Category: Marketing

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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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.

Screen Shot 2013-06-19 at 10.39.58 AM

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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Have a kitchen cabinet of advisors

Building a Kitchen Cabinet

In the early stages of of an idea, project, or Company it’s very helpful to form a set of people you can lean on and get feedback from. I have heard this called a “kitchen cabinet” of advisors, and I love the name.  I recommend everyone in this early stage form this core group.

I have had early discussions and feedback sessions with entrepreneurs, which sometimes leads to using an early alpha version of a product, service, or app. This leads to further discussions and hopefully I am helpful.  Communicating with real users early is essential to success, and having these discussions with this group is a great way to show progress and get an outside viewpoint.

These folks can lead to advisor roles (formerly), leads in the future, employees, investors, and many more things.  They can also make a great sounding board when you are in need of an outsiders opinion or even need to vent.

Post first demo/pitch/meeting

One of the missed opportunities I see after an initial chat with someone about their idea or prototype is the ability to stay in touch.  Its common curtesy to ask to email questions in the future, or follow up with new versions or information, but I recommend people take it a step further.

When you are done with your coffee meeting/feedback session/demo/pitch – ask if you can add folks to your “stay up to date” list.  This should be a no action item email that comes at most once a month with material changes to your business.  It could be a new version, it could be a new hire, it could be a new demo – something that the person who opted into would want to hear. This is a great way to keep people in the loop, let them unsubscribe if they want, and keep folks up to date on your progress.

There are lots of free ways to manage your list of interested folks such as mailchimp which is a free way to add folks to a subscribed email update list.

 

Both of the ideas listed above happen in the first few meetings with someone and can lead to much more in the future.  You only get one first impression and you also only get one first demo – make the follow up and time spent worth it for both of you by thinking about what happens next.

 

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Broadcasting my links and things I read

I recently started using BufferApp both on my phone and my browser to syndicate content to my other networks.  I currently have the free account and have connected Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and App.net.  I also use Buffer on my phone to send content (but mainly through the email function).

Buffer is a web service that takes content from you or others, and syndicates it via a shortened URL across multiple services.  You can “buffer” content to be sent instantly, or scheduled for some time in the future.

It has been very handy for me as I come across great links to share, and quickly want a way to send them out.

My buffer flow is as follows;

1. find great content
2. open in mobile safari and email link to buffer app (modifying subject which is the words in the post)
3. check stats/rinse and repeat

I started using my own Bit.ly account to track better stats across content which has been eye opening to see how things perform.  I continue to predict content that will flourish and am constantly surprised at how things do.  Links that I think are great sometimes fall flat, while linke I think are “meh” seem to get lots of traction. Overall people seem to enjoy the content which is a net win.

For the first time ever I am pushing content to LinkedIn.  I have been on the service forever, but never thought to share links there because its just too cumbersome.  Now with Buffer I share everything – and am getting a decent response rate.  My content is limited to my LinkedIn network which is inversely impacting my overall reach.  I don’t want to optimize for reach in LinkedIn as it would grow the network beyond people that I know – but strangely sharing content their make it almost the point.  As someone once said about linkedin “its like Pokemon, you just need to collect them all” which is to say you may as well try to connect with the world.  Whats the downside?

I am also for the first time sharing content with App.net – which has been a virtual graveyard for me that I am trying to resurrect.  I don’t participate in the network other than sending info, but all communities need the initial seeds to grow.  I feel I can spend time there for a future time when its had time to grow.

My primary network of “attention” is Twitter and Facebook which continue to grow.  My engagement seems “good” but I don’t have a decent proxy for what to expect.

I am very interested in determining the virality of my links and ability to read things first vs. catching them later.  I no longer use a news reader (like google reader) which as any long time reader of my blog know is a big deal as I used to be fixated on reading all my feeds.

I love sharing this content and wonder if I can keep up my momentum – I would love to hear feedback either way if you are on the receiving end of my links.

Where do you share your content?

 

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Countdown to “Unlimited Everything” mobile plans

Verizon recently announced that at the end of June 2012 they are going to have a new plan they call Share Everything (more here.)

The crux of the deal is that you will have Unlimited Talk, Unlimited Text, and Shareable Data.  The matrix below outlines the offering

I am now starting a countdown until they open up the third pillar with Unlimited Data.  I don’t think that its too far off.  I know there are other “unlimited everything” plans but they do not include family plans and add on devices such as tablets and wifi hotspots.  The closest you can get is with TMobile’s unlimited plan and adding devices that way (trust me, I used to do it)

The race to the bottom is happening and I expect other mobile carriers to follow suit.  I can imagine a time where there is total ubiquitous connectivity and the services you pay for are on top of the pipes (carriers) and are all added value.

The convergence to unlimited Talk, Text, and Data is already on its way and Verizon just took a big step to get there faster.  I hope other carriers follow shortly.

In a world where there is unlimited bandwidth these things are all possible.

 

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Computationally Expensive (within project planning)

When I first started working at foursquare I heard this term as a way of explaining that some things were not possible (right now!) but could be built in the future (soon!).  It is one of my favorite terms for a lot of reasons, but mainly because of the challenge of overcoming whatever obstacle is in the way.

For different groups to understand what is possible and what is not, a matrix of sorts is needed to quantify why things may or may not be possible.  Things like an overall Company vision and roadmap contribute to why and when things are happening, but scoring things can also bring some much needed transparency into the process.

At first glance this seems like an excuse as why not to get something done – simply blaming “its too computationally expensive” – but as you can see there are a myriad of reasons.

I am far enough away from the time when this was first discussed that I have started to think about the issues that came up in another way.  You can easily plot the overall Difficulty and Impact of a project by plotting them on a graph similar to the one below.

Each dot represents a potential project or feature

Scoring would work such that;

Green = justification for immediate completion
Yellow = decide based on subjective views
Red = justification to wait

You can see how almost any discussion between groups, such as BD and engineering, could be plotted on this graph.  Something that has extremely high impact but is technically very difficult (red) may not get the hours/work necessary in light of other projects.  However something that is high impact and low difficulty (green) could get prioritized right away.  Using this methodology brings in some objectivity that may otherwise be absent from a discussion.

There are many subjective reasons why something may end up in a specific area or color, but this at least lets you plot all projects accordingly.

As an organization grows, this allows you to weigh the ideas and complexities of partner requests with that of folks who have longer term (cross quarter) projects currently in motion.  Things like engineering hours, PM resources, and design may play a role in the score and color of a dot.  Previously running projects have probably the highest impact, but provide justification on a high impact low difficulty project being pushed off a month.

Everyone in the organization should understand how a suggestion or feature improvement could affect the overall goals and timeline of a Company.

I don’t think I will stop contributing grand ideas to the product and eng. teams here anytime soon though ;)

As an aside I was reminded of this recently while watching @cooperb give his talk about our infrastructure stack on MongoDB.

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