Archive for Communication

Blair Files

When we were little – 4 or 5 years old – my cousin Blair and I liked sitting on the rocky coast of Maine with paper and crayons, drawing what we imagined to be grand scenes of the mighty ocean; to anyone else, those pictures looked like a bunch of scribbles. As the years past, my pictures were still just scribbles – I have roughly the same degree of artistic talent as an elephant holding a paint brush in its trunk; Blair was a different story: it quickly became apparent that she had real talent as an illustrator. She loved to draw and she was good at it. Over the years she also picked up talent with paint and sculpture.

Jump forward to when we were a pair of 18-year-olds trying to make one of the biggest choices of our lives: COLLEGE. I was bound for the liberal arts, Blair for the fines arts; we both got our first choice: for me, Grove City College, for Blair, the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design. We were all so proud of her: despite the fact that no one in the recorded history of our family had ever done anything as impractical as going to art school, we were blown away by her talent and thrilled that she had been accepted to what is arguably one of the greatest art schools in the world.

So, we both packed our bags and shipped off for school. But while I immediately felt that I had made the right choice, Blair was plagued by doubts: not doubts about her choice to be an artist, but with questions about whether she was ready for this. She decided she wasn’t. After two weeks on campus she realized that she had a lot of personal growing to do and that RISD was not the place to do it – not yet, anyway. Of course, it was all a bit more complicated than that, but for the sake of brevity I won’t go into more detail.

Thus, Blair found herself taking a spontaneous gap year. In all honesty, she had always wanted to take a year off before college, but now that she was doing so, she didn’t have a plan. But these things always seem to work out in the end: she was offered the chance to go to Scotland to work for six months – something else she had always wanted to do. The only problem: travel is expensive!!!

But, undaunted as ever, Blair came up with a solution: she was an artist, and she was going to support herself as such! She had already created a large and impressive portfolio of original pieces, so she launched a website to sell prints of her work to support her trip abroad. She also started working for commission. 

Anyway, skipping ahead a little bit: Blair made it to Scotland where she had the incredible opportunity to work for YoungLife Ministries. In her work, she saw the incredible darkness that comes with a life without Jesus Christ: she saw kids who desperately needed Christ, and new that she was called to share Him with them. But it was very well to do so for six months in a youth camp, but what about back in America? She was going to be an artist, not a minister.

Well, like I said, Blair knew that she had a lot of growing to do: and grow she did. While she was in Scotland she had the chance to explore what it meant to use one’s talents for God; she learned that our gifts are not our own, but are to be used in service to the Lord. What did that mean for a 19-year-old who wanted to draw, but who also wanted to do more than illustrate children’s Bibles?

Eventually she found the answer: she decided not to go back to RISD but instead to enroll in the University of Delaware which had a program in Visual Communication – there, she would not only get a degree in fine art, but also in communications and visual media, learning the skills she would need to communicate truth through her art. She recognized that art isn’t just about creating beauty: it’s about creating the kind of beauty that points the viewer to the author of all things beautiful.

Today, Blair is a Junior at University of Delaware, still working to complete her degree. She is also still selling work through her website to help support her studies. Her story as an entrepreneur is still in it’s early chapters: much of it is still unwritten. Thus far, she has had enough success to allow her to fund the studies that we are confident will one day allow her to share the message that we are all called to spread. We don’t know what she will draw, who she will draw for, or what she will say through her art. But we know that she as chosen a profession that is, above all, about communication, and that she has the greatest story of all to communicate. Through her website and commissioned work she has already been able to start reaching people – now all that’s left is to watch her grow!

I like Blair’s story because it serves an in important reminder of the fact that entrepreneurship doesn’t have to mean something huge: sometimes its something as small as selling art to fund travel. Its also important to remember that as Christians we have a higher calling in whatever we do: to serve the Lord. Blair became an entrepreneur because she was a broke almost-college-student who needed to get to Scotland. Once there, she discovered that her true calling really was art, not business. Now, she’s learning what she wants to say with her art and how she wants to say it. Will she one day go into business for herself as an artist/entrepreneur? Who can say: I personally think that art is a form of entrepreneurship…. The important thing is that we serve the Lord in all we do – be it painting scenes of the cross or painting scenes of nature; running a “Christian Business” or running a “Secular business” that operates on Christian principles. I believe that finding ways to serve the Lord in all that we do is the highest calling of any entrepreneur and that turning our work into a way of serving God is in itself an entrepreneurial act.

Blair also reminds us that we don’t necessarily have to “paint the cross” to serve the Lord. I look at the things she creates and see the Master’s hand: whether she is painting the portrait of a child of God or something silly that just popped into her head, I see the kind of true beauty that is precious not because of who created it or what they created, but because it came from the hand of a woman who loves God and who knows who her talent is from and what it is for.


Here’s a bit of a paradox for you: as the world seems to grow increasingly smaller through the use of communications technology  and we have an unprecedented level of access into each other’s personal lives through social media, we still somehow manage to feel alone. And, even as the internet becomes an increasingly viable way of forging interpersonal connections (leading the average Joe to spend an ever-growing amount of time online seeking to network), it seems that the real movers and shakers of society (corporate employers, innovators, politicians…) seem to be abandoning the online scene in favor of face-to-face networking events and social solutions. You see, it seems that the people at the top have realized something that the rest of us are only just starting to comprehend: real relationships happen in real spaces, in the places where we meet face-to-face, person-to-person.

Our generation is slowly coming to realize that, convenient as social media might be, it can’t replace actual interactions. And in an increasingly competitive market, those moments of interpersonal communication are more important than ever: it is important to get them right.

SocialTables is committed to helping their clients get it right. Whether you are planning a wedding, networking event, fundraiser, or corporate mixer, Social Tables is there to see you through each step of the event planning process to ensure that your guests won’t regret leaving the chat rooms behind. Since 2011, the company has helped plan more than 8,000 meetings and events in the Washington, D.C. area. With a staff of event planners and social scientists ready to hand, they help you map the venue, create digital mock-ups of the space, manage invitations,  RSVPs, and check-ins, and even create seating plans based on common interests or professional fields to ensure that your guests get the most out of the experience.

The founders recognize that social interactions not only meet a need for interpersonal contact, but are also the birthplace of great ideas, collaborations, and meaningful relationships. Thus, it is important that we get them right. The goal of SocialTables is simply to help you and your guests meet your goals. Maybe you just want to throw a party to show your guests a good time; or maybe you hope to bring great minds together in a collaborative social setting; maybe you just need to make sure that your next big meeting goes off without a hitch… Whatever you have in mind, SocialTables is there not only to help you iron out the logistics of your even, but also to help you create an electric social environment.

Silbermann and Sharp: Pinterest

Ben Silbermann and Evan Sharp, co-founders of Pinterest, both used their prior experiences in the technology and the internet to start a very successful business of their own. Silbermann was a Google employee until he left to design apps on his own. However, these failed to gain any traction, until eventually he designed a product inspired by his own love of collecting things.

Similarly, Sharp worked at Facebook as a product designer. He met Silbermann in New York, and then joined his team to make Pinterest a reality.

Pinterest is really about idea sharing. People enjoy telling others about their ideas, and Pinterest gives them a platform to not only do so but also to gauge how a community will respond to it. It is a great place to see other peoples ideas as well, and find inspiration for many different things.

This business idea is a great example of collision in a liquid network. In the realm of technology and the internet, two men with the experience and ideas necessary collided to make a business that could possibly eclipse Facebook and other social media giants.

Without one another, the idea would just be a pair of hunches, and nothing would have come from it. However, in a community where ideas can bounce around, change, and grow, true innovations can be born.

PGH Startup Weekend: Amelia App for Women

Do you ever wonder what could be acheived in 54 hours? In 2016, Pittsburgh Startup Weekend Women’s Edition was hosted for the first time ever… and as a result, the winning team Go Jane Go’s Amelia App is now in the beta testing phase. Kate’s idea to create an app to connect women with other professionals in cities away from home was given a chance to develop when she and her sister Ellen attended Startup Weekend and met UX Designer Sanjana. Together they were able to create a solid foundation for their venture while not only winning the competion, but receiving resources to help them in their quest to develop it. These three individuals skills paired with the proper resources and enviroment accelorated the creation of a community womens app.

This year at Pittsburgh Startup Weekend, three of the top winning teams were comprised of some your own fellow GROVERS, with business ideas for Active Home, Chute and The Good Find… so be on the lookout for these potential businesses in the future!

Learn more about…


Gladiator Lacrosse

Rachel Zietz is the founder of Gladiator Lacrosse, a high quality sports training equipment line at an affordable price.

She was inspired to start this company when her coach told her she needed to work on her skills outside of practice. Without the proper equipment and resources to practice, Rachel found herself at a disadvantage compared to the other athletes. She struggled to find affordable, durable equipment that would allow her to even play the simple game of “wall ball.” Rachel then participated in the Young Entrepreneurs Academy Program (co-sponsored by Florida Atlantic University and Boca Raton Chamber of Commerce). This program gave her the idea to solve her problem by creating Gladiator Lacrosse.

Rachel is a sophomore in High School and she has already accomplished a vast amount of success in the Lacrosse equipment industry. Her drive and creativity will allow her to achieve greatness throughout her life.

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Quora is a question and answer website like none other. Although at it’s surface it might seem to just be another version of Yahoo Answers, it has created a community of users high in professionalism and expertise, so that those who use the site to find answers know that they can trust what they find there. The website has established a community of expertise maintained by both an automated moderation system and a team of workers who look into reports and help keep the site truthful. Quora is about knowledge sharing, and has to preserve an environment of truth to keep itself unique in the market. Celebrities, politicians, businessmen, and more answer questions on the site.

Quora’s journey, like many popular websites, starts with Facebook. Adam D’Angelo worked at Facebook as Chief Technology Officer from 2004 to 2008. In 2009, after leaving Facebook, he started Quora with another ex-Facebook employee, Charlie Cheever. The site has been growing rapidly and in 2016 a version of the website for Spanish-speaking users launched.

One concern people voice about Quora has to do with why it is different than a website like Yahoo Answers. According to D’Angelo, before launching Quora, he saw a gap in the internet for a reliable knowledge sharing website. The current answers websites just were not serving the function he had in mind. Quora is not about looking at funny or interesting questions when one is bored, but rather about sharing knowledge and helping people. To foster a community that is genuinely helpful, Quora started with D’Angelo’s friends. He invited professional, mature people to help the site gain content and it has stayed that way today. Also, the level of professionalism with which the site has been executed, from the design to the fact that you must have an account to participate, has encouraged seriousness and truthfulness. Quora started with a need on the internet and fostered a community that helped it fill that need.

Sean Rad: The Millennial Founder of Tinder

But in August, Rad stepped back into the role of CEO. In an interview with board member and Benchmark partner Matt Cohler, Kara Swisher reported for Re/Code that Payne as CEO wasn't going to be a "long-term fit."

One of the most popular trends right now is the concept of “swipe right,” the signature of approval of someone’s Tinder profile picture. On Tinder, millions of people are connected to local singles and can connect with those in the area with a simple swipe of a finger. Tinder has fully transformed the world of dating. Plenty of couples haven’t had met if it wasn’t for its founder, Sean Rad.

When it launched a few years ago, Tinder made over a million matches in less than two months.

Rad has been an entrepreneur for many years. Before finding success in Tinder, he has launched, ran, and sold other companies. He decided to drop out of the the Marshall School of Business in order to dedicate more time to his ventures. Rad has worked with phones since he received his first one when he was 13, and made a successful career as a result of his creative innovations to the worlds of networking, cell service, and dating.


Nanoly and Enplug – Culture in Business

Nanxi Liu grew up in a situation not typically considered conducive to innovation. After spending most of the first five years of her life without her parents in China, she could move to the United States and reunite with them. When it was time for her to go to college, she got into UC Berkeley and payed her way through doing odd jobs. After meeting a talented biochemist at a bar, she started Nanoly Bioscience, a company with a patented polymer for preserving vaccines without refrigeration.

Nanoly is built around the idea that many people cannot get vaccines because of environmental factors causing the proteins that make the vaccine work to become inactive. The polymer they developed is a sort of protective shell that functionally replaces a refrigerator. For this work, Nanoly earned many awards for social technological change, including Intel’s Top Social Innovation, Dell’s Global Social Innovation Challenge Award, and a Tech Award in 2014 for Young Innovators.

Social and technological change marry perfectly in this startup. While innovation is often thought of in the terms of apps or software, bringing about powerful social change is just as revolutionary. While the technology used is advanced and definitely a breakthrough, without a use that people care about, in this case a social use, it is simply another type of plastic. Because of this merging, Nanoly was able to make the world better.

Building upon this success, Liu more recently started Enplug, a technology/software business with a product that harnesses digital screens to allows users to link, control, manipulate, and post to any digital screen instantly. Plugging into any HD screen, the technology allows the user to display social media, presentations, news, or virtually anything. They also developed a software development kit, which allows experienced users to create their own apps to link to the technology.

The most innovative aspect of Enplug is the culture of the business. Over ten of the roughly 40 employees share a single house. This not only fosters a strong bond of cooperation in the employees, it also serves to bring innovation into everyday life and everyday life into the business world. Of course, it also saves money. This choice to treat a business almost as family is a demonstration of the innovative thinking that Liu brings to her businesses. Whether Nanoly or Enplug, Liu has a capacity for being intentional in the way a business is being run, instead of simply inventing a breakthrough product.

The Men Behind the Pin

Ben Silbermann and Evan Sharp are the two masterminds behind Pinterest. They wanted a way for people to be able to show collections of things they were interested in in some sort of interactive way. Pinterest is a form of social media where people can search pictures, craft ideas, cooking ideas, beauty trends, and much more. The unique thing about Pinterest, though, is that posts, called “pins,” can be saved and organized in different boards. When someone finds something they want to keep, they can save it to an existing board or create a new board. Boards are just like folders and are unique to the creator. They have a name and hold all of the pins the user puts in to them. Then, if they are looking for a new hair style, they can go to their “hair” board, find the pin they want, and show it to their hairstylist to try to recreate on them. Pinterest is useful because pins can be saved and the user can look at them months later. All the time we find tricks and pictures online that we perceive as interesting and want to save, but a few weeks, even days, later, we forget what it was or where we found it. Pinterest takes the struggle of losing the ideas away because the pins are organized and easy to go back to months later. It also allows users to connect with friends and family. If the boards are public, users can become friends on Pinterest and then look through one another’s boards to see if there’s anything in them they may want to save on their own board. People like Pinterest because it is a way for them to escape. They search things that make them happy and save the pins to look at later. They can fantasize about DIY projects they want to do and new makeup trends they want to try. It is a way for people to connect with one another and see what others are interested in. There is no slander or harassment capability, it is just there to relax, have fun, and see what makes those around us happy. These men created a new, fun way to share interesting ideas and tricks all in one place.

Starting Young – Blake Ross and Mozilla Firefox

Blake Ross cannot visualize things in his mind. If asked to imagine a beach, he instead thinks about the concepts that make up a beach. Ross was unaware that most people could visualize things until last year, and he is 30. Although afflicted by this rare inability, he still managed to create Mozilla Firefox, a breakthrough web browser that salvaged the less successful open source program Netscape.

Ross was born in Florida. At age 15, he moved to California to pursue an internship with Netscape, even though Internet Explorer at the time dominated the industry. After gaining experience, Ross decided to make a more streamlined browser, and the Mozilla Project was born. The first software in the suite and in many ways the flagship development, Firefox, was immensely popular, and became the first real competitor to Internet Explorer. Other popular software developed by Ross include Thunderbird, the mail program in the Mozilla suite, and Parakey, a separate program that he sold to Facebook for a large profit.

Along with the acquisition of Parakey came Ross himself, who worked for Facebook as Director of Product. He worked for them until 2013, and in August he was hired by Uber to help them develop their product. Evident in Ross’s work is an ambition to stay at the forefront of development and technology. He started at age 15, jumped into a field he was interested and good at, found a product that was underdeveloped, worked on that until it gained attention, then switched to another big name in another sphere. After tackling the challenge of social media under Facebook, he has now switched to innovating in transportation.

Ross innovates by finding what is currently redefining the way Americans live their lives. His biggest project, Firefox, was inspired by the struggles his mother had with the current web browsers. He also has the ambition to back up this relentless pursuit of advancement, as evidenced by the early age at which he started pursuing his career. Ross is smart enough to be part of the largest innovations of the twenty-first century, and motivated enough to work on three of them so far.