Why social enterprises should leverage global talent

Mario Ferro found his calling converting talent into social impact. His startup, Wedu, selects outstanding young women in Asian countries and provides them with generous education loans.

The Italian entrepreneur, who is based in New York and Thailand, developed an eye for talent after scouring the world for “Rising Stars.” He used that eye to build the team of his social enterprise.

Hiring for a social enterprise presents a unique challenge because there is no promise of big payouts to potential employees. However, Ferro believes that the tight budget constraint of sustainability helped him combine social and business principles to find the best workers.

“The profile of risk-return is not measured by the amount of money coming in,” Ferro says. “You are using the market as a tool to solve a problem, but the reason why the market has not tackled it is because there isn’t that much money in it yet.”

Ferro describes the employee structure of Wedu as a “sandwich,” with the meat representing highly skilled, paid workers in Thailand, supported by volunteers all over the world, and a few U.S.- based administrators.

Keeping the bulk of the work in Thailand is a win-win for Wedu because it better leverages Wedu’s finances and injects fair wages to its target communities. Utilizing local resources does double duty for WeDu because they can focus on looking for passionate, highly skilled people without having to pay “New York wages.”

“The cost structure is more favorable internationally,” Ferro says. “You don’t want a good idea to fail because instant noodles are more expensive where you live and you have to spend four dollars on coffee. A lot of people make that mistake.”

Keeping staff costs low means that Ferro can afford to take risks on workers who haven’t worked at big companies.

“We are working as hard as if we were starting Facebook for no money,” Ferro says. “It’s not about your degree. It’s about the weight of your heart when you put it on a scale. “

That’s most true for volunteers, who comprise an important chunk of Wedu’s workforce. That means that Ferro always risks having to pick up the slack if a volunteer can’t complete a task.

“Project management is key,” Ferro says. “You have to set very simple tasks and set expectation of times and deadlines. They may say ‘yes’ and just disappear, so redundancies are very helpful.”

Relying on volunteers allows Wedu to stay lean and develop its business gradually. Wedu waited patiently for the right kind of investors: global venture competitions, impact funds, and patient capitalists.

The Global Social Venture Competition at University of California Berkeley is an example of a competition that offers small amounts of capital, but even the losers of the competition gain exposure to potential investors.

Impact funds like Acumen and LGT Venture are also designed to be more open minded than a traditional foundation or a bank. Impact investors are just one example of patient capitalists, who look to get returns, but are willing to compromise on high-impact ideas that may only bring single digit returns, or bring it over fifteen years instead of four.

Once Wedu had enough money to begin hiring, full-time staff came from dedicated volunteers in the early stages. Ferro says that bringing them on came down to the exchange of social collateral.

“It’s very intuitive that social bonds change your risk aversion,” Ferro says. “Mark Zuckerberg could walk up to you on the street and ask you for a thousand dollars to start Facebook, but you would never consider it. That transaction is based on numbers, but also trust and respect.”

The marriage of social and financial contracts is something that Ferro has applied to many aspects of Wedu.

Wedu recently switched from awarding scholarships to a model called “future income sharing agreements,” where Rising Stars agree to give back a percentage their future income for a period of years. Even women who’d already received scholarships came back to Ferro, asking to donate some of their future income to keep the program sustainable.

Ferro attributes their decision to a feeling of “sisterhood” in the program. Rising Stars must participate in Wedu’s mentorship program for six to 12 months to build a sense of community before they can get a loan for their proposal.

Like the Rising Stars, Ferro has drawn heavily from his personal community while building Wedu.

“You really need to make sure that you love your startup,” Ferro says. He believes that the people in your circle need to love it, too. Ferro confesses that his cofounder is his wife and that having her there makes it “priceless.”

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5 WeWork Members Who Rocked at SXSW

I was fortunate enough to attend this year’s South by Southwest in Austin, and experience everything from tacos to Topo Chico—but my favorite thing was seeing the variety of WeWork members represented at the festival.

Chameleon Cold Brew—maker of an incredibly refreshing cold brew coffee—was featured alongside donut milkshakes, slow-mo cameras, and social media insights at the Spredfast Social Suite.

Medici 2Medici is an app that focuses on redefining the future of patient/doctor interactions so that you can access healthcare anywhere. Besides speaking on a panel about The Future of Dynamic Innovations in Healthcare, this WeWork Congress member held some fun activations for fellow WeWork members & even sponsored some SXSW swag.

A WeWork NoMad member, RewardStyle announced the launch of their new app, Their #StartedWithAScreenshoot photo opp on Rainey Street in the heart of the festival was extremely popular.

Edge Tech Labs, based out of WeWork Crystal City, made the trek to Austin to share their Fret Zeppelin product, which uses LED lights that help you learn how to play guitar.

While these WeWork Congress members didn’t have to go far to be in the heart of SXSW, Chariot was able to show off how it is reinventing mass transit and providing riders a fast, affordable, and comfortable commute. They sponsored a concert by the band Magic Giant.

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7 Must-Read Business Books for 2017

While I’ve certainly picked up plenty of business lessons through personal experience and embarrassing failures, I’ve learned the most from seasoned entrepreneurs who’ve been where I want to go.

These books show what it’s like to face adversity and still persevere. Here are my picks for the top seven business books every entrepreneur and creative needs to read this year. Some are brand new, while others are classics. Once you get through these, I have 70 other recommendations on my blog.

1. Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers by Tim Ferriss.

This 650-page beast dives into everything Tim Ferriss has learned—from tactics to routines to habits. The bestselling author of The 4-Hour Workweek interviews more than 200 of the world’s most recognizable figures in business, sports, academia, the military and just about every other imaginable industry. You can also catch his insights on The Tim Ferriss Show, which now has over 100 million downloads.

Tools of Titans is my number one pick because it features business advice, productivity tips, and life lessons from industry leaders like Tony Robbins, Derek Sivers, Daymond John and others.

2. Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport.

A Wall Street Journal bestseller, this book argues that one of the most valuable skills in the world is quickly becoming a rarity—the ability to focus without distraction on a demanding task. Author Cal Newport explains that by mastering this skill, you’ll be able to more effectively process complicated information and deliver better results in less time.

This is one of those books I picked up and started reading because I needed to reaffirm my commitment to staying focused. Many of the principles covered in this book helped me refine my opportunity management system for being more productive, while wearing different hats as a content marketer, blogger and course creator. So, if you’re spreading yourself too thin, want to learn how to eliminate (and stay away from) distractions, and get back to doing what you do best—Deep Work is guaranteed to help you accomplish that.

3. Smarter Faster Better: The Transformative Power of Real Productivity by Charles Duhigg.

This book is unique in the productivity space because it offers up a new definition of what it means to be productive. You’ll learn how to shift your focus to managing how you think, rather than spending time managing what you think. It’s core principle is that you can transform your life by making certain choices—and bestselling author Charles Duhigg gives you the tools to rewire your decision-making process.

In Smarter Faster Better, Duhigg lays out a compelling case for how the model for traditional goal-setting focuses primarily on big ambitions, but ignores smaller decisions. He says it’s important to remember the smaller goals if you want to create big change in your life or business. He argues that the people and companies who innovate quickest, and get the most done, have mastered the art of shifting importance to achieving small goals—that eventually latter up to bigger ones.

4. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life by Mark Manson.

The title alone sold me on this book, but it’s been recommended to me by several friends. This New York Times bestseller is built around the core argument, backed by academic research, that improving our lives hinges not on our ability to turn “lemons into lemonade,” but on learning to stomach the lemons better. It’s about setting realistic expectations for ourselves. He suggests embracing our fears, faults and uncertainties in order to find courage, honesty and the responsibility we seek. I can’t wait to dive into this one.

One of the things I like most about this book is author Mark Manson‘s personal writing style. A combination of serious life advice and comedy, he keeps you engaged and anxiously anticipating what comes next.

5. The Power of Broke: How Empty Pockets, a Tight Budget and a Hunger for Success Can Become Your Greatest Competitive Advantage by Daymond John.

I’m a huge fan of stories about how entrepreneurs rise from humble beginnings to achieve success. Shark Tank star and Fubu founder, Daymond John, discusses how to leverage tools, relationships and resources at your disposal, to build a successful business on a small budget.

He emphasizes how starting a business when you are broke forces you to think creatively, use your limited resources efficiently, and be innovative. Even more importantly, he explains how he’s intentionally placed resource constraints on himself over the years and how that has helped him. The Power of Broke is a great read for both first-time entrepreneurs and seasons veterans.

6. Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek.

Start with Why grew out of a TED talk delivered by the author, Simon Sinek. The third most popular TED Talk, it’s built around the question, “Why are some people and organizations more innovative, more influential, and more profitable than others?” This book’s basic premise is that leaders who have the greatest influence, act and communicate in the same way.

Sinek calls this idea, “The Golden Circle,” and it all begin with the question, “Why?” It’s interesting that reviewers either love it or hate it. Personally, I love it. I think the harshest reactions come from readers who have difficulty viewing themselves objectively, taking in critical feedback, and translating that into positive changes in their leadership style.

7. Reinvent Yourself by James Altucher.

In Reinvent Yourself, bestselling author and entrepreneur James Altucher (in typical fashion) takes a deep dive into his several successes, numerous devastating failures and how he’s constantly reinvented himself in the face of painful life changes. If you’re in a personal or professional rut and feel like your business needs a change of direction, this book will be incredibly helpful. Altucher is at his best when he lays out his personal process for perfecting the art of reinvention.

What I love most about Altucher’s book is that he’s not afraid to go down the rabbit hole when he encounters a question he feels will benefit his readers. He chases down the answers to his readers’ common fears and objections, explains what he’s learned from other entrepreneurs he’s interviewed, and provides tools to master the skill of reinvention.


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5 Tax Tips Entrepreneurs Can’t Do Without

As entrepreneurs, we wear multiple hats in our business—we are the visionary, technician and manager—all rolled into one. Although we might be playing many roles, our key responsibility is to make sure our business has a solid financial foundation. And an important part of that foundation, that is often overlooked, is getting a handle on our business taxes.

As a financial planner, I work with many small business owners who have questions and concerns about their taxes. From listening to their stories and trying to help them, I’ve learned some of the key challenges facing businesses today. Here are my five tips for entrepreneurs as we enter tax season.

Hire a tax professional

When you start a business, you will likely have to take on multiple expenses, and make decisions about whether to invest in a product or service right away—or wait until your business is more established. One expense you don’t want to skimp on is hiring a tax professional. A common mistake is waiting until tax season to hire someone. There is a difference between professionals who just prepare your taxes, and those who actively engage in conversation with you throughout the year. I recommend hiring a tax professional who will be your collaborator. Among other services, tax professionals can help you determine what form of corporation best matches your business expenses and answer questions each quarter.

Don’t mix personal and business expenses

Start your business off on the right track by opening a business checking and savings account so that you can keep your personal and business expenses separate. This will save you time at the end of the year when you organize and report your expenses. Most importantly, you will be prepared for the worst-case scenario. If a client sues, and your personal and business assets are commingled, your personal assets could become attached to the lawsuit.

Keep good records

Most entrepreneurs do not know which expenses are tax deductible and which aren’t, which is why it’s important to keep meticulous records of all expenses throughout the year. During your tax preparation, your tax professional may ask you questions that could uncover new areas where you can save on taxes specifically available for your type of business.

Save to a retirement account

Many entrepreneurs leverage their business expenses as the primary method of lowering their taxable income, sometimes to the extent that they show almost no income for the year. If you are among those spending frivolously at year-end, consider opening and investing in a retirement account instead. The best retirement account for your business will depend on the structure of your company and number of employees. The goal is to save money while also reducing your taxable income.

Set aside money for taxes

There are not many guarantees in life, but paying taxes is one of them. Make sure to keep up with quarterly tax payments, and be prepared to pay anything that you might have missed in April. A good guideline to follow: put 25 cents of every dollar you earn into a savings account. You won’t be caught off guard by additional taxes, and any money left over accrues in a savings account.

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While You Were Sleeping, An Algorithm Took Your Job

The following is an excerpt from The Future-Proof Workplace, by Linda Sharkey and Morag Barrett.

Last night, while you were sleeping, white collar jobs were being replaced—by computer algorithms.

In the financial sector, software can analyze data, reveal trends, and pose probabilities faster than a human analyst can open a spreadsheet. We are able to mine data for predictions that we could never see before. This analysis enables us to debunk myths and see new solutions to problems that we could not comprehend before.

These insights will change how we practice medicine, how insurance is sold, and how we transport ourselves to work—or stay home to work.

Today’s 3D printers can create almost anything we can imagine. And our cars want to drive themselves! Robots and artificial intelligence are taking over tasks humans once did. In fact, one hotel in Japan is staffed by robots, with only a skeleton crew of humans.

But the new discoveries of the twenty-first century are only just beginning to be realized. A 2014 survey of executives by Forrester/Russell Reynolds cited that over 75 percent of those in the finance, health care, and government sectors believe that their business will be significantly disrupted in the next 12 months.

In the past few years we’ve seen Netflix go from darling to dumpster—twice! You can bet its executives, and every other media company, is looking to analytics to tailor content by region and by user in order to ride the wave of the future.

A “me too” strategy is not a strategy. If you’re copying a business model, you’re building in obsolescence and extinction.

Established corporations known as manufacturers, like General Electric, are working to reposition themselves as tech companies. GE is moving its headquarters to Boston, a decision we believe is intended to move the company closer to innovation hubs like MIT.

NV “Tiger” Tyagarajan, president and CEO at Genpact, LLC, recently shared with us that Genpact does not have corporate headquarters, and instead spreads its teams around the world in hubs close to their customers. He also noted that their ability to use robots made communication with customers instantaneous.

Through the robot interface, the customer, sitting in New York, could meet the team—based in Poland—that would work for his organization and understand how its processes would be managed. It is quite revolutionary.

New technology and globalization, in the broadest sense, have always been around. It’s the pace and reach of change that are transforming everything we do in business. Think about how the automobile changed not only transportation but how, when, where, and what people purchased.

Can you imagine life today without electric light? This invention revolutionized commerce, manufacturing, and almost every industry.

In their time, just over 100 years ago, these examples were seismic shifts for people. The changes created new business opportunities overnight, while destroying other industries. They disrupted whole industries, shifted the skills required for workers, and changed the work environment forever.

And let’s be frank, there will be winners and losers, as there always have been as the world spins into the future.

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