can do this, too, and here’s how.” We have organically grown an online community of more than 1,000 parents in our Black Parents Connect Facebook group. We have had more than 300 parents and students complete the Black Genius Profiles. And, in classrooms where teachers use the Black Genius Profile to enhance their instruction, early evidence suggests Black students are more engaged, have greater trust in their teachers, and are more likely to persist through difficult learning challenges.
Looking ahead, what will be different in 10 years?
We’re talking about giving parents enough information to be a part of essential education decisions. Without this kind of mutual accountability, we’ll end up in some of the places that we don’t love about where our world is going. And this isn’t about one person — me or anyone else — it’s about the village’s wisdom, the wisdom that everybody brings. We all benefit when we see each other and the genius that we bring to the table. Then we get to solutions that hopefully can transform our whole education system into one that liberates Black Genius instead of oppressing it. And then, in the future, transform our world.
This interview was condensed by Ashoka. Will Jackson is a 2019 Ashoka Fellow. You can read more about him and his team’s work here.
When he was 19 years old, Aaron Riley was on the cusp of success until things went drastically awry. It’s the type of story you see frequently portrayed in movies. Except in Riley’s case, it was only too real.
Attending Furman University on a football scholarship, Riley had gotten involved in a drug-dealing operation. It was a rebellious act that Riley chalks up as a reaction to his parents’ divorce. Arrested on several felony drug charges, Riley, luckily, only spent two days in jail. Although his record was eventually expunged, the fallout was immense: he was kicked out of college and a once promising future seemed to be in tatters. Though able to pick up the pieces of his young fractured life and attend a new school, Jacksonville University, on another athletic scholarship, Riley knew he was facing an uphill battle with getting employment due to his record. That’s when he became entrepreneurial, starting a car dealership business, which would prove to be lucrative.
Then in 2014, Riley decided to re-enter the cannabis industry. This time, he would do it legally. After much research, he zeroed in on the testing segment and in November 2016, joined CannaSafe as president. Described as the first ISO accredited cannabis lab in the world as well as the top cannabis testing lab in California, CannaSafe has a stellar clientele that includes some of the state’s top brands and producers, such as Raw Garden, Cresco Labs, Papa & Barkley and Lord Jones. Last year, it generated about $20 million in revenue, said Riley. The 2020 forecast looks even rosier: CannaSafe, which currently has a staff of 150, is opening five new locations in the second quarter and Riley is projecting 50% growth.
It’s been quite a journey for Riley, now 28. Recently, he spoke about his personal and professional trajectory, his social equity efforts and what he considers to be the legal market’s biggest problem right now, aside from federal illegality.
This interview has been edited for conciseness and clarity.
Iris Dorbian: What have been your biggest challenges serving as president at CannaSafe? How have you resolved them?
Aaron Riley: We never took in any outside investment capital. We’re self-financed; we’ve never done any fundraising. We barely broke even in 2018. First year, we lost money. When we started, I put in all the cash I had and maxed out all my credit cards. I slept on an air mattress. It was an all-in endeavor. The regulations weren’t finalized in California. And then we were 10% uncollectable—people weren’t paying. But we were able to crawl out of the hole.
Dorbian: I understand CannaSafe places a heavy focus on social equity. I know Los Angeles has a strong social equity program. Can you talk about your company’s efforts in this area?
Riley: We have a six-figure advocacy and education budget. We do a lot of educational events. We sponsor expungement clinics and do minority hiring. It’s about giving people who have been persecuted an opportunity to participate [in the legal market]. We do on a monthly basis at least one event that revolves around education and social equity, minority promotion and expungement. We also have a discount program that’s for social equity businesses.
Dorbian: What do you think are the biggest problems facing the legal cannabis industry today?
Riley: In California it’s the black market. Obviously, we’ve seen with the news what the unsafe [vaping] products can do to consumers. In California, it’s made it very hard on the legal business. The black market is cheaper, they’re not paying for taxes or compliance fees. There’s no incentive for them to be upstanding citizens; they’re only going after profits.
Dorbian: What are your thoughts on federal legalization? When do you think it will happen?
Riley: I think it’ll happen in the next two or three years. It’ll be something that gets discussed in the next election. I think the Democrats will focus on it being an economic opportunity. It won’t happen overnight.
Dorbian: Where would you like to see CannaSafe in five years? How about ten years?
Riley: I would like to continue to be the leader of hemp and cannabis testing in the world. We plan on going to pretty much all the large states that have cannabis programs. We want to be known for integrity and quality.
The end of the year inevitably brings a number of thoughts and feelings: a realization of how quickly the past year has come and gone, an urgency to prepare for the new year to hit the ground running on January 1st — hopefully — some joy and happiness to spend time with friends and family over the holiday. It’s also a time when we look backward at the previous year to consider what we’ve done, and often what we wish we’d done.
Part of this retrospection is inspired by what’s around us; website everywhere recap and rank the best and worst of the year, and perhaps it’s only natural for us to consider our own year in kind. And for this we should generally be grateful; memories are what make us who we are, good or bad. We remember, and we hopefully learn from those memories.
Regrets are perhaps a subset of those memories, albeit ones that don’t feel nearly as edifying or educating. I’d classify them differently from mistakes; mistakes are things to be made and learned from and then moved past. Regrets are those mistakes that haunt you months and years past the point where they’ve served their purpose, to the point that they can start to weigh on your psyche if you don’t put them out of your mind.
We’re all subject to regrets in business as well as life. There is no shortage of what-ifs or roads almost taken given how many choices and decisions go into every day of running your own company. Occasionally we’re able to see how things would have played out had a decision been made in another direction; there’s an entire list here of people who would be vastly richer had they chosen differently in one crucial moment. In other instances we’re tormented by thoughts of what might have been had we made a different decision, thoughts that are often brought on in the midst of our daily grind and struggle to keep things going and keep our heads above water. ‘Would things be better, my life easier, if I’d gone a different direction with a pivotal decision,’ we inevitably think, even though there’s no way to know.
So how can we make peace with our regrets and learn to live with the decisions we’ve made, particularly in cases when things haven’t worked out as we imagined? Mistakes are human, sure, but so are regrets that linger; there are few more innately human experiences than having a terrible embarrassment from years ago come rushing back to us out of nowhere unless you’re one of the lucky few to have avoided such abject mortification. We can’t escape entirely those haunting memories and regrets that kick around in our brain, so we have to learn how to integrate them into the whole.
Part of coming to terms with regrets is truly understanding the nature of decisions. We love to say that ‘hindsight is 20/20’ but rarely do we actually heed that wisdom; instead, we let ourselves second-guess every mistake we’ve made. But it really is true that mistakes and missteps can only be seen after the fact, once everything has played out (often not as we imagined it.) Decisions are made at the moment, with the best information available at the time, which is often far from perfect or complete. There’s so much that we can’t predict that it’s often the case that the opposite decision might not have worked out either had circumstances and factors aligned differently at that moment. We have to accept the possibility that no decision may have been the right one, given how much is outside of our control.
How we can gain peace and maintain our sanity is in embracing the process of decision-making as an imperfect science that we must endeavor to do as best we can. There’s no trick to avoid a mistake or a wrong decision, but we can learn to live with the decisions that we make so long as we make them in a considered fashion, with all available knowledge gathered and taken into consideration. The right decision is the one that is most considered and based on the best reasoning available; what we would otherwise term as “right” decisions, those that work out to the greatest benefit, are only known to be so after the fact, at a point that anyone could make a “right” decision. The right decision is the best guess, even if the guess is wrong.
Even in embracing this approach you’ll still be plagued with thoughts about what you could’ve done differently. It’s simply human nature to consider alternative possibilities and outcomes. The difference will be that you can simply remind yourself that you could have done no better at the moment and that learning to live with those mistakes is part of achieving greater peace of mind as you move into the new year. #onwards.
In this world of social media influencers and big brands looking for the next creative marketing campaign, there are some people who have sponsorship figured out and many who don’t. This advice applies across motorsports, video game streamers, Instagram influencers, YouTube product reviewers or any other industry where you hope to get product or money in exchange for providing exposure for a company.
Here are four simple steps to help you get sponsorships.
1. Understand The Business
From getting a free cup of coffee from the local coffee shop in exchange for a social media post to getting a seven-figure sponsorship deal from a leading manufacturer to race a car, you need to understand the business. If there is a local coffee shop with only one location, the business only needs exposure in a small area — specifically, to people looking to go to a coffee shop. On the flip side, a vehicle manufacturer is looking for widespread exposure if it is going to support racing efforts.
2. Understand Its Marketing Goals
Once you understand the business, you need to understand its marketing goals. You can gather a lot of data from a company’s past marketing programs. What does it put on its social media? Does it do any print ads? Does it boost a specific Instagram post? Don’t be afraid to try to directly ask the company about its marketing goals. Using LinkedIn is a great tool to find someone you can speak to at that company. If it’s a small, local company, just walk in and ask to speak with the manager. You can say something like, “I’m interested in giving you a marketing proposal, but I’d like to understand your marketing goals first so I don’t waste your time”
3. Develop Your Ask
Now that you understand the business and its marketing goals, it’s time for you to ask for something. Most companies you want to work with probably have hundreds to thousands of requests for sponsorship. You need to work hard to become creative on behalf of the company you are trying to pitch. It all boils down to money. If you can build your ask by giving the company a way to make five times more money than it gives you, your pitch will be better than most, if not all, other requests that come in. Going back to understanding marketing, you need to build a pitch where the company gets way more in return than it is giving you. Otherwise, why would it give you something?
4. Commit To Getting Sponsors
Getting sponsors is hard work, and it takes tons of time and personal investment prior to ever seeing anything. Expect lots of rejection and to get ghosted by your points of contact. Then, if you do get sponsored, it will probably be for less than you were hoping for in exchange for more than you were hoping to give. Once you get a sponsor, you need to justify their investment and prove your value is above what you are receiving. You may get lucky on a one-off deal from time to time that will then disappear. However, if you want to be sponsored, you need to commit time to these steps.
If you get the opportunity to pitch yourself, keep the conversation focused on what you can do for the company and not what the company can do for you.