What You Need to Know to Succeed in 2019
Tech closes the human gap.
In the past, we’ve approached recruiting like “Hey, we are the ones providing opportunities and providing jobs; you should be lucky to come work for us.” But in today’s environment, with unemployment at a record low and organizations so strategically dependent on the right talent, it’s really a level playing field. And from the candidates’ perspective, we’re seeing real dissatisfaction around companies that aren’t transparent. They’re no longer satisfied with applying to a job and not hearing back.
That all can create a challenge for any company -- but seen another way, it’s an opportunity. I look at the recruiting process as someone’s first real interaction with a company. That means it should be a pretty accurate reflection of the culture you try to cultivate within the organization. So we’ve redesigned our recruiting process to be much more like the interactions we experience on a daily basis as consumers.
New technology can help recruiters and hiring managers, and we’ve been using a lot of it to make more data-driven hiring decisions for the company. At J&J we use HiredScore, an artificial intelligence service, to match people in our candidate database to new opportunities at the company, as well as Textio, a tool that takes bias out of our job descriptions. We also use a custom-built product called Shine, which offers the candidate real-time tracking functionality, just like you would track a FedEx delivery from the beginning of the journey to the very end.
All this helps us find the right people to make our organization stronger -- and the candidates who don’t get the job tell us, “I don’t like that you rejected me for this job, but you are one of the very few organizations that did it in a respectful and transparent way.” -- Sjoerd Gehring, former* global VP of talent acquisition and people experience, Johnson & Johnson
*Between the time of this interview and its publishing, Gehring left his role at Proctor & Gamble.
Build it directly into the product.
Imagine you’re selling a pair of scissors. You could advertise them as being the sharpest scissors ever, or the ones with the best grip. You could hype their features and functionalities all day long. But my bet is that consumers won’t care. They already expect them to be sharp! They expect them to have great grip! Products today are expertly manufactured, and consumers expect them to function. That means if you’re competing just on performance, you’re not standing out. You’re not giving consumers a reason to buy.
Your customer wants to know your product’s story. That’s why they’ll buy.
I know that “story” isn’t new for 2019, or even 2018. But I do think the story becomes more important every year. The story creates a sense of authenticity. And if you’re not building a story directly into your product, you’re missing a prime opportunity to connect with consumers.
At Reebok, we always see this during what we call our range plan review, when the folks from design, product, and marketing come together to present and review future Reebok products. When our team evaluates something, we start asking: Will people share this? (After all, word of mouth is the number one driver of purchase intent.) Does it have meaning? Will people connect to this? One recent success for us was called Cotton + Corn; it’s a line of shoes made from (you guessed it) cotton and corn, and built into that very concept is the story of how most shoes are made from petroleum and how that process is environmentally unsustainable. Are the shoes comfortable? Do they help you move? We’ll make sure they do, but we know that’s not just what consumers will wonder. And we want to get them talking and coming back for more. -- Matt O’Toole, president, Reebok
Insider experience matters more.
Investors have always asked entrepreneurs the same two important questions: Why does the product matter, and why are you the person to actually go and do it? But those questions will take on additional meaning in 2019, because more investors like me are looking to invest in increasingly challenging industries.
Diversity & Inclusion
Tough dialogue yields dividends.
By the year 2040, people of color will make up the majority of this country. If companies want to stay competitive in attracting top talent, only leveraging Jopwell or any other solution for diverse hiring won’t be enough. They need to start thinking more holistically, right now, about diversity and inclusion. For example, in what ways are you physically engaging with the communities you’re hiring from? In what places in your recruiting pipeline are these hires falling off, and how are you stopping that leak?
What doesn’t work well is when employees feel like they’re just going through a funnel. There’s no personalization; no one’s engaging them along the way to make them feel like part of the fabric of the organization. Consider, for example, the current national discourse around race, politics, and identity, which is charged like never before. It’s crazy for leaders to expect employees to leave that at home from 9 to 6 every day.
The power of diversity is that people can bring their experiences, perspectives, and backgrounds to the table and drive innovation. If you’re trying to overlook or stifle that, then it’s all for naught. You’ve got to embrace those uncomfortable conversations and be proactive when you think an issue -- whether it’s office-related or news-related -- might be overly affecting someone. That seems like basic human empathy, but it shows that you’ve built a cohesive workforce of employees who want to work for one another and for the good of the company.
Brand equity in recruiting matters, and will only continue to increase in value over the next year. We’re going to start seeing more midlevel hiring in bulk, where, instead of one-off diversity hiring -- a VP here, a director there -- companies will start recruiting from networks and classes of individuals. These more-experienced candidates are going to rely heavily on what others say about interviewing or working at your company. You want them to say, “They care about you.” -- Porter Braswell, cofounder and CEO, Jopwell
Start using it to solve problems now.
It will be a few years before any truly radical transformations come as a result of blockchain or bitcoin -- Gartner expects that it will add $360 billion in business value by 2026 -- but companies can find ways to use it to optimize their operations now. The question for you to ask is, Does this make sense for my business right now?
A good starting point for entrepreneurs is being able to accept cryptocurrency as payment for goods and services, especially in e-commerce. The beauty of that is, you can reduce friction when it comes to cross-border transactions, and do business with more people around the world -- especially as more individuals in emerging markets forego traditional banking to embrace crypto. Overstock.com, for example, announced recently that it had started allowing customers to checkout using bitcoin and ethereum.
When you drill down a bit, you’ll find businesses investing in blockchain for a number of other, more nascent ways. Grocery and convenience store chains are turning to blockchain services to better track its food supply chain -- to ensure the veracity of the expiration date on a carton of milk, for example -- which can help prevent recalls or waste. Event organizers are using it to tackle ticket-scalping and stamp out counterfeiters. Blockchain isn’t like an iPhone or something that goes through upgrade cycles or waves of popularity. It’s an unchangeable, immutable record, and it’s here to stay. -- Shaun Newsum, founder and CEO, FinanceDA
Find your voice, and your fit.
There’s no question that the podcast landscape is really crowded. The good thing is that the medium has been maturing to the point where it has attracted a wide audience with varied interests. The tricky thing, though, is that the more it grows and the more people jump in, the harder it becomes to discover stuff. There’s no Netflix-level recommendation algorithm for podcasts.
That means in order to cut through the noise, brands have to differentiate what they’re promising to listeners. You can’t just be like, “We’re a shoe company, and we’re going to talk about how awesome ours are.” But if you can give people an exclusive window into a world that only you know, you can position yourself as a thought leader in the space. I think of what the people at VC firm Andreessen Horowitz did with their podcast, a16z. They said, here’s a place where we’re going to air out ideas, and have supersmart conversations with superinteresting people. There’s minimal editing, and they don’t even have a theme song. But it’s become part of the brand, and something a lot of people feel they can benefit from.
And, listen, if your podcast doesn’t reach a mass audience, that’s fine! There are more than half a million active podcasts in the iTunes store. Services like Anchor and Spotify now let users create and upload their own shows directly to their platforms. Recently, Gimlet produced a competition-style show called Casting Call, and we got 5,000 entries for podcast ideas, with a vast majority of them being “Me and my friend are funny, and we want to have funny conversations with each other.” A lot of people want to come in and try this for fun, or a million other reasons that we haven’t thought of yet. Some companies are even using internal podcasts to strengthen community in the workplace. As the technology becomes more democratized, the innovation in implementation will blow your mind. -- Alex Blumberg, cofounder and CEO, Gimlet Media
Become the guide, not the expert.
Brands once positioned themselves as experts -- the singular authorities on their industries, or on the lifestyles or interests of their consumers. But we are now living in a world where there is no real subject-matter expertise. Anyone can write or research anything, anytime, anywhere. It’s created this new paradigm where the customer is not only right but smarter than ever. That means the onus is on brands to pay attention -- to engage in conversations with customers, rather than come down from on high to tell them something.
At Dictionary.com, for example, we now think a lot about how to contribute to both individual conversations as well as big, cultural ones. It’s become a lesson in how to be responsive and not overanalyze. Recently, a young girl tweeted about her boyfriend taking a huge bite out of her Kit Kat bar, which we all know is a candy faux pas. We responded with the definition of “break off,” as in, This is the proper way to eat it, but also, Hey, girl, maybe you should break it off with your boyfriend.
Of course, once you put yourself in the position of being responsive, you have to consider what you will and won’t respond to. We’ve decided to go beyond fun and levity, because our audience cares about more serious subjects, too. Earlier this year, comedian Josh Denny said that being called a “straight white male” was the new n-word, and so we stepped in to remind him (and everyone else) that the n-word is a truly offensive word, while the words straight white male are not. It became one of our most viral tweets, and a sign to us that we were serving our audience right. -- Liz McMillan, CEO, Dictionary.com
Beware the wrong partners.
Breaches are still the third certainty in life, after death and taxes. Businesses are increasingly under attack from hackers -- who are becoming more creative and sophisticated in their approach -- and the number one way they can prepare is by instilling a culture of privacy and security, from the mailroom to the boardroom.
Going forward, we’ll see people being much more circumspect about the vendors they choose, from cloud storage providers to building maintenance. Hackers often go after companies not because of who they are, but because of whom they do business with. If you look at the Target data compromise, it originated from a hack of an HVAC subcontractor who had access to the company’s system. Companies will have to be smart enough to make sure their vendors are as cybersecure as they are -- and to read the fine print and learn where the liability of the vendor ends and the liability of the company resumes. In fact, the next year will see greater demand for cyber-liability insurance than ever before. It can be the difference between a bad day and an extinction-level event.
Despite the passing of the GDPR in Europe and California’s recent consumer privacy law, the U.S. federal government has failed to pass any similar regulations. Businesses will have to take it upon themselves to give customers the sense that their data is secure and is being used properly. It may seem inconvenient to some, but it won’t compare in the slightest bit to staring down the barrel of a class action lawsuit after a data breach. -- Adam Levin, founder, CyberScout
Create an experience, not just a sale.
People talk a lot about the demise of physical retail. But that misses the point. Retail isn’t going away -- it’s just that the old stuff-on-a-shelf version of retail is going away, and is being replaced by spaces that offer an experience. People want to go out, discover something, and feel seen and heard by retailers. That’s an experience. And I don’t think it has to be limited to physical spaces. Online “direct-to-consumer” sales aren’t just about selling goods; it means you are in direct relationship with the consumers you serve. That, too, can be an experience.
So where’s the opportunity? Everywhere. In one recent study, 78 percent of millennials who are going to be first-time head of households said they do not want to use the brands they grew up with. That means they’re at the shelf looking for new experiences: better stuff, fewer dollars, and no-nonsense. Many of them haven’t yet been invited to what we might call the “better products” party -- that growing supply of innovative products that are organic, vegan, cruelty-free, etc., that may have before felt very coastal or too expensive for most people.
If you’re a retailer that can bring them these products, and do it at a price they can afford, and make shopping feel like an experience where the seller and consumer really understand each other, then you’re going to win.
That’s been our mindset at Brandless, where we’ve stripped out supply-chain inefficiencies to create an experience where every item in our product assortment is $3 or less. We ship to 48 states every single day, and our goal is to create better-quality products at fairer prices. Just because consumers can’t access it doesn’t mean they aren’t interested in it. They’re ready for the experience. -- Tina Sharkey, cofounder and CEO, Brandless
An opportunity to invest in employees.
Have you ever heard the term bullshit job? We’ve all had them. It’s like “Here, take this spreadsheet, copy and paste this info into these separate cells, click save, and do it all day for the next three weeks.” Artificial intelligence can automate a lot of this boring stuff and will only continue to get more powerful. There will be societal consequences to that, but it’s not as simple as “AI is coming for our jobs.” It’s not a job loss we’re looking at; it’s a job shift. And the entrepreneurs who react to this shift now are the ones who will win.
To appreciate the shift, first consider AI’s major limitation: It can’t be a human. Machines can’t conduct an interview, or manage client relationships, or be creative. This means that as AI takes over the lower-level tasks, employees will be migrated to higher-value tasks, and companies can gain even more from their workforce. In turn, automation is going to reshape entrepreneurs’ opportunities and incentives, and their competition, as well as what their employees expect.
Here’s an example: At Skymind, one of the things we help companies do is filter customer feedback through AI. A computer first reads the feedback and then sends it to the appropriate team member. That enables the customer service representative to be even more focused and effective at their job. A system like that can be a huge opportunity for any company -- but it can’t happen without first investing in the human who will receive the feedback. The companies that are thinking three steps ahead like this are the ones that’ll ultimately win. -- Chris Nicholson, cofounder and CEO, Skymind