Is It Time To Long The TLT ETF?

The iShares 20+ Year Treasury Bond ETF (TLT) ETF, which tracks the ICE U.S. Treasury 20+ Year Bond Index, is down by about 10.63% from its 52-week high reached of 128.35 reached on Dec. 15, 2017. The US Treasuries have had a horrible year due to a hawkish Fed that has raised rates three times this year already. However, the ETF has risen by about 2.11% since the beginning of this month due to anticipation of a more dovish Fed.

Note that Treasury bond prices and the yields they offer are inversely correlated. As yields rise, the value of Treasuries fall. Yields are strongly driven by monetary policy from the central bank. Therefore, the recent dovish Fed causes yields to fall and Treasury prices to increase, consequently pulling the TLT ETF higher as well. Now the question is whether this is a good time to buy into the ETF.

It is worth noting that longer-term bonds are more price sensitive to interest rate movements and guidance from the Fed. Long- term bonds such as 30-year treasuries are considered more riskier than short-term treasuries like the 3-year note, because there is a greater probability that interest rates will rise (and drag bond prices lower) within a longer time period than within a shorter period. Shorter periods of time are hence less predictable and more riskier than longer periods of time. The TLT ETF tracks treasuries that have maturities of more than 20 years, hence long-term bonds. While these are more riskier, their price sensitivity means the bonds also produce greater returns during lower interest rate cycles.

Source: Yahoo Finance

Prospectus Review:

The investment seeks to track the investment results of the ICE U.S. Treasury 20+ Year Bond Index (the “underlying index”). The fund generally invests at least 90% of its assets in the bonds of the underlying index and at least 95% of its assets in U.S. government bonds. The underlying index measures the performance of public obligations of the U.S. Treasury that have a remaining maturity greater than twenty years. The fund has an expense ratio of 0.15%.

The Top 10 holdings of the ETF include:


Risk Note: The Fund may be subject to tracking error, which is the divergence of the Fund’s performance from that of the Underlying Index. Tracking error may occur because of differences between the securities held in the Fund’s portfolio and those included in the Underlying Index, pricing differences, differences in transaction costs, or the Fund’s holding of un-invested cash.

Inflation Report

On Nov. 14, 2018, inflation data for October was released, which showed that inflation increased by 2.5% YoY during the month. The number matched market expectations and was higher than the previous month’s rate of 2.3%. This inflation rate is above the Fed’s 2% target, which allows the Fed to be more hawkish. However, it is worth noting that the price of oil was higher during October than it is now, which supported inflation higher. Given the recent bearish sentiment in the oil market (due to a global economic slowdown), oil is not expected to be a boost to inflation in the near future.

Moreover, the October core inflation rate, which is the rate excluding food & energy prices, came in at 2.1%, and missed the 2.2% forecast, and is also lower than previous month’s rate of 2.2%. I believe that slower core inflation and weaker outlook for the oil price will encourage the Fed to be less hawkish, which would result in treasury yields falling and the TLT ETF rising.

Fed acknowledges headwinds

Fed chairman Jerome Powell also acknowledged last week that the US economy could face some headwinds going forward. These included slowing global growth/ demand and the lagging effect of past rate hikes on the US economy. The fact that the Fed chairman is highlighting these issues signals to me that the Fed may become more bearish as we approach the December meeting. This is certainly a change of tone from his statement made on Oct. 3 that rates were “far from neutral”.

As a result, while the Fed is still expected to hike rates in December, I believe Powell may bring up these issues again during the Fed press conference on Dec. 19, in order to assure the markets that the Fed is certainly taking potential headwinds into consideration. Therefore, any potential dovish Fed communication will definitely cause treasury yields to fall and bond prices to rise. Therefore anyone considering gaining exposure to the treasury market should consider buying the TLT ETF now.

Fed Vice chairman Richard Clarida also expressed dovishness last week, stating, “global growth is cooling”. Moreover, he also stated that the fact that short-term borrowing rates are currently at neutral “makes sense”. This gives a strong indication that he feels that the Fed has hiked enough and that there is a strong possibility that the Fed may pause its rate hikes in 2019. Hence, given that the top two officials at the Fed are expressing caution over the economy, increased Fed dovishness could certainly support the TLT ETF higher.

Bottom Line

While the Fed could remain on its path for raising interest rates in the near future, markets tend to price in future actions. If Fed is more bearish in the December press conference, the market could price in fewer rate hikes going forward. Keep in mind that Fed communication on monetary policy guidance is a key driver of US Treasuries. Hence given the increased likelihood of dovish guidance from the Fed in December, this may be a good time to buy into the TLT ETF following the 10.63% decline over the past year.

Disclosure: I/we have no positions in any stocks mentioned, but may initiate a long position in TLT over the next 72 hours.

I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

Kenyan logistics start-up Sendy plans second fundraising

NAIROBI (Reuters) – Kenyan tech start-up Sendy, which operates an app linking delivery drivers with customers, is embarking on a second round of fundraising to expand in East Africa, its chief operating officer said on Monday.

An employee of tech start-up Sendy, which offers online logistics services, works on her computer at their office in Nairobi, Kenya, October 30, 2018. Picture taken October 30, 2018. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

Sendy, used by around 4,000 businesses and 50,000 individuals, was founded four years ago and has so far raised $3 million.

“We will be doing a series B investment round hopefully before the end of the year,” Malaika Judd told Reuters, without giving a target amount. “We don’t want to be a small family logistics business, we want to be a tech platform that can solve logistics challenges across the world.”

Investors in Sendy, which says it has modeled itself on other logistics platforms such as Indonesia’s Go-jek, include local telecoms operator Safaricom, Toyota East Africa and Dutch investor DOB Equity.

Judd attributed the interest from both local and overseas investors to Sendy’s role in forging transport solutions for firms engaged in retail or fast-moving consumer goods in a region with challenges ranging from bad roads to heavy traffic.

“The problem of logistics is so large that everyone is looking at creating solutions to solve it,” she said, adding the emergence of e-commerce would further boost demand for the services of firms like Sendy.

Toyota told Reuters its use of Sendy had boosted efficiency.

“The costs of delivering spare parts from one location to another, or to a customer, has dropped by as much as 35 percent,” said Dennis Awori, the chairman of Toyota in East Africa.

Sendy, which has four founders, employs 60 people, half of them in engineering.

Judd said the most realistic exit for them would be an acquisition by another large logistics company, keen to modernize its operations.

“If we cash out in five years I will be very happy,” she said.

Editing by Maggie Fick and Mark Potter

You Don't Need to Burn the Midnight Oil. Use These 5 Productivity Hacks Instead

When leaving the office on Friday at 4 p.m. feels like a high-stakes undertaking, something’s wrong. Many honor the 40-hour workweek as sacred, to the point that anything less induces guilt and a skipping-school mentality. Yet experimentation by a New Zealand firm shows it’s possible to cut back on-the-job hours without missing a beat.

When the company Perpetual Guardian temporarily moved everyone from five work days per week to four, employee productivity and engagement shot up and stress levels plummeted. The experience was so positive that the firm has instituted the change permanently.

While a scaled-back workweek may not be easily implemented in all fields–emergency medicine and manufacturing come to mind–it’s worth investigating. Even billionaire Richard Branson is on the cutting-back bandwagon; he asserts that a healthy relationship with technology will allow people to work fewer hours.

Consequently, I’m concentrating the next few months on how to hack my own to-do list as an entrepreneur–not by working more hours, but by working less to get bigger wins. Want to join me? Use these five tactics to do more in less time.

1. Make smarter to-do lists.

I used to have a love-hate relationship with to-do lists. Writing them made me feel organized, but they never made a big enough difference in my productivity. What I realize now is that I was treating every item with the same urgency, which didn’t help at all.

Rather than putting everything on one to-do list, arrange all your must-do essentials. Which are high-impact tasks? Which bite-sized ones will move you toward the completion of big-picture goals? See which items consistently get overlooked. The problem might be the way they’re worded or that they’re too broadly defined. Or perhaps these tasks belong on an employee’s to-do list and not yours.

2. Hack your inbox.

Every entrepreneur has an inbox whose clutter can inhibit efficiency. To sort the important stuff from the rest, use Gmail’s label function. This allows you to better determine what’s need-to-do versus good-to-do. Remember that your email program probably has a ton of useful features that you haven’t considered.

You can also use your email in tandem with your must-do planning. I use ActiveInbox for my to-do list management inside Gmail. Have an item to add? I email myself. I check my emails and new to-dos once or twice daily, marking them as needed and then knocking them out. In David Allen’s Getting Things Done style, if a task will take two minutes or less, I do it right away.

3. De-tether from digital.

Your devices are a godsend. They’re also chewing up your precious minutes and distracting you from having a balanced life. Believe me, I know: Two bad habits I have are using my phone at dinnertime and checking it first thing when I wake up.

The obvious answer is to store your phone out of sight. Take a break from it and other devices to initiate a real-life refresh button. For instance, I put the phone on “do not disturb” for a few hours each evening. This helps me get out of firefighting mode so I can begin the next day with a clear head and renewed focus.

4. Stay single-minded.

You may believe that multitasking is the entrepreneur’s M.O., but author Daniel Levitin says it’s really a delusion. He suggests that multi-taskers are addicted to the idea that they’re getting tons done, but it actually hurts their productivity.

I’ve begun focusing on one task at a time because switching tasks midstream doesn’t produce results. I block out time to work on projects and then avoid looking at anything else until the work is finished. I even silence my Slack notifications. Unnerving at first, it becomes automatic when you get accustomed to taking back control.

5. Don’t waste your meeting minutes.

My staff meetings used to be a wash, especially in terms of product development. When we first adopted an agile methodology, each meeting added more stress due to unreasonable deadlines and a lack of purposeful communication.

I’ve since started exercising my prerogative to decline meetings, heeding Jeff Bezos’s two-pizza rule: Essentially, only key stakeholders should be present. And to maximize meeting productivity, I’m trying out the three-meeting approach. Pioneered by Tony Scherba, president and founding partner at product development studio Yeti, this “applied agile” strategy enables new product versioning in a week.

For each project, Scherba’s team meets only to plan the product, prototype it, and report progress to stakeholders. With no wasted meetings, his “team feels less burnt out, more productive, and more heard.”

I haven’t fully embraced a four-day work week, but I’m certainly learning to do more in less time. You, too, can look for areas of improvement and hack your way, bit by bit, to maximum effectiveness.

How Did the 'Freedom From Facebook' Campaign Get Its Start?

In July, executives from YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter testified before Congress about their company’s content moderation practices. While Facebook’s head of global policy Monika Bickert spoke, protesters from a group called Freedom From Facebook, seated just behind her, held signs depicting Sheryl Sandberg and Mark Zuckerberg’s heads atop an octopus whose tentacles reached around the planet.

Freedom From Facebook has garnered renewed attention this week, after The New York Times revealed that Facebook employed an opposition firm called Definers to fight the group. Definers reportedly urged journalists to find links between Freedom From Facebook and billionaire philanthropist George Soros, a frequent target of far-right, anti-semitic conspiracy theories. That direct connection didn’t materialize. But where Freedom From Facebook did come from—and how Facebook countered it—does illustrate how seemingly grassroots movements in Washington aren’t always what they first appear.

The point here isn’t to question Freedom From Facebook’s intentions. Their efforts seem to stem from genuine concern over Facebook’s outsized role in the world. But the labyrinthine relationships and shadowy catalysts of the efforts on all sides of that debate show just how little involvement actual Facebook users have in the fight over reining the company in.

Since the 2016 presidential election, Facebook has confronted an onslaught of scandals, many of which drew scrutiny from federal lawmakers. First, Russian propagandists exploited the social network, using duplicitously bought ads to sway US voters. This March, journalists revealed data firm Cambridge Analytica had siphoned off information belonging to tens of millions of users. In the wake of this second controversy, Freedom From Facebook was born.

The initiative wasn’t formed by everyday Facebook users. It’s instead the product of progressive groups with established records of opposing tech companies, whose own relationships illustrate just how tangled these connections can be.

Specifically, Freedom From Facebook is an offshoot of the Open Markets Institute, a think tank that operated under the auspices of the New America Foundation until OMI head Barry Lynn publicly applauded antitrust fines levied against Google in Europe. Google is a major New America donor; Lynn’s entire team studying tech market dominance and monopolies got the ax, and spun out Open Markets as an independent body.

Earlier this year, former hedge fund executive David Magerman approached Lynn’s group with the idea to start to start a campaign in opposition to Facebook. Magerman poured over $400,000 into what became Freedom From Facebook, according to Axios. His involvement wasn’t known until Thursday. The connected between Freedom From Facebook and OMI was also not entirely explicit.

Freedom From Facebook has done more than stage protests on Capitol Hill. During Facebook’s annual shareholder meeting in May, the group chartered an airplane to fly overhead with a banner that read “YOU BROKE DEMOCRACY.” When Sandberg spoke at MIT in June, Freedom From Facebook took out a full-page advertisement in the student newspaper calling for the social network to be broken up. On Thursday, the group filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission asking the agency to investigate a Facebook breach disclosed in September that affected 30 million user accounts.

Freedom From Facebook also formed a coalition with a diverse set of progressive organizations, like Jewish Voice For Peace, which promotes peace in Israel and Palestine, and the Communications Workers of America, a labor union that represents media workers. The coalition now comprises 12 groups, who “all organize around this fundamental principle that Facebook is too powerful,” says Sarah Miller, the deputy director of Open Markets Institute. Confusingly, according to Freedom From Facebook’s website, the coalition also includes Citizens Against Monopoly, a nonprofit Miller says was set up by Open Markets itself.

Eddie Vale, a progressive public affairs consultant, also confirmed in an email that Open Markets hired him to work on the Freedom For Facebook Initiative. He led the protest in July featuring the octopus signs.

Definers began lobbying journalists, including those from WIRED, to look into Freedom From Facebook’s financial ties this past summer. The effort was led by Tim Miller, a former spokesperson for Jeb Bush and an independent public affairs consultant, according to The New York Times. “It matters because people should know whether FFF is a grassroots group as they claimed or something being run by professional Facebook critics,” Miller wrote in a blog post published Friday. He added that he believes the push to connect the group to Soros does not amount to anti-semitism, especially if it contains a modicum of truth. Facebook itself asserted much the same in a statement it released Thursday.

The extent of the Soros relationship seems to be that the billionaire philanthropist does provide funding to both Open Markets and some of the progressive groups who constitute the Freedom From Facebook coalition. There’s no indication, though, that he has any direct involvement with the initiative. Open Markets’ Miller says the think tank wasn’t aware Facebook was paying an opposition firm to ask journalists to look into its work. “I just think knowing Facebook as we do, I don’t know that I would say that we were surprised, but I do think the Soros angle was surprising,” she says.

After The Times published its report Wednesday evening, Facebook severed its ties with Definers. “This type of firm might be normal in Washington, but it’s not the sort of thing I want Facebook associated with,” CEO Mark Zuckerberg said on a call with reporters Thursday. Both Sheryl Sandberg and Mark Zuckerberg claim they didn’t know Facebook was working with Definers until the The Times published its story. This is not the first time Facebook has employed an opposition research firm. In 2011, the social network hired a public relations firm to plant unflattering stories about Google’s user privacy practices.

By distancing itself from Definers, Zuckerberg and Sandberg are putting space between themselves and how the sausage gets made in Washington. As they have grown more powerful, tech organizations including Facebook, but also Google, Amazon, and others, have poured millions into lobbying on Capitol Hill. Those efforts include fighting back against well-funded and sometimes secretive campaigns, like Freedom From Facebook. Meanwhile, the social network’s over two billion users mostly sit on the sidelines, watching the high-stakes battle unfold.

More Great WIRED Stories

Why You Should Join Uber's Rewards Program

Ridesharing is already a sweet deal (compared to taxis or owning your own car) but it’s about to get sweeter because a price war is now inevitable. The price war will manifest as both lower prices per ride and more perks, especially for frequent riders.

The rideshare companies are now launching “rewards programs” to secure customer loyalty, which means the best deals will go to customers who commit to, and stick with, a specific provider. The question you should be asking now is: which provider should I choose?

Personally, I haven’t used Uber since the scandals of two years ago, but if I did a lot of ridesharing, I’d be revisiting that decision. Why? Uber MUST offer the best loyalty program because its future existence depends upon it.

To understand why, let’s review how Uber got where it is today.

The Holy Grail of Branding

As branding goes, the brand name “Uber” was a stroke of marketing brilliance. While most companies would have gone with a brand name that had something that sounded transportation-y (think “Lyft”), “Uber” built upon pre-existing business lingo that connoted Nietzchean superiority (as in “Uber-guru Tony Robbins…”).

The combination of a positive emotional association with no pre-existing meaning for transportation helped the Uber brand morph into a uniquely-identifiable noun and verb as in “Let’s get an uber!” and “We can uber to the party.” Having your brand name represent your product category (e.g. Kleenex, Kool-Aid, Xerox) is the holy grail of branding.

That brand success would never have been possible for Uber’s main competitor Lyft, because”Lyft” sounds exactly like “lift,” which already has a specific meaning for transportation. Getting customers to say “Let’s get a Lyft” has little brand value because it sounds like you’re saying “Let’s get a lift.” In short, “Lyft” is just too on the nose.

Rebrand Not an Option

Unfortunately for Uber and its brand, the past couple of years have been full of bad publicity. The company has been credibly accused of lawbreaking, its management culture outed as sexist, and its business model criticized as exploitive.

The usual marketing response to that kind of overwhelming negative publicity is a rebrand. For example, the mercenary army known as Blackwater has rebranded twice (to “Xe Services” and then “Academi”) in an obvious attempt to distance itself from the time when several Blackwater employees were convicted of killing Iraqi civilians.

Uber, however, can’t rebrand without losing the close association between its brand name and the product category and must therefore continue to carry the negative baggage from its bad publicity. As a result, Lyft (despite having a weaker brand name) has grown from a market share blip to fully 35% of the U.S. ridesharing market.

Price War Inevitable

Ridesharing is a fully commoditized market, in the sense that the market players are providing nearly identical services. Assuming you’re in an area where multiple firms have coverage and, there’s no practical reason to take an Uber rather than any other service.

There are only two ways to grow share in a fully-commoditized market.

The first is to create brand preference through image management. Unfortunately for Uber, its brand is too tainted to pursue that strategy.

The second way to grow share in a fully commoditized market is to drop your prices or, alternatively, provide more product or service for the same price (which is much the same thing).

Earlier this week both Uber and Lyft announced rewards programs, which is clearly the opening salvo of a price war. At first glance, Uber’s program (which is built around Uber’s products) seems less attractive than Lyft’s program (which can convert into several popular frequent flyer miles.)

However, Uber is in a real bind. Their brand is tainted, their main competitor is capturing market share, but they can neither rebrand nor lower prices to overcome the negative brand perceptions. Because Uber’s marketing options are so narrow, it MUST win this price war, which means that whatever Lyft offers, Uber will have to beat.

Thus if can stomach Uber’s history, now is the time to commit to being a long-term Uber customer, sign up for their rewards program and do the bulk of your ridesharing with Uber.

Remember the Big Tax Cuts? The IRS Just Announced a Surprising Change That Will Probably Make Yours Smaller

Most Americans expect to pay less in federal taxes this year, after President Trump and Republicans in Congress passed a last-minute tax bill last December.

But thanks to a rule change that the Internal Revenue Service made Thursday, a lot of Americans will reportedly be paying a bit more in taxes in 2019 than they thought they would–and even more in later years. Eventually, maybe a lot more.

It all comes down to a simple math equation–or more accurately a series of simple math equations. Because the tax law uses particular dollar amounts to establish thresholds for different things–tax brackets, the amounts of deductions, etc.–the IRS has to adjust many of these numbers for inflation each year. 

Traditionally, the IRS has used a calculation called CPI-U to compute inflation. (CPI stands for “consumer price index,” and the U stands for “urban.”) But besides cutting taxes, the law also required the IRS to change to a different calculation.

So, on Thursday, the IRS announced how it’s making this big change, to something called “chained CPI.” The difference between the two, as The Wall Street Journal explains, is that under “chained CPI,” inflation moves more slowly.

So, legal thresholds like the standard deduction that taxpayers are eligible to take, and the income needed to move into a higher tax bracket, will go up more slowly than they otherwise would.

“The result,” the Journal’s Richard Rubin writes, while noting that it’s unusual for the IRS to issue guidance like this so late in the year: “More income gets taxed at all, or taxed at higher rates.”

It’s difficult to calculate exactly how much any individual taxpayer will see their taxes go up as a result of this change, since everyone’s circumstances are different, and usually change from year to year.

. But Congress’s Joint Committee on Taxation says it will cost U.S. taxpayers $133.5 billion over a decade.

The whole thing will be gradual–meaning a slight increase in taxes in 2019, and bigger increases in later years as the difference between CPI-U and chained CPI becomes more pronounced over time.

Here’s an example of how it all plays out:

  • For 2019, the standard deduction for married couples will be $24,400 now that the IRS is using chained CPI.
  • If CPI-U were still in effect, the standard deduction would have been $24,550, according to data from the conservative Tax Foundation that was reported by the Journal.
  • Since taxpayers would now be entitled to a slightly lower deduction, they’d pay more taxes: about $36 more if they were in the 24 percent tax bracket.

Obviously, $36 isn’t exactly the end of the world, but the amount increases in later years, as the gap between the new “chained CPI” and CPI-U becomes wider.

By 2025, the whole thing will mean that 8.9 percent of taxpayers will pay more under the new law than they would have if there hadn’t been any change, according to data cited by the Journal.

If the IRS didn’t have to make this change, only about 4.8 percent of taxpayers would pay more under the 2017 tax law than they did before–largely residents of so-called blue states, who lost the ability to deduct state and local taxes from their federal taxes.

Interestingly, the Journal reports that because this change is basically a different way of calculating a math problem, rather than a change in the law itself, it’s likely that most taxpayers never would have realized they were paying more.

But it’s happening, and it means that after the IRS’s action, the tax cut apparently won’t be as big as people thought it would. If you’re counting on that money yourself–or if you’re a business owner who hoped that your clients would have a bit more disposable income to spend–you’ll want to be aware of it.

19 Books Everyone Who Wants to Succeed Should Read

Reading is a habit which is highly correlated with success. It’s good for your brain’s wiring, elevates your thinking and can even prolong your life. Need ideas for which titles to get your hands on next? Look no further.

1. Dimensions of Citizenship, Edited by Nick Axel, Nikolaus Hirsch, Ann Lui and Mimi Zeiger

“Dimensions of Citizenship is a colorful, digestible guide to the late 21st century and the role that architects play or don’t play in shaping our collective understanding of citizenship. Connecting theory with social, ecological and aesthetic concerns, [this book] maps the social dimensions of indifference across people and cultures making it a compelling read for any entrepreneur or business leader who is passionate about instilling ethics and values into their work.”

–Milton S.F. Curry, dean of the University of Southern California School of Architecture, which has been educating students in architecture for over 100 years and is currently ranked 12th in the 2018-2019 DesignIntelligence Top 25 Undergraduate Programs

2. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable by Patrick Lencioni

“Lencioni’s model underscores the critical need to put into practice essential team-building lessons that every company executive should strive to master. This book has been incredibly influential in how our company now builds, attracts and retains productive teams. Lencioni incorporates modern business fiction to make his point about why teams fail and how to prevent them from failing. He asserts five dysfunctions, in the form of a fable, which can cause lack of teamwork: absence of trust, fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability, and inattention to results. As an entrepreneur, I’ve learned that everything we do–for our employees, our clients, our brand–is based on the success of our team’s combined capability to deliver on whatever the task is at hand. This book does a great job of expressing what it takes to build a successful business. I would recommend it to anyone who wants to learn how to lead an effective team.”

–Vikas Khorana, cofounder and chief technology officer of Ntooitive, a digital ad agency and resource for publishers with triple-digit year-over-year revenue growth that serves as a software partner for some of the largest newspapers across the U.S. including the New York Daily News, Chicago Tribune, and San Diego Union-Tribune

3. Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges by Steven M. Southwick and Dennis S. Charney

“I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say most people are constantly experiencing stressful events in their lives. In the relief and development field, facing difficult and traumatic events such as devastating natural disasters, war, or civil conflict comes with the territory and it can be a lot to handle. Reading this book about resilience over the summer was helpful because it dives into how people experience and process traumatic events and explores both positive and negative coping strategies. It takes a psychosocial-meets-medical approach and even features people like John McCain and how he was able to use his horrendous experiences as a POW to give hope and inspire so many others. As CEO, I think it’s important to be aware of the mental health needs of both my staff and the people we serve, and this book provided powerful insights and practical applications. It was so good, in fact, that I don’t have it anymore; I passed it along to another CEO so they could benefit from it, too.”

–John Lyon, CEO of World Hope International, a relief and development organization that works with vulnerable and exploited communities in 15 countries to alleviate poverty, suffering, and injustice

4. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey

“The title of this book first grabbed me because one of my early mentors would frequently remind me of the difference between being right and being effective. I found many of the principles synergistic with my experiences in building and leading teams for new business ventures and it has stuck with me. Effectiveness starts with being proactive and prioritizing that which leads to the intended outcome, leaving behind that which is urgent but not important to the goal while being aware of the strengths realized in a team that shares a vision because you invested in them.”

–Bill Waid, general manager of Decision Management at FICO, a provider of predictive analytics and data science, with over 185 patents in the U.S. and abroad, to improve operational decisions and empower people and businesses in 100 countries

5. Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam Grant

“[T]his book provides a ton of insight via case studies on the creative and strategic process from ideation to launch. What’s really cool about this book is the range of topics and industries covered from the arts to technological inventions. Grant highlights both successes and failures tying them all back to the same core principles and their respective justifications [which] are very well researched and evidence-based. As we are a relatively data-driven run organization, his point on becoming a prisoner of prototype really resonated with me and helped me to be cognizant of the blinders that can result from experience. His breakdown of output quantity and its correlation to success and the use of strategic procrastination at the right time are tactics that have helped me overcome many roadblocks and challenges I’ve faced as an entrepreneur. This book provides great insight in a creative fashion and I recommend it to any aspiring entrepreneur.”

–Victor Davanzo, founder and CEO of RSP Nutrition, a nutrition brand distributed at retailers such as Amazon,, GNC, and Vitamin Shoppe, in over 5,000 U.S. retail locations and over 80 countries

6. Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss

“This book has been hugely influential in shaping my mindset. It’s a life-changing collection of routines, tools, and learnings gathered from interviews with world-class people from across the globe. The book touches on everything from business to health to wisdom from conversations with people like Tony Robbins, Paulo Coelho, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. It’s one of those books that you cover in highlighter and sticky notes, and you need to revisit every few months. It’s taught me to be a better leader, to invest in relationships above all else, and to step out of my comfort zone. One of my biggest takeaways was from the interview with Jocko Willink, retired Navy SEAL Commander. He says that he responds to every situation with the word ‘good.’ Adopting this habit has helped me stay focused through failure. We got beat? Good. We learned and we have something to prove.”

–Andy McCune, cofounder of Unfold, an app with over 11 million users that creates social media stories with minimal and easy-to-use templates with users including Equinox, REVOLVE, Soho House, and Topshop along with Emma Watson, Katy Perry, and Selena Gomez

7. Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday

“Having your head the right place day in and day out is essential for successfully driving your business forward. This is a book I consistently revisit as it helps me keep a clear head with respects to moving forward aggressively and logically in our business so that I’m not making decisions based on ego or emotion. The book is full of historical stories and antidotes about the treacherous nature of an unchecked ego (while at the same time not discounting the importance of confidence). The book is a consistent encouraging reminder that you need to keep working, not pay too much attention to your own hype, and keep in mind the big reason why you got started doing what you are doing.”

–Michael Roussell, Ph.D. and cofounder of Para Bellum Partners, the parent company of memory supplement brands Neuro Coffee and Neutein, which has experienced a 50 percent growth in sales over the last year

8. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

“I love this book because it philosophically celebrates capitalism, but more specifically the entrepreneurial spirit. It values using individual talent, intuition and ambition to be successful, versus being a work cog and obediently following in someone else footsteps.”

–Alix Greenberg, founder and CEO of ArtSugar, a charity and Instagram-driven, affordable contemporary art retailer available on, Wayfair, Zola, Dormify and select local retailers which it has experienced a 45 percent growth in month to month revenue in 2018

9. Success Through A Positive Mental Attitude by Napoleon Hill and W. Clement Stone

“My mentor presented me with this life-changing manual that taught me how to crack the entrepreneur’s Da Vinci code. It’s a distillation of all the great principles of higher achievement in one easy access reference book that is absolutely packed with positive ideas that will lift your thought process to a higher vibrational level. Thoughts, ideas, and action are essentially what make up the sum total of an individual’s life… so the 17 principles outlined in this book have helped me to focus my ‘attention on the things that I want and off the things that I don’t want.’ Thought control is the ultimate discipline…and this book shows the student exactly how to ‘direct your thoughts, control your emotions, and ordain your destiny.’ After interviews with over 500 men and women of accomplishment, the authors discovered the secrets to success and then gave those principles to future generations lucky enough to discover this hidden gem.”

–Roy Taylor, seven-figure millennial serial entrepreneur and cryptocurrency investor recognized in Entrepreneur as one of 2018’s top 10 entrepreneurs under 30 who helped market crypto projects with budgets over $15 million in 2018

10. Small Giants by Bo Burlingham

“Small Giants was a great read and helped me redefine what it meant to be successful. It taught me that as an entrepreneur I don’t have to have 4,000 employees, don’t have to go public, and don’t have to become something that my team isn’t. After reading this book, I doubled-down on what I liked doing best and felt better and more successful as a result.”

–Eric Termuende, cofounder of NoW Innovations, a movement to democratize access to innovative people and culture and operational practices of leading organizations around the world, as well as an award-winning entrepreneur and speaker who has spoken on more than 200 stages

11. The 12 Week Year by Brian P. Moran and Michael Lennington

“This is the absolute book for the person who wants to achieve more in less time. The premise of the book is to think of each 12 weeks as a calendar year, and to get extremely focused on the few goals that you want to achieve that would be the most impactful for those 12 weeks. As an entrepreneur, it’s easy to get distracted with tons of new ideas, tactics and strategies, and essentially get nothing done. I was able to focus and cut out all distractions from things that were not a priority as a result. Prior to reading 12 Week Year, my company broke six figures in its first year (2016). After reading this book, my company generated 38 percent of 2016’s revenue in January of 2017 alone.”

–Kevin Stimpson, branding expert and founder of Strive & Grind, a millennial-run branding company which has helped hundreds of clients across world

12. Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne

“If you’re going to work hard on something, you have to first make sure that your ship is headed in the right direction. You do this with a great strategy. It’s tough to succeed in business, but the best way to win is to have a strategy that differentiates you from your competition and creates a market of your own. Authors Kim and Mauborgne give a simple yet powerful exercise in Blue Ocean Strategy to help you do just that… Whether it’s for company direction, a new product, or any business initiative, [this book] will have you thinking about what things matter and what doesn’t so you can differentiate yourself in the right way and not have to battle on price. Start there and set yourself up for big success.”

–Austin Netzley, founder and CEO of 2X, a systems and operations focused consulting company helping entrepreneurs and small businesses generate over $44 million in sales in the first 10 months of company existence

13. Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey A. Moore

“[This is] one of my go-to books… [It offers g]reat pointers on finding market relevance and understanding consumer types and behavior.”

–Igor Bekker, cofounder of MADE OF, a brand which offers transparency in manufacturing by disclosing the whole product development from ingredient origin, actual test results and location of factories in the U.S., which has managed e-commerce businesses over $100 million in revenue for brands like Alex & Ani, Swatch and others

14. The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene

“[This] is the best book ever written on practical human psychology (I recommend the pocket-size concise version). This book hits you with sucker-punch after sucker-punch of insights into human character and behaviour that seem blindingly obvious in retrospect. I read it when I was living on social welfare, and it gave me a grounding to go to meetings (and close) venture capital and angel investors at a time when I had never even had a real job. It also helped me run and manage a team, become memorable and well-liked, and displaced the natural selfishness we all carry around with us. Absolutely essential not just in business but in life, too.”

–Vin Clancy, founder of the online magazines Planet Ivy and Screen Robot, which received nearly 20 million visitors in their first two years

15. Rich Dad Poor Dad by Richard Kiyosaki

“This book was the ultimate turning point for me as a teenager who knew that their life wasn’t on the normal trajectory, of school, university, and a typical nine to five job. It completely changed my mindset towards business and altered the way I perceived failure. When most may see failure as an obstacle, this book teaches you that in every failure there is a lesson for success. This mantra has been one that I have lived by throughout starting and scaling my business. I read this book over and over and still learn new things about how to look at success.”

–Sergio Abinaked, cofounder of Simply Carbon Fiber, a brand which designs and produces unique carbon fiber products at affordable prices and on track to hit $6 million this year in revenue

16. Bluefishing by Steve Sims

“If you like no-nonsense, keep-it-real books, Steve Sims has written a masterpiece. There’s a reason they call him a modern-day Wizard of Oz. He just gets things done–from getting a couple married by the Pope to walking an exclusive red carpet, people in the know call Steve to make it happen. [This book] lays out his methods and mindsets. It’s way beyond out of the box thinking. His take on getting ugly, staying totally transparent and building killer relationships will help any business maximize its impact and increase the bottom line. It’s definitely made me think even bigger.”

–Brad Lea, founder and CEO of LightSpeed VT, a virtual training company that has worked with over 700 business leaders impacting millions around the globe

17. From No Crypto to Know Crypto by Wayne Marcel

“It’s a genuine blueprint of how to get started in crypto, which helps mass adaption.”

–Darryll DiPietro, founder of Coincierge Wallet, a mobile private key wallet with over 20,000 supported crypto assets and capable of 250,000 transactions per second

18. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

“Being a founder, it’s easy to let our lives get consumed by the company. Reading this book, a memoir, written by a young neurosurgeon with terminal cancer, lent me some important perspective on life. Like him, we are all working in the extremes for some promise of a better future, but this book is a reminder that such a future may never come to pass. Not only should we endeavor to enjoy our life as it is now, but we should make sure that whatever means we take, should not need to be justified by some end at a later date, but rather be justified in their own right. It is also a very quick read, so most will find it easy to fit it into a commute or plane ride.”

–Jason Kim, CTO of Bombfell, a subscription service using AI and professional stylists to help men upgrade and maintain their wardrobes, working with JCPenney as the 15th fastest growing start-up in New York City in 2017

19. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson

“‘The key to a good life is not giving a f*ck about more; it’s giving a f*ck about less.’ This book validated something I’ve felt for a long time but haven’t always known how to act on: focus on what’s truly important and let everything else slide. For me, that comes in three parts: filtering out the noise, finding balance and owning who I am. I’ve had to admit that I don’t really care about sports, that I need a lot of sleep (seriously) and that I will never wear a suit to work. Not giving a f*ck can feel very empowering. In a time where people are feeling more and more anxious about the world around them, Manson says it best: ‘too many f***s is bad for your mental health.'”

–Dan Ucko, director of content for Nectar Sleep, an e-commerce mattress brand with more than 250,000 customers in under two years

You're Thinking About LinkedIn Connections All Wrong

LinkedIn is not about how many connections you have. It’s about how well you know your network and how well you tend to it, so that your career or business flourish. Period.

Recently, I encountered two people who see LinkedIn so differently, like aggressive offensive and defensive endeavors. A CEO of a small company asked me if there was some sort of software program that would copy over all the connections his business partners had over to his profile and vice versa. He wanted everyone in his small company to “know” the same people.

Then a financial services professional told me that she doesn’t accept connections from those she knows at competing firms, because she doesn’t want those people to see her connections, many of whom are clients. Neither of these folks logs into LinkedIn often — or ever — so I gently tried to tell them they’re going about it all wrong. 

Quality connections, not quantity

LinkedIn isn’t about collecting connections or shunning them. It’s not about abundance or scarcity. You can’t go about it out of fear — fear of not having enough connections or having the wrong connections or connections who will steal your clients away. It’s not how LinkedIn works. It’s not how life works. LinkedIn — and life — is about relationships. Like any relationship, you get out of LinkedIn what you put in.

Know your connections

It starts with knowing your connections. That means having some rules around which LinkedIn invitations you send out and which ones you accept. I have to have met my connections in person or have done work with them by phone and email. I will sometimes accept an invitation from someone who has reached out and would be good for me to know. But I make myself get to know them.

In fact, as I write this I’m looking at my calendar at the call I have scheduled for later in the day with someone who reached out to me on LinkedIn. We know several people in common, and her business is one I want to know more about. I accepted her invite to connect and messaged her that I’d like to set up a “get to know you” call. She thought that was a great idea. 

If you don’t know your connections, how can they refer work your way, write a recommendation, introduce you to a recruiter or potential business partner? They can’t. Likewise, you can’t help connections you “know” by name only. 

What to do if you have a bunch of connections you don’t really know? I recommend sending out a couple messages a month asking for time to connect by phone over coffee.

Check in often

Next up, you want to check LinkedIn often. It doesn’t have to be every day. A few times a week is great, and it really takes just minutes or even seconds. Here are some easy LinkedIn activities that if done regularly will yield returns in terms of keeping your name top of mind for your connections and helping you to spot opportunities and know what’s going on within your network.

1. Scroll through your news feed.

See what your connections are posting. Maybe it’s announcing a job promotion. Give that a thumbs up. Maybe someone posted an article about their industry or yours. Give that a read consider sharing it.

2. Congratulate people for their work anniversaries.

This is so easy. LinkedIn even has written the “congratulations” message for you, though I sometimes take a few seconds to customize the message.

3. Check your messages.

Speaking of messages, check yours. Often, when I am doing a LinkedIn profile makeover for clients, I see they haven’t checked their messages in months or more. You never know when someone might be reaching out via LinkedIn because they lost your email address or it was just more convenient for them at the time. They might be messaging about a prime opportunity, and you don’t want to miss out. 

4. Check your invitations to connect.

If you know the would-be connection or want to get to know the person, accept that invitation and make a plan to connect in real life.

5. Post an interesting article or status update.

If you have news about your work or an article about your industry that is noteworthy, share it so that you pop up in your connections’ news feeds. This again is about keeping your top of mind among your connections. 

LinkedIn is about knowing your connections and paying attention to what’s going on with them. It’s about letting your connections know what’s up with you. And it takes just a minimal investment of time. Let’s say a few minutes a day a few days every week. Put it on your calendar until it becomes routine.

Inc. This Morning: The California Wildfires, Morale at Facebook, and That Time Elon Musk Gave Out Credit Cards to Anyone Who Asked

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As of this morning, 48 people are confirmed dead, 200 are missing, and at least 200,000 have had to flee their homes as a result of the California wildfires. It’s a truly horrific tragedy. 

You’ve probably seen some of the heart-stopping video of the twin infernos. Even as firefighters continue the battle to contain the damage, people are starting to wonder how they’ll rebuild. Among them, the business owners California will be counting on to jumpstart the local economy.

One example: Jim Murphy, founder and CEO of BroadVoice, a California company that provides VoIP phone services, who is covering hotel expenses for employees displaced by the fires (and whose family has also evacuated).

“It’s definitely difficult, but I am very thankful for what I have and that everyone is safe. You have to look at the bright side and realize that things could be a lot worse,” Murphy (no relation to me) told Inc.

Here’s what else I’m reading today.

Facebook morale plummets

Just over half of Facebook employees say they’re optimistic about the company’s future, down from over 80 percent a year ago, after the company has been battered and seen its stock price drop hard over the last 10 months. A year ago, 72 percent of employees said they thought Facebook made the world a better place; now it’s just 53 percent.
–Deepa Seetharaman, The Wall Street Journal

The decline of Victoria’s Secret

The CEO of Victoria’s Secret is stepping down, a week after the company’s latest fashion show got terrible reviews, and its top marketing official was quoted gratuitously putting down transgender models. Meanwhile, the company’s market share and stock price have nose-dived, and its most successful competitors are hard-driving startups that see blood in the water.
–Hema Parmar, Bloomberg

That time Elon Musk just gave out credit cards to anyone who asked

Elon Musk. Some say he’s a genius. Some say he’s overstretched. But nobody can say he’s afraid of risk. His former business partner at PayPal Peter Thiel made that point when he talked about how Musk once successfully advocated for his company to grant credit cards with a $10,000 credit limit to literally anyone who asked. It was a disaster Thiel recalled, and they shut it down quickly, but it demonstrated how entrepreneurs have to be willing to take risks–and then manage them effectively.
–Sarah Todd, Quartz

Your people use Uber. They should probably sign up.

After literally years of people suggesting and asking for this, Uber rolled out a rewards program Wednesday that will give significant benefits to its most loyal customers (just ahead of its expected IPO, we might add). The program starts in nine cities including New York and Washington, D.C., and gives rewards members dedicated phone support, upgrades, and priority for the highest-rated drivers. They say there will be other benefits too, rolled out over the next few months.
–Deirdre Bosa and Paayal Zaveri, CNBC

Hmmm, this seems safe.

A small business in Wisconsin says it’s buying an unusual Christmas gift for each of its 16 employees: a revolver. That’s their right, and the Second Amendment is the law of the land, but they also admit that some of their employees have never fired a weapon in their lives–and presumably aren’t asking for this. What could possibly go wrong?
–Chris Mueller, The Appleton Post-Crescent