Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Paris Terrorists: “A Bunch of Killers with Good Social Media”

In the aftermath of 9/11, Congress passed the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001, a 10-letter acronym for Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism. The public was ready for and supportive of enhanced government surveillance and efforts to monitor communications necessary to uncover potential terrorist activities.

With the 2013 Snowden revelations of how broad and widespread these government activities have become, the pendulum appeared to swing the other way. In June 2015 Congress passed the USA Freedom Act to curtail the bulk collection of metadata. 

And now there is Paris

Thursday, November 19, 2015

How is a Successful Entrepreneur Like a Soviet Spy?

My co-editor, Dan Tenenbaum, is often amused by my tendency to draw entrepreneurial lessons from books that seemingly have no connection to business. (In truth, Dan is the guy who frequently inserts the critical sentence in my posts tying everything up with an entrepreneurial bow.) This week I’ve decided to really push the envelope as I leave behind the world of books for the glitter of Hollywood.

As a child of the 60s and a survivor of the Cold War, I was eager to see Stephen Spielberg’s new movie, Bridge of SpiesTom Hanks plays James Donovan, a New York lawyer (with a son just a little older than I was at the time) tapped to represent an undercover Soviet agent arrested on espionage charges. The movie is wonderfully evocative of that time, and James Donovan may be the most inspiring lawyer to hit the screen since Atticus Finch.  (Who knew that Finch has now become a controversial character in some 
circles because he was a “rape apologist”?)

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Grit Project: Achieving a Growth Mindset

Apparently I live under a rock. A week ago, while at a conference in New Orleans, I learned that having “grit” and “a growth mindset” are some of the best indicators for potential success. I’ve since discovered that “Grit,” in particular, has recently become a meme in a myriad of contexts including education, parenting, and the workplace.

I’ve always thought that the keys to career success were hard work coupled with a certain amount of intelligence, but according to The GRIT Project, “perseverance and passion for long-term goals” and being “open to increasing one’s innate abilities and talents and believing in the power of effort”—a/k/a “grit” and “a growth mindset”— are far better predictors of success. If you like taking quizzes, you can get your own grit and growth mindset scores on the American Bar Association’s Commission on Women in the Profession’s website. The project aims to give women the tools to help them rise in the legal world, where the leadership is still overwhelmingly male.  

These concepts obviously translate to a wider audience and are useful in many other contexts, too, because doing just about any difficult thing really well requires grit and a growth mindset. In fact, as I started to think about it, it became so obvious to me as to be almost ludicrous that it even needed to be discussed. I mean, of course you need perseverance and of course you need to be interested in learning and believe that your efforts will yield growth in order to be good at something.  

Here’s the thing, though: I don’t think we’ve internalized that as a culture.  In support of my hypothesis, here’s my unscientific and purely anecdotal evidence:

Before I was an attorney, I used to be a professional cellist in a symphony orchestra. As all of my musical colleagues can attest, most people’s immediate reaction upon learning that you’re a classical musician is something along the lines of: “Oh, you’re so lucky!  You must be so talented!” (As an aside, now that I’m a lawyer they add to that: “So what on earth made you want to become a lawyer?”)

The assumption underlying that common reaction is that talent is the primary factor in becoming a professional musician and that it was inherited (and therefore otherwise inaccessible). Sure, a certain aptitude is essential, but honestly, when I look back, I just remember the hours spent practicing every day for decades. Which brings us back to perseverance and passion for long-term goals and being open to increasing one’s innate abilities and talents and believing in the power of effort. Anything difficult requires grit and a growth mindset.  Playing the cello, practicing law, running or starting a business, parenting—you name it.

I have to admit that I struggle with how grit is different than just plain old hard work, but The GRIT Project makes a distinction by stating that grit is “about working in very deliberate, focused ways to improve your performance over a long period of time.” My own interpretation: work smarter, not harder, and do it for a long time.

So what about those articles lately that talk about how grit may actually not be so beneficial after all? How sometimes the effort expended to complete or to persevere through something difficult is not worth it. This is certainly sometimes true, and exerting too much energy in pursuit of every single goal isn’t the smartest use of everyone’s finite resources. But if we narrow the parameters, maybe we can agree that in the context of a “worthwhile” long-term goal, grit and a growth mindset are boons to most endeavors.

Is all this just more pop psychology? Perhaps, but like much of pop psychology, it may contain kernels of wisdom, too.  It’s a good reminder when you’re feeling discouraged or overwhelmed that 1) most difficult things require perseverance, and 2) believing that your efforts will yield positive results does make a difference.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

What You Really Need to Know About Regulation Crowdfunding

Regulation Crowdfunding was finally adopted by the SEC, as detailed in this release (all 686 pages of it) several days ago. Even my nine year old was amused by the irony of a 35-page section of the release related to the “Paperwork Reduction Act”…

Frequent readers know that I first started writing about “equity crowdfunding” all the way back in November 2011, before the JOBS Act was even called the JOBS Act! They also know that I predicted in this later post that the SEC would miss the deadline for adopting required rules relating to equity crowdfunding, which was late in 2012. While I might have expected that the rules would be delayed long enough to have a baby, I didn’t realize that you’d also have time to get that child off to preschool!

There are already dozens of law firm summaries of the release ranging from two-pagers (that really don’t tell you much about the meat of the regulation) to 15-pagers that sound like they were written by a bunch of lawyers (which, to be fair, they were). While I won’t try to detail all of the regulation here, I will try to tell you what you really need to know:

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Entrepreneur Marie Kondo Finds New Way to Clean Up

 I recently discovered a dainty turquoise book, Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, and immediately felt the itch to Kondo my life top to bottom.  Marie Kondo is the Japanese organizing consultant who has inspired a decluttering phenomenon around the world.

Monday, November 2, 2015

For Artists, Political Use of Pop Tunes Going Over “Like A Rock”

Is anyone else dumbfounded by the fact that we still have political candidates getting called out for the unauthorized use of music in their campaigns?  

In my adulthood, we’ve seen the issue come up again and again with presidential candidates, including  Newt Gingrich (Survivor – “Eye of the Tiger”), John McCain (Jackson Browne – “Running on Empty”) and again with Sarah Palin (Heart – “Barracuda”), George W. Bush (John Mellencamp – “R.O.C.K. in the USA” and Tom Petty – “I Won’t Back Down”), Michele Bachmann (Tom Petty – “American Girl”), Mitt Romney (K’Naan – “Wavin’ Flag”) and Barack Obama (Sam Moore/Sam and Dave – “Hold On, I’m Comin’”).

And now we have Donald Trump using Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World”  when he announced that he was running for president,  R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” at a Tea Party rally in front of the U.S. Capitol, and Aerosmith’s “Dream On” at recent campaign events.

It is hard to imagine that these campaigns continue to ignore the obvious legal nits.

Use of a recording as theme music for a walk-on at a campaign event is permissible if the venue has a license from the applicable performing rights organization, ASCAPBMI or SESAC.  While most public venues (hotels, arenas, theaters, etc.) have blanket licenses with these organizations, such licenses may exclude music used for political conventions or campaign events.  Businesses, parks or local Moose lodges likely do not have such licenses.  If the venue does not have the requisite license, the campaign must have one.  If a candidate wants to use a song for a campaign advertisement, website or even a YouTube clip, he or she will likely need to negotiate a synchronization or digital performance license with the song writer or publisher and/or the artist or record label.   

Failure to have the appropriate license is embarrassing – or should be – but is not really at the heart of these disputes.  After all, such violations are easily resolved with the payment of the required license fees or royalties, and maybe some punitive amounts for copyright infringement.

What is really at issue is whether or not the artist wants to be associated with the candidate using the music.  Some artists have claimed trademark infringement (K’Naan’s claim against the Romney campaign was that use of his music hurt his brand), or, as suggested by ASCAP,  they’ve argued that unauthorized use violates their right of publicity or constitutes false advertising by implying a false endorsement.   

None of these are particularly strong legal claims, but if a candidate is not worried about being accused of breaking the law, they might at least consider the potential negative publicity.

For example, when McCain/Palin ignored Heart’s request to stop using their song “Barracuda” and it was used to introduce Palin at the Republican National Convention, two key band members, the Wilson sisters, publicly declared that they did not want their music used to promote Palin’s image because her views and values were not representative of American women. 

Another example: Earlier this year, Scott Walker, Wisconsin’s Republican presidential wannabe, used music by the Dropkick Murphys for his entrance at the Iowa Freedom Summit.  It was DM’s rendition of a Woody Guthrie song “I’m Shipping Up to Boston”.  In response, the group tweeted “@GovWalker please stop using our music in any way…we literally hate you!!!  Love, Dropkick Murphys.”

As for Donald Trump, he may be going for a record in the number of artists annoyed during a single campaign, but it’s unlikely to give him much pause.  In response to his use of Neil Young’s music, Young’s manager announced that Young is a supporter of Bernie Sanders (but, as a Canadian, Young won’t be voting).  Trump’s switch to R.E.M. didn’t get him very far.  Michael Stipe of R.E.M. responded with an obscene recommendation, followed by “you sad, attention-grabbing, power-hungry little man.  Do not use our music or my voice for your moronic charade of a campaign.”  (Isn’t Stipe just talking in a language Trump can understand and appreciate?)  And now Steven Tyler of Aerosmith has sent a letter to the Trump campaign requesting that they not use his music, and has taken advantage of the situation to publicly call for copyright law reform to better protect musicians. Trump has now found a “better” song to replace “Dream On” for his events.    

It isn’t clear whether Young, R.E.M. or Tyler will sue, but you can bet that, if the tables were turned, Trump would.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Entrepreneur as Chameleon

I was watching this week’s most recent episode of the FX TV show, The League, about a group of friends in a fantasy football league.  The show’s naïve, somewhat goofy character, Andre, professed himself a “dating chameleon” – that is, whatever his girlfriend likes, he becomes.

This made me think about how we all must become “chameleons” at times, adapting to the likes – or perhaps needs – of the people and environment around us.  In addition to being a business lawyer, I became a business owner in 2011, and I had to learn to be a chameleon and take on all kinds of roles that were new to me.

My business is retail – a saddle shop and equestrian sporting goods store – with some side services such as horse blanket repair and saddle fitting.  I love chatting with customers, going to market to pick new products for the store, and hosting big sales events. But owning a business is so much more!

My favorite motto that first year was, “Well, they didn’t teach this in law school!”  I became a handyman, changing light ballasts and replacing parts in our industrial washing machine while watching an instructional YouTube video.  I learned the ins and outs of marketing, designing Constant Contact email campaigns and preparing ads for print and social media.  I went through a DOT exam and began hauling our mobile unit to events.  I developed interviewing skills, found myself with a staff to manage, spent hours staring at QuickBooks™, and tried to decipher complex point of sale reports that would help me make educated buying decisions.  And I bought an industrial sewing machine, which might as well have been a time machine for all I knew about it.

This all worked fine…for a while.  But gradually, I realized that adding an in-house bookkeeper would make invoicing and payroll go much more smoothly (and take that headache off my plate!).  Calling an electrician seemed an obvious move after I shocked myself trying to remove an exit sign.  I brought in a trailer manager (with a DOT card) to handle the mobile unit, and an expert seamstress to operate our industrial sewing machine.  And yes, I have an appliance repair company handle the washer repairs now.

For those with an entrepreneurial spirit, it can be especially tempting to jump headfirst into each new challenge because, frankly, there’s not a lot that scares them.  And truly, most entrepreneurs make great chameleons!  But the bigger test comes when the same entrepreneurs need to define their limits and learn to hand over the reins (pardon my pun).  Adapt, yes!  Challenge yourself, yes!  But be careful not to electrocute yourself in the process!  Focus on the things you do well and should be handling in your role, and find the right experts to handle the rest.