Jordan Nathan started his company after almost poisoning himself with toxic fumes, he says.
Having left a non-stick pan on the burner for too long, Nathan said his apartment was filled not only with smoke but a chemical smell that he feared could be poisonous. He called poison control to see if 45 minutes of fumes coming off his non-stick pan could have turned toxic. They confirmed his doubts, he says. “It’s possible that I was exposed for sure. After that experience, I had the idea for Caraway.”
Non-stick pans can be used safely, he clarifies. “They’re designed to be cooked on medium heat, not on high heat with smoke and fumes coming off of them. But there must be a safer option all around.”
As someone who had built companies, and previously worked in home goods, serving as CEO of Vremi, a New York City-based kitchenware brand, Nathan decided to launch his own company — one that focused on a cleaner non-stick alternative. “I didn’t see anyone focused just on ceramic pans with an emphasis on design.”
Caraway sells sets of ceramic cookware, which are made of a heavy-duty aluminum gauge and have a ceramic coating (applied three times). Compared to other ceramic options on the market, Nathan clarifies that the extra coatings prolong the life of the pan and the non-stick coating.
Ceramic pans are not a new-age invention. Rather ceramic refers to clay pots and pans that have been hardened by fire in a kiln. They’ve been a natural way of cooking for generations and companies such as Xtrema still sell modern renditions of pure ceramic cookware. But many of today’s brands use a metal base with a ceramic coating instead.
Unlike conventional non-stick pans that are dipped in a chemical coating, ceramic coated cookware is fired. With that comes cracking. “That’s the biggest challenge with ceramic. You can have more pans crack in the manufacturing process, which increases the cost and can result in waste,” Nathan says.
Yet by cutting out middlemen and working directly with factories, Nathan says that the increased cost can be managed. He visits the factories every 45 days, he notes, to oversee production runs. That’s led to a more detailed design process: “Everything has been designed from scratch, from the handles for the most comfortable grip to even the rivets.”
He adds that Caraway does a ceramic coating on the interior and the exterior of the pan, which is scratch resistant. “That was not easy to achieve.”
Given his interest in being an eco-friendly company, the pans come in plastic-free packaging entirely, a clear deviation from heritage brands in cookware, he notes.
“It’s up to our generation to make a good impact. This category in general, cookware has so much wasteful packaging and materials like bubble wrap. These are areas that we can improve upon.”
Despite his tweaks and innovations to the classic cookware set, Nathan found it hard to raise capital with all the other cookware companies sprouting up in the past two years, he says. Yet, last summer, he was able to secure $1.8 million from about 60 investors.
Inspired by companies such as Outdoor Voices and Method, Nathan wants to carve out a space in cookware for Caraway, building on the eco-friendly values of the company. “The first step is to get the company up and running and a product that’s sound. Now, we can build out these different avenues,” he says.
That includes encouraging customers to recycle their old pots and pans. Industrial recycling facilities exist, but they need to be easier to access. “We’re working on it.”
The new year is approaching and one of the biggest goals I hear from entrepreneurs is visibility. Visibility for their business, products and brand. Here are 20 things to do in 2020 to increase your business’s visibility.
1) Join A Sharing Group
There are groups where you can connect with other entrepreneurs who are willing to share your work with their community in exchange for you doing the same. This is a great way for you to gain access to a new audience as well as provide your audience with fresh and relevant content.
2) Be A Local News Expert
Press is always an amazing way to increase the visibility of your brand. If you haven’t considered becoming a resource for your local media – now is the time. How To Become A Local News Expert
3) Guest Post
Guest posting on someone else’s website sounds super easy, but in reality, people are becoming much more protective of their digital workspace. In order to post on highly relevant websites, it’s important to create a genuine relationship with that person before asking to contribute.
The ultimate visibility tool – doing Facebook live’s will increase your heart rate as well. “Live” is the name of the game, so any small mistakes or slip ups are to be expected, but that just adds to the charm. Facebook Live allows others to experience you in a whole new way.
6) Start A Networking Event
This is an offline tool that is often overlooked. A lot of entrepreneurs don’t realize that they can start their own networking event – and thus being front and center to a group of people on a regular basis. People still love to get together in person, this is an opportunity to be that connector.
7) Commit To One Or Two Conferences
Conferences are a great way to increase the visibility of your business. Plan to attend one to two really key conferences (try to speak at them!) and make as many connections as possible. I’ve some of the most valuable connections of my career standing in line for coffee at SXSW. Bring your business cards.
8) Start A Podcast
From Podcasters Paradise with John Lee Dumas to Pat Flynn’s Power-UP Podcasting, you have access to any resource you need to start a podcast. Your topic should serve to provide value to your listener, but also to position your business as the expert in your arena. Be intentional with this.
9) Be A Guest on Podcasts
Offering up your expertise on other podcasts is a fabulous way to be more visible. Pitch yourself as a guest on all relevant podcasts that serve your target customer. Be courteous and share the interview with your audience – podcasters appreciate visibility too!
10) Blog On Medium
If you are only blogging on your website, you are missing out on a ton of traffic. It can get overwhelming to create a ton of content, sure, but if you are putting content up on your site and only 3 people read it – what’s the point? Get your content up on platforms like Medium, where there are millions of readers.
11) Contribute To A Media Outlet
There are a ton of media outlets who need contributors, so start pitching yourself. Some outlets will let you repurpose content you’ve already written, some require new content. Create a list of media outlets that speak to your target customer and start applying.
12) Answer HARO Requests
Answering pitches that journalists put out is one of the easiest and fastest ways to get press. helpareporter.com will send you media queries 3 times a day. Quickly sift through them and answer any that are relevant to you.
13) Start A YouTube Channel
With billions of views on YouTube a day, it’s hard to deny its reach. Starting a channel has resulted in a lot of visibility for business owners – but it’s a long tail plan. Stick with it, be consistent and watch it grow.
14) Explore Amazon Video Direct
I’m surprised more people haven’t jumped on this yet. AVD allows you to have your own TV show on their platform. You can earn a small commission for everyone who watches it – but with streaming being so popular, this is a platform that is being overlooked.
15) Strategic Partnerships
Creating strategic partnerships is one of the best ways to grow. Find another business that has the same target market as you, but serves them in a different way – then explore ways to serve them better together.
16) Start Speaking
Probably the least popular, but one of the most effective ways to be seen. A lot of people have a fear of public speaking – but getting your message in front of large groups of people is a surefire way to gain visibility.
17) Grow Your Email List
You’ve no doubt been told you should have an email list – but this is also a long tail play. You will need to be consistent with your communications and continually working to grow it. It’s worth it!
18) Syndicate Your Content
Find ways to syndicate your content using software like Meet Edgar, Social Bee, Hootsuite, TailWind, Flipboard, etc. These are a few of my favorites, but there are lots of ways to keep your content out in the world circulating.
19) Write Your B Book
Writing a book is one of the best ways to get press and gain visibility for your business. It doesn’t have to be a novel – it can be your B Book. Start writing!
20) Be A Connector
Connecting people to one another is one of the best ways to make a lasting impression. It’s also an amazing way to increase visibility of your business. Seek every opportunity to connect two people who could be beneficial for one another.
Empathy is one of the most essential attributes of a leader. Leaders who lack it often find themselves without anyone to lead. As a younger professional, I worked for people with a complete lack of empathy, which made me think that was how successful leaders should be. Being cutthroat and unsympathetic seemed to get them what they wanted.
Everything but self-respect, that is. The co-founder of my last company really opened my eyes to the importance of being empathetic. Through her, I came to understand how empathy not only plays a part in being a good leader, but also in being a good person. Without a connection to how others experience and feel things, we live in a bubble.
Brenner confronts the biggest challenges from his 53 different jobs as a business owner and sales and marketing leader. In those various positions, he gained great insight into empathy’s role in success. His book tackles why people are dissatisfied at work; much of it comes down to the simple principle that mean people suck.
Some leaders believe they need to be mean to be effective. Their lack of compassion creates negative relationships, impacting performance and profits. Brenner offers real-life experiences and research that point to looking inward rather than blaming others. Learn why employees are unhappy — and how to use empathy to right the ship.
Do you question whether empathy is a matter of nature versus nurture? Dr. Reiss shares her conclusions about empathy based on neuroscience, suggesting that empathy isn’t only innate, but it’s also a skill we should all develop and enhance.
The book has been considered a definitive source on empathy, and it’s a perfect addition to any leader’s bookshelf. Empathy and emotional connections can seem like touchy-feely issues, but this book breaks down the actual science behind how and why we behave the way we do.
Mindsight seamlessly integrates brain science and psychotherapy. Mastering it could increase your self-awareness, allowing you to develop more profound empathy. Think of it as a master class to upskill your own ability to empathize with others.
To that end, this book is interactive and includes case studies from the author’s clinical practice. You’ll learn how to observe the inner parts of your mind, providing you with an understanding of how other people think, feel, and act.
Is selfishness the worst evil? More importantly, is being greedy and selfish innate to human nature? These are the questions posed by the author, and he believes that selfishness isn’t innate. We’re born to strive to belong within a group and make contributions to the greater good.
By studying social behaviors in animals, his book makes the case for empathy being a natural instinct. Could empathy actually be a means for survival? Read the book to determine whether this optimistic perspective is true — and whether you agree.
The author interviews a wide range of professionals, including actors, activists, designers, nurses, bankers, and neuroscientists. From these interviews, he determined there are six life-altering habits of those with high empathy.
The book offers a guide on how to connect with others genuinely, providing you with more happiness. It’s a good blend of the theoretical and the practical, ensuring you don’t just learn more about empathy but can actually apply your learnings.
Harvard Business Review collected multiple original articles about empathy and produced a book, offering others a glimpse into the human side of professional life. It provides readers with an Empathy 101-style overview, imparting what empathy is, why it’s important, and when it’s appropriate. It also offers a wide variety of perspectives on the subject, making it a good primer.
Research in brain science, organizational theory, and emotional intelligence all support the author’s definition of empathy. But it’s not just a definition; the author looks closely at how it plays out in the office.
In this book, you’ll find practical insights on how to build empathy skills within the workplace. Exploring business productivity and office management, Miyashiro’s work offers a framework to help leaders meet their businesses’ six crucial needs while respecting the individuals within them.
Who knew that empathy could be a competitive advantage? The author makes just that case, declaring that caring about others translates to better products. He repositions the typical sales process, putting the customer at the center.
The author, a product designer, explains how you can gain a deep understanding of your buyers’ needs and feelings and then leverage that understanding to design products that will create genuine fans. This book will change the way you think about product development.
Dev Patnaik, a leading business strategist, insists people are wired to care. He thinks some of the most successful companies are as well. The book takes you inside big-name brands like Target, Intel, and IBM, allowing you to see how powerful empathy can be in a business context.
He explains that society would have unlimited potential if only we could all see the world through each other’s eyes. He then offers insights into how companies have given this skill more weight and influence.
This book suggests empathy is a part of human connection, allowing individuals who have it to be more successful. After all, people do business with people they like — and they like people who genuinely seem to understand them.
The book draws support from neuroscience, social psychology, and healing traditions. The Art of Empathy teaches you how to sincerely perceive and feel other people’s experiences, drastically improving your social and emotional life.
The author of this book — whose storied career includes time at Nike, Google, and the Obama administration — says empathy isn’t about being nice. It’s not about buying someone a new pair of shoes; it’s about walking alongside him so you understand what a mile in his shoes looks like.
The book offers real strategies for leveraging empathy to become a better leader. Leaders, of all people, are best positioned to both show empathy and inspire it in others.
The author puts forth the idea of the economics of empathy for life and business. As ethics and authenticity take center stage in today’s business exchanges, Sinha explains that empathy is a way of maintaining a conscience and being true to one’s beliefs.
He then offers actionable solutions for the changing business world, drawn from his years of experience in advertising and hospitality. The idea: Customers are changing, and without empathy, your brand won’t be able to keep up.
With these 12 books in your arsenal, you’ll be able to effectively enhance your empathy skills and build a strong, supportive culture among your team. Empathy may not always come naturally, but it’s a muscle we can most certainly strengthen.
The holiday shopping season is often the most profitable time of year for retail businesses. If you run an e-commerce business, you won’t have to worry about hanging garland and twinkle lights, but you will have to prepare for the influx of holiday shoppers. Do what you can to lure them to your digital doorstep and make sure your site is ready to handle the increase in traffic.
Online shopping activity ticks up each holiday season, and according to Adobe Analytics, November and December of this year will set sales records once again. The company’s AI-powered model projects a 14.1% increase in total U.S. online sales over last year, along with a 4% increase in combined online and offline retail sales. Hopefully, you’re ready to capitalize on a portion of that uptick. If not, start preparing now by focusing on the following three areas:
1. Optimize your inventory and shipping setup in advance.
Stock up on product lines that you predict to be more in demand during the holidays. Hint: analyze product sales trends at your business, paying close attention to prior holiday seasons. When it comes to new products you’ve added since last year’s holiday rush, make an educated guess based on similar products you sell and industry trends or predictions. For example, The NPD Group predicts home items will sell big this year and is expecting to see apparel sales decline during this holiday season. Let these industry forecasts influence how you stock your online store.
Also keep in touch with your suppliers about delivery dates. Knowing the ETA of your larger-than-normal product deliveries will help you better staff your warehouse on those days to accommodate. Now that peak shipping season is upon us, you’ll want to make sure you’re well stocked with shipping supplies. Inevitably some customers will be sending products back to you. Offering a reasonable and seamless return policy to customers will help you generate brand loyalty. If this is your first holiday shopping season, nail down your return policy before the holidays are in full swing. Order prepaid shipping labels and make any necessary packaging modifications before you announce holiday shipping rates. Planning ahead is critical.
2. Prepare your IT team.
Your servers may be handling far more traffic than you’re used to during the last couple months of the year. A flood of online customers is a good problem to have, but you’ll have to deal with the issues that causes. After all, you don’t want to suffer J. Crew’s fate on Black Friday 2018: Tech issues lasted almost all day, and frustrated customers decided to shop elsewhere rather than wait. According to reports at the time, the outage lasted five hours and affected about 323,000 shoppers.
There’s no doubt that your IT security infrastructure is going to be tested this holiday season. “It’s not a matter of if you’ll have an outage, it’s when, and heaven forbid it’s during peak shopping season,” says Yoni Leitersdorf, founder and CEO of Indeni. “Security infrastructure automation solutions enable modern retailers to proactively identify issues that could reduce the performance or availability of their e-commerce storefront and address them before their revenue is impacted.” Automation can give your IT team more bandwidth, but when brick-and-mortar stores are decking their halls, make sure your IT team knows it’s still all hands on deck for them.
3. Make sure your marketing is firing on all cylinders.
Holiday shopping season is no time for your marketing machine to break down. Develop marketing content around your key differentiators and add a seasonal touch. You could run a festive campaign building up to a major shopping holiday like Cyber Monday, for instance, although you shouldn’t create a false sense of urgency to coerce customers into buying from you. Instead, create a unique opportunity for them and a real reason to buy. Maybe you only have a few discount sales per year, or perhaps you’re donating a portion of the proceeds from a promotion to a select charity. The more distinctive the promotion, the more compelling your marketing materials can be.
You might also consider allocating an increased amount of spending to certain channels. With an app like Instagram Shopping, you can make the product images in your ads searchable—whether they appear on your website, on Facebook or even in a magazine feature. Speaking of online marketing for your online business, Caleb Siegel, VP at Group8A, advises coordinating in advance with vendor reps and partners before shopping season is in full swing. “Make sure all relevant resource contacts are available and on call,” he says. “The last thing you need is a problem with Google Ads or Facebook ads with no rep to help out during the most crucial periods.”
The 2019 holiday season is already underway. If you’re feeling behind already, you’re probably not alone. The demands of the holidays sneak up fast, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed when they get here. Don’t panic! Instead, make a plan for the next 30 to 60 days around how you’re going to handle inventory, cybersecurity and marketing over the holidays. Things won’t always run smoothly when your online traffic spikes, but then again, that’s not a terrible problem for an online retailer to have.
Here are five things in technology that happened this past week and how they affect your business. Did you miss them?
1 — Twitter’s announced plan to delete inactive accounts is on pause…for now.
Earlier in the week, Twitter said that it would next month begin removing inactive accounts from their platform. But the company then walked back on that promise because of an uproar, particularly from those who had deceased relatives with inactive accounts and wanted to have some way to maintain them. The company said it will come up with another plan soon. (Source: Engadget, BBC)
Why this is important for your business:
Rest assured, once Twitter comes up with a plan for memorializing certain accounts, the mass deletion plan will resume. While the closures will take place over several months, the goal behind the clean-up is for Twitter to be able to present more credible, accurate, and up-to-date information, rather than be filled with inactive accounts. The move may also make it more difficult for spammers to takeover accounts for their own personal gain. Accounts that haven’t been signed into for at least the last six months will be deemed inactive. Some business owners may complain about the loss of followers from this action. But in the end, Twitter’s move will increase the credibility of their platform and for those relying on Twitter to build their communities that’s a good thing.
2 — Pinterest is launching a small business shop ahead of the holidays.
Pinterest has announced that they are rolling out a new feature just in time for the holidays called The Pinterest Shop. While Pinterest does currently offer Product Pins, the current listings come from bigger brand names such as Target or Home Depot. Now—just in time for Small Business Saturday—users will be able to shop from different small businesses through hundreds of “Product Pins” within the feature. Although Instagram has a similar shopping platform, the main audience for their platform is teenagers. Pinterest—however— plans to capitalize on the fact that its audience is made up mostly of women between the ages of 18-64 who have children. (Source: CNBC)
Why this is important for your business:
Pinterest has a unique demographic in that it appeals more so teenagers and females. If that’s your target audience, then this may be a good time for your small business to take advantage of their new Product Pins geared towards small businesses.
2 — Employees shopping online pose a risk to small businesses.
According to a recent survey, 82% of small business executives expect a lot of their employees to use an employer-issued device to do their online holiday shopping this season. Although 61% of those executives share that they believe their employees shopping online will create a cyber-security risk to their company, they do not think they have any options to put a stop to it. 49% of participants predicted that the majority of their employees would not be able to identify a malicious, fake link posing as a retailer online. (Source: Small Business Computing)
Why this is important for your business:
It’s not uncommon for people to catch colds during the holidays. It’s even more common for computers to catch viruses. That’s because so many of us – and our employees – are using our devices to shop online and we’re never really quite sure which sites we’re being directed to are legit or not. It may be a good idea to sneak in a little security training for your staff in the next week just to be sure. Otherwise, the ransomware elves could ruin your holiday season.
4 — An online marketplace for independent boutiques has raised $22M.
Trouva—a London startup which offers brick-and-mortar independent boutiques an online marketplace—has raised $21.8 million and is planning to use the funding to help expand beyond the UK. Trouva’s focus is to provide a way for unique, independent boutiques who sell intricate and difficult-to-find pieces, to sell online. Funding will also be used to help continue work on building out more advanced technology when it comes to inventory and logistics management on the platform. (Source: Tech Crunch)
Why this is important for your business:
As the company expands beyond the UK, Trouva may be a potential channel for your business as well. If you’re in the antiques or specialty retailing business you may want to check them out.
5— Google is adding AI smarts to G Suite and updating Google Assistant and Docs.
The most recent addition from Google’s AI experts will provide users with the ability to access specific G Suite apps using Google Assistant, and Google Docs will also see the addition of Smart Compose text suggestions. Currently, a beta version of AI voice assistant in G Suite exists, where users are able to use voice commands in order to navigate and manage their Google Calendar schedules, events, and invitations. The new Smart Compose capability being brought to Google Docs will allow users to utilize AI to assist with drafting documents, even helping reduce redundant language, slowly adapting to the user’s personal style. (Source: Computer World)
Why this is important for your business:
I will continue to report on new artificial intelligence features that software vendors are adding to their products and I will continue to remind my clients – and all small business owners – to embrace these features. With a little bit of configuration and learning time, you can find yourself automating processes that were previously done by humans and thereby increasing productivity and decreasing your overhead.
Cindy Montanez is the first and one of the only Latina CEOs to head an environmental organization. She leads the charge at TreePeople, Los Angeles’ largest environmental non-profit, with the same mission-oriented and empathetic mindset her parents taught her through their example.
“My parents inspired me to work to make the world a better place,” explains Montanez. “They came to the United States for a shot at a better life, for opportunity, for democracy. They treasured the right we have in the U.S. and the personal responsibility to do something about injustice and they taught us to love our country, the United States of America.”
It was this same love for country that inspired Montanez to pursue a career in public service, first as a council member and later as a Mayor when she was only 27 years old.
“One campaign promise I wrote on my napkin was to plant more trees,” reflects Montanez. “I managed to plant a couple hundred trees while I was Mayor. I could have never imagined that the journey I started 20years ago would lead me to TreePeople.”
In her current role as CEO, Montanez leads TreePeople’s team and community under a common goal — to preserve the environment as we know it.
“We are on a mission to inspire, engage and support millions of people to take personal responsibility for healing the earth,” explains Montanez. “As CEO, I am honored to help set the direction of Los Angeles’ most impactful environmental non-profit and lead a team of passionate, talented and dedicated professionals committed to to this movement.”
Below Montanez shares more insight into her day-to-day, what advice she would give to other Latinas, and the importance of talking about environmental issues.
Vivian Nunez: What has it meant to you to be the only Latina CEO leading an environmental organization?
Cindy Montanez: Climate change does not discriminate, and I see that we have a real opportunity to unite people from different parts of the country and the world to come together to heal the earth and protect each other from the devastating impacts of climate change.
When the responsibility is so great, I get courage from the memory of my grandfather who died from working in mines in northern Mexico. I work hard day-after-day to be a strong voice and champion for all people, especially those most vulnerable to the increasing threats of climate change and environmental contamination. I take seriously my responsibility to bring in more diverse voices into the environmental sector, which is why I am co-leading a national initiative to increase the number of Latinx people who are serving as executives in and on environmental nonprofit boards. We can only go up from here.
Nunez: How did you make the transition from your government roles to pursuing a career in environmental issues and the nonprofit sector?
Montanez: At 32 years old, I lost my California State Senate campaign to California’s current Secretary of State. Thanks to my successful track-record around public infrastructure, making things happen in large bureaucracies and the environment, I was immediately recruited as one of the executives responsible for transitioning the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the country’s largest publicly-owned utility, to provide cleaner energy, local water and a more environmentally sustainable future. This was a task few thought was possible, but we had historic successes.
I moved to become CEO of TreePeople…because I realized that people in communities all over the world must also be part of the climate solution — the private sector and government cannot do it alone. TreePeople is working in communities day-after-day uniting people around solutions that will better prepare them for the increasing and devastating effects of extreme heat, wildfires, flooding, droughts and other deadly threats from the changing climate.
Nunez: What advice do you have for Latinas who are looking to pursue a career path similar to yours?
Montanez: Latinas matter and are key to solving some of the world’s most pressing challenges around climate change. Government, business and the non-profit sector benefit from our voices, ideas and passion; and enormous opportunities exist in the environmental sustainability sector for well-prepared, committed and hard-working professionals who understand and can communicate with diverse communities.
We must embrace and express the strategic thinking we bring to the table as Latinas and, as I learned at the age of 12, volunteering is the best way to get into the career you want.
Nunez: What has been your biggest lesson learned in your career?
Montanez: Humans are resilient and I am glad I have gotten to know that part of me because I stay focused on finding solutions even when challenges seem insurmountable.
Having strong working relationships with people who think differently than me enables me to come up with more comprehensive solutions. I can pretty much work with anyone who is willing to work on making a positive difference in the world.
Nunez: How do you hope the Latinx community will activate around environmental issues?
Montanez: Latinx communities are ground zero for climate threats in major urban areas like Los Angeles and countries throughout Latin America. TreePeople… has created initiatives such as Calles Verdes, Community Forester en español and environmental education programming in Spanish to engage millions of people both in the United States and abroad.
The Latinx community is among the strongest supporters of environmental initiatives in their communities and at the voting booth. I hope the community will continue to rally around issues, initiatives, campaigns, policies, science and projects that support a country and global community serious about implementing climate change solutions.
Ok, I’ll bite (or, I suppose, nibble). The news that a bunny café is planned for Vancouver adds to the veritable menagerie of similar animal-themed concepts across Canada. The idea, which leaped out of a meeting between feline coffeehouse Catfé owner Michelle Furbacher, and Sorelle Saidman, who hosts bunny pop-ups for Rabbitats Rescue Society. “The animal cafe works really well as an adoption model,” she says. “We wanted to give it a try with the bunnies as well,” Furbacher told Daily Hive.
Rabbitats has run previous pop-up adoption events meant to familiarize potential adopters with a new furry friend. “We’ve actually just started to do the more ‘bunny-as-an-attraction’ events, where people can come and de-stress by ‘meet and treats,’” Saidman told Global News. “They can come and treat the bunnies and the bunnies love it and the people love it.”
Although there are many options to cuddle some cute furry creatures across Canada, the experiences and purposes behind them range quite widely. Some, such as the newly opened Catoro, stress the education aspect of informing customers about cat overpopulation, as well as other social justice elements such as zero-waste practices in foodservice. Most, like Catfé, partner with local humane societies as satellite adoption centers for animals that need furrever homes. And there are some that function as social spaces for animal lovers, such as Munchies Coffeehouse and Barkery, which hosts dog birthday parties complete with pup-friendly baked goods (cat cafes outnumber dog spaces by a large margin, in part, perhaps, due to the self-contained nature of cats, including litter box habits).
The trend of combining pets with hospitality is nothing new — luxury advances in bringing furry family members everywhere from airplanes to wine tastings have been popping up increasingly as brands scent the revenue potential in the moneyed pet owner market. Hotels in particular have leaped enthusiastically into this idea with resident cats, dogs, cows, giraffes and all nature of beasts of land and air drawing visitors from far and wide. The Peabody Hotel in Memphis has been widely renowned since 1930 for having its ducks in a row with a nightly parade through the lobby and up to their Royal Duck Palace — a $200,000 marble and glass mini hotel with its own fountain (alas, the Peabody Orlando became fowl-free following its acquisition by the Hyatt in 2013, leaving the Memphis mothership as the only duck march). According to the Peabody Memphis’ website, the ducks do a three month tour at the hotel before returning to a local farm to live free in the wild (for the suspicious minded, rest assured that there is no duck served on the dining room menu at the hotel).
Although this trend may prove troubling for the allergic or animal averse, your chances of seeing a resident pet or brand ambassador may only grow, as the stresses of travel and business have people seeking connection and comfort when on the road. Some road warriors may choose to bring their own pet (Kimpton Hotels has the policy of “if your pet fits through the door, we’ll welcome them in,” which must lead to some interesting negotiations with contractors when designing each new build), but for those travelers who can’t bring their own pets, these options may be a coveted amenity and a draw in an increasingly dog-eat-dog hospitality landscape.
Building a technology business is unlike building any other business. Startups leverage technology to serve customers at scale. Creating this technology requires a series of validation, iteration, and sometimes complete changes of plan.
The search period that every technology startup goes through to find a scalable and repeatable business model with a product that solves a problem and worthy of customers’ money is what makes building a startup unique.
For decades, the principles, methodologies and approaches used to build non-technology businesses were applied to launch and grow technology startups. In a nutshell, once you understand the market, if you build and promote a solid product, customers will use and pay for it. This approach proved ineffective for technology startups. Findings show that close to 45% of startups fail due to lack of market need.
For startups, the learn-build-promote approach skips the business model search period and assumes that the created solution is valid and worthy of customers’ attention and money. While a few startups sometimes quickly hit the sweet spot, the majority realize a need for major changes in the product or business model. In many cases, lessons learned from product launches suggest a complete change of direction meaning building a different product as if the team is starting from scratch.
A startup will always be evolving no matter how careful the founders are in trying to build a product people love. The goal is to make smaller mistakes especially in the early risky stages. This guide will show you how to build a profitable technology business by quickly learning what customers want and will pay for so that you don’t waste resources in ineffective strategies and solutions.
1. Identify A Need
Ideas are nothing more than proposed solutions to a problem or a need. While there are countless business opportunities, the more urgent the need is for a solution, the more likely a product will be used. The first step is to measure the urgency of an identified need.
Are people paying for an alternative solution?
What’s the consequence of not having a solution? Will they lose money, waste time or incapable of getting an important job done?
Is it an unavoidable problem?
Are there underrepresented or underserved segments?
Answering those key questions is the first step in evaluating whether your solution is worth creating. The last question can reveal opportunities for differentiation through concentration in which your solution can be customized for a specific group of people even in the existence of large competitors.
This stage is more like an entrepreneur’s homework before interacting with key stakeholders like customers. By the end of this stage, you should be able to write the first version of your value proposition statement: For [customer segment] who is dissatisfied with [drawbacks of existing solutions], our product provides [benefits/differentiation].
2. Validate The Need
Many ideas look great on paper but are not valid in practice. Building and marketing a product is one way of knowing whether the solution is valid. However, this approach is long, costly and the reason many startups fail. Adding a few steps before product development will significantly minimize costs and startup risk. The goal from those steps is to build in response to demand.
A product is created to solve customers’ problems. Therefore, only the customer can tell if there is an urgent need and if they’re willing to pay for a different solution. As such, the first step in validating a need is customer interviews.
The benefits of interviewing potential buyers go beyond gathering insights. Think of your group of interviewees as your mentors, marketers and investors. They’re mentors because they can help you build a product they need. They’re marketers because they can help you spread the word and attract other customers. Finally, they’re investors because they can help you fund the early stages by committing to the solution early on.
You can gather your group of interviewees by leveraging online and offline communities, social media sites, cold outreach, your network or any channel that allows you to connect with your target buyers.
The goal from the interviews is to find consistency in respondents’ answers who should deliberately indicate whether the problem is worth solving or not. If it is, move to the next stage and if not, let your interviewees tell you what need you should be focused on addressing instead.
3. Validate The Solution
It can be tempting to move straight to product development based on interviewees’ indication of a need and request for a solution. In reality, many of the things we say we will do are different from the things we end up doing. In other words, while insights gathered from the interviews should be taken as a strong validation signal, it isn’t until they commit to the solution and use it that we know we have proof. Follow these four steps to quantitatively validate a solution.
1) Chances are, through research and customer interviews, you have a clear idea how the product should look and function. Before building it, design it. As noted earlier, one of the benefits of involving customers since the beginning is their contribution as mentors or guides. Invite a few of your interviewees to review your product designs and help you picture the product they wish they could use.
There are many reasons why you should start with product designs. First, they are quicker to create. Second, every software development project starts with a design phase which means you would have started with it anyways. Finally, designs are great for testing ideas because you can modify them quickly without costly and time-consuming redevelopment.
2) Turn the designs into a clickable prototype. There are many tools that can help you build prototypes even if you don’t have a programming background. The prototype, at this stage, will not be the solution that customers use, it will serve as a presentation tool for the next step.
3) Create and sell a mafia offer. If interviewees collaborated to create the designs and prototype, and if the need is truly valid, there shouldn’t be a reason future users will not be willing to commit financially to an offer that is very hard to resist.
It is common at this stage to see hesitations and objections. It is the moment you learn if future buyers were honestly interested in the solution. Surprisingly, most, if not all, of your interviewees will want to pass. For instance, in one of my first startup ventures, out of close to 500 interviewees who deliberately asked for a solution, only three paid. Had I built the product before selling the offer, I would have wasted tens of thousands of dollars.
4) In many cases, especially in a market with many alternative options, future buyers will prefer a functional product before committing to it. In this case, the fastest way to serve customers without necessarily spending the next few months turning the designs into a functional product is by creating a non-scalable solution delivery process.
It is a solution that combines existing tools and manual work to get customers’ job done. You may be familiar with the story of Airbnb where the founders used their own apartments and air mattresses to serve guests. Even after validating the need, the founders continued to hustle in connecting guests with hosts before building a powerful online and mobile matching platform. The founders of the food on-demand startup, DoorDash, followed a similar process in the early stages before building an app.
Those 4 solution validation steps will provide you with all the insights you need to build a product people are more likely to use. Best of all, you can accomplish all of the above in as little as one month. In fact, when the founders of DoorDash realized they were trying to solve the wrong problem, it took them one afternoon to iterate and get their first food order. They used a simple landing page, their cell phones and vehicle to take and deliver the orders.
4. Build Core Features
Having validated the need and solution, it is time to build your app idea. As noted earlier, one of the benefits of testing the validity of the solution with product designs is presenting a visual and interactive version of the product before it’s built. This is key to the development phase since by now, the features and visuals should have been adjusted and prepared for development based on customer insights and feedback.
One of the costly mistakes founders make at this stage is build an advanced product before quantitatively validating the core features. Those are essential features for delivering the value proposition of the solution. In other words, users will not be able to get their job done without them.
If users do not see value in core features, chances are good-to-have features will not make a difference. Therefore, it is wiser and safer to start by building and quickly testing the core features of the product.
If you don’t have a programming background or a technical co-founder, you need a team to help you build the product. With today’s freelancing platforms, it is easy to find people with complementary skills.
Turning an app idea into a product people use is unlike building any other software product. Prioritize working with entrepreneurial freelancers. Those are talents who have startup projects of their own and understand what it is like to build a startup. Best of all, they can potentially become your co-founders.
5. Test Riskiest Assumptions
While earlier stages seek to find problem/solution fit, this stage focuses on product/solution fit which essentially is how well you turn the proposed solution into a useful product. The riskiest assumption is people using the core features to get a certain benefit.
Key metrics like churn rate, user growth and customer lifetime value help in measuring the impact of the product in solving the identified problem. More importantly, the insights gathered from customer interviews will help you connect the dots to make educated conclusions about the product and the next steps.
6. Invest In Customer Acquisition
Entrepreneurs are encouraged to start building an audience as soon as possible, even before identifying a need in the market. Starting with an audience means having a group of people that can provide insights, invest in your idea through presales, refer others and more.
There are many channels that can help you build an audience. Some of them include writing articles, producing a podcast, launching events and actively engaging on social media. For instance, the founders of the social media management platform, Buffer, were able to build a growing audience of future users by actively writing blog and guest posts before launching the product.
Your main acquisition channel will depend on the product and target buyer. It’s important, at this stage, to at least start setting up the foundation of a repeatable acquisition channel whether it is content marketing, cold outreach, paid ads or others.
A startup can have a solid product with paying customers and yet, fail to validate a business model at scale. For instance, if the cost of acquiring customers is higher than the return generated from retaining them, the business is operating at a loss.
With validated core features, the next step is to progressively improve the product by providing users with all the needed tools so that they stay longer or use it more often and refer others, thus increasing customer lifetime value and reducing customer acquisition cost.
Shortening performance evaluation cycles is how a startup can continue to test ideas of new features or initiatives quickly. Learn from the data, prioritize features, measure performance and start again with new additions.
In conclusion, to build a profitable technology business,
Find out if there is an urgent need for a solution by studying the competition and talking to future buyers.
Validate a solution by involving the customer in product designs, seeking their commitment and serving them by doing things that don’t scale.
Build and validate the core features of the product; features that are essential to users’ ability to address the validated need.
Set the foundation of an acquisition funnel to build a predictable revenue channel.
Continue to improve the product as you gather and analyze data to enhance user experience and differentiate it from the competition.
Sean Kelly, 22, wanted to study business at Rutgers University but when he couldn’t make it through a required math class, took a leave of absence at the end of his freshman year.
Fortunately, that didn’t stop him from building a million-dollar, one-person business. Before he left school, he founded Jersey Champs, an online jersey store, from his dorm room in New Brunswick in May 2016—and discovered his calling as an entrepreneur.
“I would rather work than go to class,” he says. “I’d literally skip class to work on the business.”
Today, Jersey Champs, based in Piscataway, N.J., brings in $1.2 million in revenue a year and is profitable, according to Kelly.
Kelly is part of an exciting trend: the growth of million-dollar, one-person businesses. The number of entrepreneurs bringing in $1 million to $2.49 million a year in nonemployer firms—those staffed only by the owners— hit 36,984 in 2017, according to the most recent Census data available, up 38% from 26,744 in 2011. It is a trend fueled by the availability of low-cost technology like e-commerce stores and social media.
So how did Kelly build his business to $1 million at an age many people are still figuring out what they want to do for a living? He recently shared his story with me.
Find a unique niche. Kelly, whose dad has experience as an Amazon seller, came up with his business idea in college, when he noticed how many high school and college students wear them everyday. Most of the jerseys had sports teams’ logos, but Kelly realized it would be impossible to start a business making them on a college student’s budget. “For regular sports jerseys, you need to have licensing and have to have millions of dollars in sales,” he says.
So Kelly decided to make custom jerseys that celebrated hip-hop artists and rappers, as well as vintage TV shows, and sell them online, with the idea he’d arrange revenue shares with those whose brands he leveraged. Starting up with $1,000 he’d saved in high school, he launched Jersey Champs, investing in hiring a freelance graphic designer, putting up a Shopify site and creating a small batch of inventory, using a manufacturer in Pakistan that he found on the giant commerce site Alibaba, after messaging 15 factories.
Find creative ways to spread the word. By asking the musicians he featured to show images of his custom jerseys on their Instagram feed, Kelly was able to spread the word quickly about his shirts to their fans and build his brand’s own Instagram following, which currently includes 2.1 million people.
Kelly figured out how to work with the artists—who today include Lil Pump, Preme, Soulja Boy, and many others—through trial and error. “Some we have to pay to post on their feeds, and some really like the product and do it for free,” he says. Still others opted to buy the shirts at wholesale and sell them on their own. Fans of musicians who did not sell the jerseys directly could come to a site he put using the ecommerce platform Shopify, which he eventually replaced with one built on WordPress. p
Kelly also built his brand by arranging to hold giveaways on the artists’ Instagram pages and joining give-away programs run by the Kardashians. The latter was not inexpensive—Kelly says he spent $15,000 to participate in one contest along with 49 other merchants—but it got results. “When the Kardashians post, you gain about 100,000 followers overnight,” he says.
Kelly also invested in paid ads on Facebook. He doesn’t use an agency so he pays close attention to whether the ads are profitable and increases his investment only when an ad is performing well. He views this advertising as an investment in his social media platform. “You’ll not only be making sales but gaining followers, he says.
Although Kelly’s business is humming, he’s always looking for ways to keep it growing. His next frontier: marketing on social site TikTok, popular with Gen Z. “I started a week ago,” he told me when we spoke recently. “I’m up to 3,000 followers.”
Slow and steady wins the race. With his music jerseys retailing for $40 to $60 each and a small set of NBA jerseys he creates going for $100 to $150, Kelly was able to built six-figure revenue this first year but tried to pace himself. His first year’s revenue was $245,000, he says. It grew to $450,000 in year two and $1.2 million in year three.
He learned it was important it was to manage his cash flow carefully so he could fill any orders that came in and to be prepared for sudden surges in orders. “If you get 100,000 followers, you’ll probably get tons of emails out of it and website traffic,” he says.
Keep overhead down. Kelly travels frequently to speak about entrepreneurship and social media. “I love the community of entrepreneurs,” he says.
He has designed his business for his mobile, laptop lifestyle. “I work from home,” he says. “I don’t even have an office. I haven’t really needed one.”
Running an ultra-lean operation has allowed him to turn a profit each year. He pays himself a salary of $50,000 a year to buy groceries and pay the rent.
It hasn’t always been easy says Kelly. “You’ve got to sacrifice the first year or two and really grind it out,” he acknowledges.
But he’s happy he committed to building his business. “Now I’m at the point where I can wake up and have sales,” he says. “I can travel wherever I want. Because I’m spending so much on ads on my credit card, I can basically travel for free.”
That’s a nice place to be at age 22. And he’s just getting started.
Non-technical founders are often faced with having to learn about technology at the same time as fundraising, leading a team and working on a product. Podcasts are a good way for these busy people to learn about technology and how their favorite products get made.
There are four areas that non-technical founders need to grasp in order to work with their tech teams effectively: product management, design, development and user feedback. It also helps to learn about how recent successes have come to life.
Masters of Scale
LinkedIn cofounder and venture capitalist Reid Hoffman talks to founders of companies, many of which are household names already, including Reed Hastings of Netflix and Ev Williams of Twitter and Medium. This podcast has a strong Silicon Valley focus, and it is worth remembering that not all regions have the same outlook to funding or investing in growth.
However, it is still a useful look into how companies and products are made from the start. The questions Hoffman asks his guests are understandable to an audience of smart people who grasp business, but do not have a technical background.
The episode with Brian Chesky of Airbnb is particularly useful if you want to understand how to build a great customer experience into a technology product.
Another podcast from Silicon Valley, but this time by venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. This podcast focusses on how new technologies are shaping business and society.
As a venture investor, Andreessen Horowitz has to be interested in whether a product works and can scale, as well as whether it has a genuine business case. This is a useful podcast which brings technology and business together.
On this podcast Chief Information Officers talk about what they do, their career paths and how they see technologies evolving in large companies. Even though the guests all work in Fortune 1000 companies, it is useful for non-technical founders to understand how technology supports and enables businesses, and who is involved.
If your company has a business to business component, it is likely you will negotiate your contract with a CIO, so it is useful to learn how they think. Moreover, CIOs are also often responsible for integration after acquisition, so may become very important when you sell your company.
The episode with Zuora CIO Alvina Antar was particularly insightful on post acquisition integration and how large companies should approach technology acquisitions.
The Product Podcast from The Product School
Product management is the first thing that non-technical founders must familiarize themselves with. The product manager is known as the CEO of the product, and in a startup, the CEO often plays the product manager role. The product manager’s job is to make sure that the products being made are what customers actually want and that they have a viable commercial future.
The Product Podcast interviews product managers about what they do, who they interact with and how they got started in this career. The product management role is evolving quickly, and differs greatly between startups and larger companies. This is a useful podcast to carry on listening to as your company grows, because you can see how the product role evolves as companies scale.
User experience design mixes design, technology and psychology to make useful products people enjoy using. This podcast helps you understand how user experience designers think. Since user experience designers work with product managers and developers, so this podcast series helps complete the learnings from the podcasts above.
Even if you have no intention of becoming a designer, this is a useful show to understand how designers get trained, so you know how to hire them and work with them effectively.
The episode on cross disciplinary collaboration with Becki Hyde, Design Practice Lead at Pivotal, is a good place to start to understand how the work of designers fits into the wider product team.
Tech Talker’s Quick and Dirty Tips to Navigate the Digital World
This podcast is like a dummies’ guide to technology, with episodes explaining basic tech concepts, such as what an internet domain is and why you need one. Each episode is no more than 10 minutes long. Sadly, the podcast has not had any new episodes since 2016, and while that is a long time in the world of technology, if you have no idea at all about how the internet works, this has some good introductory sessions.
Technology and consumer tastes are changing quickly, so the best founders, developers and designers are constantly learning from each other. Podcasts are a good way to supplement your learning and see how the products you use every day get built.
What are your favorite tech podcasts? Please tweet me your suggestions to @sophiamatveeva