Handing off the Torch in Boston

On 1-11 (2017)

At 1:11 (pm)

In 111 Dartmouth Street (Boston)

We empowered our friend and Open Hub Co-founder

To help take Epicenter Community to the next level

Open Hub Boston was formed in April of 2013 to continue the good work of Boston’s longest serving mayor, Mr. Tom Menino. Where Boston World Partnerships ended, our group of engaged active citizens continued. Mayor Menino’s view that “visionaries don’t get things done” propelled us to take the remaining funds of Open Hub and donate them to help Epicenter Community accelerate its growing success under the strong leadership of our fellow member, Malia Lazu.

This is what Joy looks like from that random arrival of a check that helps to make a difference (click on the photo for a brief excerpt of Malia’s remarks):wdsc_0007_keithspirophoto

Open Hub was a grand adventure of working together on community supportive projects and while we have individually moved on to new adventures, many of us continue to stay connected.

Here then is our short history and photo finish:

Open Hub’s launch event took place June 6, 2013 at the offices of Sherin and Lodgen.

Open Hub was formed to “welcome, inform, connect and service our beloved Greater Boston Community and beyond.”

Some 14 of us signed onto that welcome letter including

David Cutler, Debi Kleiman, Mark O’Toole, Danielle Duplin, Mike Lake, Chris Rohland, Bill Ghormley, Malia Lazu, Joshua Hurwitz, Jed Willard, Patty Katsaros and Chad O’Connor. Also joining were Susan Houston, Michael Flint, Lennox Chase, Shannon O’Brien and Phil Budden.

We opened an account at Eastern Bank because of their history as a community focused bank and because Bill and I both respect their now chairman Bob Rivers who turned to disruptors to change bank culture in Eastern’s fight for relevancy and survival. wdsc_0142_keithspirophotoWe liked his spirit then and still do now. The check we handed over transferred from one Eastern Bank account to another. Great leaders think alike.

 

Whatever small steps we took as a group was amplified by our friend and partner Malia Lazu who always said “there is nothing transactional about building social justice.” Epicenter Community is her next step to go bigger and bolder for Boston.

“Give people a different way to create civic space and they will do it. Getting it done, finding each others humanity and telling each others stories” is what makes Malia’s leadership so impactful.

And so, at 1:11pm on 1-11 of 2017 at Brownstone, 111 Dartmouth Street many of us in person, and the rest of Open Hub in spirit, transferred the remaining funds to Epicenter Community to carry the torch forward with the strongest embodiment of the original vision.

Focus Filtered Fluid #my3words

Focus, Filtered & Fluid  (My Three Words for 2017)

Way back in 2006, when I was struggling to hold it all together in a corporate world heading off the rails, a guy by the name of Chris Brogan quit making New Year’s resolutions. Instead, he chose three words he would use as a guiding principle for the year. I didn’t know it back then but within just a couple of years our paths from Maine would begin to cross regularly in Boston. Back in that first year of new actions, the words he chose were: ASK. DO. SHARE.

Like a beacon, they prompted him throughout the year to Ask more questions and ask both to help as well as ask for help. He got good at sharing what he learned and in that sharing our paths crossed and I’ve replaced resolutions with actions ever since.

In 2016, my words were:

  • Community
  • Communications
  • Commerce

And it made a huge difference in what I accomplished. But the real time web cuts no slack. Were you caught off guard by the 2016 political outcomes? Everything and nothing surprised me about the presidential elections. Talking heads got it wrong. Strategists missed the mark. Alliances now shift loosely and widely, driven in large part by spontaneous combustion on social media.  It is just so clear that we now live in a real time world that adjusts and disseminates new information rapidly. “Expecting the unexpected” doesn’t even begin to explain what is happening.

So for 2017, as we roll into uncharted territory, don’t agonize over deep analysis. Just “DO IT.” Stay nimble and your business can thrive.  My three words to guide me through 2017 are appropriate for the times and the challenges ahead:

  • FOCUS
  • FILTERED
  • FLUID

Focus – Yes, we each still need a plan of where we are going and what we want to accomplish in a year.  Having a written plan allows you to check in regularly and see if you are on target. And, in today’s world – when your target has moved – you get to readjust how to approach your new day.

Filtered – I have too often gone to the internet to search for something specific and found those shiny objects and distractions that divert my attention and send me down rabbit holes from which I emerge dazed, sometimes hours later. Have you ever gone onto Facebook or searched on Google for one thing and found yourself unexpectedly somewhere else? Fight back by organizing your time. Let the filters of search do their job and just bookmark those other things for later.

Fluid – I am learning to recognize that Google and Facebook are not my friend. They are advertising engines designed to hook me and sell me something. There is no such thing as free. Time is our most valuable possession.  When I come up against a time zapper, I am going to flow around it like water and keep going. This will not be easy. But instead of screaming into the phone “operator, operator, get me a human,” or pounding “0” a few times, I’ve learned to recognize that I am dealing with a computer algorithm not a person. I’ve learned to hang up – call the customer service line and ask- in a calm voice – for help from the human that answers in real time.

wc_my3words-bots-dsc_0003_keithspirophotoWe will hear lots about Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Chat Bots in the coming months. They are taking over. No – actually – they have taken over. Most of us just haven’t thought about it that way yet. Think speech recognition and that lovely voice that offers to help you with your account; those friendly helpers with names like Siri (Apple), Julie (Amtrak) and Alexa (Amazon) that stand sentinel between you and a real person. Those are the entry points to chat bots. They save time for the business at the other end. They do repetitive tasks and they are going to eliminate millions and I do mean millions of jobs. More than will be created by new technologies. We can’t stop this process change and so, for that reason, I am going to be fluid – and simply work around the obstacles that are thrown at me – in a creative way (because we have that over bots)  and I will keep going.

I hope you do the same. Let’s make 2017 a great year!

(originally published in The CRYER January 1, 2017)

Inspiration – reflections on Inspirefest Dublin Ireland

inspiration for ks wordpress site cover

I had the pleasure of traveling to Ireland and participating in Inspirefest. Held in Dublin, Inspirefest is a unique international festival of technology, science, design and the arts. Founder Ann O’Dea puts diversity and inclusion at the festival’s heart, and the ratio of women to men is a refreshing change from the still massively male dominated tech world. This is directly in line with Jeanne M. Sullivan and Astia, the group that originally invited me to the Emerald Isle. Sullivan is Chief Inspiration Officer at Sullivan Adventures and a long-time investor in people, while Astia is a 501c3 dedicated to diversity in leadership.

The photo above is Ellyn Shook, Chief Leadership and HR Officer, Accenture Global professional services company incorporated in Dublin. Accenture is the world’s largest consulting firm with over $31 Billion in revenue and operates in more than 120 countries. Her theme was empowerment and diversity leads to breakthrough results. Similarly, Judith Williams, Global Head of Diversity at Dropbox demonstrated how Dropbox with more than 500 million users is also changing the rules.

Judith Williams, Global Head of Diversity, Dropbox changing the rules with more than 500 million users

While attending Inspirefest, I was part of a strategy panel entitled Thinking Big Enough to Scale Internationally. Our panel consisted of Anne Ravanona (moderator), CEO Global Invest Her, Paris, Eilish McCaffrey, Growth Strategist iOT and Digital, Silicon Valley, Emily Brady, Business Advisor, Growth Strategist & Supply Chain Optimization Expert, Dublin, Corinne Nevinny, Angel Investor, Non Exec Director, Los Angeles and Andrea Clausen, Senior Business Analyst, Google, Dublin. As a business strategist, I drive community success using the power of social media and the real time web, and I was excited to demonstrate that these tools and methods translate easily and globally.

In addition to witnessing the continued power of digital communication, I also had the opportunity to discover new business incubators in person and meet with entrepreneurs in, and just outside of, Dublin and Galway. I met Eoin Costello, co-founder of Startup Ireland, who filled me in on Digital Dun Laoghaire, a small town a half hour out of Dublin with a big project, and saw how the Bank of Ireland has taken a breathtaking leap into the future of banking, transforming old structures and ways into a true leadership engagement.

Surrounded by the drama of Brexit and the increasingly contentious US election process, I found it refreshing to be able to focus on business and only business. Ireland has rolled out the welcome mat, with groups like IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland bursting with excitement at the prospect of expanding business in Ireland. Connecting entrepreneurs to resources is the key to job growth anywhere and is now a global imperative. Do you have an interest in manufacturing? Ireland has some strong connections for you, and good entrepreneurial leaders know to take advantage of gaps and disruptions to drive success.

I’ve talked previously about validation. If Validation is the culmination and recognition of all the work that goes into launching a business, then Inspiration is both the starting point of an enterprise as well as the fuel that keeps you going through the rough spots. There is no better way to be inspired than to surround yourself with cheerleaders, advocates and strategists who can expand your thinking and help turn that business idea into a reality. Pull enough good people together around a great idea, and you can change the world.

Validation

validation post teaserThe Boston and Maine Connection – Validation

Validation, the independent corroboration of your mission by one or more individuals who make you feel like you’re not out there all by your lonely self as you drive toward your business goals.

It takes a lot to put yourself out there in the public eye to expose your business and vision to the harsh realities of finance where revenue meets the road and survival and additional funding is based on how likely others believe you are to succeed.

In the startup and entrepreneurial ecosystem – there are some amazing events throughout the year that let you check the pulse and the pace of business against your peers. The other night I attended the New England Venture Capital Association’s (NEVCA) annual award ceremony which recognized many top notch entrepreneurial endeavors at a major kick up your feet and celebrate event hosted at the House of Blues in Boston. wC_DSC9872_©KeithSpiroPhotoWith a standing-room-only crowd cheering and celebrating the startup business life cycle from launch to exit, there was a whole lot of validation taking place.

The NEVCA works to make Massachusetts the best place in the world to start new companies: building relationships among founders and investors; amplifying the voice of Massachusetts’ entrepreneurial community.  With 700+ venture capital professionals from 80+ firms, its members collectively manage more than $50 billion in capital.  With this type of financial and geographic density, even Mainer’s feel the draw of the Boston ecosystem.

wC 20160518_203205_©KeithSpiroPhotoIf Oscar’s so White was the glaring failure of Hollywood to pay attention to diversity and changing interests, The NEVYs awards were the exact and most energetic opposite. The Stars of the startup world and the disruptors of old line business processes run like a posse in a rather exciting ecosystem of mutual support and recognition.  No better validation that you are on the right track than to be in a room filled with like-minded people who take the time to cheer you on. Everyone wins in an environment that builds up their peers and where barriers to entry begin to  appear low because of the sheer magnitude of cheerleaders and available expertise.

The train from Maine runs in both directions  and not surprisingly, I’ve meet several startup leaders traveling southbound.  Maine readers might also recognize former local reporter Dylan Martin who now works in Boston as a media maven for BostInno and who I caught up with after he went riding the mechanical bull.  Boston knows how to party. We even imported our best friends from IDAireland Stephen Mullan & Aimee WilliamswC_DSC9999_©KeithSpiroPhoto

My wife’s favorite shop in Bath Maine is Pitter Patter, children’s clothing.  That owner Colleen is taking a marketing class for the first time, surprised me since she exemplifies the traits of a good marketer which in her case flows from following her business passion for parents and little kids. She does all the right things from accessorizing purchases to deploying video and social media. wC 20160521_100100_©KeithSpiroPhotoShe even created a gift giving task simplifier that appeals to parent and child – books matching stencil art baby T’s. My first mentor, menswear sales innovator, Stuart Shaines, is now retired to Florida but he would be proud. It was through Stuart that I learned the power of upselling by accessorizing. Put a snazzy shirt, tie, belt and socks to go with the suit being sold you could take a one item transaction and move the needle because it all looked so good together and made a complete package outcome an easy sale. Time is as important as ever and every One-Stop shopping experience either “clicks or mortar” becomes a friction free opportunity to sail through a sale process.

When I talk to Colleen about cash vs. credit card tactics and compliment her marketing , I always get a smile. This too is validation.  We all need it because we are all in this together.

Community, Commerce, Collaboration and Communication makes it all work well.

The Platform, she said, was Chocolate

The platform, she said, was chocolate. And much of the marketing centered around  fair trade cocoa and real chocolate chips.

I was sold. I got the whole concept in the first presentation. The hot chocolate mix was OK.cisse hot Cocoa pkg

What chocoholic could find fault with a product that had melting chocolate chips at it’s core? Even better, the founder of  Cissé Trading Co, Diana Lovett, had a passion for sustainable development which came out of her public health work in Africa. “I longed for a way to contribute to what I believed in through a business, so I created a cocoa company committed to responsible sourcing and investing in growers.”

As time went on and the organization grew from 2 to 4 full-time employees.  I became more impressed and engaged with the marketing, and the process, and the plan of this small but smart start up. A very human approach in touch with today’s need for consumers to know more of the story and less of the Madison Avenue product pitch.

Meet her farmers; LA FUNDACIÓN DOMINICANO DE PRODUCTORES ORGÁNICO The FUNDOPO cooperative is a Fair Trade certified organization made up of about 1,500 organic cocoa farmers in Altagracia, Dominican Republic.

Read Cisse’s accolades.  Yes, I am an investor. But now, after watching them move into box stores like BJ’s, family department stores like Target and uniquely fascinating distribution plans that include the likes of Krogers, I found myself becoming a Cisse Chocolate Groupie. The quarterly reports were easily digestible. Indeed, each financial data set, in the early days, came with a sample of a new product. cisseSuperThins pkg In the end, at the last of the samples, it was The Super Thins that pushed me over the line. I could no longer just root for them from the sidelines. I needed to help them get to the next level.

So I went to my local BJ’s, pestered them and became a member entirely because they now stock Super Thins by the truck load. The Whole Foods store in my neighborhood doesn’t carry it and I made a point of telling them that they need to catch up. I want clear and easy access to chocolate, Cisse Chocolate products to be specific.

CisseSuperThins_c ©KeithSpiroPhotoNext came the random public survey. In heading down to a meeting in New York City and purely as a lark, I brought a snack pack case to see what would happen if I carried it with me – most visibly – all the way down to NYC. I chose to never mention unless someone asked. Sure enough, people started asking me “what was it?” Why  was I carrying it and more importantly what did it taste like?

For those brave enough to ask the question – I rewarded them with one of my single serving portions and warned them to be careful as this was an addictive chocolate treat.The comments were all endearing & you can see the video here.c cisse survey says_185000

And so, I’ve come to recognize that I have become a brand ambassador for Cisse pure and simple because I enjoy the process as well as the product.

Please help spread the word. Visit and Share the photos of this journey here and be on the lookout for a guy carrying a case of super thins and sounding the call for eating good chocolate for good reasons.

Magical Marketing of an Epic Eggplant

The Magical Marketing of an Eggplant of Mythical Proportion

Art ©Maria Castellano-UseryPhoto ©KeithSpiro

Art ©Maria Castellano-Usery      Photo ©KeithSpiroPhoto

Yes, folks, this is truly an eggplant love story that started many decades ago when I first met my then future father in law.  He was a meat and potatoes kind of man.  When I first started dating his eldest daughter, I was quickly under suspicion for all kinds of unimaginable reasons that came down to just one thing.  “Was I man enough to take care of his girl?” (in the event that we ever decided to run off to get married. That was the liberal side of him).

And so, I was invited out to many a family dinner. Theirs was a house where, when you were called to dinner, you grabbed your coat and stood by the door – awaiting the destination for the evening’s feast. Big name steak places. Corner diner, blue plate beef specials. Always meat. Always potatoes.  I fit right in – mostly vegetarian – always Eggplant when it was on the menu.

It didn’t take long for him to ask my future Mother in Law, “What’s the matter with that guy? Does he think we’re poor?  Does he always have to order the cheapest thing on the menu?”

Try as she might, I don’t think she ever really convinced him that I really, really did like eggplant.

Fast forward a few decades. My father in law has passed-on and my Mother in Law resides in the warm climates to the far South. She worries about costs and sees travel back our way as both a hassle as well as an expense. We’ve had ongoing discussions about spending the time together now and don’t worry about the money –  but – sometimes – money still lurks as a background obstacle to more frequent visits.  Lurked, in the background, that was, until I had an impassioned conversation recently about us paying her way, anytime and every time she wanted to visit the grandkids and the great grand kids.

The secret stash? The magic source of this limitless bounty of generosity?

The long held special EGGPLANT SAVINGS FUND, I told her.  Her husband was right. And after nearly 40 years of marriage – all that money I saved, eating the cheapest thing on the menu has transformed into this special fund that we could call upon to pay for her travel – anytime she wanted to visit.

The first set of tickets was in her hands in minutes. The laughter has never ceased. My father in law – of blessed memory –is a guest at most dinner conversations along with the requisite plate of eggplant.

And then I found Brushstrokes With ImpactTM   Art by Maria Castellano-Usery. Her program for having community impact while making the art she loves is wonderful. It’s a way of giving on so many fronts. You can follow her delightful blog here. Her psychedelic eggplant became my obsession as the gift to deliver to my mother in law. A birthday present, yes, but also a powerful reminder of the power of love, art and humor!!!

The Lessons of Challenger -30 years later

The Boston & Maine Connection – PR Disaster Planning

The lessons of Challenger – Fast Forwarded Thirty Years

January 28th  a sad but also long ago memory brought back painfully fresh. It is the 30th anniversary of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. At the time, Outer Space, was the new frontier and frontiers are fraught with danger. I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when the word came over the radio. Just South of Bangor Maine, heading to an important first meeting with Mark Mowatt, founder, entrepreneur and the CEO of Ben’s 100.  Like so many others, I was in shock and bewildered. I had no smartphone, social media or tools other than a pager and faced the choice of a 20 minute drive off Interstate 95 to find a payphone to seek guidance or continue on, as I did, to drive on for ten more minutes to meet the expectation of being timely. I remember the somber mood. I remember watching TV with the CEO and his staff. I was sad. I remember little else. The reason for the visit, the outcome? All trivial in light of what happened unexpectedly.

GoogleDirector KSwC_DSC_0729_©KeithSpiroPhoto.jpg

Director’s Chair awaits you. We are all citizen journalists today.

Comparing the past to today, I see such an amazing difference in the tools of communications and how communities react to fast breaking news. Today’s frontier is the internet, the wild-wild-web of human interaction.

 

Back then, radio was fastest with the furthest reach.

TV ran a close second but most of us did not typically have one riding shotgun in our cars.

Newspapers gathered information carefully putting out next day reports because Extra Editions were already too expensive to add to the print news delivery cycle.

 

We all expected to get home to the evening news with Walter Cronkite to get the full story. Yet, that day, 30 years ago, January 28, 1986 at 10:39 am, it was Dan Rather on the desk reporting live as a sadly repeating tape from Houston talked about a malfunction while our eyes told us so much more. See the video clip here http://bit.ly/MCMalfunction

Thinking about the speed of today’s real time web, I can only imagine that 30 year old scenario playing out as bad press today for Mission Control. With Vine Loops and Vimeo, sound bites repeating the understatement of the decade and images lifted from network footage shared instantly to and by billions of humans worldwide, the potential for a virally fueled PR disaster is huge. And yet, most businesses today are ill prepared to deal with their own Mission Control Malfunction.

In today’s real time always connected world, it pays for everyone to have a contingency-A Catastrophe-response PR plan (CPR) in place. We are all citizen journalists today. See something, say something. You can be sure the phones are out capturing video and stills, circulated globally in just seconds. Yesterday’s casual bystanders are today’s reporters and social media journalists. With all senses put to use, the social enabled citizen becomes the people’s eyes and ears on the ground. What they see, feel, hear, smell and touch or taste are often amplified without benefit of backstory.

Here are some easy actions to take: Start with a list of possible catastrophic incidents that could happen involving your business. If you are in manufacturing, you instinctively know you will deal with big orders, bad deliveries, broken equipment, crisis driven fulfillment. It happens all the time. Medical and Pharma, established and start ups? Know that you or your competitor will one day announce a big breakthrough, a huge backer, a major sale but also, a mission failure, a life lost, human error and human tragedy. How will you deal with it?

As a minimum, have an outline of who speaks first and what they say. Think about the words you will use. Are they calm and measured? Do they match the tenor and tone needed if you ever have to call them into action? What is your worst case scenario list? How will you respond in the pressure of the moment? A well planned PR disaster recovery plan includes a matrix of events likely to happen in the life cycle of a product, service or company. Be prepared. Have a plan and have your own media outlets already connected to the social business world we live in.

As David Meerman Scott says, “we are what we publish.” Start publishing now and keep going.

Want some help? Get in touch with Keith Spiro.

We are all in this together. A global community connected by instantaneous access.