The Age of the Ask

“No one is busy all the time. The issue is where you fit on their priority list.”

Gives and Gets. Asks and Offers. I’ve been to various women’s events recently where the value is structured around what the participants can do for each other. Is this the evolution of networking? Does it actually work? Do men do this when they get together?

I believe that we are moving from transactions to relationships. I see this with brands that want to move customers beyond one purchase to accruing “lifetime value” by looking for ways to build loyalty, often by humanizing the brand and/or offering incentives. In business, it’s becoming increasingly important in a world where everyone is connected to move beyond posts and likes to something more substantial. Some of this is captured in communities where like-minded people get together online or IRL (in real life).

That’s how I ended up at the events where the focus was on specifics (what can I get or give to the group members) vs. on more general networking. While I applaud the organizers for trying something different, I’m not sure that this approach is the best way to get women to help each other. Here’s why:

Introductions: Most of the asks/gets are for specific introductions. Do you know so and so or someone at company X? I’m always happy to connect people BUT I do it strategically. Mostly because I want there to be a good likelihood for success and value derived by both sides. That introductory email should be effusive as opposed to perfunctory. And I can’t be authentic if I’m facilitating a transaction. Especially since many of the requests are introductions to investors. It’s my network and my reputation. I protect it so that my credibility stays intact. If you have a big ask then I’ll be more likely to make it if you make an effort. Take the time to tell me about the desired outcome. Get me excited about the fit. If I believe it’s right, I’ll make the introduction happen because I care.

Virality: Helping someone spread the word about her new book or product is another favorite ask. The issue with something generic like that is that it’s unlikely to move the needle. Unless… there is a clear understanding of whom you want to reach. Case in point. When my movie Beer Wars came out a few years back, my famous cousin who had over 10 million Twitter followers offered to tweet about it. He was later surprised that he didn’t “break” my site as he was used to his followers literally clicking en mass. What I realized was that my audience didn’t match his followers. So it was a favor that failed because I asked (he offered first but go with me) the wrong person. Strategy always helps, especially when trying to get attention.

Lack of clarity: If you show up to an event where this is the focus, you need to be clear on how you can be helped. I can’t help someone if they aren’t clear about their need themselves. What I’m saying here isn’t that I won’t help you figure it out but that it then becomes the beginning of a relationship, not a transaction because it requires time and thought.

This “ask culture” is happening online as well, especially in women’s groups on Facebook. I’m not talking about recommendations for travel or hairdressers. I see endless posts asking for introductions or advice for business reasons. Transactional for sure but the asks are smaller and almost lend themselves to the digital world that is transactional in nature (look at your ratio of any of your posts to see likes vs. actual comments.) Sadly, even birthdays have become transactional.

So how do we navigate a world where we are the center of our own universe with social media there to amplify our every move? Where we are encouraged to speak up and stand up and ask for what we need?

Show Up: If you set up a lunch or coffee because you want something from the other person, show up. Don’t cancel at the last minute. Don’t say you need to reschedule and don’t. Be consistent. If I agree to meet someone, I do my homework and have already invested some time to prepare.

Reciprocate: I go to so many lunches and coffees where the entire conversation is about the other person. Here I thought we started a relationship but no, apparently the other person thought it was OK to talk about herself and her company for the entire meeting and to ask me how I was doing on the way out. Really? That may explain why I’m not responding to her email asking for investor introductions.

Tell the Truth: When I’m presented with an ask (outside of the event) I expect to hear the real story and I reciprocate with my straightforward opinion. I believe that if I’m starting a relationship with someone that it should be base on authenticity instead of bullshit. Many relationships seem to end because of my brutal honesty but I’m OK with that. Better to cut my losses early.

Do What You Say: If you make an offer then execute it. I can’t understand why anyone would want to appear as a giver and then not follow through. Case in point, at a recent event 10 women offered to help me with a specific ask. I followed up with all of them and provided all the information necessary plus an invitation to get together to see how I can reciprocate (while I believe in karma, I’m more than happy to dig to see how I can be helpful, especially to someone who is willing to help me). It’s been over a month and only 4 of them actually followed through. Some scheduled lunches (to discuss further) but then canceled. I’m not surprised. This is what happens when everything is transactional. You want to help in the moment but then you get busy and the transaction moves off your priority list and with it any potential relationship because you don’t see yourself getting (instant) value. I see it differently. Some of the best business relationships I developed started with me doing something for someone else and later as our relationship progressed that person opening a door without even asking. I’m not suggesting that you keep a ledger but that you take a long-term view.

Follow-up: I try to stay on top of my offers so that I can stay helpful. Again this is easy if it’s a relationship—I can simply check in. If it’s a one-time transaction, I don’t really bother.

Social Media Isn’t About You

“But enough about me. What about you? What do you think of me?”
—Bette Midler in Beaches

I was at a women’s event last week when the topic of personal branding and social media came up. Lots of back and forth on platforms and timing. And whether to outsource the whole thing.

As usual, I was the contrarian in the room. I believe that if you are looking to raise your profile on a social network – Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook – your posts should reflect who you are—holistically. The idea that you are one person at work and another in your “life” is passé. Your friends and colleagues are part of your network and want to know all of you. Just remember not to be annoying. No one cares what you had for breakfast. Unless you’re traveling and you’re sharing a cool dish or restaurant or you made something amazing in your kitchen.

While it’s called social media, it’s also a place for sharing: ideas, recommendations, feelings, and life transitions. If you are building a platform for yourself—to sell books or get a job—the best thing you can do to get traction is to add value. Give people who you are connected to something: share a great article, give advice and recommendations. If you’re self-serving and constantly posting “look at me, I’m so great” posts then you’re not that interesting. Or else you’re causing major FOMO posting about your amazing life (Fear Of Missing Out) among your network.

We are moving beyond transactions to a world based on relationships. If all you want are likes and lots of followers then you’re focused on a short-term fix. If you want to engage people, build a following. Stand for something. Have 2 way conversations. Respond when people comment on your posts and comment on other people’s posts. Have actual conversations. People want to know the real you (even if you use photo filters). Putting yourself out there with your quirks and a dash of humor make you multi dimensional. It gives people more reasons to connect with you.

People do business with people they like. We’ve all heard that before. Social networks give you unparalleled access to a world without borders. It’s not an adjunct to your life but rather should be part of your life. My sister put it this way: you never had a phone strategy or an email strategy so why does everyone feel like they need a social media strategy? It shouldn’t be seen as some foreign, scary activity but rather as an integral part of our 21st century life. You control what you share and how often. You do it because you want interaction, sometimes feedback, and shared experiences.

Last fall, I took my mom to Israel to celebrate her 80th birthday. I had not been there in 20+ years and was amazed by all the changes. I decided to post highlights of our trip, not to boast but to share the beautiful places we visited and the amazing food we ate. It was great to connect in the moment with people I know who were sharing my experience. I stuck to Facebook and Instagram because there was no business involved. Yet, since I’m connected to many of my business contacts on these platforms, they too were engaged on my vacation.

For those who say that social media is a “waste of time” or that it’s ruining real world experiences, I disagree. I didn’t slow down or stop enjoying the moments. I snapped a few photos and shared them. 5 minutes tops.

Bottom line. If you want to use social media to create a platform for yourself, just do it. Find your voice. Tell your stories. Experiment. Remember, there’s always a delete button.

Most of all have fun. Otherwise, you’re missing the point.

The End of Privacy As We Knew It

The End of Privacy As We Knew It

“When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”
Maya Angelou

“The social norm of privacy has evolved over time.”
Mark Zuckerberg

It was 2010 when Mark Zuckerberg talked about the evolution of privacy in a speech at the Crunchies. Yet here we are, 8 years later, in an uproar over the latest privacy scandal at Facebook. And wait—there’s more. News stories recounting theft of our personal information appear on a regular basis. In the past few months alone, Delta, Best Buy, Sears and MyFitnessPal app all announced that their customers’ data was compromised.

And yet, we haven’t changed our habits. We are still glued to our phones; post on Facebook and buy/order (almost) everything online. Some of us are still using free Wi-Fi (cut it out already) even after we’ve been warned that it’s not secure.

So why do we repeatedly ignore experts’ advice? We tell ourselves that it’s about convenience. But there is some cognitive dissonance going in. After all, we have willingly given up our old expectation of privacy so we can use free apps like Waze and Yelp who know where we are and what we’re interested in. And when is the last time you cleared the cache on your computer? (If you have to ask, never mind.)

In return for convenience, we get what exactly? Targeted ads that follow you around because at some point you were looking at a new pair of Asics? A search bar that finishes your words for you based on a recent search? And once we made this grand bargain, whom are we making it with?

Has anyone ever read the terms of service and privacy policy of the sites and apps we use? A few years back I created a personal dating site as a social experiment. I paid a lawyer to create clear privacy guidelines. No one read them. How do I know? Because I was anonymous and people (in this case—men) gave up all of their personal information to a total stranger.

Whose responsibility is it to protect our privacy? Don’t we bear some responsibility?

If I’m the product like on Facebook where they entice me to give them lots of information about where I live and what I like and who my friends and relatives are, does that give them the right to tell me what I see in my newsfeed? Maybe. Because it’s free and I’m at the mercy of their algorithms. Do they then have the right to profile me and sell my data to their advertisers so they can send me targeted ads (because I fit their profile?)? Or in the case of Cambridge Analytica et al, try to hook me with fake news based on my beliefs?

I’ve often said that I’d be happy to pay Facebook for a better experience. No ads and control over my newsfeed. You know, I’d love the ability to read what I want to from people I choose. But that’s not their preferred business model. The real money for the big media companies is in selling ads. Traditional TV campaigns are moving to Facebook and Google. Moving from mass to targeted media. It turns out that selling users as the product is VERY lucrative.

These days, we are being tracked every time we are online (and yes, you can use a VPN- virtual private network- but it can get cumbersome.) And then there are those pesky red light cameras and surveillance cameras following us in the real world. Sometimes they’re helpful, especially after terrorist events and crimes. But mostly bringing us closer to big brother in George Orwell’s 1984. Speaking of which, what about Alexa? She’s always at the ready waiting for my commands. But what else is she listening to? I bet she knows more about my life than my mother.

The reality is that with all of the advantages of our modern, connected, always on world, our privacy will continue to erode. Convenience and connection are here to stay. You can’t put the genie back in the bottle. (Don’t believe me? Try removing a negative story in a Google search.)

What we each need is a strategy to protect what’s truly private (your bank account details, credit cards, passwords) in order to mitigate risk. Live your life. But every once in a while, take a few minutes to check under the hood. Pay attention and proceed with caution.

No One Cares About Your Idea

 No One Cares About Your Idea

At least once a week someone with “an idea” approaches me, usually via email or social network. Sometimes it’s a friend or friend of a friend, other times it’s a total stranger who found me online. They just need a few minutes or want to buy me a coffee (which by the way, I don’t drink) to pick my brain.

Sometimes it’s an idea for a product, or a movie, or an app. I believe in karma and giving back so when I can, I say yes. And then I ask if they want my honest opinion. At their own risk (just ask my friend Danielle) because I only know how to provide unfiltered, non-sugar coated feedback. And it’s often brutal, especially if you haven’t done even the tiniest amount of work to validate it.

But at times even before they tell me their idea, they want me to sign a NDA. Seriously? You’re coming to me for advice but you don’t trust me? I get it. There are plenty of stories out there about people stealing ideas. I’ve had it happen to me. But the reality is that 99% of ideas are just that. Case in point, I have notebooks full of ideas sitting in my storage locker. They aren’t real until you take some action and make them come to life.

But before doing that, there are questions to be answered to see if the idea is actually worthy of execution.

Start with WHO – who is this “idea” going to serve? Meaning, if it’s a book then who will read it, if it’s an app who needs it and will use it, if it’s a product, what does your consumer look like?

Once you can articulate whom it’s for then equally important is HOW. How will you reach this user or customer to let them know your “idea” is out there? And the answer can’t be “social media” or “viral” because getting attention is harder every day. When everyone is a content creator, when algorithms dictate what people see online, you need to be clear about how hard it will be to get your message out there. From day 1.

Once you believe that there are people out there who have a need for the “idea” you’ve created and that you know how to reach them, then it’s time to think about your competition. Who else is out there with a similar idea? And if no one is because it’s so unique, whom are you trying to replace or displace? There are very few original ideas so the key is to find a way to differentiate your “idea” from the plethora of new ideas that are being introduced on a constant basis. The buzz phrase for this is “unique value proposition.” I think of it as a way to describe the value you are adding to your end user or consumer. It could be knowledge or productivity or entertainment but the best ideas make someone’s life better in some way. The very best products and services (IRL or digital) solve problems, sometimes that you didn’t even know you had.

So if you’re planning to pick someone’s brain for your next big idea, I suggest thinking through some of the answers to these (difficult) questions. I’m always shocked when I can easily Google the answers and the advice seeker hasn’t even done the most basic search. You probably won’t come up with answers right away (because execution is HARD) but you will be better prepared for that call or coffee meeting. Having been a scout, I believe that being prepared is always a great idea.

Why I’m Not Deleting Facebook. Yet.

Why I'm Not Deleting Facebook. Yet.

Sunday was my birthday. Since it took place in the midst of the #DeleteFacebook movement, I was reminded of its place in my life.

While I received phone calls, emails and texts from people I’m close to, by far the majority of birthday wishes came from Facebook posts. Of course they make it easy to “remember” people’s birthdays. (As does LinkedIn.) It’s part of how they get us hooked. Facebook has become our “town square” where we go to stay in touch with the people in our lives. Most of who wouldn’t know our birthday but would choose to take a minute to convey a greeting if prompted.

It’s this sense of connectedness that keeps us coming back. We like to look around at other people’s lives, see what they’re doing and where. It’s like a highlight reel of people’s lives that they get to curate. Lately, it’s become a place to not only share experiences but also opinions. And it’s the latter that makes it (and us) vulnerable to manipulation. By advertisers, by Russians and by anyone else who can afford to buy our data. But does that make Facebook (or other Internet giants for that matter) evil?

My mom told me a long time ago that nothing in life is truly free. Let’s admit that by using the Internet (Google, Facebook etc.) we are making a Faustian bargain. We are paying the price for the convenient and connected world they deliver—we are paying for access, with our personal data. And with our attention.
It’s no secret that Facebook (and Google) make their money from advertising. That’s how we get “targeted” or “interest based” ads that appear “magically” after you’ve looked something up or clicked on a link.

Following all the recent revelations (and Mark Zuckerberg’s feeble apology), deleting Facebook becomes a personal choice for each of us. I’m staying. For now. Mostly because there’s nowhere to go where I have the same access to the people I’m already connected to. This means that I’m complicit. That I can no longer pretend not to know that Facebook is selling my personal data. Undeterred, I posted photos from my birthday and thanked everyone who posted. Even though I realize that all that information is being tracked. Who clicks on what. What posts are most popular. Everything is a data point. I keep telling myself that I’m in too deep and have nowhere to go.

I have noticed that since January Facebook engagement is down. I’m on it less often. I see more folks moving to Instagram (also owned by Facebook). Maybe it’s the ever-changing algorithm where you can’t control what you see in your news feed. Or maybe it’s social media fatigue where we are living to live, instead of living to share. After all, It’s been awhile since I’ve seen a selfie stick. And as always, my mother was right.

Breaking Through Our ADD World

We are living in the age of curation. That term used to be limited to museums and film festivals but today everything is curated. How we get our news, social media updates, recommendations, even our birthday wishes. Like it or not in this on demand, oversharing world, algorithms serve up information, often based on highly personalized data. We are being second guessed by our newsfeeds and Netflix queues.

We no longer have to go to the library or the museum to do research. It’s all available online – search and discovery. Except that we are missing the experience. The accidental discovery by getting lost in the stacks. Even our shopping is curated. Who needs to go to the mall when everything is available on your phone. All of your favorites serving up whatever you need (or don’t need) on your schedule. And of course, the 800 pound gorilla called Amazon is always open, ready to deliver anything and everything. Some of it by just pushing a Dash button.

In our FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) world, we are always hungry for more. Driven to stay on top of our social feeds, emails, texts, we are always behind. Because there’s always more. And in this quest, we rely on newsletters (and Facebook) for the latest news and information and influencers who share their latest finds (often without revealing that these are paid endorsements). But with so much coming at us every minute of every day, how do you get my attention?

In my speeches, I tell the audience that they are all content creators and congratulate them. But then again, that’s also the problem. When everyone is a content creator, and algorithms are increasingly the curators, how are you supposed to get me to pay attention to your message? Another app? Join the club. You wrote a book? Halleluiah. So did 10 other people I know. Or their friends. New movie coming out? Good luck. My Netflix and Amazon Prime queues are locked and loaded for the next year. You get it. Breaking through is HARD.

And that’s why it should be #1 on your list. Marketing is everything and attention is job one. So who you trust to get and deliver information is more important than ever. Trust is key. It’s not a metric. It’s THE metric. And differentiation – thinking about why someone should care is the most important piece of the puzzle. With a constant bombardment of messaging, we pay attention to what is relevant to us.

Let’s face it, the old rules are dead. There are more channels to reach consumers popping up daily. And the big guys (Facebook, Google et al) control much of what we see. So we have to work harder at getting and delivering the unfiltered information we seek, whether it’s (real) news, reviews or social media posts from friends and brands.

Why When Matters

I was talking to the executive producer of the upcoming Michael Jackson Lifetime movie at an event yesterday. She is a legend in the business and yet she was concerned. About viewers. Will they know about it? Will they come? It’s premiering Memorial Day weekend – the first weekend of summer. It got me thinking about our changing times and why when you launch anything new is as important as the messaging around it.

When my TV movie aired in 1999, there were 4 networks plus HBO and Showtime to sell to. People stayed home to watch the Sunday night movie. (And in my case, the CBS Tuesday Night Movie. ) It was a staple in a world of limited choices. There was one screen – the TV that delivered long form entertainment. Obviously, our world is fundamentally different today. People now watch “content” on mobile devices and that means they aren’t forced to sit through ads or to watch a show all at once. They can watch shows when they air, or on demand, DVR or stream them through multiple subscription and free services. It’s the ultimate answer to the “I want what I want, when, and where I want it” problem. The networks are no longer in charge, the consumer is the boss. And there is more to choose from than ever before. Too much great TV, not enough time.

This issue of getting attention is true not only in TV but for launching any product or service. Timing matters. When you get attention matters. And yet, many entrepreneurs are so in love with their “baby” that they forget about the old rule: being at the right place at the right time. There is still a lot of emphasis on getting on TV or on a podcast or even in the newspaper. But here’s the thing, there’s no point in getting attention until you are ready. After all, unless you’re building a personal brand, you may want to wait until you have something to sell. Creating awareness is great. Converting that to sales is even better.

So next time someone offers you a launchpad for your new “baby” take a minute to ensure that the timing is right. That you are ready to make a splash. You know what they say: you only get one chance to make a first impression. Make it count!

Who Is It For?

I’m constantly approached for advice. I have an idea for…. a book, a movie, a speaking career, an app, a “fill in the blank.” I always congratulate the person for having an idea and then set out to (as nicely as I can) talk about the reality of bringing it to life.

When I ask about the “what” a fountain of information comes out. Because for the most part, the focus is about the “idea” usually coupled with how it came about. There’s often passion there and the exciting feeling that comes with beginnings.

I follow up this excitement with my no-nonsense (some would say unfeeling) advice which starts out as questions. And every single time the question is: who is it for? After all, you can create a great product or service, write a brilliant book or make a great film but unless you can figure out how to reach potential consumers, readers or audiences, it won’t be commercially successful. And “viral” or “social media” are not a “who” nor is “it’s for everyone.”

I acknowledge that it’s tough to know, especially if it’s something that doesn’t exist or is truly transformative but let’s face it; even a small tribe or club needs a few members (and no, aunts or nephews don’t count).

My advice is often ignored because the “who” is hard. And not as much fun as focusing on the product or idea. But guess what, if you don’t know who you’re creating for then how do you know what to create?

And yes, I’m familiar with the Henry Ford and Steve Jobs quotes but they’re the exception, not the rule. If you’re transforming the world (e.g. building a car to replace horses or a smartphone to replace the camera/cell phone/iPod/computer) please stop reading now.

Otherwise, be an owl. Keep asking WHO, WHO, WHO? That is the beginning of the journey. The next question of course is: how will you reach them? But I’ll save that for another day.

The Rise of Disintermediation (and the end of the middleman)

We are living in a time of extreme disruption. Right now there is a startup somewhere in the world working on upending the status quo of every industry. Technology is the common denominator but the impetus is the changing consumer and her demand for convenience. Or in Silicon Valley speak, they are solving a problem.

There are of course the obvious and much-discussed companies:
Uber is changing transportation in 2 ways. Firstly, by using the phone, it enables users to order a car to take them from point A to point B and know the cost, driver name and arrival time upfront. Secondly, it allows anyone (with a car) to become a driver and by doing so they addressed the complexity (and cost) of becoming a taxi driver.

Another sharing economy darling, Airbnb brings together travelers and hosts. It provides the platform and allows anyone with a room or house to rent to post photos and a description. Like on Uber, everyone can review each other to (supposedly) provide future users with insight. The company’s valuation at $30 billion makes it worth almost as much as Hilton and Hyatt combined. What makes that number remarkable is that it does not own or operate anything. Its tech platform provides a marketplace.

Netflix initially took the friction out of the Blockbuster experience (driving to the store, out of stocks, late fees) by mailing out DVDs and completely transformed the TV business with streaming. Binge watching, anyone?

And of course, there’s Amazon that started its ascendance by selling books online. And en route to retail behemoth (and world domination) eviscerated Borders and brought Barnes & Noble to its knees. It turns out that consumers are only too happy to avoid driving to the store, parking, walking the aisles and lining up to pay. Instead, they can find whatever they need in their PJs, on the couch, and choose when they want to have it delivered. As a leader in self-publishing, Amazon also provides would-be authors with a platform and the ability to bypass the agent and publisher altogether. The ability to reach consumers directly is perhaps the ultimate example of disintermediation. Of course, the downside is that some books suffer from quality issues. And the review system in place to fix that has its own issues.

Many other industries have been shaken up by the changes in distribution and the rise of social media. Even the beer industry has been surprised at the astronomical rise in craft breweries in the past decade. (More on this in a future post.)

Take a look at news as a business. Until 10 years ago I was still holding on to print; I subscribed to 4 daily newspapers and 40 magazines. Today that number is zero. Like most people, I get my news online. From newsletters that curate articles based on my interests to updates on social media from the media outlets themselves. Facebook and Twitter have made all of us content creators and provide us the ability to make or share news as it happens.

A great example of someone who uses Twitter to skip the middleman is @realDonaldTrump. His tweets before he became President and now as President provide him direct access to followers and then get amplified by news outlets as they report on his latest tweet.

Of course, the difference between non-celebrities and celebrities is that name recognition is key to winning the battle for attention. While it’s true that every one of us now has the power to put their words, photos, and videos into the world, the bigger issue is breaking through the noise. 
We will continue to see disintermediation in every industry that has intermediaries. Especially on the consumer side. Our connected world continues to remove barriers and our reliance on our devices, social media, search and crowdsourced reviews will propel us into a world increasingly shaped by AI as machines learn to not only understand our needs and wants but to predict them.

I’m waiting for personalized everything. Getting the information I’m interested in (news I care about, products I may want to buy, places I may want to travel to etc.) to come to me. Basically, my life as a Netflix recommendation engine. 

Authenticity and Transparency (in an election year)


If you are watching the insanity of the 2016 election (with 8 months to go) you’re probably shaking your head in disbelief. A lot. It is either the best or worst reality show in America. You couldn’t script this race any better. Or create better “characters.” When compared to past elections it’s downright exciting. And scary.

On one hand we have a colorful ex First Lady, Senator and Secretary of State going toe to toe with a Socialist Senator from the state of Ben & Jerry. On the other, we have a billionaire real estate developer and reality TV star, 2 youngish senators with Cuban roots and a governor of a midwestern state who seems like the adult in the playpen.

And while there are major issues facing the US. Important ones like ISIS, climate change, job growth, healthcare etc., we keep going back to character. Who do we trust?

In the old days (pre social media) we depended on journalists to help us dig beneath the surface. Today, it’s all out there for everyone to see. Hillary Clinton’s emails, Bernie Sanders’ activism, Donald Trump’s lawsuits etc. But what we’re learning is that while there are many facts to sift through, many voters on both sides are going with their gut. They’re looking less at transparency and more at the candidate they find authentic. Someone who meshes not only with his or her worldview, but makes them feel understood. Like they represent them.

This indeed will be a historic election. There’s a lot at stake and it’s still early. But come November, we will be looking back and wondering how in a world more transparent than ever, we can ignore the proof, the facts and vote for who we feel is most trustworthy and authentic.