Saturday, February 20, 2016

Male Business Partners: How to Handle the Minefield

Has anyone else noticed how tricky it can be to partner with guys on entrepreneurial projects? When wives or girlfriends are not comfortable with it openly or subtly, so there is a constant limitation on when and where you can work, how often you can talk, how to market yourselves? Surely it is not all possible business partners who have mates, but it is common.

This stinks! If you are bootstrapping high-potential business ideas, when do you work on them? At homes, in the evenings. Not during the workday when at day jobs. Not middle of the day on weekends, when doing family and kid stuff. So that leaves odd hours and the easiest places to meet: home. This also sucks because men are a majority of eligible business partners, just by the numbers.

We’ll leave aside the very different topic of budding romance in a business partnership, or going into business with a romantic partner. This scenario assumes no romantic interest between the business partners, regardless of what others may assume or be fearful of.

No judgment or analysis on why the women aren’t comfortable with it. It is what it is. The feelings are fair, and the guys need to manage their home life. Little we can do will change the females’ perspective- verbal assurances could just feed insecurities. And going into business with someone is a major relationship in their lives so will will get scrutiny and curiosity.  His mate may be a critical source of support and outcome of the venture. Let’s focus instead on what can be done to minimize chances of it impacting business success.

Here are a few places to start.
1. Screen this factor as selection criteria when deciding whether to start a venture together. Have the awkward conversation upfront, rather than months into your project when the person feels like they can’t put in enough without risking home strife. Choose a partner whose home partner supports the mission: your business venture and what it will take to launch it well.
2. Keep an eye out for solid female or single men business partners. They may be harder to find and should you choose someone less well-positioned for success based just on this? Depends.
3. If you are in the situation, ask the partner what you can do to support easing the discomfort. Respect any boundaries and accept the reduction in pace that may come with it. Some recommend bringing the female into the conversation- or business operations- but that feels like another potential minefield. Always friendly and respectful: yes. A third de facto business partner? That's a major decision. 

What are your thoughts and ideas? Any success stories on overcoming an initial challenge in this space?

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Social media overload? Pause, go outside and listen.

Do you ever feel mentally frazzled by all the apps, sites and accounts to check online? Keeping up with social media feeds is on top of daily life- work, family, commuting, errands, meals, the rest. Much of it is great- entertaining, like that video of a hedgehog bathing I saw this morning!- staying connected to people- glad to know my friends in Columbia and Hong Kong are having fun today!- informative- so that’s what those sirens last night were about!--- but after a full week of nonstop checking my phone for info of all sorts, I can start to feel overwhelmed.

This happened yesterday… I was working and checking Facebook, Linked In, and other sites at least hourly. I could not get to a place of focus or relative peace. Early afternoon, I made myself put down the electronics and decided to just go outside. It was on/off again chilly rain. The next half hour was invaluable. I walked around my yard and just observed what I saw. I picked things up- little branches that had fallen, leaves blocking drains. I listened and counted how many sounds I could hear, naming them as I went. Cars, a plane, birds, a machine, wind, rain hitting the roof. I did not have a plan or goal. I sat down for a few minutes until the rain got harder, then moved to a covered spot. I saw sheets of rain lit up from sunlight streaming from another direction. It was beautiful!  I observed how things were different or the same from last season. I made mental lists of projects to do someday. I thought about my neighbors. I was glad it was raining, because I could not take my phone out of my pocket for fear of water damage though it was tempting to see if any interesting notifications had come in. I felt better after I went back inside- calmer, more motivated. I made a note to myself to do this more often: stop, go outside, and just be.

Then, I went to meet a close friend for coffee. I focused on being with her fully and enjoyed our time together so much, even though a fair bit of what we talked about were tough challenges in our lives. Strong social connections in person are another wonderful way to truly be in the moment. When I lived in urban neighborhoods, just taking a walk around the block could help- seeing others out and about, seeing what was going on, hearing the world around me. I love retreating into a cozy mode at home- but it can be hard to find the discipline to turn off the constant online feeds. We are still receiving information when out in the real world, but it is paced at a natural scale, letting us take it in at a digestible rate. It hardly matters where you take the pause from scrolling and tapping. Online I can feel like I must keep clicking or I may miss something good- which of course may be true, but also a self-created pressure as we will never be able to consume all info in our domains daily.

I am all for collecting tips on how to manage it well as the endless stream of incoming material is only growing. What are your methods for handling information overload? 

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Year-End Stock Taking + New Year Planning

Do you pause over the holidays to reflect on last year and set priorities for next year? Taking a day to hole up with a blanket, journal, posterboard, or whatever tools work can be a great way to shape your year and beyond. Go into 2016 with intention- how will you spend time, make decisions and track progress?

I brainstorm goals for the coming year, both high level, such as “reduce stress,” and tactical, like “do abc by end of first quarter.” First I just list them out as I think, then I organize them. I choose no more than top ten as main goals- anything more is too much to hold yourself to in a serious way. Goals #10-20 are “backburners-“ things like learn more of a certain language- good things to incorporate where I can but not huge life priorities, such as “keep my daughter thriving” or gamechangers, like “increase earning power.”

I evaluate last year, brutally yet with fair credit where it is due, and think about the impacts of how I did going forward. Were they the right goals? Which ones stay/go? Which ones need new strategies to accomplish? Here’s how I judge them. Along a right hand column each goal gets a percentage met. I total up how many are over 50%, right in mid-zone, and aren’t met (near zero percent). I draw a pie chart with a rough visual of how I did. This year, 11 were met well, 3 at mid-point, 2 not met. That is about 70% met, 30% somewhat met and 20% not met. Not bad. I look at which ones are in each bucket. Two of the three at mid-point were very important, so they go to top of list next year and get a hard look at how I can do better. I feel good about the ones I met, and reflect on how to keep doing the things that resulted in those successes.

I also sketch out reflections on disappointments, challenges, things I’m thankful for, proud of, excited about. Seeing these helps bring together the whole of what life’s been about- where energy is good or bad- where struggles are persistent- what must shift. I note boundary constraints, too- those things I can’t change or control- so need to work within them. Having this all written down to look back at later helps evaluate what seemed big over time, what ideas keep bubbling up, which paths aren’t taking shape, what I have learned about each option. I look back at the past few years’ similar lists to shape my current thinking- both reflective and forward-looking. I have to be in the right space to do this personal stock-taking… usually alone, at home, in bad weather, off the computer/phone to enable focused time. But it’s been incredibly helpful over the years, well worth the time invested.

Good luck in your 2015 review and 2016 visioning! Any tips or thoughts to share?

Saturday, November 7, 2015

The Art of Saying Nothing (or Saying it Well)

Fascinating to follow high-growth tech companies’ public affairs activity lately. I like that they are far less risk averse than traditional large corporations. CEOs are active on social media, they act fast, and don’t worry as much about whether they will ruffle feathers. But sometimes the strategy of saying nothing may be better than reacting.

Amazon’s letter in response to the scathing New York Times piece on its employee culture came across as sour grapes and reinforced the Times’ message. Attacking the messenger? Yikes. This isn’t a court case- it’s your reputation. Humiliating someone who spoke up- whether the details are true or not on either side- is poor form and sends a signal that Amazon does not tolerate criticism. Of course Amazon would not issue a statement validating the reports of tough employee conditions, so… saying nothing would have been better. Or at least having the CEO himself issue a short acknowledgement and viewpoint statement.

Airbnb put up then quickly took down ads in San Francisco poking at the government for taxing its business model. These ads smugly suggesting what the city could do with the tax revenue came across as tone deaf, ill-informed and in some cases offensive. All around, an amateur campaign. Another case of better of just focusing on your business rather than trying to react publicly to bad news.

On the bright side, two women-run companies showed restraint while professionally responding to harsh critique. Jessica Alba’s The Honest Company was first attacked in the media then sued in court over effectiveness of a sunscreen formulation. Jessica issued short statements emphasizing the company’s mission, commitment to continuous improvement, and customer education about natural products. Nice.

Elizabeth Holmes, CEO of Theranos, sat down in person with major media to combat high-profile negative information about her products’ performance and regulatory standing. She denied the claims yet shifted messaging on offering more data and transparency going forward. Some reactions saw her as deflecting too much, but at least she got out there herself and kept the focus on her products.

Best handling of tough media attention in this roundup? My vote goes to The Honest Company. Sure, some will try to rake Holmes and Alba over the coals. Show me a young female billionaire entrepreneur who doesn't get heavy scrutiny. I like how they are handling themselves- and admire their courage to engage directly.