Friends & Colleagues,
SCOJ95. 95 weeks in Detroit. I really enjoyed a fast-paced week that included many different areas of my work as well as many different articles from around the web. Part of my renewed inspiration this week is thanks to our All Company Meeting on Tuesday, where we heard from our leaders outlining the big goals for the next year. Part was in response to our annual reviews, which also occurred this week. It was a week focused on big goals, big dreams, and strategic planning. Right up my alley.
VCs are getting a taste of their own medicine in the battle for Silicon Valley investments. A new start-up, CircleUp, uses a proprietary algorithm to determine whether or not to invest in other startups. The software is called Helio and “tracks billions of data points about 1.3 million consumer and retail companies, automatically analyzing the same metrics that investors would typically consider manually, and predicting the likelihood that a startup will have breakout success.” So far, Helio tends to select more diverse founders than traditional venture capitalists. Over 1/3 of the funded companies are women-led, which is 17x the industry average.
Amazon agreed to buy Ring, the smart doorbell and home security device company. By doing so, Amazon invested further in home services and home security. With all the packages on porches, is Amazon growing the home services market or ensuring package theft does not deter their primary business? Amazon Home Services is a natural and profitable growth area and I would suspect these acquisitions only continue.
Included this week:
· Of Interest — Competitive housing markets trigger immediate bidding
· Power of storytelling — How do you market yourself to your employees?
· Valuable Lesson — Steps to reduce cell phone use are applicable everywhere
· Valuable Lesson, redux — Airbnb is at a critical moment versus conventional wisdom
· Millennial minute — How will the next generation approach today’s problems?
· Quirky content — Relativism has value but we often forget to assign it.
· Today’s Thought & the Quote
Of Interest: Imagine you and your partner have been looking for a new home for 3 months. The real estate agent has been sending links to MLS listings, but every time you call for a viewing, the house is under contract. Cash buyer this. Pre-approved offer above listing that. On one hand, you are not alone. Apparently, 2/3 of prospective buyers have been looking for 3 months or more. Whether it’s price, features or location, there is no question it’s a sellers’ market right now. You are feeling the pressure.
Another email from the realtor. This one just hit the market. Looks perfect. Craftsman 3 bed, 2 bath. You are tired of losing. You dial the realtor.
“Make the offer” you say with confidence.
“But you haven’t even seen it yet.” The realtor says right back. “I really think you should see it first.”
“Nope. I have a feeling here. I don’t care. We’re already approved for the listing price. Just send it in. Let’s go.” Confidence building.
“Okay…” Call over.
Apparently, your experience in this hypothetical is becoming more common every day in the real world. In fact, 35% of homebuyers did not visit their new home prior to bidding. The most competitive markets are the ones you think they are — San Fran, Boston, Dallas, DC, etc. Does it take confidence or desperation for those no sight bids? Have you ever bid on a home sight unseen?
When I once floated the idea of virtual reality tours so that buyers never had to actually visit the home prior to buying it, the most frequent feedback I got was — “what if it smells funny?” Here’s my thought — so what? There’s a risk versus reward here, especially in competitive housing markets. It might smell funny versus consistently getting outbid on available homes.
Power of storytelling: How well does your team, your organization, or your company tell its own story? After I arrived at Quicken Loans, I got the usual jokes — “how’s the kool aid?” and the like. Not long after that, I heard a story about Kanye West that changed my perspective a bit. A journalist had been dispatched to write a profile on West and met him at his LA home. Walking through the living room, there was a giant portrait of Kanye West over the fireplace. Seeing him looking at it, the writer asked about the painting. Kanye responded, “If I don’t believe in myself, who else will believe in me?” Not everyone requires such an obvious display to remind them of that truth, but it’s hard to deny that if the company cannot even sell itself to its employees, it would be hard for the employees to sell it to potential customers. So, I’ve come to love the Kanye story because it reminds me how deeply and how often we should be telling our best people how much we believe in them and how much the company is doing for them (and for our clients). Some continue to scoff at both Kanye’s ego and/or companies that consistently (and loudly) sell themselves to their own employees. I think those that scoff underestimate how easy it is to lose people’s attention and then their loyalty.
FirstRound profiled how Warby Parker deals with this issue and I found it incredibly valuable. For instance, the co-founder Dave Gilboa says “One thing I’ve always found surprising and unfortunate is that as companies get bigger and have more money and more ability to invest in the employee experience, they actually become worse places to work…That terrifies us.” And it should.
Here are some other takeaways for me: onboard with originality, communicate often and don’t worry about repeating consistent themes, and celebrate wins large and small.
As your company (or your team) grows, so must you. The bottom line — “learn, grow, repeat.”
Valuable Lessons: Meredith sent me an article about cell phone use. Halfway through the article, however, I realized the author’s recommendations are applicable to much more than cell phone use.
1. Reframe your mindset
2. Value your attention
3. Set yourself up for success
4. Create reminders / red flags
5. Pay attention
Though great advice for limiting cell phone use, these steps can help with almost anything. Want a promotion? It applies. Trying to get in shape? It applies. In fact, I’m already thinking of ways to deploy this process in small ways with my team at work.
Valuable Lessons, part deux: Starbucks is one of those business stories that turned out differently than conventional wisdom would suggest. The conventional wisdom suggested that no one would want or pay for gourmet coffee when it was readily available at home and on the way to work for much cheaper. Americans won’t pay $2.95 for a cup of coffee. That was the thought. Once Starbucks was a hit, the joke became that there’s one on every corner. We’ve all heard the joke about the intersection in NYC where there is a Starbucks on all four corners of the street. The next wave of conventional wisdom was Starbucks would put every local roaster and coffee shop out of business. Then, just the opposite happened. People started drinking more and more coffee. Local places and unique coffee flourished. Starbucks sparked a coffee craze that we’re still in the midst of today.
The same thing may be happening with Airbnb. According to The Atlantic, Airbnb revolutionized personal travel without taking all that much market share from the traditional hotel industry. Business travel still migrates to hotels. In fact, construction of new hotels stalled during the financial crisis and could have created a shortage of available rooms in the years to follow. Instead, Airbnb picked up the slack, mostly Millennials and young, urban professionals. “Airbnb expanded the availability of beds for visitors, gave young tourists a more authentic taste of their urban destination, and kept prices down for all travelers.”
Airbnb is now in the next wave of “conventional wisdom.” Airbnb is bad for locals and drives up rent and property values in our cities’ most desirable, “cool” neighborhoods. I don’t deny there are unintended consequences, but I wonder if 10 years from now we’ll be looking back on this moment of “conventional wisdom” only to find that something else happened to change the market without as many problems as we currently fear.
How does this apply to your business or your organization? What does conventional wisdom tell you about how things are changing or what is going to happen that you can use to an advantage? Why does one franchise ignite an industry while another upends it? How can you question conventional wisdom in a meaningful and profitable way this year?
Millennial minute: What will the next generation of social priorities and spending look like? An interesting aspect to the ongoing political battle over infrastructure spending is the way older generations (and older politicians) view America’s cities versus how millennials and younger generations attempt to correct this historical inequality. There is not enough data, yet, to determine whether millennials will break from their parents in terms of urban versus suburban funding and priorities. So, the bottom line is that it’s too soon to tell what the future holds. Yet, The Guardian decided to speculate how America’s cities will be treated in the near future based on how these same cities were treated in the recent past. I understand there are some blatant implicit biases written into this piece, but I really feel it is important to share.
In writing the Saturday Cup of Joe over the last 18+ months, I have come across more research — both scientific and anecdotal — that shows how the spending policies of the 40s, 50s, and 60s continue to have real impact on today’s populations. Infrastructure, such as highways that passed over the urban neighborhoods to deliver white collar workers from the office to their communities without interacting with anyone else, remains funded. Cities and social programs remain woefully underfunded.
The question for the next generation will be — what are you going to do about it? What do you value?
An important excerpt from the article includes:
“Nowhere is infrastructure so obviously divisive as with the vast interstate highway system. Ubiquitous, generally free and heavily used, it’s undeniably a vital part of the American experience. There are more than one million miles of federal aid highways in the US, which cost $105bn a year to maintain. If American highway spending were a country, it would have the world’s 63rd largest GDP, just behind Morocco. But while these roads unify and connect millions of the country’s citizens, they’ve also excluded and destroyed many black communities.”
This is important because many in the suburbs and rural communities have denied the reality of this and how it shaped urban, black communities for generations.
For instance, “Moreover, while the freeways opened up routes from the suburbs to the city centres, there were often a conspicuous lack of entrances in black communities. The gigantic concrete ditch in West Baltimore is a perfect example: sunken, without exits — it effectively seals off one side from the other.”
Choices made in the physical world of funding and design created real limitations that many families and kids growing up in places like Baltimore, St. Louis, Detroit, and Milwaukee could not overcome.
We value what we spend our money on. What do you value?
Quirky Content: Ever wonder if you want to actually get a good deal or if you want to feel like you’re getting a good deal? Many of us want to buy what we want to buy but we just need validation that it’s ok or, at the very least, a little information to help us rationalize what we want to do anyway. This is the interesting story of how JCPenney did away with discounts and instituted “fair and square pricing” right around the final price of the previously discounted price. The company lost $985 million and the CEO was fired. All because people didn’t care if they were actually saving money. They wanted to feel like they were saving money.
“Is this behavior logical? No. Does it make sense once you understand relativity? Yes. Does it happen frequently? Yes. Did it cost an executive his job? Absolutely.”
What the CEO did not factor in was the experience of the sale. It was more important to go through the hoops of finding the coupon or locating the “sale item” than it was to actually pay less for the item. It was all relative anyway. The company did not put any value on the experience and when the shoppers evaluated the new fair pricing model, they did not put a value on the time/experience/savings because none of this was conscious.
It’s important to try to think of everything in terms of value and, by doing so, we can more objectively value the price against the experience.
Today’s Thought: This week, I attended the retirement party of a colleague who had built our company’s technology almost from scratch. Her impact both professionally and personally was felt throughout the organization. Watching more than a hundred people fill a room to thank her for her role in their lives was powerful. Over and over people told me about how she modeled the candor, honesty and a frank, even sometimes vulgar, communication style to ensure that everyone in the room understood the stakes as well as the decision that was being made. Her legacy is one of fearlessness, courage, and integrity. What’s your legacy going to be? It’s interesting to think of your own retirement party as a litmus test for how you want to live and work in your current role. If you retired today, what would people say? Is that ok with you? I’m using Debby’s retirement party as both a reminder and motivator to make each decision, live every day and send every email in the tone of the person I want to be.
Quote: “There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.” — Ernest Hemingway
Bonus Content: What happens when the most powerful big data company (or at least the most well-funded) teams up with a city to fight crime? No one knows for sure but it’s possible some progress is being made.