Taking the Leap: 6 Learnings from 120 Days in the Start-Up Journey

In my last post, I talked about the extreme highs and lows of my first 30 days in business, even threating to jump on a plane and run away from it all. Well, 90 days later I’m still at it, with no plans of catching a plane anytime soon.

We now have financing, clients, and a corporate identity. Still plenty of work to do but the focus is now on building the pipeline and less on losing my house, our retirement, and so many other things that will go through your head late at night while second-guessing yourself.

Fortunately for my sanity, our building has a gym on the ground floor. It’s a great way to start the day or take a mid-day mental break to recharge (I highly encourage it). On the back wall, there are inspirational quotes to help keep you motivated. One, in particular, has had a certain relevance to me during this phase in my life;” Leap and the net will appear.”

Here are 6 new things I’ve learned since taking the leap:

  • Everything (and I mean everything) will take 30 to 60 days longer than expected – be it a loan, new project or client, even a business card order will take longer than anticipated (if you’re a novice). Add days to your expectations, push timelines out and start earlier than you planned. There are certain things out of your control and you may be less frustrated you if you keep this in mind…or maybe not.
  • Get half decent at everything – if you’re starting a business you are obviously knowledgeable, passionate and perhaps even an expert at something. Similarly, you’ll lack knowledge or depth in other areas. What I’ve learned is it is crucial to get a working level of knowledge on just about everything. You don’t have to be the “expert” but you have to have a base of knowledge to give direction to your advisors/experts (like attorneys, accounts, designers). Fortunately, there are plenty of good resource sites available (for example, com).
  • Trust your network – the “net” that will appear once you leapt will come from your network. You likely have more people in your circle that can, or will help you along your journey than you realize. One of my most trusted advisors turned out to be someone I’ve known socially for close to twenty years. It wasn’t until 60 days into this journey that I thought of him. You will be surprised by the support of friends, family and even acquaintances. If they can’t help you directly, there is a good chance they’ll know someone that can. Your network will be one of your most valuable assets, mine it.
  • Surprising financing options – depending on how your business is organized you may be able to take advantage of your 401K to fund the business or give yourself a line of credit. If you establish the business as a “C” corporation you can use your 401K as capital to buy a franchise or business or to fund it. There are some potential downsides to consider, so please consult a tax attorney or accountant before moving forward.
  • SEP IRA – speaking of 401K’s you may be deferring your 401K contributions like I am until the business is profitable. The Simplified Employee Pension (SEP) allows for a contribution of up to 25% of an employee’s pay up to $55,000 in 2018. As your business takes off your SEP gives you an opportunity to catch up on your retirement savings.
  • Payment terms of 60 days or longer – are pure evil for a startup. It’s absolutely ridiculous for a large corporation to expect a small business to float them for any period of time after a project has been completed. Cash flow is king and it’s also a killer for small businesses. As soon as we reach a certain level of success, we will actively avoid contracts with payment terms of that length. The learning, make sure you invoice your client as soon as the contract is signed!  Billion dollar corporation, encourage procurement to develop new payment terms for small businesses. You can, and should, support the growth of new businesses. We may end up being your innovation incubator.

There is another quote on the wall I mentioned earlier. It’s by Eleanor Roosevelt and I find myself staring at frequently,

“Do One Thing Every Day that Scares You.”

Yeah, I pretty much have that one nailed. Talk to you again in 6 months. #buildingcarbondesign

That Awkward Feeling

I hadn’t had that type of feeling in 20 years until today.

It was back in grad school. I had a professor who taught a class on entrepreneurship. He was a highly decorated Green Beret who had founded a major manufacturing company after he left the army.

As he regaled us with the story of building his company he mentioned missing the births of his children and much of their early lives. He wore it like a badge of honor, not a lick of remorse or regrets, despite having many years to reflect back.

It was awkward. I’d never seen a presenter so misaligned with an audience, until today.

I just returned from a conference about the future of technology and its impact our lives. Founded by a parent of an autistic child who had gone on an exhausting journey hoping to learn how new technology may be able to improve the child’s life.

The theme, topics, and presentations were from technology organizations that were putting purpose ahead of profits. I heard an eloquent presenter speak on using data and new insight to break the “chain of poverty” and the “pipeline to prison.”

A VR company gave a 3D game demo on how they were using virtual reality to help improve the therapeutic outcomes for autistic children.

And then came the presentation from a global communication behemoth.

Except the presentation wasn’t a presentation. It was a self-center, chest pounding, aren’t we “great” type of speech, which would have been perfectly at home at a technology conference five years ago, but felt totally out of sync today.

We heard about their history of innovation, recent acquisitions, and the billions they were investing in the US. What we didn’t hear was how their incredible technology was going to make our lives, our children’s lives, or our communities better. They lacked purpose.

You could sense the disconnect with the audience, the awkwardness was palatable. It was an uncomfortable feeling, I hadn’t had in a very long time.

Leaving the event, I was thinking maybe it’s just me and the people I associate with who are looking for something more from organizations or…maybe this company, like my professor, really doesn’t get it.

Death of the “Company Man”

In the 90’s casual Fridays brought about the slow death of formal business attire in the office place. In the new millennium, mobile devices effectively eliminated the “9 to 5” workday and erased the line between personal and professional. Now, the “Gig Economy” is about to kill the concept of a company employee.

The freelance workforce is growing three times faster than the U.S workforce. At this rate, according to a recent survey by Upwork and the Freelancers Union, independent workers will be the majority by 2027. Yes, more people will work for themselves than for corporations, and they will be doing it because the want to…not because they have to.

The work is not what you would think of as typical “gig economy” jobs, e.g. an Uber driver.  According to the FIA survey of close to 6,000 adults, this group is preparing for the future more swiftly than traditional employees. Nearly half of the freelancers surveyed told researchers that their work is being impacted by AI and robotics (only 18% of the traditional workforce). As a result, 65% are staying on top of the latest trends and are putting time aside to learn new skills, compared to 45% of traditional corporate employees.

As a result, this specialized workforce is finding independence because it is developing high demand, hard to find skill sets, creating an opportunity for them to offer their time to the highest bidder. Rather than work on projects dictated by an organization for a set salary, they can choose to work on various projects based on their interest for multiple companies. Selecting projects that advance or refine their skill sets. Deepening their experience that increases market value. This practice, commonly seen among IT workers, is now making its way into other areas like marketing and HR because of the increased use of digital tools and platforms.

It’s not only employees who are driving this trend. Employers see this as an opportunity to optimize their staff cost. The “Open Talent Economy” described by Deloitte is expected to grow significantly in the next 3-5 years. According to their research “off-balance” sheet employees will grow 66 percent over that time period. While only 6% of the C-Suite rated this trend a priority in 2017, 26% believe it will be important in the next 3-5 year, an increase of 400 percent, one of the largest increases seen in their annual Global Human Capital Trends report.

Sitting between, and enabling these trends are digital platforms like Upwork, BTG and Carbon Design which are enabling this transition. McKinsey Global Institute report, A labor market that works: Connecting talent with opportunity in the digital age, states that these platforms could boost global GDP by $2.7 trillion by optimizing the match between work and employees, and by pulling 47 million inactive people (globally) into the workforce. As the US reaches full employment these “inactive workers” will be a critical source of labor capacity.

Unemployment fell to a 20 year low in Q4 of 2017, now standing at 4.1. A tight labor market will increase competition and opportunity for employees with specialized “in demand” skill sets. Talent now has leverage; however certain items may slow this revolution in the workplace.

Healthcare is the primary one, retooling and training of inactive workers being the other. Look for these talent platforms and AI to play a role in resolving those challenges in the future. Additionally, changes to regulatory frameworks, corporate practices and individual mindsets, may be required according to McKinsey’s research.

One thing is certain, the forces behind this transformation are accelerating driven by the recent tax changes. Apple and Amazon have announced they will be creating tens of thousands of jobs in the US. Added that amount of new positions to an already tight labor will force us to think about how work is done, and who does it. The jobs may be here but where the “work” gets done may not. We may not only see the “death” of the company “employee” but also the concept of a “domestic” workforce.

The Marketing Challenge of Selling “Human” Technology

We are in a “Digital Revolution” as futurist Ray Kurweil stated in a recent interview. With machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI), and cognitive computing enabling everything from Apple’s new IPhone X to autonomous driving vehicles, it’s hard not to talk about the technology. And considering the herculean effort to construct and configure the tools, it’s hard to fault them for doing so.

Unlike the latest wave of technology innovators like Uber and NetFlix who disrupted industries and business models, this “Forth Industrial Revolution” brings with it a healthy dose of personal disruption. From robots to artificial intelligence, it has the potential to impact everything from how we work to how we live our daily lives. And with that comes some very real concerns about the future and our privacy.

Futurists like Stephen Hawkins and Marc Andreessen have helped give the media fuel for the fire. In an interview with the BBC, Hawkins warned that the development of “full AI could spell the end of the human race.” Andreessen has been quoted as saying that in the future there will be two types of jobs: “people who tell computers what to do and people who are told by computers what to do.”

In fact, the technologies receiving the highest amount of investment are those that are focused on making machines more “human.” According to Venture Scanner, deep learning, natural language processing and image recognition make up the top three funding categories within AI. Kurweil believes that we are only 11 years away from passing the “Turing Test,” the measure that determines if humans can detect the difference between a human or a machine.

Unfortunately, what may get lost in the noise is the great potential of this new generation of technologies. Autonomous vehicles are predicted to save 30,000 lives a year from traffic accidents. Robots are being programmed to help give the disabled more independence. Advancement in the diagnosis and treatment of certain types of cancer are already being seen and some believe that AI could lead to the end of cancer within our lifetime.

Why isn’t the focus on the benefits of these new technologies rather than on the concerns? Professor Theodore Levitt, a former professor at Harvard Business School in the 60’s may have the answer. Levitt was a thought leader in sales and marketing but may best known for the phrase “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill; they want a quarter-inch hole.” The abridged version “Sell the hole, not the drill” has been uttered by sales managers for decades and it’s particularly relevant for the latest wave of new technologies.

We’re in the early stages of this “revolution” so much of the talk is about the “drill.” Explaining the process of building the “drill” is necessary for audiences like investors or partners. It’s also aimed at potential users/customers in hopes they will be able to define the holes to be drilled. The tricky part for marketers is that there are parts of the drill that have the real potential to threaten or scare audiences.

This is the tightrope technology marketers are going to have to walk for the foreseeable future. In order to develop the apps (the “holes”) marketers need to find and convert early adopters. The messaging that appeals to that audience may put others on high alert. It’s a classic “Crossing the Chasm” challenge as described by Geoffrey Moore.

Early adaptors, as described by Moore are comfortable with risk. Unfortunately, when things go wrong, like Google’s DeepMind experience with UK’s National Health Services where their initial work on mobile apps was found to have violated the UK’s patient privacy laws, it makes the “Chasm” grow between the early adopters and the early majority.

Here’s the learning for marketers, one of the four characteristics of visionaries that alienate pragmatists (Early Majority) is the overall disruptiveness of the technology. To be successful in building a bridge over the “Chasm” you may need to tone down your “disruptive” messages. Build a roadmap that gently walks them over the bridge step by step, given them reassurance along the way.

We also know from CEB/Gartner that buyers make purchase decisions based on personal value they perceive. To market “human-like” technologies to humans you have to understand their fears, concerns, and behaviors.  Just because your technology can do something as well as or better than a human…doesn’t mean you need to actually “say it.”

6 Learnings From My First 30 Days in Startup Land

This is the view from my standup desk. On some days, I stare out the window at Regan National and fantasize about flying off to an exotic location as a result of the wide success of the new business. On other days, I think about getting on a plane and running away from it all. That pretty sums up my first 30 days. Ping-ponging between extreme highs and lows, and never feeling like I’m going fast enough.

In my last post, I used the analogy of running up a hill, here are some of the things I’ve learned in the early part of this journey.

  1. Commute – Now that I no longer paid parking I’m now a mass transit user. My commute to the office used to be an hour via the backroads. It’s now a 40 minute (on most days) Metro ride. Have to say, I don’t miss driving, in fact, getting back in the car holds no appeal at all. On the rare occasion I need to drive to work I tap my Parking Panda app and park in the garage across the street for half the listed daily rate.
  2. Office – For three years I was a mentor at the startup incubator 1776. Now I’m a member. Settling in I’ve been surprised by the other entrepreneurs in resident. Or in other words, I’m not the only old guy among the twenty-somethings. In fact, there may be the same amount or more of us. It’s also not all startups. Accenture Digital is here, and a major health network and venture capitalist from Israel.
  3. Tools – holy cow, there are so many low or no cost tools available it’s hard to cover them all. Here are a few that you might want to check out. Try MeetUp which was recently acquire by WeWork for expanding your network, learning new skills, meeting like-minded folks. If you are a retail business try Alignable for building a referral network. No longer have someone to review your proposals sign up for Grammarly. How about an assistant to manage your schedule try Calendly. If you have remote employees you have to have Slack. You’ll need a domain, a website and email. I got everything from one provider, GoDaddy but there are other sites like Verisign and Web.com.
  4. The team – you’ll need an account, lawyer and banker. In addition to family and friends! Some will be your guides, others your cheerleaders and on certain days, both.
  5. Inspiration & Insight – by coincidence, I happen to be reading two books that have been very helpful in various ways. The first, Chaos Monkeys is about the startup environment in Silicon Valley. Great insight (and entertainment) regarding various funding methods, understanding investors, dealing with team members, and the long and bumpy startup road. If you’re doing anything in the Tech space this is a must-read. The second entitled Will It Make The Boat Go Faster is a business management book (goal setting, success drivers, overcoming challenges, taking risks, motivating teams, etc.) told through an inspiring story of a British Olympic rower’s quest for a Gold Medal at the 2000 games in Sydney. If you think the startup life is hard, try being an Olympic athlete. It helps keep things in perspective — this quote from the chapter on Risk has been particularly comforting…”The most conservative, boring person living the greyest of lives is taking as many risks as the adrenalin junky free climbing on a high rock race. The difference is the type of risks they are taking.”
  6. The paperwork & process – if you’re thinking about venturing out on your own here are some of the forms, legal documents, and agreements you’ll need. If I only knew what I know now…
    • Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) – in my case I have an international investor so the first step for us was to get to the MOU which laid out the terms of our agreement including, ownership, investment commitment and the business model.
    • Certification of Formation – the next step was then registering the business. We registered the business as a Limited Liability Company (LLC). As part of this process, you will also need an LLC Operating Agreement form and Organization Meeting if registering as a Sole Member of the LLC.
    • Tax ID – now that the business is registered go to the IRS.gov site and get an EIN (Employer Identification Number) which is essential for setting up your bank account and tax purposes.
    • Business Bank Account Forms – if you’re registering as an LLC you will need 1) the Certification of Formation, the Operating Agreement and the IRS letter with your EIN
    • Register the Business in the State of Operation – my business is registered in Delaware but operates out of Virginia which required filling out an application for a Certification of Registration to Transact in Virginia. You will then receive an ID and DCN (Declaration Control Number) for tax purposes and a DCN number. Also, check with your county and/or city for additional registrations and tax liabilities.
    • Operating Agreement – this document turns the MOU into a legal agreement. It contains more detail relating to the management and operation of the company, (liabilities, tax obligations, ownership structure, dissolution, etc.) It’s also critical for unlocking investment in the organization.
    • Other Documents – you’ll need a W-9 and business insurance. Check with your homeowner or car insurance provider you may find they offer business insurance as well…mine did.

I’ll be back in 120 days to give you another update on #buildingcarbondesign.

The 5 “Ss” Marketers Want from Vendors

We’ve tried surveys, but they say one thing and then do another. One on one sessions, yep, tried those as well. How do we really know what our clients want?  Over the last few months, I’ve had the opportunity to speak with close to fifty marketers, friends, clients and former colleagues. I didn’t have an agenda or a pitch, just a conversation about their career path and how they decided on their professions.

The conversation eventually made its way into a discussion of relationships they had with various consultants, advisors, and agencies.  Just for kicks, I built a word cloud from my notes and saw five themes emerged around what they wanted from a vendor — I call it the five “S’s”.

  1. Smarts – this was a common theme — “I don’t want to have to explain my business to the vendors that I work with. They need to do their homework.” Almost every conversation had an element of the client wanting vendors to be up to speed when the engagement started. Time is money and clients don’t have the time (especially on their dime) to get you up to speed. And, for big consulting firms and agencies, don’t get comfortable with thinking you have a lock on all the brightest folks. They use plenty of very smart individual contractors. Many of them, just came from your world.
  2. Skills – similar to the above comment, clients want to work with agencies and consultants that have the skill sets that they can’t find, hire or retain. This was especially important when it came to digital talent. They have made investments in MarTech but are having a hard time finding the talent to optimize, or even operate, the technology…and it is becoming more difficult.
  3. Speed – “I need the vendors I hire to operate at the speed of my business,” said the CMO of a Fortune 50 hi-tech firm and others echoed her comment. There were also comments related to responsiveness. If you’re standard policy is to respond to a clients’ email within 48 hours, you’re about 40 hours off on their expectations. Being more responsive can buy you time on deliverables. Clients want to know, or at least feel, like you’re making progress on their effort. Gaps in communication create the risk of your client feeling like they are not getting the attention they deserve or pay for…and they know when you’re stretched too thin.
  4. Simple – combine Smarts with Speed and you get Simple or at least that is what the client would love. They want to be able to understand your recommendations so they know exactly what decisions, or action, to immediately execute. Consultants — they are tired of the upsell, where one problem suddenly surfaces another problem, especially when they haven’t received the output of the first project. Agencies — the more complexity you add to a campaign the longer clients believe it will take to execute. Smart, valued vendors take complex problems and make them simple to understand and resolve. They know they have other issues they just need to address the problem in front of them.
  5. Spirit – this one surprised me and took some time to understand. The core of this theme was rooted in marketers stating that they wanted to work with vendors who were “enthusiastic” about their business, or “passionate” about their own jobs/role. They want a partner who brings some fun and/or passion that may be lacking in their organization. If you are pitching an idea an important part of the “sell” job is how you deliver it. If you’re not excited about it, they won’t be either. The last thing you want is a client who doesn’t want to talk to you because they know it won’t be enjoyable…they have plenty of those meetings internally. Be their break in the day, the good news, the breath of fresh air they so desperately need…especially at the end of the day or week.

Surprisingly, I didn’t hear cheaper. Don’t misunderstand, they want value and recognize that to get it they have to make the investment. Now that you know what they really want that shouldn’t be a problem to deliver, be the bright spot in their day.

Running Uphills

Something odd happened the other day on my morning run. Deciding to ramp up my training, I grabbed my Garmin GPS watch and headed out. The goal was to track my pace at various points on my usual route and that’s when I noticed a strange trend. At first, I thought my watch needed a software update because something really unusual was happening.

According to my watch, my pace running uphill was faster than when running downhill or on a flat stretch. Spending the remaining part of my route trying to figure why my natural pace didn’t fit the norm, I concluded that it was most likely the result of growing up at the bottom of a mountain. All of the excitement in the neighborhood was always happening at the top. During the summer, I’d run or ride my bike a mile and a half up a steady incline as fast as I could to get to the action — often several times a day. Going uphill, for me, always had its reward.

These last few months I’ve been on a personal journey searching for “what’s next.” I have spent a great deal of time speaking with former clients, colleagues, and friends. Our conversations focused on learning about their career paths. We talked about turning points, dead ends, and U-turns along their journeys. It was incredibly enlightening and helpful. Surprisingly, I also learned something else…

The people I spoke with, although mostly satisfied with their current status, longed for something better. When I explored “better” several themes were reoccurring; a better work/life balance, greater purpose in their work, freedom to work on things they were passionate about, etc. Interestingly, it was not isolated to one workforce generation, i.e. Millennials. Then I had a thought… do companies realize that there has been a change in the way people want to work? And, it seems to be universal. I heard the feedback, but had they recognized or responded to this shift?

Running parallel to this exploration, a couple of former clients approached me to do some consulting work. The companies we worked with had products and/or services that were considered to be “disruptive innovation.” There is a certain element of a “fear factor” to this new wave of technology, in particular, AI and robotics. The reality is they also have the opportunity to dramatically improve people’s lives. Unfortunately, that message hasn’t been well communicated, or received. One thing is certain, though, the last wave of technology was about business model disruption (think Netflix, Uber, AirBnB, etc.). The new wave is about personal disruption, for better or worse, depending on your viewpoint.

Similarly, my own journey came to the crossroads of personal disruption and a longing for something better. It got me thinking. Could an organization aimed at helping companies bring life-changing innovation to market be built on a business model that changed the life of the people it employed? From disruption, could something better be created? After circling back to many of the people I spoke with earlier, I concluded that it most definitely could.

And so, at this point in my life and career, when I wish I was better at coasting on flats or running downhill — I’ve picked another hill to run up. The grind, unfortunately, seems to suit me. Leaning into the incline gives me a feeling of purpose. The pounding heart and aching legs focus my mind, challenges my body and gives me a sense of accomplishment and clarity.

I also recognize (sadly) that I’m not as young as I once was, and to be successful in this new venture I will need the boost of friends and family to make it up the hill. I may not be able to run it as often, or as fast, so I’ll also need others to take the journey with me. I know the excitement is still at the top and getting there, although challenging, definitely has its rewards.

My life has and will continue to be disrupted, but I see something better coming…and so will you soon.

Follow the Carbon Design Co LinkedIn page to watch the journey to the top.

Why Amazon is the New “Google” for Buying

They’re referred to as the “Duopoly” of online advertising. Facebook and Google account for 75% of the US digital ad spend and almost all of its growth according to Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB). Facebook reported 45% growth in the last quarter and Google’s parent company, Alphabet posted earnings of $26 billion, 87% coming from advertising revenue.

But are these behemoths about to blindsided by a fierce competitor with a better ROI? We recently completed a consumer research study for a beverage manufacturer that uncovered an interesting trend, one that might tip the scale for advertisers.

Consumers, who had an Amazon Prime account, started their search for a purchase at Amazon 100% of the time. If they knew what they wanted to buy, they went directly to Amazon to search for different brands with the best price and delivery options.

With 85 million Amazon Prime members as of June 2017, it’s not going to take long for consumer brands to discover that if you want to invest ad dollars towards finding buyers with high purchase intent and conversion rates, Amazon is going to be hard to ignore. Although small in comparison to Google and Facebook, only 1% of global ads, it is one of Amazon’s fastest growing businesses, now on track to generate close to $2 billion this year.

Amazon also offers organizations a broad spectrum of advertising products ranging from their ad platform, offering mobile and desktop display and banner ads, to dynamic and coupon ads. Customer campaign pages allow advertisers to create immersive cross platform landing pages which can display more than one product.

With the digital ad market predicted to grow at 16% this year to $83 billion the “Duopoly” will get their fair share, and almost all of the attention, especially considering the growth of Facebook’s Snapchat ad revenue, up 158% in the past year. And that may be just how Amazon likes it. Having a history of sneaking up on competitors…just ask Microsoft and IBM about Amazon Web Services (AWS).

Andy Jassy, the AWS CEO said that in some ways the growth of his business was a classic case of disruption dynamics. “The competition simply didn’t believe there was enough of a market to worry about it. The dominant players don’t have any reason to worry about someone attacking the bottom of the market.” AWS now owns a third of the Cloud Infrastructure Services market, more than three times that of its next closest competitors.

Amazon seems to follow Al Pacino’s “never let them see you coming” advice from the Devil’s Advocate but one executive, Martin Sorrell, WPP CEO’s has noticed. Sorrell  in a recent interview with Bloomberg said, “The company that would worry me if I was a client – or I think worries our clients, more than Google and Facebook – is Amazon.” Smart ad dollars follow consumer behavior and from we just learned, those consumers, are headed to Amazon.

5 Tips for Getting the Most Out of Business Travel

We’ve all had those trips. An important business meeting takes you to a new city, perhaps on your bucket list, and all you see is the airport, skyline and a conference room. Here are some thoughts on how to get the most out of your business trip in 5 popular cities.

  • Take A Train that Feels like a Boat Ride – skip the flight and take the Acela from New York to Boston. The views along the coast are fantastic and the stretch of track along the Connecticut coastline is stunning. The train literally crosses three beaches and there is a section around New London, CT that you will be over so much water, for so long, only a few feet above it, that it feels like you’re on a boat. Do it soon because they’re talking about rerouting the train to increase speed between the cities, that would move it off the shoreline.
  • Balance the Bad with the Good in San Fran – too many trips result in hours of sitting in a windowless room all day eating crappy hotel food. To do that in a city like San Francisco is downright criminal. Here’s how to get the best out of a bad situation. If you can, avoid the conference hotel and book a room at the Harbor Court Hotel or Hotel Vitale on Embarcadero, near the Ferry Building. Counter balance the high calorie, low nutrition hotel food, by going for a run. Start across the street at the Ferry Building and head north to Fisherman’s Wharf, just listen for the harbor seals. Go south (right facing the building) and you can run around AT&T Park. Not a runner? No worries. Connected through a door from Harbor Court is the YMCA with a pool on the second floor, yoga & spin classes, etc. If you stay at the Hotel Vitale, book a soaking tub under the stars at the roof top spa to work out the kinks from sitting all day. You’re also at the right spot for great restaurants. Skip the conference dinner and head to the Ferry Building for seafood at Hog Island Oyster Co, or an organic vegan meal at The Plant Café If you have to eat at the conference, push the food around on your plate like a 5-year-old staring down lima beans, and then take the side exit for tapas at Michael Chiarello’s Coqueta on Pier 5.
  • Experience Las Vegas Sans Casinos – ah, the Vegas conference scene, three days of non-stop overstimulation. Here’s a survival plan. Stay at the Elara. It’s on the strip, but adjacent to the Miracle Mile shops. The best part, great location, no casino…no noise, it’s an oasis from the onslaught. As for things to do off the strip, check out The Auto Collections at the LINQ Hotel & Casino…off the beaten path and a little hard to find (it’s on the top floor of the parking garage). The collection features Elvis’s Cadillac Limo and several cars from movies, including the original “Herbie The Love Bug” and several cars from “Gone in 60 Seconds.”
  • Do Europe in a Weekend by Extended Your Stay in DC –this one takes a little (or a lot) of imagination. Fly into and out of Dulles Airport (IAD). Book a car at the airport on Friday and head to the “French” countryside and stay at the Hillbrook Inn in Charles Town, WV. Hillbrook was built by Brigadier General Frank E. Bamford, on land George Washington once owned. General Bamford modeled his home after an inn he loved in Normandy, where he stayed after WWI. Around the corner is “LeMans”, (Summit Point Motorsports Park) where you can watch a race or schedule some track time with your rental (I’ll never tell). In the afternoon head to “Monte Carlo” (Hollywood Casino) and do some gambling. From there it’s off to “Germany” in Shepherdstown, WV. Book Saturday night at the Bavarian Inn overlooking the Potomac river. The following day walk to “Transylvania” and spend the day in the town called the “Most Haunted Town in America” and subject of the Destination America TV series, “Ghost of Shepherdstown.” Or skip town and head back towards the airport, stopping in the historic town (and National Park) of Harpers Ferry (a 20-minute drive). Make your way back to Dulles, via Route 9, traveling through the “French Wine Country” region of Northern Virginia. You’ll pass 8 vineyards during the short journey (less than 30 minutes) back to the airport. If you’re running short on time, all the locations listed above are within an about hour of the airport.
  • Book a Room With a Stunning View in NYC – no doubt there is a lot to see on the NYC skyline. Here are two you might not think of but provide Instagram worthy views. The first is the INK 48 hotel in Hell’s Kitchen on 48th and 11th. The Press Lounge on the 16th floor offers an incredible view of the Hudson River and the city (in particular Times Square). In the Financial District, stay at the Millennium Hilton, and ask for a room facing the 9/11 Memorial for a stunning view of the new Oculus transit hub and the memorial park.

Business travel can be a necessary evil, but occasionally, it can have an upside if you plan ahead. If you have ideas on how to improve the travel experience, please share them in the comment section below.

Do You Know Your Andres?

There is a grocery store a few miles from my house. It’s small and older, at least thirty years in its current location. Usually, the shelves are poorly stocked with a limited selection compared to the newer stores surrounding it. Despite these facts, the store manages to stay in business which is somewhat hard to comprehend given the cut throat, low margin nature of the industry. It survives because it has a secret weapon.

His name is Andres. He’s a cashier and has been at the store for twenty plus years. Andres speaks five languages and knows most of the customers by name, typically, greeting them in their native language. He knows where everything is, or isn’t, and if it’s not there he knows when it will arrive. He is the store.

While some customers, like my wife, frequent the store because it’s convenient, and quick, as long as the item is on the shelve. The majority of the customers go because of Andres. The store is in an affluent international neighborhood with many retirees. These core customers have time to shop and chat with Andres. For them, a trip to the store is an experience, not an errand. I haven’t seen the numbers, but I would guess that the revenue per square foot is why it survives.

The interesting thing, having worked with B2B companies for the past twenty years, is that many of my past clients also have an “Andres.” His, or her name may be different, but their role inside their organizations are not unlike Andres. They know the customers, how to get things done, where the “dead bodies” are buried, and how to navigate the complexity of the organization. They are the company.

As organizations rapidly move to “digitalization” and look for AI to play a larger role in customer interactions, they need to consider the importance of these essential employees. Like the grocery store, there are customers who may be highly profitable that aren’t doing business with your company because it’s convenient or fast. They are and have been customers, because of the experience. And a good portion of that experience is shaped by the “Andres” of the organization.

As other grocery stores move quickly to eliminate cashiers, Andres’s store has no self-checkout or online store pickup. Management seems to recognize the importance of the shopping experience, which seems to make up for the lack of selection and inventory. As your organization moves toward the future, does the management team fully understand that not all customers are the same, or want the same things. They may also speak separate languages and while self-service may work well for some, others want the full experience, which may include a personal conversation with their “Andres.”