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.

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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.

Predictions 2016 (My 3 Words)

Chris Brogan started the practice of launching each new year with just three words to live and work by. He found it more effective than making and soon thereafter breaking a slew of New Year Resolutions.  I’ve participated in this annual ritual for a number of years now.   Three words to guide my business sensibilities for the upcoming 12 months.

My three words for 2016: Community  |  Collaboration  |  Commerce

and the two businesses that epitomize the symbiotic relationship and power of community are Carii and Chimani.

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(More about them further down. )

Here are ways that they can play out for you and for business:

2016 will be the year of collaboration, short attention spans, high-speed communication expectations and a great deal of new and surprising interruptions across most every industry. Familiar Statements?  They should be.  Lots of changes are ongoing because of the continuing and expanding impact of social media and highly portable tools like smartphones.

Word of mouth is a very powerful influencer that spreads rapidly through our ever more connected world.  We are becoming a world that is tethered to the internet. We are always online, always available and we expect the same from all of our vendors, suppliers and friends.

I talk about Social Media as a cultural change.  Social media tools and “social business” are more than just today’s Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram.  All of the social pathways (including email, texting, instant messaging) that people use to stay in touch have shifted into the predominant place for how we learn new things and how we communicate with others.

To make the most of these changes, think about how information is transmitted and received and put yourself into the mindset of the recipient.

There were 2.6 billion smartphones in use in 2014 and that number is predicted to surge to 6.1 billion by 2020. This means 70% of all people in the world will have smartphones and most all will be wireless.  Two billion of the new users will come from the Asia Pacific. (Ericsson)

PREDICTIONS:

  1. Community matters more than ever. Teams working together can produce more and better results than any one individual. Collaboration will rule in the for-profit and the non-profit sectors.
  2. Communications – NextGen collaboration tools and social media will find their way into common use. Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn are aging tools compared to what is becoming available for immediacy and collaborative function today. Visual output towers over most everything else in this environment. A picture is worth a thousand words and a less than one minute video will be worth thousands.
  3. Commerce – Getting business done should sound more and more like “we are all in this together” and “no one can do it themselves,” as we all expect instant communication and immediate results. This means doing your homework before launching a plan and understanding that the availability of multimedia and real-time messaging requires being nimble enough to pivot (change) mid plan execution.

What  should you look for?

Consider that in 2016 Twitter turns 10 years old and Facebook will be starting its 12th year. They are ancient technology. Look for a slew of new products and platforms trying to break into widespread acceptance and competing with the old guard of social platforms.  Privacy concerns and poor deployment by brands using interruption advertising has made the Wild-Wild-Web less useful to users. As advertisers and their agents desperately try to gain our attention, users will continue to screen out and block as much noise as possible.

My advice to business is to take the time to listen to your customer base, engage in conversations as participants and not as broadcast advertising machines. “Suggested” tweets and “promoted” posts are becoming less effective.

Look to collaboration and community-centric solutions.  Watch for an explosion of video and chat opportunities that take place in real time. Blab and Periscope aren’t the most graceful of the new tools but they are addressing the need for visual immediacy.  Likewise keep an eye on community platforms to start addressing the needs of Six Billion Wired Users wanting connection and not noise.

logo   My favorites are Chimani and Carii.  Both put a lot of effort into building value via community. Carii allows communities to create affiliations and screen out non-relevant advertising and noise. With Chimani you act as an  individual with the value of all that information has been accumulated at your fingertips- whether or not you can get online (smart thinking for hiking remote spaces). Everything you need for a trip to the National Parks. Congrats to them for being selected as a Google Launch Partner for the new app first indexing technology. I’ve even more respect for their Really Smart Marketing leadership with their timing coinciding with the 100th Anniversary of The National Park System.

Sign up for Chimani here and if you are curious about next gen community platforms join me here on Carii

chimani all parks home URL

Watch for the results of the Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas in January where 170,000 people gather to see what’s new and trending. In the meantime, back home, think community, because, in the end, we are all in this together.

NextGen Community Impact

In conversations with the founder of Carii about how to build value in business in this fast changing digital age, I came up with the comment Next Generation platforms for social are needed that cater to the needs of Business & Community to deliver impact. There is just plain too much darn noise out here.

I was pleased to see Carii pick up on this theme and run with it on Twitter.

nextGen tweet

Communities built around business are the best advocates and cheerleaders any business or non-profit organization could hope for.

While Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn were a great starting place for social, they are now 5-10 years old and have become tired as a platform for innovation and change. Worse yet, they have fallen into the trap of old marketing and advertising tools of capturing information and then selling it back to the group if they want to broadcast their message to a wider audience.

We are being held captive by the erstwhile tools that we happily poured our Big Data into. Boosting a post and paying for suggested posts are just so old school, interruption advertising. Have these people never heard of INBOUND MARKETING and HubSpot. Please. There are better ways to gather community and deliver the right messages to the right people at exactly the time they are looking for your information. HubSpot provides a ton of free resources to get you started.

And, if you are the Community Manager, don’t you want your members to be able to talk freely among themselves without being pitched to?

I surely do and that’s why I am beta testing Carii and offering suggestions that put community benefit at the center of it all.  We don’t need more intrusive marketing, we need better outcomes and results. Community action amplified by social conversations are the next wave of how business will get done.