Boston/Cambridge Tech vs. Silicon Valley Tech: Vive La Difference

a-rising-tide-lifts-all-boats1The west and east coasts of the US have drawn competitive comparisons for aboutq as long as they’ve existed. At least that’s how it feels to this extreme east coaster.

Whether you were raised on the west or the east coast, chances are you are passionate about the things that make each coast distinct, the things for which each coast have earned their distinct reputations.  Which coast has the best waves for surfing, the best snow for skiing, the better communities for raising families, the coolest home-grown music? And on and on.

The comparisons grow even more intense when you’re talking tech.  Which coastal universities turn out more talented engineers and entrepreneurs, Stanford or MIT? Harvard or UC at Berkeley Haas School of Business? And is Silicon Valley or Boston/Cambridge spawning more innovative companies?  Which is the best area to do business in?

Well, it really depends on who you talk to and which reports you read.  PandoDaily reporter Hamish McKenzie wrote a widely read article last fall and claimed in it that “Boston is in a rut”  with its “glory days of its enterprise might” behind it.  McKenzie even cited a Startup Genome Report which placed Boston in sixth place on the world ranking for best regions for startups behind the likes of LA and New York.

Strange thing is that here on the east coast, it certainly doesn’t feel like Boston/Cambridge has lost its mojo – at least not as completely as some claim.  Even McKenzie says the view of Boston from Silicon Valley is very different, and that once you get a chance to visit some of the incubators and the community of entrepreneurs working in places like the Cambridge Innovation Center where there’s almost always a waiting list for office space, you’ll feel the vibrancy and sense of urgency.

I wouldn’t say McKenzie is bullish on Boston’s chances for improving its position in the next Startup Genome Report.  But he does concede that the region “is in the process of bolstering a robust ecosystem strong enough to stop its slide down the rankings.”

As a dyed in the wool east coaster, I’m bullish on the region’s tech scene stopping its apparent slide and also on Boston fighting its way back to its rightful position as the clear no. two tech town in the US.

And I don’t stand alone on this.  Take, for example, Mark Held, the CEO of startup Weft. Held recently relocated his firm from San Francisco to Boston citing the areas ecosystem of enterprise tech startups, the talent graduating from area colleges and universities and the quick commute to NYC.

“Boston is where you go when you want to build a real company with revenue (as opposed to another social thing).  The Silicon Valley startup culture isn’t sustainable — we want to be around for a long time and the culture out west isn’t conducive to that,”  Held told the Boston Business Journal.

At a recent unConference in Boston, Pam Burton, who heads up the east coast office in Gloucester, Mass., for Accelent Consulting, has worked on both coasts and says, “The tech community here seems a lot more open and accessible, and really focuses on attracting investment and companies to be successful in Massachusetts in a more organized and powerful way than what I saw over there.”

Burton said that if a tech company founder doesn’t come out of a well known company or school, then getting attention on the west coast is harder.

Echoing Burton in the Boston Business Journal, Cathy Wissink, director of Microsoft’s tech community outreach division in Cambridge and a recent east coast transplant, said, “The energy here is remarkable in terms of startups, venture capitalists and innovation” and emphasized the big number of students engaged in the Boston tech scene.

Boston/Cambridge tech or Silicon Valley tech?  East coast vs. west?  Well, it’s a silly debate and we really don’t have to choose, do we?  When both do well, everyone wins. After all, a rising tide lifts all boats.


Note to AOL’s Tim Armstrong: “The Apprentice” Is Staged

reputation-management-300x203It’s official:  AOL CEO Tim Armstrong said 350 of its employees will be fired and an additional 150 will likely lose their jobs by October.  Apparently, the employees were notified American Idol style, with the winners notified in one room and the losers huddled in another.

Armstrong, a co-founder of the struggling and unprofitable, composed of 900 local news web sites, alerted employees and investors just over a week ago that he would be shutting down about one-third of his sites.  Since then, employees have been just waiting for the ax to fall even though Armstrong hinted at an all-employee meeting on Aug. 9, during which he also opted to publicly chastise and fire another executive, that he might be able to save everyone’s position.

Wishful thinking.

Guess what?  I wasn’t the only one critical in a post of Armstrong’s handling of the communications around Patch’s woes.  In “What CEOs Can Learn From AOL’s Tim Armstrong’s Awful Week,” I called out Armstrong’s lack of humanity, his ambiguity and his otherwise Draconian handling of the situation — all of which could have been avoided with the right counsel.

There’s no doubt that’s financial situation requires urgent and decisive leadership, action and clear direction.  But in his communications to employees, Armstrong ignored all five of the key elements to preserving a CEO’s reputation: honesty, respect, care, integrity and humility.

Here’s what a few “reputation communications” experts are saying about Armstrong’s handling of recent events including his “Apprentice” style firing of executive Able Lenz for taking this photo during the all employee meeting/conference call on August 9:

It looks like big business being a bully,” said Jim Webber, who conducts workplace training and runs a human resources advice blog called Evil Skippy at Work.

Ron Ashkenas, a senior partner with Shaffer Consulting, Stamford, Conn., said: “If he was trying to make himself out like Donald Trump, then this isn’t the way to do it. ‘The Apprentice’ is a staged television show.

And from Bill Murphy, Jr., an ex-Washington Post reporter and author of “Breakthrough Entrepreneurship”: “Dramatic firings can be useful, but impetuous moves overshadow everything. The way you handle this decision reflects the kind of leader you are.”

What impact do you think Armstrong’s communications approach will have on his reputation?  If you need a reminder of how Armstrong handled the all-employee meeting, here it is again.


Transparent Communications Can Save Your Business

TransparencyIconOn any given week (or day, hour or minute of every day), politicians, appointed officials, celebrities, athletes and business leaders provide their publics with communications gaffs as well as moments of sheer communications brilliance.  As a result, reputations either advance or retreat, are strengthened or are tarnished, are wounded or destroyed.

For some, the damage can be managed.  For others, well, maybe not. But for those who make the connection between the value and power of “reputation” and success, guys like Ayr Muir, well, they’ll continue to flourish.

Larger companies can learn a lot about transparency in communications from a small business owner like Muir, a materials science MIT grad and Harvard MBA, who also happens to be a distant relative to American naturalist John Muir.

Since 2008, Ayr Muir has been the owner and executive chef of Clover Food Lab, a vegetarian-based chain of food trucks and restaurants operating in Boston and Cambridge.  Since day one, Muir has been as open and honest with employees and customers, sharing the good, bad and the ugly with his constituents on his blog and Twitter feed.   For this, he is revered.

And the halo effect he created for his business by being open and truthful has rescued his business from a recent major crisis — one that might have crippled another enterprise if handled differently.

Last month, City of Cambridge health officials linked a salmonella outbreak to Clover.  When Clover was shut down, as a consequence, Muir managed the message and his reputation by announcing the temporary closure himself.  He didn’t put his reputation in some else’s charge.

But he didn’t stop there.

Throughout the crisis, Muir posted regular updates on his blog, including details about the health code violations and what his company was doing to address them.  He also borrowed bank money to pay his employees during the closure.  And in keeping with his reputation for being a “glass is half full” kind of guy, Muir wrote in one post:  “That’s right, this scary time is turning into a sort of vacation.”

Muir took further advantage of the crisis by taking the opportunity to establish a higher benchmark for food safety — a benchmark his competition may be forced to emulate.  Today, Clover has a food safety consultant on the payroll, has introduced a sanitizer to the water used to clean produce and food preparation surfaces are tested for for bio-contaminants.

None of these are things that are required, but we think they will improve our operations as we grow.”

Clover is once again open for business.  As strong as ever.

Bill Belichick Is Not An Android Afterall

1374692483000-bill-belichick-1307241713_4_3As it turns out, he’s made of the same things you and I are, flesh and blood — not synthetics. Who knew?

Bill Belichick, the anti-PR head coach of the New England Patriots football team, showed yesterday during the new season’s first press conference that he’s human.  He hurts much like you and I do.

While it took a tragic event, specifically the death of a young man and murder charges against one of the Patriot’s star players, for Belichick to display his human side, he rose to the occasion.

On June 26, 2013, Patriots star tight-end Aaron Hernandez, 23, was charged with murder in the first degree in the shooting death of a friend Odin Lloyd, 27.  The Patriots released Hernandez from the team later that day, though Belichick and team owner Robert Kraft were out of the country at the time.

One month later, Belichick stood before the lights and cameras of TV crews and a slew of newspaper reporters at his team’s stadium in Foxborough, Mass., to address the horror that unfolded just four weeks prior.

On this day, he left his famous gray hoodie in the locker room and looked more business-like behind the podium.

In a prepared statement, Belichick began the arduous task of rebuilding the once great but now tarnished reputation of the New England Patriots.  One press conference won’t get the job done.  Among other things, the team will have to execute flawlessly against their promise to reevaluate their system for vetting players before offering them life-changing contracts.

But yesterday, Belichick did just about everything right.  He put aside the team’s famous abstract playbook and instead read from the franchise’s book on crisis communications:

1, He proactively addressed the issue using a carefully crafted and thoughtfully prepared statement which answered many of the questions news organizations were anxious to ask.  He emphasized the crisis is bigger and more important than the organization.  “My comments are certainly not in proportion to the unfortunate and sad situation we have here.”

2, He used words that evoke emotion; words the bind us all together.  Belichick said he was “shocked and disappointed” by the tragic events.  “It’s a sad day, a really sad day on so many levels.”  Many of us feel the same.

3, He didn’t deflect blame and took responsibility.  As the person primarily responsible for signing players, Belichick said, “…I’m personally disappointed and hurt in a situation like this.”

4, He restated the organization’s value set.  “We have so many players … that do the right thing and that set a great example of being a professional and being a solid representative of this team and community.”

5, He stayed in the present (this problem won’t disappear for quite some time). But committed to the future.  “Moving forward consists of what it’s always been here:  to build a winning football team, be a strong pillar in the community, be a team that our fans can be proud of.”

For the New England Patriots reputation, there’s no place to go but up.  Yesterday, Bill Belichick got the process off to a pretty good start.  Don’t you think?

Brand Building For Young Professionals: 6 Simple Steps

ImagePersonal brand and reputation building is big business.
It’s virtually impossible to keep up with the never-ending wave of “how to build your personal brand” articles and books. It’s especially tough for young people who are just out of college and are looking for their first professional job in an employment market that often favors candidates who make the most noise.
Twenty years ago, or even 10, I don’t think many newly minted college grads were paying too much attention to personal brand building.  And using technology to build a personal brand, or to start earning a reputation, was nearly non-existent.  Then, one relied more on word-of-mouth and good old fashioned networking.  But today, the social network LinkedIn provides young, professional job seekers with the best platform ever for showcasing in full view of prospective employers their ambition, passion, competency, business smarts and networking savvy.
Like anything else, though, a tool is useless in the wrong hands.  For LinkedIn to become a true personal brand building solution, there are a few rules of the road.
I see too many young people — interns I have worked with, the sons and daughters of friends of mine, etc. — who are wasting a great opportunity by not investing time in LinkedIn. Meanwhile, those who get it — like Dan Schawbel and his disciples — are reaping the benefit.
Schawbel has built a tremendous business by advising Millennials on personal brand building. While there are scores of other personal brand building experts, Dan’s focus is on Millennials (young people who are generally in their 20’s and early 30’s, the focus of this post) who are just starting out. One of his books, “Me 2.0:  4 Steps to Building Your Future“, has been a best seller here and across Asia and Europe.
For young job seekers who may not have the time, or who are unwilling to make the time to read Dan’s or others’ books or attend the many personal branding seminars that are available, there are six relatively simple steps they can take on LinkedIn to grow their personal brand and begin to build their reputation as someone with something important to say.
Here are my six:
1. Can the profile picture of you at a party, or at an event or on vacation. Save those for
ImageFacebook.  And kill the glamour picture unless you’re in the entertainment industry.  Replace with a straightforward head on shot of you in professional attire wearing a nice smile.
2.  If you don’t yet have relevant work experience for your intended field, then fill your profile page with relevant skills instead.  For example, if you want to work in public relations but spent your college summers working as a waitress or waiter at Texas Roadhouse, then let’s hear about your customer service, problem solving, team building and communications skills. Find the relevance.
3. Build out your LinkedIn network.  To start, connect with college classmates, your professors, high school classmates who went to a different college than you and may already be working. Also, connect with your parent’s friends who may run their own small businesses or may be employed by big companies.  I guarantee they will be happy to hear from you. Don’t forget the professionals you talk with at the health club, or people you meet at summer weddings and graduation parties.
4. Ask for LinkedIn recommendations.  Don’t be shy about asking for help from managers you may have interned with, past summer employers or professors you may have assisted.  If you did good work, they will not refuse you.
5. “Follow” companies on LinkedIn you think may be a future employer.  Then visit their LinkedIn page and see who you may already know who works there.  Reach out to them even if you don’t see any jobs of interest posted.  Many open positions are never posted and those who are best networked often get first dibs.
6. Get involved.  Join a handful of the thousands of available LinkedIn groups. Guaranteed there will be groups in your chosen field no matter how obscure.  A couple of times a week visit the groups and eavesdrop on the discussion.  When you think you can contribute to a discussion, weigh in.  After the first time, it gets easier and easier.
Give LinkedIn your best shot.  Your competition already is.