Ambitious Women Are Unleashing Their Potential by Starting Businesses


Foreign correspondent Tanzeel Akhtar talks to successful female entrepreneurs from Nigeria and South Africa to find out about their achievements and discover what motivates them.

Female entrepreneurship in sub-Saharan Africa is rising rapidly, with a number of ambitious women defying the odds, going solo and unleashing their potential.

There are also a number of global initiatives supporting and propelling female-run businesses on the continent but the fact remains that there are still challenges women need to overcome.

For example:

In sub-Saharan Africa, at least 40% of the labour force is female, according to the Pew Research Centre.  However, 74% of women’s non-agricultural employment is informal, in contrast with 61% for men.

Read more about the wonderful stories of women who dare to dream.  Be inspired.

6 Ways Top Influencers Are Implementing AI and Machine Learning to Grow Their Followers

Social media stars use everything at their disposal to increase their reach.

6 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

With over 31.25 million Facebook posts per minute, 6000 tweets per second and 95 million Instagram posts every day, it’s genuinely commendable how top social media influencers can work their way through big data analytics and present relevant and timely content to their respective industries.

Whether they focus on tech, fashion, fitness, business or beauty, influencers are continually learning and improving to stay ahead of their competition. With sufficient exposure to AI and machine learning solutions created to help social media marketing, you can also increase your social media conversion rates.  

Related: How ‘Bachelorette’ Star Kaitlyn Bristowe Leveraged Reality TV Fame Into Multiple Successful Businesses

John McCarthy, one of the early pioneers in the field of AI, defined artificial intelligence as “the science of making machines that can perform tasks that are characteristic of human intelligence.” These tasks may include understanding language, translating content between languages, recognizing elements in images and speech or making decisions.

Machine learning is a subfield of artificial intelligence that teaches computers to learn without needing a rigid set of rules. Scientists achieve this by showing the system several examples until it starts to learn over time and predict more accurately.

A proper understanding and implementation of artificial intelligence and machine learning guarantees success in social media marketing. These solutions provide you with a strong knowledge of your audience, your competition (and their efforts to reach the same or similar audience) and the kinds of content that inspire that audience to take action in ways that move the needle for your business

Related: Chriselle Lim Started Out as a Wardrobe Stylist. Now She Has More Than 3 Million Social Media Followers.

By using social media AI and machine learning tools, influencers can study and understand their audience and competitors, and then implement proper content positioning.

To help arm you with the insights you need to create the most relevant content for your industry based on data — not hunches — here are six ways that top influencers are implementing AI and machine learning to grow their followers.

1. Social listening and monitoring

Social listening and monitoring tools are some of the most widely used in social media marketing.

Social listening is different from social monitoring, in that monitoring is merely seeing what people are saying about your brand, whereas social listening tracks conversations around specific phrases, words, or brands, and leverages that data to find opportunities or create specialized content for particular audiences. These capabilities are powerful ways of interacting with audiences in real time — and they can help you tailor your voice to better connect with them.

Some examples of social monitoring tools are Sprout and Mention. They track and report these insights and alert you when relevant conversations are happening.    

2. Competitor analysis 

Social media influencers take advantage of AI’s ability to scrape and analyze massive data sets to track and analyze their competitors. How?

With AI, you can effectively run all the same analysis that you perform on your pages on competitors as well. This gives you an idea of what is working, and allows you to integrate the best strategies and techniques into your social media marketing strategy.

Related: Food Network’s Molly Yeh Shares How She Built Her Blog Into a Growing Farm-to-Table Empire

The tools available implement social listening and sentiment analysis, and they analyze content to decipher the qualities that impact performance such as keywords, color, visual objects and content type.

Examples of platforms that do all this are Cortex, Crimson Hexagon and Simply Measured.

3. Content optimization

The next step after understanding your audience, your industry’s landscape, and your competitor’s strengths and weaknesses is planning and developing relevant and insightful content. AI and machine learning software have been designed to help you get the right mix of text, photo and video to help diversify your feed and keep your audience interested.  

Cortex was founded to bring machine learning into marketing via improving the creation and deployment of content. It implements an in-depth analysis of data sets to allow you to know which kinds of content do better than others.

4. Content creation

AI bots are being designed to assist with auto responding to messages on social media platforms, totally automate content such as earnings reports, news headlines, and interview or webinar transcriptions. For content that can’t be completely automated, there are tools to help make content creation quicker and more comfortable. 

Related: This Style Blogger Got Her Start in Her Dorm Room. Today She Has Over a Million Followers and a Fashion Line.

Tools like Foresight look at trends on your page and your competitors’ pages to let you know what types of content resonate with your audience. They tell you what colors, objects, keywords and hashtags inspire your audience to take action.

5. Content deployment

With the recent updates on most social media platforms, knowing what time and on what channel to post is just as important as having the right kind of content. If you’ve ever done a google search for “when’s the best time to post” or “how often should I post,” you’d know that there’s no one-size-fits-all for social media content deployment.

AI scheduling tools like Marketo, Mintent and of course Hootsuite all have specialized tools that help you automatically generate a posting calendar based on audience and industry data. These tools have seen a rise in popularity since the decrease in organic reach on Facebook due to algorithmic changes that prioritize content that is frequently interacted with — a result of well-timed posts, as well as quality content.

Sephi Shapira, CEO of escapex, a company that creates personally owned platforms (POPs) for celebrity influencers who wish to forgo organic reach algorithms by distributing content on their own app, says, “Whenever a centralized social media platform gains enough market share, its relationship with its users changes from collaboration to competition. Facebook, in particular, claims to reduce the reach of brands and creators to maintain its ethos of a family-and-friend-facing platform, but the truth is user data and brand advertisements pay their bills. Considering the declining sentiment towards Facebook and the growing competition in the app landscape, I don’t think forcing brands into paying for reach is a good way to keep them loyal.”   

6. Promotion optimization

Top influencers know that splitting their promotion budget evenly for every post isn’t useful. They use tools like Smart Insights, Clearmob, Data Gran and Marketo to look holistically at what posts are the most effective to boost based on content, timing, competition and audience. These systems intelligently allocate and maximize performance for your budget.

To sum it all up, robust social media analysis, content creation, optimization and promotion require the right tools. Also, there are too many conversations happening every day for you to monitor them all manually.

Executing the right strategy with artificial intelligence and machine learning solutions makes your social media analysis both more powerful and more accurate.

These Sisters Left Dream Jobs to Pursue Their Love of Dumplings. Now They’re Cooking up a Delicious NYC Restaurant Empire.

Hannah and Marian Cheng of Mimi Cheng’s NYC restaurants share the ups and downs of their first five years in business.

7 min read

Five years ago this July, Hannah and Marian Cheng took a big leap and opened the first location of Mimi Cheng’s in New York City’s East Village.

The pair had decided to open a restaurant dedicated to the delicacy they most loved, growing up: handmade Taiwanese dumplings. They missed their mom’s cooking terribly and figured that if they were hungry for those dumplings — and couldn’t find them — others might share that culinary plight.

But their parents, who had been the inspiration for their choice of cuisine, weren’t exactly thrilled. Hannah and Marian told Entrepreneur, their parents were “horrified”  at the prospect of their girls leaving solid jobs — Hannah was a VP at JPMorgan Chase, and Marian, an account executive at the luxury fashion brand Burberry — to jump into the food world, an industry fraught with uncertainty. 

“You both have your dream jobs; you worked so hard to get there; and now you’re leaving to open a takeout restaurant?” Hannah recalled her parents saying. “You didn’t have to go to college to do that.” But with the conviction of their vision, they forged ahead, and named the restaurant Mimi Cheng’s, after their mom Shirley’s nickname, Mimi. 

After about a year, seeing that their daughters were serious and committed to making their business happen, Mom and Dad came on board, too.

Related: What’s the Biggest Challenge of Starting a Restaurant?

The learning curve

With their family in their corner, the next big hurdle was the steep learning curve the sisters needed to master for actually opening and running an operational restaurant. The Chengs say tht it took about three years to get a handle on the process, right up to the point they were poised to open their second location, in Nolita, in 2016.

Mimi Cheng’s Dumpling Making

Image credit Nicole Franzen

Flash-forward to today: The sisters now manage both locations and oversee a team of 40 but say there are always new surprises and challenges to deal with. “When we were opening our second location, it’s like you have a newborn and you have to pay attention to the newborn a lot, so it’s trying to balance both of them,” said Marian. “And when we were opening up the first location, [we tried] to get insight from other restaurateurs and others in the industry about things like  contracting, licenses and permits. Everyone says it’s a nightmare dealing with the city and stuff — but you have to go through it yourself and learn what the nuances are.”

Along the way, the sisters knew they couldn’t do it alone, given their lack of restaurant experience. So, they worked with a city organization, the NYC New Business Acceleration Team (NBAT), an initiative that helps new restaurants and bars get up and running. Before launching Mimi Cheng’s, Marian also took a detour of her own, leaving the fashion world to gain direct experience in hospitality by joining salad chain Sweetgreen’s opening team.

Opening up

The sisters say that one of the biggest early challenges of opening that first location was, quite literally, keeping the lights on.

They were set to open in May of 2014 but actually opened the doors in July. The reason? Not enough electricity to power everything. Their wait for a promised electrical upgrade stretched from weeks into months. They were frustrated. But then came help: their community of fellow restaurateurs advised them to end the waiting game by contacting their local representatives, who connected them with the right Con Edison supervisor who made the upgrade happen.

Mimi Cheng’s Dumplings

Image credit Nicole Franzen

In the weeks leading up to opening day, sleep was in short supply, the sisters remember. They also remember the mixed benefit that a teaser write-up in the New York Times gave them — the day before they opened.

“It was very exciting. But we also didn’t know what that meant,” Hannah recalled. “And what that meant was hundreds of people showing up at our door the first day of opening. It was amazing, but also terrifying. We could not wrap dumplings or cook dumplings fast enough to meet the demand. We actually had to close in the middle of the day, because we knew that there were going to be more people coming in at night.

“We said to ourselves, ‘If we keep selling at this pace, we’re going to be sold out before everybody shows up.’ So we had to close in the middle of the day to restock everything. We are so thankful to the people who still came after they had been there the first day. There is no way that was a good experience, and no way did everything meet our expectations.”

Hitting their stride

At this point, with Mimi Cheng’s having been on the books now nearly five years, the Cheng sisters say that their main advice for entrepreneurs feeling discouragement in their own early stages is to “listen to your gut” and then do the due diligence to back it up — no matter what advice you hear from your support system, no matter what the naysayers believe.

“If it’s something that you can’t stop thinking about, then you also have to realize that these people are speaking from their own point of view. And nobody’s in your shoes, with your experience, with your dream, with your passion,” Hannah said. “So nobody will ever be able to speak to that.

Related: There Are 2,000 Empty Restaurants During the Day in New York — and This Startup Is Doing Something About It

“You have to also realize that they care about you, but they are only speaking from their perspective. We’ve had so many people tell us, ‘Don’t open a restaurant, you have no idea what you’re doing.’ — which is all true. But at the end of the day, it was something that we couldn’t stop thinking about. And I’m glad we did it without that knowledge because it would have been scary. Once you’re in, you realize, ‘Crap, I don’t know anything.’ But once you’re in it, you’ve figured out how to do it.”

That philosophy extends to their hiring approach: they don’t feel beholden to bring on only those with two to five years’ restaurant experience under their belts. “It’s the same with hiring some of our team members,” Marian explained. “Some of them don’t have experience in the food industry. But we give them a chance if they seem like they’re very quick to learn and they have great personalities — because you have to start somewhere.”

The sisters say that their partnership works because they each bring different skills to the table — Hannah often focuses on scheduling, finances and payroll; Marian’s specialties are inventory and ordering. The two, meanwhile, handle day-to-day operations and recipe development together.

The key ingredient, they say, is implicit trust.

“I wouldn’t recommend every sibling [duo] work together; it really depends on the kind of relationship you have. But even growing up we were never competitive,” Hannah said. “We’ve always been on the same team.

“And because of that, and also because we’re siblings, we trust each other inherently. So we always know that we have each other’s best interests in mind. And I think, when you’re starting a business with somebody, that is the hardest part: finding a business partner you can trust completely.”

96% of Americans Have Made At Least One Online Purchase in Their Lives


Today, with the headway in digital trends, it has become easier for merchants to reach out to tech-savvy customers worldwide anytime, anywhere.

According to BigCommerce:

51% of Americans prefer to make a purchase online, and 96% of Americans have made at least one online purchase in their lives.

E-commerce sales are expected to cross a mark of USD 4.878 billion by 2021.

Learn more about some common changing e-commerce landscapes that will rule the e-commerce space beyond 2019.

How are Retailers Using Chatbots to Boost Their Customer Service


Boost your e-store’s revenue and be there for your customers whenever they need you. Build a sophisticated chatbot for your online store right away.

By Albert Smith

One of the most amazing and yet underrated technologies to come out in the recent times are the Chatbots. They carry the potential to replace the tasks of many human workers with Artificial Intelligence programs robust and dynamic enough to hold fluent conversations with humans or customers. Today, Chatbots are on the top of retail IT solutions.

Juniper Research defines a chatbot as:

‘A computer program utilising technology designed to simulate conversational interactions with human users, which may also include automated processes triggered from these interactions’.

Chatbots have been designed in a way where they assist a wide range of industries, from banking transactions, to retail customer service enquiries.

Chatbots first emerged in 2016 as one of the hot topics of that year. A few people believed bots are ‘the new cool apps’, while some believed that they were simply ‘overhyped’.

Today, major industries and large retailers have included Chatbots as one of the leading branch in customer service and assistance. This has also boosted the economy in IT sector. A few years back, one would not have heard about a Chatbot development company, but today, there are plenty.

Here are few examples of how retailers are using Chatbots to boost their customer service.

Beauty Brands

Beauty Brands has inculcated a finely-tuned chatbot which recommends gifts for people on a shopper’s list. Due to this they were able to boost their revenues during the busy holiday shopping season. According to the company, the Chatbot hit over 1.6 million total impressions.

Taco Bell

With Taco-Bell’s all-integrated Chatbot platform, Slack, customers can order directly from within the app. By using multiple commands, one can add and remove the ingredients of their choice, ask for prices online, request to see your cart and finally checkout.

What Taco Bell says is that, ‘ Once they’re set up, they can deliver a consistent brand experience to users every time.’


Domino’s integrated a Chatbot which helps customers check the status of their orders, answer FAQs and get deals and promotions. This bot is now available for Facebook Messenger too where customers are able to order and pay for the pizza without even leaving the app.


Macy’s introduced ‘StoreHelp’, a simple chatbot which has been designed to help customers locate the items in their local Macy’s store. This Chatbot has been optimized specifically for mobile web. With the help of a Chatbot development company, Macy’s was able to develop this Chatbot which works well and is easy to use. The Chatbot page has been designed in a way where it can also suggest products and provide answers to simple questions.

Whole Foods

Whole Foods introduced a chatbot in order to make finding a particular supermarket easy for their customers. All they need to do is simply enter a zip code or an address, or even just share the location to get results immediately. Whole Foods is using Facebook Messenger chatbot to make it easy for people to find the relevant items they are looking for.

National Parks Depot

Another great example of Facebook messenger integrated Chatbot. National Parks Depot employs a chatbot to automatically begin a conversation with people who interact with a certain post on the social media platform. It also provides customers special coupon codes or other promotional offers.

Tommy Hilfiger

The Chatbot greets the user, then instantly introduces the consumer to the collection. Once a customer seems interested it then gives them three options for further conversation: style advice, browsing, or a behind-the-scenes look at the latest fashion show. Customer queries are dealt with ease by the Chatbot.


H&M was ahead of its competitors when in 2016, they launched a chatbot along with the Canadian messaging app Kik which in not quite well-known internationally. Customers can view, share and purchase products from H&M’s catalogue with the help of their Chatbot. There is also a sort of personal stylist service offered by the bot, using photo options and asking questions about shopper’s style. With the help of those questions, the bot creates a style profile for the customer. Customer can then use the bot to create their own outfits, vote and browse outfits created by other users, and shop.


Even though the functioning of the Chatbot may sound simple and quite straightforward, the real-world scenario is somewhat different. It takes a lot of effort and hours of programming to design a basic Chatbot. A few retailers prefer to employ the ready-to-use Chatbots available across the digital world. It is the quickest way to to set up your own customer support. On the other hand, organizations with complex necessities would prefer to take help from a Chatbot development company to generate bespoke solutions.

Albert Smith is a Digital Marketing Manager with Hidden Brains, a leading enterprise web & mobile app development company specializing in IoT, Cloud and Big Data services. He provides innovative ways to help tech companies, startups and large enterprises build their brand.

Chatbot stock image y Inspiring/Shutterstock

Entrepreneur Index™ Down as Big Banks Miss Their Revenue Targets

Bed Bath & Beyond down sharply again.

3 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Banks and financial companies continue to report earnings this week, with mixed results leading to moderate losses in the major stock indexes.

Goldman Sachs and Citigroup reported results this morning. Both beat low earnings estimates but both also missed revenue targets. Their stocks were down 3.82 percent and 0.06 percent respectively, contributing to a 0.1 percent decline in the Dow index today. The S&P 500 and Nasdaq Composite indexes also had small losses. The Entrepreneur Index™ closed the day 0.13 percent lower with retailer Bed Bath & Beyond once again posting the biggest decline on the index.

Shares in Bed Bath and Beyond were down 6.17 percent today. They fell nearly nine percent last Thursday after the retailer reported financial results. Earnings were slightly better than expected, but quarterly revenues were down more than ten percent. Management, however, raised guidance for 2019.

BBBY stock, still up 49.1 percent this year, has been one of the best performers on the Entrepreneur Index™ in 2019. The reason appears to be investors’ conviction that things can’t get much worse for the company. A group of activist investors are fighting to replace the BBBY board and CEO Steven Temares, but it can’t happen soon enough for shareholders. The stock is down more than 13 percent since the company reported earnings last week.

Several other retailers on the index posted solid gains today. Discount retailer Dollar Tree Inc. was up 2.26 percent and Costco Wholesale Group gained 1.81 percent. Walmart was also up 0.86 percent and Gap Inc. posted a gain of 1.47 percent.

Other gains on the index included Intercontinental Exchange (1.76 percent), Comcast (1.16 percent) and Cerner Corp. (1.05 percent).

The technology sector was generally weak. Chip-maker NVIDIA Corp., one of the more economically sensitive tech stocks, had the biggest decline in the sector, falling 2.79 percent. Netflix was also down 0.65 percent. It fell 4.5 percent last Friday after Walt Disney Company disclosed details of the streaming service it plans to launch in November. Netflix is the first of the FAANG stocks to report earnings after the market close tomorrow.

Sentiment has definitely soured on Regeneron Pharmaceuticals. The stock was down 1.94 percent today and since setting a 52-week high in early March, it is down 15 percent. Its return for the year is now just 0.48 percent.

L Brands was also down sharply, falling 2.32 percent. The owner of struggling lingerie brand Victoria’s Secret has plummeted in the last few years. Briefly trading above $100/share in late 2015, the stock now trades at $25 and it is in the red for the year to date, down 1.64 percent.

Other notable declines on the Entrepreneur Index™ today included REIT Kimco Realty Corp. (-1.92 percent), asset manager Franklin Resources (-1.55 percent) and Ford Motor Co. (-1.27 percent).

The Entrepreneur Index™ collects the top 60 publicly traded companies founded and run by entrepreneurs. The entrepreneurial spirit is a valuable asset for any business, and this index recognizes its importance, no matter how much a company has grown. These inspirational businesses can be tracked in real time on

How These 2 Best Have Friends Scaled Their Fitness Brand Together

The founders of this fitness brand discuss how their friendship has evolved as their business has grown.

1 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Bonnie Micheli and Tracy Roemer, founders and co-owners of Shred 415, discuss the chance encounter in a grocery store that led to their friendship. Then, they break down how that friendship has evolved into a burgeoning fitness business and brand.

Micheli, Roemer and The Playbook host David Meltzer, discuss the importance of having a business partner who has a complementary skill set, as well as the emphasis that the Shred 415 team places on transparency and constructive feedback in their organization. The three also discuss how best to balance family life and entrepreneurship, sharing their thoughts on the importance of having the right support system.

Related: The Founder of Lululemon Breaks Down His Rule of 3

How Small Business Owners Can Harness the Power of SEO to Grow Their Brands

It seems like everyone and their mother has climbed aboard the content marketing train, pushing out everything from blog posts to whitepapers to tutorials online. You can quite literally find an answer — or multiple answers, really — to any question that comes to mind. Although helpful in many ways, this wealth of information poses a problem: We’re drowning in the stuff, which makes it that much harder for your audience to find your content.


If you want audiences to discover your content, SEO needs to be part and parcel of your content journey. Adhering to SEO best practices ensures that any content you produce meets Google’s standards, making it easier for bots to crawl your site, index your content, and rank its relevance. Provided you do it correctly, SEO can provide a significant boost to your content marketing results.

Your other option is paying for ads on Google, which can get costly. Sure, it’ll help promote and validate your company — when an advertisement and an organic listing both show up in search results, consumers feel like a brand has greater authority. But depending on the keyword or phrase, Google Ads can run you anywhere from pennies to $50 per click. And it’s only going to get more expensive over time.

Moving a portion of your advertising budget over to SEO, though, will free you from paying for ads for the life of your business. It also will position your business to show up in organic search results, which can generate more traffic from your target audience in the long term.

Many businesses expect to see results overnight, but that is not how SEO works. A lack of immediate results can lead plenty of SEO newcomers to abandon their efforts after just a few months. What they don’t realize is that it can take two to five years to see a return on the investment. In fact, only 5.7 percent of pages will reach the coveted top 10 of Google’s rankings within a year.

In other words, you should focus on SEO from day one. Here at Boat Planet, we had an SEO strategy long before our website went live. Provided you have a physical address and a domain, you can start building authority with Google. It’s all in how you approach the process.

SEO strategy

Focusing on the Essentials

One of the most important elements of SEO is your choice in keywords. Generally speaking, those keywords fall into one of two categories: competitive and long-tail. For any business on a tighter budget, I’d suggest looking into the latter. Long-tail keywords have less competition, which means you have better odds of ranking higher in search results. They’re also more targeted, so your content is likely to show up in the results of consumers who will, in all probability, do business with you.

This leads us to another element you should consider with SEO: local exposure. For small businesses or brick-and-mortar shops, most of your customers will be local. Instead of wasting your resources on targeting people across the country, gain local exposure by optimizing your SEO with a Google My Business page.

It’s also not a bad idea to work on link building. Apart from keywords, links from third-party websites help to validate your website’s relevance. Consider them “votes” in your favor. If those links are from trusted sources, even better — they can drastically improve your traffic. And here’s a full-circle moment for you: The best way to secure high-quality links is with high-quality content. Make sure your content is worthy of a link.

SEO rocket launch

Taking the First Step

If a small business or startup has the budget for SEO, an outside agency typically handles the entire process. SEO is a complex strategy that requires an up-to-date understanding of Google’s ever-evolving algorithms, so you might want to hire a professional if you’re not an expert.

That said, I’m a strong believer in having at least one person on your team with a basic grasp of SEO. An SEO workshop or online training can expose you to the best practices for researching and finding relevant keywords, structuring a website, optimizing pages, link building, etc.

If you’re ready to take the first step and start taking advantage of SEO tactics today, here are a few good places to begin:

1. Do your research

Carve out some time each week to read something new on the topic of SEO. I’m partial to HubSpot and Neil Patel, but there are plenty of other experts out there who offer insights on SEO best practices. By implementing on-page SEO strategies where they weren’t already present, you can positively affect your content — even your existing content. Also, don’t forget to claim your business listings and keep everything updated using a service such as Yext.

2. Use your experience to help others

In networking, success is based on how much you’re willing to give. The same rule applies here. Develop content that will help others reach a goal, overcome an obstacle, gain a new insight, etc. Not only will this position you as a thought leader, but it also will give you an opportunity to link back to this useful content on your website when giving advice. Online forums like Quora and Trello provide a powerful platform for sharing your knowledge with others.

3. Be generous with links

Take advantage of every opportunity to link back to your website. If you mention other businesses in your content, be sure to reach out and let them know. You might be fortunate to get a link back in the future.

And anytime someone mentions your business online, make sure the publisher includes a link to your website. By that token, you should be doing the same when posting comments on other sites or answering questions online. Include a link back to your business, but try to avoid being overly promotional in the process — you don’t want your post to come across as a shameless plug.

SEO goes hand in hand with content marketing. Done correctly, SEO creates a synergy that drives more traffic to your website. All it takes is a commitment from your team to see it through. Are you ready to get on board?

UPshow Helps Businesses Use TV Screens on Site to Build Their Brands

Are TVs inside your business crucial?

If you’re a sports bar, obviously you’ll say flat screens on the wall are 100% crucial to business. But at gyms, screens seem to exist so that members can zone out as they work out. And owners of medical and dental practices might think TVs in waiting rooms are best at keeping “impatient patients” calm.

While clearly different, the use cases mentioned above treat TV screens in a very basic way. You might even wonder if those TVs are “underutilized”, or not living up to their potential. Thinking outside the box (or flat screen, in this case) isn’t something every business owner is good at. And if you don’t know the right questions to ask, or the latest innovation trends to watch, chances are you’re going to stay very vanilla. Because you’re unaware of what’s possible and what other businesses are doing.

You can Miss Opportunities if you Play it Too Safe

Then what are forward-thinking businesses currently doing with smart TVs? What are they improving and how? What are they phasing out? Basketball Hall of Famer Mike Krzyzewski puts it this way. Don’t worry what you’ve just done or whatever choices you’ve made. Good or bad, they don’t match the important of what you’re doing right now. And what play comes next. Okay then, what trend comes next?

Small Business Trends posed that question to Adam Hirsen, the CEO and co-founder of UPshow. The company launched as a small brand in Chicago in late 2015. Hirsen let us see his TV-centric social engagement product while in New York City, at Buffalo Wild Wings. The business is an UPshow client.

UPshow Social Engagement Platform

UPshow transforms how brick and mortar businesses leverage their TVs and consumers’ smartphones to enhance engagement, drive sales, marketing and more. Powering more than 4,500 locations with 12,000+ active TV screens, their client list includes Crunch Fitness, UFC Gyms, Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen, Sky Zone, and more. They recently secured $6 million in Series A funding led by TDF Ventures and Jump Capital, and rang the NASDAQ bell in New York as a winner in the Chicago Innovation Awards.

* * * * *

Small Business Trends: What’s the purpose of UPshow?

Adam Hirsen: We’re an in-venue engagement platform that connects the big screen TVs inside of venues to the small screens in everyone’s pocket. We engage customers with modern entertainment and interactive media, and pair that with promotional marketing.

Small Business Trends: Oh, okay, you mean smartphones. I happen to love them. And I know brands love them for data. What’s your stance on old-school marketing methods and traditional CX?

Adam Hirsen: Everywhere you go today, whether it’s Buffalo Wild Wings or a fitness venue, you’re going to be struck with paper marketing which is static and ignored, and also broadcast television. The challenge there is, broadcast television doesn’t add all that much value to a brand, and sometimes it’ll even advertise a national competitor. UPshow helps our partners take control of the experience and market what’s important to build loyalty with their customers and also offer live, interactive and modern media of the venue’s choosing. If you’re a New York Yankees bar, you’ll serve Yankee-centric content, content that aligns with what you’re trying to grow. Each venue lets us know which parts of their marketing and analytics they wish to improve, and our success team teaches the client exactly how they can do that with UPshow, whether it’s getting more sign-ups to their loyalty initiatives or getting a deeper understanding of which specific social media users tweet at them. There’s so much that can be done with UPshow.

What the Business Offers

UPshow Social Engagement Platform Combines Customers’ Love of TV and Mobile

Small Business Trends: Is installation complicated? Standing here [inside Buffalo Wild Wings Times Square] and looking at all this, it’s very impressive and visually striking, but it makes me think the set-up might overwhelm someone who isn’t tech-savvy.

Adam Hirsen: It’s all simple, actually! Everything’s done through Google Chromebit, which is a slim HDMI stick, and wifi. Our success team makes sure that installation is plug-and-play and goes smoothly; and then once a client is up and running, we make sure they’re getting the most out of UPshow’s front-end and back-end capabilities to not only deliver great experiences for customers but to improve and track what’s important for the business end. Those business goals are defined by the client.

Markets the Company Serves

Small Business Trends: Which sectors do you currently focus on?

Adam Hirsen: Hospitality is big for us, as well as fitness, entertainment and healthcare venues.

Small Business Trends: Because the visual pieces are a huge part of what UPshow does, where can potential clients see it in-person?

Adam Hirsen: Trade shows are huge for us. We go to MUFSO, we go to National Restaurant, we have people at the Nightclub & Bar Show this week in Las Vegas, we go to the Digital Signage Expo, etc… Because it’s a visual product, [examples can be found here and here] it really helps to be able to stand with the customer and show them what it’s like.

Images: UPshow.TV

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Steps SMBs Can Take to Make Sure Their Culture is Built to Scale

There’s nothing more important to businesses of any size than being intentional about creating a workplace culture that will attract, engage, and retain the talent you need to fuel your growth. For small or midsize businesses (SMBs), culture building is especially critical because it sets the foundation for future success.

This year at Dreamforce, I had the honor of moderating and participating in a small business executive breakfast panel with  Michael Bush, CEO of  Great Place to Work and  Laszlo Bock, CEO and co-founder of  Humu. We discussed best practices for building a strong company culture that will grow with your business.

There were about 300 SMB executives who had the opportunity to attend in person, but the insights that came out of this panel were too good not to share with the whole SMB community! Below are some of the best tidbits that came out of the panel that I hope any business can use to help create a culture that is built to scale.

What is culture?

Michael Bush: “Culture is the feeling. It’s the thing that makes you really want to go to work or what makes you really not want to go to work. It cuts both ways.”

Laszlo Bock: “Your culture should be your decision code. It’s what you should rely on to make difficult decisions at difficult times, by reminding you who you are.”

Why does it matter?

Michael Bush: “It pays. It’s good for people, it’s good for the world, and you make money, too.”

Jody Kohner: “It’s your main differentiator. Think about it: The day-to-day tasks of any job — whether it’s an account executive or a software engineer — are essentially the same no matter where you work. What’s different is the people you do your job with and the environment you do it in, and that comes down to culture.”

What culture advice do you have specifically for small business leaders?

Michael Bush: “When you’re running a small business, there’s so much work to do. You’re small, and you’re wearing multiple hats. Sometimes when we pick a leader, we pick an outstanding individual performer, but maybe they aren’t a good people leader. We call it the “unintentional leader”. This is a mistake we see more often in small businesses out of necessity, but you need to be extra thoughtful when you’re a small business because that decision sets the tone for your business for years to come. You need strong leaders because a small business can’t afford to lose good talent because the IP is in people’s heads.”

Laszlo Bock: “Culture at small scale is way harder. When you’re big, you have a lot of people to help, and jerks can be avoided. When you are small, every jerk matters and every negative behavior matters. The way to protect your culture is to quickly reset the culture and recover when negative things happen. You need to be very thoughtful about the moments that matter. As leaders, everyone in the company is watching you all the time, so every small thing you do embodies the culture. If you lose your mind and act out when you lose a deal, people remember that. If you stay calm and positive, that sets the tone.”

What are some of the warning signs that culture is not going to scale?

Michael Bush: “Fast growth – you’re so busy doing the work thing, that you forget the people thing.”

Laszlo Bock: “Too much homogeny: people look the same, think the same, behave the same, come from the same perspective. This creates a monoculture, which can lead to massive blind spots and can be a warning sign that your culture is not going to scale. There are a lot of reasons diversity matters. The main business reason is that in situations when people feel psychological safety they outperform.”

How do you build a great company culture?

Jody Kohner: “Be intentional. When our founders started Salesforce, they were as intentional about the company culture they wanted to create as they were about the products they wanted to build and how they would go to market. Two core programs that create an incredible sense of purpose and belonging in our people and are still at the heart of everything we do today, started when we were small – our 1-1-1 integrated corporate philanthropy model and our V2MOM business planning process. You can read more about both on  Trailhead.”

Michael Bush: “It starts with humility. Companies that are arrogant ultimately crumble. Find an objective way to find out what people are experiencing, and then analyze it to continuously improve. Don’t assume that conversations occurring accurately reflect the health of your leadership and your culture. You need to know as a leader, what are the things you need to work on? And trust me, everyone has things they need to work on.”

Laszlo Bock: “Fundamentally, human beings want the same things: people want to find meaning; people want to be trusted, and people want to be empowered. Get a source of truth, not just qualitative, but a valid scientific instrument that gives you direction on what you need to do. Then, you need to act. Get agreement among leadership on what you need to do – might be trust, might be fairness – it’s different for every business. Finally, the hardest thing – activate everyone in your company, so everyone down to the last employee feels the action. Make sure there isn’t a gap between your espoused values and what each person experiences.”

How do you address the “It’s not the same as it used to be here as you transition from small to midsize to big company?”

Laszlo Bock: “People who are predisposed to gratitude stay happy. The others you have to work to instill it in. That’s why you need  constant nudges to encourage things like gratitude.”

Michael Bush: “When you double click on survey results of fast-growing companies there are varying experiences among employees. When this is happening, what we see often is that some leaders are clinging to the old ways and talking about the good old days. Ultimately, this hurts morale. The leadership group needs to get aligned and be looking to the future and find an inspiring way to talk about that, and they need to be asking if everyone is in. It starts at the top. The people are a reflection of what’s at the top.”

Read our earlier  Laszlo Bock interview for more on how culture is an essential growth component for his new business, Humu.

Photo via Salesforce

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