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February 6, 2017 - No Comments!

SBC February Newsletter: Learning from an Entrepreneur & Millennial Mindset

Ryan SBC FebruaryThis month, our creative director, Erik Benjamins, sat down with one of his close friends, Ryan Sheffer. Ryan is a Millennial entrepreneur and co-founder of Zero Slant, an AI-driven news agency that creates automated content from social media. His path from filmmaker and editor to programmer and entrepreneur is inspiring and representative of changes we see in the future of work. He’s crafted a unique path that’s been driven by asking ambitious questions about the future of our relationship to technology and the media. His highly successful blog has been a resource for other young entrepreneurs in the industry and beyond.

Erik Benjamins: How did you choose the path of entrepreneurship?

Ryan Sheffer: Up until I was applying for college, I thought that “becoming a business person” was the thing you did as a career. I didn’t know that becoming a filmmaker—or doing your own thing—could be a job. In my head, it seemed like something that others did. When I started to get into the technology industry about ten years later to start my own company, I didn’t know what venture capital was. I didn’t use the word entrepreneur to describe myself. I was just an editor doing my own thing. I had this inherent desire for freedom, but didn’t have a clear cut way to define it. I realized that the key to choosing a path was understanding that it’s there. We often define our ceiling because it’s what we’ve seen, what we know.

EB: When was that moment for you? When you shifted from working in the film industry to the tech industry?

RS: It was a process. I was always brought into the film industry as the tech person that you’d call when something was technically difficult. Around that same time, I made a New Year’s resolution to teach myself how to code. It made sense given my interest in the tech side of the film industry. A few months later I sat down with some coders and showed them what I built after dedicating a month to learning this new language and they thought it was pretty good. I walked away from that meeting thinking that this may be something I could do. It was a shift in perspective.

EB: Tell us about your interests in an open source education?

RS: Before teaching myself how to code, I taught myself how to use a camera. My desire to continually learn has objectively fueled my career path. When I first went out and tried to start a company, I felt like no one wanted to share the simple things. Everything I found online were either stories of great success or massive failures. There wasn’t any “brass tacks” information like what to do when hiring a lawyer. No one thinks these are interesting things to share, but it was all I wanted to know. I started a video series called 12 Months to share these brass tacks kinds of things I was learning as I was starting my own tech company. It didn’t do very well, but I did get a lot of emails from people thanking me for being open and honest about all the non-sexy stuff I had to go through.

My blog has been the most successful thing I’ve done in my career. It now gets hundreds of thousands of reads per year. My outlets for sharing these process, successes and failures have a lot to do with sharing outward, but also forcing myself to verbalize my process. It lets me understand and follow through on it.

EB: What have you learned about your professional trajectory thus far?

RS: I need to be building something ambitious. Success isn’t going to happen instantly so I want to build something that will light me up as I struggle through it. Setting ambitious goals lets me work as my best self. The most important thing for me is to pursue my own excitement about learning and discovering, pushing myself to be better and better.

EB: How do you see and engage with risk in your work?

RS:  I don’t see risk the way others might. With my first foray into the tech industry, I invested a lot of my own money I had been making as a filmmaker into a company that I eventually ended up shutting down. But I viewed that decision as an education. I could have spent the same amount of money for a masters or PhD, but I’d rather invest in this style of learning. That being said, I’m starting a family now and need to work in a more responsible way. Risk is important, but I also need to set hard deadlines. For example, I’m in the process of fundraising right now and if I don’t raise the amount I need, I’ll have to put the company on hold and find a job.

EB: What advice do you have for someone struggling with their identity as a worker, or someone interested in taking the non-obvious work path?

RS: If you find yourself working at a job and you feel like they can’t give you enough work to do and you have six other side projects going, you’re not an employee. You can either choose to refocus your energy towards being an employee or you can accept that this seems like the energy of someone who wants to start their own thing.

EB: How can upper management engage with entrepreneurial minded talent?

RS: I had an employee like this and my method was to put that person in charge of their own department. I gave them as much autonomy as I could without sacrificing the clarity of vision for the company. Once you identity someone with an entrepreneurial spirit you need to incentivize them with responsibility and autonomy. My experience in the film industry helped with this. The director is the dictator, but he or she surrounds themselves with department heads like lighting, costume, etc., that make large decisions without the director’s constant oversight. When it comes to managing Millennials, it’s about working with people who have a ton of passion and have a desire to have an ownership in what they do.

EB: Is this an experience that for you is generationally specific? 

RS: I don’t like using the phrase the “Millennial attitude”, but there is definitely an element of Millennials not wanting to hear you tell them your business. The counterpoint of empowering Millennials is that they may feel deserving of autonomy, but are unable to provide the output. The “Millennial attitude” lends itself to a side effect in which the second you micromanage, they are upset. It’s an attitude of “we do it differently and you don’t understand”. It may also have to do with the fact that jobs and work is shifting. For example, I don’t have folders and I don’t have an office. My whole company works remotely. There’s an element of needing to find people that work more comfortably in that environment, to be go getters and get stuff done. I think we’ll see a trend of a company having it’s separate sections run like individual companies.

EB: Lastly, who has been your influence or inspiration?

RS: My grandfather for always wanting to learn and my father for being the most dedicated family man I know.

Final Thoughts...

It never hurts to reflect on the powers, complexities, and new styles of the Millennial mentality as we continue flying into this new year.  It speaks to the changing nature of work and our ability to balance existing structures with entirely new ones so we can do our best work.

April 20, 2016 - No Comments!

April Newsletter 2016 – Catching up with Chip Conley, Futurist for Airbnb

Chip Conley Head ShotHotel guru. Armchair psychologist. Traveling philosopher. Author. Speaker. Teacher. Student. Chip Conley has lived out more than one calling in his lifetime. Many of you know of Chip from his best-selling leadership books and TED talks. He is an inspirational entrepreneur and the founder and former CEO of Joie de Vivre hotel group. During his nearly 24 years as CEO, he grew the company to become the second largest boutique hotel company in America. After selling the company, he joined Airbnb in 2013 as Head of Global Hospitality and Strategy to share his hospitality methods with hosts in nearly 200 countries.

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to speak with Chip about leadership and what fuels his passion within Airbnb.

SB: I just read your book Emotional Equations and immediately saw the power of practical strategies for leadership. Tell me more about your view on leadership today.

CC: Leaders are the emotional thermostats for the business. Whoever is the top dog conveys mood and tone. How they talk is amplified across the organization. It is contagious and sensed by employees.

Today, anxiety is the number one emotion felt across organizations. According to Abraham Maslow’s “psycho-hygiene”, we can sense stressors in our environments. People don’t do their best work in anxious circumstances and lack of confidence impacts our work. I’ve observed that the best companies allow for vulnerability and they consciously strive to build trust.

SB: Are you seeing leaders today that are more in touch with their authentic self?

CC: Yes, and I think there are influences working in our favor. There are more women in the workplace and with that there’s a better reading of the room and emotions. Secondly, coaches have become a normal part of leader development. We also offer feedback through multi-rater tools. And the issue of diversity is now part of the Board conversation. This adds to a CEO’s understanding of the environment and ultimately themselves.

SB: What prompted you to join Airbnb after selling the largest boutique hotel group in the west?

CC: It began when the CEO asked me to be his coach. This was my first tech startup, and I found the organization so intriguing - it was a total immersion. It wasn’t what I anticipated at that stage in my life, but I found it fascinating and it was a great work-life fit for me.

SB: What have you learned at Airbnb?

CC: I am beginning to understand tech. Today we know the face of our mobile phone better than the face of an actual person. At Airbnb our workforce is intergenerational. Prior to working in strategy, I was the head of learning and development where I was teaching twenty-five year olds how to manage twenty-three year olds. I was able to help people through great emotional growth. Now I work on public policy and help our clients all over the world be the best hosts they can be. I am proud to say that our guest satisfaction is the highest it’s ever been.

SB: How do you find top talent?

CC: Success breeds success. Now Airbnb is the leading world hospitality company and our culture and values drive our decisions. We have 2,700 employees and 100 recruiters on staff. Of course it helps to have thousands wanting to work with us, but we start our talent assessment with core values - every candidate goes through a core values interview.

SB: How do you continue to disrupt your industry?

CC: We have to disrupt ourselves before we can disrupt the industry and that begins with looking beyond where we are right now. My advice would be to talk to people outside the industry you’re in and find your blind spots. Be evangelical about what you do. You don’t succeed by meeting customer expectations – you have to go beyond and imagine their unrecognized needs. Highly successful companies know how to increase the intimacy of their customer relationships, and they surprise and delight them with something unrecognized. Reinforce the emotional connection between you and your customers to help them meet their highest goals.

SB: What’s next?

CC: I am constantly curious. I was curious about tech so I joined Airbnb. In 2013, we were booking 8 million room nights a year and now it’s up to 150 million. I was drawn in by the combination of home-sharing, tech, and startup culture. I will continue to work at transformation and coaching others to find their path, always reaching for new work-life fit experiences.


Many of us are working in virtual teams and organizations across the globe. Chip’s reminder is an important one: to be smart in today’s workforce means not just understanding people but to also understand ourselves. Are you investing in you and the intangible relationships inside and outside of your organization? Are you caught up in the tangibles of day-to-day? What are you curious about? Let us know what you are learning!

March 24, 2013 - No Comments!

March 2013 S. Benjamins & Co Newsletter: Mobile Technology and Healthcare – It’s Here!

Mobile technology is changing the face of our daily routines. We access information that changes minute by minute, locate a new restaurant, or even better, discover that a friend happens to be a terminal away at a coinciding layover.

JasonThe possibilities are limitless and mobile devices and interfaces are transforming us despite economic or social standing. The mobile, social and local implications of technology are especially powerful in light of healthcare changes. I met with my friend Jason Bibelheimer, Vice President, Global HR Operations at Western Digital Corporation. Jason is leading an initiative at WDC that is showing incredible early results in reducing healthcare spending and increasing employee “consumerism” due to education and incentives for healthy living options.

We sat down to learn more from Jason and a key strategic resource, John Halloran, CEO of Mobile Health Consumer, Inc, who has partnered with WDC to pilot a mobile application that provides a decision tool for employees as they take action in improving their own health.

SB: Tell us about your journey in achieving such impressive cost savings in your health plan renewals?

JB: We began this initiative three years ago when renewals were in the 18-19% range and when HSA plans were just not seen as an attractive option. We told employees in 2010-2011 that we were heading to an entirely new HSA plan with high deductibles balanced with a design to entice change that would reward healthy choices and fund their health spending accounts. The first year we experienced 4.2% reduction in our renewal costs and have been flat the last two years with no increase to employer or employee.   We are way ahead of the benchmarks for other employers our size and driving even further for powerful improvements based on employee choice.

SB: What can you tell us about your strategy?

JB: It’s the three P’s – we want to Predict, Provoke and Provide.

  •    Predict Health Risks – we want to predict risks before they become expensive health claims or chronic health conditions
  •    Provoke Healthy Action – Once we have predicted a health risk, we then provide a prevention path for the employee that includes game dynamics so they can earn rewards by doing what is good for them.
  •    Provide Consumer Guidance – Once the member understands what their health risk is and what rewards they can earn for taking actions to reduce their health risk, we then provide consumer guidance about where they go to get treatment near them, how their plan will cover services, and what their balances are in case they have to pay for the services.

SB: What was the other factor beside cost that drove this change?

JB: Our leadership has always been committed to quality care for our employees. With all the changes in healthcare that were seemingly beyond our control, the strategy of engaging employees by allowing them to make their own decisions about healthcare was aligned with our belief that everyone has unique needs. We sought to empower them with a choice that would result in greater satisfaction and retention.

SB: How did you decide to get “mobile?”Mobile

JB: We looked at the data. Over 70% of the people in the US have a smartphone. More importantly, people with smartphones check their smartphone on average 34 times a day. These devices represent a new frontier in personal management and interaction. First it was web-based tools, but now smartphones introduce a level of portability and access, which seemed a perfect platform for these services. We looked at how hard it is to get employees information about their health, and decided to put that information into a communications channel where the employee already is.

SB: Do you see a need to tackle this in a different way in you global business units?

JB: We are invested in making people aware of their numbers. Are you healthy or not? And if you’re not, what can you do about it? This is a concern that is applicable across the globe. At this point, we are focusing our efforts on the US because the cost of healthcare here is so high. If we can mitigate the escalation of the most expensive healthcare in the world, then that is a good, powerful thing.

SB: We see you as a “trendsetter” – how do you define success for end of this year and into 2014?

JB: Our success is defined in great part by engagement levels. Are people participating? Are they taking advantages of opportunities to increase their good health? If we can drop employees’ health risk factors then their healthcare costs go down. Engagement and participation are crucial to this. To monitor participation we utilize analytics that are embedded within the software to monitor health levels and medical visits.

October 13, 2011 - No Comments!

Recruiters – How We Build Community – Just Start

Today’s technology with the advent of social networking sites is truly shrinking the world, increasing our ability to reach out in real time to an expanding number of people. Social network tools do what email and other formal communication methods cannot. They nurture connections and make it easier to reach others with similar interests and develop a community with these people. Great recruiters are using these resources to their advantage to reach beyond their traditional resume databases to more fluid and expanding networks.

To make connections in business communities, companies are taking a new approach to their recruiting practices. Best practice leaders build places on the Internet where candidates can interact with them, other employees, hiring managers, and peers. This works to break down the walls of traditional one-way dialogue in the recruitment process. By breaking down these barriers, candidates and all of us get what we expect: transparency, personalization, and politeness.

Common courtesies like these are what my former boss, Steve Harrison in his The Manager’s Book of Decencies, say creates a corporate culture where candidates can see how they are valued and feel appreciated.  Such sentiments lend to a climate of sharing and contribution in the workplace. Considering how many abusive hiring processes still exist, we have to ask where these decencies have gone. Let’s figure out how to bring these people practices into our business with the help of social networking technologies. Here are some ideas to consider:

  1. Seek to Understand – Conduct focus group sessions to understand what your newly hired employees thought of their hiring process. Be open to listening and changing your process or suggesting strategies that support a “human-approach” blended with technology and direct response.
  2. Teach Hiring Managers that Actions Speak Loudly – If you value community, build it. Nurture connections even though they do not produce a hire today.  Teach hiring managers that a long view pays off.  Responding to candidates promptly and professionally means a lot and gets shared in positive ways across your network even though they may not get hired.  Have your manager check out to see the other side of the coin.
  3. Build a Community Strategy – Collect information from contacts at your career site, whether they are interested in a position or want to know more about future needs. A recent article on Sodexo, a global outsourcing firm, shows they are leading the pack in building talent networks.  They segment their candidate pool prior to responding so that there is a “personalized” response based on the candidate’s level of interest. Blogs also allow for dialogue with candidates prior to hire.
  4. Challenge the “Confidential” – I see a growing increase in confidential searches this year.  Here is an opportunity for HR to create forums for quarterly talent reviews and coach executives on giving sensitive, honest and direct feedback to incumbents. This would, hopefully, in some cases ultimately reduce the confidential search.
  5. Acquire Contact Management Systems – Just like sales professionals, recruiters are managing multiple contacts and networks of individuals that require varying levels of “reach-out.” Here is our chance to take Applicant Tracking Systems to the next level and compete more effectively for talent.  Matter of fact, according to Bersin’s Talent Acquisition Systems 2010 Study, 41% of respondents (or staffing leaders) are seeking contact management systems this year.  This is very exciting for managing long term relationships with candidates and former employees.

As Recruiters, we know which practices engage talent. Let’s leverage our potential and that of our hiring managers by updating candidates, thanking them for their interest, returning a call, or simply being there to share a point of view. It does take time and focused effort, but small steps can pay off. If you are a recruiter and reading this today, what one step can you take and introduce to your hiring mangers?

Published by: admin in Management, Recruiting
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