We are made for Labor Day.

So, I gotta be honest.  Up until writing this post, I actually didn’t know the history behind Labor Day.  Why question a 3-day weekend, right?  For the majority of my teens and twenties, Labor Day was simply the weekend I saw Dave Matthews at the Gorge before heading back to school.
But the history behind Labor Day is as interesting as it is empowering.

Labor Day was first celebrated in 1882 (pictured: a lithograph of the parade in New York City on Labor Day).  In 1887 it was established to be celebrated yearly on the first Monday in September to honor the American Labor Movement and the contributions that workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of their country (source).  A group of the key players within this movement called themselves The Knights of Labor. The Knights believed in the unity of the interests of all producing groups and sought to empower not just laborers but everyone who could be truly classified as a producer (source).

For most of us, work is a commitment that takes up most of our time.  But, though work dominates most of the hours of our week, it is also the one thing that we can routinely do week in, week out.  Think about your work week rhythm.  Now replace your work with something else.  Can you imagine doing something else for 40-60 hours, week in, week out?  Exercising?  Watching television?  Reading books? Playing golf?  I’ve heard people say, “When I retire I’m going to play a lot of golf.”  But 40 hours a week of golf?  Or television?  Try keeping that up for a few weeks.  We aren’t made to do that.

But we are made to work.  We can handle work in large quantities of time, unlike other activities.  We are made to be creative.  We are made to produce things.  Just like the Knights of Labor believed in the late 1800s, the movement wasn’t just for laborers, but anyone who produced anything.  I have a friend who is a project manager, but her passion is baking cupcakes.  She spends time dreaming of flavor combinations to try.  She carves time out of her schedule to carefully craft and decorate them.  And then she lets me eat them.  She is a “laborer” (project manger by day) and “producer” (cupcake creator by night).  You take away her labor and she is still a producer.  Take away what she produces, and she’s still a laborer.

The point is this: we are made for work.  We are made for Labor Day.

Happy Labor Day everyone!

I Hate Process, But, Now We Are Creating a Playbook


I attended an event last week where ironman Jack Daly was the speaker talking about his journey as an entrepreneur. There are two things that stuck out to me when he spoke. Firstly, if the Seahawks drafted a player and they said “that’s nice you have a playbook, but, I’m not going to follow that because I’ve got my own style” – what do you think Coach Pete Caroll would say about that? Secondly, the only thing that matters is conversion rate. Yes, you can track tons of other KPI’s but the one that matters most is conversion rate. My personal feeling is that customer satisfaction is also one other metric that defines your success as company and a company should track their NPS (Net Promoter Score).

What’s inside our playbook:

  • Core values.
  • Mission and vision.
  • How do we want people to feel?
  • Defined Roles with each person having a set of measurable KPI’s.
  • Measuring KPI’s on a weekly, monthly, quarterly basis.
  • Color-coding each person’s KPI’s with the colors green, yellow, red.
  • Tying everything back to our Quarterly One Page Strategic Plan.
  • Accountability by having numbers on the wall for each person.
  • Quarterly performance reviews instead of annual performance reviews.
  • Standard operating procedures.
  • Training, practicing, and regular testing to ensure we understand what’s in the playbook.
  • Hiring people that only fit into this system.
  • Benefits that allow our team to have an unlimited vacation policy.

Who Draws Up the Plays?

This is definitely a situation where key employees get to help design what the playbook should look like for their area of expertise. I’ve always focused on leveraging the strengths of each individual person and learning what they are great at. In the book “It’s not about the coffee” by Howard Behar, Starbucks executive. He shares:

The Person Who Sweeps the Floor Should Choose the Broom. People are not “assets,” they are human beings who have the capacity to achieve results beyond what is thought possible. – Howard Behar

Leadership and employees need to both agree on the outcome, but, the process to get there should be determined by the employee. At the end of the day, it’s about ensuring the results are achieved.

Our Biggest Area of Focus

Over the last year, the thing that has been my biggest area of focus is the customer experience. It’s also been my biggest point of frustration too. I badly want to raise the bar for our customer experience but I just haven’t been able to make traction on that. Clearly, I’m missing something in my knowledge and work experience that is allowing me to break through. In the last few months, my last three hires are people with university degrees in Hospitality Management. My intention and hope is that these people will focus on raising the bar really high for customer experience. I don’t think we will be able to do this without having a playbook and the entire team is in synch and executing as a unit.

What do you think? Does your company have a playbook? What do you like about your company’s playbook? How do you track and measure KPS’s. Please share!

Bacon, Beer, & Freedom


As I write this post, I am sitting on the deck overlooking the Puget Sound, consuming three pieces of bacon, wondering if it’s too early for an IPA, and thinking about freedom. Having recently returned from a trip to the beautiful land of Israel, there are certain aspects of our country’s freedom that I am more aware of and grateful for. The word freedom is an interesting one. We use it a lot to describe our rights and entitlements. In my own profession, we use it to describe what we’ve been “freed from” and therefore what we’re “freed to receive.” Freedom is defined as the absence of restraint resulting in the state of being free.

Therefore, freedom is a two-fold action! The absence of what’s restraining you results in a euphoric state of freedom. You can’t have one without the other.
Today we raise a glass to freedom and celebrate this country.
Freedom is a gift we all agree we are thankful for.
What ways can you celebrate personal freedoms in your own life? In other words, fill-in-the-blank: “The absence of ________ will free me to ________.”
Let freedom ring in this country and in your life!
Happy 4th of July. Stay safe out there and make good decisions!

You are your own boss.

mug“Twenty years ago, you’d go to a company and they’d tell you your [career] route.  Today, it’s on you” (Jody Greenstone Miller, CEO of Business Talent Group).

You are your own boss.

People rarely get promoted because they wait to do what they are told.  No.  People get promoted because they have the “I’m my own boss” mentality.  They know that they can decide their own career path, so they take ownership over their skills.  They are open and adaptable.  They constantly look for ways to improve or change the way they work.  They try new things and think outside the box.  And most of all, they have learned to be agile.

Agility is a job skill that Miller states shows someone that will be successful, and quickly.

If you’re 50 years old or younger, you may already be familiar with agility (by force or choice).  The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that those 50 years old and younger will not only have 11 different jobs, but 11 different careers.

I guess when you’re your own boss, you know when to stay and when to go.

What do you all think?  How important is agility?


5 Ways to Clear Your Head to Increase Concentration

 We all have times when we feel very unproductive and have a hard time focusing on our tasks. Finding inspiration can turn into a major problem if you don’t fuel and rest your brain from time to time.

But–to the rescue!–there are some easy ways to “unstick” your brain:

restaurant-person-woman-coffee-large1. Take a pause

If you have thought the situation through, and there is no way out, then it’s time to take a pause. Grab a coffee, have a little snack and do something else for a while. Refocusing elsewhere and returning to your problem later will allow you to see things from a different angle, and may help you resolve the problem.



landscape-nature-sky-sunset-large2. Fresh air

Take a walk outside, preferably into the green. Your eyes will be thankful for the pause from your computer screen, and some fresh air will help your body and mind to recharge their batteries. If you’re living in the city, don’t go the usual way, but try to explore new streets and areas.




person-woman-music-pink-large3. Surround yourself with nature

Research shows that there are cognitive benefits to surrounding yourself with greenery or images of nature. Try to choose a workplace where you’ll have a nice view outside, some plants nearby. Not an option? Listen to some soothing background sounds in order to boost your creativity.




Brooklyn Bridge4. Exercise

Sitting in front of your computer all day is not only bad for your health, but it’s also bad for your brain. It’s scientifically proven that people who exercise up to four times a week have better creative thinking skills than people that don’t. If you’re commuting to work, it’s great idea to walk or bike. Try to use lunch breaks to fit in some exercise.




1CB98C9DF85. Talk

Often we tend to immerse ourselves in our own problems, and we feel that we shouldn’t bother others with our issues. However, it can really help if you talk to somebody else. It can help not only to talk about your problems, but also to listen to other people’s problems and try to help. By doing this, you will get a different point of view. Perhaps while helping others, you will also distract yourself from your own problems–a win-win for both sides.


unnamedStefano Merlo is the CEO and founder of Noisli, a service that helps people to focus and boost productivity by blocking out annoying noises and creating a personal sound environment. Stefano has a Degree in Product and Visual Communication Design. A curious mind, always craving to learn new things. Find Stefano on Twitter at @stefanomerlo

Sites for Free Stock Photos That Are Perfect For Start-ups

As the Marketing Manager of a start-up for start-ups I need a lot of stock photos for our website, social channels and print collateral. I have a set budget for marketing and I don’t want to waste it on getting cheesy stock photos. I think that aligns pretty well with the challenges start-ups face when it comes to stock photos so I’ve compiled a useful list of the best places to find stock photos for start-ups. I even sorted them in a handy way. You’re welcome.

The requirements:

  1. They have to be free because ain’t nobody got money for that.
  2. They can’t just have a bunch of white guys shaking hands because the world doesn’t actually look like that and no one wants to see another one of those bad stock photos.
  3. It has to be really really really re-hee-eealy easy to figure out if you are going to get a strongly worded letter about using it.

person-woman-apple-hotel-largeI Need Something Specific


This is my personal favorite, being mostly in tech this site has a huge selection of pictures of phones, laptops and tablets to use.


The search on stock snap is great. The tags are easy to use to find high quality royalty free stock photos.

Pic Jumbo

There is a ton of variety on Pic Jumbo. You’ll find a few borderline cheesy stock images but for every one of those you can find 10 really great ones.



Scratching a Niche

These guys do one thing and do it well. Working in a niche? Scratch with one if these sites.

Foodie Feed

Warning! Do not browse before lunch. This site is full of appetizing food photos fit for any food based start-up.

New Old Stock

Looking for a great vintage photo? Browse the archive of vintage public domain imagery at New Old Stock.


Send Me Inspiration

Even the best marketers run out of ideas from time to time. Sometimes you need to find something specific and sometimes you need something to spark a little inspiration. Get these stock photos right to your inbox to get your creative juices flowin.


Receive 10 high quality artistic stock photos everyday from Unsplash right to your inbox.

Snapwire Snaps

7 hand-picked snaps every 7 days that are completely free to use.

Death To Stock Photos

These guys are sending you packs monthly. Be sure to follow them on Instagram to watch them travel the country in search of the best stock photography.


I’m Just Browsing

These sites let you get lost in the never ending scroll of beautiful imagery.



These user generated photos are gorgeously curated for your viewing/using pleasure.


Get user generated photography for free from Refe.


Do you have a favorite free stock photo go to? Leave it in the comments, I am always on the hunt for more great places for images.

How to Satisfy Millennials’ Hunger for Collaboration

Whether good news or bad news, we’ve all heard everyone talking about millennials. There’s really no way to avoid them since there are 80 million in the U.S. and more entering the workforce day after day — almost 50% of millennials plan to actively look for a new job in 2015, according to a study by Aon Hewitt.

So in order to attract and keep this generation engaged, you’ll have to start listening to their needs. Gartner, a global research firm, found these interesting stats:

  • Employees are only spending about 40% of time at their personal workstations
  • Non-group tasks have decreased to about 20% of the working day

The dynamic of the work environment is changing, and can you guess who’s behind that? You guess it: millennials. As a generation that grew up collaborating, this crowd expects that in the workplace. So if you really want to attract millennials and tap into this pool of talent, you’ll need to consider restructuring or redesigning your workplace setup. Doing this will help create an environment that fosters collaboration and creative thinking — both of which this generation highly values.

Fall of the Wall

collaborative workspaces

In a typical workplace, employees would withdraw to their own private space. The human silo. Millennials don’t want this. They crave collaboration. And the first step to satisfying their hunger for teamwork is to say “rest in peace” to those cubicles. In fact, companies that moved from cubicles to an open-floor plan enjoyed some amazing results, according to this study by interior design and research firm Knoll:

  • Performance increased by an average of 440%
  • There was a 5.5% reduction in business process time and cost

This makes sense. Walls are a physical obstacle that blocks communication. They separate people and prevent them from talking to each other. So is there any good reason for organizations to still keep them up? Try grouping desks together in pods or lining them up in rows so employees are in close contact with each other. And make sure teammates can easily talk to one another without having to shout or move too far from their desks.

Space for Collaboration

After the walls are gone, the next step is to give millennials the space they need for collaboration. According to this survey by IdeaPaint, millennials reported that only 30.8% of their ideation meetings are planned. So to support that process, here are solutions that encourage both spontaneous and scheduled brainstorming:

  • Open meeting areas: Scatter tables and chairs in various nooks and crannies around the office. This allows employees do some spur-of-the-moment teamwork instead of making them wait until they can schedule a meeting room. Even better, hang up a whiteboard nearby, and you’ve got a truly productive space.
  •  Break rooms: Opposite to what you may think, idle chitchat around the water cooler isn’t always time wasting. Employees tend to create conversations that are work related, so you never really know when a brilliant idea will pop up.
  • Meeting rooms: Besides spontaneous gathering areas, don’t forget to keep rooms that people can schedule. This is ideal for when there’s a sensitive topic on the horizon or you need to gather a large party.

Startup Stock Photos

Collaboration can’t always be done at people’s desks — especially if it involves three or more people. So to encourage this type of work, you’ll need to designate specific spaces so people can be free to unleash their creative ideas with one another.

Space for Privacy

The one thing to keep in mind is that we’re not saying to get rid of all privacy. Collaborative areas are extremely important, but so are private spaces. This comes in handy when an employee needs to work on a complex project or a task that involves fine attention to details. With these spaces, they’ll be able to really hone in on their task and keep focus. And the walls don’t have to be fully enclosed; partitions will suffice. Just having that minor barrier still allows employees to zone in on their task. An office that pairs collaborative and private spaces gives employees the flexibility to choose workstations that suit whatever task they’re working on. It’s always said that millennials are shaking up the workplace in a negative manner. However, that’s not the case. They’re actually making it better for employees of all generations. So to really attract them to your organization and keep them truly engaged, you’ll need to create an environment that fosters their collaborative nature.


DavidNiu_HeadshotDavid Niu is the Founder and CEO of TINYpulse, an employee engagement survey solution that empowers leaders with actionable feedback to make positive changes in their workplaces. David is a serial entrepreneur, having founded and successfully sold two prior businesses, NetConversions and BuddyTV. He attended the University of California at Berkeley for his BA and the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania for his MBA. He was named a “40 Under 40” recipient by the Puget Sound Business Journal and is actively involved in the Entrepreneurs Organization “EO.” David is also the author of Careercation: Trading Briefcase for Suitcase to Find Entrepreneurial Happiness.
Twitter: @davidniu

thinkspace BADASS Award

badass-award-awardWho doesn’t want to be called a badass?! Batman is a badass, Elon Musk is a badass, and I think Michael Brown, CEO of Affirma, Jordan Ritter, CEO of Ivy Softworks, and Dan Price, CEO of Gravity Payments are all pretty badass too. In the spirit of being a badass, we launched the thinkspace BADASS Award. It’s an employee recognition award which was inspired after visiting Jordan Ritter, CEO of Ivy Softworks.

Throughout my career I’ve seen a whole bunch of different ways companies try to recognize employees and most of them have been where a manager is the one that decides who gets the award. Instead of this being a top down award, it’s an award where peers get to nominate their coworkers and say they work with someone who is pretty badass.

Here’s how it works

We use a Google Docs Survey and it looks just like this:badass-nomination-form

Each month we will award someone on the team with the thinkspace BADASS Award. We’re looking to recognize a person who exhibits our core values. Vote for anyone but yourself. Vote for as many people and as many times as you would like. This is completely anonymous.

Please write a sentence or two about something they did that was exceptional, above and beyond, and aligns with our core values.

We will announce the winner of the thinkspace BADASS at the team meeting each month. We will read the nominations at the team meeting and award the person with the “chunk of metal” and $100. The “chunk of metal” is a passed along from one person to the next.

Our Core Values

GOAL CRUSHING ATTITUDE: We have the courage to start and resilience to finish. We push ourselves to the edge so that we know where the edge is. This is the heart of having an entrepreneurial spirit.

APPETITE FOR LEARNING: We are intellectually curious. We love to ask “why”. We love reading and pushing our knowledge to new depths. We believe that it is through learning that we are able to innovate. We reject the status quo.

GRATITUDE: We are thankful for the small things. We will over-deliver when we can. We are helpful and give back to our amazing community in any way we can. We choose to reach others over our own comfort.

BADASS Winners


April 2015: Katie Walvatne











May 2015: Monica Taylor










June 2015: Kate Bailes

June 2015: Kate Bailes

From Blondes to IPAs to Sours, Beer Lovers Toast to Seattle Beer Week

unnamedWhether you’re new to drinking craft beer or a longtime fan Seattle Beer Week is your chance to join thousands of others who want to enjoy what the market has to offer. The ten day celebration kicks off today with dozens of bars, pubs, and breweries hosting dozens of events showcasing a variety of hop based beverages. It’s no coincidence Seattle Beer Week is successful. According to the Brewers Association, Washington State ranks second in the nation  in the number of craft breweries creating batches of a drink first created in ancient Mesopotamia.

Among the dozens of business owners participating is Burc McFarlen, who runs The Beer Authority in Lake City. Like a sommelier speaks effortlessly about wine, Burc knows his beer. With 13 taps that are constantly changing, more than 400 bottled beers, Burc estimates he’s tasted about 75% of his inventory. He uses descriptions like “floral notes,” “hoppy,” and a “hint of vanilla” when explaining the subtle differences in beer you can find at his bar. He’s looking forward to Seattle Beer Week and is hosting a few events starting with a golf tournament. “The first four days we’re only pouring Washington beer to keep it local,” he explained.

BA_BurcPhoneBurc also partnered with Alaskan Brewing Company to offer a unique event on May 15. Customers can try grilled Alaskan salmon marinated in the company’s amber ale. Exotic meat like reindeer sausage from a butcher shop in Juneau is also on the menu. “We’re going to do a vertical tasting of their smoked porter,” Burc added. It will be from 2014, 2012, 2010, and 2008. Burc raved about the beer comparing it to “drinking smoked salmon.”

“It’s been fun watching it grow. Although it makes it harder to get into the events that I want to go to,” Jennifer Schweitzer shared with a smile. “It’s a good time. You get to see everybody in one place.” She has nearly two decades worth of experience as a bartender and has watched the evolution of Seattle Beer Week since it began in 2009. She knows firsthand the amount of work required to handle the event.

This year she won’t be behind the bar and is especially looking forward to Sour Fest hosted by Brouwers Café in Fremont. When asked why she loves the variety that’s growing in popularity her answer is succinct, “because sours are the magical unicorns of beer.” According to Jennifer there’s a wide variety of sour beers that are pleasing to many palettes, “the profile ranges from really sweet and fruity to tart and citrusy to boozy and funky. It’s just fun.”

As the craft beer market expanded, Jenn took an interest in the specialty beer about ten years ago. She wanted to know more about what she was serving and the interest has paid off. She’s able to make recommendations and help others give new beers a chance by providing “guidance not judgement.” Last year 252 craft breweries called the Evergreen State home according to the Washington Beer Commission. That’s up from 202 in the previous year and there’s no signs of the trend slowing down. “It’s happening everywhere especially in Ballard. You can’t turn a corner without seeing a brewery,” Jenn added.
As Seattle Beer Week expands Burc thinks there’s room for improvement. He’d like for there to be less focus on major distributors and see it go back to its roots – offering more educational events where people can “nerd out” and really learn about the intricacies of craft beer. His partnership with Alaskan Brewing Company is a reflection of what he’d like to see as a craft beer maven.

Whether you’re a novice or have advanced knowledge of craft beer Seattle Beer Week is a great opportunity to try new beers and share a toast with friends or strangers. “Craft beer is the ultimate ice breaker,” Burc shared.