The Two Ways for Startups and Corporations to Partner

And when each one makes sense.


A one-size-fits-all approach isn’t good for patients.


A former YouTube executive on building apps without knowing how to code.


Youngme, Felix, and Mihir debate two of the dramatic and controversial tax ideas being proposed by Democrats (a 70% marginal income tax rate and a 2% wealth tax), before discussing the trend among brands like Gillette, Nike, and Pepsi to launch “woke” advertising campaigns. They also offer their After Hours picks for the week.
Does Your Business Ever Need an 11 x 17 Printer?
Wed, 30 Jan 2019 00:00:00 -0800

When starting or running a business, entrepreneurs and business owners tend to think mostly of the core aspects of their operation. A restaurant owner considers the food they'll serve and the atmosphere they'll create, while a marketing firm considers the type of services it will provide its clients. While daydreaming about your business normally makes you think of the more glamorous portions of your business, it's important to consider the everyday tasks and smaller functions that make your business hum.

For example, your business may need office space, office supplies, a payroll service and an HR platform. One of the frequently forgotten business tools is a printer. If you're hoping to print documents or even larger banners or marketing materials, purchasing a printer can make life much easier than using printing services every time you need a document printed.

With some small businesses relying on physical marketing materials like banners and posters, wide-format printers become essential. According to a 2018 survey released by FedEx Office, 4 out of 5 small business owners said professional printing services could help their businesses stand out from the competition. Additionally, 85 percent of consumers said they were more likely to shop with a small business that had custom/professionally printed materials. It made not be discussed frequently, but printed materials matter, especially for smaller businesses.

Editor's note: Looking for an even larger printer? We can help you choose the wide-format printer that's right for you. Use the questionnaire below to have our sister site, BuyerZone, provide you with information from a variety of vendors for free:

Since printing matters, does it make sense for your business purchase a wide-format printer like an 11 x 17 version or should you use printing services? We look at several factors to determine what your small business should consider when making that decision.
It depends on the industry

If you're a marketing firm, you may print materials on 11 x 17 paper, in which case a wide-format printer may be a vital purchase. For less obvious cases, it's important to weigh the costs and benefits of buying a wide-format printer. Although an 11 x 17-inch printer doesn't print drastically larger materials than standard 8 x 11-inch printers, those extra few inches can be crucial in a few industries.

According to Dino Demitri, sales manager at Printer Showcase, a few industries stand out as those most likely to use an 11 x 17 printer. Here were a few of the industries Demitri mentioned:

Architecture Design Construction Advertising agencies Restaurants Retail 

The uses vary, but Demitri felt a few products stood out as those most commonly made using 11 x 17 printers.

Engineering drawings Art reproduction Retail signage display Brochures and sales collateral Menus Packaging mock-up Spreadsheets

There's clearly diversity among the different uses of the printer, and the value of an 11 x 17 printer varies by industry and individual businesses.

If you run a restaurant, your initial focus likely goes to your food and customer base, but it's important to consider seemingly minor tasks like menu design. Printing a larger menu on 11 x 17 paper may allow for more creativity with design as well as a larger font size, which can benefit customers.

There's no perfect case for or against buying an 11 x 17 printer, but the industry you're in will certainly affect the legitimacy of purchasing the printer. [Interested in wide-format printers for your business? Check out our best picks.]

Is it worth the cost?

Much like any other purchase a small business makes, it's important to consider the cost. Whether you're using a printing service or buying an 11 x 17 printer for your business, you need to weigh the costs and benefits. If you're considering purchasing the printer, do you print 11 x 17 materials enough to justify the purchase? If you're opting for a printing service, is that cost worth the added size of printing your materials on 11 x 17 paper?

The idea of buying a printer with exciting capabilities can be enticing, but you shouldn't jump at the chance to buy something just because it has fancy features. If you don't think you'd use the printer frequently, put the money into other areas of your business. The specific pricing of 11 x 17 printers varies greatly depending on the model and capabilities of each printer. You can go from spending as little as $200 to well over $1,000. Be sure to also note the cost of errors that will arise if you purchase a printer. According to Xerox, printer-related issues can account for thousands of dollars of IT work.

It is, however, worth noting additional positive capabilities of an 11 x 17-inch printer during your purchasing process.  

"All 11 by 17 capable printers can also print letter-sized paper, and, in fact, many already have multiple feeders to accommodate more than one size or type of paper so that you can print whichever size you need on demand," said Demitri. 

"It is fair, however, to say that 11 x 17-capable lasers do have a larger footprint and are generally larger and heavier," he added. 

If your business will benefit from the ability to print 11 x 17 documents, in addition to the standard letter-sized paper, then it may be worth considering purchasing a printer. If you feel your use of wide-format printers will be limited, the purchase might not make sense for your business.  

Focus on your business

You know your business better than anybody. Don't rush into a purchasing decision you don't need to make. Consider the costs and benefits of purchasing a printer while keeping your business's needs in mind.

"If they need [an 11 x 17 printer], they already know it," said Demitri.

3 Proven Customer Retention Tactics You’re Likely Not Using
Wed, 30 Jan 2019 05:00:00 -0800

According to recent research, 80 percent of small and midsize business owners are optimistic about their businesses’ performance in 2019. These owners cite a variety of factors behind this optimism, including the strength of their teams as well as well as the quality of their marketing and sales plans. However, 51 percent point to one major factor: the value of their existing customer base.

Yet most companies focus far more on new customer acquisition than they do on customer retention, a concerning fact given the value of customer retention. Research has shown that improving customer retention by 5 percent can increase profits by 25 to 95 percent. At the same time, customer acquisition costs have gone up by 50 percent over the last five years, making getting new customers that much more expensive.  

For organizations looking to frugally build their bottom line, retention tactics can play a major role. Businesses looking to build out their customer retention efforts should consider at least one of the following three activities. They’re cost-effective, informative and can go a long way to helping you keep your best customers.

1. Ask for feedback proactively

No news is not necessarily good news. Most customers won’t tell you if they are dissatisfied with your business. They’ll simply stop paying. As a result, taking the first step to ask about a customer’s experience with you is an ideal way to gauge their satisfaction.

A frequently-used approach is Net Promoter Score (NPS), a single-question survey that probes on a customer’s likelihood to recommend your product or service to a friend or colleague. As a widely-used tool, NPS lets a business easily benchmark their NPS scores against industry averages. It lets organizations see how they stack up and assess if they have customer satisfaction issues that could result in attrition.

While universally-used, NPS can be limiting because it doesn’t offer much feedback about a customer’s experience. That is why another valuable approach is to ask a small number of high-level questions every six to twelve months to understand customer expectations versus actual experience. Consider these three questions:

What motivated you to look for something like our product or service?

What have you enjoyed about our product or service?

What could we do to offer you a better experience?

Taking the time to ask simple yet well-rounded questions can provide a lot of insight into what customers wanted from your business relative to what they are actually receiving. Any negative gaps between the two measures is a signal that it’s time to focus more on retention.

2. Track product or service usage

Do you know when the last time was that a customer used your product or service, or when they last walked through your door? Lack of product usage, or infrequency of usage, can be signals of a customer being likely to quit your business. Measuring the last time a customer used your service and comparing that to the average span between usage can help isolate lapsed customers who you may be at risk of losing.

This is one area where customer relationship management (CRM) tools can be incredibly helpful. Rather than having you manually record and compare this information, these systems can automate tracking and collecting for you. They’ll often automatically send email alerts if your customer’s haven’t used your services within a predetermined amount of time, allowing you to proactively reach out and ask why. [View's reviews and best picks for CRM software.]

3. Promote “sticky” product features

Companies are always excited to talk about their newest products and services. However, new features aren’t always the most compelling, nor are they necessarily the features your customers can’t live without.

These must-have features or services are frequently called “sticky features.” That is, features your customers find so valuable that they’ll happily continue using your services even if you make no further improvements. When customers aren’t using your sticky features, there’s a far higher likelihood that they’ll churn.

To determine which features are the stickiest, you can certainly ask directly. Or, you can track it digitally with tools like Google Analytics’ Events Tracking or Matomo. You’ll usually find that sticky features are the features that reduce the need for recurring or manual activities, drastically decrease the time associated with regular tasks or reduce the human error or business risks that come with everyday business responsibilities.

Once you know which features classify as sticky, make sure they’re getting used by leveraging product marketing. Create blog posts, shareable collateral and videos that not only show how to use these sticky features but explicitly shows the value your customers will get from using them.

Never stop with retention tactics

No matter which approach you choose, the key to a strong retention plan is to never stop. Satisfying customer needs in one year has no bearing on driving customer satisfaction in the subsequent year. Making it an organizational norm to put customer retention front-and-center will go a long way to delighting customers, keeping them satisfied and making sure they stick with you in the long haul.

The Future of Tech Outsourcing Partnerships
Wed, 30 Jan 2019 07:00:00 -0800

Businesses around the world are embracing the digital transformation. According to the 2018 Digital Transformation Index, over 40 percent of companies said they had a dedicated digital transformation team in place. But what about the other 60% of companies?

Many organizations are turning to IT outsourcing partners to adapt to the rapid pace of technological change and remain competitive. However, relationships between businesses and their outsourcing partners are changing from the traditional output-based approaches to more integrated and specialized arrangements. The need for IT partners that can deliver the latest technical expertise through more flexible contract models is growing. Here’s a look at how IT outsourcing partnerships are evolving to meet the digital transformation demands of today.

Demand for specialized technology partners

The digital skills gap is one of the biggest roadblocks to digital transformation for businesses. Outsourcing firms that provide deep expertise in artificial intelligence, for example, or technologies like blockchain, are in high demand. A report from MIT Sloan found that 85 percent of respondents believe AI will play a significant role in their ability to stay competitive in the coming years. The number of blockchain-related LinkedIn job postings more than tripled in 2017. Businesses are increasingly seeking out specialized partners to meet their innovation goals, and as a result, many are opting to outsource to multiple, specialized vendors.

By working with multiple vendors, businesses can mitigate some risk. What’s more, they’re able to strengthen their competitive advantages by partnering with the most relevant and experienced technical teams. However, outsourcing to multiple vendors can be complex and lead to quality and delivery issues if not managed properly. Outsourcing firms that are capable of maintaining a wide range of specialized expertise under one roof may have an advantage so long as they can ensure high-quality customer support and meet promised delivery times.

Security-focused partnerships

Cybersecurity is now a primary concern for businesses of all sizes and in all industries. Nevertheless, staffing a security team is a daunting task due to the lack of talent. There are approximately 200,000 unfilled security positions in the United States alone, and an estimated one million open positions globally.

Beyond the need to fill internal cybersecurity roles, many organizations are also demanding security be a part of their digital transformations. Trust is now a leading factor when it comes to selecting the outsourcing partners businesses choose to work with and who they allow accessing their data. Businesses are spending more time vetting their outsourcing partners, and opting to work with those that have a proven track record of following data and cybersecurity best practices.

Making room for automation

According to Gartner, intelligent automation is set to transform business outsourcing completely. Intelligent automation allows businesses to automate laborious tasks, including some IT tasks, in order to streamline their operations and allow their human staff to focus on more high-value work. According to Software Testing and Big Data Hadoop, approximately 10 to 20 percent of human work hours are spent on repetitive computer tasks. Researchers estimate that IT departments spend around 30 percent of their time on low-level basic tasks which could be automated easily.

Intelligent automation will lead to significant changes in outsourcing partnerships. On one hand, it may lead to a reduction in the number of staff required to complete IT projects. On the other hand, it’s more likely to increase the demand for partners that can provide intelligent automation support in the short term. Businesses are starting to realize AI’s potential to help them achieve their digital transformation goals and outsourcing firms that can provide affordable front and back office solutions may be able to leverage this demand for many years to come.

The evolution of contract models

“As-a-service” delivery models are revolutionizing the business services industry. Many organizations are turning to on-demand partnerships that allow them to access only the services or resources they need from the vast pool of IT service providers. This approach offers businesses more flexibility, often at a lower cost. That said, due to the on-demand nature of this model, faster delivery times do not always mean quality work. For now, traditional contract models are still used heavily for larger, more long-term projects, with on-demand models being used to cover more immediate, short-term development needs.

In addition to “as-a-service” models, outcome-based contract models are also changing traditional outsourcing partnerships. One of the biggest challenges for IT leaders is quantifying services. Therefore, contracts are shifting to be based on outcomes rather than outputs.

Outcome-based models are often more value-driven because they are based on measuring real metrics and results. This idea requires a strong relationship between the business and the service provider to truly deliver value and meet expectations. For instance, outcome-based models require a significant amount of strategic planning before starting a project, strong communication between both parties, and completely fluid exchange of information. Trust and transparency are key for an outcome-based model to work, resulting in a more reliable and consistent partnership that is often more rewarding for both parties.

A new age of outsourcing partnerships

While affordability will always be a factor when selecting an IT outsourcing partner, businesses are increasingly looking for partnerships that are security-driven, trustworthy and flexible. Only when a partnership meets all of these requirements can businesses free up more time to focus on their core business activities and meeting their digital transformation goals.

Struggling to Innovate? Office Politics Is Probably Getting In the Way
Wed, 30 Jan 2019 09:00:00 -0800

Innovation is never easy, but it can be made even more difficult when an organization is rife with internal politics. Just two members on a team with conflicting agendas can lead a project astray and leave the rest of the team confused, frustrated and disengaged.

Office politics on their own can do some serious damage to a company. Given enough time, they can even become a part of the culture, affecting relationships and creating bottlenecks at every level, which is especially troubling in small businesses with only a handful of workers. In fact, turf wars, politics, and lack of alignment topped the list of common obstacles to innovation, with 55 percent of surveyed leaders citing internal squabbling as the worst offender.

No Quick Fix

Unfortunately, there’s no quick fix to office politics, especially when they relate to innovation. The only real solution comes from the top. It requires strong leadership and a clear communication strategy that instills the idea that both innovation and collaboration are requirements of every person’s job.

This will certainly become a balancing act on your part. You can’t very well stop team-wide initiatives until things are resolved. But you also can’t barrel ahead without addressing the issue at hand. The goal here is to move forward with innovation while ensuring that all team members recognize the faith and trust you have in everyone involved.

This isn’t to say people won’t feel as if another employee is encroaching on their territory. Forrester found that 43 percent of businesses experience internal battles over ownership. That’s why communication is so important to innovation — and keeping internal politics at bay, I should add.

As a small business leader, it’s up to you to explain and define each team member’s role and responsibility in the initiative. You want to be as transparent as possible about the project from the very start, and the following should help in creating a team equipped for innovation:

1. Keep it real. 

A team, no matter its size, can solve almost any problem when approaching it as a united front. But that’s not possible until everyone grasps the current state. Don’t gloss over the situation. Instead, be upfront and honest about what you hope to accomplish and why you hope to accomplish it — not to mention any potential hurdles along the way. If you present people the whole truth, they will feel your trust and rise to the occasion.

2. Relinquish control. 

You’ve no doubt developed some semblance of a plan. And like the truth, this should also be shared. Once you reveal the objectives and parameters, give your team members the freedom to make decisions on their own. If you allow people to take ownership of a problem, the desire to arrive at a solution is, naturally, greater. In turn, your team will likely achieve the goals at a much faster rate — and within the set parameters, no less.

3. Listen. 

People will always be your greatest resource. Each member of your team brings a unique perspective to a situation — if they feel comfortable sharing it. Establish an environment where everyone feels heard. Encourage team members to share their thoughts on the challenges facing business. You’ll be amazed by many of the solutions brought to the table.

4. Get buy-in. 

Skepticism is inevitable, even with directives coming from the business owner or the boss. Again, this goes back to the environment you’re trying to create, so it’s important to be sensitive to people’s concerns. Set aside some time for a one-on-one conversation. Make sure the naysayer feels heard by considering their perspective. At the same time, however, reiterate your expectations for participation. Innovation in all its forms should be a team effort.

If you're leading up an innovation effort within your team, understand that the only true means of resolving a process issue or challenge is to become an integrated team. The goal is to work together to produce a meaningful and innovative solution. Otherwise, the effort won’t provide the anticipated results.

MIT Sloan Management Review
Wed, 30 Jan 2019 15:56:26 +0000

Smart devices, once relegated to science fiction and our imaginations, are now ubiquitous. Today, there’s a market for everything from a Wi-Fi connected refrigerator to a voice-operated speaker that doubles as a personal assistant. The internet of things (IoT) — the software-operated network of physical devices, appliances, vehicles — grows day by day as these devices become part of our daily lives. A March 2018 survey found that 22% of Americans used IoT appliances in their homes, and this trend is widespread across the globe. Amazon recently announced a plan to expand Amazon Echo services to Italy and Spain.

For consumers, the concept of easily operated, highly adaptable products is great. Smart devices are convenient, useful, and fun. However, many people remain skeptical or anxious about this level of connectivity. News of products leaking private information or being remotely hacked has led customers to fear for their personal safety and reconsider hooking up physical appliances to vulnerable networks.

Considering the relative infancy of many IoT markets and the growing demand for cheap and accessible IoT products, this is a critical stage for IoT businesses. Manufacturers will have to make decisions about how to best deal with cybersecurity. For some IoT developers, that may mean choosing between product usability and product security.

Prioritizing Product Security

Businesses frequently fail to consider that the incentive for product security can have more to do with marketability than integrity. Just look at the saga of the My Friend Cayla doll. Developed by the U.S.-based manufacturer Genesis, this children’s toy used speech-recognition technology to engage in personalized conversations with kids. The doll experienced high demand in 2015 and 2016 — until the public discovered that My Friend Cayla offered a prime target for hackers.

Germany’s Federal Network Agency found that an unsecured Bluetooth device in the doll, which collected and transmitted all audio to a U.S.-based voice-recognition company, exposed the doll’s data. Independent and possibly malicious hackers could not only access private voice data, but also potentially speak to children through the doll.

The My Friend Cayla doll was officially banned in Germany in early 2017, and officials advised parents to trash the doll and destroy its internal microphone. In the U.S., consumer watchdog groups and legislators demanded that the dolls be pulled from shelves for violating laws protecting child privacy. Sales promptly fizzled. Today, the My Friend Cayla doll is no longer carried by major U.S. retailers. Similar events have occurred in various markets. As a whole, the IoT includes a wide range of devices with unique vulnerabilities. Inconsistent security protocols and physical safety risks of IoT technologies are their primary weaknesses.

Potential adopters of IoT technologies range from individuals to massive organizations. If a new product experiences a publicized cyber incident, it may never get off the ground, even if the security issue gets resolved. This is a prime example of why IoT developers cannot simply focus on marketing and innovation. Security needs to be addressed proactively, even if it requires a considerable investment of resources in earlier stages.

In fact, investing resources in cybersecurity is probably the most business-savvy thing that IoT product manufacturers can do. At Cybersecurity at MIT Sloan (CAMS), we studied how security risks of IoT products can shape the future marketplace. In a recent study, we found that while there are a number of variables at play, investing early in cybersecurity capabilities — even for a company or startup with limited resources — is ultimately the method most likely to bring market success in the long run.

Appealing to Users

One of the biggest selling points of IoT products is their convenience and reliability. A good product must be simple enough to attract customers, yet secure enough to reduce the likelihood of cyber incidents.

Consider our iceberg model (See “Iceberg Model for IoT Products”), which maps the growth of IoT products. It includes several feedback loops that explain how changes in a product can affect its sales. The first feedback loop (R) is obvious to most IoT product designers: The more beneficial or attractive a product, the more its use and sales increase. With the increase of sales and market size of IoT, designers use research to improve their product, and so more people will want to purchase the product.

Iceberg Model for IoT Products

Cyber risk exposure is part of a customer’s perception of security and reliability, and this affects the relative advantage of IoT products.

Iceberg Model for IoT Products

However, that mechanism is only the tip of the iceberg. Data security concerns create a second, less obvious feedback loop (B) affecting the marketability of IoT products. This important but hidden part of the model works like this: As a product’s adoption increases, it becomes more attractive to hackers, and some cyberattacks may succeed. If customers learn about attacks on the product, they’ll doubt its security and reliability. Eventually, potential adopters may decide that the cyber risk is too great to justify any number of benefits or novel features.

Our research, which included studying a large electronics company that produces an IoT lighting product, provides us with a narrative for how cybersecurity-related variables may impact the introduction and adoption of new products in the market. We interviewed employees from a number of departments within the electronics organization — including security, production, marketing, and sales — and consulted potential users of the product and outside industry experts.

Interviewees could easily describe many potential benefits of their product — from connected light bulbs that could reduce inefficiency in unoccupied conference rooms to IT systems that could use motion sensor-equipped lighting to direct employees to open desks when they enter the building. The chief benefit of using IoT, in this case, is not the lighting technology itself, but the data collection around productivity and efficiency it can provide.

However, these benefits often aren’t easy to perceive for consumers, and several factors may make customers doubt the security of a connected lighting system. The many bulbs and systems involved offer many potential targets for hacking. This lighting system doesn’t feel safe to some building managers. In this case, the risk seems to outweigh the reward for most consumers who might consider installing a connected lighting system. Very few buildings have adopted connected lighting. This leaves much room for the IoT developer to not only enhance their cybersecurity capabilities but also ensure that the risk and benefits are clearly communicated to potential consumers.

How IoT Businesses Can Reduce the Impact of Cyber Risks

Investing in cybersecurity capabilities for IoT products is essential, but it can be expensive and this requires additional resources. In the long run, however, strong cybersecurity measures can improve consumers’ perception of how secure and reliable a product is, which helps chances of adoption.

IoT developers simply can’t wait until their product gets a noticeable market share to invest in cybersecurity policies. Management must take responsibility for security along the entire technology supply chain. To increase the adoption of the IoT, organizations that develop this technology must measure and monitor the risk-reward ratio of products.

A particular dilemma for IoT developers is the lack of widely accepted standards for this market. On the one hand, the lack of established protocols around IoT security can be a strategic advantage for entrants into the market, and we’ve seen this with early innovators and startups already, such as the case of My Friend Cayla. On the other hand, without standards, vendors have difficulty articulating to potential customers — especially in large organizations — how to handle cyber risks.

The benefits of smart devices are wide-ranging: The IoT-powered communication and analytics have the potential to do more than just add convenience to our daily lives — they could actually radically improve the way we work and live.

However, if consumers perceive that a product puts important personal or company data at risk, that fear will continue to outweigh the benefits. By carefully considering and fighting against cyber risks, IoT innovators can ensure the growth of their market and the growth of IoT benefits in society as a whole. This requires IoT developers to make early investments in cybersecurity capabilities, beyond a sole focus on product design and sale.

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