As an entrepreneur, it is both a privilege and a tremendous responsibility to build a company–often from mere ideation all the way to IPO.

A successful and fulfilling life, much like a business, offers many roads by which to travel. Some are filled to the brim with heartache yet, miraculously, overwhelming joy. While others fall prey to the fiery pit of misery and self-effacing failure. Truth be told, most of the outcomes have to do with the choices we make; and subsequently how we choose to react to things that are thrown our way.

So, if you’re going to spend half your adulthood building a business, how can you avoid turning both your soul and your life’s work over to the devil? Because as much as modern culture–obsessed with relativism and moral indifference–will tell you the two can be compartmentalized, I beg to differ.

Deadly business sins#1–Unconscious bias

We do not choose how, when, where, and in which environment we grow up. But as we mature into self-actualized adults, it is in our best interest to question beliefs and biases we have developed about people, places, and things. Fortunately for us, we don’t live in the 1950s anymore in terms of many of the “isms”–racism, sexism, you name it. It’s not perfect, but we have evolved. Subsequently, providing a platform for discourse about the modern day workplace, and how our “unconscious bias” affects our ability to grow and thrive, is one of the most important ways to avoid the killer behavior of building a one-dimensional company. Kool-aid was always bad for you.

The antidote? A variety of professional training resources exist along the lines of “diversity in the workplace” and “uncovering hidden bias.” Do yourself and your organization a favor and invest in one or two of these trainings. If you’re a tiny startup, then (in the very least) circulate reading materials or talk openly about how to avoid unconscious bias as you grow and scale your company.



Handsome man humor funny gesture in a mirrorIn my opinion, nothing is more unappealing than ego-driven anything. When arrogance and bravado are the core principles of a leadership team, the result is often one of three things, if not all of them:

1. Your employees will despise you.

2. The press will generate negative stories about your company.

3. Your customers will vote with their feet.

The antics of particular CEOs (who will remain unnamed) notwithstanding, this type of behavior is generally bad for business on a variety of levels, not to mention out of vogue. How a leader operates both in and out of the boardroom defines the company culture, setting the tone for inter-employee communication and the expectations for the group as a whole.

The most successful leaders I’ve encountered are armed with empathy, patience, and intelligence while emphasizing trust and strong team bonds. To prove my point, I tapped a few CEOs whom I respect to provide insight on how they lead without raised voices or harsh words, and why it’s a much better approach to leave inflated egos at the door.

#1–Trust is an “inside job” that will lead to “outside success”

Reprimanding and bullying employees for poor performance can often lead to crushed morale for both the person and the people around them; it may scare up immediate results, but it doesn’t create long-term inspiration. Instead, slowing down and talking things through can often be much more effective.

“As a leader, I make a conscious choice to let bothersome things process and settle before bringing them up,” says Dippak Khurana, Co-founder and CEO of Vserv. “When they surface, I try to make it part of a thoughtful discussion in a face-to-face or small group situation. I’ll state my case, listen to the response, and try to see all perspectives, particularly when it involves big decisions. I’ve found that it builds the most important thing any successful CEO needs: trust.”

Not only can you fix a problem at the root cause, employees will feel safe to express their thoughts and ideas. That environment can propel the whole company forward.



Every once in a great while you come across a human who quite literally exudes passion from every ounce of their being. Even if they tried, they wouldn’t be able to contain their excitement and zeal for life.

They are a rare find, so when you do encounter them it’s highly likely you will want to do one, some, or all of the following:

  1. Capture them and study their every move in order to understand what, exactly, makes them tick.
  2. Ask them a million questions to see if you can throw them off their game.
  3. Poke them to see if they’re real…or just a big, fake phony.
  4. Clandestinely stalk them to either confirm or deny that they sleep on an alien space ship at night.
  5. Spend as much time with them (without it being awkward) so that you can absorb some of their passion-y goodness.

Jenn Hirsch, founder of MarkedPoint, is one of these unicorns I describe above. After finally getting over the fact that I will NEVER – I MEAN NEVER – be capable of meeting her toe to toe for outward facing passion (inside I’m bubbling over, I sware), I accepted the defeat and decided instead to enjoy our dynamic for what it was: two gals mildly obsessed with educating the world on how to make PR better. From startups to Fortune 500s, we’ve discussed it all.

So when Jenn agreed to pony up a guest post for our blog, we couldn’t have been more thrilled. We hope you can absorb some of her PR passion, and take to heart her great insights…particularly if you are a startup!

How every startup needs to think about PR

When you’re a part of young company, ‘the grind’ shifts from doing the same thing day in and day out to constantly being asked to do a different (and often seemingly impossible) things day in and day out.

As those of us in the trenches can attest, every day in a fledging venture brings more chaos and more opportunity. Hiring the right support system is vital to organizing the chaos – and a great PR team can help do just that.

So how do you create a coherent communications strategy with your PR firm to make your new ventures stand out from the crowd?

First, accept the 3 challenges of startup PR:

1. Your PR needs will change roughly every 3 months along with your business

This is the golden rule. Your business – and your needs – will change every 3 months because you are constantly learning, growing, testing, and refining. Because PR constantly communicates this growth to the outside world of partners, consumers and investors, you are going to need a team and strategy that can adjust to your needs.

2. There is a short attention span for “new”

Why do you think we get a new iPhone model every year? We are conditioned to look at for the latest, hottest and biggest news in our culture. Especially in startup land where fortunes are made (and ruined) in years, not decades. Your audience(s) needs to have new information on what you’re up to to keep you top of mind.

3. Your competition is hot on your heels

If you have a great idea, you can bet others are chasing after the same one. With their ideas competing for attention, you need to stay focused and have a clear message so your audience knows why to choose you over others.

Second, understand the impact these strategies have on your PR:



Company Institutes Mandatory “CSO” Position For All

In an effort to fight for one of the most controversial equality issues of modern day tech culture, Title Equality, technology company AirPR has announced it will change all employee titles to CSO.

“This was not an easy decision to make, because at first glance it seems to maximize role confusion,” says Sharam Fouladgar-Mercer, former CEO, now Chief Skrillah Officer. “We truly feel that given the complicated landscape of titles that currently exists, this would be the best course of action in order to demonstrate how highly we value each member of our team.”

This reorganization will empower all team members to over-inflate their importance while providing ample opportunity to confuse competitors and incumbents alike.

“People talk about moving from vertical to horizontal hierarchies, but we feel both of these hierarchies have one too many dimensions,” remarks Ryan Rapp, proud to be the newly appointed Chief Snark Officer.

“This move is also a strategic one,” adds Rebekah Iliff, who currently serves as Chief Strategy Officer and is the only team member not changing their title. “Retaining and attracting talent means you have to offer something no one else is offering, and this often means thinking outside the proverbial box. What’s more creative than giving everyone a ‘CSO’ title? I mean, I can’t really think of anything.”

title equality CSOTo better highlight the importance of his role in keeping the company’s office kitchen stocked, Patrick Liang will relinquish his Chief Architect title and will instead become Chief Snack Officer.

Software engineer Vincent Park has earned the title Chief Save-the-Day Officer for his uncanny ability to sleuth out important intel, which has historically had huge impact on the success of AirPR.

One of the most recent engineers to join the team, Andres Portillo, will assume the Chief Spanish Officer title, as he has recently agreed to offer private tutoring to anyone in the company who wants to learn Spanish.

The newest member of AirPR, Andrew Carpenter, was dubbed Chief Sprig Officer as the team is still unclear if he eats lunch from any other vendor. His title will be up for review after he completes his 2nd week of work.

Leta Soza, the company’s PR Engineer, has affectionately been given the title of Chief Saucy Officer. HR refused to comment on this, but the Chief Spokesperson Officer did say this: “Sometimes you just have to call a spade a spade.”

The company has also extended honorary CSO titles to close confidants and part-time members of the AirPR team. For example, the corporate yoga instructor, Ashley Bening, will now be known as the Chief Stretching Officer; and managing partner of talkTECH, Kristen Tischhauser, who is frequently used for C-suite image consultation, will now be donned Chief Style Officer.

“Ultimately, we don’t want people to feel confined by their titles,” adds Rajagopal Sathyamurthi, who until today was AirPR’s CTO but now is proudly known as Chief Shar Officer, in honor of his wife. “In fact, we view this move as a decision that will energize all parties and set us apart from the classic C-suite.”

Some have called this move just shy of brilliant. While others have called it the most ridiculous-slash-inspired April Fool’s Day post to ever hit an industry blog.

Time will tell, but for now the company is excited to have “Title Equality” – even if only for a day.


Last fall I attended the very fashionable and mildly geek-chic Anita Borg Institute’s Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing event, now home to “Nadella-gate.”

There, I observed a sea of 8,000 women aged eighteen to eighty who were there for one express purpose: to understand the technology landscape and future of computing and how it may affect their respective lives–career and otherwise.

My thinking around gender inequality (in this particular case, with regard to the technology industry) tends to align with GoDaddy CTO Elissa Murphy’s thinking when we sat down at the conference to discuss gender gaps, among other things: “I never got the memo that I wasn’t supposed to go to the computer lab, or play baseball, or do any other thing I wanted to do. Being a girl never had anything to do with it.”

On the flip side, as Erica Lockheimer, Director of Engineering Growth at LinkedIn, pointed out: “When you talk to younger generations, the stereotypes about being a girl in computing still exist: we’re introverted geeks who lack social skills and just want to stare at a computer screen all day. It’s in everything from the things they watch on TV to what they see on the Internet.”

What is the truth about why more girls don’t pursue engineering careers? Is it because men are holding them back? Is it because “the system” (that beast! The thing we blame when we can’t identify a culprit) is sending the wrong messages?

If we put gender aside for a moment, and focus on the benefits of diversity within industries and organizations, the thinking ever so slightly shifts into a solutions-based paradigm. The by-product of this modification is a distinct emphasis on a person’s love for a particular subject matter, area of expertise, or knowledge base that allows them to thrive. Along with continued discourse and a general awareness of “unconscious bias,” I am almost certain that if we focused on the following things, we would see seismic shifts in terms of the number of people (who happen to be female) who pursue careers in engineering and other technical roles.

EDUCATION: Thinking about computing education as art, rather than just science

It’s very easy to get stuck in our thinking that pursuing a degree in computer science means one is only adept with numbers. But the truth is that “coding” is actually very similar to learning a language; a language that happens to be numbers based. When curricula systematically approach engineering from the standpoint of science or math, they fundamentally deny those with a propensity for learning languages or a passion for art the opportunity to pursue this path. We have done a disservice by talking about STEM in terms of left-brains, rather than a creative pursuit that requires a different set of skills, often soft skills, in order to master it.