There are some things you can only learn in a storm

12417650_10153711428095795_8134718167907541815_nLast Saturday, Katie and I had a chance to participate in Melody Biringer’s co-storming session, which immediately qualified as one of the most energizing and inspiring experiences. “Co-storm” is Melody’s original initiative where you lay down your project, its roadblocks, and its mission in front of another professional – who might be completely unrelated to your field – and start from there. A great round of feedback follows, and because Melody has a great way of finding just the right people to work and connect with, you find yourself in a buzzing conversation filled with ideas, advice and strategy.

When a brainstorm is not enough…

A crowd of about sixty women from various professional backgrounds gathered in downtown Seattle, and divided into small groups guided by a mentor, they stormed their initiatives. With professions in the fields of IT, marketing, business development, and everything in between, each of us had 30 minutes to storm the struggle we needed a new perspective on. Afterwards, the group discussed it from their own point of view, trying to come to constructive solutions – or at least ask the right questions. The idea might seem simple, but the results are no less than extraordinary.

Both Katie and I focused on perspectives for thinkspace in 2016, but went in with a different project to pitch into the discussion. We had a chance to talk to brilliant mentors whose fields of expertise were very closely related to the answers we were looking for, or with experience and knowledge so distant from our problem that they offered a view from a completely different, unpredicted perspective.

Finding the answers to well-asked questions

One advice that has stuck with me since Saturday was given by Mikki Kingrey, authentic sales strategist and the owner of Real Results Mentoring, who urged me to look for answers to two questions:

Who is your niche?
Who is your anti-niche?

And that should mark the clear, sharp starting point for the strategy in marketing, sales, business development, and content creation. You can iterate and pivot afterwards to expand your chosen niche, but you want your initial message to be clear. Focusing on a wide, murky group of addressees automatically dilutes your message, content, and initiative, spreading them too thin to create visible effects.

Defining your anti-niche is just as important and impactful. A message that alienates or disturbs no one, is probably weak enough to interest no one.

No calm after this storm

Without a doubt, every woman attending the co-storm had her own “ah-ha!” moment, that – if executed with the same palpable determination that was filling the air on Saturday – will be enough to push the projects we came with to their successful endings. We braved the storm, came out ahead, and will be bringing the results and conclusions to build a stronger community in 2016.

Katie Walvatne Promoted to General Manager at thinkspace

October 2015: Katie Walvatne

As CEO, I’m so happy to announce that Katie Walvatne has been promoted to General Manager.

Katie has the leadership, grit, and resilience to be successful in this role and she has done an outstanding job in many areas of the business. Specifically, Katie has been invaluable in creating partnerships, cultivating relationships, and is a natural connection creator. It’s been extremely important for me to have someone fill such a critical role that aligns with the core values of the company. We’re all excited for Katie to take on an even larger role in the company!

Katie’s new responsibilities include oversight of our Customer Experience, Community Management, Operations, and Recruiting Business Unit. I’m excited for the growth that she and her team will bring to the company and I am looking forward to supporting her in much success in the upcoming years. Please join me in congratulating Katie!

I resolve that you should…

2016-new-yearIt’s almost the New Year, which means resolutions are just around the corner. I personally love resolutions… the challenge and goal-setting fires me up.  One year I resolved to give up sugar.  That resolution lasted two years (and I’ve since made up for the two years void of sugar).

But one huge problem with resolutions is that after the first few weeks of the new year, we rarely stick to those resolutions. Research shows that actually 8% of people keep their goals.  Not exactly inspiring odds.

But research also shows that if you have help – if you have someone who comes alongside you and encourages you with your resolution, then your chances of success increase.  This isn’t that surprising, many of us know that accountability helps to achieve goals.  But accountability with resolutions?  Some resolutions are deeply personal.  Not the kind of thing I want to blast over social media.  And especially with those kinds of resolutions – to overcome an addiction, to be a better parent, to spend more time doing “X” – we need a friend to walk alongside us.  Because we can’t do it alone.

Here’s my suggestion as 2016 closes in on us.  Instead of making a resolution for yourself, make a resolution for someone else.  Talk it over with one close friend or mentor, and see if they will partner with you in this.  You make a resolution for them, and they make one for you.  One of the things we love about the holidays is the spirit of giving – we give gifts to others and receive gifts from others.  Resolutions are usually done alone, and therefore are isolating.  But when we give resolutions to others and receive resolutions from others – they are shared.

And resolutions are more sustainable when shared.

So think of a friend/mentor – what’s your resolution for them in 2016?
That they finish that project they’ve put on the back burner?
That they finally make it to Ireland to visit their ancestors?
That they complete their first 5K race?
Whatever it is, once you’ve thought of it – go and tell them.

 

How to decline a meeting.

standing_ozy-2Last week, I axed a weekly meeting.
The three other people in on this weekly meeting are incredible, and I’ve learned a lot from our time together.  But, besides enjoying their conversation, there was no reason to keep on meeting.  What we had set out to achieve had been accomplished.
 
Canceling this meeting got me wondering, if I hadn’t cancelled the meeting, how long would we have still met, simply for the sake of meeting?

Meetings are effective and necessary. But not all of them.

When deciding to accept or decline a meeting – run it through this checklist first.

  1. Agenda: Does the meeting have a planned agenda? If it doesn’t, consider opting out until one is established. I’ve attended way too many agenda-less meetings that could have been accomplished in 15 minutes instead of 60. Consider responding by saying something like: “Thank you for inviting me to this meeting. I’d like to attend, but before I accept could you provide me with an agenda of what will be discussed? As a rule, I only attend meetings that have objectives for what’s to be accomplished.”
  2. Content: Are you having the meeting to make a decision? Decision-based meetings are necessary. If no decisions are being made or discussed, there’s a good chance the meeting isn’t worth your time.
  3. People: Are the right people in the room? Only the people needed to make a decision should be invited. People attending to just be in the informational loop should be dismissed. Having the right people in the room makes for quality conversation. Having too many people in the room makes for a quantity of conversation.
  4. Brainstorm: Is the meeting a brainstorming session? Creative meetings are fun, and are meant to be less-structured and more free-flowing. But beware brainstorming sessions that are completely unstructured. So, run it through #1-3 first – make sure the meeting has some objectives (agenda), ask what outcome is needed from the meeting (content), and make sure all who needs to be there is present (people).

Do you have other criteria for accepting or declining meetings? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section!

Seattle Startup Week Sponsor Spotlight | Code Fellows

code-fellows-ssw-sponsor-logosCode Fellows, a Seattle Startup Week sponsor, is a code school training both mobile and web developers in industry practices, in-demand frameworks and technologies.

What makes you excited about Seattle Startup Week?

A chance to connect with all of the resources that happen over a year in one week.

What are you hoping to get out of the week of events?

Awareness of Code Fellows with a broader community of potential co-founders and future employers.

What do you love about being part of the Seattle startup culture?

It has changed a lot over the years.  It’s great that we now have an ecosystem that is helping new folks get connected with resources.

If Code Fellows was a food, what would it be and why?

Spicy Mexican.  It’s something you expect, but it has a bit of a kick to it.

Every Question to Ask Before You Roll Out an Unlimited Vacation Policy

I’ve been thinking about implementing this policy for three months. I’ve interviewed dozens of CEO’s who have implemented an Unlimited Vacation Policy to discuss how different companies handle different situations. Next week at the Beyond the Beer Pong and Foosball Tables event, I’ll be discussing the process that I went through to  come up with answers to every Unlimited Vacation Policy question that we could think of. Register for this event at Westland Distillery on October 28!

Why Implement an Unlimited Vacation Policy?

My company is not a tech startup, but because we support hundreds of startups and are entrenched in the startup ecosystem, I gravitate towards and embrace the workplace culture that is on the bleeding edge. I also want to attract employees who thrive in the startup ecosystem and feel like this is one of those things that separate the best from the rest. I also feel that PTO is punitive and traditional vacation and sick leave is even worse. Having an Unlimited Vacation Policy shows your employees that you trust them and allows employees to recharge when they need to. This leaves employees feeling empowered, respected and motivated.

Build With the Long View in Mind

I’m also a firm believer of building the company with the long view in mind. There are no shortcuts when you’re building something that is sustainable. Life is full of changes at each stage of life. When you’re single, there are things that you just want to be able to do and there are fewer commitments holding you back. Once you have children, the world completely becomes different. Suddenly your time off is spent at your kid’s Halloween party, attending parent teacher conferences, staying home with them when they’re sick, or figuring out how to handle summer vacation when they are bouncing back and forth between summer camps. That leaves a person with essentially no time off for actually recovering from working hard and crushing their goals. There are also unforeseen issues that come up in life, ones that no one ever plans for, and I want employees to feel supported in those situations and throughout the various stages of life.

Questions and Roll Play

Here is a list of questions that I came up with. As a team, we spent a few hours (spread out over a week) to discuss and role play the questions.

  • How do you ensure that people don’t take too much time off?
  • How do you ensure that people don’t take too little time off?
  • How do you ensure that people do not become resentful of others who take too much time off?
  • What do you do if your incentives don’t support your goals?
  • How do you ensure that people do not feel guilty about taking time off?
  • What’s a healthy amount of time off to take per year?
  • How much lead time do you have to give in order for vacation to be approved?
  • Should unlimited vacation be tracked?
  • Most unlimited vacation plans have some sort of manager approval step. What systems are in place to ensure there is an equal approval process for each manager to ensure that there is not inequality among teams?
  • If sales people reach their goals they can take off as much time as they like. What about for jobs that are more operationally focused?
  • If you need an extra day to recover from your vacation buffer that it. Nothing sucks more than people that call in sick because they are wiped out, hung over or didn’t rest enough when they took their vacation. Be back in the office when you say you’re going to.
  • Is it okay to just call in sick when you just don’t feel like working?
  • If it just happens to be a sunny day, should you just call in and say, “I’m not coming in”?
  • What if an employee needs to take time off because of something related to FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act)? How does that work with a unlimited vacation policy?
  • How does maternity or paternity leave work with an unlimited vacation policy?
  • Can you take time off if you’re behind on your projects or they are not complete?
  • Do employees feel like they are working all the time even when they are on vacation?
  • Is there a cap on the number of weeks a person can take off at one time? Two weeks? What if someone has something that they would like to take off which is longer?
  • How do you treat existing accrued leave while transition from PTO to unlimited vacation? Payout at termination?
  • How do you ensure that you have a vacation schedule that is fair to all and effective for the business?
  • How can you have an unlimited vacation policy for hourly employees?
  • How do managers arrange with their teams to take time off?
  • The hiring process needs to weed out people that don’t align with our core values and how we operate with a unlimited vacation policy.
  • Is the client or customer suffering?
  • What if I want to take time off but my manager doesn’t approve?

Unstructured or Guidelines?

At the end of our discussion, it was clear that expectations are set and guidelines are in place. This helps people understand what is considered to be acceptable, aligns with our core values, and allows employees to show they really care about their coworkers and the company.

What other questions would you ask if you were implementing an unlimited vacation policy?

Three Reasons Why I Start My Day Early in the Morning

Here are the three reasons why I start my day early. My first reason is backed up by a ton of articles about what super successful people do.

  1. They wake up early. The coolest thing that I learned from the morning exercise routine was I had created a new equilibrium point every single day. I was no longer at the whim of a random feeling on how my day was going to be. Exercise allowed me to always be full of energy, alert, and attack the day with more clarity. If you’re an entrepreneur, I think you’re going to find that to be a better thing to do than work late at night all the time.
  2. Train at the same time as when you run your marathon. A few weeks ago I ran my first marathon and one thing I did differently was wake up early and exercise. In the past, I trained at night for my half marathons and I was always groggy when it came time to run really early in the morning for the Seattle Half Marathon and Seattle Rock and Roll Half Marathon. The results were obviously different when I trained in the AM for the Leavenworth Oktoberfest Marathon where I’ve been waking up at 5:15am every day.
  3. Two people that I greatly admire are Annie Duncan and Katie Walvatne. Both of them have amazing positive personalities, get crazy amounts of important work done, are a complete joy to be around, they have grit and resilience, and they both exercise and wake up super early. Oh and both have run marathons!

I’ve never read an article that talks about how awesome someone is for pushing the snooze button and waking up late. I’ve also never met anyone that was super successful who was always sleeping in and coming into work late. Once you’ve made the shift of waking up early, you’re going to recognize all of the positive ripple impacts it’s going to make on your life and company!

Seattle Startup Week Sponsor Spotlight | Hired

Hired LogoHired, a two-sided recruiting marketplace and a Seattle Startup Week sponsor, is on a mission to make both finding a job and finding quality employees easier.

What makes you excited about Seattle Startup Week?

We’re excited to support and participate in Seattle’s startup community.  In particular, we are excited to discover new companies, share ideas and meet interesting people.

What are you hoping to get out of the week of events?

We are hoping to be a resource for job seekers and to build partnerships with startups to help grow their teams.

What do you love about being part of the Seattle startup culture?

The Seattle startup culture is extremely welcoming and extremely innovative.  The people here are passionate about what they do and it shows in their enthusiasm to help others and give back to the community.

If Hired was a food, what would it be and why?

Hired would be a Vegas seafood buffet.  It serves and satisfies everyone and is a pleasure to experience.

Seattle Startup Week | Fremont Run to Beat Breast Cancer

Fremont Run To Beat Breast Cancer LogoSeattle Startup Week is only two weeks away, and preparations are in full swing here at thinkspace!  October is also Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  And you know we are always looking for ways to build and strengthen our ties within the community. If you’re a part of the startup community and we haven’t met you yet, we’re hoping to change that soon.  And if we have already met you, we’d love to see you, too!

We’d like to invite you to spend your morning with us on Wednesday, October 28th for a 5K Run to Beat Breast Cancer.  Run, walk, skip, jump and be merry with us.  The run begins at 8:30 am and will take us along the Burke-Gilman Trail and through Gasworks Park.  Stick around after the run concludes to eat some breakfast noms and jam out to some early morning disco tunes at our Fremont location.

The event is free, but we’d appreciate any donations you can put forth.  All proceeds will go to raise funds for Dr. V.K. Gadi’s research at Fred Hutchinson Medical Research Center.  5K t-shirts will also be available for $20, with all proceeds supporting Dr. Gadi and his team.

RSVP for the Fremont Run to Beat Breast Cancer here.

peter-ali-katie

Peter Chee, Ali Spain and Katie Walvatne at Brunch to End Breast Cancer October 11, 2015

Can’t make it on the 28th?  Running just isn’t your thing?  Not to worry!  We’ll be supporting Breast Cancer Awareness Month throughout Seattle Startup Week, with opportunities to make a donation to the Fred Hutch team at each of our events: