Archives for September 2018

This Startup Is Using AI to Help Nonprofits Raise More Money

Nonprofit organizations live on fundraising. Spreadsheets and CRM systems have helped fundraisers track, sort, and reach out to potential donors. But fundraising is a high-touch, people-intensive activity. 

Donor outreach may start out with mass mailings and email blasts, but effectively engaging with the biggest and most frequent donors usually requires a high degree of customization and personalization. For resource-constrained non-profit organizations, then, one of the biggest barriers to reaching out to more high-potential donors?–?and more frequently?–?is the need to tailor outreach. 

This is one lesson Adam Martel learned firsthand as a fundraiser for Babson College, widely considered one of the world’s leading institutions for the study of entrepreneurship. Martel’s quest to solve this issue for himself and his team eventually became the kernel of an idea for an entirely new business he founded while studying for his MBA, which he pursued part-time while he helped Babson build its endowment.

Gravyty Technologies, which he co-founded in 2016 with Babson classmate Rich Palmer, draws on the power of AI to make data-backed predictions about the giving potential of donors and even help automatically write first drafts of personalized outreach emails. 

Gravyty is acquiring new nonprofit customers, raising fresh funding, and earning accolades for its AI-based technology. Earlier this year, Gravyty successfully completed its second round of funding, raising $2 million by a group of investors led by Boston’s NXT Ventures and Launchpad Venture Group.

In 2017, The Chronicle of Philanthropy selected Gravyty as the first among fifteen “New Fundraising Ideas that Worked” for the role their artificial intelligence technology played in helping increase major donor retention for the Cure Alzheimer’s Fund. The Fund increased fundraising by 49 percent, or nearly $2 million, in the first year they used Gravyty’s applications.

I spoke with Adam recently about his advice for aspiring entrepreneurs. 

1. Find a partner.

“Be on the search for somebody you can go through the journey with. Being an entrepreneur alone is not very much fun. I’ve done it. Rich has done it. It’s too hard to do by yourself. Have the humility to understand and know that you need other people. Having a partner that you go through these journeys with, makes the journey more worthwhile….To have a co-founder that goes with the same speed and has the same passion…is unique.”

2. Be prepared for the highs and the lows.

“Every day, we have high highs and low lows. There’s not a day that’s gone by where I haven’t felt like I was on top of the world and haven’t felt like I was at the bottom of the ocean…We use the phrase ‘ride a flat rollercoaster.’ Don’t try to get too excited. Don’t try to get too down. Just try to do your job to the best of your ability every single day.”

3. Find something that you truly want to do.

“Find something that you truly want to do. Find a problem that you truly want to solve. I’m compelled to be an entrepreneur because I want to provide my family with the life that I want to live with them. Working at a job that I love makes me a better father and a better husband. I’ve tried to do other things and I can’t. What drives me to be an entrepreneur isn’t anxiety or anything other than the fact that I love doing it. I wake up every day excited to do it.”

4. Find investors who are also mentors.

“I think the best investors not only give money, but give time. Raymond Chang, our investor at NXT Ventures, didn’t just give us money?–he sat down with me and spent hours with me, trying to explain things and work through challenges that I was facing. To have somebody that’s gone through this so many times, who is on your side and really mentoring you, is very useful.”

(Note: Gravyty Technologies is not a client of mine, nor do I have any other business dealings with the company.)

Where Big Money is Made Licensing Product Ideas

Industries are not equal in terms of generating royalties for product ideas. “Where is the big money in licensing being made?” is a question I get asked all the time. I get it. You could end up spending quite a bit of time developing a new product for the market and licensing it, only to be disappointed by the size of your royalty checks.

The solution is simple. Before you spend too much time on any one of your ideas, do the math. You can get a sense of your potential passive income pretty easily. Make a list of potential licensees. Select one. How many stores carry their products? If stores sell less than one unit a week, your product will get kicked to the curb. Then estimate the wholesale price of your product, which your royalty will come off of.

Calculate what you would earn if your royalty was three percent. What about five percent? Seven?

If the company is selling in 10,000 stores, the wholesale price of your product is 10 dollars, and your royalty is five percent, you would earn 50 cents for every unit sold, resulting in $5,000 a week. That’s $260,000 a year selling half a million units. Not bad.

Here’s a breakdown of some popular industries to invent for and where the big money is.

Novelty Gifts

I started out licensing my ideas for novelty gifts. Most novelty gifts are seasonal. As a result, the ideas I licensed for Valentine’s Day, Easter, Christmas, and graduations produced low royalty streams. Companies needed to fill their distribution channels with new products, but they only sold for about 60 days. I earned about $10,000 for ideas like these. That worked for me, because basically all I had done was show a very simple sketch. I’d spent very little time or money.

If you like to come up with silly and whimsical product ideas, focus your energy on events that are celebrated daily, like birthdays and anniversaries. I began coming up with my own novelty gift ideas because the inventor of the pet rock was from my hometown Los Gatos. I could not believe how well his product did!

This industry is always looking for new ideas. A rough sketch is basically all you need. Sometimes even a short paragraph is enough.

The same downsides apply to summer toys. The selling window is short! Your licensee might have wide distribution, but still. On the other hand, there are hit number one hit toys like Bunch o Balloons — licensed to ZURU — that produce a ton of revenue. In my opinion, it’s not easy to make big money licensing summer toy ideas. The competition is stiff.

Toy and Game

Who doesn’t want to relive their childhood and play with toys? It is extremely difficult to succeed at making big money toy licensing. So many people are chasing a number one hit toy. I experienced the mania firsthand when I worked at the startup that brought Teddy Ruxpin and Laser Tag to market. If you succeed at producing a hit toy, your royalties will be monumental.

I got lucky once. My toy idea could not have been simpler. I loved basketball and so I shot hoops in my office with an indoor Nerf set. The backboard was boring; it had just a small image of Michael Jordan. Why not shape the backboard itself into image of Michael Jordan? Three days after I contacted Ohio Art, they sent me a contract. I was extremely fortunate to earn royalties for 10 years. The Michael Jordan Wall-Ball was in every major retailer; there were even commercials on Saturday morning. If my memory serves me correctly, I made about $100,000 that first year. Not bad for a $10 prototype.

If you produce a number one hit toy or a toy that sells for many years (an evergreen) the royalties can be extremely large. For example, the inventor of the card game Phase 10 — Ken Johnson — has been earning royalties for decades. That’s the power of a trademark.

The toy industry is full of highly creative people. These companies have been working with outside product developers forever and see thousands of ideas every year. So, it’s tough. If you want to become successful, stick with it. Make relationships. Familiarize yourself with its history. That’s the key to inventing for the future.

Kitchen and Housewares

This industry is on fire! It has been for quite a few years now. Licensing agreements are common. Some are looking for the next gadget, which will have a lifespan of three to four years at best. Others, like OXO and Joseph Joseph, are committed to making small improvements to existing products. These have a lifespan closer to 10 years. That’s what I would stick to if I were inventing for this industry today. No gadgets, just popular products made better.

The pet and hardware industries are thriving and have also embraced open innovation. These are some of the easiest industries for licensing, because they’re looking for new ideas.

Prototypes are helpful and you will need a well-written provisional patent application to secure a deal.

Direct Response Television (DRTV)

Everyone is familiar with “As Seen On TV” products. Today these products are sold everywhere, including social media. This industry moves fast and is capable of selling large volumes. Some of the top companies offer very large minimum guarantees, meaning there’s a good chance your royalties are going to be correspondingly large. If you have a hit, wow!

This is a difficult industry to succeed in. There are only five major players, and they only need one or two big hits a year. They review thousands of ideas, test some, and move forward with just a few. Your likelihood of success is small.

You will need a prototype. Most of these companies do not care about intellectual property.

Consumables

These are products people use every day. Usually only once before they’re thrown away. This is where the big money is.

In my experience, this is also one of the most difficult industries to invent for. Yes, the volumes are enormous. But think of the speed at which products like these are manufactured. If your innovation depends on new equipment, that requires a huge investment of capital. (More than one facility will be impacted no doubt.) All of which adds up to risk for potential licensees.

You will need a wall of intellectual property to secure your ownership over an idea like this.

One example that comes to mind is the Zip It, a tool for cleaning drains invented by my friend Gene Luoma. It’s a thin inexpensive piece of plastic that you can find in every major hardware store. Tens of millions have been sold. You might use it more than once, and it’s not as if this product is used every day, but every home in America has drains that need unclogging at one point.

Only one of my products sold hundreds of millions of units worldwide, and it was a rotating label called Spinformation. It appeared on many different types of products, including water, vitamins, spices, alcohol, etc. These products are used every day.

My royalty was five percent and based on the label’s cost. Not a large royalty. But, due to volume, it added up very quickly. A small account that ran one line generated about $250,000 in royalties, and this was just one category. Because there were so many different categories of products that featured labels, the royalties were very large.

That’s a double whammy. If you invent a product that offers a benefit across many different categories, sells worldwide, and involves consumables, the royalties can easily merit you millions. Spinformation barely scratched the surface of its potential. After all, billions of labels are consumed every day.

Don’t be surprised. It all comes down to distribution.

Happy counting.

Google to Pay Apple $12 Billion to Remain Safari’s Default Search Engine in 2019: Report

Google’s search engine dominance can seem invincible, but that doesn’t mean the search giant isn’t willing to pay billions to ensure it stays that way.

Google will reportedly pay Apple $9 billion in 2018 and $12 billion in 2019 to remain as Safari’s default search engine, according to Business Insider. The report comes courtesy of Goldman Sachs analyst Rod Hall. It seems like a hefty price to pay, but with Safari being the default browser on iPhone, iPads, and Macs—and Google continuing to generate a great deal of revenue from its original search engine business—the Goldman Sachs report finds the payments to be a fraction of the money it ends up making.

“We believe Apple is one of the biggest channels of traffic acquisition for Google,” the report said, according to Business Insider.

Bernstein analyst Toni Sacconaghi additionally revealed in 2017 that Google previously paid Apple an estimated $3 billion. However, the only real number available is from 2014, due to court filings, which revealed Google paid Apple $1 billion for its search engine spot. Considering $9 and $12 billion are big jumps in four and five years, respectively, and that Google and Apple won’t actually disclose the figure, it’s unclear how accurate the Goldman Sachs estimate really is.

Google CEO will testify before U.S. House on bias accusations

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Google Chief Executive Sundar Pichai has agreed to testify before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee later this year over Republican concerns that the company is biased against conservatives, a senior Republican said on Friday.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai speaks on stage during the annual Google I/O developers conference in Mountain View, California, May 8, 2018. REUTERS/Stephen Lam

Republicans want to question Google, the search engine of Alphabet Inc (GOOGL.O), about whether its search algorithms are influenced by human bias. They also want to probe it on issues such as privacy, classification of news and opinion and dealing with countries with human rights violations.

Pichai met with senior Republicans on Friday to discuss their concerns, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said.

McCarthy told reporters after the meeting that the meeting was “very productive” and “frank.”

“I think we’ve really shown that there is bias, which is human nature, but you have to have transparency and fairness,” McCarthy said. “As big tech’s business grows, we have not had enough transparency and that has led to an erosion of trust and, perhaps worse, harm to consumers.”

Alphabet Inc’s (GOOGL.O) Google unit has repeatedly denied accusations of bias against conservatives. Pichai left the meeting without comment.

Pichai wrote in an internal email last week that suggestions that Google would interfere in search results for political reasons were “absolutely false. We do not bias our products to favor any political agenda.”

The CEO had been scheduled to be in Asia this week but canceled the trip to be in Washington.

The hearing will take place after the midterm congressional elections in November, McCarthy said.

Google came under fire from members of both parties earlier this month for refusing to send a top executive to a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing that included Facebook Inc (FB.O) and Twitter Inc (TWTR.N) executives.

Republicans have also raised concerns about Google’s dominance. Earlier this week, the Justice Department met with state attorneys general to focus on the need to protect consumer privacy when big technology companies amass vast troves of data, but came to no immediate conclusions.

Asked if Republicans will push to break up Google, McCarthy said: “I don’t see that.” He said the hearing will look at privacy, bias issues, China and other matters.

Pichai is also meeting with Democratic lawmakers and is due to meet with White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow on Friday, a White House official said on Thursday.

Reporting by David Shepardson, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien

?Pulsar graduates to being an Apache top-level project

In Montreal at ApacheCon, the Apache Software Foundation (ASF) announced that Pulsar had graduated to being an Apache top-level project. This pub-sub messaging system boasts a flexible messaging model and an intuitive client application programming interface (API).

Pulsar is a highly scalable, low-latency messaging platform running on commodity hardware. It provides simple pub-sub and queue semantics over topics, lightweight compute framework, automatic cursor management for subscribers, and cross-datacenter replication. It was designed from day one to address gaps in other open-source messaging systems.

Also: Apache Flink: Does the world need another streaming engine?

The initial goal for Pulsar was to create a multi-tenant scalable messaging system that could serve as a unified platform for a wide set of demanding use cases. Since then, it’s the scope has been expanded to add lightweight compute and a connector frameworks. This enables users to process data and integrate with external systems from inside Pulsar. This makes it interesting for both real-time and big data applications.

Pulsar’s architecture separates the serving and storage layers by leveraging Apache BookKeeper as the persistent storage component, which has proven to be a key strong point. This two-layer architecture enables Pulsar to offer a simplified approach to the cluster operations. This allows operators to easily expand clusters and replace failed node and provides a much higher write and read availability.

Its other main features include:

  • Native support for multiple clusters with seamless geo-replication of messages across clusters.
  • Low publish and end-to-end latency.
  • Seamless scalability out to over a million topics.
  • Client API with bindings for Java, Python, and C++.

Does some of that sounds familiar? If you’re a programmer, it should. While it’s not a duplicate of Apache Kafka, which is usually used for building real-time data pipelines and streaming apps, sometimes Pulsar is better. As Jim Jagielski tweeted, “Apache Pulsar is not only more performant that Apache Kafka, but makes it super easy to increase partition size and/or duration. Been bitten by this a few times :).”

Also: A critical Apache Struts security flaw makes it ‘easy’ to hack companies

He’s not the only one who likes Pulsar as a drop-in Kafka replacement. InfoWorld just awarded Pulsar its 2018 Best of Open Source Software award for databases and data analytics. It wrote, “Pulsar offers the potential of faster throughput and lower latency in many situations, along with a compatible API that allows developers to switch from Kafka to Pulsar with relative ease.”

“Launching Pulsar at Yahoo in 2015, our goal has always been to make Pulsar widely used and well-integrated with other large-scale open source software,” said Joe Francis, Oath’s Director of Storage and Messaging. It looks like he’ll see his goal realized.

Related stories:

Amazon users report Alexa breakdowns across Europe

(Reuters) – Amazon.com Inc’s Echo smart speakers were back up on Wednesday after facing problems with connectivity in the U.K. and some other European countries, according to outage tracker Downdetector.com.

FILE PHOTO – Prompts on how to use Amazon’s Alexa personal assistant are seen in an Amazon ‘experience centre’ in Vallejo, California, U.S., May 8, 2018. Picture taken May 8, 2018. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage

The website had logged hundreds of reports about the issue with the speakers, which are powered by Amazon’s voice-controlled assistant Alexa. The reports started surfacing at about 8 am UK time on Wednesday.

“This morning we had an issue that impacted some Alexa customers’ ability to interact with the service. The Alexa service is now operating normally,” Amazon said in a statement.

Users from the U.K. and Europe had earlier reported widespread difficulty in connecting to the server.

On Downdetector, one user wrote, “I have three Amazon Echos, one Echo spot and two Amazon Echo dots (2nd gen) all glow with a red ring and are giving me the same message ‘sorry, I’m having trouble understanding right now, please try a little later’”

Another said: “The Alexa app on my phone is showing “Sorry, we’re experiencing system issues”, and it says they’re working on the problem.”

Amazon did not respond to emails and phone calls from Reuters requesting more details on the nature of the problem.

A third user said: “Spoken with Amazon. They are having major server outages and are trying to resolve asap. I notice the Alexa in the Amazon Music app is working, but not on the Dot and Echo devices.”

The problem also prompted a flurry of tweets with the #Alexadown hashtag.

Assuring customers of Alexa’s security is crucial to Amazon, which has ambitions for Alexa to be ubiquitous – whether dimming the lights for customers, playing music or placing orders for them with the world’s largest online retailer.

Alexa ran into trouble in May when an Echo device recorded a private conversation among an Oregon family and sent it to one of their contacts randomly. (reut.rs/2DuIzVn)

In March users reported hearing unprompted laughter from their Alexa-enabled devices.

Amazon had acknowledged both these events and said fixes had been applied.

Last week, Amazon launched new Echo devices with more powerful audio, in a bid to remain ahead of rivals Apple Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google in the nascent category for voice-controlled gadgets.

Reporting by Arjun Panchadar in Bengaluru; editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty and Patrick Graham

Avoid the Perils of Overpromising

Promises always come with the peril of non-performance. It’s a bad plan in life as well as business to promise more than you can deliver. If you expect people to believe your promises tomorrow, it helps a great deal if you kept them yesterday. This probably sounds like old news to most of you since we’ve all been lectured from birth by our parents, teachers and preachers about the necessity and difficulty of always trying to live up to your commitments.

But this is how life works. I certainly support the basic concept and agree that it makes all the sense in the world, but the difference today is that technological advances have radically changed the nature of the conversation.  The problem now isn’t so much about arrogance or baseless bragging as it is about how and when to deal realistically and effectively with the truth. Because the truth today is a lot stranger in some ways than the fiction of yesterday.  

Given the powerful technologies we now have at our disposal and the actual and concrete results that new businesses can deliver, there’s a somewhat novel sales problem that I’m seeing. Too many startups are so excited about the powerful possibilities and the real wonders their solutions can work that, in their eagerness and enthusiasm, they’re losing sight of who they’re selling to, and what kinds of solutions those buyers are looking for.

In the old days, we used to say that the main difference between a car salesman and a computer salesman was that the car guy knew he was lying to you whereas the computer guy was just deluded. Today, telling your prospects and customers too much about what your products and services can do is more likely to confuse them than to convince them.

Instead of offering simple initial implementations and step-by-step measured solutions –basically addressing and resolving the lowest and most obvious hanging fruit first– what I’m seeing and hearing too often in these kinds of conversations are broad claims and bold statements.  “Our software can do anything – just tell us what you need.” Even if that were true, which in some cases is almost certainly the case, it absolutely doesn’t matter to the buyers.  And, worse yet, it’s totally off-putting because it shifts the onus of specifying the problems that need to be solved on to the buyers.  Here’s the issue: they may know what end results they need (cost economies, productivity enhancements, etc.), but they likely have no real idea of what your products can do or how your solutions would be introduced and incorporated into their specific operations. So, their natural reaction is to take two steps backwards rather than buying your pitch.

That’s why it makes so much sense to start by sandbagging a little bit instead of bragging. Under promise and then over deliver. Let me give you a real life and slightly sneaky example that you’ll be seeing practically every night on TV – if you ever watch TV. I say “sneaky” because this is a situation dictated mainly by marketing considerations, but it might also be to get around certain regulatory requirements about diet claims. If you watch the latest ads for several of the wonder drugs (no names please)– after they make all the over-the-top basic benefit claims and after they list the 4 million side effects – you’ll hear a little announcer aside that goes like this: “and you might just lose a little weight too.” No promises. No guarantees. But, as good Samaritans, we thought you just might want to know. Right. That’s under promising to a “T.”

And, in your own business and sales approach, you need to be thinking the same way when you present your new products and services. Tone it down – don’t go for the gold from the get-go. Prove your product a little bit at a time.  “New” is a nasty word to millions of procurement officers, buyers and other decision makers. “Novel” and “innovative” are right up there as well. Change is always hard to implement, but when it represents new costs, retraining and upskilling commitments, the risks of errors and mistakes, etc., it’s an even harder sale. And it’s no easier when the impact and the benefits aren’t immediately demonstrable.

In the real world, no one is looking for a miracle. They want risk-free, middle-of-the-road, mundane improvements that might save their companies some money, but will certainly save their jobs. They want immediate solutions, not ultimate salvation. This is in part because they’re not sure that they’ll even be around for the big, long-awaited payoff. So you need to plan, sell, and act accordingly.

Even if you can eventually move the moon, start with something that you can get done by next Monday.

The Post-It Note System To Achieve Your Dreams

Is there really something to the notion that, if we hold a thought in our mind over time, we can eventually, almost magically, bring it to life? This has been called the “Law of Attraction” and people like the author Richard Bach and his book, Illusions, which helped popularize it.

There is certainly something to this idea, but it isn’t magic.  And it actually predated Richard Bach, going back as far as Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill.

The way it really works is that we are constantly making decisions in our lives, day in and day out, about how to spend our time and energy. When something is top of mind for us–when the thought is always right there–you will inevitably make decisions that bring you closer to making that thought a reality. No matter what you might want to achieve–a happy marriage, losing weight, more money in the bank, or running a PR in a marathon–the more you think about that thing, the closer you come to achieving it, because every little decision you make is in the right direction.

This approach is incredibly powerful and I’m happy to share a simple trick I learned from my friend Dave Lindsey, Founder of Defenders, to help you harness this power and help achieve your dreams.

Goal setting with Post-It Notes

Go to your desk and open the drawer. Chances are you might have an unused stack of Post-It Notes in there. If not, go out to our local office supply store and buy a pack. Take care of them because they can help make your dreams come true.

To do that, make a list of the three to five big goals you want to achieve. While I’ve seen people have lists of goals that stretch to more than 20 items, I encourage you to stick to a manageable number. Now the key is that they are specific and based in time.  While the picture above says lose weight, a better goal is lose 20 pounds by the end of the year.

Write each of those goals down on Post-It Notes and then, when you get home, stick each of them to your bathroom mirror.  So, three goals means three Post-It notes.

Now, every day when you wake up and right before you go to bed, you’ll be staring at those three to give goals–which will keep them at the top of your mind and help you make decisions to bring you closer to achieving them.

After you wake up, for instance, and brush your teeth, you’ll already be thinking about what you need to do that day to make progress toward your goals. Then, later on at night, you will think about what you did that day–and what you can do tomorrow–to keep making progress.

You’ll be absolutely amazed at how effective you’ll become at chasing down your dreams. And I would wager that you will accomplish at least a few of them in less than 12 months.  There is nothing like the feeling of accomplishment when you peel off a Post-It note from you mirror because you have achieved a long-term goal.

And you don’t have to believe just me: there are thousands of people who will vouch for this technique in helping them achieve their goals and change their lives. All thanks to a few simple Post-It Notes.

So what do you have to lose? Grab some Post-It notes and make today the first day in your journey to making your dreams–no matter what they are–come true.

Jeff Bezos Just Shared His 3-Step Formula for Solving Problems–and It's Absolutely Brilliant

It came in response to an interesting question posed by the interviewer:

“When you buy things on Amazon, do you ever get the wrong order? Do you call up and complain?”

Bezos responded by saying he does indeed get faulty orders from Amazon from time to time, and that he treats these problems the same way he does customer problems that he discovers, which involves the following:

1. Asking the team to write up a case study.

2. Identifying real root causes. 

3. Identifying and recommending root fixes.

Bezos then sums up exactly why Amazon handles problems this way:

“So that when you fix it you’re not fixing it for that one customer you’re fixing it for every customer. And that process is a gigantic part of what we do.”

Bezos’s method struck me because I learned a similar problem-solving method decades ago, and it’s served me well in the real world.

Let’s briefly consider this blueprint for action, and see why these steps are so valuable.

1. Put it in writing.

You’ll notice that Bezos first asks his team to form a case study based on the problem. There are multiple reasons why doing so is effective.

The conditions and circumstances surrounding a problem are complex and varied. By forming a case study, the team is required to analyze these circumstances and present them clearly in writing. That isn’t easy; it requires skill and focused thought. 

But in doing so, you get a more accurate representation of the big picture, as opposed to a few “outlier” situations. This can help you accomplish successive steps more effectively.

2. Identify the root causes. 

Bezos makes a point to identify that the goal is to find real root causes(plural).

This is important because you could identify a single root cause of a problem and drastically reduce the occurrences of that problem–and yet, the problem could continue to return or even grow if other significant causes go untouched.

But by identifying numerous root causes, you greatly magnify the potential of completely eliminating the problem–or at least bringing it to as close to zero as possible.

3. Identify root solutions.

Now comes the hard part. Once you’ve established your root causes, you’re ready to begin brainstorming fixes to each. 

The initial part of step three should be uninhibited: Your team should feel free to recommend both traditional and unorthodox solutions. The more choices you have, the better–as it will allow you to whittle, refine, and select the best of the best.

Most importantly, remember: Your goal is to identify root solutions that address root problems. 

Far too often companies try to throw rigid rules or simplistic fixes at a problem. At best, these actions only address symptoms, rather than root causes. At worst, they create even greater problems than the ones they were meant to fix. And few companies consider the overall impact of such “solutions”–namely, how they will affect employee morale and company culture.

Instead, work on establishing principles that will guide your people to make better decisions moving forward.

So, the next time you notice a problem at your work, get help from your team to:

Put it in writing. Identify root causes. Recommend root fixes.

Do this, and you’ll be solving problems not just for a few customers, but for all of them.

8 Apps to Help You Deliver Killer Speeches and Presentations

Even the best performers and speakers experience stage fright and performance anxiety. Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber have been known to vomit right on stage. Adele’s been very open about her battles with anxiety and stage fright, admitting to Rolling Stone that she’s scared of audiences. Famed leaders and speakers including, Mahatma Gandhi, Joel Osteen, and Warren Buffet experienced debilitating symptoms on stage in their early days of speaking. 

Naturally, there’s an app for that.

These apps will help you gain confidence, relax prior to and during your speech, enhance audience participation and rehearse effectively. There’s even an app to help you eliminate your “ums” and “ahs”.  No need to fear being on stage when technology has your back.  

To help you relax before, during, and after your presentations.

This is a guided meditation and self-hypnosis program specifically designed for speakers. Lead by Dr. Andrew Johnson, these positive suggestions for your unconscious mind are meant to build your confidence and help you relax. It’s said to minimize your anxiety about public speaking.

To prepare for your speech.

Have you ever found yourself counting a presenter’s “umms” or “likes”, only to miss most of what he or she is saying?

Ummo records your practice speech and tracks these filler words for you. It even generates a transcript that highlights where you use filler words. You can avoid the over-use of certain words by adding them to your settings, so the app can track them for you. Once you hear and see your potentially annoying patterns it’s easier to change them. Well ok, not easier, but it gave me the sheer determination to break the habit.

It’s easy to practice your script, but to practice eye contact and other skills demonstrated by a seasoned speaker, you need an audience. That’s what the VirtualSpeech app gives you.

You do need a virtual headset, but those are inexpensive nowadays. Upload your presentation and the app creates a 3D, realistic looking room, attendees and all. Your audience will fidget, nod their heads, and make eye contact. When you’re done you can see an analysis and receive feedback.

To engage your audience.

Created for speaking, training, and team participation, Kahoot lets you gamify whatever you want to put in front of an audience. They can win “Kahoots” at the end of the meeting or conference. You can quiz and survey your audience and display the results on your screen. It’s easy to add video and images to increase engagement. Nobody ever wants to raise their hand to questions from the stage. With Kahoot, your audience members may remain anonymous if they choose. See these case studies for creative ideas on how to use this app. 

Make it easy for your audience to visit your unique URL so they can see and download your slides and notes. They can write their own personal notes, share content on social media, and participate in your polls and live Q & A’s. Make it even more interactive when you offer the options to vote on content and receive audience feedback on your presentation. Take advantage of your audience’s FOMO tendencies by featuring a live Twitter wall. Don’t forget to tell them what hashtag(s) to use, people love to see their tweets and profile image on a live screen.

Not only TED speakers need a countdown clock; no one likes a speech that goes overtime. The LED-style countdown clock is easy to see from a distance, so you are free to move around on stage. It allows you to set up to three warning points to notify you when it’s time to transition to the next phase of your presentation. I like this concept because I can tend to get a little preoccupied toward the end of a speech.

Ever wonder what your audience is thinking? Pole Everywhere captures the most-used words your participants are using in the comments feature. The more often a word is used, the bigger it appears on the screen. If you are a skilled speaker, this app will allow you to change directions or address a topic to make your speech even more relevant to the audience.

No microphone? No worries. You can use your smartphone to amplify your voice. What I like about this particular app is that it will record your speech. The built-in editor will help you remove unwanted sections to make your presentation appropriate for a download from your site. Use your speech as an opt-in for your marketing funnel, a free add-on for purchases, or to add to your speaker’s demo reel.

No more excuses. Now you can get yourself onstage to share what you know with less stress and more fun.