December 14, 2017

Entrepreneurship: A New Lure for Spa Customers? A Salt Cave

Nonetheless, salt therapy, also known as halotherapy, a venerable treatment in Central Europe and Asia, is now being offered at spas, resorts and stand-alone facilities in the United States in the form of salt beds, salt rooms and salt booths. Floors and walls that are lined with salt blocks and salt crystals, and zero-gravity chairs (recliners designed to relax the back), are the norm. A device known as a halogenerator grinds sodium chloride into a dry aerosol, then disperses it to mimic the microclimate of a salt cave.


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Perhaps unsurprisingly, salt spas seem to be sprouting in pockets of the United States that attract the rich. For example, at the Montauk Salt Cave, which opened two years ago in the Hamptons, a session costs $40 for adults. There’s a children’s hour ($40 per child, but adult guardians may enter free) as well as yoga classes and reiki healing amid the Himalayan salt. At the Wellery, a pop-up “wellness center” at Saks Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, weary shoppers can refresh themselves in one of several salt booths (10 minutes for $25) until the end of October.

“The ability to look at salt and see its helpful properties has become a significant part of our business,” said Allan Share, the president of the Spa Industry Association.

Jessica and Elliott Helmer, owners of the Salt Suite. Credit Kali McCarthy for The New York Times

In 2012, there were a dozen halotherapy facilities — places with halogenerators — in North America, according to Leo M. Tonkin, the founder and chief executive of Salt Chamber, a supplier of dry salt therapy equipment, based in Boca Raton, Fla.

“In the last four years, the number has grown to 300 salt chambers,” said Mr. Tonkin, who is also the founder of the Salt Therapy Association, a trade group. “There’s been a rapid growth in stand-alone salt facilities and in resorts adding a salt room as an amenity. Day spas have taken an underutilized area and turned it into a salt room, and clubhouses of some high-end residential developments are adding salt rooms.”

Economics are a big driver: A visit to the sauna or steam room is generally included in the basic spa fee at hotels and resorts, but salt rooms often cost extra.

Adding salt therapy to spa services is another moneymaker. At the Four Seasons Resort in Oahu at Ko Olina, 25 minutes in the salt chamber costs $65. The so-called Ha Ritual — which involves 50 minutes in that chamber, with guided meditation, a dry salt foot scrub and a massage — runs $190.

But there are occasional bargains. At the Breathe Salt Room on Park Avenue in Manhattan, the “salty yoga” classes are $35, the same cost as a standard salt session.

When the Linq Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas opened a new spa two years ago, its two salt caves with halogenerators were a way “for us to differentiate ourselves,” said Joy Matti, Linq’s spa operations manager. “Several spas on the strip have salt rooms, but don’t have halogenerators.”


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Linq’s salt caves feature zero-gravity chairs and soft music. Guests who book a spa service for at least $50 are welcome to breathe in the saline air at no additional charge. Otherwise, a 45-minute session runs $40. “We have guests who try it, then come back the next day because they got the best sleep of their lives,” Ms. Matti said.

The caves accommodate up to eight people “and are generally booked from 8 a.m. until the last session at 6 p.m.,” she said.

Supplies for salt spas in Leo Tonkin’s Salt Chamber warehouse, in Boca Raton, Fla. “It’s a great business model because it’s low labor,” Mr. Tonkin said. Credit Kali McCarthy for The New York Times

Entrepreneurs have taken note. Mr. Tonkin estimates there are 100 stand-alone salt facilities around the country, generally two- or three-room studios that charge $30 to $50 per session, though discount packages and membership arrangements can lower the price considerably.

Many of these spa owners have a side business in salt lamps, bath salts, skin scrubs and Solé, a concentrated salt solution, to create another revenue stream. To appeal to parents who believe that halotherapy can relieve symptoms of allergies and eczema, some facilities have a dedicated children’s room, with salt on the floor to suggest a sandbox or beach and fish-themed murals.

The décor can be a big part of the lure. Some of the spaces are outfitted to look like Zen relaxation rooms, some resemble caves, and some have backlit blocks of amber and pink salt.

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“It’s a great business model because it’s low labor,” Mr. Tonkin said. “You don’t need instructors. You don’t have people providing services. And once the facility is built, the operational expenses are low. The only consumable is the sodium chloride that goes into the halogenerator.” A 10-pound bag is $25, he said, and is enough for 200 to 400 sessions in a salt room depending on the size of the room and the length of the session.

“It’s pennies a treatment,” Mr. Tonkin said. “This is a very lucrative business for an owner-operator.”

Five years ago, Jessica Helmer and her husband, Elliot, of Delray Beach, Fla., were looking for a business opportunity. “We were ready to do our own thing,” said Ms. Helmer, 36, who had previously worked in corporate sales.

When a friend came back from a trip to California raving about the halotherapy center that had soothed her allergies, the Helmers were sold. In 2012 they opened the Salt Suite, a wellness center in Delray Beach with three rooms.


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“It was a slow ramp-up but in Year 2 it jumped,” said Ms. Helmer, who subsequently opened a salt studio in Lake Worth. She and her husband have since sold Salt Suite franchises in Fort Lauderdale, Boca Raton and Palm Beach and have fielded inquiries from people in New York, New Jersey, California and Texas “without even doing any marketing,” she said.

Leo Tonkin, founder of Salt Chamber, in his supply warehouse. He’s also the founder of the Salt Therapy Association, a trade group. Credit Kali McCarthy for The New York Times

A single session is $35 and an unlimited monthly membership is $99. The Helmers’ clients — mostly mothers bringing their asthmatic children, and adults over 45 with assorted respiratory ailments — visit an average of one to three times a week.

Finding the right locations has been a challenge. “This isn’t a massage or haircut,” Ms. Helmer said. “It’s like a gym — it needs to be accessible so it can be part of your daily routine.”

But first, Ms. Helmer has to explain exactly what she’s selling. “No one has heard of salt rooms, so we have to explain what they are and explain that people have to come in for three or five sessions in order to see a small change,” she said.

But the low profile of salt rooms is also a selling point. “People are intrigued,” Ms. Helmer said. “We have the ‘Aah!’ factor. And now some of our customers are interested in franchising a studio.”

William Dunai, the owner of the Salt Cavern in Clifton, N.J., opened his doors in 2010 and struggled for three or four years. Groupon deals helped build the business, and now, during busy times on weekends, it operates at 95 percent occupancy.

Each of the two rooms can accommodate up to seven customers. A 45-minute visit is $50, but there is a buy-one-get-one-free option as well as an eight-session package for $150. “Some people meditate or pray or sleep while they’re here,” Mr. Dunai said.

Regulars come once or twice a week, though some clients show up only when they are sick. One customer has been coming daily since December, Mr. Dunai said, “and he told me he’s going to keep coming as long as he stays well.”

So far, so good.

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Feature: Aleppo After the Fall

Back in the souqs, I kept trying to superimpose my memories of the place. We passed near the silk merchants’ area, now blackened and silent. Before 2011, I used to stop there and visit a flamboyant young trader with a round, cherubic face. He would give me tea and drape me with scarves. His little stall was covered with pictures of gay icons like Judy Garland, a reference that his Syrian partners seemed not to get (or perhaps they just didn’t care). I still have his business card, with a picture of Oscar Wilde and the quote: “I can resist everything except temptation.” Aleppo in those days was a magnet for footloose journalists and adventure tourists. We would spend hours getting lost in the souqs and then stop for drinks in the dimly lit bar at the Hotel Baron, gazing at its old unpaid bar tab left by T.E. Lawrence, our heads swimming with nostalgia for an era we knew only from books.

Now parts of the city were literally unrecognizable. In al-Hatab Square, once one of the prettier spots in the Old City, I found only a giant, uneven mound of rubble and earth that rose 15 feet above the street, with grass growing in it. I almost stepped on an unexploded Turkish gas bomb surrounded by yellow spring flowers. On the square’s edges, half the buildings were destroyed. It was hard to believe this was once an orderly urban setting, lined with restaurants and hotels. The last time I was in Aleppo, in late 2010, I stayed at a beautiful old boutique hotel near the square, the Beit Wakil. I remember the owner taking me down into a dark, earthen-walled subbasement to show me a network of tunnels built centuries earlier. You could travel all the way to the citadel — the great medieval palace that towers over the Old City — without going aboveground, he said. They were built during the 17th century, when intermittent wars often made streets too treacherous to walk. “Perhaps we will need them again,” he said.

What destroyed Aleppo? It was not the sectarianism that is often held up as a key to the Syrian war. It was not just “terrorism,” the word used by regime apologists to fend off any share of blame. Those things played a role, but the core of the conflict in Aleppo, as in much of Syria, was a divide between urban wealth and rural poverty. It is not new. Travelers in the Ottoman era used to describe the shocking gulf between Aleppo’s opulence and the countryside surrounding it, where peasants lived in almost Stone Age conditions. Later, this divide mapped onto the city itself, as eastern Aleppo spread and filled with poor migrants. Deeply religious and mostly illiterate, smoldering with class resentment, they became the foot soldiers of a violent insurgency led by the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1970s. That rebellion burned for years and culminated in the Syrian regime’s notorious massacre of 10,000 to 30,000 people in the city of Hama in 1982. Hundreds of people were killed in Aleppo, too, and a siege atmosphere marked the entire city. The Syrian novelist Khaled Khalifa, who grew up in Aleppo during those years and wrote a novel about it, told me in 2008 that the city’s cosmopolitan traditions had helped protect it. But he added: “All this has harmed Syrian society so much. If what happened in the 1980s were to happen again, I think the Islamists would win.”

One tragedy of Aleppo is that this rift between rich and poor was slowly mending in the years just before the 2011 uprisings. An economic renaissance was underway, fueled by thousands of small factories on the city’s outskirts. The workers were mostly from eastern Aleppo, and the owners from the west. A trade deal with Turkey, whose border is just 30 miles to the north, brought new business and tourists and optimism. I remember sitting at cafe table with two Turkish traders just outside the citadel in late 2009. Tourists thronged all around us, and the two men talked excitedly about how new joint ventures were melting the animosity between their country and Syria. “Erdogan and Assad, they are like real friends,” one of them said, referring to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey.


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This kind of optimism was one reason the revolution took so long to reach Aleppo. All through 2011, as the rest of Syria erupted in protest, its largest city was quiet. But by 2012, in the villages just beyond the city’s edges, weaponry was flowing in from across the Turkish border and battalions were being formed. “The countryside was boiling,” I was told by Adnan Hadad, an opposition activist who was there at the time and belonged to the Revolutionary Military Council in Aleppo, a group led by Syrian military officers who defected. The council was eager for more European and American recognition and sensitive to Western calls for the preservation of most of Syria’s state institutions. But local rural people tended to side with a more Islamist and less patient group called Liwa al-Tawheed. Tawheed’s members “considered themselves more authentic” and had begun getting their own funding from Persian Gulf donors, Hadad told me. In the spring of 2012, Tawheed’s members began pushing for a military takeover of Aleppo, accusing the council of excessive caution and even secret deals with the regime. The council resisted, saying they should move only when it was clear that the city’s people wanted them to. In July, Tawheed took matters into its own hands. Armed insurgents flooded eastern and southwestern parts of the city, taking over civilian houses as well as police stations in the name of the revolution. Hadad considered the move a “fatal mistake,” he told me, and resigned from the military council.

By then, eastern Aleppo had become a rebel stronghold. In early 2013, elections for provincial councils took place, giving the rebels a civilian veneer. But the councils, initially funded by the Syrian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, were soon under pressure from the Nusra Front, the Syrian Qaeda affiliate, and other hard-line groups. Later, ISIS forces captured parts of the city and forced residents to live by their rigid code. In theory, Aleppo was an embattled showplace for the Syrian revolution’s aspirations. In fact, most civilians were dependent on a patchwork of armed rebel factions for food and protection. The constant pressure of war left almost no room for a real economy, and many of the city’s factories had been repurposed by the rebels as military bases.

Now Aleppo’s great economic engine lies in ruins. One afternoon, a 45-year-old factory owner named Ghassan Nasi took me to the industrial area just west of Aleppo called Layramoon. The sounds of the city dissipated as we drove west, and when the car stopped, there was an eerie silence. An entire district that once hummed with 1,000 small factories was now abandoned, most of its buildings shattered and burned. “It is a 100 percent loss here,” Nasi said. We walked down a dusty street to his factory, a textile and dyeing house that employed 130 people who worked 24 hours a day in three shifts. The door still had its metal filigree gate and marble steps. “This is where workers stamped in and out,” he said.

The roof of the Aleppo Eye Hospital, which rebels used as a military headquarters. Credit Sebastián Liste/Noor Images, for The New York Times
Inside the hospital. Credit Sebastián Liste/Noor Images, for The New York Times

Inside, the huge factory floor was burned black and strewn with rubble. The rebels had used it to make weapons, he said. His old office had been used to house prisoners. Nasi told me quietly that he collapsed to his knees upon seeing it again last summer. “I lost $10 million in machinery, $4 million in land,” he said. “Even if we rebuild, the machinery is gone, and with the sanctions, we cannot buy new machinery.” On top of that, there is inflation: The American dollar was worth 47 Syrian pounds before the crisis, and now it trades unofficially at about 520. And Turkey — where much of the Aleppo factories’ machinery was transported and sold, often with the collusion of Syrian owners who wanted to avoid losing everything — now sells similar textiles for less. Reviving Syrian industry, and the social glue it might once have provided, is next to impossible.

I asked Nasi what had become of his workers. He said about 70 percent of them joined the rebels. He didn’t seem bitter or surprised about this. Some lived nearby, so when the area was divided, they had little choice. As for the others, they were poor and ill educated and religious, and the rebels promised them a lot. “The average salary for workers was about a hundred dollars a week,” he said. “The rebels paid more.”

For many Aleppans, caught up in a conflict they had tried to avoid, the only rule was survival. On a warm spring morning in 2013, a 22-year-old man named Yasser lay bleeding in the middle of a street in eastern Aleppo. Moments earlier, he had carried his mother, mortally wounded by a sniper, into his grandparents’ car. As he watched the car pull away, three bullets struck his legs and left arm. He collapsed into the street and could not move. Shots rang out over his head: regime soldiers trading fire with rebels on either side of him. The soldiers heard Yasser calling for help and told him to come toward them. “I can’t move,” he shouted. Then a rebel spoke from a nearby building, promising to help. When he answered, a regime soldier called out, “Who are you talking to?” The rebels quickly warned him not to answer or they would kill him.

“I was very scared of both sides,” Yasser told me later. “If I went to one side, the other would kill me.” He lay there, his limbs going numb, too frightened to move or speak for more than four hours.

I met Yasser in March in Sha’ar, the most devastated neighborhood in eastern Aleppo. He was short and solidly built, with a snub nose and a gruff manner. He was selling tomatoes and cucumbers from a stand, on a block where many buildings were in ruins. Across the street was a fruit stand, and next to it, a loud generator, set up by the government to supply electricity. Surprising numbers of people walked the streets. This place had been almost completely empty a few weeks earlier, but now that Russian mine-clearing teams had been through and the rubble was mostly pushed aside, Sha’ar’s residents were returning to their homes. (More than 100,000 went back to eastern Aleppo between January and March, according to the International Organization for Migration.) Yasser said he was one of the first people to come back, right after what he — like everyone else I met — called the liberation. It was a gesture of defiance, aimed at the rebels. “What we lost, we will get it back,” he said. He wore military fatigues, and he told me he re-enlisted in the military after he got out of the hospital in 2013. “My blood type is O-Assad,” he said.


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Later, Yasser showed me the place where he was wounded. It was the first time he’d been back since it happened, and the block had changed, like most of eastern Aleppo. “There was a checkpoint here, there were sandbags there,” he said. He pointed out the first-floor window where an old man had talked to him through curtains as he lay on the street. He showed me the building where he thought the sniper had been hiding, about 100 yards away. He explained how his ordeal had ended: An airstrike hit the building, and the sniper vanished. A man on a motorbike rescued Yasser, carrying him to a house, where someone cleaned his wounds. Later, he was taken to a hospital, where a doctor told him that his mother was dead. The doctor put a needle in his arm and told him to count to three, and he blacked out.

I found Yasser’s story credible, and his uncle later backed it up. But as I stood on the street with him, I found myself wondering: Did he really know who shot him? Bullets were coming from each side. As he lay there bleeding, whom was he more frightened of — the rebels or the regime? Yasser clearly knew how his government is portrayed in the West and seemed defensive about it. He told me a rebel group tried to blame the regime for his mother’s death. Later, he said, the same group admitted its guilt and offered blood money, which the family refused to take. This seemed less plausible. He walked me down the street to his uncle’s house, where he said we would hear another story about what the rebels had done.

Yasser’s uncle was a big, heavyset man with a jowly face and a look of weary resignation in his eyes. He welcomed us into his tiny apartment, where he offered me a stool and sat down on his old brass bed. He sighed and apologized for being unable to offer us tea. Then he showed us his scarred arm and told us the story of how his family was devastated in January 2013. He was driving his pregnant daughter to the hospital when machine-gun fire riddled the car, killing his wife instantly and wounding everyone else. He told me rebels from the Free Syrian Army pulled them from the car and rushed them to a nearby hospital. I asked who fired on them. “I don’t know,” he said.

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Economic View: Why Women Don’t See Themselves as Entrepreneurs

Research shows that women around the world are less likely to consider entrepreneurship as a career path, largely because they don’t see other women entrepreneurs as role models.


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They’re also less likely to have the management experience that can lead to starting a company. Just 19 percent of top executives are women, according to a and McKinsey report, and a main reason they don’t rise is because they are less likely to have mentors in senior leadership.

That changes when women run companies. The gender pay gap shrinks, and women are more likely to be promoted, according to research of public companies by Linda Bell, an economist and provost of Barnard College. “Whether by cause or effect, the presence of a top woman executive has a really robust impact,” she said.

Women are also left out of financing networks, which are predominantly male and often operate through referrals from friends. They are more likely to invest their own money instead of outside capital in their businesses, and when they seek investors, they ask for less.

Networks are important for another reason: emotional support. “Launching an entrepreneurial venture is a lonely and sometimes scary undertaking, and you need to have people to talk to,” Ms. Coleman said.

Incubators — physical spaces where people start businesses and meet other entrepreneurs as well as lawyers, accountants and investors — don’t help. In a study of 18,000 firms started in incubators, only 6 percent were by women.

Another factor could also be at play. Women are generally more risk-averse than men. That makes them better equity investors over the long term, studies have shown. It also discourages some from entrepreneurship, and from trying to build high-growth businesses. In some cases, that might be a wise investment decision, too, considering about half of new businesses fail within five years.

Cattle at Three Sisters Farm and Dairy. Credit Matt Nager for The New York Times

Jennifer Dionisio said she had no female role models when she started her company, Three Sisters Farm and Dairy, last year. She sells goat milk and beef, and she hopes to start a cheese shop and farm-to-table restaurant.

Living in a small town, Pueblo, Colo., made it easier, she said, because she knows the local lawyer and bankers. “I would be apprehensive if I didn’t,” she said. Even so, she says, people at the local feed store assume she can’t load bags of feed or drive tractors, and others come to the farm and ask for her boss.


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She said she was trying to be a role model for her three daughters. She named the farm after them and hopes they will take over someday. “Then they can work for themselves, be independent and still make a living,” she said. “Even my 7-year-old daughter can run a Bobcat” tractor now.

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Silicon Valley is even more of a bubble than the rest of small-business America.

Founders of start-ups financed by venture capitalists are almost all male and white or Asian, according to a study by Paul Gompers, a professor at Harvard Business School, and Sophie Wang, a Harvard graduate student.

They wanted to find out whether the problem was not enough women with the education, training or desire to start companies, or whether it was factors like bias or closed-off networks.

They concluded there were plenty of qualified women. Women earn 40 percent to 50 percent of degrees in science and engineering, and they represent 30 percent of the software industry work force. But they are less likely to have information about how to become an entrepreneur, to see female role models and to know venture capitalists.

Female venture capitalists are more likely to invest in female entrepreneurs, Mr. Gompers has found. Yet 91 percent of venture capitalists are male. Eighty-six percent are white, and 11 percent are Asian. Most worked in investment banking, private equity or consulting, and went to Harvard, Stanford or the University of Pennsylvania.

Unsurprisingly, the backgrounds of venture-backed entrepreneurs are pretty much the same. Ninety-one percent are men, 80 percent are white and 16 percent are Asian. Most have degrees from a similar set of colleges and have worked at big tech companies like Google or Microsoft.

“The problem when you have five white men who all went to the same business school and worked in the same firms is their networks overlap, so they don’t draw from a very wide source of entrepreneurial deal flow,” Mr. Gompers said.

Sheila Lirio Marcelo, the founder of, a service for helping families find caregivers, was surprised to see that insularity after growing up in the Philippines, where both her parents started businesses. She said one of the most important things she did was seek out male role models and mentors, not just women.

“Closing the gender gap in business is often a conversation that women have with other women,” she said. “We absolutely need to provide a supportive community for each other, but if we’re truly going to level the playing field, men have to be part of the equation.”

There are other ways to close the gap. In another paper by Mr. Gompers and Ms. Wang, they found that when venture capitalists had daughters, they were less biased against women. Networking groups for women, like Astia, or women-led investment firms, like Broadway Angels, can help. So can female entrepreneurs who speak publicly about their careers and mentor women, and would-be entrepreneurs who introduce themselves on social media or at conferences, Ms. Marcelo said.


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She also advised women to develop thicker skin. “Men tend to shake off rejection more quickly than women,” she said, “but it’s absolutely true that entrepreneurs are made or broken by how they bounce back from adversity.”

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Corner Office: Chip Bergh on Setting a High Bar and Holding People Accountable

That day, my dad sobered up and never had a drink the rest of his life. As the oldest, I shouldered a lot of that family dysfunction.

My mother was a preschool teacher at the Presbyterian Church. She was diagnosed with cancer when I was in college, and the doctors told her she had six months to live. She lived for 20 more years. She was tough.

The fact that my family was a bit broken in my younger years is part of what drove me into sports, and team sports especially, where you’re surrounded by friends and constantly supported.

I put on a face that my family was normal and I was going to get good grades, persevere and be disciplined to push through, despite everything. I’m still very disciplined about how I manage my time.

Early leadership lessons for you?

I was at Procter Gamble, which was a promote-from-within company that placed a huge emphasis on the role of the manager to develop their people. In fact, it was part of your performance review.


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My first hire was supersmart, but he really wasn’t performing over time, and I felt pressure to get this guy promoted. I basically carried him and got him promoted. But about four months later, he was gone for performance reasons.

The big lesson for me, and it stuck with me forever, is that you’ve got to be really transparent and straight with people, and if they’re not cutting it, you’ve got to tell them where they’re not cutting it. Hold the bar up high, and if it’s not a good fit, call it.

Being extremely transparent builds trust over time. I’m not a big fan of organizations where people backstab or talk behind others’ backs. So when I’ve led teams, it’s always been about how we work together to get the best results.

But politics can creep pretty quickly into any organization.

I’ve got some trusted people who will tell me if that stuff’s going on behind my back. If I see it, you’ve just got to squash it like a bug as soon as it happens and not tolerate it.

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You have to be really clear about how we’re going to operate, and if you can’t play that way, then you should probably find another team to play on.

It sounds as if you’re pretty comfortable having tough conversations.

It comes from a couple of things. The first is recognizing that people really do make the difference. Even winning teams are going to pare their rosters in the off-season. Where do we need different skills?

You have to look holistically at the people on your team and constantly look for ways to strengthen the team. I’ve never regretted moving too fast to let somebody go. I’ve had times when I’ve regretted waiting as long as I did to make a move.

That said, I also have some great turnaround stories where people were coached and showed they could raise their game. It’s a fine line on when you make the call, but rarely, looking back, did I move too early.

What are some things you’ve done in terms of the culture?

When I first got here, I interviewed the top 60 people in the company, and I sent them questions in advance, including, What are the three things you think we have to change? What are the three things that we have to keep? What do you most want me to do? What are you most afraid I might do?


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I had an hour scheduled for each of them, and by the end, I was really clear about the company’s DNA, and the values that were really important to everyone who works here.

How do you hire?

When I’m hiring for the executive team, the first thing I’m looking for is leadership. I’ll ask them to tell me about a specific leadership challenge they had and how they worked through it.

Second, do they have a clear track record of success and winning? The best way to do that is to go through the résumé and talk about their biggest wins. I want to know if they’re naturally wired to be competitive. And are they intellectually curious? Would they rather ask questions or tell somebody what to do? How do they learn?

I’ll also ask them to tell me about their biggest failure and what they learned from it. What did they take away from it? How did it change them?

What career and life advice do you give to new college grads?

Find something you love because you might be doing it for the rest of your life. Passion is worth 10 index points. If you really love what you’re doing, it’s not work.

And you’ve got to have more to your life than your career. You’ve got to have other things that drive you beyond just climbing the ladder and reaching your career aspiration. The rest of life is just as important.

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Now, Your Financial Advisers Will Have to Put You First (Sometimes)

In the meantime, here are some things consumers need to know when shopping for financial advice and investments.


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What does the rule cover, and what is effective now?

The basic obligations of the rule are in effect, which means brokers and advisers must meet a “professional standard of care,” and they must put customers first.

The rule covers most retirement accounts, including individual retirement accounts and workplace accounts like 401(k) and some 403(b) plans. Advisers making recommendations on those accounts, and on rollovers from workplace plans into I.R.A.s, are required to charge reasonable fees, and they are not permitted to make misleading statements about investment transactions, their compensation or any conflicts of interest.

But many accounts, including 403(b) accounts for government workers like teachers and church-related plans, are not covered and are still subject to ill-advised and high-cost investments. A plain brokerage account packed with mutual funds or a 529 plan, for instance, would not be covered either.

The old rules still apply there: Brokers are only required to recommend “suitable” investments, which means the product can make the adviser more money at the customer’s expense, even if there is an option that performs identically but is less expensive.

What immediate changes can I expect with my current accounts or when opening new ones?

Advisers may recommend new or different types of mutual funds or annuities that are better for investors. For instance, new classes of mutual fund shares — including “clean shares,” which charge management fees but not distribution fees — were created in response to the rule, according to the Consumer Federation of America. Some annuities have been cleaned up, the group said, offering lower fees and shorter surrender periods — the amount of time before the funds can be withdrawn without penalties.

Critics of the rule have said that putting customers first will be too expensive, and financial advisers may need to drop smaller accounts. If that happens, “take a moment to count your lucky stars,” said Barbara Roper, a consumer advocate with the federation who has been tracking the fiduciary issue for decades. “A firm that will only advise you if it can profit unfairly at your expense is not where you want to keep you money.”

Are the rules enforceable?

The fiduciary standard will not be legally enforceable on I.R.A.s until next year, when financial professionals with conflicts of interest will generally be required to sign a contract with customers. That contract could require the I.R.A. investor to settle any claims in arbitration, but it must give investors the right to bring a class-action claim in court.

But if an adviser recommends rolling money from, say, a workplace retirement plan into an I.R.A. and a consumer believes the adviser had a conflict of interest, the consumer could pursue legal action now. The Department of Labor has indicated, however, that it will bring enforcement actions only when it does not see a good-faith effort to comply with the new rule.


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What if I want to work with an adviser who will act as a fiduciary with all of my money?

You might ask the adviser to sign a fiduciary pledge, something we published several years ago after a certified financial planner circulated the oath in an email:

I, the undersigned, pledge to exercise my best efforts to always act in good faith and in the best interests of my client, _______, and will act as a fiduciary. I will provide written disclosure, in advance, of any conflicts of interest, which could reasonably compromise the impartiality of my advice. Moreover, in advance, I will disclose any and all fees I will receive as a result of this transaction and I will disclose any and all fees I pay to others for referring this client transaction to me. This pledge covers all financial services and advice offered.



Such a pledge is likely to bolster your case in court or arbitration, legal specialists said.

Since then, The Committee for the Fiduciary Standard, an advocacy group, suggested asking advisers to sign an oath of its own, which can be found on its website.

The adviser’s reaction to any pledge will be a good indicator of how he or she operates and whether he or she is the type of adviser who always acts as a fiduciary, with all of your money, no matter the type of account. Going through this exercise “will raise awareness,” said Tamar Frankel, a professor at Boston University School of Law who reviewed the pledge. And, she added, it could help change the culture.

Does this apply to my existing retirement investments?

The rule applies largely to new advice and investment recommendations. So it may be wise to have an adviser review your situation to see if it can be improved — or to see if you’re paying too much. For example, if an adviser recommends continuing to invest in an expensive mutual fund that you’ve been contributing to each month, the new standard would apply, explained Micah Hauptman of the Consumer Federation. That means the recommendation must be in your best interest, and the adviser could not make any misleading statements and or charge more than “reasonable compensation.”

But if an investor simply continues to buy that same mutual fund based on an old recommendation, the adviser would only need to ensure that the investor is being charged reasonable compensation in the future, he explained.

What else should I ask my adviser?

There are too many questions to list here, but some of the most pertinent involve compensation: How much are you being paid, and by whom? Do you plan to make any changes in our relationship in light of the new rules? For a thorough list of 21 questions to ask advisers, read Ron Lieber’s column on the topic.

Where can I find an adviser who has the fewest conflicts of interest?

All advisers generally have some sort of conflict of interest. But choosing advisers who do not make money based on the sale of a product and are instead compensated for their time, similar to how lawyers are paid, eliminates some of the more glaring problems. Other professionals charge flat fees or a percentage of the assets they manage.

You can find such advisers through the Garrett Planning Network, the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors, and XY Planning Network.

Some firms have decided to stop charging commissions on investments and to move customers to accounts where investors pay a fee for advice. Investors will need to evaluate whether the new cost structure makes sense for them.

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The Workologist: Stuck in the Middle (With Good Ideas)

It does sound as if you occupy a distinct spot in your organization’s culture, and as a result, you may be uniquely situated to spur improvements. But before you proceed, make sure you don’t fall prey to Irreplaceable Me Syndrome.


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That’s the Workologist’s name for a common malady: the well-intentioned belief that only you can assure the brightest future for your enterprise. (Usually this manifests itself in the form of guilt about quitting a longtime job for a plainly better opportunity.) Keep this in mind, because you’re teetering on the edge of trying to solve problems that are not your responsibility. Managers should not require a mole to understand workers’ views — and workers should not make their futures contingent on someone else’s intervention, however benevolent. Finally, being “friends” with co-workers can be a mixed blessing, so make sure you’re careful to separate professional responsibility from personal obligation.

Perhaps next time a lower-level employee expresses a legitimate grievance, you should encourage that person to formulate a way to make his or her views known to someone who can actually do something about the problem. You may even have strategic advice about which manager would be best to approach, and how. But either way, bear in mind that what feels like gathering useful intel about how an organization can be improved can very easily cross over into listening to aimless venting and grievance gossip. That’s very human, but the person it helps least is you.

You can also consider ways to translate the critiques you’ve heard into suggestions to higher-ups that won’t involve betraying confidences. (Floating possible solutions is always better than listing problems.) If you’re worried that you’ll be perceived as abusing your inside knowledge, you can road-test your thoughts: “That’s a good point about problem X, and I’m on good terms with manager Y, so what if I suggest solution Z — without mentioning any names?”

The upshot is that you need to make sure you’re thinking about your position the right way. It may be an opportunity — both for the enterprise, and for you. But don’t allow yourself to feel obligated to every constituency in the organization. That’s not an opportunity; it’s a burden.

Supervising Friends, Ethically

I was recently promoted to a new midlevel supervisor position, and several of the people I now oversee are good friends. I think they are doing excellent work, but I’m concerned that I not show special treatment. How does one supervise friends ethically? ANONYMOUS

Asking this question is a good sign. After all, it’s easy to assume your judgment and decisions are unimpeachable. Pausing to reflect shows a degree of thoughtfulness that will serve you well.

Still, you don’t want to overthink this — and end up behaving in response to your perception of others’ perceptions. It may be more useful to take a step back and frame the situation a little differently. For some input on that, I spoke to Lolly Daskal, a longtime leadership coach and consultant and the author of “The Leadership Gap: What Gets Between You and Your Greatness.

“I’ve bumped up against this a lot,” Ms. Daskal said, adding that, as with many challenges that come with a promotion, managers often focus on short-term how-to tactics.


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She suggests a different emphasis: Think about the bigger picture. This means establishing your credibility and decisiveness with all of your charges. “Invite them in, one by one,” she continued, explain your approach and vision, acknowledge that you’ll need each person’s support, and ask for feedback. Include everyone, and everyone should feel empowered and engaged.

Ms. Daskal’s broader message is that grappling with core values shouldn’t wait until there’s a dilemma: “You have to establish who you are going to be when you first start your career,” she said. But it’s never too late to start thinking that way.

And it sounds as if you’ve already done so. “This person has self-awareness, which is already one step ahead of the game,” Ms. Daskal said. It’s more typical to declare, “This is what I’m going to do,” than to back off, assess the circumstances, and ask, “How do I best handle this?” That’s what you’re doing. The trick is: You have to keep doing it, and you’ll be fine.

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Entrepreneurship: How Much Did That Zipper Cost? With Transparency Pricing, You Know Everything

For instance, a black organic cotton print T-shirt, advertised as vegan, organic and skin-friendly, costs about $110 (in the European Union, a price that includes the value-added tax) or $90 (elsewhere, without that tax). Among the extensive details customers can learn about the shirt online are that the hang tag (67 cents) is made of 100 percent wood-free cellulose and buffered with calcium carbonate, and the T-shirt itself was knitted and assembled in Germany and cost the retailer about $13.50. (All prices were converted from euros.)


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Mr. Pieters explained by email that his decision to present his products this way stemmed from his time at a major fashion house.

“I saw how the companies I worked for and others would move their production from Belgium or France to Vietnam or India, but would still be asking the same prices they asked before,” he said. Other ethical concerns, like fair wages, also informed his decision, Mr. Pieters said.

At Elizabeth Suzann in Nashville. Elizabeth Pape, the owner, used a blog post to get specific not only about what it takes to produce one of her garments, but also about the economics of running her business. Credit Kyle Dean Reinford for The New York Times

Scott Gabrielson, who got the idea for his accessories and leather goods company, Oliver Cabell, while working on his M.B.A. at Oxford, said the ability to sell directly to consumers online had a big influence on his decision to use transparency pricing. He wanted to show that, by eliminating brick-and-mortar and other built-in costs, clothing sellers could save shoppers money.

“By cutting out traditional wholesale, you can sell directly to consumers and have a much higher quality product for a much lower price point — the pure economics make that work,” Mr. Gabrielson said.

One of his biggest challenges, however, has been convincing shoppers that the goods he sells are worth the cost, particularly when all that people have to go on are the pictures on his website.

Such skepticism may be on the wane, however, as consumers migrate online from malls and brick-and-mortar retail stores. Natalie Grillon, founder of Project Just, which collects ethics and sustainability data on fashion brands, said she thought transparency pricing would give a leg up to retailers that used it.

“We’ve lost the understanding of the value of the clothes we buy,” Ms. Grillon said. “Pricing transparency and stories behind the scenes help the shopper navigate the decision to pay for a more expensive product.”

For some clothing companies, price transparency is used as a one-off or occasional tool. Take, for example, the New York-based men’s wear brand Noah, which says it tries to merge “the rebellious vitality of skate, surf and music cultures with an innovative appreciation of classic men’s wear.”

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Brendon Babenzien, Noah’s owner, said consumers had gotten “very used to paying inexpensive prices for things.” To help them understand the industry, he broke down the production and pricing details of a signature product, his two-toned parka.


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This parka retails for $448. The zippers, Velcro, snaps and drawcords come from Italy and cost an aggregate of $16.88. Mesh from Japan costs $2.18 per jacket. A custom label is 75 cents, and sewing and assembly are $122.29 — among other costs.

Mr. Babenzien’s aim is to open shoppers’ eyes to the true cost of making high-quality clothes.

At the opening of a store in London, Mr. Babenzien wrote on his website: “This kid basically walked straight up to me and asked me why one of our jackets costs so much. In his hand, he held a taped seam, water-resistant jacket that I had taken part in making several years ago. He loved it.”

Elizabeth Pape, the owner of Elizabeth Suzann and an advocate of pricing transparency. Credit Kyle Dean Reinford for The New York Times

The “kid,” Mr. Babenzien said, asked him: “This jacket has taped seams and cost less than the Noah jacket, which doesn’t have taped seams. Why is that?”

At this point, the store owner said, “I was salivating at the chance to talk about it.”

He told the shopper that “the things we make generally will last longer than other items that are designed to expire quite quickly,” that “cloth often determines the life of a garment” and that “the old saying, ‘you get what you pay for’ is very, very real.”

Going forward, Mr. Babenzien said he planned to use cost breakdowns strategically, in cases when a product might appear to be costlier than a customer might expect.

Other retailers have had similar frustrations. Elizabeth Pape, owner of the women’s retail clothing company Elizabeth Suzann, says the easy availability of cheap clothing has made consumers contemptuous of costlier items, even if they will last longer.

In a blog post, “Money Talk,” on her brand’s website, Ms. Pape gets specific not only about what it takes to produce one of her garments, but also about the economics of running her business. As discount companies like HM, Zara and Forever 21 started undercutting the prices of places like Gap, J. Crew and Macy’s, those companies cut their prices to compete.

“This has created the perfect environment for the pervasive view of clothing as disposable,” Ms. Pape wrote.


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By contrast, the $185 Artist Smock that she discusses in her blog post is “cut and sewn to order, just for you, in our Nashville studio.” The smock is made from $31.74 worth of material. Labor — including cutting, sewing and washing — comes in at $20.89. Labor and material wastage, which she describes as time used to take breaks and leftover scraps of material that inevitably go unused in the production of the garment, costs $10.53, which brings the total cost of producing the smock to $63.16.

Some shoppers care more about the conditions under which clothing is produced and less about the pricing breakdown. Page Perrault, 28, a banking analyst based in Athens, Ga., who shops at both Elizabeth Suzann and Everlane, an online retailer that advertises “radical transparency,” likes to see why brands price items the way they do. But she doesn’t consider the practice a driving factor in her purchases. “It’s nice to have, but it’s not required,” she said.

Vincent Quan, a professor of business management at the Fashion Institute of Technology, sees the practice as valuable to some consumers — particularly those who are environmentally conscious — but probably of limited use to people who cannot afford to pay extra for finer clothes. “Is pricing transparency transferable to larger brands?” he asked rhetorically.

Correction: June 7, 2017

An earlier version of this article misspelled the surname of the owner of the men’s wear brand Noah. He is Brendon Babenzien, not Babenzian.

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Corner Office: Barbara Corcoran on the Power of a Positive Attitude

My mother would have made a great drill sergeant. She had amazing organizational systems. She had two sock drawers in the kitchen. The upper drawer had a blue label that said “Boys,” and the bottom drawer was a pink label that said “Girls.” Inside the boys’ drawer were navy socks, all one size. The girls’ socks were all white, all one size.

My mother was also great at figuring out the best qualities of her kids and only focusing on those. She never criticized us. All she did was compliment us on what we did well. It taught us to have a positive attitude about ourselves, and it also taught us to look at the light in people.

And your father?

My father worked two jobs his whole life, mostly as a printing-press foreman. On weekends, he played with us, and he was the best playmate. He taught us the joy of being in the moment and being silly.

He was a hard worker, but we also learned insubordination from my father. He hated every boss he ever worked for except one. He constantly got fired. But he was our hero. Out of my nine siblings, only one works for somebody. Everyone else has their own business.

A lot of C.E.O.s I’ve interviewed come from large families.

Growing up in a large family is like growing up in a town. Everybody takes on a role. You learn to deal with different personalities. Everybody’s got to mesh, so you get training early on for getting along with people. It’s a great advantage.


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The other thing about a large family is that you learn to get over yourself. My mother never helped us. It was like: “Get over yourself. Get back on the dishes.”

You also learn independence in a large family. You’re pretty much taking care of yourself, so you grow up fast.

What were you doing outside of class?

I had my first job when I was 11. I had 22 jobs before I started a real estate brokerage business when I was 23.

When you went to college, did you have an idea what you wanted to do for a living or for a career?

I couldn’t believe I even got into a college. My grades weren’t that good. I had dyslexia. School was like one long jail term for me. I hated every minute of it. My idea of hell on earth was being asked to read aloud, and hearing the kids giggle. I learned shame, which can take anybody down.

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So I spent six hours a day daydreaming in class. I just gave up by third grade. But my mother’s response was to say: “Don’t even worry about it. You have a wonderful imagination. You’ll learn to fill in all the blanks.” That was powerful for me, and I leaned on that for the rest of my life.

Early management lessons for you, particularly as you built up your real estate agency, the Corcoran Group?

I took to management like a duck to water. It was in my blood. Every single thing I’ve done is just a business version of what my mom did on the home front.

When I hire people, I just look for the light in the person, to see what’s good about them. I can spot it a mile away. And I never read a résumé until after the interview because you never know who wrote it, and you can be fooled by it. If you read a résumé, the interview is nothing but a business small-talk session confirming stuff you just read.

So I’ll just ask: “What do you like? Tell me about your mom. Where did you grow up? What’s your hobby? What was your favorite job? Why?”


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I’m also trying to figure out if they’re happy, because unhappy people don’t accomplish a lot. I’m also looking for their energy, and if they’re going to be able to see the possibility in anything I propose. Those are the major cards. They cover 90 percent of successful people in the workplace.

If you could ask somebody only one question in a job interview, what would it be?

Tell me about your family. If their family couldn’t give them a positive attitude, there’s nothing I can do that’s going to change it. Early on, I hired a couple of people who had all the markings of great salespeople, but they were not happy people.

I learned that if you have just one unhappy person in a pool of 30 happy people, you feel that weight. I couldn’t wait to get them in my office to tell them they had to leave. I loved firing complainers.

You’ve heard hundreds of pitches in your years on “Shark Tank,” and invested in dozens of entrepreneurs. What are you listening for?

The same thing I’ve always listened for: attitude. I’m looking for someone who, after the Hollywood of “Shark Tank” fades away, is going to stay the course, and always figure out a way to succeed.

The minute I make a deal with someone, I put a photo of them in a matted frame on my wall. They look beautiful. They’re like my kids on my walls.

But the minute I hear them sounding like a victim on the phone, I hang up, walk over to the wall and I flip their picture upside-down. They’ll never succeed. Victims don’t succeed.

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Entrepreneurship: LED Bike Lights Target Night Riders and ‘Burners’

“My colleagues love them and love recommending them,” said Christopher Kisicki, a cycling associate at the flagship store in Seattle of REI, the sporting goods retailer. “We can’t keep them in stock,” he said.


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Monkeylectric does $1 million in sales annually. There is the Christmas rush and in summer, the Burning Man bump.

“I hate to say it, but it’s almost mandatory to have them on your bike at Burning Man,” said Jefferson McCarley, manager of the Mission Bicycle Company, which builds custom bikes in San Francisco.

Monkeylectric’s market is a niche one, but growing: As of 2015, 885,000 people commuted on bicycles in the United States, up from 488,000 in 2000, according to the Census Bureau. And biking in the dusk or dark is clearly very dangerous. According to the National Transportation Safety Board, bicycle deaths occur most often from 6 to 9 p.m.

In an unscientific survey along San Francisco’s Market Street one night last week, most cyclists had front lights and weak red reflectors on the back (as required by law), but no side lights. Few bicycle lights are as eye-catching or noticeable to motorists as Monkeylectric’s lights. They are sold in 500 stores and on Amazon, which offers many similar-looking products for much less money.

Mr. Goldwater calls many of those products knockoffs. Every year, he said, he saw a half-dozen more companies based in China with look-alike lights that sell for $10 or $15. Mr. Goldwater, who holds five patents on bicycle lighting, refers to them as “toys,” although some consumers fail to see the difference.

Cheaper lights, Mr. Goldwater said, tend to be dim, not very durable and not waterproof.

Monkeylectric’s founder, Dan Goldwater, said that when he started making his products, “I couldn’t imagine how I could make a commercial project out of it.” Credit Christie Hemm Klok for The New York Times
Phillip Yip, Monkeylectric’s top engineer. Credit Christie Hemm Klok for The New York Times

James Hill, a worker owner at Missing Link, a cooperative bicycle shop in downtown Berkeley, who monitors bike lights when he is in his car, recalled being at a stoplight with his wife late one afternoon when they watched a cyclist whip across the road, with “very impressive lights,” he said. “A lot of inventions are terrible,” he said. “A lot of them are great.”

Monkeylectric lights “are arguably the best way to be seen” by motorists, he said.

Janelle Wong, operations manager at the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, a nonprofit advocacy group with 10,000 members, has Monkeylectric lights on three of her five bicycles. “It’s an affordable way to light up a bike,” she said.

A few miles away in Emeryville, a company called Revolights also sells LED bicycle lights. It makes bright front-wheel lights that illuminate the road ahead, and red taillights that blink when a cyclist slows down and that can be used as turn signals. A Bluetooth version gives speed, distance, tracking and weather alerts. Revolights, which sell for $149 to $249, are sold at REI, in bike shops and on the company’s website.

Bicycle lights by Revolights. Video by Revolights

The co-founder of Revolights, Kent Frankovich, a 33-year-old mechanical engineer, began his quest for a better bike light after pedaling into a pothole one night while commuting from Stanford University where, among other things, he helped design a solar-powered freezer. Before entering the bicycle business in 2011, he was a researcher at a biorobotics lab and at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, helping build an instrument that identifies rocks and soil on Mars.


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Despite his product’s benefits, Mr. Frankovich said, “It’s a hard sale.” Many cyclists are minimalists, reluctant to add anything to their simple mode of transportation.

That a product improves safety is insufficient. It has to be cool, Mr. Frankovich said. “Who in the world doesn’t know a helmet will save your life?” he said. Yet many cyclists reject them because “they think they look dorky.”

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At several bike stores contacted for this article, sellers said they liked Revolights, but considered them on the expensive side, particularly for cost-conscious consumers who buy modestly priced bikes.

But that is not a problem at the Mission Bicycle Company, the custom bike shop that builds $999 bicycles. Revolights are “fashion forward, high-tech lights,” said Mr. McCarley, the manager. “Our customers appreciate minimalism.”

Years ago, the Mission Bicycle Company shared a Kickstarter campaign with Revolights, but today, Mission Bikes is developing an LED wheel light to be built into its bikes.

Before Mr. Goldwater started Monkeylectric, he considered his art project “a Ferrari.” The market was there, but, he said, “I couldn’t imagine how I could make a commercial project out of it.”

His early work would become a precursor for Monkeylectric’s high-end product that, when spun, shows video clips of, say, a swimming fish or a running dog — for $1,000.

When Mr. Goldwater got started, there was already one LED bicycle light company, Hokey Spokes. Carole Barnes, who with her husband, Richard, bought the business in 2005, said they had since “lost our enthusiasm.” They sell a few hundred lights a year, she said.


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Mr. Goldwater started working on his product 12 years ago, when he was an electrical engineer at the MIT Media Lab researching smart paint and self-assembling robots. He made what he calls “a monumental art piece” — the bicycle with kaleidoscope wheels he rode at Burning Man. For an electrical engineer who cycles, adding LEDs to wheel spokes “is a coming-of-age project,” Mr. Goldwater said.

The appeal is obvious: “When you spin, the effect is much greater than when you started,” he said.

For an electrical engineer who cycles, adding LEDs to wheel spokes “is a coming-of-age project,” Mr. Goldwater said. Credit Christie Hemm Klok for The New York Times

Lights on rotating wheels create what scientists call persistence of vision, which is an illusion. When bicycle wheels with LED lights rotate, our eyes perceive moving light as a continuous image.

Monkeylectric has gone to the Kickstarter well three times. The last time, it raised $248,331, many in preorders for new lights that automatically turn on when rotated in the dark.

Mr. Frankovich, the founder of Revolights, holds six patents on bicycle lighting. He has raised funds on “Shark Tank,” Indiegogo and Kickstarter.

Both companies have marketed their products on Facebook, Instagram and other sites. But Mr. Frankovich said that nothing compared with “street viral marketing” — cyclists pedaling dark streets, with wheeled illumination.

“Every bike is a little billboard for us,” he said.

Correction: May 31, 2017

An earlier version of this article misstated part of the name of a bicycle shop in downtown Berkeley. It is Missing Link, not Missing Links. And an earlier version of a picture caption misstated the surname of Monkeylectric’s top engineer. He is Phillip Yip, not Ye.

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Corner Office: Elisa Steele on Trusting Your Instincts

How have your parents influenced you?

My dad has been a huge influence. He’s very focused on what’s important, and prioritizes incredibly well. You have to know what’s important to you, and make decisions against those things. You have to stay focused on your vision.

My mom is the most caring person I’ve ever met. She really cares about other points of view, what it means to have a relationship, and how you commit to each other.

When you went to college, did you have an idea of what you wanted to do for a career?

I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to run a hotel. I grew out of that really quickly and decided I wanted to go into sales.

My first job was as an associate account executive. I was assigned to a more senior person, and got bored quickly because my job was really just to follow her around.

About a month into a job, I realized that all of the account executives had their key accounts and their dog accounts. And they didn’t spend any time with their dog accounts, because they focused on the ones that were growing.


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So I went to the sales manager and said: “Why don’t you give everybody’s dog accounts to me, and I’ll go see if I can do something with them. They don’t want to spend time with them, and I’m bored.” He agreed to the idea, and suddenly I was sitting there at my little cube, and I had 20 dog accounts.

I met with each one of them, and most of them said: “We haven’t heard from you guys in a long time. Good to see you.” I turned some of those accounts into revenue-producing accounts.

What about early management lessons?

A big moment came when I was promoted to a general manager role. I was in my late 20s, and I had responsibility for everything in the unit — sales, technical support, customer service, H.R., marketing.

It was a high-pressure situation, because the unit was really underperforming. I walked into my first management staff meeting, and there were nine white men over the age of 40, and they were all looking at me like, “Really?”

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What did you do?

I walked in, and literally did not know what I was going to say. I sat down, looked at the team and said, “We’re going to get to work.”

Whatever they thought of me, they had been there, and the results weren’t good, so they were going to have to give me a chance. We figured out who was good at what and started making progress.

Other lessons?

Early on, I questioned my instincts. I wanted to follow the book. I was the student. I assumed everyone knew more. There were times when I didn’t follow my instincts and made mistakes. I realized in hindsight that if I had followed my instincts, there would have been a different outcome.

So my biggest lesson is to follow your instincts. You know better than anybody else.

Pet peeves?

My biggest is people who show up not prepared — you didn’t do your homework, you don’t know what the competition is doing, you don’t have a point of view. Don’t do that. Please come prepared. The other one is that it’s “we,” not “I.”

How do you hire?

I tend to hire for team dynamics, energy and hunger — how much do you want to win? If you want to win together as a team, then it’s less about you and more about us, and more about the bigger picture.


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I ask a lot of situational questions, like: “Tell me about a situation when things felt really dire, like it wasn’t going to work out the way you planned. What did you do? How did you do it? Who did you do it with? What was your thinking at the time? Would you do it again?”

I ask about their experiences because I think it’s really hard to talk about experiences and not tell the truth. How did that experience make you feel? How did the team feel? How did people react to that? People tend to be very honest, because it’s their own experience, as opposed to responding to some abstract question.

What are you listening for?

I’m listening for empathy and desire. I’m listening for decision-making skills — how quickly were you able to decide to do X versus Y? How long did the situation go on?

Decision-making skills are super-important. In any industry, you move so fast. We have to make decisions every day. I also listen for how you make decisions, not just that you can make them. Are you autocratic? Or are you team-oriented about those decisions? That’s very important.

I also end most of my interviews with, “So what did I not ask you that you need to answer to tell me the best about yourself?”

What career and life advice do you give to new college grads?

Don’t let anyone else tell you who you are or what you can do. Follow your instincts.

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