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Adding Wish products to your inventory could keep your small shop open

(BUSINESS NEWS) Online retail giant Wish moves to push products through small businesses in the US since a UN shipping subsidy was cut. Could piggybacking e-commerce afford retailers a lifeline in pandemic America?

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The $11 billion e-commerce purveyor of dollar-store value tchotchkes, Wish, was built on the foundation of cheap shipping subsidies. The Universal Postal Union (an arm of the UN that governs international shipping rates) previously provided a subsidy such that any package weighing less than or equal to 4.4 pounds could be shipped more cheaply from China than within the United States. But on July 1, the subsidy was eliminated and shipping costs doubled overnight.

Since January 2019, 36,000 small businesses in the United States and Europe have partnered with Wish to stock their items. In return for putting a few kitschy knick-knacks on their shelves, they get access to Wish’s 80 million active users. These users are generally low-income folks who either can’t afford or refuse to shell out the $119 per year for Amazon Prime membership, which affords customers oft-discounted goods and free shipping. Wish saves on operating costs for warehouses and workers, and consumers save money on the back end.

Wish hopes to increase their small business partners to 100,000 businesses by the end of 2020. That goal is ever more important given the subsidy cut that now disincentivizes their initial model. If customers want the same low-price goods they have grown used to, they will now have to pick up their parcels from a local retailer that Wish is bundling and funneling orders through. These partnerships – though they may water-down the quality of offerings by small retailers – provide an innovative solution for small business that have struggled to survive closures and capacity restrictions since the coronavirus outbreak took off in the US.

Granted, the world will keep turning without services like Wish. The website is the ultimate data-collecting scam. You can’t enter the website without logging in, and once you do, you have to select your age range and the gender you’ll be shopping for: women or men (Can’t I shop for everyone, including those in between and outside the binary? Get with the program, Wish!) Can’t they figure out my shopping habits by spying on me through cookies like everyone else?

At least they offer 10% off during your first three days of shopping! AND 50% off if you login 7 times in your first month! How’s that for a predatory shopping experience?

But I digress. If capitalism has taught us anything (as much as it pains me to put this in writing) it’s that America cannot rely on the government for nimble, holistic solutions that support the shared interests of public health and economic health. At least not for this particular public health crisis during this administration, if not always. Instead, we consistently rely on the private sector to offer us innovative solutions to our daily frustrations: transportation access (Uber/Lyft), grocery shopping (Instacart), affordable prescriptions (GoodRx), job hunting (LinkedIn/Indeed), and more. What makes this different?

Small businesses have suffered deeply from this pandemic and subsequent recession. Metlife and the US Chamber of Commerce conducted a poll of small businesses published on July 29, which found that 70% of respondents are worried about long-term financial hardship due to closures, and 58% worry about permanently closing. Retailers could pivot to set up e-commerce solutions to their brick-and-mortar woes, but the barrier to entry using that technology costs time and money that owners may not have as they fight for PPP loans, rent forgiveness, and negotiating interest rates.

The United States practically guarantees affordable manufacturing can only be imported from Asia. And so long as capitalism guarantees there will always be a class of consumers surviving on the lowest margins of our society, there will always be demand for cheap goods. Every purchase matters for a small domestic retailer to stay open and afloat. If the flow of these goods through American small businesses offers owners a way to keep their doors open and low-income consumers a way to keep purchasing – even if only by small tokens of increased foot traffic and impulse buys – it’s worth it.

Heather Buffo is a Cleveland native, a recovering Bostonian, and an Austin newbie. Heather is the Venture Growth & Partnerships Lead at Republic where she works with partners in private investing to democratize access to capital for entrepreneurs. Heather studied neurobiology at Harvard University, and is a City Year Boston AmeriCorps alum. She likes to write for AG, drink Austin beer, and ride around town on her road bicycle. His name is Pippin. Say hello if you see them.

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Business News

Keep your company’s operations lean by following these proven strategies

(BUSINESS) Keeping your operations lean means more than saving money, it means accomplishing more in less time.

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The past two years have been challenging, not just economically, but also politically and socially as well. While it would be nice to think that things are looking up, in reality, the problems never end. Taking a minimalist approach to your business, AKA keeping it lean, can help you weather the future to be more successful.

Here are some tips to help you trim the fat without putting profits above people.

Automate processes

Artificial intelligence frees up human resources. AI can manage many routine elements of your business, giving your team time to focus on important tasks that can’t be delegated to machines. This challenges your top performers to function at higher levels, which can only benefit your business.

Consider remote working

Whether you rent or own your property, it’s expensive to keep an office open. As we learned in the pandemic, many jobs can be done just as effectively from home as the workplace. Going remote can save you money, even if you help your team outfit their home office for safety and efficiency.

In today’s world, many are opting to completely shutter office doors, but you may be able to save money by using less space or renting out some of your office space.

Review your systems to find the fat

As your business grows (or downsizes), your systems need to change to fit how you work. Are there places where you can save money? If you’re ordering more, you may be able to ask vendors for discounts. Look for ways to bring down costs.

Talk to your team about where their workflow suffers and find solutions. An annual review through your budget with an eye on saving money can help you find those wasted dollars.

Find the balance

Operating lean doesn’t mean just saving money. It can also mean that you look at your time when deciding to pay for services. The point is to be as efficient as possible with your resources and systems, while maintaining customer service and safety. When you operate in a lean way, it sets your business up for success.

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How to apply to be on a Board of Directors

(BUSINESS) What do you need to think about and explore if you want to apply for a Board of Directors? Here’s a quick rundown of what, why, and when.

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What?
What does a Board of Directors do? Investopedia explains “A board of directors (B of D) is an elected group of individuals that represent shareholders. The board is a governing body that typically meets at regular intervals to set policies for corporate management and oversight. Every public company must have a board of directors. Some private and nonprofit organizations also have a board of directors.”

Why?
It is time to have a diverse representation of thoughts, values and insights from intelligently minded people that can give you the intel you need to move forward – as they don’t have quite the same vested interests as you.

We have become the nation that works like a machine. Day in and day out we are consumed by our work (and have easy access to it with our smartphones). We do volunteer and participate in extra-curricular activities, but it’s possible that many of us have never understood or considered joining a Board of Directors. There’s a new wave of Gen Xers and Millennials that have plenty of years of life and work experience + insights that this might be the time to resurrect (or invigorate) interest.

Harvard Business Review shared a great article about identifying the FIVE key areas you would want to consider growing your knowledge if you want to join a board:

1. Financial – You need to be able to speak in numbers.
2. Strategic – You want to be able to speak to how to be strategic even if you know the numbers.
3. Relational – This is where communication is key – understanding what you want to share with others and what they are sharing with you. This is very different than being on the Operational side of things.
4. Role – You must be able to be clear and add value in your time allotted – and know where you especially add value from your skills, experiences and strengths.
5. Cultural – You must contribute the feeling that Executives can come forward to seek advice even if things aren’t going well and create that culture of collaboration.

As Charlotte Valeur, a Danish-born former investment banker who has chaired three international companies and now leads the UK’s Institute of Directors, says, “We need to help new participants from under-represented groups to develop the confidence of working on boards and to come to know that” – while boardroom capital does take effort to build – “this is not rocket science.

When?
NOW! The time is now for all of us to get involved in helping to create a brighter future for organizations and businesses that we care about (including if they are our own business – you may want to create a Board of Directors).

The Harvard Business Review gave great explanations of the need to diversify those that have been on the Boards to continue to strive to better represent our population as a whole. Are you ready to take on this challenge? We need you.

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Business News

Average age of successful startup founders is 45, but stop stereotyping

(BUSINESS) Our culture glorifies (yet condemns?) startup founders as rich 20-somethings in hoodies, but some are a totally different type.

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There’s a common misconception that startups are riddled with semi-nerdy, 20-something white dudes who do nothing but sip Nitro Brews and walk around the open office showing off the hoodie they wore yesterday. It turns out that it’s extremely rare that startup offices resemble The Social Network.

However, the academic backdrop for the real social network story (AKA Harvard), produced statistics that will serve to put the aforementioned misconception to rest. According to the Harvard Business Review, the average age of people who founded the highest-growth startups is 45. Say what?! A full-fledged adult?!

In fact, aside from the age category of 60 and over, ages 29 and younger were the smallest group of founders that are responsible for heading the highest-growth startups. I guess you can accomplish a lot when you’re not riding around the office on a scooter all day.

The study also found that older entrepreneurs are more likely to succeed. The probability of extreme startup success rises with age, at least until the late 50s. It was found that work experience plays an important role.

Many will argue, “Well, what about someone like Steve Jobs?” You could easily argue right back that it took Jobs until the age of 52 to create Apple’s most profitable product – the iPhone.

The study continues to answer questions like, why do Venture Capitalist investors bet on young founders? This goes back to the misconception at the start, and there’s a notion that youth is the key for successful entrepreneurship. Wrong.

There is also the idea that younger entrepreneurs are likely working with less financial options, so it may be common for them to take something from a VC at a lower price. As a result, they could be viewed as more of a bargain than older founders.

“The next step for researchers is to explore what exactly explains the advantage of middle-aged founders,” writes Pierre Azoulay, et al. “For example, is it due to greater access to financial resources, deeper social networks, or certain forms of experience? In the meantime, it appears that advancing age is a powerful feature, not a bug, for starting the most successful firms.”

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