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Why My Startup Is Betting On 'Returnships' To Help Women Restart Their Careers

Like most CEOs in growing companies, one of my chief concerns has always been talent. I thought about all parts of the employee lifecycle. I obsess about finding great people, making them successful, developing their skills, and retaining them for the long haul. Research has long shown that more diverse teams produce better business results. Outside of work, I started to notice something as I entered my 40s – female friends and colleagues were leaving their careers for a period of time to focus on their children and finding it difficult to restart their careers. Their attempts were thwarted by bias from recruiters and hiring managers who were reluctant to consider a candidate with a career gap or someone who wanted something less than a full-time role. So we decided to launch an experiment at Return Path. Our CTO and human resources leaders convinced me that we could find success by building a new kind of internship program aimed specifically at women looking to restart their careers…

Don't Be Afraid to Embrace Boring Ideas

Kikkerland's annual design competition results in an unexpected bestseller.
Dutch design firm Kikkerland is known for bringing whimsy to utilitarian products -- say, a cocktail shaker in the shape of a maraca, or a portable barbecue in the shape of a suitcase. So it was surprised when one of its most successful products of the past year was a… cord organizer. 
The product, the Cable Loft, was born out of Kikkerland’s annual Design Challenge, in which the brand partners with a retail company and a team of student designers, who submit problem-solving ideas for one particular challenge. For 2016, the challenge brought together The Container Store and students from the Rhode Island School of Design, who were asked to create a product for the digitally connected home. Students went through multiple rounds of presentations and critiques before final prototypes were submitted to buyers for consideration. Cable Loft -- an organizational home for a power strip and the many cords that plug into it -- was deemed the winner, and its student designer received a licensing agreement and a 5 percent commission. 
“From a Kikkerland point of view, we thought the Cable Loft was sort of boring,” says founder and CEO Jan van der Lande. “But [The Container Store’s] chief merchandising officer and president, Sharon Tindell, immediately said, ‘This is it! This solves a problem! This is perfect!’ And they know their customer so well.” So they went with it. And Tindell was right. “It’s been a big success,” says Van der Lande. “It’s already sold 8,000 pieces.”

The Cable Loft ($14.99) is currently sold exclusively at The Container Store, though it will eventually join the Kikkerland permanent collection. Given its initial success, the brand is considering further expansion into the seemingly snoozy space. “We may explore other possibilities in cord management and make it a little category,” van der Lande says. “We went outside our comfortzone on this, and it was a big surprise.” 

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