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Sustainable Startup: Worthwhile Wine From South Africa

Tom_Miranda_Zumas_smallTom Lynch’s new company really began on a father-daughter trip. He and his 13-year-old Miranda were planning a trip to South Africa, and decided they should spend a week of their time there doing something to help. They ended up in Nzinga, a remote village of mud huts, where Miranda read books to the children and helped out in the school while her dad was put to work planting potatoes and working in the communal garden.

On the trip home, Miranda told her father they couldn’t just leave and do nothing else. She wanted to keep working to help this village. Tom agreed to help her launch a non-profit, which Miranda named Isopho, a Zulu word for “gift” and the children’s nickname for Miranda. While they were sitting there waiting for the plane, Tom searched for available URLs and registered Isopho.org then and there.

Eventually, Tom began to feel a disconnect between his work with Isopho on nights and weekends and his daytime job as a VP of Strategy & Planning for a large digital agency. Doing more of the same each day at work felt insufficient, in light of the challenges he’d accepted in Nzinga. When the company began to consider layoffs, he suggested a mutually beneficial exit agreement for himself so that he could spend more time on Isopho.

He also began thinking about starting a company that might be a better complement to Isopho. On one trip to South Africa, he stayed an extra few weeks to visit an extensive list of wineries he had culled from an even larger list.  His first requirement was that the vineyard consistently win awards for great wine. And the second was that it contribute to sustainability in some major ways. Despite its unfortunate history, the South African wine industry is now one of the most progressive in the world.

The result is Tom’s new company, Worthwhile Wines, which will import 261 sustainable wines from 21 different South African Vineyards. Although the history of winemaking in South Africa is oppressive at best, the vineyards Tom selected are doing things like putting a third of the land in the names of the Black workers, providing school and decent housing for the families working there, developing ways to use fewer pesticides, using organic grapes and employing Blacks in management roles.

Most of us would choose a sustainable product over a similar one that’s not sustainable. But few of us want to go to much trouble to figure that out. Choosing a bottle imported by WorthWhile Wines will be a quick and easy way for consumers to know they’re a) getting a good wine, that B) is from a vineyard that ‘s doing good.

Worthwhile Wines will also be a way Tom Lynch can a) run a good business that b) does some good in the world.

The Weird Resumes That Lead To Successful Entrepreneurs

ML hurdles026

Marilou (in white) hurdles toward her future startup

The path to entrepreneurship often covers exactly the right ground, in ways we could never predict. Interests and experience that seem to be unrelated eventually turn out to be precisely the preparation a specific new venture requires.

Marilou McFarlane, for example, has recently launched Vivo Girls Sports, an online community for athletic girls aged 13-22. If she had known when she was a kid that this was the company she’d start at age 48, she could not have plotted a more useful resume of stepping stones to this moment.

Sure, Marilou played sports as a girl. Soccer and track and tennis and more. She also grew up around college sports, since her father, Jim Heavner, announced many of the Tarheel games for WCHL,  the radio station he started in Chapel Hill. (Being the daughter of an entrepreneur also helps pave the way for starting your own gig later.) After college, she worked for Turner, back when Ted still owned it all, so that gave her some good experience in media, as well as a chance to work for another entrepreneur who thinks big. Later, in San Francisco, she was a media rep for KCBS for many years, before she started her own company, McFarlane Marketing. She had two daughters, both athletic, and was involved in season after season of their sports. For two years, she served as president of their soccer league, a full-time volunteer position she handled while continuing to build her marketing company. She also started an offshoot of  her marketing company that targeted colleges specifically. And now her oldest daughter, Kelly, will be playing for the Tarheels in Chapel Hill starting next year — on their very impressive women’s soccer team.

Marilou knows sports and she knows marketing. She understands teenagers and college students. She has a deep affinity for the issues that girls in those age brackets are facing. She’s savvy to the incredible buying power of this group and its appeal to marketers. And she’s not afraid to start something  new.

Starting a company is not just a way to make a living. Sometimes it’s how we reconcile and integrate everything we are.

Beyond Social Networks: Making Connections That Cross Centuries

Eunice Cogswell early 20s*

Eunice Shepard Cogswell

The Internet makes it possible to create relationships beyond time and space. At Tribe, we often say that social media allows human connections without physical proximity. We can build relationships with people all over the world who share our same interests and passions. Geography — or space — is not an issue.

But how about bridging both space and time? In the past few weeks, I’ve been completely sucked into ancestry.com. The amount of information available online about people long dead and gone is amazing. Do a little digging, and you’ll find a treasure trove of WWI draft registrations, turn-the-century census reports, and even photos.

It’s one thing to picture your grandparents as they were when you were a kid (in other words, as old people) and another thing entirely to begin to flesh out the story of their lives. To see a federal census report from 1920, handwritten in fountain pen, listing my grandmother’s mother, Elizabeth Dezell Shepard, as head of household and a widow, her eldest Herschel as a secretary for a rubber tire company, other son Clinton as an accountant in an automobile company, daughter Grace as an accountant for the express company and my grandmother herself as a stenographer opens up a part of her history I’d never considered, before she was married to my grandfather and posed for portraits like the one pictured here.

Go back further and you find ancestors who came to the New World on ships, or fought in the Revolution, or were teenagers on the North Carolina Outer Banks in the years that Blackbeard and other pirates made those waters their home. Instead of names and dates, they become connections, even if part of their existence is extrapolated from the bare bones of facts and imagined in ways that might not be accurate, strictly speaking.

It reminds me that a friend who was a shrink once mentioned to me that human existence is a dance between the desire for intimacy and autonomy. For connections and independence. In a time when few of us live in small towns where we know everyone on the street, the Internet provides the sort of daily interactions that simulate those connections. We also live in a time when few of us have the continuity of several generations in one place. The Internet can provide richer connections with the ones who came before, as well.

Bloggers Are Forgiven Errors That Advertising Is Not

Range RoverBlogging is a forgiving medium. I couldn’t care less if a blogger stumbles over his or her grammar, as long as I’m interested in what they’re saying. In some cases, I’d say it’s actually a good thing for blog posts to be slightly imperfect. Kind of like the old women who sew a mistake into their quilt tops because “only God can create something perfect.”  It reminds us that bloggers are human beings. It helps our impression of their authenticity.

In advertising, not so. Any sort of mistake in a published ad is a major fail. When a brand is talking, rather than a person, there’s really no room for error. It’s like the difference in someone stumbling over their words in conversation and misspelling the name when you’re chiseling a headstone.

Get a load of the headline on this Land Rover ad, which ran on the inside back cover of New Yorker magazine this week. (Full disclosure: I drive a Range Rover myself.) It bugs me when people mix up “its” and “it’s” but it really bugs me when a brand that’s already a little too pompous for its own good makes that mistake. A British brand, at that. If those folks can’t get the Queen’s English right, I guess the pressure’s off for the rest of us.

Six Tips For The Care and Feeding Of Your LinkedIn Account

Webinar2Today’s  “Social Media for Old Folks” webinar topic was LinkedIn. Here are six recommendations we made that may be useful for you too:

1. Make invitations personal. The form-letter invitation generated by LinkedIn is not all that friendly. “I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn” just doesn’t strike the same tone as “Hey, Joe. Great to see you today. Want to link?” In the same vein, when you accept an invitation to connect, take two seconds to send a message back that acknowledges you’re both human beings. It takes two seconds to type “Thanks for the invitation. Hope you’re doing great.”

2. Don’t make your personal update too personal. LinkedIn is not Facebook. Let your LinkedIn update be some fairly major business milestone or at the very least, business related. Also, you don’t need to update this one as often as you might on other networks. It’s perfectly acceptable to leave the same update up there for a month or so. (As long as it doesn’t say something like “Two days before the Christmas rush is over!”

3. Skip asking for recommendations. If you’re a high-level professional, we don’t recommend having recommendations on your profile. If you’re still in the early years of your career, or job hunting, they’re fine. But everyone knows how those recommendations get there (a message from you asking your contacts for a recommendation) and that they’re sort of a command performance of glowing praise.

4. Participate in the Answers discussions. If you see a question that you can answer, take a minute to do so. It’s good to invest in helping others, so you’re not using LinkedIn exclusively for getting what you need. Besides, it’s nice exposure to be the guy who knows what’s what. Also, when you need to know something, use this Answers feature. You can access some legitimately useful expertise on just about anything you need to  know, and it gives other people a chance to be an expert on something.

5. Join groups. Your group memberships offer a quick snapshot of your interests and affiliations. If a friend or contact invites you to join their group, it’s showing support for them to join, as long as it really is a topic appropriate for you. Then, participate in the discussions. Making comments there is a good way to be involved in the LinkedIn community.

6. Start your own group. This is an excellent way to claim your area of expertise, particularly if you can narrow the scope of the group to a small niche or audience. You can begin to own that niche (or at least to be recognized as one of the players) by starting and maintaining an active group.

500+ contacts on LinkedIn? Can you really know that many people?

LITurns out you can. I used to be skeptical of my few friends who had that 500+ notation beside their names. I had a hard time believing they could possibly know that many LinkedIn contacts if they ran into one of them on the street.

I also used to think LinkedIn was kind of dull, compared to the friendliness of Facebook and the concise wit and wisdom of Twitter. My opinion was that LinkedIn was probably a great tool for jobseekers, but that there was nothing in it for me.

Recently, I decided to jump into my LinkedIn account with both feet. At that point, I had 178 contacts, but only because a colleague had challenged me to a competition a year or two ago. We were sitting through a long day of shooting a TV spot, and to pass the time between shots, we each tried to invite as many people as possible to connect. The one with the most connections at the end of the day would be declared the winner. (I think Stacy won.)

My collection of 178 contacts included lots of interesting, accomplished and well-connected people. But the list was a little random, and depended heavily on people I had in my email address book or that I just happened to think of, off the top of my head.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve about doubled my number of contacts. Now I’m up in the 350s somewhere. And I gotta tell you, LinkedIn becomes a much more colorful and lively cocktail party as your number of contacts grows.

My assumption was that after the first couple of hundred contacts, you’d be stretching to find any other people you actually new. But the opposite is true. The more people you connect with, the more names you think to search — and the more people find you. Tons of old co-workers, clients, vendors and acquaintances have popped up, many of whom I was delighted to be in touch with again.

As your list of contacts grows, it also becomes less weird to invite someone you know less well. I’ve reached out to people who are peers in the industry, although we’ve never actually been introduced. You can invite those people who know of you but don’t really know you — and vice versa. You can link with people you’ve emailed with but have never met in person.

How do you decide if someone’s too far removed from you to invite? You don’t want to overstep your bounds and ask someone who has no idea who you are. Some people say stick to people you know and trust, or people you’d like to know better. My rule of thumb is to ask myself if that person would pick up the phone if their assistant said I was on the line. If I think they’d take my call, I feel comfortable inviting them.

LinkedIn would appeal to a border collie, or any herding dog — if only  dogs could get online. LinkedIn lets you herd everybody together and corral them in one place. The more people in your corral, the richer and more interesting a resource LinkedIn becomes.

So yeah, I think I could end up with 500 or more contacts on LinkedIn, and still recognize everyone if we bumped into each other on the street. If nothing else, I’ll be familiar with their little headshot at the top of their profile.

Chris Brogan and the Spirit of Helping in Social Media

palmWho could not love Chris Brogan? He looks like some tough guy, and he turns out to be sweet as pie. He’s been doing some video blogs the past few days on his “Overnight Success,” mostly it seems, to prove the point that it’s not all that glamorous, and that his fame in the social media arena certainly didn’t happen overnight. In his Part 2 video, he opens shooting down from his hotel balcony to the pool below, surrounded by palm trees and lounge chairs. Then he shows us around his room, explaining how it’s not a big vacation, but is actually where he gets a lot of work done. “It ain’t all pretty,” he says, “This is where it all gets done. It’s just doing what needs doing.” (One of my favorite parts is when he’s swooping the camera around to show his laptop on the hotel room desk and pans by a row of miniature Maker’s Mark bottles lined up neatly in arm’s reach of the computer.)

What I really love about his Overnight Success, Part Deux, is Brogan’s ernest plea that we all reach out and help other people. This willingness to help seems to me the most powerful undercurrent in the social media world right now, and it’s a far cry from the business attitudes that were prevalent in the early part of my career, back in the 80s and 90s.

That makes me wonder if some of this might be the influence of Millennials in the workplace. The under-30 crowd offers a much less selfish approach to business, and they believe they can change the world, starting right now. When people my age were coming along, nobody was talking about win-win. We believed if one person one, someone else necessarily lost. Us Boomers also assumed we had to pay our dues before we could have much of an impact. These Gen Y kids seem to believe they’re ready to be the CEO from day one. I like that about them.

In fact, that attitude of doing it right now is another part of Brogan’s hotel room rant. He urges his viewers to take action, to quit talking and get in the game, to get some projects out there in the world. He says, “Let’s help people. Let’s lift each other up.”

What’s not to love about that?