When Shoveling Sh&t is Easier

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Sometimes, shoveling sh&t is easier than shoveling caviar. It's the path of least resistance.  It makes sense. No one argues with you.  It's usually the right thing to do. Who in their right mind would keep the sh&t and shovel the caviar? 

But.... what if the best thing for your business, your organization, is to shovel the caviar, not the sh&t? That's crazy!!! You've spent years investing in that rare and unique caviar.  It's a valuable niche! Sure, it's harder to get it due to increasing geo-political entanglements, environmental and regulatory constraints and access to product, but it still has a strong profit margin and, you believe, defines your brand.  But, whether you admit it or not, the business model has run its course.

Sometimes, you have to shovel the caviar and keep the sh&t.  It's been a great ride; be grateful.  The costs are sunk - yup, down at the bottom along with the sturgeons, not coming to the top anymore. Time to move on.  Time to get out of the office, into the world, see what people need and want, and create something new.  It's time to shovel the caviar and keep the sh&t.

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Mentoring is Key to My Business Model

 Brown University Mentees at BIF2016

Brown University Mentees at BIF2016

One of the most wonderful weeks of the year starts Sunday, September 10th.  It begins with office hours and a couple independent studies I'm advising - one of which is all about haptic feedback (sense of touch) technology and applications for AR/VR.  

Next is BIF2017!!!!!!! The best gathering of the year for innovators, status-quo-phobes, and Blue Lobsters (stay tuned!!!).  I'm excited (and a bit nervous) about sharing my story!!!  Here's a sneak preview: FOR DEB MILLS-SCOFIELD, MENTORING IS A RESPONSIBILITY AND A JOY.

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The week is capped off with the B-Lab Pitch Night, featuring one of my unabashedly favorite startups, ProjectLETs and then the drive back to Oberlin - after my 'sabbatical' in Maine, #TheWayLifeShouldBe and Providence!  

In the midst of all this joy and fun, please keep those in Houston and Florida in your prayers - there are months and years of recovery and healing ahead for so many, including friends and family.  If you are willing to share a bit of your blessings, consider giving to BakerRipley - they know what to do, when to do it, and how to it - for the long-term.

"It's so Cute You're Doing a Startup!"

Photo Credit: Hank Randall, Brown University; L to R: Me, Sadie Kurzban, Morra Aarons-Mele, Vibha Pinglé, Sarah Carson
Photo Credit: Hank Randall, Brown University; L to R: Me, Sadie Kurzban, Morra Aarons-Mele, Vibha Pinglé, Sarah Carson

Is it hard being a woman entrepreneur? Is it hard getting funding? Is your venture really a ‘business’ or is it ‘just’ a lifestyle business? Given the stories finally coming out from the VC and tech worlds on what women have had to put up with, we know the answers to these questions.  So, when asked to moderate a panel of women entrepreneurs, I thought it was time to change the conversation.

The panel ranged from age 27 to 55, manufacturing to services, for and not-for-profit, and diverse backgrounds.  The discussion was lively, as one would expect from us women, with 3 main insights (yes, they’re based on a small self-selecting sample and are generalizations, but…):

1.  Women are agile entrepreneurs.

Putting issues of funding & access aside, do women approach entrepreneurship differently than men?  Yes! We are more willing to ask questions, which accelerates learning, which accelerates experimentation, testing, prototyping, which gets to answers faster, which results in faster adjustments and pivots based on customer needs.  Our egos are tied to the business’s success, not to being ‘right’, so we let go of assumptions when the data shows otherwise.  And, we marveled at how we get so much more ‘free advice’ (from men) then do our male peers.

2.     Balance is a variety of excesses.

Photo Credit: Hank Randall, Brown University; R to L - Morra Aarons-Mele, Vibha Pinglé, Sarah Carson
Photo Credit: Hank Randall, Brown University; R to L - Morra Aarons-Mele, Vibha Pinglé, Sarah Carson

A member of the audience shared this insight – what a great summation! We had a wide range in views on this topic.  Sarah Carson feels, “Striving for balance is striving for mediocrity.” Both she and Sadie Kurzban try to do a handful of things very well, forget the rest and manage the guilt (does that ring true!). Vibha Pinglé encourages integrating work and life to reduce the frequency of choosing.  On one occasion she had to take her young son with her to a meeting in South Africa and found him in a tree with the village children showing them his video game.  Not many kids get that kind of experience! Morra Aarons-Mele feels that the definition of balance is up to us, not to society. It’s our decision on how/when/why to scale our business and how to support and raise our family.

3.     It’s not the degree; it’s learning to learn. 

The world tells us the degree matters.  None of us have an MBA and yes, amazingly, we are all successful!  Our undergraduate degrees ranged from STEM to STEAM and while many of us didn’t or hadn’t directly used our area of concentration a lot since college, the process of architecting our own education and learning how to ask great questions, which was key to our undergraduate success, led to our success after college. 

Morra closed out the Q&A with a great piece of advice ~ live with a spirit of abundance.  We women, in general, tend to worry about not having enough – time, money, energy, etc.   But hey, it’s not about re-slicing an existing pie – it’s about making new and bigger pies and being proud of it!

Many thanks to the Pembroke Center for Teaching and Research on Women and the Jonathan M. Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship for sponsoring this panel and a personal special thank you to Danny Warshay for such an incredible introduction!

Photo Credit: Hank Randall, Brown University; L to R: Me, Sadie Kurzban, Morra Aarons-Mele, Vibha Pinglé, Sarah Carson
Photo Credit: Hank Randall, Brown University; L to R: Me, Sadie Kurzban, Morra Aarons-Mele, Vibha Pinglé, Sarah Carson