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How Zoom Created An $18 Billion Juggernaut

This week, I attended Zoom’s annual conference in San Jose. A big takeaway: The company remains laser-focused on pushing the boundaries of innovation. During the past year, Zoom has added over 300 features to its platform. The company is also making a bold play for the massive phone market. The vision is to develop a true unified communications system.

As a result, Zoom has become one of the world’s most valuable cloud companies (it came public in April). In the latest quarter, revenues soared by 96% to $145.8 million and net income came to $5.5 million (yes, this is one of the few newly minted IPOs that is profitable!) There are now about 66,300 customers with more than ten employees, up 78% on a year-over-year basis, and 466 contribute more than $100,000 on an annual basis. 

But getting to this point was not easy. After all, when CEO Eric Yuan founded the Zoom in 2011, the market for web conferencing appeared to be mature and was dominated by large tech companies.

One of the early investors–Emergence Capital’s Santi Subotovsky–said to me that Zoom was the toughest deal to get follow-on financing for. “There was the issue of the Silicon Valley echo chamber,” he said. “But if you looked to other countries, you could see there was much opportunity to make web conferencing better. Not everyone has high-speed Internet access.”

Another key to Zoom’s success was that Eric built a video-first platform that worked seamlessly with mobile. Keep in mind that the legacy solutions were mostly for screen sharing. What’s more, they often required frustrating configuration and setup. Zoom, on the other hand, was about making the experience as friction-less as possible.

There was also much investment in making the platform highly reliable. “Our software adjusts for network challenges,” said Kelly Steckleber, who is the CFO of Zoom. “You can have 40% of packet loss and still have a great video experience. But with other solutions, you’ll typically see degradation at about 15%.”

As for Eric, he had the advantage of being a pioneer of the web conferencing industry. In 1997 he jointed the engineering team at WebEx and stayed with the company after the sale to Cisco. But he felt stifled as his ideas for making the product better fell on deaf ears.

So when he started Zoom, Eric would strive for absolute excellence. It was not about putting together a flimsy MVP (minimally viable product).  Consider that he spent about two years creating Zoom before commercializing it. And in this process, he created small teams that had much responsibility for making decisions (let’s face it, committee’s can be killers for software development).

Now all this is not to imply that Eric is only concerned about technical details and data. From the inception of Zoom, he has been focused on building a culture that brings “happiness” to customers and employees. For example, Zoom has an NPS (Net Promoter Score) of 70, which compares to the average among the company’s peers of a mere 20 (Apple’s is 73).

One of the happy customers is Five9, which is a top cloud-based call center operator. “In our evaluation of vendors, it was clear that Zoom was the highest quality software out there,” said Rowan Trollope, who is the CEO. “But it’s backed up with a deep commitment to the customer. When I had some initial issues with Zoom, Eric gave me his phone number and he said he’d get it done over the weekend.”

Tom (@ttaulli) is the author of the book, Artificial Intelligence Basics: A Non-Technical Introduction.

Source: Forbes – Entrepreneurs
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No Recession On The Horizon? What Small Business Lending Data Means For Entrepreneurs

What’s the best metric for predicting a recession? That depends on who you ask. Rewind the clock to 2008, though, and you’ll see small business lending is a sound way for entrepreneurs to get a peek.

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, bank lending to small businesses fell further than it did for enterprise companies. The reason is that startups are more sensitive to disruptions in supply and demand, so they defaulted faster and at higher rates than larger firms. As the recession eased, small businesses sought loans from online lenders rather than traditional banks. Both because of that shift and because online lenders use real-time data to issue loans, they should see a recession on the radar sooner than traditional banks.

Do fintech firms think a recession is coming? Some see weakness in financial markets, but others aren’t worried. Without a consensus, the truth is likely that worried lenders are blaming their own business issues on the credit market. 

All Clear? Kabbage, Intuit Say So

When the economy goes south, lenders protect themselves by raising loan requirements and issuing fewer loans. Low interest rates have limited lenders’ profits to a degree, but some seem to see clear skies. During the second quarter of this year, Kabbage issued nearly $700 million in loans. Moreover, 40% of Kabbage’s Q2 loans went to companies that qualified between 2011 and 2017, suggesting small business leaders are confident in coming back for more capital. In a statement, Deepesh Jain, Kabbage’s head of capital markets, called it “a tide-shifting year.”

Although Intuit didn’t provide apples-to-apples data in its Q2 investor call, other moves by the small business finance firm imply it’s unconcerned. In late 2018, QuickBooks Capital, Intuit’s lending branch, increased its maximum loan amount from $35,000 to $100,000. Luke Voiles, who heads the division, cited positive credit model projections combined with growing customer demand. This July, Zacks Equity Research published a report projecting 13.2% year-over-year revenue growth for Intuit.

Intuit and Kabbage tell a different story than other online lenders. Why do those lenders see a recession on the horizon?

OnDeck, Funding Circle See Trouble

Between Brexit and the ongoing trade war between the U.S. and China, some lenders worry an economic slowdown is coming. Funding Circle, which primarily lends to British small businesses, recently cut its annual revenue growth projections in half, from 40% to 20%. “The uncertain economic environment has reduced demand from small businesses and led us to proactively tighten lending criteria,” explained Funding Circle CEO Samir Desai. Desai sees Brexit’s geopolitical issues leading to a softening in confidence among U.K. business borrowers. 

What about U.S. lenders? In its Q2 earnings call, fintech platform OnDeck pointed to retail- and manufacturing-sector slowdowns as the reason it missed the market’s earnings-per-share expectations. OnDeck’s origination volume also declined compared to the prior quarter, CEO Noah Breslow pointed out. 

OnDeck and Funding Circle have different target markets. If the U.S. and U.K. credit markets are in trouble, though, there are two challenges that could send them into a tailspin. 

Two Situations to Watch

So far this year, small business revenue has risen by more than 18%. But American small business borrowers could pull back if they see the trade war worsen. Already, freight firms Norfolk Southern and FedEx are sounding the alarm, and shipping slowdowns quickly affect small businesses. 

Across the pond, the European small business landscape may darken if no Brexit deal is reached by the Oct. 31 deadline. U.K. and EU companies are accustomed to doing business together, so a break may be tough for both economies to absorb. A no-deal outcome, which appears likely, will force firms in both countries to begin paying tariffs to sell to the other.

Those uncertainties aren’t the only ones that could put a damper on small business lending. But with an increasing number of small business leaders seeking loans online, localized disruptions are unlikely to make a major dent in the economy. The small business lending climate isn’t free from clouds, but it’s far from stormy. If bad weather does roll in, entrepreneurs will hear about from online lenders across the board.

Source: Forbes – Entrepreneurs
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5 Reasons To Start A Business In Retirement

By Jessica Thiefels, Next Avenue Contributor

Retirement is the perfect time for things like travel and exploring old passions. It can also be a great time to start a business.

That was the case for Paul A. Dillon, of the Raleigh-Durham, N.C. area. He retired as a managing director at the RSM McGladrey accounting firm in 2006, just shy of his 61st birthday, but didn’t slow down.

Instead, Dillon started his own firm, Dillon Consulting Services. And the former U.S. Army Reserve 1st Lieutenant, who fought in the Vietnam War, founded Bunker Labs, a startup incubator for veterans. He’s also working with the nonprofit mentoring group Entredot to start a support program for aspiring veteran entrepreneurs in North Carolina, known as Bunker RDU.

Also on Forbes:

“Retirees have a number of advantages over younger founders, including years of experience learning on other people’s money,”

A consulting client led Dillon to help veterans. That was “a dream that I’ve had for many years,” Dillon said.

5 Reasons to Start a Business in Retirement

Here are five reasons you, too, might want to start a part-time business in retirement:

1. You Get An Opportunity to Work

When you’re in your 60s, it can be difficult to find employers willing to hire you to work part-time, despite your experience and knowledge. Becoming your own boss takes care of that potential obstacle.

Says Nancye Rivera, who decided to start Plus Bookkeeping Services in Chicago at age 60: “Corporate America can be harsh to senior seasoned people. It’s extremely difficult to have job security at this age. Finding a new job is even more challenging.”

But starting a small business has become more possible than ever. “Changes in the economy have led to more and more companies outsourcing services —making it the perfect time for small businesses to develop,” says Rivera.

2. Your Work History Is an Advantage

You’ve likely accumulated an extensive base of knowledge throughout the course of your career. That’s a great reason to start a business in retirement, too.

“Retirees have a number of advantages over younger founders, including years of experience learning on other people’s money,” says David Deeds, Schulze professor of entrepreneurship at the University of St. Thomas and executive editor of the EIX (Entrepreneurship and Innovation Exchange) Board. “They’ve observed what works and what doesn’t, which should limit costly mistakes.”

For example, retired professionals know how to give presentations, work with executives and build successful teams. All of these skills are valuable as you begin a business. You’ll know how to connect with customers and sell yourself — two key characteristics for successful entrepreneurs.

3. You Have Established Finances

When you’re starting out in your career, odds are you don’t have much in savings to launch a business. But by the time you’re retired, you may well have some kind of financial cushion. What’s more, Deeds says, retirees “generally have lower monthly cash needs, since they are past kids and frequently have the house paid off.”

This means starting a business can be less stressful financially. With consistent income and no full-time career to maintain, you can devote the time needed to build a successful business. This also allows you to be flexible as opportunities arise and fall, which is key as an entrepreneur at any age.

For Dillon, the ability to move around and try new things has been one of the most important learnings as a retiree turned successful business owner. He says: “Be flexible! And, find an area or industry that is underserved where you can add value…then go for it! Don’t take no for an answer. If you meet with rejection, get up, brush yourself off, and try again. There is always more than one way to skin the proverbial cat.”

4. You Have Niche Experience

Having experience in a specific niche means you can go embark on a business with knowledge and insights that many young entrepreneurs don’t yet have. And that can set you up for greater success.

According to CBInsights, the top five reasons startups fail are:

  • No market need
  • Ran out of cash
  • Not the right team
  • Get outcompeted
  • Pricing/cost issues

But your specialized experience gives you a better understanding of the market, what the customer needs and what potential competitors are doing. So, you’re less likely to fall prey to the common startup challenges.

5. You Can Revisit Your Passions

After a lifetime of work in your chosen career, retirement is the perfect time to revisit your passions and turn them into a business. Just ask Nina Bandoni, of the Tampa/St. Petersburg, Fla. area.

The former chair of LIHLN (Low Income Housing Leadership Network) and City Commissioner of Safety Harbor, Fla., started the Sharing a Journey: Ageless Life & Style blog. It let her “share” her midlife progress and her earlier love of fashion, “which I have time for again!,” she says.

“I started my blog with the hopes of developing it into a business that would allow me greater flexibility than a corporate nine-to-five type job,” Bandoni notes. “Midlife is a great time to reconnect with yourself, try new things or circle back and pick up interests left behind when family and work responsibilities are at their peak.”

The Joy of Starting a Business in Retirement

Not only does starting a business in retirement provide extra income, you may find it offers psychic benefits, too.

“I firmly believe that one of the ways to be content in retirement or semi-retirement is to stay active and engaged with the world,” says Dillon.

 (This article is part of America’s Entrepreneurs, a Next Avenue initiative made possible by the Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation and EIX, the Entrepreneur and Innovation Exchange.)

Source: Forbes – Entrepreneurs
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This Week In XR: Google’s Daydream Ends, Sony’s AR HMD Prototype, Varjo’s New High End HMDs, LUNAR Lands, Ubisoft Escape Rooms, Bohemian Rhapsody With Bullets, Nextech 3D Ads, More AR Kids Content From Wonderscope

It was a week where Google faltered, and everyone shrugged. The world had already forgotten poor Daydream VR. At the end of this very same week Sony is launching a public prototype of its consumer AR headset. We did not see that coming, but we should not be surprised. Sony Playstation VR is the most popular platform, and taking prototypes to the public is something the company does every year at SXSW.

When Google fails, it ain’t no thing. RIP Google’s Daydream VR. Google’s Android VR headset, launched in 2016, never caught on like the Samsung Gear VR (also recently sunset), even though it offered similar 3DOF experiences. Daydream won’t be forward compatible with the company’s new Pixel phones, but Google says it will continue to support existing HMDs. We doff our caps. Remember cardboard? We should thank somebody for that, too. Google continues to be all-in for AR.

Sony AR Ghostbusters opens in Tokyo tomorrow. The experience is free, and runs through December 8th, but it is conducted exclusively in Japanese.  Sony is also using this prototype in a museum featuring ’60s style fashion and music, and an outdoor park painted with AR. Good embedded videos in this story. Worth a click. Playstation VR, still the most popular consumer VR system, just had its third birthday. To celebrate there are mad discounts in the Playstation store.

Ubisoft powers over 200 VR Escape Rooms to LBE venues around the world. Who knew? Ubisoft Escape Games Executive Producer Cyril Voiron gave a presentation at the XR Games Developer Conference earlier this week. This is a great example of technology taking a thing people are already doing and making it much, much better.

Within releases “Willowcrest Manor,” the sixth interactive story for Wonderscope, the augmented reality reading app for kids. In the spirit of the Halloween season, “Willowcrest Manor” allows for the sort of ghostly roleplay AR is so good at. iOs only

Bohemia Interactive Simulations announced VBS4, a robust virtual training product with AR, VR, MR and desktop training capabilities for military simulations. The company counts among its clients the U.S. , Australia and the Netherlands. BISim’s VBS4 offers a massive change in modularity, openness and ease-of-use as well as the performance and terrain enhancing capability of BISim’s new engine, VBS Blue. It’s a first step towards a full cloud-enabled desktop training product enabling up to 250 concurrent users to train in the same simulation at the same time from anywhere in the world with zero latency. Check out the video.

Varjo introduced its high end (and high cost) VR-2 and VR-2 Pro. With human eye-resolution, integrated eye tracking, hand tracking, and software support that now includes SteamVR applications, VR-2 and VR-2 Pro allow users to design and modify 3D models, train in realistic environments, and create limitless research scenarios.

Nextech ARtize previews 3D ads for Google. 3D ads show a 633% increase in sign-up conversions and a 376% increase in click-through rates.

Imagemetrics brings its tech to developers with LUNAR SDK. Developers can now access the LUNAR cloud-based all-in-one platform which allows simultaneous planar tracking, image targeting and facial tracking and use it in their own apps. Companies can be up and running with LUNAR in as little as 48 hours. 

Source: Forbes – Entrepreneurs
Continue reading This Week In XR: Google’s Daydream Ends, Sony’s AR HMD Prototype, Varjo’s New High End HMDs, LUNAR Lands, Ubisoft Escape Rooms, Bohemian Rhapsody With Bullets, Nextech 3D Ads, More AR Kids Content From Wonderscope

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No, The Customer’s Not Always Right, But You Need To Make Them Feel Like They Are.

When a stranger first meets me, say on the plane or at the grocery store, they’ll sometimes get a mischievous look in their eyes when they figure out what I do for a living. (I’m a customer service consultant; I’m brought in by companies to transform their customer service standards and delivery. I also serve as a keynote speaker and trainer within this discipline.)

And quite often, they’ll spring a question on me  that they’ve been saving up, apparently, for just this occasion: 

“Is it true that the customer’s always right?” 

I always take the bait. And give them the best answer I can: 

No, the customer’s not always right. But you want to make them feel like they are.

What do I mean by this?  A couple things.  

• There is rarely value in correcting a customer when they’re wrong.  In fact, this is, usually, exactly the wrong thing to do, especially if they’re mad as a hornet at the moment.  Instead, stick religiously to your customer service resolution method. (You have one, right? If not, here’s an article on my MAMA system for calming and turning around an upset customer.) And if you don’t yet have a customer service recovery system in place, remember this: you should always start with listening, rather than rebuttal.  

• If you do need to correct a customer, don’t lead with your correction.  Remember: They do believe that they are actually right, albeit from their own perspective.  So start by showing an understanding of where the customer is coming from, and only after that, if needed, you can, like a good cop in a thousand TV shows, have them “walk me through that one more time.” If your customer is truly are in the wrong, let them slowly come around to that reality. Youdon’t gain points by aggressively pointing it out.  

****

There are exceptions

There are, however, exceptions: times where you will need to let a customer know they are wrong, firmly and without hesitation. 

• Safety and security.  If failure to correct a customer’s actions or beliefs (for example, “it’s okay to move my chair in front of the emergency exit” or “it won’t matter if I prop open the gate on the swimming pool”) has safety or security implications, then by all means don’t let them keep going on in their dangerous ignorance, just for the sake of politeness.  

• Overservice of alcohol. I wish this were obviously an exception, but apparently it needs to be said. 

• Complex contracts. Particularly in B2B contexts, contracts and their scopes can go far beyond what “letting the customer be right” can address, except as follows: If you keep that goal of “letting the customer be right” foremost in your attitude when a request (or demand!) is made of you by someone at the other end of the contract, you’re more likely to get them where they need to be–and where you can afford to be taken.

• K-12 education, higher education, and academics and academia in general.  I professionally offer customer service consulting and training in educational contexts, including for K-12 school systems, and here, the word “customer” doesn’t always tell the whole story. While I do believe that treating parents and prospective parents as customers is pretty much spot-on, students are young people whom the school system needs to ultimately turn into responsible scholars and members of society.  

So being permissive with a student in the way we strive to be with customers isn’t exactly the right model.  I would say that students deserve both the courtesy that customer service implies and the benefit of being told (in an appropriate manner) when they are misguided or flat-out wrong. 

• Healthcare (the patient experience): I also work as a patient experience consultant, helping hospitals and healthcare systems improve how they serve their patients and increase patient satisfaction.  In my view, healthcare providers aren’t exactly customer service providers, although there is a lot of value in learning to provide excellent customer service/an exceptional patient experience from models such as hospitality. Likewise,  patients aren’t exactly customers. Patients deserve gracious service, but they also deserve your “no’s,” your “you’re not quite right on that” when to fail to be candid with a patient could affect their future health.

Source: Forbes – Entrepreneurs
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How To Grow Your Brand By Thinking Bigger About Your Audience

The faux meat makers are on to something. Sales of plant-based proteins were up 23% from 2017 to 2018, hitting $684 million last year, according to data from Nielsen and The Good Food Institute. While that’s only about 1% of the U.S. retail meat market, experts suggest that meat alternatives’ dramatic growth could be set to mimic the plant-based milk category, which now represents 13% of the retail milk market. 

What’s behind this surge? It’s not a mad rush of vegan converts: A staggering 92% of plant-based meals were eaten by non-vegans last year. Clearly, the purveyors of protein alternatives have found a way to tap into a much broader swath of the market.

To aim at that bigger target, it’s taken a subtle shift in messaging. Instead of hammering home the point that their products are meat-free, savvy marketers of plant-based proteins have emphasized mass appeal: Who cares that it’s not meat if it tastes good? This message was spearheaded by companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, and now industry behemoths like Tyson Foods and Nestlé are parroting it

This strategy isn’t just good for makers of faux meats; marketers from any industry can capitalize on it. Your product may appeal to a broader audience than you think — if you get your message right.

New Audience, New Voice 

When was the last time you assessed your audience? You probably did a lot of market research when you launched your brand, product, or service line, but have you re-evaluated it since? Social media and other digital tools put loads of new data at your fingertips. You may discover surprising opportunities when you run the numbers. 

It’s certainly possible to aim too broadly. You don’t want to dilute your brand by targeting such a generic audience that your product has no perceivable value or definition. But many brands are simply missing out on new markets. They haven’t stopped to question who their audience could now be or how they could speak to new communities.

When you reconsider your audience, you may find you only need a few strategic tweaks to your brand message to reach further. Even an established brand like Calvin Klein was able to shift its appeal toward a younger audience by uppercasing its logo and creating digital-first ad campaigns for video platform TikTok.

Analyze the data. Look at your competition, and determine who’s listening to them. From there, determine which new audience is ready to hear from your brand. 

Sparking New Interest 

Finding a new audience is only half the battle; the real work lies in learning how to connect. Try a three-pronged approach to engage your new market.

1. Speak the language. 

Before you can forge connections with a new audience, you have to understand the landscape. What are this community’s interests? What kinds of brands are getting traction there? Does this group prefer the informality of social media or the structure of traditional advertising?

You may need to literally learn the language, too. Whether it’s a foreign language or an entirely foreign culture, you have to show audience members that you understand their cultural context. The Washington Post, for example, is bringing in diverse voices from Latin America, Spain, and the U.S. in its twice-weekly Spanish-language podcast. Seeing a need to better embrace its Spanish-speaking demographic, The Post is investing resources into comprehending and covering the issues facing Hispanic communities.

The message here is clear: Don’t start shouting about your product in new places if you’re not prepared to prove your cultural competency. 

2. Redefine the product.

The story you’re telling about your product may not speak to your newly defined audience. Your unique selling point may need to be different from the value proposition you’d previously emphasized. To ensure a strong connection, some aspect of the story or brand voice will almost certainly need an adjustment.

Facing tough competition in the financial services industry, Credit Union of Colorado wanted to subtly rebrand its offerings to reach a broader audience after more than 80 years in business. An ad campaign created by marketing agency COHN Marketing challenged preconceived notions by asking, “What if your bank wasn’t a bank at all?” By redefining a credit union as being even better than a bank, the campaign allowed CU of CO to stand out as personable, local, and customer-first — and delivered nearly 8% membership growth in 2018.

Redefining your product or its core differentiators doesn’t usually require a major transformation of your company’s identity. With a minor shift in your messaging, you can speak to a broader array of target personas. 

3. Involve the audience.

There’s no better way to form a fast bond with new audience members than to get them intimately involved with the brand and product story. This strategy worked wonders for Warby Parker when the direct-to-consumer eyewear company started inviting potential customers to share YouTube videos of their home try-ons. By 2017, there were 56,500 of those user-generated videos on YouTube. Even better, these content sharers were 50% more likely to purchase one of the company’s frames.

Content-sharing campaigns like Warby Parker’s let consumers do the heavy marketing lifting. After all, they know one another better than you do. Let them take your message and run with it. Peer-to-peer messages provide more impact than a paid ad campaign coming directly from your company could. 

What’s a feature of your product or service that new customers would be eager to share with their peer audiences? Invite them to spread the word.

Faux meat makers were able to take a niche product mainstream — they simply had to convince meat lovers that plant-based proteins could be delicious. Your task probably isn’t such a tall order. Someone new is waiting to buy your product; you just have to start talking to her.

Source: Forbes – Entrepreneurs
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£24 Million Fund Launched To Support Britain’s Creative Industry Entrepreneurs

Everyone loves a success story, so when Phoebe Waller-Bridge staggered away from the Emmy awards under the weight of three statuettes for her work as  Fleabag, creator, writer and star Britain’s press hailed her as an all-conquering hero and a poster child for the domestic television industry. 

It was a reminder that Britain’s creative industries are doing pretty well at the moment, not just at a national level but on a global stage. According to government figures, the creative sector – which includes television, film, games, music and advertising – currently contributes more than £100 billion to the British economy under the gross value added (GVA) measure.   

All of which is some kind of belated vindication for those of us who were of a generation when forming a band was seen as being much cooler than founding a tech-startup. But before we get too excited, it’s important to remember than behind the glamor and glitz of the creative industries, there is another side to the story and almost inevitably it is about funding.  

The truth is that many creative companies – even those that are well-established and generating revenue – don’t necessarily find it easy to raise capital to drive growth or fund projects. For instance, a film or television production company’s long-term success depends on nurturing a stream of projects and there can be long periods – notably when ideas are being developed and pitched – during which incoming revenues are in short supply. In other words, the income is erratic and that won’t necessarily impress a bank credit committee focused on regular repayments and low risk. A games company could well face the same issue.  

Scaling Up 

But some help is on the way. Last week Creative England – a not for profit organization established to uncover and invest in businesses working in the sector – announced the launch of a £24 million fund. Established in partnership with Netherlands-based bank Triodos, the new fund will provide money to help creative businesses scale up their operations. 

“The fund will be lending sums of up to £0.5 million,” says CEO Caroline Norbury. So what sort of businesses will benefit? Norbury cites the example of a creative sector business that needs capital to develop its own IP, rather than simply selling services to bigger players in the marketplace.  “Equally, the funding might enable a television company to open an office in another part of the world,” she adds.

The Whole U.K. 

The new fund marks a partial shift of emphasis for Creative England. The clue being in the title. Until now the focus of the organization has been supporting creative business in England (mainly outside London) and to date £20 million in funding has been provided. The new pool of money will benefit businesses across the whole of the British Isles. 

Setting up a fund to service entrepreneurs in the creative sector does require a different approach from the bank that is putting up the money – in this case Triodos. “What the fund will do is provide a more flexible approach than other than other lenders,” Norbury says.  

But how does that work in the real world? After all, banking is banking and no lender can afford to take undue risks with the money it puts on the table. Norbury says that Creative England’s expertise in the area makes flexibility possible. “We take a very client-centric approach,” she says. In practical terms that means that Creative England knows its client base. It knows how the creative industry works and where the financial pinch points are likely to be. This can be factored into the funding offer.  

Looking ahead, Creative England has some clear objectives for the fund. “We will be looking at between 20 and 30 businesses a year,” Norbury says. They won’t be businesses in the usual places. In the past, the businesses we have supported have been in areas of low social inclusion.”  

So how will Creative England find suitable businesses to support? Well, the organization already has offices across the country and, as such, it has a broad understanding of who is doing what and where. It will also be publicizing the fund, not least through social media.   

The creative sector has been growing at twice the speed of the economy as a whole, but like the rest of the U.K. is may be affected by whatever kind of Brexit emerges from current negotiations. Norbury cites the involvement of Triodos as a sign of European confidence in British media in a post-Brexit world and she is optimistic about the future. “This is a sector that sells around the world. It is pretty resilient,” she says.   

Source: Forbes – Entrepreneurs
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Make A Conscious Decision About The Energy You Project

Over a year ago, leadership advisor Molly Tschang changed my life with a single observation. “I’m not sure,” she began tactfully, “That you are projecting the energy to others that you think you are projecting.”

By “energy,” the creator of SayItSkillfully.com meant whether I am interested or disinterested, attentive or bored, engaged or aloof, friendly or cautious, supportive or skeptical, or any one of many energetic possibilities.

Her observation was dead-on accurate. I had grown out of touch with how others perceive me, so that I was often a bit disconnected from reality. As a CEO recently counseled me, “Self-awareness is not how you feel about yourself. It is having an accurate perception of how others perceive you.”

  • What felt to me like I was paying attention… felt to others like I was a low-energy presence in the room
  • What felt to me like enthusiasm… felt to others like mild interest
  • What felt to me like warmth… felt to others like cautious curiosity

And so on.

Molly’s single statement continues to lead me on a journey of self-discovery and exploration. It also made me realize that I am not alone: the vast majority of people—this probably includes you—generally fail to make a conscious decision about the energy they will inject into a meeting, phone call or personal interaction.

That is a BIG mistake.

To illustrate, let’s take a simple and common occurrence. A busy executive races into a meeting room. S/he is running late and feeling stressed, and these feelings sabotage the energy s/he brings into the meeting, making the participants feel like:

  • They don’t matter
  • They shouldn’t talk too long
  • They have done something wrong, or are on the verge of doing something wrong

In contrast, that same executive could have paused for 20 seconds before entering, recognized the stress s/he is feeling, and made a conscious decision not to let that color his/her behavior during this completely unrelated meeting.

Here’s my greatest revelation: I’ve found that it’s not at all difficult to shift my state and control the energy I’m projecting. The difficult parts are:

  1. Recognizing that I can and should make a conscious decision about the energy I project in each interaction, and…
  2. Remembering to do it

The bottom line, for you…

When it comes to the energy you bring others, never wing it. Make a conscious decision regarding whether you want to bring urgency, levity, compassion or some other mental state into the room.

To do this, strive to form a more complete understanding of the ways that others perceive you. Ask close friends and colleagues, “How did I come across in that meeting?” Be fully accepting of their feedback. When possible, make audio and video recordings of yourself at work. For example, increasing numbers of calls are now via a tool such as Zoom, so it’s easy to review the saved file.

One last point: when two or more people occupy the same room, your presence sparks physical changes in the other(s). Work hard to ensure those changes are positive.

Source: Forbes – Entrepreneurs
Continue reading Make A Conscious Decision About The Energy You Project

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Can Cost-Cutting, Via Robotics, Unlock Vertical Farming Profits?

Fifth Season, spawned at Carnegie Mellon University, builds a working mega farm to find out.

Despite the enthusiasm of the investment community for vertical ag in recent years, the indoor vertical farming industry has yet to deliver an economically viable business model. No matter how well funded they might be, most indoor vertical farms struggle to be profitable. The reasons are simple: high operating costs, especially for labor and energy.

One of the newest entrants to the vertical ag scene, Fifth Season, has designed its first 60,000-square-foot indoor vertical farm, now being constructed near Pittsburgh, and is looking ahead toward solving the profitability challenge. The company got its start under the name RoBotany while in the incubator program at Carnegie Mellon University’s (CMU) Swartz Center for Entrepreneurship, which supports innovation coming out of the university’s renowned robotics, business and other schools. Drive Capital and other investors with connections to CMU have helped supply over $35 million in total funding to-date to help Fifth Season commercialize its innovative technology platform.

Co-founder and CEO Austin Webb, a CMU alum and former investment banker with B. Riley FBR, said it took the company three years to develop and perfect its platform technology at two indoor R&D farms, working out of an old warehouse in Pittsburgh. Webb and his team—plant scientists and robotics and AI engineers—designed their facility to achieve the goal of producing greens, including spinach, arugula, lettuce and herbs, to be sold locally, at affordable prices and at a profit.

Fifth Season’s first commercial, large-scale indoor vertical farm will begin operation in early 2020. It is a welcomed participant in the revitalization of the riverside town of Braddock, longtime home of U.S. Steel’s Edgar Thomson Works, one of the oldest still-operating steel plants in the Monongahela Valley.

Webb and his colleagues noticed early on that, after an initial surge of investments in vertical farming, funders have more recently been posing very pointed questions about profitability. Accordingly, said Webb, his team has been designing with profitability as the paramount objective.

“Consumers are all in for locally produced, clean food that’s affordable,” Webb noted. “But to be sustainable and profitable long-term, you’ve got to prove favorable ‘all-in’ per-unit costs. And that’s what makes us different in the industry.”

That is where robotics come in. In their due diligence, Webb and colleagues saw that routine work in the full production chain could be turned over to robotics to help drive down costs. That’s most opportune, given that somewhere from 40 to 60% of a typical vertical farm’s operating costs are for labor. Fifth Season has targeted 20% and less, courtesy of robotics.

“We said, let’s take an empty warehouse and design a system—from seed to harvest to package to destination,” Webb said. Their resulting proprietary design strings together an “Internet of things” of about 40 different robotic components, or “bots”—in Webb’s words, “a fully integrated solution of robotic hardware and software.”

Energy is another big cost factor in vertical growing, and Fifth Season’s team designed its operation with cost efficiency in mind there, too. Energy costs are reduced via solar collectors, which help provide the power supply not only to the robotics and IT, but for grow lights, which are in use 16 or more hours a day in a typical indoor vertical farm.

Fifth Season is collaborating with GE Current, a Daintree Company, to employ the most efficient lighting technology to its operation. In an interview, Michel Doss, general manager of specialty at Current in Montreal, said he believes a vertical-farming approach that can drive energy and labor costs down toward those of outdoor farming will be the big winner.

“I’m definitely convinced 100% that vertical farming will work,” Doss said in an interview. “But nobody knows exactly when as a date on a calendar. But the economics have to be there for it to happen.”

In addition to working with Fifth Season, Doss’s division did the lighting for two of the largest vertical farms in the world: Mirai Co. of Japan and the UK’s Jones Food Co.

Doss called the advent of LED lighting a “missing link” that has enabled indoor farming. But, he added, lighting is only one factor, along with seeds, ventilation, humidity control and airflow, among others: “The entire ecosystem for indoor growing is critical. The technology is still evolving as it’s being tested in the field.”

Lighting alone is a work in progress, he said: “We’ve historically done a mix of deep red, which has a 660-nanometer range, and blue, a regular blue that’s readily available and seems to be yielding good results with leafy greens. But we still need more studies. What about adding green? What about white, and what kind of white, because all white isn’t equal? We’re just at step one of a 10,000-step journey in the space.”

Webb’s team at Fifth Season, along with Doss’s Current lighting crew and other vendors and collaborators, are still tweaking many variables, always with a sidelong glance at the elusive holy grail of indoor growing: tasty and sustainable profits.

Source: Forbes – Entrepreneurs
Continue reading Can Cost-Cutting, Via Robotics, Unlock Vertical Farming Profits?