Tag Archives: Entrepreneurship

“Chad Stark appointed DFA President”

I am thrilled to announce that the board of the Decorative Furnishings Association (DFA) has elected me to serve as the next President of the organization! I am honored to have the opportunity to offer my leadership skills to this esteemed group of design professionals. Editor at Large interviewed me for their Article announcing the news. Check out the transcript below!

What are your goals as president? What do you plan to do differently, and what will continue as is? 
My goal as DFA president is simple: to continue the mission of growing and sustaining the professional interior design industry. However, our strategy to accomplish this will change a bit as we evolve into a widely inclusive voice of the industry: the marketplace, the media and the design community, all uniting to speak to consumers about how their lives can be enhanced by design. We will shift our primary focus from industry education to consumer outreach. We will continue to educate trade vendors on best practices, but we also will be leading an industry-wide effort to galvanize the perception of professional design in the eyes of consumers who can afford these services but choose not to because of various misconceptions about the industry.

Additionally, we will have an increased focus on trade organization partnerships. There are so many passionate groups who all have the same goal. I want to make sure the DFA’s approach is unique, so that we can better coordinate our resources with others to cover more ground.

As a millennial, how is your perception of the industry unique? How will digital strategies be a part of your plan? 
I was fortunate to have grown up in a professionally designed home, so I’ve always understood how beautiful and functional design can positively impact one’s life. However, many of my peers were not as lucky. I find myself in many conversations trying to convince these peers who can now afford design services that they should hire a designer, but I’m met with skepticism and doubt because millennials perceive interior design as unattainable, too expensive, and as a mysterious and laborious process.

Most services in today’s world are very straightforward—they are transparent about pricing and easy to understand. Professional interior designers all have different pricing models, and the industry was built on exclusivity. This approach and diversity is now hurting the outsider’s industry perception, because millennials think secrecy is not trustworthy. The negative perception is perpetuated by a lack of clear and consistent communication about the value of design through the content channels millennials consume daily, which is why digital strategies will be a major focus of the DFA’s efforts moving forward.

What are the greatest assets of the DFA? 
The DFA members are our strongest assets. We represent a knowledge and experience base that is as high or higher than any other trade organization in the industry. Additionally, because all of the members are principals of their respective firms, we benefit from the expertise of the industry’s leading decision makers.

Do you plan additional programs or outreach? Whom will you target? 
Our main focuses will be launching an industry-wide effort that unites all members of the trade—designers and vendors—with a unified message to increase the number of interior design projects by inspiring, informing and engaging consumers. The DFA will be backing an online resource center and advertising campaign—similar to the dairy industry’s “Got milk?” campaign—for the interior design community to promote the use of interior designers. We will be targeting consumers who have the means to afford these services but don’t engage them for any number of reasons. This initiative will have a digital-first approach, and we will be exploring different fund-raising platforms, likeKickstarter, to crowdsource support. To stay in the loop with our efforts, please enter your e-mail address here.

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Writing down ideas in a notepad? Psht. Meet Elevatr

elevatr-screen-4s-0-1

If you couldn’t tell from What I’ve Done, I had a new idea every hour of every day. Until now, I haven’t really found a way to organize and develope my ideas. Thankfully, Elevatr is here to save the day!

Background Info

Serial entrepreneur will love this new mobile app called Elevatr, which helps you keep track of your inspirations, as well as develop a business model, in order to turn your passing thoughts into plans actually worth pursuing some day.

The beautifully designed app was dreamt up by New York-based David Spiro (one of my closest friends and past business partners), a recent college of engineering and business school grad from the University of Michigan. We spent all our time outside the classroom learning through standard tools for business model development, including the Business Model Canvas and Lean Canvas.

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“It became very clear that entrepreneurship – and people inspired by the startup revolution – is more than those actually studying entrepreneurship,” Spiro says. “I was really inspired to take those tools that I was taught to use, and create a mobile-first product that could apply to more than just those people who were in my classes.”

After the two of us decided to end development on our most recent collaboration, Spiro finally decided to commit himself to the creation of Elevatr full-time, after first doing some consulting for a local angel following graduation in spring 2012. By this January, he had an MVP (aka Minimum Viable Product) ready to go after contracting with Fueled, a mobile app development agency in Soho that had previously built apps for JackThreads and Urban Daddy. David  now works out of Fueled’s offices, and has hired a small team (with help from AngelList), including CTO Rafael Amorim.

The Product

The product itself is simple. Elevatr is essentially a note-taking app that takes the structure of a traditional business plan and makes it more accessible to design and develop on the smaller screen of mobile devices. After tapping the button to add your idea, the app prompts you to describe the idea in 140 characters or fewer, just like Twitter.

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This is one of the biggest challenges for entrepreneurs, who can’t seem to condense their business’ idea to a single sentence, as Techcrunch has discovered in the past, much less 140 characters. Spiro goes on to say, “if you can’t explain it in less than 140 characters, you probably don’t know what you’re doing.”

On the following screens, you’re walked through the other standard pieces to business-model creation, filling out details as to the target market, market size, competition, differentiation, features and uses, and so on. There’s also plenty of room for free-form note making in Elevatr, so you can really flesh out your ideas and plans.

At launch, the app is designed for personal use, but the team already has the intention to expand its capabilities in the near future. Next week, an option to export your ideas to a responsive website will be introduced, essentially turning your notes into a more fully developed online deck of sorts that you can share with others in order to get feedback. In addition, collaboration will be built into the app, which will allow you to invite others to view or comment on the content, given their permission levels.

Another idea for future expansion is to partner with other companies – agencies like Fueled, for example – giving them access to an administrative interface that would allow them to leverage the service to sort through a larger group of startup ideas, like those submitted as part of a contest, for instance.

“One day I will be using this at STARK”

That, and some other advanced features, may be paid options in the future, but currently the app itself is a free download here on iTunes.

Elevatr has a small amount of friends and family funding, but is now raising an angel round upwards of $500,000.

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How Sandy-Related PR Nightmare Cost Startup Uber $100,000 In A Day

Taxis are hard to get in NYC right now.

Uber, a company that makes an app you can use to summon a private cab, had to deal with an extremely messy situation in New York yesterday. Now it’s having to deal with obnoxious punditry. Let’s hit yesterday first.

Because the subways were (and basically still are) out, Uber’s black car drivers were in huge demand. To get the drivers to pick up Uber customers, Uber had to start paying them 2X their normal rate. At first, Uber passed this rate increase onto its customers through a program it calls “surge pricing.” But then customers and reporters started complaining, saying that Uber was “price gouging” in the middle of a disaster.

So, while continuing to pay drivers 2X their normal rate, Uber started charging customers 1X the normal rate. This act of generosity (and, let’s be honest, PR damage control) cost Uber about $100,000. 

So what did Uber get for its expensive pains? A nasty column from PandoDaily’s Paul Carr is what. About 12 hours ago he wrote: “As NY floods, “Robin Hood” Uber robs from the rich and… Nope, that’s about it.”  The URL for his column is: “http://pandodaily.com/2012/10/31/assholes-shrug/” It’s unfortunate.  $100,000 is a lot of money for a still young startup trying to gain its footing. (A week ago, Carr wrote a column about how Uber CEO Travis Kalanick has a reckless fascination with disrupting government regulation. Carr mocked Kalanick’s alleged obsession with Ayn Rand. That’s all fair and a separate issue. Kalanick should be more respectful of some government regulation. Rand is terrible.)

Unless Carr is mailing a check, Uber obviously can’t afford to keep losing so much money. So today, Uber announced that it will return to surge pricing, but will not keep any of its normal fees. In a candid blog post, co-signed by the entire Uber New York team, he company said: “For those needing a ride this week, it’s going to be expensive.”

Kudos for the honesty despite certain backlash from critics a thousand miles away.

Here’s the whole blog post:

First and foremost, we hope that you and your family and friends are safe. The Uber NYC office is currently closed and some of our team members are without water and power.

With limited public transportation, demand for Uber rides is astronomically high. That means we’re working to get as many drivers out as possible to help New Yorkers get around the city. So, in order to maximize the number of drivers on the system yesterday, we started paying drivers 2x the fare on all trips – and in the meantime charging riders the standard 1x fare avoiding surge pricing for most of the day after Sandy. Doubling drivers’ fares tripled the number of cars on the road and kept them out there far longer. However, footing the bill for higher driver costs came at a significant expense to Uber with over $100,000 in additional payments to drivers in a single day – something we can’t continue indefinitely without breaking the bank.

So while we were mostly able to avoid higher prices the day after Sandy, the reality is that under this week’s extreme conditions, raising the price is the only sustainable way to maximize the number of rides and minimize the number of people stranded – by providing a meaningful incentive for drivers to come out in undesirable conditions.

Later this morning we will be reverting back to standard Surge Pricing for riders. It is a hard decision, but one we feel strongly about. Without raising the price, there will be less than ½ the number of drivers on the system with several times more demand on far fewer drivers. Without Surge Pricing, Uber would become essentially unusable this week. For those needing a ride this week, it’s going to be expensive; there will be a clear pricing notification in the app at the time of request. During this emergency price increase, Uber will waive all of its own fees with 100% of the fare going directly to the drivers helping New Yorkers move around the city.

You can read more about Surge Pricing on our blog: http://blog.uber.com/2012/03/14/clear-and-straight-forward-surge-pricing/

Our thoughts and prayers are with all New Yorkers in this time of crisis. We’re going to do everything we can to continue to provide the most reliable, efficient transportation option for NYC. Be safe, and stay Uber. 

The Uber NYC Team

Josh, Andrew, Ed, Kyle and Nicole in Manhattan,

Jeremy in Brooklyn,

Betty in Queens

and Cait in The Bronx

 

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My 1st International Business Trip

INDIA!!

I hope I’ll have time to see the Taj Mahal!

I have dreamed of going to India ever since I missed my high school sponsored ‘educational’ trip over New Years 2008…now this dream is finally coming true.

I leave for India tomorrow, October 6th 2012, for what promises to be an incredible learning experience. Stark manufactures and buys many handmade rugs in India, so my 10-day trip will be packed with business activities 24/7. I fly into New Delhi for a night, but am spending the majority of my time in Varanasi where I will be visiting different Rug vendors on Stark’s behalf. The pictures I take of all the beautiful rug samples will be incredible! Good thing I just bought this camera

I might be heading to China for 2 days from Varanasi to meet with a carpet mill but I’m having some issues with my Visa right now…That’s what I get for waiting until the last minute! #idiot

I’ll try to post an update on my blog during the trip with some cool pictures of the culture and maybe some new products. Can’t wait to learn more about the rug business in India and how different the culture is there!

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Home Furnishings And Design Site LuxeYard Bets on Social Media for Changing Industry

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LuxeYard, a luxury home furnishings and decor site, launched an interesting e-commerce platform this past January that added a twist to the flash sales model.

Similar to sites line One Kings Lane and Gilt, LuxeYard offers up to 70 percent discounts on furniture, home decor and other accessories in daily sales. However, LuxeYard also offers what it calls ‘concierge buying,’ which allows members to request items they would like to purchase at a discounted price by posting photos to LuxeYard’s Facebook page. The most popular product will be voted up by members, and the startup’s experts will attempt to source either the exact product, or a similar product and offer this on sale to members.

LuxeYard members also have the ability to push product prices down for certain items by using Facebook and Twitter to encourage others to purchase a product, which will drive the price down. For example, members may purchase an item for $100; share the information on Facebook encouraging others to buy the same product; and two days later find out that customer demand, which they helped drive, dropped the price to $50. Everyone who purchased the Group Buy Item will pay the final lowest price.

The site also includes a set of featured design professionals and influencers provide design curation and offers aesthetic insights, product recommendations and special events exclusively for LuxeYard members. Consumers can also enter room dimensions and/or upload a photo of the room in which they’d place the piece to get a sense for how it fits with the current décor and layout before they buy.

LuxeYard has raised $3.5 million in funding from a group of undisclosed investors.

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How Europe is Kicking America’s Ass

Kid Programmer

What a BOSS

Guess who’s winning the brains race, with 100% of first graders learning to code? Estonia announced today that it is implementing a new education program that will have 100 percent of publicly educated students learning to write code.

Called ProgeTiiger, the new initiative aims to turn children from avid consumers of technology (which they naturally are; try giving a 5-year-old an iPad sometime) into developers of technology (which they are not; see downward-spiraling computer science university degree program enrollment stats).

ProgreTiiger education will start with students in the first grade (which starts around the age of 7 or 8 for Estonians) and will continue through a student’s final years of public school (around age 16). Teachers are being trained on the new skills, and private sector IT companies are also getting involved (since they will likely end up being the long-term beneficiaries of a technologically literate populace).

The ProgreTiiger program is launching at a few pilot schools and will soon be rolling out to all general education schools in Estonia.

By contrast, the U.S. public education system has been described as “running on empty” when it comes to tech literacy, leaving young adults unprepared to compete in a digitally driven economy.

In 2009 and 2010, the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) conducted a joint study and found that most public schools in the U.S. focus only on the consumer aspects of using computers.

Rather than truly teaching kids about computers, we’re teaching them to see the machines and programs as mysterious tools, offering little or no instruction about “the conceptual aspects of computer science that lay the foundation for innovation and deeper study in the field (for example, develop an understanding of an algorithm,” the report’s findings state.

Already, in hacking competitions around the world, Eastern European programmers are often leading the pack. Estonia’s new bid for comp-sci dominance has increased the odds of that occurrence and will likely help Estonia in the international competition for jobs, capital, and talent in a growing tech economy.

Top image courtesy of Kiselev Andrey Valerevich, Shutterstock

via VentureBeat.

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Steve Jobs’ Opinion of Mark Zuckerberg

Walter Isaacson, author of “Steve Jobs” talks to Bloomberg’s Betty Liu about what Steve Jobs thought of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. They speak on Bloomberg Television’s “In the Loop.” (Source: Bloomberg)

Click here to watch the video

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I love LA

I just got back from a 10 day trip in sunny California and if you follow me on social media, you already know what i’m going to say: I love LA.

I was there on a business trip for Stark where I spent time visiting our LA, Costa Mesa, and SF showrooms. Big shout out to my homies Neil Jacobson and Zach Wanerman for letting me crash on their couches. I was also given the opportunity to DJ at the Beverly Nightclub, Tru Nightclub in Hollywood, and a banging 4th of July party at my friend Dan’s house. What a trip.

I really want to make the west coast a priority for Stark because there are a lot of exciting thing going on in California. Here’s a glimpse of what we’re doing:

Los Angeles

Not only are we moving the Stark Fabric showroom into a larger space in the building, but we are also moving our carpet and rug showroom out of the Pacific Design Center into our own 10,000 sq ft space at 805 La Cienega in Los Angeles. This new location is prime time in the heart of the LCDQ. The windows are HUGE, our street signage is SICK and parking isn’t an issue because we have 26 valet parking spots on the roof. I’m most excited about this new venture because it is our first real high street location for Stark Home. I’ve already gotten involved working closely with partners like Missoni Home to ensure this location’s success. We are having an enormous launch party in the fall, and I will be back on California a lot this year to set it up and make sure it runs smoothly. The more I get involved, the more it will make sense for me to move to LA…

Costa Mesa

We opened one of our largest Stark Home locations as a main tenant in the SouthCoast Collection shopping center a few years ago. The center has been flourishing and we are now surrounded by many other great high-end design companies like Fixture’s Living and Scalamandre. It’s time for us to update the appearance of the showroom. This opportunity gets my juices flowing because it is an opportunity for us to create a template showroom that, if it works, we can roll out to all of our Stark Home locations nationwide.

San Francisco

We are moving our showroom from the 4th floor of the San Francisco Design Center into a bigger space on the 1st floor with street access. This gives us a chance to renovate the showroom there and essentially start from scratch. We are not converting this location into a Stark Home facility, but it is exciting nonetheless. Can’t wait to get back out there again.

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It’s a little difficult focusing on business that is 3000 miles away from our corporate offices in NY. so it’s probably best if I move to West Hollywood. To help out, I will be heading back to LA for a week in August and then again for a week around the time of the La Ciénaga and SF launch parties in October. I like to think I’m on the 2 year plan: NY for 2 years then off to LA. Now that I have my goal in writing, let’s see if I can stick to it.

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All Hail the Generalist

*this is a post from Vikram Mansharamani  from the HBR blog. It’s not worth my trying to make my own post about this when it is said so perfectly here.

We have become a society of specialists. Business thinkers point to “domain expertise” as an enduring source of advantage in today’s competitive environment. The logic is straightforward: learn more about your function, acquire “expert” status, and you’ll go further in your career.

But what if this approach is no longer valid? Corporations around the world have come to value expertise, and in so doing, have created a collection of individuals studying bark. There are many who have deeply studied its nooks, grooves, coloration, and texture. Few have developed the understanding that the bark is merely the outermost layer of a tree. Fewer still understand the tree is embedded in a forest.

Approximately 2,700 years ago, the Greek poet Archilochus wrote that “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” Isaiah Berlin’s 1953 essay “The Fox and the Hedgehog” contrasts hedgehogs that “relate everything to a single, central vision” with foxes who “pursue many ends connected…if at all, only in some de facto way.” It’s really a story of specialists vs. generalists.

In the six decades since Berlin’s essay was published, hedgehogs have come to dominate academia, medicine, finance, law, and many other professional domains. Specialists with deep expertise have ruled the roost, climbing to higher and higher positions. To advance in one’s career, it was most efficient to specialize.

For various reasons, though, the specialist era is waning. The future may belong to the generalist. Why’s that? To begin, our highly interconnected and global economy means that seemingly unrelated developments can affect each other. Consider the Miami condo market, which has rebounded quite nicely since 2008 on the back of strong demand from Latin American buyers. But perhaps a slowdown in China, which can take away the “bid” for certain industrial commodities, might adversely affect many of the Latin American extraction-based companies, countries, and economies. How many real estate professionals in Miami are closely watching Chinese economic developments?

Secondly, specialists toil within a singular tradition and apply formulaic solutions to situations that are rarely well-defined. This often results in intellectual acrobatics to justify one’s perspective in the face of conflicting data. Think about Alan Greenspan’s public admission of “finding a flaw” in his worldview. Academics and serious economists were dogmatically dedicated to the efficient market hypothesis — contributing to the inflation of an unprecedented credit bubble between 2001 and 2007.

Finally, there appears to be reasonable and robust data suggesting that generalists are better at navigating uncertainty. Professor Phillip Tetlock conducted a 20+ year study of 284 professional forecasters. He asked them to predict the probability of various occurrences both within and outside of their areas of expertise. Analysis of the 80,000+ forecasts found that experts are less accurate predictors than non-experts in their area of expertise. Tetlock’s conclusion: when seeking accuracy of predictions, it is better to turn to those like “Berlin’s prototypical fox, those who know many little things, draw from an eclectic array of traditions, and accept ambiguity and contradictions.” Ideological reliance on a single perspective appears detrimental to one’s ability to successfully navigate vague or poorly-defined situations (which are more prevalent today than ever before).

The future has always been uncertain, but our ability to navigate it has been impaired by an increasing focus on studying bark. The closer you are to the material, the more likely you are to believe it. In psychology jargon, you anchor on your own beliefs and insufficiently adjust from them. In more straightforward language, a man with a hammer is more likely to see nails than one without a hammer. Expertise means being closer to the bark, and less likely to see ways in which your perspective may warrant adjustment. In today’s uncertain environment, breadth of perspective trumps depth of knowledge.

The declining returns to expertise have implications at the national, company, and even individual level. A collection of specialists creates a less flexible labor force, one that requires “retraining” with technological developments creating constantly shifting human resource needs. In this regard, the recent emphasis in American education on “job-specific” skills is disturbing. Within a company, employees skilled in numerous functions are more valuable as management can dynamically adjust their roles. Many forward-looking companies are specifically mandating multi-functional experience as a requirement for career progress. Finally, individuals should manage their careers around obtaining a diversity of geographic and functional experiences. Professionals armed with the analytical capabilities (e.g. basic statistical skills, critical reasoning, etc.) developed via these experiences will fare particularly well when competing against others more focused on domain-specific skill development.

The time has come to acknowledge expertise as overvalued. There is no question that expertise and hedgehog logic are appropriate in certain domains (i.e. hard sciences), but they certainly appear less fitting for domains plagued with uncertainty, ambiguity, and poorly-defined dynamics (i.e. social sciences, business, etc.). The time has come for leaders to embrace the power of foxy thinking (click here to watch a TEDx presentation about this.

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Benefits of an Entrepreneurial Education

My concentration (B-school buzzword for “major“) in the undergraduate business program at UM (Ross) was Entrepreneurship. Many people have asked me what that means and what I learned. Unlike finance or accounting, there is no real definition of what an entrepreneurial education is. To be honest, I wasn’t even sure what I was going to learn going into it. Now that I’m in the real world, it all makes sense.

Entrepreneurship is not learned in the classroom or from a textbook. You have to get out the door and experience things firsthand. As a student of entrepreneurship, I started many different ventures while in school that ranged from a music blog to a social fundraising platform. I’m proud to say that most of them failed and are no longer in existence. Why am I proud to say that you ask? Failure is the greatest way to learn. It teaches you how to take ownership of something real, look at and approach real world problems and analyze your actions after the fact so you can improve your efforts next time. Real world experiences teach you that things usually don’t work out as planned. For entrepreneurs, there is always a next time. Whether your ventures fail after 5 years or IPO in 10 months, that ever-so-persistant entrepreneurial bug will start to itch again very soon. How you constantly improve yourself is what we entrepreneurs like to measure.

My greatest takeaway from B-school came from all my previous ventures. Startup events like Techarb’s Student Startup Showcase and Detroit Venture Partners’ and Ludlow Ventures‘ Funded by Night forced me to present my ideas in an organized, easy-to-follow fashion to avoid embarrassment infront of rooms full of people. I used to emphasize and explain a technology that only techies would understand instead of a simple concept that even grandparents would understand. Giving powerpoint presentations at these events and to venture capitalists taught me how to clearly translate what’s speeding around in my head into a concise, confident presentation. After my “Strategy and Implementation Plan” presentation last week to the board here at Stark, I now realize how valuable a skill articulating clear and organized thoughts is. That is the most valuable skill I acquired from a B-school entrepreneurial education.

As a mentor of mine once said, Every time an entrepreneur opens his mouth, he is pitching.” My friends all know how much I like to talk. Thank you B-school for teaching me how to actually say something instead of just blabber.

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