In the spirit of Fashion Week, where designers recently debuted their spring collections so that we look smart, chic, and of course, attractive, I thought it would be a worthy attempt to try and understand what’s attractive in today business world — especially in a world that appears to be seeking bigger, faster, stronger, and smarter leaders. How do we stand out to investors, innovators, partners, employees, and leaders? What are the metrics of attractiveness, and how do we define it?
Obviously, the question is a complex one, as there are multiple factors to consider — various types of companies, investors, and employers combining consumer demand and business trends that seem to change in the blink of an eye. Let’s take a general approach to understand: What are the most common physiognomies that attract us as people, candidates, investors, leaders and employees?
The decision to bring outside investors into your company will be one of the most important decisions of your life. Raising money through angel investors, private equity, or venture capital can put you on a path to great expansion and market share. Against that, you must weigh the loss of control you will incur, and the increase in oversight you will most certainly experience. Still, for many companies — particularly those with serious growth ambitions — outside funding is a necessary precondition for success.At the AlwaysOn Conference hosted by Tony Perkins, the media technology’s fashion runway event, where venture capitalists and investors meet start-ups and innovators, I talked to a couple of people in different sectors of the market and here’s what they had to say.
Lou Kerner, the founder of The Social Internet Fund, and I met in the elevator, which is always a good networking place. Lou invests in the primary and secondary shares of rapidly growing social media and mobile companies. I asked him what he’s attracted to when investing in a company. “Data! I focus on companies that customers love and I determine the level of my interest by looking at their user data.” Lou goes on to say that “I involve myself in every stage. We’ve invested in companies very early as well as just months away from IPO.”
On the lunch line at AlwaysOn, I met the effervescent Ed Lambert, a senior vice president market manager at Bridge Bank. I asked him the tough question of “What’s your special sauce? Basically, why are companies going to become a client of your bank?” I loved talking to Ed. He has an un-banker way of describing his business, and he’s incredibly passionate, funny, and charming. I especially sparked when he said, “We treat every client as a close client. We look at the numbers and figure out the best solution, and we don’t walk away when things go wrong. We are with our clients, standing right beside them all the way.”
When we think of disrupters and innovators, Google, Amazon, and Apple come to mind. I would venture to say that these companies were born innovators, but what about the companies that had to innovate as they went along, such as AirBnB, who started out with blowup mattresses in their apartments and now run an empire of rental accommodations worldwide? Wouldn’t you put them on the top 10 innovator list?
Innovators push the boundaries of the known world. They’re change agents who are unyielding in making things happen and bringing ideas to execution.
In many ways, innovation is key to success no matter what your business. The minute you stop transforming is the minute you become ordinary. To be successful today, you need to create a culture of true innovation, and innovation doesn’t always exist within the four walls of your company. Innovation is often collaboration and a partnership of technology, product, and consumer or enterprise demand.
In the last couple of years companies have worked to create closer relationships with startups in order to spark technological innovation. This year it seemed many companies fully embraced the idea of open innovation, which advocates innovating with partners. To do that, many opened innovation centers in Silicon Valley and elsewhere, attended innovation conferences, and created immersive accelerator programs to give various business units the chance to learn from entrepreneurs.For example, recently General Electric Co. invested $105 million for a 10 percent stake in Pivotal, a new venture created from operations spun out of EMC Corp. subsidiary VMware Inc. GE’s software center, based in San Ramon, Calif., will use Pivotal’s software to develop new applications that support its vision of the industrial internet.
Target Corp. recently opened its innovation center in the historic Folgers Coffee building in San Francisco. The retailer is looking for technologies that impact its core commerce, such as search on its e-commerce site and the use of social networking.
People always ask me, what are the attributes of a stellar employee? My answer is quite simple, though lengthy: An excellent colleague taps into his or her talents and resources in order to support and bring out the best in others, including their leaders. They are creative, and it’s their creativity that propels ventures and assignments forward and that captures peoples’ attention. Top employees tend to be structured and usually have a set of factors, limitations, and guidelines. These hard-to-find employees rely on their intuition and use sensible processes. They do their homework, especially if they are not subject matter experts. They intuitively understand that knowledge is essential to authenticity. I also find that people who are adaptable, curious, and open-minded tend to be innovators.
What makes leaders attractive? Charisma! They have the ability to draw people like a magnet. They have endless energy and perpetual optimism, which intrigues and inspires us. Charismatic leaders exude confidence and provide hope. They have passion for what they do, and this spills over into all aspects of their lives. Charismatic leaders are like Jeff Bezos, of Amazon, Anne Mulcahy, of Xerox, who turned things around when her company faced a financial crisis, or Brad Smith, of Intuit, one of the world’s largest and most successful financial software companies, and Starbucks’ Howard Schultz, who started from humble beginnings in the Bronx. All of these leaders have vision. They have the ultimate understanding of life balance because they love what they do. It’s their infectious, positive outlook that attracts people, and then seemingly without effort, holds their attention. Magnetic leaders are willing to give time to others and often let people into their lives, especially people in need.
Ask yourself, what’s your attractiveness? Whether you are seeking investors, partners, and employees, or looking for a dynamic leader that will lead you and your company towards improvement and relevancy, you need to ask: What’s my special sauce?