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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. 

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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

Is There A Coworking Space Bubble?

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An annual growth rate of nearly 100%, almost five years in a row? More than 60 coworking spaces in a city like Berlin? Are these the characteristics of a bubble? Nope, these are characteristics of a lasting change in our world of work, which has been further catalyzed by the recent economic crises in many countries. But what makes this change different to a bubble? We’ve summarized some arguments of why the coworking movement is based on a sustainable change. However, that doesn’t mean it’s an easy job to open a good working coworking space.

Five reasons why the growth of coworking spaces is based on organic and sustainable growth: 

1. Coworking spaces invest their own money and create real wealth

Already, there is a convincing argument supporting why coworking spaces are not developing in a bubble: the fact that they create real wealth.

Whether referring to the dotcom bubble a decade ago or the real estate crisis in Spain or the United States, the crisis originated in a glut of cheap money, in an environment in which the sender and the recipient were unacquainted. From funds and banks, money flowed in steady streams to investments which offered little resistance and the most promising returns – which only a little while later turned into delusions and ruined investments.

Redistributed risks create illusions. Those people who distributed the money rarely wore the risk of investment decisions. The risk was mainly taken by small shareholders or people who bought parts of those investments. This was because either both parties’ (better) judgement was drowned out by the noise of the market, or because shareholders were unaware of the risk, and were at the mercy of banks and funds for reliable information.

Another fundamental condition for the creation of bubbles are the sheer amounts of money that flow from various locations globally and are concentrated, by comparison, in much fewer places.

Most coworking spaces, however, receive their funding from local or nearby sources and do not operate within this financial system. In fact, the founders mainly inject the bulk of the required investment, and turn to friends or relatives for additional support. They wear the full brunt of the risks that are involved in small-time investment.

They have access to much more information, because it is their own project, rather than a foreign one thousands of miles away. This also includes failures and mistakes that are encountered along the way, but the risk is less redistributed, thereby decreasing the probability of failures.

2. Labor market changes demand on certain office types lastingly

Most users of coworking spaces are self-employed. The proportion of employees is also on the rise, in many cases simply because they work for small companies that increasingly opt to conduct their business in coworking spaces rather than in traditional offices. The industry of almost all coworkers fall within the Internet-based creative industries.

With flexibilisation of work markets, new mobile technologies that are changing work patterns, and the increase of external services purchasing from large and medium-sized enterprises (outsourcing), the labor market has changed radically in many parts of the world.

The long-term financial and emotional security of becoming an employee no longer exists, especially for younger generations of workers. Bigger companies are quicker to fire than hire, and precarious short-term contracts are on the rise. Promising options on the labor market are more often recuded to freelancer careers and starting your own company.

And that’s possible with less money to invest. All you need is a laptop, a brain and a good network. For years, the number of independent workers and small businesses has been growing worldwide – particularly in internet-based creative industries. Anyone who has sufficient specialized skills and the willingness to take risks may adapt more quickly to market conditions if they own a small business or are self employed; more so than if they were to work in a dependent position in an equally volatile market.

Coworking spaces provide an environment in which to do this. Once they have joined a (suitable) coworking space, these factors become apparent to coworkers, who will remain in their space for years to come.

Furthermore, independent workers rarely fire themselves in crises, and even small companies are less likely to give their employees the boot – compared to their large counterparts. This combination enables more sustainable business models – and less business models à la Groupon.

3. Coworking spaces don’t live on crises

Global economic growth is waning while the number of coworking spaces is continually growing. Do coworking spaces thus benefit from this crisis?

The current crises accelerate the formation and growth of coworking spaces, because they offer solutions and space for the resulting problems. Coworking spaces are therefore not a result of a crisis, but the product of change that pre-dates their existence. A crisis is simply the most visible expression of change.

The first coworking spaces emerged in the late 1990s; the movement’s strong growth started six years ago – before the onset of economic downturns in many countries.

4. Coworking spaces depend on the needs of their members

Most coworking spaces are rarely full. Does this mean they are unsuccessful? On average, only half of all desks are occupied. But the average occupancy rate of 50% refers only to a specific date.

In fact, coworking spaces generally serve more members than they can seat at any given time, since members do not use the spaces simultaneously. Coworking spaces are places for independents who want to work on flexible terms. Smaller spaces rely more on permanent members. Larger spaces can respond more flexibilty to the working hours of its members, and, can rent desks several times over.

If a coworking space is always overcrowded or totally empty, the purpose of said space would be defeated. Firstly, it is rather impossible to work in an overcrowded room. Second, it’s impossible to cowork in an empty room. Given the nature of flexible memberships, a coworking space only can survive if they fit the needs of their members. Members would otherwise be quick to leave, and membership would be much more transient.

5. The coworking market is far from saturation

Less than 2% of all self-employed – and even fewer employees – currently work in coworking spaces. Reporting on coworking may increase, but inflated reporting on the coworking movement in the mainstream media is still far away.

Coverage of coworking space are most likely to be found in the career or local sections in larger publications – front cover coverage remains the dream of many space operators. This is because the whole coworking movement can’t be photographed in one picture. What appears to be a disadvantage, however, is actually a beneficial truth: niche coverage allows the industry to grow organically, and avoid over inflation.

Conclusion

Coworking spaces don’t operate in parallel universes – like the financial market. Demand and supply are almost exclusively organic and operate in the real world economy.

For the same reason, there is no guarantee that opening a coworking spaces will be automaticly successful. Anyone who fails to learn how to deal with potential customers in their market, or is unfamiliar with how coworking communities function, will have a difficult time of making one work. In the same way that business people in other industries will fail if they do not understand their market.

Those who simply tack on the word ‘coworking’ to their space’s facade will need to work harder. The structure of most coworking spaces is based on real work, calculated risk, and real-world supply and demand.

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About the Author

This article was produced by Deskmag. Deskmag is the magazine about the new type of work and their places, how they look, how they function, how they could be improved and how we work in them. They especially focus on coworking spaces which are home to the new breed of independent workers and small companies. see more.

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Callum Connects

Dextre Teh, Founder of Rebirth Academy

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Dextre Teh is a consultant and marketing guru, helping F&B businesses to tighten their operations and grow their businesses.

What’s your story?
I help frustrated F&B business owners stuck in day to day operation transform from a glorified operator into a real business owner. I’m a 27 year old Singaporean second generation restaurant owner and a F&B business consultant. Entering the industry at 13 years old, I have always been obsessed with operations and systemisation. At the age of 25, I joined the insurance industry and earned a six figure yearly income. However, I left the high pay behind because it was not my passion and returned to the F&B industry. Now I help other F&B companies to tighten operations and grow their businesses with my consulting and marketing services.

What excites you most about your industry?
The food. I’m a big lover of food and even have a YouTube show on food in development. But that aside, it is really about impacting people through food. Creating moments and memories for people, be it a dating couple or families or friends. Providing that refuge from the daily grind of life. So in educating my consulting clients and training their staff to provide a better experience for their customers, I aim to shift the industry in the direction of creating memories instead of just selling food.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and bred in Singapore. I love the culture, the food and travelling in Asia.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore hands down. The environment here is built for businesses to thrive. The government is pro business and the infrastructure is built around supporting business growth. Not to mention the numerous amount of grants available in helping people start and even grow business. If I’m not mistaken, the Singaporean government is the only government in the world that offers grants to home grown businesses for overseas expansion.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Learning to do things you do not intend to master is a BIG mistake in business. Focus on what you are good at and pay others to do the rest.

Many business owners including myself are so overwhelmed by the 10,000 things that they feel they need to do everyday. We try to do everything ourselves because we think it saves us money. The only thing that, that does for us is overload our schedules and give us mediocre results. Instead we should focus on what we do best and bring in support for the rest.

Who inspires you?
Christopher M Duncan.

At 29, Chris has built multiple 7 figure businesses. He opened me to the possibility of building a business on the thing that I loved and gave me a blueprint of how to do it. He also showed me that being young doesn’t mean you cannot do great things.

Imran Mohammad and Fazil Musa
They are my mentors and inspire me every single day to pursue my dreams, to focus on celebrating life and enjoying the process of getting to where I want to be.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
Time is always more expensive than money. Money, you can earn over and over again but time, once you spend it, will never come back.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I am a firm believer that your experiences shape who you are. I am grateful for every single moment of my life be it the highs or the lows, the successes and the failures because all these experiences have led me to become the person I am and brought me to the place that I’m at so I will probably do things the same way as everything was perfect in its time.

How do you unwind?
Chilling out in a live music bar with a drink in hand, listening to my favourite live band, 53A. Other than that I’m big on retail therapy, buying cool and geeky stuff.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Bangkok. It feels like a home away from home where the cost of living is relatively low, the food is good and the people are friendly.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Everything you know about business is wrong by Alastair Dryburgh. It is a book that challenges commonly accepted business “truths” and inspires you to go against the grain, think different, take risks and stand your ground in the face of the challenges that will come your way as a business owner.

Shameless plug for your business:
I’m the creator of the world’s first Chilli Crab Challenge. It gained viral celebrity earlier this year with 3 major newspaper features and more than a dozen blog and online publications featuring it in the span of two weeks. In the span of the two weeks, the campaign reached well over a million people in exposure without a single cent spent in ads.

Now I help F&B companies to tighten operations, increase profits and grow their businesses with my consulting and marketing services. Chilli Crab Challenge (https://www.chillicrab.com/nationalday)

How can people connect with you?
You can connect with me on Facebook (www.facebook.com/djtehkh) or visit www.rebirthacademy.sg for more information or book a 10 minute call with me @ www.tinyurl.com/dexclar

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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