Unexpected Solutions : 4 Startups Solving Problems We Didn’t Know We Had

The growth from a startup into a full-scale company fascinates me. I’ve watched startups in a variety of verticals move from an idea into beta testing, raise rounds of funding, then build a product/customer base and become profitable companies that make an impact on people’s lives. What also fascinates me is when the solution these companies are providing is an intriguing and perhaps unexpected one. Everyone knows the classic Silicon Valley mantra, “if you want to build a successful company, solve a problem people have.” Sometimes the problems are a no brainer, like in the case of Lyft and Uber, but other times they are more surprising, like Airbnb – I would never would have thought so many people around the world would be willing to share their home with strangers, but even I’ve become one of those people and have offered my apartment to others.

Below is a list of four startups that are not only solving problems I didn’t realize really, really needed solutions to, but are also doing it really, really well.

Casper

Problem: The mattress industry is shady and the shopping experience is typically unpleasant. Usually, a buyer enters a large showroom, lays on different beds while staring up at rows of florescent lights, and within a short period of time spends upwards of thousands of dollars on a product that is somehow always on sale. I don’t know about you, but I’m not a fan of mattress shopping, despite my love of sleeping.

Solution: Make one, well-made and comfortable product, eliminate the showroom, employ smart logistics, and use compression technology to ship the mattress in a compact box. This allows the consumer to avoid the unpleasant shopping experience, and Casper can offer a premium mattress for a fraction of the price.

Hired

Problem: Looking for job is a full-time job, and with everything else we have on our plate, who has the time and energy to research and engage companies one at a time, before the long interview process even begins. Anyone who has ever looked for a new job while working full-time can tell you, it’s a broken system, but what alternative is there?

Solution: Become the destination for businesses to search out candidates and make offers directly to candidates. Hired believes we are entering a new era of work, where people are not looking for jobs – they are seeking opportunities, and Hired is taking the pain out of the job search so people can focus on easily discovering their next opportunity.

PowertoFly

Problem: Gender and diversity are seriously lacking in the workplace, especially in the tech industry. For the enterprise, it’s extremely difficult to find a qualified candidate, but many times qualified women of all ethnicities get overlooked, leaving their talents unused and their contributions untapped.

Solution: Create a platform that fosters women who work in tech, and connect them with companies who are hiring and care about diversity and inclusion in their workplace. The platform is designed so the enterprise can discover and peruse candidates, and job seekers can discover companies that are hiring and will value them.

Boon and Gable

Problem: We need clothes for both work and personal life, but not everyone has time the to shop, likes to shop or is good at picking out clothes that make them look good, feel good and are appropriate for the occasion. I’ll admit, I don’t have this problem, but I’m also not married, don’t have a family and love shopping, so I’m free to spend my weekends roaming the city. But for anyone who falls into the categories above, having the time, patience and eye for shopping can be a huge issue.

Solution: Have stylists come to your house with a variety of clothes and accessories for you to try on. Get live coaching on how to wear the clothes and the honest feedback you need to make the best clothing choices. The bonus? These stylist don’t work on commission, so you can rest assured they aren’t just trying to make a sale. Take your time, when it’s convenient for you and build a wardrobe for your life.


Work Smarter Not Harder in 2016

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Last month you – like many people around the world – probably made a promise to yourself to make some kind of change in your life. We often see the New Year as a clean slate; an opportunity to make a resolution that hopefully improves us and our lives in some way. Congrats to those of you who are still making good on your resolutions, but if you want to do more or you’ve already broken yours (hey, no shame. It happens!), it’s never too late to try to improve your productivity, especially in the workplace. Even if you’re more productive than anyone you know, you can always find ways to work smarter. See below for my tips and tricks to working smarter (not harder) in 2016.

Prioritize
Everyone thinks they do this, but rarely is it done right. Each day, make a list of the things that must get done and things you would like to get done. Next, rank them in order of due date with assignments with earlier deadlines getting taken care of first. The key here is to balance this list with a few of the items you would like to get done. This not only makes you feel more accomplished overall, but also sets you up for success in the future. Finally, go through the "must do" items and ask yourself if it actually has to happen today. You want to make sure you don’t become a slave to your to-do list – if something doesn’t need to happen today, make your life easier by holding on completing a task (just don’t miss your deadline!).

Set up work blocks
This has two parts with the first being what entrepreneur Steve Olenski calls “the two minute rule.” According to Olenski, if you see a task that needs to get done and it takes two minutes or less, do it right away as it actually takes less time than circling back to it. The second part is assessing your list of priorities. Estimate how long your first project should take to complete, and if the task is less than one hour in length, check the time and get to it. Watching the clock is important because humans tend to use all the resources available to us, so we need to hold ourselves accountable to finishing the task in an hour. If the task is more than one hour, segment it and set up a break after the first 60 minutes. After an hour, you may need to look at your email, answer a question for someone or just come up for five minutes of air. Repeat with the next task and do this for two hours before you check in and reevaluate your list.

Take a break
We are humans, not machines, and our brains need breaks to refresh. This is especially true if there is any shred of creativity to your job. Never work more than a few hours without getting up, walking around, stretching or chatting with someone. In our office we have a yoga room that we use to stretch, do lunges and jumping jacks – whatever it takes to get the blood flowing and refresh. Sometimes, I go and just yell to let out frustrations. These breaks should be anywhere from five to fifteen minutes each, and they will keep you energized for the next couple hours.

Reprioritize 
Come back from your break and reassess your task list to make sure what was important a few hours ago is still urgent now. In the PR industry, a lot can change in a matter of minutes, so it’s important to check your email or office IM system (we use HipChat) for any immediate updates and new to-do’s. And because we live and die as a team, I like to walk over and check in with coworkers to see where they might need help, or areas I need help!

Don’t try to reinvent the wheel 
I can’t stress this enough. Working on something for the first time? You may think you are, but in reality someone has probably already done it or something close to it before. Talk with your colleagues and get advice on what works and what doesn’t. At ICLabs, we’re super collaborative and work closely even if we’re not always on the same accounts. We love to help each other out and share our experiences. Even if you spend time talking to someone or getting a training, in the long run it will save you more time than you can imagine.

Exercise your brain in a fun way
It’s a proven scientific fact that exercising your brain will keep it sharp and improve productivity. You can play cards, trivia games, listen to music and try to learn the lyrics, or read and then tell someone the core facts of what you read to better retain the information. Recently, the ICLabs team even got down with Brit + Co’s coloring book and some colored pencils! Whatever you like to do, do it regularly and it will help keep your brain productive. If you’re interested in learning more, check out Be Fit Brain’s Exercises That Keep Your Mind Sharp.

Exercise and/or meditate
Seriously – make the time for this. You don’t need to train for a marathon, but do what you like or what feels best for you and set aside the time to make it happen. Some folks in our office like to run or do yoga, while other’s like to spin or swim. Make sure you factor it into your schedule and stick to it. You will feel so much better about life if your body feels good. If you want to learn how to concentrate more, start mediating 10 minutes a day. It has been scientifically proven with MRI scans that meditation can help you harness your thoughts and aid in concentration. Check out Meditation 101 for a beginner’s guide.

Cheers to making 2016 the most productive year yet!


At Work in Paradise Reflecting on WorkAway 2015

HIWA2015At Inner Circle Labs, we are lucky enough to enjoy many company perks. As a boutique PR & marketing agency, we’re able to operate more like a startup, which is reflected in our office culture. For us, it’s actually fun to come to work.

But there is one perk which reigns supreme above our beer keg and cold brew on tap, and it’s called WorkAway. Both exciting and a little scary, WorkAway is a weeklong trip we take as an entire company each year in August, to a different tropical destination. We settle in, set up our temporary office and proceed to live, play and above all, work together.

This past August, we went to the big island of Hawaii, and rented a private ocean front property in Kona. This was my first WorkAway, and honestly I didn’t know what to expect. I spent a lot of time prior to the trip thinking, what will it be like spending an entire week, 24/7 with my coworkers? Hawaii is paradise, but will this be hell on earth? I listened at length to stories about past WorkAways, and no one mentioned misgivings. Everyone spoke to the collaboration and inspiration from the change in local and seemed to share strong, bonding experiences – from evening activities to pitching a UK launch at 2am Hawaii time together.

So what was it really like? Honestly, it was nothing like I imagined but oddly everything I expected it to be, if that is even possible. Each day was still the office, with deliverables and meetings, but we seemed to act more as a family and less as an office group. Every morning, we each made sure we had all had coffee before helping ourselves to second cups. We all pitched in cooking breakfast and lunch throughout the week with others helping out on dishes and clean up. We worked in one house together but took 1:1s by the pool and held brainstorm meetings outside to make the most of our tropical headquarters. We checked in with each other often, and balanced workload to ensure no one was stressed, working alone or past Pacific Time business hours.

We had team building exercises that were fun and got our competitive juices flowing, and held the most important company exercise, revisiting our core values. As a group we discussed who we are as a company and how we wanted to grow. It was truly empowering to feel we each had a hand in shaping our company and making it a place we love to work. And yes, after the work day we hung out together and had fun – real fun. We made each other cocktails and learned little things about each other I don’t think any amount of office time can facilitate.

There was so much that happened during that week I couldn’t possibly tell all. But what I can say when I reflect on Work Away 2015, is we simply seemed to connect more as a group, and see each other as not only the people we work with, but as part of something we a truly proud to be a part of. And yes, I’m looking forward to next year. Until then, check out some of our WorkAway fun on Instagram via our hashtag #hiwa2015.


Volunteering for Taste of Potrero

You have to be careful when you talk with my boss.  Julie is a master at pitching –after all, she’s the CEO of a PR agency.  If you’re not careful, you can find yourself pitched and agreeing to participate in things you wouldn’t normally.  Well, last month Julie came by my desk and asked me if I wanted to help her with a non-client project; something for which she was volunteering.  She began telling me about Taste of Potrero, the charity event coordinated by local San Francisco parents to raise funds in order to keep their local elementary school in Potrero Hill open.  We would be reaching out to media to help raise awareness of the event.  I was intrigued, but as soon she said I could spearhead media outreach alongside her, I was sold.  Thinking I had been pitched, but excited to participate and work alongside my boss, I began researching the event.

The only thing was, as I began reading about the history of Daniel Webster Elementary School and the parents who refused to accept the closure of their beloved community school, I realized I had not been pitched.  This was truly a worthy cause, and a true story of the spirt of San Francisco as a city and a community.  For the fifth year in a row, top restaurants, chefs, and bars were donating their time and craft to the Taste of Potrero event.  These were serious, James Beard Award winning players, and if you know San Francisco, you know we take food and drink seriously.  I was beyond impressed, and I could not wait to get to work!

And work we did, up until the last hours before the event.  For me, an associate here at Inner Circle Labs, I was able to work with my CEO on a level I don’t often get to.  I was able to watch her do what she does best, all while she was walking me through her thought process and guiding mine.  I got to do my favorite thing, which is to get on the phone with media, and also work on things outside of my day-to-day.  I walked away from the experience a better PR professional, and as the coverage rolled in, and ticket sales hit a record number, I felt so satisfied and proud.  And the most delicious reward of all? I was given a VIP ticket to actually see the successful event come to fruition, not to mention eat, drink and have a toast with my team.