Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Fast Company/Allen Gannett: What Happened When I Replied “Call Me” To Every Email I Got For A Week - & Other Interesting ' Articles By Different Writers

Fast Company

    08.01.17 8:00 am work smart

What Happened When I Replied “Call Me” To Every Email I Got For A Week

By Allen Gannett 4 minute Read

After forcing himself to become more “phone-prone,” this CEO finds that empathy sometimes equals efficiency.

The sound of descending chimes. Funky MIDI elevator music. Ughhhhhh–why is my phone ringing? Can’t they just text?

Like many people, the phone is a tool of last resort. I’d rather text or Slack or email or carrier pigeon. But I’ve noticed that many of the most successful, productive people I’ve met are what you might call “phone-prone.” If you send them a text, they call you instead of texting back. Email them? Get a call back.

Maybe this wasn’t a coincidence. I decided it was time to test my beliefs. But first, I decided to email two “phone-prone” people–Krista Smith, the West Coast editor of Vanity Fair, and Eric Kuhn, a former L.A. talent agent and the cofounder of Layer3 TV–for some advice. Within minutes I got an email back, “Call me.”

Related: A Short Guide To Phone Calls For People Who Grew Up Texting

“I think it’s about intonation, and that so much is confused in an email about what someone’s implying,” Smith pointed out, a factor that both agreed helps generate empathy. Kuhn told me, “It’s a much more real and civilized conversation on the phone, because you’re able to express emotion and hear the person’s voice and understand what’s happening.” Fair enough, but both Smith and Kuhn assured me that these more human interactions would also make things faster.

So at their encouraging, I devised a really simple plan: First, whenever someone emailed or texted me, I would suggest we jump on a call. Second, I kept a running “call list” of all the people I’d need to get in touch with over the course of my workweek. Whenever I had a free minute, I’d call the next person on it. Here’s how things went.
The Upsides

In that week, I had fulfilling conversations that wouldn’t have been possible through typing alone. I helped one of my customers solve a thorny issue and ended up reassuring him about some of his career worries. I’d never have heard the stress in his voice by emailing. In another case, I caught up with a CEO friend, and after answering her main question, we went back and forth on other things, including a thoughtful conversation about her business model.

What I found was that particularly for more nuanced discussions, the phone saved me time because neither of us had to be overly verbose to give context. Simply hearing somebody’s tone, as Smith had pointed out, made it easier to understand where someone stood and react accordingly. Quicker access to empathy really did lead to more efficiency.

Related: Why It’s So Hard To Detect Emotions In Emails And Texts
The Downsides

There were obvious drawbacks, too, though. In addition to having to use actual emotions instead of emojis, I would often miss people when I tried to reach them. Phone-tag time can add up–but then again, you have to wait for the other person to respond in any form asynchronous communication. In fact, I found that I would often get calls back sooner than responses to emails. I think this is partly just because we’re all deluged in emails, but non-spam phone calls are increasingly rare. So the less people use the phone for ordinary work-related conversations, the more useful it may even become.

So while I placed more calls over the course of the week than actually led to live phone conversations, the dozen or so that I did have not saved me time but also gave me a better sense of purpose and humanity. That doesn’t sound like a productivity booster, but in retrospect it was: I was able to help people–more often and more quickly–in a way I couldn’t through sterile emails. And in the cases of talking to customers, calling helped me build better relationships for my business.
What I’m Sticking With

My call list isn’t going anywhere. I’ve been able to turn walks to work and Ubers to meetings into productive time. This had a secondary benefit that my future self will be grateful for: I was no longer looking down at my phone, straining my neck.

In fact, I’ve now absorbed my call list into my to-do list. Alongside reminders to send out proposals and organize internal meetings, I have notes on whom to call, what the call is about, and how we got connected in the first place: “Call Jim about career advice, introduced via LinkedIn.” This helps me break out of just defaulting to email, and remember all the other modes of communication I might be forgetting.

The phone may not be the newest collaboration tool out there, but I was surprised at how effective I found it after a week of forcing myself to become more “phone-prone.” Sure, I couldn’t express myself using virtual smiley faces that way, but I was able to be more authentic–which doesn’t just lead to better relationships, but can help you tap into them more productively, too.

Allen Gannett is the CEO of TrackMaven, a content and social marketing analytics company. He is based in Washington, DC, and can be followed on Twitter at @Allen or on LinkedIn.

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    08.01.17 7:00 am creative calendar

Your Creative Calendar: 69 Things To See, Hear, And Read This August
Your Creative Calendar is here. Get ready for the Kesha album, “Difficult People,” Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon’s colorful characters from “The Trip” movies, and more.
Your Creative Calendar: 69 Things To See, Hear, And Read This August

By Joe Berkowitz3 minute Read

The revolving door employment at the White House has made for some seriously compelling reality TV this summer. Things got particularly heated over these past 10 days, during which we lost original cast members Sean Spicer and Reince Priebus, along with special guest star Anthony Scaramucci. These are indeed heady times. However, the fact that the events that would make the greatest TV show ever on Earth 2 if only they weren’t actually happening here on Earth 1–that only makes most Americans appreciate the counter-programming offered by movies and TV shows. This August has no shortage of late summer highlights, including the long-awaited adaptation of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower, and, well, the less long-awaited adaptation of Stephen King’s Mr. Mercedes. Read on to sort out your next few weekends of pop culture escapism.

Movies In Theaters

    Kidnap, opens August 4.
    The Dark Tower, opens August 4.
    Detroit, opens August 4.
    Wind River, opens August 4.
    Annabelle: Creation, opens August 4.
    Step, premieres August 4.
    The Glass Castle, opens August 11.
    The Only Living Boy in New York, opens August 11.
    Good Time, opens August 11.
    Ingrid Goes West, opens August 11.
    The Trip to Spain, opens August 11.
    The Hitman’s Bodyguard, opens August 11.
    Logan Lucky, opens August 18.
    Marjorie Prime, opens August 18.
    Patti Cake$, opens August 18.
    Polaroid, opens August 25.

Movies To Watch At Home

    Maz Jobrani: Immigrant, premieres August 1st on Netflix.
    Columbus, premieres August 4.
    Fun Mom Dinner, premieres August 4.
    Open Water 3: Cage Dive, premieres August 11.
    Whose Streets?, premieres August 11.
    Gook, premieres August 18.
    Tulip Fever, premieres August 25.
    Death Note, premieres August 25.

Albums You Should Hear

    Randy Newman – Dark Matter, out on August 4.
    Frankie Rose – Cage Tropical, out on August 11.
    Kesha – Rainbow, out on August 11.
    Oneohtrix Point Never – The Good Time [OST], out on August 11.
    Grizzly Bear – Painted Ruins, out on August 18.
    Loretta Lynn – Wouldn’t It Be Great, out on August 18.
    Rainer Maria – S/T, out on August 18.
    UNKLE – The Road Part 1, out on August 18.
    EMA – Exile In The Outer Ring, out on August 25.
    Iron & Wine – Beast Epic, out on August 25.
    Liars – TFCF (Themes From Crying Fountain), out on August 25.
    Queens of the Stone Age – Villains, out on August 25.
    The War on Drugs – A Deeper Understanding, out on August 25.
    Widowspeak – Expect The Best, out on August 25.

Things To Watch On Your TV Or Your Computer

    Manhunt: Unabomber, premieres August 1st on Discovery.
    Baroness Von Sketch Show, premieres August 2nd on IFC.
    The Lowe Files, premieres August 2nd on A&E.
    The Sinner, premieres August 2nd on USA.
    The Chris Gethard Show, premieres August 3rd on truTV.
    The Guest Book, premieres August 3rd on TBS.
    What Would Diplo Do?, premieres August 3rd on Viceland.
    Comrade Detective, premieres August 4th on Amazon.
    Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later, premieres August 4th on Netflix.
    Carpool Karaoke, premieres August 8th.
    Difficult People, premieres August 8th on Hulu.
    Mr. Mercedes, premieres August 9th on DirecTV/AT&T.
    Saturday Night Live: Weekend Update,premieres August 9th on NBC.
    Atypical, premieres August 11th on Netflix.
    Get Shorty, premieres August 13th on Epix.
    Marlon, premieres August 16th on NBC.
    Marvel’s The Defenders, premieres August 18th on Netflix.
    Halt and Catch, premieres August 19th on AMC.
    Episodes, premieres August 19th on Showtime.
    South Park, premieres August 23rd on Comedy Central.
    There’s… Johnny!, premieres August 24th on Seeso.
    Disjointed, premieres August 25th on Netflix.
    The Tick, premieres August 25th on Amazon.
    MTV Video Music Awards, premieres August 27th on MTV.

Books To Read

    Black Panther Vol. 1 by Ta-Nehisi Coates, out on August 15.
    How to Disappear by Sharon Huss Roat, out on August 15.
    Depression & Other Magic Tricks by Sabrina Benaim, out on August August 22.
    Stay with Me by Ayobami Adebayo , out on August 22.
    The Burning Girl by Claire Messud, out on August 29.
    Basic Witches: How to Summon Success, Banish Drama, and Raise Hell with Your Coven by Jaya Saxena and Jess Zimmerman, out on August 29.

[Photo Mash Up: Maja Saphir for Fast Company; Source Photos: Glass Castles: Jake Giles Netter, courtesy of Lionsgate;  Death Note: James Dittiger, courtesy of Netflix; Gook: Melly Lee, courtesy of Birthday Soup Films;  Sinner: Brownie Harris, courtesy of USA Network; Carpool Karaoke: courtesy of Apple; Step, Whose Streets?: Autumn Lin Photography, courtesy of Magnolia Pictures]
About the author

Joe Berkowitz is a writer and staff editor at Fast Company. His next book, Away with Words, is available June 13th from Harper Perennial.


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Starbucks Is Bringing Hope–And Profit–To The Communities America’s Forgotten
From Ferguson, Missouri, to military towns, the coffee giant is rejuvenating key areas of American society—and redefining what a brand can be.
1/6 Ferguson area schoolkids stop in for a cold drink. [Photo: Whitten Sabbatini]

By Karen Valbylong Read

There’s laughter behind the counter. The young people in green aprons, most of whom live within 5 miles of the store and possess a hard knowledge of the streets outside, razz each other and joke easily with regulars. Twenty-one-year-old barista Deidric Cook, who was living out of his Ford Focus before being hired last year, brings the homeless woman who routinely parks her shopping cart outside a tea for when she wakes up at her table. Around lunchtime, about a dozen men and women will gather in the café’s designated community room for a free job-skills training class led by local members of the Urban League. A large photo of a yard sign with the message I LOVE ALL OF FERGUSON hangs on the wall.

Three years ago, Michael Brown was shot dead by a policeman on a nearby block, the event kicking off waves of protest and rioting that made headlines for months. As seen through the media’s lens, this was a city of torched police cars and smashed storefronts, hollowed out with sorrow and rage. So there’s something both bizarre and comforting about walking into Ferguson’s year-old Starbucks and experiencing the chain’s familiar, coffee-scented calm—not to mention watching Michael Brown’s charismatic uncle, who works here as a barista, prepare lattes behind the counter.

This café in Missouri represents one of 15 that Starbucks has committed to opening in underserved communities nationwide by the end of 2018 as part of its larger social-impact agenda, which over the past three years has grown increasingly aggressive, targeted, and sometimes controversial. In 2013, the company pledged to hire 10,000 veterans and military family spouses within five years and, having met the goal a year and a half early, upped its “hiring and honoring” commitment to 25,000 by 2025. In 2015, the Seattle giant launched another hiring initiative, this one to bring on board 10,000 “opportunity youth” (men and women between the ages of 16 and 24 who are not in school or working). The company has since hired 40,000, and this past spring pledged to reach 100,000 by 2020. In January, as an immediate rebuke to the restrictive travel and refugee-acceptance policies President Trump announced upon taking office, Starbucks launched yet another hiring effort: to partner with trusted agencies around the world and by 2022 hire 10,000 refugees in its stores across the world.

Barista Deidric Cook [Photo: Whitten Sabbatini]
Global responsibility chief John Kelly says that senior leadership routinely asks itself “Why not us?” before taking on the years-long operational demands of any of these various initiatives. “Like a lot of companies, we can have an impact: We could write a check, we could do some volunteering. But that’s not enough.” There is certainly a long game at play here—the Community Stores program represents a strategic opportunity, for example, for Starbucks to diversify its store portfolio as it pursues its goal of expanding into new markets with 3,400 new U.S. stores by late 2021. Yet Starbucks’s new CEO, Kevin Johnson, whom founder Howard Schultz handpicked as his successor, insists that the motivating factor is his 330,000 employees around the world; if they feel they are a part of something bigger than themselves, then that alone is good for business. “This is the core for our reason for being—to leverage our scale for good,” says Johnson. “It is possible for a publicly traded company to drive an agenda that is not only about shareholder value but is about social impact that helps the people and communities we serve.”

Related: The Inside Story of Starbucks’s Race Together Campaign, No Foam

The idea for the Ferguson store was born in the back seat of a car. A year after Brown’s murder, Schultz had been in St. Louis holding a forum on race with nearby St. Louis employees—one of many such gatherings he led as part of the company’s well-intentioned, if social-media-lampooned, #racetogether campaign, in which partners (as Starbucks refers to its employees) were encouraged to attempt casual dialogue with customers about America’s most sensitive subject. He made time in his schedule to take a drive through Ferguson, which is 70% black. Nearly half of all young black men in the St. Louis region are unemployed. Rodney Hines, now Starbucks’s director of U.S. social impact, accompanied Schultz and compares the ghostlike feel of the town to post-Katrina New Orleans. “Howard made a statement that resonated with me and others,” remembers Hines. ” ‘We’re absent from this community, and not only are we absent, but we have a responsibility and an opportunity to be here.’ ”

Rodney Hines and Ferguson Store Manager, Cordell Lewis speak during the Ferguson Store 1 Year Anniversary celebration on April 29, 2017. [Photo: Michael Thomas for Starbucks Coffee Company]
It was a risk for Starbucks to bring its brand to Ferguson. In terms of economic development, the city was a dead zone. Thirty-seven businesses in Ferguson had been damaged in the riots, 17 of them destroyed. But even beyond the obvious financial risk, Starbucks knew it would be easy to get it all wrong, to prolong the embarrassment of #racetogether by appearing to swoop into a famously hurting place with a touchy-feely mission statement and an expensive drinks menu. “Many people told us, ‘You do not have a role here,’ ” says Kelly. “Well, conversations about race are one thing, but this is all about creating opportunity.”


Grief, food insecurity, and homelessness remain common struggles for the 23 employees at the Ferguson Starbucks. “When one of my partners, a young woman, comes to me and says, ‘I’m going to sleep in my vehicle for another night in the Walmart parking lot,’ ” says store manager Cordell Lewis, “how am I ever going to get on that person and say, ‘You’re late, you’re not in dress code’?” Lewis, a married father who used to manage a video-game store across the street before Starbucks recruited him—and who is currently taking free online computer engineering courses at Arizona State University through the company’s College Achievement Program—has tattooed arms and a Mohawk. He knows from his own childhood what it means to live for a while out of your car and relates to the chaos his employees must routinely work through. “If they were in a bad spot I would take care of it,” he says. “Starbucks would take care of it. If I had to do a cash payout I would come in and do that, and there wouldn’t be a problem with that.” Barista Deidric Cook, who credits his employee health insurance with allowing him to get the x-rays he needed following an injury from a car accident, says that “seeing your manager care about you that much makes it where you like coming to work.”

Cordell Lewis, the manager of the Ferguson Starbucks. [Photo: Whitten Sabbatini]
Lewis and his district manager, Nancy Siemer, offer employees a varied and ever-evolving range of assistance, from making sure they know which homeless shelter is on which bus line to Lewis once slipping a delivery guy extra cash to take a pizza to an especially rough neighborhood for an employee who hadn’t eaten in three days. “He’s like a dad around here,” says 20-year-old barista Adrienne Lemons, whose own father went to jail shortly before she was hired and whose paycheck must stretch to help care for her three younger sisters. “I’m not going to lie and say I haven’t come into work with [tears] on my shoulders, but this is our home away from home.”

Starbucks didn’t just go ahead with the store in Ferguson—it promised to build 14 additional stores in other low- to medium-income urban markets. (Six have opened to date in locations including Jamaica, Queens, and Long Beach, California.) In each spot, the company purposefully hires local minority- and women-owned contractors and vendors, works in tandem with local government and civic leaders, and partners with nonprofits to offer young people free, on-site job-skills training from the Starbucks customer-service curriculum.

Barista Adrienne Lemons considers the Ferguson Starbucks a “home away from home.” [Photo: Whitten Sabbatini]
“Starbucks in isolation in these communities isn’t enough,” says Hines, the lead on the initiative, explaining the effort’s longer-term goals. “Part of this work is to illustrate how feasible this is for us and for other businesses.” Since the Ferguson store launched in April 2016, 41 other new businesses have opened. “When one person steps out from the crowd, others will follow,” says local city council member Ella Jones. “Starbucks said, ‘We are going to Ferguson. We are going to help this community recover.’ Once Starbucks stepped out of the crowd, everybody began to follow.”

“Colonel, your drink is ready!”

The Joint Base San Antonio Starbucks sits at a busy intersection near three gated military outposts in Texas—Fort Sam Houston, Lackland Air Force Base, and Randolph Air Force Base. During the Friday morning rush, the room is thick with men and women in uniform. Twelve of the 26 employees at the two-year-old Sam Houston location are veterans, or spouses or teenage children of active service members. These stores—there are 32 so far in the U.S., marked by the subtle engraving of MILITARY FAMILY STORE on the front door frame—are a key part of the company’s hiring and honoring initiative, which aims to position Starbucks as a respite in military communities. The stores primarily employ veterans and military spouses and nurture relationships between the local base and veteran assistance organizations like Onward to Opportunity, which helps vets transition into new careers. Recently, Starbucks announced plans to open 100 additional Military Family Stores in the U.S. in the next five years.

Ferguson patron Tyler Small [Photo: Whitten Sabbatini]
Shift supervisor Kelly Moore, 37, wears a green apron with an American flag sewn over the chest along with her first name and her designation of Army spouse. She has worked at Starbucks for two and a half years, though she says the chain has served as a comfort zone for far longer in the four countries and five states she’s bounced around thanks to her staff sergeant husband’s career. (The two are now separated.) “If you drive up and down this main road, it’s a lot of mom-and-pop stuff, dry cleaners,” she says. “Starbucks is the first thing most of these kids see when they leave the base that they’re actually familiar with. So this tends to be a meeting place for the younger troops who are here in training who don’t have any friends or family in the area. My son is getting ready to enlist. So I want to be that friendly, reliable face for these young people who have never left home before.”

Starbucks hasn’t always been known as a veteran-friendly, or veteran-ready, place to work. John Kelly, the company’s head of responsibility, remembers his first day in the Seattle offices in the fall of 2013, sitting in on a meeting between senior leadership and half a dozen lower-level members of the Starbucks Armed Forces Network, the in-house community of employees with military backgrounds that had been founded in 2007. “They were challenging the senior leadership of the company to take advantage of this extraordinary moment in time, of 2.5 million transitioning veterans, and do more proactively to seek out and help them,” Kelly recalls. The executives’ subsequent commitment to hire 10,000 veterans and military family spouses was followed closely by the publication of Schultz’s 2014 book, For Love of Country: What Our Veterans Can Teach Us About Citizenship, Heroism, and Sacrifice, and a $30 million pledge from the Schultz Family Foundation for job training along with research into post-traumatic stress syndrome and brain trauma. Starbucks bused hundreds of regional and district managers to Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma, Washington, to teach them about military culture.

Matt Kress, a former firefighter and EMT who spent 22 years in the Marine Corps, heads the Military Family Stores program. It was he who pushed for baristas to be allowed to add patriotic touches to their aprons, such as Moore’s flag, to bond with customers. He also lobbied for individual Military Family Stores to be able to differentiate themselves from the Starbucks norm. At the Lackland MFS in San Antonio, for instance, customers have decorated shelves with equipment they deployed with, such as a beaten-up pair of combat boots or oily body armor. The staff at the MFS outside Hill Air Force Base in Clearfield, Utah, has permission to continue to wear red T-shirts on Fridays until every one of its service members comes home from combat. “Starbucks has really succeeded at bringing in the culture of the military and making it a part of who we are as a company,” says Kress.

Baristas Deidric Cook and Adrienne Lemons [Photo: Whitten Sabbatini]
So the Armed Forces Network took it personally when, after Starbucks pledged to hire 10,000 refugees this past January, social media trolls began calling on people to boycott the chain. (“Hey @Starbucks, instead of  hiring 10,000 refugees, how about hiring 10,000 veterans instead,” read one tweet. “What does it say when a company is willing to give jobs to terrorists over homeless veterans and at-risk inner city youth? #BoycottStarbucks,” read another.) After getting the go-ahead from senior leadership, the Armed Forces Network crafted a graceful slap-down, both as tweeted replies that soon went viral and a statement on the Starbucks website, reminding critics about the company’s veteran-employment history as well as its largely ignored stated intent to focus first on hiring refugees with special immigrant visas—Iraqis and Afghanis who served alongside U.S. military. “I’ll speak for myself as a combat veteran,” says Kress. “One of the things we fight for is freedom, and that includes the freedom to live a life where you’re safe, and that includes refugees coming to this country.”

Moore says her husband was as proud of the company for standing publicly alongside refugees as he was the day it committed to hiring veterans. He had just eight days’ notice before he shipped out to Afghanistan not long ago, and Moore’s team rallied to cover her shifts so she could be with her family before he left. “Hey, we’ll work [with] a man down if we have to,” her manager told her. Moore had spent much of her adult life working minimum-wage fast-food jobs before landing at the coffee chain. Starbucks is the first employer that’s ever promoted her—”Twice!”—she tells me proudly. And regardless of her marital status going forward, if she moves again, her store manager will help place her at a Starbucks near wherever she ends up. Before working at the company, “because I transition so regularly, I just felt like, Well, I’m always going to be entry level, always have that beginner minimum-wage job,” says Moore. “Now, if I want to progress up the ladder, there is room for me to grow within the company.” Starbucks, meanwhile, holds on to its talent.

#BoycottStarbucks may have been a particularly obnoxious gambit, but it also spent a day as the No. 1 trending topic on Twitter. A YouGov BrandIndex survey found in March that consumers’ estimation of Starbucks had fallen by two-thirds since the company’s January refugee-hiring pledge. Starbucks hit back within the week, sharing a letter from market-research firm Kantar Millward Brown that disputed the YouGov report. “Stakeholders need the facts,” read the Starbucks release accompanying the letter. “We did not observe any substantive impact on Customer Consideration, Future Visitation Intent or Brand Perceptions or any other key performance metrics for the Starbucks brand.” At the annual shareholders meeting later that month, Schultz reiterated to the crowd that “we have never shown a harmful impact on our business due to our compassion.”

Kelly explains that while the hiring initiatives don’t demonstrate a “direct correlation to revenue,” they are vital to the company. “Whether it’s the resilience of refugees, the energy of opportunity youth, or the service and leadership of our veterans and military spouses, these hiring initiatives are the best of Starbucks,” he says. “For all the critics out there who say we shouldn’t get involved with this or that, I think we have been able to prove that while we learn along the way and, yes, we make mistakes, at the end of the day we are a company that lives its values, and that has been key to helping us drive our business.” Now the goal is to encourage other major brands to follow; the company recently partnered with large corporations such as FedEx and JCPenney in hosting a daylong opportunity youth job and resource fair in Dallas in May, where 700 young people were offered jobs on the spot.

Ferguson demonstrates what a successful effort can look like. “The store is turning a profit in year one,” says Johnson. “We’ve specifically called out an intentional part of our strategy, which is to look at these Community Stores and make the investment in areas that others wouldn’t.” The café has seen sales growth of 15% since opening, ranks in the top 25% of food sales in the St. Louis area, and boasts a lower staff-attrition rate than the average Starbucks.

Starbucks district manager Nancy Siemer, who helped locals in Ferguson recover after the riots. [Photo: Whitten Sabbatini]
The benefits have spread three miles across town to Natalie’s Cakes and More bakery. Back in 2014, owner Natalie DuBose was a single mom of two young kids. On the night word spread that Ferguson cop Darren Wilson wouldn’t be indicted in Michael Brown’s killing, she got a call that her new shop had been damaged in the chaos. She rushed over and remembers little beyond a burning police car out front, plus, hanging upside down through her busted window, the Christmas tree she had set up as a holiday display.

A few days later, a stranger walked into her boarded-up shop as she was baking in the back. Before introducing herself, the woman took hold of DuBose’s shoulders and asked, “Are you okay?” They wordlessly fell into each other’s arms and sobbed. DuBose soon learned that this compassionate visitor was Starbucks district manager Nancy Siemer, whose husband had grown up in Ferguson just a few miles from where the rioting took place. She had seen DuBose crying on the local news, vowing to rebuild. Soon Siemer was stopping in regularly, each time bringing higher-level Starbucks executives with her to chat and try some of DuBose’s signature cake. In April 2015, after attending the groundbreaking ceremony for the Ferguson store, Starbucks senior VP of siren ideas Mesh Gelman formally asked DuBose if she was interested in selling her caramel cake at Starbucks. The trick, Gelman said, was scale. She had to commit to selling in multiple stores for the deal to make financial sense.

Ferguson bakery owner Natalie DuBose now sells her caramel cake at 32 Starbucks stores. [Photo: Whitten Sabbatini]
On the afternoon I visit her shop, DuBose is cleaning up pizza boxes. She has just finished lunch with the 10 local teens she’s hired for a 90-day summer program as part of her Sweet Success youth program. Today, DuBose’s caramel cake is available at 32 Starbucks locations in the greater St. Louis area as well as five local Schnucks grocery stores. She’s grown her staff from 4 to 22 employees. “It used to be I wanted a career that allowed me to take care of my kids,” she says, rubbing her hands over the goose bumps on her arms that she still gets when she marvels over her unlikely journey. “Now, all of a sudden, I can help somebody else take care of their kids.” When Rodney Hines visited Ferguson in April to celebrate the Starbucks location’s one-year anniversary, DuBose says she hugged him and asked to expand her reach into more Starbucks. She tells me she wants to grow another 10 times in the year ahead, in terms of employees, locations, community service, all of it. She is thriving, and she wants to help others do the same.

But there are lines she will not cross. This past spring, a Missouri chain of high-end coffee shops separately approached her, eager to sell her cake. DuBose never signed any type of exclusivity contract with Starbucks and realizes she would be giving up money the Seattle giant likely wouldn’t begrudge her. She walks over to the coffee pot by the cash register and picks up a half-full bag of Starbucks’s ground Pike Place. “Nah, I could never do that to Starbucks.”
A version of this article appeared in the September 2017 issue of Fast Company magazine.

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    07.31.17 your most productive self

Four Times You Shouldn’t Apologize (Including When It’s Your Fault)
You can show your emotional intelligence by finding solutions, not yet another “I’m sorry.”
Four Times You Shouldn’t Apologize (Including When It’s Your Fault)
[Photo: Thomas Barwick/Getty Images]

By Judith Humphrey4 minute Read

“Sorry to bother you.”

“Hi, sorry I’m late.”


It’s no wonder people are always apologizing. “Sorry” is one of the first words we learn as young children, and it keeps getting hammered into us as adults. These days, leaders are coached to be sensitive, empathetic, and concerned with others’ feelings–all worthy, important attributes that a great boss (or anyone with a shred of emotional intelligence) needs to possess. So with the best of intentions we go out of our way to be nice and collegial–and wind up overdoing the mea culpas.

The risk in saying “sorry” too much is that apologies carry baggage that can undermine others’ confidence in you. It’s often the verbal equivalent of a hangdog face, downcast eyes, or slouching shoulders. Why put yourself down? Here are four times you can take responsibility–and take action–without having to be so contrite.

Related: Sorry, Not Sorry–Why Women Need To Stop Apologizing For Everything
1. When You’re Asking For The Floor

Some people apologize right before they’re about to speak up. Maybe that’s when you’re interjecting a point into a conversation–“Sorry, if I could just add something?”–or responding to somebody in a meeting: “Excuse me, I’d like to speak to Eric’s point.” But what exactly are you sorry, or need to be excused, for?

Other times you may find yourself apologizing even when you’re the one who’s just been interrupted: “Sorry I wasn’t finished.” Getting a word in edgewise at work can be challenging, but apologizing will only make you sound tentative and less deserving of airtime. So just forego the apology and get right to your point.

A similar thing even happens in voicemail greetings: “Sorry I’m not here. Please leave a message” is a common refrain. Why should you be sorry for not being there? You have better things to do than sit around and wait for phone calls.

Related: What Happened When I Stopped Saying “Sorry” At Work For A Week
2. When You’re Feeling Unsure Of Yourself

Whether or not you’re consciously aware of it, this type of knee-jerk apology conveys the sense that you aren’t living up to others’ expectations or have failed in some way. The person who arrives late at a meeting and breathlessly says, “sorry I’m late” may be well intentioned, but sharing that thought delivers a negative and distracting message.

Sure, you want to acknowledge that you might’ve inconvenienced your coworkers by making them wait around for you, but what’s the harm in (respectfully) positioning yourself as someone who’s in high demand? Maybe you had a competing appointment. Why not just say, “Thanks for waiting–I won’t keep us longer than we’d originally planned, so let’s get right to it.”

Similarly, when your own presentation is running slightly over the time limit, don’t say, “Sorry, I just have three slides left.” If you feel you’ve used up all your time, just cut your presentation short (something you should always be prepared to do, by the way)–often a better move than apologizing for making everyone stay too long. And if you nearly bump into someone as you turn the corner, don’t fall over yourself with “sorry”s–just smile and make them feel good about the near encounter: “Ah, didn’t see you there! How’s it going!?”

There are always moments that make you feel vulnerable and want to ask for forgiveness. I found myself struggling with a new routine at the gym recently and uttered “sorry” to my personal trainer when I couldn’t nail it right away. His generous response was, “It’s okay.” But where did that get us? Nowhere except that I felt inadequate for longer than I probably had to.

Related: Four Words And Phrases To Avoid When You’re Trying To Sound Confident
3. When You’re About To Deliver A Zinger

You might be tempted to apologize before delivering bad news, but that will only intensify the negativity and–even worse–swallow up whatever notes of empathy with which you try to moderate it. For example, in a statement like “I’m sorry to tell you the customer didn’t like the idea we pitched,” the news that all that work ended up getting rejected will totally overpower the softer-sounding preface. Sometimes saying “sorry” in these tough situations can even backfire: when you say, “I’m sorry to tell you that we’ll be downsizing our group,” what sounds compassionate to you might even ring false to your team members.

No apology can ever truly offset bad news. Instead, cut to the chase and offer support in the form of guidance about the next steps you’ll need to take. Actionable information, transparency, and leadership are all more important–and genuinely empathetic–than verbal expressions of how bad you might feel.
4. When It’s Your Fault

Sometimes you really have done something wrong that clearly warrants an apology. And in those situations, by all means, take responsibility! But saying “sorry” might not always be the best way to do that.

Suppose you know you won’t be able to meet a deadline you’d initially set–a project is just taking longer than you’d expected. Should you say to your boss, “I’m sorry, I won’t have that presentation ready on Tuesday like I’d promised”? Maybe not. It’s certainly incumbent upon you to explain that you won’t be able meet your commitment, but don’t miss your opportunity to deliver that news as positively as you can: “I know we discussed having the presentation ready by Tuesday, but there’s some critical information that won’t be available until Monday, and I’d really like to include it. So my goal is to have the presentation to you by the end of the week–how does that sound?” This response is forward-looking and proactive.

In all these situations, there are often better ways to communicate than by saying you’re sorry. Don’t drag yourself down. Show your empathy and emotional intelligence by finding solutions, not apologies.
About the author

Judith Humphrey is founder and Chief Creative Officer of The Humphrey Group, a premier leadership communications firm headquartered in Toronto. She is a communications expert whose business teaches global clients how to communicate as confident, compelling leaders.


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    07.31.17 master class

How The Duplass Brothers Are Bringing Their Indie Creativity To Brands
Mark and Jay Duplass’ new venture Donut is a creative agency built around their aesthetic of “epically small,” i.e. low budget, high-impact.
How The Duplass Brothers Are Bringing Their Indie Creativity To Brands
Donut Founded by Mark & Jay Duplass, Charlie Leahy & Nigel Lopez-McBean. [Photo: courtesy of Donut]

By Nicole LaPortelong Read

“As our guest, take one copy on your way out,” Mark Duplass instructs me, waving his hand at a coffee table strewn with a collection of worn video cassette tape boxes showcasing a range of classic titles titles from the ’80s and ’90’s. “But do that last because you really don’t want us to know these secrets about you before we start talking.”

He grins and plops down on a sofa next to his brother and collaborator, Jay, who’s best known for his role as a Josh Pfefferman, the repentant Lothario on Transparent. I’m meeting with the siblings in the loft space of the rambling, nineteenth-century craftsman home in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles that is HQ to all things Duplass. The house dates back to 1887, when suffragettes moved in, and today still has a distinctly vintage vibe–albeit one that’s been updated with more contemporary nostalgic touches like midcentury modern chairs and VHS tapes. It is here that the New Orleans natives, who made their quirky debut with the 2005 film The Puffy Chair, churn out their numerous film and TV projects, which include films like Blue Jay, a black-and-white romantic drama starring Mark and Sarah Paulson, for Netflix; and the HBO shows Togetherness, about hipsters confronting middle age (it ran for two seasons); and their latest Room 104, an anthology series that takes place in a single motel room. The historic, three-story house, which has been carved up into editing bays and rehearsal spaces, is also now the de facto office for Donut, the digital and branded content shop that the Duplass’ recently announced with ad veterans Charlie Leahy and Nigel Lopez-McBean. The amiable British duo, who are seated across from the Duplass’ when we meet, is best known for their work on the Cannes Lion-winning spots featuring Ricky Gervais as a slacker pitchman for Optus, the telecoms company that introduced Netflix to Australia.

If the name Duplass and all that it implies–scrappy projects that explore the minutiae of human interactions, typically set in the hipster milieu that the brothers themselves inhabit–doesn’t seem synonymous with the sell-your-soul world of slick promotions or anything with the word “branded” in it, they’re well aware of that.

“Jay and I have been typically afraid of anything that felt like ad or branded content for a long time,” says Mark, who’s dressed in a dark blue T-shirt, jeans, and scuffed-up leather boots. “And then we met these guys”–he nods at Leahy and Lopez-McBean–“and they were working on this really cool branded content campaign with Ricky Gervais, that anti-ad thing. And we were like, this is the only thing we’ve ever seen that made us feel like we could be ourselves inside of this and got us open-minded to it. So we were like, alright, this could be really cool.”

Jay, the older and more reserved of the two, who’s sitting on the other end of the couch wearing a brightly printed shirt, says of the Gervais ad: “It was very alive and electric. You can tell they weren’t on take 37. You could feel that he was saying something that was crazy and entertaining to himself, and you can almost feel the people behind the camera almost ready to laugh. There’s like that palpable, something is happening here that is really exciting. That’s very hard to get.”

Capturing that kind of raw energy and sly, surprising performance is what Donut–which is named after the Duplass’ much-professed weakness for the carb-y treat–is all about. In many ways, the venture is a return to when “we were eight and twelve, running around with our parents’ video camera,” says Mark. “That’s something we miss a little bit.” Indeed, as Duplass Prods. has become more successful, the siblings have found themselves more removed from their comfort zone of shooting with a lean crew of friends on a microscopic budget. Working with studios and cable networks often means “you have 150 people in the room and it costs $20 million, and you can’t move,” Mark goes on. “You’re too boxed in because everybody’s scared. But when you’re a little bit nimble and you have a smaller crew and you’re truly collaborating, then you can be on your feet to move around and find magic.”

The basic premise behind Donut is to partner with brands and apply the Duplassian aesthetic, which they dub “epically small,” to short-form storytelling. At this point there are few specifics as to what this will look like, exactly, but the Donut guys talk about everything from narrative and documentary-style video series to more traditional spots to making original content for platforms like Snapchat and Facebook, which is venturing into online TV next month. (As of yet no deals have been announced with those platforms, but the brothers don’t deny they are being courted.) The company’s first campaign will be for Amazon Echo and will launch later this summer. Sean Ohlenkamp, creative director for Amazon’s in-house creative agency D1, says the company chose to work with Donut because “Mark and Jay capture that human condition that we can all relate to. They capture how messy life really is. A lot of other people just try to polish and perfect it and water it down.”

This resonates with Amazon, which believes in “putting the customer first and focussing on people,” Ohlenkamp says. “Our customers are not polishing their lives when they’re putting it out for the world to see. We can see that through their use of different social platforms. So it’s important to us that we speak to our customers the way they’re speaking to each other.”

Backing up the Duplass’ artistic chops are Leahy and Lopez-McBean’s marketing and digital savvy. Having worked for brands like Harley-Davidson, Honda, Citibank and Emotive, Leahy says, “We come at it with a knowledge and a strategy around distribution and amplification because that’s really the world we live in. Yes, you can make something awesome and put it out there, but unless you know who you’re going to drive it to, who’s going to watch it, where they’re going to watch it, and how to create different styles of it and types of content for different platforms–there’s two sides to the coin.”

The Donut partners feel that this combined synergy–indie art mixed with “the dark arts of social video,” as Leahy jokes–makes the company a unique proposition in a world where brands are desperately trying to engage with fickle audiences who don’t want to feel like they’re being sold to. It’s also a world where once novel tactics like hiring digital influencers to spread the word in an organic-feeling way, are starting to feel hackneyed.

“For the first time people are questioning the fact that just because you spent $5 million on a major influencer, is someone going to go out and buy your widget?,” says Mark. “Nobody wants to say it, but they’re all like, this may not be working, and this may not be as easy as we thought.”

“And that gives us confidence, at least for what we feel we have to offer,” Mark continues. “Because we can tell you just an everyday story, really well-told, that’s about core basic issues that can relate to you. We’re less good at being like, guys, we got LeBron James and let’s get it! We’re more interested in, we’ve actually got LeBron James’ third cousin who might have been good [at basketball] but got injured in high school. That’s a better story for us. And that’s where we feel brands are heading. It’s cheaper for them to make. It’s a little less risky. It’s a little more human. That’s kind of, like, where we fit.”

1. Creativity Based In Limits

Donut’s creative approach mimics the way the Duplass’ work as indie filmmakers, a philosophy that Mark describes as “creativity based in limits.”

“It’s something we’ve come to embrace through the years, because we kind of came up making $5 movies, and we would literally throw things on the table and say, what do we have available to us? How can we make a movie out of this? Our first feature film, The Puffy Chair, was built that exact way. We have $10,000 to make a movie, so we have Mark’s van, we have these two apartments…

“There are the two actors who are willing to waste three weeks with us,” Jay adds, smiling.

“We can get doubles of this one, disgusting recliner for $500, let’s write those in,” Mark goes on. “And then you back into that thing, and there’s something very inspiring about that. And to that end, you know, working with brands and stuff, a lot of times they’ll come to us and say, ‘Here’s a need. Here is a quote unquote limit. Here is something we have to work with.’ And then Jay and I look at that the same way we look at our independent films, and we just back right into that thing. And not only is that really fun for us, but in this case, when you get to do it with a brand, we don’t have to pay for it ourselves. It’s funded. It’s sustainable. So that’s part of the allure for us.”

Their crew is also limited, generally taking the form of a group of fellow indie filmmakers and friends who take on multiple jobs. Beyond being economical, a smaller team allows the filmmakers to work fluidly and create a more natural, human feeling on set.

“Everyone who’s been on a set knows that a set is the most constructed, fake thing in the world,” says Jay. “And we’ve spent our whole careers breaking that down so we can really experience that moment.”

“We’re at our best when we’re with a small group of trusted collaborators that’s functioning as this faux family,” says Mark. “Through the years we’ve realized that, as were producing for all these young filmmakers, we kind of have a little stable. It almost feels like what Roger Corman was doing in the 1970’s, but you know we don’t make movies with octopuses, we make movies with feelings.”

This lean and mean style is unusual in advertising and Lopez-McBean says it takes some explaining. “They sit around and go, how are these guys doing this for this? Even down to the way they shoot, we have to spend a lot of time liaising with the partners, saying, ‘I know this looks really weird and it’s not what you’re used to, but trust me, this works really well.”
2. Spread The Risk Around

The Duplass’ borderline abhorrence to making projects for a lot of money has led them to make deals in which budgets are spread around on multiple projects. For example: their four-picture deal with Netflix. The idea is to not put all the eggs in one basket, a move that minimizes creative and financial risk, and allows the brothers to feel more experimental freedom. If one doesn’t work, oh well. Another one might. With Donut, they’re taking this approach to brands, preferring to experiment on a few spots or videos and see which one resonates, as opposed to focusing on one, big effort.

“In the Hollywood filmmaking model, there’s creative hubris that matches what we’ve seen in the ad world, which is, ‘We think this is going to be the best spot–let’s spend our money on it,'” says Mark. “You go there, maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t. And a lot of times it doesn’t, and then you’re stuck. Our model is, nobody knows anything. So what you need to do is make a lot of things cheaply upfront, and be able to chase that creative. So what we’re offering a lot of people is, hey, rather than spending X on one spot, let’s spend X on five or six smaller versions, and then we’ll start testing them and seeing what works. We thought it was going to be that spot with that star, but it’s actually that average dude that we found at a casting call who’s just hilarious and killing it, so let’s make a whole campaign around that before you blow your money guessing what was going to hit.”

“That’s what our Netflix model was based on, honestly,” Mark continues. “We’re not gonna make you one movie–we’re gonna make you four little ones. And we’ll let the zeitgeist decide what blows up. And that humility has helped us as creators and seems to be lacking almost everywhere, honestly.”

“That’s not to say the guys in the agency world don’t test everything they create,” says Leahy. “Of course they do. That’s part of that world. But our model allows you to chase that creativity from the inside and start seeing those results in a far quicker form and get stuff out at a far quicker rate.”
3. Get Back To Basics

Making shorter, cheaper content is allowing the Duplass’ to explore new formats, like documentaries, and pursue projects that are either too labor or time-intensive in the feature film and TV worlds. Meanwhile, as the appetite for this kind of content grows on platforms like Snapchat, Facebook, and even Apple, there are opportunities to produce original content even without a brand affiliation. The Donut execs say they see all of it as ways to push creative boundaries.    

“There are scenarios that we’re talking about that return Mark and me to our Sundance days, where it’s literally me shooting Mark on a boom,” says Jay. “There’s some fun stuff we’re talking about.”

“One form that’s really exciting for us is docs,” adds Mark. “Jay and I have been documentary fans forever. It’s all we watch. But we don’t really embark on making feature documentaries because, quite frankly, it takes seven years–you have to leave your family and you go broke. But when you’re doing it for a brand, it’s a shorter shoot, it’s a targeted shoot. It’s more of a crafted, written doc, but there’s still that element of discovery where you may be flying to Malaysia to interview this fisherman who’s been doing the thing for years and years and you learn about that world. And Jay and I can get into what I call Maisel Bros. mode, where it’s kind of like the two of us and a small crew where we use the skills we’ve developed in narrative filmmaking, where your subject trusts you and you build a rapport with them. We really haven’t directed documentaries together and we’re going to get to do a lot of that in this space.”  

“At that very expensive, crazy high level [of production], you stop making art with your hands and you start having a thousand conversations about art,” says Jay. “A million conversations. Everyone’s needling every little thing. And the more that we get back to making stuff as brothers, just making stuff with our friends and finding beautiful things where you might not expect it–that’s kind of like the dream.”
About the author

Nicole LaPorte is an LA-based writer for Fast Company who writes about where technology and entertainment intersect. She previously was a columnist for The New York Times and a staff writer for Newsweek/The Daily Beast and Variety.


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    07.31.17 the future of work

First Day At Your Remote Job? Here’s Everything You Need To Know
From creating that work/life division to being your own tech support, here are 8 tips for mastering remote work.
First Day At Your Remote Job? Here’s Everything You Need To Know
[Photo: Eternity in an Instant/Getty Images]

By Emily Irish—Zapier6 minute Read

Congratulations! You just got hired for your first remote job. A world of possibilities just opened up to you: You can now work in your PJs at any hour. Set your own schedule. Remote workers have been shown to feel happier and more valued at work compared to all other workers, but there is a dark side as well.

Cross-time-zone communication, a lack of structure, more distractions, and isolation all threaten to overshadow the joys of remote work. But don’t worry–we’re here to make sure that doesn’t happen to you. This guide will walk you through the major challenges you will face in your remote job–and how to conquer them.
Balancing Work And Life

You’re ready for work to finally be about what you do, not how long your butt is at your desk. But then you start to find yourself wondering if the day’s work was really enough. You push yourself just a little longer, a little later, and next thing you know, you’re working all day, stressed to the max, and fantasizing about that idyllic remote life you thought you were getting.

When you’re not punching in and out of work, it’s easy to feel guilty and end up overworking. In fact, remote workers tend to overwork, not underwork. To avoid overworking and burning yourself out, adopt the mentality that Popforms founder Kate Stull gained through painful trial and error:

“There is always more to do, and when you work remotely, there is no one to tell you to go home or that the office is closing, so it has to be YOU who decides when to stop.”
Defining Your Priorities

On Monday mornings, define the most important priorities for your week. Every morning, define the 1-3 priorities for your day. This way, when the end of your day or week rolls around, you’ll be able to end your day with confidence, knowing you did the day’s most important work. Remote work is supposed to be a better way to make a work/life balance for yourself. So set boundaries. It’s important to get work done in a timely manner, but that doesn’t mean you need to be online or available 24/7.
Experimenting With Your Schedule

When are you the most productive? When are you the least productive? You might not know the answers, but you should find out. Experiment with your days. Test different routines and a few different sets of working hours. Take notes on productivity, efficiency, and happiness so that you can “test” which schedules work best for you.

Related: These Are The Best Times Of Day To Tackle Each Part Of Your To-Do List

Maybe you do your best work in the early morning after a brisk exercise regimen. Maybe you’re a night owl and do your best if you can sleep in and start work later in the day. It’s okay to set different schedules for different days of the week! You have so much flexibility in this job–use it to find the rhythm that’s uniquely best for your work and productivity. Just make sure to keep your team up to date on your availability.

But even while you’re experimenting, you need to strictly enforce the schedule you set–even if you change it tomorrow. Work the hours you set for yourself, then make a clean break between work and home.
Dressing For The Job

I love wearing my PJs as much as the next person, but there comes a point at which comfy goes too far. Taking care of your appearance is a sign of respect to yourself. It will make you feel more respected and more professional.

Related: What Happened When I Dressed Up From Home For A Week

Shower regularly. Pretend you have somewhere to be, and put in the effort to look good for it–even if that somewhere is only your local coffee shop. Having a grooming routine is also one great way to signal to yourself that you’re beginning your workday, and that it’s time to be productive.
Socializing And Making Friends

At first, you’ll hardly notice it. You’ll be enjoying the lack of office drama and distractions. Then you’ll start to feel a bit restless, but you won’t know why. Shrugging that off, you’ll hold a conversation with yourself to figure out your lunch plans–PB&J or grilled cheese?

A few weeks later when you have to meet with your financial advisor, you’ll realize that conversation is hard. Faced with your own impending hermit-hood, you have a choice. Either you order from Amazon Prime every couple days just to chat up your local delivery guy, or you can try working at your local coworking space or coffee shop.

Sometimes, shaking up your usual environment is the best thing you can do for productivity. One reason for that is the Hawthorne Effect, which shows that people improve their behavior when they are being observed. This is especially helpful if you’re having trouble with procrastination or have hit a mental block on a project.

Paying for coworking space not appealing to you? No worries. A few hours a day for a couple days a week at your local coffee shop will also help you feel less isolated.
Avoiding Distractions

Offices, for all their flaws, at least try to be distraction-lite zones. When you’re at home all day, there’s no social pressure standing between you and your TV, gaming console, or favorite books.

Related: The Real Reason You’re Easily Distracted Has Nothing To Do With Technology

Learning to manage and avoid these distractions is critical for the remote worker. There are a lot of great apps to help you fight distractions online, apps like RescueTime, Freedom, and FocusBooster. Unfortunately, these apps can only help so much when distractions also exist in your physical space. The true key to avoiding these distractions is to strengthen your willpower.
Take Breaks With Purpose

Everyone needs to take breaks–in fact, taking breaks will help your mind reset and refocus, making you more productive in the long run! The trick is to take breaks with purpose. Don’t just break focus from your work whenever you feel like it–schedule your breaks ahead of time.

Then, be fully present when you take a break. Don’t let yourself drop into a half-work, half-distracted mode. Your work won’t get done well, and you won’t feel rested either.
How To Be Your Own Tech Support

You know all those remarks your grandmother makes about your generation being too reliant on the internet? Well, nana, we just proved you right. Working remotely puts you completely at the mercy of the internet–or, more accurately, your Internet Service Provider (ISP) and power company.

Your remote job also sets you up as the one-man office management team. This means you are the tech support. So it’s time to come up with a good contingency plan if you can’t get online or experience hardware or software problems.

First, when you start your remote job, make it a priority to know who you should talk to if you need help setting up your virtual private network (VPN) access or if you need to troubleshoot something. But sometimes the problem isn’t anything you can fix–a power outage, or trouble with your Internet Service Provider (ISP) will be the fault. These things happen–but they don’t have to ruin your work day.

Have a backup plan. We recommend getting a mobile hotspot Wi-Fi that you can use when your internet becomes unreliable, or use your phone’s personal hotspot to get online when your home internet’s down.

At Zapier, every team member has a Verizon Jetpack Mifi to use in case of Internet emergencies. This way, our team can stay connected and productive no matter where they are. If your company doesn’t automatically send new employees a hotspot device, see if it’s something you can expense.

Here’s the ultimate advice for your remote job: You have the flexibility, the control, and the smarts to tailor every solution to every problem you’ll face while working remotely. So embrace the trial and error. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box and find the rhythm that works best for you. Everyone who works remotely is still learning and evolving in their remote work style.

A version of this article originally appeared on Zapier and is adapted with permission.

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    07.26.17 hit the ground running

These Are The Worst Answers To The Most Common Job Interview Questions
We asked recruiters and hiring managers what answers make them cringe. Take note.
These Are The Worst Answers To The Most Common Job Interview Questions
[Source illustration: Kluva/iStock]

By Anisa Purbasari Horton4 minute Read

There’s no way around it–job interviews are nerve-racking. Hiring managers know this, and are generally forgiving of a fumble or two. But sometimes, they get answers that go beyond a mere slip of the tongue. Whether it’s repeating clichés, or being too honest and giving off the impression that they have a me, me, and me! mentality, there are some answers that candidates should never ever utter when they’re in a job interview.

Fast Company reached out to recruiters and hiring managers for the worst answers they’ve ever gotten to common interview questions. Next time you interview for a role, do yourself a favor and make sure you don’t repeat any of these answers.
How Not To Answer: “Tell Me About Yourself”

This is a classic question that most interviews kick off with, and for the most part, is a signal for the candidate to give their elevator pitch. What it’s not, however, is permission to narrate your life story.

Chandler Bolt, founder and CEO of online training company Self-Publishing School, told Fast Company that the worst offenders tend to let this question “take up the entire interview.” Michelle Mavi, director of content development, internal recruiting, and training for the hiring agency Atrium Staffing agreed. In a previous article for Fast Company, she said, “As it’s a very broad and open question, candidates are prone to ramble, talking about their professional selves in very generic and general terms, and basically rehashing their resume.”

Of course, broad questions come with broad answers. Kathleen Steffey, CEO of Naviga Recruiting & Executive Search once had a candidate tell her, “I am trying to find out what I really want to do and your position caught my attention.” Ed Mitzen, Founder of Fingerpaint Marketing, witnessed a candidate point out a red flag straight away. Their answer? “‘I’m not a very punctual person, so if you are looking for someone who will be here exactly at 8:30 a.m. every day, I’m probably not the right person.”
How Not To Answer: “Why Do You Want This Position?”

Cringe-worthy answers to this question include candidates admitting that they’ve been unable to get a job so far and they were desperate, to saying that they didn’t know much about what the job description involved. Annie Boneta, head of talent at AutoGravity, interviewed a candidate who answered, “After I graduated, I decided to backpack around Europe for a couple of months. I was into month five when my parents called me up and told me I needed to get a job, so that is why I decided to call you.”

Related: Three Pieces Of Job Interview Advice You Should Ignore
How Not To Answer: “Why Do You Want To Work For This Company?”

Many candidates bombed this question by admitting that they didn’t know much about the company. Candidates trying to “flip the question” by saying something along the lines of “I don’t know, you tell me why I should work for this company” were also common offenders, according to Sung Hae Kim, VP of people operations at Wizeline. Several hiring managers also told Fast Company that they often see candidates mentioning money, perks, and media prestige as their main motivation, and not much else. One candidate told RETS Associates principal Kent Elliott that their main reason for wanting to work at the company was because it had a ping-pong table.

Tom Gimbel, founder and CEO of staffing firm LaSalle Network, said that a candidate once said: “I’m not sure I’m interested because I can’t bring my dog to work.”
How Not To Answer: “Where Do You See Yourself In Five Years?”

Hiring managers differed in opinions on what constitutes a terrible answer. Tawanda Johnson, president and CEO of HR consulting firm RKL Resources told Fast Company that the worst answer she’d ever heard was, “I haven’t really thought that far.”

Katie Sanders, head of content and communications at Jopwell said that a candidate once answered they’d hope to “run this company or one like it,” an answer that Mitzen and Gimbel have also heard from interviewees. Gimbel stressed that he doesn’t think there’s really a bad answer to this question, but he does admit that when a candidate says their ultimate goal is to run their own company, it raises eyebrows. “It makes me think, are they going to leave after four years, two years?”
How Not To Answer: “What’s Your Biggest Weakness?”

Johnson and Boneta both experienced candidates telling them that they’d had anger and temper issues, a clear red flag to many employers. But the answers that truly irritated hiring managers were candidates cloaking their weaknesses as strengths, such as “I’m a perfectionist” or “I work too hard.”

A candidate Boneta interviewed once answered, “my biggest weakness is that I have too many strengths.” Bolt, whose company conducts interviews over Skype, said that a hiring manager at his company once had an applicant stare blankly at the screen for 30 seconds, only to say “you know, I don’t actually have any weaknesses.”

Related: How Being Super Prepared For Your Interview Can Still Cost You The Job
How Not To Answer: “Do You Have Any Questions For Me?”

The answer to this question was unanimous–hiring managers and recruiters believe that one of the biggest job interview sins is not having any questions at the end of the interview.

Johnson said “every person should have at least two to three questions for the person they’re interviewing with.” The consensus among hiring managers is that lack of questions translates to a lack of interest, which can translate to lack of commitment in the role that they’re applying for.
About the author

Anisa is the Editorial Assistant for Fast Company's Leadership section. She covers everything from personal development, entrepreneurship and the future of work.


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    07.18.17 the science of work

Your Brain’s Personal Trainer Would Give You This Advice
Yes, you need to drink more water. But you might also want to try some magnesium body salts.
Your Brain’s Personal Trainer Would Give You This Advice
[Source photos: Kubkoo/iStock, marilyna/iStock]

By Tara Swart4 minute Read

What did you eat for breakfast this morning? It matters more than you might think.

Anyone whose job depends on their body—like an Olympic athlete, builder, or ballet dancer—needs a diet to match; they might start the day with a slow-release carbohydrate to give them longer-lasting energy. But few people with “thinking” jobs sit down first thing in the morning and consider which foods and drinks will help them make good decisions that day, improve their focus, and reduce stress. And that’s a mistake.

What we put into our bodies has a powerful impact on our brains, which only weigh 2–3% of our body weight but use up 25–30% of the energy that’s found in what we eat. Our brains need to be properly cared for in order to make sure we perform at our best. You’d never jump in your car and set off without filling up the tank or checking the oil. If you tried to, you wouldn’t expect to get very far. Our brains are similar: They need to be properly fueled and hydrated in order to run smoothly, and we shouldn’t expect optimal performance when they’re not.

Here’s what your brain needs more and less of in order to work at its best.

Related: What Happened When I Gave Up Gluten, Sugar, Dairy, And Coffee
More Water

Drinking enough water should be, well, a no-brainer—except that many people don’t do that. Our brains require about 500 milliliters of water for every 30 or so pounds of body weight. (So for the average 165-pound American adult, that’s about 2.75 liters of water each day.) This is the minimum level of hydration needed to avoid denting your memory, concentration, and decision-making. But there’s a real risk to missing that threshold even by a little. In fact, researchers have found that even a 1–3% shortfall in adequate hydration can substantially affect these functions. Water aids the free flow of chemical and electrical signals between cells, which is required for effective brain functioning.
Less Alcohol

If a glass of water can boost your brain, a glass of Chianti can slow it down. Drinking alcohol leads to increased levels of the hormone cortisol as the body reacts to the intake of a toxin. Cortisol is a natural part of the body’s response to stress, but chronic stress can lead to excess cortisol, which can have a host of negative effects on the body—like weight gain—as well as the brain, including anxiety and depression, particularly when coupled with a diet high in caffeine and sugar. So having a glass of wine every evening to unwind, as many people do, may have the opposite effect.

Related: Your Brain Has A “Delete” Button—Here’s How To Use It
More Greens, Beans, And Grains

Foods rich in magnesium can suppress the release of cortisol, but when we’re stressed we deplete our bodies’ magnesium stores more rapidly. Whole grains, beans, and leafy greens are good magnesium sources, as are nuts and seeds—which can also be great alternatives to sweet snacks. Unfortunately, these natural sources aren’t always enough to replenish our magnesium supplies during high-stress periods, so supplements, which are often available as tablets or even body salts and bath products, can help make up the difference.
Less Tuna, More Mackerel

Salmon and oily fish like mackerel are great for the brain because of their Omega-3 essential fatty acids, vitamin B12, and protein. These nutrients assist in brain-cell growth and can prevent cognitive decline. On the other hand, smoked fish and fish that are typically high in mercury (like tuna and swordfish) can increase levels of pro-oxidants in the body and actively damage brain cells. Your choice in seafood one day doesn’t just impact your brain in the near-term, it also has an effect on your future brain power.
More Rest, Less Thirst And Hunger

Speaking of brain power, there’s one factor we tend to grasp much better when we think about sleep than about diet: quantity. It’s not just about what you eat and drink, it’s how much you do. Being over-tired can lead to behaviors many of us are all too familiar with—from our attitude toward others to how we make decisions—plus a few we aren’t aware of, like the extent to which our choices are affected by our unconscious biases.

Much as it does when you aren’t well rested, when you’re hungry or thirsty, your brain reverts to “survival mode.” It draws blood away from the rational cortex toward the part of the brain that controls basic functions you depend on to get through the day. So while you might have not much trouble getting dressed, commuting, or doing routine tasks when you’re underfed or dehydrated, your brain will struggle with higher “executive functions,” like complex problem-solving, thinking flexibly and creatively, regulating emotions, and overriding biases.

Related: Why Six Hours Of Sleep Is As Bad As None At All

When they’re underpowered, our brains revert to well-trod neural shortcuts that require less cognitive energy. One well-publicized study even found a pattern of judges granting more parole after mealtimes, with their sentences getting harsher in the subsequent hours. The implications for reading resumes, interviewing job candidates, and making other important decisions when you haven’t eaten are clear—and worrying.

It might feel overwhelming to totally change your diet, but sticking with even one behavior change to boost your brain health can make a real difference. So start small—swap that bag of chips today for a bag of nuts. Your brain will be grateful.

Dr. Tara Swart is a neuroscientist, leadership coach, author, and medical doctor. Follow her on Twitter at @TaraSwart.

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    07.24.17 platform wars

How To Launch A Killer Email Newsletter
Don’t launch your email newsletter blindly–get a head start and learn from my successes, failures, and many experiments over the years.
How To Launch A Killer Email Newsletter
[Photo: Flickr user Nationaal Archief]

By Cayleigh Parrishlong Read

A few years ago, when I started working on newsletters, most people thought email was dead. Social media, it seemed, was THE way to reach people.

But today, thanks in large part to the unknowable ways of algorithms–which have made it nearly impossible to definitively figure out how to reach your followers on social media platforms–the reliability of email as a form of communication has put the newsletter back in the spotlight. Today, newsletters are flooding inboxes. The question isn’t whether or not you should start an email newsletter; it’s how can you create a newsletter people will actually want to open?
What Day Or Time Of Day Is Best To Send A Newsletter?

This is probably the most asked (yet least important) question about starting a newsletter. There is no universal day or time to send an email. Rigorous testing of Fast Company’s Daily newsletter proved that whether we sent it at 6 a.m., noon, or 4 p.m., our open rate stayed the same. Emails have a long shelf life, and users will go back and click on an email that interests them hours, days, and even weeks after you send it.
So, When Should You Send It?

Even if your open rate remains the same no matter what time you send your newsletter, your campaign’s highest open rate will be in the hour following your send time. So you should be mindful and thoughtful about the time you choose. Consider four things here: your workflow, your audience, your competition, and your goal.

When does it make sense in your workflow to send the newsletter? Pick a day/time that fits into your schedule, and make sure it’s a time that you can replicate each day or week. Consistency in send time is important in order to become a part of your readers’ routines (and you want to be part of their routine).

Depending on the type of newsletter you’re sending, preparing a newsletter can be incredibly time consuming, and hitting a strict deadline can be stressful. Leave yourself enough time to create, get feedback on, and test your newsletter–more on that in a minute.

Make sure you consider your users when choosing your send time. Try to imagine what they’re doing at the time they receive your email, and ask yourself: do they want your email then? At 9 a.m. on Mondays, I imagine Fast Company‘s East Coast readers heading in to work, maybe still commuting, maybe standing in line for coffee, maybe already at their desks while our West Coast users are just waking up–and most of those activities give those readers just enough time to skim through the Fast Company Daily.

The easiest way to stand out is to be the only new email in a user’s inbox. Scope out your competitors and pick a send time that doesn’t overlap with theirs.

Finally, consider what you want your user to do with your newsletter. If you’re asking them to click through to take a survey or read your 1,200-word exposé, don’t send your newsletter during their morning commute, when users are likely preoccupied and short on time. That kind of content might make more sense on the weekend.
The Week’s newsletter (left) uses long paragraphs and NYT’s daily news brief (right) uses bullet points and short sentences so you can read and skim more information in the same amount of space.
What Else?

Your newsletter design should be mobile-first, simple, and skimmable. Here are some tips from my experiences over the years:

    Bear in mind the screen size of your readers’ phones when you’re developing your newsletter’s layout and creating content. Choose bullet points and short sentences instead of paragraphs, and use headers to break up text.
    Keep your paragraphs short and use lots of headers to break up the material.
    Do use photos–but remember that they won’t always load quickly, or at all, in certain browsers and email clients. So it’s best to start your newsletter with text, and place photos lower in the email, so they have time to load before your users scroll that far down..
    Unlike the web, email does not support fancy fonts and complex design because of all the different inboxes, devices, screen sizes, and mail platforms out there. So make sure you test your design in as many inbox types as you can. Many email newsletter management tools feature a render option, which should enable you to see what your newsletter will look like across a wide range of inboxes.

Subject Line
Your subject line is what will make a user either open or ignore your email, so it’s important to get it right. Your subject line can be anything: a question, an answer, a single word, and even a full a sentence–as long as it’s intriguing enough to make your readers want to click on it.

Make sure to test your subject lines, at least when you’re starting out on your newsletter adventure. Many newsletter platforms like Mailchimp have an A/B testing feature that allows you to easily pit one subject line against another by testing your options on a small sample of your subscribers before sending the winning subject line out to the rest of your list.

At Fast Company, we test a series of subject lines on Twitter before we send out our morning newsletter. We send out a bunch of early morning tweets with our possible subject lines (and the links to the stories that each line goes with) and we choose the winner based on which tweet garners the highest engagement rate. That’s how we choose the subject line you receive from us in your inbox every morning!

Good content, with the right voice and format, is obviously the most important part of a newsletter. Perfecting that, with lots of feedback from outsiders, is really your first step.

Once you have good content, and subscribers, you’ll still need to work hard to keep subscribers hooked. Users will naturally lose interest in a newsletter within the first few months. You need something extra to keep them coming back–-something unique that sets your newsletter apart from the rest. It could be a unique format like the number-centric Significant Digits newsletter, the pop-culture-heavy references in TheSkimm, inside-baseball stories from a niche provider like Nieman Lab’s journalism news digest, or exclusive offers and giveaways–for example, I always open the Creative Market newsletter to get the free design template and font downloads for that week.

I discussed earlier how we test subject lines for the Fast Company Daily newsletter each day, which is an ongoing method we’ve found to be successful at maximizing email engagement on a daily basis. But there are a lot of other tests–ongoing and occasional–that are important to ensure your newsletter is a success.

What should you test?
Start with your questions or uncertainties about your newsletter, and the problems you think it has. Then ask your subscribers about those things through surveys and observe their behavior on a macro level with A/B testing.

When we set out to redesign the Fast Company Daily, we had our ideas about what needed to be fixed (for starters, it featured bright blue links and wasn’t responsive to different screen sizes). But we knew that before we changed anything, we would first need our users’ input. We started by sending a survey to our most loyal subscribers (the subscribers who open our newsletter the most–this is data we can easily pull from our newsletter service provider, MailChimp), since they were the ones who would be most affected by any changes and, we thought, would be the most willing to give feedback.

We focused the survey on what we ourselves thought were issues with the newsletter, and on aspects of the newsletter that we thought were already pretty good but could be more perfect, like story selection. In the end, we found that the most important questions we asked were:

    “What do you do when you open the Fast Company newsletter?”

This told us, at the most basic level, what the use of our newsletter was–which was important when we considered what our goals were for the redesign. Ultimately we needed to make it easier for our subscribers to skim through the headlines (which is what most users said they did with our newsletter), and try to increase our click through rate (which was our objective).

    “What do you like or dislike about the Fast Company Daily?”

While it took a while to read through and identify themes across all the answers to this open-ended question, it was definitely worth it. The answers to the question helped us see problems we didn’t even know existed–like duplicated stories across our newsletters, or lack of labels for our video links.

These long-form answers helped us get to know our users better, so in the future when we consider changes, we have a base understanding of who they are, how they think, and what’s important to them.
Most important question in our initial user survey, which told us what users wanted from our newsletter: to skim through stories.

Don’t Blindly Trust Your Audience (Or Your Own Instincts)–Test Everything!
After we learned what our subscribers said they do with our newsletter, we had to put their feedback (and our own assumptions) to the test and see what they actually did. So, we divided our subscriber base into three sections, and sent each group a different newsletter.

Group A was the control, and received our traditional newsletter. Group B received what appeared to be the traditional newsletter, but with an element or two that differed from the original in order to conduct A/B testing. And group C received something completely different: an email dominated by text, not interspersed with images.

The “A” and “B” newsletters helped us answer some quick questions.We sent A at 7 a.m. and B at noon or 4 p.m. to see whether there was a better time to send the newsletter (there wasn’t). We sent A with one subject line style for a week, and B with another style, to see whether there was a specific subject line formula that worked best (there wasn’t). We put 6 stories in A and 10 stories in B to see whether more stories in our newsletters resulted in a higher click through (it didn’t).
The original Fast Company Daily, used for test “A” and “B” (left) used for A/B testing. Fast Company Daily test “C” (right)–an all text newsletter used for testing alternative newsletter formats.

Meanwhile, newsletter C helped us test a newsletter type we thought we should be sending, a newsletter that didn’t just contain a list of links and images but instead was dominated by text written by a reporter or editor. For the record, most of our users hated that newsletter–since, as we learned in our our initial user survey and the ongoing survey we linked to every day in newsletter C, all our users really wanted to do with our newsletter was skim through headlines to find what interested them. Paragraphs of text weren’t conducive to skimming.

All that testing led us to our current newsletter format, which is informed by all the lessons from newsletter tests A and B, and designed based on the daily feedback we received from subscribers of newsletter test C.
How Do You Know You’re Succeeding?

No matter what type of newsletter you’re creating, you should be looking to measure success in two key ways: loyalty (the consistency of your users’ engagement) and growth (growing and maintaining your subscriber list). Whether the end goal of your newsletter is to drive traffic, develop brand awareness, drive sales, or world peace, being successful at achieving any goal first depends on the loyalty of your users and the size of your audience.

Driving loyalty
Make sure to engage with your users. Email as a medium is a multi-directional communication device, so make sure to use it that way–not just as a one-way delivery system for your content.

A good way to promote engagement with your users is to solicit responses. That can be as simple as encouraging them to email you back with comments or feedback.

Polls are a very easy way to get your users engaged with the least amount of effort on their part. When we sent detailed surveys to our most loyal subscribers, we had a 30% response rate from them and received some very valuable and lengthy responses from our subscribers. But to find out what the rest of our subscribers wanted–subscribers who might not be as committed to us as a brand and therefore might not be willing to put in as much effort as our loyalest readers–we added polls to the bottom of each newsletter with simple questions like “Did you read the editor’s note at the top of the newsletter?”

We experienced a higher response rate with 1-question polls because users didn’t have to leave the newsletter to submit feedback. The barrier to participation was low.
1-question poll in the Fast Company Daily that lowered the barrier to participation so that we could get feedback from more users.

You can also get users to engage with your newsletter just by asking questions–for example, Muckrack and other newsletters have daily trivia questions. It’s a good idea to encourage engagement that extends outside of the email–try to get users to engage with you on other platforms, and even at real-life events. TheSkimm has built probably the most loyal subscriber base with their skimm’bassadors program–they offer incentives to users who promote the newsletter, incentives like branded Skimm products, access to early product testing, invitations to events, and a shoutout in theSkimm on their birthdays.
Muckrack’s question of the day (left) promotes user engagement and theSkimm’s Skimm’r of the week (right) acknowledges loyal users.

Make sure to test different engagement strategies and see what clicks (no pun intended) with your audience. If they feel like you hear their voice and that they truly are part of your newsletter community, it’ll be easier for them to feel connected, and they will be more loyal as a result.

Being proactive about growing your newsletter list is as important as sending your newsletter. But how do you grow your following?

    Use Your Network: From day one you should reach out to everyone you know to sign up for your newsletter, and get them to get their contacts to sign up, too.
    Socialize: You should also use social networks to actively promote your newsletter. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn–get posting! You can also use Twitter cards (through Twitter’s ad interface) to promote your newsletter and solicit 1-click signups.

Fast Company Daily newsletter Twitter card to add 1-click newsletter signups to tweets.

    Partner Up: Look for other people or businesses that run newsletters with a similar target audience and reach out to them to promote your newsletter. If your audience is large enough, you can reciprocate by promoting their business in your own newsletter.
    Keep it simple! Make it as easy as possible for users to sign up for your newsletter. Don’t clutter your signup pages on your website with multiple fields or lots of text. You want to minimize the barrier to entry.If you have a website, make sure to create a clean, simple sign up box and feature it in a prominent place. Newsletter pop-ups may be annoying for the user, but they are an effective way to get signups–so try to minimize irritation by designing these boxes in an attractive and easy-to-navigate manner.

TheSkimm’s newsletter signup box is clean, simple, and prominent on their site.

Never stop promoting your newsletter, even if you feel like you’ve hit your goal subscriber number. Remember that users can lose interest in your work, so to achieve growth you need to gain active users at a faster rate than you lose them.
Final Thoughts: Always Think About Your User!

One big advantage of an email newsletter is that a user has to be pretty fed up with a newsletter to go through the steps required to unsubscribe. But considering how many newsletters are flooding inboxes these days and how detrimental non-essential emails can be to maintaining a healthy inbox, purging one’s inbox is become more and more important.

I recently realized it was time to set aside some time and cull my newsletter subscriptions in an attempt to take back control of my inbox. I was ruthless, and cut 95% of my subscriptions. I cut anything that came daily that I didn’t read daily, and kept only newsletters that gave me something I couldn’t get anywhere else. You don’t want me to cut your newsletter out of my diet, do you? No. So make sure you’re always thinking about how you can make your newsletter essential to your user. When your reader evaluates her subscription diet, no matter how consistently you send your newsletter, no matter how much you have tested it, the only thing that will really matter is how good the content is. More on that in another installment.

If you aren’t already a subscriber, sign up for the Fast Company Daily below!

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    07.25.17 lessons learned

5 VCs Share The Worst Ways Founders Botch Their Pitches
From offensive lingo to off-base metrics, investors have heard it all.
5 VCs Share The Worst Ways Founders Botch Their Pitches
[Source photo: Mathisa_s/iStock]

By Beck Bamberger4 minute Read

Here’s a riddle: What takes a tenth of a second to occur and can make or break your startup? No, it’s not the computation performed by your tech product’s proprietary algorithm. It’s a first impression, and the Princeton researchers who discovered how quickly we form them also found that our first impressions don’t change much after getting to know somebody for longer.

So while you really need to nail your whole pitch, your fate might be sealed within a few short moments of first meeting with an investor. Indeed, if there’s any group whose job it is to suss out strangers’ trustworthiness quickly and meticulously, it’s venture capitalists. That’s certainly not to say they always get it right, of course, but the fact remains that you’ll need to avoid those first-meeting turnoffs if you’re going to succeed.

According to five VCs, these are a few of the most cringeworthy ways founders tend to screw up right out of the gates–what it takes to avoid that.

Related: Do These 5 Emotionally Intelligent Things Within 5 Minutes Of Meeting Someone
Overconfident Name-Dropping

Using names of investors who are “almost certainly in the deal” is a big red flag, says Ewa A. Treitz, a venture partner at Black Pearls VC who focuses mainly on early-stage tech startups in Central Europe. This kind of information is very easily verifiable with my peers,” Treitz points out, “and if untrue, the deal is off the table.”

But even when it’s entirely accurate, name-dropping can start things off on the wrong foot. “It also says a lot about the founders’ confidence in their business,” she adds. Relying on “outside confirmation as opposed to their own conviction is a dangerous strategy, never played by the winning teams.”
Market-Size Misses

“A huge turnoff is when founders come to us with a totally overblown estimate that doesn’t reflect their corner of the universe,” says Brad Svrluga, cofounder and general partner at Primary Venture Partners.

He explains, “One vertical SaaS company selling into health care providers came to us and quoted their market size as total health care IT spend. This couldn’t have been farther from the truth. The administrative software they were pitching only touches a fraction of that market, and their numbers certainly shouldn’t reflect the countless other portions of HIT spending–like CT imaging software, supply-chain management software, patient-portal technology, etc.–that have nothing to do with their product.”

VCs are especially attuned to identifying off-base estimates like these, says Svrluga. “When determining market potential, founders should be 100% focused on their specific product. Lumping in everything else from a particular industry will only raise questions and distract potential investors from what’s really relevant to their business.”

Related: Lessons From The Early Pitch Decks Of Airbnb, BuzzFeed, And YouTube

Nisa Amoils, a partner at Scout Ventures, has seen market misses as well. She adds, “A founder needs to show a bottom-up analysis based on sales projections. This is more realistic than only providing [a] top-down claim where you say you will get X percent of the total market size, which is always huge in every pitch. Your total addressable market should be arrived at by estimating both carefully.”
Subtle Signs Of Character Flaws

“If there is one validating factor–assuming we already like the business in the pitch, of course–it is the level of ethics/conduct we get from the entrepreneur at the very first meeting,” says Jonathan Tower, general partner at Catapult VC. Tower asks himself one question of every founder he meets: “Would I have complete confidence in the entrepreneur exercising good judgment with key relationships that the firm has?”

“If I get a whiff from the first meeting that the entrepreneur is not on the level, is being cagey, fudging too many important details, is being condescending to younger staff or gatekeepers, is playing power games–these are all quick no-gos.” Tower adds, “Character cannot be taught, and these tendencies are apt to show up again and again if we work with that entrepreneur. Frankly, life is too short.”
Tone-Deaf Or Insensitive Language

It’s no secret that the tech sector in general and the VC world in particular have serious diversity problems, and that those demographics have contributed to a spate of scandals in Silicon Valley over the past year. While there are important efforts underway to change things, some VCs have learned to weed out bias simply in the ways they’re spoken to by founders.

Related: This Women-Led VC Fund Wants To Show The Valley What Real Gender Equality Looks Like

“Words matter, and the language people use reflect the type of founder they are and the type of company they are going to build,” says Chang Xu, an associate at Upfront Ventures. She recalls one uniquely egregious example. “I had an entrepreneur say that he’ll ‘open the kimono’ with me. As I’ve learned, this is a term used in finance to mean sharing the inner workings of the company. However, it’s wildly inappropriate.”

Xu couldn’t be more right. In fact, when Fast Company assembled a bracket of 32 examples of awful business jargon (including “synergy”, “touch base,” and “move the needle”), readers voted “opening the kimono” as the absolute worst. (It was ceremonially destroyed in the form of a piñata in August 2015.) As Xu describes the offensive encounter, “I look at the entrepreneur wondering if they have ever pitched to a female VC, or better yet, an Asian female VC, and realize the irony,” she recalls.

“Next time I hear the term, I’ll respond with, ‘sure, drop your trousers.'”
About the author

Beck Bamberger founded BAM Communications in 2008 and writes regularly for Forbes, Inc., and HuffPost about entrepreneurship, public relations, and culture.


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When Being Painfully Honest Can Be Motivational
A new study shows that there are times when tough love can be the most altruistic move.
When Being Painfully Honest Can Be Motivational

By Stephanie Vozza3 minute Read

If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of the cold, hard truth, instead of reacting with “ouch,” you might want to say “thank you.” New research published in Psychological Science found that tough love given the right way is often a great motivator.

While previous studies found that some people like to bring others down for their own personal gain, Belén López-Pérez, Liverpool Hope University psychological scientist, and colleagues Laura Howells and Michaela Gummerum from the University of Plymouth, wondered whether there might be altruistic reasons people purposefully worsen others’ moods.

The researchers set up an experiment that would test whether someone might choose a negative experience for another person if they thought it would help them reach a specific goal. Participants played one of two computer games with an anonymous (and nonexistent) Player A: Soldier of Fortune, a shooter game that has confrontation goals, and Escape Dead Island, a zombie game that involves avoidance goals. The participants were told that their opponent had recently gone through a painful breakup. Half were asked to empathize, while the other half were told to remain detached. Then they were asked to choose music and provide a description of the game for Player A.

Compared to the participants who were asked to remain detached, those who empathized with Player A in the shooter game chose to induce anger, while those who had empathized with Player A and played the zombie game focused specifically on inducing fear.

“What was surprising was that affect worsening was not random but emotion-specific,” writes López-Pérez. “In line with previous research, our results have shown that people hold very specific expectations about the effects that certain emotions may have and about which emotions may be better for achieving different goals.”

Empathy, the study concludes, can lead people to provoke negative emotional experiences if they believe it would ultimately help the other person. This explains why we sometimes make friends or loved ones feel bad if we think the emotion could be useful in to achieving a goal, says López-Pérez.
Choosing The Right Emotions

For example, if a friend or coworker is procrastinating on getting work done—ultimately putting their job at risk—confronting the person by trying to evoke fear could kick them into gear, says López-Pérez.

Certain emotions can be helpful for certain goals, says López-Pérez. “For instance, feeling anger could be helpful to confront someone who has cheated, and fear can be helpful to escape from a very dangerous situation,” she says. “By inducing those emotions in others we may maximize their chances of achieving these goals.”

Managers can use this tactic at work to motivate their teams, but it’s important to know which emotions would be beneficial for the goal to achieve, says López-Pérez. “For instance, if the aim is maximizing collaboration then affect worsening is not going to work as we know that happiness is actually the right emotion to achieve this goal,” she says.
Proceed With Caution

More studies need to be done to understand how best to induce negative emotions, says López-Pérez. “It’s possible that the personality of the person receiving the negative emotion may modulate the obtained effect,” she says. “Also, it is important to actually know whether the person needs extra help to achieve the goal or not. For instance, if an employee is already trying to confront a competitor maybe the manager does not need to induce more anger in his employee.”

For now, use the Golden Rule as your guide. Knowing what emotion is right for the person to achieve the goal involves a high level of emotional skills and many adults may still struggle with this, says López-Pérez. “A good way to overcome this is by putting themselves in the others’ shoes and learning more about emotions,” she says.

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