Using improvisation and comedy to unleash your company’s message and branding

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Advertising, business advice, free business advice, Hiring Consultants, Hiring Contractors, Marketing, Priorities

When Hewlett-Packard was about to launch their Windows 10 line of notebook and desktop computers they were scared. Not because they were worried about competition or the quality of their devices but, because of the horrible reaction to their prior line of computers due to Microsoft’s shockingly bad Windows 8 software. In order to create the right marketing message for their new line of computers they knew they needed serious help. This was no laughing matter. So, who did they turn to? A bunch of comedians.

HP turned to a San Francisco based creative agency called Funworks. Funworks brought in a team of comedians skilled at improvisation techniques to hold a “fun workshop” with HP’s top product managers. Founded by Paul Charney, a veteran creative agency executive and founder of the San Francisco comedy troupe Killing Lobsters, Paul and his team help companies express their issues and discover their most compelling messaging points by fostering an environment of open conversation based on improvisation techniques where ideas flow freely when everyone simply says “yes” and “and”.

In this episode of Bay Area Ventures I speak with Paul Charney and Funwork’s Creative Architect, Erica Fortescue about his company and their award winning commercials.


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We discuss the psychology of what makes a company and its products memorable and why humor is sometimes the best medicine, even when trying to convey a serious message. We learn what a fun workshop is and what takes place at one.

Paul talks about why he started Funworks and how it is different from other creative ad agencies. He talks about the challenges of moving from a practicing creative person and comedian to being the CEO of a team of other practitioners. What are the trade off and what are the rewards for being a leader.

Erica shares her knowledge on the neuropsychology of messaging and how humor can be used to convey a serious message while maintaining the prestige and authority of the company being represented in the creative message.

Of course we also hear Paul and Erica share their view on the Bay Area Way of business. In their practice they have dealt with startup to Fortune 50 enterprises in the Bay Area and across the US. In the Bay Area, in particular, they talk about how companies staffed by 20 to 30 “something” employees are sometimes more difficult to help because they just don’t understand their true identity as an organization. Often in these cases they are called in by the company’s Board of Directors to help figure it out and craft the right message and persona for the firm.

So, how did HP conquer their fear of whether or not Windows 10 would scuttle their latest offerings? By creating Circle of Trust. See it here: Funwork’s Windows 10 Launch Commercial for H-P

This episode was recorded on May 22, 2017 on Bay Area Ventures on SiriusXM Channel 111 Business Radio Powered by the Wharton School. For a list of upcoming and past guest information click on the Show link above.

Special follow-up edition Part 2 with Martin Plaehn of Control 4 and Mark Chung of Verdigris Technology

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Part two of my special two-part follow-up edition of Bay Area Ventures, featuring interviews with guests from the first three seasons of the show, is now available for streaming or download here and on iTunes, Spreaker and Facebook.

In this episode I speak with Martin Plaehn, CEO of Control 4 and Mark Chung Co-Founder and CEO of Verdigris Technologies.

 
 
 
Martin Plaehn
Control 4
 
Martin Plaehn is a seasoned CEO who has been leading Control 4 since 2011 (NASDAQ: CTRL). Martin first appeared on Bay Area Ventures back in August of 2015. At the time, Control 4’s annual revenue was $160 Million. For the first quarter of 2017, the company’s revenues were over $50 Million and Control 4’s stock has more than doubled since his last appearance on our show.

Control 4 is a leader or, perhaps “The” leader in the home automation space. They manufacture automation systems and software for smart homes and offices. Martin brings us up to date on the latest in IoT devices for the home as well as steps they are taking to prevent hacking of these systems.

Martin has lectured on leadership and has been at the helm of some of the early and most famous technology companies such as RealNetworks, Viewpoint Digital and Bungee Labs. He discusses the challenges of scaling his organization and how he manages his time to address Control 4’s technology, customer and shareholder needs. We also learn about his current reading list for when he’s traveling around the world.

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In the second half of the show we’ll check in with Mark Chung, Co-Founder and CEO of Verdigris Technologies (www.verdigris.co). Mark’s first appearance on Bay Area Ventures was in April of 2016 when Verdigris was still a seed funded company but already shipping product and generating revenue. Verdigris raised a $7M Series A financing in the second half of 2016 with backers such as Verizon and Jabil Manufacturing giving them the headroom to grow and capture more markets.

Mark started Verdigris with his brother after an incident in their home where their electricity bill spiked for some unknown reason. They developed a monitoring system that can automatically detect every type of device on an electrical circuit and track and monitory its electric usage.

Today, they are an AI or artificial intelligence company using machine learning to solve tough problems facing the operators of hotels, factories and other commercial facilities. Verdigris technology sends a customer’s energy usage data up to a cloud based dashboard and applies AI to the data to help those customers track energy usage and anomalies in their facilities. This knowledge allows customers to cut their energy usage by as much as 50%.

Verdigris Technologies
Mark Chung

Mark talks about many of the challenges he has faced since his last appearance due to rapid growth and both internal and external factors. The company’s headcount has more than doubled in the past year and they encountered some surprises doing business in the European Union and Great Britain since the UK passed Brexit. They are also still struggling to build up a world class sales team to keep up with growth.

Verdigris is a real success story and Mark shares his philosophy of how to handle the stresses and challenges of being the leader of a fast company. He is a brilliant engineer who has worked at top technology companies such as AMD, PA Semiconductor and Netlogic. PA semiconductor was acquired by Apple while Mark was an employee and Netlogic was acquired by Broadcom, as well. Like these great companies that hired Mark you can benefit from his knowledge and skills by listening in and following his company’s progress.

This jam-packed show is sure to be a good use of your time.

Recorded on April 24, 2017, on SiriusXM Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by the Wharton School. Bay Area Ventures airs live on Mondays at 4:00pm Pacific Time, 7:00pm Eastern Time.

For a list of upcoming and past guest information click on the Show link above.

Special follow-up edition Part 1 with Christopher Farm of Tenjin and Dave McLean of Magnolia Brewing

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In this, the first of two special follow-up editions of Bay Area Ventures, we check in with guests from the first three seasons of the show.

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In this episode, we speak with Christopher Farm, Co-Founder and CEO of Tenjin, Inc. Christopher first appeared on Bay Area Ventures in April of 2016. Back then, Tenjin was a young company, recently graduated from the Y-Combinator incubator. How has Tenjin grown in the past year? What are some of the biggest challenges and surprises that Christopher and his team have had to deal with? We will cover it all and see what is next in store for his company.

Chris takes calls from listeners and talks about how they have manage to find technical talent for their team at a time when competition for programmers and engineers in the San Francisco Bay Area has been fierce.

In the second half of the show we’ll check in with Dave McLean, Founder of Magnolia Brewing. Dave was my first guest on Bay Area Ventures in March of 2014. Back then, Magnolia Brewing had its sole location, Magnolia Gastropub on Haight Street in San Francisco. They were just building out a new restaurant and brewing facility. We’ll find out when those projects were completed and how they have fared. We’ll also talk about Magnolia’s recent entry into retail sales with their new line of canned beers.
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Dave Mclaean is one of the leaders of the modern San Francisco Bay Area craft brewing industry. He is also the founder of the San Francisco Brewer’s Guild and helped grow the membership to hundreds of craft brewers throughout the Bay Area. The Guild also hosts dozens of major community events each year including San Francisco Beer Week and their annual Brews by the Bay festival.

McLean is passionate business man and brewer. He has built a thriving enterprise with thousands of devoted fans in a city whose roots as a brewer’s haven go back to the gold rush days of the 1800’s. That’s no small feat and Dave will tell you how he’s done it.

This is a jam-packed show with a lot of great takeaways for your business.

Recorded on April 24, 2017, on SiriusXM Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by the Wharton School. Bay Area Ventures airs live on Mondays at 4:00pm Pacific Time, 7:00pm Eastern Time.

For a list of upcoming and past guest information click on the Show link above.

Q1 2017 San Francisco Bay Area Economic Update with Jim Wunderman

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Business, business advice, Economics, Finance

On this special Bay Area Council quarterly economic update edition of Bay Area Ventures we speak with Jim Wunderman, CEO of The Bay Area Council about the first quarter 2017 San Francisco Bay Area economy.

Additionally we talk about the results of the Bay Area Council’s recently completed 2017 poll. Jim let’s us know what questions were asked and what were the top issues on the top of minds of Bay Area residents. In particular, which issue is considered a crisis.

The Bay Area economy began 2017 on a strong note with robust growth in the tech industry, many large M&A deals and the lowest unemployment rate of any region in the state of California. However, all that success is not without some pain and the Bay Area still suffers from extremely high cost of living and horrendous traffic congestion.


Jim Wunderman headshot
  
Bay Area Council logo
Jim and his organization have been working for years on policies and bills to address these key issues and, in the first quarter, several new laws were passed by the California State Senate to help. Additionally a $52Billion gas tax and DMV fee package was championed by Governor Jerry Brown and passed into law. In this episode Jim talks about all of these acheivements and how they will impact the Bay Area. He hints at when to expect these initiatives to make an impact and then discusses which key issues he’ll be working on next.

 

The Bay Area Council is a public policy organization focused on making the San Francisco Bay Area and the Silicon Valley the most globally competitive and economically productive region in the world. The Council’s membership is comprised of CEOs from hundreds of the top businesses in the nine-county Bay Area. Jim Wunderman has been the Council’s CEO since 2004. For more information on Jim and to see the results of the Bay Area Council’s 2017 poll go to bayareacouncil.org.

This interview was recorded on April 24, 2017, on SiriusXM Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by the Wharton School. Bay Area Ventures airs live on Mondays at 4:00pm Pacific Time, 7:00pm Eastern Time.

For a list of upcoming and past guest information click on the Show link above.

Your startup, before and after being featured on Shark Tank with Sara Magulis CEO of Honeyfund

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Business, business advice, free business advice, Uncategorized

Sara Margulis, Co-Founder and CEO of Honeyfund and Plumfund joins me on Bay Area Ventures to talk about entrepreneurship and her venture’s fortunes before and after appearing on ABC’s Shark Tank. Honeyfund began when Sara and her fiancé Josh (now husband) were looking for a way to allow wedding guests to fund their honeymoon instead of purchasing gifts that they wouldn’t be able to store in their small San Francisco apartment. Josh created Honeyfund as an online registry where their friends and family could choose various aspects of their honeymoon to fund as a gift (i.e. airfare, hotel room nights, excursions, dinners, etc.).

Sara margulis

 
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Fast forward ten years later and Honeyfund is a thriving site that has helped millions of users. In addition to funding honeymoons, customers began using the Honeyfund to fund other needs and charities. Sara and Josh launched Plumfund to fulfill all of these other things that users love. Both sites were doing well and then Sara and Josh decided to appear on ABC’s Shark Tank. They wound up receiving offers from three sharks and Mr. Wonderful himself, Kevin O’Leary ended up lending the company $400,000. Click here to watch Honeyfund on YouTube

Honeyfund is located in Sebastopol, a beautiful part of the north Bay Area known more for vineyards and dairies but, more and more also becoming a home to many tech companies.

Sara discusses her transition from being a Marketing Director at a San Francisco University to becoming tech entrepreneur. She walks us through some of the challenges she’s faced along the way and how life and business changed after their Shark Tank experience. Other than the parts which fall under a non-disclosure agreement we do talk about the Shark Tank process. And finally, we get to hear Sara’s take on the Bay Area way of business.

It’s a fun interview with lots of great takeaways for your business, wherever you may be.

Recorded on March 27, 2017, on SiriusXM Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by the Wharton School. Bay Area Ventures airs live on Mondays at 4:00pm Pacific Time, 7:00pm Eastern Time.

For a list of upcoming and past guest information click on the Show link above.

Tim Chen wanted to help his sister find a credit card, today he runs Nerdwallet

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in business advice, Finance, Financial Services, free business advice, Marketing

Tim Chen, Co-Founder and President of Nerdwallet joins me on my latest episode of Bay Area Ventures to talk about his journey from Wall Street investment banker to advocate for consumer credit choice and information.

Nerdwallet is a site where one can find the best credit card, bank account, travel rewards plan, mortgage, insurance or other financial needs tailored to their specific needs, goals or tastes. The site walks users through some qualifying questions then draws on thousands of providers in every state for the best solution.

Nerdwallet Logo Tim Chen, CEO of Nerdwallet

 

Nerdwallet was founded in 2009, in Tim’s apartment in New York City, when his sister asked for help finding the “best” credit card for her needs. Nerdwallet moved to San Francisco when Tim’s co-founder came to San Francisco and hired an intern that was 10x more productive than the intern Tim hired in NYC. In this interview Tim expands on that discovery and talks about why the ecosystem and entrepreneurial hires found in the Bay Area are ideal for a growing startup.

Through his work at Nerdwallet, helping millions of consumers, Tim has become Member of the Consumer Advisory Board for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the federal agency created after the 2008 financial crises to protect consumers. He is also a member of the Board of Directors for the National Federation for Credit Counseling. He talks about high credit rates that consumers face and why it’s difficult to make changes.

Tim, is a highly intelligent young entrepreneur who is dedicated to building an open and motivated workforce. Learn about how he and his team communicate to get work done and allow the company to scale rapidly. This is a great interview packed with lots of practical takeaways for your business.

Recorded on February 13, 2017, on SiriusXM Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by the Wharton School.

For a list of upcoming and past guest information click on the Show link above.

San Francisco vs. Atlanta as a place to run your startup company

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On this episode of Bay Area Ventures we speak with Paul Judge, Co-Founder and CEO of Luma. Paul, is an inventor, investor and serial entrepreneur. He is a cybersecurity expert and has had extensive experience in the field through many of his roles. In addition to Luma, Paul was a co-founder of Pindrop Security, Looklive, Tech Square Labs and PureWire, a web security service acquired by Barracuda Networks where he stayed on to be their Chief Research Officer and VP for over five years and through to their $2B IPO.

Luma logoPaul Judge, CEO Luma

Before all that, Paul was the Chief Technology Officer of CipherTrust and Secure Computing. CipherTrust was acquired by Secure Computing for $273M in 2006 and Secure Computing was subsequently acquired by McAfee in 2008 for $465M.

In addition to almost 30 patents under his belt, Paul is an author and lecturer and holds MS and PhDs in Computer Science from the Georgia Institute of Technology and a BS in computer science from Morehouse College. You can find videos of some of Paul’s lectures on his website at www.pjudge.com.

Paul tells us about his latest company Luma, makers of a new Surround WiFi system that brings the type of WiFi service typically found in large commercial spaces to the home. Luma is a scalable system that allows one to place multiple access points throughout a home, overcoming the limitations of typical home Wifi routers which only have antennas in one location. Luma also employs sophisticated software to make configuration a snap and to protect your home from cyber intrusions.

Luma in living room

Paul also shares his advice on building and running a startup company talking about his transition from a Ph. D. student and early employee at a startup company to becoming a serial entrepreneur on his own. Having homes and offices in both San Francisco and Atlanta, he compares the differences between running startups in the Bay Area versus other locations. The good and the bad.

Paul is an engaging speaker offering great advice for any entrepreneur.

Recorded December 19, 2016 on SiriusXM Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by the Wharton School. Bay Area Ventures airs live on Mondays at 4:00pm Pacific Time, 7:00pm Eastern Time.

For a list of upcoming and past guest information click on the Show link above.

How to run your startup as if your life depended on it

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Getting Started

Sheryl O’Loughlin, CEO of REBBL joined me recently to talk about her company, her life and her new book “Killing It: An Entrepreneur’s Guide to Keeping Your Head Without Losing Your Heart“. You can hear it all in this episode of Bay Area Ventures recorded on December 19, 2016.

We begin the interview by catching up on the changes in her life that led her to leave a faculty role at Sonoma State University to join REBBL as their CEO, then we discuss her new book in detail.

Sheryl practices what she preaches and teaches. She advises entrepreneurs to create “purpose driven organizations” and that’s just what she is doing at REBBL, a registered Benefit Corporation. REBBL is the offshoot of the non-profit organization Not For Sale which is working to stop human trafficking around the world. Specifically, Not For Sale is striving to improve the lives or women and girls in developing countries who are most at risk for exploitation of human traffickers. 2.5 percent of REBBL’s net sales goes to Not For Sale and Sheryl talks about how she has chosen investors and co-workers who support the fact that REBBL is about more than just the bottom line.

Sheryl, is open and passionate about sharing her experiences as an entrepreneur. She has lived through the ups and downs of building a company and suffered the tolls that it takes on one’s health and relationships. After coming close to personal bankruptcy, Sheryl spiraled into a personal health crisis but, managed to pull herself through with counseling and the support of her family, friends and colleagues. To help other entrepreneurs avoid the problems and challenges she has gone through, she authored her new book, Killing It. Unlike a typical book or business school course on strategy, financing, marketing and all the other nuts and bolts of building a startup, Killing It talks about the personal decisions and actions one must take to maintain a healthy outlook and physical well-being needed to launch a company.

Killing It Book Sheryl O'Loughlin Killing It Book link

In Killing It, Sheryl walks entrepreneurs through the various stages of building a company from the decisions around founding a company, to choosing partners, teams and investors, to the ongoing stages of growth that a typical startup goes through. At each stage she offers personal advice about how to stay true to one’s personal beliefs and how to avoid the mistake of going from a healthy passionate pursuit to a destructive obsession. Sheryl openly discusses her own personal experience of going down the “dark path” and how difficult it was to see it while it was happening and how she ultimately came to put her work and life in balance.

Today she is back, her company is thriving and she is happy and fully connected with her relationships. She has dedicated time for family. Her team at REBBL is fully aligned, feel they are on an epic journey and share the dedication and fun of work with each other in order to help each other stay connected and in balance.

This is a highly personal story and fantastic advice for any entrepreneur.

To purchase Sheryl’s book go to Killing It
For more information on Not For Sale go to: www.notforsalecampaign.org

Recorded December 19, 2016 on SiriusXM Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by the Wharton School. Bay Area Ventures airs live on Mondays at 4:00pm Pacific Time, 7:00pm Eastern Time.

For a list of upcoming and past guest information click on the Show link above.

Why entrepreneurs must understand the sales function

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My latest podcast of Bay Area Ventures is an interview with Jim Fowler, Founder and CEO of Owler.com. Jim is a serial entrepreneur who launched Jigsaw.com in 2003 and sold it to Salesforce.com in 2010 for $175M.

Jim Fowler - Founder and CEO of Owler

Jim’s leadership skills have evolved over time and build on his experience as a Naval officer, Co-Owner of a ski resort, a VP of Sales and two-time tech entrepreneur.

The Owler team includes several of Jim’s friends and colleagues who have worked with him before which is a testament to his ability to foster and congeal teams. In this interview he shares his experiences in building and running companies, discusses some mistakes he’s made along the way and explains why he thinks the most important skill for an entrepreneur is to fully understand the sales process including how and why customers are going to pay for your company’s products or services.

Jim’s motivation for working and speaking is to help others. He is not drawing a salary from Owler and plans to donate his profits to charity. He is most concerned with setting a good example as a father rather than to sit back and live off of his prior gains.

I guarantee this podcast will be a great use of your time.

How to find happiness at work

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in business advice, Foundation, free business advice, Networking, Priorities

Srikumar Rao is a noted author, lecturer, professor and founder of The Rao Institute. He is the author of the course “Creativity and Personal Mastery”, the only MBA course in the world which has its own alumni association.

Professor Rao talks about his career and how it led him to a life-long mission to help others be more happy and successful in their careers.

This is an amazing interview with a truly amazing person.

Be sure to pick up Professor Rao’s books: