Category: Entrepreneurship

Why You Have to Hire People

My first business was fixing computers. Jeremy Blum and I founded the company when we were 14 years old and worked on it all throughout high school. For the most part, it was always just the two of us fixing computers. We repaired as many as we could while balancing school and were pleased with the profit we were pulling in. As I am getting exposed to larger and growing organizations like influencers@, it’s becoming clear why the CEO can’t fix computers.

If we break down a business, it is essentially made up of:

  • Getting customers: selling, engaging with people and keeping them happy.
  • Servicing customers: building or providing a product or service that customers are willing to pay for. 
  • Operations: making the business run smoothly, accounting, people, logistics, office space, internal stuff, culture.

Each of these responsibilities is pretty intense and requires somebody’s focus. One of the reasons why a startup is so challenging is because usually everyone focuses on everything. In the early days, that’s ok. From being a part of a 9 month old profitable business, I am beginning to realize that this system starts to break down for more mature ventures. The executive and founding team has to start moving away from the “computer fixing” and more towards a focus on growing the business. That might mean overseeing sales that bring in more computers to fix, recruiting awesome new computer technicians and providing an environment that makes fixing computers as efficient and profitable as possible. This is when we begin hiring people.

Hiring people is scary because you are suddenly entrusting someone else with what you believe you do best. You need cash or equity to pay them with and you suddenly have to think about a slew of challenges that were non existant in my high school business: payroll, human resources, people liability, complex scheduling and other people’s human emotions in your business. That stuff is tough!

To scratch the surface on hiring, here are a few guidelines to consider when you are making the first hires in your organization:

1. Hire slowly

Spend a reasonable amount of time interviewing, testing and hanging out with a person before you give them an offer. Some hires are easier than others, but this person is going to be a part of the company culture and responsibile for some aspect of your business. That means that he or she is pretty darn important! 

2. Look for people you know

Start with the lowest barrier to entry when looking for hires: people you know. I’ve hired a ton of folks that were involved in the Entrepreneurs Club for influencers@. I already knew them and their capabilities.

3. Seek passion, not skills

I’m a big believer in hiring people that are passionate about the job and the business over someone who is a so-called “expert” in a specific skillset. You can read more about that here

4. Be a mentor to them

The stronger your hires become, the stronger your business becomes. That means you should invest considerable time, esspecially in the early days, mentoring and staying close with these people. I take every opportunity I can to show Dave Fields better ways to phrase emails and organize schedules.

Hiring is a big and exciting move in any start-up business. Sometimes it works out, other times it might not. Either way, the founders and leaders will eventually have to move away from service delivery and towards even greater company challenges, and hiring smart people is the first step in making that possible.

More Than a Haircut

I don’t care how much technology exists nor how advanced our society gets – real people interaction and exceptional customer service will always be key in creating feelings. Feelings impact my buying decisions much more than a 10% off daily deal coupon, and here is why:

Last week I wandered through Allston, MA near the influencers@ HQ in search of a haircut. I peeked my head into a few shops along Harvard Avenue, all busy, high priced or both. As I turned onto Commonwealth Avenue, I walked by a small shop called Volmmer’s Hair Salon. As I walked in, a man came out from behind a desk to greet me and ask if I’d like a haircut. I enthusiastically responded yes. I quickly learned that this man’s name was Volmmer, the owner and operator of the business.

While Volmmer ended up giving me a great haircut (he claimed that it made me look several years younger, which I’ll always take as a compliment), that is not why I was so impressed. Instead, it was Volmmer’s exceptional customer service.

1. He asked for my name

As soon as I sat down, he asked what my name is. Not how I wanted my hair, but what my name is. He then told me his name, and proceeded to address me by name for the rest of the hair cut. This made it personal, and it was gold. 

2. He understood time

Volmmer new I was at lunch while at work, and did not waste any time in getting me back to the office as soon as possible. Interestingly, we were still able to have an enjoyable conversation that fit right in.

3. He priced reasonably

I wanted to pay $15 for a haircut – that is the value I placed on it as a customer. So when other salons offered $18, despite being such a small difference, I wasn’t enthused. Sure enough Volmmer charged $15. I paid him $18.

4. He produced a great product

Being personal and having great customer service is awesome, but it won’t be good enough if your business doesn’t provide a quality product. Volmmer gave me an excellent haircut and provided excellent customer service simultaneously.

Ultimately, Volmmer impressed a customer because he took something simple (going and getting a haircut) and made it an incredibly pleasant experience. It didn’t take much: he just treated customers with respect, produced a high quality product and priced it appropriately. His small shop should be the model for every business a customer interacts with. Volmmer didn’t just provide a haircut – he made me feel appreciated as a customer. And that is why for as long as I am in Allston, I will be a customer of Volmmer’s Hair Salon.

Crafting the Next Great Leader

I’m thrilled to announce that rising junior Matt Bilotti will be my successor as the next President of the Northeastern University Entrepreneurs Club. Our team’s executive board just voted him in, but that wasn’t a surprise for me; in fact, I knew Matt was going to be the next President since last October. This is the story of how a leadership development strategy crafted Matt from inexperienced sophomore to chief executive.

It is October 2011 when I walk in the door at an Entrepreneurs Club meeting. Sure enough, Director of Marketing sophomore Matt Bilotti is just a minute behind me, ready to get the room setup an hour before our 100+ person event. As I think back to recent events the club has put on, I come to an interesting realization: Matt is always “just a minute behind (or ahead) of me” when it comes to preparation. As President, I attend nearly every event the club puts on, which is usually about 6 weekly. There is only one other person that attends all of those with me: Matt. I never asked him to, he just shows up. He is at every meeting, every event and responds to every email. As a manager, this gives me a simple indicator: Matt cares. Matt’s passion for the organization can only rival mine. Needless to say, this was the first indicator that Matt has potential for the big job of President.

Once I discovered Matt’s passion, care and how it set him apart, I decided to spend more time with him. I invited him to more meetings and asked his opinion in more emails. Before we knew it, he was playing a Vice President role informally, taking on many of the tasks without the title or authority of VP. As Matt continued to add value in all that I threw at him, it hit me that he could be the next President. But at this point he is young and inexperienced. So what did we do? We created and executed the following leadership development strategy:

1. Critical Beyond Belief

When most people on my team make a mistake, I am generally pretty comforting, help them understand what they did wrong, and am lenient in letting it go. With Matt on the other hand, I was ruthless. I ripped apart his emails, comments and any written documents with a slew of constructive criticism on the weaknesses and specifically how he can improve them. When he made a silly comment in a meeting, I came down on him harder than anyone else.

This all got to him sometimes and I could feel his intense frustration. He might not have realized how much it burned me inside to see him agitated. But I knew I had to keep going. So I just pushed harder. I taught him how to send authoritative emails, engage with sponsors and motivate teammates to excel. 

2. Meetings Meetings Meetings

I pulled Matt into many management and recruiting meetings. He watched and soaked in how I handled on boarding new teammates and senior level management challenges. 

3. Expanding the Marketing Department

To give Matt more responsibility, we expanded the Marketing Department, created a new program called Marketing Marines which he manages and gave him responsibility for another brand new club program, Engineers for the Greater Good. Having oversight on these new programs gave Matt an opportunity to build his leadership skills in real life as opposed to just watching. 

4. Spending Time

Matt and I started spending a lot of time together. In the fall we would watch movies together on the weekends, and in the spring we started going to the gym together every morning. The gym was just an extended conference room – we discussed organizational successes and challenges, and used the time to brainstorm solutions. Matt was able to get a clear view of what the role of President was like because we interacted with each other so much.

5. Caring

Perhaps the most important element of this leadership development strategy is that I truly care about Matt. When he is struggling or upset, I want to help him and see him feel better. I want him to grow, learn and succeed, and over the past year I invested a lot of time into ensuring that he will. This element is why I was able to be so critical with Matt, and an important “secret sauce” in the leader development and mentor/mentee strategy. Below is an excerpt from an email I sent him in February when I sensed he was being challenged with the training:

“I know I am extremely critical and rough on you, more so than with anyone else. I know this can be challenging and aggravating at times. I call you out on stuff I’d never mention to most other people. While this is challenging to work through now, it will be immensely beneficial for you going forward. I am incredibly proud of you and all of your hard work so far this semester and your journey towards becoming the next great leader of our organization.

What I am doing now is a crash course to prepare you for that, which means that if it is to be done well it requires me to be hyper-critical. Most people won’t do that for you… they won’t call you out on things. Instead, they’ll let your weaknesses build up until you fall. That is a shameful disservice to you. Few people will have the guts to call you out… and those are the people you want to be surrounded by because they actually care about you.”

I joke that Matt was my biggest “project” this year; and all joking aside, it is pretty much accurate. Through all of the leadership development, meetings, constructive criticism and teaching, Matt has emerged as a force to be reckoned with. He is organized, forceful, insightful and can control a room. He knows how to identify talent and how to cultivate it. He still has a ton to learn, but I am confident that he is ready to take on the role of youngest President in the history of the club. Put bluntly, Matt will kick ass in his role and I cannot wait to watch him do it next fall.

A Day in the Life of Ryan Durkin

For a recent class assignment, I interviewed Ryan Durkin, the COO of CampusLive, a marketing company that focuses on engaging college students with brands through fun online games and challenges that give the students opportunities to win cool prizes. Ryan is a 2008 graduate of UMass Amherst and also serves as an Administrator for the Massachusetts Soldiers Legacy Fund. At CampusLive, Ryan is responsible for a 25 person team, overseeing spending of over $3.1M in venture capital funding and is passionate about being an operator.

Ryan’s days are busy to say the least. He gets to the office at 9am, fires off some emails and jumps right into finances. He checks in on cash flow, how much cash is in the bank, ensures receivables are paid off to keep CampusLive’s customers and vendors are happy. His focus on financials is not to do book keeping but more to quickly identify problems early as opposed to finding a cash shortage at the end of the month when closing the books. If he does detect something of concern, he can immediately alert the proper stakeholder so they can take action accordingly.

From there, Ryan moves to sending a daily email to the entire team updating them on key performance metrics for their product. It includes growth rates, user engagement and multiple internal stats for the business. Ryan considers that consistent communication and transparency a crucial aspect of his management style. He sees ensuring that KPIs are in check is a primary role for any operator.

Next, Ryan shifts focus to legal, accounting and general administration tasks. This includes creating offer letters for new hires, reviewing stock option grants, etc. While it isn’t the most glamorous of his responsibilities, he is confident that one can learn a ton from dealing with these administrative tasks. Once he finishes those up, Ryan spends the rest of his day in random meetings with his team. He might get pulled in to advise the marketing folks or sit in on usability studies with customers. He also spends time speaking to potential new teammates at networking events in Boston: he is constantly recruiting.

Management Challenges

While Ryan’s job is fun and fulfilling, it isn’t always easy. He faces constant challenges that he must overcome in order to continue to be a successful manager and learn and grow.

1. Getting the product right

In order for CampusLive to sustain its growth and continue to expand its revenue, the product must appeal to each unique consumer group based on their interests (men interested in sports, women interested in music, etc). This provides an exciting challenge to the company’s engineering team that keeps them motivated and passionate about coming to the office everyday – they know they will be faced with challenging problems to solve.

2. Hiring technical talent

As a technology-driven company with a web-based product, Ryan is constantly on the hunt for top-notch developers to join the team. He is tasked with creating a world class company culture that is a prime environment for developers to be happy. He recommends making that environment be focused on problem solving and seeking developers that also have strong business acumen and comfort speaking. Ultimately, Ryan looks for developers that he can sit down and have a conversation with and be comfortable talking to.

3. Finding the right mentors and board of directors

Ryan relies on a network of mentors and advisors to get advice, introductions and assistance from for his business. Finding great mentors, appointing investors to the company’s Board of directors and appropriately engaging with all of them can be challenging but rewarding when done successfully.

4. Figuring out when to communicate with team members

When a company is small, it might be feasible for the COO to sit down with every member of the team once a week and check in, ensure they have everything they need to succeed and that they are happy in their role. As a company gets larger, it becomes much more difficult to do that. Additionally, a management structure and hierarchy starts to form where marketing associates might take detailed questions to the VP of Marketing instead of Ryan as the COO.

Putting faith in VP level management and consulting with them as opposed to everyone in the team directly can be challenging, but a necessity as the venture grows. Being willing to encourage teammates to speak to their managers directly and not handling every detail is a tough call for a manager like Ryan. He consistently delegates responsibilities to his VPs so he can focus on more of the big picture operations responsibilities.

Characteristics of Great Managers from Ryan’s Perspective

  • Finding success and drive in productivity – passionate about building and executing
  • Good managers live for other people – they want to see their team succeed
  • Ability to look at their team’s skills and match them with mentors to build up those skills
  • Communicating clearly and transparently
  • Providing feedback in the form of appreciation, praise and suggestions for improvement
  • Setting specific goals that are measurable and realistic
  • Introducing teammates to the right people to advance their lives
  • Keep people happy and reduce turnover… making a new hire can cost $20,000+

Key Abilities to focus on to be a great manager and COO

Ryan recommends that an operator should have a solid understanding of numbers and business models. They need to understand implications of adjustments in the business cycle – if we increase our marketing spend, how does that affect the month’s cash flow?

He also stressed the importance of someone’s likability. One can be good at managing, but if people don’t like them or they are simply an asshole, others will not be interested in being led by that manager. Managers must have their people gravitate towards them and give off a constant vibe that they truly care about their people, following the mantra that “if I can help you, the rest of it will work out.” This means that Ryan meets many candidates that might not be the right fit for CampusLive, he will still introduce them to another start-up.

Finally, Ryan is a big believer in having a deep understanding of each of the people on his team and their needs. Some might need to be checked in with once a month, versus others who need help daily. Understanding the right allocation of time and resources for each of his teammates keeps everyone on the team happy, motivated and working hard to build something great at CampusLive. 

CEO is a Lonely Title

Last year, I served as the Director of our largest program at the Entrepreneurs Club, the Husky Startup Challenge, in addition to being the interim Vice President of the organization. I had the honor of working directly under Aaron Gerry, who was President last year and graduated in May 2011. During that year, Aaron served as a mentor and guide for me. I looked up to him and depended on him when I needed help or got stuck with a problem… and he was always there for me.

Having someone there for you is the key here – you get that privilege as a VP, a manager, an assistant or as an employee. You have a boss that you can defer to for big decisions, and who is responsible for you if you make a mistake. 

Well fast forward a year and I was promoted to President. I was beside myself with joy and excitement. Finally, I got to set the vision, lead a group of my peers and architect the building of something great at Northeastern. As I settled into the role, I suddenly realized, “Oh wow, Aaron isn’t here anymore.” And it was then that I realized how much I leaned on Aaron the year before. Because if I messed up, it was Aaron’s problem. If I missed a deadline or couldn’t figure something out, it was Aaron who had to pick up the slack. Now, things are very different. If I mess up, it is my problem. And if any single person on my team messes up, it is my problem. If something doesn’t get done, guess who has to do it? 

I didn’t understand it at all until this year, and I couldn’t understand it until I had the honor of being in the top role in an organization. As the President or CEO, you have to worry about everything, because you are ultimately responsible for everything. Instead of a budget for one business unit, you might oversee 6 different budgets. You go from managing assistants and team members in your division to managing the managers who manage the assistants and team members. That’s a tongue twister. 

So what is the big takeaway?

I have a lot of respect for anyone in the CEO role.

Especially in large organizations, these folks have a tough job. They really are alone in their role. They can (and should) ask their team for plenty of input. But ultimately, they are the ones that have to make the big decisions. And they are the ones that are ultimately responsible for the outcome of those decisions.

Commercial Failure, Experiential Success

I know what you did last summer. Well, ok: that’s not true. But I do know what I did last summer: I tried my hand at a software startup, fell on my face, and learned a ton. Here’s the story:

It is January 2011. I am in Durham, NC, on co-op at Digitalsmiths, pretending to attend Duke University. In the cocktail hour before an entrepreneurial speaker at a campus event, I meet Kirill Klimuk, a freshman computer science major. Standing over a big bowl of chips and guacamole, acting as a scout for .406 Ventures looking for hotshot hackers I ask Kirill what he’s up to. He proceeds to explain what sounds like one of the craziest ideas I have ever heard: concocting some sort of web of information, making it easier for people or organize and share data online, and a whole bunch of other jargon. I have no idea what the heck he’s talking about. However, something tells me he’s special. So after the event I track him down and send an email inviting him to dinner.

We meet at 6pm on a Sunday evening at Panda Express on Duke’s campus. We end up sitting in that restaurant for 6 hours straight.We talk about everything from our childhoods, to our obsession with Legos, and the intricacies of this very clever idea Kirill had. The basic premise of the idea is that there is a lot of information content online (news articles, blog posts, etc) and we’d filter out the uninteresting stuff and only show people the content that they actually care about. At around midnight we leave, shaking hands as business partners in this new venture. 

Now, we weren’t signing contracts or NDAs: we were just two students working on a project. So we meet every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night while everyone else was out partying. We would sit in front of whiteboards from 5pm to midnight putting together the components of our product to make it work like a well-oiled machine. Working was glorious intoxication: we loved it and couldn’t get enough of it. We had a mission: to be a destination website where people could go to discover every topic from technology to mountain biking. One night we stayed up until 3am, filling the room with diagrams, outlines and mockups of our baby, which we called Quiree, after inquiry (a search leading to discovery). It couldn’t have been any more fun.

We did this all semester and all through spring break. At the end of the semester Kirill’s classes ended and so did my job, so we decided to walk away from high paying tech internships and work on this crazy idea full time, all summer. We decided we were really serious about the company and incorporated it to protect the IP, working with a great startup lawyer in Chapel Hill, NC. My parents, as crazy as they are, agreed to let us both live in their house in NY. So sure enough, I came back from co-op with a Duke student to live in my parents’ house in mid-May. 

We settled in and made a rigorous schedule. We started work around 9:45am and ended work around 11:00pm every day, with a couple of breaks for lunch, dinner and sanity. We did this 7 days a week.It was madness. As the weeks turned it to months, it became more and more challenging to keep up our insane work ethic. No going to the beach, no enjoying summer, or being kids. We were crafting code, graphics, and layouts like gears churning in a engine, without an off switch.

It was finally the beginning of August, and we had finished our website. It was amazing: we built it! Everything functioned just as we had drawn it out on the white boards months ago. It was still a minimum viable product (in our eyes at least), but, man was there a lot to it. Bells, whistles, the works. Features stacked up like a skyscraper and the instruction manual thickened with guidelines of how to use the product. We started sending the link out to our friends and colleagues to try out. They gladly signed up, looked around for about 60 seconds, left and never came back. 

“Oh, crap” we said. Realizing that there were a ton of flaws that we could quickly identify and repair, we set out to iterate and create the next version to release again in a week. We cranked it out during the week and sure enough pushed a new version out. It was a big improvement, butusers still did not seem to understand it or want to use it. Maybe it wasn’t social enough? So we added more Facebook and Twitter integration, more opportunities for users to interact and discuss topics they were interested in and comment on news content. But again, people tried it and left, not really giving it a chance or understanding what it could do for them.

At this point it was mid-August. School was going to start soon, and the project looked like it needed to a major pivot that would require massive re-coding. Kirill and I were so tired that we could barely lift a finger. Our spirits were down, our energy depleted, our enthusiasm at an all time low. Suddenly, going to class didn’t seem so bad at all. At that point we made a choice to put our product on the shelf, and so ended the story of Quiree.

What did we learn?

1. Simplicity

Products MUST be simple. The best software product is a button that does one thing the same way every time. Our product had 50 buttons that were color coded and felt like an airplane cockpit command center to most of our users. On top of that, the interface was so busy that users didn’t understand what they were looking at. You need to be able to sum up in one sentence what your product is, and it needs to be in clear, simple language. Ex: “My product is a software program where you can voice and video chat with your friends.” – Skype. Or, “My product is a website that teaches you how to code.” – Codecademy. Simple, simple, simple. 

Here’s a guideline to simplify your product. Dream it up, write down all of the features you believe are necessary. Now, ditch half of them. I mean it, ditch them right now. And now, cut the amount of features left in half. There: that is your minimum viable product. Seriously. It needs to be MINIMUM, the absolute bare essentials. 

2. The user is LAZY

One of our biggest mistake was overestimating our average user. My partner and I are technical guys. We build software and understand its intricacies. But the average user doesn’t always realize the most basic aspects of navigation on the web, like the issues of using the browser’s back button from within a web application. Your product must be so EASY to use and so OBVIOUS that the user does not have to exert energy trying to figure it out, because I assure you that they will not. Instead, they will simply walk away from the product.

3. Design and User Experience (UX) are key

Neither my partner nor I were great designers. It showed: our product was ugly. There are some really beautiful products out there that place a great emphasis on design, like Zaarly. Do yourself a favor: have a design co-founder on your team or hire a top notch firm like Bionic Hippo to consult on UI/UX. If your product is not appealing to the eye and warming to the soul, people won’t want it. 

4. Pivot quickly

If a software product takes 4 months to code, you are probably doing something wrong. Get something out quickly (i.e. in weeks), get user feedback, and test again. We spent way too much time on our first iteration. Adapt to what your customers want and be willing to completely change your product or business model to suit the needs of your customers. There is zero room for stubbornness in web software startups, especially targeting mass consumer markets.

5. Partners will fight

You start out your business loving your partner. You are best friends; all is sweet in the world, etc. I promise that at some point in your career, you will fantasize about smashing your partner’s head into a telephone pole. It is ok; it is normal. Remember, you are all people. You have your own opinions, desires, and agendas. You need to learn when to give each other space, when to compromise, when to take a stand, and when to back down. Most importantly, you need to act like a decent human being, otherwise nobody will care how smart or skilled you are, and they won’t work with you.

6. Cost control is good

My partner and I lived for free in my parent’s house (and ate their food). Luckily we were young enough to be able to play that card. At the end of this adventure, we lost very little money. We spent a lot of time, but we also learned a lot. Our costs were incredibly low. Position yourself the same way.

7. Code, code, code

We learned a ton about coding through this experience, and anyone who tries to attack a similar venture will too. I became comfortable with JavaScript and my partner had PHP shooting out of his fingers. 

8. Product management

It is really easy to get picky on details of the product. Don’t do that – it is not important in the beginning. Whether the icon is blue or orange doesn’t freakin’ matter. What is important:do people understand your product? Is it easy to use? Does the basic functionality work properly? Can you easily scale it when the time comes?

So, that is the story. It was a magnificent summer and I learned a huge amount. I’m very glad I took the plunge to make our crazy idea a reality and despite it being a commercial failure, it was certainly an experiential success.

Thanks to Kirill Klimuk for his input on this post.

Why I Take Every Meeting

I meet with a lot of people. It’s kind of ridiculous – in a given week I might have the privilege of sitting down with dozens of talented, passionate people in the community and learning more about what they do, how I can help them, how they can help me and how we might be able to work together in the future

This is the essence of networking. Networking is not just exchanging business cards, that is the worst way to do it. Instead, you need to form meaningful connections with people. Take a genuine interest in what they are doing and be a good listener. Let them talk about themselves and not the other way around. 

To foster this mentality, I generally take almost every meeting that comes my way. Some I have a feeling might not be so productive, and others I am incredibly excited about. But as a college senior, I can afford to spend a good amount of time meeting new people and learning new things. The big idea behind my policy is that you never knew who you might meet. Sure, a meeting could be a dud, or you could be talking to future business partner, best friend, spouse or mentor. 

A mentor of mine that epitomizes this philosophy is Ryan Durkin, the COO of CampusLive. As an executive, Ryan is willing to meet with people, give them advice, make connections, and share his wealth of experience. He is a role model for the entire community.

Remember, your network is one of your greatest assets. The relationships you have can provide tons of unknown opportunities, so it is a worthy investment to foster them. Here are the action items:

  • Get some business cards. They are still important to have to share contact information.
  • Get on LinkedIn. That site should be your best friend. It is a virtual rolodex and it’s free. 
  • Get out and talk to people. Go to some startup events or just find people on their company websites and send them an email to set up a meeting. 

Not all Photography is Created Equal

As a continuation on last week’s post on the value of design, I want to give credit to a very important part of design: photography. Photography is an amazing art form and when done well, functions just like great graphic design to elicit a feeling from the viewer, and look beautiful at the same time.

With that said, not all photography is created equal. There is a low barrier of entry to photography – many amateurs can get into it quickly as high quality digital cameras have plummeted in price. There is no comparison though between an amateur photographer and a passionate artist. I am proud to work with Dan McCarthy, the NU Entrepreneurs Club’s Media Manager, who is most certainly the finest representation of the latter. Dan put it best when he described it as the difference between taking snap shots and photographs. Great photographs are able to capture people showing an emotion. These are the photos that elicit the greatest response, and when it comes to marketing, these are the photographs that every business must have. 

You Catch More Bees With Honey

You know that old saying, “you catch more bees with honey than with vinegar?” As silly as it sounds, it works so well in the real world. Yesterday on my way to class, I noticed a table with a large group of students gathering around it. Upon looking closer, they were all filling out surveys. Now I may not be in on the hippest things to do on campus, but generally us college students aren’t super excited about surveys. They are annoying, time consuming… bleh. 

Well, next to the surveys were 5 big bowls of different candy, and when students finished the surveys, they got a cup and could fill it with as much candy as they could fit. I think NU Dining Services deserves a round of applause for this one. They mastered a brilliant business technique… taking something that isn’t so fun and incentivizing it, and just knowing about the incentive makes it fun for the user. Everyone wanted some candy, and suddenly filling out a survey didn’t seem so bad at all.

There is No Substitute for Great Design

I have an immense respect for great design, and every entrepreneur and business leader needs to agree. When I think about design, I consider not necessarily what something looks like, but about the feelings that it can create. Making a logo or banner beautiful is one thing, but creating it so it arouses a feeling from the people who see it is so much more powerful. 

As a manager, I am all about cutting costs and increasing efficiency. But design is a department that I know brings a massive ROI. Having a corporate identity and marketing material that is stunning and captures the feelings of my customers/users/members is worth every bit of time and capital. Take note, CFOs!

I have had the pleasure of working with quite a few designers over the years, and one that I am proud to recognize is Wells Riley, creative director at Bionic Hippo. While still a student at Northeastern, Wells created a full service design shop and continues to produce master piece after master piece for all of his clients. Finding designers like Wells isn’t always easy, but it is an absolute necessity for business success.