Unplug, Get More Sleep, Take Time….Words of Advice

By Kathleen Pender
San Francisco Chronicle.


Get more sleep.

Take time out for yourself.

That’s some of the advice keynote speakers Martha Stewart and Arianna Huffington had for more than 4,000 entrepreneurs, accountants and developers attending the QuickBooks Connect conference at the San Jose Convention Center Wednesday.

Of course it’s easy for them to say, now that they are multimedia megastars worth many millions of dollars.

No doubt many in the audience were thinking, “I’ll sleep when I’m rich.”

The event was for users of QuickBooks, Intuit’s accounting software. It was kind of a mini-Dreamforce/OpenWorld for small business, capped by a party with the band Train.

Stewart, Huffington and other speakers urged small-business owners to leverage new technologies. Venture capitalist Marc Andreessen said that cloud software applications are much easier to adopt than traditional software that businesses install on their computers. “You can just adopt this stuff overnight,” Andreessen said, adding that it is really shifting power to small business.

He also urged them to use the Internet “as a lever into the market.” Using Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest (all companies his firm has invested in) to do marketing and customer acquisition is underexploited, he said.

Asked by Intuit founder Scott Cook what small-businesses owners should be reading, he recommended and finding people they respect on Twitter and following who they follow.

Collect some eggs

Stewart, whose empire is grounded in old media, agreed that “social media is a phenomenal tool for promoting business.” She tries to blog every day, but also encourages fans to “take time away from their computer,” to plant a tree or collect some eggs. “I do think we have to find balance in this technological age,” she cautioned.

Stewart, in conversation with reality star Giuliana Rancic, was not asked about her recent deal with Meredith Corp., which will take over ad sales, circulation and production of Martha Stewart Living and Martha Stewart Weddings magazines. Nor did she discuss her feud with Gwyneth Paltrow, whose lifestlye brand recently hired Lisa Gersh, the former chief executive of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia.

But she did discuss her five-month prison term. Very bluntly. “Everybody tells you whatever happens to you makes you stronger. F– them,” she said, spelling it out. “That is the stupidest thing. It doesn’t make you better at all, and it could ruin you.”

She said she overcame the “nasty situation” thanks to a healthy constitution, an optimistic attitude, a supportive daughter and “extremely supportive audiences.” Although advertisers abandoned her for a while, customers did not. Product sales, she said, never faltered.

Huffington, whose empire is grounded in new media, urged the audience to pick a time at the end of the day when you turn off all your devices and gently escort them out of your bedroom. “Technology can liberate us … or technology can enslave us if we feel we have to be always connected,” she said.

In New York City, where the Huffington Post has its headquarters, it’s rare to find anyone who is not talking or texting while walking, and they expect you to get out of their way. “If you are not texting, you are not as important as they are because you can afford to just walk,” Huffington said.

Huffington’s collapse

She described a scene in 2007 (which opens her new book “Thrive”) when she found herself lying on the floor of her home office in a pool of blood after she collapsed from exhaustion and hit her head on a desk on the way down. At the time, she was building her online news site Huffington Post (now part of AOL) and raising two kids. The scare made her realize that a stool with two legs — money and power — will collapse without a third leg, well-being.

Her message is that humans are more effective, productive and creative when we get enough sleep. We should start by getting 30 more minutes of sleep, which can be accomplished by avoiding Jon Stewart for a night or taking a nap. Huffington learned backstage that Andreessen and Cook are both nappers.

The Huffington Post has two nap rooms. She said at first she didn’t know who would use them in New York, “the city that never sleeps.” But they are virtually full. She once saw two people exiting one together. “I thought whatever it takes to recharge you,” she said, as long as HR doesn’t find out.

Huffington urged the audience to simplify their lives, explaining that you can complete a project by dropping it. She gave up learning to ski, and now when she takes her daughters to hit the slopes, she sits by the fire with a good book.

Being a good CEO

For business owners, Andreessen had some good advice about what makes a good CEO.

They are good at strategy (the big picture) and tactics (the details). They immediately dive in to fix a problem. They are honest with employees and themselves and admit when things are not going well.

And they know when to stick with the plan and when to change it. Changing the plan is now called “the pivot.” It used to be called “the screwup,” he said.

Another tip: Don’t be afraid to ask for advice from people far and wide. “Very few people wake up in the morning and say, ‘I hope nobody asks me what I think,'” Andreessen said. But it’s also important not to take anyone’s advice as gospel.

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