Boca Makes A SMART Hire

Pedro Moras

The City of Boca Raton recently hired Pedro Moras as its first ever “Innovation Strategist” and I think that’s worthy of applause.

According to the press release announcing the hire, Moras was hired to promote innovation and the use of technology within the community. Additionally, Moras will work to develop and implement SMART City initiatives and collaborate with City staff to explore innovation in city operations.

Now the cynics out there will say innovation and government should never be used in the same sentence and that the term Smart City is an oxymoron.

The cynics would be wrong. As they usually are.

Cities today have to innovate or risk irrelevance. They should strive to be “smart” not only in terms of technology but in all areas: sustainability, citizen engagement, public safety, parks design, transportation, land development and the list goes on.

It’s good to see Boca Raton make a statement with the hiring of an innovation strategist and it will be interesting to see where the city goes as a result.

Moras seems to have the background and chops to make a difference.

Prior to joining the city, Moras cofounded PetMio, a pet food-technology start-up that uses advanced artificial intelligence technology to create personalized pet nutrition products. He also served as Managing Partner at the Konnected Minds Group, a Miami based innovation consultancy. During his time in the corporate world, he was the founding member of the Transformational Innovation Group at Jarden Consumer Solution, a corporate new ventures group focused on identifying, developing and commercializing new product and business opportunities.

“Innovation is the purposeful application that improves our condition and community,” said Moras. “Through that application we can accomplish tremendous feats that improve the lives of our families and our community. It is because of innovation that we evolved so much as a society and I am excited to further expand innovative achievements in Boca Raton.”

Boca has an interesting innovation pedigree.

Boca Raton’s history dates back to pioneering farmers, there’s an interesting history relative to Mediterranean architecture and of course, the birth of IBM’s personal computer (PC) in 1967. Through the years, Boca Raton’s entrepreneurial culture has supported technology and innovation through economic development incentives that have led to the creation of facilities such as the Boca Raton Innovation Campus (BRIC). Boca Raton is also home to three universities that incorporate innovation into curriculums and the community through programs such as FAU Tech Runway.

“I think Boca Raton is in a unique position because the foundation of entrepreneurship and innovation already exists,” said Moras. “And that foundation is strong from an economic, social and environmental standpoint, compared to many cities across the country. I think a key to taking Boca Raton to the next level, is bringing together the brilliant minds in our schools, businesses, organizations and civic centers under a shared vision and giving them the tools to create our future.”

During his first year, Moras will work on creating Boca Raton’s innovation identity and define what being a SMART city means to the community. In addition, he plans to test and learn new concepts, programs and ideas in order to ultimately “create an ecosystem of innovation that is continuously creating breakthroughs in technology, education, the arts and more, and become an even more vibrant entrepreneurial community that attracts the best minds to come live here and work here.”

As a student of local government, I am anxious to see where this all leads. When I was on the Delray City Commission we strived to be “civic entrepreneurs” and encouraged staff to take risks and innovate in terms of policy and engagement. It made a difference, because we strived to make it  safe to experiment and to learn. That’s how progress happens.

In so many aspects of our society right now, innovation and technology is outpacing government’s ability to keep up. This makes government look slow, reactive and frankly a less exciting place to work if you are a young person looking for a career.

So Boca’s move is intriguing. Yes, it’s only one person, but it’s a bold start.



Strategy + Team=Success


I’m a big fan of Fred Wilson.

He’s a highly regarded NYC based venture capitalist who writes a fascinating blog on investing and technology.

This time of year, he’s spending his time in board meetings planning for the upcoming year.

When you are involved in a successful enterprise, board meetings are exciting. It’s fun to talk about growth and expanding market share. But when you are in struggling enterprise, board meetings can be very challenging and often stressful.

Wilson believes the keys to success are having a strategy and building a winning team. Here’s what he has to say:

“You have to get the strategy right and you have to have a team that can execute it without your day to day involvement. The CEOs that I work with that are struggling are usually running into issues with their team and/or their strategy. And the CEOs that I work with that are doing great generally have gotten the strategy set and have built a strong executive team underneath them.

This sounds so simple. But it is not.

Most of the companies I work with didn’t really start out with a strategy. They started out with an idea that turned into a great product that found a fit with a market. And they jumped on that and used it to build a company. Most of them wake up at some point and realize that a single product in a single market is not a strategy and they need to come up with a plan to get a lot bigger and build a sustainable and defensible business. I like to think that this is one place where a good investor group can help. If we are doing our job, we push our portfolio companies to work on their long term strategy and refine it to the point where it makes sense and is executable. But an investor group cannot give a company a strategy. It has to come from the founder/CEO and a small group of senior leaders. The smaller the group that is working on strategy, the better. Strategy is not something that can be done by committee.

The second thing, building an executive team that can execute the plan without day to day involvement of the CEO, is even harder. Most of the companies I work with go through a lot of hiring mistakes on the way to building this team. Some hire too junior. Some hire too senior. Some hire bad cultural fits. Some hire people that are nothing but cultural fit. And an investor or investor group can help with this but I believe that founders/CEOs need to learn how to do this themselves and make these mistakes. The best thing an investor group can do is to help a founder/CEO to understand when they have the wrong person in the job. Or help them understand that more quickly.

These are both areas where experience is huge. The CEOs I work with who have done the job multiple times get these two things right much more quickly. But even they can take a year or two to get these right. First time CEOs often take three or four years to get these things right. But sticking with founders who are first time CEOs through this process is usually worth it because they have a connection to the initial vision and mission that a hired CEO has a hard time replicating. There is not a good rule of thumb on this issue (who should run the company). Facts and circumstances on the ground will generally determine how that should go.


My final point on this is that once you have the strategy and team locked down, you should step back and let the machine do its thing. I like to say that CEOs should do only three things; recruit and retain the team, build and evolve the long term strategy and communicate it effectively and broadly in the organization and externally, and make sure the company doesn’t run out of money. When those are the only things you are doing, you are doing the job right. Very few CEOs get to focus on only these three things all of the time. Things break and you have to fix them. But when the machine is working and you can step back and watch it hum, it is a thing of beauty.”


This blog likes to focus on cities and there is a real parallel between what Wilson is talking about and building a successful community. And there are some differences.

First, strategy can be substituted for a community vision and while for business Wilson recommends a small group be involved in crafting strategy, in a city it helps if you have as many stakeholders involved as possible. It’s the job of elected leadership to prioritize, hone and drive the vision and it’s the job of city staff to implement in a timely and efficient manner.

But cities get in trouble when there is no strategy, vision or plan. And they get in trouble when egotistical leaders decide to keep their own counsel and cut themselves off from input or debate.

They also get in trouble when they decide to micromanage and delve into the day to day operations of the city. If you find that you are doing this, you need to stop. If you find that you need to do this because your staff can’t or won’t execute, you need to get new staff. But elected officials need to stay in their policymaking box (which is plenty big) and allow staff to do their jobs. Ideally, you should try to create a culture of experimentation and innovation not fear.

If staff can feel confident enough to think outside the box and solve problems legally, ethically and efficiently you will succeed. If they feel bullied, micromanaged and or afraid to make a mistake you have created a culture that will fail to solve problems or seize opportunities. Your best talent will flee, you will not be able to attract top tier talent and you will turn lemonade into a lemon.

I happen to believe in outcomes over process. That does not mean that process is not important or that you shouldn’t have a process. But it does mean that outcomes are more important— as long as you act legally, ethically and morally.

It shouldn’t take three weeks to type a basic building permit. It shouldn’t take a year to approve a mixed use development. It shouldn’t require an act of Congress or a deity to get a parking agreement and or a developer agreement. If it does, you got a problem.

Strategy and team; you need them both. One doesn’t work without the other. And if you are deficient with either or both, you have major problems and you cannot succeed.



Zingerman’s Laws Applied To Cities

Zingerman's Deli in Ann Arbor is legendary.

Zingerman’s Deli in Ann Arbor is legendary.

Have you ever been to Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor, Michigan?

If you have to think about it, most likely you haven’t been because Zingerman’s is unforgettable.

The type of business that is so good they have made fans worldwide and inspired people from all walks of life to make the journey to Michigan to experience the magic. They also offer classes and books for entrepreneurs that want to learn how to do it right.

Last week, Zingerman’s released their “12 Natural Laws of Business Success”. We share and add some commentary as it relates to cities.



LAW #1 : An inspiring, strategically sound vision leads the way to greatness (especially if you write it down!)

Amen. Having a sound vision is the best economic development and community spirit builder you can possibly design. Delray’s vision has been legendary, but sadly absent in recent years. Boca’s vision is different than Delray’s but equally compelling. Every city is different, but every city that wants to be great needs to have a vision, shared and developed by stakeholders. That’s all those who have a stake and don’t forget to give voice to all, especially youth and people who need some help.


LAW #2 : You need to give customers really compelling reasons to buy from you.


In retrospect, this one is practically self-evident! And most successful businesses do this anyway. We think it takes on special super-powers if you have it top of mind. If you mindfully articulate the “compelling reasons to buy” for every product you put out there and then, you intentionally work every day on adding to that list – you’re pretty much sure to be on the path to success!

City Corollary: Homeowners, tourists and business owner have an almost infinite number of choices. In order for them to choose your city you need to give them compelling reasons, commonly known as amenities, activities, quality of life, quality of place and quality services.



LAW #3 : Without good finance, you fail.


Speaking of self-evident, this one is so obvious it almost didn’t make it on the list. It’s here because it’s really not a great idea to assume that the obvious is obvious to everyone. It also made it to the list because we recognize that people are driven by different passions, and assuming that if you’re passionate about what you do then the money will take care of itself is not a great idea. Neither is thinking of money as a necessary evil. You’ve got to pay attention to the money for its own sake.

City Corollary: It’s the public’s money, so spend wisely and efficiently and on the big stuff make sure you have buy-in. The major spending in Delray was done via visioning, serious efforts at input and referenda.



LAW #4 : People do their best work when they’re part of a really great organization.


Remember that job you had (and hopefully still have!) that you totally loved? You jumped out of bed each morning eager to get to work. You brought your best self to work. You loved the work you did and you did what it takes to be darn good at it. You loved what your business did. You were fond of your co-workers and you all made a rocking team. Your boss thought you were the bees knees. Yep. That’s what we’re talking about. If you strive to create that kind of workplace every day, you’ll most likely also have a really successful one.

City Corollary: It’s all about the team and community building. Worth the effort, because you can’t achieve if this ingredient is missing.


LAW #5 : If you want the staff to give great service to customers, the leaders have to give great service to the staff.


Hmm, you might be thinking. Did I read that backwards? You didn’t. But it is kind of backwards from the way most of the world works. Which is also what most people say about Servant Leadership, which is the leadership philosophy that we follow here at Zingerman’s and which this law reflects. The truth is, the service that the staff gives to customers is almost never going to be better than the service that they’re getting from the organization, particularly the leaders of the organization. The leaders set the bar for service – what the leaders model to the staff could set that bar real high or it could define what the lowest acceptable level of service is. Or something in between. You choose.

City Corollary: Elected officials need to rely on their staff to achieve their goals. Accountability is essential, but you cannot micromanage. Support your staff, if you can’t support your staff you have the wrong staff.


LAW #6 : If you want great performance from your staff, you have to give them clear expectations and training tools.


In the book, “First, Break All the Rules,” by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman, they cite a survey conducted by the Gallup Organization. Gallup asked 1,000,000 workers and 80,000 managers (right?) about the factors that are the most important for keeping the best workers in their jobs for the longest period of time. Guess what the top 2 were : Clear expectations and, the tools to do their work. Hence this law. At Zingerman’s we keep this in the forefront by making sure that we use the Zingerman’s Training Compact and 4 Training Plan Questions for all the internal (and external!) training that we do.

City Corollary: Give clear direction to your staff and also give them the resources to the job. Then get out of the way, trust but verify though.


LAW #7 : Successful businesses do the things that others know they should do …. but generally don’t.


You’ve probably read a business article (or 5!) about L.L. Bean’s remarkably lenient returns policy. They now have decades of data supporting the fact that it’s a great idea for their business. Why hasn’t every single clothing retailer in the country hasn’t adopted the idea? Because it’s hard work. It’s staff training, customer training, tracking systems, extra accounting and a couple of things we’re not thinking of. And yet, it’s a great idea that generates incredible customer loyalty and (to quote the article above) “As a business practice, it’s expensive. As advertising, it’s cheap.” Having and adopting ideas like this, ideas that take us towards greatness, is exactly what differentiates successful businesses from those that are not.

City Corollary: Great cities provide outstanding services, don’t get bogged down in process and concentrate on outcomes that create value for their citizens/customers.


Law #8: To get to greatness you’ve got to keep getting better, all the time!


You’ve heard this one in a million different ways. There is no standing still, you’re either going forward or you’re falling back. Continuous Improvement. Kaizen. And so on. The important thing to note about this law is that it applies to everything. Any business or activity or pursuit for that matter. But also any aspect of a business. Products. Processes. Systems. Measures. People. They’ve all got to keep getting better, all the time!

City Corollary: Complacency is a killer, once you stop aspiring you expire.


LAW #9 : Success means you get better problems.


This one is a bit of a mind bend until you accept it. But as soon as you have, it becomes a belated glimpse of the obvious! If I asked you whether you can imagine a world/time/place that is free of all problems, you’d laugh at me, right? And yet, each of us, at least secretly, believes that when we get to that next stage, meet that next goal, life will become magically problem free. The truth is, you’ll just have different problems, and if the next stage or goal is getting you better problems, call it a win! Example : You obsess about customer service and are nationally recognized for it. Good Problem : You have lines out of the door and are getting customer complaints for the wait time. Less Good Problem : You don’t obsess about customer service, you have no lines and no one complains about the wait.

City Corollary: Love this one. Success means you get better problems—like parking, traffic, etc. Is traffic pleasant? Nope. But it sure beats no traffic on your main street.


LAW #10 : Whatever your strengths are, they will likely lead straight into your weaknesses.


Another way to think of this one is – “Get off the see-saw”. Getting off the see-saw brings better perspective to many, many situations but is particularly effective when you are evaluating your organization/team/business, or even yourself. Thinking of attributes in terms of good/bad or desirable/undesirable misses the complexity of the world in which we operate. A different time, place or situation is all it takes for a strength to be a weakness and vice versa. Example : Being a very participative workplace. Strength : Employee engagement. Weakness : Decision making can take longer.

City Corollary: Get off the dais, don’t keep your own counsel (you are not the smartest person in the room) and don’t surround yourself with people who think alike.


LAW #11 : It generally takes a lot longer to make something great happen than people think.


Speaking of taking longer, greatness takes a long time. And a lot of persistence. Those stories of overnight, magical success that the media loves to feature? Dig a little deeper and there’s always more. More work. More preparation. More time. More investment. More practice. But if you embark on something, with the recognition that greatness will take a while, it will make you more likely to stick with it and get to greatness. And if you find smaller, meaningful victories to celebrate along the way, all the better!

City Corollary: Celebrate your successes, build momentum and stick with the vision, especially when it’s challenged and it is always challenged.


LAW #12 : Great organizations are appreciative, and the people in them have more fun.


We could have the chicken and egg conversation here. Are people having fun and being appreciative because the organization is great? Or is it the other way around? While that will be a fun (See what I did there?) debate to have, the truth is that it doesn’t actually matter. What’s clear is that it’s a nice self -fulfilling cycle. So, why not go after creating a fun, appreciative workplace and see what happens?

City Corollary: Culture eats strategies lunch. If you build community and a team you can move mountains. If you don’t you’re spinning your wheels and they will come off.