Talking Brands

I was reminded last night while watching the Super Bowl that more brands are talking.  They are not only speaking directly to people on Twitter and Facebook, but also to each other.  All were trying to capture real time moments in their prose, hoping to capture mindshare.

Hashtags also were essential in messages, and there are some great scorecards of how brands did here and here.

This was definitely not always the case and even remarkable when it occured – back in 2008 Boxee was talking to Pandora

Here is a updated snippet of what happened

I love that brands of all sizes are given an equal platform on Twitter to communicate.  Obviously customer service has become a central use case for Twitter, but it affords anyone with access the ability to communicate.

These platforms allow the smallest startups to build trust, evangelize their products, and hopefully build something valuable over the long term.  I don’t know of a case where a brand has invested in this type of customer community building and it has not been helpful.   Sure there are gaffs and folks that don’t get it, but once its happening correctly its invaluable to the company or service.

There are many ways to communicate with brands you love, and take action with brands you have issue with.  I think this type of communication is great and whether or not the brand has a small personality or millions of followers.  Being able to actively speak to your customers when they are not on your site, in your store, or using your software – but at a moment where they need you is critical.

 

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“Where did my Google Drive Go?” – Trouble with Google UX

Sometime last year Google changed the way folks access the “apps” within Gmail and Google Apps for Business accounts.  My summary of the change; everything now takes two clicks instead of one.  The official response shows the feature, and the product forums tell us ”…simpler design lets you focus on your in product experience but switch to other Google products when you need to.”

Here is the new design decision that has resulted in folks actually asking me what happened to Google Drive.

Screenshot 2014-01-19 10.09.31

If you dive into the feedback from users and customers its almost unanimous too; why would you change it to two clicks instead of one?  I have heard this from my team internally, and many other friends as well.  Folks have come to me asking “why did we remove the links?” as if it were a corporate decision.

Others gave up on using Drive because they could no longer find the link.  If a design decision yields lower usage of a product, I believe you should change it back.  Of course I do not have any data to backup my claim that usage is lower, but I know Google collects and analyzes such data.

Gmail is also making other changes to the previous default way things are handled.  Fred recently highlighted the changes with regard to attachments within gmail noting that the default to “open in drive” is now gone.  I also don’t love this change, but you can still preview the contents of the email by clicking the title.  This “lightbox” approach is not great for me as I am distracted by the email happenings going on behind the document.  Perhaps this is just a temporary moment in time between the old way and the new, but almost 6 mos. in I still want the old way back.

I use a lot of Google products.  I use Gmail personally, and Google Apps professionally, and pay for extra storage.  I only caveat with this information as I believe in the platform.  I want things to work better.  I am heavily invested in the network effects of Google.  As I have said before, once a behavior stream is happening its hard to change.

However all these negative changes make it a little easier to look at other tools and solutions instead of Google, whereas before I would not even entertain giving them a chance.

 

 

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Some thoughts on Calendars and Meetings

A lot of companies are trying to “solve” calendars.

There are many startups that are building calendar apps, desktop apps, and combinations of the two.  Some even try to also manage your to-do list. Integrated features like knowing background information, lateness notifications, and notes on important details about people or places – all part of the race to “own” your calendar.

The goal of course is that you are weened off of the standard/default calendar that comes with your phone/tablet/computer/OS and you use their app instead. This of course is a great lock-in for the app makers for it increases the switching costs to another calendar or service.  If you are tied to the “extra” features of a calendar like to-dos, notes, cumulative info – it can be hard to switch to something else.

I believe a missing thing they should be going after is solving scheduling. Whether it be meetings, calls, reserving times that work, or anything else you need to do involving blocking time off in your schedule.  It has been said many times elsewhere, but the best way to see someones priorities is to look at their calendar.  Its almost like a to-do list with your time and some even say that if its not scheduled in your calendar its not important.  Blocked time in your calendar visually shows your priorities.

Most calendar apps miss showing the simplest thing for me – showing free time on a day view. The benefit of this for me is that I am constantly adding/removing meetings and things on the fly and need to know the windows of time I have available.  Either checking while on the phone, in a discussion, or in real time trying to reschedule something viewing the free time is critical.

I am using the Google calendar system of record and pushing that to my iOS view.  This does make things easier and in some ways it means that Google “owns” my calendar.  I have heard that this also means switching back to native Android would be that much easier.

Knowing that this free time view is crucial, I always look to see which apps provide it; either on the desktop or mobile. Perhaps it is just not as important to others but many simply do not have this view built in.  All shows you when things are booked, but not when you have time.

My workflow is always to open my email in the morning, open another tab with my calendar, then dual wield between the two all day. Through the rats nest of Google Calendar settings, I have figured out a way to manage and edit both my work and personal calendar – no small feat.  It means that I can view my personal and professional calendars together and still invite people in both worlds to events.  I have reached a point where if I do not put something on my calendar I may forget about it, so I try to put every meeting in it.

Calendar App Wishlist

  • Desktop app – Having a calendar open in another instance of Chrome is a pain.  Opening the two and switching between them all day seems like a waste, but without the free time view, I don’t see another way.
  • Mobile app – syncs flawlessly with work + personal and shows free time view
  • Background info – Rapportive style background on people.  Refresh does this today, but its background on the people and secondary to the Calendar itself, not a replacement
  • Simple sharing\editing granting permissions – As mentioned above Google allows this, but its a nightmare of settings and sharing functionality
  • Default meetings times = 30 minutes.  Simple enough request, but Google Calendars makes this fixed to 60 mins. (Ideally I would get to choose the time for the default meeting)
  • Weather/Foursquare Location/Distance to travel <–easy metadata to make any appointment that much easier
  • Future proofing; interior location monitor if I am not where I am supposed to be, notify someone automatically that I will be late, ping me if I am not moving towards my next meeting, sync up latest emails with that person into cal., oh and lasers

My calendar workflow for meetings

1. Setting up a meeting via email

The best add-on I have found for managing meeting requests without all the back and forth is Boomerang Calendar (free!).  It automatically lets you click times that are open (in 30 minute intervals!) and inserts them into an email to someone.  Its one of the biggest time savers possible, and avoids a ton of back and forth that usually happens with scheduling.  I wrote about appointment setting etiquette, but I respect the fact that everybody is different.  I get multiple “can you meet this week?” emails often and always follow my own rules to respond back with 3 times/3 dates.

2. Logistics

Picking a time or place can be cumbersome, so I always throw out a dial in to the group.  I use TextExpander (paid but worth it) to have my info ready, and this way I always know my own dial info and code.  This way no matter where I am, I know I can dial into the meeting with the right info.  I used to use FreeConferenceCall.com but have found the latency is just not worth the broken conversations.  Investing in a rock solid conference line is worth it.

Pro Tip: You can program in your own conference call info into favorites, program in pauses with “,”‘s and have it automatically dial you in, enter your passcode, as well as the admin code.  This probably saves me the most time each week next to Boomerang Cal.  To put it another way, I can click “Conference Line” and my phone will automatically deal with the prompts/codes/admin code for me and get me dialed in fast.

3. Locations

When meeting someone in person outside my office, its best to know/pick a spot nearby.  Perhaps its just a personal peeve, but going back and forth on a place is hardly worth 4 emails – I cut to the chase and offer up nearby coffee shop/diner/other.  I am clearly biased, but using Foursquare is honestly the best way to find a place that accommodates meetings.  Lots of people leave great tips at coffee shops letting me know whether its good or not.  Here is a great tip at Grey Dog in SOHO saying exactly what you want to find for a good location.

This post is a bit of a rant, but I am trying to get back into the drivers seat of writing more blog posts in 2014 :)

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Can’t find a mentor? Become one

In Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In she devotes a chapter to mentorship and how many people approach her at the end of a talk or conference asking her (without a prior relationship) to be their mentor.  She admits this is an awkward situation, and obviously cannot mentor all these individuals.  I have heard this happening to others and its not an easy situation. While I don’t have a good answer for those being asked, I think it’s important for those doing the asking to understand what they are after.

Looking for a mentor can sometimes be fruitless because most mentor and mentee relationships form organically and sometimes never even formalized. Many people point to their mentors as keys to their success, helping them navigate tough times so others try to emulate the same situation.  You can’t simply snap your fingers and find a mentor. It’s a relationship that has to be formed over time, through communication, questions, working together, and many other means.

However this does not mean that you can’t flip the tables and learn something about yourself along the way. If you are really on the hunt for advice, try finding someone who needs YOUR help.  Chances are that there is someone else, without your life experience, that could benefit from what you have done.

I believe anyone can apply their life lessons to someone else either in the same position or about to be in that position.  For example, a recent college grad may be looking for a mentor in the field they want to go into. They may find a hard time getting folks to return emails and calls and get discouraged. This is when they may think “without experience I am doomed!” When in reality they have plenty. Going back and talking to a new freshmen coming into college about their experience can be a way of reinforcing everything they themselves actually know. They can actually mentor someone else.  Being out of college even a year and applying to jobs is enough experience to speak to a graduating senior to give them perspective on what they are about to embark into.  This may not be a position everyone is in, but it serves as a good example I often use.

Another example is a current/recent MBA looking for a CEO/Founder mentor. This is a dream scenario I hear a lot. Instead of getting discouraged sending emails that go unanswered, they could spend time working with an entrepreneurship group honing the skills they learned getting an MBA.  Finding Meetups with like minded people and putting your skills and expertise to work just takes a little effort.  You may not be paired up with the CEO of a thriving company, but you can surround yourself with people solving problems you are interested in.  This can often lead to a peer group that is ultimately more helpful.

The truth is that people need help and mentor ship at all levels. It’s not about the job title of the person, it’s about genuinely helping people. It would be great if a big CEO would take you under their wing, but its not the only positive outcome.

Take action by helping someone else. Start small and answer a question or suggest a solution. Over time you might find yourself being a resource for that person.  I have found that being a mentor is a great experience and solidifies my own knowledge topics  while teaching someone else.

In the absence of finding a mentor, become one.

 

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Setting up a custom short domain name

I have been wanting to setup my own custom short URL for awhile and finally got around to setting up eric.mx.  I was inspired by Mark Suster who uses bothsid.es.  The process was simple; purchase your own short domain name and connect it to a short link service.  My service of choice is Bit.ly, which allows you to do this for free and provides great stats – here is an example: http://eric.mx/18yhkhq

Logging into Bit.ly, navigate to settings>advanced and add your own custom domain.

 

Screenshot 2013-11-14 21.06.41

 

Next, login to your registrar, and navigate to the settings of that domain.  Mine looks like the image below, but yours may look different depending on where you purchased your domain from.  Once you are in, change the A record for your domain to the suggestion IP from Bit.ly.  Its a quick change that should happen right away, followed by confirming this step in your Bit.ly advanced settings tab.

Screenshot 2013-11-14 21.07.54

Once the DNS records have been updated, Bit.ly will display that your new short domain is ready for use.

Screenshot 2013-11-14 21.11.54I have written before about how I share content online, and this fits that workflow very well.  BufferApp, which I use to share most things, picks up my new custom domain via Bit.ly and subsequently shares it across each of my networks.  My new short URL is alive!

Its actually unclear to me whether or not this will have any impact on engagement with things I share, but its a fun experiment I have wanted to do for a long time.  So if you see an eric.mx link around the web, now you know!

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9.4 years on gmail

An email project out of MIT shows you an interesting breakdown of your email usage.  You have to authorize your gmail account, but you can delete all data once you are done.

It turns out I have been using gmail for 9.4 years and have somewhere in the neighborhood of 10,000 emails per year.  Below is a snapshot of what my gmail graph looks like.  This image removes names, but you can clearly see the nodes I interact with that are grouped together.  Some are friend groups, family, work, projects, basically all the different groups that I interact with.  It was also interesting to see the silo groups that I either didn’t email with anyone else (ever) or simply emailed with them years prior.

 

emails

I like this type of analysis a lot because its the first time I have been able to look back at a decade of gmail usage.

If you are really interested in seeing activity, you can checkout the Account Activity Beta from Google.  It shows you a breakdown of ALL your google information including emails, calendars, YouTube videos watched, google searches, location data – basically everything.  I like quantifying my personal and work emails to see the flow of communication.  It is interesting to see patterns when traveling, during major working milestones, or just in general.

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Refresh App – know more about your next meeting

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I found an interesting app recently called Refresh that shows you interesting insights into the person you are about to meet with based on a calendar sync.

Refresh works like rapportive in gmail (for those that use it) leveraging a persons emails address to show you insights about them.  It notifies you before a meeting a gives a “dossier” about the people in the calendar invite.

By giving access to your calendar and synching social networks, Refresh summarizes important information in a digestible format. I met up with my friend David Fraga recently and he agreed to let me post the example above.

The app shows a quick view of the person, their photo, job, title and other info.  It shows you common people you might both know, their interests, and other tidbits from their social graph that may be helpful.  Some may find this intrusive, but its just automating information that I could freely capture if I spent the time.

Some of the more helpful modules show articles that person was mentioned in, current stock price, and my personal favorite – stock price when the person joined the company!

I think it’s only a matter of time before this social data it tied into your main calendar, but for now this is a great way for sales folks to get great insights into the next person they are meeting with.

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Be a culture that asks questions

Over the past few months many new folks have joined my team (sales & revenue). I keep reminding others that have been around awhile that being open to questions in the early days of someone starting sets the tone for the future. I ask that new folks to ask as many questions as possible, and anyone should feel free to answer. Doing so encourages a culture that asks questions and communicates.

When learning something new (like our entire operation) it’s clear there will be tons of information and new things to tackle. Asking questions gets someone comfortable communicating with the team. Questions also give other team members a chance to recite back what they know, which is a great way to solidify their own understanding. There is a strong correlation between how well you know a topic and your ability to teach it to someone else.

It’s not fun when you don’t know the answer to something and are afraid to ask. I try to avoid that scenario by reminding people what it was like when they started and how they felt.

Having a culture that asks questions also ensures that when something doesnt make sense nobody is afraid to talk about it. Things like “this isn’t supposed to work this way” Or “What if it did this intstead?” It’s ok to challenge the status quo and always strive to be better. This of course must be balanced properly with the right management in place that helps everyone keep their eye on the RIGHT ball. These types of questions lead to better products and better experiences.

When the going gets tough, it’s better to be surrounded by people you trust and are not afraid to ask for help. It also encourages people to be open and honest when mistakes are made (hey we are all human) and therefore means they will be surfaced and fixed faster.

So, be a culture that asks questions.

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SaaS on my mind

I have had SaaS on my mind for quite awhile.  I have been slow to write my thoughts here, but after some recent conversations I thought I would pick things back up again.  You see, in going through my “sandbox projects” it was interesting to see that I have tried a few different business models in the past; consulting/development (Dogsly/TodaysKicks), advertising on DoBlu.com and Multiplayergames.comconsulting, and of course subscription (SubscribeToIt.com).  Yes the last one was a joke, but I still learned a lot!

For those that do not know, SaaS stands for Software As A Service – which is another way of saying a subscription web service.  Typically these services present some kind of utility via a web app or online software that is provided in a freemium model.  Many SaaS offerings have a monthly subscription plan behind them.

Since the early days of the Internet, charging a monthly subscription fee to users is a way to ensure revenue for a product or offering from the start.  Its also a way of quickly quantifying the value of a customer.  Some early stage companies shy away from charging, at least at first in favor of growing their network.

For me the appeal of these types of businesses are  very simple; you are either a customer or you are not.  

This is a binary outcome for every person.  The idea that someone can sign up for a trial, see if the service provides value, then decide if they want to pay a monthly subscription rate is a very clean way to measure the effectiveness of the product.  It is also a great way to quantify the value of customers you can send to the top of the conversion funnel (those that sign up for the trial).

Trying out a business model is of course not a reason to build something, but when I came across a recent problem that was being experienced by companies both big and small, I recognized a solution that I could provide that just happened to by in the form of a software as a service web app.  I became so passionate about solving this pain for early stage companies that I have spent the past few months figuring out the best solution.

Any project I have launched to date has been a challenge for me and allowed me to learn new things, and this one is definitely the most ambitious yet.  Exciting things ahead!

 

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Nestio – Solving Renting

As anyone who has spent time living in New York will tell you, renting an apartment can be one of the most complicated, confusing, and mentally painful processes you can go through.  Thats why two years ago when I started working with the NY Tech Stars program as a mentor, I immediately connected with the Nestio team.  Led by their CEO, Caren Maio, they are building a better way to get correct data from landlords and owners to brokers and renters.  Today, they launched a new service to better help brokers and owners manage listings.  The graphic below describes their offering best; solving the problem of incorrect information that exists between landlords and brokers and the renters.

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Instead of relying on poor source data for listings, such as email blasts, faxes, outdated spreadsheets and the like – Nestio provides a way for owners to enter their information directly into the Nestio platform.  This in turn gets the right information into the hands of brokers, which can then rent to consumers faster.  The ecosystem improvements that Nestio are bringing to market are exactly what the Manhattan rental market needs.  Today, trying to find an apartment can lead you down many paths where is difficult to find out if a place is even available.  Nestio.com is becoming the central database for all listing information, directly from the sources (owners!).

The best part about working with this team has been watching them execute.  Its one thing to say you are going to solve the NYC real estate markets problems, and quite another to deliver.  Over the past year I have watched Caren and co. systematically build up a huge database of owners, brokers, and renters creating the right ecosystem to thrive.  Now, owners are spreading the word about the time savings and headache avoidance Nestio is bringing them daily.

New York City represents the wild wild west of real estate and it has been a pleasure to watch Nestio tame it.

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