Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Hello from Chicago!

My co-founding team is all together in-person this week to work on build out team, decide on our next steps, and work on some conversations that are easier with the extra media richness. We also talked with a lawyer recommended to us for her experience with B-corps, and made a plan to get ready to file in January.

We seriously need to find a great name!

One of our co-founders was had some unforeseen life come up, but many hands made light work as we unloaded a truck into strorage. The silver lining is that not only were we able to provide some unexpected help when it was really needed, but also it gave us some extra time working together.


Of course it started snowing early this morning as I headed into the airport. My plane appears to be still on schedule though, so hopefully all goes well. I am anxious to be home and wrapping up deliverables for the next week.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving

It is funny how as an academic you really notice how late Thanksgiving is this year. After this, we only have like 2 weeks left of the semester! Frantic writing and preparing for the Chicago-trip continue. I am feeling spread really thin these days. I also started my networking memo.

Tomorrow for Thanksgiving I will stay off-line and focused on family though. Hopefully it will help me feel recharged to get through the end.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Chicago, Biogen-hosted events & Financial forecasts

Planning continues and my flights are booked for our founding team's first face-to-face meeting at the end of November. Housing plans have fallen through though, so there has  been a bit of scramble there. The feedback about having an agenda really rung true to me, so I got the ball rolling to work out what we wanted to have on the agenda before we get started. That way we can be in agreement about what we need to cover.

In other networking news, a professional contact posted about an event at Biogen on diversity in Life Sciences that I have RSVPed for and am looking forward to:

Hear from The Partnership, Inc. faculty member and career development expert Judy Shen-Filerman "How to Transform from a Technical to a Strategic Thinker”
When: November 20, 2015, 9:00 am - 11:00 am
Where: Biogen, 225 Binney Street, Cambridge, MA
For the financials, I was able to incorporate some of the capital budgeting concepts and models. I am really pleased at the more robust picture this provided, although it doesn't show the cash flow concerns month-to-month. A combination of models provides a more complete picture as well as allowing for sensitivity analysis.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Net Impact

This past week I was in Seattle for the Net Impact Conference. In general it was deeply inspiring to be around so many students and professionals all concerned with the impact that business can make on our world. There were tons of great sessions, but I thought I would share a few that were particularly applicable to this project.

I attended a workshop hosted by 3M on "What Does It Mean to Improve a Life?" In it, each group broke out and worked together to come up with a one sentence answer. One of the points raised by another group member was the sustainable idea of empowerment through giving someone the tools to improve their community. This really rang true for my vision of my project. Yes I want the business to be financially sustainable, but more than that I truly believe that the success of our mission comes down to empowering people in their own communities.

There was also a fantastic workshop called "Goals Matter: Intel's Roadmap to Accelerating Diversity in Tech." In January 2015, Intel's CEO announced the company's goal to reach full representation of women and underrepresented groups in the US workforce by 2020. My group explored the role of academia and pipeline to this process. The extremely diverse group shared first-hand stories of diversity already existing in organizations that is underutilized because of bias about what a candidate for higher roles should look like. Although I started this project thinking about hiring and retention, this has me wondering about what sort of value we could provide in helping organizations realize more value from the employees they have through inclusion as well. Afterwards I spoke to several who were happy to share contact information to continue the conversation.

Later there was a featured panel titled "Demand Diversity and Embrace Innovation," which could not have been more closely aligned with my project interests if I had written it myself. The panel members from Plum Creek, Toyota and Johnson & Johnson Healthcare were themselves representative of a fantastic diversity of visible and invisible identity groups. They also confirmed my intuition about a lack of general awareness in STEM corporations of the therms intersectionality and allyship. Two panel members explicitly responded that they had never heard those terms although the explanation of them fit well with their experience. Just more evidence that choosing the right terminology is essential for communicating to my market the value that we can provide them with.

Finally as part of the closing keynote, we got to hear the 2015 Hult Prize winners IMPCT give their 10 minute pitch that in the end won them $1M to start their business. Not only was it interesting to see how it aligned with the concepts from our class, but their personal journey reemphasized how much failure and being told no was part of their eventual success. Very inspiring!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

WEST mtg follow up

Way back on 9-28-15, Women in the Enterprise of Science and Technology hosted an event on Best Practices for Hiring, Developing, and Retaining Women Leaders in High Tech. I had mentioned that I had planned to attend, but I just realized that I never wrote about the meeting.

Originally my hope was to learn about best practices and resources available, which would provide material to incorporate into our products, network and identify potential competitors already in this market. I was really gratified by the fact that the first speaker opened with the fact that this was not just about women but about all sorts of diversity. In general, there wasn't anything brand new for me content-wise (yay awesome Simmons education), but it was still a great networking opportunity. In particular I was able to talk to several organizational consultants, including one SOM alum, and what it was like to be in that industry. Since then I have had several follow up conversations with contacts from that meeting, and I have nothing but good things to say about the community.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Week 8 Update

Business Plan Writing Update
Last weekend I submitted the first draft of our business plan, which made it really clear which areas my co-founder team has spent a lot of energy on and which we have not gotten to as deeply. In particular I felt like I was doing a lot of extrapolating to write the operations section, which wasn't terrible, but I was aware that these were things that we really need to discuss more. My priority on this for future meetings is job/role descriptions.

Also I am hoping to do some primary market research through surveys, but we still need to finish hashing out what we want to ask in our informational interviews. The good news is that we have so many contacts in our target markets, but there are also many that I do not want to hurt relationships by making wasteful/less than productive use of their time.

Co-founder Update
We had a really productive meeting yesterday that I felt good about. It sounds like we are in good alignment in terms of expectations now. And we reached the decision to go with a B-corp model. Next up I will be revisiting our financial model to work through what that will likely mean for our expected revenue from donations, which will no longer be able to take advantage of matching donations.

Sadly one of the original group who had help us start to sketch out this idea has decided that she needs to be placing her energy elsewhere right now. I really respect her self-awareness and how seriously she considered where she was in her life right now. This brings us down to 3 co-founders, and I am thinking about what sorts of skill sets we will need to acquire from outside this group.

Whats in a Name?
The naming process class material was particularly timely, as name was brought up again in our co-founder meeting. C would really like use the company name to honor the memory of someone, and I am still mulling the branding implications and potential opportunity costs. I don't have a really viable option to offer though. I know I tend to be a functional/descriptive namer. We definitely need a brainstorming session.

One of the pieces from the online lecture that really jumped out to me was the point about creative testing names with actual people from your customer groups/markets. I see how importantly and potentially different this would shape your naming results, but it is something I would not and did not think of doing on my own. I am excited about the idea though.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Users versus Customers

One of the things that is definitely a consideration for our organization will be considering the wants and needs of both customers and users.

Our initial brainstorm for customers included:

  • For-profit STEM company in the US
  • For-profit STEM company outside of the US
  • STEAM organizations (e.g. local, non-profits)
  • Event host organizations in US & UK
  • Event host organizations in non-Anglo locations
  • Educational organizations
  • Individuals invested in social justice
  • Individuals from marginalized groups

I think that for the initial market, it makes sense to focus on the US market and B2B customers. The companies would tend to have more cash flow to invest in workshops like this, but event hosts offer a great opportunity to demonstrate and refine the value of the workshops. I am still thinking about more specifically how to target customers though.

One of the things that has come up in conversation though is how different the motivations and interest from users as to what they would like to get out of the workshops. Thinking about non-customer users, the profiles that we were considering included:

  • Trainers
  • Employees at STEM company that offers one of our workshops
  • Individuals from marginalized groups
  • Individuals invested in social justice

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Products, Services & Experiences

Supporting Intersectional Groups and Individuals in STEAM

Impostor Syndrome Workshop
Impostor Syndrome has been described as the feeling that you aren’t really qualified for the work you are doing and will be discovered as a fraud.1 Many women, People of Color, QUILTBAG persons, and others from marginalized groups deal with this feeling, especially when they’ve been socialized to value other’s opinions of their work above their own. This workshop, incorporating exercises developed by the AI and the <org name>, is aimed at helping attendees overcome Impostor Syndrome. It includes practical methods of addressing one’s own Impostor Syndrome as well as suggestions for how to improve one’s community in order to not perpetuate the messages that heighten feelings of Impostor Syndrome.

This workshop is very flexible -- it can be run for 2 to 50 people in a 90 min to 3 hour time period. Workshops of over 10 attendees will be split into smaller discussion groups. Sessions are organized so that a wide variety of people can share experiences and gain additional perspective. It is available both in both general attendee and train-the-trainer versions. It is currently only offered in English.

Ally Skills Training Workshop
This workshop, expanding on work by the Ada Initiative, runs best as a 5 hour training and can be done with 6 to 60 people. The Ally Skills Workshop is a practical, discussion-oriented workshop focusing on simple ways people can use their power as an ally to make their physical or virtual space more welcoming and safer to marginalized persons. Facilitated discussion addresses what to do in real-world scenarios ranging from how to  welcome a person of color attending a conference for the first time to speaking up when a colleague makes a sexist joke at the office party. People leave the workshop with practical suggestions as well as points to ponder further, and report feeling ready to take action in the future.

The Ally Skills Training focuses on what people of privilege can do to support marginalized individuals. It works best when a variety of perspectives are represented in the workshop participants, including women, People of Color, genderqueer individuals, and those with diverse sexual orientations. However, it is important not to require marginalized attendees to educate those with more privilege about the impacts of privilege in society; therefore, that consideration is balanced with the need for privileged individuals to listen to those with less societal privilege.

This workshop is available both in both general attendee and train-the-trainer versions. It is currently only offered in English.

Consulting Services
We provide consulting to help with your business processes or prepare for hosting events. In addition to providing an outside perspective, we offer guidance on creating and evaluating more inclusive work environments and communities. Site visits are strongly recommended, but some of this work can be done remotely.

Diversity of backgrounds and perspectives is particularly important for innovation in STEAM fields, but historically they have been challenging environments for marginalized groups such as women and cultural, racial, gender or sexual identity groups. In organizational consulting, we will work with you to analyze your processes and assess current performance metrics with an eye toward improving intersectional awareness and participation.

For organizations hosting events, consulting is available to write  a Code of Conduct that is customized to clearly state organizational principles and commitment to maintaining a safe space for all attendees. A strong Code of Conduct publicly and accessibly declares an event’s dedication to creating a safer space, clearly states what behaviors are expected and which are not tolerated, and provides clear mechanisms to report problems and seek help if those expectations are not fulfilled.2 This work can also include assistance designing organizational process around Code of Conduct violations.

Consulting is also available on a variety of topics including:
Inclusive hiring processes, environment shaping and intervention, incident responses, professional development opportunities, establishing mentorship without perpetuating systemic unpaid labor, and conflict resolution. It is currently only offered in English.

Possible Future Offerings:
  • <name> Camp  - safer space event/retreat for individuals who identify along similar axes (for example, women, genderqueer individuals, People of Color) to gather, learn, create community, and share stories and strategies. These events may be organized in an “un-conference” fashion, but will also include the Impostor Syndrome Workshop above for all participants.
  • What is Consent? - training that can be tailored to a high school or college student audience as well as professionals. Addresses verbal interactions, written communications, and physical touch.
  • What is Harassment? - training that can be tailored to a high school or college student audience as well as professionals. Addresses written communications, social media platforms, and in-person interactions.
  • Creating a Code of Conduct Workshop - facilitated community workshop to discuss norms of the community and how to integrate them into Code of Conduct options for wording and implementation processes.
  • Implementing a Code of Conduct Workshop - workshop to discuss processes and procedures that are options for implementation once a Code of Conduct is in place.
  • How to Handle a Sexual Harassment Incident in Your Community - includes empathy exercises, creating a safer space after there has been an incident, and discussion of points at which an organization might decide to close rather than continue to exist if there is concern of perpetuating an environment in which harassment is tolerated.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

IP & Legal Structure Thoughts

This week, C and I were able to have a video conference with both of the potential collaborators mentioned last week. Having everyone in one meeting instead of a series of meetings allowed for some good bouncing of ideas around. Mostly this was a groundwork meeting, getting introduced to each other and making sure that our visions were in alignment.

There is lots of email flying, and I know that C is the center of a lot more of it than I am. I am excited by the energy and ideas, but the next few weeks will busy as we turn those broad visions into focus. I am feeling the pressure to have a full draft in only 3 weeks, but later after a working meeting with C, I think we have a good game plan to get it done.

More work needs to be done understanding and describing target markets. One of the things that is particularly challenging in this regard is the fact that we are interested in providing resources to people who often will not be direct customers. The differentiation between users and customers is important in a business sense, but it is also important to focus on the community being served as a whole. Solvency and the ability to reinvest and/or provide materials at no cost are all necessary considerations to staying viable.

We have an initial products and services sheet started, but there are some intellectual property questions about Creative Common licensing. We need to confirm, but it sounds like the AI workshops were an attribution style, with explicit discussion in their train-the-trainers workshops that participants were welcome to use it for commercial use.

It is under discussion, but there are reasons to continue our new materials with this model as well. The most important thing is that this material is out there, and that discussions on these important topics are being raised. With an Attribution CC license, we retain the value to build brand awareness, but we could easily spread this work, both directly and indirectly. Do you have concerns we should think more about? Please share your thoughts or experiences!

There also has been some conversation about legal company structure, and we are looking to pin that down on Tuesday. My own thoughts on the matter focus on a few options:

Sole Proprietorship:
This seem like a problematic match, given that from the beginning this will be a team endeavor. Also the liability concerns and lack of transferability does not align with the current vision. We have had some really candid and heartfelt conversation about making this organization be representative of the values of diverse perspective we want to see more of in the world. Having control by just a single individual runs a risk of not staying transparent and open to feedback. Also liability would rest on the sole-proprietor.

As long as it was built in from the beginning, we could make provision for allowing additional partners in the future. This is important, because we would like to increase the diversity of the partners. One of the drawbacks to this company structure, however is the liability concern. Also it does not have as many major tax benefits, beyond some minor exceptions that could allow for possible avoidance of double taxation.

Combining many of the tax advantages of a sole proprietorship or partnership with the some of the liability protection of a corporation, a LLC is in many ways a hybrid. In many states this is primarily a for-profit structure, but there are some exceptions. It would need to be researched further. This would allow for financing through the sale of stock.

Given the public good mission of the organization, non-profit is an option. The AI was a non-profit, and this was really important for their cash flow. More important than avoiding many type of tax liability, being non-profit would mean that donors could make their donations tax-deductible and eligible for donation matching by their employers.

Again the public good mission is central for this organization. Although it is relatively new structure, Benefit Corporations are an interesting solution.  In order to be eligible for B-Corp status, a company has to commit to rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. With required reports holding an organization accountable to its commitment, this would ensure that even as the organization grows and changes, it remains committed to all stakeholders. As a for-profit structure, this would not have the tax benefits of the non-profit. It also provides personal liability protection and financing options through the sale of stock.

This was raised, but it is not one that we had covered in class, and I am not as familiar with the details on it. We need to do some more research to understand how this would fit with our needs.

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Power of Networking

One of my major takeaways from class this week was about the fact that your reputation can be a growth driver. Eventually this will be true for the organization by itself, but especially with a consulting company a lot of the initial credibility and interest has to do with the Founders themselves. So the reminder to update my LinkedIn page was quite timely.

This week we started conversation with several people who had been inquiring about the idea of a new initiative. I have already had one look me up on LinkedIn to learn a little more about me, as I am an unknown.

This had also lead to further thinking about outside events that we plan to conduct during the semester. So far we are thinking:

  • Sunday I am attending an Arisia ConCom with the goal to speak to the head of Diversity Team to better understand what the convention is currently providing for training and material is covered.
  • C and I have a meeting this week with an organizer of an open source conference that is representative of the market most closely served by the AI. This will give us early information about that market and potential interest in collaboration
  • On 9-28-15 WEST (Women in the Enterprise of Science and Technology) is hosting an event on Best Practices for Hiring, Developing, and Retaining Women Leaders in High Tech. I plan to attend to meet with learn about best practices and resources available, which would provide material to incorporate into our products, network and identify potential competitors already in this market.
  • Next week C and I have a meeting with an organizer from a similar organization to the one we are proposing except focused on technology and maker communities. Early discussions have included exploration of collaboration or alternative options such as having this work end up being within their organization at least initially. This might allow for some time to gain more reputation for this sort of work before needing to commit all the capital upfront in order to startup.
  • Oct 2nd-3rd C will be attending Open Source & Feelings, a two-day conference about the intersection of software and the humanities in Seattle, WA in order to network and start discussions with potential donors and customers.
  • Oct 9th-12th C will be attending JOFCon, a three-day convention for sharing best-practices on running fandom conventions. This will provide an opportunity to start conversations with leadership from many fandom conventions about what they would be looking for in a service such as ours.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Week 3 Agenda

Last week we met in class for the first and second time, wrote two sections of the Business Plan at a high level, made a project timeline (P4P) and did some reading on different legal structure options.

As I am developing this company and business idea with someone outside of the class, I have a great built-in reinforcement of concepts in explaining it to my colleague. From this week of class my summary of things that we need to talk about:
  • company vs business vs products
  • nature of the transaction
  • legal structures
  • growth & revenue drivers
  • why are we doing this?
Other things that we need to talk about:
  • norms and expectations (potentially friendship preserving!)
  • network of stakeholders who were already interested in this project
This week my goals are to further flesh out "thick descriptions" in the Product/Service/Experience portfolio and establish communication, accountability and meeting norms. I feel like I have a good grasp of the "company vs business vs products" and the hows to get started. However the details about content are more my partner's contribution. So together we need to firmly establish our first target market and focus on the products that will appeal to them, while keeping an eye towards future growth.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Slack Diversity Data

This week Slack posted their diversity data in a really thoughtful and reflective post on their official blog. For those who might not be familiar with them, Slack is a team communication tool that is available as an app for integrated communication, file sharing, notifications, comments and searching.

As an organization they have been very transparent about their efforts to analyze their practices so that they can make real-time adjustments to recruiting efforts and workplace policies.
Our primary goal is to avoid becoming yet another place where underrepresented groups exit the technology industry. We don’t want to be a place where people give up on their ambitions. All kinds of people should be able to be successful at Slack. While much focus has been on the pipeline, we understand that increasing the diversity of applicants and new hires will not result in any significant change if people from underrepresented groups cannot thrive at the company. Workplace policies that foster inclusion are equally important.
This sort of work is really exciting to see, in organizations in general and particularly in technology and software. It is fantastic that they recognize that even with the best intentions how important it is to keep taking data and doing analysis in order to minimize and remove bias in processes as much as possible.

How did they do? I encourage you to look for yourself, but more importantly I wanted to applaud them for having the bravery to lead the way from wherever they were rather than waiting for the data to look ideal. Sharing this sort of information allows us to start more public conversations, which we need as an industry and a society.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Starting the Journey

This is my last semester of my MBA at Simmons College, although prior to that my background is in science and engineering. I have worked professionally in a range of fields from consumer product R&D to teaching to operational management.

This Fall, I was approached with questions about starting an organization that would help provide tools to deal with harassment, discrimination, marginalization and imposter syndrome. As a women in science and technology, this is an area that I also feel strongly about supporting, both as someone who has had to face some of these problems and as an ally where I have more privilege.

Towards this end, I am developing my community of practice by taking the part in the Business Plans and Proposals Workshop. Together, I am looking forward to exploring different potential models, the impact of scalability, and learning about what it would take to move this idea forward.