Business Category Archives - General Assembly Blog

The Difference Between a Startup and a Small Business


startup vs. small business image

If you work in the technology industry, or live in a tech hub such as Silicon Valley, Hong Kong, or New York —it’s likely that you or someone you know is in the process of conceptualizing or even launching his or her own startup venture.

A startup venture is often misunderstood for simply a small new business. The truth is, there is a significant difference between a small business vs. startup.

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Tips on How to Negotiate Salary



Chris Voss Never Split the Difference Book

Wrangling job compensation is easier than you think when you’re armed with the tools and tricks that help the FBI save lives.

The tech industry is nothing if not competitive as startups, mom-and-pop shops, and Fortune 500 companies fight for top talent, developers, designers, data scientists, and more find themselves in a mad dash to get in the door.

Once they’re there, an offer may be a testament to their technical skills and experience. However, the true mettle of one’s professional prowess lies in securing the salary or benefits package you want. When you’re in the throes of how to negotiate salary, don’t sell yourself short. Instead, ask yourself: What would Chris Voss do?

During his 24 years in the FBI’s Crisis Negotiation Unit, Voss used expert verbal and psychological tactics to defuse and control more than 150 international hostage cases. Many of the high-stakes situations were a matter of life or death — with rescues ranging from military contractors captured in Colombia to journalists kidnapped in Iraq and Gaza.

Now, he empowers people with valuable negotiation strategies to contend with tough professional and personal circumstances. As the founder and CEO of the consulting firm The Black Swan Group, he advises Fortune 500 companies through their most challenging negotiations. And in his book, the illuminating Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It, his expert advice reveals how powerful language, a “pleasant persistence”, empathy, and listening can give you an edge in getting a promotion, buying a car, consulting with a partner, and beyond.

In the book excerpt below, learn Voss’s concrete skill set that contributes to regarding a current employer or prospective employer as an ally for negotiating your next salary.

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A Beginner’s Guide to Customer Focus


Customer Focus

In the tech world, we’ve figured out how to measure user behavior down to a granular level via web analytics. From gauging interest through time spent on a page, to prioritizing information based on heat mapping, many companies are determining user preferences without directly interacting with individuals. But, relying on analytics alone without constant user involvement robs us of the main driver of success in product development: customer focus.

Customer focus is a tactic that dissects the analytics behind customer behavior. This involves considering their perspectives, understanding their needs and wants, and getting to the root cause of the issue that’s the focus of your product development efforts.

In many cases, the cause of an underperforming product or service isn’t obvious. A product manager or user experience (UX) researcher who works closely with their internal user experience team has the best chance of uncovering it. Along with product managers, UX designers ensure customer focus is maintained throughout the product development process, leveraging techniques like stakeholder interviews, customer journey mapping, and usability testing. (Learn more about these and other key strategies for gaining customer insights in our free white paper, Human-Focused Design.)

Let’s explore each of these in more detail.

What Are Stakeholder Interviews?

Interviewing both internal and external stakeholders is an integral part of product development. It allows you to hear your customers’ understanding of the problem you’re trying to solve — in their own words. It also provides you with an opportunity to ask for additional information on insights that may have been gathered with analytical tools.

As a product manager or UX designer, it’s crucial to understand your customers’ actual current behavior, not just what they say they will do. For instance, if you are developing an app to help people get to the gym more frequently and consistently, asking a customer, “How often do you plan to go to the gym this year?” isn’t as beneficial as asking, “How often did you attend the gym last year?” Customers cannot tell you what they will do with much sense of accuracy. They can only recall what they have done. Using past experiences to focus the product on future customer behavior is key.

When interviewing stakeholders, it’s important to ask open-ended questions (i.e., questions that won’t result in a simple “yes” or “no” answer). This will not only assist in identifying the root cause of the problem you’re addressing but will also keep the customer talking. For example, if you’re looking to determine the value of cardio classes and asked, “Would you say cardio classes are better workouts than weight lifting?” you may get a dead-end, one-word answer. When a customer just says “Yes,” what have you learned?

How do you get them to elaborate on the why in their response? It’s the why that separates a customer-focused product from one that’s solely data-driven. In this example, you could instead ask something like, “How do you feel about the cardio classes you participated in throughout 2017?”

How Customer Journey Mapping Works

Journey mapping — i.e., the strategic process of capturing and communicating complex customer interactions — provides you, the product manager, with a step-by-step visual representation of your customers’ current behavior surrounding the problem your product is trying to solve. When you’re able to walk through a process with a customer, you realize just how much is overlooked with conversation alone. Journey mapping can be done via sticky notes or by physically following customers through their daily activities. Both methods are effective in their own ways and commonly used in professional environments.

Journey mapping also helps connect a customer’s interview answers with their actual routines to provide deeper insights into their behaviors, wants, and needs. Oftentimes, people don’t realize how much they do until you ask them to walk you through their processes. With journey mapping, product managers and UX designers can also ask follow-up questions to support a stakeholder interview as necessary.

The Basics of Usability Testing

Conducted by both UX and product teams, usability testing observes customers’ interactions as they attempt to complete different tasks or transactions with a product and validates that product against a need, an idea, and an assumed solution. In other words, it allows them to confirm that the product effectively addresses a user problem they’ve aimed to solve. Through usability testing, users are able to navigate through a proposed solution and provide feedback on what they do and don’t like. Ideally, it should be conducted throughout the design process as the product evolves to meet customer needs. A customer may need to hold on to your product for a period of time in order for you to decide if it solves their problem effectively.

Customer-focused product development requires you to truly immerse yourself in the life of the customer. It pulls you out of what you think you know and places you in a position to learn. As you dig deeper into your customers’ behaviors, wants, and needs, you’ll strengthen the overall quality of your product.

Customer Focus at General Assembly

At General Assembly, product management and UX design students learn to hone customer-focused perspectives through hands-on practice. In our part-time Product Management course, you’ll bring a product idea to life via stakeholder interviewing, journey mappingusability testing, and more. Apply these techniques to optimize user-friendly products and services in our part-time User Experience Design courses, on campus or online. Or, take the first step toward a new career in our full-time User Experience Design Immersive.

Ask a Question About Our Business Programs

Meet Our Expert

Sherika Wynter is a jack of all trades. She works as senior product manager at USAC and has a background in mechanical engineering and industrial design. Prior to her current role, Sherika spent eight years as a project manager, working with clients including Pew Charitable Trusts, Tishman Speyer, and PBS. She holds certifications in both PMP and scrum master. Sherika currently teaches Product Management and project management workshops at General Assembly in Washington, D.C.

Sherika Wynter

“Product managers are integral to any product team. Product management is where design, development, and business intersect and, in this age of innovation, it’s skills are key to developing a successful product.”

Sherika Wynter, Product Management instructor, GA Washington, D.C.

8 Unconventional Ways to Discover Great Tech Talent


The following is an excerpt from 6 People Strategies for Successful Digital Transformation, an exclusive white paper from General Assembly. Download the full paper here.

Companies of all sizes are constantly struggling to find and retain talent that can stay ahead of emerging technologies, and use them to drive business innovation and success. Discovering people who excel in fields like digital marketingdataweb development, and more involves going beyond posting a job description online and letting the candidates come to you. Organizations need to be proactive and creative when it comes to hiring and cultivating great teams. This means looking both within and outside of your company’s walls for inspiration, capabilities, and assets.

Below, we’ve outlined several strategies for leveraging the talent you already have, plus offer off-the-beaten-path places to seek out emerging leaders.

Leveraging Talent Within Your Organization

Bolstering rising talent within your organization not only helps motivated individuals get ahead. It also presents opportunities to empower industry veterans who may be behind on tech skills, which is a win for everyone.

In analyzing data from 10,000 individuals who took GA’s entry-level digital marketing skills assessment, Digital Marketing Level 1 (DM1), we learned that top digital marketing talent can lie in fields outside the marketing function. (Read more about this in our report, The State of Skills: Digital Marketing 2018.) Being able to look beyond people who hold the job titles you’re looking to fill opens up a whole world of potential candidates. Company leaders can also equip HR teams and recruiters with the skills they need to attract exciting candidates.

1. Embrace reverse mentoring.

Bureaucracy, structure, and rigid culture can often mean that some of the freshest ideas rarely make it to an executive’s desk. When done right, reverse mentoring programs, wherein high-potential junior talent exposes more experienced managers to new ideas, technologies, and ways of working, are an effective way to skip levels, break down silos, and enable fresh ideas to permeate the organization.

This strategy was effective at Procter & Gamble Co., says the company’s former Group President Deb Henretta. “While running P&G Asia, we designed and executed a technology reverse-mentoring program,” she says. “Each leader on my Asia Leadership team had a millennial tech mentor who they met with on a regular basis. In these meetings, leadership could learn about what’s new in the digital space, experiment online, and get answers to all the ‘silly questions’ leaders may otherwise hesitate to ask. My wonderful tech mentor helped take me from ‘near dinosaur’ to ‘near diva’ in the digital space. He made it safe, fun, and insightful to learn.”

2. Offer accelerated promotions.

Similar to reverse mentoring, accelerated promotions can help bring new perspective and capabilities to leadership teams. While heading up the Asia region at P&G, Henretta decided her group needed to become more technologically adept.

“I needed to augment my leadership team with someone who was both skilled and knowledgeable in the digital and eCommerce space but also business savvy,” she says. “I found that person in a young mid-level level leader who was significantly younger and less experienced than the president- and VP-level folks on my Asia leadership team. When I said I wanted to bring this individual on, I got significant pushback by nearly all of my team — category heads, country heads, and function heads. And yet, this may have been the single most important decision I made to advance our team knowledge and capability, which was a key driver in our Asia business acceleration.”

3. Train your recruiters.

Traditional recruiting teams often lack the vocabulary, understanding, and networks to attract qualified candidates with the right tech and business skills. It’s important to train your recruiting team in the structures, motivations, backgrounds, and ways of assessing talent. General Assembly offers a number of online foundational lessons and in-person workshops to help HR teams understand the basics of concepts and practices such as codinguser experience design, and data science.

“As the primary points of contact for new hires, recruiters have significant influence on a candidate’s perception and experience of your company and the role for which they’re applying,” says Kathryn Minshew, CEO and Founder of The Muse, a leading career development platform. “Particularly for emerging roles in the digital space, recruiters could benefit from focused training and development to ensure they’re representing the role in an exciting and accurate way.”

4. Create projects that tech experts will love.

Faced with the option of joining a young startup or an established behemoth, most emerging talent will opt for the former — the chance to work on something truly novel, coupled with the appeal of flexibility, innovative benefits, and open work plans is hard to ignore, particularly as well-funded startups are often able to match or even exceed salary offers from larger companies. Large companies should consider establishing separate digital units, free from some of the structure and restrictions of the overall entity, to attract top talent and incubate new products and ideas.

Finding Talent Outside Your Organization

Go beyond applicants from traditional job postings to find emerging talent in fields like web development, data, design, and digital marketing. Seek out future tech leaders — many of them digital natives, those who work at companies born in the digital age — through programs like hackathons, startup accelerators, and more.

1. Get involved with startup accelerators.

Accelerator programs like Founders Factory, Startup Bootcamp, and others are excellent sources of motivated and creative young talent with a wide range of skills. Relatively small financial contributions in the form of investments, sponsorships, and corporate memberships can afford large companies access to this talent for projects, early investment opportunities, and inspiration.

2. Have students tackle projects in your organization.

General Assembly’s full-time Immersive courses regularly partner with companies large and small to build and deploy custom projects that students work on during their time on campus as part of the course curriculum. These projects save companies an estimated $20,000 per project in free design, tech, and data resources, while also being valuable practical learning experiences for our students.

3. Sponsor hackathons.

Pioneered by tech companies only a few years ago, these all-night coding sessions (sometimes scaled down to one-day experiences) can help rapidly generate solutions to thorny business problems and innovations. Corporate sponsors are often able to shape the nature of the competition, with the benefit that dozens of innovative minds are intensively focused on fresh solutions to the company’s problems.

4. Actively consider acquisitions.

Brand and product acquisitions have always been an active element of portfolio-building in the consumer packaged goods (CPG) world. But with the growing number of new consumer products players and the increasing speed of digital transformations, there have been many more such purchases in both the CPG and retail world.

One significant example is Unilever’s acquisition of Dollar Shave Club for $1 billion. Though Dollar Shave Club was not making a profit at the time of its purchase, its benefit to Unilever can be significant and multifold. The company represents lessons in branding, distribution, and, of course, an accelerated entry into a category dominated by just two rivals — the irreverent but highly authentic ads that went viral on YouTube are a particular manifestation of why this brand become so valuable so quickly.

Searching for the technologically equipped individuals who will evolve your business can feel discouraging. But if you’re smart and strategic, there are countless ways to find talented team members and leaders, both outside your company’s walls and within your organization. Get creative in your search, and strengthen your teams and business.

Motivate teams and galvanize leaders.

In 6 People Strategies for Successful Digital Transformation, discover the clear habits, practices, and investments that drive success.

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Eric Ries on 5 Lessons Companies Can Learn From Startups



Since the Great Recession in 2008, startups have become a major force in society. Today’s entrepreneurial culture — with lower financial barriers to launching a business and people’s increasing desire for flexibility, freedom, and purpose in their work — has bred a whole generation of young companies that have quickly scaled and revolutionized a wide range of industries. A number of those companies, like Airbnb and Uber, have achieved explosive growth and evolved into bonafide conglomerates in recent years.

Meanwhile, older organizations looking to remain relevant and thrive are striving to figure out the practices that allow these startups to excel — and how their corporations can adopt them in order to catch up.

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Don’t Frustrate Users With Gaps in Your Product Experience


There are countless steps where the product experience can break down.

There are countless steps where the product experience can break down.

There are countless steps where the product experience can break down. Have you ever been waiting at the corner for a ride-sharing pickup, and while the app swears the driver is right there, there is no car in sight? Or how about seamlessly ordering groceries in an app, then waiting well past the delivery window with no sign of your avocados? Ever called customer service by phone to learn they have no record of the two detailed chats you had with online agents about your issue? We’ve all been there.

As consumers who increasingly rely on technology to help us wrangle a vast range of goods and services, we’ve all experienced pain points when really good software doesn’t equate a really good experience. All too often, there’s a breakdown that occurs outside product screens, when a product or process hits the reality of the human experience or a user fails.

Take a peek at the diagram above, which charts the various user touch points that can occur with your brand in a product experience loop. Users interact with a product through many different channels and modes of communication, and bridging the gaps between them is essential to your product’s success. If you present users with a custom call to action in a social media ad, your customer service teams must be ready to respond. If you build an offer email that is redeemable at a brick-and-mortar retail location, the cashier will need tools to redeem it.

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How Blending Lean, Agile, and Design Thinking Will Transform Your Team


Lean vs Agile vs Design Thinking Jeff Gothelf

Jeff Gothelf’s new book, Lean vs. Agile vs. Design Thinking

The following is an adapted excerpt from Lean vs. Agile vs. Design Thinking by designer, team leader, and business coach Jeff Gothelf.

In 2016, I was preparing with clients for an upcoming training workshop focused on coaching a cross-functional team of designers, software engineers, product managers, and business stakeholders on integrating product discovery practices into their delivery cadences. During our conversation, my client said to me, “Our tech teams are learning Agile. Our product teams are learning Lean, and our design teams are learning Design Thinking. Which one is right?”

The client found the different disciplines at odds because these seemingly complementary practices forced each discipline into different cadences, with different practices and vocabularies targeting different measures of success.

The engineering teams, using Agile, were focused on shipping bug-free code in regular release cycles (many teams call these “sprints”). Their ultimate goal was an increased velocity — the quantity of code they could ship in each sprint. Product managers, using Lean, were most interested in driving efficiency, quality, and reduction of waste through tactical backlog prioritization and grooming techniques.

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How to Cultivate Top Tech Talent: What Every Exec Needs to Know


Hiring Strategy Digital Skills Training

Our recommendation is simple: Companies need to invest in learning.

The following is an excerpt from 6 People Strategies for Successful Digital Transformation, an exclusive white paper from General Assembly. Download the full paper here.

The digital landscape is evolving at a rapid pace, and it’s essential for companies to harness wide-ranging technical expertise in order to stay ahead. Today’s marketers must be able to analyze massive amounts of data, IT workers must be able to design compelling mobile app experiences, and a “product” is no longer only a physical object but could be a website, a piece of content, or even a training curriculum.

General Assembly’s recommendation for keeping up is simple: Companies need to invest in learning. The Economist magazine recently issued a special report that highlighted the importance of “lifelong learning” as a habit that both skilled and unskilled workers must incorporate to keep pace with a rapidly developing economy. They profiled GA’s approach to tech education — including upskilling promising individuals and reskilling those with outdated competencies in data, web development, and design — as an effective way to ensure employees’ skills were kept up to date.

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9 Ways to Develop Talent for Tomorrow’s Economy


Policy Ideas Skills Gap

Create opportunities for employers and job-seekers alike with these proposed policies to help close chronic skills gaps.

A tightening labor market, persistent skills gaps (in fields from manufacturing to technology), and the short shelf life of skills in the rapidly changing digital economy, have led to a seemingly paradoxical narrative in the education-to-employment pipeline.

In manufacturing, for instance, 70 percent of companies now face shortages of workers with the necessary technology skills. And yet millions of Americans struggle to find jobs that put them on a path toward social and economic mobility or, at least, a comfortable perch in the middle class.

What’s worse, the compounding forces of automation and artificial intelligence (AI) will begin to dislocate a growing number of workers — putting unprecedented pressure on an education and workforce development system that is ill-equipped to tackle looming reskilling and training challenges.

New Models Emerge

In the last five years, an array of non-accredited education and training providers has surfaced to address these challenges, including General Assembly, as well as on-demand learning platforms, ultra-low-cost course providers (like StraighterLine or Coursera), and new approaches to “education as an employee benefit” (pioneered by companies like Chipotle, in partnership with Guild Education).

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John Rossman on How the Internet of Things Transforms Businesses


Amazon Way on IoT John Rossman Interview

Author and tech-industry veteran John Rossman, whose new book takes a deep dive into the Internet of Things.

When it comes to enhancing customer experiences and improving business operations, the future lies in the Internet of Things (IoT).

IoT is the ability to take an analog or physical capability and create a digital version of that experience. For example, the Nest thermostat helps lower energy costs by using sensors and your phone’s location to adjust the temperature when you leave the house. Samsung’s Family Hub refrigerator allows you to order groceries from FreshDirect right from its door.

From a business standpoint, IoT technology allows for smarter, data-driven models that enable higher efficiency and better outcomes. From a consumer standpoint, it can transform the way we think about some of our most routine daily actions. IoT technology requires elements of data science and analytics, product management, and user experience — and because of this, it’s a cross-functional industry with tons of opportunity for growth.

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