Tag Archives: #leader

Interview with the CEO of Poshare

I’m very excited to share today’s interview with Zhanna Merson, founder of Poshare. Anyone who loves glamorous gowns, but not their price tags, will love Poshare (for the curious, Poshare is a contraction of ‘posh’ and ‘share’). And that includes guys who are looking for something totally unique for that special woman.

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Tell me a little bit about yourself, your family, your background, your roots.

I am originally from Ukraine; I came to the United States in 2006 as an exchange student. Both my parents are engineers, my father started his own business in the 90’s, he has certainly inspired me to pursue something of my own.

When I moved to America, I lived in New York for the first nine years. When I started Poshare I had the opportunity to move to Houston, which, so far, has proven to be a smart move.

My initial idea was a result of my interaction with a good friend, with whom we used to exchange dresses and accessories. This practice has virtually doubled our wardrobes, but all that ended when she moved to Miami. Initially the idea was to build a P2P marketplace where women would rent dresses from one another which could help them kind of monetize their closets. But after thinking it through, I realized that a peer-to-peer marketplace had a serious flaw – unreliability. Women typically rent dresses for a particular event, so there’s no space for error. If the dress wasn’t shipped on time and in perfect condition, client may be left with nothing to wear, which would result in a nightmare, decorated with complaints and bad reviews. I decided that Poshare should be a curated community of boutiques and designers, those that have a proven track record of customer satisfaction. I wanted to pick and choose our dresses and make sure my vendors were professionals who would deliver the product in good condition and on time, minimizing customer service issues.

When did you start Poshare?

I started the company in 2015, but the website hasn’t launched until February 2016.

Congratulations! What actually drew you to become an entrepreneur, rather than working for somebody?

Well, I guess growing up in a post-USSR country and living through the 90’s, with all that political turmoil and economical hardships around, made me feel uncertain about working the regular 9 to 5. It felt like I am putting my well-being into the hands of someone else. As a kid I remember seeing so many people with presumably steady jobs were losing their income, everybody was so stressed out about government companies closing left and right, people were wondering whether they will have a place of work tomorrow or not. From my experience most those who were bold enough to start something on their own, took risks of trying something new, have succeeded. Plus of course having this sense of freedom, being able to do what you think is right and being responsible for your own future looked quite attractive to me.

You mentioned that you don’t have a cofounder, so what triggered your move? Did someone influence that decision?

Initially I really wanted to find a co-founder but finding a good one is easier said than done. I’ve met a lot of people who were interested, some went as far as immediately printing ot business cards, but unfortunately when it came to sitting down, rolling up their sleeves and really getting to work – I kept hearing excuses: don’t have the time, not feeling it today, sudden health issues, this, that.. You know the old saying, if you want something done right – do it yourself. So that’s what I did. Initially I was working evenings, after a day at my full-time job. I think it took about 10 months before I realized that in order to really get Poshare off the ground I will need more time in a day. Fortunately, I have always been financially responsible and saved enough to be able to leave my job and fully dedicate myself to Poshare.

Tell me about your culture.

Our company culture is about being a team, being as open and honest with each other as possible. Thankfully we are all good friends from the same city in Ukraine so we know each other quite well.

Right now, Poshare consists of two people here in the States and three developers in Ukraine.

I want to build a friendly, compatible team, where people support each other, where everyone is comfortable bringing up an idea, asking questions, pointing out any flaws they may see. If someone disagrees with me and they have a better solution – I am happy to hear them out. I don’t want to run this company as a dictator and surround myself with only those who agree with me. I want a team environment where everybody feels equal in terms of being heard.

Nevertheless, I don’t want my teammates to think that our friendship means that they can slack, because they really can’t.

 You don’t want them to become too relaxed.

Exactly. There must be a clear understanding that, while I’m not going to micromanage and constantly look over your shoulder, I expect you to do your best. When I hire people I try to find those who love what they do, who share my vision about the product. One of the least pleasant things is having to fire someone. I’ve only done it a few times thank God.

What values are most important to you?

Professionalism – in whatever you do. Honesty and responsibility are two main traits that I’m looking for in people, whether we are speaking about my closest circle or the folks that I work with. I like straight shooters. Of course this isn’t about just flat out saying everything you think; it is about being open and honest. If you promise something, you make sure it’s done. You have to own it. People of course make mistakes and it is perfectly fine as soon as you can take responsibility for your actions and learn from it.

What focused you on those particular values?

It might be my Ukrainian background. One of the hardest things for me personally, when I moved to US, was to get used to corporate politics. I just feel a lot more comfortable when we act as a team – not when we pretend to be one.

Makes sense. How will you hire when the time comes?

Well, I’ve noticed that my best employees were brought into the company through referrals. I am kind of obsessed with recommendations and references. I also am not afraid of outsourcing certain things. Ultimately our team was made from outsourced developers that later became the in-house crew.

The last question is about leading. Of course, position-wise you are the leader of the company, but it’s interesting to know how you think about leading.

Leader should lead by example only: one must be motivated in order to motivate others, be able clearly communicate company’s vision, be passionate about what he/she does. If the spark isn’t there, it’s only a matter of time for the team to fall back. For example, if you expect someone to work weekends you should be ready to pick up the phone or respond to their email during that time. At least this is my philosophy. Being a leader is a great responsibility and a lot of hard work.

I first came to America thanks to a program called Future Leaders Exchange. I got a full scholarship. Applicants had to go through a number of exams and psychological tests, then among almost 3000 people only 50 were chosen. I work hard to live up to their belief in me.

They definitely made a good choice :)

Thank you and thanks for having me.

Interview with the CEO of Stuffed Pepper

 

Today’s interview is with Heather Jacobsen, the founder and CEO of Stuffed Pepper, an online magazine and resource for the gluten-free and paleo lifestyle. Heather says she is also a mother, researcher and writer, and loves to find order in chaos.

Jacobsen Heather

Tell me a bit about your family/background/etc.

My father was a Naval officer, which brought me to exciting places around the world. I’ve lived on both coasts (in the US), went to grammar school in Denmark and even got to spend Christmas in the Philippines when I was three. I developed my wanderlust at a young age, as well as an appreciation for the paradox that this world is vastly diverse, yet at the same time most of humanity shares many of the same values. One of those values I believe we all share is the desire to be healthy and most of us are even willing to take the proper steps to do so. Unfortunately, however, many of us are lost when it comes to knowing how to eat properly.

Being the daughter or a Naval officer, I also developed a great sense of discipline at a young age, which helped me focus my creative world views, so I can really get things done. I have a Master’s in Ethnobotany and have used those skills to delve deep into the science of nutrition and break it down in a easy-to-digest terms for laymen.

What drew you to becoming an entrepreneur?

I never thought I was an entrepreneur. But I’ve always had the wish to do something that would “make the world a better place.”  After my second child was born, and I no longer had a career, I was looking for something to do and decided to start a blog.  Because I had been gluten-free for almost a decade, I thought I could share my gluten-free recipes and advice; I found I am not alone in my gluten sensitivity and the blog snowballed into a larger, community website as I found others that wanted to share their knowledge and expertise.

I continued to research the far-reaching effects of gluten sensitivity, as well as the proper way to stay gluten-free. It isn’t as straightforward as you think! It wasn’t long before I realized that people needed more than just recipes.  Going gluten-free is not easy!  Not when most of us have been conditioned since birth to eat bread and cereal with pretty much every meal, including snacks.

That led to developing meal plans, a 30-day program, and other downloads that would help people really stick with the diet and get back to health.

 

Where/how did you and your co-founder meet/decide to do a startup?

I don’t have a co-founder. But if you know someone who is interested… :)

 

Tell me about your company culture.

I work with interns from time to time. Otherwise, I am the sole employee. Other than my own posts, all of the contributions to the website are from volunteers.  I have no set schedule. I am a mother of two young children, who are my first priority. So I work when they are at school or when they have gone to bed. I allow the same flexibility with my interns and volunteers.

My interns are rarely local, so we meet over Skype when we need to. I don’t have a set schedule for posting articles or for tasks that need to be done by interns. We all work together to negotiate hours and timing so that it works to everyone’s benefit. Because my company is mostly online, we have that sort of flexibility. That is the nice thing about the digital age.

 

 

What values are most important to you?

Truth and integrity are hugely important to me. We are an online magazine giving free health and nutrition advice. Our income comes from our downloads and advertising.

Unfortunately, most people get their nutritional advice from the food industry itself. The food industry has a powerful influence in the FDA and the USDA who create our dietary guidelines, so there will undoubtedly be bias in what we are told we should and shouldn’t be eating.

Additionally, when consumers scan the labels of foods in the grocery store and see captions like “heart healthy” or “low calorie” they assume it must be healthy for them. Unfortunately, that is not always the case.

Our aim is to provide honest, scientifically sound nutritional advice, without industry influence. We work only with food companies that truly understand the importance of nutrition, and are not just interested in the bottom line.

 

How did it happen? Were there conscious decisions on what you wanted the culture to be?

Yes. I consciously chose to be flexible, casual and also trustworthy. As a mother, I need flexibility. And I am not the only mother out there, who needs this. I have had several interns who were completing degrees in nutrition who were also mothers. Flexibility was also important to them.

I have also always been a seeker of truth. Maybe it’s because I am a Sagittarius, and we are notorious for being so truthful we sometimes hurt people. I try not to do that! Or maybe it’s because I always admired the muckrakers such as Upton Sinclair, who wrote The Jungle which brought to light the ugly truth behind the meat-packing industry of the early 1900’s.

Either way, I believe people have a right to be informed about their own health and that proper nutrition is the first place to start. For that reason, all of our information on the website is free. Its only the extras, the meal plans or the consolidation of information in books, that we charge for.

 

How do you hire? What are the most important traits you look for in a candidate?

In addition to having the proper experience, such as in nutrition or social media marketing, I look for someone who is enthusiastic about the subject matter, who can demonstrate hard work and commitment, and who has the ability to put their own creativity into the job.

 

Do you think of yourself as a leader? Why?

I have never really thought of myself as a leader. Which is why, I suppose, I never really thought of myself as an entrepreneur.

But in order for me to be able to stand behind my website, I needed to become an authority on the gluten-free diet. It’s when I began researching it more that I realized most people were not doing gluten-free “right.”

That is, simply replacing food containing gluten with those on the gluten-free foods aisle, was not enough to heal people’s bodies after gluten had done them harm.

This notion is different from what the majority of gluten-free consumers understand, and certainly what the foods industry wants them to believe. When I discovered this, I realized that I needed to take a stand, and become a leader in this new direction.

While there are still some who are resistant, I believe that more and more people are understanding that we really need to eliminate all grains from our diet or even adopt a paleo diet, if we want to truly heal. The paleo diet is receiving a lot more attention these days, and I am happy to help play a role in that.

Let’s talk about “good leader”!

 

The last few weeks I’ve been reading many articles about leadership and sharing them and my ideas with you.

Leadership and culture within companies are a relatively new focus among Russian business and I find them fascinating. My friend Miki writes about them for her company and sometimes we have very interesting conversations.

We had one the other night and I think you will find it interesting, too. I’ve italicized Miki’s words and left mine in plain type, so it won’t be confusing.

ленин уорхолмао уорхол

Andy Warhol’s  Red Lenin and Mao

Do people there talk much about leadership?

Yes, we talk about that, but ideas about company culture and its importance are fairly new. Culture was ignored because we thought it was less important for a company then R&D, selling or production. I think Russians never got that it all goes together.

What is your impression of the stuff you have read from the US?

Sometimes I think you guys talk about culture too much and too meticulously. Russians mostly don’t like to talk about culture and leadership. We aren’t used to talking about culture because we are
just starting to recognize its importance.

What do you personally think of the idea of leadership?

Hmm, that’s complicated :) I think that it’s rocket science to be the perfect leader
and to build the right culture in a company. I think it’s mostly depends on your personal
human qualities, but doesn’t depend on economic situation and on the country where you work.

Do you think a person can learn leadership better in school or from doing it and analyzing after?

If you are a strong person with a strategic and analytic mind you still need to learn how to communicate with people, how to take responsibility and how to build the company’s culture in order to be a leader.

You could analyze the experience of great leaders and start to do stuff to get your own experience and analyze that. Mistakes are not bad, as long as you notice, acknowledge and analyze them. Also, it’s good to accept advice from someone more experienced than you, as long as their values are similar to yours.

I think I’m writing very obvious things)) I don’t have any real experience.

Do you think there is such a thing as a “perfect leader”?

I think it’s not about being strong and forcing people; it’s about to be smart enough to be different and flexible if it’s needed.

Leading is getting people to do what you want them to do willingly, but so is manipulation. I think it’s defined as negative, because it’s always used that way. Do you think a good leader must be a good person?

Yes; I don’t think a good leader forces at all, I think he gets the ability to inspire people to follow him. A really good leader is smart enough to listen employee’s opinion and find compromises. He is not strict, he is flexible, he is not egoistic, he always can change his mind if finds out someone’s opinion is more reasonable.

My own opinion is that the actions come and are described as leadership after the fact.

I agree with that. There is a quote from Spinoza (I think) that freedom is a necessity only after you have had it. I believe that a good leader is a flexible person who is able to inspire some people to follow and finds ways to convince the rest without using force.

I agree that culture is a reflection of a leader’s values, but nothing you’ve said has changed my mind. I just don’t believe that leadership is inherently good, “…history tells us that people are more than willing to be shaped in socially unacceptable directions—think Jeff Skilling or Hitler. Of course, if the leader crashes and burns, his constituents will claim that they were led astray unwillingly and/or had no idea what their leader was up to.”

When you or anyone talks about a “good leader” they are referring to someone whose values they share. Founders bring their values, which become the basis of the company culture, but that doesn’t mean the culture is good. I have seen horrible cultures in very successful companies. What is the culture at NTR?

Good, there is a company culture with values which are similar to mine.

And what are your leaders like?

I like Nick’s style. He works hard to build good culture in our company.

So what kind of leader is he? What makes him good?

He is smart and he inspires people and never forces stuff in a bad way (not too strict or manipulating); employees have opportunities to think differently. I always have a chance to argue something he says and defend my own points.

You have asked me, now it is my turn. How would you describe a good leader.

That’s easy; my ideal of a leader was described by Lao Tzu way back in the 6th Century BC. You can read it here.

I would love to continue this discussion by hearing what you think about leadership. What is your “good leader” definition?  And any other thoughts you have. Miki and I promise to respond.

Bad News Everyone

You can’t lead wearing rose-colored glasses.

That means talking about bad along with the good.

We live in world of crisis. And whether people are looking globally, or just locally, they would need to be six feet under not to have noticed.

Here are a few examples, in case you’ve been traveling off-planet recently.

  •        The Russian economy has been in a deep and painful recession for the last 18 months. Our national economy is down 6% second quarter 2016 compared to 2015.
  •        Dozens of tech companies are laying off.
  •       Official unemployment stands at 4.9, but the government numbers are notoriously low, since it only counts those actively looking (millions have given up).

Bad news, be it internal, regarding products and process, or external, with regards to your markets or the general macro-economic trends, will happen. Period.

But many leaders don’t like receiving bad news, which is really stupid.

Start with internal bad news.

According to Darrell Bracken, C.E.O. of Logitech, “The most dangerous thing is to be sitting in an office and nobody’s telling you what’s wrong.”

If you don’t know what’s wrong it can’t be fixed.

GoodNewsEveryone

OpenTable’s CEO Christa Quarles, whose team was wasting time trying to make everything perfect before showing her, passionately believes news should be “early, often, ugly,” which allows for faster course correction.

But that only works if your company culture is built on the precept that the messenger won’t be killed, which is also the basis for innovation, especially if it disrupts anything.

Avoiding external bad news is even stupider.

Why?

First, because companies put enormous effort put into hiring the smartest people possible, so expecting them to be dumb and not notice the economy or how the company is doing is downright idiotic.

Second, because what you don’t address will give rise to rumors that are far worse than the actual news — particularly when it comes to layoffs.

This is also the time when age plays against many founders, because they have little-to-no experience communicating any kind of bad news.

good news1

While there are dozens of approaches to communicating bad news, a good place to start is with Miki’s six basic steps.

Finally, the one sure thing about bad news — you can’t make it go away by ignoring it.

But you can make it worse.