~ February 4, 2014 ~
As social creatures, we connect, explore, and shop based on the recommendations of people we trust. When a foodie friend suggests a new restaurant, we reserve a table. When a colleague or mentor tells us to meet someone, we do so without hesitation.
But when we broadcast suggestions or requests on social media, there’s no guarantee that valued sources or experts will see them and respond. There’s no consistent way to cut through the noise.
At least that’s what Claudia Batten, a serial entrepreneur, found when searching for technology hardware experts. Despite being extremely well-connected – Batten has thousands of ties on LinkedIn, thousands of (real) Twitter followers, and hundreds of Facebook friends – she lacked a quick way to tap her contacts for advice. Instead, she found herself individually emailing people she thought might be able to help.
“It was really inefficient,” Batten says. “But even worse, it was ineffective.”
Batten and co-founders – who agreed that their increased connectivity had diminishing returns – created “Broadli,” an app to catalyze the targeted assistance they observed among “super-connectors” and highly effective peers. “LinkedIn is a powerful tool,” Batten continues. “It’s great that everyone is in this awesome digital Rolodex, but now let’s put them to work.”
Broadli enables users to activate their networks strategically, to zero in on people who can be most helpful at a particular time. The app connects to a user’s LinkedIn account and pulls in contacts, which the user then sorts into categories: “Inspired,” “Dormant,” “Don’t Know,” and “Want to Know.” Folks with whom she has close, personal relationships are “Inspired” and form a trusted network. All other contacts are divided into one of the other clusters and stored for later networking potential.
From there, the user defines her mission – the foremost thing she is trying to accomplish, such as moving to a new city, changing jobs, or launching a company or charity. Her “Inspired” inner circle can then make tactical introductions to members of their own coteries to help the friend advance toward her goal.
In developing the app, Broadli co-founders aim to facilitate the “intentional generosity” they’ve experienced in trusted networks. Networking, they say, isn’t a zero-sum game. Rather, it should be about building relationships that go the distance, helping others without expecting an immediate return.
“Networking for ambition alone is a thing of the past,” Batten continues. “It’s supporting people to help them achieve their dreams because, when they do, you feel the ‘win’ yourself. It’s supporting people because you care about their lives.”
One might expect such idealism from starry-eyed Millennials, but Broadli’s three initial co-founders are high-flying female executives in their late-thirties and forties. After decades in the workforce, the women were looking for a better way to work, and Broadli’s corporate structure – or lack thereof – mirrors the flat, non-hierarchical collaboration they hope their app will accelerate.
Even before last month when Zappos, the online retailer, announced its plan to abandon a traditional top-down org structure in favor of self-governing circles for the company’s 1,500 employees, Broadli co-founders worked successfully without titles, job descriptions, or ownership of ideas. The process of incorporating forced Broadli to name a president, but co-founders insist this “old-world” paradigm runs counter to creativity and innovation. Major advances, they say, result from openness and diversity.
While Broadli’s team now includes two male co-founders, Matt Null and John Weiss, the entrepreneurs say the app was created from a “feminine perspective,” which values collaboration. “Real collaboration is working together to create something new in support of a shared vision,” says Alessandra Lariu, a Broadli co-founder who is also CEO of Shout, a global advertising collective. “Real collaborators behave in a ‘what’s mine is yours’ manner.”
Weiss says he finds the forward-thinking nature of his female colleagues refreshing; they consistently focus on possibilities for the future, he says, whereas some male-dominated organizations tend to emphasize past success.
Still, the Broadli crew cautions against getting mired in group-think and wonders how their model will scale (they’ll be watching Zappos closely). But for now they’re continuing the experiment.
“We’re so excited about the possibilities of this venture – not only for the ability to extend purposeful networking, but also for the opportunity to create a way of working together that is qualitatively different from other workplaces we’ve known,” says V. Mary Abraham, a co-founder who is also a lawyer and knowledge management expert. “An organization created by women who are consciously looking for a better way is a wonderful thing!”
~ January 27, 2014 ~
“When we share these diverse images on our social networks, we are taking personal ownership and truly redefining beauty.” – Cynthia Wade
Last fall, I was privileged to meet Academy Award-winning director Cynthia Wade, who won an Oscar for her documentary “Freeheld” in 2007 and was nominated again in 2012 for “Mondays at Racine.” Cynthia also directs commercials and works with advertising agencies that want to use real people to tell engaging, emotional stories.
I had dinner with Cynthia and liked her so much that I invited her out two nights later to another dinner I was attending with some friends in advertising, as well as Michael Crook, a talented photographer (female – don’t let the name fool you) I’d met months before at a charity event.
We gathered on a rainy night at a cozy restaurant on Bleeker Street and, as with all #StilettoNetwork dinners, there was no explicit goal or agenda; we were just there to catch up and/or get to know one another.
Cynthia and Michael talked for much of the night, and within a month Cynthia pitched the idea for a short film called “Selfie,” with Michael as the featured photographer, for Dove’s “Campaign for Real Beauty.” On Monday, the 7-minute film Cynthia conceived and directed premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. It’s a beautiful collaboration, and it’s going viral now.
“SHOWING UP to these networking meetings is the key to success!” Cynthia wrote in an email. “That dinner was challenging to get to, as I was traveling down from MA just for the dinner and back – and I’d only just gotten back home from a week business trip, so it would have been easy to stay home. I AM SO GLAD I WENT.”
So are we. Congratulations Cynthia and Michael!
~ November 18, 2013 ~
The recent talk of renewed feminism—of leaning in and having it all—has some folks wondering: Why can’t women behave like Indians?
In 1992, a group of male Silicon Valley executives with roots in the Indus region realized they were being treated like second-class citizens. “We had foreign accents, different educations and values. We dressed differently. People thought, ‘I can’t put this guy in front of a client, I can’t invest in this guy’s company,’” said Vivek Wadhwa, an entrepreneur and academic who teaches at Stanford and Duke, among other institutions. “We couldn’t pretend there wasn’t a problem.”
They created The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE), which stokes entrepreneurship for members globally. Members systematically sponsored and invested in each other. Each prosperous Indian found a promising protégé to groom. The mentor did whatever was necessary—from making introductions, to personally funding, to buying new clothes—to help the greenhorn adapt and achieve. The members aimed, as TiE’s website says, to foster a “virtuous cycle of wealth creation and giving back to the community.”
TiE now has about 13,000 members in fifty-seven chapters across fourteen countries and, as a result, Wadhwa, who was the founding president of the Carolinas chapter of TiE, said Southeast Asians have become a disproportionately successful, sought-out bloc in the workforce. “It worked for us because we banded together,” he continued. “We fixed the problem systematically and led by example.”
So why haven’t women appropriated this formula for success? “Women fit into society better because you’re only different in one sense. It’s easier for you to pretend you’re the same as guys, but you need to recognize there’s still a problem.”
Even the white boys agree. Steve Blank, a serial entrepreneur who has taught at the University of California at Berkeley, Stanford, and Columbia, said that Silicon Valley in the late 1970s was a sea of homogeny. “The notion of Chinese or Indians running a company was laughable. They were good engineers, but couldn’t run a company,” said Blank, who was listed as one of Harvard Business Review’s “Masters of Innovation” in 2012. “Over the last thirty years, almost every ethnicity started a support group. People collect over the notion of tribes, and the women-thing is the next rational barrier to fall. I have two college-age daughters, and it’s time.”
These guys have a point, but they don’t realize it’s already happening—because the really vibrant women’s networks have been completely underground. Without declaring an explicit agenda like TiE’s, women across the nation have been adopting the Indian model for success. They are mobilizing their #StilettoNetworks (i.e., tribes) and, for the first time in history, seeing a monetary return on time invested with girlfriends.
~ August 28, 2013 ~
“Organizations are not networks,” says one exec in Stiletto Network. “Organizations are opportunities to build your networks.”
Karen White (President & COO of Addepar; former Oracle & private equity honcho; Stiletto Network Chapter 6) says that when a woman attends some esteemed institution of higher learning or gets hired by a reputable firm, the onus is on her to be active in her network – both inside and outside of her company.
We must work hard for others if we want others to work hard for us. We should lead by giving.
“People choose all types of criteria to favor – their alma mater, ex-football players, women,” White says. “But you have to be a contributor. Networks give you access, and if you’re in a network – at least in Silicon Valley – it’s assumed you will participate. All you have is your reputation around your capabilities and for keeping your commitments. You can fail at your venture, survive that, and move on to thrive in the next. But without the pillar of your network, your chances of succeeding are de minimus.”
In Silicon Valley, there’s less segregation of friends, family, work, church, temple, mosque. It’s all blended, and men and women see a fuller spectrum of each other’s worlds. This is way the rest of society is heading too.
People are relying more on their networks and less on their organizations.
So, what are you doing to feed your network? Whom have you helped today?
~ August 5, 2013 ~
Stiletto Network has been so inspiring for me personally, and my intention in telling this story has been not only to identify, but also to catalyze this powerful nationwide movement. So I’m thrilled to report that since the book was published in May, I’ve received hundreds of emails from women across the country who either have their own Stiletto Networks or want to start one.
I’ve found these groups among women in all industries and age groups — from CEOs to aspiring Millennials to moms launching businesses in their basements. This proves that you don’t need to be famous or fabulous to create a Stiletto Network, and you need not begin with major connections. Anyone can do this.
Need more evidence? Channel 7 WSPA recently aired a fantastic segment showcasing Stiletto Networks in South Carolina — groups like “Women Mean Business” in Greenville and “Sparkle” in Spartanburg. These are local female entrepreneurs, women merging business and friendship and helping each other grow.
To quote Laura Thomas, WSPA anchor/reporter: “It’s a community of women with high heels, and even higher hopes.”
Women like Laura Skelton, owner of River Falls Spa; Duffy Baehr, owner of Baehr Feet; Anne Anderson, owner of Herb & Renewal; Brooke Shugart of Studio B for Pilates and Barre; Brandy Gutierrez of iRecycle; and Sara Riddle, who is opening a maternity and nursing store called Haute Mama.
“We have many roles,” says Shugart. “We’re mothers and wives and business owners, and I just feel like it’s very important for us to encourage each other.”
~ July 24, 2013 ~
The night Dina Kaplan met two geeks in a bar on the Bowery, she wasn’t looking to switch careers. She was working as a local TV reporter and these guys seemed like ragtag kids. She might never have talked to them, but The Remote Lounge had cameras and telephone handsets at every table to encourage patrons to interact. You could be at Table 4 and think, “I want to see the girls at Table 25.” You could send out feelers without really risking rejection.
So when the geeks dared her to venture upstairs, Kaplan took a chance. Hey, it was the year 2000. “Okay,” she said. “I’ll come up and say hi.”
Mike Hudack had dropped out of high school to work for a start-up and his buddy Charles Hope, sporting a nostril pierce and dreadlocks flopping halfway down his chest, was an odd candidate to write software tracking ingredients for a kosher certification company. But it paid the bills. The group talked late into the evening, and Hudack struck Kaplan as some sort of boy genius.
Fast-forward five years and Kaplan was still in touch. By then Hudack and Hope had partnered with two other techies they met at a group called “New York City Geeks,” and the guys spent nights and weekends hacking away on an information management program they’d developed, thinking it could form the back-end of a larger company – like a platform for TV shows on the Internet. The hackers knew Kaplan was smart and personable, and they wanted her to be the face of their operation. She could talk to people, help raise funds or bring in partners, maybe turn their project into a business.
Kaplan, who had worked for MTV for four years and been a television reporter for five, could see how Web video might be interesting. “I trust my instinct on big things,” Kaplan says. “I remember the date, time, and moment I had my first Starbucks coffee and thinking, ‘This company is going to do really well.’ I remember the first time I had a Snapple, what I was wearing, and I thought, ‘This company is going to do really well.’”
Kaplan felt the same about Hudack. Though her friends started staging interventions – did she really want to work with these guys? – she was ready to gamble. “If I ever know anyone who’s going to be the next Bill Gates, it’s this guy,” she remembers thinking. “If he starts a company, I’ll drop whatever I’m doing and go work for him.” (more…)