People, Product and Process – Courage b

couragebOn the show The Profit the host, Marcus Lemonis, talks about people, product, and process being the most important aspects to any business.

So when the 2014 premiere episode actually featured my close friends The Goureau’s and their business Courage b, so it was a great time to write about my thoughts on the show.  I am a huge fan of The Profit and have been watching since the beginning.  There is something about going to a struggling business and turning it around that appeals to me and feels much better than typical reality tv.

I could not be more proud of Noemie, Stephanie, and Nick for what they have built, and for going on reality tv with all the details.  Courage b has been a growing brand since they decided to expand from the first original store in NYC that I went to often in the afternoons after high school.  They have developed a brand, built a great team, and streamlined their entire operation and created some great products.  The business was ready for change and Marcus and co. came in to completely redesign the core products, the look and feel, and streamline operations.

Marcus talks about these key aspects of any business and I think Courage b definitely had the people, but needed help in product and process. Making these sweeping changes is no easy feat, but I think they pulled it off and the stores and products look better than ever.

As an early stage advisor/investor it was interesting to see the similarities between the technology companies I typically work with to the physical retail store business that I know little about.  Whenever I meet with a team working on apparel/fashion I always assume I can’t be helpful. What Marcus shows is that the same principles can apply to almost any business and the fundamentals are what matter most. Maybe next time I won’t dismiss businesses in categories I know little about as its clear the problems/issues exist regardless.

Best of luck to the entire Courage b family and to my friends Noemie, Stephanie, and Nick

Be sure to visit their new stores!

Courageb_palmbeach

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Tools I use: TextExpander

A few years ago a friend recommended I take a look at a mac tool called TextExpander that is a quick way to type things with a shorter code.  It is along the same lines as having a canned response to emails that come in often.  The benefit is that TextExpander runs in the background and works anywhere you get a cursor prompt.  The nice things for teams is that you can create custom text that everyone can use and always be sharing the most up to date information.

Below is an example that I hope brings this to life as well as a picture of our shared TextExpander folder that I host.  You can see that I created a short code called “#test” that will put the line you see below anywhere I type this shortcode

Test Snippet

Here is what it looks like in action – (sorry for the fuzzy gif, this is my first animated gif from a video)

TextExpander

 

The benefits from TE have been endless.  I have probably used this tool every day since I started using it, and it even has a handy “time saved” from typing counter.

A few things I have used this for that make it worthwhile;

Conference call dial in info, Email responses involving numbers/stats that need to be updated often, links to partners or external parties, FAQs or help emails that have to go out often…and the list goes on.

Rolling this out to the team was simple and having a centralized repository of all texts was simple to create.

This is a tool I use and highly recommend it.

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The Battle for the Default Way

Screenshot 2014-10-14 09.59.39I recently finished reading the Everything Store about Amazon and can highly recommend it. It’s a business book, but also tells the amazing story about how Amazon came to exist and the way in which they battled through tough internal and external problems.

One theme throughout the book is the focus on being the default way in which people shop online.

Each business decision made seems to reinforce the foundation of amazon as the default way to shop – for ANYTHING and EVERYTHING.

I know many talk about the frugality of Amazon and the process oriented company, but I think the assault on breaking peoples “default” behavior is admirable.

The much discussed focus of Jeff Bezos has always been putting the customer first. I believe that is the Amazon Prime “directive”, but the ancillary benefit of that is becoming the default choice to make a purchase.

I know that in my household it has become the default place to start a search for a product we need to buy, and sometimes sorting by “Prime” makes life easier.  Whether that purchase is a book, or literally any other item, you can see the progression of how the business was built around shoring up their position to be the default choice.

Thinking about this battle I wanted to see if I could come up with others battling to be defaults and see the current winners (defaults) for me:

Search = Google
Watch something specific =  ill search YouTube
Missed media = I’ll check netflix first
Buy something = I’ll check Amazon  Prime first (as a prime member this influences everything)
News = Twitter, TechMeme, Hacker News
Email = Gmail app on iphone (vs native app, because of poor native search)
Todos and notes = Evernote
Bookmarks = Evernote (clipping in Chrome)
Browsing = Chrome
Screen Shots = Dropbox (userped from Cloud App)
Backup = Dropbox (although I recently duplicated my backups on OneDrive)

I am going to try to keep a running list a refer back every so often here. There are probably more services and categories I am forgetting but I wanted to get this out there as a start.

What are some of your defaults?

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Building the Sales Machine Event: Steli Efti – CEO of Close.IO

Every quarter or so I help co-organize an event called Building the Sales Machine focussed on getting together the people in NYC who are building great sales organizations.  Whether its a small startup or a scaling sales enterprise, we cover a wide variety of topics.

I had the pleasure this time around of hosting Steli Efti who is the CEO of Close.IO.

I got the pleasure of meeting Steli by becoming a customer, getting the Foursquare local team up and using his software.

Our events are really focussed on tactical advice and a “no fluff” style of interview that I hope you enjoy.  Comments and feedback most welcomed!

Big thanks to my co-hosts Dave Greenberger (I used the wrong name in the video – oops!)7 and Evan Bartlett

 

closeio

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Announcing the Jobs52.com experiment: a new way for employed people to find their next job

I know a lot of people looking for a new job — almost all of them are currently employed. To try to solve this problem a friend and I launched Jobs52.com

jobs52logo

Why?

On a weekly basis I hear from old friends, colleagues, and folks just looking for advice on how to get to their next job. I try to be helpful, point them to my thoughts on the subject, and give them my advice. Over the past 6 months or so this has picked up so much that I started asking more and more of these job hunters what they were looking for, how they went about their search, and how I could best help them figure out what would be next. Perhaps a little selfishly I began to look for a more structured way to solve their job search problem and come up with a more productized way to help them find a new role.

It was around this time I started talking to my friend Adam Sigel about this job seeker overload and we got to brainstorming potential solutions.

A few common “friend” questions;

Do you know of any good companies hiring?
If I want to leave in a few months what should I do next?
How do I apply for a job if I am currently working?
Will I get fired if they find me searching?
What is the best way for me to “get myself out there”?
Do I need an updated resume?
Do you know of any companies I could talk to?
Can you help me go on some informational interviews?
Who should I send my resume to?
Who should I tell that I am searching for a new job?
If the company I like doesn’t have an open job listing, can I still apply?

What?

Adam and I began to combine all our friends questions together and came up with a better way to organize them, turn them into a structured dataset, and map out how to get them back out into companies hands faster. Our alpha version of this is up now at Jobs52.com — a faster way to connect amazing people at scale with great companies.

If our goal is to match people with great companies, we have to answer the question “what is the minimum information for a job provider necessary to take a meeting with a potential candidate?” On the other side of the marketplace those companies interested can sign up to get emailed a structured set of candidates tailored to their job opening. By putting the onus in the hands of the applicant in an anonymous way we are reducing the friction in the process, and making it more comfortable for the job seeker to put themselves out there. As a company looking to hire, all you need to do is enter your email address.

So how does this all work?

Step 1: Job hunter fills out Jobs52.com anonymous profile
Step 2: Hirer signs up for weekly email of job hunter
Step 3: Hirers express interest in job hunters they like
Step 4: Jobs52 tells job hunters who and when a hirer is interested
Step 4: Job hunter tells Jobs52 whether or not to reveal contact information

There are lots of job searching startups out there and it’s a crowded space, but we think there is something missing. Companies engage in “passive recruitment” having employees and recruiters reach out to those already working. They also want referrals and most of those come from employees who have friends looking to change jobs. The Jobs52 talent pool is focussed on people who currently have jobs. It is a new platform for job seekers to confidentially search for a new role. Instead of trying to solve all the problems at once we are going after a very specific niche (you could argue almost too small) of “our friends actively looking for jobs in startups”. I really love the “Peter Thiel go after small markets” rule and maybe by testing this out we can see if we are onto something.

How?

They say that if you are not embarrassed by Version 1 then you didn’t launch early enough. This is our ultra lightweight V1. Jobs52.com is a domain I have owned for a while with the thought that I could get 1 person a job a week for a year (think small) and now repurposed for this task. We are using Strikingly behind the scenes for a lightweight single landing page, Google Forms to structure the data and MailChimp for email deliverability. It’s not the most advanced setup — but we don’t need all that.

When?

Now! Head on over to Jobs52.com and sign up as a job hunter or as someone hiring

Thanks for reading this far — feedback and comments most welcomed!

 

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A Return (to blogging)

Somewhere over the course of the last few years I found myself writing and blogging less and less. I am not sure why this is but I wanted to change all that. So much has changed and transpired that I think I became paralyzed with the fear of having to “catch up” on all that I missed covering. One thing that has remained constant has been my system of tagging things that I would like to one day write about, and drafting the outlines or beginnings of posts via mobile. This system has left with me with a graveyard of links and half started posts that never saw the light of day.

On the other hand I have been able to accomplish much professionally and help a handful of companies and entrepreneurs in the time I used to spend writing. The benefit has been the same; I put things out there publicly and hope for an intelligent discussion and to learn from the process.

Somewhere along the way I think I got scared to continue to do so publicly.

I could argue that this blog is one of my greatest assets, and I abandoned it. Afterall, it contributed heavily to my employment and led to countless amazing conversations with people I met through my blog. I am forever indebted to those people that linked here, commented publicly, or shared something I wrote – and I feel like I abandoned them too.

Its a funny thing to look back on my posting history and match that up to my life events. Sometimes the lack of posts make a ton of sense, sometimes none at all knowing those were slow months.

In any case, this post marks a return for me publicly.

They say that announcing goals holds you more accountable, and I hope this does the trick. I have a bunch of content drafted that I hope sparks my old interest in the topics (despite some of them being very out of date) as well as provides a consistant publishing cadence that allows me to post some of the less thought out pieces to get better informed from others.

This blog has always been an experiment, and now the journey continues.

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New Time Warner Cable Speeds for NYC

I got an unexpected email from Time Warner recently stating that they were changing  Internet speeds for all subscribers.  If you have the latest cable modem, you simply need to call to activate the new speeds, and if not, they send you new hardware (and a box to return your old modem) – which is what I had to do.  This is interesting to me on a few fronts.  First, this seems like interesting timing given the recent customer complaints against Time Warner.  It also happens to be during the TWC Comcast merger time period which many do not seem to understand. Finally, that this all could be done behind the scenes so easily.  It makes me feel like I have been paying for my so called “Turbo” speed for nothing.

I did two speed tests; before and after which are included below – huge difference!

Previous speedtest

 

Screenshot 2014-06-11 19.45.12

 

New speed test!

Screenshot 2014-06-11 21.26.53

True to their promise Time Warner speeds are now quite fast.  The new modem doubles as a wireless router as well (although tech support set mine up as a bridge as my router is actually faster).

Looking back, getting a 75mb+ download speed it is incredible and I am sure I sound like one of the folks Louis CK complains about  and I recognize that I am lucky to live in a place where this is possible.

Coming off of the heals of last weeks Aereo decision I am realizing that this type of bandwidth changes things and that cable cutters have it right.  I have been writing about cable alternatives for awhile and this seems like another step towards no cable box.  The Aereo case has intrigued me because all they did was change the location of a legal antenna that could sit at your house.  They lost, and now the future is uncertain but clearly the future of content is through the Internet and not broadcasters over the air.

With the Google Fiber experiments happening in more cities SuperBand or MegaBand speeds are almost upon us in the US which changes the game for copyright and infringement.  What happens when you visit a site and an entire movie is downloaded to your browser cache in seconds?   A full copyrighted album is downloaded by your laptop just by loading a page?

Interesting questions that will soon have to be answered by the coming superspeeds to a cable modem near you.

 

 

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Thoughts on Facebook Slingshot

(cross posted to Medium to see what happens)

Yesterday Facebook put out their latest app about temporal photos and video with the launch of Slingshot. At it’s core, it’s a photo and video messaging tool that lets you very easily create content to share with friends. However there are a few interesting things that are notable about a new app from Facebook.

nofacebookFacebook is not required. Upon signing up for Slingshot you are greeted with a prompt to enter your mobile number, confirmed with a code, then on to create a new username. Noticeably missing from this process is an easy signup with Facebook button that would connect you to your FB graph. You can easily create an account with just your phone + username. Privacy aside for the moment, this is a shift in how I have seen most FB products create a first time experience for users.

Permissions walkthroughs. Intelligent walkthroughs that ask permissions along the way. The holy grail for most apps these days is to ask for ALL THE PERMISSIONS up front from a user, giving the app immense powers should they decide to tuck it away into a deep folder in their phone. Things like push notifications, syncing contacts, location services — all make the apps better but its hard to get someone to say “yes” before explaining the value exchanged. Slingshot does this by showing you the benefits, and hoping you will concede to the system level permissions (at least on iOS).

Forced participation. Slingshot makes you “pay-to-play” by requiring you to “sling” (slingshot?) a photo or video to a friend to get started, and subsequently sling another to see someones response. Unlike the world of text messaging where you can read the message before responding, this flips the model on its head and makes you create a message before responding to the original message. In trying this out with a few friends who signed up last night, I found myself slinging pictures of my dog to unlock the pictures a friend had sent me. This continued as their responses were unreadable until I Slingshotted back. I could see how this perpetual engagement model creates a virtuous cycle of participation.

Juking the stats

“…you juke the stats and majors become colonels…”

In slingin’ with my friend Adam, we both wondered if this was the ultimate Dark Pattern. However I wonder if this is a new pattern on the journey that should actually be called forced engagement, or simply juking the stats. As described, you need to create a photo or video and send (sorry sling) back to a friend to unlock that persons content. As startups are constantly measured by either sales or engagement, this is a metric that will make Slingshot look to upend the rules of engagement of web audiences. Having everyone who uses the app be at 100% participation is a new model for any social stream or mobile app — something I have not seen successfully done before.

To further bring this to light, imagine if folks in other industries did the same thing;

I am excited to follow the progress of Slingshot as I think its a unique approach to gain adoption and engagement from users. I can’t help but put on my sales hat and think about monetization opportunities for Slingshot and wanted to brainstorm them here.

Monetization ideas for Slingshot

Scrooge

Promoted Slings — ok this is the low hanging fruit, but you know someone has already approached Facebook about doing these. I could imagine a a brand needing to come up with a story of “slings” that are unlocked only when users interact with them. If someone makes it through the entire funnel (thinking 3 tops) then a brand could show they engaged a user 3 times telling them a photo or video story.

Slingbacks — Not interested in creating content and becoming a part of the 1%? Watch these promoted Slingbacks instead! CPM based ads that unlock friends content without you having to create content. Friends get notified that you opted out of playing “the game” and got to see their content anyways.

Stickers/add-ons/in app purchases — this is the obvious choice so I am putting it last. This would be the ability to add some “flare” to your slings by purchasing digital content, either from brands directly or just a monetization path for Facebook.

In conclusion I have a few messages waiting for me to reply back, but I am not sure if I am willing to get back on the content train — most of the payoff has not been worth it yet as my friends are just experimenting (sorry Matt I may never know what you sent me!)

2014-06-18 09.22.27

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Personal Finance Tracking Apps

I recently read the NYTimes writeup of a ton of personal finance tracking apps and wanted to share my own thoughts.PiggyBank

My conclusion is that there are a ton of apps out there, all take a ton of work, and none do the job quite right.

This is a big opportunity as these apps can look at your personal spending habits, see SKU level data, and piece together very interesting demographics about a person.  There are lots of advertising opportunities surrounding this data, up selling to other products, and of course managing the funds someone has.

Looking at my “Finance” apps folder it seems I use a hybrid combination today of Level, Mint, BillGuard, Venmo, PayPal, and SplitWise.  I also use all my proprietary card and account apps.  I have tried to put together a monthly budget ahead of time, as well as look back using some of the smarter filters in the services listed above and I still do not have a great view into the things I want to see.

 

Here are the areas that I think need the most work in personal finance:

Entrepreneurship/Freelancing

I have a few side projects/businesses that generate revenue that make it seem like I am making more than I really am.  I keep everything separated out neatly for tax and accounting purposes, but the overlap causes confusion.  I have re-classified many transactions but it still causes some headaches.

Couples

My wife and I manage everything together, but transferring money between accounts and cards gets confusing.  Mint comes closest to solving the need for transparency here, but one large transfer can throw off the entire system.  I have not seen a great solution for couples to manager their personal finances to date.  I think most of the solutions are focussed on tracking your daily, weekly, and monthly dollars going in and out but not segmenting them up very well.

Budgets

The budget feature in Mint just feels broken.  Each app throws out suggestions or calculations based on what it thinks will be left at the end of a month, but they are far from correct.  The most success I have had is self budgeting into a separate account each month towards a big purchase.

Classifications

Tied to the entrepreneurship bit above, there is no good way to classify certain transactions.  An example would be a tax refund, a cash outlay for something or payments to a friend.  Venmo payments throw off any chance I have at budgeting correctly as it looks like I have income and losses galore when its really just a transaction towards a weekend trip or a dinner.  There must be a better way to classify something towards a life event vs. “Income”.

There are probably others, but given some recent discussions I have had I wanted to get these down.

What are you using to solve your budget issues and what systems are working?

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Getting to the bottom of the funnel

I have been interviewing a number of candidates for different roles within Foursquare which have resulted in some very interesting conversations.  One of the things I do at the end of every interview is leave time for folks to ask questions.  One of the most common questions I get is “why did you join foursquare?” (or some variation).  I have gotten into some great conversations around my answer and I thought it was worth writing about here.Funnel

To answer the question properly I walk folks through my previous roles and what motivated me to change jobs in the first place.

When I graduated from college I thought I wanted to work in advertising.  I got a job at Mediacom as a Media Planner, which means planning advertising for clients in areas such as TV, out of home, radio, print, and other mediums.  It was during this time that I actually started this blog (when it was all about Marketing).  I soon realized that this type of advertising was not really accountable for clients.  It was (and is?) thought to be effective by very hand wavy metrics such as “visibility” and “brand awareness” but it was impossible to really track.

I realized that interactive advertising and banner ads provided great accountability and metrics you could really dig into.  Around this time I made the switch to focus on a role that allowed me to work on many more clients instead of just one (those at Mediacom and Beyond Interactive) looking for interactive ads that they could track and learn from.  I saw this as a great answer to the great unknown of traditional ad effectiveness and much more reasonable to spend budgets against.

It was around this time that I became obsessed with ad stats, ROI, and metrics that could measure success for advertisers.

Some of the campaigns I worked on were traditional banners campaigns while others were more sophisticated sponsorships of the apps and programs of the day such as instant messaging clients, rollovers, and takeovers on sites.

In early 2006 I heard from an in house recruiter at a company called Reprise Media that worked specifically in Search Engine Marketing (SEM) which was a nascent advertising space dedicated to delivering targeted advertising solely based on someones intent.  Ding!

Once I groked what they actually did I jumped at the chance to meet with them.  It was amazing to see under the hood at a startup, and begin to understand the world of search advertising.

I saw SEM as being the so-called “holy grail” of advertising, only showing ads to those people that were actually looking for something similar!  If someone typed “running shoes” into a search engine, chances are they are looking for “running shoes”.  Therefore ads targeted around running, shoes, and combinations therein made for a great experience, perhaps even helped by the ads.  By virtue of an auction based system, quality scores, and actual click data search marketing seemed like the best way to reach someone who had real intent.  The marketers that got it early benefited from great results, an uncrowded space, and real metrics they could sink their teeth into and bring back to their CFO’s and claim success.  It was the first advertising medium I found that if effective, would result in unlimited budget from clients.  In a few cases we could beat the margins for products and arbitrage ads/traffic making clients a ton of revenue and profit in the process.

Fast forward 2+ years, after the company was sold to IPG, I was looking for what was next.  I soon found Union Square Ventures as a place to learn even more about startups, but from an entirely different viewpoint. (I will leave that experience to other posts)

When I met the founders from foursquare, and I heard what they were doing, I immediately became fixated on real world analytics.  A Foursquare merchant could actually see results in the form of real live foot traffic walking into their stores.  This time around there was a company that actually knew when you were in a “Running Shoe” store by the act of visiting that store.

It seemed I had actually found something that was further down the funnel than any other type of advertising I had ever seen.  People were checking in to places by the hundreds (at that time) and merchants were getting their first look at bridging the digital and physical world together.

I knew right away that what foursquare was working on was fascinating to me, appealing to my analytics side as well as my curiosity in figuring out how brick and mortar locations could innovate.

Over the past two years I have helped build up a massive group of interested merchants from around the world (over a million now!) that all use this dashboard information to speak to customers.

Its been an exciting journey and I hope to go into further detail about many of these experiences – but this is how I look at a decade of job progress since I graduated.

 

 

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