12 Privacy Mistakes that Can Cost You Your Job in 2018

Does the name Ashley Payne sound familiar?

If yes, that’s because you’ve probably read about her before: Payne, a teacher in Winder, Georgia, made news for being fired when she posted a picture of herself holding a glass of wine in one hand and a pint of beer in the other on social media. Although this picture was posted on her personal social media account, it didn’t matter. Apparently, a parent saw her social media post and wasn’t too pleased with Payne drinking on her private time and posting about it on social media. The unsatisfied parent went ahead to complain to the school board, and this cost Payne her job.

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Payne was soon summoned to the office of the head teacher at the school she worked and the interaction went something like this:

Head teacher: Do you have a Facebook page?

Payne: Yes

Head teacher: Do you have any pictures of yourself up there with alcohol?

Payne: Yes

Head teacher: Resign or be suspended.

Now, we can start to debate what Payne’s mistake was: Having a Facebook page? Billions of people do! Drinking alcohol? Billions of people do, too? Posting personal pictures on her personal Facebook page? Well, billions of people do too!

Payne’s mistake was simple: not taking her privacy, especially in an online and social media world, seriously. And it cost her her job! In an interview with a publication, she said:

I just want to be back in the classroom, if not that classroom, a classroom. I want to get back doing what I went to school for, my passion in life.”

Related: 4 Powerful Strategies for Relaunching Your Career in 2018

In Payne’s case, teaching is her passion — her career… her dream. Yet, a simple privacy mistake cost her more than she had anticipated.

Like Payne, countless people have lost their jobs due to easily-avoidable privacy mistakes. Countless people have lost their career. Don’t make the following privacy mistakes in 2018, or they could cost you your career.

Why You Are Losing 10 IQ Points Every Time This Happens

Why You Are Losing 10 IQ Points Every Time This Happens

It’s 10 a.m. on a Tuesday. You are trying to complete a report for your boss, but every couple of minutes, your computer is alerting you to the fact you have a new email. And your phone, which is sitting right next to you, is lighting up every few seconds to inform you that the very cute photo of your toddler has just gotten another “Like.”

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A few minutes later, your phone starts vibrating with an incoming call. It’s a blocked number so you don’t pick up. In spite of the deluge of interruptions, you have managed to stay strong and not give in. You keep writing your report.

Despite the willpower you demonstrated in not giving in to the temptation of constant notifications, you would have done as good a job on the report if you had missed a night’s sleep. And you would have done marginally better on the report than if you had been smoking marijuana at your desk while writing.

Research from the University of London has shown that when we are bombarded with distractions and notifications, such as incoming emails and calls, we lose on average 10 IQ points. And this is if we don’t give in to them and keep on working.

While 10 IQ points might not seem like a huge deal, it’s the equivalent of not having slept the night before, and twice as much as you would lose from smoking some pot. Essentially, the distractions (even “unopened”) reduce our mental sharpness. In addition, the energy exerted in avoiding checking the distractions tires out our willpower muscle.

Related: 4 Reliable Signs Someone Is About to Waste Your Time

If you would like to maintain your current IQ score while working, and not be a victim to it dropping, follow these three strategies.

1. Switch your phone to airplane mode (even when you are not on a plane).

The easiest way to avoid distractions is to remove them altogether. By putting your phone in airplane mode, you eliminate any vibrating, beeping or lighting up that may occur. Yes, you may miss a hilariously entertaining cat video, but you’ll do a better job on whatever task you are currently trying to focus on.

Author Tim Ferriss keeps his phone on airplane mode for more than 80 percent of the day. Ferris told Valet. magazine, “There are so many distractions and so much of social media is designed just to get you angry and fighting … when I need to focus or just maintain my sanity, I switch my phone to airplane mode. This disables any unwanted interruptions. This is particularly critical post-dinner and during my morning routine.”

Related: Get it Done: 35 Habits of the Most Productive People (Infographic)

2. Turn off notifications on all devices.

Once you have switched your phone to airplane mode, turn off notifications on all other devices. This includes your computer, laptop, tablet and smart watch. It’s important to not forget any single device, as this could be your downfall.

While this is easy advice to give, it can be hard advice to receive. Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University tried to recruit participants into a study whereby they would have to turn off all phone notifications for a whole week. They weren’t able to recruit a single participant, and had to reduce the “notifications off” time to just one day. Not surprisingly, at the end of the 24-hour period, participants reported being significantly more productive and less distracted.

Related: 10 Simple Things Successful People Do Every Morning (Infographic)

3. Turn your phone to gray.

You might have noticed how bright and exciting apps and notifications look on a smart phone. They use bright colors to get our attention — not dissimilar to slot machines in Las Vegas. To reduce distractions, switch your phone to grayscale. You can check out this amusing video from The Atlantic about why you need to do this and how to make it happen. As senior editor James Hamblin says, “Instagram, when everything is in grayscale, looks pretty awful”.

While changing any habit or addiction is hard, try experimenting with just one distraction busting change at a time to give yourself the best chance of success. If you don’t, you may as well be smoking marijuana at work.

10 Ways Technology Hijacks Your Behavior

10 Ways Technology Hijacks Your Behavior

From push notifications and reminders to ratings and rewards programs, technology has the power to nudge you to think and act in specific ways at specific times.

Addictive design keeps you hooked, algorithms filter the ideas and options you’re exposed to and the data trail you leave behind comes back to haunt (or target) you later. The virtual world is full of features and ads that may trick you to adopt beliefs, buy products or just stare at the screen longer.

These tricks can have good intentions: A fitness app might encourage you to run an extra mile, while a calendar alert might remind you of a big meeting. Other times, tech might distract you from important tasks, spending quality time with loved ones or activities that would serve your best interests.

Read on for 10 ways technology is hijacking your behavior, for better or for worse.

1. It beckons.
Anyone who has a smartphone knows that it can be difficult to ignore that buzzing, beeping, incessantly illuminated screen, even in situations when it detracts from your presence, such as in meetings or at the dinner table.

App makers push notifications to get users to engage. That’s why, for instance, Instagram tells you when someone you follow has posted for the first time in a while, luring you to open the app and take a look.

One of today’s most prominent activists working to raise awareness about tech’s influence over our attention, behavior and overall well-being is Tristan Harris. He formerly served as product philosopher at Google, and he’s the co-founder of the Center for Human Technology (and the Time Well Spent movement).

In one essay, Harris explains that smartphones and the apps that run on them resemble slot machines in their design. As a result, the average person checks their phone 150 times a day, often unconsciously, and that’s because, when they do, they are setting themselves up to receive a “variable reward.” They might get nothing — no new notifications or messages — or they might get a link to a funny meme from a friend, a photo of a baby or news of progress on a project they’re working on.

There’s also an obligation factor that drives the impulse to check personal devices: We might miss something important if we don’t, or we might offend someone by not responding quickly enough or reciprocating a gesture.

2. It takes up mental space.
Even when we’re not looking at our phones, and we’ve made a conscious effort to ignore them, such as turning off notifications and ringers or powering them off entirely, they still can distract us.

Researchers from the University of Texas at Austin, the University of California, San Diego and Disney Research recently conducted a study and found that when a person’s smartphone is nearby — on the table or even in the same room — that person’s performance on a cognitive task (requiring problem-solving and reasoning) will likely suffer.

Related: Why Just Having Your Phone Near You Messes With Your Brain

The diminished ability is akin to what sleep deprivation might cause, the researchers found, noting that people performed best on tasks when their phone was in another room and worst when their phone was on the table, whether the phone was on or off.

In a summary of their findings in Harvard Business Review, the researchers explain that “humans learn to automatically pay attention to things that are habitually relevant to them, even when they are focused on a different task.” Ignoring something that’s calling for your attention takes a lot of effort and consumes your attention. Just think of a time when you were working on something and someone called your name from across the room. Chances are, you lost focus.

3. It alters your perception of your options.
The internet opens up a whole new world. You might Google “cafes” and discover a new lunch spot that you otherwise might not have known about. You might need a new pair of shoes, and rather than being constricted to the options local brick-and-mortar retailers have to offer, you can pick from countless pairs and have one shipped to your door.

Even though we theoretically have access to what can seem like every product, place of business and source of information via the web, we often browse these options through platforms that filter them for us, to narrow down the seemingly infinite array. What we don’t always think about, Harris explains, is that we might miss a great option if we only choose from what an algorithm serves up.

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Harris provides the hypothetical scenario of a group of friends searching Yelp for a nearby bar to go to after dinner. “The group falls for the illusion that Yelp’s menu represents a complete set of choices for where to go,” he writes. “While looking down at their phones, they don’t see the park across the street with a band playing live music. They miss the pop-up gallery on the other side of the street serving crepes and coffee.”

4. It reinforces your beliefs.
The 2016 U.S. presidential election heightened public awareness of a concept known as the “filter bubble,” coined by Upworthy co-founder Eli Pariser and explored in his 2011 book The Filter Bubble: How the New Personalized Web Is Changing What We Read and How We Think.

Simply put, the filter bubble is a phenomenon that occurs with users online. Of course, this dynamic exists offline, too — we make friends who have similar interests and ideologies, for example. This might limit our thinking, but can it influence our behavior?

A 2016 study published in the Croatian Medical Journal explored the effects of filter bubble on the personal health information people saw online. For example, if someone has a network of friends that don’t believe in the effectiveness and safety of vaccinations, they might be more likely to search “vaccines and children” and receive search results that suggest vaccinations are dangerous. This also has the risk of reinforcing any preconceived notions, due to confirmation bias.

“The search history, social network, personal preferences, geography and a number of other factors influence the information found by the searcher,” study author Harald Holone wrote in a summary of his findings.

Given the fact there is so much information online, we may have the illusion that we are exposed to a range of ideas when really we’re building a virtual echo chamber for ourselves. And due to the addictive nature of technology, it’s difficult to escape the filter bubble without a conscious effort. Some people have actively tried to counter itby collecting Facebook friends with opposing viewpoints and liking pages that don’t interest them.

5. It collects information about you that can be used to influence you later.
Related to the filter bubble concept, all web and social platform users are familiar with how targeted advertising works. You Google something, look for a product on Amazon, put an item in your virtual shopping cart, browse flight booking options — then, maybe hours or even weeks later, you see an ad for whatever you were eyeing earlier.

It’s pretty clear what’s happening here: Sellers are trying to influence your decision to buy. There are ways to get around this type of targeting, from adjusting your Facebook settingsto clicking on individual ads and specifying that you wish not to see ads of that nature. Or, you can install an ad blocker to spare yourself all together.

Related: The Shocking Lessons I Learned After I Quit My Social Media Addiction in 3 Days in the Desert

Increasingly, people are worried that their information might be used for more than just selling them stuff. In March 2018, news surfaced of a data breach that resulted in data of about 50 million Facebook users getting into the hands of voter-targeting consultancy Cambridge Analytica. Because Cambridge Analytica had ties to the Trump campaign prior to the 2016 election, some suspect that data may have been harnessed to sway voters via targeted political messaging.

Regardless of how the data was used, the revelation has prompted Facebook to crack down on third-party developers’ access to user data, clarify privacy settings and cut off the use of data from third-party aggregators to supplement its own ad targeting.

6. It keeps serving up the next thing.
Social media feeds allow users to scroll endlessly, but that’s only one example of the never-ending waterfall of information that users encounter online. After watching a video on Netflix, Facebook or another site that hosts video content, you’ll often see a countdown with a preview of another video that will autoplay after a few seconds. This tactic serves to keep you engaged and watching something new, even when you don’t intend to.

Even Entrepreneur.com autoplays videos after one finishes. Content creators and distributors naturally want you to keep reading and watching. That’s also why we have links to other stories on article pages.

Usually, these options are related to the first piece of content a user consumed, algorithmically generated or hand-picked because they are likely to be relevant to someone based on the content they selected initially.

Some content providers have learned over time that there is a limit to the effectiveness of autoplay, when it happens right out the gate. Overwhelmingly, users respond negatively when videos autoplay (especially with sound on) if they haven’t yet opted in to watch on say, a page they’ve visited with the goal of reading an article. Many are moving away from this model, driven by video advertising, which bombards users and often drives them away.

7. It shortens your attention span.
“Ten years ago, before the iPad and iPhone were mainstream, the average person had an attention span of about 12 seconds,” said Adam Alter, the author of Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked, in an interview with NPR’s Fresh Air. “Research suggests that there’s been a drop from 12 to eight seconds … shorter than the attention of the average goldfish, which is nine seconds.”

Alter is not the only one to observe this phenomenon. Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, preceded his book with a 2008 Atlanticarticle in which he explained, “My mind now expects to take in information the way the net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.”

Because there is so much to see online, with hyperlinks, notifications and the mere existence other sites and apps, distractions are hard to resist. Tweets, then a maximum of 140 characters (and today a still brief 280), are easily skimmable, and posts on other social media platforms are often equally digestible at first glance.

We’re neurologically programmed to seek the pleasure or reward of new bite-sized pieces of content provide, which causes us to enter a “dopamine loop,” behavioral psychologist Susan Weinschenk explains in Psychology Today. “When you bring up the feed on one of your favorite apps the dopamine loop has become engaged,” Weinschenk writes. “With every photo you scroll through, headline you read or link you go to, you are feeding the loop which just makes you want more. It takes a lot to reach satiation, and in fact you might never be satisfied. Chances are what makes you stop is that someone interrupts you.”

8. It can trick you into thinking it’s something more.
In the movie Her, Joaquin Phoenix’s character, Theodore, falls in love with his virtual assistant, Samantha. But this phenomenon isn’t confined to science fiction. Humans have the potential to form relationships with artificially intelligent personas. Even if we know we’re not talking to a real person when we’re typing back and forth with a chatbot, for example, if the AI seems sophisticated or real enough, our minds might get tricked into interacting with it as if it were.

Liesl Yearsley sold her machine-learned powered virtual assistant startup Cognea to IBM Watson in 2014. As she writes for MIT Technology Review, because of the always-on, helpful nature of AI, people tend to perceive assistants as loyal and trusted companions, engaging in lengthy conversations and sharing personal details. She and her team built assistants with different objectives coded into their interactions with humans, e.g. boosting sales.

Related: Future Technology Will Bring Terrifying Prospects You Can Innovate Against

“The giant companies at the forefront of AI — across social media, search, and ecommerce — drive the value of their shares by increasing traffic, consumption and addiction to their technology,” Yearsley writes. “They do not have bad intentions, but the nature of capital markets may push us toward AI hell-bent on influencing our behavior toward these goals.”

Speaking of the blurry line between humans and AI, ethicists have explored questions such as whether it’s OK to inflict violence on robots.

9. It turns everyday actions into games.
Gamifying certain behaviors is a powerful way to incentivize people to engage in them. Think of how fitness apps encourage you to set goals, compare your performance to other users and congratulate you when you hit milestones. Or, how brands you shop with remind you about the number of loyalty points you’ve accumulated and entice you with the next reward you’re eligible to unlock.

Then, there’s gamification as it pertains to work. For example, ride-hailing apps such as Uber manipulate drivers, who are independent contractors and don’t have scheduled shifts, to stay on the road longer. When a driver is about to log off, Uber will sometimes push them a notification that they may be eligible for a pay bonus if they continue shepherding customers for a bit longer. In the past, it’s offered tiered bonuses to drivers who complete a certain number of rides on busy nights such as Halloween or New Year’s Eve.

Uber also issues praise such as “Above and Beyond” to drivers who perform well based on rider feedback, according to The New York Times. The Times also reported that Uber has “experimented with video game techniques, graphics and non-cash rewards of little value that can prod drivers into working longer and harder — and sometimes at hours and locations that are less lucrative for them.”

Uber is just one gig worker platform that uses gamification tactics to incentivize its workers. Instacart, Postmates and DoorDash — other platforms that rely on gig workers — offer performance metrics and other information designed to incentivize output.

10. It changes how we communicate.
Technology is a double-edged sword, in many ways. It distracts us, but it also gives us access to information and allows us to communicate globally and efficiently. The same goes for its implications for how we communicate. The ability to type quickly and distribute our ideas via the web makes mass communication possible to any individual with an internet connection. Social media helps us maintain communication with friends and family who live far away, or helps us establish relationships with people with common interests or potential collaborators we wouldn’t otherwise know.

But some research has shown that the more a person uses technology to communicate, the greater anxiety they experience when it’s time for a face-to-face interaction. Some parents raising children in the smartphone and tablet era limit their kids’ “screen time,” because they believe emerging research that shows that speech and language development hinges on everyday human interactions.

Then there’s the concept of “phubbing” — snubbing an in-person companion by looking at your phone. A 2016 study published in Computers in Human Behavior found that 17 percent of smartphone users “phub” four times a day. More recently, a 2018 Journal of Applied Social Psychology study revealed that when people get phubbed, they perceived the quality of their communication and relationship with the phubber to be negatively affected. This was because getting phubbed reduced their sense of belonging.

Automation Is Not Tomorrow — It’s Today

Automation Is Not Tomorrow -- It's Today

“The future is right now — it’s just unevenly distributed.”  — William Gibson

I am writing from inside the tech bubble to let you know that we are coming for your jobs.

I recently met a pair of old friends for drinks in Manhattan. One is an executive who works at a software company in New York. They replace call center workers with artificial intelligence software. I asked her whether she believed her work would result in job losses. She responded matter-of-factly, “We are getting better and better at things that will make large numbers of workers extraneous. And we will succeed. There needs to be a dramatic reskilling of the workforce, but that’s not going to be practical for a lot of people. It’s impossible to avoid a lost generation of workers.” Her confidence in this assessment was total. The conversation then quickly shifted to more pleasant topics.

Related: The How-To: Using Chatbots As A Tool For Customer Service

I later met with a friend who’s a Boston-based venture capitalist. He told me he felt “a little uneasy” about investing in software and robotics companies that, if successful, would eliminate large numbers of jobs. “But they’re good opportunities,” he noted, estimating that 70 percent of the startups he’s seeing will contribute to job losses in other parts of the economy.

In San Francisco, I had breakfast with an operations manager for a large tech company. He told me, “I just helped set up a factory that had 70 percent fewer workers than one even a few years ago would have had, and most of them are high-end technicians on laptops. I have no idea what normal people are going to do in a few years.”

Normal people. Seventy percent of Americans consider themselves part of the middle class. Chances are, you do, too. Right now some of the smartest people in the country are trying to figure out how to replace you with an overseas worker, a cheaper version of you or, increasingly, a widget, software program or robot. There’s no malice in it. The market rewards business leaders for making things more efficient. Efficiency doesn’t love normal people. It loves getting things done in the most cost-effective way possible.

A wave of automation and job loss is no longer a dystopian vision of the future — it’s well underway. The numbers have been telling a story for a while now that we have been ignoring. More and more people of prime working age have been dropping out of the workforce. There’s a growing mass of the permanently displaced. Automation is accelerating to a point where it will soon threaten our social fabric and way of life.

Experts and researchers project an unprecedented wave of job destruction coming with the development of artificial intelligence, robotics, software and automation. The Obama White House published a report in December 2016 that predicted 83 percent of jobs where people make less than $20 per hour will be subject to automation or replacement. Between 2.2 and 3.1 million car, bus and truck driving jobs in the U.S. will be eliminated by the advent of self-driving vehicles.

Read that last sentence again: The government is confident that between 2 and 3 million Americans who drive vehicles for a living will lose their jobs in the next 10 to 15 years. Driving a truck is the most common occupation in 29 states. Self-driving vehicles are one of the most obvious job-destroying technologies, but there are similar innovations ahead that will displace cashiers, fast-food workers, customer service representatives, administrative assistants and even well-paid white-collar jobs like wealth managers, lawyers and insurance agents, all within the span of a few short years. Suddenly out of work, millions will struggle to find a new job, particularly those at the lower end of the skill ladder.

Automation has already eliminated about 4 million manufacturing jobs in the U.S. since 2000. Instead of finding new jobs, a lot of those people left the workforce and didn’t come back. The U.S. labor force participation rate is now at only 62.9 percent, a rate below that of nearly all other industrialized economies and about the same as that of El Salvador and the Ukraine. Some of this is driven by an aging population, which presents its own set of problems, but much of it is driven by automation and a lower demand for labor.

labor-participation-rate

Each 1 percent decline in the labor participation rate equates to approximately 2.5 million Americans dropping out. The number of working-age Americans who aren’t in the workforce has surged to a record 95 million. Ten years into the nation’s recovery from the financial crisis and 95 million working-age Americans not in the workforce — I’ve taken to calling this phenomenon The Great Displacement.

Related: Learning to Work With Robots Is How You Can Save Your Job

The lack of mobility and growth has created a breeding ground for political hostility and social ills. High rates of unemployment and underemployment are linked to an array of social problems, including substance abuse, domestic violence, child abuse and depression. Today 40 percent of American children are born outside of married households, due in large part to the crumbling marriage rate among working-class adults, and overdoses and suicides have overtaken auto accidents as leading causes of death. More than half of American households already rely on the government for direct income in some form. In some parts of the U.S., 20 percent of working age adults are now on disability, with increasing numbers citing mood disorders. What Americans who cannot find jobs find instead is despair. If you care about communities and our way of life, you care about people having jobs.

This is the most pressing economic and social issue of our time; our economy is evolving in ways that will make it more and more difficult for people with lower levels of education to find jobs and support themselves. Soon, these difficulties will afflict the white-collar world. It’s a boiling pot getting hotter one degree at a time. And we’re the frog.

In my role as Founder of Venture for America, I spent the past six years working with hundreds of startups across the country in cities like Detroit, New Orleans, Cincinnati, Providence, Cleveland, Baltimore, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Birmingham, Columbus, Pittsburgh, San Antonio, Charlotte, Miami, Nashville, Atlanta and Denver. Some of these places were bustling industrial centers in the late 19th and 20th centuries only to find themselves faced with population loss and economic transition as the 20th century wound down. Venture for America trains young aspiring entrepreneurs to work at startups in cities like these to generate job growth. We’ve had many successes. But the kinds of jobs created tend to be very specific; every business I worked with will hire the very best people it can find — particularly startups. When entrepreneurs start companies and expand, they generally aren’t hiring a down-on-his-or-her-luck worker in need of a break. They are hiring the strongest contributors with the right mix of qualities to help an early-stage company succeed. Most jobs in a startup essentially require a college degree. That excludes 68 percent of the population right there. And some of these companies are lifting further inefficiencies out of the system — reducing jobs in other places even while hiring their own new workers.

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There’s a scene in Ben Horowitz’s book The Hard Things about Hard Things in which he depicts the CEO of a company meeting with his two lieutenants. The CEO says to one of them, “You’re going to do everything in your power to make this deal work.” Then he turns to the other and says, “Even if he does everything right, it’s probably not going to work. Your job is to fix it.” That’s where we’re at with the American economy. Unprecedented advances are accelerating in real time and wreaking havoc on lives and communities around the country, particularly on those least able to adapt and adjust.

We must do all we can to reduce the worst effects of the Great Displacement — it should be the driving priority of corporations, government and non-profits for the foreseeable future. We should invest in education, job training and placement, apprenticeships, relocation, entrepreneurship and tax incentives — anything to help make hiring and retaining workers appealing. And then we should acknowledge that, for millions of people, it’s not going to work.

In the U.S. we want to believe that the market will resolve most situations. In this case, the market will not solve the problem — quite the opposite. The market is driven to reduce costs. It will look to find the cheapest way to perform tasks. The market doesn’t want to provide for unemployed truck drivers or cashiers. Uber is going to get rid of its drivers as soon as it can. Its job isn’t to hire lots of people — its job is to move customers around as efficiently as possible. The market will continue to throw millions of people out of the labor force as automation and technology improve. In order for society to continue to function and thrive when tens of millions of Americans don’t have jobs, we will need to rethink the relationship between work and being able to pay for basic needs. And then, we will have to determine ways to convey the psychic and social benefits of work in other ways.

There is really only one entity — the federal government — that can realistically reformat society in ways that will prevent large swaths of the country from becoming jobless zones of derelict buildings and broken people. Non-profits will be at the frontlines of fighting the decline, but most of their activities will be like Band-Aids on top of an infected wound. State governments are generally hamstrung with balanced budget requirements and limited resources.

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Even if they don’t talk about it in public, many technologists themselves fear a backlash. My friends in Silicon Valley want to be positive, but many are buying bunkers and escape hatches just in case. One reason that solutions are daunting to even my most optimistic friends is that, while their part of the American economy is flourishing, little effort is being made to distribute the gains from automation and reverse the decline in opportunities. To do so would require an active, stable, invigorated unified federal government willing to make large bets. This, unfortunately, is not what we have. We have an indebted state rife with infighting, dysfunction and outdated ideas and bureaucracies from bygone eras, along with a populace that cannot agree on basic facts like vote totals or climate change. Our politicians offer half-hearted solutions that will at best nibble at the edges of the problem. The budget for Research and Development in the Department of Labor is only $4 million. We have a 1960s-era government that has few solutions to the problems of 2018.

This must change if our way of life is to continue. We need a revitalized, dynamic government to rise to the challenge posed by the largest economic transformation in the history of mankind.

The above may sound like science fiction to you. But you’re reading this with a supercomputer in your pocket (or reading it on the supercomputer itself) and Donald Trump was elected president. Doctors can fix your eyes with lasers, but your local mall just closed. We are living in unprecedented times. The future without jobs will come to resemble either the cultivated benevolence of Star Trek or the desperate scramble for resources of Mad Max. Unless there is a dramatic course correction, I fear we are heading toward the latter.

Related: Emerging Ethical Concerns In the Age of Artificial Intelligence

Our society has already been shaped by large-scale changes in the economy due to technological advances. It turns out that Americans have been dealing with the lack of meaningful opportunities by getting married less and becoming less and less functional. The fundamental message is that we are already on the edge of dystopia, with hundreds of thousands of families and communities being pushed into oblivion.

Education and retraining won’t address the gaps; the goalposts are now moving and many affected workers are well past their primes. We need to establish an updated form of capitalism — I call it Human-Centered Capitalism or Human Capitalism for short — to amend our current version of institutional capitalism that will lead us toward ever-increasing automation accompanied by social ruin. We must make the market serve humanity rather than have humanity continue to serve the market. We must simultaneously become more dynamic and more empathetic as a society. We must change and grow faster than most think possible.

When the next downturn hits, hundreds of thousands of people will wake up to do their jobs only to be told that they’re no longer needed. Their factory or retail store or office or mall or business or truck stop or agency will close. They will look for another job and, this time, they will not find one. They will try to keep up a brave face, but the days and weeks will pass and they will become more and more defeated. They will almost always blame themselves for their lot. They will say things like, “I wish I’d applied myself more in school,” or “I should have picked another job.” They’ll burn through their meager savings. Their family lives and communities will suffer. Some will turn to substance abuse or watch too much TV. Their health will slip — the ailments they’ve been working through will seem twice as painful. Their marriages will fail. They will lose their sense of self-worth. Their physical environments will decay around them and their loved ones will become reminders of their failure.

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For every displaced worker, there will be two or three others who have their shifts and hours reduced, their benefits cut and their already precarious financial lives pushed to the brink. They will try to consider themselves lucky even as their hopes for the future dim.

Meanwhile, in Manhattan and Silicon Valley and Washington D.C., my friends and I will be busier than ever fighting to stay current and climb within our own hypercompetitive environments. We will read articles with concern about the future and think about how to redirect our children to more fertile professions and livelihoods. We will retweet something and contribute here and there. We will occasionally reflect on the fates of others and shake our heads, determined to be among the winners in whatever the new economy brings.

The logic of the meritocracy is leading us to ruin, because we are collectively primed to ignore the voices of the millions getting pushed into economic distress by the grinding wheels of automation and innovation. We figure they’re complaining or suffering because they’re losers.

We need to break free of this logic of the marketplace before it’s too late.

We must reshape and accelerate society to bring us all to higher ground. We must find new ways to organize ourselves independent of the values that the marketplace assigns to each and every one of us.

As Bismarck said, “If revolution there is to be, let us rather undertake it not undergo it.” Society will change either before or after the revolution. I choose before.

We are more than the numbers on our paychecks — and we are going to have to prove it very quickly.

Common Mistakes That Can Prove to Be Detrimental for Jewellery Designers in Online Business

Common Mistakes That Can Prove to Be Detrimental for Jewellery Designers in Online Business

The jewellery industry has been flourishing. Jewellery designers are creating their presence online as the digital world is growing and the customer base is shifting to online buying. So the jewellery designer needs to pay more attention towards online business. However, there are some common mistakes jewellery designers make in online business.

Related : Why Indian Jewellery Designs are Famous in International Market

Inconsistent or Bad Photography

Visual images of your designs are your best marketing tool for online business. Consistent, quality photographs are a key to looking not only professional but also making more sales online and off.  Having great photos is the first gateway to get a buyer to notice your work. A quality image of jewellery, will not only make the product itself look great, it will give a high-quality impression of your entire brand, particularly if all the images have a unique and consistent “personality” or “look and feel”. Strong marketing images have uses far beyond your website. Instagram and Pinterest are popular social media networks that are built around visuals. So invest in top photography and consider it as an investment that will return your money back in sales.

Related : #7 Trends That Will Shape the Jewellery Industry in 2018

Not Investing in a Website

Third party websites like can be an awesome place to get sales and traffic. However, nothing beats having your own branded website. It provides legitimacy for your brands allows you to capture prospects or leads and creates a place for people to learn more about the brand resulting in more sales over time. Most jewellery designers know little about web design and web marketing. This often leads to a failure to understand the true costs of running a successful website. You should look on a website as bricks and mortar shop. Would you hire a teenager to decorate your new shop for a couple of hundred pounds? Or would you hire a professional shop outfitter and designer? If you needed the electrics refitted in your shop, would you choose the cheapest cash in hand tradesman going, or would you get someone reliable in to do the job? There is an old phrase: if you spend peanuts, you get monkeys. This is very applicable to website and e-commerce design. Quality does not come cheap, and if you can’t afford it, don’t do it.

Avoid Marketing Themselves and Magically Expect to be Found

So you had your amazing collection manufactured and you put it all up on your e-commerce platform. But no one is buying. This is because you aren’t marketing it. If you aren’t putting your jewellery brand out there, you can’t expect to get sales. Create a strategic marketing plan and always be marketing!

Related : How Technology Has Changed the Traditional Gems and Jewellery Industry

Not Using Integrated Payment Gateways

A payment gateway authorizes payments for retailers in all business categorizations. They ensure that sensitive information, such as credit card numbers, entered into a virtual terminal or on an E-commerce website, are passed securely from the customer to the merchant and from the merchant to the payment processor through the use of encryption. So not using integrated payment gateways makes it less user-friendly. Hence there can be a reduction in the customer base.

Not Maintaining a Social Media Presence

Social media gives brands an opportunity to directly engage with their customers. Strong and consistent social media presence is the key to a successful online business. Often you can find a brand sharing the same posts across all their accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google+ and Pinterest. Although each platform tends to have its own user base, you will find that most people have an account on all of them. Once they find that you post identical content across all social media, they will stop following you on all but one- resulting in you losing the outreach and engagement. Having a messy social media profiles with irregular, poorly thought-through posts leaves visitors with an impression of an unorganised and unprofessional company.

Boost Your Business Using Influencer and Referral Marketing

Boost Your Business Using Influencer and Referral Marketing

Influencer marketing has emerged from being just a trend to a widely preferred marketing channel because it is extremely effective. Influence is power and influencer marketing is an art of making and manipulating purchasing decisions of your customers.

According to a case study, businesses are making $6.50 for every $1 spent on influencer marketing. But what if I tell you there is something which can help you generate 5X or 10x your ROI from influencer marketing. Interesting right!!

Do you want to know how you can 10x your ‘Influencer marketing’ and make an automated marketing pipeline that reaches millions by itself? If yes, then please keep reading…

Every Intelligent marketer knows that people trust recommendations for buying and trying new products and this is the reason Influencer marketing is so effective. You can 5x or even 10x this social effect by using referral marketing.

There are 3 basic and important things every business needs to succeed-

1.) Increased revenue

2.) Reduced cost

3.) A larger market share.

Your business too can achieve all of the above by opting for an influencer promoted referral campaign. Follow the 5 steps below to create a perfect influencer referral campaign and make thousands of brand ambassadors for your brand.

Set Things Up

You will need to set up some features and tools in your online store or landing page before you start to plan your campaign.

What will you need:-

1. Influencer Outreach and Tracking Software. – You can use any influencer marketing software for your campaign to find influencers. This will make it easier for you to find out influencers and track ROI.

2. Referral Marketing Platform. – This is a mandatory requirement for this type of a campaign. You should have a referral system in your online store or website. This will help you keep a track and incentivize your referrer.

Define Your Goals

Always begin by keeping the end goal in mind. Different people have different goals depending on their product and Niche. For Example, someone who is selling event passes for a dog show may have a goal of creating awareness and creating buzz among people. On the other hand, someone who is selling pet food may have a goal of getting positive reviews and referrals from it.

A properly planned and optimized Influencer campaign drives the interaction of multiple audiences with your brand/product.

Since you have an Influencer and referral system now, let’s prepare your campaign.

Develop a story

Influencer marketing is all about stories and magic that your product will offer to the influencer’s audience. Always remember that people follow an Influencer because their content adds value to them.

If you want to rock in influencer marketing, make sure that your product adds value to the content you create for or with the Influencer. The best marketing does not feel like marketing, it feels like magic.

The best way to do that is by allowing the influencer to be himself or herself and add your product to that piece of content in a very organic way.

Offer an Influencer Exclusive Promotion.

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This is the best way to increase brand awareness. Proposing an influencer exclusive offer or promo code will connect your brand to an influencer. People will always think of your brand or product when they interact with any of the other posts of that influencer. This is like retargeting your consumer mindset.

Plan your Referral Campaign

5th step is to plan your referral campaign, which you will promote through the Influencer. Here you can incentivize (with a gift card or a free bonus product) or give discounts (Example refer 1 friend and get 10% off) to people who share your product to their friends and family.

The second thing you can do is to make the audience create content by creating a contest or a giveaway. The more the people create content about your product, the better the sales number. As the consumers trust recommendations from their friends and are aware of celebrity endorsements, it works like magic.

This how you used both the influencer as well as the audience of the influencer to promote your brand/product/service. This is how you can create a marketing machine. Now, this marketing funnel will multiply itself until you are running your influencer exclusive special promotion.

Key Takeaways

1. Always remember above everything, marketers must Know that any word-of-mouth campaign begins with a great product and convenient customer service.

2. To make an influencer of your customer into your brand’s ambassador, you must have a great referral marketing plan that is built on your overall marketing plan

3. Authenticity is meaningful. Your customer should feel the need of having a conversation with your brand. Make your customer satisfied with your product or service

12 Odd Jobs That Pay Surprisingly Well

If you’re looking for a high-paying job, don’t overlook some of the oddest ones. They’re the jobs you aren’t likely to hear mentioned at a dinner party when someone asks, “What do you do?” You meet bankers or teachers or lawyers every day, but how many cruise ship entertainers or woodworkers do you know?

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GOBankingRates rounded up some unusual jobs that pay pretty well for the right person.

If you have the required skills, you might want to choose one of these weird jobs.

3 Things You May Not Have Heard About Taking Risks

3 Things You May Not Have Heard About Taking Risks

In 2014, Mark Zuckerberg invested $2 billion in the startup virtual reality (VR) platform, Oculus. Observers, including the media, expected that Facebook would reap the same high ROI it had recorded on Instagram and Whatsapp. However,the company’s investment resulted in a downturn of fortune.

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In fact, CNBC called Facebook’s $2 billion investment in VR “one of Mark Zuckerberg’s rare mistakes.” And the business site had reasons for making that assertion: Oculus didn’t generate much buzz. And Facebook lowered the prices of its products to make it more attractive to buyers — but to no avail.

Nobody seemed to want VR — at least Oculus’s version.

However, this misstep wasn’t unique to Zuckerberg. While Oculus still exists, Altspace VR, which ran one of the most popular social VR experiences, actually closed operations because of the slow growth of the VR market.

It’s almost difficult to believe that Altspace VR once raised $10 million in funds.

So, why did Zuckerberg knowingly take the risk to invest in something consumers were clearly not ready for? Was it overconfidence? Was CNBC right that Zuckerberg had made a mistake?

“The middle name of entrepreneurship”

Taking risks is the middle name of entrepreneurship. Most successful entrepreneurs, at some point, are seen as daring or even downright crazy. But it’s those risks that have taken businesses to where they are today.

You too may be questioning your ability to take risks and how they will affect your standing as an entrepreneur. However, you may need to face those risks head-on to be successful.

Related: 5 Things Every Entrepreneur Should Know About Risk-Taking

The reason why most people shy away from risks is that they are not well-informed about what risk-taking entails. Fortunately, here are three things they — and you — should know that may change your mind about risk-taking forever.

1. Risks are not taken at a whim

Many assume that when the occasion demands it, the typical perpetual risk-taker jumps in without thinking. But that’s far from the truth. Risk-taking requires careful thought, planning and hard work. Nothing is achieved by accident.

As entrepreneurship professor Leonard Green told Forbes, “Entrepreneurs are not risk-takers. They are calculated risk takers.” In short, they move toward their goals, learn along the way, make adjustments where necessary and take action.

Green calls this the “Act. Learn. Build. Repeat” model. Careful preparation is what makes these people stand out from other so-called risk-takers.

Down the road, as lessons are learned, backup plans can be set up to help minimize risks. For example, on its own, an online business comes with a lot of risks. One of those risks, an article on Quttera pointed out, is what it called “brute force attack. A real entrepreneur would have factored in and disarmed such risks, instead of shying away from what might prove to be a lucrative venture. That’s why smart entrepreneurs protect their businesses with different forms of insurance covers.

2. No matter what the outcome, risks almost always yield dividend.

Successful risk-takers look at the long-term gains while others consider the losses. Such risk-takers don’t measure gains ibkt in monetary terms. For them, “gains” also include valuable lessons learned from failure.

So, whether their risky venture turns out well or not, they win both ways. They either make millions or they learn something that’s worth millions.

For example, Zuckerberg knew the risk he was taking when decided to invest in VR. VR was a foreign concept at the time, and basically untried. But the Facebook founder dived in, nonetheless, because he recognized VR’s potential.

In other people’s view, the investment in Oculus was a failure, but Zuckerberg saw the long-term gains. He was confident that in about five or 10 years VR would “get to where we all want to go.” That was his thought about how the VR industry would evolve and he seems to have been right.

Adrian Chan, head of marketing at ImmVRse, a Blockchain-VR platform, told Medium: “When Zuckerberg invested billions into a VR Startup in 2014, very few people believed in the potential of virtual reality. We have recently witnessed multiple milestones being reached in the development of VR, with technology giants swiftly moving into the industry, as Oculus Rift, Samsung VR and HTC Vive were all released last year. Suddenly everyone wants a piece of the pie.”

In fact, Forbes recently released a list of five ways VR is making higher profits.

3. Feel the fear but do it anyway.

You may have planned everything or have a backup in place, but for some reason, something still is keeping you from taking action. That force is fear, and it’s so strong that you can feel paralyzed.

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The truth is that daring entrepreneurs feel afraid, too. They also feel doubtful and overwhelmed at times. Therefore, the only thing that sets them apart from others may be that while they feel the fear of the risks they’re about to take, that doesn’t stop them from taking action anyway.

5 Success Tips for the Serial Entrepreneur Entering a New Industry

5 Success Tips for the Serial Entrepreneur Entering a New Industry

The term “serial entrepreneur” isn’t very common in business circles, but I believe that some people are built for that kind of practice. A serial entrepreneur is an entrepreneur who continuously comes up with new ideas and starts new businesses. As opposed to a typical entrepreneur, who will often come up with a single idea, start the company, then see it through and play an important role in the day-to-day functioning of said company.

A serial entrepreneur will often come up with an idea and get things started, but then give responsibility to someone else and move on to a new idea and a new venture. This would have been a very bad practice in the days when the old cliché held sway, “a Jack of all trades is master of none.” In my opinion I think the 21st century has become “the century of the Jacks.”

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As a serial entrepreneur myself, I know how challenging it is to leave the comfort of a thriving business and step out into the icy cold waters of starting a business again, much less in a different industry. However, in 2017, I decided to stop suppressing all my new and unique ideas and just get on with it. Here are a few indispensable tools to help anyone out there with the same tendencies.

1. Work with people and partners.

This is perhaps the most important piece of advice I will give to anyone who is intending to go into areas of business that excite them, but that they are not particularly gifted in. As a lawyer and entrepreneur, I started my jump into entrepreneurship by leaping into property management, which was vaguely related to my job as a lawyer, so I was safe and had sufficient knowledge to run the business.

Sometime last year, I began toying with the idea of starting a business in the food industry. I am not a very good cook, and I know nothing about baking or confectioneries. All I had was a keen interest in the vast potential of the business in my vicinity and a few ideas about how I could make money from it.

Since I had no practical knowledge, I partnered up with someone who was doing the same thing on a much smaller scale, and we launched a food line. I funded the business kickoff, and he started managing the business itself. A good entrepreneur will do well in any business once he has the right people around him, either as partners or employees. You hold on to your knowledge of business and work with people of skill in the areas of your interest.

2. Pay others and utilize platforms.

If you are like me and refuse to let go of the thriving business while moving into new territory, then you need this key to survive. The internet revolution has created a lot of ease within different industries. Platforms and freelancers are now fast becoming the norm, especially in areas like marketing and social media management.

Related: Is the Gig Economy Killing the 9-to-5 Job? No, But It’s Giving It a Run for Its Money.

However, the proliferation of the internet has also severely digitalized business processes and few people are thinking of employing full time IT staff at the start of a new business.

A plethora of platforms run by companies and freelancers will help you position and market your business for a minimal fee. I found resources like Yelp especially useful for creating some positive social review that customers can refer and add to.

A few resources have also received positive reviews by business leaders. Resources like MOGUL offer you an amazing showcasing platform. Accounting platforms like Quickbooks and online firms like Pushdigits have a proven track record in the accounting and bookkeeping industry, while resources like Program Ace have had consistent success in utilizing iOT and AI to help businesses remain relevant in an increasingly digitalized business space.

Creating a Linkedin company page will significantly increase your reach with clients/customers. There is really no need for you to do everything yourself. The advantage is that starting a new business may not take as much attention away from your already existing business.

AI and social media marketing are all the rage these days. The time for excuses is gone, and the era of the serial entrepreneur is really here.

3. Prepare for surprises, and develop a thick skin.

Starting a new business can be draining, and I won’t kid you into thinking it is easy. It implies getting into uncharted territory. I have learned that while asking questions and market surveys are very important, they will never reveal the full extent of the unique challenges that you are going to face.

I started my food venture by doing a market survey of business prospects. I asked questions and got a feel of how much it would cost me to launch the product, but no one told me that the ancillary costs would be almost as much as the substantive cost. No one told me how sluggish contracted professionals in that field could be and how much their sloppiness would cost me. I had to take it on the chin and keep going, business hazards and all.

4. Do different things or do things differently.

If you are going to start a new business, you need to make sure you make a statement. The thing with ideas is that no one really owns them. I remember walking into a store to introduce my product last year. I was so psyched that it was a unique product. Halfway into my conversation with the manager, she pointed to a product on display behind me and asked “something like that?”

Needless to say, I had to go back and work on the uniqueness of my product before introducing it to the market. Every serial entrepreneur has to deal with some level of divided focus; you need to make sure that it is over something worth it and not something too familiar.

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5. Create firm structures to maintain focus.

I have always been a bit of a do-it-yourself person. I found it really difficult to employ a manager in my business, and so I found it hard to start a new business. I always wanted to be in control. However, one of the inevitable lessons every serial entrepreneur must learn is how to delegate.

Delegation is the number one strategy for success in serial entrepreneurship. Find people you trust, or learn to trust the people you have. Find people with similar values and drive, and give them a chance to flounder and learn.

You need to create systems that allow you time to develop new ideas and implementation strategies. It often means that a chunk of your profits go into salaries, but if serial entrepreneurship and building an empire is what you really want to do, then it’s a sacrifice you have to be willing to make.

The 21st century and technology has not just made serial entrepreneurship possible, it has made it appealing.

Turning Rejection Into Triumph: How Sarah Michelle Gellar and Her Co-Founders Built a New Baking Brand

Turning Rejection Into Triumph: How Sarah Michelle Gellar and Her Co-Founders Built a New Baking Brand

“I need to make a decision on this,” says Sarah Michelle Gellar.

Her two co-founders, Galit Laibow and Greg Fleishman, stop chatting and join in. It’s mid-November, and they’re standing in the center of their Los Angeles startup office: a converted garage half a block from a pot dispensary, with two rows of desks in the back, a shared office-slash-conference room for the co-founders up front and the words what’s up batches?! towering above a kitchen in the middle. This is Foodstirs, their baking-mix company, and in a week’s time, Gellar is going to be on Harry Connick Jr.’s show, Harry, promoting their products by baking…something. But what? That’s the decision.

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The next minute is rapid-fire: The trio seem to seek consensus largely by talking over each other, excitedly and animatedly, as if advancing a collective thought.

Gellar: “I think we have to do gingerbread –”

Fleishman: “It’s the presell into Christmas –”

Laibow: “So gingerbread and –”

OK; go ahead and say it: Celebrity-endorsed baking mixes? This is a company worth taking seriously? It wouldn’t be the first time people dismissed or insulted Foodstirs — even to the founders’ faces. Foodstirs was dissed by countless investors. Retailers. Suppliers. Gellar found that some industry types pooh-poohed the company because of her involvement in it. (In case her identity needs explaining: Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Cruel Intentions. Ask anyone alive in the ’90s.) “If we took no for an answer, this company wouldn’t have existed,” says Laibow, the company’s CEO. “They’d say, ‘Cute little baking brand! Oh, that’s great. Not for us.’ ”

Then her tone turns stern, as if admonishing an investor still in the room: “No. It’s a big idea.”

The big idea is this: There’s a hole in the $26.8 billion baking-mix and prepared-­foods category, and it can be filled by a product that uses high-quality ingredients but sells at a mass-market price, and focuses as much on the food as on the family-fun experience of making it. It’s a concept that Fleishman, who’s spent his career in retail, from Kashi to Coca-Cola, calls “an idea hiding in plain sight.” While others rolled their eyes, Foodstirs aggressively built a supply chain, placed product in more than 7,500 stores (plus, starting in April, a special “one-minute mug cake” in 8,000 Starbucks) and honed a story and a message that’s won over investors. The cute little baking brand is, in fact, a story of keen strategy and resilience.

So back to the decision. After some debate, the team decide to squeeze two separate items onto their Harry spot. First, gingerbread men. Then, a “Foodstirs after dark” adult treat — balls made with white cake mix, eggnog and cake-flavored vodka, for when the kids go to bed. “The whole idea behind all of it is repeat business,” Gellar says. By making something unexpected with a baking mix on TV, they’re reminding customers of how versatile their product is. A cake mix is not just for cake.

Two hours later, Foodstirs’ head chef has formulated a recipe and executed the first batch. Gellar walks them into a branding meeting the team is about to have. “The Harry balls,” she announces. “Did you guys try the Harry balls? That’s what I’m going to call them, too. Harry’s going to love his balls.”

Can you say that on daytime television? It’s unclear. But Gellar seems determined to find out.

Image Credit: Photographed by David Yellen

The big idea started with Galit Laibow. She’d spent a career in public relations, but in 2011, while at home on maternity leave with her second child, she began imagining her kids asking what she does for a living. Her answer would have been, “I help people get on TV and sell their products.” Which suddenly felt empty. Their products? “I want something my kids can be involved in, too — something they can be proud of,” she says.

At the time, her older daughter had become obsessed with the Food Network. “And I thought, People really love this stuff,” Laibow says. “Cooking is such a big part of family, such a way for people to come together.” That was, truth be told, something she had only limited experience with. Her parents both worked full-time; there weren’t many gather-round-the-kitchen moments. Now that she was a parent, Laibow wasn’t baking much, either. But she began wanting it — not the baking, really, but the experience. The memories.

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That longing Laibow felt, industry analysts say, drives a phenomenon in the food industry today. There’s a rise of what we might call partial convenience — delivery not of fully cooked meals but rather of Blue Apron-style meal kits that are cooked at home. Why? Because consumers don’t have the time or the patience to make meals from scratch, but they feel guilty not putting in at least some effort — especially if they have kids. A Mintel research report recently found that 60 percent of adults say cooking is something they want to do, rather than need to do. It’s an echo of how the baking-mix industry began in the 1930s. The first mixes contained powdered egg, so the baker literally needed to only add water in order to make a cake. But consumers, it turned out, preferred cracking their own eggs. It made a cake seem fresher, and the product of their own effort. So mix manufacturers adjusted.

Laibow wondered if there was an opportunity to create, say, the Blue Apron of baking. And as she started doing research, she discovered that the baking-mix and prepared-­food industry is a crowded but fluid market. The four major players own only 20 percent of sales, according to IBISWorld; the rest is 1,000-plus small players. And as Laibow saw it, baking mixes largely split into two categories. There are the Betty Crocker types — giants too big or cautious to innovate, that use chemical ingredients, and that many people buy out of habit rather than loyalty. And then there are niche alternatives — gluten-free, paleo or some other specialty mixes, which tend to be expensive and unappetizing.

There was nothing in the middle, she realized — a brand that appeals to health-­conscious shoppers, experiments with flavors, sells at a mass-market price and is constantly innovating.

So Laibow set out to produce that middle, crafting mixes at home and testing them out on friends. Among them was Gellar, whose daughter went to the same preschool as Laibow’s. At the time, Gellar was filming a sitcom set in an ad agency called The Crazy Ones. “I spent a lot of time with these high-power business individuals who kept saying to me, ‘You need to do more,’” Gellar says. She’d thought that for a while, too. But do what? She didn’t know.

Then The Crazy Ones was canceled after one season, and Gellar took it as a wake-up call. She started talking seriously to Laibow about this baking company. The two took their kids out to a local store, bought some mixes and spent the day making sweets. “I went home to my husband and said, ‘I think this is the crossroads — like, this is what I’ve been waiting for,’” Gellar recalls. Then she told Laibow she wanted in, but not as a spokesperson. She wanted to be a co-founder, at the office every day.

“Can you commit for real?” Laibow asked.

“I can absolutely commit,” Gellar said.

In 2015, the two debuted Foodstirs as an ecommerce company. Consumers could subscribe, and baking kits would be mailed out every other month — everything you need to make, say, “movie night” cupcakes that look like bags of popcorn, or a bouquet of flower-shaped cookies. Retailers soon asked to stock Foodstirs on shelves, but Laibow and Gellar had no idea where to begin. Mutual friends connected them with Greg Fleishman, a veteran of the retail food scene.

Fleishman, as it turns out, gets a lot of calls from founders looking for help. “I’ve met so many who have this great idea, but they’re friggin’ all over the map, or they want to work 9 to 5,” he says. So he long ago stopped evaluating just ideas and started evaluating founders. When he met Laibow and Gellar, he ran through his five-item checklist: 1. Are they visionary? 2. Strategic? 3. Creative? 4. Do they have a relentless work ethic? And finally, 5. Do they have situational awareness — which is to say, do they know what they don’t know?

“That’s such a critical component,” he says. “The idea that you could be so obsessed with your idea and your vision but still have the awareness to improve.” With these two women, he answered yes to all. “You want to be with A players. You want to be with Steph Currys,” he says. So he came on as co-founder and COO, and set about changing Foodstirs’ business model. Rather than rely on mailed-out mixes, they’d need to settle on a line of flavors, figure out how to produce them inexpensively and get them placed on store shelves across the country. That meant securing funding and forging great relationships with suppliers and retailers.

He began focusing on what he thought were Foodstirs’ strengths. Among them were some obvious standouts: a well-timed idea in an industry ripe for disruption, a product that’s easy to appreciate and in Gellar, an internationally recognized name. Each would turn out to be more complicated than he expected.


Entrepreneurs are trained to look for their “unfair advantage,” the element all competitors lack. At first, Gellar’s celebrity would have seemed to be just that. When Foodstirs came knocking, potential partners’ doors would swing open. But meetings tended to follow a pattern: Smiles. Nods. A #BuffySelfie request at the end — which, it seemed, was the reason they said yes to the meeting at all. Because no deal would follow.

Related: 3 Things You Need to Do to Grow Your Business Naturally

As Foodstirs came to learn, celebrity was a disadvantage for a lot of potential partners. “In my mind, I’ll be more skeptical if a celebrity gets pushed out in front of the brand,” says John Lawson, Northeast regional grocery buyer for Whole Foods, “because then I think the brand will take second place to the celebrity.” Others share his hesitancy.

For Gellar, who wanted to be taken seriously in this new line of work, the experience could be emotionally bruising. “The 20-year-old me would not be able to handle this life — the travel, the noes, the expectation of failure,” she says. “Even the misogyny. I mean, in my other career, I faced a fair amount as well, but it’s just at a different level. And I’m a little more sensitive to this because it feels more personal.” Once, for example, she was on CNBC talking about Foodstirs, and afterward people on set sweetly complimented her on how she talked business. She saw the moment for what it was: They’d expected her to be a ditz. “Sometimes I would ask Greg and Galit, ‘Is it easier without me?’” Gellar says.

That’s not an option, they’d say. Fleishman began bringing the team to investors he had connections to or had worked with before. But some of those investors said no, too. Some questioned whether Laibow — or as the Foodstirs team saw it, a woman — was fit to be CEO. A few even pulled Fleishman aside, trying to counsel him out of working with Foodstirs at all. These memories still make him fume. “I was personally appalled by the financial community,” he says. “I started reevaluating some of the people I knew.”

Yet the team kept at it, and they started seeing results after a few changes. They switched the kind of investors they went after. Fleishman first thought Foodstirs’ online-only subscription origins would
resonate with tech investors, but he then pivoted to investors in conventional packaged goods. Those people turned out to be far more understanding of Foodstirs’ marketplace — and would often hear about the product before they knew it was connected to Gellar. In that way, her celebrity seemed like a bonus on top of a big idea.

As time went on, the founders talked a lot about how best to tell their company story, and they homed in on that key insight of Laibow’s: Baking is a time to share with kids. They should always be leading with that. Surviving rejection also made them tighter, a team that moved in lockstep. That, it turned out, would be their unfair advantage — not one member’s celebrity but the trio as a whole. “When we start finishing each other’s sentences,” Fleishman says, “then they’re like, ‘Oh, this is the management team? They don’t seem ego-driven, they’re not arguing, they’re in sync.’ That cohesion leads to amazing ideas, and then amazing ideas being properly executed.”

That’s what jumped out at Filipp Chebotarev, COO and managing partner at the investment firm Cambridge Companies SPG. “They’re all on the same page, and they each bring a unique skill set,” he says. In Foodstirs, he saw “a new spin on a very established American pastime,” and he became Foodstirs’ largest investor.

Image Credit: Photographed by David Yellen

Consider the economics of an organic baking mix. As any Whole Foods shopper knows, organics are expensive — that’s because the raw materials are expensive and often come from small producers. Add in the cost of a distributor, Laibow says, and a Foodstirs mix could easily be $10. Which wouldn’t work. The goal was $5.99, low enough for the mass market.

So how does a little startup get its costs that low? “We learned we have to go direct to the source,” Laibow says. Most suppliers wouldn’t take Foodstirs’ calls, figuring the order sizes were too insignificant to deal with, so the team just kept calling. And calling. They found a fair-trade chocolate maker in Peru and repeatedly called until they agreed to take a meeting. (It didn’t hurt that Buffy was huge in Peru; a local newspaper reported Gellar’s arrival.) They repeated the trick with a biodynamic sugar supplier in Texas.

Related: How to Set Prices When You’re New in Business

Once in these meetings, the Foodstirs team tried to find ways to be useful. Their order sizes, at least at first, weren’t going to blow away suppliers. But what else could they offer? The answer: messaging.

“We’re like, ‘We’re going to help you,’” says Laibow, recalling the meeting with the sugar company. “We have this megaphone, we have this PR, we’ll bring a spotlight to what biodynamic is.” (It’s related to organic; among the differences, Laibow says, the sugar is so sweet that Foodstirs can use less of it per mix.)

Laibow won’t reveal how much her company saves by building these direct relationships but admits it’s “a lot.” With these two suppliers on board, Foodstirs could make a $5.99 mix. It began developing 10 of them for retail, including twists on old standards, like Brooklyn salted chocolate chip brownie or snickerdoodle blondie.

Once it was time to really push into stores, Foodstirs had its playbook ready: Meet in person. If a sales rep couldn’t get them a meeting, the founders reached out personally. Then for most of 2017, the trio traveled the country meeting retailers who were unaccustomed to company founders showing up in person. “You’re dealing with people who are used to the same old, same old,” Laibow says. Newness — not just in product but in approach — stuck out.

The tactic also impressed buyers who are inundated with attention. At Whole Foods, buyer John Lawson — the guy skeptical of brands with celebrities attached — was won over by the Foodstirs story. “If you can get parents and kids baking together with a mix,” he says, “the hope is the kids will take an interest in baking and go on to make a loaf of bread or cookies from scratch.” That makes Foodstirs a gateway to other Whole Foods products.

At Target, showing up in person helped make a critical upsell. The retailer had accepted a Foodstirs pumpkin pancake mix for a holiday display, but the Foodstirs team worried one product would get lost in that space. They wanted two. So they secured an hour meeting at Target’s Minneapolis office, flew there, went to a Target to buy a skillet (and then went back to Target because they forgot milk) and had Gellar bake the second product, pumpkin bread, right there at the meeting. Target’s people loved it and put it into its holiday display.

As these meetings went on, Gellar also made a personal adjustment. She began thinking about how her acting career prepared her for business, and she found plenty of useful, well-honed skills to work off. First, there’s the high tolerance for rejection — a must in either line of work. She also has an ability to read a room, refined through decades of auditions. When Gellar entered a potential partner’s office, she began scanning it for details. Did they have a wedding ring? Pictures of kids? Of a dog? She looked for some way to get personal fast. “Because if we connect, you’re more likely to connect to what I’m telling you,” she says.

Not long ago, the Foodstirs co-founders were at a meeting with a large retailer, and things were going really well. Gellar could sense it. If she spoke up now, she thought, she could ride the retailer’s enthusiasm toward something she’d never otherwise get — not at the end of the meeting, not tomorrow on the phone, never except for right now. “Great,” she said to the retailer’s executives, “so no slotting fees?”

Slotting fees — money paid to get a product on a shelf. Retailers rarely waive them. But this one did. It wasn’t because Gellar is an actress. It was because she knew when to act.

Image Credit: Photographed by David Yellen

At some point in the life span of every startup, co-founders must draw lines between them. He does this; she does that — a matter of efficiency. “I’ve been involved in building other brands, and they do hard-lining too early,” Fleishman says. It’s why he wanted this trio to do everything together at first: Their combination of perspectives helped spot opportunities that one “expert” might have missed.

It’s only now, two years in, that lines are being drawn. Fleishman says he prefers to let it happen organically — as a company grows, founders naturally find their strengths. His are sales and operations; Gellar’s and Laibow’s are marketing and product development, but they’ll never wall themselves off. “You want to be able to leverage all our expertise,” he says.

Related: 10 Blessings That Come Hidden in Rejection, Losing and Failure

Though sometimes, particularly with Gellar, decisions may come from the group, but the execution must happen alone. And so, a week after creating treats for the Harryshow in Los Angeles, she’s off to New York to appear in the studio.

When Gellar joined Foodstirs, she thought baking on television would be easy. You talk, you whisk, you eat; roll the credits. It’s not like she hadn’t been on TV a bazillion times before. “I should have practiced,” she says. “Now I tell everyone to practice.” Because actually, baking on television is crazy hard. In the time it takes to say “Roll the dough,” little to no dough has been rolled, which means there’s rolling to do while she must do something else — which is to entertain, while slipping in Foodstirs’ message. “And I’m still trying to not fuck up what I’m doing,” she says.

That’s why she now loves preparation. On a cold Thursday morning, she’s sitting in her dressing room as a Harry producer walks her through the segment she’s about to film. First, of course, they’ll make the gingerbread-man sandwiches.

The producer: “Then he’ll say, ‘All right, you brought one other treat. What’s this?’ And then –”

Gellar: “Harry’s balls. I will not call them Harry’s balls; don’t worry.”

Oh, did you forget about the Harry balls from the beginning of this story? Gellar didn’t. She’s been carrying around that joke all week. The producer doesn’t register it and continues the instructions, so it’s still not clear if this is something wise to say on daytime TV. A few minutes later, a small entourage — Gellar’s publicist, a friend, various hair and makeup people — walk down to a staging area so she can review the kitchen set. And a few minutes after that, the set is rolled out in front of a live audience, and she’s behind it with Connick Jr., who asks about her kids.

“Well, they were the inspiration for all this,” Gellar says, weaving in the Foodstirs narrative. “And I got to a point where I thought about how my kids were young, and they’re only young for that little bit, and you get that time with them. And what are those moments where you really connect? It’s always in the kitchen.”

The gingerbread men come out looking tasty, and then, as planned, Connick Jr. moves over to the final treat. “So these are, um, OK.” Gellar half-laughs nervously. This is the moment. “I’m not going to call them what I was originally going to call them, because I don’t think your audience would appreciate that, but—”

“Sure they would!” he chirps.

“I was calling them Harry’s balls.”

The crowd erupts in laughter. Someone lets out a loud hoot. Afterward, back in her dressing room, Gellar will claim that nothing in that segment was done strategically — that live TV moves too fast, that she ran on pure instinct. And if that’s the case, then here’s to instinct. Do something enough, believe in it, commit to it and hone it across years of rejection until the people who said no begin saying yes — and then, when the pressure’s on and time is short, instinct will kick in. And that’s the start of something good.