4 Things Every Business Leader Should Know About Artificial Intelligence and Automation

 In 2011, MIT economists Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee self-published an unassuming e-book titled Race Against The Machine. It quickly became a runaway hit. Before long, the two signed a contract with W. W. Norton & Company to publish a full-length version, The Second Machine Age that was an immediate bestseller.

The subject of both books was how “digital technologies are rapidly encroaching on skills that used to belong to humans alone.” Although the authors were careful to point out that automation is nothing new, they argued, essentially, that at some point a difference in scale becomes a difference in kind and forecasted we were close to hitting a tipping point.

In recent years, their vision has come to be seen as deterministic and apocalyptic, with humans struggling to stay relevant in the face of a future ruled by robot overlords. There’s no evidence that’s true. The future, in fact, will be driven by humans collaborating with other humans to design work for machines to create value for other humans.

1. Automation Doesn’t Replace Jobs, It Replaces Tasks

When a new technology appears, we always seem to assume that its primary value will be to replace human workers and reduce costs, but that’s rarely true. For example, when automatic teller machines first appeared in the early 1970s, most people thought it would lead to less branches and tellers, but actually just the opposite happened.

What really happens is that as a task is automated, it becomes commoditized and value shifts somewhere else. That’s why today, as artificial intelligence is ramping up, we increasingly find ourselves in a labor shortage. Most tellingly, the shortage is especially acute in manufacturing, where automation is most pervasive.

That’s why the objective of any viable cognitive strategy is not to cut costs, but to extend capabilities. For example, when simple consumer service tasks are automated, that can free up time for human agents to help with more thorny issues. In much the same way, when algorithms can do much of the analytical grunt work, human executives can focus on long-term strategy, which computers tend to not do so well.

The winners in the cognitive era will not be those who can reduce costs the fastest, but those who can unlock the most value over the long haul. That will take more than simply implementing projects. It will require serious thinking about what your organization’s mission is and how best to achieve it.

2. Value Never Disappears, It Just Shifts To Another Place 

In 1900, 30 million people in the United States were farmers, but by 1990 that number had fallen to under 3 million even as the population more than tripled. So, in a manner of speaking, 90% of American agriculture workers lost their jobs, mostly due to automation. Still, the twentieth century was seen as an era of unprecedented prosperity.

We’re in the midst of a similar transformation today. Just as our ancestors toiled in the fields, many of us today spend much of our time doing rote, routine tasks. Yet, as two economists from MIT explain in a paper, the jobs of the future are not white collar or blue collar, but those focused on non-routine tasks, especially those that involve other humans.

Far too often, however, managers fail to recognize value hidden in the work their employees do. They see a certain job description, such as taking an order in a restaurant or answering a customer’s call, and see how that task can be automated to save money. What they don’t see, however, is the hidden value of human interaction often embedded in many jobs.

When we go to a restaurant, we want somebody to take care of us (which is why we didn’t order takeout). When we have a problem with a product or service, we want to know somebody cares about solving it. So the most viable strategy is not to cut jobs, but to redesign them to leverage automation to empower humans to become more effective.

3. As Machines Learn To Think, Cognitive Skills Are Being Replaced By Social Skills

20 or 30 years ago, the world was very different. High value work generally involved the retaining information and manipulating numbers. Perhaps not surprisingly, education and corporate training programs were focused on building those skills and people would build their careers on performing well on knowledge and quantitative tasks.

Today, however, an average teenager has more access to information and computing power than even a large enterprise would a generation ago, so knowledge retention and quantitative ability have largely been automated and devalued, so high value work has shifted from cognitive skills to social skills.

To take just one example, the journal Nature has noted that the average scientific paper today has four times as many authors as one did in 1950 and the work they are doing is far more interdisciplinary and done at greater distances than in the past. So even in highly technical areas, the ability to communicate and collaborate effectively is becoming an important skill.

There are some things that a machine will never do. Machines will never strike out at a Little League game, have their hearts broken or see their children born. That makes it difficult, if not impossible, for machines to relate to humans as well as a human can.

4. AI Is A Force Multiplier, Not A Magic Box

The science fiction author Arthur C. Clark noted that “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” and that’s largely true. So when we see a breakthrough technology for the first time, such as when IBM’s Watson system beat top human players at Jeopardy!, many immediately began imagining all the magical possibilities that could be unleashed.

Unfortunately, that always leads to trouble. Many firms raced to implement AI applications without understanding them and were immediately disappointed that the technology was just that — technology — and not actually magic. Besides wasting resources, these projects were also missed opportunities to implement something truly useful.

As Josh Sutton, CEO of Agorai, a platform that helps companies build AI applications for their business, put it, “What I tell business leaders is that AI is useful for tasks you understand well enough that you could do them if you had enough people and enough time, but not so useful if you couldn’t do it with more people and more time. It’s a force multiplier, not a magic box.”

So perhaps most importantly, what business leaders need to understand about artificial intelligence is that it is not inherently utopian or apocalyptic, but a business tool. Much like any other business tool its performance is largely dependent on context and it is a leader’s job to help create that context.

Courtesy Digital Tonto written by Greg Satell, https://www.digitaltonto.com/about/

The Power of Genuine Human Touch in Entrepreneurship

As the world spirals more and more towards being almost entirely dependent on technology, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find the old-fashioned ‘human’ touch in things.

Right from everyday casual interactions to discourses to approaches towards entrepreneurship, the continued use of technology in every aspect of life has certainly managed to leave an impact.

And as the wheels of change keep on turning, the irony that people are once again actually looking for a less machine-like approach to life is making itself apparent. Here are three ‘why’s’ on bringing genuine back.

1. Stand Out From the Rest
As history has shown us, nothing quite remains exactly the same for too long. While just as a few decades ago, companies were scrambling to acquire new technologies in order to stay ahead of their times, in order to stand out and attract customers, today it has become rather the opposite.

This does not mean that we are trying to dispose of technology altogether, but rather find the fine line that separates the needful from the overdone.

With the increased use of machine in literally every field and added to it the new technological advancement that is Artificial Intelligence, it has come to be seen that there is awfully little for humans to actually do on an interactive scale in businesses.

The seamless automation and near-perfect task execution of technology is indeed admirable, but in the end it still comes off as lacking. Humans nowadays are missing the exact thing in entrepreneurship that they set out to eradicate — the human touch itself.

2. Increase Sales
The simple charm of actual human interaction — the genuineness of the physical (or in some cases, aural or virtual) presence of a person is what most entrepreneurships today are missing.

In the race to become the technological best, they often forget that the quiet emotions and connect that come with humans cannot be replaced by entities that function on the basis of logic and code.

Complete mechanization hurts industries greatly – as well as it does small entrepreneurships. One needs to remember the more jobs (specifically, well-paying jobs) available to the public, the more potential buyers there are for any product or service at any given moment

It may seem cost-effective to entirely replace human labour with technology and Artificial Intelligence bots, but in the long run it affects the industries as a whole.

Essentially, the point is that removing a number (however large or small) of people from salaried positions to replace them with robots is only cost-effective in a very myopic sense. First, it throws several people into a jobless pit, which disallows them from having any purchasing power, which, in turn, hurts any and all industries in the long run.

Secondly, it takes away from the business something that made it able to connect with its target audiences and customers – humanity itself.

3. Create Lasting Relationships
Apart from this, it is well advised that you employ an approachable and amiable mode of interaction in your consumer dealings. While the basis on which most businesses survive is indeed competition, it is always wise to make efforts to ensure that you do not alienate your audience or your competitors.
It is better to see your competition as your peers, rather than rivals in this sense. There is much to be learned from opposing businesses and entrepreneurs themselves. They might be able to offer insight into areas you did not think to examine in detail. And it never hurts to maintain an amicable relationship with them in order to gain access to such knowledge.
Think of it as a way to maximize your profits by gaining the opportunity to learn from your opponents.

This does not mean that you must only pretend. Being a generally well-mannered, generous, and humane individual pays off in all fields of life, and business is no exception. Kindness is always repaid in kindness, and making genuine friends in the right circles is just good business sense.

A machine, however well programmed, is after all no replacement for a human. Retaining a human touch in your entrepreneurial model will set you apart from the hundreds of businesses that are opting for full automation today. The sincere and reposed faith in humanity will never come at a more opportune time.

By Devika Majumder, Founder and CEO, Youngpreneurs India From Entrepreneur Magazine India.

Gen Zers vs. Millennials in the Workplace

There’s a new generation in town

Millennials have long held the oft-craved title of youngest and laziest members of the workforce. From sneaking selfies in the break room to declaring a chipped nail a valid reason for taking a “me day” off from work, we’ve earned the ire of our bosses, but that time has come to an end.

Well, it hasn’t, but there’s a new sheriff in town. Gen Z, the generation born between 1997 and the early 2010s, is now entering the workforce. But Gen Zers aren’t exactly like us millennials. They grew up during a recession, and their attitudes about work and money vary wildly from those of their peers. Additionally, they don’t remember life before the internet (and might not even believe there was life before the internet), so they’re even more hooked on their devices than millennials are. Still, they can view millennials as a cautionary tale about what happens if you assume the economy will be good, and they’re willing to work to stand out on their own.

Let’s explore how Gen Zers and millennials differ in the workplace with respect to all the most important issues, like lunchtime, crop tops, and frequency of pee breaks (I’m a millennial — can you tell?).

Desired Jobs

Gen Zers: Grew up during a recession and understand the importance of a job. They’re willing to do many different things, and they know that without consistent work, they’re unlikely to ever pay back their student loans.

Millennials: None. Or if they absolutely have to have a job, they want that job to be A) remote; B) without a boss; and C) extremely impermanent.


Gen Zers: Grew up on the internet and rely on it for any and all information. As a result, before heading into an interview, they obsessively research the company (and have probably been watching the company’s Instagram Stories for weeks), so they know exactly what to ask about.

Millennials: Focused on experiences. If they’re not going to get the job, which they don’t expect to anyway, at the very least, they want to get a good story out of it. So, yes, they might ask the interviewer if they’re on Tinder. Because they’re curious, and it’s funny.

First Day

Gen Zers: The first day for a member of Gen Z is probably their first day of a first job ever. Because of this, they’ll arrive early (and likely be nervous), so they’ll come overprepared with donuts (gluten-free, obviously) and a large coffee for their boss (with almond milk, duh, or oat if they have their sh*t together).

Millennials: For a millennial five years out of college, this is probably their 34th job. This job is really just the first day of the next fortnight of their lives. As such, they arrive late, because fixed hours are restrictive and—honestly—probably fascist.


Gen Zers: The most stylish generation to-date. They’ve grown up on Instagram, and they’ve found affordable ways to copy Kendall Jenner’s look. Sure, they’re probably too hot to work at a tech company, but it’s not their fault — their main hobby as a teenager was looking at photographs of themselves.

Millennials: Rules about clothing are extremely unfair and perpetuate all inequality in America. Millennials know this better than anyone else (in fact, they’re the only ones who know this), so even if they’re told that there is no dress code, they will still find a way to violate it. Like wearing leggings that allow underwear to be clearly visible? Or wearing crop tops that allow bras to poke out from underneath? You name it; they’ll buy it and wear it to an investor meeting.


Diversity Is An Innovation Strategy

Christie Pitts is CEO of Backstage Capital, which has become one of the most high profile firms in Silicon Valley for its support of underrepresented founders. I sat down with Christie to discuss her views on diversity & inclusion, and how her experience is relevant to corporate innovation professionals.

Scott: Christie, I think a lot of people know about the incredible story of your business partner Arlan Hamilton, but tell us your own background as a corporate venture capitalist and how this led you to Backstage.

Christie: I’ve actually only worked for one company before Backstage: Verizon. I was lucky to have 11 different roles in 13 years, starting in customer service at a retail store and eventually winding up in corporate venture capital. I started in January 2005, and the growth at Verizon created a lot of opportunity for me.

Within the wireless unit, I worked in operations and marketing, where we were managing a customer base of 5 million people and over $4 billion in revenue. I was focused on customer acquisition and retention in California, Nevada, and Hawaii, and this territory has a very diverse population. Traditional marketing tactics didn’t work, so we had to be innovative about reaching new audiences to compete against AT&T, which was our most entrenched competitor. This was when I really began to think about diversity as a business problem.

After that, I was doing business development work with startups on behalf of Verizon, which then led to the opportunity to join the Verizon Ventures team.

When I eventually joined Verizon Ventures, I brought with me the overall corporate goal of reaching diverse customers. The venture group also knew that it was supposed to help the corporation adapt, which should have included this diversity objective, but the dots were not connected to make investments that helped achieve this goal. But I do want to give credit to Verizon Ventures for being very forward thinking about backing women-led businesses.

The result of those experiences was that I came away with the idea that VCs seemed to understand the social aspects of impact investing, but not the business case for funding underserved founders.  When I met Arlan, my initial goal was actually for Verizon to be an investor in Backstage. When that opportunity didn’t work out, we stayed in touch and eventually I partnered with her.

Scott: You and I have discussed the idea that big companies can put themselves at a disadvantage by ignoring diversity & inclusion initiatives. But what do you mean when you say diversity is an innovation strategy?

Christie: A lot of innovation work is envisioning the future and helping companies understand how to transition their business units and keep them relevant. Companies want to adapt and avoid the fates of Blockbuster and Kodak. But diversity seems to be a blind spot: these big companies don’t always consider who their core customers will be in the future.

This is a problem for big companies and startups, by the way. The tech startups are not always the most diverse, either. As an example, some sensor companies don’t test their products on people with darker skin, so a paper towel dispenser or automated soap dispenser might not “see” them. Similar sensors are used in IoT, A.I., autonomous vehicles, and many other innovative applications; if there is a lack of diversity in the team building the products, it’s easy to overlook potential customers.

On the corporate side, the problem is focusing on technological trends and not who the customers will be five or ten years down the road. Money is being left on the table because the people building the products just aren’t thinking about all their future customers.

Scott: What do you say to people who think that diversity is just the realm of human resources professionals?

Christie: HR folks are often tasked with limiting legal liability and not maximizing upside. But with innovation we are talking about a strategy function and you can’t expect progress and growth with a purely defensive mentality.

Scott: D&I has an obvious potential marketing benefit. How can big companies keep these efforts authentic and avoid having them be little more than marketing ploys?

Christie: Pursuing diversity as a PR strategy has really backfired on corporations. When you don’t have a diverse team yourself, it shouldn’t be surprising if you aren’t viewed as authentically caring about diversity or inclusion. You really need to be critical of what you are doing every step of the way.

Scott: Give me an example of how you’ve seen a company think about this less superficially; how a corporate D&I effort can be deeper.

Christie: Microsoft is a good example. They’ve partnered with something like 16 different groups — for full disclosure, including Backstage — to support underrepresented founders. It’s not just one effort. They’ve also hired internally to support diversity. Satya himself has said it’s a priority—it’s coming from the top and that’s why it’s working. I can’t draw causation, but I also believe they have attracted a more diverse customer base as they’ve made these internal efforts.

Scott: How would you combine diversity efforts with other forms of corporate innovation, including business development, venture capital, and M&A?

Christie: Diversity shouldn’t be isolated. It should be integrated with any other strategic effort like the ones you mentioned, and not off in its own silo. Corporate innovation folks, this is not someone else’s problem. It’s your problem, too.

Scott: How do you think about reducing defensive reactions from potential allies who might feel insulted or even threatened when confronted about topics like white privilege or male privilege or class privilege?

Christie: I’m not responsible for other people’s feelings. At the end of the day, this is a business conversation, and I don’t think there is anyone who wants to sell their product to half the potential customers. When we make these products more inclusive, it’s a better experience for everyone. Once you show people that there is enough economic opportunity for everyone, I believe there will be more receptivity.

I recently heard a sociologist on a panel say that to shift public opinion, you just need to get 30%. On the other hand, this could have been a totally made up statistic, but it gives me hope that we can get there!

Courtesy of Forbes https://www.forbes.com/sites/scottlenet/2019/07/02/diversity-is-an-innovation-strategy/#5736f3ff6106

Florida Small Business Leadership Conference, Orlando June 26-28th.

Your editor just returned from the captioned event in Orlando at the J. W. Marriott Hotel.  It was first class and informative as well as inspirational.  The first session featured the panel of Florida leaders four photos down.  These movers and shakers -Michelle Dennard, CEO of Career Source Florida, Ken Lawson, Director of Florida Dept. of Economic Opportunity, Mike Myhre, CEO of Florida SBDC, and Jamal Sowell, CEO of Enterprise Florida- followed the Chief Economist of  the Florida Chamber of Commerce, Jerry Parrish.  In Florida, there are 335,000 people looking for jobs and 273,700 jobs looking for people. Finding a qualified workforce is a top concern for job creators. Employers need talent that is prepared to enter the workforce, and Florida wins when we close the talent gap.

The conference was co-hosted by the Jim Moran Institute of Florida State University and the Florida SBDC.  Members of both organizations presented great classes such as business model canvas, grant making, leadership, sales presentations, data integration, financing a venture, social media, accounting strategies, negotiations, and overcoming obstacles.  Keynoters knocked the ball out of the park with Using Data to Drive Growth, Big Impacts by a Small Business, and a terrific inside look at the culture of Zappos.com by Ryo Zsun.  Their “WOW” customer service is so good it is the definition of Zappos.  One example, an employee cannot end a customer phone call, the customer must end it first!

Revealing was the fact there is a full network of SBDCs across America with an annual conference (this year Sept. 3-6 in Long Beach CA).  There are nearly 1,000 local centers available to provide no-cost business consulting and low-cost training to new and existing businesses.  SBDCs are hosted by leading universities, colleges, state economic development agencies and private sector partners, and funded in part by the United States Congress through a partnership with the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Even more incredible is the JMI, Jim Moran Institute of FSU.  Moran was a mega auto dealer with original ties to Toyota imports into  the U. S.  Now deceased, he and his widow Jan (shown below), have generously donated millions to the goals of the institute -cultivate, train, and inspire entrepreneurial leaders through world-class executive education, applied training, public recognition and leading-edge research.  Words cannot describe the impact their legacy is having on small business, and there are plans to expand their largess from Florida to other regions of the U. S.   Story of a great man –https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Moran_(businessman).

This was a wonderful event and conference, and there will be another in 2020 which this entrepreneur teacher cannot recommend enough.  Small businesses of all types and fields cannot help but benefit by attending –https://jmi.fsu.edu/programs/small-business-leadership-conference.

10 success stories, social entrepreneurship can be profitable

The combination of business with social issues has gained momentum in the last decade, and we are witnessing more and more startups that are recognizing social problems and finding ways to tackle them. Although social entrepreneurship is mainly driven by societal needs, here are 10 success stories which prove that you can do good and make money at the same time.

Agricool – Urban vertical farming is incredibly on-trend. Guillaume Fourdinier and Gonzague Gru certainly know that as their startup is doing incredibly well. Founded in 2015, the Paris-based startup offers ‘Cooltainers’, recycled shipping containers transformed into urban farms, where you can grow fruits and vegetables. Agricool began with strawberries, which contain on average 20% more sugar and 30% more vitamin C than regular supermarket strawberries. From Paris to Dubai, Agricool is paving the way for a sustainable and urban agtech future.

Arborea – Scientist turned entrepreneur Julian Melchiorri believes he can tackle pollution and climate change with microalgae. His innovation, a ‘Bio Solar Leaf’, is a solar panel-like structure filled with bio-organisms that can remove carbon dioxide and produce breathable oxygen at a rate equivalent to 100 trees, while facilitating the growth of microscopic plants to produce healthy food ingredients. Imperial College London has already teamed up with biochemical tech startup to pilot this technology on its roof and improve the surrounding air quality. If everything goes well, the Bio Solar Leaf might be coming soon to a rooftop near you.

ChargedUp – People have become so addicted to smartphones that when they run out of battery, it’s like the end of the world. But this London-based startup can now help you avoid this problem with their mobile charging network, run on green energy. Founded in 2017, ChargedUp lets you rent a mobile charging pack from one destination and return it at a different location. Inspired by the bike-sharing business model, ChargedUp has partnered with Marks & Spencer to trial its service and is hoping to put chargers in more than 1500 locations by mid-2019.

Feelif – The winner of the Best European Social Innovation 2017 in Europe was the Slovenian startup Feelif, which develops multimedia devices for the blind and visually impaired and accompanying multisensory digital games and educational content. With the help of this social innovation, users can feel shapes, explore geometric diagrams, draw, play games, and more. Feelif was also named the global champion and the best digital solution in the world by the World Summit Awards 2019.

Koovee – A ban on plastic cutlery is set to come into force in 2020 across the EU and Koovee can help with that transition. The French startup was founded in 2017 to offer an ecological alternative to plastic cutlery in the form of biodegradable, economic and tasty edible cutlery. Their spoons, knives and forks are based on wheat flour, rapeseed oil and salt, without additives or chemicals and taste like crackers. Next time you have your dessert, you will be contributing to reducing waste plastics.

Orange Fiber – Each year Sicily’s orange juice industry produced 700,000 tonnes of waste and two Italian designers decided to put it to good use, by patenting and manufacturing the first sustainable fabric from citrus juice by-products. The newly created lightweight materials were already featured in Salvatore Ferragamo Summer/Spring 2017 collection and H&M’s annual Conscious Exclusive collection 2019. In 2015 the company won the Global Change Award by H&M Foundation responding to the need for sustainability and innovation of fashion brands.

Solar Foods – The future of food is being slowly cooked in Finland. A Finnish startup, Solar Foods is producing edible protein out of water, electricity and air. They currently produce one kilogram of protein-rich edible powder (“Solein”) per day, which could be used to enrich widely consumed human foods such as bread or pasta. Just recently they teamed up with the European Space Agency to develop a system for producing proteins for space flights to Mars, while commercial production is scheduled for 2021.

Sustainer Homes – Founded in response to the housing crisis faced by many young people today, this Dutch startup is offering a modular model home, which is completely self-sufficient, mobile and sustainable. Made from recycled shipping containers, the new houses are equipped with solar panels, a battery for storing electricity, a water pump and smart equipment. The best thing about it: it can be shipped anywhere and set up in minutes. This Startupbootcamp alumni has already built this next-generation housing in the Netherlands.

Too Good To Go – Founded in Copenhagen, Too Good To Go is an app that connects customers to restaurants and stores that have unsold, surplus food and lets the customers buy the excess food at a lower price than normal. It’s a win-win situation for both consumers and the environment. In their effort to tackle food waste so far they have saved over 20 million meals and have reduced around 40 million kg of CO2 . Recently they were recognized as Europe’s hottest company at the Tech5 Awards hosted by TNW and Adyen, and we just interviewed the startup’s CEO Mette Lykke.

Chatterbox – In light of the refugee crisis all over Europe, Mursal Hedayat decided to turn her personal experience into a business idea. Having experienced the difficulties of integration as a refugee, she decided to start a company which would train and employ refugees to lead online and in-person language tutoring in their native languages. Founded in 2016 and headquartered in London, today Chatterbox offers courses in Mandarin, French, Farsi, Turkish, Arabic, Korean, Hindi, Spanish, and more.

By Bojana Trajkovska 


Two Tampa Bay area entrepreneurs named winners at annual Ernst & Young awards

Two Tampa Bay area businesspeople have come out on top at the annual Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year awards.

Crystal Morris of Gator Cases Inc. and Joe Marinucci of Digital Media Solutions both took home the “Entrepreneur of the Year 2019″ award on Thursday night in Orlando. The awards are meant to highlight entrepreneurs excelling in innovation, financial performance and commitment to the community. The two won out of five other Tampa Bay executives selected as finalists.

“We’ve seen many successful entrepreneurs come through this program, but I’ve been so impressed by our 2019 Florida finalists,” Mike Pattillo, Entrepreneur Of The Year Florida program director, said in a statement. “The people they have impacted, barriers they’ve overcome and industries they’ve disrupted are testaments to their entrepreneurial journey.”

Tampa-based Gator Cases was named a finalist for the 2013 Florida Entrepreneur of the Year as well. In 2015, the Tampa Bay Business Journal listed Gator Cases as a TBBJ 200, a roundup of Tampa Bay’s largest privately held companies, for its specialty cases for storing and transporting specialized equipment.

Clearwater-based Digital Media Solutions is one of the largest marketing firms headquartered in Tampa Bay and it was its first time being nominated.

Other winning entrepreneurs include Tropic Ocean Airways in Fort Lauderdale, SMART Financial in Orlando and IM Healthscience in Boca Raton.

Entrepreneurship Is All About Overcoming Obstacles

Being an entrepreneur has awarded me a number of personal and professional successes. It has been exciting, fulfilling and a lifelong dream worth pursuing. You probably sense a “but” coming, and your instincts are on point. The entrepreneur journey is not a road free of obstacles. In fact, it can be a mountainous backroad with obstacles around every turn.

Knowing how to approach those obstacles along your entrepreneur journey is part of the journey itself. There is not an entrepreneur among us today who hasn’t had his or her fair share of obstacles, and even failures. Paul Allen once said, “In my experience, each failure contains the seeds of your next success — if you are willing to learn from it.”

Luckily, many entrepreneurs have come before you. Instead of relying on your own grit and determination, you can lean on others. It’s like roadside assistance for entrepreneurs, but without the cool pickup truck and flashing lights. The following can serve as your guide to overcoming the obstacles ahead.

Have a strong network in place for valuable insight.

One of the best ways to overcome obstacles impeding your entrepreneur journey is to have a strong network of people who have valuable insight to share. It is like reading this article, only 100 times better, because it is a conversation with a mentor or esteemed peer.

The value of having a network can never be overlooked. And if you have yet to build a strong network, the time to start was yesterday. You can begin leveraging those in your current network, no matter how small. Ask if there is anyone in their network who would be good for you to have as a connection.

You probably read articles, watch videos and listen to podcasts as a budding entrepreneur. Note the authors and presenters of these assets and connect with them. This could be something as simple as sending a LinkedIn messageletting him or her how much you appreciated their work and you would like to connect.

Find more efficient technology to overcome obstacles.

Obstacles are waiting for you to face. This can be an overwhelming thought as an entrepreneur, but it doesn’t have to be. Why? Today’s digital age has ushered in unbelievable technology. When an obstacle presents ahead, find an efficient solution using technology to overcome it.

For instance, let’s say your new business endeavor has hit a snag in the logistics department. What may seem like a six-month problem can become a two- or three-month one using automated shipping technology to streamline fulfillment from the warehouse to your customers. Before throwing in the towel and accepting what is said to be true, leverage technology to produce efficient results.

Develop an entrepreneurial mindset that encompasses success.

There is a big difference between an entrepreneur and a successful entrepreneur. What is said difference? Mindset! You know that there are obstacles lying silently waiting for you on the road toward entrepreneur success. How you overcome those obstacles is key, but having the right mindset will make the entire process easier.

Instead of hoping obstacles don’t pop up, embrace them by changing the way you think about them. For instance, successful entrepreneurs don’t necessarily see obstacles as problems. They are viewed as moments to learn and grow to make their business the best it could possibly be. This type of entrepreneur mindset can move mountains.

Stay humble and always be respectful.

Entrepreneurs have their hands on a lot of projects and come across people from all walks of life. This makes staying humble and having respect a must to overcome obstacles — you never know when you may cross paths with someone you met previously.

Let’s say you meet someone at a networking event that is truly enthusiastic to meet you and simply wants to discuss your journey as an entrepreneur to date. Instead of being humble and indulging this person with a few notable moments, you quickly end the discussion and move on.

Fast forward a year and you run right into an obstacle you need to get sorted to finish a very important project. Guess who is the gatekeeper to your solution? The person you blew off at the networking event. Not good. Moral of the story, treat everyone the way you want to be treated and be humble, no matter your successes.

How will you overcome the entrepreneur obstacles in your way?

Running headfirst into an obstacle is only a matter of time. Being prepared and having the skills to overcome those obstacles faster and more efficiently sets you apart from the pack. From cultivating an entrepreneurial mindset that sees obstacles as opportunities to build a network to help you along the way, it’s worth considering the above ways to overcome awaiting obstacles. Are you ready for the road ahead?

Courtesy of Forbes Magazine, written by Kumar Arora (one of the sharks on CNBC’s “Cleveland Hustles,” produced by Lebron James).

Entrepreneur Transformed His Struggling Startup Into 
A $2 Billion Unicorn

In the spring of 2015, Jason Gardner, the founder of Marqeta, a payments processor, left a grim board meeting and went for a walk with his lead investor, Arnon Dinur of 83North. Facebook had pulled the plug on a joint initiative, and Marqeta had fallen far short of its revenue target.

Walking the streets of Emeryville, California, a small town between Berkeley and Oakland, Gardner told Dinur that Marqeta wouldn’t last long with the cash it had. He needed to buy time. The company moved to a weekly budget, and Gardner volunteered to cut his own salary by 40%. “Ninety out of one hundred entrepreneurs would have asked for more money,” Dinur says.  

“I wanted to show my commitment to not only the board but the company, that I’m willing to do anything to get to the next step through determination,” Gardner says. “It’s almost like inflicting pain on yourself. . . . It gets you to understand what’s at stake here.” Two other executives also volunteered to slash their salaries by 40%, and the startup didn’t lay anyone off.

Four years later investors were meeting again at Marqeta’s office, now a 16-story building in Oakland with the company’s name on it. This time the meeting’s tone was different. Revenue had doubled every year since 2016, reaching close to $150 million in 2018, a source tells us. Marqeta was finalizing plans to raise at least $250 million at a valuation of about $2 billion, nearly quadrupling its value from two years ago.

Despite a rough start, Marqeta has had the right idea since its founding in 2010. It pursued a niche in the payments-processing business that had seen little innovation in over a decade: card issuing and processing, which involves deciding whether a debit card transaction should be approved. It iterated through three business models, staying frugal along the way and ultimately landing on an open-software platform that outside engineers could easily plug into. It identified Square and Instacart as future winners, recruiting them as customers and latching on for the ride.

Gardner, 49, is hardly the type you’d expect to become a successful Silicon Valley entrepreneur. Growing up in a middle-class family in New Jersey, the son of a stockbroker father and a legal mediator mother, he had a motley assortment of jobs in high school, from working at a thrift shop to selling tie-dyed shirts on New Jersey trains on his way to some of the 80 Grateful Dead concerts he attended. Although he wasn’t a coder, he liked hanging around Radio Shack and taking apart radios and TVs. In college at Arizona State, he worked as an assistant to Senator John McCain in his early 20s but decided politics wasn’t for him.

Later he worked in sales at research companies like Gartner, eventually founding a payments startup in 2004 that allowed people to pay rent electronically. Gardner was so short on cash over the next few years that he sometimes put mortgage payments on his credit card. In 2007 he sold the company to MoneyGram for $28 million and stayed on as an executive for two years.

Then he started to think about new uses for debit cards. His first idea was a prepaid loyalty card sold at grocery stores where you could pay $50 for $55 worth of items from retailers like Jamba Juice. Gardner called it Marqeta (after a woman he and a friend had traveled with in Prague), brushing off the fact that a marketing firm was already using the name Marketo. He raised $6 million from investors like the Israeli VC firm 83North 

It took him almost two years to release the product, because he’d built an entirely new payment processor along the way. He opted not to partner with one of the big companies that had been doing issuing and processing for decades, like First Data or FIS, because he thought going solo would give him speed and flexibility. But the loyalty card flopped. Gardner learned that it took too much capital to scale a consumer retail product and that he wasn’t good at consumer-facing design. “I like the complexity of building infrastructure,” he says.

Gardner’s second business product was commissioned by Facebook: a gift card that you could send to friends and was redeemable at places like Target and Olive Garden. Facebook launched it in January 2013 but was disappointed in the sales and shut down the card about a year later.

Around this time, companies like the communications software maker Twilio were starting to let clients access their technology and customize it via application programming interfaces, or APIs. Gardner chose that approach for Marqeta’s third product and announced it in late 2014.

Revenue had doubled every year since 2016, and Marqeta was finalizing plans to raise at least $250 million at a valuation of about $2 billion, nearly quadrupling its value from two years ago. 

With Marqeta’s API, companies that wanted to issue debit cards could authorize transactions themselves and set the criteria for accepting them. “We move the system of record or ledger to our customer,” Gardner says. And companies no longer needed to separately solicit relationships with a card network (like Visa), a bank, a transaction processor and a plastic card manufacturer. Marqeta had built those partnerships and wrapped them up in one package.

Once customers were set up, Marqeta would make money the same way Visa and Mastercard do, by taking a cut of every transaction. How much? Marqeta is mum, but we’re told the average fee is roughly 1% before rebates to clients.

One of its first clients was DoorDash, the San Francisco food delivery company whose thousands of “Dashers” retrieve takeout meals from restaurants on behalf of customers. With Marqeta, DoorDash has issued debit cards that don’t work unless a Dasher is at the correct restaurant, and it won’t authorize transactions for values that exceed the customer’s order amount. Over the past two years, Marqeta’s technology has helped delivery companies cut fraud in half, to 5% or less.

Marqeta’s Money Moves 

In 2016, Marqeta’s trajectory tilted upward. Instacart let Marqeta power the debit cards its freelance delivery people used to buy groceries. When Square decided to issue a virtual debit card paired with its fast-growing money-transfer app, Square Cash, Marqeta helped it build the product within six weeks, rather than the months a traditional issuer-processor would have taken. Square also used Marqeta to create the plastic debit card it released the following year.

Kabbage, a small-business lender, signed on, issuing a Marqeta-powered debit card that let customers spend some of their loaned funds at retail merchants. It took Kabbage “months versus quarters” to release the cards, says Kathryn Petralia, Kabbage’s president. “All traditional providers remain cumbersome.”

Two insights drove Marqeta’s success. First, instead of focusing on banks as customers—as Fiserv, Tsys and FIS have done profitably for ­decades—it looked sideways, directly targeting tech-enabled service providers in the new economy. Second, by taking an API approach, Marqeta sped up the setup process and catered to companies that want to control how digital payments are ­authorized.

In 2017 Alipay, the Chinese payment app that has more than 900 million global users, signed on to enable Chinese nationals to use the app at U.S. retailers while traveling. Brex, the credit card startup, became a customer. Marqeta raised $25 million that year from investors like Visa, Granite Ventures and 83North, while bringing in $70 million of revenue, we estimate. It doubled its staff to 160 employees.

“Payments is deceptively complex,” says Omri Dahan, Marqeta’s chief revenue officer. “There are a range of varied interests in the ecosystem who need to be balanced just to produce one card swipe that’s successful. . . . You have to get used to getting punched in the face every day.”

It helps to have healthy clients. Square went from a $4 billion market value in 2016 to $32 billion today, becoming Marqeta’s largest customer and processing more than $5 billion in volume through Marqeta last year, estimates Brett Winton at Ark Investment Management, a large Square investor. In three years, DoorDash’s valuation has gone up tenfold to $7 billion and Instacart’s fourfold to $8 billion.

Marqeta identified Square and Instacart as future winners, recruiting them as customers and latching on for the ride.  

Dahan says Marqeta hunts for clients in large markets that are being disrupted. And it thinks like a venture capitalist. “What do we think of the company? Is it well funded? Well led? How are their engineers?”

Marqeta expects to double revenue again this year. Dahan says its clients are evenly spread across a handful of industries, which include lending, delivery, e-commerce, travel and one he thinks is the most promising: digital banking. In addition to Square, which has 15 million monthly users for its Cash app and is looking more and more like a bank, Marqeta is working with (as yet unnamed) digital-first “challenger banks” in Europe.

What could go wrong? FIS has APIs with features that are similar to what Marqeta offers and could make them better if its bank customers want more. Stripe, the payments giant that’s worth $22.5 billion, released a card-issuing service last year at what is rumored to be half Marqeta’s price.

“You can put 50 engineers on something and maybe move five times faster,” Dahan says. “But being in-market, scaling programs, learning from those programs? That is not something that can be fast-forwarded.”

For now, Marqeta has something else in its favor: its clients’ trust, which is rather important in a money-handling business. But there’s nothing permanent about even this advantage, so Jason Gardner is going to be looking over his shoulder. He’s had some practice with that.

In the spring of 2015, Jason Gardner, the founder of Marqeta, a payments processor, left a grim board meeting and went for a walk with his lead investor, Arnon Dinur of 83North. Facebook had pulled the plug on a joint initiative, and Marqeta had fallen far short of its revenue target.

Walking the streets of Emeryville, California, a small town between Berkeley and Oakland, Gardner told Dinur that Marqeta wouldn’t last long with the cash it had. He needed to buy time. The company moved to a weekly budget, and Gardner volunteered to cut his own salary by 40%. “Ninety out of one hundred entrepreneurs would have asked for more money,” Dinur says.  

“I wanted to show my commitment to not only the board but the company, that I’m willing to do anything to get to the next step through determination,” Gardner says. “It’s almost like inflicting pain on yourself. . . . It gets you to understand what’s at stake here.” Two other executives also volunteered to slash their salaries by 40%, and the startup didn’t lay anyone off.

Courtesy of Forbes Magazine



10 Habits Successful People Have on Repeat

A Short Guide on Being a Success In life

First of all success is what you define it as. But success at its core is consistency, and agency in any pursuit.

Most often we think of success as career based or monetary. This is misleading because you can be a success at anything you attempt. Please hear that. Go beyond the confines of your definitions of success and define it for yourself.

Furthermore, the fact that you attempt anything new is a success because you are expanding yourself. In the totality of life, you want to be a success and every skill or pursuit you attempt makes you successful at life.

Life is about expanding oneself and learning. Gaining experiences. In the end, if you do that? You were a success at life and I can’t think of a better thing to be successful at.

But there are keys to being a “successful” person that we often don’t realize. There are steps and actions that successful people have and I want to share those with you.

I firmly believe that if you use the 10 principles of successful people listed below that you will be a success! No matter what your endeavors in life, follow these and you will achieve results.

They Are Decisive and Don’t Second Guess it

There is one quality successful people have that separates them from the rest.           They act.

Successful people don’t get in their own way and second guess themselves. They just pursue what they’re after and dive headlong into the pursuit. I have to ask you; have you ever achieved anything in life without action?

Did you get your degree, the job you wanted, or the love you have without action? I think you can answer that for yourself. But the resounding answer is you did not.

We often don’t achieve success because we simply don’t act. We get caught up in our head, fear creeps in and we freeze. I mean let’s get real, success is scary. What if I told you tomorrow you could be standing in front of an arena delivering the message you feel inside? You’d probably think I was crazy, then you would think, “that’s not possible!” Examine that thought process for a minute. Who’s standing in your way?

They Are Productive Not busy

Successful people are productive, they aren’t just filling the time. They make their time count.  You only have so long on this planet so why aren’t you investing it in pursuits that matter?

How do you know if you are being busy or productive? Think of being busy as a scatter-plot of energy. If you are busy you are not focused, instead, you are being pulled in a million directions. And being busy is a great way to deter you from success since you’re too distracted to focus on what’s important to you.

So what does being productive look like? If you are being productive you’re “in the zone,” you’re the tip of the spear, you function with laser precision. You focus on one task at a time until it’s completed and give all your energy to that task.

You become results oriented instead of output oriented.