Your Business’ Most Precious Asset is Your Reputation

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Making a splash, as a growing business, can give you a big leg up as you develop your reputation. A great publicity move can pay for itself many times over, especially if you’re starting with zero public awareness. But if you think the heavy lifting is over once you’ve gotten some eyeballs on you, that’s a grave mistake. Attention is great, but it should be the first step towards the real gains that won’t come from one spotlight-grabbing move alone.

A reputation is something built over years and years of consistent behavior. Delivering on business promises is a major aspect of it. The way you treat employees is another element. But of all the aspects that go into a reputation, the way you respond to challenges is perhaps its most visible manifestation. Call it gumption, call it grit, call it character, call it whatever you want, but make no mistake: this is the unshakeable foundation of any successful business.

A growing business’ leadership should be vigilantly aware of anything that could hurt their reputation, no matter how small. You may not think you’re big enough to worry about public relations yet, but PR has rapidly become one of the fundamental requirements for making a name in most markets. It’s not only for emergencies–a good PR plan will establish your company’s authority, help build your network, and help your sales and growth goals while you build. Play those cards right, and you’ll develop the kind of reputation that’s worth its weight in gold.

As the person in charge, you’ve got an extra layer of responsibility when it comes to reputation. Never forget that your own standing will always be tied directly to that of your company. In essence, you are the company, and as your reputation goes, so goes your organization. We all saw the major PR hit Uber took when former CEO Travis Kalanick was forced out after serious accusations of harassment and fraud made him toxic to his company’s brand. Now imagine the same happening without the massive user base and market penetration that Uber had at the time. Reputational damage, even at the lowest level, can sink a growing company before it truly takes off.

Of course, even if you make all the right moves as you build up, it won’t amount to anything if your business isn’t on solid ground to begin with. The story of Theranos is a great illustration of a company that made all the right connections, got some incredible VC money, and had the media eating out of their hands until it all fell apart because, well, their entire business model was constructed out of deceit.

That’s an extreme example, but it goes to show how quickly a reputation can vanish if the business isn’t sound. You don’t have to be a complete house of cards to lose your reputation in an instant: it happens when you or your company fails to live up to the expectations you’ve created.

Successful businesses arise from a real need being filled, but long-term survival is not always a matter of meeting the demands of the market. A solid business plan will get you out of the starting gate, but to beat out the competition you’ll need to run on more than words on paper. Your actions, in and out of the boardroom, will color perception of your business for the better, helping reach new heights that a context-free competitor won’t be able to touch. Because when it comes to you and your business’ good name, you won’t want anyone else’s fingerprints on it.

This article was originally published on ScoreNYC


Checking In on DeBlasio’s Homeless Outreach Overhaul

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Homelessness is not a new problem for New York City. But over the years, it has continued to rise, with the troubling trend of families and children being displaced in all corners of the five boroughs. Now, efforts from Mayor de Blasio and the city to overhaul homeless shelters and create affordable housing are underway. Just how effective are these plans, and what else can we do to meaningfully impact homelessness in NYC?

According to research by the Coalition for the Homeless, as of August 2018, there were 62,166 homeless people who slept in the city’s municipal shelter system, which included 15,189 homeless families with 22,511 children. Over the course of 2017, a total of 129,803 different homeless individuals slept in NYC’s municipal shelter system, and the amount of homeless New Yorkers sleeping in shelters has increased by 79 percent in 10 years.

The spread of homelessness in New York can be attributed to the lack of low-income housing, particularly among families, and due to several other factors such as eviction, overcrowded housing, domestic violence, job loss, and hazardous housing conditions.

That is why Mayor de Blasio enacted the “Turning the Tide on Homelessness” project, which aims to address homelessness throughout all five boroughs of New York City. They aim to achieve this through three approaches. First, by keeping people in their homes by making housing affordable and stopping illegal evictions. Second, by making operational reforms to better serve shelters and neighborhoods. And third, by creating new strategies for shelters: the plan will remove people from all cluster sites and commercial hotel facilities and aims to cut the number of homeless shelters, replacing these living areas with 90 better-organized shelters and more affordable housing.

The project is 18-months deep and behind schedule, but it has managed to open 15 of its planned shelters, with six more preparing to open soon. While the project’s goals seem achievable, it faces opposition. Some claim that despite the project’s aim to keep homeless people close to their neighborhoods, the overall decrease in shelters and potential displacement they cause means that homeless families will struggle to stay close to their original neighborhoods.

Other criticism comes from neighborhoods where the new shelters are implemented, as community members often express negativity about an increased homeless presence on “their” streets. Nevertheless, the shelters are making an impact on the homeless and communities are constantly working with community leaders to resolve issues and make their neighborhoods better for everyone.

But the city has also managed to make headway with affordable housing. In 2018, 32,116 affordable homes have already been built, an all-time record for affordable housing construction. 57 percent of those homes will be utilized by some of the lowest income families in NYC. This is a major turning point for homelessness in NYC, though there is still a long way to go.

So what are the other impactful ways we can combat homelessness in New York City? The Regional Plan Association (RPA) proposes repealing the FAR cap, an old housing law that limits the Floor Area Ratio on property lots. This was initially enacted to prevent vertical slums easily subject to health hazards, but since 1961 when the law was passed, urban health has improved dramatically, and overcrowding has overall decreased. By removing the FAR cap, the city can potentially create larger residential buildings for those in need of low-income housing

Another way to impact homelessness is through prevention and stability. While de Blasio’s efforts are meant to eventually focus on prevention, much of the attention has been diverted toward optimized shelters and affordable housing, and it is vital to ensure that families will not end up homeless again. Programs providing eviction-prevention grants, legal representation, and support services all work to maintain stability for low-income families and individuals who have dealt with homelessness.

It is clear that New York cares about its homeless, and the efforts that are already in place are forward-thinking, looking to make significant, permanent change to the issue in the long term. There is always more that can be done, but as it stands, New York City is taking major strides in supporting its disenfranchised, making the greatest city in the world that much better.

This article was originally published on 

Why Solar Power Should Be Builders’ Next Step In The Real Estate Revolution

As president of the country’s tallest solar residence, located in Midtown Manhattan, there’s a lot I can tell you about the stresses and ins and outs of managing a 45-story skyscraper residence in the heart of the nation’s biggest city. Satisfying a luxury clientele can sometimes require outside-the-box thinking, to say the least. That’s why perhaps the most crucial decision I made in opening up the building had nothing to do with the amenities inside.

I’ve become an evangelist of sorts for solar power, because the benefits are there for the taking and too many of my peers seem to be dragging their feet. For a modest installation cost, any building under the sun can join the green energy revolution and save money at the same time. In an industry where being environmentally conscious is becoming more important and being money conscious has always been crucial, solar power is the easiest way to generate clean energy and excitement at the same time.

These are a few of the lessons I’ve learned since getting started in solar.

It’s easy to start small, but you don’t have to.

I can freely admit that I was somewhat skeptical when I began dipping my toes into solar power for my properties. My first experiment was on top of a four-story building in the Bronx, where I figured it wouldn’t hurt to give a potential new project a try. When I saw the energy savings happen, I knew I shouldn’t waste any time scaling up, and eventually that meant bringing solar to the top of a 45-floor Manhattan luxury high-rise. Just like in real estate, the higher you go, the better the view — only this one looks straight up.

Getting installed correctly is key. An accredited installer certified by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) can get you set up, and like any vendor, you’re free to shop around for the best quote. There are even leasing options if you don’t feel ready to make a long-term buying commitment.

It’s cheaper than you think, in both the short term and the long run.

The days of prohibitively expensive solar installations are long over. As the technology improves, the cost of switching to solar becomes lower by the day. Bloomberg New Energy Finance said the same thing, forecasting a drop of 60% in solar prices (registration required) over the next two decades. By 2040, their experts found, solar energy will be cheaper than coal and natural gas in metropolitan regions across the country. You won’t have to wait until then to enjoy the financial benefits, however.

In all, we save about $120,000 per year on energy costs thanks to the solar array. Not to mention the management team isn’t assuming these relatively meager costs alone. The Solar Investment Tax Credit will pay back 30% of my company’s investment in commercial solar between now and 2021, so getting started ASAP was crucial. But the ease of installation and the savings don’t paint the whole picture.

The benefits extend beyond myself.

In both residential and commercial real estate, making your tenants happy can take a lot of work and takes on an infinite number of forms. Adding solar is one of the few methods that saves you money while you generate goodwill for yourself and your building. My tenants are continually telling me how happy they are about the solar panels on the building’s roof.

They’re not happy because I’m saving on energy costs or because of my company’s solar tax credit. They’re happy because they’re proud to live in a place where innovation is embraced, not ignored. They’re happy because they can tell their friends and family that they’re living sustainably without sacrificing the amenities that make their building so attractive. They’re happy because living with green energy is the way of the future, and they can all take part just by taking up residence in this building.

I realize I must sound like a solar salesman at times here, but there’s no profit motive for me. If I seem very attached to the solar method, it’s because so many of my peers seem irrationally resistant to this easy way to improve their bottom line and lessen their environmental impact at the same time. I don’t think putting a solar installation on my roofs was a revolutionary act — only when the rest of my peers in real estate do the same thing can we call it a true revolution. With savings, ease of installation and goodwill to be had, why wait?

This article was originally published on Forbes

Is Eliminating Homelessness Possible? These Communities Say Yes

This article was originally published on 

Eradicating homelessness in a community won’t protect some of its members from needing to spend a night on the streets. This seems counterintuitive; after all, doesn’t eliminating homeless hinge on ending the need for homelessness? In a perfect world, maybe — but we don’t live in a utopia, and we’re not likely to stumble into one anytime soon. The key to effectively combating homelessness lies in taking a ready and responsive approach; in some communities, a coordinated system for mitigating homelessness has already achieved net-zero success.

In December of 2015, Rockford, Illinois became the first town in the U.S. to achieve a “functional zero” state for veteran homelessness by implementing an efficient community system that could swiftly identify and connect homeless veterans with long-term housing. As the VA puts it in a 2015 report on the subject, a system that seeks functional zero aims to: “[ensure that] homelessness is rare, brief and non-recurring and no Veteran is forced to live on the street.” Importantly, this system assumes that home insecurity will always exist and accounts for it. The goal isn’t to establish an absolute zero for the homeless, but enable a net zeroeffect to mitigate the impact of homelessness. VA-sponsored programs worked in tandem with other community housing providers to tailor their outreach programs and expedite rehousing efforts for veterans. Rockford was the first trailblazer of many; now, Arlington (VA)New Haven (CT), and countless other urban communities have joined the first city as functional-zero outposts.

Success didn’t come arbitrarily. The three cities mentioned above have more in common than their functional zero status: all were a part of the Built for Zero campaign against chronic and veteran homelessness. The project was launched in 2015 by the New York City nonprofit Community Solutions as a coordinated effort to eradicate homelessness in 71 participating cities. The national effort functioned primarily as a support to local efforts: it helped organizers on the ground track their progress, develop real-time data, strategize for the best use of existing regional resources, and apply tried-and-true strategies from other participating cities. Overall, the program’s approach distilled into two defining tenets: humanization and coordination.

Homelessness is often a faceless issue for those who haven’t worked against or experienced it firsthand. Sympathetic donors offer their money and time to the idea of aiding “the homeless,” rather than helping individuals find permanent housing. The Built for Zero project took the latter approach and achieved better results. Local organizers conducted intense outreach efforts, speaking with those living on the streets to learn more about their individual situations and what they needed to stay housed. In the process, they developed a By-Name List: a real-time database of unhoused individuals that took into account factors such as age, veteran status, chronic homelessness, whether a person is living on the streets independently or with a family, and more.

Every piece of information gathered helps Built for Zero organizers develop a strategy for finding individuals long-term housing, and the nature of their approach returns a personal element to a struggle that has long oriented towards an ambiguous group rather than distinct individuals.  As one organizer explains, “We go name by name […] They stop being ‘the homeless’ and become people we all know. And we become very vested in making sure John Smith is housed and safe and has the services he needs to stay housed.” Staying housed is no small feat. It’s all well and good if organizers manage to coordinate with local organizations and utilize available resources to get an individual into stable housing for a few days, a week — but can their case justifiably be considered a success if they end up back on the street in a month? Persisting homelessness after intervention indicates a problem in the system that organizers need to note and fix if they hope to avoid similar issues in the future. To achieve this, they need to maintain that personal connection — to check in and take the time to tinker with the system if they find flaws.

If the Built for Zero project proves anything, it would be that empathy and collaboration win out over sheer resources when it comes to social change. While additional funds will always be helpful, communities likely already have the structures and tools they need to achieve a functional zero state — they just haven’t pieced them together yet. The endpoint for homelessness comes at the intersection of empathy and coordination; we just need to implement a plan for getting there.

What Condoms Can Teach Us About Sustainability

Lessons in running an eco-smart business can sometimes come from unexpected places.

Sustainability has gone from a fringe concern to a key factor in countless successful businesses in under a decade. It can be seen in everything, from finance and consumer goods, to education and transportation — not to mention condoms.

Yes, condoms.

Jeffrey and Meika Hollender are the father-daughter team who founded Sustain Natural, a nontoxic, eco-friendly vegan condom line, in 2013. As Meika Hollender told the New York Times last year — and as Jeffrey Hollender wrote for the Stanford Social Innovation Review in 2015 — the latex in Sustain condoms is produced at a Fair Trade rubber plantation in India, and produced at a solar-powered factory. Most significantly, the condoms do not contain nitrosamines, which are found in many popular brands and have been tabbed as a possible carcinogen.

“Everyone is thinking about the ingredients in their food and their makeup,” Meika Hollender told the Times. “But no one is thinking about the ingredients that go in the products they put in the most intimate parts of our body.”

The advent of Sustain is in keeping with Jeffrey Hollender’s efforts at sustainability; he also founded Seventh Generation, which produces green cleaning products, baby diapers and laundry detergent.

It is also in keeping with a more widespread trend that has seen major players take stock of how their practices affect the outside world. In adapting to this global practice, the companies that are able to accommodate a more conscientious view are seeing the benefits. When it comes to being sustainable, one thing is for certain: it’s not just for niche businesses anymore.

According to the 2016 State of Sustainable Business Survey — which included responses from 300 business leaders and 152 global companies — 49 percent of the respondents indicated that sustainability is among their CEO’s top five priorities, up from 35 percent a year earlier. The survey further revealed that sustainability is at least fairly well-integrated in nearly 70 percent of companies, and 72 percent of the respondents indicated that the concept is a prominent part of the company’s stated purpose.

Faisal Hoque, the founder of a business-management company known as Shadoka, has long advocated for sustainability, going so far as to quote management guru Peter Drucker: “Indeed the modern organization was expressly created to have results on the outside, that is, to make a difference in its society or its economy.”

Hoque also outlined seven fundamentals of sustainable business growth:

  1. Authentic purpose
  2. A powerful brand
  3. Partnership and collaboration
  4. Customer retention
  5. Community
  6. Repeatable sales
  7. Flexible, adaptive leadership

Jeffrey Hollender noted in his piece for the Stanford Social Innovation Review that companies can, and should, strive to be net positive, a concept succinctly explained byThe Guardian: Businesses have positive and negative impacts on the environment and society. For a company to be net positive, the latter need to greater than the former. Or, as the Guardian further explained: “The natural world and society should be better off with companies than without them … or so the theory says.”

Jeffrey Hollender believes he has achieved that with Sustain. Besides being nitrosamine-free, his condoms are low in proteins that cause allergies and packaged in recycled materials. They are also produced in a factory, that in addition to being solar-powered, meets standards for waste reduction, water collection and energy savings, and one in which employees are paid three times the minimum wage.

Further, Sustain donates 10 percent of its profits to women’s reproductive healthcare. It is employee- and female-owned, and its goal, Jeffrey Hollender writes, is empowering women — altering the negative attitudes and impacting the cultural restraints that result in what he described as “dangerously low levels of condom use among young American women.”

Jeffrey Hollender cited BT, a telecommunications giant based in the United Kingdom, as another company that has embraced sustainability. BT has set as its goal the reduction of carbon emissions by at least three times the company’s current footprint by 2020.

Another European company, a home-improvement outfit known as Kingfisher, has four big goals, coupled with 12 major targets, all of them centered on saving energy and money while reducing environmental harm. The goal is to achieve all of them no later than 2025.

Then there is IKEA, the furniture retailer. Among its many initiatives, it is striving toward 100 percent renewable energy, as well as the sourcing of all its wood from more sustainable sources by 2020. According to the company’s website, its various commitments have resulted in $1 billion in climate action.

Not only is it possible in this day and age to have a sustainable company, it is also increasingly a necessity.

This article was originally published on Entrepreneur

What Warren Buffett Can Teach Us About Eliminating Risk

This post was originally featured on ScoreNYC

Warren Buffett, also known as The Oracle of Omaha, has been a shining example of investing and business acumen since he became a billionaire nearly three decades ago. There’s a multitude of lessons to be gleaned from his career, but perhaps most inspiring (and applicable across disciplines) is Buffett’s approach to risk. It’s a philosophy that has served him and his firm Berkshire Hathaway well throughout the years, and encompasses a few key points.

For Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway, risk is a four-letter word. That doesn’t mean that certain deals or investments are risky based strictly on their own merits. Rather, according to Buffett, risk is something that you either create or eliminate on your own through research and due diligence. As he famously summed it up, “risk comes from not knowing what you’re doing.”

We can eliminate risk, according to Buffett, strictly through our own preparation. This means resisting the allure of fast-rising bubbles, or propositions that carry a slight chance of getting huge with better odds of cratering out. For many, this requires a change in how we look at risks in investment. It’s less a dangerous entity to be fearful of than an unmapped territory, worth traversing but only with the right equipment.

Know the Worst Case Scenario

One prominent school of evolutionary thought proposes that species thrive due to an understanding of potential risks, and a thoughtful use of this instinct will serve you well in investing. Buffett’s primary criteria, before getting to the real research, is determining the likelihood of catastrophic failure in the investment you’re considering. Even if the ceiling is high, a low floor means that it’s not a chance worth taking.

A practical approach to investment demands such a measured stance. Some investors are in it for the thrill, but those ups and downs are no way to sustain a portfolio, especially one as consistently profitable as Buffett’s. We hold on to negative memories more than positive onesfor a reason: they reduce our chance of getting burned again. One advantage we have over our primitive ancestors? We can do our research.

Expand Your Circle of Competence

The ability to find a safe investment comes from your own knowledge, what Buffett calls your “circle of competence.” Thinking about investing in something new and exciting, like cryptocurrency? Unless you’re versed in volatile internet-based entities, it’s probably best to stay away. As Buffett likes to say “never invest in a business you don’t understand.”

That’s not to say that investment opportunities are a series of tantalizing items labeled “do not touch.” on the contrary, expanding your circle of competence is a primary component investment success. No investor is an instant expert, but building up your knowledge incrementally and organically not only makes you a more well-rounded investor, it sets you up to expand your portfolio as the years go by.

Be Ready to Miss Out on Opportunities

Risk avoidance is often a matter of knowing when to pull the trigger on a deal, and when to let it pass. Think of a professional poker game, the ones you see late at night on ESPN. These high-rolling players fold on the majority of hands, only playing in when they know they’ve got something worth bringing to the table. In investing, Buffett advocates for a similar approach.

A lot of investment opportunities might look enticing, but remember that without the right cards in hand, you’re exposing yourself to unwelcome danger. It’s best to err on the side of caution when you’re dealing with your investment dollar. There are always going to be opportunities, and it’s more about finding the right one for your knowledge than jumping on the same train that everyone else is getting on

Buffett’s refreshing candor about his bets that didn’t pay off illustrates how much success in investment is predicated on a healthy amount of failure. That’s the risk we take everyday, and an unavoidable part of doing business. Everyone faces failure at some point in business and in life. There will be an element of risk and failure in every step you take, especially in investing. You just need to be willing to learn from them.

In short, Buffett’s risk strategy amounts to this: apply a strong deal of hard work and common sense and more often than not, you’ll be able to identify which investments are worth making and which aren’t. This simple approach shouldn’t be too surprising to those familiar with the investment giant’s down-home image, but as is usual with Buffett, a great deal of hard-earned wisdom lies beneath these simple words.

All Entrepreneurs Face Failure But the Successful Ones Didn’t Quit

This post was originally featured on Entrepreneur
Fear of failure is natural. In entrepreneurship, overcoming your fears is essential.

Everybody enjoys a success story. Vicariously living out our fantasies through those who achieved success gives us hope it will happen to us. But, listening to these stories doesn’t do us any favors because those tales aren’t the whole picture: the struggles, the tough breaks, the defeats that set the stage for the eventual big win.

The fact is, while there are an infinite number of ways that successful entrepreneursmake their money, there’s only one thing they all have in common: failure.

There’s no shortage of examples of great successes who had to struggle before they became the winners we now know them as. Oscar-winner Steven Spielberg was rejected from U.S.C film school. Thomas Edison went through thousands of prototypes before perfecting his light bulb. “Colonel” Harland Sanders didn’t hit it big with KFC until he was 68 years old.

Even Bill Gates, maybe the most successful businessman in history, didn’t rocket straight to the top with Microsoft. It’s not a well-known fact that his first company, called Traf-O-Data, was an early attempt at using computerized data to improve traffic surveys for municipal governments. Gates and his partners spent countless hours refining their hardware and working out all the details to make the business work. But, when it came time to wow the county officials who would be their customers, the machine was a bust.

Gates and his number two, Paul Allen, were certainly discouraged but ended up being better suited for their real business revolution that was yet to come. To hear Allen tell the story: “even though Traf-O-Data wasn’t a roaring success, it was seminal in preparing us to make Microsoft’s first product a couple of years later. We taught ourselves to simulate how microprocessors work using DEC computers, so we could develop software even before our machine was built.”

That valuable experience in development led to the founding of the software company that would make them both multi-billionaires.

Now, this certainly doesn’t mean that failure is a guarantee of future success. If that were the case, private jets would outnumber commercial ones. What failure is, for the lucky ones, is a stepping stone to greater things. By refusing to let it define you, and learning from the experience, you give yourself the wisdom to make big things happen for yourself going forward.

One thing failure gives you is a picture of the other side of trying. As you’re getting ready to make your move, that unknown looms large. Once you’ve failed, as long as you’re still standing on both feet, you’re better off knowing that what hasn’t killed you has only made you stronger. Every successful business story starts out with failing. In doing so, you’re in good company.

When you do get moving, you’ll be better off with the knowledge gained from your endeavor. Life is a constant process of learning, and it’s a well-worn cliche that you learn more from mistakes than successes because it’s true. Seize the opportunity by taking a good, hard look at where you went wrong.

Failing hurts, that’s no secret. Even after reaching the heights of success, the failures that come are difficult as any. But, like a wound that heals itself, you end up with a thicker skin once the pain subsides. Being ready to weather every new storm means holding onto the lessons from the ones that have hit you already.

Your character is defined by your response to adversity. Since failure is a fact of life, there are ways to deal with it so you’ll be able to overcome the setback. It’s a process that can take some time, but responding healthily to lost opportunities is the only way to get back on track. Whether it’s your family, good friends, a favorite book or place to visit, let yourself recharge with familiar comforts. Then, get back out of your comfort zone. This resilience is a requirement for entrepreneurial success.

First, remember that failure doesn’t have to leave a permanent stain you unless you let it. Every future opportunity is a potential win, and you’ll only truly be a failure if you stop trying. Losing out will hurt, but the best salve is to get back to working on that next project. Hang onto the lessons and the knowledge gained, but forget about the pain.

Don’t fool yourself — this failure might not be your last. Embrace it. Risk, after all, is part and parcel of the entrepreneurial experience. When you’ve eliminated your fear of failure, you’ve given yourself the best possible tool for getting to where you want to be. Failing isn’t the destiny of a certain kind of person. Failing is just a byproduct of trying.

I’ll finish by telling you about one of the greatest successes who ever lived: baseball’s best hitter, Ted Williams. He retired with a lifetime .344 batting average, attaining over 2,600 hits in a 19-year career even while missing three years of his athletic prime to serve in World War II and another two years as a combat pilot in the Korean War. With a bit of well-earned humility, the Hall of Famer regarded by most as the greatest to ever swing a bat summed it all up by saying “baseball is the only field of endeavor where a man can succeed three times out of ten and be considered a good performer.”

So just remember this: even the best baseball hitter in history failed 70 percent of the time he stepped up to the plate. So go ahead and take your swings; it’s what the greats do.