Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Locals Embrace Tango – And Each Other – At Summertime Milongas

Laure Lion and Rob Steo dancing in Central Park
Don’t talk to strangers; dance with them
This Argentinean adage finds plenty of adherents at free, outdoor milongas (tango gatherings) happening around the Upper West Side this summer.
Every Saturday evening in Central Park, dozens of tangueros dance around the Shakespeare statue at the south end of The Mall from 6:00 until 9:30 or so. Inspired onlookers can try out a beginner lesson offered nearby at 7:30 pm. But be warned, dancers say: Once you enter this cheerful community built around somber music suffused with tragedy and heartbreak, you may never want to leave.
The appeal is immediate and obvious. Where else do you see 20-somethings and 80-somethings socializing together? How often do you make new friends yet never discuss work? Might a smartphone-free embrace be the perfect antidote to all that ails you?
“Your background, your age, your gender, your height, your bank account, none of that matters here,” says Laure Lion, a local tango instructor. “What matters is how genuine you are in the dance, how genuine you are in your invitation and your response. It can be a lesson in humility. You have to be very clear about what you want from each other.”
The very act of leading or following can be a shock to modern sensibilities. Impatient, hard-charging New Yorkers are not accustomed to waiting for directions or pausing to find the perfect space within a beat before moving.
“The only time I listen to my husband is on the dance floor,” laughs Lion. “Traditionally in tango, there are very strict roles and rules. The man is there to lead, to guide, to propose a direction. The woman has to listen so she can execute. It’s a conversation – not through words, but through the embrace, the energy and their shared interpretation of the music.”
Strangers becoming dance partners 
Bob Cuthbert still considers himself a novice having started with a free lesson in Central Park about a year ago. Since then he’s learned through the grapevine about different classes and events at the Argentine Consulate, dance studios, La Nacional and elsewhere. “People just kept telling me and my wife about different spots. Then we realized there was a whole subculture dancing tango in the city. It’s unbelievable.”
Dancers treasure the roaming milongas that pop up during the summer months, often along the Hudson River at Pier 45 (Christopher Street), Pier One (70th Street) and West Harlem Piers Park (125th Street).
At one such gathering last week, Tina Fruhauf told WSR she sought out tango 15 years ago as a respite from desk-bound studies. “I had finished my PhD and it was time to do something for my body,” she said. She soon met her husband, Pryor Dodge, through dancing. The duo now owns an apartment in Buenos Aires. “Tango instigated an amazing change in my life,” says Dodge.
“It’s a way to express yourself musically without playing an instrument,” says Neal Rakesh, who discovered tango as a University of Michigan undergrad and enjoys the never-routine nature of the dance. “It’s all improv.”
A young couple, having stumbled upon the sunset scene, stared at the whirling group for several minutes. She then whispered to him, “It’s mesmerizing.”

First published 22 June 2016 in West Side Rag

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Mental Kung Fu to Cope with Rejection

No ifs, ands or buts. Rejection hurts.

Whether you’ve been brushed-off by a prospective customer, dismissed by an investor, declined by a bank or spurned by a potential employee, rejection stings.

But what separates winning entrepreneurs from also-rans is how you deal with rejection. Even prepare for it. Because rejection is inevitable if you’re putting yourself out there, taking the risks of a determined start-up. And you are.

So let’s train for resiliency with some proven techniques for bouncing back and powering forward.

 1.  Strip rejection naked

Strip the rejection down for what it is and – more importantly – what it isn’t.

It’s not failure. It’s not an indication that your business has no future. It’s not disaster-in-a-door-slam. And it’s not about YOU.

Take a breath. Strip away the ego and emotions and what do you see?

A rejection is simply one person/entity deciding your offering doesn’t fit with their plan for that day, that year, that moment.

Or, as my nan would say, different horses for different courses. Being ruthlessly clear-eyed will help you get back in the saddle fast.

2.  Use rejection as learning fuel

Every rejection is a chance to assess – not second-guess – your actions.

Transform that surge of adrenaline (disguised as panic, fear, anger) into energizing fuel for answering this question:  What can I learn from this?

Maybe your targeting needs to be more precise. Maybe your pitch needs fewer, but better, numbers. Maybe meetings at 4pm Fridays aren’t such a grand idea. Maybe you feel more confident with colleagues alongside. Maybe you feel more effective in one-on-ones. Maybe you need to reach out to greater quantities of folks instead of pinning all your hopes on one whale. Or maybe you’re chasing too many small fish and should concentrate on a few biggies.

Or maybe there’s nothing you can or should change:  they just weren’t into your offering [see #1].

Only you can assess the situation – preferably with some good intel.

Ask for feedback e.g. “What’s the one area where (my) XYZ didn’t seem a good match for helping (your) PDQ reach its goals?”  Notice the impersonal tone here; all business, just seeking to understand where the primary mismatch was.

You may not get an answer, but sometimes the answer you do get can be illuminating, even invigorating:

Well, Tricia, six weeks ago, we’d have loved to invest in your organic butcher shop. But the CEO went to India on holiday and came back a vegan.

Good to know, eh?

Tricia might’ve spent days moping about the turndown if she hadn’t asked. She can confidently move on to more carnivorous waters.

3.  Restore mojo with convo

Starting new conversations is a great way to get past rejection:

  •  Call a current, happy client just to check in and chat
  •  Have lunch with a former colleague that you adore
  •  Visit your nan or nan-equivalents
  •  Celebrate something – anything! – with friends
  •  Help someone with bigger problems than yours

You feel better just thinking about this list, right?

Positive connections like these heal wounded mojo.

Go forth, generate happiness and your mettle will be mighty once again.

4.  NEXT!

Perseverance is everything. Find new open doors (aka opportunities) and walk on in.

Persistence, however, isn’t always advisable. Returning to the scene of rejection, shoving a crowbar into a shut door and expecting miracles wastes your energy.

When in doubt, talk to other entrepreneurs. Successful ones know that rejection is an incremental payment on your dues. They can also help you distinguish between a dead-end and a roadblock. Seek out and take in their wisdom.

5.  Remain extraordinary

This may sound pretty Oprah, but it’s true:  Be strong in your sense of self.  The world shifts around us all the time. Nevertheless, your core belief in yourself must remain steadfast.

Recognize your courage here. Most people wouldn’t have the guts to venture into business, let alone hit up strangers to be their customers, investors or partners. You do.

Therefore, entrepreneur, you are extraordinary sui generis. And you’ll continue to be so long as you heed these immortal, move-on words from Winston Churchill:    When you’re going through hell…keep going!

First published for Veromo, September 2016

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Build Business with a Great Story: Tips for Telling Yours

Everybody loves a good story. 

Storytelling – and story-listening – is in our DNA.

Facts just don’t stick with us like stories do. Our brains best connect bits of information when they arrive as a strong plot driven by emotions we all share.

So, entrepreneur, what’s your story?

Emotions? Plot? What’s that got to do with business? I’m not launching a Stephen King novel.

Nope. You’re on a much more important mission.

Telling your brand story is the most powerful way you can share:
  • Why your business exists
  • Why potential customers, investors and employees should be excited about it
  • Why you are committed to its success

You want to do all that, right? A well-structured story gets you there fast.

Plot your plot

Your story’s plot isn’t an exhausting history. Or a fistful of data.

It’s a simple, interesting tale that fires up story-loving brains.  And it’s easier to structure than you might think.

Use two magical words:  “but” and “therefore”

You’re unique; so is your business. But every great story – brand, book, movie, whatever – has a twist-and-turn plot structured with the same two words:  but and therefore.


See if your story fits:

Not so long ago, XYZ was the situation…
But then THIS happened, which changed how we thought about XYZ…
Therefore, we are doing this NEW thing that is going to make people’s lives better by…

Recognize anyone?  Good.

Now let’s juice up the power.

Press emotional buttons

Neuroscience newsflash:  decision-making isn’t logical; it’s emotional.

Rational arguments may get your audience to nod. But if you want people to act – to buy from you, to partner with you, to be recommending you to their mates – your story has to connect with their gut feelings.

Think back to when you first thought about creating your business. What emotions were spurring you to act? 
  • Common entrepreneurial jump-starters:
  • Frustration, the status quo blows
  • Disappointment, this product/service should be better
  • Indignation, this situation isn’t fair
  • Excitement, more people need this great thing
  • Pride, we are the best at this, let’s share it
  • Connection, let’s build a community around this

 Having flashbacks? Excellent.

Get to the emotional core of why you’re doing what you’re doing. Your story likely involves many factors. Focus in on what your audience will relate to and what people gain from your business.

Putting it together

Let’s hear some stories. Simple plot, emotional fuel, lives bettered. Go!

OK, I’ll start.  Veromo’s brand story: 

Australia wants people to start new businesses. But did you know:  a new business owner has to complete – at minimum – over 14 forms and make over 20 decisions before launching into the marketplace?

We didn’t. Until we had to stomp that “welcome mat” for our start-ups. Aggravation 101. Days wasted navigating confusing systems. Never quite knowing if we’d actually ticked every box. There HAD to be a better way. There wasn’t. So we invented it. Veromo.

With Veromo, you can launch your new business in one day, with one form. Simple.

We’re committed to liberating entrepreneurs from all sorts of regulatory, operational and marketing drudgery. We want our customers to be free to do what they love:  actually BUILDING their business.

 Did you spot the situation + but + therefore here? Did you share our rage at bureaucracy? Is it clear why Veromo exists and why we’re going to succeed?

Problem/solution is a powerful format, but not the only one.

How about an excitement story: 

The first time I tasted my Uncle Bob’s meat pies, I wanted to give one to anyone who was ever kind to me. Now I sell them to good people (and a few grumps) all over Sydney.

Or a community-yearning one:

There are so many people doing so many cool things with new drone technologies, I wanted to create a site for drone-obsessives like me to compare notes, share videos and connect with manufacturers of the latest and greatest.

Your turn.

Be human – tell your story

Ever since we crawled out of the swamp, people have used stories to share news, alert each other to dangers/opportunities and to connect with their tribe.

Share yours:
  • Write it for your “About” page
  • Create visuals around it for when you’re speaking to potential clients
  • Make it part of your interviewing and onboarding process
  • Tell it to anyone who’s told you their tale
  • Customize it for different audiences
  • Inspire people with your passion for it

 Notice how energized you feel with every telling.

Now that’s a good story.

First published for Veromo in August 2016

As Women-Only Residences Disappear, One 'Simple and Homey' Haven Remains on the UWS

Ayana and Katie in the shared kitchen at St. Agnes
First published 13 September 2016 in West Side Rag

You might not think a place owned by nuns would be a hotbed of creative passion, Gotham grit and intellectual verve. But you probably haven’t visited the Saint Agnes Residence at 237 West 74th Street, a hive of artists and students, travelers and professionals living in the last, all-women SRO rental building on the Upper West Side, given the impending closure of the Brandon Residence.
I hung out with some Saint Agnes residents Saturday evening during an impromptu, end-of-summer pizza party to find out who chooses this kind of unusual accommodation and why. Turns out, a delightful potpourri of personalities not unlike the wisecracking dames in the 1937 film “Stage Door.”
“I wanted to be in this neighborhood so bad,” says Karoline Fischer, an Austrian physician in her 30s, who moved to New York to pursue acting studies after winning her country’s version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” She’s been in several theater productions, provides German language tutoring and is working on transferring her medical license while relishing the serendipitous connections and support of her fellow residents. “There’s this thing – after 30 you have to have your own place,” she says. “But honestly, I like living with other people.”
Stacy, a 40-something who works in publishing and as an English tutor, nods, “Friends who used to put me down are now like ‘are there any vacancies?’” Stacy’s been downsizing her possessions and saving her pennies to relocate overseas, possibly India. “I wanted a space to reflect on my next step in life. It’s my own little nook on the west side, which I love.”
“It’s a home away from home during transitions in women’s lives,” says administrator Nancy Clifford who has worked at Saint Agnes for 12 years, and moved in herself after her husband’s death. Her Maltipoo Happy is the house-dog, providing all the benefits – licks, cuddles, scampers – and none of the responsibility of pet ownership, forbidden to individual residents. “We’re all about a peaceful spirit,” says Clifford. “The world is hard enough. This is a place to be peaceful.”
The residence has evolved considerably over its 76-year history, says Clifford. Dining services have been scrapped in favor of DIY meals and take-out from Fairway, Citarella and Trader Joe’s. WiFi is plentiful and included – with electricity – in the affordable rent.
Prices for the 106 units range from $850 a month for a small room with shared bath up to $1250 for the “super duper” room that’s more like a studio apartment. Twenty- nine units have private baths, but Clifford says the shared-bath residents rarely have to wait for a loo – 12 rooms share three baths per floor. Vacancies are rare, but interested women aged 18 to 50 may submit applications any time; tenants may stay for up to four years.
Operated by the Daughters of Mary of the Immaculate Conception, a Connecticut order, Saint Agnes welcomes women of all faiths. Men are not allowed upstairs (but they may attend mass in the on-site chapel), smoking’s banned and cooking in rooms is a no-no. But residents come and go as they wish – no curfews – under the watchful eye of 24/7 security.
Nancy, Tasha and Happy run a tight, welcoming ship
Tasha Ramsey, 28, started out as a security staffer four years ago before getting herself promoted to her current position managing admissions and finances. She recently moved in after her grandmother’s death and endlessly enthuses about the residence. “I never knew these places existed,” she says, calling it the best of both worlds – privacy in one’s own room, plus family-like community when you want company. “It’s funny, but people coming to a glitzy city like New York, they want to come back to homey and simple. It’s calming here.”
Dancers Katie Homer, 29, and Ayana Wildgoose, 22, agree. WSR found the two cooking a batch of hard-boiled egg snacks in the shared kitchen. “I can have a conversation for hours with any one of these amazing ladies,” says Homer. “It’s a healing space with so many cultures,” adds Wildgoose.
“I love it,” says Sarah Heller, 42, who previously lived at the Brandon and grew up in Westchester with eight sisters making Saint Agnes a return to form. “It’s lively and a safe environment for me as someone with a disability.” Heller enjoys the easy commute to her job at a Chelsea movie theater and convenient workouts at the JCC with her triathlon team. “Location, location, location!”
Though somewhat of a stealth operation to locals, Saint Agnes’ reputation stretches across the globe. Thais, a 37 year-old from southeast Brazil who’s studying English and doing some babysitting, didn’t know the UWS per se, but fell quickly for its charms. “I liked it immediately. You have everything here – grocery, pharmacy, clothes, train – and it’s very friendly.”
It’s also changing rapidly – unlike the Saint Agnes. Clifford says the residence is currently composing a long-term strategic plan that continues its “old-fashioned” mission pretty much as is. “It’s so much more than just a building. It does so much for these girls,” she says. “This is good. This is good.”

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Would You "Like" Your Company? Why Brand Personality Matters

Rumor has it you’ve got a new brand. What’s s/he like?

Approachable? Mysterious? Upbeat? Straightforward? Rebellious?
Helpful? Adventurous? Energetic? Laid-back? Warm? Cool? 

If your company were a person, how would you describe her or him to your best friend?

Go with me on this. Write down five adjectives. Not features or benefits. Personal descriptors.

Now, erase the two that are not essential to who your brand is, how it acts and what its reputation is (or will be) in the world.

Got your key three? Excellent. You’re racing ahead of entrepreneurs who neglect to define (and deploy) a powerful marketplace differentiator:  your brand’s personality.

Lest any skeptics dismiss this exercise as trivial to your future success, take a moment to think about the major companies you most admire.

Can you easily describe their attitude? Can you imagine what an email from each one might sound like? Can you pick out what they would wear to a party?

You can – because they’ve been consistent about their image, their brand personality.

So should you. Your potential customers are counting on it.

Consumer Snap Decision:  Is this for me?

Every one of us makes hundreds of snap judgments every single day. It’s a survival technique. We can only pay attention to a few things. So when we encounter something new, we seek immediate clues to answer:  Is this for me?

Having a clear brand personality helps your customer “get” what your company is all about. At a gut level, the customer instantly recognizes something about herself (including her aspirations) – or she doesn’t.

Either outcome is fine. Yes, either! You absolutely want to attract customers who are eager to learn more. But you also benefit from weeding out unlikely prospects that would waste your energies.
  • A strong brand personality connects to and resonates with your target’s lifestyle, attitude and goals; be friend-able.

It’s all about raising your brand above the competitive noise, and then running with the customer pack most amenable to your offer.

Consistency Creates Trust

Once you’ve piqued your target’s interest, being consistent with your brand’s communications is key.

Consumers adore clarity and flee confusion. We’re all confronting too many choices in a given day. We crave reliable, go-to resources in an often-fickle market. Earn that trust by being consistent.
  •  A powerful brand personality communicates with an unwavering “tone of voice”, viewpoint and style – including consistent design choices, colour schemes and imagery.

This means more than using the right Pantone shade and font.

Building a mighty brand requires alignment across the company. Your brand personality must complement your business’s value proposition, corporate strategy, marketing efforts and more.

Nobody likes people who talk out of both sides of their mouth. Evaluate and adjust your brand plan to speak with one, confident voice. Always.

Play Up Your Personality

Let’s have another look at your three key adjectives from earlier. Do they feel cohesive? Or are they suffering from multiple personality disorder?

Stanford professor Jennifer Aaker’s “Dimensions of Brand Personality” can help stabilize any wobbles and strengthen your stance.  

Aaker’s studies find that most brands have one dominant trait among these five:  sincerity, excitement, competence, sophistication, ruggedness. Consider: 
  • Which trait fits your brand best? 
  • What conversational style flows from that pick? 
  • What design choices boost that image?

Are you hearing voices in your head? Good.

You’re discovering how your brand personality speaks. Make note of what he says and how he says it. When you’re really onto something great, taglines, marketing ideas, employee recruitment messages and more will all start bubbling up.

Don’t be surprised if your brand personality takes on a life of its own. Some companies even name their persona and use him/her as a decision-making tool. Hmmm. This new gizmo is quite innovative, but would Nigel use it? Seems out of step with the portfolio.

Find what’s true about your brand – and stick by it.

Perception:  Drive It or Be Driven by It

Once you’ve gone to market, people will judge your brand. Their perception will become your sales reality. That’s a fact.

Your choice:  
  • Do you want that perception left to chance – and to later react to their response?
  • Or, do you want to drive that perception by presenting a strong, clear, consistent brand personality – attracting like-minded customers straightaway?

Go to it.

First published October 2016 by Veromo – an Australian start up that helps entrepreneurs start up.