Posted by News Machine on Mar 7, 2014
March 6, 2014
SXSW is just about to start. In fact, it’s already started: SXSWedu, a relatively new offshoot of the SXSW mega-brand — kicked off yesterday, stretching the overall event to a full two weeks. That’s fourteen days of sessions, workshops, parties, and business cards. Piles of business cards. Fistfuls of business cards bursting from your pockets and spilling onto the beer-soaked floor of a temporarily rebranded bar on Sixth Street. (Never happened to me, obviously…)
Like many attendees — and even more Austin locals — I think SXSW Interactive has gotten too big and unwieldy over the last several years. With so many competing sessions and speakers, it’s getting hard to find concrete meaning and value in the conference.
But, there is an immediate value for local businesses in having the international interactive community come to us. It’s incredibly cheap and convenient for locals: we simply have to buy a badge and don’t have to bother with any travel logistics.
We are lucky to have SXSW. It does more than any other event to enhance Austin’s reputation as a hub for technology, film, and music. It’s the only event with such a strong focus on technology on an international scale. Even better, SXSW helps make Austin “cool”: Each year, attendees leave our city knowing that Austin is filled with smart, innovative, and laid-back people who know how to have a good time.
The “cool” factor is a huge benefit when we start conversations with potential new clients. The majority of our clients aren’t local, but as soon as they hear we’re from Austin, they have positive impressions from what they have read about the city or fond memories of past trips here during SXSW. The conference has certainly helped the city immensely in getting the hip reputation on a global scale.
To leverage the massive growth of SXSW, I suggest that local businesses host a specialized event to get the most out of the conference. People are attending the conference to learn about new technology, network within their industry and to hear well known thought-leaders. The more specialized an event is the better to get the ideal targeted audience. Plus the common narrowed interest gives attendees an automatic connection to each other, and lends to the notion that people gravitate towards the familiar. Every year we host a Drupal event and have a focused set of attendees that drive business for us.
If a local business hasn’t planned on hosting an event this year, they are unfortunately out of luck. However, there is still plenty of time to plan individual SXSW itineraries to make sure you hit the appropriate industry events. A simple search on the SXSW website, Eventbrite, Twitter, or plain ol’ Google will bring up hundreds of SXSW events. Among those there are events focused on just about every single industry. Many are open to the public, so even if you didn’t splurge for a badge, you can still attend quite a few to network and learn.
For those who aren’t planners, simply head downtown and take a walk around the Convention Center and Sixth Street. Pop in crowded restaurants and bars, start some conversations, and pass out your business cards. Piles of business cards. Fistfuls of business cards… You get the idea.
There’s nothing to lose — and a lot to gain — when the world comes to Austin for these unconventional two weeks every March.
Todd Ross Nienkerk is a Digital Strategist and Partner at Four Kitchens. This was originally posted on the company’s blog.
Posted by News Machine on Mar 6, 2014
Click here to listen now
When the first transgenic red zebra danio first lit up the U.S. aquarium hobby in 2004 amidst great controversy, naysayers thought this would be just a passing fancy. Ten years later, Yorktown Technologies’ highly successful “GloFish” line has expanded to ten lines, six colors, and three species. My guest today, Alan Blake, CEO of Yorktown Technologies, is the man who started it all. Join us, as Alan discusses the past, present, and fluorescent future of the GloFish!
Alan Blake is the CEO and co-founder of Yorktown Technologies, L.P. Under his leadership, the company overcame enormous hurdles to commercialize GloFish® fluorescent fish, the first mass-marketed biotech animal. After ten years on the market, with 10 lines of fluorescent fish, six colors, and three species, as well as more than 70 branded aquarium products, GloFish are among the best-selling aquarium fish in the U.S.
Alan has been awarded several U.S. patents and has co-authored a peer-reviewed article on the topic of biotech animals. He is a member and former Austin chapter president of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization and a regular guest lecturer at the McCombs Business School. Mr. Blake also serves on the board of the Boys & Girls Club of the Austin Area, and he is a winner of the prestigious Austin Under 40 award. Mr. Blake graduated from the University of Texas at Austin, where he received a BBA with Highest Honors.
Posted by News Machine on Mar 6, 2014
Everyone wants growth, but how can you best lead your business through times of rapid expansion and change?
March 3, 2014
By Krista Endsley (CEO, Abila)
Creating a new company out of an existing one is no less of a challenge than creating a new company altogether. Successful spinoffs, the offspring of established companies, require building new assets, retaining talent and nurturing important customer relationships – it’s where intangibles and tangibles collide in the process of building a whole company.
Managing the process is challenging with a myriad of factors to consider, including employees, partners and customers. It requires looking at processes, systems, policies and strategies that fit well in one context, but all have to be reevaluated, confirmed and/or modified in the face of transition. What’s created, if well-executed, is a new vision of opportunity and the freedom to accomplish based on that new vision.
For our company Abila, we were transitioning from a three billion dollar international conglomerate (Sage Software, Inc.) to an individual private company. Four months after establishing Abila, we acquired a new company, adding three locations, 170 employees and doubling our operating revenue. To say the least, it was a time of radical organizational change.
These transitions came with both challenges and enormous opportunities, including building a foundational infrastructure for Abila, tactically maneuvering through new benefits and policies, as well as integrating a new work culture and getting people to trust the new leadership.
It’s impossible to overstate the importance of a strategic and mindful leadership team in fueling the success of major business changes. Leaders have to shape and define the vision of the new company, and establish a clear picture of that vision for all invested in order to position the company for ongoing transformative success.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
Fear and anxiety can run through a company like a wildfire if leadership chooses not to communicate. With a spinoff and acquisition, one is concerned about their talent and future. Communication bolsters morale and enables employees to be powerful brand ambassadors, which is more essential during transition than ever before.
The communication strategy and messaging must be a shared activity within the leadership team to ensure consensus on what will or will not be shared. And it’s most effective way when leaders can provide transparent logic for their decisions and actions.
Engagement and communication with customers and partners is also vital during change. This was a tremendous focus for our executive team during the first six months. Customers can easily get confused and frustrated by uncertainty and lack of information during times of radical change. The team must be aware that it’s easy to alienate important customers and partners, but it’s also imperative to get the message across about the focus and offerings of the new business and ensure the new brand stands on its own. Gaining employee, customer and partner support, as well as buy-in, is a critical first step in managing change.
Honesty and Trust Are a Must
If employees, customers or partners feel that business leaders are arbitrarily withholding information, it can create serious trust issues. Integrating the culture and getting people to trust new management is one of the biggest and most impactful challenges we faced at Abila. Without trust, communication and relationships don’t matter.
The top reasons people stay at a company are because of their direct boss and the ability to trust executive management. If there is a break in the trust, it can be devastating and many great people can prematurely make the decision to leave the business, based on assumptions instead of facts.
Different types of deals drive very different messages about the scope, content and impact of business changes. Be very clear with employees when talking about likely outcomes and possible scenarios.
A common pitfall is for new leadership to communicate to employees early in the deal that there will be a “blend of equals” when it comes to benefits, policies and procedures etc, so as not to upset employees.
However, as systems and processes are overhauled, that outcome rarely happens and, in our case, the benefits and cost offered were vastly different between the two companies. We could not sustainably offer some of the same components so we communicated, struck a balance and explained why we made the decisions that we did.
There were many positives and everyone had to contribute at some point. If leaders lose credibility within the ranks, productivity slows and loyalty can diminish.
It’s simple, but true – one of most powerful tools that helped our executive team navigate these pitfalls was listening. Authentic listening to staff, customers and partners has really helped us identify key concerns regarding the transition from their perspective.
Listening also enables us to break down the barriers that cause people to withhold trust, while giving us a starting point for fostering collaboration. I’ve realized that as leaders we had the advantage of being ahead in processing the radical change that our company faced because we had been privy to information from the start.
Patience is needed by management to allow employees, customers and partners to digest the evolution.
Attention to Details
Developing a strategy to measure employee engagement is also critical in ensuring a smooth transition. Employee behavior directly influences customer behavior, and customer behavior directly affects revenue growth and profitability overall.
It is extremely important to measure engagement levels whether through surveys or other means in order to gauge the employees understanding of the new company’s business objectives.
Effective communication is a powerful tool for supporting and accelerating organizational change, including mergers, acquisitions and other business transactions. The way an organization helps people handle change directly drives business outcomes.
The investment of time, energy and resources in communication not only wins the hearts and minds of employees, customers and partners, but inspires greater productivity with a direct and immediate impact on the bottom line.
A thoughtful, comprehensive approach with a sharp focus on all forms of your human capital, from partners to employees, can make all the difference in the new company’s success.
Do you think it is easier to lead with a partner or to lead alone?
About the blogger: Krista Endsley is the Chief Executive Officer for Abila and has more than 20 years leading teams in the software industry for both large and mid-sized companies. Most recently, she led the acquisition of Avectra, which more than doubled Abila’s revenue.
Posted by News Machine on Mar 4, 2014
March 1, 2014
By Shonda Novak – American-Statesman Staff
If you’ve been apartment-hunting in the Austin area in the past few years, here’s something you already know: The market hasn’t been tilted in favor of renters.
The supply of apartments hasn’t kept up with demand, and that has pushed up rents and made bargains rare. The imbalance was brought on as the economic downturn halted apartment construction, and now the thousands of new units under construction represent the market trying to play catch up even as it tries to keep pace with continued new demand amid the region’s job and population growth.
But for those who remain in the rental ranks, 2014 could bring a welcome change, some local housing experts say.
As area apartment supply booms, will renters get some price relief?
With 11,000 new apartment units due to come into the market this year, the basic laws of supply and demand should keep rents flat, or headed up only up slightly, for the first time in recent years.
That’s the outlook from real estate consultant Charles Heimsath, who as president of Capitol Market Research has been tracking the apartment market since 1988. Heimsath’s crystal ball calls for rents to rise “0 to 1 percent” following an 8 percent jump in average rents citywide in 2013 over 2012. He thinks rents will tick up the first half of the year, then stabilize or decline during the final six months, balancing out to end the year about even with this year.
“From a tenant’s standpoint, I guess that’s good news,” Heimsath said.
Overall, the average rent across the Austin area was $1,057 per month at the end of 2013, compared with $981 at the end of 2012. On a price per square foot basis, that was an increase of $1.12 to $1.21 in one year, a leap Heimsath termed “remarkable.”
The pace of rent growth, however, is expected to moderate as more and more new apartment units come into the market, Heimsath and other experts say.
Currently, 13,712 apartment units are under construction in the Austin area, with 11,000 of those due to open this year. Next year, Heimsath expects about 6,000 to 7,000 rental units to come online.
In the past two years, just over 4,200 units and nearly 6,700 units units were completed in 2012 and 2013, respectively.
FirstService Residential Realty, an Austin-based residential property management firm, said Austin’s apartment market grew by 2.9 percent in 2013, the third largest amount of growth in the country. This year, the market is expected to increase another 6.7 percent, leading the country for projected inventory growth, FirstService says.
Despite the new wave of supply, the area’s apartment occupancy rate is holding its own, Heimsath said.
Even if only half the 11,000 units get leased, the area’s average occupancy rate should still end the year above 93 percent, which is still a market leaning in landlords’ favor, he said.
In 2013, the year-end occupancy wrapped up at 96.9 percent, compared with 97.4 at year-end 2012. The 2012 figure was the highest occupancy since 2000, when it hit 97.6, the all-time high since Heimsath has been keeping tabs.
In its most recent national apartment report,commercial real estate brokerage Marcus & Millichap said that the surge in new apartment supply in Austin this year will push up its apartment vacancy rate some. However, “Austin’s penchant for attracting technology firms will pay dividends for the apartment market this year” despite that jump in new supply, the firm said.
“Heading into 2014, Austin is better positioned to absorb new units as payrolls grow at the fastest pace in the nation. Many of the jobs forming in the metro are high-paying technology positions, which will attract younger employees seeking a live-work environment… White-collar jobs will be more critical to absorbing the current wave of development as rents begin the year 23 percent above the year-end 2009 level.”
The report said 32,200 positions were created in 2013, and area employers are forecast to add 40,200 jobs this year, a 4.6 percent increase.
Officials at some of the newly opened complexes say leasing is going well. Gables Residential’s new 24-story tower downtown near North Lamar Boulevard and West Cesar Chavez is more than 30 percent leased, with the first residents moving in lass than a month ago, Gables’ Jennifer Wiebrand said. Rents for the 223-unit property start at $1,795.
At the 704 — the apartment project surrounding the Broken Spoke music venue on South Lamar Boulevard — 44 people have moved in, with 103 of the total 378 units completed, said Lincoln Property Co.’s Brian Little, residential manager for the project. Rents for a studio with 543 square feet start at $1,210 a month, while rents for the largest 2-bedroom unit start in the $2,400 range.
With construction still ongoing, the 704 is offering a special of one month’s free rent for tenants signing a 15- to 18- month lease, and a half-month’s free rent on a 12- to 14-month lease.
By December, the 704’s occupancy is expected to be in the mid-90 percent range, Little said. He said that with an estimated 158 people a day moving to the Austin area, most industry experts think the new supply will be absorbed. Little’s rent forecast differs from Heimsath’s: Little projects they will rise 2 percent to 3 percent this year.
“Austin’s a booming city, a very desirable city to live in,” Little said. “I don’t see the rental market slowing down,” at least not until possibly 2015 amid more new deliveries.
Roxana Hannah is one of the newcomers who was attracted to Austin. Her new home is two-bedroom apartment with a spacious kitchen and balcony in The 704 apartment project near the Broken Spoke. In addition to the apartment community’s amenities, “I couldn’t resist their offer of a free month,” said Hannah, an Internet marketing consultant who moved here Jan. 1 from the Portland area.
She said her rent — $2,100 a month for a unit with about 1,200 square feet — is “easily comparable” to new apartments in other hot markets like Santa Monica, Portland and Seattle.
“It’s a lifestyle,” she said. “I’m here to enjoy my life and I’m wiling to pay for it.”
With her laptop affording her the freedom to “move anywhere in the world,” Hannah said she chose Austin for its vibrancy, culture, hospitality and friends who live here.
“Austin feels alive when you come here, without having a big-city coldness to it,” she said. “It’s warm and welcoming. I’m absolutely loving it.”