Tips, whether from trusted mentors or random contacts, can shape a life’s course. Here are more than 100 of them from Eastside professionals.
Start a company
A startup founder can feel vulnerable during the company’s early days. Deciding to commit time, energy, and resources to a new company is a challenging decision to make, one made worse by the string of “nos” investors deliver when a founder starts chasing money. And once you plunge in, you have to build something somebody will actually buy. Here’s how some entrepreneurs have navigated the maze.
“If you believe in what you’re doing and you believe it’s a benefit to the community and the customers around you, then keep doing what you’re doing. This is the Internet age, and everybody has an opinion. Not everyone will agree with you, but if you feel like you are doing a service to the community by opening your business or having that location for your business, I say go for it.” — Scott Holm, Chainline Brewing founder
“Quit being the poster child for making other people money and just start the business. I had been wavering on whether or not to start Allovus, and my mentor had seen me in several capacities make other people successful. He said, ‘You need to stop that. You need to make yourself successful; then those around you will fall into place.’”
– Hayley Nichols, Allovus principal
“Nine months in, a lot of VCs (70 in total) said no, so getting the hardware business off the ground was not possible. I got several job offers, and was strongly considering them. My wife said she was going to pray about it, talk about it, and then get back to me. She told me to stick with it, and was pretty adamant. We stuck with it, and it was a good thing — we evolved the business idea. That process was painful, but absolutely critical.” – Bryan Mistele, Inrix founder and CEO
“Build as cheaply as you can, because when you have to scrap an idea you don’t want to feel like you’ve invested so much into it that you can’t pivot away from it.” — Jenne Alderks, American Giving founder
“Everything starts with the product, and the success will be grounded in a compelling product. If you don’t have that, you’ve got to keep working on that.” — Jon Roskill, Acumatica CEO
Talk to a lawyer
Money’s tight when you start a company, so retaining a lawyer likely isn’t priority No. 1. But, as Equinox Law Group founder Michelle Bomberger says, every business decision has a legal element, and lawyers do far more than help with paperwork or jump in during a lawsuit. “The lawyer’s job for your business is to help you understand the balance of risk and opportunity, and help you find solutions for your specific situation,” she said. The following scenarios in particular are ones in which Bomberger says a founder should seek legal assistance.
1. Deciding where to register a company
“A common example is companies that have heard they should form in Delaware. They’ll say, ‘Well I read online that I should form in Delaware because of its positive stance toward businesses in both statutes and court cases.’ That’s great; however, if you’re not going public, and all of your business is in Washington, then you’re just going through the added work and cost of registering in both states.”
2. Choosing what to disclose
Every business begins with some big ideas, but mention those ideas at the wrong time or to the wrong people, and you put your company at risk. To avoid this, Bomberger says a lawyer can help decide when a nondisclosure form is needed, and when a founder can even start talking to someone about her company. “That depends on the nature of the business. What’s the competitive landscape like? Are you trying to protect a patent? Going and talking to the world about it can get you into a pickle.”
3. Determining who is involved in the business
Don’t become the next version of the Winklevoss twins. When a company is formed, it needs to be clearly documented who has stake in the company, and what roles are being played. “We’ll from time to time get clients who say, ‘Oh, I’m going to start the company, and these guys helped me out a little bit and they’ll join later.’ Well can they claim any rights to what you’ve created based on this limited involvement?”
“When we started Glowforge, our CTO Mark Gosselin sat me down and asked what does success look like to you in terms of dollars, and what does failure look like for you. While that’s very quantitative, he correctly pointed out that if we went into business together without understanding what each of us was striving for and striving to avoid, we could build a company around conflicting values.” Dan Shapiro, Glowforge CEO
“You have to be competitive, know what you’re doing, and have fun. If you’re planning on hiring employees, you have to treat them like family. Their success is your success — the employee comes first, the company second.” — Ben Zhang, Greater China Industries CEO
“We’re in very select market sectors that are hand-picked. Food and beverage — there’s always going to be demand there. High-tech consumer projects … you might see people pull back on that if discretionary income falls, but that’s OK because I’ve also got renewable energy and public works. These sectors aren’t recession-proof, but they’re stable. When we first started, I went after defense because they paid me every three days, and I could use those funds to support my larger clients’ 30- or 40-day payment cycles.” – Liz Lasater, Red Arrow Logistics CEO
If your spouse is your coworker, set boundaries
“Make sure you really think about the different roles that each of you are going to take on. There needs to be some autonomy in that. We do collaborate and work on some projects together, but we don’t micromanage each other. In a marriage, you have to have parts of life that are your own.” – Lisa Keeney McCarthy, Keeney’s Office Supply president who works with husband Brian McCarthy
Switch from startup to big company. And back again.
Meet Mike Van Snellenberg. In 2001, he was working for a Vancouver tech startup, NCompass Labs, when it was bought by Microsoft. After a dozen years in Redmond, Van Snellenberg returned to startup land by founding and serving as CTO of Wellpepper, a company with a health-care-treatment platform. Here’s his take on a career path that pretty much typifies today’s tech economy.
“I was at the startup because I believed in the product, and I still believed in the product after Microsoft bought it. Microsoft was a great place — I didn’t leave there because I didn’t want to be there. I left because I saw something I wanted to go off and change that I knew I couldn’t do within the company I was with.”
“If you are just looking to learn a new skill or take on a new role, use the comfort of having the company around you to do that so you’re not changing a lot of things at once. If you do want to leave and go to a startup, only change a few things at a time. Don’t go into a brand new industry and try to take on a new role in a new company all at the same time — it’s too much change.”
“It’s a pretty scary thing to leave a big company where you’re pretty well taken care of and move to a startup. In retrospect, I think it’s less risky than it seemed at the time. There are things you can do that minimize that risk. Think about minimizing risk in all areas of your life; for example, if you work at a big company, you probably have investments. Move your portfolio to a less-risky place because you know you’re taking a huge risk on your day-to-day job.”
“If your only motivation is to try something different, or if you think it’s gonna be a short path to financial gain, that won’t carry you through the tough few years it takes to get a startup off the ground.”
“One of the lessons I learned at Microsoft is the power of persistence. It takes a lot of pushes to turn a big ship. So that has paid off well coming into a startup, especially at a startup that’s focused on an enterprise market where the feedback cycles are long. Wellpepper is also in a developing industry — health-care tech — so the ability to stick out something and keep pushing has been important for us.”
There’s no single answer to work-life balance
Dan Shapiro was managing multiple companies, multiple hobbies, and a marriage. When two kids were thrown into the mix, a re-evaluation was in order.
One could argue that Dan Shapiro had work-life balance. The Mercer Island entrepreneur was able to balance work, family life, and hobbies such as woodworking and building model airplanes. Then he and his wife had twins.
Shortly after the kids were born, Shapiro delivered the keynote address at an industry conference, one important enough Shapiro felt he couldn’t skip. He ran into an acquaintance at the cocktail reception. “He walked up and said, ‘You look like crap.’ I said, ‘We just had twins, they were born four weeks premature, they’re 9 days old, and I’ve barely slept,’” Shapiro remembered. “He laughed at me, and I said, ‘What are you laughing about? You have kids.’ He said, ‘Oh, you mean the triplets?’”
After a similar interaction with another parent — one raising two sets of twins — Shapiro realized his plight wasn’t unique. “No matter how ridiculous, stressful, and challenging life may be, it’s never worse than what somebody else is going through.”
Running a startup and raising twins proved to be a challenge. “Every day there was a reason to work late,” he said. “I couldn’t decide, every single day, what was more important — to work late or be with my family? To make that decision every day was so destructive to my happiness. Do I let down my company, or do I let down my family?”
Shapiro solves that problem today by compartmentalizing. The hobbies are gone; he devotes his time to running his latest startup, Glowforge, and his family. To balance those two, Shapiro makes sure to not pit them against each other.
“What you do is decide how much time you’re going to work, and how much time you’re going to spend with your family. Then you’re trading off work against work and family against family,” Shapiro said. “So now, I’m going to miss dinner two nights a week — it’s just a matter of what I’m going to miss it for. It’s much easier to decide whether I should work late or go to a networking event than it is to decide whether to work late or see my family.”
Everybody has a different take on work-life balance. Here are some others:
“The most successful business people I know incorporate their personal life into their business life. A happy, successful life is a mixture of both. They are not regimented by the time of day, but by their priorities.” – Deb Sogge, Sammamish Chamber of Commerce executive director
“I maintain work-life balance by not living in the same place I work anymore. There’s a lot of pressure on entrepreneurs to not do things like take vacations. I force myself to take a few days every once in a while — taking the time to enjoy the things that I want to do.” – Tyler Menezes, StudentRND executive director
Um … what balance?
“People ask me, ‘Liz, how do you maintain work-life balance?’ And I look at them like they have three eyeballs. You don’t have any. If you want work-life balance, don’t be an entrepreneur, because you have to work all the time. There’s nobody that’s going to pick up the slack.” – Liz Lasater, Red Arrow Logistics CEO
Don’t let the workday drag down your health
The modern work environment isn’t very conducive to fitness. Most folks sit during their commutes and throughout the workday, and sitting incorrectly can cause further issues. Thankfully, there are quick and relatively easy ways to get blood pumping and muscles working during the workday. Elite Fitness Training President Dave Johnson has eight methods of mitigating the detrimental health effects of the workday.
1. Go for a walk
Conduct your meeting — be it face-to-face or over the phone — while walking instead of sitting at a desk.
2. Inconvenience yourself
Take the farthest parking spot in the lot or the garage and walk to your desk, using stairs instead of the elevator.
3. Drink water
Drink a bottle of water within 20 minutes of getting settled at your desk. This will put you in a position to crave and drink more. The opposite is also true — not drinking water early will inhibit drinking throughout the day.
4. Toss the office chair
If you don’t have a standing desk, sit on a stability ball.
5. Get up
Set an alarm on your phone for every 25 minutes, then spend five minutes doing some sort of exercise. That can be walking, jumping jacks, push-ups, squats, jogging, arm circles, etc.
6. Adjust your monitor
The top of your computer screen should be level with your eyes, so you’re only looking down about 10 degrees to view the screen. If it’s lower, you’ll move your head downward, which can lead to increased fatigue and back and neck pain.
7. Ditch temptation
Throw away all candy and unhealthy snacks. Many times, sugar cravings come from dehydration. Find healthier snacks.
8. No more excuses
Bring your fitness gear to work to avoid an extra trip home.
Other considerations for workplace fitness:
“We have fight-or-flight responses; in the old days, you used to be able to run away from whatever was causing you stress, but you can’t do that anymore. The bad thing is your body gets to used it. You don’t necessarily feel like you are stressed out, but your body is working in stress mode. Being able to release that in physical activity or meditation is extremely important in today’s world. Peer support is huge; there will be days when an individual is not going to be feeling it. To be surrounded by supportive people is huge.” – Cherie Skager, Hope Heart Institute executive director
“Replace the candy bowl on the receptionist’s desk with a bowl of apples. It reinforces the message that a company values its employees’ and its clients’ health and well-being.” — Marilyn McKenna, Eat Like It Matters author
Be a good manager: empathize, delegate, and offer smart benefits
“Boss” is far too simple a word to encapsulate what a manager does. On any given day, a manager can act as an accountant, a pitchman, a therapist, a babysitter, an arbiter, or a janitor. This means a boss has to have foundational traits that allow her to keep an entire staff oriented toward the company’s mission. Here’s how what you do, and the benefits you offer, can best shape a company’s performance.
“Delegate. It’s what I probably had to work on the most and what has paid off the most. When you’re a founder and CEO, the company is your baby, and it’s really hard to hand that off. The best thing that I’ve done for Fitcode is hire people smarter than I am in the areas that I’m weak, and then just get out of their way.” – Rian Buckley, Fitcode CEO
“Don’t micromanage. I’ve never believed in that management style, nor do I think it’s effective with the younger generation. You need to make sure you give the proper direction and definition of the task and then let your employees do their job. It might not be the same way you would handle it, but if they can get from point A to point B, it’s beautiful, and they will learn along the way.” — John Mathews, Coast Bellevue Hotel general manager
“Check your ego at the door. The people who really know the most about any particular topic, they’re usually the individual contributor who’s working on it. If you can come into (the conversation) in a low-ego way and actually listen to what people like that have to say, I think you wind up getting a good result.” – Jon Roskill, Acumatica CEO
“Being effective as a manager is a lot about caring about the people you’re managing and building that respect. I am very conscious of the commitments I’m making for myself, my organization, and my company, and making sure we’re making commitments we can keep. It’s that constant delivery that has done a lot of things for my career and the organizations I’ve been with.” — Eric Johnson, Nintex CFO
“We have an unlimited vacation policy at GoDaddy — it requires discipline to finish your work so you can take time away, but if you can master your schedule, the sky’s the limit with where you can go.” — Arnold Blinn, GoDaddy chief product architect
“I wish every company would publish their health care plan on their website. Fertility treatments are not covered by many health insurance providers. Bariatric surgery is often not covered. Gender reassignment surgery — often not covered. As a small company, we’re limited in how inclusive our coverage can be, but the one thing we can do that is absolutely free is tell people what our insurance does cover. If one of these conditions applies to you, you are left in the horrible position of either going through the entire interview process … and having to wait until you see the insurance package before knowing if you can accept, or having to say in your first interview, by the way, let me tell you something intensely personal about myself and ask if you cover it, which could invite later bias and discrimination.” — Dan Shapiro, Glowforge CEO
Hire the best employees
Regardless of your business philosophy, a company’s success hinges on its team. This is especially the case for small companies — most entrepreneurs will tell you a bad hire can significantly inhibit growth or, especially for small firms, doom the company. Here’s how to pick the right folks to work with.
“You need a team that will be able to take the product to market, and make sure you’ve built out a team that is diverse in perspective and experience. I’ve seen some teams where people hire clones of themselves, and you wind up with ‘yes men’ organizations. That’s usually not the right formula for success.” — Jon Roskill, Acumatica CEO
“Do your homework. Find the people you want, not the people you think you need. Don’t overreact and say, I need somebody right now and this person is in front of me. Hold out, because around every corner there’s the perfect fit for your business.” – Scott Holm, Chainline Brewing founder
“I went to architecture school in Brazil, and got my master’s in architecture in the United States. I’m not a business guy. So all of a sudden I have this vision to open my own shop. I found I was extremely weak on the business side. You should understand your weak spots. So right from the get-go, I acknowledged my weakness and hired business school grads … and then MBAs.” — Pedro Castro, Magellan Architects principal
“I am definitely not a developer — I’m about as far from tech as you can get. I got this idea and I didn’t know how to build it, but I knew where I wanted it to go and what the end product should look like. The most crucial part of that gap was hiring the right people. We got this team together that understood me and the vision that I had for Fitcode, and they got to work and built this thing.” — Rian Buckley, Fitcode CEO
Be honest during a PR crisis
Time for a not-so-fun exercise: Let’s imagine a PR disaster. Your CEO says something disparaging to the media. Your finance department is embroiled in scandal. A high-ranking executive is suspected of illegal activity. A crisis can doom a company’s bottom line, so we found two experts to guide you through the harrowing process.
“When you find you are in a crisis, be very careful that everything you say to explain is absolutely true. A lie, half truth, unfounded statement, wishful statement, a mistake … these can all compound the problem and create a steel wall between you and the public. Once the truth is revealed and trust is destroyed, it is difficult to impossible to repair reputation and image. Sooner or later the truth is revealed.” – Kathleen Fearn-Banks, University of Washington associate professor
“There are three essentials that are needed when dealing with any crisis situation. Let’s call them the three T’s: timing (respond quickly), transparency (while being tactful about it), and truth (always be factual and honest). The three T’s will keep you on solid ground as you develop a strategy to get things back under control.” – Dan McConnell, public relations strategist
Be your own boss (and don’t abuse it)
There’s a lot to like about being your own boss. Pajamas at work! Workday starts at noon! But take the freedoms too far, and you’ll find yourself trading PJs for slacks and asking The Man for a 9-to-5. Paychi Karen Guh, who runs an eponymous fashion design firm in the area, offers up some tips on remaining productive when there’s nobody to look over your shoulder.
1. “Set measurable and realistic goals, but don’t be afraid to dream big, either. Daily or weekly, I can focus on accomplishing small tasks in order to eventually reach a seasonal goal. Seasonally or yearly, I review and update the goals I set so I can keep moving forward. The key is to evaluate the goals and make adjustments along the way. I make sure everything I do leads me to my big dream.”
2. “I surround myself with people and friends who I respect and admire. They have positive energy and help me see things clearly if I am lost in certain situations. They are my friends, mentors, and advisers from various fields.”
3. “Be a good time manager and set priorities. Working, fitness, and family are my priorities, so I need to make sure I dedicate my time for those. This decision actually forces me to work more efficiently.”
4. “Remind myself every day that I am very fortunate that I can be my own boss and have the freedom and control of my life and my time.”
5. “Save money for the rainy days. Will the business continue to grow as planned? Maybe not. We never know what tomorrow will be like. I think it is important to have a solid financial plan and savings to weather the unproductive seasons or years.”
6. “I reward myself. Traveling to a new city or a new country with my family is my ultimate reward. A facial and massage after a three-week design lockdown are my little rewards.”
Treat your clients with respect
A company with happy customers finds it much easier to make money, but customer relations isn’t a one-size-fits-all element of conducting business. Nevertheless, companies pressured by cost or efficiency requirements often sacrifice customer service through outsourcing or eliminating that department.
Judy Meleliat and Pedro Castro couldn’t afford to do such a thing. As president of Aegis Living and principal of Magellan Architects, respectively, the two make client involvement a keystone of their businesses. Here’s their approach to educating, assisting, and empathizing with customers:
“Shopping for this service is very unique, not just because the clientele are a small part of the population, but you don’t do it every day. You go to Starbucks every day; you get used to how to order. This is a once-, maybe twice-in-a-lifetime purchase if you’re an adult child. People don’t know how to engage with the category, so there’s a very important consultative role that we play.”
“The resident doesn’t want to lose their independence. Many times, they don’t want to accept that they can’t live at home. And the adult children are helping make the decision, are helping to guide the decision. Often they feel guilty, because they don’t want mom or dad to miss their life.”
“Respect and dignity are ongoing, really important issues. We talk internally about that all the time. It’s part of our culture, part of our belief system. That comes into play in the simplest ways. Choice of language is a sign of respect, generational respect. Someone might come in with their dad, and it would be a mistake to say, ‘Gosh, your dad is the cutest old guy’ — they’re not objects. People who are aging need to have the reinforcement that they are still 100 percent part of the decision process.”
“It’s a very competitive architecture market here, so I decided to focus on client relationships, and on service. I look at the models surrounding us — Nordstrom, Costco, Starbucks, REI, Boeing. All those are customer-centric.”
“Architects are very egocentric — they’re very into the design. The problem with the artistic side of architecture is that people can ignore the client’s needs. So I said, OK, we love design, but if we don’t fulfill the client’s goals and vision, then it’s not a successful project.”
“It is an educational process, a collaborative process. You go to a doctor or a dentist, you just listen because they are the experts. We are the experts, but we make sure the client knows that they are part of the process. By doing that, we start educating the client. Most clients want a functional building, so we talk to them about how they can make the space actually generate more income.”
“Everybody in the office has to have a touch point with a client, existing or potential. That can be an email, a text, a note, a face-to-face meeting. I encouraged them to have three touch points a week. With that, we start building a relationship. People will hire you for many reasons, but the most important one is that they trust you.”
Pick products and spread the word
To many, marketing means little more than promotion. But the field goes so much deeper. Good marketers identify and understand target customers, tailor product offerings, and select the best medium to get the word out.
“Be social; don’t broadcast. Social media is a two-way conversation, so pose all of your posts to drive engagement, not awareness.” — Matthew Griffin, Combat Flip Flops CEO
“Understand your target market and seek as much market validation for your product as you can before opening.” – Brad Gillis, Homegrown Sustainable Sandwich Shop cofounder
“You can ask someone, ‘Do you want ice cream?’ and plenty of people say yes, but that doesn’t mean you should open an ice cream shop. The question is, ‘Will you pay for the ice cream? Will you go to this location where I want to have the ice cream, will you pay for it, and do you want the type of ice cream that I’m selling?’ Asking the right type of questions is really important.” – Tyler Menezes, StudentRND executive director
Learn to use your window space wisely
Chapman Fina, Via Lago owner
1. “A storefront window where hundreds, if not thousands, of clients pass daily is a huge opportunity to promote your product daily. My mentor told me 16 years ago to only put the best of the best in the window.”
2. “Do not put anything in your window that does not pay your rent. For example, avoid posters or invitations that do not represent your store and your product. Don’t give away your rent nor your hard work for someone else’s benefit. The promotions on your elegant clean windows take away from your product inside.”
3. “Change your windows once a week. But make sure you promote on other venues. For example, email blasts through Constant Contact, and other social media, Instagram, and Facebook.”
When you love your job, there never seems to be enough hours in the day for work. Hate your job, and it might be because there aren’t enough hours in the day. These hacks will help you improve your productivity and get stuff done.
“From a productivity standpoint, taking 15-20 minutes at the end of each day to clear the decks, bring closure to one day, and plan/prioritize tasks for the next day has a huge return on investment.” — Debbie Rosemont, Simply Placed owner
“I like to set a timer when I need to work on a project or assignment without any distractions. I force myself to work through and not look at email or answer phone calls and texts until the timer goes off.” — Gazala Uradnik, GFS Events owner
“I have a habit of jumping from idea to idea, which I think has contributed to Fitcode’s success so far because I don’t get stuck on one idea. If one idea isn’t working, I’m quick to move on and tailor to the need.” — Rian Buckley, Fitcode CEO
“The best way to stop hitting snooze every morning is to not start. Loving what you do at work and knowing it’s important is the key to being eager for each day.” — Arnold Blinn, GoDaddy chief product architect
“At the end of each day, I don’t stop working until my inbox is down to one page. I don’t save the big stuff for last. I do the big stuff first and save the little stuff for last. A lot of times I find that if I leave the little stuff, other people will pick it up. People think if they leave the big stuff for later, someone else will pick it up, but it doesn’t work that way.” — Hayley Nichols, Allovus CEO
Satisfying clients who are and aren’t human
Tina Xidias-Jones, BooBoo Barkery & Boutique owner
1. “We help owners enhance their relationship with their dogs and nurture the unique bond between our two species. We do that by offering personally tailored services, unique educational toys and tools, training classes, and nutritious food, treats, and supplements.”
2. “Our team adores both their human and dog clients. We take steps to ensure that every client who walks in the store feels that connection. Our team greets every dog with affection and treats, and owners get smiles and friendly greetings.”
3. “At BooBoo, our philosophy is ‘humanity over vanity,’ which means our stylists will not perform a groom that will causes pain or overly stresses a dog.”
Don’t let growth take you down
It’s the best problem to have — a company growing painfully fast. But mismanaged growth can mean trouble. A company can lose sight of its mission, make sloppy hires, botch acquisitions, or fail to read changes in the marketplace. Here’s how to keep present growth from turning into future declines.
“As you grow your brand, know who you are, know your story, and be consistent in your year-to-year offerings.” – John Patterson, Patterson Cellars owner
“Don’t be afraid to make changes. As a small business, you’ve got to be changing all the time. About 10 years ago, we saw the market was changing — we couldn’t afford the leases in retail hubs. We started working with people and moving them to different locations. We closed stores slowly and started focusing on our commercial customers. You can’t just pull the lever and change all at once.” – Lisa Keeney McCarthy, Keeney’s Office Supply president
Think like a coder
Martin Puryear is an instructor at Coding Dojo whose job is to prepare students for a career in computer science in only a year. That means far more than teaching students a few critical programs or coding languages; rather, it means teaching them how to think like a programmer, a skill that can actually serve all of us. Ideally, Puryear says we can “convert mindless amounts of data into a big pile of information, which hopefully becomes a coherent set of intelligence, that ideally we turn into some insight about how to make things better.” How do you do that? Here’s his advice:
“Extending the analytical mindset further, it is important for all of us, whether or not we are currently on the job market, to try to anticipate the next set of potential changes, thinking about how best to prepare for it.”
“With a problem-solver’s mindset, and having insight about where problem areas might be, I want the average person to see ways to optimize or automate some of those areas. Maybe it only saves 20 seconds each time, but for something you do 30 times a day, it adds up.”
“For the average person on the job market nowadays, they need to be able to solve problems. That means you should be able to break large problems down into smaller ones. Then, solve the smaller ones separately. For all of us nowadays, I think it is important to quantify what we do, and how it contributes. The bottom line is a great all-up number for the company, but as just one person, can I break things down further to the metric that matters for my specific work? After all, if you don’t measure it, you have no idea whether the things you are doing are actually improving things.”
The key to M&A: Be FAST
Mergers and acquisitions are a surefire way to accelerate growth, but swelling the company ranks can cause problems if handled poorly. Jen O’Twomney handles acquisition integration for Expedia. Her job was to make sure Expedia smoothly absorbed Wotif, Travelocity, and Orbitz — high stakes considering Expedia paid about $4.5 billion for the three firms. To make the process easy, Expedia developed its FAST system. “Slow acquisitions fail,” O’Twomney said. “There’s a fair amount of churn and turmoil in any acquisition, so we want to get through that as quickly as possible.” Here’s how it works.
“We want team members on the program to be committed to the program. They can’t have a lot of extracurriculars going on.”
“About a week after the deal closes, we bring in leaders from Expedia and the new companies into an inception. It’s four to five days of total immersion to understand how they do business, how we do business, and how we’ll do business going forward.” Expedia then taps focals, or trusted employees from each department, to shepherd along the integration process.
“It’s very easy when you’re in the middle of an integration to say, well, we’re under the hood, so let’s fix this, this, and this at the same time, and suddenly you have entropy from a work development perspective. We try to keep it very simple in terms of what we’re doing. We try not to add extra work.”
“We don’t mind bad news; we just want to know them sooner rather than later. We’ll provide timelines of when decisions are expected to be made within the first week of the integration.”
Commit to angel investing, and do your homework
Wonky as the stock market has been, angel investing might not seem as risky as it used to. So for those with means to do so, sinking some cash into a startup can function as a potentially high-yield (read: also high-risk), high-involvement investment. Seattle Angel Conference member Geoff Harris dishes on what an angel investor needs to know.
Vetting a company
“You want to make sure you cover all the bases — team, product, market opportunity, financials, and company formation. There are a number of techniques you can use, and there is no one ‘right’ technique. I would spend the most time getting to know and research the team. In the end you are making a bet on people, and a great team will always be able to pivot to something new if the original idea was not perfect. Mediocre teams have a very hard time doing that.”
How much to invest
“As a general rule of thumb, one should not allocate more than 5 to 10 percent of one’s investable assets into this class. In order to have a reasonable expectation of return in angel investing, one must build a portfolio of at least 10 but realistically more than 20 companies. Generally, companies set a minimum investment at $25,000. If your financial situation dictates that a portfolio of 20 investments at $25,000 each would exceed the guideline of 5 to 10 percent of your investable assets, then you would want to look into investing as a group.”
Involvement with companies
“You should be as hands-on as you can be while materially helping the company. If you have a skill set that the company needs, they will definitely seek you out and utilize those skills. On the other hand, I am quite passive with some of my investments because I don’t have the right set of skills to materially help them. I will usually refer the company to people in my network that I believe can help them.”
What about the risk?
“Certainly it is an asset class with a high level of risk, but also a high potential reward. Those that are considering getting into the space should review the academic work done by Rob Wiltbank when he was at Willamette University. He has done great research on angel investing that shows that, with a sufficiently diversified portfolio formed through solid due diligence, one can have a healthy expectation of return.”
On the corporate side, Barbara Cooch of Columbia Bank Bellevue has some advice for those looking to take advantage of today’s weird investing climate:
“With interest rates still at historic lows, look to find fixed-rate financing for necessary new debt and restructure existing debt. Evaluate and potentially restructure any vendor contracts. Finally, with your management team and CPA, review and reduce your expenses to efficiently and effectively run lean.”
Go to community college
Community and technical colleges are having a moment. Long considered educational castoffs, two-year schools are getting a second look from many students thanks to the skyrocketing price of a four-year education and added political emphasis from the Obama administration.
Kevin McCarthy is the president of Renton Technical College, which was a finalist for the Aspen Institute’s prize for community college excellence. We caught up with McCarthy to talk about the viability of community colleges and what they can do to serve Puget Sound students and companies.
How is the reputation of community colleges changing?
About 45 percent of undergrads in the country go to two-year colleges, yet people’s generic vision when you say the word ‘college’ is a flagship like the University of Washington. Two-years have had the reputation of a second choice, one if you weren’t really qualified for something. I think that’s changing. People realize these are real options. More and more students are experiencing a two-year school. Two-years also offer a broader path for people than they used to.
What do you mean by a broader path?
In the past, a two-year degree was a terminal degree. You’d get your associate’s degree or something, and a university wouldn’t take those credits. But there has been increasing work with the development of bachelor’s of applied science degrees (four-year degree programs offered at community colleges) or an AAS (associate’s of applied science) that articulate with most other universities. Those are options, but we at Renton also do adult basic education or English as a second language. The key to us is translating their basic skills to college-level work.
What role does RTC play in the Puget Sound economy?
A lot of the programs we do fit into the big sectors — aerospace, health care, IT, ports, transportation. All of our training would lend itself to that. Renton and other community and technical colleges increasingly have computer science programs; we could offer computer science just like a university. Right now we just have applied programs, but we could do more.
What types of students should seek out a community college education?
Our students’ average age is one of the highest in the state, 31 years old. That means some of the people that are considering it and utilizing it are those that have started a career already, and decide they want to change their career. Some have gotten a bachelor’s degree and then said, ‘Wow, there isn’t a lot of need for psychology and sociology degrees; I’m going to get a health care career. Where do I do that?’ Renton’s a good place to do that. An area that doesn’t come enough are students right out of high school. These are students who haven’t found exactly what fits. They’re essentially just killing time at jobs that aren’t really going to help them, their family, or the regional economy. So instead of someone coming here after spending six years at a low-paying job, if people could come out of high school, that would be an economic driver.
How can companies maximize the training a tech school provides?
Companies are good at doing things like providing members for our advisory boards, donating equipment or money, figuring out competencies that are needed, and providing training sites and internships. But there are ways to improve. Sometimes there’s a bit of a free-rider problem where smaller companies in certain sectors want the bigger company to put in the money. We’ll ride on Boeing’s coattails. An area we could really use more help is politically. Companies know that we provide labor that they need, but they’re pretty quiet on funding the system. Industry could better promote the need for the Legislature to support the community and technical college system.
Improve your job, or land a better one
Your parents or grandparents were part of a generation that could join a company early in a career, climb the ranks, and retire with a sizable pension. No more. Today, career development requires unprecedented activity from an employee. Matt Youngquist, who guides clients at Career Horizons, explains what you need to do to climb today’s fractured career ladder.
1. Ask for a raise
You need to build a case for why you deserve a raise. Make a list of ways you’ve provided value beyond what you were initially hired for, and present your case in a clear, concise fashion to your manager. “How have you gone above and beyond what you were initially hired to do? What specific examples can you cite of where you’ve added unique value to the business — or helped the company make money and save money?” Ask at the right time — the company should be doing well, and your manager shouldn’t be stressed out — and be prepared to hear “no.”
2. Ask for a promotion or larger role
Expanding your role can be a precursor to a pay bump, so think of this as a concrete way to add value to the company. Youngquist says you should clearly explain your reasons and motives for the larger role, and offer a possible road map to help your manager with the transition. “Don’t imply this has to happen immediately. Take the pressure off your boss by saying things like, ‘In the next three to six months, I’m hoping to…’ instead of delivering an ultimatum. Arrive with potential ideas and suggestions to bounce off your boss instead of expecting them to come up with some way to meet your needs from scratch.”
3. Ask for a smaller role
If you’re overwhelmed at work, it can be to the company’s benefit for you to ask for a lesser role. Be flexible with the timeframe, and offer solutions for how the work you’d be leaving behind can be picked up. “Is there somebody else who could take on some of the responsibilities you give up? Could you outsource some of the work to a vendor or outside contractor? Or is some of the work you do simply not that necessary anymore, and could be eliminated in order to save the company time and money?”
4. Optimize your resume
First off, seek feedback, but take it with a grain of salt. “Recognize there’s no such thing as a perfect resume. Once you’ve got a reasonably decent resume pulled together that most people generally seem to like, move past that step and focus on what really counts, which is getting out to lots of people and places and building your network.” If you really need your resume to stand out, be sure to use proper keywords and terminology that the company is looking for. An obscure or abstract resume goes in the trash when a hiring manager has hundreds to sift through.
5. Look for other jobs while still employed
It’s a stealthy task, but one that’s important if you want to avoid an unemployment stint. Youngquist recommends explaining to hiring managers that your search needs to remain quiet, and only networking with people you trust. Common sense also helps. “Don’t talk about your search at work, where somebody could overhear you, and don’t search for work on company time or using company computers, if you can avoid it, for obvious reasons.”
6. Parting advice
“Talent alone is only half the equation when it comes to building successful careers; learning how to promote yourself effectively is the other half. Also, don’t underestimate the number of potential customers you have out there. There are over 100,000 employers in the greater Seattle area alone, but most people act like there’s only about a dozen and everybody seems to line up at the door of places like Microsoft, Amazon, Starbucks, REI, and similar firms and wonder why it’s so hard to get hired there. Spread your wings, look around, and spend some time researching the thousands of small- to mid-size companies that also might have a need for your skills.”
Rethink your approach to China
The world’s second-largest economy finds itself in an enigmatic period. Its growth rate has slowed significantly in the last few years, its stock market is foundering, and its currency is shedding value. That said, it’s a nation with a middle class the size of the United States, and its “slow-growth” economy is still growing at nearly three times the pace of ours.
So what’s to make of this? Liz Lasater, president of Red Arrow Logistics, and Ben Zhang, CEO of Greater China Industries, weigh in on the nation’s confusing economic times, and what that means for companies looking to do business there.
Ben Zhang, Greater China Industries CEO
“The Chinese economy is slowing down; everybody knows that. This is not the same China we saw 20 or 30 years ago. Manufacturing costs over there have gone up quite a bit, especially labor costs. I have employees over there; in the last decade, the labor cost has doubled or tripled, depending on the region.”
“The cost of product has gone up, and we’re losing competitiveness, especially in textile apparels. Business is shifting from China to other Southeast Asian countries like India and Cambodia. … Imports from China have duties that are 18 to 33 percent. Trans-Pacific Partnership members would be duty-free. So I have to focus on high-end goods. Low-end textiles like they make in Bangladesh, I don’t even touch that.”
Liz Laster, Red Arrow Logistics CEO
“This is going to be a really tough year. You’ve got a market like China that has an explosive middle class, and their economy has been weakened based on the way they capture their GDP. I was recently in Shenzhen, and there were no street hawkers. Usually there is food and little tchotchkes all up and down the road, so I asked if it was a holiday. My driver said there’s no business; the factories are closed.”
“When you talk about the China market being down, it’s not just China. They’ve got factories throughout Southeast Asia, throughout Africa. So when it drops off, it affects all the peripheral countries that they’re heavily invested in. With that, you’ve got a waning economy that’s pulling the rest of us down.”
Manage an emotionally taxing job
All of us have hard days at work, but some jobs come with stresses far weightier than an incompetent coworker or an annoying boss. Tina Morales is a substance abuse counselor at Youth Eastside Services. Daily, she deals with families struggling with one of the most stigmatized and difficult-to-address diseases. When Morales succeeds, she saves lives, but sometimes her job takes dark turns. Here’s how she keeps herself sane.
1. “I welcome all that comes my way professionally and personally. In the face of anything that is difficult, I say thank you.”
2. “Be a critical and imaginative thinker! I actively and creatively search out the solutions to problems.”
3. “Words, music, poetry have always rescued me; I stay close and search out new sources that feed my mind and heart and inspire me to work hard(er) and smile!”
4. “The words that literally keep me going, mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually are ¡Si Se Puede! — the words instantly connect me to my heroes, history, purpose, and challenge at hand. The words literally force me to say, ‘I can do this!’”
5. “It may sound crazy … but I give. Giving to others feeds me and usually forces me to stop and think and get creative; I make granola and share!”
6. “Stay humble and trust my instincts. Often my instincts lead me to do what reminds me to be me and to treat myself to Cheetos (puffy and spicy), to cry, veg out, work out, day dream, be grumpy, watch my favorite artists and cooks on YouTube and spend as much time as possible at home!”
7. “I start my day finding something to look forward to!”
Make targeted investments
Many venture capital firms narrow their investment focus. Some participate primarily in early-stage investments, while others might limit themselves geographically or by industry. Tetsuro Eto is a cofounder of Innovation Finders Capital, a Kirkland firm with a mission of connecting IT firms to large Japanese corporations. Below, the former Microsoft employee (he helped introduce Windows to Japan) explains his firm’s philosophy and approach to Japan.
On Innovation Finders Capital’s Japan-oriented model: “Japan is the third-largest market in the world, where people enjoy similar rules to those in the United States. IFC believes it is a perfect match to connect Japanese manufacturers with U.S. startups. The former are pretty good at finishing products; the latter are relatively weak on it.”
On preparing for Japan’s aging, declining population: “Corporate Japan has been realizing they need to change themselves to go global since the domestic market is shrinking. They are also questioning whether to stick with their proprietary technologies, whereas global market giants including Apple and Samsung are not. These companies grow much faster than Japanese ones because they buy technologies. Meantime, used-to-be-leading manufacturers in Japan such as Panasonic, Sharp, and Sony have been facing tough times. Japanese companies are looking for the next $100 million product line. What they bring to the table is the crucial revenue for startups to prove that they are viable ongoing businesses.”
On managing relationships between startups and manufacturers: “IFC helps startups with their Japanese business development before it makes an investment decision. Right after the startup teams up with a Japanese corporation, IFC invests to provide funding for Japan business development.”
Immigrants: Don’t shy away from America
“This is still a country of opportunity. I’m a true immigrant. I came to this country (from Brazil) in 1987. I didn’t speak any English. I didn’t have venture capitalists give me money. I financed my own company by getting a line of credit against my house. Have passion, vision, faith, hard work, and surround yourself with great people, and you’ll succeed.” – Pedro Castro, Magellan Architects principal
Workforce development is on you
“The single greatest obstacle for business, whether it’s a small business or Boeing, is workforce development. For us, we have an internship program. It’s a 12- to 15-week program, and we tell them what we expect them to know when they’re done. I sit on the voluntary board at Lake Washington Technical School for their supply chain program, and we tell them what business owners want these students to know.” – Liz Lasater, Red Arrow Logistics CEO
Take all of this with a grain of salt
“Everybody tells you what the immutable laws are, and they’re all liars. When you are creating a business, listen to all the smart people tell you what works for them, then triangulate that with your core values and beliefs.” – Dan Shapiro, Glowforge CEO