Entrepreneurship With a Baby: It Is Possible

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By Angela Barbash, Principal

While waiting around for my daughter, our first child, to appear last summer as I kept my feet up in those final weeks, I did a thorough search online for tips for bringing your baby to work with you. I had prepped my business partners to expect a three month leave and then a ‘baby stepping’ plan (no pun intended) back into work for the following three months, unsure of how it would all turn out.

Our family manages two businesses — a research and development consultancy (Reconsider) and Revalue, along with Pavan and Eric. Both businesses are young. On the one hand, there isn’t a troop of employees to manage and a large clientele to satisfy; on the other hand, there isn’t enough cash flow to provide a paycheck that can support childcare. We’re in that awkward early phase where you’re still very much pushing the boulder up the hill. These realities resulted in a sort of flexibility that allowed, and demanded, me to bring my baby to work when I returned.

It’s now been six months and our little one — Delilah, 8 ½ months old — is still coming to work with me. I’m up to about 20 hours a week now, slowly increasing my calendar commitments as I get more and more comfortable with the logistics involved in this baby+work life. What I realize now is that I never did find any blog posts in those early days that could have prepared me for the gauntlet I would need to both set up and run now.

Just out of curiosity, I did another scan before sitting down to write this post, and came up empty handed again. There are tons of posts on bringing your baby to an office environment, but nothing really out there for women who are entrepreneurs, still actively hustling to grow their business, working in coffee shops and libraries and co-working spaces, and without helpful assistants or staff who can just ‘take baby while I jump on this call.’

So, ahead of my appearance at Michigan’s Money Smart Week Mompreneur Summit, I’d like to offer my advice if you too find yourself in my kind of mompreneur situation. Here are three specific tips that may set your mind at ease if you are also scouring the web trying to figure out how this new baby will fit with your existing start-up baby.

  1. Acknowledge your anxiety, then move through it.

There are a million reasons to be anxious in this situation. She’s going to be disruptive… People are going to be put off by her or think it’s unprofessional… What if she has a diaper blow out… What if I can’t get her to sleep… What if… What if… What if… The anxieties will keep coming. The best thing you can do is acknowledge them. If you’re anxious then you’re a normal human being, you’re a normal mom, you’re a normal entrepreneur.

What I’ve learned through this experience is that for every anxiety I’ve ever had, it never really materialized the way I thought it was going to in my mind. Don’t be shackled by your anxiety. Being an entrepreneur is anxiety-ridden as it is, so learning how to move through this (not around) will make you a better business owner.

  1. 90% of potential problems are solved by smart planning.

Babies are easy, to some degree. They have a handful of needs and beyond that they just want to be included in the action. Before meetings I make sure Delilah is full and dry. I prep a bottle just in case she wants more. Depending on the environment and what I need to do during the meeting (am I presenting? Do I need to write things down? Am I just chatting and getting to know someone?) I bring the proper equipment. If it’s a conversation or I’m presenting, I bring the carrier. If I’m at a table and need to handle materials, I bring the stroller. The proper equipment will allow the baby to sleep comfortably. If she’s tired and fussy and all I brought was the carrier and I need to write, I’m in trouble, because I can’t write around her.

People say that the best thing you can do is get your baby on a schedule, then plan work around the schedule. Have you ever tried to get a baby on a schedule? It’s harder than it looks, and while Delilah has been helpful in mostly sticking to a schedule, she also has a propensity to flip the script on me at her will. You will be surprised at how adept you’ll become at thinking on your feet in those situations.

However, I have found it helpful to schedule certain types of activities at certain times of the day. Here’s an example: her high active time is 11am-1pm, so I schedule conversations at places with carpeting where I can put her on the floor with her toys; she typically (special emphasis on ‘typically’) sleeps in the 2–4pm window, so I schedule phone calls at home where problem solving is easier in case she wakes up.

  1. Involve your baby.

Being an entrepreneur means being in sales. It doesn’t matter if you have someone else handling sales for your company, you are still always selling. You’re constantly selling your company’s merits to potential partners, investors, the media, collaborators, new employees, and new clients. I have noticed a marked difference in the tone of a meeting and the resulting relationship when I have the baby with me in the meeting, and especially when I involve her.

By involve, I mean don’t be afraid to ask the other person to hold her while you go to the bathroom, have her on your lap so she can be a part of the conversation, make your commitment to your family part of your conversation. I think the experience brings people closer to you, it makes you vulnerable to them by trusting them with your baby and your baby’s time, and that makes them in turn trust you more. Plus, what baby doesn’t love to be part of the action?

There are plenty of other experiences I could share, but my three tips should leave you with a good guideline of the expectations and reality of entrepreneurship with a baby. I don’t know how long our little one will be able to hang out with me at work, but so far it’s working and it’s an experience I will never forget. I wish you all the luck in finding happy solutions in your journey as well, and join me and many more moms at the Mompreneur Summit at Lawrence Tech University on April 28th 9am-3:30pm to find camaraderie among others just like you.

Impact Investing Spotlight: Green Bonds

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By Eric Davis, Investment Advisor Representative

In the vast world of socially responsible investing, the term “green bond” has been floated around quite frequently. But just what is a green bond? Well, it’s like any other bond, but the purpose of the proceeds are used for environmentally positive causes. Projects can be for renewable energy, clean transportation, biodiversity conservation, climate change adaptation, etc. In terms of the structure of a green bond…

Read more on Medium…

The Fear of Increasing Automation

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Computers and technology are becoming smarter and are able to do many things that we once thought impossible for them. Some of these are: driving cars and trucks, interpreting x-rays, combing through legal documents intelligently, and even writing news reports and briefs.

Many people are fearful that with the advancing of these technologies, many human jobs will be obsolete resulting in increased poverty and wealth disparity. However, those same fears existed with inventions such as the printing press and telephone. Instead, there can be an opportunity to change the world as we know it for the better and herein are some solutions to make this a reality.

Goodbye Jobs

The ability to make our lives easier often comes at a price to others. Since the dawn of human civilization there has been a tension between technology and manual labor. The difference this time is that technology is now striking at human cognition. Some computers can write operatic pieces, while others such as Watson can play games that are hard to master even for humans. In fact, the all-time Jeopardy champ, Ken Jennings after a drubbing from Watson proclaimed, “I for one welcome our computer overlords”. In some industries such as financial and legal services, some tasks that previously relied on the expertise of human employees are already being automated.

The fear of jobs being made obsolete by technology is always real in the short-term and especially acute after an economic meltdown or recession. More people become job-seekers, allowing employers to have more bargaining power and keep wages stagnant or even decline. This is already becoming a reality for the newest generation of college graduates who join the workforce only to find out their degree isn’t valued as much as it once was a generation ago.

As people become disgruntled, tensions rise between the class of “Owners” and “Employees”. While businesses and consumers feel the benefits of automation with cheaper, more abundant goods and services, compromised purchasing power can tend to diminish them. Owners see some of their employees as expensive and lay them off in order to keep costs low. Also, Owners, if they are able – especially in protectionist environments, sometimes react by propping up prices in order to control their supply. Owner’s justify their actions by saying they are the only ones taking risk – they have a stake in the game and believe they suffer disproportionately should the company go under.

Wealth Disparity Grows

Driven by the first fear, Owners try to ensure that excess gains transfer back to them and not to Employees. These gains exhibit a compounding effect; owners either reinvest in the company or in their personal portfolios. Wealth for non-Owners typically remains stagnant and linear, while that of owners grows exponentially enlarging the wealth gap which also grows exponentially.

History has shown time and again that this is how a revolution starts – the disenfranchised with less to lose seek to take power back from those that control the wealth.

The New Economy Mindset

If we are to avoid the next revolution, our mindset needs to shift from an “Us vs. Them”, to a collective “We”. This doesn’t mean overhauling the economy to communist or socialist policies. Instead we need to transform our current capitalist system into ‘Conscious Capitalism’, one in which those who seek more wealth can do so but don’t have to do that at the expense of others.

How can this become reality?

As noted before, Owners believe they have all the risk, so they believe they deserve the reward. This is the key to unlocking the potential of a more advanced society. What if everyone thought and behaved as an owner?

To be sure, when we ask this question, we are also changing the paradigm of what it means to be an Owner. In our view of the world, ownership doesn’t just mean a claim on assets; instead it is a responsibility to nurture those assets for the greater good. And we should be quick to add that ownership is a mindset. Many people who identify as employees today do not feel like Owners and that’s understandable.

We need to invest in education and awareness to change that mindset and it might take a generation or two. If we start changing how people view ownership at an early age, maybe there would be a time where there are no employees in a company, everyone would be a working Owner. In case you think this is a pie-in-the-sky idea, not so fast! There are many examples of this in the real-world, such as the John Lewis Partnership. In his book, Maverick, Ricardo Semler describes the transformation of a traditional family business into a similar company.

Of course, this will not happen overnight and we might need some changes in laws to support changes in mindset. But who knows, future generations could very well look radically different from ours and in the words of Nobel laureate, Muhammad Yunus, poverty might indeed be seen only in a museum.

With that encouraging thought let’s visit the original topic of this article. If everyone was an Owner, then we would all be aligning our interests in making our companies as prosperous as possible. And what we lose as demand for our time (jobs), we could get back in increased profits (dividends). When that happens, we no longer need to fear automation.

In fact, we now have the opportunity for robots and humans to begin working more closely. Collaboration in our minds is the key to accelerating prosperity. Instead of fearing automation, we can use our brains for higher level thinking, increasing our potential to solving the world’s greatest mysteries while our robot partners do the mundane, dangerous, and mind-numbing tasks.

Understanding Needs

The other big opportunity we have reveals itself when we look at the needs of humans and robots. Robots just need energy. When we get up in the morning, we’re reminded that we have all the energy we need from the sun. The more sustainable energy we harvest, the easier it is for robots to become self-sufficient. We can build robots that build robots that make solar panels! As technology advances, energy from higher density areas can be transferred to less sunny areas. That energy can be used to fill one of our other needs: food. Also, cheaper energy means cheaper shelter, and more advanced sustainable methods of sourcing water becomes economically viable.

Humans on the other hand need food, water and shelter to survive. But we are also social, thoughtful, and curious creatures that crave knowledge. The psychologist Abraham Maslow artfully described this in his seminal work, The Hierarchy of Human Needs. With our robot friends helping, maybe we can all elevate ourselves up this hierarchy, and education and learning doesn’t become the means, but the end of fruitful and joyous journey.

We are hardwired to be fearful of unknown; but it is this fear that drives us to create previously unimaginable solutions. If we can recognize the potential instead of the despair of what automation can bring to us as a whole, then there is a possibility for a brighter tomorrow. There will be bumps along the road, but if we can tackle these problems now, there’s no telling what the future may hold.

The Fascinating Story of Ronald Read

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Never met the guy, but I wish I had. I first heard of Ronald Read a few days ago in a Wall Street Journal article. Mr. Read was an army mechanic, gas station attendant, and part-time janitor in Vermont who died recently. His death would probably have been as quiet as his life had he not left behind a portfolio worth more than $8 million.

According to this story on CNN, this unassuming man didn’t appear to have any high-paying jobs, and built this fortune by living a life of frugality and disciplined investing. When he died, he left the bulk of his estate to a local hospital and a library. Pretty cool, right?

It’s difficult to reconstruct the exact path to the building of his wealth, but from what we can tell, he followed some simple and timeless principles of investing that sometimes even professionals forget. Not only that, some professionals use complicated math and models to try to disprove them. Anecdotal as this example might be, we thought it would be helpful to list these out:

1. Dividend reinvesting and dollar cost averaging

Mr. Read appears to have looked for companies that had a history of paying dividends, a common indicator that they were generating cash, and reinvested the dividends religiously. While this is not the only way to select great companies, following this discipline likely contributed to him being able to consistently compound his returns and average out costs over time.

2. Understanding his investments and holding stocks for the long term

He was pretty tight with the buck and as such was very aware of trading costs. In fact he went to great lengths to reduce his costs, purchasing stocks directly from the transfer agent and bypassing the broker whenever he could. This also meant that he would only buy a stock after he had researched it out and was satisfied that he wanted to have it in his portfolio for the long-term.

3. Staying in the game

Not all of his investments were profitable. Even the most successful investors will have duds in their portfolio (for instance, he held Lehman Brothers). But they learn from their mistakes and stay the course. This, he did as well.

4. Making money with boring investments

If you look at the top holdings in his portfolio, you don’t see any high falutin tech companies. All of his investments appear to be solid, boring, mainstream companies that have understandable, long-term value propositions and a history of growth and value creation.

5. Doing his own research, but also taking advice from other people

Finally, he didn’t appear to be a savant sitting in isolation atop a mountain. He was an everyday man who talked to people about stocks, and even had a financial advisor who he would consult from time to time. By all accounts, he appears to have been an independent and intelligent man who knew what he was doing, and did it with discipline and focus.

So, can we all be like Ronald Read?

Well, it’s impossible to guarantee anything and an $8 million portfolio is a tall order, but we think that the best shot at being like him and hoping to have a portfolio like his is to take charge of it ourselves. And to do that, it is important to learn the principles of investing like him. A great way to start? Warren Buffet’s top choice is: The Intelligent Investor: The Definitive Book on Value Investing. A Book of Practical Counsel (Revised Edition) (Collins Business Essentials) by Benjamin Graham et al. Link: http://amzn.com/0060555661

We agree.

Pavan Muzumdar, CFA

The Power of Crowd Intelligence

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Folks that already know Revalue, know that one of the things we stand for is community investing. The drivers behind the growing interest in community investing are several:

1) A growing interest in having a direct impact in the local economy,

2) A desire for more transparency and connectedness in investing – knowing where one’s money is and what it’s doing,

3) Investing that is more aligned with one’s values and interests, and

4) A partial diversification from the global economic system that at best appears to be opaque and synthetic, and at worst rigged and manipulated.

Those are all valid reasons and many of our own clients reflect them.

There’s another reason that we are interested in community investing, and that is its effectiveness. When done right with a spirit of collaboration, community investing can go beyond providing financial returns. It can actually promote connectedness, improve the quality of due diligence, and help investors better understand investment risk and in some cases also help reduce it.

In fact, crowdsourced due diligence is one of the most exciting things that we think is happening on the investment landscape, and we have seen it at all of our local investing training simulations. These are training sessions held by Revalue to give community investors a sense of what it is like to invest in a local business. There is a mock pitch of a fictitious company based on one in real life that participants review. The company is by no means perfect and the intent is to be as realistic as possible.

What’s interesting is that when participants form teams and collaborate, they collectively ask questions of our mock company that are truly sophisticated, and can rival the grilling done by professional investors. In our sessions we have seen participants with a background in accounting ask finance related questions. This is followed by people who understand distribution and logistics who focus on operations!

It’s all about community intelligence. What we know and bring to table individually in terms of knowledge, experience, and insight is far less than what an entire community of like-minded people can bring in aggregate. What’s important is a common set of values, an intent to collaborate, and a desire to create value. In short, working like a community.

Our site will be enhanced to keep that in mind. While we will be offering content, education, and advice to customers, we are unique in that we will also actively encourage our customers to collaborate with other customers and community members (non-customers) in a public setting, to further enhance empowerment and awareness.

To that end this is one of our wildly important goals: Creating an insanely large community of like-minded people. We hope you join us!

Welcome to our new site!

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Since you’re here, thanks for checking out our new site and especially our blog! This has been a labor of love for all of us and we especially want to thank our partner and web guru Marshel for all his hard work in dealing with us, our indecisiveness, and idiosyncrasies! We’re not biased and we think he did a fabulous job!

So a few things about our new site…

First, we want it to reflect our core values – yes, seriously! If you find us doing or saying anything that doesn’t do that, please call us out. And on that point, we hope that our world-changy approach and preaching doesn’t irritate you. We mean all of what we say earnestly, and we aren’t perfect; but strive we do and we hope you see that.

Second, this has got to be useful! We wish this to be – in the interest of transparency – a source of new community members and new clients for Revalue. We want to accomplish this by delivering substantially more value to you and them. Not doing so would go against everything we stand for. So please call us out on that if you feel we aren’t delivering.

Finally, this site won’t be stagnant. We plan on adding lots of features, content, benefits, and fun stuff (yes, we want to make money, investment, and financial planning fun for you!) over time. At the minimum we hope this convinces you to sign up for our newsletter so we can keep in touch and you can learn about all the goodies as we make them available.

Oh yeah, even though we shouldn’t have to say it, here goes: We won’t sell your email address and barrage you with crappy salesy messages. In other words, we’ll treat you like we want to be treated. So, please sign up!

PS: We released two blogs for our launch. Read the next one to learn how we’re taking a small step to making the financial planning and investment management world a little different – better really…