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CEO Katharine Lau Has The Right ‘Stuf’

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You wouldn’t necessarily know it if you saw it, but there are many underutilized spaces all across American cities. Natural entrepreneur Katharine Lau certainly noticed. 

I spent my entire career in commercial real estate. And over the years, I’ve become obsessed with underutilized real estate.

“It just seemed wasteful to me that someone built or bought this building and there’s all this space underneath that’s really not being utilized.”

Someone had to do something about these spaces. Why not Lau?

It wasn’t until I had this spring cleaning and I needed self-storage, and I was trying to rent a unit where I was like, ‘Wow, this sucks.” Like, ‘This is awful. It’s far away. It’s sketchy.’

“There’s all this real estate in my neighborhood around the corner, and people need better storage solutions that are easy to access and just a better experience overall.

So Lau co-founded Stuf, a next-generation self-storage company. Stuf partners with real estate companies and building owners to take these underutilized spaces and monetize them as tech-enabled storage spaces 

A Place To Keep Your ‘Stuf’

Have you seen some of “Big Storage?” Companies like Public Storage and U-Haul have large spaces. No one is saying that self-storage had to be cute, but it can certainly be more inviting and modern. 

Stuf makes self-storage ridiculously convenient. You download their app, book your space, drop your “stuf” off, and go about your business. 

We don’t have a single on-site employee. Everything is done through our laptops or our phones.

“Our customers, rather than needing a key, or needing a pin pad, or anything like that, one click on their phone and they’re in the space.

On the operational side, we have eyes in the space so we know what’s going on. We have sensors, security cameras, access control. 

“So, that even though we’re not there, we’re there. We secure items and make sure customers have a good experience.”

Movin’ and Groovin’

Not many people walk by a vacant lot and see its potential. It takes a certain mindset to look at nothing and see something. The “entrepreneurial spirit” has always existed in Lau’s world since childhood. 

I was always curious about [entreprenurship]. I joined large companies – stable, very bureaucratic companies coming out of college. That was a good experience, but it was just so slow-moving, and things didn’t really change day-to-day.

“That was pretty frustrating. It wasn’t until I joined a startup where I was like wow, wow. We can actually move and groove, and get creative, try new ideas.

“That really opened my eyes.

Lau had found her future and hit the ground running. You can hear her passion in how she describes the work.

I really like figuring out new things for the first time – finding the vendors, learning how to design it, learning what customers care about. I think that really puts me in a good position as the CEO and founder of a startup to be pioneering those new ideas.”

Of course, as with any new business, there were a couple of humps and bumps here and there. How you handle these challenges shows what kind of leader you are.

This is the first time that I’ve had to really engage consumers, understand their psychology, understand what they care about when they’re looking for self-storage.

“If we’re now selling to and serving consumers, how is the marketing different? How do we operate differently? How do we set up the legal structure of the business in a way that makes sense? So so many things to account for simply because we’re serving a new stakeholder.

While a CEO has to wear many hats for many situations, a great CEO knows their best strengths are relying on their team. 

Obviously you’re looking for skill sets, experiences that can really elevate your company, or make you go faster, do more.

“What I really look for when I’m meeting people or interviewing candidates is are they going the extra mile? Do they just answer the questions I ask or did they show not tell. Did they care enough to do a reverse reference check on the company? Is this a big decision for them that they care about? Because it goes both ways.

I want to say every team member or every person on our team has gone the extra mile or went the extra mile during the interview process, and so it means they’re going to do more than just their job.”

Stuf has been able to grow, not just under Lau’s leadership, but because of how her leadership has inspired better work from her team. 

There’s one person on our team who is always really, really creative with ideas. So if we’re faced with a delay or something like it’s going over budget, he has five different things, five different ideas. He gets so excited about that.

“I felt like his energy, I wanted to pull that out and bring that to the rest of the team so that they could approach the problem in a similar way.

Paying It Forward

Given that Lau is an Asian-American woman in a white male-dominated industry (and country), she’s under a specific kind of pressure. She doesn’t just have to succeed because it’s a life requirement, she also has to succeed for the sake of Asian-American women everywhere. It’s an unfair burden, but a burden nonetheless. 

It’s so top of mind for me. Because of that, I don’t take business decisions lightly. I don’t overspend. We run a pretty lean operation, but we can do a lot with very little. 

“I think the way I grew up, how I was raised really colors every part of this business operation because it’s so much of who I am.

Lau doesn’t just take her success and run with it, she gives back. 

I’ve been a mentor. Or I’ve been mentored by many people throughout my career. I think mentorship is really important. I was a mentor for Apex for Youth for three years, and then after that was co-chair of the associate board. 

“[Apex] is a mentorship program that serves underprivileged Asian-American, Asian and immigrant youth in New York City. So, I’m giving back to exactly the same cause that affected my parents. They were immigrants and had to learn how to live in America.

“I just think giving back, creating opportunities, having a team myself of two-thirds diverse people, show women or people of color that those are the ways I use my platform to give back and to make a change.

Lau has been active in Apex for a long time. It’s a mentorship program for Asian-American youth but is open to all immigrants. 

The programs are really about everything from college preparation to how to adapt to and assimilate into American culture and succeed. 

“There are a lot of things stacked against immigrant children. The way that standardized test questions are designed, the way that schoolyard communication and bullying can really affect children. 

“So, the programs are really about preparing students for all types of situations, both personal and professional.

Lau also finds the motivation to set a rewarding example in her own personal life. 

I’m seeing that now with my own daughter, how we mold and shape young people. So that’s really rewarding, and I hope I’m offering the same type of mentorship to people on my team, other young women that I know.”

I hope through actions, I hope through the relationships I’ve cultivated and seeing those around me become successful because of a little bit of help from me, I think that’s what I’m going to be most proud of, or I hope she would be most proud of.

Sexy Self-Storage

When you imagine the next big CEO you’d likely picture someone developing metaverse tech or artificial intelligence. You would not necessarily expect a woman in self-storage. 

I think self-storage has never received a lot of attention because it’s not sexy or cool. But it serves one in 10 Americans, and it’s a really creative way to extend the boundaries of home and work.”

Lau’s passion for entrepreneurship, problem-solving, and exploring a new industry is so clear in her descriptions of the work. 

I really love hearing the customer feedback, good and bad. Because I feel like initially when you design the business [you think] this offering or this solution serves this type of customer. 

“But what you quickly find is maybe what you initially thought in your original hypothesis isn’t true. 

“An example of that is I thought Stuff would really serve consumers first and foremost, so people who are moving, who need an extra closet.

“What I quickly learned was that there are tons of small businesses or even large businesses out there who need storage, and we’ve changed the way we’ve operated because of that.

Katharine Lau and her success with Stuf surely inspire the next generation of CEOs and entrepreneurs. 

My initial advice to a young entrepreneur would really be to get a little bit of experience under your belt before you go out on your own and invest money, invest time, and invest energy.

“I think, at least personally, I’ve gained a lot from the experiences at even larger companies, at startups. And that took time. Had I tried to do this at 22 right out of college, I really don’t think I would be successful.” 

Stuf was listed on FastCompany’s 10 Most Innovative Urban Development Companies in 2022. You can expect to see and hear a lot more from Katharine Lau as she passionately and effectively champions the entrepreneurial spirit while giving back to a community that has shared so much with her. 

If you need inspiration for getting out and starting your own company, look no further than Katharine Lau. She’s got the right ‘Stuf.”

Chris Blondell is a Philadelphia-based writer and social media strategist with a current focus on tech industry news. He has written about startups and entrepreneurs based in Denver, Seattle, Chicago, New Haven, and more. He has also written content for a true-crime blog, Sword and Scale, and developed social media content for a local spice shop. An occasional comedian, Chris Blondell also spends his time writing humorous content and performing stand-up for local audiences.

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Billionaires Be Warned: Organized Labor on the Rise

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Last week, Apple retail workers in Towson, Maryland, voted 65-33 to seek entry into the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers trade union. It’s a story that’s consistent with a promising trend.

In the last several months, a number of victories have been tallied for worker’s rights around the country.

In December, a Starbucks in Buffalo became the first of its company-owned U.S. locations to form a union. Since then, at least 150 of the 9,000 company-run U.S. stores have voted to unionize, with 10 stores rejecting the union. 

In January, engineers and other Google workers announced that they had formed a union—the Alphabet Workers Union— named after Google’s parent company, Alphabet. It represents about 800 Google employees.

April saw Amazon workers in Staten Island, New York vote to unionize, marking a first for the retail giant.

In May, video game workers at a division of game publisher Activision Blizzard voted to unionize, making them the first to create a labor union at a large U.S. videogame company.

Per a 2021 Gallup Poll: at least 68% of Americans approve of labor unions, the highest since Gallup found a 71% approval in 1965.

A resurgence of unions after years of decline.

President Biden has been vocal about his support for the decision. 

“I am proud of them,” 

Biden said in a statement to reporters. 

Workers have a right to determine under what condition they are going to work or not work.”

This is a far cry from the days of President Reagan publicly firing striking air traffic controllers, a move that signaled to the weakening labor movement that times were changing. Of course, labor rights weren’t always such a contentious topic. 

In the mid-1950s, approximately one out of every three non-farm workers were unionized. This was, of course, the peak of labor’s power in the US. 

In subsequent decades, the ranks of unionized workers would shrink. By the 80s and 90s, due to a combination of economic and political developments, the decline in unions accelerated.

The opening of overseas markets and the emergence of outsourcing put organized labor at a severe disadvantage. 

Around this same period, U.S. employers developed a set of legal— and illegal—practices that could effectively rid establishments of existing unions and prevent new unions from organizing. 

These practices included: threatening union sympathizers with firings and holding a mandatory meeting wherein workers would be subject to anti-union propaganda. Additionally, many employers hired permanent replacements for striking workers.

But Biden has been relatively labor-friendly. In February, a Biden administration task force issued a set of recommendations aimed at making it easier for federal workers and contractors to unionize.

The report argues that the trend of declining union membership has coincided with a rising share of income going to the top 10% of earners.

Youth movement gives labor unions a new hope.

After decades of decline, U.S. unions are finding hope in a growing movement among the youth. Union approval is high— and growing—with the youngest workers. This is reflected by membership levels, which are trending upwards for workers between the ages of 25 and 34. Even as they decline among other age groups.

According to the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, the percentage of union members among workers aged 25-34 rose from 8.8% to 9.4% 

The aforementioned Alphabet Workers Union, for example, is run by five people under the age of 35.

This is consistent with a greater political trend among young people: the youth is less susceptible to the anti-socialist boogeyman rhetoric that successfully fleeced previous generations of working people’s rights.

It’s important to remember that many of the things we take for granted today are the products of union involvement. The eight-hour work day? Labor unions. Job safety laws? Labor unions. Overtime pay? Labor Unions. Weekends? Labor unions. Worker’s Comp? Labor unions. Employer-based health coverage? Labor unions.

And the list goes on.

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Who Does Tori Dunlap Think She Is?

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If you haven’t heard of Tori Dunlap, you’re probably not seeking financial advice. If you are seeking financial advice, you can do a lot better than Tori Dunlap. 

Tori Dunlap is an entrepreneur who claims to have saved $100,000 by the age of 25. After achieving such astonishing success so early in life, she simply had to quit her corporate job so she could devote her energy to helping women learn their financial independence and unassumed dominance in our white cis male-run society. 

Her mission? To create the brand HerFirst100K and…

Idk man… seems kinda gimmicky. 

Disclaimer: I am a cis white male with no financial expertise to speak of criticizing a cis white female financial pundit. I have zero doubts that Dunlap could balance a checkbook better than I ever could. I am not here to offer any financial advice. Rather, I am criticizing Dunlap’s approach to fiscal responsibility and her overall authenticity. 

In short: We’re not buying it and neither should you. 

How Did She *Really* Get $100K by 25? 

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At 25, I was working as a barback in a local gay bar and on the cusp of starting my first professional writing job. I had maybe $600 to my name and very poor financial instincts – you could call me a ‘spendthrift.

My peers around the same age were all fairly financially inept or carefree. Sure, we would meet our responsibilities but we sure as hell weren’t saving – and not for lack of trying. We all worked incredibly hard, dirty, thankless jobs for very little money and could be fired on a whim. None of us would have been able to save up to $100K by 25. 

By 25, I had been working steady jobs for 10 years. Even if I didn’t spend a single cent over those 10 years I don’t think the number would have ever reached $100K. Pardon my doubts, but how is a 25-year-old, any 25-year-old, able to save up to $100,000 all by themselves? After some digging, it turns out she did it with a lot of discipline and a lot of luck. 

She graduated college with zero debt, landed a job in digital marketing with a salary of $55K/year, and put a disciplined percentage of her take-home into saving and an investment fund. These are all great, very privileged ways to save $100,000 in three years. 

I’m curious to know how a 22-year-old snagged an investment fund and knew which investments would pay off and how much they earned but… I digress. 

I don’t sneeze at this kind of discipline. Many people would benefit from a financial discipline such as that. I do sneeze a little by using this as a marketing tactic. While she qualifies this by admitting her privilege, she makes her achievement the main marketing point of Her First $100K. 

I did this and so can you!” the sentiment screams. Except most people can’t. And I think Ms. Dunlap knows that. 

Tori Dunlap Is Not Qualified To Give Anyone Financial Advice

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The only thing I trust Tori Dunlap to do is market and brand herself effectively. She’s cool, she’s hip, she can play along with the broader trends, she TikToks with the best of ‘em, and it all feels so desperately empty and deeply phony. 

I think Tori Dunlap has a keen eye for self-promotion that masquerades as “woke financial advice.” This would be fine if it wasn’t potentially f*cking with people’s money. There are people out there with some serious financial issues and concerns. If they trust Tori Dunlap, they could be misled because she doesn’t know what she’s talking about.

I don’t mean she doesn’t know how to assert her value and practice financial discipline. I mean she doesn’t have the financial authority to be profiting off the advice she gives. It’s like getting medical advice from a sickly friend – they’ve got experience but no expertise. 

TikTok Advice Isn’t Real Advice

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If you take a look at Dunlap’s TikTok, it looks pretty much like every other TikToker out there. On her page, the financial advice is few and far between. It appears that TikTok is the space where she promotes her brand, podcast, and book – with a whole lot of cookie-cutter trends you will find on any account. 

When you finally do get to her financial advice, it’s no different than if you were to ask your fiscally savvy friend. For example, “know your worth and advocate for it” is a great bit of advice, it’s one I tell my peers at work – but it’s not expertise. It’s a good ol’ fashioned, “you can do it!” Which is nice, but it’s not practically helpful. What you’re getting from Dunlap are educated tips from someone who is being nice to you. 

When you present yourself as an authority figure you have a responsibility that comes with it. Telling people you are the savior from the patriarchy if you pay for her course doesn’t exactly scream “hero.” 

There’s nothing wrong with providing a service and charging for it. There is, however, something really gross about masquerading as a feminist hero when you’re actually an unqualified financial nobody with no serious credentials to speak of. 

Tori Dunlap is not qualified to be giving financial advice to anyone. She says so on her site: 

LEGAL STUFF: I am not a licensed financial advisor. I offer education, not prescriptive advice. The information that is found here are my opinions and the opinions of other readers/contributors and should be taken as such.” 

Legal stuff.” Cute, so relatable. 

All of Dunlap’s success stories are social media posts, texts, and emails. Hardly a case study. 

Dunlap claims to be “leading a movement of financial feminists,” but a quick Google search on female financial advisors yields no results for Ms. Dunlap. What exactly is she leading? You cannot be a leader when you don’t show up on the first 12 pages of Google. 

Here’s What An Actual Financial Expert Says

We spoke to Danetha Doe, an economist with over 10 years of experience in the financial industry. She has worked as an accountant and a CFO. She also created Money & Mimosas, a financial education resource for ambitious folks. 

In short, Ms. Doe knows her sh*t.

We asked Ms. Doe about how the average person could save up to $100K by the age of 25. 

I don’t think it’s reasonable to believe the average person can save $100K by 25. 

“In order to do that, they would either need to be born into wealth, have zero student loans, work for a startup that goes public or gets acquired, or start a business that is financially successful. 

“All of those scenarios do not apply to the average person.

“The median salary for an individual is under $40,000. Therefore, the average person earns about $40,000. In order to reach $100K in savings on an average salary could take decades in the United States.

Ms. Doe has a lot of excellent financial advice without being patronizing or weaponizing oppression for profit. She has a professional and personal background that makes her an effective authority when it comes to fiscal responsibility.

My two grandmothers [are the financial experts I admire most]. 

“They came to the United States as immigrants and became real estate investors during a time when Black women were systematically shut out of wealth-building opportunities in this country. 

“Their lasting legacy guides my financial decisions.

If you want to learn finance tips from someone who can relate to or understand your experience fully, Danetha Doe is the way to go

Besides, who doesn’t love a mimosa? 

What In The Hell Is ‘Feminist Financial Advice?’

What is it about financial advice that needs to be tailored specifically for women? Let’s take a super casual and lazy glance at successful women, shall we? 

Suze Orman is a trusted financial authority and has been around for a minute

Madonna has built herself an entertainment empire by being unapologetically female

Rihanna became a billionaire through her music and some super-savvy business moves. 

Laverne Cox bulldozed expectations and helped establish a foundation for trans artists. 

Sheryl Sandburg is the most powerful woman in Big Tech – did you see what happened when she resigned from Meta?

There is no shortage of female financial advisors. What kind of niche does Dunlap think she’s tapping into? Dunlap says on her site

I watched female friends get paid less than they were worth. I read stories about women being denied career opportunities because they were seen as ‘less.’ 

“Male colleagues said sexist, negative comments to me at work. I learned that women hold the majority of debt in America and that they invest less of their money than men, yet live for seven years longer. 

“So I knew that I had to fight back.

Sure, Jan. 

Fighting Sexism By Leaning Into Sexism

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I don’t think anybody disagrees (save for a few members of the Republican Party) that women have a tougher go of it than men. To be honest, it’s a bit of a stretch to connect general sexism with financial education. I learned how to budget from my mother, a woman who has had to fight her own battles with sexism and misogyny as the only female partner at her law firm. 

Frankly, I think the assumption that women need help from an unlicensed non-expert in order to learn fiscal responsibility is teetering on sexism. At the very least, it’s grossly condescending and certainly inauthentic. 

If you’re in a position where you need financial advice, you want it from someone who is a serious advisor, not a trending influencer with no qualifications. With inflation at a 40-year high and an underpaid workforce fighting for its value, we cannot afford to take financial advice from someone clearly more interested in self-promotion and branding. 

Dunlap appears to be less focused on offering genuine financial advice and far more focused on hitting woke buzzwords in an effort to patronize marginalized communities for profit. If you want to find a female-focused financial authority, try Ellevest instead. 

Tori Dunlap’s Communications Lead declined to comment.

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Vince McMahon Stepped Down From WWE. Or Did He?

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The news rang out around the world on Friday. 

Vince McMahon, father and face of the modern WWE, is voluntarily stepping down from his CEO position. The news came amid allegations of misconduct, affairs, and hush money.

And then, the strangest thing happened. Moments later, WWE announced that McMahon would make an appearance during Smackdown. Many speculated that McMahon would take the opportunity to admit remorse, address the new path, or prepare a last goodbye for fans.

Instead, he did this.

“It is a privilege, as always, to stand before you here tonight, the WWE Universe. Especially a privilege to stand here in this ring in Minnesota.

I’m here simply to remind you of the four words we just saw in what we call the WWE signature. Those four words are then, now, forever, and the most important word is together.

Welcome to SmackDown!”

“Bizarre spectacle” is a phrase that could appear under the dictionary definition for World Wrestling Entertainment.. But even fans were left scratching their heads by this appearance, with one caught on camera appearing to ask “That’s it?”

What really happened to Vince McMahon

Image credit: CNN

If you didn’t read past headlines about stepping down amid misconduct allegations, you might be stunned that McMahon would appear on TV at all. The truth, as is often the case, is a bit more complicated.

Per The Wall Street Journal, an inquiry began in April concerning a secret payout of $3 million that a WWE paralegal received in January. McMahon allegedly had an affair with the employee. The investigation opened up other, older NDAs relating to sexual misconduct by McMahon and talent relations chair John Laurinaitis.

The misconception at hand comes from WWE’s announcement. While it’s true that McMahon is stepping down from his chief position while the investigation continues, that’s not the whole picture.

McMahon is maintaining creative control of the WWE. For an entertainment company, the creative aspect is a pretty massive slice of the pie. As evidenced by Friday’s appearance—and another appearance on Monday—he’s not stepping down from the public eye either.

Image credit: WWE

McMahon’s WWE character, “Mr. McMahon,” it seems, is not under the same scrutiny as his actor. There are no signs that his exaggerated persona will cease making appearances on SmackDown and at other WWE events.

In a way, it’s a delicate PR chess move. The headline, “Vince McMahon Steps Down Amidst Investigation,” reads like a victory. The sticky truth, that he’s not really exiting at all, will have little impact on the general public.

Wrestling fans, on the other hand, are seeing both sides play out, and it’s leaving some confused. It’s an interesting twist on “kayfabe,” the suspension of disbelief at the root of the WWE community. In reality, Vince has stepped down, but in kayfabe, Mr. McMahon hasn’t gone anywhere.

This bizarre in-and-out response might reflect the inherent flaws in wrestling’s mesh of fantasy and reality. In pursuit of kayfabe, what happens if McMahon is fully ousted? Will an attachment to his fictional persona keep justice from being served? At this point, it’s hard to say.

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