Practical Entrepreneurship: Curiosity, Empathy, and Growth

Empathy is Superpower

I was on set recently with a Zander Media client conducting a dozen interviews, and I was reflecting on the interview process.

Zander Media got its start through my own ability to show up compassionately with people who might or might not be comfortable on camera. We recorded their answers, made sure that what they had to say was precise, accurate, and compelling, and helped them feel at ease. Of course, ZM has come a long way since then…

At the heart of our work is helping people feel comfortable on screen. Curiosity and a lack of defensiveness is very unusual in business. And when you show up with empathy and love – especially at work – the outcomes can be remarkable.

Jeremy Liew, partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners on Doing the Impossible and Staying Relevant at 50

My guest today is Jeremy Liew (@jeremysliew), a partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners

Jeremy heads up investments in consumer technology at Lightspeed, a well-known Silicon Valley venture capital firm, and has invested in iconic and culturally relevant companies, including Snap, Giphy, Rothy’s, Affirm, Honest, Cheddar, and many more.

Jeremy is willing to embrace the beginner’s mind and practice things he doesn’t know how to do – even when it is uncomfortable. And as we discuss, that trait has paid dividends throughout his personal and professional life.

I know Jeremy personally through my own physical practice. We are both students of Johnny Sapinoso of San Francisco Movement Practice.

In this interview, Jeremy and I discuss his background and the various transitionary points in his personal life and professional career, how his “geeky youth” set the stage for work within the early Web 1.0 companies like AOL and Netscape, his first experience in sales in his mid-20s, and his discovery of and love for movement in recent years.

As a business operator and first time investor myself, we dive into how Jeremy recognizes consumer trends and the difference between being a business operator versus an investor.

I hope you enjoy this wide ranging conversation about startups, consumer trends, movement, and learning with my friend, Jeremy Liew.

Mark Brand, Food Activism and A Better Life Foundation

I first met Mark Brand through his talk at Responsive Conference 2017. The conversation in today’s episode is broad in scope, but the central thread is Mark’s tireless effort towards improving equality for all people. In Mark’s world, that is predominantly through getting people fed. As a former restaurateur myself, I’m blown away by what Mark has accomplished, the millions and millions of people he has fed and his own personal triumphs.

He’s gone from being unhoused to being a successful serial entrepreneur and philanthropist. Anyone who wants to really have an impact on the world can learn a lot from Mark Brand’s approach and philosophies. 

Please enjoy this wide ranging conversation with my friend, Mark Brand.

A Tribute to Tony Hsieh

The months leading up to Responsive Conference 2016 were a whirlwind. Earlier that year, I had opened Robin’s Cafe, and the cafe was scheduled to cater the first annual Responsive Conference. I had never run an industry-defining business conference before and was learning the ropes on the fly – balancing cafe inventory alongside sponsorship calls with Microsoft. 

Somewhere along the way, I met Rachel Murch, who headed up organizational design and transformation at Zappos. Rachel gave me a tour around Zappos’ campus, and I remember her specifically pointing out Tony Hsieh’s desk and commenting “though he’s never there”. 

I invited Tony to speak at that very first conference, but he declined. Then, at the beginning of the first day of the 2016 conference, just as Adam Pisoni was about to go on stage to give the opening keynote, I got a call from the volunteers at the front desk. The volunteer told me that there was “somebody named Tony” at the front door with an entourage – or as I came to know them – a group of his closest friends. I dashed up to the front entrance and met Tony Hsieh for the first time before running back to the mainstage in time to introduce our first speaker.

Throughout Responsive Conference 2016, Tony, Rachel and about half a dozen other Zappos employees sat in the very back of the amphitheatre and took notes. At the very end of the event, Tony summoned me up to where they were all sitting and complimented me on a successful first year conference. He then insisted that I return the favor and visit him at the Life is Beautiful Festival in Downtown Las Vegas, which was taking place the following weekend.

I do not actually like music festivals, and I had not spent much time in Downtown Las Vegas, but my incredible hosts, most notably Rachel, made me feel extremely welcome. I will never forget Tony inviting me to sit down with him at the bar and starting a conversation with someone over my shoulder, only to find out later that my fellow barmate was Matt Mullenweg, the founder of WordPress and Automattic. 

As so many have, I was particularly struck by Tony’s Downtown Las Vegas Airstream Trailer Park, known as Ferguson’s, and the community he built. I began to wonder if there might not be potential for a future collaboration with Zappos.

There was a brief moment when someone on Tony’s team learned that I ran a successful restaurant and suggested that I open up a second location for Robin’s Cafe in Las Vegas. We even toured several abandoned buildings together as potential venues!

For the next several years, one or two members of Tony’s team attended Responsive Conference. Then, halfway through the 2018 conference, as I was sitting at the hotel with Zapponian, John Bunch, the conversation came up as to where I should host Responsive Conference 2019. John and I together thought of Zappos HQ and Downtown Las Vegas. John sent a quick text to Tony, and just like that, we were confirmed. The very next day, John and I made the announcement in front of 350 attendees that the 2019 conference would be hosted at Zappos. Having had a Zappos culture book in my library since 2009, this was a big moment for Responsive Conference.

Throughout 2019, my team and I toured Zappos and Downtown Las Vegas, and made plans for a variety of different ways we could design delight for our conference attendees. We were given a behind-the-scenes tour of the Downtown Project, as well as the nuts and bolts of running a conference in the Zappos mainstage theatre space. This being a new offering for Zappos and their team, we were struck by Tony’s team’s enthusiasm to collaborate and create the best possible experience for us and our attendees.

I knew Tony Hsieh as a friend and an extraordinary, quirky creator. Though we only spent a handfuls of hours together over several years, I was a very real recipient of his impact and legacy.

I will never forget arriving at Ferguson’s, where Tony was putting up the Responsive Conference team, and being offered Fernet. Or coming ‘home’ to my airstream at Ferguson’s from a very full day on stage at Zappos to find Tony sitting in the hot tub amidst a raging party. Tony asked if I was enjoying the party, if I would like to join them in the hot tub, or if I wanted a drink or some food. Having just given a keynote, and amidst the party going on around him, his desire for me to feel welcome and included in his home and community was palpable.

Responsive Conference 2019 culminated in this fireside chat on stage.

Some people have an outsized impact. Tony, for his curiosity, odd brilliance, and willingness to bet on people and new ways of working, was one.

RIP Tony Hsieh. Thank you.

Jude Gomila: Golden and Mapping Human Knowledge

Welcome back to the Robin Zander Show! 

For today’s episode, I sat down with Jude Gomila to talk about his journey as an entrepreneur and his start-up Golden.

I first met Jude, and learned about Golden, when Zander Media was hired to create an explainer video about the company. We had 10 days to get up to speed on this company, craft a script, and put together this short video:

I was really looking forward to a more leisurely interview with Jude, but this conversation dramatically exceeded my expectations. 

Jude is a quirky, charismatic leader, who has invested in over 200 startups and is out to build the world’s first self-constructing knowledge database. Learn more about Golden at golden.com.

Jude is a fellow circus performer and a polymath with interests ranging from robotics, space, and the learning process. He, and his company Golden, are on a quest to map all of human knowledge. 

I hope you enjoy this interview!

“Master Your Code” with Darren Gold of The Trium Group

I meet with a lot of individuals and companies exploring both personal and professional performance. Especially through curating Responsive Conference over the last five years, I’ve had the great privilege to meet with change leaders around the world. There are a lot of very innovative approaches to change being practiced in the world today!

One intersection that I rarely see well addressed in the delicate balance between personal and professional development. The Trium Group is an exception.

In this interview, I sit down with Darren Gold, managing partner of The Trium Group, to discuss peak performance, his very unusual background, and his new book “Master Your Code.”

Enjoy!

Be More Loving with Sales – Zander Media Strategy Sessions

Recently while in NYC, I led a strategy workshop for an exclusive group of CEOs and founders who are building companies designed to thrive in the modern world.

Here, we discuss how to have more authenticity in our sales. Respecting others’ time and double checking that they are still available and willing to speak gives you initial buy in to the conversation.

You are much more likely to have a connection that will result in the long-term outcome you desire if you put the other person’s needs at the forefront. Focus on how you would like to show up for the conversation, because you are more likely to be successful if you sell lovingly than if you sell aggressively. Being present and considerate will amplify what you already do and who you really are.

How to Create an Amazing Brand with Michael Roderick

A few weeks ago, I sat down with Michael Roderick to discuss brand strategy and his work around creating “referrable brands.” This conversation covers a wide range of topics related to brand strategy, including his AIM model which stands for Accessibility, Influence, and Memory. We apply this framework to a variety of business examples, including my own efforts at Zander Media. I hope you enjoy!

Podcast Notes:

3:30 Michael’s background
Robin refers to:
Made To Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
Influence by Robert B. Cialdini
6:30 How Michael and Robin know each other
Responsive Conference
Responsive Org Manifesto
10:30 Teaching and learning
15:30 Transitioning from teaching to starting a business
Michael mentions:
Linchpin by Seth Godin
18:15 Michael’s talk at Disrupt HR
20:45 Referrable brands: Accessibility, Influence, and Memory
24:00 Michael’s podcast
26:30 Applying AIM to Zander Media
30:15 Influence
34:00 Memory
40:00 Lin Manuel Miranda, Geico, and Apple
46:15 Find more about Michael:
Small Pond Enterprises
LinkedIn
47:45 Find more about Robin:
Zander Media
Responsive Conference
Robin Zander Show Podcast
Newsletter – Personal
Newsletter – Responsive

How to Ask Better Questions with Daniel Stillman and Robin Zander

In this episode, my friend, Daniel Stillman, interviews me for his podcast, The Conversation Factory. We discuss how to ask better questions, the value of loving, non- judgmental questions, and my story.

I hope you enjoy today’s podcast as Daniel flips the script and interviews me on the art of asking questions.

Line Notes

1:15 How Robin describes himself

5:15 Responsive Org

Mentions:

Responsive.org

DonorsChoose.org

10:00 How do you define learning?

14:30 Asking loving questions

17:45 Practice versus performance intervals

22:30 Physical and emotional pain

Mentions:

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini

Pre-suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade by Robert Cialdini

24:30 Asking loving questions

29:00 Robin’s interest in asking questions

32:30 Anat Baniel

37:00 The Option Institute

40:45 Categories of questions

Mentions:

Larissa Conte at Responsive Conference

45:15 Robin’s Cafe

47:00 Find Robin:

How To Tell Your Story – Robin Zander at HR Transform

This is a talk that I gave at the HR Transform conference in Las Vegas to the Heads of HR of some of the fastest growing tech companies you have definitely heard of. The context for my talk was storytelling. I pulled on my experience at Robin’s Cafe and Responsive Conference to help others tell their story.

In today’s world, it’s not enough to just have a great company culture – you have to share that story with the world.

The aspects that make your organization unique create incredibly compelling narrative. It has never been easier to get your ideas out – to your company, your customers, and the broader world.

Find the reason you do the work you do, and share that out with the world.

What I Learned Going from $50,000 a Year to $50,000 per Month

Money is not a topic that we discuss easily. It’s not something that I was taught in school or that we talked about around the kitchen table in my family. But I have learned that money is a skill that can be learned and practiced.

Prior to opening Robin’s Cafe, the most I’d ever earned in a year was under $50,000 – before expenses. By 2017, through the cafe, I was earning almost $50,000 per month.

In today’s podcast I share three lessons learned as a result of earning $50,000 a month at Robin’s Cafe.

Finding Financial Freedom

Money is one of the topics we teach at Motion. Together with my co-founder Michelle Love, we’ve put together some of our tips on earning money into a 3-part YouTube series.

Finding Financial Freedom Workshop

I’m pleased to announce my first in-person workshop on money, which will be taking place on Feb. 9-10 in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Learn more here!

How to Foster a Culture of Belonging at Work

How do you foster a culture of belonging? This is a very simple tactic that has made a world of difference within my own organizations, and that I’ve been helping other leaders apply within their companies. This article is about the importance of one-on-one meetings. Taking the time to get to know each person within your company go a surprisingly long way.

When I founded Robin’s Cafe in 2016, I was deeply excited about Slack. For me, this digital messaging platform was the ideal place to create a “digital representation” of our brick-and-mortar shop.

But that first week, when I asked my staff of 3 to pull out their phones, 1 pulled out a flip phone, another an old iPhone so badly broken that the screen was unuseable, and the third shrugged and said he didn’t have a phone right now.

It doesn’t matter if you are running a 3 person company or a 300 person company. One of the most important contributions you can make is knowing your people. I believe that the role of a leader is to get to know each person in a company personally – to know what makes them tick, to know why they are there, and to support them in that growth.

If you’ve enjoyed this short article and podcast, you might enjoy this talk, by Andrea Robb and Kate Shaw of AirBNB at Responsive Conference 2018.

The Biggest Regret From Selling My Cafe (Isn’t What You Think)

A few weeks ago, I sold Robin’s Cafe.

I sold my cafe after spending almost 3 years building it up from nothing. When I began Robin’s Cafe, there was a parking lot across the street. Today, that parking lot is literally a park and a playground. I was able to grow the cafe because of a ton of factors: good timing, a great neighborhood, a lenient lease, and a whole ton of effort. When I left, the cafe employed 15 people on staff, up from 1 person on our first day of operations.

Every morning since I sold my business, I’ve woken up at 7am with a thrill because I don’t have to solve food service emergencies anymore! But a few days after selling Robin’s Cafe, I had an insight and my first tinge of regret about selling my business.

But I promise: the regret isn’t what you think. I don’t regret starting the business, and I certainly don’t regret selling it. The only thing I really wish I had done differently is document every step of the journey along the way.

When we started out, I did document. Here was my first video:

I sold my cafe after spending almost 3 years building it up from nothing. When I began Robin’s Cafe there was a parking lot across the street. Today, that parking lot is literally quite literally a park and playground. I was able to grow the cafe because of a ton of factors: good timing, a great neighborhood, a lenient lease, and a whole ton of effort. When I left, the cafe employed 15 people on staff, up from 1 person on our first day of operations.

Every morning since I sold my business, I’ve woken up at 7am with a thrill because I don’t have to solve food service emergencies anymore! But a few days after selling Robin’s Cafe, I had an insight and my first tinge of regret about selling my business.

But I promise: the regret isn’t what you think. I don’t regret starting the business, and I certainly don’t regret selling it. The only thing I really wish I had done differently is document every step of the journey along the way.

When we started out, I did document. Here was my first video:

And I documented pieces of the journey on Instagram, and I wrote a series of posts about the early days (see Parts III, and III). But I really wish I had hired a full-time videographer to capture every moment.

There were ridiculous moments, like when I learned the hard way that our espresso machine drain pipe was too narrow:

One afternoon, during our first month of business, I got a frantic call from my manager, saying that the espresso machine was backed up. I quickly realized that the situation wasn’t going to be easily resolved and would take several hours of sorting and deconstruction before we could adequately address the issue.

That evening, equipped with an air compressor that my friend and investor, Krista Schnell, had acquired, we proceeded to attempt to blow out the clogged pipe. The first two attempts failed, because we had failed to adequately secure the pipes we were attempting to clean, but the 3rd time we succeeded. 50 pounds of air pressure was more than sufficient to clean the ¼ inch diameter pipe of years of built up espresso grounds and spoilt milk. Unfortunately, I’d had my head down near the drain pipe, to report on the success of our cleaning endeavors. The resulting expulsion from the stuck pipe sprayed espresso and milk goop all over the wall 10 feet away, ceiling 15 feet above, and my entire head and torso.

That makes a for a good story about what it actually takes to run a cafe, and that’s the real stuff that people don’t talk about.

There were moments that are much more difficult to talk about, like when Frank didn’t show up for work, and I found out that he had died. When I published that story, it turned out that this is something other companies have had to deal with, and there are almost no resources about process grief or how to support a company grieving for a colleague. I wish I had a video detailing my experience to share with others a resource for them. (That’s one of the reasons we are creating content about grief at my new company, Motion.)

I wish I had footage of my nephew walking into Robin’s Cafe for the first time, looking in awe at my ice cream machine, and asking, in hushed tones, “Uncle Robin, do you own that Ice Cream Machine?!”

Most of all, I always wanted to have a digital representation of our physical bricks-and-mortar coffeeshop. I had hoped to create something online that customers could point to and be proud of in the same way they were proud of our store. Of course, I communicated with 5000+ customers via newsletter, spent countless hours talking with customers onsite, and developed meaningful personal relationship with vendors, staff, and neighbors. I even conducted a few podcast interview with vendors, like Andrew Barnett, founder of our coffee roaster Linea. But I never did create the digital equivalent of our physical store.

If I had it all to do over, I would have hired a full-time videographer onsite at Robin’s Cafe every single day to record and and create a short video every day about the building of our shop. This would have had a variety of benefits:

When I look at the potential upside of these efforts, I would have 2x or 3x our revenue in our first two years of business. Conservatively.

I’m not displeased with our numbers. As it was, we saw 50-80% growth every year. But the cafe could have performed better, and I would have even better stories to share.

I’m not making this mistake again. I’ve begun a new company, Motion, which provides online and in-person tools in those areas many people need a bit more support. We discuss the taboo topics: things like money, grief, mental health, and behavior change. And our first full-time employee is, in fact, a videographer!

Additionally, I’ve started documenting the journey of building Motion myself via my new Zander Vlog. (Be sure to subscribe to my YouTube Channel!)

I hope this story is useful to you! If it is, please let me know by liking this post and leaving a comment below! Thanks for reading.

Have You Always Wanted To Own a Cafe? (Hint: Don’t)

It has been almost 3 years since I began Robin’s Cafe, as a service to the attendees of the conference I was running onsite. I wanted coffee and sandwiches for our conference attendees, saw an opportunity to serve the neighborhood, and on 3 weeks notice, opened a cafe.

Now, 3 year later, I have learned a ton, and I’m ready to turn my attention to new adventures. I’ve left Robin’s Cafe in the very capable hands of my (former) team and the new owners. The new owners have owned a cafe previously and had been looking for just the right cafe to operate in San Francisco for several years. Even more, though, the team I left in place are the heartbeat of the organization, and they are excited for the continued tweaks and improvements to come.

Over the next few months, I hope to share some lessons learned from opening, building, and selling my cafe. (If you missed Part 1, you might want to begin there.) I hope you enjoy!

Silicon Valley celebrates “Exits”. We shouldn’t.

The number of times I’ve heard people bragging about their successful “exists” on the streets of San Francisco… If you aren’t familiar, an “exit” means selling your business or getting bought by another business. I was a bit skeptical, but like many in the Bay Area, I was also excited by the prospect of selling a company. It sounds like fun!

It isn’t. First of all, the number of hoops that have to be jumped through are outrageous. Legal, bureaucratic, logistic, financial, and – finally – people.

Really, though, we shouldn’t celebrate exits because it puts the focus in the wrong place – building unsustainable companies. Even though I’ve sold Robin’s Cafe at a profit, doing so is a mark that I am no longer the right person to run the business I started. For me, operating a cafe longterm is unrealistic and unsustainable. I am not a good long term fit for the role of “coffee shop owner”, in no small part because I consistently have other projects that keep me from solving the day-to-day minutiae that come up when running a restaurant.

Law is a Required Skill

When I opened Robin’s Cafe, I, my manager at the time, and the then-Executive Director of our landlord company, ODC, wrote and signed a 12 page lease that has served as our operating and guiding document ever since. It didn’t occur to any of us to have an attorney proof the lease, nor, as I found out 2 years later, did ODC’s Board of Directors approve the lease.

The terms of a lease will make or break your business. We have served more than 25,000 avocado toasts in 3 years, but that by itself isn’t enough. It isn’t sufficient to provide great service or be constantly busy. If the terms of a lease aren’t service-able, the business is going to fail.

I’ve signed a lot of documents in my life without reading the fine print. You probably have, too. I can’t keep track of the number of times Facebook or Gmail have changed their terms of service. But what am I going to do? Stop using my email? And it turns out the importance of a legally binding document, that will impact the livelihood of your business for years to come, is fundamentally important.

People Matter More Than Anything

I’ve seen over 50 employees come and go through Robin’s Cafe, and the cafe generally has about 15 people on staff at any time. Through this, I’ve discovered that the people behind the counter – the staff – are the heartbeat of an organization.

There’s the obvious stuff: you can’t serve customers without someone behind the counter to serve them. But more importantly, the culture of Robin’s Cafe has become a reflection of the culture of the staff.

Conway’s Law states that the shape of an organization dictates the shape of the products that company creates. In our case, though the cafe sells coffee and avocado toast, the real product was community. The community we had behind the counter is the real asset of Robin’s Cafe, and it is reflected in the quality of our patrons. Many companies say something like “We <3 our customers.” Walking into Robin’s Cafe, any day of the week, it is clear that they really do.

But when I say “People Matter More Than Anything”, I’m not just talking about customers. Yes, you can’t run a cafe without customers. But that’s just the gravy. Serving food and coffee is the job. Forming community for your customers? That’s the bonus, for when everything else is going well. And things only go well when the employees – those people doing the day-to-day work of the restaurant – are happy and satisfied themselves. There are lots of little ways to do this, but the single biggest, is spending time with each individual person within the organization, knowing them, knowing what matters for them, and following up – day after day.

Certainly, I’ve failed at this at times. There have been months at a time when I didn’t spend enough time with my staff. But that process, the regular, day-to-day attention, is what makes a cafe successful.

The Cost of Doing Business

There is a lot of talk about entrepreneurship right now. Unlike a decade ago, starting your own company is hip. There’s going to come a time in the next few years when that isn’t true, and we don’t put starting a business on a pedestal, but meanwhile…

Speaking as the “entrepreneur” behind several companies and with a successful “exit” under my belt, running a small business isn’t all that it is cracked up to be. Though we celebrate entrepreneurship at the moment, we aren’t talking about what it actually takes to maintain a successful company. Especially where a “successful” company means one that has a profit, doesn’t take on outsized debt, and remains in business!

What they don’t tell you, and I wish I’d known in starting Robin’s Cafe, is the bureaucratic hoops that have to be jumped every step of the way. To successfully operate Robin’s Cafe, I had to get and maintain the following permits:

The logistics necessary to manage all of that permitting isn’t what most people who dream about opening up a cafe want to do. But that’s the necessary work, just in order to be in the game!

Have You Always Wanted to Own a Cafe? Don’t!

To all of those people who have approached me over the last few years and said: “I’ve always dreamed of owning a cafe” – and there have been hundreds – my response is this:

Don’t! Or at least: Know Yourself.

Here are some questions that I wish someone had asked me before I opened up Robin’s Cafe. I would still have begun the coffeeshop, but I would perhaps have done so with eyes just a bit more wide open.

Some questions to consider:

If so, then by all means! But these aren’t things most people who want to run a cafe, are eager to do. And this is the job.

The folks I’ve met are excited by the idea of running a cafe want different things. They want the philosophical elements – the beautiful space, building a community, the moments of delight for a customer. These things are the upside of a successful cafe, but not the reason to run one.

I remember the first time I learned – the hard way – that our espresso machine drain pipe is too small. One afternoon I got a frantic call from my then-manager, saying that the espresso machine was backed up, resulting in a very difficult time serving lattes, cappuccinos, and other espresso drinks. I quickly realized that the situation wasn’t going to be easily resolved, and would take several hours of sorting and deconstruction before we could adequately address the issue.

That evening, equipped with an air compressor that my friend and investor, Krista, had acquired for the purpose, we proceeded to attempt to blow out the clogged pipe. The first two attempts failed, because we had failed to adequately secure the pipes we were attempting to clean, but the 3rd time we succeeded. 50 pounds of air pressure was more than sufficient to clean the ¼ inch diameter pipe of years of built up espresso grounds and spoilt milk. Unfortunately, I’d had my head down near the drain pipe, to report on the success of our cleaning endeavors. The resulting expulsion from the stuck pipe, sprayed espresso and milk goop all over the wall 10 feet away, ceiling 15 feet above, and my entire head and torso.

Closing

When I look back at Robin’s Cafe, and especially now that a month has gone by, I’m mostly just grateful. To the 50+ employees I’ve had the pleasure of working with, the 200+ customers we’ve served each day, for the recognition of just how much work is required, and for all that I have learned along the way.

Look out for more from me over the coming months!

Lessons Learned Building (and Selling) Robin’s Cafe

I want to say a couple of words about today’s post and a new format I’m exploring for both The Robin Zander Show podcast and this blog. Over the last 3 years, I’ve conducted over 200 hours of interviews, many of which have ended up on the podcast. I love conducting interviews, and I have been honored to spend time with so many incredible thinkers. And now… it is time to try something different.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be posting regular podcast and blog posts – without a guest or an interview – but instead about my own experiences over the last few years and what I’m working on next.

I’m going to share some more about my journey, and answer some questions like “How do you open up a cafe?” and “How do you sell a small business?” I’ve grown Robin’s Cafe to 15 employees in less than 3 years. How did I go from earning $40,000 a year in 2015 to more than $40,000 a month in 2017?

There’s so much, personally and professionally, that I haven’t ever shared. So, welcome to a new version of the Robin Zander Show and this blog. I look forward to talking with you and sharing stories.

To start, this post is being published the same day that I’m selling Robin’s Cafe. So, before talking about the sale of my business, I thought I’d share a bit about the opening.

I opened Robin’s Cafe on 3 weeks notice. I’ve shared that before, but the few people who really understand what that means and what it takes to do so, are usually always restaurateurs – folks who have lived and worked in the restaurant industry. And for me, even though I lived it and know it happened, it still feels almost impossible.

And I think that is one of my most important takeaways from my life to date. You really never know until you try. Success and failure both feel so daunting – so impossible – that until we get there, we can’t know. For me, the fear of failure has become almost a drive, a North Star to guide my path, and I hope over time to share how I’ve done things people say are impossible to  inspire you towards the same.

Here’s a bit about the opening of Robin’s Cafe in blog post and video form. But there are still a few pieces of the story I’ve never shared.

Origin Story

Back in 2016, I was preparing to put on my conference, Design for Dance. Five weeks before the conference date, I went to the manager of the then-market that was onsite, Melange Market, to see about providing coffee and tea for my 175 guests. I was told that Melange Market would be closing, had sold to a new owner, and would not reopen until after my 2-day event. I sent an email to the then-Executive Director of the landlord company, ODC, just to double check. I heard nothing back, so I  put the question of Melange Market out of my mind.

Then, 20 days before the start of Design for Dance, I received an email from ODC’s Executive Director. Rather than answering my questions, he introduced me to someone, with a brief note saying: “Robin is a community member and is interested in Melange Market.”

Matt, who turned out to own several, locally-famous restaurants, responded minutes later suggesting we meet the following day.

When we met up onsite at Melange Market, he presented me with a list of assets – the entire list of equipment, food stuffs, and more – and said “Let me know what you’d like to buy. I’ll keep the rest.” I was dumbfounded. I had showed up just expecting conversation and maybe to look behind the counter. Matt was prepared to sell to me, almost on the spot.

Fear as a Motivator

Over the next three weeks, I had to learn everything about running a small cafe, write a lease with the landlord ODC, raise more than $40,000, hire employees, and actually learn how to serve customers. The list of To-Dos was daunting, but I learned a valuable lesson in that crazy 3 weeks. Everyday, getting up at 5am to learn to open the cafe and staying up (with wine) until 2am to write a lease, I asked myself the question: “Do I want to do this?”. Every time, my answer was “maybe?”. Digging a bit deeper – into each “why” and “why not” – I kept coming back to “I’m afraid.”.

Fear is an incredible motivator. We use fear to keep ourselves safe in times of crisis and also challenge the edges of our capabilities. One of my fears was that I would fail to run the cafe successfully and lose all $40,000 of my investors’ money. I had to come to terms with that very real possibility – yes, that was a fear. But was that fear alone enough to not attempt opening the cafe? I realized that over 2 years of working at a minimum wage in San Francisco (I took my worst case scenario to the extreme), I would be able to pay my investors back – even if I lost everything. Tim Ferriss calls this “Fear Setting”, and I’ve found it invaluable to imagine a worst case scenario, look squarely at the fear, and not decide that just because I’m afraid to avoid something I might otherwise want to do.

There was a lot of learn about running a cafe – in those 3 weeks and in the 3 years since then. But my biggest lesson learned has been about my own fear.

Over the last 6 months, I have been in the process of selling my small business – equipment, system, and all. Selling Robin’s Cafe as been a trial-by-fire in its own right, which I may talk about at some point in the future. In the Spring of 2018, I decided that it was, in fact, time to take my leave from Robin’s Cafe. I had built something that could flourish without my direct supervision and could continue to improve even more by an owner/operator who was onsite 40 hours/week. I’m thrilled with the new owners and excited for the continued improvements that will come to the business I founded.

Here are a couple of lessons learned from three years of running a small business in San Francisco:

Showing Up with Love

We are not taught the skills necessary to run a business in school, and boy, do I wish we were. These are actually the same skills necessary for parenting, for being a good friend and – as most of us do – I’ve had to learn these skills the hard way. I’ve written elsewhere about a peak moment, when my employee called his experience at Robin’s Cafe the best job he’s ever had. This is the mark of a successful business. One that is able to stay operating – meaning that it’s profitable – while providing the best possible place to work for its employees. Because when you have happy people working for a company, you have happy customers – folks who come back again and again. Sure, Robin’s Cafe has great avocado toast. But more importantly, we’ve provided great customer service in an environment where the humans coming into the business have a positive experience with the people working there. This principle is something that I will strive to take forward – in anything that I do.

Showing up lovingly, is really the answer. Knowing that my responsibility within my organization, is to up as role model, a mentor, a teacher, and also an authority figure. Someone who holds the people within the organization to the high standards and principles that they’ve agreed to, but someone who does so without anger. I’ve had to learn to set clear consequences. If an employee did not wash a plate at Robin’s Cafe, there were consequences. But not because I’m angry or personally affronted. Rather, because they’ve agreed to the job, and this falls within that responsibility. It has been a process learning to show up for my employees in this way.

In the first 6 months of Robin’s Cafe, an employee would mess up, and I would get furious! I quickly learned that when I was angry, employees quit. What worked much better, was leading with love. And when they did mess up, asking a loving question: “How come you didn’t wash the plate, given that you’ve agreed to do so?”, “Can I do anything to support you?”, “How can we, together, do this better?”. And then, eventually, if the behavior doesn’t change, being able to comfortably let them go.

Money & Robin’s Cafe

Another big learning from Robin’s Cafe was about money. When I began the cafe, the most I had personally ever earned in a single year was about $50,000. My very first month in operation of running Robin’s Cafe, the cafe earned $20,000 and have earned as much as $50,000/month over the last three years. Of course, what goes unsaid is that monthly earning is gross – which means before expenses. Out of that $50,000 comes the costs of bread, avocados, coffee beans, payroll, and everything else required to run the business. But even so, seeing $20,000 and then eventually even $50,000 flow through the cafe bank account each month, has expanded my view and facility around money. Money isn’t something I was ever taught. If only I had been taught how to balance a checkbook in middle school, or learned about “good debt” versus “bad debt” in college! The practice of learning to balance the books, process payroll, and even just see money come into the business and leave the business – all the while knowing that I’m personally responsible – has been life changing. My advice, to my younger self or to you, would be to start practicing!

Win-Win-Win Business

The next topic I want to discuss, is of creating win-win-win businesses. Robin’s Cafe has succeeded over the last several years because it has served the needs of many different groups of people. When we opened, 3173 17th Street in San Francisco, was a cold, dark corner. There was nobody working and nobody eating there. I was offered an opportunity to serve ODC – the dance company that owns our building – and the students of ODC. There are the technology companies that rent space on our street and also a variety of industrial businesses that have existed in our area for more than the 10 years I lived in the area. Clearly, we had the opportunity to serve a diverse group of customers! But there was also serving the needs of Robin’s Cafe staff. How could I build the business so that employees could have a great place to work.Of course they needed to get paid, but more personally, what could I do to make Robin’s Cafe a great place to work? And how could the cafe also serve my investors – the people who had trusted me and invested their money into my idea? Though many of them supported me out of love, it was important that they see a return on their investment. I also had to get paid. And finally, the business, in order to survive, had to earn a profit.

I’ve come to see that the more different groups can win as a result of a business operating, the more likely it is to succeed. Why are Facebook and Amazon worth billions of dollars? Like them or not, it is because they serve the needs of billions of individual humans.

This next few months will be a very interesting period. Over the last 3 years, I have been the go-to when something goes wrong at Robin’s Cafe, 7 days a week. It is important to feel needed like that, and it has become something I’ve come to rely on. And now, it will come to an end. I’ll be sharing that journey in future episodes, and I hope you’ll join in. In the meantime, thanks for following along on this adventure!


Wait, Wait! One Small Request

If you’ve read my blog or listened to the podcast over the years, what would you like more of? I’m in the midst of a major change, and I’m excited to share more that is useful to you! Leave a comment below, and let me know!

Chris Fussell & Rachel Mendelowitz of the McChrystal Group at Responsive Conference 2016

I hope you enjoy this talk from Responsive Conference 2016 with former Navy SEAL and New York Times best-selling author Chris Fussell (@fussellchris) alongside Rachel Mendelowitz (@rachelowitz) as they discuss “Team of Teams” and new ways of organizing companies of the future.

Alongside General Stan McChrystal, Chris runs the McChrystal Group – an organizational design consultancy that works with companies all over the world to do in industry what Stan, Chris and the US Military did during the Iraq War. In the book Teams of Teams, Stanley McChrystal and Chris outline how they took the special operations branch of the US Military – a stereotypically bureaucratic organization – and transformed it into a adaptive, agile system.

This video was recorded at the 1st Annual Responsive Conference in 2016.

Learn more:
http://responsiveconference.com

Responsive Audiobook: Chapter 2, The Future of Work

 

I’m very pleased to share, exclusively for this podcast, a chapter of my book, Responsive: What It Takes to Create a Thriving Organization. The full audiobook version of Responsive comes out in late September 2018, but in the meantime, I am excited to share it out in podcast form.

Here’s an excerpt. Subscribe and listen to The Robin Zander Show for the full chapter!

…as the pace of change accelerates, the challenges we face are becoming less and less predictable. Those practices that were so successful in the past are counter-productive in less predictable environments. In contrast, Responsive Organizations are designed to thrive in less predictable environments…

— Responsive Org Manifesto

The world is changing more rapidly than we have ever seen before in human history. According to 2012 estimates, members of the S&P 500 were expected on average to remain in the index for only eighteen years, compared to the sixty-one years they might have expected in 1958. The anticipated lifespan of companies has dropped dramatically over the last few decades.

We also see this in the rise of the ridesharing industry—Lyft and Uber, among others—which was enabled by the proliferation of smartphones. This new industry seized a large part of the taxi market, which previously had been considered stable, if not untouchable. Similarly, the rise of home sharing—and most notably, AirBNB—was made possible by the hyper-connectivity of the Internet Age, and disrupted the traditional hotel industry.

Another example of the changing nature of the business landscape is the 2017 acquisition of Whole Foods by Amazon.com. The day the acquisition was announced, Whole Foods stock rocketed almost 30%, while the value of competitors in the grocery business dropped precipitously. The presumption, it seems, is that disruption of the grocery industry is now inevitable.

There’s a broad lesson in the emergence of ride sharing, home sharing, and the Whole Foods acquisition—which is that any organization or industry is liable to be shaken up at any moment. The goal of every company in the 21st century should be to become resilient, flexible, and have the capacity to respond to inevitable change. Industries, today, can change with unprecedented speed.

If you’ve enjoyed Chapter 2 of Responsive, you can purchase a Kindle or print version of the book on Amazon. And be sure to check out the Responsive Conference, coming up September 24-25th in Queens, NY.

Responsive: What It Takes To Create A Thriving Organization, Chapter 1

I’m very pleased to share, exclusively for this podcast, the first chapter of my book, Responsive: What It Takes to Create a Thriving Organization. The full audiobook version of Responsive comes out in late September 2018, but in the meantime, I am excited to share it out in podcast form.

Here’s an excerpt. Subscribe and listen to The Robin Zander Show for the full chapter!

 

On the Shoulders of Giants

Responsive has been built on a community of which I am just a single member.

I am grateful to the six people wrote the Responsive Org manifesto, and began a movement: Adam Pisoni, Aaron Dignan, Matthew Partovi, Mike Arauz, Steve Hopkins and Alexis Gonzales-Black. They put words to a problem faced by organizations today and gave us a language to describe the challenges and tensions that have long existed in the workplace.

I would not have written this book without the friendship of Steve Hopkins, who taught me how to run an un-conference, and the handful of collaborators with whom I produced my first Responsive events.

I’m indebted to the fifty-plus leaders who I’ve interviewed on my podcast, The Robin Zander Show, who described big ideas like non-hierarchy and holacracy in simple language and gave me hope that I could write a book to do the same.

 

How To Use This Book

My career path has never followed a traditional route. My first job out of college was as a management consultant, with a gig as a circus performer nights and weekends. Of course, I couldn’t tell the consulting company that I was in the circus, but I also couldn’t admit to my fellow circus artists that I wore a suit to work. I am not content to live in such a binary world. I want to live in a world that encourages the full expression of every individual, and I am dedicated to building it. Improving the ways we work seems like a great place to start.

Responsive is a compilation of tactics and accompanying short stories about innovators on the front lines of the future of work. It is designed to be a choose-your-own-adventure exploration into how we work in the modern era, the approaches and perspectives employed by high performing organizations, and what makes those methods so effective.

While this book can be read cover to cover, I have designed it so that you can jump to those sections most interesting or relevant to you right now. Ultimately Responsive is intended as a reference guide as much as a road map—a resource you can return to again and again as you dive deeper into Responsive and the future of work.

 

A Responsive Café

I have a vested interest in discovering what works for myself and my small team. Throughout this book, I’ll share stories about my small business, a coffee shop in San Francisco, where I work with my ten-person staff to serve coffee and avocado toast and to build community.

I founded “Robin’s Café” in late April 2016, with no prior experience as a restaurateur but armed with a clear purpose: to foster a nascent community that I knew could exist in our corner of San Francisco. We had exactly three weeks from inception to opening day, so, unsurprisingly, our first week of operations was a mess. Attendees of a conference I had organized on site wanted to support the café, creating a bona fide lunch rush on our very first day.

In those early weeks, we were a team of four, often making up recipes on the spot to cover orders. I look back on those times now, after having a tough day, and realize that no matter how terrible things might seem, it will never be as chaotic and insane as those first few weeks.

We desperately needed additional staff. One day, a man named Frank quietly dropped off his resume during our usual morning rush. I was up to my elbows managing an exploding keg of cold brew. But even in the midst of a coffee emergency, it quickly became clear that Frank was professional, playful, and knowledgeable about the food service industry. I hired him, and he soon became indispensable at the café.

On May 20, 2016, Frank had been scheduled to open the café. Around 9:30 a.m., I got a call that Frank hadn’t shown up. “Was he sick?” I wondered. I checked to see if he’d sent me any messages, but there were none. I called him, but it went to voicemail. A week later, I sent an email, mostly in jest, with the subject, “Are you still alive?” The staff and I just assumed that Frank became a “no call, no show,” something not uncommon in the service industry. Frank’s cutting contact was a simple case of job abandonment. Still, it somehow didn’t seem like Frank, and I wanted to make sure he was okay. I tracked down his brother on social media and messaged him. I heard nothing for several days.

Then, out of the blue, Frank’s brother called me. “I’m sorry to have to tell you this,” I remember him saying, “My brother is dead. He was hit and killed by a train.” In that moment of shock, while I digested what I’d just heard, Frank’s brother went on: “I want you to know how happy he was to be working at Robin’s Café.”

Frank’s death is a constant reminder to me of how truly transient and changeable business—and life—can be. As a small business owner in those first few weeks, I had to be resilient, not just in my response to Frank’s death, but to be able to mentor and support those at our café and in the community who knew him. I was determined to build into the ethos of our organization this realization that circumstances can change in an instant. I wanted my team to be resilient when times got tough and grateful for the days when work felt more like play. I like to think that in some way this commitment to resilience and good humor is a small homage to Frank.

That same ethos is what has compelled me to write this book and to share just some of the ways that ground-breaking organizations and individuals are exploring human-centered work. This book is an invitation to see the value of Responsive approaches and bring them into your organization as fits your vision and culture.

If you’ve enjoyed Chapter 1 of Responsive, you can purchase a Kindle or print version of the book on Amazon. And be sure to check out the Responsive Conference, coming up September 24-25th in Queens, NY.

Bob Gower at Responsive Conference 2016 – “How Not to Join a Cult”

Bob Gower (@bobgower) helps organizations become faster, better, and happier. He is an authority on agile development, lean theory, and responsive organizational design, and the author of “Agile Business: A Leader’s Guide to Harnessing Complexity“.

Bob has advised leaders at numerous companies—including GE, Ford, Chanel, and Spotify—in creating more effective organizations. He holds an MBA in Sustainable Management, is a Certified Positive Psychology Practitioner, and speaks and publishes regularly on what it takes to build great organizations.

Bob is the author of the new book “Getting to Hell Yes”, along with his wife Alexandra Jamieson, and together they will be leading a workshop at Responsive Conference 2018 on generative conversations that will change your business (and the rest of your life).

This video was recorded at the 1st Annual Responsive Conference in 2016.

Learn more:
http://responsiveconference.com

Jennifer Dennard at Responsive Conference 2016 – “Medium – The Future of (People) Work”

I hope you enjoy this talk with Jennifer Dennard from Responsive Conference 2016. Jennifer is the co-founder of Range Labs and the former Head of People and Culture at Medium, focusing on organization design, people operations, and diversity & inclusion.

Jennifer is passionate about helping teams work together better. In this talk, Jennifer talks about human resources and a future of work that is best for our employees.

This talk was recorded live at the 1st Annual Responsive Conference in September 2016. Learn more at http://responsiveconference.com

Charles Best at Responsive Conference 2017 – “DonorsChoose.org – A Purpose Driven Company”

I’m pleased to share this talk at Responsive Conference 2017 with Charles Best (@CharlesBest), founder and CEO of DonorsChoose.org.

Charles Best is an American philanthropist and entrepreneur. He is the founder and CEO of DonorsChoose.org, a crowdfunding platform for K-12 teachers serving in US schools.

Charles launched the organization out of a Bronx public high school where he taught history. DonorsChoose.org is one of Oprah Winfrey’s “ultimate favorite things” and was named by Fast Company as one of the “50 Most Innovative Companies in the World.”

This video was recorded at the 2nd Annual Responsive Conference in New York City in 2017. Learn more: http://responsiveconference.com

Steve Hopkins at Responsive Conference 2017 – “Culture First”

I’m pleased to share this talk at Responsive Conference 2017 with Steve Hopkins (@stevehopkins), Director of Customer Success at Culture Amp and a founding member of the Responsive Org movement.

Steve is passionate about helping clients develop a responsive operating culture that they can be proud of. At Culture Amp, Steve does this by guiding clients through successful culture change programs using the Culture Amp HR and People Analytics platform.

This talk was recorded live at the 2nd Annual Responsive Conference in September 2017. Learn more at http://responsiveconference.com

Aaron Dignan at Responsive Conference 2017 – “Let’s Disrupt the Modern World of Work”

I’m pleased to share this keynote address by my friend Aaron Dignan (@aarondignan), founder of The Ready, at Responsive Conference 2017.

Aaron Dignan sees the same phenomenon everywhere he looks. Our most trusted and important institutions – in business, healthcare, government, philanthropy, and beyond – are struggling. They’re confronted with the fact that the scale and bureaucracy that once made them strong are liabilities in an era of constant change.

Aaron is the founder of The Ready and a founding member of the Responsive Org movement.

This talk was recorded live at the 2nd Annual Responsive Conference in September 2017. We’re gearing up for Responsive Conference 2018, and excited to have The Ready leading an interactive Teaming simulation.

Learn more at responsiveconference.com

Mark Fisher on Serious Fitness for Ridiculous Humans

My guest today is Mark Fisher, who regularly shows up wearing a unicorn head – atypical of someone who runs several gyms in midtown manhattan. Mark is the co-owner of Mark Fisher Fitness and the consulting group, Business for Unicorns.

Mark and I share a common background in the performing arts, and it was fun for me to hear how Mark has taken that background and applied it to his entrepreneurial efforts both at his gyms and as a consultant. As someone who has long thought of creating a gym or physical center, I loved this conversation. Even more so, though, Mark’s passion for culture and people shone through.

I’m also pleased to share that Mark Fisher is going to be one of our speakers at Responsive Conference 2018, which will be taking place on September 24th and 25th in New York City. Pick up a ticket to hear him speak live.

I hope you enjoy this conversation as much as I did!

Show Notes
3:30 Balancing ridiculousness at Mark Fisher Fitness
9:15 Starting a fitness business
12:30 Combining creativity with vision execution
15:00 Business for Unicorns
19:45 Soft skills in hard systems and the Unicorn Society
22:00 Current state of fitness
26:00 Advice for building a gym
31:00 Books:

33:30 Loving community
38:00 Cultural health
40:00 What’s next for Mark
43:15 Constant improvement
48:00 Find more about Mark:

Sunny Bates: How To Build A World Class Network

I first got to know today’s guest through my work at Socos, alongside Vivienne Ming. Over the last several years, I’ve heard a name mentioned in a variety of unlikely contexts – by Chris Anderson, the CEO of TED, Perry Chen, the Co-Founder of Kickstarter, and Beth Comstock, the Vice Chair at GE.

My guest today is Sunny Bates, a behind-the-scenes master connector of many of the most innovative companies, personalities, and artists that you’ve heard of, and many that you haven’t.

Sunny sits on the board of Kickstarter, the MIT Media Lab, and TED. She advises companies like GE and Credit Suisse on new initiatives and is the go-to resource when companies like P&G and The Guardian need a new breakthrough.

As you’ll hear, Sunny is deeply committed to culture and the arts. I was startled to learn that she had hosted world-famous musician, Amanda Palmer, and blogger, Maria Popova, to her home for a house party.

In this interview, we discuss how Sunny has built an incredible network of innovators, spanning more than 40,000 people, how her enthusiasm for spontaneous encounters led to her role at Kickstarter, among others, and some of the trends she is most excited for in the future.

Please enjoy!

Show Notes
2:30 Sunny’s connections
5:30 Building a network
10:30 Adding value to other’s work and lives
13:30 We learn quickest alongside an expert
16:45 Exploring our creative side
19:15 Kickstarter
22:00 Looking at the big picture
24:30 A career as a series of projects
29:00 Trends in the future of work
32:15 Equality
34:45 Acknowledgment and gratitude
38:00 It’s never too late to give thanks or apologize
39:45 Compensation
44:00 Books: The State of Affairs by Esther Perel
46:30 Website: sunnybates.com
Twitter: @SunnyBates
Ted Talk

Andrew Barnett on Coffee, Culture and Founding Linea Caffe

My guest Andrew Barnett (@andrewbbarnett) is the founder of Linea Caffe, a coffee roastery and wholesale company, which was one of the first vendors we began working with at Robin’s Cafe in 2016.

In this interview, we discuss how Andrew first introduced himself to me in those early days of the cafe, the humanness that he brings to his work, and his deep knowledge of coffee.

We discuss how the coffee industry has changed over the last 20 years, what it takes to create a thriving business, and why Andrew loves food service. He shares how he thinks about his company and what he does to build an inclusive culture at Linea Caffe.

If you’re interested in a unique perspective on building successful businesses and cultures, I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I did.

 

Show Notes

2:15 How Andrew and Robin met
5:15 Andrew’s interest in coffee and human service
8:30 The antithesis of Starbucks
11:30 Roasting coffee
13:45 Cup of Excellence program
17:30 The “Ah Ha” moment
20:00 Linea quality
24:45 Selling Echo Cafe to Intelligentsia
26:15 Third wave movement
28:15 Moving back to San Francisco and starting Linea
31:15 Andrew’s approach to people
35:00 Linea’s retail and roasting locations
37:30 What made this work for Andrew
40:45 Future of coffee
43:45 Find out more: Linea Website 

If you enjoyed this episode of the Robin Zander Show, you might also enjoy listening to my conversation with Steve Hopkins (@stevehopkins) on coffee, culture and the Future of Work.

Adam Pisoni and Robin Zander – Live at Robin’s Cafe

This episode was recorded in front of a live audience at Robin’s Cafe with Adam Pisoni, co-founder and former CTO at Yammer, co-founder of the Responsive Org movement, and founder and CEO at Abl Schools.

If you missed it, I recommend starting with our first podcast episode back in 2016!

In conversation from stage and then Q&A with the audience, we discussed founding Yammer, the Responsive Org movement, and his efforts at Abl Schools to revitalize the U.S.education system. Exciting possibilities emerge when we reconsider that even behemoth institutions like the U.S. education system can become Responsive!

Adam has implemented a variety of future of work principles at Abl Schools. He has been very open about the challenges of building a diverse founding team at Abl Schools.

While there is a lot of conversation about fostering an inclusive company culture, very few Silicon Valley companies have an equal gender split between male and female employees, and even fewer have women or underrepresented groups at the highest levels of leadership.

We will explore the challenges and lessons learned at Abl Schools, and tactics any founder can apply in the effort to build a Responsive organization.

Show Notes

4:00 Intentions
7:00 Yammer and Conway’s Law
10:00 Starting Responsive Org
11:45 Theory of Responsive
13:30 Challenges of these changes
16:00 Iterate in the shape of your organization
18:00 Adam mentions:

19:15 Adams transition to education
21:30 Mindsets
24:30 Dropping out of high school
26:30 Education limitations
30:00 Diverse founding teams – podcast and article
36:15 Social emotional skills
40:00 Responsive Org tensions
46:45 Balancing success and time with experimentation
51:30 Egos and fear of failure
53:30 Integrative decision making
57:30 Value of experience
1:01:00 Diversity
1:04:45 Abl’s work in public schools
1:07:30 Measuring impact
1:10:00 Playing with boundaries of leadership and structure
1:15:00 Hiring that focuses on diversity
1:20:00 Purpose of diversity
1:24:30 VC’s reporting on diversity of companies they fund
1:26:15 Robin’s Book: Responsive: What It Takes to Create A Thriving Organization

Don’t forget to give a listen to my first podcast with Adam Pisoni, as well.

If you have enjoyed The Robin Zander Show – which just passed 50 episodes! – or benefited from any of the work I’ve done over the last several years, take a look at my new book Responsive: What It Takes To Create A Thriving Organization.

It is out on Amazon. I’m extremely proud of this book, and it’d mean the world to me if you’d check it out!

Spoiled Yogurt and Small Business Fortitude – A Robin’s Cafe Story

It was 8:00 a.m. and I had just received another urgent call. We had just sold yogurt & granola to a handful of customers, and only then did the barista preparing those breakfasts realize that all of our yogurt had spoiled.

I had been quietly drinking tea, and working my way through the morning’s email, but this urgent text threw me into action. Without bothering to shave or finish my tea, I drove to the cafe. On arriving, I found the kitchen in disarray. My manager had spent much of the opening hour sorting spoiled food, and as a result, we were already running low of coffee and other essentials.

I ran to the nearest grocery store and got yogurt, and then jumped onto the line and began preparing orders. Several hours later, I looked up to realize that I had missed several scheduled appointments, including with the City of San Francisco about permitting for our outdoor tables and chair.

This was my first month as a small business owner. In part because we opened Robin’s Café  on 3 weeks notice, I had a lot to learn about running a cafe/restaurant in those early days.

The biggest problem with running a small business (which I’ll define, as does the federal government, as any business with under 500 employees), is that the founder/owner is assumed to do the work themselves. When I walk along Mission Street in San Francisco, and day after day find the same owner/operators at their small shops at 8am and 6pm every single day, I’m amazed. I don’t have that kind of fortitude!

For some reason, there’s the assumption in most white collar jobs that the individual will eventually grow beyond their current role, but this is not held true is small business ownership. Small business owners are assumed to work within their own company, and most do.

Over the months that followed that first experience I continued to struggle relinquishing control of day-to-day operations at Robin’s Café . Obviously, I want my cafe to be a success, and simultaneously am not willing to spend 12 hours/day behind the counter. What’s the solution? It comes down the mindset necessary to love and guide employees, with the ability also to let go – of control of the outcome, and – when need be – of specific employees.

The solution that week was relatively straightforward. My manager and I concluded, together, that he wasn’t best suited for the role. Sorting spoiled goods wasn’t the reason he had signed up to help me build Robin’s Café in the first place, and we amiably parted ways.

Over the last 18 months, I’ve also grown more comfortable not treating every unknown as a crisis. If there is someone else who may be able to handle a situation – like that of our spoiled yogurt – I don’t. And I haven’t missed meetings with the City of San Francisco since.

The challenges inherent in running a small business remain. Small businesses, while a hot commodity for large companies that want to sell to us (I get regular sales calls from Yelp, Square, and many others), aren’t taken as seriously as technology companies that are trying to “scale.”

But for me, there’s nothing more meaningful that being able to brighten a customer’s day with a kind word, or help a member of my staff improve develop themselves. Robin’s Café continues to be – day to day – a more thorough learning experience than any company I’ve ever built. And we’re just getting started.

Robin’s Café is located at 3153 17th Street in San Francisco. Come by and say hello!
Interested in weekly stories about the cafe, recommended reading, and more? Join my newsletter to follow along!

Anil Dash and the Quest to To Create Benevolent Technology

I’m really excited for this interview with Anil Dash, which was recorded in front of a live audience at the 2nd Annual Responsive Conference in September 2017.

Anil Dash is an entrepreneur, activist and writer recognized as one of the most prominent advocates for a more humane, inclusive and ethical tech industry. He is the CEO of Fog Creek Software, an independent New York City tech incubator, which created startups like Trello, Stack Overflow, and Glitch.

Anil has been working to make technology more ethical and humane for a long time. He has been:

He’s very active on Twitter and is the only Twitter account to have been retweeted by:

This interview gets pretty intense very quickly, as we explore how technology companies are not humane or ethical, and what can be done about that.

Anil has served as an advisor to the Obama White House’s Office of Digital Strategy, and today he advises major startups and non-profits including Medium and DonorsChoose.

Enjoy!

 

Show Notes

3:00 Introduction
4:00 Commodore 64
7:30 Anil’s childhood
10:00 Culture and politics
14:00 Anil’s experiences at the airport
18:00 How to show people you are safe
21:00 Self reflection
24:30 Tech industry on race and inclusion
29:30 Implications of misrepresentation in tech
31:00 How tech is disrupting the taxi industry
39:00 Silicon Valley is developing a bad name for tech
46:00 Facebook on diversity and spending money
49:30 CEOs being held accountable for ethics
52:00 Different models for funding technology
56:00 Surveillance from data sets and advertising
1:03:00 Ethics within computer science
1:07:00 Where To From Here?

If you have enjoyed The Robin Zander Show – which just passed 50 episodes! – or benefited from any of the work I’ve done over the last several years, take a look at my new book Responsive: What It Takes To Create A Thriving Organization. It is out today on Amazon. I’m extremely proud of this book, and it’d mean the world to me if you’d check it out!

Also, if you are in the San Francisco Bay Area, I’m hosting a free event with Adam Pisoni at Robin’s Cafe.

Join us for the conversation and book launch at 7:30pm tonight, Nov. 2, 2017!

How Charles Best Created DonorsChoose.org – A New Kind of Non-Profit

Charles Best (@CharlesBest), is an American philanthropist and entrepreneur. He is the founder and CEO of DonorsChoose.org, a crowdfunding platform for K-12 teachers in US schools.

Charles launched the organization seventeen years ago out of a Bronx public high school where he was teaching. Since then, DonorsChoose.org has become one of Oprah Winfrey’s “ultimate favorite things” and was named as one of the “50 Most Innovative Companies in the World” by Fast Company. For three years, Fortune magazine has also named Charles one of its “40 under 40 hottest rising stars in business.”

I’ve gotten to know Charles over the last year, and every time we dig a bit deeper in conversation, I’m impressed with how systematic he has implemented so many Responsive practices.

In this interview, we dive into how Charles built one of the first crowd-funding non-profits, and hustled his way to prominence. He shares surprising findings about where and why donors give to classrooms and what he hopes to accomplish with DonorChoose.org in the long run.

I hope you enjoy this interview!

 

Show Notes
2:30 Stephen Colbert’s engagement with DonorsChoose.org
7:00 New ways of funding for nonprofits
9:00 Connecting with celebrities
13:00 Core model is the same after 17 years but always experimenting
17:30 Charles’ decision to become a teacher
20:30 Challenges for Charles
22:30 DonorsChoose use of data and transparency
26:30 Founding story of DonorsChoose
31:00 Finding personal connections for donors
34:45 Charles’ and Robin’s passions
37:45 Humility as an organizational core value
41:15 Experiments within the organization
45:00 Charles’ enthusiasm
49:45 Charles’ book suggestions:

Teach Like a Champion by Doug Lemov
Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

Learn More:
DonorsChoose.org

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