The Company You Keep
IGC Member Digest
In This Issue
Mindset
Business LookBook
Clippings
Musings
Quick Links
March/2009

Hi IGC Members,

Welcome to Edition #6 of our New IGC Members Only Business Digest
 
As a reminder, through this digest we will share with you some of the best news on small business ideas, models, and innovation that we discover. The content has been filtered because it makes us think differently and critically about entrepreneurship and our business. We hope it will challenge and enhance your thinking too!
 
In the coming Digests you will find at least 4 sections:
 
Mindset: Topic-based thoughts from A & A
Business LookBook: An interesting, innovative, and thought-generating business or business concept.
Clippings: Relevant and thought-provoking articles and news
Musings: A recap of our blog posts
 
Click to read past issues of The Company You Keep
 
keep thinking,
 
Adelaide & Amy
 
Mindset
Need Seasoning? Pass the Mentorship!
 
Traditionally, we think of mentors to be those that are older, wiser, and have gone before us. However, now, many companies, including Walt Disney, are looking to partner more "seasoned" workers with younger workers who offer a different set of desired skills and expertise, for example technical knowledge. You might say these older workers are thereby receiving a little seasoning of their own.
 
This got us thinking about how it might be helpful to reframe mentorship...Perhaps it would be better to segment our "development needs" and find mentors who are accordingly suitable rather than look for "the whole package" or a carbon copy of your desired future self.
 
Instead of trying to identify where you want to be a few years down the line, locate someone similar, establish contact and a relationship, and twist their arm to give you lots of free advice and time, we could all focus on matching various mentors with our varying needs. The former seems daunting and a tall order, the latter seems actionable and pragmatic.
 
Instead of "Who do I want to be like", we can ask "Who can best teach me to have difficult conversations?" or effectively manage a project? or be more comfortable making an initial sales call? (Of course these are prompting me to ask myself what skills I would like to get mentoring around....what about you?).
 
What might it look like to work with these folks? Could it be a simple as casual correspondence? A few coffees? Can we engage with people who aren't even aware that they are mentoring us? What about those that even don't know us? (For example can I learn to interview better by listening carefully to Terry Gross?)
 
I would imagine that these answers will vary alongside each of our learning styles, but regardless it does feel quite exciting and liberating to think of all the people that we can very specifically learn from.
 
It is important to distinguish between bartering and the type of mentoring that I am suggesting...because there is a big difference.
 
With bartering you are exchanging your ability to do something for someone (very often it is something that you would otherwise get paid to do) in return for their willingness to do something for you. While, on the other hand, mentorship is about teaching skills and abilities. Mentees should have learned something new in the process that they are now able to leverage and employ. They leave the relationship changed, different, and more "seasoned".
 
And there is an equally large difference between services you should pay for and places where you can look for mentorship. On the one hand, there is no need to learn to do everything yourself (keep the accountant and the tech consultant for example!), and on the other, there are things that you should learn to do yourself and learn to do them right, by using a professional.
 
For goodness sake, don't ask for mentorship from someone who would otherwise get paid to share the expertise you are seeking. And make the necessary investments by hiring professionals where it seems appropriate...but I'd encourage you to think of a couple things that you want to improve and can learn from others...think about what they are and who can help and how. Consider how you can "season" yourself with the experience and wisdom of others...
 
Business LookBook
Ecko-ing Success
 
Admittedly, Mark Ecko is a cultural icon that I admire and find intriguing. A white Jewish guy who has cemented himself as a central hip-hop/pop culture figure with a competitive business empire. He got his start as a graffiti artist (in 8th grade) and has spent the time since then growing his brand and market presence. What started as t-shirt art has now become a veritable lifestyle company rivaling the likes of Polo and Sean John (both companies that Ecko admires and learns from).
 
Ecko's story is found in an interview in the March issue of Inc. Magazine. What I love about this interview is that you can clearly see some of the thought processes behind key decisions at the Ecko company - for example the origins of the Rhino logo, and ruminations over the company name. He plainly talks about his initial aspirations and how he got started (love that he mentions writing his first business plan!).
 
Additionally, Ecko talks about how the message and meaning of his brand has really driven the direction of the company. His growth has been fueled putting the 'Ecko' spin on current events and by engaging the public in a manner reflective of the Ecko brand - thought-provoking, revealing, publicly informed and influenced.
 
What is interesting is how dramatically these brand-building, public discourse activities have impacted Ecko's retail growth though there is often no obvious link.
 
Ecko also discusses the decision to appeal not to the editorial fashion community, but instead to the "buying community". He wisely states "The gatekeepers aren't the goalkeepers"...Seems worth thinking about...
 
* Who are your gatekeepers?
* Who are your goalkeepers?
* Who do you try to appeal to?
* What drives the growth of your business?
* What fortifies and advances your brand?
 
 
 
 
Clippings
Noteworthy News and Articles  
 
Thankfully, it seems that many of the publications we are reading have started to shift their tone (from sour grapes) to reflect the change and innovation that is going on all around us. A few of the novel and noteworthy ideas that we read about...
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1. Game Changing Ideas
Business Week compiled snippets from several real readers(chosen from over 350 submissions) on managing the recession (though all seems like good ideas in any economic climate). Included were ideas from rotating employees through various committees increase cross-functional/departmental understanding to engaging customers through wikis...
 
2. Anti-Signing Bonus
Besides becoming a "company you keep" darling (we wrote about them last month too) and having tremendous customer service, Zappos helps to cultivate a very strong engaged culture by offering new hires $2000 if they don't want to stay after their week long training program. CEO Tony Hsieh ensures that those who stick around do so for a reason!
 
3. Stakeholders to Shareholders
Fabindia an Indian purveyor of hand-woven fabrics is trying something quite innovative - they are encouraging suppliers to become involved in the company as shareholders, thereby solidifying their allegiance, firming their commitment, aligning their vision, and seemingly with a page from the micro-credit hand book, increasing their individual prospects.
 
 
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another interesting tid-bit
 
Pricing Manifestos
Two Inc. pieces examine several companies recent differing decisions about pricing in response to changing consumer behavior. A refreshing reminder that there is no ONE right way and that what works for your business may not work for your neighbor's. What is clear, however, is that each of these businesses made decisions in accordance with their goals and brand image. great real examples for the question that is on so many of our minds....How low can/should you go?
 
Musings 
 
Some of our Blog postings from the last month:
 
 
 

All the best,
 
Adelaide & Amy