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Archive for April, 2012

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to listen to Laura Zander co-founder of Jimmy Beans Wool speak on entrepreneurial success. Jimmy Beans Wool is primarily a web commerce company (with one retail store in Reno), which sells yarn along with its more recent product line addition of fabrics. When you think of a company that mainly sells yarn, you don’t typically think innovation. Yet Laura and her husband Doug have been very innovative in how they have grown their business in ten years from nothing to a $7 million company. The KOLO video below describes a little bit about their successful business model:

Of all Laura’s tips for business success, the one that stood out the most to me was her philosophy of having the brand continually pop up in unexpected places. Since it is estimated 1 in 4 women in the U.S. know how to knit, Laura recognized this gave the company a huge reach offering endless possibilities for branding partnerships. These branding partnerships represented first mover advantages for Jimmy Beans Wool.

Here are a few of the brand’s unexpected partnerships:

The Emmy’s: As part of their strategy of going where no other yarn company has gone before, Jimmy Beans Wool were able to negotiate to have a swag suite at the Emmy’s. As part of the event the Jimmy Beans Wool team even got to teach stars how to knit. After the event Laura capitalized on the opportunity sending press releases with titles such as “Hollywood Hunks Turn to Knitting” and calling magazines relentlessly to create a buzz. The approach worked and Redbook magazine ran a story on the company.

U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA): More recently Jimmy Beans Wool have teamed up with the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association as their official and first ever yarn, knitting and crochet supplier. Beyond giving the brand great exposure, the partnership makes sense when you think of all the warm beanies, sweaters, scarves etc. the skiers and snowboarders need. The partnership doesn’t stop there either as Laura also recognizes that there is an opportunity to market their yarn products to family members of the ski and snowboard teams.

The Heart Truth: The heart truth is a non-profit campaign by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) and sponsoring corporations to increase women’s awareness of heart disease. You’ve probably seen the campaign’s red dress symbol on diet coke cans. Laura chose to get involved in the campaign not only to give back but also to add credibility to Jimmy Beans Wool. The other sponsoring partners are huge corporations including Coca Cola, AOL, CVS and Johnson & Johnson among others. By being a part of a campaign supported by such large corporations, Jimmy Beans Wool can use this to their advantage to appear bigger than they actually are to win future business deals. Jimmy Beans Wool have set up a campaign site for the cause called Stitch Red to enlist the help of yarn retailers, manufacturers and their customers to increase heart disease awareness. The company has created products related to this cause and in June Laura is releasing her first book called “Knit Red.” Knit Red contains 30 red garments and accessories donated by celebrity designers who share their tips for staying healthy and preventing heart disease.

Laura’s future dream partnerships include the Today Show, and having knitting kits on Virgin Airlines. As the company’s tag line says there really are “Endless Possibilities” for where this company could take yarn.

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Last month I did a blog post entitled The Benefits of a Results-Only Work Environment on consulting group CultureRx’s innovative concept: ROWE. Today I am honored that CultureRx chose to republish this post as a guest post entitled 8 Organizational Benefits of a Results-Only Work Environment over at their blog. Check it out.

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If you’re an innovative company, it’s smart to convince your customers that such innovation is going to keep coming and continue to exceed their expectations. This week Google released Project Glass. Project Glass represents a vision through video and photos of how technology in the future might be created to work for you, when you need it and how you need it to. Want to know if that train is going to be late? It will tell you and offer alternatives. See something remarkable and want to share it with someone, go ahead. Want directions inside or outside a building at any given moment? (Something the geographically challenged such as myself could greatly benefit from) this glasses type device will provide that and more. Here is the Project Glass video:

What Google are doing with Project Glass is sharing their ideas of future technology and using crowd sourcing to adapt and create something that best meets consumer needs. Google are actively seeking customer input on this and anyone can add insights on the Project Glass Google+ page.

Upon sharing the Project Glass video on my Facebook page, a friend shared an alternative vision of a glass future from world leader in specialty glass: Corning Inc. In Corning’s vision there are technologically engineered glass flat panel screens everywhere from your house to the office to your car or even outside! Imagine reading from a thin flexible transportable piece of glass or organizing your schedule with a few touches of your bathroom mirror or chatting through interactive video from your kitchen counter top. This company has been researching a vision that could change how we communicate, collaborate and connect in the future. President of Corning, Inc. Jim Clappin explains the company’s vision:

“The consumer trend driving our vision for tomorrow is very clear. We all want to be connected with what we want…when we want…anywhere…and with great ease. Corning’s innovations in glass will enable this journey to continue.”

Watch Corning’s video to see their vision:

Both Google and Corning have innovative visions for the future, but what do you think? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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With gas prices continuing to increase, it’s hard to imagine being able to travel hundreds of miles on any form of transportation for just $1.50. Yet such a concept is the reality for customers of megabus.com in the east coast, southeast and mid west regions of the U.S.

I first came across Megabus about 8 years ago as a college student studying at the University of Edinburgh. Back then I would take Megabus to Glasgow for shopping trips for £1 each way. Typically with booking fees this worked out as the equivalent of just under $5 for what was approximately a 100 mile round trip. The company’s double-decker buses had plenty of space and while I found the train to be more efficient time-wise for long distance trips to London, the Megabus ticket price for advance travel was hard to beat.

In recent years Megabus owned by the British Stagecoach group has entered the U.S. and Canadian markets offering fares as low as $1 one way plus a $0.50 booking fee. The buses are clean and a lot more appealing in an attempt to readdress the seedy image many Americans have of bus travel. Each bus has wi-fi, power outlets at each seat, flat screen TVs showing movies, panoramic windows and it’s a green way to travel.

Megabus’ business model works by using a yield management model to incrementally increase ticket prices as the departure date nears. This business is reliant on numbers and like Southwest the people booking last-minute pay more, to offset the customers with discounted tickets. In addition Megabus has extremely low overhead. All bookings are made online eliminating ticket agent staffing. Furthermore, Megabus does not have its own terminals, picking up passengers on city streets.

Megabus rethought bus transportation in order to achieve success in a mature industry. Last year Bloomberg Businessweek did a feature on the company entitled “The Megabus Effect” stating that bus travel is now the fastest growing way to travel in the U.S. The article also stated that Megabus had 2010 revenues of approximately $100 million and is continuing to grow.

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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I am fascinated by technology and what it can do for a business’ efficiency and work environment. The other day in one of my MBA classes we learned about organizations that are social businesses both internally and externally. One example given was the Children’s Hospital Boston. In addition to their extensive external social media activities, the Children’s Hospital Boston has an internal social networking website called SPARC (social platform for accelerating resources and connections). SPARC was designed to foster communication and collaboration to further support the hospital’s innovation acceleration program. SPARC enables its members to join groups, hold conversations, broadcast announcements, and find resources and experts.

Hearing of the Children’s Hospital Boston reminded me of a Business Insider article I’d read earlier this week on another Boston organization Eagle Investment Systems’ innovative workplace. While undoubtedly very different types of organizations, both are forward thinking and adhere to the notions of social business from an internal perspective.

Eagle Investment Systems’ technology has been designed to enable employees to work together no matter where they are located. Like Children’s Hospital the company has an internal social networking website. This portal application contains an instant messaging/web conferencing tool called Jabber. Jabber has enabled employees to communicate more efficiently getting projects launched in two days versus the two weeks it previously took to organize people via e-mail. Now data, contact info, schedules, calendars etc. can be shared through this system, creating fast and effective communications. Interestingly Jabber’s instant messaging tool has replaced e-mail as the workforce’s main communication tool. Another aspect of this technology is status updates, which are displayed on monitors throughout the building enabling employees to efficiently request expertise and keep in the loop with what’s going on.

Eagle Investment Systems’ social networking system is supported by the employees having tablets, laptops and cell phones. There are no traditional desk phones at this company. The work environment is one of huddle rooms to facilitate collaboration. Video conferencing through WebEx is also greatly used and has enhanced relationships with employees in remote locations. Ultimately Eagle Investment Systems’ Head of Information Systems Mike Fitzgerald describes how:

Priorities have shifted away from employees sitting in a cube to what’s happening in the virtual world. It’s all about information flow, data, collaboration… in a dynamic, ad-hoc fashion.’

I personally am intrigued by what Eagle Investment Systems and the Children’s Hospital Boston are doing and think it could represent a vision of the workplace of the future. But what do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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My first blog post illustrated the importance of daring to change in order to avoid organizational inertia. In that first post I highlighted a retailer I had grown up with in the UK: Woolworth’s. Once a household name, Woolworth’s failed to reinvent itself until it was too late. In this blog post I wanted to share 5 ways high performance companies rethink and reinvent their strategies before revenues from their current strategies start to decline.

  1. They invest in new capabilities: High performance organizations start developing new capabilities, before they lose their competitive advantage from their current ones. Apple is a great example of this.
  2. They focus on talent acquisition and retention: In this economy many companies have become complacent and lazy assuming that their employees can’t go anywhere. While this may be true for your mediocre employees, talent always has options and sooner or later may be gone. High performance companies continually focus on retaining and developing surplus talent that can help drive the business forward in the long-term.
  3. They continually scan the market: High performers don’t rest on their laurels, continually scanning the environment for new ideas in order to identify untapped consumer needs and improve their economic outlook.  Like Jim Harbaugh of the San Francisco 49ers says, (shameless plug for husband’s hometown team), you are either getting better or you are getting worse, you never stay the same.
  4. They Innovate: High performance companies are risk takers who are not afraid of change. Successful managers recognize that the real risk is in not innovating, becoming stagnant and collapsing.  These businesses have an internal environment that fosters creative thinking, and executives in these companies recognize that new progressive ideas can come from anywhere in the organization not just the C-suite.  As a result employees are empowered by knowing that they have a role to play in shaping the company’s future success.
  5. They are agile: Today’s high performing businesses have agile organizational structures in order to be able to adapt fast to the increasingly unpredictable ever-changing business environment and take advantage of sudden market opportunities.

What do you think? Feel free to add to my list of characteristics of high performance companies in the comments section below. 

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