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Entrepreneurship

Conscious Business Leadership – Manish Chandra, founder/CEO of Poshmark

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(This is one in a series of articles and interviews about conscious business leadership, which is about leaders creating and promoting workplaces of understanding, honesty, and compassion, for the betterment of their employees, their community, their organization and world.)

I recently met Manish Chandra, the founder and CEO of Poshmark, the mobile marketplace for women to buy and sell clothes from each other, whether directly from their closets or by creating their own boutique. We were at PoshFest (1st-2nd October), Poshmark’s annual fashion conference which brings together hundreds of stylish, entrepreneurial women from all across the country for a weekend packed with inspirational speakers, educational panels and workshops, fun parties and networking opportunities. This year they made conscious efforts to bring wholesale brands to the fest to support their Poshers to stock their own boutiques online and not just sell out of their own closets.

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Prior to Poshmark, Manish had been the founder and CEO of Kaboodle, Inc. which was sold to Hearst Corporation in 2007.


Manish, how do you keep making these new and successful startups?

I started meditating in 2005, that’s when I started to see things differently. One truth I have found is that when a company helps people to connect and empower one another – magic happens.

I knew I wanted to create a very people-centric business. This means a business where people love coming to work. So it was a conscious decision when I started my first company. I made a lot of mistakes and learned a lot that I am now applying to Poshmark. We are proud of how we built the company and the community. There were principles that were hidden before that are now more obvious to me – I can state them more clearly. For example, one of the core things about Poshmark is the way you merchandise the items is by supporting each other. The whole merchandising system is built so that the only way Poshers can gain more audience is if they share and promote other Poshers. The sharing, unlike other markets, where you pay other people to promote your items, is free. This is based on a thesis that in order to build a scalable marketplace we have to focus on love and sharing love. If you focus on love money comes. But if you focus on money, nothing comes. The reality is if we are just chasing money, then eventually we basically get tired, exhausted. Even if we have enough money we really are not there because every one of us essentially wants to be loved – and that affects the way we think about the business and community.

It was reported that Poshmark has amassed more than 1.5 million sellers, who engage with the app an average of seven times (and 25 minutes) per day. At PoshFest, I can see that you have a whole room of women committed and collaborative. 

poshmark_audience_photo
On the flip side, there are reviews which are very unhappy with you service and customer service. How do you handle these people who may be unhappy with your service?

We have to keep growing at every dimension of the company. I feel that at every stage of growth you have to keep improving the company. But the app reviews are a mixed thing. I take negative reviews with a pinch of salt but then again whatever feedback we get, we have to keep improving. At each stage, there are things we are doing well and there are things we are not doing well. We have to take the things we are doing well and keep expanding the way we look at it is, that for me, one of the principles I learnt. This is the only thing can sustain long term happiness is growth.

If you are not growing as a company; as a human being; as a person; you are not happy. It doesn’t matter how you are growing but you have to keep growing. If you are growing from a business perspective or from a personal perspective; growth is not always easy and simple. Growth has pain involved but we have to keep growing. Growing is what we we have to do as a company. Growing is what we have to do for our sellers. Growing is what we have to do for our employees. I have to do it. I feel when the company is not growing; I am personally not growing. So you have to keep forcing yourself to grow.

That’s interesting, so how do you as a leader keep yourself growing or forcing yourself to grow?

By surrounding yourself with people who are pulling and pushing you in different directions. Challenging you. When I started Poshmark, I had already built a successful company, Kaboodle. One of the things I saw with a lot of entrepreneurs is when they start a successful company; the next company typically fails. So I spent a fair bit of time before I started this company talking to a lot of people about what causes them to fail. I don’t know if you have ever heard the classic story where the emperor is naked and no one tells him. This seems to happen in the second company. Since you’re successful for the first time, nobody wants to give you advice anymore. Everyone thinks that you are always absolutely right. So it very important to have people who can challenge you whether they are your advisors etc. For example recently I joined a group which is focused on CEOs of a certain type of scale and size who are growing. I just attended my first offsite and got really good feedback. This group is called 10X CEO. They have given me feedback about my assumptions that I never challenged and I have been thinking about it. It was a very deep challenge that they give me as a feedback and it came from two to three people.

You did see a link from your mindfulness to your business. How would you suggest that to other leaders who are hesitant or not keen on being so self-reflective.

I feel that for me the spiritual journey that is happening and the physical journey that is happening is very deeply connected. For example, one of my favorite books is The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo. I refer to it not just in life but also in business. I quote from it most often. For me, there are four books which I call “the paths to happiness”. They are all spiritual books not business books.

Just like how Steve Jobs gave out The Autobiography of a Yogi at his funeral? So what are the four books?

They are The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran; The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho; The Secret by Rhonda Byrne and Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach.

Each of them like Jonathan Livingston Seagull is challenging the norm. Each is reminding us about following our own journey. For me, there is a lot of pragmatic advice we get but the real deep advice is spiritual.

I am curious about Poshmark’s expansion plans. As a coach to leaders, and repeatedly, while companies may already have traction and clients but the scaling is the real challenge.

Yes, it is it is the real challenge. You hit the nail on the head. The challenge with scaling is focus. You can be in a business where there are no opportunities. Poshmark is in a business where there are tons of opportunities. A trillion dollar market globally. Examples include China, Europe, and other big markets with temptations; big celebs want to work with us; big fashion brands and indie designers. We just launched kids and men’s too. The key I am working through is as you are scaling how do we maintain focus. Rather than die by a thousand cuts. What makes you successful in the past obviously we have to grow these areas but we have to challenge them too. There are sacred cows in any organization. If you don’t challenge them you don’t grow but if you kill too many of them; you will die as well. It’s this balance. I don’t say I have mastered it but at every point you can figure it out.

Scaling is such a hard problem. Each stage you have to stretch and challenge it. Initially you are so resistant, you say why do I have to it some other way why can’t it stay the same? Then you suffer and the suffering makes you realize that you have to force yourself to keep growing because if you can’t force yourself to do it proactively, you have to do it reactively.

I so agree.

Not that I always remember it. Sometimes you don’t want to change. You’re so happy with the way things are. But like for this event I stepped back and the next generation of leadership in the company – I didn’t even know what was happening. I had the high level thing of what they were doing. And they did such a great job and if I was leaning forward too much they wouldn’t have done such an amazing job. New people were brought in for help with overall event management. Those people have a different freshness.

Bring in great people. Great thought processes stretch and when you bring in good people they also respect where things are coming from but then take you into a new direction. The key is people want to be respected for where they are coming from but they also want to be brought to a new place. Then when they see the new place they don’t want to go back to where they were before because they see all this new things.

I called it aligned. It’s like all the canoes are aligned but they don’t have to look like they are going the same direction. As opposed to before like robots we followed linearly and in one same direction. In the canoes metaphor, some team members may go ahead and they can get to see the new direction and lead the way.

That’s a good metaphor. And in that journey, you find great partners.

How do you choose these people? Great people. Great partners. Do you have a process at Poshmark?

We do have a process. We focus on skill sets and background and a fair bit of time on the culture partnership. It doesn’t have to be exactly the same but we have to fit in a certain way. We work on the Love principle; the Growth principle and the third principle which is very, very, important to us. Every person is unique. If you look at our team and our women at this PoshFest they are all unique and at the same time, all of us feel strange. If we close our eyes we feel something is wrong with us and something is not right. I call that your own unique weirdness. We try to be something otherwise than that weirdness. We try to be the opposite. The only way for us to grow is to embrace our weirdness both as an organization and as a human being.

The principle of Weirdness. That’s a very strong principle. We want to bring people who want to embrace their weirdness. Great organizations die because they want to be someone else. I spend very little time focus on competition and much more time figuring what is our unique weirdness and how can we grow that. Sometimes we have to be determined and focused.

For example, last night we did our own fashion show and we wanted to do it a certain way. We didn’t want a classic fashion show with models. We wanted a fashion show where our community were the models. We partnered with independent brands and our audience was the people who buy the brand to stock in their boutiques on Poshmark. We had women across the country in all shapes and sizes participate and a couple of them walked with their kids. The clothes they were modeling were from our Wholesale Marketplace which sells wholesale and our community sellers were watching it as an audience. We didn’t compromise in any way. We didn’t hire models, we didn’t work with any season.

So looks like Tracy Sun and you started Poshmark and now it is scaling and disrupting the fashion business as usual as you intentionally are not aspiring to be someone else. It’s almost as if you are saying, closets is like each woman’s inner selves and through Poshmark, we are opening up these up. And this is our weirdness and seemingly other people like our weirdness too.

We encourage everyone to embrace their weirdness. We have college dropouts and MBAs from top schools internationally working alongside us at Poshmark. Colleagues from Japan and France – people who are different and bring different points of view. We really appreciate each other.

If a fairy godmother came and granted you a wish. What would be wish for your company as you scale?

We want to be the largest fashion platform in the world

Why you and not someone else?

Because we empower people. We focus on empowerment because every person wants to feel good and beautiful about themselves. Doesn’t matter who you are how you look and how you feel – the empowerment is uniquely being able to take that journey. That journey is not just about selling but feeling who you are. I feel that is just a massive thing that is happening across out the world. Not just in social media. Mobile communications. Globalization. These set a trend that is irreversible. If you go to any part of the world people aspire for similar things – people want and aspire for same thing. So why don’t we do it together?

So I am going to push it a little and say that even if women are not making all their money on Poshmark, it’s already a success. Since what the community and expression is actually the return on investment.

Absolutely. As I said, if I die tomorrow I will be a happy man.


To learn more about Poshmark, please see https://poshmark.com.

Are you a startup looking for investment? Come join me at Expert Dojo’s “Q4 Investor Festival – Where Startups Meet Investors” in Santa Monica, from October 24 to 28. Details at http://expertdojo.com/events/biggest-startup-pitch-event-usa-5-days-focus-get-startup-funded-investor-festival/.

For information about Turning Gen Y On, my recently-published book to help leaders overcome workplace challenges with their Gen Y staff, please see http://tgyo.asia/.

Entrepreneurship

Science is the Next Big Thing in Startups

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From pharmaceuticals to petrochemical processes: Newcomer companies and investors and investors alike are setting their sights on science. How the start-up scene moves beyond the mobile apps bubble…

For the last two years Silicon Valley analysts and venture capitalists are anticipating the burst of yet another bubble. This time, under the risk are the mobile start-ups which constitute the biggest share of the market. Out of 50 companies listed in Forbes’ “the hottest startup of 2015” (by valuation) only six companies are based on innovations in other-than-mobile area, one company provide cleaning services, while the rest are diverse mobile apps.

Meanwhile many products listed can be barely called innovative. A significant proportion of the listed start-ups are texting apps, apps for people search (starting from business partners to life partners) or delivery services. While those services can definitely facilitate one’s life, in general they differ from their predecessors by only a narrower audience.

Many venture investors expect stagnation if not decrease on the markets, which is why they start to transfer their capitals from start-ups offering customers software to start-ups offering specific solutions for existing businesses. Such companies are expected to demonstrate more stability in the near future.

The Market for Mobile Apps Might be Saturated

Back in 2012 a talented entrepreneur could walk into a venture capitalist’s office, say his startup was a mobile-first solution for pretty much any problem (payments! photos! blogging!), and walk out with a good-size seed investment. “That pitch was enough to get going,” says Roelof Botha, a partner with VC firm Sequoia Capital. “It’s not enough anymore.”

“I think investors are bored with investing in another messaging app. And our idea is crazy enough that it might just work. ”, has declared in 2014 Nadir Bagaveyev a founder of a start-up using 3-D printers to make rocket engines. By 2016 the company attracted investors funding sufficient to launch its first rocket.

Pharma and Biotech Start-Ups in High Demand

Currently the most successful science-based start-ups are the companies offering innovative solutions in the field of pharmaceuticals and biotechnologies. It’s noteworthy that despite the previous revelations and even judicial proceedings the list of the most expensive start-ups still includes Theranos, blood analyzing laboratory, whose story did not descend from the main pages of the global leading media from 2014.

It first amazed the audience with its fantastic take-off and then with its collapse. One of the crucial parts of the success story of this start-up is its fundamental difference from the majority of the services produced in the Silicon Valley. Unlike the others, it was not a story of yet another beautiful gadget for communication or mobile app, but the story of the scientific idea which intended to conquer the world.

The great success stories in other scientific areas are now happening on occasional basis. However certain facts allow to predict that the situation is to change soon. One of such factors is growing interest among the big corporations to attract innovative solutions from outside to develop their businesses.

Given the accelerating pace of scientific and technological development of the world, the activities of internal R & D departments are often turn to be insufficient to ensure stable development of innovative business. Outsourcing of the R&D may become the efficient mechanism to stimulate the growth of the company. And high-tech start-up can certainly benefit from it.

Start-Up Technology for the Petro-Business

In December, 2016 world leading companies in the field of gas processing, petrochemicals and chemicals announced their intentions to enforce their R&D capacities by attracting start-ups. 3M, AkzoNobel, BASF, The Dow Chemical Company, DuPont, Henkel, Honeywell UOP, LG Chem, Linde, Sibur, Solvay and Technip together created a global stage for startups and investors.

“The petrochemicals industry can and must rely on the potential of open innovations to facilitate further inventions and implementation of new solutions in all major application areas, from construction and medicine to packaging and 3D printing. Thanks to the participation of international partners, IQ-CHem is now the largest global project within the industry which attracts innovative solutions and provides for their implementation into practice,” said Vasily Nomokonov, Executive Director of Sibur, a company which coordinates the project.

Positive Experience in Chemicals and Beyond

Some of the listed companies have already gained positive experience in working with start-ups which may have driven them to elaborate a systemic approach to attract innovative companies.

At the beginning of 2016, SIBUR and RRT Global start-up reached an agreement to build a pilot plant for isomerization based on RRT Global technologies in Sibur’s Industrial Park SIBUR “Tolyattisintez”. According to Oleg Giyazov, co-founder and CEO of RRT Global cooperation with a large corporation bring significant advantages to his company.

“By cooperation with Sibur we get a huge industrial experience that enables us to develop technologies and solutions better fitted to the market demand. This advantage is often not given due attention, but we, on the contrary, see significant opportunities in it. Currently, RRT Global cooperates with several companies around the world” he said.

Another petrochemical leader BASF enjoys successful cooperation with Genomatica start-up. In 2013 BASF started the production of 1,4-butanediol based on renewable feedstock (renewable BDO) using Genomatica’s patented process and in 2015 the license was expanded to the Asian market.

Unlike traditional forms of cooperation between a start-up and a venture capitalist, a cooperation between start-up and a relevant corporation allows to minimize the risks associated with investing in a potentially promising idea where the key word is “potential” (but not “guaranteed”). While delivering services in the same field as the start-up the corporation gets an opportunity to more effectively and accurately estimate the market value of an innovative idea and to support its implementation.

Structural Changes Ahead: Outlines of A Coming Market

In the short term prospective, possibly in 2017, the global start-up market will face structural changes – both in terms of start-ups professional orientation and of funding mechanism. In the future science-based start-ups will dominate the market and will change our lives at a deeper level than the way of sending a text message or searching the restaurant for an evening meal. To be more concise this is already happening in the pharmaceutical industry, and the other scientific areas are to follow.

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About the Author

This article was written by Dominik Stephan of Process Worldwide. See more.

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Callum Connects

Norman Tien, Founder of Neuromath and Early Math Matters

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From a young age, Norman Tien, found his passion helping students as a math tutor and went on to translate that into a successful business.

What’s your story?
From the age of 14, I knew I would be in business for myself and started designing my company logo.

Growing up in a poor family, I worked part time while I was in school. That’s when I started tutoring and realised I had a gift to help students “see” mathematics. I delivered good results, and my students started to love math as well.

A turning point was when I was down with dengue fever and I realised I had to grow my business to the next level. I started a learning centre and that was the beginning of Neuromath. The initial years were tough as costs went up while my personal income took a dive. I almost gave up, but I pushed through.

Today, we have 3 specialty math enrichment centres managed and delivered by my dedicated team of teachers.

What excites you most about your industry?
“How to win” has always influenced how I position myself in the industry. I researched the psychology of learning, why some students are so naturally good at math, while others struggled. I managed to find the connection, and have always sought out niches to position myself so I can win.

In the beginning, I fused academic delivery with psychology to differentiate my services. Now I have a good team of teachers fully equipped with a psychological skillset.

In the next evolution of our business, we will incorporate technology into education in order to customise each student’s learning experience based on his or her needs.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and educated in Singapore. One key driver why I started a business was, as a youth, I witnessed how my dad struggled daily as a taxi driver trying to make ends meet.

That said, I am very blessed to be in Singapore and to be given the right education. I see this as a very important factor to my success today.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore – well, for one, most of my businesses are here. Singapore is convenient for business and is very well governed. There are rules and systems that make the entire entrepreneurial journey more secure here. One big plus is the location: Singapore is a hub that allows us to connect to the world.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
船到桥头自然直 –
There is a Chinese saying that when a boat goes near the pier, it will automatically align itself (with the current). It means we don’t have to worry too much, that things will take care of themselves.

A mentor once challenged me: “But who can guarantee you can even reach the pier?”

It is such a highly competitive world we are in, who can guarantee success? This is the ONE question that has been etched in my mind for decades. The Chinese saying always comes to mind when I am positioning, designing and strategizing for my business.

Who inspires you?
Mr. Lee Kuan Yew – The fact that he started ruling the country just like a startup. With limited resources, he was able to find a strong positioning to differentiate his country from the rest of the of Asia. With hardwork and proper planning, he transformed Singapore from a fishing village to a prominent financial hub in Asia.

Because Mr. Lee Kuan Yew positioned Singapore so well, government owned companies, such as Singapore Airlines, have emerged as the best in the world.

His story inspires me, spurs me to understand that success is not by chance but by design – every little step, all the strategies are all planned out. Not at all by chance.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
My business coach, Marshall Thurber, shared with me the power of the “Trim Tab” – a small part of the rudder system in a ship. This Trim Tab, despite its small size, is able to influence the entire ship’s direction by turning it.

This metaphor helped me see that a man can influence the entire world if the right effort is applied. We are now living in an entirely new world, the way we commute with an app on the phone – that’s the power of the Trim Tab at work.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would embark on the same journey but I would seek a mentor at a very early age.

I have been through many hard knocks along the way, and I definitely could have shortened the learning curve if I had a mentor to advise me on the many aspects of entrepreneurship.

How do you unwind?
Driving down long highways helps me unwind, that’s when I let my mind relax and wander.

I love long distance driving and riding. My wife gave me a Harley Davidson Tourer for my 50th birthday and we intend to embark on riding holidays together in Asia.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Hong Kong – I love the fast pace and the vibrance of the city. I love the cars there and it’s a very unique and exciting experience for me. And of course, I love the food there too!

Everyone in business should read this book:
One Minute Millionaire – this book highlights the mindset of an individual that is the key determinant for success in whatever we embark on. As long as we know we have a very strong reason why we need to do it, we can do it!

Shameless plug for your business:
I am the CEO and Founder of 2 Math enrichment brands:
Neuromath is a Specialist Math Learning Centre that helps students from Primary 1 to Junior College, empowering them with strategies, skills and a strong desire to learn and problem solve. We use technology to train students to avoid careless mistakes reclaiming 30 marks or more in Math exams and achieve their full potential in math.
www.neuromath.com.sg

Early Math Matters is a premier Mathematics and Cognitive Development enrichment centre for preschool children aged 3-6 years old. Through purposeful play and our renowned EMM approach, we help learners build a strong foundation for problem solving at an early age, and instil in them a passion & love for math that will stay with them for life.
www.earlymathmatters.com

We are actively seeking passionate teachers, entrepreneurs and investors who are keen to grow the education business with us.

How can people connect with you?
I speak regularly at workshops for schools, parents and platforms demonstrating the use of technology for peak performance in education.

Do contact me at
www.NormanTien.com

Alternatively, you can connect with me:
www.NormanTien.com/facebook
www.NormanTien.com/linkedin

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started,
built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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