Archive for April, 2010

The Strap Snapped

Friday, April 30th, 2010

SNAP!

We’ve all been there.  The strap snaps on your shoe leaving you tripping down the sidewalk.  Or a book-filled backpack strap gives out  had you have to drag your bag home.  Or you’re debuting a new bathing suit and after the first dive the strap breaks and that’s the end of the pool for you.

Melissa Lierman wrote to me on Twitter saying a “super concern for me is STRONG handles and connections.”  She had some bags in the past that broke on her and was disappointed.

This got me thinking – what is the strongest kind of strap connection?

“Traditional” laptop bags have a fabric strap which is sewn in:

Computer Bag Strap

A tote bag strap connection often looks like this:

Tote Bag Strap

For my bag, I am hoping to have a hardware connection.  Something simple like this:

silver clasp

Or maybe something more interesting like this:

Orchid Strap

But now I’m really wondering what is best.  Any suggestions?  Engineers out there with a good answer?  Let me know.

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Why You Need a Coach

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010
Jackie Trepanier

Jackie Trepanier

I have a coach.  No, not a therapist or a shrink.  A coach.  Think Phil Jackson to Michael Jordan without the fade away jump shot.

Let me introduce you to Jackie Trepanier.  She’s brilliant.  And better than being brilliant, she’s a fantastic coach.  Jackie has all the right education – she is an Associate Certified Coach (ACC) credentialed through the International Coach Federation (ICF).  But what really makes her wonderful is the creative way she works to solve my problems.

She listens, questions and makes me find my way to the answer – the right answer for me.  Then we work together until the situation is resolved.  Its like having a world-class advisor in my back pocket.  Priceless.

Last year I conquered several stressful events (pregnancy/having a baby, selling a house, leaving a job and moving across the country) at once.  I wouldn’t recommend it.  Here’s what I know for sure though – if it weren’t for Jackie I wouldn’t have made it through the ordeal.  No way, no how.

Why you need a coach:

1. You have goals at work – make $455,000 in the 2nd quarter, improve efficiency by 12.7%, etc.  A coach can help you obtain YOUR (read: fun) goals. Want a promotion?  A bigger salary?  A way to get out the door by 6 PM?  A coach will help you do all those things.

2.  Maybe you don’t know what your goals are.  A coach can help you discover what you really want. And I think you’ll find out just showing up isn’t good enough anymore.

3.  You will experience change in your life.  Its inevitable.  A coach will help you navigate when times get tough. You’ll have the tools to face career, relationship and personal changes with grace.

4. Self-help books and articles are made for the masses.  (Sorry Dr. Phil.)  Only a coach can give you personalized guidance keeping your strengths in mind.

5. Having a coach isn’t all talk.  Your coach will encourage you to take action. When you “forget” to make that one call that could change your life, your coach will be asking you why.  Having someone holding you accountable to will change the way your act on your goals.

The life of a new entrepreneur is often a lonely one.  Having Jackie as my coach has given me a team atmosphere from the beginning.  Who is on your personal board of advisors?  Now you know the president of mine.

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Robots Need Clothes Too

Friday, April 23rd, 2010
Rosie the Robot

Although Rosie the Robot always looked quite nice, TDIC doesn't make robot clothes like this.

“I think they make robot clothes or something…”

This was the description I received from Josh before I went to meet with Mark D’Andreta, President of TD Industrial Covers, Inc. (TDIC)

Um … huh?

Well, to be truthful, it wasn’t the only description.  Mark was a second generation entrepreneur.  His father had started the business while Mark was working at a local marketing firm.  Mark’s father wanted him to come work at TDIC, but Mark said no and basically thought his father was nuts.

But he left it with a caveat.  “If you ever make $XX (a certain amount of money) I will quit my job and join you.”

Mark never thought his father would make that amount and he never thought he’d leave his job.  But one day Mark’s father called him over, opened the accounting books and pointed to the bottom line.  He’d made Mark’s goal.  True to his word, Mark quit his job, and joined his father.

Mark was extremely nice during our first meeting.  He listened to my idea, confirmed they had the machines to make a prototype and we talked about next steps.

“So…I hear you make robot clothes?”  Mark smiled.  I could tell I didn’t have the story quite right.

It turns out there are robots on the automotive lines that paint cars.  If the robots are naked, besides being quite embarrassing for the robots, paint drips off the metal arm leaving excess paint drops on brand new cars.  When they are wearing clothes – more commonly refered to as covers – the cover can soak up the extra paint  leaving the car with a perfect finish.

After a tour of the plant, we left with the agreement that I would come back in a few weeks with a design idea for my bag.  Perfect!

Wait…did I mention I’m not a designer?  Or even an artist?  I wasn’t sure how I was going to explain myself, but at least I had a few weeks to figure it out.

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Finding Strengths Through Social Media

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

Before he appeared on Oprah, I hired Marcus Buckingham as the keynote speaker at the Interactive Promotion Summit.  He was easy to work with, called me before the event to understand the audience and gave a great presentation.  Since then I’ve followed his career with added interest.

His latest project is working with women, finding their strengths and then using those qualities to their advantage.  Take this quiz to find your strengths.

[clearspring_widget title="The Strong Life Test for Women" wid="4a6e274b799f5199" pid="4bcda0d31de2111b" width="200" height="450" domain="cs89.clearspring.com"]

Love this social marketing approach for two reasons:

1. Who doesn’t want to learn more about themselves?  This quiz is a good one  - interesting questions without obvious choices leading you to choose the answer you want.  My results? “Creator” … another name for entrepreneur.

2. The results include enough insight to leaving you wanting more.  Part of mine was “Make sure you always…find time to be alone during the day.”  Perfect – I can’t deny I get the most done when I have time to really think.

Like any good marketing, its lead me to buy the product.  Time to fire up the Kindle.

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Connections

Friday, April 16th, 2010

“Oooooo….you should talk to him, he’s got connections.”

This used to mean that person could get me into the bar.  Now it means something totally different.

Once I’d rolled around the bag idea enough I told Josh.  Sitting in his office I came out with it, “I have an idea.  For a business.”

Josh looked at me from across his desk, “Really?”

“Yes, it doesn’t have anything to do with ePrize or marketing though.”

“OK, let’s hear it.”  He leaned forward and waited.  After hearing me out he replied, “That’s great!  In fact, I think I know someone who has the equitment to make something like that.  I’ll send out an email introduction.”

I walked back to my desk a bit stunned.  That’s all it took?  I tell my idea to one person and I meet someone who can create the bag?

I shouldn’t have been so surprised.   Entrepreneurs are drawn to one another.

Blue Bicycle Books

Jonathan & Lauren Sanchez open Blue Bicycle Books

Since putting myself in the entrepreneur catagory it seems I’m surrounded by them.  The first people we knew in Charleston were entrepreneurs.  Our friends Jonathan and Lauren Sanchez own Blue Bicycle Books downtown.

et cetera

Bob Farina in Et Cetera

Jonathan is a writer and runs the store.  Lauren is an interior designer and has her own firm, L_Design.  She also makes beautiful fabric purses.

Our favorite restaurant, et cetera, is owned by Bob Farina who spent the majority of his career at Bloomingdale’s.  Now he runs a gourmet food shoppe which has received rave reviews for its evening tapas selections.

Daniel Island Hip Hop

Angel Roberts leads Daniel Island Hip Hop

I take my excercise classes from Angel Roberts, a second generation entrepreneur.  While she used to live in LA and work as the stylist on “That 70′s Show” she now has her own interior decorating company while also teaching hip hop for children and adults.  Her mother started the largest dance competition in the country.

Recently, I’ve met Katie Johnston, a jewelry designer whose pieces are worn on the Lifetime hit “Army Wives” and Amy Pastre and Courtney Rowso of the award-winning design company Stitch.  Even the founder of Twitpic, Noah Everertt, lives in my neighborhood.

When Josh made that connection for me, he wasn’t looking to gain anything from it.  He just wanted to connect two people who he thought could help one another.  As I make my way in the entrepreneur world I hope I can do the same thing.

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Female Entrepreneurs are Just More Interesting

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010

All entrepreneurs are interesting and have a cool stories about growing their businesses.  But females entrepreneurs are just more interesting.

Male entrepreneurs …

Create a successful company and buy a sports team.

Create a successful company and buy a sports team.

Create a successful company and buy a sports team.

Create a successful company and buy a sports team.

We get it already!

While living in California I became enamored with Meg Whitman.  eBay was in the news everyday.  Their headquarters were down the street from my office.  The day they went public shares of eBay went up 163.2 percent and closed  at 47.435 far exceeding the target price of $18 a share.  Crazy times.

Meg Whitman

Meg Whitman

Meg isn’t the founder of eBay.  But she was the one to grow it from 30 to 15,000 employees and from $4 million in revenue to $8 billion by 2008.  Impressive entrepreneurial skills by any standard.

Besides the insane success of eBay, the other thing that made Meg interesting was she was publically well liked.  Her people like her too – year after year she was named as one of the  country’s best managers in Business Week.  It was in stark contrast to Carly Fiorina – the other female leader in the Valley who, sadly, was often mistaken for Cruella de Ville.  I wondered how Meg did it all.

Eating at a deli in San Jose one afternoon I looked up and saw Meg a few tables over.  After panicking for a moment I got up the nerve to go over to her table.  I stammered hello, shook her hand and something like “I’m a huge fan.”   Profound.

Do you know what she did?  She thanked me and then introduced me to everyone else at her table.  Like I was an equal. I stood there dumbfounded, nodded to the men at the table and became a lifelong fan of Meg Whitman.

That chance meeting gave me great insight.  If that’s how Meg treated a stranger, imagine how she treated the people around her.  She knew how to form relationships and it had clearly been a big part of her success.

As I write this Meg is campaigning to be Governor of California.  While I don’t know her political beliefs, I’m sure a state in financial crisis could use someone with her background as a successful business woman.  An actor is fun – but an entrepreneur just might be the ticket.

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How to Be a Fashion Designer

Sunday, April 11th, 2010

That title is misleading.  I don’t want to be a fashion designer.

But it seemed some background knowledge couldn’t hurt.  A manual, checklist, instructional video…something.  Turning to Amazon, I came up with a few books.  Some of them were not helpful.  This one was:

The Fashion Designer Survival Guide

The Fashion Designer Survival Guide: An Insiders Guide to Staring and Running Your Own Fashion Business

I read it while we were on vacation sitting poolside.  People next to me saw that it was a Kaplan book and asked if I was studying for the MCAT or perhaps the LSAT?  Um, not exactly.

Right in the beginning the book says “There is no magic formula or secret to success…”  But it does give you terms you need to know.  Plus there are worksheets, step-by-step instructions and a list of resources at the end.

I found the pricing section of particular interest.  I want to price my bag around $250.  According to the book, retail markup equals double the wholesale price, plus 20 to 80 percent.  This is referred to as 2.2 or 2.8.

If I want to stay at the low end (2.2) the cost to produce my bag needs to be about $57.  Here’s the math working in a more linear fashion:

Cost of Goods Sold (leather, zippers, clothing, production, etc.) = $57

Wholesale Price =  $114 ($57 x 2.2)

Retail Price = $250.80 ($114 x 2.2)

This opens up a whole new box of questions.  Do I sell wholesale or retail?  Is this the right price?  Can I make the bag for $57?  How much will marketing and other professional services cost above COGS?  But at least I had somewhere to begin.

What tactical books have you found helpful for your business?  Is there a resource you go to again and again?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Problem Solving Through Non-Linear Thinking

Tuesday, April 6th, 2010

In my last job I spent a day shadowing Nathan Hughes, VP of Development at ePrize.  He leads a team of talented software engineers.  To say we think differently is an understatement.  Nathan is a classic linear thinker and his thought process looks like this:

Linear Thought Process

It was inspiring to watch him answer a question, deal with a team issue or solve a problem.  Time and time again I would watch him methodically pose a question, gather the raw data, analyze and come up with answer.  The process was clean, simple and pretty.

When I have a problem I think of it like this:

My Non-Linear Problem

Yikes!  Not clean, not simple and certainly not pretty.  I don’t think in sequential steps.  The problem rolls around and around in my head while I fill in the gaps.  For instance if I were planning a dinner party it would look like this:

Dinner party thought process

If I get stuck on one part the whole thing comes to halt.  Picture it like you had a flat tire – most of the tire is fine, but that one leak is keeping you from moving.  So now the planning of my party looks like this:

Dinner Party - No Menu

After I fill in every part of the puzzle then I can solve the problem.  Once its finished I can “roll” or complete all the steps to come up with solution.  In my head, now it looks like this:

Dinner party done!

Bottom Line: I can certainly plan a party, just don’t invite me to be the chef too.  Recipes don’t turn out well if you don’t follow them step-by-step.  Trust me.  Get Nathan to help you and you’ll have much happier guests.

So back to my bag.  Where to start?  I had design ideas, branding thoughts, leather colors, funding questions, time restraints, zipper pulls, shipping concerns and “The Devil Wears Prada” running through my head at once.  I was frozen with thought.

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The Bag

Friday, April 2nd, 2010

Since the beginning of time I’ve been searching for the perfect laptop bag.  The bag is so important because it goes everywhere with me and holds my most valued material possession.  Like most people – I would rather get my car stolen than my laptop.

The original must have bag - The Almighty Hermès Birkin Bag

Every time we traveled, I looked for a bag.  Each magazine I read, I hoped there would be a solution.  Every mall trip, I asked sales people to see if they knew something I didn’t.  I scoured the internet and found a site featuring the latest news on women’s laptop bags.  Still nothing that made me pull out my debit card.

In my quest I’d owned the standard black nylon bag, two bags from Lodis and one from Franklin Covey.  Yes, each bag sufficiently held my laptop. But it also had to hold other things so I didn’t have to drag a purse along.  Add in a lunch bag and I’d officially be the bag lady.  Plus, if your bag is supposed to “make” your outfit, these certainly weren’t cutting it.

One day I was standing in the kitchen (where most of life’s big events happen) and it hit me.  I wanted to produce my own bag.  I looked up at my husband.  “I think I want to make a laptop bag.” He replied, “That’s a great idea!”   Pause.  “How do you do that?”

Good question.

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Josh

Friday, April 2nd, 2010

As far as entrepreneurs go, Josh Linkner is the real deal. He started his first business in college, built and sold a company during the dot com era and created hundreds of jobs in a state economy that consistantly gets rated as one of the worst in the country. While he looks like he could still be an undergrad, his resume was certainly intimidating.

“Come on in and close the door,” Josh motioned me in and I sat down. Don’t you hate it when people say “Close the door”? My stomach sank to my feet.

Josh Linkner

Josh - Circa 2009

“So … I’ve been doing some thinking. I think we need a marketing person. And I think it should be you. Would you be…”

“YES.” I replied. I didn’t need to hear the rest. The role didn’t come with a raise, or anything like that. I didn’t care. I’d be working for Josh directly while creating and executing the marketing plan for ePrize. It took all the self restrain I had not to skip back to my desk.

During the next six years, Josh would teach me a ton about marketing. He’d push my self-imposed boundaries. We created PR plans, ran conferences and implemented ad campaigns. There were no directions. No one knew the 32 step plan to host an event or the sure fire way to get 200 PR wins in a year. But learned I could figure it out. And once I got comfortable with the unknown elements, it really got fun.

Josh gets things done faster than anyone I know. Faster than anyone you know too. I made it my job to not only keep up, but to soak it all in. At times I though he was crazy. I’d be in his office for a meeting and by the time I got back to my desk there would be an email with another idea. When everyone else would say “not possible under any circumstances” he would say “should be easy – get it done by tomorrow.” Because that’s what he truly believed.

He taught me what it took to run and grow a business. How to set goals. How to read financial reports and make budgets. How to negotiate and save money. How to make connections, manage vendors, hire and fire people, prepare for board meetings, schedule production teams, forecast sales and create a corporate culture. How to take feedback (that one took a while) and how to give it. How to do everything.

I had to write this post about Josh so soon in the blog because through creating ePrize and being my mentor he changed my life – more specifically – my path in life.  He was the ultimate entrepreneurial role model and believed in my abilities.  Now I can picture myself as an entrepreneur. It’s time to step out on my own.

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