Tag Archives: Silicon Valley

The Silicon Trail

March 28, 2017 by

When United Airlines’ first daily nonstop service flight from Eppley Airfield to San Francisco International Airport eased away from the gate in September 2016, Randy Thelen made certain he had a seat.

The senior vice president for economic development at the Omaha Chamber of Commerce saw the importance of that 7 a.m. flight—believed to be the first regular nonstop service between the two cities in a quarter century. Shortly after 9 a.m., he was on the West Coast, in the fertile Silicon Valley, ready for business.

Despite Omaha’s firm footing in the Silicon Prairie—with tech giants like PayPal, Google, LinkedIn, and Yahoo all maintaining a significant presence in the metro—Omaha long struggled with a serious shortcoming when it came time to recruit more. The same shortcoming didn’t help local technology startups secure financial backing from the apparent over-abundance of thick wallet in the Bay area.

Getting from Silicon Valley to Omaha’s corner of the Silicon Prairie was more than a hassle. It usually required at least one connecting flight, stretching a three-hour nonstop flight into nearly a full day of airplanes and airports … and that’s the delay-free version.

“As much as we don’t want location to be a barrier, there’s a very real situation where Silicon Valley investors won’t fly somewhere if they have to switch planes,” says Dusty Davidson, the CEO and co-founder of Flywheel, an Omaha-based startup that builds and hosts WordPress websites. Davidson is also known for his role in creating Silicon Prairie News and one of the largest entrepreneurial tech conferences in the region, Big Omaha.

“It’s not the connection, it’s the time,” he adds.

The required connecting flights cast a pall over Omaha’s distinct advantage as a low-cost jewel compared to the Silicon Valley. Omaha’s lower cost of living and more affordable housing helps save companies on their largest expense: wages. Add in the various business incentives available from the state, along with a strong talent pool and sound infrastructure, and Omaha makes an attractive option for startup and established tech companies, with that notable exception.

“We came up short on the connectivity or on the flights in and out of Silicon Valley,” Thelen says.

Then United Airlines made San Francisco’s International Airport the nation’s 25th airport with regular nonstop flight services to and from Omaha. This spring, a 26th regular nonstop Omaha route will open between here and Houston via Southwest Airlines.

“Now, we’ve taken away that competitive disadvantage, and we’ve been able to promote it as an advantage,” Thelen says. “It really has changed the conversation as we try to continue to build that pipeline between here and Silicon Valley.”

“The ability to have direct service does have an impact on the businesses that choose to do business here,” says Nancy Miller, vice president of operations at Travel and Transport, a national travel booking company based in Omaha. “I think it helps Omaha businesses.”

That an airline would add a regular nonstop flight to San Francisco lends credence to claims of Omaha’s growth as a potential hub in the Silicon Prairie.

“The Omaha economy really seems to have been doing well over the last couple of years,” says Dave Roth, deputy executive director of the Omaha Airport Authority. “It’s just a really positive combination of Omaha and the airlines for those additional flights.”

Omaha has popped up on several national lists as a new hot spot for tech startups. SmartAsset named Omaha the best city in the nation to work in tech in 2015, and Nebraska has been No. 3 on Forbes’ list of Best States for Business for two years running.

Thelen used his first flight to the Silicon Valley to meet with a dozen tech companies, some who already have outposts in town, and few others he’d like see set up shop.

“For the cost of one hotel stay and a pretty simple flight in and out, you can get two full business days of work without the hassle of changing planes and the risk of getting delayed,” Thelen says. “The convenience of business travel just went up exponentially, and you can expect that connectivity to continue to grow.”

Executives headquartered in San Francisco can more easily visit and engage with their Midwestern operations. Or, employees based in Omaha can more efficiently meet with leadership in Silicon Valley. Officials at PayPal and LinkedIn—which employ about 2,800 and 300 people, respectively, in the Omaha area—say there is frequent travel between the Silicon Valley and their operations in Omaha, but exact figures were unavailable.

“To have firms like that, that now have much, much easier access back and forth, frankly it makes our location all that more integral to the operation because it’s a simpler connect now,” Thelen says.

He added: “That simple flight makes a big, big difference.”

And even homegrown startups can take advantage. They can get twice as much done on recruiting trips from the valley, whether they are looking for talent or financing.

Davidson, the CEO at Flywheel, says the increased connectivity will indeed make a big difference for local companies raising money. There still remains a lot of work to put Omaha “on the map” with more sources of local capital and slowing the export of the state’s top technology talent, to name a few.

“I don’t know that you’re able to look at [direct flights to San Francisco] and say, ‘Hey, look, we solved the problem,’” he says. “I think there’s 50 things that are contributing, and what you really want to do is, just one at a time, start whittling away.”

Visit omahachamber.org for more information.

This article was printed in the Spring 2017 edition of B2B.

The Beckmans

February 2, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Sadie Beckman—at 2 years old—likes to pick up pretty rocks and cup them in her tiny hands. Then she clicks them together. These are special rocks that her grandmother, Linda Beckman, brought back from past vacations in Colorado and Washington.

Whether she’s practicing her sensory motor skills by playing with Grandma’s rocks or taking short walks with her grandpa, Dennis Beckman, Sadie’s too little to understand the favor her parents, Jennie and David Beckman, did for her.

By returning back to their hometown of Omaha after stints in Boston and Baltimore, they widened their daughter’s family circle. A supportive circle that cares for her, plays games with her, and feeds her homemade sugar cookies.

Young families are increasingly returning home to Omaha to live closer to grandparents for more quality family bonding. Jennie’s childhood friend Amy Isaacson also recently returned to the Omaha area after working as a researcher at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. Isaacson says her family moved due to the rising cost of living in the Silicon Valley area and to reside closer to family. The Isaacsons have a 4-year-old daughter and 9-month-old twin girls.

“This has been absolutely the best decision for so many reasons. We have more space. We have family. People are friendly here. It’s more affordable,” Isaacson says.

Beckman, who graduated from the University of Nebraska at Omaha, says they talked about returning to Omaha after they had children. Fortunately, Beckman’s previous job as director of volunteer strategy with the non-profit Association of Jewish Family and Children’s Agencies allowed her to work remotely, so she could take her job with her to Nebraska. She is now the director of community engagement and education for the Jewish Federation of Omaha.

After the birth of Sadie, Jennie realized how important it was to be around her family. “It was really painful to go a whole year with them not seeing her for large slots of time.”

When David’s mom, Linda, heard the news, she says she kept thinking, “Oh my gosh, is this real?”

“Many, many years before, they had wanted to move back,” Linda says. “It all depends on jobs and things. You can’t just decide to move. You have to have an income.”

“It’s fun to watch her,” Linda says of baby Sadie. “When she first walks in the house and she sees you, she just lights up, and it’s like ‘Ahh!’ She just melts your heart.”

The Beckmans also have another granddaughter, Evelyn, who lives in Iowa. “We don’t see her nearly as often, but I’ll send her little packages here and there,” says Linda.

“We just want to be there to be of any assistance that the parents need. My parents were like that. They were always there to pick up the kids after school if I couldn’t do it. They were always there, so it just comes natural,” she says.

The Beckmans take care of Sadie each Tuesday evening. “Dave and Jenny get to have a few minutes by themselves to sort of catch their breath,” Linda says. They get to do things childless people do, like go out to eat without the dining room theatrics or relax on the deck and enjoy each other’s company.”

“I think the biggest thing is just the sense of comfort and security, and feeling like we have backup. And we have backups to our backup,” Jennie says.

Jennie’s support team also includes her own parents, Linda and Harry Gates, and her two brothers.

The Gates watch Sadie each Wednesday evening, and sometimes on the weekends for an hour or so while Jennie runs errands. They like to read books to Sadie or work on puzzles with her. They have tried painting and crafting with Play-Doh—no small feat with a child that age.

Harry also likes to take Sadie on walks. “We go look at the ants, and we go look at the flowers, and we go look at the birds,” he says.

Linda Gates says she really notices how Sadie changes from week to week. “Her vocabulary has just exploded. It seems like it’s all of a sudden, but because we can see her once a week, we really can see that progression. If they were still in Baltimore, we would miss out on all of that,” she says.

Gates, who prefers the name “Gigi” over “Grandmother,” has a penchant for wearing jewelry. “Sadie’s always real fascinated with that. If I have on bracelets and necklaces, I’ll take them off and put them on her, and she puts them back on me. It’s just kind of a nice moment together,” she says.

All the grandparents are happy with the new living arrangements. “It’s great. We’re very grateful and excited that it all worked out for them,” Gates says.

This article was printed in the Winter 2016 edition of Family Guide.

 

Stefanie Monge Introduces

December 1, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The birth and growth of the tech industry—specifically Silicon Valley and the Silicon Prairie—gave rise to a new generation of entrepreneurs. Young Americans from Generation X, Generation Y, and millennials harnessed the power of the internet and open-access technology to build apps, solve problems, and disrupt traditional ways of doing business.

In many cases, these entrepreneurs have been young men. But in recent years, the voices of female entrepreneurs have grown louder, their success stories gaining more attention.

It stands to reason, then, that in a country where women have historically earned less than their male counterparts (and secured fewer promotions and board seats), women deserve a space dedicated to finding and networking with professional peers.

Meet Stefanie Monge, an Omaha-based serial entrepreneur, speaker, writer, and consultant who has launched a local platform for such women. Monge started an Omaha chapter of FemCity, which bills itself as a community of strong entrepreneurial women supporting one another, both in business and in life.

Monge and her all-female board of directors host monthly events around the Omaha area featuring guest speakers who tackle topics ranging from self-awareness, self-empowerment, mindfulness, and even failure. Women may drop in to any FemCity Omaha event for $15 or join the organization for $125 per year.

Monge knows a thing or two about pursuing her many passions. A former Omaha World-Herald reporter, today she serves in many roles: a managing partner at Petshop Gallery; CEO and founder of Think.Start.Do, Welcor Enterprise Yoga, and Stefanie Monge Consulting; and a content strategist and event producer at San Francisco-based Serverless.

“The thing I’ve learned as an entrepreneur is that my work is never done. I will always work more. I will always have the capacity to work more. And if I don’t set the boundaries and decide when is work time and when is non-work time, everything by default turns into work time,” Monge explains. With technology and email, it’s also about setting boundaries—being responsive to emails, text messages, and the like, but not setting the expectation that she is immediately responsive or always available after hours.

FemCity Omaha strives to empower women to work and live mindfully, making choices that improve both their business and their whole being. Monge can relate to other women who may strive at work, yet see their personal relationships suffer as a result.

“It quickly became apparent that I could not function without figuring that out,” Monge explains of finding her realistic work-life balance. “But as I became more successful, I had more freedom to implement it.”

For example, there are consistent days of the week and even set times that are off-limits to Monge’s clients and co-workers.

“And it’s beautiful, because it means that I start every day and every week basically on my own terms, and it feels much less hectic. It helps me to be more productive. It helps me to be more calm. It helps me to be more efficient. Ultimately that all goes back to mindfulness,” Monge says.

Which is why FemCity Omaha has proven to be a meaningful and impactful organization for Monge and the more than 150 women who have attended a FemCity event since it launched in April of 2016.

“The thing that really impressed me and really drew me to this group, and ultimately was a major deciding factor in launching a group in Omaha, is they really focus on women as whole human beings,” Monge says. “It is definitely about building a successful business. But it’s also about having a balanced life, and having a really strong support system of other successful, motivated women who are more than willing to share their resources and share their experience.”

Traditional networking environments, Monge says, often feel more like a non-stop sales pitch than an opportunity to develop deep connections with other individuals. Even today, she evaluates new networking opportunities based on what they will yield and what they will cost—largely, her time.

“I felt there was an opportunity [with FemCity Omaha] to take the mission of helping women form really authentic relationships, to help support each other’s professional and personal growth, and promoting a welcome environment that is authentic,” says Monge, noting that the genuine warmth, kindness, and general sense of community that she both witnesses and personally experiences at each FemCity Omaha event is unlike anything else she’s seen in Omaha.

“As women, female entrepreneurs, and female business leaders, it’s easy to get caught up in the competitive nature of networking. Getting rid of that has been really appealing,” she says.

Women who attend are in their mid-20s upward to age 60. They are business owners, women who seek to own business, and some are freelancers or consultants part-time. Others still are simply seeking an outlet to meet other professional and dynamic women.

“The idea was to create a space that is only women, that is a safe, supportive space where women can feel less inhibited about speaking their truth,” she says. “The reality is, my experience as a female serial entrepreneur is very different from that of my male counterparts. The things I think about in my daily life, or the ways I balance my work and my life, are specific to being a woman. There is value in providing that place where women feel safe to voice those feelings and relate through shared experiences.”

Visit femcity.com/omaha for more information.

Stefanie Monge

Stefanie Monge

Women’s Networking Groups

Christian Women’s Business Network
Contact: Pamela Korth
402-829-5486 or info@cbwf.org
cbwf.org

Commercial Real Estate Women (CREW)
Contact: Jenni Shukert
402-551-3400 or jshukert@aoomaha.com
crewomahametro.org

FemCity
Contact: Stefanie Monge
402-813-7530 or omaha@femcity.com
femcity.com/omaha

Heartland Women’s Network
Contact: Mindy Kidney
402-926-9928 or membership@heartlandwomensnetwork.com
heartlandwomensnetwork.com

Ladies Who Launch
Contact: Leslie Fischer
402-203-0451 or leslie@togetheragreatergood.com
facebook.com/ladieswholaunchomaha

Metro Omaha Women’s Business Center (MOWBC)
Contact: B.C. Clark
402-201-2334 or bc.clark@mowbcf.org
mowbcf.org

Nebraska Women in Architecture
Contact: Kristi Nohavec
kmnohavec@leoadaly.com
facebook.com/nebraska-women-in-architecture

Omaha 30+ Women
Contact: Kay M. Rowe
embracelifellc@gmail.com
meetup.com/omaha-30-plus-women

Omaha Business Women Connection
Contact: Barb Brady
402-882-1062 or barb@simplifiedaccountingfirm.com
facebook.com/groups/omahabusinesswomenconnection/

Omaha Coding Women
Contact: Sandi Barr
sandi.k.barr@gmail.com
meetup.com/omaha-coding-women

Professional Women Connect
Contact: Janyne Peek Emsick, Ph.D.
402-346-5856 or janyne@integrowinc.com
Sarah Ericson, sarah.ericson@csgi.com
pwcomaha.com

Women in Insurance and Financial Services
Contact: Tonya Mathison
402-401-2330 or mathison.tonya@principal.com
wifsnational.org

Women in Technology of the Heartland
Contact: Colleen Schinker
colleen.schinker@hdrinc.com
meetup.com/witheartland

Women to Women
Contact: Sarah Bernhagen
402-293-0999 or sbernhagen@johnagentleman.com
(No website available)

Women’s Council of Realtors Omaha
Contact: Katie Clemenger
kclemenger@celebrityhomesomaha.com
wcromaha.com

Women’s Conferences

American Association of University Women
Contact: Marilyn Bombac, 402-292-6245 or mbombac@aol.com
Denise Britigan, 402-884-0185 or britigan@cox.net
aauw-ne.aauw.net

ICAN Women’s Leadership Conference
Contact: Lisa Turner
402-392-0746 or lturner@icanglobal.net
icanomaha.org

Do the Damn Thing
Contact: Catrice M. Jackson
402-706-4244 or catriceology@gmail.com
catriceology.com

Women on a Mission for Change
Contact: 402-403-9621 or womenonamissionomaha@gmail.com
womenonamissionomaha.org

Women’s Fund
Contact: Michelle Zych
402-827-9280 or mzych@omahawomensfund.org
omahawomensfund.org

Retaining Your Rock Stars

December 22, 2015 by

The fastest way for companies to drive away rock star talent is well documented:
micromanage them.

To retain them forever? Also well documented: coach them.

Well documented by whom, you ask? None other than two of the world’s top trendsetters
in management and corporate culture: Google and ADM.

Archer Daniels Midland?

Yeah. So, let’s start with Google.

In 2009, Google launched Project Oxygen, a research initiative to understand how its most successful managers manage. For a full year Google’s statisticians data-mined more than 10,000 quantitative observations of ideal manager behaviors.

As Laszlo Bock, then Google vice president of people operations, said in a Wall Street Journal interview, “The starting point was that our best managers have teams that perform better, are retained better, are happier, and do everything better. The biggest controllable factor that we could see was the quality of the manager. So what if every manager was that good?”

One year later, Google came to some telling conclusions. Managers that naturally practiced an empowering style of trusting rock stars to perform like rock stars were considerably more successful than those who hovered over their direct reports as if they were incompetent children.

To train underperforming coaches, Google hired coaches from my alma mater, CTI, in San Francisco.

“We were able to have a statistically significant improvement in manager quality for 75% of our worst-performing managers,” Bock said in the same article. The remaining 25% of the managers who couldn’t—or wouldn’t—learn to coach don’t manage anymore.

Their 33,000-plus rock stars now perform at a much higher level than before and are much more likely to be retained by Google. And Google is among the 10 most profitable companies in the Fortune 500.

But what about ADM and their like-sized team of 30,000 rock stars?

While the notion of “coaching” may conjure up images of Silicon Valley start-ups with meditation rooms and beer on tap, ADM, the 112-year-old agri-business colossus based in Decatur, Illinois, is one of the leading proponents of “coaching-based performance improvement.”

While Google launched Project Oxygen in 2009, ADM initiated Coaching to Win (CTW), a program to train managers to coach direct reports that inverted the traditional, top-down management technique.

Since then, CTW has reaped breakthrough ideas to cut costs, improve efficiency, and increase the bottom line. If lower costs and higher profits don’t sell you on this style of coaching, maybe eliminating the annual torture of performance reviews will.

According to CTW creator, Jane Pierce, ADM’s former vice president of talent development, “A far better use of management time than reviewing past performance is coaching rock stars to high performance in real time throughout the day.”

A meta-analysis by Bersin & Associates found that corporations which employ a coaching management style have 21% better overall business results than peer companies.

In markets like Omaha, which enjoys virtually full employment even after ConAgra’s cuts, it’s very much a rock star’s market. So hire rock stars and treat them as such to enjoy the highest retention rates.

Handle them like incompetent children, especially in Omaha, and you won’t be handling them for long.

Scott Anderson is CEO of Doubledare, a coaching, consulting, and search firm.

Scott Anderson is CEO of Doubledare, a coaching, consulting, and search firm.