,

Work-Life Balance vs. Work-Life Integration

Most entrepreneurs and founders know – and strive – for work-life balance; that middle ground between keeping productivity up at the office and maintaining a healthy environment at home. But this idea implies that work is separate from life, and that a unique portion of time is devoted to each.

But what if you could integrate life into work, and vice versa? This trend of work-life integration, instead of work-life balance, is becoming more idealistic as entrepreneurs and founders are becoming not only more of the norm, but starting to face the realities of growing companies – and growing families.

The New York Times recently published an article explaining this new trend of work-life integration, especially as Silicon Valley businesses begin to offer perks that extend beyond the workplace and into the homes of the employees. Perks given by companies like Evernote, Facebook, and the Stanford School of Medicine aimed to reduce employees’ overall stress at both work and home, so that employees can worry less about the little things and enjoy both work and life more, without necessarily thinking abou them as separate entities. Evernote, for example, offers free housecleaning – which we all know can be quite a chore – twice per month.

The idea of work-life integration also addresses some of the problems with work-life balance, such as the very notion it prescribes – that work and life are separate and must be balanced. In an article on Forbes Lisa Quast described a conversation between herself and a group of MBA student mentees about the concept of achieving a work-life balance. She asked the group what work-life balance looked like, and where the idea came about that it’s so vital. She wrote, “The answers surprised the women because, unanimously, they each believed they needed better work-life balance because someone else had told them they needed it.”

For many people, including Yahoo’s new CEO Marissa Mayer, the idea that someone could achieve a healthy work-life balance when having a baby seemed too hard to believe. How could someone run a major corporation when they’re dealing with a newborn at home? One of the worst-kept secrets among executives is that the line between work and home is often blurred thanks to a significant amount of help, which gives them the ability to schedule around these two components in a way that allows them to maintain control and make the most of their time.

As a full-time consultant, part-time writer, and full-time daughter, sister, aunt, and friend to many other like-minded entrepreneurial-minded types, work is life is work. There is no beginning or end to “what I do”, but also no beginning or end to time with friends or family. Ideas ebb and flow, creativity sometimes kicks in over morning coffee or evening cocktails. Consulting sessions happen between a morning run and lunch with a colleague I haven’t seen in a year. Or sometimes that lunch is with a friend in the industry and we end up discussing fall fashion trends, inspiring one of us to make the next move on a side-project.

At the end of the day, I have surrounded myself with both work and people that I not only love, but inspire me. This idea of work-life integration  may not make sense to those who find themselves running for the door at 5pm. But to many other entrepreneurs, founders, and those working with them – this may just make more sense, too.

What do you think – do you strive for work-life balance, or work-life integration? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments!

,

Kickstarter Tips and Tricks for Startups

Starting a new project can be very stressful for a startup. Investors typically want to see a product, or series of products before jumping on board to help the business grow. Part of the early stages of a startup involves finding the funds you need to get those initial projects off the ground. Not everyone is capable of bootstrapping these early initiatives, and the risk involved with doing so can far outweigh the potential for success.

Enter Kickstarter, a popular alternative to publishers and investors that allows you to find the funding you need by appealing directly to your potential customers. A lot of startups use Kickstarter as a combination marketing tool and pre-order system. Your prototypes may be complete and all you need is some extra funding to initiate the first round of production – or your startup may have a great idea that just needs some extra funding to hire on the extra hands needed to make it a reality.

No matter what your needs are for these funds, Kickstarter is a great way to generate them without giving up a piece of your company to do so.

Here are a few ways startups can prepare for your first Kickstarter project.

Overestimate Your Needs

Offering rewards for various donation levels is great, but it could set you back more than you think. A lot of project founders use Kickstarter with a goal in mind that will just meet their needs, but forget the amount Kickstarter, Amazon, and the rewards take away from that total.

You don’t want to ask for $1,000 when you really just need $500, but you do want to make sure that what you’re asking for is enough to meet your needs. Failing to deliver on a promise made in a project can have a long lasting negative impact on your reputation. It would make it almost impossible to successfully launch another Kickstarter project in the future, and could result in legal action.

Be Honest

Every interaction you have with Kickstarter backers will have a direct impact on your reputation. Your first customers are the ones that pre-order whatever it is you’re putting on Kickstarter, and that means you’re pulling double duty as both a PR and customer service representative.

If you can’t meet the estimated delivery date, explain why in a video and combat pushback with transparency. Kickstarter is a very social experience, and so you definitely want to control the message.

Under-promise and Over-deliver

If you make your project look like the best thing since sliced bread, but know that it won’t realistically be as amazing as you claim, then you’re probably going to end up with a lot of disappointed customers which will be more hesitant to back your project(s) in the future.

Imagine the buzz that would surround your product when it comes out in stores (thanks to the Kickstarter funding) and pre-order customers are eagerly showing their friends and family what your product can do.

You Have to Spend Money to Make Money

Don’t be cheap with your rewards, and spend a little money producing a decent pitch video. This is the first time your company and/or project is being introduced to the world. First impressions is everything, and very few people will be inclined to back (or spread the word about) a project that has no visual representation beyond a few photos and rewards backers poorly.

Let’s face it: A bumper sticker is a terrible reward for someone willing to cough up $25. Consider your needs and calculate the reward into the project total. See if you can’t sweeten the deal with additional content and information. Offer a digital download, exclusive bonuses, and cut the price on your product from what you would expect to get out of it retail. These customers are your front line in generating buzz once the product launches.

Consider Alternatives

Indiegogo is an increasingly popular alternative to Kickstarter. Not only can you start a project and receive funds if you don’t actually hit your goal, but many users reluctant to back Kickstarter projects (for whatever reason) may be more inclined to do is in the socially-rich environment of Indiegogo.

Not every project has to be funded by the crowd. There are still plenty of wealthy investors out there willing to invest in your project, and perhaps even help your startup get on its feet. Kickstarter isn’t (and should never be) used as a startup funding source. It’s intended to fund projects, and that’s a limitation many startups have a tough time working around.

No matter what your reason for seeking this additional funding may be, consider Kickstarter as a lot more than a source of revenue. It could very well be the catalyst that allows you to generate the buzz you need to make your project the next big thing.

Three Common Mistakes Made By (Most) Startups

Launching a new product or idea can be exciting, and undoubtedly most entrepreneurs have done at least some research into what works, and what doesn’t in their given industry. Unfortunately, being excited about a new business can make it easy to lose focus on some of the most important aspects of success.

Unfortunately, when entrepreneurs are excited about their new project or business, they often lose touch with reality for a few moments. While you may think you have the best idea anyone has ever come up, the reality is that there are seven billion people on the planet, and there’s a good chance that more than a few of them have had the same idea.

Startups typically bleed money until they ship their first (or second) product. Service-based startups have to spend money setting themselves up to handle a growing customer base. In the end, the difference between success and failure can be determined by each and every decision you make early on. Many times, startups make these same decisions – and they’re often mistakes

Failure to Research the Idea Fully

Steve Jobs often said that Apple engineers built the products they would want to use themselves. This worked out for Apple, but this same philosophy could be limiting your potential as a business. Apple has the capital to hire on a large team of engineers, the real-world market data gathered from its years in the industry selling similar products to consumers, and it had more than its fair share of failures over the years.

Startups don’t have the luxury to head into an industry without doing their due diligence. Find out who your real users will be and get their opinions on your product and/or service. Offer a wide-reaching beta that allows you to get feedback from an interested community early and often. This research will help you develop a product that not only you would use, but your customers as well.

Not Knowing When to Move On
A large percentage of startups fail early into their existence. This happens all the time, and many entrepreneurs will tell you that failure is an important part of any company’s success story. What separates successful businesses from absolute failures? The ability to pivot when the need for change is apparent.

Sometimes, even the best laid plans are doomed to a life on the back burner. Your startup’s followers may find a specific aspect of your business more interesting than the component you went into it believing would be key. Knowing when to shift your focus and evolve your strategy to meet this new focus is critical to long-term success.

Likewise, it’s important not to give up too soon. If companies like Apple or Microsoft had given up when times were tough, the world would be a very different place today.

Overestimating Growth
In a perfect world, everyone’s business would take off after a few short months of effort by the founders. Money would come pouring in from all sides and we’d all have ten story offices with entire floors dedicated to foosball and gourmet catering for the staff.

Reality is very different. For every Instagram success story, there are a thousand examples of slow growth and even failure. When projecting your business potential over the first five years, be realistic. Investors hear overanxious entrepreneurs pitch them ideas all day long while proclaiming that their company is headed up faster than a SpaceX rocket. What really catches their attention is a realistic expectation set against a solid product that solves a real-world issue.

Even service-based startups should consider the possibility that clients may be few and far between at first. Your business plan should change often during the first five years, and so should how quickly – or slowly – you scale as a result.

The division between success and failure often rests on realistic expectations and adaptable approaches to the business. If you have a startup – or work in one – what are common mistakes you see or have experienced?

Strongest. Referral. EVER

I was reading this article “The 6 People You Need In Your Corner” by Jessica Hagy (@jessicahagy) a Forbes contributor. The six types are: 1) The Instigator; 2) The Cheerleader; 3) The Doubter; 4) The Taskmaster; 5) The Connector; 6) The Mentor. The one that I appreciate most is The Cheerleader. This person happens to be my ex-boss — he’s the guy that I hope to become half of what he is and I’ll consider myself successful. Jessica Hagy describes The Cheerleader:

The Cheerleader: “This person is a huge fan, a strong supporter, and a rabid evangelist for you and your work. Work to make this person rewarded, to keep them engaged. This is the voice of motivation”

Recently, he said to me “Pete, I want to make an introduction for you”. While it’s cool that the person that he wanted to introduce me to is someone who could potential open doors for me that I didn’t know existed, that’s not what I appreciate most. It’s how he made the introduction.

Standard Way

[listcheck]

  • Email Introduction
  • They Respond
  • You Respond
  • Meet For Coffee

[/listcheck]

The Cheerleader, Advocate, Rabid Evangelist Way

[listcheck]

  • Email Introduction
  • They Respond
  • You Respond
  • Cheerleader says: “Pete, I’m going pick you up and drive you to his office”
  • Cheerleader says in the meeting: “Pete is one of the best hires I’ve ever made in my life… gush, gush, gush.”
  • Cheerleader stays in the meeting for the entire time (meeting was scheduled for 1/2 hour, but, goes 2 hours!)

[/listcheck]

Generosity With Their Time

Discussions between me and the person that I got introduced to are still progressing. Regardless of the outcome, what I appreciate most is the support, belief in me, and generosity with his time. Time away from work, family, or anything else that is important to him. Time is the most valuable thing that anyone can give. Not to minimize the email referrals that I’ve received over the years (which I certainly appreciate), but, who does this kind of thing for another person?! He’s the one that gave me an opportunity early in my career and believed in me like no one else ever has. I feel like he took a chance on me when there were plenty of other people that were more qualified, had more experience, and smarter than me. He’s the ultimate cheerleader and if I didn’t have any of the other five types of people in my corner I’d say this one person was enough for my life.

I hope in the future I’ll be able to do the same thing for someone else.

,

Building Your Startup with a Mom Squad

At Thinkspace on October 18th I met Edward Hechter, former Web.com executive who helped take a company public as the COO. One of his biggest challenges was going from a super low point of having only enough cash flow for six days but had a workforce of 300 employees — of which he had to trim down to 80 employees in order to survive. Not only did he manage to help turn the company around from the low point, but, he helped rebuild that company into a very successful company.

Mom Squad

Edward’s, current company Party Pail has a fascinating story. He bootstrapped the company from zero revenue to over $4.43M in 2011 and was ranked 9th on the PSBJ Fastest Growing Companies List and recently sold the company in July 2012. That’s a very interesting and inspiring story, but, there’s another story that is just as interesting. It’s not that he did this, but, how he did this. He did this with a workforce that is 80% moms. Moms is defined as women who left their professional careers to raise children for a healthy period of time — some as long as 12 to 16 years.

Mom’s Are Reliable

Edward described some of the people and said that “Mom’s are reliable. They are hard workers. They get their job done in the amount of time that they have. They are loyal. They multitask”. From their blog: “They care for each other in the same way they care for their own families. And they care for each of our clients in the same way! They think about problems we face with love, and sensitivity, and they act on their maternal instincts.”

What Mom’s Want

“We found that the one thing almost each of these people wants in flexibility in how work intersects with their personal and family lives. As such, we’ve striven to create flexibility in our staffing to allow each of these people to work as many hours as they need, while also allowing them the opportunity to stay active in their family, school, and community interests.”

Can You Build a Startup With 80% Part-Timer Moms?

What do you think? Do you need to hire people that are working full-time? I think startup CEO’s think they need people that don’t just work full-time but work 60-80 hours a week. It’s very obvious that Edward has found a way to build an amazingly successful company without having to hire purely full-time staff. I am wondering from Edward or someone else who has done something similar, what is the biggest challenge in hiring so many part-time people. Are the positions primarily in overlapping positions? Were they positions of leadership? What would a startup need to have in place in order to be successful in doing something like this?

Five Ways to be More Productive in Five Minutes

Maintaining focus and keeping productivity levels up day after day is a constant struggle for almost anyone facing a pile of tasks ahead of them. It’s in our nature to seek out an easier way to get something done, and it’s that very nature that would appear to work against us when the best plan is simply to put your head down and plow through it, hour after hour.

For many of us – especially those of us in a startup – losing focus for even a few minutes can result in hours of lost productivity. You may find yourself spending more time trying to focus than you are actually getting work done. Even the most minor of potential distractions seem to be amplified during times when you need to focus the most.

So, what do you do? Here are five methods for improving productivity you can put to work for you in just five minutes.

Set Priorities and Put Tasks in Order of Importance
Having a mountain of work in front of you can be extremely demotivating and damaging to your focus. You might end up spending more time staring at the pile than you do actually getting it done.

Take a moment to sort these tasks by order of importance and get the critical jobs done first. This will help you as the day goes by as you feel less of a sense of urgency with each job you get done. If the biggest job is done first, then everything else is easy by comparison. Plus, that way, you’re not spending the entire day dreading that one task you have looming over your head.

Eliminate Distractions
Close your email client, turn off the TV (if there’s one in your office,) and don’t even think about using Facebook or Twitter. If you work from home, consider closing the door to whatever room you’re in to create a barrier between you and the fridge or any other distracting sources around the house.

This may mean having nothing open on your computer other than exactly what you need to get the job done. Distracting websites, YouTube videos, and even little things like email notification popups can really throw your focus off.

You may even go so far as to get rid of things around your desk that grab your attention. If you catch yourself looking over at a picture and daydreaming about the day the photo was taken, consider putting it in a drawer until the job is done.

Allot a Certain Amount of Time to Each Task
For many people, having a strict schedule that even allots time to certain tasks can have a big impact on productivity. If I know I have exactly one hour to get something done, I’m much more inclined to get it done within that hour if I have it actually scheduled on my calendar than if I have ten jobs ahead of me and no idea when I’ll get to them, or in what order.

Figure out how long a job should take you, and give yourself five or ten minutes more to compensate for delays. This will help keep you from going into a panic if one task bleeds into another’s time. Do your best to get everything done in its allotted time, and don’t forget to schedule breaks for yourself.

Identify and Utilize Productivity Boosters
Music can be a big productivity booster for many people. A particular genre or rhythm could help you pace your efforts and motivate you to keep going past the point where you might otherwise seek out distractions. Once you set up your Pandora (or other music service of choice) channel or start a playlist in your favorite music software, minimize the application and let the music do its thing.

Sunlight also might actually help you focus. For many, the replacement of artificial light with natural light can change mood, energy levels, and make a stressful day feel more relaxed. It’s amazing what an open window can do, as long as that window isn’t in front of you…otherwise, you might find yourself daydreaming more than getting work done during the day.

The most important thing is to find out what helps you, and put it to work. Even something as simply as maximizing the computer window you’re working in could help you stay focused.

Come to Terms with What You Can’t Do Today
Let’s face it – not everything gets done at the end of every day. Putting in long hours or stressing out about the clock can be detrimental to productivity. When you order your tasks by importance, the last two things should be items you can put at the front of the list tomorrow.

If you’re in a situation where absolutely everything is due by a specific time, then consider adjusting your schedule accordingly. Repetitive daily tasks might need to be put off until the very end of the day since you know exactly how long they’ll take you to accomplish.

No matter what your preferred method of boosting productivity is, the important thing to keep in mind is that you’re human and can only do so much in a given time. A reduction in stress may very well be the best cure for problems maintaining focus.

,

Think You’re a Risk Taker?

I like the thrill and rush of doing things but this one is way outside my comfort zone. My friend Nicole Donnelly shared this on her FB page, but, I thought it was worthy of posting over here as it’s CRAZY. Watch the video at the end of this blog post… even though you know he lives it still is pretty nerve wracking.

Physical and Mental Pounding

As a person running a company I think it’s important to push your limits. It’s important to know how far you can push yourself and know that you won’t break if you push just a little bit harder. Being an entrepreneur, I know I’ve stepped into situations where I had no clue how challenging it would be to get through it, but, because of my attitude of I can power through anything I just step in and do it. Last year when I ran my first Half Seattle Marathon, during the last three miles of run, I remember thinking this is the hardest thing I’ve ever put my body and mind through. At the end I had the feeling that I am pretty sure this experience is going to help me overcome future challenges.

What do you do?

What do you do to prepare yourself for the unexpected? In startup life and over the course of the first few years of running a company so many thing can go in directions that you least expect, it seems like you have to be both physically and mentally strong to get through all craziness!

[youtube_sc url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gQef06srBeQ&feature=related”]

How To Keep Your Startup Healthy

It’s no big surprise that there is a correlation between health and productivity at work. In a startup, every individual is typically vital to the organization as a whole. The ability for any one person to perform at the top of their game each day could make the difference the company needs to get ahead and make those important milestones.

This is one reason many startups have made the decision to make health a focus at the workplace. Morning exercises, office gyms, and even catered lunches featuring healthier foods are common at many startups. It’s in the company’s best interest that its employes be fit and focused on the tasks ahead.

Here are a few ways your startup can stay healthy to help your employees and contractors maintain that critical focus and productivity.

Why Health is Important
The Journal of Occupational Health and Environmental Medicine released a study that shows that health-related lost productive time costs employers a whopping $225.8 billion dollars every year. That’s just in the U.S. Having a healthy staff means having a productive staff that makes the most of your investment.

That doesn’t mean you should consider an applicant’s health during the hiring process, but a startup especially should take steps necessary to minimize the time an employee spends out sick. This may include health benefits such as preventative care for medical, dental, and perhaps even optical.

This is an expensive solution for many startups, but there are a few less-expensive ways to go about enhancing the productivity of your workforce. This may work well alongside a medical benefit, though they also work great as stand-alone incentives.

Encourage Exercise
Exercise is a great way to boost endorphins and increase productivity around the workplace. You might think that a little exercise will wear you out and decrease your productivity levels, but the idea is to increase energy levels consistently. Losing weight, improving your cardio, and generally getting your body used to moving can have a lasting impact on your energy levels throughout the day.

A morning exercise, some gym equipment in a spare room, or even a walking path around the office can help you and your employees (or contractors) get a little more exercise in their day. After all, a lot of this time is spent at the office sitting in a chair.

Provide Healthy Foods
“Big companies” such as Apple and Amazon have learned that providing good, healthy foods for your employees is a great way to help them keep healthy. In so many other workplaces, an employee will order a pizza or head out to a fast food place for lunch and spend the afternoon in a slump.

Providing snack foods like apples, oranges, bananas, and other fruits are a great alternative to vending machine sugar bombs.

An occasional catered lunch from a healthy, yet delicious local vendor – or using an in-house, healthy vendor like Molly’s – is also a great way to get employees through especially long days at the office during crunch time.

A Quiet Space
Stress is a huge cause of health issues. It can impact your internal organs, muscles, and even your immune system. Startups are typically hotbeds for stress as everything counts that much more.

Providing a quiet room with dim lighting and comfortable furniture employees can use to relax and meditate during their much-deserved breaks can help reduce stress and provide a much-needed break – especially if your employees work at the office long hours. A few minutes of calm and quiet here and there may even jump start the creative process by allowing the employee to clear their mind of all the chaos going on in the office and regain focus on the project at hand.

Stress is a big problem in a startup, but because so many allow employees to take breaks (and get rest) as needed, many appear to be more relaxed than established businesses. It’s important that employees and contractors at startups be comfortable and motivated to keep getting things done.

Afterall, stress has never been linked to improved productivity in the long-term.

,

Q&A With Thinkspace Startup: Appuri

There are so many innovative, amazing startups here at thinkspace. This week I had the chance to meet and chat with Damon Danieli of Appuri, one of the residents of thinkspace, to learn a little more about what they’re up to.

What is Appuri, and what do you do?

Appuri is a stealth startup.

We have a big vision for the future, but we use lean startup techniques to learn as quickly as possible and adjust our road map accordingly.

For example, this month we are leveraging the election hype and launching a suite of mobile applications at http://www.robamney.com. The lifespan of these apps will be short-lived, but the metrics we collect inform the design and direction for the next product iteration.

With each product launched, we increase our user base, customer engagement capabilities and underlying technologies.

How did Appuri start?

The founders came together as a team first, then we came up with a vision and immediately started moving forward.

Who is on the Appuri team?

There are 4 cofounders and no employees. We use web services and contractors for all of the non-core assets. We keep the trade secrets, know-how and other intellectual property in-house.

How much funding have you raised (if any), and from whom?

We are bootstrapping the company and have not raised money.

What is the most challenging thing about being an entrepreneur?

What is both challenging and energizing about being an entrepreneur is that you are responsible for everything: product vision, customer acquisition, development roadmap, meeting payroll and so on while managing the morale and energy of the team.

If there was one thing you could have done differently, what would it have been?

There is nothing we would have done differently… yet. Which is not to say we’ve been correct, but rather our product is never far away from the last set of real user data and feedback.

What advice do you have for others thinking about building a startup of their own?

Building a company is a lot of hard work and is challenging in ways that you will never experience as an employee. So many things have to come together just right in order to succeed: building the right team, identifying the customer, creating a product, promoting it, growing revenue just to name a few. Successful startups need to execute well across many disciplines.

There is a common misconception of first-time entrepreneurs that raising money is the hard part and the rest is easy.The runway you have plays a big role in the psyche of the team, but there will always be those gut check moments where everyone has to dig deep inside themselves to make the startup successful.

With all of that said, if being an entrepreneur really suites you, it will be impossible to go back to being an employee.

What’s your favorite thing about being part of the thinkspace community?

It is a nice place to work and I’ve run into many other interesting startups and people.

Anything else you’d like to share?

A shout out to all of the Thinkspace crew that welcomed us when we came in and make us feel at home every day: Mieka, Alyssa, Sami, Samantha, Savannah, Jamie, Katie and of course Peter. It has been great working with you.

PR Tips with Forbes Contributor Kelly Clay: Brown Bag Lunch @ thinkspace

Join Kelly Clay, Forbes Contributor and local social media strategist, for a brown-bag lunch at thinkspace on October 23 to learn PR and Marketing tips and tricks for your startups. With years of experience as a tech journalist – and even more in the social media space – Kelly knows what it takes to get the attention of bloggers and journalists at blogs that and help make or break your next launch or announcement. Learn why it’s important to develop relationships with bloggers months before you even think about sending a press release, the importance of a great email subject line, and why embargoes might hurt more than help. A Q&A sessions will follow to help answer all of your burning questions. Bring your friends! All thinkspace members are free. Register!