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Or-Tal's Writings

entrepreneur/mother/education revolutionist/high tech addict

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Career

Age of No Age

It must have been one of the strangest days in my life.

Met a 20 year old entrepreneur. Thought about how society’s age discrimination stands in the way of any successful partnerships between such young entrepreneurs and those who are twice their age. Then read about another entrepreneur who is doing a crazy thing: he wants to build his founding team based on 5-6 people who are all 35 or older. Yea, that’s right. He appreciates experience. In the world of “20 under” . Whatever happened to my “40 over 40” survey?

Should age become an obstacle? Should it be a consideration at all in the world of entrepreneurship? Personally I find that age is one of the last things I check for when a candidate applies. The relevancy of experience is much more important. Not to mention your online presence.

A couple of weeks ago I posted an ad on Xplace for a technological partner to join my startup. I made sure what I wrote is pretty clear. It’s a person, not a company, it’s a partnership, not a service, and it’s pre-funding. All of the replies I received except for one were from companies or freelancers who didn’t bother to read what I wrote, or decided that perhaps if they send me their lovely price proposal I will give up on a partner and come up with funds. Hmmm. But what made it even worse was the way some of these people responded: They didn’t bother to present themselves, their curriculum, their experience or portfolio. It was a “one-line-proposal” in the form of “tell me more about your project”.

Sorry, but I don’t get it. Or rather, I do get it. This is why these people are having trouble getting a position. Not because they are young or old. Because it’s all about how and what you communicate. We live in an age and a professional environement where age has the least significance it ever had. Whether you are 20 or 60 if you have a valid idea and you know how to communicate it – you have a chance at success.

So back to the 20 year old. This was a delightful encounter. I don’t know if something ever comes out of it. I offered my help as a mentor in marketing and business strategy aspects through the wonderful Tomorrow Israel  project started by my friend Nir Kouris. I had the pleasure of meeting one of the more mature entrepreneurs, acknowledging where his knowledge is insufficient and needs help, respecting his team say in any involvement of third parties. A refreshing look on a traditional line of apps. And a general impression that working with this entrepreneur (note I’m not calling him “a kid” or “a young…”) – working with such a person would be great.

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Analysis of a Failure

Closing down. Shutting the doors. Dissolving. Folding. Gathering. Saying goodbye. Wrapping up. My startup of the last 2 years, Saveby, now belongs to the past, or to the future of someone else. All this silence on my blog recently is due to the fact that I find it is so hard to say the words, reveal the truth, admit a failure.

Although, some good may actually come out of this failure.

We gave it our best, my partner and I. We believed, and still do, in the power of the crowds in ecommerce. We still believe that buying is an action carried out by a consumer, and shouldn’t remain a re-action to a merchant’s action, as it still is today.

But what we believe in, or how fantastic is the system that we’ve built or the patent we designed, is irrelevant to our decision to quit.

Recently I had a conversation with one of the top entrepreneurs in Israel: an experienced, seasoned, diversified and daring man. He has closed his startup just a short while before we have decided to part from ours. It was a funny meeting, in a way. Me, mourning the loss of a few tens of thousands of dollars that my partner and I have poured out of our pockets into this startup, and him, counting a loss of several tens of millions of dollars put into his startup by a lot of good investors. I thanked god, at this stage, that I haven’t lost anyone else’s money.

But we spoke about the analysis of failure. Things look so much clearer when you look back on them. There are some mistakes you know you have learned from, and other mistakes you know you can’t always avoid. Still, next time, you’ll be more aware of the dangers.

It brought back a conversation with one particular VC who said how they prefer to invest in an entrepreneur who has experienced failure, as opposed to one that has only experienced success.  “Those who have failed will always analyze what they have done right and what went wrong. Those who have succeeded could be just lucky”.

So, we were not lucky. One mistake I feel that is particularly important to share is that we believed the further we advance without the involvement of strangers’ money, the better chances we have of getting any investment and a good valuation.

We should have known better. Get investments as early as possible, even if those are small and expensive –will cost you a large percentage of your startup. The further you go on your own the bigger is the risk that you will run out of funds before you reach your goal. Which is basically what happened to us.

The other very important thing we learned is that it is better to recruit active partners, who would be in it for the long run, then to hire freelancers who are in it – best case scenario – for some stock options. Depending on freelancers or outsourcing is really dangerous. Although, I recall, our search for a third cofounder took too long and was unsuccessful. Should we have waited longer? I don’t know.

But depending on outsources is that sort of mistake which is hard to avoid. At least I am now better aware of the danger in it and would manage it differently next time.

Yea, I’m right back on that horse.

Stay tuned.

A Word of Advice to Job Seekers

There’s a first time for everything. Today, for the first time, I had to send rejection letters to job applicants. It felt awkward. But it was necessary. Still feeling not-at-ease with this management task I am writing this post with the hope of saving a few future applicants the disappointment. I really feel I should explain to those who receive rejection letters some of their repeating mistakes.

Read the Ad

Before applying – read the job advertisement thoroughly. Even if it seems long. Even if you’re sure you got the gist by skimming through the first paragraph. Read every word, and read some of it twice. Make sure you have indeed what the company advertized for. It’s not pleasant to get a rejection letter. Believe me, it’s not pleasant to send one. But if you don’t have what the company is looking for then you are in for another disappointment. Please, don’t apply if you don’t posses at least some of the experience and qualifications stated in the ad.

Make Adjustments
Sometimes your standard resume and cover letter don’t fit the requirements of the job advertized. But you still think this job is interesting, desirable, will lead somewhere and yes, you can do it. Try emphasizing the most relevant paragraphs on your resume and de-emphasizing the irrelevant ones. Rephrase if needed. Look at the list of requirements as if those are questions in a quiz and your resume should have the answers. If I am looking for knowledge in parenting and babies and you are closer to being a baby than being a parent, why not mention your relatives’ kids, friends’ toddlers and even your babysitting experience? Show your interest in the topic. Show why this is relevant to you. How you answer this demand.

Look at How You Look
When a company is interested in hiring a social networks animal, they are bound to search for you online. It’s best to control your online presence. Make sure your social networks profiles have the same email you have provided with your resume. If you don’t have any profile on any social network, maybe now is a good time to create a few profiles. Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook are the first that come to mind, in that order.
Whether you have an old profile or you are creating a new one, ask friends, colleagues or classmates what is the impression they are getting from your profile and from your avatar. You may have the resume of a gifted academic and promising professional, but if your profile picture shows a 16 year old – and just to remind you, I was looking for an expert on parenting, then perhaps this is not the correct image. Try to use neutral avatars. Even taking your 16-year-old looking avatar and doing a sketch filter on it might produce a better looking result for potential employers.

Edit and Presentation
How your resume is presented and edited is really important. I find too many resumes confusing, messy, unclear. The best advice I could give you is to download a resume template or use a resume wizard. But really, the simple truth is you need to keep it as simple as possible. Here are the main guidelines for fixing your resume:

  • Part one is work experience: Going backwards state dates clearly; job title – short and to the point; employer’s name (best linked to company’s web site) and a short description of duties.
  • Part two is education, again, going backwards. Start with the latest learning period, going backwards, if relevant – until your high school. For each education achievement make a clear title including the target (bachelor/master/doctorat/certificatediploma etc.) and the topic (marketing, computers, medicine, programming, graphic design etc.) For each one also write the name of the educational institute (preferably linked to its web site).
  • If you have obtained diplomas and certificates – this is the place to list them.
  • Note that education can come first and work experience later, depends on where your strongest emphasis lies and the relevancy to the job.
  • Part three and four are languages and extras. Under extras you can add some information about you that isn’t included in the standard work or education parts. For instance, animal activist, loves cooking, gardening enthusiast, marathon runner etc. This may offer the potential employer an extra look into the person behind the CV.
  • More information: sometimes a fifth part of the resume is added for additional information such as links to samples of work – especially in graphic design and writing. Do not provide a long list of links as work samples just because you worked with this company for a short project (remember, links to employers sites are introduced in the work experience part, when you list the employer’s name). Links are relevant as work samples if you can claim to have produced their content, design, programming or other aspects of this site’s production, and only when you are sure you can produce a reference who will talk highly about it. Another type of information to include in the fifth part (or sixth) is proficiency in tools, software or other relevant work skills not mentioned before.

Last, but not least: I strongly recommend putting a version of your resume on LinkedIn and keeping it up to date. The only problem there is when you are making extreme adjustments for different types of jobs. Possible solution is to minimize the online information and not include detailed duties per job.

So, with the hope of getting some better fitting resumes, I would like to refer you to one of our job ads: Wanted – a community management intern.

If you have more tips and suggestions – don’t hesitate to include them below.

Regrets? Na… not me.

Why didn’t I do my first startup 14 years ago? It was shortly after ICQ was launched that I had my first “big” startup idea. It was a couple of years after I acquired my degree in marketing and left print journalism in favor of the internet. I had a 6 digit ICQ ID which I was very proud of. I thought the ICQ technology could be easily adopted for advertising and sales: let people sign up to get news and updates from their chosen brands and sellers. I even found the perfect name for this startup: Lemino.

I toyed with the idea for months. Drafted business documents. Began creating a system flow. Then I met with a seasoned entrepreneur, at the time “between CEO jobs”, hoping to recruit him and together build this company.

In retrospect – this was probably my major mistake. And it happened because 14 years ago, I was too young to realize it wasn’t a leader I needed, but a team. Preferably a technical one.

The idea melted away, I needed income and I abandoned it, along with quite a few good ideas that came before and after it. It took several good years of acquiring experience in several domains to realize I have what it takes, always had it. And it’s time to go swimming.

Confession of a Social Networking Discriminator

I’m a social networking racist. I admit it. If you’re not there – you’re not. As simple as that. As I start browsing for business connections for my new startup, either service providers, potential employees, strategic partners – you’ve got to have an online presence, and a maintained and updated one.

Too often I am approached or connected with people who aren’t. Not online, or not updated, or think they can maintain their anonymity in this day and age, and still be looking for a job in hi tech, internet or marketing. I almost think it’s ridiculous. It’s like looking for a job as a life guard when you can’t swim. Really!

Thanks - http://politicalirony.com/

The common argument I hear is “I’m entitled to my privacy”, “I am a private person” and the best is “I don’t think the world should know when I have to go…”. -which proves my point exactly. These are not sentences a person who knows a thing or two about social networks would say.

For the benefit of those who don’t understand it yet, but want to, here are some replies and tips.

First of all – people can preserve their private lives to themselves even if they have a Facebook or Twitter active accounts. It’s your choice what you put up and what you don’t. You really should avoid reports on “when you have to go” – because no one cares.

Second – if you have any professional value, then you have content to share, and hopefully a valuable one. You don’t have to open a blog,  just join the conversation, one way or the other.

Joining Social Networking Stages
1. Share Knowledge You Came Across
Being a professional persona I bet you are exposed to professional knowledge which you can share. Assuming you haven’t started to write articles and blog posts yet – start by sharing links.
2. Share Your Opinion
Share comments on items you read. You can actually post your professional opinion on market news, even if you read them offline. Just don’t forget to mention what you are referring to.
3. Get Knowledge from Others
Look at other professionals in your area and see what links and opinions they are sharing.
4. Share Information by Others
If those links are valuable – then share them with your friends and followers too (retweet/share).
5. Converse, React
Reply to those who shared knowledge with yours, or with thanks. Don’t forget to reply to those who replied to you or thank your retweeters.

Privacy Preserved
All of those have nothing to do with your meals, children, spouse, sleeping habits, entertainment preferences, religion, or any other personal information which you would rather keep private.

Your online presence is yours. So avoid using the photos of your children instead of your own. Show online a simple photograph that would help potential business contacts find you in events.

Choice of networks
The most popular networks for business networking are LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. There are other social networks of course, but I’d like to review my own choice of how I use those:

1. LinkedIn is a networked résumé. It is based on the same Curriculum Vitae one might submit when searching for a job. So it’s an important network to be on, but it’s beneficial only if you make sure your CV there is really kept up to date. Another benefit is the ability to collect recommendations from people you worked with in the past – colleagues or clients. These are usually traded for your recommendation, but do reflect positive working relations. You will eventually decide which connection you’d want to make on each network. On Linkedin I’d start with people you have worked with or done business with. This can evolve later to potential employees or partners. Remember the main benefit of connecting to someone on Linkedin is to be able to connect through them to someone else, who might be a useful connection. Obviously, in a similar way, you should be able to help your contacts connect through you.

2. Facebook can be both a work tool and a personal tool. You can use it for both; you can group your business and family connections in two different lists and choose which items posted are exposed to which group. But for those who fear the leak of their personal information let’s just discuss the business use.
Facebook is an excellent communications tool. You start by connecting to your business contacts, colleagues or clients and begin by following them. Except for links and updates that they share, some might be more interesting than the others, look at groups and pages they join and of course – events.

Groups and pages are in fact smaller communities within Facebook with shared interests (I’m referring to professional interests). Some of these groups meet on various events, which would give you a perfect opportunity to meet with those colleagues of yours and expand you networking relationships beyond. Who would you connect to on Facebook? For me Facebook is rather personal so I try to limit my connections to people I’ve met or done business with or am already connected and familiar with over a longer period of time (for international contacts). When people who I don’t know ask to be friends with me on Facebook I will try to find out what is their interest. I would rather offer my personal email for assistance, than add them to my list of contacts. By adding them to my list of friends their updates are in my feed (are they interesting connections for me? Is their feed relevant?), and also they get updates from me on their feed (do I want to share with them?). The other suggestion I make to those who want to follow my updates – is to follow my twitter.

3. Twitter is a different platform. It’s the easiest and in a way the smartest tool of all. As a default your twits are public. You can make them private, but what’s the point there? Quoting someone smart – “it’s like going to a nudist beach fully clothed”.
So what is the business use of twitter? It does 2 main things: on the first level it allows you to gather professional information from your preferred sources – be it your colleagues or international bloggers or any knowledgeable sources who are sharing their wisdom on this platform. If a couple of years ago I needed to perform a daily search to find my most relevant news items, then today I get the most relevant items from my preferred sources, which already sorted a lot more than I could have scanned.

The second use of Twitter is to get your word out there. Use it when you feel ready. As stated above, social networking is a conversational tool. You join the conversation when you have something valuable to contribute, and you follow simple rules of courtesy towards your connections there.

To social-net or not?
This is an existential question especially if you are in marketing or marketing related industries and in the internet related industries too. I feel this is where markets go to. If the masses could have influenced the choice of logo of the Gap (just an example), then anyone ignoring social networking in today’s world is attesting to their staying behind.

Success? What is it?


Amidst all the attention and hard work I almost forgot to be excited about the launch of my very own startup. I didn’t dwell on what it means, or what it might bring, on terms such as success and failure. Until yesterday, when I received a very surprising phone call.

A TV researcher was on the line. She told me of a TV series they are just beginning to produce, that will attempt to explore the question of success, what is it and how to achieve it.

How or why did she land on my phone line I have no idea. She mentioned being referred to me, but wasn’t quite sure if she should be talking to me as a representative of the successful female, or about motherhood, or education, or entrepreneurship.

Am I successful? I asked myself. Is there really an absolute “successful” definition?

I think people are rarely an absolute success. They could be more successful here and less successful there. When we talk about successful people we usually add another description – like, a successful business man, a successful artist, a successful student.

To make it even more confusing the TV researcher mentioned that the “Success” series is produced following a previous production of a series discussing “Happiness”.

Success and happiness are entangled and interdependent, yet in the western society we often let financial criteria interfere.

So I asked my kids what is success? My daughter said success is achieving things you want, goal by goal. My son said success is when you achieve happiness. The little one just said I hope I will succeed in saving wildlife.

I guess it’s all of those, really. Each goal I achieve makes me feel successful and happy. Each achievement makes me hungry for the next goal. Happiness can be a goal in itself, with different ways to achieve it.

And success in school? Well that’s a whole separate discussion.

Education Re-Form: Money Matters

I met some very cool teachers yesterday, when I went with my daughter to the parent-teacher day. It was after 8 in the evening. Those teachers have been teaching from 8 in the morning and I expected to witness some exhaustion. But I spoke with teachers who were totally energetic and enthusiastic about their jobs and their students. One teacher said she simply loved teaching. “I hate the compensation. It’s not proportional to the time I invest, but I love teaching and I love the students”.

When we left I said to my daughter that I am pretty impressed by the teachers’ love of teaching. Their enthusiasm certainly has a great effect on the students and the atmosphere of the school (Ohel-Shem High school in Ramat-Gan). She agreed with me. Even if, like many high schoolers her age, she would sometimes rather skip school, she certainly acknowledges the dedication of the teachers she meets.

I need to stress that we do not look at things from a totally objective point of view. Shaii excels at her studies, she’s one of the top if not the top student of her class of gifted students. Still, the school has 11-12 classes of each grade, grades 9-12. And the classes are different from each other. With about 1,500 students learning there diversity is a given.

Still, something works there. However displeased the teachers are from their salaries – which includes probably everyone at the school, they still enjoy teaching and love what they do. They express devotion to their work and gain a lot of respect.

This was a very pleasant revelation for me. After I visited a few local teachers forums I was under the impression this can’t happen.
However, here is a warning:
With these salaries this ideal situation, even at the best of schools, can’t last.

One of the things they taught us in business management is that satisfaction is a requirement for the employee to do his job well. They also taught that money alone cannot guarantee satisfaction. However, money alone can guarantee dissatisfaction. In other words, even an employee that loves his job greatly might leave it if he is under paid.

I was talking to this teacher. All bright eyed, her face illuminating when she speaks about teaching and her students. She has a Masters degree in chemistry. Could probably earn about 4 times her teaching salary if she goes to work for a high-tech company. But she loves to teach. “Only problem is”, she admits, “that if the main income is brought home by the husband, and he is forced to leave work early so I can do my work well after school hours, then his work is hurt, and the family is not compensated.” So he is the one pushing her out of teaching. How long can she resist? At the end of the day it the bread that counts.

And I am worried. Because if such passionate quality teachers will be forced out of teaching I am afraid to ask what we’ll be left with?

Really, Seriously, it’s time policy makers start absorbing that without a total change of attitude to teachers’ salaries the whole future is at jeopardy. This teacher might have given up on her high-tech salary, but her students will be earning higher salaries before she reaches retirement. Someone has to come up with a way to reward those teachers, for getting their students those high salaries.

Nothing Much.

I’ve been so terribly preoccupied lately I didn’t get a chance to complete any of the blog posts I’ve started to write. Each paragraph bursting out of me in a rage of passion to this topic or that. But then I get all entangled with the actual doings, and the post gets abandoned.

Well not this time. This one is going up.

There is a mix of topics I am dealing with. If an outsider would have looked at my browser windows at any given point of time – they might consider a multiple personality disorder…

At this time, for example, I have a bunch of Facebook games I am trying out. Then several windows explaining about World of Warcraft and how to play it, and an additional bunch of windows all related to the use of World of Warcraft at school. There are many recommendations there. I’d start with Lucas Gillispie’s web site http://edurealms.com/.

Then I have another set of windows open and they relate to the efforts to bring some innovation into education in Israel. There is a list of 29 elementary schools in Israel that are considered “experimental”. 21 high schools and 34 nursery school classes. It’s a drop in the ocean really. Some of the experiments described do not present any education innovation at all. But some do, and I cling to then with hope it may hint of a positive direction.

Seems impossible to be online without some of my favorite networks: at this time it’s firesidelearning.ning.com, where I follow the discussion on NYTimes: “Building a Better Teacher” by Elizabeth Green and http://rezedhub.ning.com/ where I follow the wow-in-school group http://rezedhub.ning.com/group/wowinschools.

As a side kick I need to check out the weather in far away Thessaloníki in Greece, since my daughter would be traveling there tonight, to participate at a Model UN convention. There are some un-answered email messages about the Eurekamp unconference I am helping to organize. I also have to check out some sources regarding a TV documentary I am planning to do and …oops. My alarm clock just went off. Got to pick up the little one from school. Time for a break.

If only there were 34 hours a day…

In less then 30 minutes I will be out the door again, on my way to the violin lesson with my 7.5 year old son. It’s raining outside, and windy, and cold. I would rather stay at home. But to be perfectly honest – the weather is not the reason. The reason is that I have so little time to work.

I feel like running against the wind. Got so many errands and driving assignments there’s barely no time left for continuous undisturbed work. With no other choices I find myself trying to catch up at night, sometimes staying up until 1AM. These are good quiet hours that allow me to read huge amounts of material. But these are slow hours for writing and really not the time for conversations at all.

I have to admit that being a mother AND an entrepreneur is, let’s put it delicately, challenging. I want to be there for my kids, I want to take a part in their lives, I want to play with them, read with them… I also want to live my own life and find time to do some sports, to meet with friends, watch TV. Taking on entrepreneurship is what changes it to super-juggling. Entrepreneurship requires more hours then a day has to offer. I’m in a serious deficit.

Is this why there aren’t so many mother-entrepreneurs?

Yet, I am not ready to give any of it up. To make things even worse – I think I have discovered my calling over the last several months. I feel so passionately about education I just know I have to get involved and start doing things. Well… I actually started to. More news would follow.

Personal Happyness Quest

“No happy mothers” is the opening line in an interview conducted by Dana Spector with Orna Landau, the author of a new book in Hebrew, freely translated to “One more love”.

No happy mothers???

It’s time to publish the following post, written about 3 years ago. It was a part of a discussion on “Digital Eve Israel”. The discussion titled “Upward Mobility” started with the question why are there so few women CEO’s and VP’s in Israel.

Reflecting on the “upward mobility” issue, I was reminded how I once was extremely ambitious and the sky was the limit. I could have been your lady CEO, had I pursued my plan accurately. But something changed in my life and made me look at things from a different perspective.

The first time I was driven off my job was after my boss at the time said “this is not really a job for married women with children”. This was a year after my first child was born. Two guys were needed to take my place during the 4 months of maternity leave I took and when I returned I was softly advised to try another position, not quite as central or demanding as my original position (but please support the guys when they need it). I agreed to try it but it wasn’t quite it, and when I asked for my original position back, I was advised seriously by my boss that this is ‘not a suitable position for married women with kids’.
That insult was the last straw in that industry, where you sometimes need to behave like a man to move upwards.

That was the first change in plans. Nearly 6 years later, a start up I was working for, averaging 12 hours per day (already a mother with 2 kids) fired me, with half the company, when I was 2 months pregnant. Knowing I was about to have a difficult pregnancy I took it as some omen and decided to stay home and get to know my kids from noon hours on. The freelance jobs I took were performed with the laptop, in bed.

After only 6 months the change was showing on their health and on their growth charts. That’s when I decided I will stay home even longer and actually skip nannies with this 3rd and last child. During this time it suddenly hit me:
As liberal and feminist as I’d like to consider myself I realized that motherhood is really a very temporary privilege. If I don’t use it to the fullest now I will never get a chance to redo it. It’s not that I haven’t been a mother before: it’s just that I have discovered the connection between the quality and quantity in the case of motherhood. The more you are there – the more you can affect the way your children learn to think, behave, react, study, communicate, not to mention their choices… I became an ambitious mother.

After a couple of years at home, when the youngest went to his first “day care”, I decided to look, again, for a position. All offers I got discussed limitless number of working hours per day, for a position to suit my qualifications. Companies demanded 10 hours per day at least. I actually wrote about it several times, but no one really cares. It’s a state-induced workholism.

That’s when I became a “CEO”. I decided I have enough knowledge, experience, expertise, ability and originality to establish my own business. I never present myself as the CEO of Lemino. But here I am, letting you know, that I am.

The fact that women are not as involved in the corporate life as men has a lot to do with the choice of motherhood, and a little to do with the way math and sciences was (sometimes still is) taught. I know only one success story in person: I can never understand how she did and does everything – a brilliant career and motherhood at a very early age. I think that determination has a lot to do with her success. But most of all – talent. She is so talented and really appreciated. And it also takes a special talent to be able to juggle between the two careers. When I asked her opinion on the upward mobility, and she is a high management in one of the largest high-tech corporations based in Israel, she said that although at the entry level they keep the numbers balanced between men and women – it changes later, and it seems like most of the time it is made by choice, when priorities change. This choice is nothing to be ashamed of, or apologetic about.

I read this book, some time ago, “I don’t know how she does it” by Allison Pearson, which discusses smartly and with a lot of humor that conflict between a career and motherhood (also translated to Hebrew). Going back to happy mothers, I think every woman finds her happiness in a different place. I think happiness is, among other things, a function of what you want, same as disappointment is a function of what you expect or hope for. Happiness, real and true, can be found in many places but bear in mind that it does change forms with time.

The sequence: getting back to work

Getting back from a vacation when you are an independent consultant is something else. You pick up at your pace. Men have a different pace than women. In the women’s paces you need to count some family paces too. Meaning, a woman business owner is responsible for getting her whole family back on track. The man will simply kiss good bye and get into his office, for as much over time as needed to get to his full speed.

Getting back in August is even trickier. It seems like half the world is on vacation. Companies, institutions, government entities – are all out of the office. This is perhaps a better time to return, because you can really build it up slowly. But it is the worst time to be back if you want to pick up at exactly the same speed you left. Frustration seeps in your mind each time another phone call remains unanswered.

But honestly, this quiet zone forced on you is not a bad thing. It is the best time to review your business plans, your communications schemes, do the web site update, schedule events, go over the long long list of to do items.

One of the more important things to accept is that your real getting back from a vacation will happen when the rest of the world returns. That usually happens in September. So take a deep breath and be happy for the relaxed pace of getting back to work. You will have the rest of the year to be stressed.

Getting younger by the minute

A funny realization came to me last week. I am getting younger by the minute. Professionally.

When I started my career, my working life, I was a 16 year old journalist among veterans 20-30 years older than myself. Had to prove I was worth something, had to work hard and grow fast.

When I left my journalistic career 15 years later and started my career on the web I worked with people who were about my age or older.

My path in the hi-tech avenue has lead me to meet new and exciting people. Gradually age has become insignificant. In this new world, everyone with a good idea has a respectable place. Which makes it even more exciting.

In the past several years I worked a lot with people younger than myself. I crossed the 40 barrier without hesitation, enjoying the shocked faces and went on to network with even younger audiences, from whom I learn constantly. The growing number of party invitations are the main hint to the age-environment I am now a part of.

In the past several months I have been getting deeper into networking and more and more into games and virtual worlds. I crossed the 16 and plunged into the 12 year olds. Now I am the hip mom, who discovers to her kids and their friends all the great news about the latest games and virtual worlds. My kids’ friends send me messages and emails and I am in a very young place. Exactly where I should be to design my startup. But really, very, very, young…

What lies ahead: the vision and the lies

I am afraid that the title might be too promising. But lately I have been playing around with my own vision and wondering how much of the vision we may create for our businesses is made of lies.

 

These are either small lies or simple illusions. Promises we are making to ourselves first, and then, after convincing ourselves, these promises suddenly turn into a public vision of a company.

 

I have been working with entrepreneurs for years now. I always get enthusiastic. Innovation moves me. But in time, I learned that the best service I can provide them with is my realistic, sometimes cynic, look on things. The difficult questions. A much more realistic and accurate vision emerges after such a process.

 

My problem is that I don’t have me to provide myself with those tough disillusioning questions. So I have been gathering around me the sharpest most respectful minds I can think of for pinging my ideas.

 

A realization is forming. Slowly but surely. A new vision is emerging. A vision of entrepreneurship.

Is my client-from-hell radar working?

Although I am not new at my business, calling it a business was a strategic change from freelancing, made less than 2 years ago. I took a fresh look at the business, as if it was brand new. The whole interaction with clients had to change. While I was hoping for a stream of clients to cover my bills, I learned to be careful at the choice of those clients.

 

Once you are out there, you get to learn, quoting my friend and colleague, Rob Levinson, that having a good clientele is “less about filling my dance-card and more about aligning” – yourself with people who understand your delivery and have realistic expectation of your relationship. You get to develop that “antenna that allows you to detect a client-from-hell at 50 paces and keep you from accepting their projects”.

 

At the beginning it seems like any project is worth accepting, out of the desire to build a reputable portfolio. But realistically, this is very daring. No testing of real compatibility was made. This resulted in never-ending projects or simple mutual disappointments that at the end, did not contribute anything to the desired portfolio.

 

Being a starter-consultant attracts starter-clients. These are people, of no specific age, gender, experience or size of company, who simply have little experience in working with outsourced strategic consultant and usually put aside very small to no budgets at all for communications, naming or marketing projects. Such starter clients, though, teach the newly independent consultant some very valuable lessons about setting definite boundaries for the consultant-client relationship.

 

So here is a small story about one of my starter clients. I was reminded of it today, after a bizarre negotiation I held with a prospect.

One of my earlier naming clients as an independent consultant was the CEO of a hi-tech startup company. The introduction was made through trusted contacts on a well known VC, who had invested in this company. We had a short correspondence were we agreed on all details, including number of name sets he gets and the fee I get. Somehow, I started to work on his project enthusiastically, before he signed any sort of an agreement. Not even the Purchase Order.

 

The project required analysis of the industry as well as the company’s strategy and positioning. The process we went through helped the CEO refine his message and understand the naming requirements. He got all sets we agreed on – and more. At a certain point it seemed like he was loosing interest in managing the company… Instead he kept sending me his invented names, asking me to analyze their compatibility with the goals defined. This ended in the client falling in love with one of his own creations and announcing his final choice. The project required a lot more hours than I have originally calculated my proposal on, but this is a simple experience mistake. What I hadn’t calculated is the client’s refusal to pay for my work. He did register some of the domains I offered him through the process, but claimed that since he chose a name which I didn’t offer, he was under no obligation to pay. Only after I told his investors about their chosen CEO’s business manner, did I get paid.

 

That didn’t feel good. However, following this experience, I learned never to start working without a signed PO.

 

I also learned that I have to clarify to my naming clients, that since the naming process is indeed a complete process, from which any company benefits, whether it ends with a new name or not, and since I am dedicating time and effort to their company – I am to get paid for my work, whether they choose a name or not.

 

Strangely enough, ever since I added this clause I had only 1 client who couldn’t make up his mind and 2 clients whose process ended in my recommendation not to re-name at that point in the company’s lifecycle.

The Evolution of (my) networking

As early as 1996 I downloaded and installed ICQ on my PC. Got a 6 digits user ID, and am pretty proud of it. This was my debut at the online networking experience. This was the debut of the online networking. That was the beginning of transferring real life relationship onto the World Wide Web platform. We invited our friends to download and register and slowly added to our list of contacts. Some were colleagues, some were friends or family. In a collectors trans we sometimes added people with whom we wouldn’t have necessarily kept in touch without this little client.

 

About two months ago I have decided to catch up on my online networking. I dedicated a complete working week to joining or updating my profile on: Facebook, Xing, Ning with several relevant sub-networks, Spoke and Spock, Friendster (joined and left), A small world, 2 Yahoo groups, several Facebook groups, 3 Meetup groups, Plaxo pulse, and even Bitwine and Kasamba.

 

It took precedence over the long due update of my business web site. Actually, last week, I worked on the creation of my blog, which also seemed a more valuable event for my business networking than the update of the official business web site.

 

This is a strange, yet a refreshing trend, bringing more reality into the virtual. It seems that there is a better chance of my potential client encountering my profile on Facebook and reading my blog, than of any potential client locating me through relevant key words on Google and going into my official web site before checking out the rest.

I mean, I check my potential clients too. I google them then I try to look for them on any available social network to see what they are saying about themselves, and more importantly – who are they connected with. If they have more than 300 contacts on any single network, they are classified as “contacts collectors” and that list is rendered totally insignificant to estimate who this person is. Unfortunately, some people will reduce the significance of my network if I am connected to a 300+ contacts-collectors…

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