Monday, March 31, 2008

15 Amazing Women You've Never Heard Of

A little inspiration for you women out there...I especially was moved by #15. I'm hoping to make the list some day. Or maybe it'd be better to make the list of amazing women you HAVE heard of...:)

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Building the team

I'm really close to adding two more people to the Tandem team. Just waiting for them to tell me when they can start. I'm chomping at the bit for them to start officially (they've already been looped in to Rockstar Wednesdays) because of what they bring to the table--stuff that I don't. It's exciting when you find people better than you, who complement your skills. It's even better when you get to work with them.

So, my first official employees are on deck. It feels more and more like a company every day...

Saturday, March 29, 2008

It's not just who you know...

It's also who knows you.

I am a huge believer in networking. I have met a lot of amazing people just by putting myself out there and talking to people. But you can only advertise yourself so much before it starts to get old.

An example: I was at a networking event a few months ago. The organization was developing affinity groups, and it was a chance to learn about what groups were starting up and if any were of interest to you. On the last of three rotations, I sat down to hear about the objectives of a group and the group leaders asked for suggestions of discussion topics for the group. Everytime a topic was mentioned, a woman at the table offered her expertise in speaking to the group on that topic, and what her qualifications were to do so.

Maybe she was qualified to speak to all of those topics. Maybe she was an amazing speaker. But the impression I got was that she was working so hard to promote herself and her capabilities that she wasn't adding value to the collective of the group, and she certainly wasn't listening to others.

I made a point of finding out her name. She doesn't know me at all, and I'd bet money she wouldn't remember me. But if I ever happen to run into her again, I'll remember that interaction.

Impressions are important. If you make a good one, people will spread that information. Bad impressions also spread, tend to last longer, and are difficult to overcome. Think about the impressions you are making.

Friday, March 28, 2008

The most important thing for a new company

There are lots of important things you need to do when you start a company. I thought the most important thing was winning your first project. Turns out, the most important thing is GETTING PAID for that project.

My husband is a wonderful man who is getting tired of me transferring our savings into my business account. I can't really blame him. I'm looking forward to the ratio of money going out to money coming in dramatically improving. Soon.

Rockstar Wednesdays

Over the last few weeks it became apparent that we just weren't able to make progress on our strategic planning at Tandem with all of the client stuff that we were busy with during the day. Plus, some of my fellow strategizers have other day jobs. I decided to schedule an after hours meeting one night a week, hard stop at 8 pm, and we tackle our planning/strategy discussions during that time.

We've had three meetings now, a different group/mix of people at each meeting. They are my favorite part of the week. Each meeting we've ordered food, settled in, and put together an impromptu agenda. Week one focused on overall strategy--what were we trying to accomplish? Week two we spent brainstorming our company values. This week, week three, we tackled some pesky issues with development resources and strategy and reviewed our interim bandaid of a website.

Maybe its because its in the evenings, maybe its because there's food there, maybe because I'm just loving the people we've got coming to these meetings, but those nights, more than any other time, I know we're going to be successful. I get re-energized. I get psyched about the future.

We're going to miss our Rockstar Wednesday meeting next week because several of us are off at client meetings or other previous engagements. I'm already looking forward to the following week when we continue to rock on.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Saying thank you

I got a letter in the mail this week. It was a thank you letter. What did I do to receive a thank you letter? I bought a lot of stuff from Zingerman's, my favorite specialty foods store from my home state of Michigan. They have fabulous food, and I buy stuff for myself, friends, family, and clients.

So they sent me a thank you letter, thanking me for being a good customer and giving me their business. They didn't include a coupon, or a special offer, just a really nice thank you. And they actually signed it (not stamped).

It made me feel valuable. It made me like Zingerman's even more. I'll be buying a lot more stuff. I hope you will too. I recommend the Reuben kits.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Signs you are doing something right...

Everyday I feel like I'm drowning in stuff that hasn't gotten done, or things I'm doing wrong. But I had a few conversations today, that after reflection, are probably signs I'm actually doing something right. If you recognize them, they might be signs that help you feel like you're doing something right, too.

  • Clients call you asking you to do more work for them
  • Old colleagues email you asking for a job
  • Clients call you asking for a job
  • You confuse your accountants--because you, in this one instance, actually know MORE than them about how to manage your company's finances
  • You understand the rest of the conversation with your accountant
  • Someone you are wooing to come work with you says yes
  • Someone who already said yes asks for more input into the start up process just because they want to be part of something cool
  • You take time to meet your spouse and kids for lunch because you're the boss now and can do that stuff sometimes
  • You schedule lunch, or drinks, with a competitor
  • You schedule lunch, or drinks, with an old friend so you can gossip about stuff that has nothing to do with work

Big Decisions

I took a few days off from blogging. It was a decision. I decided not to blog because I'm mad. I could have decided TO blog because I'm mad, and that would make for a better, more interesting blog. Maybe, but maybe it would have just been a cathartic rant, and perhaps one that I would have regretted.

In my very first blog, I wrote about decision making. This last week I have been astonished at the decisions that people have made, people in leadership roles, people who I respect.

I think its easy to make decisions to make your life easier, to make decisions out of spite or anger. I think its tougher to make decisions that are right, decisions that define your character.

I am trying to define my own character as a leader. Its not easy. I'm seeing lots of examples of what I don't want to do. That's actually helping me.

So I'm deciding not to rant about what's making me so angry. And hopefully that decision is helping me develop into the kind of leader, and person, that I want to be.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Resumes are dead

I read a great blog from Seth Godin recently that made me admit a dirty little secret--I only read resumes to check for typos. I don't hire people based on their past experience, I hire people based on their potential and their passion. And I probably am a little partial to people who are a little cocky, and a little quirky. None of this is particularly evident from a resume. And I don't think traditional interviews work either. When I interview someone, its as much about them being sold on me and what I'm offering as me being sold on them.

If I had to pick one thing I'm good at, I would say its finding talented people to work with. I put together a fantastic team at my last company. Its tough to think about starting all over again. But I'm looking forward to meeting new people, building a culture that I'm proud of through the combined efforts of these new team members, and taking my little one-person start-up to a ground-breaking, earth-shattering phenomenon of a company.

If that's the kind of company you want to work for, don't rely on a resume--network, ask for referrals, join LinkedIn, and keep people updated on what you're doing. If a company relies too much on your resume for your interview, I'd be worried. But for goodness sake, if you DO submit a resume, make sure there aren't any typos.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

What's your big idea?

I pitched my big idea today, to an actual client. The funny thing is, I had nothing to show, just painted the picture for them the best I could. And the really cool part? They got it. And they saw it bigger than I positioned it. Proof that sometimes even your big idea is bigger than you thought.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Fun with contracts!

Oh, the fun you have with contracts! Let's start with client contracts--the necessary evil in my current line of work in order to get paid. I'm guessing most b2b companies have the same issue, but for those of you who get to avoid this glorious process of contracting because you're a direct to consumer business, let me provide a few details.

So you land your first project with a company. Woohoo! They are happy to let you start working, but you really should concern yourself with how you are going to get paid. This means you need to start talking to their accounting or procurement department to make sure that all the paperwork is in place so that you can send them an invoice and they will pay it. But wait! The procurement department is never going to pay up until you have a PO# assigned to the project, and you don't have a chance of getting THAT until you have a Master Services Agreement, and possibly a Confidentiality or Non-Disclosure Agreement, signed. You can try to send your company's MSA and NDA (which hopefully you've gotten your sharkweasel to draft for you), but more and more companies want you to sign theirs. Once they send you their contracts, you need to send that to your sharkweasel to review to make sure you're not giving away more than the project entails. Your sharkweasel will likely have some changes to their MSA, which will result in a lovely match of volleyball between the sharkweasel and your client's legal eagles before everyone can live with the MSA. THEN, you can send the Statements of Work (SOW) for the project, which may need to be updated by this time to reflect the new MSA agreement. If everyone signs off on the SOW, then you'll probably get your PO# shortly thereafter (although sometimes you have to hunt this down, too) and then you can finally send your first invoice, which depending on the payment terms of your particular client, they may pay in 30, 45, 60, sometimes even 90 days (from the date that they RECEIVE the invoice, not the date of the invoice). The only good thing about this process is you only have to do it for your first project (or until the MSA agreement expires, at which point you have to do this all again).

And this is just the contracting process for your clients. You'll also have to go through a process for contractor agreements and employment agreements. But I don't want to scare you. Did I mention you should get yourself a good sharkweasel? I'd recommend mine, but as you can see, I'm currently keeping him quite busy...

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Just a girl

Sometimes it sucks to be a girl. More people in the US are sexist when it comes to voting than I'd like to admit, perhaps leading to the disproportional representation in our government; men are perceived as stronger in a variety of leadership characteristics, even by women, which may explain disproportionally small number women in top corporate leadership positions. Even after the women's movement, we've not quite achieved the equality the feminists fought (and still fight) for.

Knowing all of this has led me to have a bit of a chip on my shoulder and feel like I have something to prove. I analyze, then re-analyze, how I handle almost every situation. I think about how I can phrase my emails more authoritatively (I read once that women tend to use more qualifiers in their communication, like "I think" or "I feel," that can dilute the strength of the message), I examine my wardrobe choices for every meeting--too much cleavage? Skirt too short? Shirt too tight? I have gone out of my way to watch more ESPN and CNN than I probably would have otherwise, and I'm seriously considering taking up golf.

I do all of these things to minimize the fact that I was born with a vagina instead of a penis. It seems silly, really. I'm taking a vow now: I will not use my lack of a penis as an excuse for failure. I refuse to let my accomplishments be qualified by my gender.

Now, don't get me started on agism...

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Murphy desk

It shouldn't be shocking to me, but a joke we were making last week is no longer a joke, thanks to a little article I found today.

We had been talking about working around the clock, and how it would be great if our desks could convert into a bed so we could either a) grab a nap, or b) work round the clock. Obviously the nap idea is more appealing, but unfortunately option b is more likely.

Today I found this: (copied from actual article)

SmartBeds Computer Beds
Italian designer Colombo 907's SmartBeds are the cleverest Murphy beds we've seen yet, and good-looking to boot. The Tale model ($3,650) is a single-size bed that folds up to become a computer desk. Astonishingly, you don't have to move anything off the desk to open the bed. In fact, you can leave everything plugged in, and your desktop remains fully accessible when the bed is open, so you can grab your laptop or a book to read.

The Tale comes in six finishes. It includes a 6-inch-thick foam mattress and has a fingertip lift mechanism.
Meanwhile, the Tama model ($5,386), a full or queen-size double-bed version of the SmartBed, is perfect for a home office that doubles as a guest room. The Tama is the full-size double-bed version of this item.

Sadly, this actually does seem like a good idea.

Protecting your ideas

I did something new this week, especially for me. I asked people who I was talking to about Tandem's future initiatives to sign a confidentiality agreement.

For some people, that probably seems like a no-brainer. But its a big deal for me. I like to trust people and expect the best out of them. It seemed like asking someone to sign a pre-nup when you're just dating them.

But boy, would I be pissed if someone took my ideas. So I gave the confidentiality agreement to a couple people to sign, as a "just in case." I think the sharkweasel will be pleased.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Too busy to get anything done

We had a lot of meetings with clients today, started early, then ended late with a brainstorming meeting for Tandem planning. I was so overwhelmed with things to get done, at the end of our meeting (about 8pm), I couldn't find my keys. I haven't been this much of a ditz since the month I quit grad school, broke off my engagement, and decided to stay at Penn State and just get a job instead of go back to Michigan. Just like then, I'm feeling equal parts physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion.

One of our clients just got blessed/cursed with a product launch with a crazy deadline. There's a lot to get done, and we had an initial meeting today to see how we may be able to help. During the meeting, he was a bit more reserved and preoccupied, and we joked with him after that he wasn't himself. I said we should leave and let him get to work, and he said he wasn't sure he wanted us to go--he had so much to do, he didn't know where to start.

His comment made me realize how I keep myself going--by trying to help people like him who are so overwhelmed they're not sure where to start. Helping our clients helps me focus more than tackling all of the odds and ends that need to get taken care of for Tandem. The odds and ends won't go away and I'll eventually chip away at them, but it helps to feel like there's also a purpose that I'm working towards by helping someone else.

And thanks to the someone else who helped me tonight by finding my keys.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

This one's for you

When I decided to bail on the steady paycheck and try this all on my own, everyone told me that I just needed to get one project to get started, one client who would make the leap of faith with me. So this post is for you.

You called as I was leaving on my last day at my old job congratulating me, and had a gift and a card when I saw you the next day. It's more than anyone else (friends or family, anyone) did for me. You were the first client I approached as Tandem Learning, my first proposal, and you awarded me my first project. In case you didn't know, you have meant the world to me and I'm definitely not taking you for granted. Even though I'll eventually get other clients, you'll always be my first. And you never forget your first:)

Not a perfectionist, just competitive

When I was young, my mom always told me not to be too hard on myself. She was worried that I was too much of a perfectionist; I would get upset if I wasn't the best at everything. I realized earlier this week that I'm really not a perfectionist. I don't care if I'm perfect, as long as what I do is better than everyone else. Sometimes that means I do have to be perfect, which is probably where my mom got confused--I would get upset in high school if I got a B on a paper. But I wasn't competing with myself, I really just wanted other people to think I was the best (which wasn't going to happen with a B).

Trying to be perfect now would be an effort in futility. What is perfect in sales, in training people, in developing relationships? Its impossible to define. So I compete with other people I respect, who I think are really talented. And I strive to do such great work for my clients that they don't want to work with anyone else. And I try to surround myself with people who are better than me (and then I try to stay out of their way).

Starting this company has triggered a whole new range of competitiveness in me. I'm setting big goals for myself. I'm working hard not to make any huge mistakes. But to be honest, I have already upped my stretch goal for the year. Go big or go home.

Monday, March 10, 2008

You've got to know when to hold 'em

There are several decisions that are challenging me to decide when its the right time to lay my cards on the table. Because everything I'm doing now is unchartered territory for me, I'm much more reticent than I usually am about showing my cards too early. One of the big decisions is how much money and effort I want to put into preparing for my key customer segment's annual conference. Since I started two weeks ago, I've actually closed more projects than I had originally projected (good news). But they are all with one client (mediocre news). I'm a firm believer in spreading my eggs around multiple baskets, so the conference would be a great opportunity to connect with other prospective clients. It would also push me to finish several demos and other little marketing plans I have in order to showcase them to the widest possible number of prospects. And where my ego kicks in, I really just want to be there showing cool stuff and squelching any possible questions of what happened to me.

BUT, my number one priority is doing a fantastic job with the projects that we have on deck. And we'd probably make a lot more progress talking to my old contacts in one-on-one conversations where I can really highlight our demos and capabilities. Plus, the cost of going to the conference is probably more than I want to spend right now, and there's no sense of doing it half way--only one chance to make a first impression.

So I'm torn: relax a little and focus on the hand I have, or go all in for the big debut. I guess I'm on my own on this one, because as Kenny tells us, the Gambler, he broke even. I'm not looking to break even. I'm looking to win.

Friday, March 7, 2008

There are more people out there like me

Yesterday we met with another company to see their design and animation capabilities, to see if we could work with them on upcoming demos and projects. I got a lot more out of the meeting, though--we met some guys who are kind of like us, but farther along in this entrepreneurial road. They started their company a few years ago, and during our meeting with them yesterday, we got a glimpse into their "start up story"--some of the why and how they left the corporate machine to start their own gig.

It was a good day to have that meeting and hear those stories--yesterday morning I met with the sharkweasel (my lawyer) and realized there's a whole list of things that I need to do that I haven't done yet. (like insurance...evidently I need that...) I realized that I'm only two weeks old and although I started out feeling like I was really smart and could do this, every day I've started to feel more and more like an idiot. Not because what I know is wrong, just because there's so much I don't know. And so much that I don't know that I don't know.

I'm looking forward to meeting and making friends with other new entrepreneurs. They make me feel just a little bit smarter. And that there's hope. Because I'm only two weeks old...


I was poking around some blogs a couple days ago, and ran across The Last Lecture of Carnegie Mellon University professory Randy Pausch. At an hour and 16 minutes long, its feature film length, but it was the best 76 minutes I've spent in a long time. Two major reasons I recommend you take the time to watch this:

  1. This guy had an amazing opportunity to define his legacy in a way that very few people do. His awareness, reflection, and insight into his achievements is remarkable, and in and of itself, its enough to inspire people to work to achieve their dreams.
  2. He taught people to design virtual worlds! He understands and executed the crazy balance of entertainment, technology, and education. He helped develop a whole curriculum to make these connections for academia, corporations, and middle school students. He had the job I've always wanted.

So skip watching reality tv for a night, and watch this video on the reality of a guy who helped push virtual reality. Then make a list of your childhood dreams and figure out how you're going to achieve them.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Turf war of words

Yesterday I got into a turf war with another vendor over their audio scripting. It was funny for several reasons. But let me set the scene...

My client copies me on an email regarding an audio script that another vendor wrote; since we were going to be incorporating the video they were producing in our e-learning module, he wanted me to review it. So I reviewed it as I would any script that one of my writers would send to me. I changed it from passive to active voice, and I changed the "we" point of view narration to "you" because of the personalization adult learning principle (people remember more if content is personalized to them and their direct experience).

I knew before I sent it that the other vendor was going to be upset about my edits. There's nothing that riles a person up more than another vendor coming in and correcting something you've done in front of your client. So when I sent my comments, I did the whole "hey, this is just my opinion, I put all my comments in tracked changes, you and client can totally ignore if you see fit," blah, blah, blah.

No sooner do I send my edits than the other vendor sends an email back to our client, explaining why my comments should be ignored. I know this because I was on the phone with the client and he was reading me the email and I was again explaining why I made the edits and he could totally ignore me without my being offended. So he went through the pros-cons cycle: he DID ask my opinion and expertise in the first place, and I DID have rationale based on learning research to back up my changes, and ultimately I'm getting paid for providing them with my expertise in learning. So in the end they kept my changes (of course, while I was on the phone there was also an informal survey on the client-side of what everyone in the room thought, but I also won that by a narrow margin).

Score one for research, grammar, and a little tenacity. And on National Grammar Day, no less...

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Splitting the pie

You're starting a business, but you're not do you figure out how much of the business people deserve from the get go, before you have any history to pull from? I found this handy-dandy tool, which, although not perfect and definitely subjective, gives you some criteria to help come up with a number. Better than the SWAG or finger to the wind method...

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Everybody's working for (and on) the weekend

It used to be that Friday was the best day of the week. Sometimes it still is, but in recent years, and especially now that I'm trying to get this company up and running, the weekends are just two more working days. Working days where I'm also taking care of the kids, trying to have an occasional adult conversation with my husband that's not about work or the kids, and even more rarely these days trying to catch up with my friends and extended family. By the end of the day on Friday, I'm dreading the weekend and everything I've got to try to squeeze in to get ready for the next week.

One of the things I want to try to preserve in this first year of starting this company is my personal time, at least as much as possible. My work is my hobby, its what I love to do, and I have a hard time separating work from personal time simply for that reason...its not really that much like work to me. Ok, it is work, and I know that, and its stressful and never-ending, but I do love it. Which is why checking email, reviewing projects, etc., just doesn't seem like a big deal to do over the weekend. I've fallen into the trap of depending on weekend hours to play catch up.

But I remember what it was like to just simply have my weekends to do the non-work things that I love. So, I'm making a pledge to take back my weekends to do those things, which I never get to during the work week.

Just as soon as I finish this post...

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Breaking up is hard to do

When you leave your old job to start a new one, or in my case to try to start a new one, I've found that people generally have three reactions:

  1. Indifference: Typically a general "good for you" because your leaving either doesn't effect them or because maybe they secretly wanted you to leave anyway
  2. Where are you going and can I go there too?: Its amazing who comes out of the woodwork on this side (and sometimes who doesn't). In some cases its great to get this reaction, especially out of the people you'd love to keep working with. In other cases, this can be tough, either because you can't immediately see how this person fits into your new gig, or because you were secretly glad you were leaving this person behind
  3. How dare you!: This is the tough one. This is the one that leads to ugly behavior on the part of your ex-coworkers

So let's talk about the "How dare you!" people. They could be benign, cut any personal relationship they have with you and rally the remaining troops to move forward and succeed, hopefully better than when you were working with them. I understand (to some extent) hurt feelings when someone leaves, and this seems to me to be the high road that people who have this reaction can take.

But then there are the people who want to try to hurt you back. For whatever reason, people get so overprotective of their current positions, or see an opportunity to raise their value in the company, that they turn to the bully mentality of trying to make themselves look good by cutting the person who is leaving down. I'm not talking about the people you work with that do this all of the time, you'd expect this reaction from them. I'm talking about the people who you respected while you worked together, maybe even were friends with, that not only cut you off once you announce you're leaving, but look for ways to get back at you (threats of lawsuits, etc.).

I've heard that since I've left, co-workers have been reading through my old emails looking for "wrongdoing" or evidence of some sort. I'm sorry to say they'll be disappointed--I wish nothing but success for them and did nothing while I was working there to put the future success of the company at risk. I do feel a little sad that this is what they've resorted to--I hope that someday, when one of the key leaders in my company leaves, and I'm feeling hurt or angry or suspicious, that I'll remember this and take the high road. Better yet, I hope I just wish them well, figure out how to up my game, and look forward to competing with them.