Wed to a Dream
As the wife of a young entrepreneur, I can certainly relate to the experiences of Meg Cadoux Hirshberg ["Hitched to Someone Else's Dream," September], the wife of Stonyfield Farm's founder Gary Hirshberg. Meg's comment that she felt like she was riding shotgun on a curvy road especially resonated with me, because it reminds me of our business: We build and service racecars. Fortunately for us, little by little, the light at the end of the tunnel is becoming visible. But it's still a constant battle. I wonder if this is what attracted us to our entrepreneur spouses. I've always said that my husband dreams bigger than I would ever allow myself to. That's what I love about him. As much as I fret and worry about our finances, I am equally proud of him. I feel privileged to be along for the ride.
Sneed's Speed Shop
Pfafftown, North Carolina
Meg Hirshberg's article about the difficulties of being an entrepreneur's wife has inspired me and helped me renew my commitment to supporting my husband in his entrepreneurial endeavor. As Meg once did, I still struggle to figure out what I want to do when I grow up (though I'm already 34 and have a law degree). But I'm so happy to see how deeply passionate my husband is about his business. After four and a half years of marriage to an entrepreneur, it's comforting to know I am not alone in supporting someone else's dream, which I guess has become mine, too.
I had such a deeply emotional reaction to Meg Hirshberg's account of her journey. The "bad old days," as Meg put it, as the wife of an entrepreneur have echoed in my life. The difficulties in launching my husband's venture have certainly left some wounds over the last 20 years, and they still affect my life.
Entrepreneurs who risk everything for a business are gamblers. They judge their personal success based on their ability to make their businesses work, regardless of the monetary, interpersonal, or emotional stress it can cause for all who support them.
Hillsborough, New Jersey
I shed more than one tear while reading Meg Hirshberg's article. My wife left me over my start-up business in 2006. The business eventually succeeded, and I even went back after I had "made it" -- and she said she couldn't do it again. Too much stress and anxiety. After eight years of damn-near abject poverty and suffering, my business took off, and she didn't want to enjoy the fruits of our work.
I will take responsibility. She couldn't take it anymore (two kids in diapers and always wondering where next month's mortgage was coming from). She gave me an ultimatum. She said, "Me or the business." I chose the business, and she never forgave me.
Mobile Money Minute
Managing in the Middle
I'm glad to hear that Joel Spolsky has acknowledged the need for middle managers in the software development process [How Hard Could It Be? September]. In my view, this is a sign of his company's maturation into a disciplined business. Today, we still have outdated models for managing software developers, some of which seem to be carryovers from the industrial age.
I'm not sure Joel Spolsky's company necessarily needed middle managers per se. Spolsky could have called them architects or team leaders. The important thing is that every company needs someone approachable and responsible to make sure it's all running smoothly. Also, for really painfully tedious jobs that are low paying, micromanagement actually seems to be a necessity. Grunts, of course, won't work if they are not motivated.
Paul W. Homer
A Passing Fad?
Your piece on Rick Alden and Skullcandy [September] was the best "How I Did It" I can remember reading. As short as this article was, you can really get a sense of the wisdom and knowledge he has acquired.
It seems Alden has found the sweet spot for Skullcandy, at least for now. It may not last. In niche markets like Skullcandy's, people want to feel vendors understand them uniquely, which makes me think Alden has a predicament on his hands. Skullcandy can't afford to produce too many units and overshoot demand, but it needs enough product to keep retailers stocked and prevent competitors from taking up shelf space. It won't be easy for Alden to grow Skullcandy while retaining his company's "cool" factor.
Dennis S. Vogel
Two Rivers, Wisconsin
Sales During Slumps
It's nice to see business owners taking measures to boost sales during this economic downturn ["Fighting the Sales Force Blues," September]. When things slow down, too many companies react out of fear, slashing budgets and spending less on marketing and sales -- which is exactly the wrong strategy, no matter how logical it may seem at the time. A recession doesn't mean customers stop buying altogether. Buying behaviors simply change.
It's certainly wise for the companies you profiled to focus on improving employee morale. But they should remember that low morale during a recession is usually a symptom of lagging sales and low commissions, not the cause. In tough times, companies need to address the root causes for slower sales, not just the side effects.
The Empowered Business
Several things stuck out to me as I read through the piece on motivating a sales staff during hard times. First, the salespeople at QuantumDigital were not really salespeople to begin with. They were order takers. Why were these individuals hired, and what suggests that they are capable of handling their new job descriptions? Second, low morale is usually an indictment of senior management and its ability to consistently communicate with the entire organization. Salespeople are emotional by nature. Nothing hurts salesforce morale more than bad or inconsistent communication.
New York City
Shoring Up Your Insurance
Your piece on how to buy insurance for your business [Guidebook, September] made some excellent points about the risks that businesses face. But one often overlooked but increasingly accepted business strategy for making insurance affordable for small companies is to use a professional employer organization. PEOs make it possible for business owners to outsource functions like HR, payroll, and, yes, insurance. PEOs can help owners of small companies find insurance benefits that are often cheaper and more comprehensive than what they can secure on their own.
At the end of your article about buying business insurance, you comment, "Don't trust the Web." Yikes! Where did that come from? There are a number of very solid insurance agencies doing business online, many of which have actual live employees who can help you.
Small companies are generally not well served by local agents, who often lack expertise in commercial risk management and have limited access to insurance carriers. Web-based insurance agencies can work with a broader range of carriers and help business owners find the best rates. Surely buyers need to vet any insurance business, online or off, but there's no reason to write off all Web-based providers.