Jessica Hanna

Andrew E. Brickman says anything is possible if you’re persistent in pursuing your goals.

He’s proven that with the success of Abode Living’s recent development projects, despite a downturned economy that has particularly devastated the real estate market. Only one town home remains for sale of 27 at the upscale 27 Coltman in Little Italy, while the first phase of million-dollar town homes at Eleven Rivers in Rocky River has sold out.

Already on to a new project, Clifton Pointe in Lakewood, the managing partner and director attributes Abode’s success to innovation and quality fostered by a culture of employee empowerment.

Brickman emphasizes that his staff members are partners — not just employees — in the business. He looks to his nearly 200 current project employees to help him continuously improve the company and serve its customers well.

“If you have an opportunity to interact with people at all levels within the organization and you can see what they’re doing and you know what their position entails, you can work with them to help empower them to do a better job,” Brickman says.

To empower employees, ensure your compensation system directly relates to productivity, as opposed to a standard cost-of-living payment system.

“Rewarding people based on merit and productivity versus a fixed rate of compensation is — if practical — a more effective way to create a type of culture that I think will foster the most favorable results,” Brickman says. “I don’t think the fear of losing their job motivates people.

“I certainly believe in a pride of ownership — that if it’s yours, you’re going to generally take better care of it.”

Give employees more responsibility to further their sense of ownership in the company by allowing them the flexibility to make their own decisions, get creative and take risks.

Brickman’s director of branding and marketing developed a charitable partners program that committed Abode to match donations made by customers, suppliers and contractors. Despite the monetary cost, Brickman says the program has resulted in increased exposure to Abode’s target demographic.

“Creating a sense of significance and importance within the employees’ psyche relative to the overall success of the company creates a sense of confidence,” Brickman says. “It further empowers them, makes them feel more responsible and more a part of the organization’s success.”

Promote open communication so that employees feel comfortable sharing ideas and critiques.

“Foster an environment that leads to more people willing to speak up to try and make changes or try and identify problems sooner rather than later,” Brickman says.

“The people that (CEOs) surround themselves with have to be willing to speak frankly and speak their minds so that if they don’t understand the vision of the CEO, it can be refined and it can be improved upon.”

Brickman’s vision is for his employees is to go above and beyond the Golden Rule to satisfy customers, treating customers better than they would want to be treated in the same situation.

Employees who feel personally invested in the success of the company, and thus their performance on its behalf, will actively embrace this vision of excellent service. This benefits the company, as well as its customers and ancillary support.

“A relationship should be a win-win relationship,” Brickman says. “We should try and be focused on how we can help (customers and suppliers) improve themselves and their business. And that’s kind of the culture I’ve tried to create within the organization, one based on optimism, passion and persistence for always trying to do the best that we can.”

How to reach: Abode Living, www.welcometoabode.com or (216) 721-0027

Listen up

It’s not just about how you can serve your customers; it’s also about how your customers can serve you. Andrew E. Brickman hosts “share its” to get outside input from customers and suppliers before starting a project, ensuring issues are identified and worked out before starting.

“Make these people feel like they’re an important part of the project, that their opinions matter and that we appreciate them taking time out of their busy schedule to weigh in on it,” says Brickman, managing partner and director of Abode Living. “By doing that, you get people who really care, who are sincere and who aren’t just there to say yes to the project.”

Be professional and hospitable by hosting these collaborative meetings at a distinguished venue.

“By hosting it in a fine-dining establishment, we create a certain sense of quality — that we’re committed right down to providing a quality experience for the people who are in attendance,” Brickman says.

Communicate with customers to find out what they value in a product or service to give you an edge over competitors.

“If you don’t have something very special and you can’t relay that to your customers, then you’re going to have a commodity,” Brickman says. “And if it’s a commodity, it’s just a race to the bottom in terms of price.”

As Royce Pulliam walked out of the gym he exercised at more than a decade ago, he was disgusted at its poor condition and told his wife he could do it better. He wasn’t just talking – he bought and opened his first gym in Lexington, Ky., just six months later.

“When I said that to myself and to my wife 17 years ago, I didn’t know what I meant. But I knew I could have a facility that was clean, had good equipment and offered a good service,” Pulliam says.

While those were good starting points, he is now the owner and CEO of Urban Active, a brand consisting of 38 clubs in seven states. Years of subsequent growth have given him greater insight into the needs of a larger company encompassing multiple locations.

The most important component for growth is choosing a successful location. Establish criteria you deem essential and evaluate potential sites against them.

“We look at competition, we look at the education of the demographic in a three-mile ring, we look at population density in that market and we look at income,” Pulliam says.

“Once those four things match up, if the lay of the land changes at all or the design changes, we’re nimble enough that we can work with the model and tweak it. But if it doesn’t fit with the main criteria, we won’t pass it.”

While expanding, maintain strong investment in existing company locations to ensure a solid foundation, and choose new locations with traveling distance in mind.

“We were definitely going to continue to develop out our existing territories, but also to geographically try to expand into neighboring states that were an hour, hour and a half flight time away and easy for our people to get to,” Pulliam says of his initial growth plan.

Another component of growth is the challenge to maintain effective communication with clients.

“We expected all the club-level people to get the information up the ladder, and as we grew, we found that that became more challenging,” he says.

“It was just taking too long and there were too many middle people, and that’s what happens with companies until you go straight out and put yourself out there.”

To improve communication, empower customers to contact senior executives directly through email. Back up the gesture by making sure each concern is addressed.

“(Another CEO told me) ‘It’s a gutsy thing to do but it’s the right thing to do, because everybody needs to have access and you need to know.’”

Although management must strive to be directly informed, growth challenges the ability of executives to control all areas of business. This makes investing in employees instrumental to success, as they will be working directly with customers.

“You’ve got to trust your people. You can train them, you can spend endless hours, but they’ve got to execute,” Pulliam says.

Hire friendly, energetic employees who can set customers at ease. Instruct employees to smile and wear name badges to make them seem more accessible.

 “I want our members to be able to walk up to someone and know their name – not have to ask what their names are. We have a lot of members in our facilities and I want them to feel comfortable.”

How to reach: Urban Active, (877) 824-3571 or www.urbanactive.com

Tuesday, 13 September 2011 15:08

Entrepreneurship on an enterprise level

As with many companies in the fields of business and technology, 2010 was a successful year for SAP, the world’s largest business software company.

With tremendous growth and increased revenue streams, Rob Enslin, SAP Global Sales’ president, attributes much of it to SAP’s transformation in response to consumers.

“What customers want now is choice ... in terms of the speed at which they can implement, speed at which they can get solutions to their problems,” says Enslin, who was promoted from president of SAP North America to the global sales role in January.

With a new market model, the company has an inside sales organization in addition to its direct sales force, incorporating an original equipment manufacturer business, a distribution business and an e-store platform.

Smart Business sat down with Enslin to discuss changes in the IT marketplace as more companies begin to implement more holistic solutions.

Q: How have buyer patterns driven your change?

I think the financial crisis has elevated that change. We’ve had to adapt to a customer buying pattern that is significantly different than it was at the beginning of 2008. I think customers affected that because they’ve had to make decisions at types of speed that they’ve never had to before. The focus around analyzing, reanalyzing then getting consensus over an extended period of time isn’t there anymore. At the end of the day, customers now have a very short time frame to make a decision. ... (They) don’t have the ability to analyze this down to the nth degree, because what will happen is (their) competition will come in and scoop it up in front of (them). Those that are doing that, (heavily analyzing), they are going to be left behind. We’ve had to adjust to that kind of model.

Q: So what has this done to the small and medium-sized enterprise marketplace?

If you want to survive or thrive or be a company that’s at the forefront of the industry, you’re going to have to be aggressive about how you want to grow your company. You don’t want to become a target of another company’s growth strategy.

The speed at which you are making decisions right now means a lot of companies will go. The first choice would be to acquire, because you can grow with acquisition and then you’ve got synergies that you can drive out of acquisition. That’s a very easy play to do.

It’s a lot harder to grow organically, so if you’re a SME customer that’s public and traded, you better be fleet-footed and really fast. If you are private, it’s a slightly different discussion. You are probably a little more focused on margin and profit, turning cash back into the business, than you are pure growth agendas. But I think it’s a combination of both.

Q: SAP has changed up its product mix to better meet customer demands. One is the energy management solution. Can you explain how that came to be?

All manufacturing companies over the next years, whether you’re in the United States or elsewhere, are going to start figuring out how to manage the energy efficiency of (their) facilities and plants. Everything about it, we’re going to have to manage it. We think that businesses can save significant amounts of (money on) costs, bring down the costs, if they are able to understand where there are wastes happening.

Energy is sometimes 40 or 50 percent of the cost structure (of a company), and then the next one is people. If you can think about 10, 15, 20 percent savings, simply because you are managing it better that (would be) a huge business turnaround. What do you really get out of energy? Not a lot. It just runs your factories, runs your plants, and you can abuse it.

If you take some of the costs out, you can put it in competitive areas where you can actually draw significant improvements. I think that as the world gets more and more regulated, one of the regulated places, unfortunately, is going to be the energy space. We’ve got a platinum LEED building in Uptown Square (confirm). Let’s be honest, we have a responsibility to help the world run better. We keep using that as a vision tag, and if that’s a vision tag, what are we actually doing to make it run differently?

Q: How can a strategic IT investment move companies from a cost center to a revenue center?

I think the IT leaders that get it are the ones that are focused around ... solving business problems in a short time frame. You can’t turn around to your business and say, ‘Oh, we know that sales pipeline and for-cash thing is important, but it’s a two-year project at our company.’ Those people are lost, because you can’t wait two years to have the answers to that particular question that you’ve just put there.

This is why CRM or ERS, for instance, is so important, because we can now help the CIO spend eight weeks on a solution and give a turnaround to the businesspeople. And that will turn IT back into strategic investments for a company, when those CIOs can actually help the business leaders solve their problems in an innovative, short time frame.

How to reach: SAP, www.sap.com.

Interviewed by Dustin S. Klein / Story by Jessica Hanna

Tuesday, 13 September 2011 14:56

Taking traditional tools into the digital age

Deborah Fine is pretty good at shaking things up.

Three years ago, when she joined Direct Brands, the largest distributor of physical multimedia products such as books, movies and DVDs was in desperate need of transforming its business model to better compete in an increasingly changing marketplace.

Fine’s problem was pretty straightforward: Many of the company’s holdings had strong brand recognition, such as Rhapsody, The Literary Guild, Columbia House, QPB and The Book Of The Month Club, but those and other brands had lost their luster. And with the shine went some of the corporate revenue.

Aiming to provide more for the customer and recapture brand loyalty, Fine introduced a largely fresh marketing team and implemented new Web and social media strategies. She also took a new look at traditional, proven methods.

“We realized pretty quickly that between the database of scale and owning the ability to power a direct consumer channel, inherent in those lie two very, very large opportunities for growth,” Fine says.

Smart Business sat down with the former president of iVillage to discuss what it took to turn Direct Brands into a digital age company.

Q: On day one, what challenges did you walk into this job and face?

I walked into the success of a model that was largely unchallenged for decades, so there was nothing wrong with this model for a very long time. A mere three years ago, this was a billion-dollar business. The challenge is that the landscape changed so quickly. This is a company that saw throughout its legacy Red Box, Amazon and the changes at Barnes & Noble. It saw radical change around it, and frankly, it didn’t respond with the speed that the company now thinks and executes with.

Q: Did you find there was an urge to leverage your existing resources to expand outside the company’s core competencies?

Yes and no. We identified our growth strategy on several fronts. The first job was to go back to our roots and execute against core, direct marketing tools and best practices to increase loyalty retention — all the things that belied our heritage.

The second was to take the 24 businesses we own — those in physical form as well as their digital companion sites — and bring related business into the fray. For example, if we have amongst our audience several hundred thousand members of The Good Cook, (we have) a reasonable opportunity to monetize that audience and sell them the related casserole dish, spices and kitchen gadgetry.

The third (job) was recognizing the turnkey legacy value and expertise needed to power that model — with best-in-class distribution and customer service components — enabling us to enable others.

Q: You’ve been in industries where disruptive innovation is necessary. How are you bringing disruptive innovation to this organization?

Most disruptive about what we’re doing is exposing the company to new ways of running a business, as well as bringing in new disciplines. Titles such as ‘head of business development’ and ‘chief transformation officer’ were not titles that existed before. So I think I say it sort of in jest, but not really — the biggest change was showing up and bringing in a CEO to transform the entire management team. I changed 80 percent of the management team in my first year. Talent is the silver bullet, and there are very few business practices that are silver bullets.

Q: How are you balancing traditional channels with the new channels for doing this business?

It’s really a hybrid. When I arrived at the company from working as president of one of the largest online sites for women at NBC with iVillage, the perception was that I was going to show up with the world’s largest shredder and literally shred every piece of paper, every catalog and every piece of collateral material that we used to run our business. But no business today, regardless of genre, is able to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

So for us, I subscribe to test, learn, repeat; test, learn, repeat. And that’s what we are doing. Social media is a great example. There’s no way I’m going to walk away from 60 million pieces of direct mail, 500 million e-mails and 27 million cartons that can be marketed in, on and around in favor of a new discipline that may or may not work for us. But common sense says that because our demo is there, because our customer is connecting online, because our customer is active in social media, we have to be there.

Q: So how does this look in practice?

We’re certainly not abandoning our traditional tools, tactics and strategies, but based on demography, it’s the fastest growing segment. It’s requisite for us to be there, and I think it’s a combination of analytical tools, research, training, learning and business processes.

As a example, we had a situation where we had a consumer registering a complaint and posting it. Actually, we had two situations happening at the same time because of that: We had customer service react almost immediately, people who are monitoring those pages, but then we also had our loyal fans, de facto brand ambassadors, come to our defense.

You can go on the site and read their posts: “I’ve been a member for 20 years, 30 years, 40 years, you know. I‘ve never had this problem with the company. The service has always been a hallmark.”

So re-engineering the company is as much about new systems and processes as it is about changing the psyche.

How to reach: Direct Brands, www.directbrands.com

Interviewed by Dustin S. Klein / Story by Jessica Hanna

Tuesday, 13 September 2011 14:48

Making arrangements to grow

When Tariq Farid founded Edible Arrangements in 1999, he viewed the idea of edible fruit arrangements as an opportunity to combine his experience in technology and retail with an untapped market space with little competition.

Leaving the floral business, Farid started Edible Arrangements as a 600-square-foot store.

“Most of the people told us that it may be difficult because if it was something that was successful, if it was something that was going to be very popular, others would have done it,” Farid says.

But Farid wasn’t listening to the naysayers.

“I think all the stars were aligned for a small store,” he says. “Not necessarily a great company. But, that small store turned into a great company.”

In its first year, the company made $190,000. Farid reinvested the revenue to open a second store. It didn’t take long before the idea blossomed, and Faird began franchising the concept. Today, there are more than 1,000 stores throughout United States, Canada, Puerto Rico, United Kingdom and United Arab Emirates.

Smart Business sat down with Faird to discuss strategy and relationships.

Q: When you started franchising, how did you identify people who you believed were capable of taking your idea and making it their own?

If you put your processes and operations together properly, and if you lay the tracks down properly and you’ve tested it out, then whoever you find is only the starting point. You’re going to have to tolerate, grow or nurture.

And, if you’ve done those things right, most of them, the ones who are very motivated, will grasp on and be successful. And the ones who struggle? Because your systems are good and your franchisees are going to have the tools to be successful, you’ve put them in a good position, too.

So it became about giving the successful ones tools, systems and things that they had never thought of while, at the same time, for the ones who were struggling, providing a lot of hand-holding and one-on-one attention. They became successful, as well.

Systems are very important. You can’t just go out there and say we’re going to build stores without understanding how, what it will take, and how all these new elements and new ways of doing business apply to your business. It was out with the old at that time.

Q: What about relationships? How do you approach relationships with your customers and vendors?

The first thing I saw when I was about 15 years old and starting my first part-time job was that the customer is king. I grasped onto customer service from the beginning. Even now, our focus is always on the customer.

We go with the most important, working our way down after that. Our most important customer may be the customer who is buying our product. After that, our most important customer is going to be our franchisee. We will make sure they are all serviced properly, and that the products are something that they will relate to very easily.

You don’t just say “great customer service,” you practice it more and let the customer say how great it was. I actually go out to my people and say, ‘I don’t want you to tell me how many complaints you have. I want to know now many compliments you got.’

You have to work on getting compliments. If you are forced to focus on compliments, you will never have any complaints.

How to reach: Edible Arrangements, www.ediblearrangements.com

Interviewed by Dustin S. Klein / Story by Jessica Hanna

Tuesday, 13 September 2011 14:38

A leader in the language learning industry

After Rosetta Stone’s original founder passed away in 2002, the then-small company of 90 employees needed a new leader with passion and direction.

At the urging of his lifetime friend, Tom Adams met with the founder’s family and asked to come on board with the company as CEO.

Swedish by birth and raised in both France and England, Adams said he brought his lifetime experience of learning languages to the company. When he was 10 years old, he moved to England and was placed in school without knowing the English language. He said he learned through immersion.

“It was a very painful experience, but it developed a lot of intuition about what works, what doesn’t,” Adams said. “I kind of just feel it.”

As president and CEO of Rosetta Stone, Adams uses his experiences to enable others to learn languages more rapidly and efficiently.

Q: You came in as CEO; on day one, what did you bring to the table?

I know what learning strategies deliver results when you are trying to acquire a new language. I learned other languages after (learning English). But beyond that, I think people who know me know that I am very competitive. I’m also a visionary in the sense that I have a vision of where things need to be, and that allows me to be bold.

My core is passion and a vision of how language learning should be. It should be much easier than most people have experienced; it should be much more effective. And technology can deliver a much better experience now, especially if you adopt the right methods, the right pedagogy. You can have much greater success than people have experienced in school.

Q: What were some of the challenges you faced in taking over the organization?

We had less than $1 million of cash in the bank. We didn’t have the budget to spend on a big media splash. What we had to figure out was how we could advertise to create a little awareness, and make sure that that little bit of awareness actually paid off.

We developed very technical approaches to marketing, inspired by other companies, but developed organically within the business. People developed their own solutions to the problems of doing micromarketing, and we embraced that and started scaling it. As we found things worked, we repeated the things that worked. We didn’t repeat the things that didn’t work, and so we got scale.

Q: So what worked?

Print advertising, where we would run an ad that essentially explained our method and stipulated who was using us. We had a phone number that they should call, and by having that unique phone number, we knew which publications worked. We were successful with the Atlantic Monthly and then with The New Yorker, and from that base, we continued to build.

Q: What didn’t work?

In the beginning it was a lot of the administration systems and managing external vendors. We found that incredibly hard because we were trying to build an e-commerce system that could handle thousands and thousands of transactions seamlessly that it would all flow through.

You would read the (information) from the vendors of these IT systems, and with enough money, they work the way they describe them. But as a company that was getting off the ground, it was just really expensive. So we had a false start and had to reflect if we should continue and put more money into the company to get a result from all the investment.

But we did eventually decide to put more money in (and buy the systems). In the end, we believed that we had very strong potential and that we would become a large company. We’re still on our way there, but having that technology as a back end supporting our growth was key.

Q: How long did it take before you were getting traction on sustained growth?

It was about six to nine months before some of the ideas started proving themselves. We were so excited. And, we were so experimental. I find it hard to pick a time when we knew were going to succeed because we thought we were going to succeed the entire time. We thought it was just a matter of testing, with enough frequency and enough different ways, as well as having the discipline to interpret results.

Q: Did you find that you had to continually communicate to your staff, asking them to trust you on what would work?

Our staff is just as passionate about the course, so we are a fortunate company in the sense that Rosetta Stone is a much bigger thing than a company. It’s more of a movement to change how people learn languages. As a result, our staff tends to base their expectations and their tracking of the company on things other than just the economic performance of the business.

But sure enough, we had economic success, and so it was reinforcing the overall hypothesis of how we would build Rosetta Stone into the game changer in the language learning industry.

Q: How do you see your role at Rosetta Stone these days versus when you took over?

When I started out at Rosetta Stone, I was really about working collaboratively with the senior team to figure out what we were going to do. Once we had done that, my job became to be the chief cheerleader, so once we committed around a vision, I was the evangelist of it. I was the one who would take the hardest stance to defend that core mission we developed.

How to reach: Rosetta Stone, www.rosettastone.com

Interview by Dustin S. Klein / Story by Jessica Hanna

Tuesday, 13 September 2011 15:03

Helping women-owned businesses succeed

Women-owned businesses have become one of the fastest-growing — if not the fastest-growing — segments of the economy. But Helen Han, president and CEO of the National Association of Women Business Owners, says it takes more than just attending business school to become a entrepreneur.

In addition to a touch of arrogance and a dash of blind faith, Han says entrepreneurs need to become better equipped with the tools necessary for running a business. And for women, that’s where NAWBO comes in.

Han’s organization represents the interests of women entrepreneurs in all industries, and it’s designed to help them achieve success in multiple areas of their lives.

“We hope to be hitting three prongs,” Han says. “In terms of the social, the political and the economic power platforms that we believe women can stand very tall on in upcoming decades.”

With Han as the helm, NAWBO aims to be at the forefront of advocacy issues pertaining to small businesses, working with government entities to look at how legislation and administrative initiatives can incorporate the needs of women entrepreneurs.

Beyond that, NAWBO works with corporate partners on educational programs to help train women on how to grow their businesses.

All of this is the other side of the coin for Han, who previously owned and directed a California preschool for six years and served as the senior program manager at the Price Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at the UCLA Anderson School of Management. In practice, Han says knowledge is the prerequisite to successfully fueling entrepreneurial passion.

“If you can really tie the two together you can create unlimited potential in terms of what businesses can do,” she says.

Smart Business sat down with Han to discuss NAWBO, women business owners and how her entrepreneurial experience shaped her leadership philosophies.

Q: What unique challenges have you found that women entrepreneurs face?

Some of our women business owners are lifestyle entrepreneurs who choose not to grow too big. ... The tendency for women not to think big enough, to dream big enough or have the level of confidence that they can project into their business dealings, sometimes has the tendency for self limitation.

It would be helpful if the government and the business community can work with the women entrepreneurial community to open up access to capital, federal contracting opportunities and international opportunities in a way that puts us at equal par to competing in this economy.

Then, from our own perspective, I believe that women need to gain a better and a broader sense of a knowledge base in terms of how they should operate their business, what opportunities are out there and how to seize those opportunities in a way that accelerates their growth path.

Q: How open have you found the political process in working at the federal level, moving down to the state and then the municipality level?

What’s interesting is the government recognizes that women are the fastest-growing segment of the economy and that they must work with us. I found that, particularly through my work with the national organization, the federal government has been very open. It doesn’t mean that everything they do solves our problem immediately.

They’re very open and willing to work with us, and I think what is really important for us is to educate our members on the importance of raising our voice and engaging in the political process in such a way that we are heard much louder and much more clearly in terms of what the needs are.

Q: How do you think the experiences of being an entrepreneur have shaped your leadership abilities and outlook today?

For women entrepreneurs, sometimes you feel isolated. You can’t talk to your employees about the inability to meet payroll or all the woes and tribulations of what goes on behind the desk from a CEO’s perspective. And so it creates the ability for me to have empathy for what they’re going through.

What I also understood was that entrepreneurs are not always fully equipped with all the resources, the knowledge base and the information they need to succeed. There are outlets out there that they can tap into to get that level of guidance. It brings me a great deal of satisfaction to be able to offer that through an organization like NAWBO because that level of camaraderie, finding like-minded peers, is something that is critically important for entrepreneurs who are holding our economy together.

Q: What key piece of advice would you give to a woman entrepreneur on day one when she becomes CEO?

Don’t lose that dream, because I think that the spark of being an entrepreneur starts with a passion and a dream. If you can hold on to that and communicate it to others around you in a way that they can buy in to it, then there’s really no limit to what you are able to do.

How to reach: NAWBO, www.nawbo.org.

Interviewed by Dustin S. Klein / Story by Jessica Hanna

Entrepreneurship arises from the strangest of places.

For Talia Mashiach, founder and CEO of Eved, her winding path began shortly after she accompanied her musician husband to a meeting at a hotel where he hoped to generate more referrals for his band.

“I come from a technology background,” she says. “But I love thinking about business models. I had done some back-end technology work for his band’s website, and he figured I could help with some ideas that would lead to more business.”

The meeting didn’t go as planned.

“I went with him, and the hotel executive said, ‘Well, we don’t just want to confirm bands. Our people waste so much time manually handling logistics and dealing with these multiple suppliers, can you handle everything for us?’” Mashiach says.

Mashiach didn’t know anything about that business, but she did understand how to deploy technology-based solutions.

“When I looked at it, I really saw a supply chain play, which has been done similarly in other avenues but just not in the events side,” she says. “I couldn’t get over how manual everything was, and how many logistics and how many times things needed to change. So we came up with this idea.”

Smart Business sat down with Mashiach, who was named to the 2009 class of the Ernst & Young Entrepreneurial Winning Women, and talked about the roots of innovation for her 50-plus employee organization.

Q: What were the early applications you developed at Eved?

I saw a big opportunity in the long run but knew we needed to start with being able to come up with a model in which we would put people in-house in the hotel. We would create technology that managed the supply chain and assets, between us and what we call the whole sales squires, the actual people who have the products — the band leaders, the florists.

The hotels had become channel partners, so when their clients came to the hotel and were looking for something, they’d say, ‘OK, anything you need outside of rooms and food or beverage you go to Eved for.’

I put a plan together to really scale this company by creating an international platform that would bring all the members of the event supply chain online to be able to communicate through an online marketplace.

Q: What do you offer in products and services for your clients?

Primarily, Eved is a meeting and event marketplace that allows supply chain members to communicate and trim back (on expenses) with one another. There’s about $150 billion spent on offline communications and transactions in the U.S. market alone. A lot goes on in the middle — from ground transportation management to restaurant reservations — and that’s really what our software platform is about.

Q: What is an example of a business challenge that your organization faced and the solution you used?

What most people don’t realize is when you bring out this hybrid technology, you are trying to change behavior. … You have to understand and create business processes, as well as the technology support for those business processes. It’s not so much training — how to click, where to click and what to do within the software. … It’s about reaching out, personally, and working with them on how to use our software to better change their business practices and grow their companies.

Q: What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned and how do you apply that to how you run the company?

The greatest lesson I’ve probably learned is from a mentor who taught me that everything in life, but especially in business, is relationships with other people. Whether it’s managing people, whether its sales, whether its clients, it’s taking the time to understand who those people are, what makes them tick and what’s important to them.

Q: What are your plans in terms of growth?

We’ll continue to figure out the best ways to create experiences for clients and (how to) use the technology to best service them. As a technology platform, we see tremendous growth opportunity. There’s so much out there. … People don’t realize that when somebody does a conference, (they) are touching so many different businesses, so we have to bring them all onto the platform.

And then there’s a lot of growth internationally. While we have international members already, they have to serve the U.S.-based companies. We haven’t even scratched the surface of the opportunities there.

How to reach: Eved LLC, www.eved.com

After years in the industry, Mike Broderick realized that audience response technology could be applied to benefit education in a meaningful way. He decided to found Turning Technologies, a company focused on building a response solution geared to and focused on education at all levels.

Over the past 10 years, he has managed just that, growing his Youngstown, Ohio-based company into a multimillion-dollar industry leader. Broderick, the company’s president and CEO, says the most important ingredient to starting a company is vision, to be able to “understand and articulate what you’re going to accomplish as a company.” But he also says it takes much more to build a company successfully from the ground up.

Identify challenges and solutions

To transition audience response technology from use in corporate meetings and events to education, Broderick knew he had to develop a way to provide the technology in a format that would be easy to use, affordable and compatible with other classroom tools.

But even after successfully developing a product, Broderick says the challenge of establishing credibility remains for any start-up company. In order to sell his learning solution to schools and universities, Broderick had to convince them the technology was a viable solution from a long-term, sustainable business that would be there to support them.

“That was probably the biggest issue,” he says. “We overcame that gradually over time through a lot of partnering, and likely a lot of product giveaways, building stories to tell.”

Document how your solution effectively meets a need

To earn credibility, a company needs to effectively document how its solution improved a legitimate need, Broderick says. For Turning Technologies, the need was achievement in education. After developing a product designed to engage every student in the classroom and ensure each one is learning, the company had to test its effectiveness.

Broderick got Turning Technologies involved in implementation studies that measured the results of using the company’s products. The studies found that if used effectively, test scores, as well as student learning and engagement, improved. What was more, students liked using the product.

“Publishing that information and getting that message out was obviously key in seeing rapid uptake and continues to be,” he says.

Define your role as a leader and hire the right employees

After establishing his product, Broderick realized he had to focus on his leadership style and grow his staff. He decided to manage his company pragmatically, with the idea that his most important job as CEO was finding, challenging and encouraging employees. He says successful leader needs to recognize his or her own limitations, hiring others to complement strengths and compensate for weaknesses.

“That’s probably one of the biggest reasons for failure, the tendency of an entrepreneur to try and replicate himself in key members around him,” Broderick says. “That’s the last thing that we need. What we need are people who are different, people who can bring new and complementary things to the table. Recognizing your own limitations is probably one of your biggest strengths as a successful entrepreneur.”

When hiring employees, Broderick says he recruits strategically through networking to find the right people. By being well connected within its industry, a company will know who the key players are.

To hire quality employees, a company needs to be willing to pay above market rates. Promoting within the company, when possible, is also important to maintaining an invested staff. A successful employee doesn’t see work as a job but as an opportunity for a successful, lifetime career, Broderick says.

Establishing a leadership style and hiring the right employees to fill out a business isn’t where the process ends, however. As a company grows, a leader must take a step back and let his role evolve. Broderick says a successful leader gives up authority as employees grow into their own roles, maintaining influence by focusing on the “big picture” of the company and how its pieces interrelate.

Treat clients as partners

Creating strong relationships with clients is just as important as having a strong employee foundation. Broderick approaches every client relationship as a partnership, whether a single school, major district or university.

“We listen and we’re involved with our clients,” he says. “We have a sort of holistic approach to client relationships. We do things that may seem like no-brainers, but our clients absolutely love (them).”

One such no-brainer is providing tech support from a local call center. To provide the best customer service, customers must be able to talk to a support agent who is intimately familiar with the product and dedicated solely to providing support, Broderick says. Having a local call center also limits customers encountering communication barriers

To ensure customer satisfaction with products and services, companies should acknowledge customer feedback from sources such as Net Promoter Scores, he says, as well as solicit feedback themselves.

Realize it’s not an overnight process

Even seemingly “sudden successes” have years of effort behind them, as with Turning Technologies. Broderick says the first three years of starting any company will be difficult as a company tackles the above-mentioned steps while trying to find sources of revenue.

“Looking back today, quitting wasn’t an option,” he says. “I didn’t have a plan B in my mind of what I would do if it didn’t work. And I almost wonder that if I did, if Turning would exist today. There will be tough times and a lot of days where you come to work and just slog through it, but that’s the perspective the entrepreneur needs.”

How to reach: Turning Technologies, (866) 746-3015 or www.turningtechnologies.com

Monday, 18 July 2011 06:26

Channel partners

Entrepreneurship arises from the strangest of places.

For Talia Mashiach, founder and CEO of Eved, her winding path began shortly after she accompanied her musician husband to a meeting at a hotel where he hoped to generate more referrals for his band.

“I have a technology background,” she says. “But I love thinking about business models. I had done some back-office work for his band, and he figured I could help with some ideas that would lead to more business.”

The meeting didn’t go as planned.

“I went with him and the hotel executive said, ‘Well, we don’t just want to offer bands. Our catering and event managers spend so much time manually handling logistics and dealing with these multiple suppliers that come in for an event, can you handle everything for us?’”

Mashiach didn’t know anything about the event business, but she did understand how to deploy technology-based solutions. “When I looked at the opportunity to aggregate all the individual suppliers and sell and manage them for the hotel, I really saw a supply chain play, which has been done in other industries, but not in Meetings & Events,” she says. “I couldn’t get over how manual and fragmented everything was, how many logistics between multiple supply chain members and how often things needed to change throughout an event. So we came up with this idea.”

Smart Business Publisher and Executive Editor Dustin S. Klein sat down with Mashiach, who was named to the 2009 class of the Ernst & Young Entrepreneurial Winning Women, and talked about the roots of innovation for her 30-plus employee organization.

What were the early applications you developed at Eved?

I saw a big opportunity for a global event portal in the long-run, but knew we needed to start with understanding the event industry, how the supply chain members worked together and what ultimately the client wanted. We needed to build our own service company to figure this out. We came up with a model in which we would put people in-house in the hotel, providing the client with a one stop shop when they came to a hotel.

We developed technology to communicate and transact between ourselves and the suppliers we bought from – florists, transportation companies, entertainers. We also created technology that enabled our sales people to view a catalogue of our suppliers’ products online and easily add items to a quick quote or proposal reducing the turnaround time to clients by an average minimum of 48 hours.  Automated purchase orders and change requests took out the manual back and forth, saving thousands of hours in labor from sales and operations to finance.

We were able to manage an average of 1,800 event orders to our suppliers per month with one finance person and 25 people in sales and operations.

The hotels had become channel partners, so when their clients came to the hotel and were looking for something, they’d say, ‘Anything you need outside of rooms and food or beverage you can work with the expert team from Eved, who is on-site and works closely with our catering and event manager to create a great event.’ This model proved that with the right technology, even small one-off orders, like a single sedan transfer or VIP floral bouquet, can be profitable. For the first time, it allowed a company to service the client for their large event needs and their very small ones. This was a key service the client was looking for.

I’m sure this was eye-opening. What did you learn from this?

Through this experience, I learned a tremendous amount about the industry. How the markets and supply chain members work together. What  clients are really looking for in an event service partner and the real inefficiencies that are experienced daily by this industry. We put a plan together to really scale this company. We created a global platform that would bring all the members of the event supply chain online to be able to communicate and transact through an online marketplace.

In 2010, we launched our global marketplace, Eved, and took the experience and technology and offered it to all members of the event supply chain to interact and transact online. Now anyone can sign up to automate their entire process – from proposal creation to purchase orders to transactions.

We are just finishing our beta and will offer online Event Galleries where event suppliers can create storefronts to sell their services online. Companies and individuals will be able to purchase all their small meeting needs online.

What do you offer in products and services for your clients today?

Eved is a B2B marketplace that allows members of the meeting and event supply chain to communicate and transact online. There’s about $150 billion spent on event services in the U.S. All of this is currently transacted offline by literally thousands of destination-specific small businesses that are involved in providing services for events – from ground transportation to restaurant reservations. Our cloud-based platform gives those businesses the ability to quickly and efficiently conduct business with each other. Whether a business is using our vendor management capabilities to search for a new supplier, or employing our online commerce tools to streamline the proposal, purchase order, invoice or payment process, The technology takes a lot of the manual labor out, significantly reducing the cost of sale. Eved is all about helping our clients grow, strengthen, and control their businesses.

How would you describe segments of clients?

We target all the members of the event supply chain – corporations and organizations that hold meetings or conferences,  third-party meeting planning companies that are hired by corporations, hotels, destination management and event companies, restaurants, suppliers such as florists, entertainers, décor companies and transportation companies. We believe that the meeting, incentive companies and destination managemetn companies play a major role in the future of events and ensuring events bring measurable results to a corporation. Our technology enables these companies to provide more cost effective and new services to their existing corporate clients.

We were fortunate enough to have some great clients come on early and clearly articulate how our technology can help them work with their suppliers. When we met their expectations, they invited their global suppliers to join them on Eved, providing value for both buyers and sellers. This also helped us quickly populate that segment of the supply chain globally. We have now provided valuable tools for these destination management and event companies to streamline how they work with their suppliers. This creates new opportunities for everyone. We have engaged all of our early adopters and clients to give us their input and continue to help us develop technology that enables all members of the supply chain to reduce costs and increase sales.  Perhaps most exciting about Eved is that you can streamline the way you do business with whoever you choose as long as both of you are on Eved. Eved creates the bridge.

What is an example of a business challenge that your organization faced and the solution you used?

What most people don’t realize is the magnitude of pioneering technology that will transform an industry. Many people assume that if they create the best technology, then people will use it. But it’s not just the technology. You have to understand and communicate how by using the technology your business can grow It’s not so much training – how to click, where to click and what to do within Eved – it’s much more about how you help these companies, especially small businesses, maximize the business opportunities Eved can create for them.  One comparison could be what businesses thought of having a website when the internet was in its early stage. Some people bought into the vision early and got their websites going and created new business models around having this new technology. Others waited and were pushed to create a website because their competition had one. The early adopters created a huge advantage for themselves. Our clients can see the Eved vision, but we need to continue to help them understand how it helps their business.  So it’s about reaching out personally, and working with them on how to use Eved to better change their business practices and grow their companies. Our future offerings will be continuing to introduce and evolve new technology that will help our clients grow their sales and cut their costs.

How do you consider yourself an innovative leader?

A lot of people realize the meeting and event industry is a good 15 years behind when it comes to technology. I think we are unique in our approach to incorporate the existing supply chain and enable them to better work with one another. I think the industry has embraced us because no one gets displaced. Everyone wins when they work with us.  What is being cut out is all the no value-add manual labor that can be reallocated to grow one’s business. I also think we have earned the respect of some of the industry leaders because they appreciate our deep industry knowledge and innovative approach.

We’re in a unique situation. Either technical people see an opportunity in the meetings industry and want to build technology to solve a problem without knowing the ins and outs of the space, or they are familiar with the meeting industry but don’t know a lot about technology. So they outsource it, with instructions on what they want it to do.

As the founder of Eved, I was a technologist that spent six years in the trenches building an actual business in the meeting and event space. I have a thorough understanding of the pains of all our clients. I also understand what it means to own and grow a business and how valuable technology can be to achieve those goals. As a technologist, I can translate those pains and develop technology to solve them.

From an organizational perspective, how do you employ innovation on a day-to-day basis to keep the company on the leading edge?

We continue to encourage that through creating a culture of innovation. Celebrate new ideas and encourage people to take some risks. We have something called an innovation box where if you come up with an idea, we are going to celebrate it. Based on how much it impacts the company, you can get a monetary award. We also have brain storming sessions twice a month where we bring everyone together just to talk about an idea.

Is there a management style you use to spur innovation?

I definitely think there is. A lot has to do with how you make people feel when they interact with you. Are you open to a discussion? How available do you make yourself to those that don’t report directly to you? How do you react when someone gives you a suggestion to improve something? Even if you don’t like it, you don’t want to say, ‘I don’t like your idea’ especially in front of other people, or they will never bring you their next idea. You want to at least think about and consider the ideas that are brought to you. You may want to give them direction and (say), ‘Ok, well think about it a little bit differently, have you thought about xyz and come back to me.’

One of our strategies to foster innovation between people was to create a small contest. Everyone was assigned to do an innovative project that could benefit the company. The team that scored the highest got a spa day. It encouraged people to work together to create something new for the company.

What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned and how do you apply that to how you run the company?

The greatest lesson I’ve probably learned is from a mentor who taught me that everything in life, but especially in business, revolves around your relationships with other people. Whether it’s managing people, building new sales, working with clients, or dealing with investors; it is crucial to take the time to understand the person as an individual, what is important to them and how do they get value from the relationship with you. I learned that focusing on the other person and adjusting my style for them is what will make me successful, instead of assuming that everyone else should adjust to me.

I have had the privilege over the last seven years to work with many different kinds of people; the hard working banquet staff at a hotel to a hotel general manager; CEOs of large corporations to owner-operated small businesses, strategic partners and investors. I have learned something different from all of them.

How do you think your organization makes an impact on the community?

We do a number of different things. As an entrepreneur you’ve got a limited amount of time, and the things I do, I want to be impactful. We have a philanthropy program in the company where we match donations. We also offer paid days off to volunteer. But personally, I am passionate about entrepreneurship and children’s education. I sit on the board of the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center – a great organization that fosters and support entrepreneurs in Chicago. I am also very involved with projects that involve innovating the way our children learn. It is also very exciting for me that Eved as a technology platform is impacting small businesses all over the world to help them grow their companies, add more jobs, cut costs and find new revenue streams.

What are your plans in terms of growth?

Eved is soley focused on technology. The event service company that we started as seven years ago is now called Access Chicago and a client of the Eved Platform. We need to stay very close to our clients and understand how we can continue to bring value to them. It is hard to transform the way you do business so we want to make the experience as easy as we can.

As a global event marketplace, we see tremendous growth opportunity. Event suppliers include tours, gift items, printing, signage, restaurants, special event locations, team building, concerts, and so much more. There are businesses that don’t even realize yet that they can sell into the event market. They just need a cost effective way to do it. Then you think about the fact that events happen all over the world.  There are literally hundreds of billions of dollars that we want to streamline and aggregate on Eved.

How to reach: Eved LLC, www.eved.com

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