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January 31, 2010

Festive Soiree with Selia Yang!

Welcome to inFOCUS - a new program that spotlights an innovative business or entrepreneur each month through a series of blog posts and events.

We will be spending the month of February focusing on Selia Yang, a brilliant designer, talented entrepreneur, and mover and shaker in the bridal market.

In addition to sharing our conversations with Selia through our blog, we invite you to meet Selia at a festive end-of-the-month festive soiree!

WHEN: February 24th, 5-7pm
WHERE: Selia Yang's Tribeca Showroom (71 Franklin St @ Broadway)
IGC Members only, RSVP Required
to RSVP: igcrsvp@gmail.com with Selia Yang in the subject line

January 25, 2010

Sticking to your Guns – a.k.a. Staying true to your business goals

Last week in the New York Times business section I was struck by the following quote:

“ That is the American way – to expand without really thinking”
– Lydia Ezparza, co-owner of Great Lake Pizza Shop in Chicago.

The quote was take from an article, “Small by Choice, Whether Clients Like It or Not” by Kermit Pattison.

It is a great interview where the owners articulate their deliberate choice not to expand their business (as many would predict and encourage) despite their business’s booming success. I found the article incredibly refreshing as it is not that often that a small business - that wants to stay small - is showcased in national publication. I often come across stories and profiles of “successful” entrepreneurs.

These “successful” entrepreneurs are often running large companies that are venture backed. Don’t get me wrong, I completely applaud entrepreneurs who have successful grown a company through the help of financing. On the other hand, the community of entrepreneurs that I connect with on a daily basis are not interested in growing a company at light speed and often do not need outside financing.

Too often, these entrepreneurs are categorized as “lifestyle” entrepreneurs which to many (including myself) is a fairly offensive description of the type of entrepreneurship that I subscribe to. For myself, and many in the IGC community, their desire to become an entrepreneur was so that they could build a business that they would have for a long time, that they could support themselves over time and that they could scale at different points in the life cycle of the business. Many hope to make money (and for some lots of money), they want to be in control of the business and they may recognize that they want their business to mean different things at different times.

The owners of the Great Lake Pizza shop have a clear sense of their goals for the business, and they are willing to forfeit the temptation of expanding in order to achieve these goals. It is a wonderful and inspiring example for many small businesses that want to stay true to their business goals and by extent – stay small.

posted by Amy Abrams

January 21, 2010

Getting In Your Own Way: Are you your company's best asset?

I finished reading a great article this weekend in the New Yorker about John Mackey who is the CEO of Whole Foods. The article is fascinating on several levels: the contradiction behind the whole foods brand as the founder is not who you think he would be; the overall state of the grocery market, especially in light of the Walmarts of the world now carrying organic product and products; and the story behind the company.

What I found particularly remarkable was my reaction to John Mackey. Throughout the article I flip flopped from thinking that the guy is a total ego-maniacal kook to a clever, savvy genius. Regardless, he is undoubtedly a unique person and a successful entrepreneur. And he has good instincts despite the several notable hiccups he has experienced along the way. It has taken a lot to build Whole Foods into the business it is today, and John Mackey is a huge part of that.

It is clear that his personality and quirkiness have created trouble, from bad press to political boycotts to SEC investigations. It is not hard to argue that he gets in his own way. The question, by extension, is whether he will get in the way of Whole Foods growth in the future. Many are shocked that he is still holds the position of CEO, since Whole Foods is a publicly traded company.

But on the other hand, it is possible that all things considered he is still an asset to the company, and perhaps the overall category of whole foods shopping. Despite the fact that I disagree with many of his political opinions, his distinct personality makes an impact. Sure, he is controversial and unexpected, but on the other hand he is also a pioneer who has significantly contributed to getting the public to view “whole foods” as chic instead of crunchy.

While you can argue about whether that is a good thing, it remains a fact that John Mackey is high profile and has brought a certain amount of celebrity to the industry. And, I believe that this status and profile has been directed influenced and elevated by his personality.

Even in the midst of a media circus, John Mackey is someone you have a reaction to, someone people talk about and case in point, someone people write about.

So perhaps rather than getting in his own way, he is really paving the way.

posted by Amy Abrams

January 20, 2010

Happily Me: Thoughts on The Happiness Project

I am happily halfway through reading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, who we are thrilled is coming to speak at IGC in February!

The Happiness Project is an account of the year that Gretchen spent test driving different theories of happiness in order to be more appreciative of the great life she already had. I love the premise of the book and can relate to the structured, pragmatic, and goal-oriented way that she approaches her own happiness.

I also love that she created this quest during a time of happiness rather than, like so many others, after a personal disaster or loss. Perhaps it is because I have had so many chaotic and challenging times in my past, but I love the romance of the everyday so it really works for me that this book focuses on happiness of the everyday variety, not the ‘what is my purpose on earth’ kind.

I consider myself a very happy and content person, and if given the choice I would change anything significant in my life. Although, like Gretchen, I agree it would be great to be more appreciative on a daily basis. There are little moments where I find myself disproportionately frustrated or annoyed, or that I find I don’t remember really wonderful things as frequently as I should, or that I continue habits that are unhappy and unhelpful (i.e. checking the Blackberry at night).

So I have really been taking Gretchen’s wisdom and experiences to heart. Last night I was reading about the month that Gretchen dedicated to focusing on having more fun. It was interesting because some of what Gretchen resolved to do was expand her horizons and try new things, yet at the same time she was also trying to be true to one of the resolutions that she developed at the start of the year: Be Gretchen. Obviously sometimes these things were in tension. Trying new things can be difficult when you are also being mindful and honest about what you do and don’t like to do.

Anyway, a good part of the chapter focused on owning who you are and living in accordance with it. Many of Gretchen’s blog readers had written into her blog sharing their challenges coming to terms with who they really are, what they really like, and what they really don’t like. Sometimes it takes a while to realize that no, you really don’t like staying up late or reading certain things, or doing certain jobs. No matter how hard you’ve tried to convince yourself.

What I ended up thinking was something different though. During my growing up journey I certainly had some (sometimes surprising) realizations about who “Adelaide” really was. But long after acknowledging and accepting certain facts, I have found that the resistance is a lot less internal and a lot more external.

I have the experience of telling people that I am not that social, don’t enjoy cocktail parties, and can be quite awkward in conversation, only to have them tell me not to be silly and that of course I’m not that way. Maybe they are trying to make me feel better and are secretly thinking ‘you’re not kidding!’ or maybe they just don’t or don’t want to see me that way. Or I will tell people that I hate to exercise and they will say “but you are an active person”. I don’t want to argue but by most definitions, probably not.

I’m not sure why I get push back on some things or whether other people experience it as well. Sometimes this resistance from others gives me pause and makes me wonder whether my self-perception is off. But I’m now thinking about it differently. Other people don’t have to believe me, but I have to believe me. I realize that it not just about self-confidence and honesty, it is an important part of my happiness. Sharing a preference or limitation with others protects that happiness. Saying no to things you don’t like and making informed choices also protects that happiness.

One of the many big takeways from The Happiness Project for me:

Less of what you don’t like. More of what you do. Be Adelaide.

posted by Adelaide Lancaster
image courtesy of Kimberly Creagan

January 14, 2010

Listening: Part 1 - Live Music

(I have been thinking a lot lately about the whole concept of listening. I will be writing 3 posts on different aspects of listening in the next few weeks.)

Part 1. Live Music

Part 2. Content vs. context

Part 3. Feedback from clients


Sunday night I went to see live music at GlobalFest.

There were 12 different artists performing and they were amazing. I instantly remembered why I love hearing live music.

First of all, it is so much fun. You have an opportunity to connect with the artist and see them in action. There is so much energy in the room. Music is incredibly transcending. And one cannot help to marvel at how music brings people together. There is something primal about our reaction and interaction with music.

I was enjoying the whole experience and started thinking about how these artists do something they love and put themselves out there. They have a captive audience listening to their music.

But it was clear to me that the artists were listening to the audience. The reactions were feeding them, encouraging them to keep on playing, creating and interacting with the audience. They tempo and beats were pumping as the crowd was dancing and jumping. Everyone was having fun.

On the way home I was thinking about how listening is incredibly interactive (or should be?!?). In our businesses, we are each trying to reach a targeted and captive audience that will listen to our message. We want them to hear us.

But we also need to remember to listen to our clients, our ‘could be’ or ‘would be’ clients. What do we really hear from our existing clients? Do we really listen to those that do not become our clients? Even if the message is painful, do we get the message?

An exercise that I am going to work on is to make sure that I am listening and hearing, really paying attention to the message.

And of course, continue to see live music!

Check out the band - Meta and the Cornerstones and the interview on NPR where I discovered GlobalFest.

posted by Amy Abrams

January 6, 2010

Don’t be Mission Impossible: recognize the limits and purpose of your mission

I was recently speaking with someone who was quite upset about a customer who didn’t seem to “get” or her business mission with same amount of fervor as my colleague would have liked. It seems that my colleague’s customer was supportive of the mission but was also very focused on the benefits of the service being offered. Pretty fair, I think.

Anyhow, it got me thinking….

Are customers who don’t “get” your mission really bad customers?

In the case of for-profit enterprises should mission really be a stumbling block?

Is it a good idea to base your outcomes on your mission alone? Or does that in fact, limit important customer diversity and short change the success of your services and products?

I realize there may be some differing opinions about this, but some guidelines I believe to be true (at least in the case of for-profit businesses - I realize that non-profits have a different relationship with mission):

1. Don’t expect your customers to do something because it is important to you. If you want to motivate specific action then either make it important to them too or align your needs with theirs.

2. You can’t mandate your mission. Sometimes people won’t get it or won’t care. We can’t expect customer to appreciate every bright shiny feature of what we offer, and that certainly includes our mission.

3. Similarly, you can’t dictate the customer experience. Some really great clients will only enjoy 15% of what you have to offer while others may have motivations or outcomes that are different from what you expect or anticipate. It is unfair to expect each client to be 100% in and an all-out evangelist.

4. Don’t expect your mission to drive the sale. Sure, sometimes customers might choose one service over another due to mission and some customers may be enthusiastic supporters of your mission, but don’t forget that ultimately you are selling a product or a service


1. Use your mission as strategic guidepost. It should help you determine the best direction for you and the company and serve as a litmus test for various business decisions. When presented with a new choice, ask yourself “is this on mission?”

2. Recognize that your mission is for YOU. It may also appeal to your customers but it is not their primary focus and it is not really created or articulated for them.

3. Embrace customer diversity. Each client will have differing motivations, experiences, needs, and outcomes and that is GREAT! see what you can learn from them. Also, diversification often cultivates more security and stability.

4. Leverage your mission as a way to enhance your business and add meaning and purpose for YOU. Strengthen the significance of your business by giving it a strong mission that you believe in and are willing to ferociously pursue.

5. Remember that your mission doesn’t need to be charitable. There are thousands of innovative, admirable, and social responsible purposes who don’t have charitable missions. Your mission could be qualitative or quantitative, but it should define WHAT you want to achieve and be:


Clearly articulated

Attainable (meaning it can be ticked off a list)


I feel proud to work with so many mission focused businesses and I personally believe that they have tremendous strategic importance. But it is worth reminding yourself about their limits and purpose. They aren’t the sum of the business.

posted by Adelaide Lancaster

January 5, 2010

Vulnerability and the Art of Procrastination

While attending the kick off meeting of the IGC accountability group (aka keeping on track) I got to thinking about the relationship of procrastination to vulnerability.

Jill Stern of Say It with Vases raised the question of why we procrastinate. Several members chimed in and responded that we like to do what we are good at, what we enjoy, what brings us the feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment. And we procrastinate doing things that we don't enjoy, that feel menial or that bore us.

Dig a little deeper and we all thought about current things that we are procrastinating and all admitted that they were things that we actually were afraid we may not be good at. And this fear reflected a deeper feeling of vulnerability - how we feel about ourselves. Maybe we weren't capable, maybe we couldn't do a good enough job, maybe we would fail if we tried so better expend our energy (and anxiety) avoiding the task at hand.

But then the eternal optimist in me shouted out that our anticipation is always worse than the action. And that we would not be running our own businesses at this point if we had allowed fears of feeling vulnerable get in our way. And if we actually hold up the mirror to ourselves and are less than pleased with the reflection, we have that much more of a chance to make a change, grow and build a better business - which is ultimately a reflection of ourselves.

posted by Amy Abrams

image courtesy of mindhacks

January 4, 2010

Breaking Up is Hard to Do

So I have officially started my “no shopping experiment” and I am finding it is a lot like experiencing a break up. Which of course has got me thinking how this is really relevant to running your own business but I will get back to that connection in a minute.

Why is it like a break up? First, I spent a few hours online cleaning out my inbox of past emails from stores or email lists and creating rules for all of the emails I receive that are related to shopping (arrive into folder called NO-SHOPPING EXPERIMENT – to be reviewed after April 8th). So there’s the purging exercise of anything related to shopping and when you break up, you often eliminate any traces of your ex (or put them in a box if you are old school or delete their face book profile if you are a citizen of any generation starting after x).

Another similarity are those montage moments that play in your head as the day goes on – seeing the two of you happy together, laughing over dinner, or in my case, finding a pair of shoes that upon laying my eyes on them, I can certainly not live without. Or the fleeting moments where you wonder what your ex is up to, how that individual must be missing you or in my case, thinking about all of the sales I am missing and wondering how stores will survive without me shopping there.

And finally, I am finding other hobbies to pursue – giving out fashion advice to friends (not a new habit but a way to stay connected) and baking. See above picture of attached delicious salted caramel cookies baked last night (recipe here). After a break up, we often find a new way to spend all of our newly discovered time – insert yours here (running, reading, working, etc).

Which leads me to the connection of running your own business and how a deliberate change in your behavior can alter how you think about and run your business. For example, you can see how much email you allow as a distraction. You can rethink the “I never have enough time in the day” statement and really own it that you may not spend your time wisely. And you may also find that your behavior contributes to your business – perhaps it makes you a more creative thinker, perhaps it allows you to really focus when you need to and unwind easily.

We are more than just our businesses, that’s for sure. But sometimes it is easy to blend the two, to see the business as more than just an extension of you. Perhaps there is a behavior that you want to experiment with and see how it affects your business.

Try it!