Culture defines a company — but it also limits it. That’s what Pip Jamieson discovered while working for MTV in Australia. “Everyone we hired were just mates and mates and mates,” Jamieson says. Hiring friends of friends was an easy way to find creative talent, but she felt hiring based on employee recommendations created a homogenous culture that lacked a fresh injection of ideas, skills, and talent.
To solve that problem, she founded The Dots, a UK-based online network where creative professionals can showcase their portfolios. Companies can find talent on the platform, and creatives can find job opportunities from companies like MTV, Spotify, and others. The platform is also building a community. Like LinkedIn, you can add people to your network and even recommend them. The site is also a resource, listing co-working spaces, courses, and networking events. “I really believe that creativity is a force for good,” Jamieson says. “Soon machines are going to drive, code, do our laundry … The last things humans are going to be good for is creativity. So, we help harness that community.”
It wasn’t until after they’d built their clean-burning stove that BioLite co-founders Jonathan Cedar and Alexander Drummond realized it was suited for something other than camping. Many people in India, Uganda, Kenya, and Ghana cook over an open flame. That’s toxic and inefficient. “Four million people are dying every year from smoke inside of their home,” says Cedar. “That should go to zero.” Cedar and Drummond built a stove that uses less than half the fuel and produces 90 percent less toxic emissions than a traditional open fire.
To get their stove to burn wood nearly as clean as gas, the flame needed more oxygen. They employed a thermoelectric generator to convert heat from the fire into electricity. That electricity powered a small fan that pulled in the extra oxygen. The fan didn’t require much power, so the team added an outlet for people to tap into the leftover electricity to charge cellphones or power lights. BioLite believes its stoves can help solve energy poverty. To do so at scale, BioLite employs what it calls parallel innovation. Its camping stoves, solar panels, lighting, and other products generate near-term revenue, which the company reinvests into its emerging markets business to ensure that, over time, it can self-sustain.
What might you learn if you analyze 14 years of city-specific funding data?
Humans have always associated innovation with place — from Florence to Silicon Valley. However, research on the geographic distribution of venture capital, insights necessary for progressive cities to thrive, is tentative at best.
For 10 of the last 12 years, I served on the executive teams at TaskRabbit, Say Media and Dogster, Inc. While these teams have been extremely different, in some interesting ways they are very similar.
You’ve just been promoted to the Executive Team at your startup. Congratulations! I’m certain you deserved it. But hang on, there’s something you should know.
You Are Entering the Sausage-Making Factory
Being promoted to the Executive Team is an exciting milestone in anyone’s career, however it can also be somewhat shocking if you haven’t been in that position before. Here is how it usually plays out. After plenty of the congratulatory slaps on the back, you find yourself sitting in a room with a handful of other execs, the Executive Meeting. Pastries and coffee appear. Small talk and chit chat fades and the meeting starts. For the first 60 seconds of reviewing the agenda all seems good. However, as the meeting continues an ominous shadow of doubt darkens your psyche as you begin to think, these people have no idea what they are doing.
Cincinnati-based accelerator First Batch isn’t helping companies develop apps, platforms, or services. It’s focusing exclusively on startups that want to scale the production of physical products. They want to make things. Companies with a prototype can apply to the 20-week program to learn how to navigate the manufacturing, branding, and marketing resources Cincinnati offers. Why Cincinnati? Ohio ranks third in the nation in manufacturing, and the Cincinnati metro area is second in the state.
First Batch is part of Cincinnati Made, a platform for makers to share knowledge and leverage resources to grow Cincinnati-based businesses. Up to eight startups receive a maximum of $10,000 per founder, space in the Losantiville Design Collective, mentorship, and free legal services from University of Cincinnati’s College of Law.
Many businesses have awesome mission statements that they ignore. This one carries the force of law.
When Kickstarter announced its conversion to a public benefit company last fall, there was a general murmur of appreciation around the Internet industry — the company had always been unique, and its commitment to more than profits seemed consistent with its quirky image and its founders’ passion for the arts. Most coverage noted that Kickstarter was joining a small but growing group of funky Internet startups like Warby Parker, Etsy, and the Honest Company that proudly fly their “B Corp” flags.
But you’ll get a rise from Kickstarter co-founder Perry Chen if you lump Kickstarter in with those other B Corps, no matter how well-intentioned they might be. There’s a profound distinction between a “public benefit corporation,” or PBC, and a “B Corp,” Chen told me during a recent visit to Kickstarter’s Brooklyn headquarters. Both are for-profit companies who wear their missions on their sleeves, but B Corps have no legal responsibility to uphold their values. PBCs, on the other hand, have a legally binding duty to provide benefits to society. One is an accreditation, like “Fair Trade,” the other is an entirely rethought corporate structure.
Alta Motors didn’t develop its electric drivetrain technology because it had green ambitions. The electric-vehicle startup, based in San Francisco, wanted to build motorcycles that go fast. Fast enough so that riders could beat their gas-guzzling friends on the course. Fast enough to turn battery-powered skeptics into customers. When Marc Fenigstein, Alta Motors CEO and co-founder, says the company’s motorcycles are “directly competitive or even superior to their closest gas equivalents,” he’s not just referring to emissions, maintenance, or noise. He’s talking about the metrics that customers traditionally care about: performance, safety, control — and speed.
Alta Motors’ Redshift SM won the first two pro Supermoto races it entered. The company’s engineers have designed a drivetrain that’s much smaller and lighter than gas equivalents — typically by a factor of 50 percent, according to Fenigstein. Part of that is due to its battery pack technology, which is already hitting 2020 industry yields in energy density and power. Alta Motors believes that its tech will one day have applications across all vehicles. For now, the company is focusing on gaining more traction in the dirt. It delivered its first electric motocross bike in December 2015. Here are some surprising nuggets we learned from talking with Fenigstein …
Growing Up With Whole Foods Many food startups earn much of their cachet from doing things handmade and small-batch. What happens when those business get the call from Whole Foods and have to scale up quickly? This New York Times piece chronicles big loans and mold infestations, and it captures the combination of fear and excitement that comes when a company switches from selling store-to-store to suddenly having a large audience to serve. Whole Foods has tools — human, logistical, monetary — to ease the transition. This piece is all about the food biz, but it outlines approaches big companies in many industries can consider to help new suppliers grow safely and sustainably.
Your Millennial Assumptions Are Wrong First we hit peak millennial. Now we may be hitting peak everything-you-assumed-about-millennials-is-wrong. In The Atlantic, Derek Thompson goes deep on what we know about the typical 29-year-old in the US, based on a Bureau of Labor Statistics report. Putting to the side the fact that there is no such thing as an average person of any age, the report reveals that millennials are less likely to have gone to college, less likely to live in a city, and more likely to be married than conventional wisdom dictates. Too much reporting on millennials is really reporting on cultural-elite millennials; it’s useful to see these hints of the bigger picture.
We won, but it cost us. It cost us close to $1 million and several hundred hours of executive time over 28 months. Time and money I would have much rather spent investing in data and technology — investing in our product, for our customers. At least we were able to invalidate the claims in the patent so they can’t go after anyone else.
Why are you outsourcing the future of your business to the tech industry?
A large company doesn’t sue the Department of Justice without thinking long and hard about whether such a move ultimately helps its business. But perhaps taking Apple’s recent tussle as a cue, Microsoft has done just that. This is all the more remarkable given the company was permanently scarred when it lost a major antitrust suit to the DOJ in 2001. If you lose to the government in a high profile case, the results can be catastrophic: A Microsoft executive involved in that case recently told me “we lost more than ten years” of innovation and industry leadership as a result. During those years, Google, Apple, and Facebook all rose to power, and Microsoft’s stock –and its reputation –both languished.
But there’s much more at stake here than the future of Microsoft’s business –as Microsoft’s executives and lawyers are well aware. It’s a bold (and perhaps opportunistic) move: go on offense and sue the very agency that litigated the company into a 15-year defensive crouch. Microsoft’s newest case will likely find its way to the Supreme Court. To win, the company will need help from all quarters: the tech industry and consumer advocacy groups, to be sure, but more important, from the stalwarts of the Fortune 500.