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It's time to call it: Pulling the plug on Buyosphere

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It's time to call it: Pulling the plug on Buyosphere

We've been keeping Buyosphere on life support for almost 2 years now. It breaks my heart, but it's time to pull the plug.

We kept hoping that something would happen...someone would come along to save the day: we'd get an upswing in usage (from non-spammers), we'd get someone coming along that would want to buy it, we'd somehow find the way to keep building it. But none of that happened and the hosting bills kept coming in. It hasn't been an easy experience.

In the video, I give a few 'lessons' I learned, but all-in-all, I've come to realize that it wasn't one thing...it was a million things that led to this not turning out the way we wanted it to.

Thank you to everyone who contributed to the adventure! I tried to list you in the video. xo

Here's our baby in her hey-day:

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Confidence and the Cause-Effect Loop

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Confidence and the Cause-Effect Loop

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

From Lean In to inspirational messages, the answer to much of inequality seems to be the responsibility of the person on the losing end of the equation. Fair enough, you might say, that person stands to gain the  most. Let me offer up another angle.

I was born a confident person. I'm not sure how or why, but from a young age, I didn't have much humility. My parents, concerned about the reaction to the amount of space I enjoyed taking up, urged me to balance my confidence with some humble pie. Admittedly, I needed that lesson. I saw gatherings of people - no matter what the occasion - as my opportunity to direct attention to my latest talent or idea. What I thought was cute at the time most likely came across as obnoxious after a while. And though some may still accuse me of being an attention hog, I am aware of my boundaries and try my best to leave room for others.

As obnoxious as it can be, confidence has gotten me far in life. My privilege, above everything else (I have other privileges, of course), is confidence.

I should also note that confidence is NOT the same as arrogance. Confidence doesn't compete or dismiss others. Confidence is open to push-back and other ideas (in fact, confident people love it). Confidence has room for empathy. Confidence doesn't know everything. True confidence IS humble.

Confidence gives you an edge over others in most situations. You get the job. You win the contract. People are drawn to you. They want to join your cause, invite you out, promote you, help you and trust you. But the tricky thing about confidence is that, when you need it the most, it fails.

I was born confident, yes, but that doesn't mean I'm unflappable. After my startup ran out of money, I lost my confidence. I know it was obvious. I must have oozed insecurity because people treated me different. I was passed up for contracts and jobs, people stopped reaching out to me, they gave me pep talks instead of wanting to really help me, introductions stopped...nobody had faith in me. It was like a spiral. As I lost faith in myself, others lost faith in me, which led to me losing even more faith in myself.

Until one person who I barely knew said, "I have confidence in you." And that was the beginning of my restoration.

I know that the self-help movement means well. The gurus that are trying to teach motivation and confidence to their readers understand that motivation and confidence are key drivers to success. But what is missing is that success is ALSO a key driver to motivation and confidence. There have actually been studies that show that the more successful a person is, the more confident they become. It's a bit of a vicious circle.

And yes, there are people who can 'fake it till they make it' but I think they have help along the way (and, like me, are born with a certain level of confidence).

So, if messages of affirmation and kicking yourself in the butt aren't the whole answer, what is?

Sponsorship.

Having someone take a leap of faith when your confidence is shaken goes a long way. Some people are going to need more time and patience than others - especially if they haven't tested their skills before. When you see a spark hidden behind a heap of self-doubt or bad experiences, encourage it to ignite.

Don't say, "Believe in yourself," say "I believe in you."

Don't say, "Lean in," say, "I will help you with that presentation" (after putting her in charge of the pitch).

Don't say, "Your success is up to you," say "I think you have what it takes to be successful" and then offer your guidance.

The whole sink or swim mentality isn't just giving naturally confident and privileged types an unfair advantage, it's also passing over some incredible talent. I'm convinced that the more people with privilege that put confidence in those who lack their own, the better our world will be. Arrogance is a zero-sum game, but confidence is not.

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My Aptitude Adjustment (with Latitude by YouScience)

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My Aptitude Adjustment (with Latitude by YouScience)

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I love this stuff, so I just have to share. Sorry if it seems gratuitous or 'braggy'. I don't mean it that way.

This might be the coolest thing I've done for my career in quite sometime. This week, I signed up to try out an Aptitude Test product by YouScience called Latitude. For a quick overview on what they do:

Now, I'm not afraid to reveal that I am 40 years old and have been working in marketing for almost 15 years now, so I'm pretty ingrained in my career. But nevertheless, I was still pretty darn curious to see if I had chosen correctly, so I signed up and sat down to do my testing.

THE TESTING BIT

Let me start out by saying that the testing part is rigorous and a bit grueling. You need to block off a good 2-2.5 hours of uninterrupted focus time. You'll need a few sheets of paper and a pencil with an eraser. You'll need to hide your phone so you aren't distracted by texts, notifications or phonecalls...and so you aren't tempted to use your calculator (I know I was). You'll need to be comfortable. And you should try to refrain from feeling discouraged.

I finished my testing in just under 2 hours because at the end, I didn't want to wait through the breaks (I just wanted to get it over with! That may have been a mistake - my brain was fatiguing!). Most sections were tough, but there were sections that nearly made me cry. My palms were sweaty. My heart was racing. I'm sure I was yelling at my computer loud enough for my neighbors to wonder what I was doing.

At the end of the tests, I got a message saying, "You'll get the results in 24 hours". I'm sure I didn't sleep that night. I was certain the results would tell me I suck at pretty much everything and I should give up on my future.

THE RESULTS BIT

When I received the notification my results were in, I held my breath and opened the report. Though Latitude's FAQ's insist there is no such thing as good or bad aptitudes, I still put a bit of a value on how I did in many of the tests. Not all sections tested skill levels, though. Some were more about personality type or leanings. But for those sections I saw as 'strengths' and 'weaknesses', I assigned a value to them. Here are my overall results:

1. Visual Comparison Speed (weakness) My type: Double Checker

Paperwork or video games are probably more tedious than enjoyable to you and you may need extra time to complete clerical tasks.

Your visual radar moves slowly and deliberately. You probably find clerical work or video games tedious, draining, and boring. You can find fulfillment in the completed product or game, but are more likely to enjoy fields of work or study that are more hands-on, interactive, or auditory.

YUP. Sounds about right. I remember really trying to focus on this test and having to read lines over and over. A 'tip' that made me chortle:

Yes please! :)

2. Vocabulary (strength) My type: Advanced

Your highly developed Vocabulary makes it easy for you to find just the right word to express yourself precisely. Your interests are likely to be many and varied.

You are likely to keep learning about many things because you are in the habit of paying attention to the meanings in words. There are always new interests to explore and new people with whom you can converse.

This one gave me a NICE boost in confidence that helped me breathe a little easier. So, I have a good vocabulary. That's true! I love words. I love learning them and using them (correctly, if possible). I love studying language and understanding which words to use for which audience. Actually, just last night I was having a conversation with someone about the language of corporate culture and how I used to keep a notepad of acronyms with me as a reference when I worked in enterprise software. Here is a little highlight that made me smile:

Oh God yes! It's my favorite bit!

3. Numerical Computation (strength) My type: Advanced Computer

Your high Numerical Computation make mental calculations and learning math skills super easy for you.

What may look like an unfinished puzzle to someone else is a clear picture in your mind. You can keep track of multiple calculations simultaneously even though you may not be aware you're doing it. You can also multitask while making calculations because it is so automatic for you that it takes little conscious attention on your part.

This one was a BIG surprise to me. I thought for sure I had bombed this section. In fact, I think I may have made a few lucky guesses as I went through the testing. Perhaps if I took this one again, I wouldn't be so lucky...but I'll let it be for now (and I *was* excellent at math in high school). This was the only 'tip' I could identify with:

Yes. Yes I can do that. In fact. I can 'eyeball' a teaspoon compared with a tablespoon as well...but that's cause I love cooking.

4. Numerical Reasoning (average) My type: Predictor

You probably enjoy looking for patterns in numbers but don't automatically do so. You have a solid grasp of trends in numbers after they are pointed out and explained.

You strike a balance between analyzing numbers when that is called for and applying existing formulas when that is more appropriate. You're the person who uses the formulas to direct the action.

I was actually quite sad to be average on this exercise, though I wasn't 100% surprised as I ran out of time with 2 problems left. I often play these games online where I guess for the value of n and I think I'm pretty good at it. But I guess I'm just average. Booo. But this does sound about right:

5. Spatial Visualization (strength) My type: 3D Visualizer

Your high Spatial Visualization makes it easy to organize and view your world as a 3D model. You may be able to retrieve books, a specific quotation, or objects quickly, even from a crowded space, because you "see" their location in your mind. People around you may comment that you're "very visual." You like to work and think about physical objects. You are good at using tools, machinery or equipment.

This was a bit of a head-scratcher for me because this exercise was really tough, but I guess I did okay after all! I didn't truly believe it until I read the 'challenges' to having this strength. This one in particular is very true:

I'm always drawing out what I mean and find it incredibly challenging to describe ideas without some sort of mock-up or diagram, which got me to learn Photoshop, InDesign and Illustrator early in my career.

6. Inductive Reasoning (strength) My type: diagnostic problem solver

Your high Inductive Reasoning allows you to quickly see the interconnections between things and ideas that may seem unrelated to others.

As a detective, you follow the Sherlock Holmes model. You're likely to observe myriad details that others may deem unrelated or irrelevant. You see a pattern or story develop from these details that is plausible, odd as it may seem to others to whom you have to explain your reasoning process...Accepting that "this is the way it is" does not satisfy you. You're a diagnostician who thrives when there are new facts to correlate. The more facts and the faster they arrive the better. You like making changes that are improvements, small or large, whether they reach your target audience better, save money, promote world peace, heal someone, or fix an engine.

I LOVE that this is a strength and I really liked the inductive reasoning tests. I'm a big fan of Sherlock Holmes (who isn't?) and always try to solve a case before he does. I'm not always successful, but I'm not too bad. ;) I pride myself on having this as a strength:

If I was to pick one strength I'm most proud of, it is this one. I'm so glad I have it!

7. Sequential Reasoning (strength) My type: Sequential Thinker

Your high Sequential Reasoning ability lets you automatically shuffle and organize large amounts of information in your head and easily organize your thoughts and learned information in a methodical and logically organized way.

Your mental closet comes equipped with hooks, shelves, drawers, and hangers that you use to organize different pieces of information in your head. You may not feel the need to write out your ideas or have your physical surroundings organized in a structured way. In fact, you may have piles of stuff that look random to other people, but you seem to know where everything is.

This was another happy moment for me. And:

...this made perfect sense. I love doing my Keynote presentations.

8. Idea Generation (average) My type: Idea Contributor

You can elaborate easily on things that you have experience with or are knowledgeable about, but you might not come up with multiple ideas by yourself.

While you may not always have a flood of ideas to contribute, you can add to existing scenarios or put a twist on existing plans, approaches, or games. You enjoy sharing your own ideas with others, but you are just as comfortable when others share their ideas with you. You can create or execute ideas equally well and probably enjoy a balance of those two roles.

I thought I would do much better on this section, but after seeing the results and reading the description. It made perfect sense. Especially:

I really admire people who can do this. I have to research and gather my thoughts before I present anything. I also really like collaborating and riffing off of others' ideas and work.

9. Hand-eye Coordination (weakness) My type: Experiential Mover

You can understand movements by watching others, but replicating actions and developing flow takes repetition and consistent practice.

Once you have the sequence of motions down, you'll gain confidence; but remember that the initial learning curve will take you longer than for some other people.

I'm a good freestyle dancer, but it's true, I need to practice a LOT to get a movement down that someone else demonstrates. And I guess I shouldn't dismiss Zumba as exercise after all:

(even if I think it's a bit ridiculous)

10. Associative Memory (average) My type: Conscious Memorizer

You have the ability to memorize terminology with little difficulty; however, you should recognize that you'll need to use that information repeatedly if it is to be transferred into your long-term memory.

When you learn terms, codes, formulas, etc., you don't have to exert a great deal of effort, nor do you need to use memorization tricks. You will, however, have to make a conscious effort and possibly repeat terms a few times before they stay in your memory. Know that this is a conscious act that requires you to focus while learning terms and concepts simultaneously.

I really struggled with these tests. My visual memory is awful. And this is a HUGE weakness for me:

I've been known to forget names of people I've known for years when I've been over-challenged!

11. Visual Memory (average) My type: Data Reviewer

You're able to memorize important numbers and data like dates, codes, or account numbers pretty easily and can hang on to them for some time.

Numbers are a useful tool for you. You don't necessarily seek them out, but you know which ones are important to focus on. You memorize important dates, codes, or accounts easily, but you need to use calendars, notebooks, and other tools to keep track of the less important or frequently used items.

Again, not a surprise. I keep good records of numbers around me at all times because I suck at this:

12. Work Approach (personality type) My type: Generalist

You work best on projects that allow you to explore and exchange ideas and viewpoints with others.

As a Generalist, you prefer that the video lens be wide open so that you are aware of everyone involved. You will work best on projects that allow you to bounce ideas off others and exchange viewpoints and ideas. You will enjoy knowing all of the different perspectives, including the ones that differ from your own. It is usually easy for you to adapt your own perspective based on what you learn from others.

Yep. This is why I really don't like working solo:

13. Time Frame Orientation (personality type) My type: Future Focuser

Your high Time Frame Orientation lets you work toward goals in the distant future. Without something distant you may feel a bit aimless. You are more focused on the actual long-term goal or target than the specific day-to-day steps to success. You prefer to think about the impact of your decisions five to ten years into the future.

You are able to stay focused on a distant target and can work toward goals that may take years to develop or come to fruition...You might find yourself slowing down as you approach completion because you are uncomfortable without a long-range goal.

Exactly how I've been feeling for the past while and why this year is one of purpose:

14. Pattern Memory (average) My type: Map Reviewer

You're comfortable using maps, charts, and blueprints with little effort, but you aren't likely to refer to them from memory.

You're able to notice subtle differences in certain patterns, but might need to compare them side by side to identify specific differences. You don't need a lot of exposure before you memorize patterns, but they don't automatically stay in your memory.

That darned visual memory thing again. I thought for sure this result would be a weakness. I like the advice, though:

15. Interpersonal Style (personality type) My type: Extrovert

The presence of others energizes you. Getting to know people, catching up with old friends, and just laughing with others seems to lighten your day and bring you inner peace. It's nearly impossible for you not to engage with someone around you, even if it's greeting a stranger in a checkout line.

No surprises here! However, as I've grown older, I do need personal, alone recharge time. I'm a little less extroverted now. I'm pretty sure that I still do this, though:

THE CAREER BIT

If you think the aptitude assessment was interesting (as I did!), you are going to enjoy the career exploration even more! Latitude breaks these down into three sections:

Overall fit combines your aptitude testing results with your interests and gives you a list of career suggestions. In this section, I found out that I've actually done pretty well with my chosen path over the years and most of the other careers listed were quite appealing to me. Just the top 15 (I highlighted some of the roles I've played in my career):

  1. Broadcast News Analyst
  2. Architectural Teacher, Postsecondary
  3. Commercial and Industrial Designer
  4. Art Director
  5. Editor
  6. Interior Designer
  7. Director
  8. Instructional Coordinator
  9. Advertising and Promotions Manager
  10. Genetic Counselor
  11. Social and Community Service Manager
  12. Counseling Psychologist
  13. Exercise Physiologist
  14. Creative Writer
  15. Producer

The list of careers that solely suit my aptitude testing, however, were incredibly interesting. Some of the results were on my career path at one point, but I lost interest in them when I looked deeper into them (I began University in Computer Science, for instance):

  1. Energy Engineer
  2. Nuclear Engineer
  3. Computer Systems Engineer/Architect
  4. Petroleum Engineer
  5. Engineering Teacher
  6. Urban and Regional Planner
  7. Mechatronics Engineer
  8. Curator
  9. Advertising and Promotions Manager
  10. Transportation Engineer
  11. Geoscientist
  12. Market Research Analyst & Marketing Specialist
  13. Materials Scientist
  14. Securities and Commodities Sales Agent
  15. Aerospace Engineer

But lo and behold, Advertising and Promotions Manager and Market Research Analyst/Marketing Specialist are both present amongst the engineering heavy list, so yay!

Most of the list of careers based on my interests aren't actually that interesting to me now, but would have probably been VERY interesting when I was setting out in the world:

  1. Art, Drama and Music Teacher, Postsecondary
  2. Interior Designer
  3. Preschool Teacher, Except Special Education
  4. Broadcast News Analyst
  5. Actor
  6. Music Director
  7. Music Composer and Arranger
  8. Architectural Teacher, Postsecondary
  9. Middle School Teacher
  10. Fashion Designer
  11. Theatrical Makeup Artist
  12. Film and Video Editor
  13. Park Naturalist
  14. Creative Writer
  15. Art Director

The way Latitude presents each career is really very cool and thorough, too. Take for instance the Broadcast News Analyst. They break down each career into four categories: A Day in the Life, How You Fit, Education and Salary & Opportunity. The information under each is quite thorough. Here are some screenshots:

US based, but really interesting stats available on where the jobs are at if that matters to you.
US based, but really interesting stats available on where the jobs are at if that matters to you.
You can even break down salaries and projections state by state.
You can even break down salaries and projections state by state.

From what I understand, the future of Latitude will be to match people with college programs and eventually jobs, which is really exciting. It's definitely a tool I could have used when embarking on my career. I may have weighed future salary and opportunities with my aptitude and stuck with that Computer Science degree after all. Who knows?

But what was so magical about doing this testing right now in my career is that I am able to validate my strengths and identify my weaknesses so I can both focus on what I'm good at and work on improving where I'm weak. And in future interviews when I'm asked, "Name three strengths and three weaknesses," I have really great answers with scientific proof behind them. If that doesn't impress HR, I'm not sure what will!

In fact, if I were in Human Resources, I'd be all over Latitude. The testing isn't lightweight and you can't really cheat it (you can't go back and change answers and it's timed pretty tightly, so you can't really beat it by googling stuff - not that I tried, but there wasn't much time to answer each question). And you wouldn't want to cheat it anyway - there is no 'good or bad', just a better way of fitting you with the right career. And cheating the system would work against your own happiness.

But maybe I'm wrong. I know this is a super long post, but if you've gotten to this point and are interested in trying it yourself, I've been told I can give out THREE Latitude Assessments for you to try at home. And just for clarity, this is NOT a sponsored post. I loved my assessment so much I wrote them to ask them if I could write this and offer a few passes to my readers and they said yes. :)

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The end of my world as I knew it and I (now) feel fine...[a retrospective on startup grief]

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The end of my world as I knew it and I (now) feel fine...[a retrospective on startup grief]

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Screen Shot 2013-06-26 at 6.48.44 PM

(from the cover of How To Survive the End of the World as we Know it by James Rawles]

Today, at the urging of a friend, I told the story of the past year of my life in a private forum for women entrepreneurs that I avoided for that period of time. The women on the list urged that I share this story more publicly, so here it is.

THE END WAS NIGH

For those of you who are new to this story, I am one of the founders of Buyosphere, a website for helping people search for fashion by using real people instead of algorithms to uncover gems and interesting ideas. Going to a 1920's party and don't know where to find a cool flapper dress that is in your price range and won't make your arms look like sausages? Post a question on Buyosphere and there will probably be someone in the community that knows of an affordable, adorable, flattering dress that has your name on it.

I'm fiercely proud of what we built, though we made lots of mistakes and wrong turns to get there, which cost 3 years of my life and over $525,000 in angel and friends and family money (plus lots of our own...I lost count). By the time we course-corrected, the money was gone and there wasn't really any runway left for the newly launched (September 2012) awesome 1.0 version of the site. Instead, we needed to find jobs and move on.

THE FALL

Moving on was incredibly painful. My dream was dashed. I was broke. I felt like a joke. I disappointed the friends and family who had invested in me. I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life anymore. I hadn't made a fall-back plan. I had no idea how to operate in this new paradigm.

Just when I thought I couldn't feel lower, I took a job that I ended up despising for a wage that was worse than wat I made when I was in my 20's for a company who didn't value my experience or ideas...who fired me after the trial period because "I didn't fit in." I went from feeling like a failure to wanting to disappear altogether.

I really didn't know who I was anymore. And I certainly didn't know how to express that. I felt numb. I was in a state of numb for 6 months. I tuned out everything. I didn't want to hear about struggle or success or anything that was going on in the startup world or tech community. I unsubscribed from everything. Every group, every list, every newsletter. I stopped talking to people who mattered in my life during my startup/tech days. I gave a talk during this period at a conference. Frankly, I don't know how I did it. I barely remember it.

THE DISTRACTION

I needed a BIG change. Luckily a friend turned me onto a job on a political campaign (Justin Trudeau) and I was able to throw myself into a completely different world. It was awesome and exactly what I needed, but I eventually had to come out of it. I'm passionate about politics, but I didn't want to make a career out of it.

And I also had 'my win'. Justin won the Leadership race with 80% of the popular vote and the social media plan and content I came up with brought in a big part of the new votes. I remember thinking at one point, "Yep. I still have it." And that was the kind of confidence boost I needed to get out of my slump.

THE RECOVERY

Recovery is a funny thing. It was so gradual that I didn't even realize I was getting better. The myth persists that you wake up one day and - poof - you feel better again. But that wasn't my experience. Slowly but surely, I just started to get my mojo back and I really didn't even notice it. Not until today when Melinda asked me to talk about my 'absence' from the group.

Slowly I had ideas. Inspiration. Drive. A desire to do something again. I slowly stopped feeling afraid. I slowly stopped feeling dread. I slowly regained confidence. I slowly stopped asking, "Why would anyone want me?" and started believing in myself again. The question, instead, started to become, "Why would I want to work for anyone else?" more and more. And then I found myself sitting with a couple of potential partners to discuss setting up a new agency.

I think everyone has different ways of dealing with grief. Even the most social of us can be SO devastated that we need some space and time to reflect and get our bearings back. I didn't even know how to talk about it and I certainly didn't have the desire to reach out to anyone. I needed distance from it. A new perspective. I'm not back to my pre-startup chutzpah quite yet, but I do feel okay about everything.

And I'm also feeling hopeful about Buyosphere again. It has at least a few more versions to go to make it a fully functioning, amazing tool, but it's got the basis of it. Nearly a year later, I still love looking at it and I still believe in the core premise. Fashion search is pretty damned broken. I think this is the right approach. Hell, if you know of anyone looking to buy a startup in the fashion space, I have one that is WAY undervalued. ;)

THE CONCLUSION

People will tell you that there is life after your startup fails, but I guarantee you won't feel that way when it happens. And that's cool. Because you need to mourn it. And you probably need to figure out who you are again without the startup. And, like me, you probably won't want to go back to what you were doing before. The pressure will be immense to do something bigger and better and altogether different. Go do that. Or just give yourself as much time as you need. And just fall apart as much as you need to. I recommend a time-consuming distraction that is completely different from what you were doing. I've heard of ex-startup founders getting married, going back to school, climbing a mountain...whatever works.

And for those of you who know someone who is going through this: they don't need/want your advice. They certainly don't need/want your condolences. Don't tell them to look on the bright side. Don't try to fix anything. They probably don't want to talk about it at all. The best thing you can do for them is be normal and let them be normal and give them space. And if they don't want to see you it is because you somehow remind them of their self-loathing pain. Don't take that personally. I know. It's hard not to.

I can honestly say that I'm a much stronger, smarter, more interesting person for going through all of this. And my next venture? It's going to be better for it.

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My #Themeword for 2013: Triump

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My #Themeword for 2013: Triump

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In the past few #themeword years, I've been incredibly cautious when it comes to picking my word. I felt it unwise to take the leap that this year or that would be MY year. It started with Transition in 2008, and Thrive in 2009, then moved along to Achieve in 2010, then Reap in 2011 and finally Give'r in 2012. The thing these #themewords had in common was hard work and growth.

I've worked hard. I've grown. I know I still have lots to learn, but after 5 years of hard work and growth, I'm looking forward to some awesome payoff and 2013 feels like the right year to go bullish on the themeword.

Triumph is an awesome word, too. It's not only amazingly dramatic and bigger than life for a word, it is also the name of an awesome Canadian 80's hair band and a pretty sweet and sporty motorcycle. I feel pretty brazen about this word and I look forward to this awesome year.

I have lots to feel bullish about this year. For many years, I struggled with Buyosphere and, before that, was figuring out who I am and where I wanted to go. These years have been challenging, but in the past half a year, I've re-entered the workforce and taken on some exciting new work that has put my skills to the test. I can now say I finally know what I'm doing and feel professionally solid.

I also have a wonderful relationship with an amazing man, my son is growing up to be a fine young man and I'm happy with who I am and have let go of many of the insecurities of my youth. I turn 40 in 2013 and I'm excited for it. I no longer dread that milestone.

Yep. This year is going to rock. I've fought the good fight, now it's time to rock out and roll on. ;)

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Featured in Entrepreneur Magazine as a Woman to Watch

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Featured in Entrepreneur Magazine as a Woman to Watch

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I usually try to be pretty humble when it comes to getting press. ("Try" being the operative word!) But this one I'm especially proud of because: 1. it's in one of my favorite magazines

2. I share the page with one of my heroes

3. the distinction is pretty darn awesome (no really)

photo 2I did giggle a bit at 'Authority' (reminds me of Cartman saying "Respect My Authoritah!") as I still feel like I'm a lifetime away from really being an authority on anything. But hell, next time someone questions my recommendations at work, I'll wave the magazine in front of them. That works, right?

Kidding aside, it's an awesome distinction and I am alongside amazing company. Jane McGonigal (the aforementioned hero), whose ideas on how we can improve real life through learning from games changed the way I think; Sophia Amoruso, whose online fashion shop took the startup world by storm; Linda Rottenberg, whose business Endeavor was rocking the entrepreneurial world long before Y Combinator; Olga Koper, a NANOTECHNOLOGIST; the amazing Yael Cohen whose F*** Cancer social business has given people hope worldwide; and Maria Flynn whose biotech company frees people from pain.

Are you KIDDING me? I'm on this list? Seriously. I know I've accomplished quite a lot in my lifetime. I know I've done some great work and I'm proud of my contributions and my growth. But this is a pretty darned humbling list. Thank you Entrepreneur for picking me!

Now quick...before they realize the error they made, pick it up and revel in this with me! :)

NOTE: I should add that I'm NO LONGER WITH Tuxedo (as of just over a month ago). Unfortunately, I was interviewed for this article when I was still there and they couldn't change it. :/

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There's No Shame in That

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There's No Shame in That

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Shame Flag on Flickr I was describing my startup experience to a woman I admire the other day, when out of the blue, she asked:

"Was it worth it?"

I hardly hesitated at all and said:

"The only thing I'd change if I could go back is that I'd integrate the incredible lessons I've learned during this time."

And it's true. I couldn't have learned any of what I've learned in a book or a seminar. I feel like I've taken the ultimate MBA. But it took her asking the question for me to realize that. Before she asked the question, I was feeling lots of shame. Why? Because I was focusing on what I didn't accomplish instead of seeing what I DID accomplish.

The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else's highlight reel. - Steven Furtick

The truth is that we (my Buyosphere team and I) did things that the vast majority of people never even attempt:

  • We raised venture capital (even if it wasn't enough)
  • We built a social web application from scratch - multiple times - and for those who haven't built a social web application, here is something to know: building a website is a challenge, building a social website (that people interact with) is another level of challenge and building a social web application (that people interact with and it changes with that social interaction) is a WHOLE 'NOTHER level of challenge. There are so many moving parts behind the scenes. I have mad respect for anyone that builds web applications now.
  • We stuck to it through thick and thin, through lots of questions and uncertainty and through not knowing how we were going to make payroll in a few days time.
  • We learned to work together - fighting like cats and dogs at times, but having uber respect for one another while disagreeing.
  • We hired and fired people - learning the importance of hiring talented people who could teach us a thing or ten.
  • We budgeted, planned and balanced a very small amount of cash to make it stretch as far as it possibly could.
  • We took that leap that lots of people talk about, but only a sliver of the population takes and did it wholeheartedly.

And, nope, we didn't become the next Facebook and fell short of our dreams for Buyosphere, but we built something to be proud of and we did it with all sorts of odds against us. Hell, we're still getting featured in major publications as their Super Clever Click and it isn't over quite yet. Who knows what could happen going forward? I don't think we built any of it in vain. Maybe it's ahead of it's time (I know from experience that brands aren't quite ready to grasp this concept). As SF Fashion Tech said in their review, " It’s hard to draw an apt comparison because there’s nothing similar to this right now..." We'll see and I haven't given up hope.

YOLO as the saying goes and it's true. Anyone who takes a risk to do something that isn't easy and has little certainty should be high-fived, as I've learned when I worked at Santacruzsolarcompanies.co Santa Cruz solar companies. There is no shame in taking that leap and falling on your face. There IS SHAME in talking about taking that leap, never doing it, then pointing fingers and laughing at those falling on their faces.

Before all of this happened, I didn't really know what people meant when they said, "Failure is good. You should fail several times in your life." I thought that sounded like the most awful advice ever. But now I understand. Experience is the result of failure. I've known people who have it easy (connected to money and people and luck) and sail through to big success without learning anything only to arrogantly go at it again and fall on their faces. Any one of those people I've talked to has said to me, "I enjoyed my flop much more than my success." Why? Because of what they learned. And how slowly, but surely, they grew as individuals who had much better lessons to convey.

And yes, if I could wave a magic wand and change the outcome to Buyosphere being an IPO'd/acquired company that lined my pockets with millions of dollars, of course I would! But what I'm saying is that I don't regret that it turned out differently. Not at all.

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The Hole in the Soul of Business

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The Hole in the Soul of Business

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(the title of this post is a direct 'tribute' to a column of the same name by one of my favorite management writers, Gary Hamel) For the past 12 years, Edelman has conducted a very in-depth study of the level of trust consumers have for government, media and corporations and has found, unsurprisingly, that there has been a steady decline in public trust. This doesn't come as a big surprise to most readers who feel continuously manipulated and lied to by government, media and corporations in the interest of their own gains.

But trust works both ways and I'm less interested in convincing customers and citizens to trust and more interested in convincing government, media and corporations to trust their customers and citizens.

I've observed and been part of a growing DIY culture - one that is demonstrating that individuals can and will come together to achieve results that are inspirational and often reflecting a more democratic outcome than any of the top-down efforts.

Take, for instance, the amazing efforts of #OccupySandy, a grassroots, people powered movement of engaged and concerned citizens looking to help Hurricane Sandy victims and get affected areas back to normal (or better) in the wake of the storm. Government did an okay job coming in in the immediate aftermath, sending in troops, supplies and boosting the cleanup and some corporations have donated a good number of proceeds to the clean up (mostly going to the Red Cross and other large NGOs). But the #OccupySandy volunteers can go deeper and further and not have to encounter much for red tape. They can see a crisis, figure out the most efficient and best way to fix it and just do it. Are mistakes made in the process? Probably. But the benefits of these agile, scrappy "organizations" outweigh the losses.

I've been a fan, advocate of and participant in grassroots change for a long time and continue to believe that encouraging participation is a good thing. Generations of people were encouraged to be passive and dependent, but the web came along and changed that paradigm. Instead of Read-Only, it gave us writing privileges. We gained a voice. It allowed us to connect with others who wanted to contribute. Those who grew up with the web expect interaction and their default is participation. Those of us in the 'sandwich' generation (half our lives were pre-browser) and older are still trying to figure out what that means.

I was raised in a culture that promoted a paternal outlook on the world. People needed protection: from invasion, from the communists, from brand confusion, from the bad guys and, mostly, from one another. The default was security, not transparency. Sites like Wikipedia were frightening before they were invaluable. But as the web has evolved, it's as if the curtain is being pulled back on the Wizard of Oz and we are realizing more and more that we don't have to wait for permission or someone else to save us. We have the tools and power at our fingertips.

But power is a funny thing. Once you have it, you don't want to give it up, especially if you have it based on some default or otherwise extrinsic means. Real power and leadership is when people trust and respect you and choose to follow you. When I think of real power and leadership, I imagine those that really affected change like Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Simone de Beauvoir and more recently Steve Jobs (and yes, Steve was reportedly hard on people, but he led with such inspiration). These leaders didn't feel threatened by others. If they were criticized or challenged, they would engage in the challenge and open themselves up to improvements. But most power is fleeting and extrinsic. It's gained from having money or given a position in which one can exercise their power. I've watched lots of people luck out on a bit of success only to let it go to their heads. These are the same people who feel the most insecure about their power.

Most corporations fit this bill. It's such a dog-eat-dog world. Customer loyalty is fleeting. And you can have a hit one day and be forgotten the next. Smart companies who will succeed will remain more agile and flexible like the #OccupySandy example. What works today may not work tomorrow, so how does one know how to stay a step ahead? By being open and flexible and empowering every employee in your organization to bring their innovation to the forefront. And how do you ensure that this innovation is focused and not haphazard? Strong culture and leadership. The more your employees understand and are invested in your brand, the better their ideas will be.

But the hole in the soul of business is that it can't trust. It can't trust partners, employees, customers or even themselves most of the time. Even when doing the same thing over and over stops achieving results, leaders would rather turn to outside consultants that don't know their business for the answers rather than asking their own employees who have hundreds of ideas on how to evolve. Every corporation and every government has an #OccupySandy of their own just waiting to be the incubator of potential awesome, but they either ignore or alienate their biggest assets.

I'm guessing that Edelman's Trust Barometer has a direct correlation to the trust that government, media and corporations have for their customers and citizens. You trust us and we'll reward you by trusting you back. I know it sounds more than utopic on my part, but I still believe in the awesomely powerful potential of collaboration between people, government, media and corporations - with an emphasis on people - to solve problems (and make profits) more effectively.

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Why is Culture Such a Difficult Concept?

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Why is Culture Such a Difficult Concept?

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About 6 months ago I was at a conference and the presenter brought up Zappos as the shining example of a company that has a strong culture that translates into sales. The person next to me leaned over and said, "Man, can't anyone come up with more examples?" "Sadly," I replied, "The reason Zappos and Southwest Airlines and Trader Joes and Cliff Bar and the small handful of companies are mentioned time and time again is because there aren't any other ones to take their place."

Yes, there are small, up and coming companies who have put their faith in the idea that building a strong company culture will lead to happy employees and happy customers and big profits and I look forward to the day that these companies take the place of Zappos in these presentations and I'm pretty sure it won't take them very long. But people watching these presentations are hungry for results. Big, impressive results. And saying that Modcloth has $20 million in revenues or Etsy makes $314 million when the audience isn't even hip to their brands is a tough sell.

But the question I really want to know the answer for is why is it so hard for established brands to implement a strong culture? And I have found a couple of answers to that question:

  1. Culture comes from leadership and the leadership isn't committed to it. The leaders behind the companies whose cultures aren't strong aren't believers. They were taught at the school of hard economics and something like culture just sounds willy nilly to them. Sure, they hire brand consultants to come in and create a statement and put up posters, but they don't think it's all that serious.
  2. Employees in a weak culture have become cynical, at best, droned at worst. I bet that you can go back to the early few months of 99% of any employees record and show enthusiasm, initiative, eagerness and a desire to learn and grow. I know very few people who pursue a job because they just want to sit at a desk and watch a clock. But weak culture companies have a way of sucking the life out of their employees. And most likely they've fired the employees the company can't break. You know these ones. The trouble makers. The ones that question. The ones that fight for change. Too many of those stubborn ones hanging around may actually give the drones hope to care again. Get rid of them.
  3. The connection between strong culture and results is still a bit fuzzy. There have been lots of studies and books written on the subject that show that strong corporate cultures out perform weak ones, but the correlation isn't strong enough to say, "Without a shadow of a doubt, the reason here is culture." It's because lots of the evidence is qualitative rather than quantitative. "Employees who are happy make your customers happy." And even when numbers are put to that statement, it's a hard one to prove direct correlation with. This sucks. Because in our guts, we know this is true. We just need to get better at proving it.
  4. There is still too much lip service and lazy implementations that don't work. Too many companies do the exercises and print the wallet cards, but very few of them really understand how deep cultural values have to be implanted in an organization. Years ago while interviewing Tony Hsieh for my book (I was one of the first people to talk about them btw ;)), I asked him about some of the family values and he said something like, "The one that trips people up is 'Be Humble'. We don't hire self-proclaimed rockstars or gurus at Zappos." When I asked him if I'd get the job, he replied, "Probably n0t." That demonstrated a deep commitment to those values. It's part of hiring, training, customer interactions, business development and partnerships, merchandising, the way they market, communicate...everything.

It's sad, really, but it looks like we are going to have to be patient for the up-and-comers to create some good solid data on the correlation to make this a MBA endorsed business practice. And someone will create a sort of 'standards' and processes that will fly in the face of what it really means to have a strong culture (ie. intrinsic, rather than extrinsic motivators). Until then, I think it's a-ok to shine our light on Zappos, Southwest Airlines, Trader Joes, Etsy, Modcloth and anyone else that puts culture at the core of their organization and wins because of it. Because, well, they are well worth celebrating.

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The Upcoming Buyosphere + Its Future

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The Upcoming Buyosphere + Its Future

Since I put up my post yesterday about getting a J.O.B., I've been answering a long series of questions about Buyosphere and what we're doing with it. First off, the plan is to soldier on as I said. Of course there are complications to this. All three of the founders are now engaged in full-time jobs and projects that support us financially - and none of us chose work that is lightweight. And speaking of lightweight, the decision to take work outside of the company we have all spent the past 2.5 years sacrificing our financial security and even our relationships for wasn't a simple one.

But the reality is that we raised  enough money to last us 6 months last November and that money was gone in May. And since we had bootstrapped previously for a year and a half, none of us had savings left and all of our spouses/partners had also put themselves in debt to support us.

So in March when we saw the money was nearly gone, Cassandra, Jerome and I sat down and talked about all of the different ways to proceed:

  1. Sell Buyosphere - but what was there to sell? We weren't happy with the design and usability and though we were growing steadily, there wasn't a hockey stick.
  2. Raise more money - fine, but looking at the bottom line, we had already given away 40% of our company in the seed stage (mostly because of mistakes with how we structured our Friends & Family - convertible debt, unpriced and WAY too generous) and hadn't reached our seed stage goals, so this was going to be even harder than before. And before was hard.
  3. Walk away - we seriously thought about it, but  we all still believe in the vision and just felt at that moment that it deserved a fighting chance.
  4. Take the last of the money we had and put it into a proper redesign, then figure out what to do - this was my vote. If we were going down, let's go down in a blaze of glory. Or at least with a product we could be proud of.

So we proceeded with #4. We hired a NYC design firm with good experience in this area, gathered oodles of data and insight to help guide our direction: user testing (people unfamiliar with Buyosphere), focus group type stuff (we had a group of fashion bloggers come in for 2 weeks of intense use and then give us their brutal feedback at the end) and did a pretty epic user survey (3 pages of 25 questions).

Originally, we were going to launch in June, but that timeframe didn't align with our desire to do it right. We're an agile team, but have learned the difference between MVP and WTH. If we were going to do this, we would do this right. So a 3 month sprint turned into a 6 month project. We rebuilt the site pretty much from scratch and created what we think is something that shows the real promise of Buyosphere. Here are some mockups...as we haven't unveiled the new site quite yet:

As you can see, there is a big difference from the previous site and, well, a vast improvement. The site will finally be at a place where we can tweak and improve and build on it. We haven't had a real design done for over a year and the one at that time was lovely, but for a very different site (if you recall, we were previously centered around the bookmarklet and collecting wants and haves).

But as exciting as this is, for those of you who did the calculation in your head, something still didn't add up...am I right? We ran out of money in May/June as 'planned' and we had come to that "then we figure out what to do" stage.

Frankly, I was still unsure. I could re-ignite my speaking career. That had been lucrative and I could do those gigs I hated ("how to use social media for marketing" ugh) to rebuild. I hadn't imagined the book yet, but for anyone who has written a book, you know you don't do it for the money ;). I could consult. I had been pinged by lots of recruiters over the year, so I looked into that. But I wasn't really 'feeling it'. To add to my ennui, I assumed I would have to leave Montreal for work because, well, I don't speak French very well. That would mean that I would have to be apart from Carlos. And though Carlos has been the most supportive boyfriend in the world, he was already feeling the mega financial strain from my crazy startup life. I had put him into debt subsidizing my meagre income (below minimum wage for sure, but less than I've made since I was 21!) and now I had zero to contribute to rent, food or anything.

Nothing was looking right, though I had poked around a bit. I was feeling lost. I feel like I had taken a gamble and screwed everything and everyone up.

Then Tuxedo came along. As I said in my previous post, I didn't really mean it to happen. It just did. I had never considered working at an agency. I did that in my 20's and hated it. But I went to their 2 year anniversary party and left with a new hope. Over the next few months of talking, interviewing and negotiating, I made it clear that I would keep Buyosphere (and researching for a book) and they would get my full attention to the position they hired me for. I recognize this is easier said than done (and in my first two weeks at Tux, I've pulled some pretty significant hours!), and there is always the question, "What happens if Buyosphere takes off?" But once again, I'll cross that bridge when I come to it. I'm committed to my new team and career and I'm committed to making sure Buyosphere is seen through.

We should be opening publicly in the next few weeks. Right now it's a matter of making sure the three of us founders have a window where we can focus on launching properly (ramping up at a new job is time consuming and I want to be able to support a launch). But like I keep saying to people, I'm no longer in a rush. Without having to beat clocks and worrying about the money in the bank, I'm more focused on doing this RIGHT not RUSHED. It's my new motto and it feels better. I know Buyosphere is still early to market. The idea that brands will come to the consumer (VRM) is lauded in the geek community, but still leaves brands and consumers scratching their heads. I'm hoping that we can not only push it gently, but be there and ready when it makes perfect sense.

So that's it. That's the story. I know that there are still lessons to convey (my next in the series of 'Mistakes I've Made'), but the biggest lesson here - and it's one that is largely missed by the incredibly optimistic and often overly-privileged startup community - is that it DOES take money to build stuff. And time. And those who have a large supply of both have more runway to make several mistakes on the road to über success.

Most of us don't have big wads of cash and time to burn, so we have one shot and then we have to figure out how to pay the rent and feed ourselves. And those who achieve success in one shot are just as lucky as they are admirable. And those who don't believe that are either privileged (have time and money to figure stuff out) or amnesic.

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