The trappings of a successful startup team

The following HBR article focuses on what makes a successful startup team, but I would say this is true of teams outside the startup world as well. Having worked in consulting, corporate venture capital, and now at a startup, I think the importance of soft skills in addition to hard skills or industry experience cannot be underestimated. The study notes that “shared entrepreneurial passion and shared strategic vision are required to get to superior team performance,” where performance is measured by venture capital investors.

It is my experience that many in the corporate world overlook this fact when seeking out innovation from their teams. To identify new opportunities, or dream up innovative products or services, teams need to have entrepreneurial passion - whether that is inherent or fostered, oftentimes just by being given the permission to do so. At the same time, a shared vision is critical - if a team doesn’t agree on, or more often doesn’t know, the strategy of their department or the company, they run the risk of focusing on the wrong thing, never putting the full weight behind a good idea, or losing momentum because they can’t see what they are working towards. Not to mention lack of leadership buy-in because their innovation pursuits aren’t supporting broader sales/growth goals, and thus won’t be given needed/more funding.

It is very hard for anyone not at a startup to truly act like one. But that doesn’t mean certain operating principles and goals cannot be adopted. Staffing for aligned strategic visions and a shared passion can be step one.

HBR: What Makes a Successful Startup Team

Imagine it Forward with Beth Comstock

Not known for ever fully finishing business nonfiction books, I am proud to say I did finally complete Beth Comstock's book, "Imagine It Forward." And it is FABULOUS. As a young woman trying to drive innovation within a large, old, company, it was so relatable in so many ways, I found myself underlining something on almost every page. Not to mention the fact that she grew up in Winchester, Virginia, which is where my paternal grandmother - another firecracker - spent most of her youth (continuing to call it "home" after spending 60+ years in Florida).

In reading this I am also reminded of how lucky I have been in recent years, meeting people and making connections in ways often made possible by Columbia Business School. For instance, she talks about her time working with Steve Liguori (whom I had as a professor and reconnected with while at NYL), David Kidder and Eric Ries (who both guest lectured in Steve's class; David also founded Bionic, which I almost hired for work at NYL), Ben Kaufman (I attended a Quirky product pitch/vote night while in school), and Bre Pettis (I visited Makerbot's offices and sat in Bre's Delorean).

There are many great nuggets of wisdom throughout the book, but here were a few of my big takeaways, or things that most resonated:

  • "The pace of change is never going to be slower than today"

  • "Real innovators can be disagreeable; they don't require the social approval of their peers to move ahead with disruptive ideas"

  • "Developing a habit of self-permission will instill in you the belief that you are in control of your career and your life, regardless of what is going on around you"

  • "Living deep on the inside is too dark - 'what might be' is incapacitated by what's already worked. Living on the outside, however you have no influence. It is on the edge between the inside and outside where you can get things done"

The paradoxical nature of innovative cultures

In my role as the lead for a newly formed "Innovation Services" team, I have gone back and forth over the past year on understanding what can best drive innovation at a big company - culture change that bubbles up new ways of working, or building new products/services/businesses that are innovative themselves. In some ways it can feel like a chicken or egg question - can you really do one without the other? Especially in a place where there is very little executive support (vocal or explicit) for innovation, I have come to believe that as a very small team we might make a bigger impact by creating new things and then using those as proof points to show the company that it is possible to achieve interesting, better things when testing, learning, and taking risks.

In my argument I often reference an interview with Larry Keeley, co-founder of Doblin (where I formerly worked), where he notes that culture is like a cloud - if you squeeze it too hard it floats away and you've lost the ability to influence. He advocates for building innovation as a capability or competence, and that a culture will be built on the heels of that success.

To figure out how to drive the greatest impact, my team is attempting a bottoms-up and top-down strategy, focusing on both enabling employees and engaging leadership (taking our own medicine in testing and learning what works and what doesn’t in building culture and new products). A recent HBR article, "The Hard Truth About Innovative Cultures," highlights so many of the conversations, revelations, and frustrations I've experienced in the past year. An innovation culture in a corporate environment is full of paradoxes. It’s a challenge, but a rewarding one when it works out.

A few things in particular that stood out (and which may seem no-nonsense, but that makes them all the harder to implement):

  1. A tolerance for failure requires having extremely competent people

  2. Being more disciplined about killing losing projects makes it less risky to try new things

  3. If people are afraid to criticize, openly challenge superiors’ views, debate the ideas of others, and raise counterperspectives, innovation can be crushed

    1. ("To challenge too strongly is to risk looking like you’re not a team player" -> I have many times felt this way! But still continue to challenge)

  4. Innovation systems need to be able to take in information and input from a diverse set of contributors, and then do something with that data; accountability and collaboration can be complementary, and accountability can drive collaboration

  5. You need structural and cultural flatness so that people feel empowered to take actions, make decisions, and voice their opinions

    1. This requires strong leadership that can communicate goals and articulate key operating principles

Harvard Business Review: “The Hard Truth About Innovative Cultures”

Evangelizing innovation within a large company

Roughly nine months ago I started a new job, and have remarked (to myself and to others) about the ah-ha learning moments, both good and bad. In my first real foray outside of consulting, they are plentiful. One thing that has stood out is the difference in the sense of ownership at a corporation vs. professional services firm. And that is two-fold. First - in a corporate setting people feel more protective of their work and less open about sharing insights and learnings and goals. That is a broad stroke and generalization, but I come from a workplace where everyone was so busy that they were generally grateful to have others take interest and offer a helping hand in order to learn about a new subject, area, etc. I am lucky in that many at my new company have been very open to my inquiries of interest, but the culture of coffee chats and informational interviews isn't as well-ingrained in a place where you have your job laid out for the next year, compared to consulting where you are constantly interviewing for your next project.

 Second - my last role in consulting was in a small innovation and design firm that was allowed to operate somewhat autonomously within the larger mothership. We took pride in being the innovative ones, and as consultants we really saw ourselves as being the purveyors of innovation - you had to hire us to get the creative solutions. When I left, the firm was only just beginning to experiment with co-working models with client teams. Now in my new job (can it still be new nine months in?) I'm trying to tell and show employees that everyone and anyone can be innovative - it should be part of everyone's job, not just this "innovation services" team that sits off in the corporate venture arm. My team doesn't own innovation. If that were the case, there's little chance we would be able to make a scalable and lasting impact.

 So as part of this innovation evangelizing, I write a ~monthly "innovation tips and tools" blog post that is shared internally on the company intranet. I try to sneak in some more provocative things when possible, as I figure if not me, then who? Below is my most recent post, highlighting a new Freakonomics podcast series about creativity. More to come as the series progresses!


In my last post, I wrote about the importance of seeking experiences and interests outside of work in order to spark new ideas and come at problems from a different angle. In the human-centered design training bootcamps my team has been running with the Customer Experience team, seeking out "creative analogies" is one of the main tactics that we offer to serve as kindling for innovation. And in my past life as an innovation consultant, we would often plan specific activities and "field trips" for clients to get out of the office and see how things work in different industries or contexts. Yet these are just a few ways of sparking creativity or innovation - how do you actually become creative?

This is a question central to a new Freakonomics series on creativity. The following quote from the first episode in the series really stood out to me because we as a company are still learning how to best think and talk about innovation within the context of NYL:

 "Creativity is possible in all realms of human activity. If we define creativity as doing something novel that works, that is valuable in some way, it’s absolutely possible in everything that humans do." - Harvard Business School professor and psychologist Teresa Amabile

Though creativity and innovation are different concepts, here I want to use them somewhat interchangeably to show that innovation can happen in small ways, in any role. You don't have to be an Artist, with a capital A, to be creative. In the same way, you don't have to be in R&D or at a startup to be innovative. Sheila Davidson mentioned this in her recent innovation interview, noting that "for employees, acting on small ideas is innovation. If a person can think of a way to do their job better or solve a problem, they should raise it with their manager." Of course, innovation in marketing will look different than innovation in accounting (where some will point to Enron and say that innovation and creativity should play no role). Even still, just last week I got an email from CB Insights highlighting seven startups that are automating accounting and helping small businesses in particular manage their businesses more efficiently and effectively. Creativity will find its way to every nook and cranny of businesses.

The actor John Hodgman draws a line between interpretive arts (following a script as an actor, or a recipe as a chef), and creative arts, which he believes occupies a higher realm. Think stand-up comics, or chefs like Ferran Adrià, who are responsible either alone or in collaboration for creating something completely new out of nothing. On the El Bulli website, where Adrià gives a history of the famous restaurant, he notes that a major turning point for his team was being told "creativity means not copying." They realized that they needed to use major cook books less, and try to find an identity of their own using both traditional and new techniques.

Here I would argue that there is and should be a place for both interpretive innovation and creative innovation at New York Life. We need to find ways to do something better while still operating within the confines of a project plan. Yet there is also a big opportunity to try something completely new - and for 2019 we encourage you to find small ways in which you can create and innovate in ways that aren't merely an interpretation of a script. Take advantage of down time towards the end of the year (hopefully you have some) and let the creative juices flow!

 Freakonomics Podcast: How to Be Creative

Post-hackathon reflections

A month ago my team held the fourth annual employee hackathon, bringing together 40 teams of almost 200 employees to solve one of three challenges posed by our new CMO, the CEO of our investments business, and the head of Ventures. The teams had 24 hours to create their solution, and then a half day of two rounds of pitches to present to judges. Coming from a non-technical company, I was impressed by the concepts the teams developed - I really had no idea what might come out of it, and I think each team showed up in force.

 However, now comes the hard part. The part where we actually do something with the concepts. Generating and sourcing creative and innovative ideas is kind of the easy part for companies. Many of our peers/competitors have talked about running idea challenges, hackathons, shark tanks, etc., which are all things we're either currently running or evaluating as part of our strategy. USAA notes that over 10,000 ideas were submitted to their Innovation Community for Enterprise in 2016, and many other companies run external-facing hackathons inviting the public to create better solutions for old problems. But what comes of those ideas, where do they go? Even a friend at Snap has complained about the lack of momentum after winning the startup's internal hackathon.

 To really start to shift the culture from what can feel (too) conservative or complacent, into one that is thirsty for change and innovation, we need to really start building things. To bring employees along on this journey and show the whole company that we can think and work and deliver in new and different ways, it's not enough to just ask them for new ideas. We should do something with those ideas, make them real. Much of the feedback we've gotten from past hackathon participants is that they loved the experience, but then felt like all the work they contributed was almost ignored as existing roadmaps and budget items took precedence over their new ideas. Which is understandable in the context of a large company that is still structured to focus on "horizon 1" priorities. And that is hopefully where my team comes in.

 One rarely reads about the details of what companies do to put innovative ideas into action, and as a former consultant we were often out of the picture after delivering our new concept recommendations. So to a certain extent, I feel like there's an opportunity to pave the path while driving down it. Do we create an internal incubation function? Is it an entrepreneur-in-residence model? How much external help will we need? It's exciting but also sometimes nerve-wracking to try to figure out what might work best in a company culture that does feel more unique.

A quick look at the hackathon experience: NYL Hack 2018

Attending SAP iO's Foundry Demo Day

Yesterday I went to a female founder demo day hosted by SAP iO's NYC-based foundry, a program that provides access to SAP APIs, technologies, and opportunities for exposure to SAP customers. The first cohort was comprised of women-led B2B enterprise startups who spent the last four months working part time in a space at SAP's Hudson Yards office.

Attending as a fellow corporate venturer, and one who is trying to expand our own incubation efforts and events programming, I was impressed by the turnout and pitches. A few things in particular struck me:

  1. Even though it was very explicitly billed as a female founder demo day, the room was still essentially a 50/50 split, male/female. I feel like in years past many might have assumed this type of event and founder base was meant only for a female audience
  2. At the end of their pitches, the founders went beyond asking for something, and told the audience what they wanted, e.g., "if you can open doors for us or want to invest, come talk to us afterwards, space is running out"
  3. The role of a corporate venture relationship is more about partners than customers. The right enterprise partnership can provide more validation and open more doors than the right customers are able to do

And then a few questions came to mind as well:

  1. Is a corporate VC more appealing when it is a technology-based company, because startups in their portfolio/foundry/ecosystem gain access to both the tech tools and the CVC customers? For instance, the startups in this cohort gained access to otherwise expensive SAP tech, while also getting exclusive access and introductions to SAP's corporate customers…how can my company as a life insurer (that is in great need of digital transformation, innovation, etc.) provide an equal value prop?
  2. Blockchain has a lot of hype, and executives talking about it, but I really wonder how older incumbents are going to embrace the technology when its premise is in distributed authority/information/ownership, and from what I have seen with older enterprises is that they are inherently more siloed and territorial?

Looking forward to the next cohort which will be, amongst other things, wellness-focused.


The Wimbledon challenge - changing everything in order to remain the same

Reading through a recent Financial Times "Business School" newsletter, one article in particular stood out, about Wimbledon's efforts to reproduce the (traditional) customer experience year after year even as things like technology and the rules of the game change. Andrew Hill, the FT's management editor, posed a challenge for ideas from other older, traditional, venerable organizations who are having to change everything in order to remain the same. I thought it an interesting question for insurance in particular, and sent my response below:

Though much of the insurtech disruption and players have been in property and casualty to date, life insurance will see more of that in due time. What’s interesting to me in your question of ‘what should they do to ensure continuity for existing customers, even as they update everything behind the scenes?’ is that it assumes there is enough to continue from a (good) CX perspective. Insurance I think is being forced to evaluate and update/change both the front end experience and back end operations simultaneously, and many are not doing it well. Which is what had originally attracted me to make the move from innovation consulting, to working in an innovation role within a client – there’s a lot to be done!

The main thing that carriers with agents (or at least captive agents) are doing to maintain continuity is to keep relying on the importance and influence of the agents in the sales process. Little by little there is effort to better digitally enable agents, recognizing that target customers have more information at their fingertips and will be doing more research on their own, coming in to a meeting with an agent with at least some semblance of what they want, or with more detailed questions. Agents can’t only operate at the top of the funnel, they need to be able to plug in to wherever the customer is in their research and education process.

What this type of digital enablement looks like, I don’t think anyone has fully figured out. Is it providing agents an iPad tool to plug in information as they talk to customers that then spits out a “customers like you” profile, to further guide the discussion? Is it a voice assistant app that agents can talk to in their office to pull up information – or that customers can use from their home to connect to an agent remotely? There are discussions happening here at my company and I’m sure at other carriers, but it remains to be seen how quickly anyone can move on it. In the meantime, smaller players are figuring out how to plug the gaps left open by agents/carriers who rely on agents - and though they likely won't be seen as real competitors by incumbents, customers are taking note.

FT: Wimbledon's antidote to the cult of disruption

How the NBA helped England compete in the World Cup

In many of the human-centered design trainings, workshops, and projects we run, I am often introducing the concept of creative analogies (or precursors as my old firm called them). It has been surprisingly hard to do, or rather, surprisingly hard to make the concept stick. I suppose I sometimes saw this with my consulting clients, but I also wasn't operating at the scale or breadth of reach as I am now, being on the inside of the client.

As with many large corporates, there has been prolonged historical success that has come from doing what you do best, keeping your head down and working, and to a certain extent acting as a fast follower, versus sticking your head out in the market. In my role as an innovation execution lead, part of my job is getting employees to look beyond our four walls to both be aware of the change happening around us, and to be inspired to drive change here.

The concept of creative analogies has been one way to start to open up the dialogue - how have others facing analogous challenges found innovative and impactful solutions? Yet making that leap to examples beyond insurance or financial services has been harder, and I am always looking for new examples to use.

"England's Soccer Team Needed Help So They Stole From the NBA" - WSJ

This article highlights a great example of how seemingly disparate "industries" can provide inspiration to each other. For Gareth Southgate, this meant looking to the NBA and borrowing their set plays, adapting strategies for corner kicks in particular. He likely framed the question as "how might we create space for our players to execute on a goal?" starting with a broader question like "how might we win more games?" and continuing to ask "how" until getting to a design challenge that was constrained but still open enough to allow multiple solutions.

Philadelphia 76ers vice president Daniel Medina summed it up as, “he used to look at not only basketball, but other sports like handball and indoor football,” Medina said. “Similar collective ideas with different constraints can lead to different solutions.”

England has performed surprisingly well in this World Cup, set for a match today against Colombia. Even if they don't advance, it will be interesting to watch Southgate's continued use of multi-sport applications, and see if other coaches follow in suit.

Designing for voice in a systematic way

Last night I went to an event that featured five women leading AI startups (RAIN, Convrg, The Difference) and AI-focused teams within larger companies (Google, NPR), where they led a discussion on the need for inclusive design in AI. We questioned why so many digital assistants have feminine names, and discussed how you can better design usability testing for voice assistants to account for bias - which, as it turns out, can be really hard because you lose the traditional richness of ethnographic research where you can see the contradictions of saying one thing and doing another.

At one point the CEO of RAIN noted there are some experiences that just aren't right for voice, but that it's easy to get lost in the hype and excitement around the channel/medium. One thing that brands can do to design the right opportunity for voice, is to recognize that the capability or goal for that experience should be built within a system, and not as a standalone solution. It's about creating a holistic, omni-platform journey in order to optimize for what voice can do. For instance, even ensuring that if I order an Uber through my Alexa as I'm getting ready to leave, the mobile app is already updated once I get in the car. Or if I order a pizza through the Domino's app, I can later ask Alexa for a status update on delivery time.

This got me thinking about the implications for insurers and how we (as New York Life) might use voice in the future. Where does voice make sense for us? And how do we ensure that it fits within a systematic offering for customers, or how might we leverage voice within the omni-platform environment to place the agent at the center of the customer's financial wellness?

And finally, as the traditional brand voice in marketing truly becomes a 'voice' it puts a greater burden to really ensure the right attributes and personality comes through. Which makes you wonder, what is the right voice that captures our brand trust and reliability, with hopefully some friendliness as well? Why and when would customers want or need to talk to their life insurer? 

Designing for all drives real business impact

Several weeks ago I heard the Chief Design Officer for Ellevest give a talk about their "design origin story" and someone in the crowd asked how the company's business model and design strategy resonated with men. In her response, CDO Melissa Cullens said that it's funny, "when you design for women, men end up loving it too."

That got me to thinking about inclusive design, and wondering where else there might be missed opportunities with real business implications. For instance, the algorithm that many office buildings use to regulate temperature was designed in 1964 for a 154 pound male. Women, who typically have less muscle mass and are not wearing full suits, feel colder. And being colder could impact worker productivity - a 2004 Cornell study found “that when ambient office temperature [was] increased from 68 degrees to 77 degrees Fahrenheit, typing errors fell by 44 percent and typing productivity increased by 150%”

Coming back to the financial services world, the insurer Northwestern Mutual recently hired their first CMO, Aditi Gokhale. She started digging in to the data and saw, likely not surprisingly, that women are generally the main decision makers in big life decisions and are the daily money managers for the household. Yet NW Mutual's advisers were largely targeting men. When they did a study, 71% of women said, “Financial firms are not in touch with my real needs or concerns. They’re not connecting with me emotionally and rationally.” Seventy-one percent!

Through a website redesign, new marketing efforts, and smarter matching of advisors to potential clients, the company has seen 400%+ more leads. It would be interesting to dive into all of the work they did, and what else is in store. I hope to hear more from Gokhale in the future.

WSJ: Northwestern Mutual Gets Results from Ads That Talk to Women

That's Interesting

I am a huge fan of Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist, Wharton professor, TED speaker, and NYT best-selling author. As if he wasn't busy enough, he recently launched a podcast called WorkLife that addresses the fact that although we spend a large chunk of our lives at work, we devote too little time to thinking about how to make it better. In the podcast he profiles "unconventional" workplaces, highlighting what works well there, and thinking about how others can take back learnings, tips, and tricks to their own jobs.

While I would obviously recommend subscribing (most episodes are about 30 minutes, perfect for a commute), I wanted to note the most recent episode which featured an interview with Malcolm Gladwell at the 92nd Y.

I'm part of a new team within NYL Ventures, focused specifically on creating the capabilities and conditions to drive innovation across the company. Part of that is training, part is running human-centered design projects. Throughout our work we're helping employees to ideate on problems…thinking of things in new ways, taking a new lens to an old issue. A quote from this episode stood out, and also addresses another tactic I've tried to use - that of orthodoxies, and challenging industry, company, and customer long-held beliefs.

Adam references a paper by Murray Davis called "That's Interesting," saying that "ideas survive not because they're true, but because they're interesting…what makes an idea interesting is when it departs from conventional wisdom." There's some surprise to it. And that people need to understand that "an interesting idea is one that challenges your weakly held assumptions. Whereas if you challenge someone's strongly held assumptions" they don't respond well and will label the idea uninteresting, or worse.

I would take this one step further in thinking about corporate innovation - the ideas that become innovative concepts and create impact are those that are both interesting and useful. Depart from conventional wisdom to be interesting, and challenge assumptions to be useful in a new way. But of course, easier said than done! And hence the work is just starting for our team.


Corporate innovation - don't hit it and quit it

Two recent LinkedIn pieces came out regarding corporate innovation and innovation labs. Eric Ries shared an excerpt from his book The Startup Way that discusses how the lean startup method of constant iteration and experimentation more often than not runs into the corporate inertia of execution vs. experimentation. But this is a good thing and not always an occasion to lament - entrepreneurial management should give way to general management in order to help an internal startup take root within a business unit and thrive off the resources that come with execution activities.

Another piece entitled "Innovation Labs Don't Work" actually focuses on the tenants of successful corporate innovation rather than debunking innovation labs. I agree that more often than not, innovation labs (and maybe corporate venture arms?) are not set up to succeed - but I do think that having a separate arm/division/group that has the space and freedom to focus on new problems, processes, and players, can be a beneficial way to bring innovation into a corporation. But work has to be done to integrate innovation and not keep it as a standalone prize. And for that the principles of the right team (though not always an external hire), commercial intent (though it's hard to project exact numbers for a truly innovative business), structure, external collaboration (I am a consultant, after all), and consumer insight (consumer needs should always be first) are keys to success. Add to that market timing and things get exciting. 

Every Company (Should Be) a Design Company

I am often asked the role that designers play on my teams, and what makes a "design and innovation" consulting engagement different from other consulting work. Here I think Nelson Kunkel, Chief Design Officer for Deloitte Digital and whom I recently met while doing digital customer experience design for a luxury client, explains the role of design very well. In the future I hope that not only do more companies see the value in design and elevate its role in the organization, but that more and more employees are trained in design (and design thinking) as well.

"Design is fundamentally the discipline of making thoughtful decisions that create better outcomes for people... When businesses see design as merely the craft of making things look nice, they leave value on the table. The more lucrative role of design is in identifying a better set of problems and finding ways to create better outcomes for individuals and, thus, businesses."

Ad Age: Every Company Is a Design Company

FastCoDesign: Design jobs of the future (or not)

As a professional newbie to the design world, I do have to agree with some of the career-path predictions made in Fast Company's article, 5 Design Jobs That Won't Exist in the Future. And yet, I don't think the future is as dire as the title or tweets make it seem - though it will require some repurposing of one's own design toolbox. 

Some predictions seem more near-term than others. For instance, design researchers won't exist, as ethnographic research skills should be a key part of every design project (agreed). Others seem a bit more wishful thinking, i.e., Tim Brown's suggestion that "CEOs will need to be designers in order to be successful." 

The second half of the article goes on to point out which design jobs will grow in the future. Having spent the last few years moving into the design strategy space, it was interesting to see this role held up as one for that potential future growth:

Design researchers may find fewer opportunities in the next 15 years, but Artefact's John Rousseau thinks design strategists will be indispensable. "The importance of design strategy will grow," he says. "Future design strategists will need the ability to understand and model increasingly complex systems"—for example, social media networks or supply chains—"and will design new products and services in a volatile environment characterized by continuous disruption and a high degree of uncertainty." In other words, a future defined by political, social, business, and tech disruption that can happen overnight. In such a future, Rousseau says, design strategists will be like ballerinas, dancing their companies in and out of trouble. "It will be more of a dance, and less of a march." 

Quartz: A Life on the Road

Recently I was contacted on LinkedIn to be part of a story series on Quartz about business travel. Sponsored by Delta (whom I love), the focus would be on the technology used while on the road and how it helps you get your job done, stay connected, and simultaneously disconnect. After speaking with the interviewer, I was concerned that I had made either myself or consulting sound boring, but I think in the end it provided an interesting view into my "routine" while traveling - with the caveat that nothing is routine in consulting. 

Thank you Quartz (which I also love) for the opportunity!

Quartz: How this NYC consultant manages 40 weeks a year on the road

Hermès' Search for Growth

Around two years ago I visited the brand's New York office and flagship store through Columbia's Retail & Luxury Goods club, and met with the US CEO, Robert Chavez. Comments he made during that visit - control of brand growth, focus on current markets vs. new, strategic/targeted/slow and steady investments in Asian locations - are echoed in this piece with Axel Dumas. It shows Hermès' leadership is closely aligned on overall brand strategy, reinforcing the confident and strong position the brand holds in the luxury world.

Dumas also had some interesting insight on what digital means for the maison:

Hermès is also making investments in its digital presence. Currently, the company’s brand website is divorced from its e-commerce platform. In mid-2016, the company will integrate the two. “E-commerce is important, but also it’s about communication, telling your value,” Dumas says. “That’s why we are really thinking hard on re-launching the new website in 2016. I view digital as a great opportunity and something that is going to become more and more important.” Indeed, according to Solca, digital is expected to drive, on average, 40 percent of projected luxury sales growth from 2013 to 2020. “[E-commerce] is one of very few ways luxury goods companies can now grow,” he says.

When Dumas was named co-chief executive three years ago, he spent a lot of time looking at the archives, and quickly drew a correlation between the international expansion that happened in the 1970s and the digital expansion that is happening today. “There was a discussion in the 1970s, should we go international or should we not? People were saying, you don’t need to go international because everyone is coming to Paris. Going international will be risky and costly. Fortunately for us, we took the step to go international. I think it’s the same subject about digital now.”

Business of Fashion: Giving Digital a Seat at the Table

The article out this morning on Business of Fashion, "Does Digital Finally Have a Seat at the Table?", points out both interesting data points and insightful analysis (often from the trusty resource Luca Solca from BNP Paribas, seemingly the only luxury expert in banking). As someone interested in luxury, but aware of the opportunities in digital, the numbers look good.

Article highlights:

  • Digital is where the consumers are, making up for slowing growth in China
  • eCommerce is expected to be 9 percent of the global personal luxury goods market by 2019, with a value of $27 billion. More pressing is the fact that online currently influences over 60 percent of luxury purchases
  • Chief Digital Officers need to merge the marketing and IT sides of digital in order to permeate the entire organization (hint hint, consulting firms)
  • Those who have outsourced eCommerce to companies like Yoox Net-a-Porter will have to reclaim customer data in order to glean any insights and find correct attribution
[At] digitally mature companies, digital strategy is fully integrated into overall business strategy, negating the need for a specific chief of digital. “As in the case of Burberry, the alternative is to have the CDO and the CEO roles coincide,” says Luca Solca.

“In the 1920s businesses had chief electricity officers because it was such a new thing,” adds Ashley Friedlein. “This feels like that; a moment in time that will pass.”

Fashionable Conversations: WWD & Decoded Fashion

Today in New York the WWD Apparel and Retail CEO Summit wrapped up just as Decoded Fashion's annual NY Summit took off, making me wish I had been able to take time off from work to attend at least one. Last year while in school I did work with Decoded to plan and execute their summit, and it was fascinating to be able to listen to the different speakers talk about all things #fashiontech. This year, I was forced to follow the conversation on Twitter, but was still able to glean some interesting pieces from the conversations.

One quote in particular caught my eye, that of Tim Kendall, Pinterest's GM of Monetization. He said that 37% of mobile transactions are focused on fashion and luxury goods. That to me is very high, and I wonder if the quote was taken out of context - as brands are able to link a Pinterest post directly to an ecommerce link, allow purchase of items on a brand's Pinterest board. Either way, that is very encouraging for the fashion industry, and ties to McKinsey's prediction that luxury's share of online sales will double from 6 to 12 percent by 2020. After working on a mobile commerce/mobile app project with Yoox last summer, I find that area very interesting and clearly ripe for growth. I only wish I had been at the summit to hear in person the full discussion. Kudos to Decoded for driving such interesting conversations.

"But as luxury companies are increasingly forced to acknowledge e-commerce as a driver of sales — it is projected to grow 20 to 25 percent over the next five years, according to the Boston Consulting Group, while the industry as a whole is growing at only 3 to 4 percent a year — digital transformation, still relatively rare in fashion, is going to become more common."

- NY Times

Apple + Hermes: Surprising?

"It looks first like a luxury watch, and second like a gadget" - Quartz

With the announcement of the new Hermes collaboration with Apple, even hours later there are scant articles about the new device from fashion, style, or luxury news outlets. In one respect, this is because tech blogs and news sites abound, so they will cover an Apple event with more gusto. Yet, given that such a rarefied maison has taken on the tech scene, one would have assumed more articles would be out there talking about it (waiting for The New York Time's Vanessa Friedman to weigh in, post-"break up" with its previous version). 

It is no surprise that Apple is interested in moving its design upscale, with the recent-ish hires of Angela Ahrendts of Burberry, Paul Deneve of YSL, and Patrick Pruniaux of Tag Heuer. These are impressive hires, brand-wise, but it's hard to say what can be more upscale in the world of accessories than Hermes - and for this, I think the saying "if you can't beat them join them" goes both ways. I am certainly not as attuned to these worlds as others, but it still seems a surprise that Hermes, or any traditional luxury house, was persuaded to partner for the techy watch. With the prices more affordable than I would have expected, it is my assumption this will help Apple sell more watches, and move past earlier knocks on the watch design. For Hermes, it could be a surprising entry item for aspirational buyers, retailing for essentially the cost of two traditional enamel bracelets, and even arriving in the signature orange Hermes box. It would have been interesting to hear the discussions surrounding that "final mile" decision. 


Instagram leads the "natural" charge

The popularity of Instagram and its influence on the wider spread use of photograph filters is well-known. Today AdWeek noted that "design teams are beginning to see the benefit of moving away from over-lit, over-staged and generally over-edited photography for their campaigns" in favor of photos that look and feel more organic - to use both on and off the mobile platform. These types of images often resonate more with customers, and indeed I remember when analyzing Pinterest metrics at Moda Operandi one of the most pinned posts was that of an Instagram photo. 

Yet another, smaller, point made in the article caught my attention. One art director said that the huge network of designers and photographers on Instagram, and their portfolio-like profiles, means that trends catch on much more quickly and it is a race to adapt to new styles before they become worn out. "Now Instagram especially is responsible for speeding up the rate that we try to push aesthetics and try new things," said Alex Nassour of McKinney. This is likely both a threat and opportunity, pushing creatives to stay ahead of the game and constantly experimenting with novel ideas. It will be interesting to see if there is a future backlash to a faster-paced environment in the already competitive advertising industry. 

Adweek: How Instagram Is Changing the Way Brands Look at Photography, Online and Beyond