Category: Marketing

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 it’s 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 get 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 mentorship 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 it’s 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.

 

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!

 

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.

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.

 

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.

 

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.

Get to the “ask” early

In most meetings the last 5-10 minutes are used to go over the “ask” or the crux of what folks are there to talk to in the first place.

I have noticed a common occurrence where someone sets up a meeting or call to go over something new or propose something interesting, but they only cover this within the last part of the meeting time. This sets you up to have very little time to present your request, while spending significant time setting up and getting ready for your big “ask”.

Commonly after introductions are made via email and calls or meetings have been setup, folks never dive into the crux of the issue until there is little time for healthy discussion. It can be daunting to go into a big request at the early stages of a conversation or relationship, but you should strike the right balance. Even setting someone up with a brief agenda early, including the “ask” within it can be helpful. This way both parties know that eventually you will bring up the request sooner or later. This can also help in letting them digest the request first, while you setup the story behind the rest of your discussion.

There are a few different types of meetings that happen and each can be handled differently. Sometimes in a sales meeting you need to set up the product or proposal the right way, or give proper background. Other times in a proposed partnership you need to go over some of the important details that pertain to your proposal. Other meetings are used to brainstorm something entirely new, but there are one or two key points that must be a part of the final product. In any of these cases it is always prudent to make sure there is plenty of time to discuss the price, requirements, or demands that you have.

The “big crescendo” at the end of a meeting can sometimes be a surprise to the audience and does not leave them with enough time to process the demand as well as ask questions.

I recommend bringing the “ask” as upfront as you can without harming the story you are there to tell.

Buy a machine or buy the parts (creating vs. acquiring)

Last week I read a great post by Bryce Roberts of OATV called A Perfect Storm for Acqihires.

In it, he details the current state of the union for big companies and small ones looking to build out portions of their expertise through acquiring entire companies, and adding/folding them into the larger entity and  concludes:

It’s not necessarily a new frontier we’re entering. The current environment is simply turning up the volume on what has been happening for some time. And it’s only going to get louder. So BigCos and scaling startups, with increasingly valuable equity, are enjoying a perfect storm for acqhires.

I commented on the post, and as Bryce invited me to write up my thoughts, I figured I would do so here.  This is paraphrased from that comment and explored further below.

I can buy the parts to build a car, or I can pay more and buy one that I know will perform.  This is a no brainer decision because of time, quality, safety, and ongoing maintenance.

In the world of web startups,  you can hire individuals and try to make the team hum, or you can buy an agile group that you know can perform.  The issue is the premium you will pay for a fully functioning web startup team, but it may be worth acquiring a fully operational team that you know is going to produce what you want.

I am sure someone could do a better calculation but this is just back of the napkin stuff;

Acquhire option

what are 8 people worth all at once  who can produce? lets call it $10MM

2 engineers
2 mobile client developers
2 designers
2 front end developers
2 BD folks (hey im biased and can’t leave us out :))

Assuming $100K each thats $1MM in headcount instantly.

Cost? $10MM upfront to buy the startup and product.  Great small exit for the team.

Result:
Time ~ instant (or 90 days)
Hope they work at your co. for 5 years
You are paying $200K per person for an instahire situation.  (more if you count options, raises, more payments and “other” but trying to simplify)

Hiring Option

Hire 2 people per month ~ $100K/month/per person across 12 months is 24 people at a $2.4MM burn rate.  This obviously does not include ANYTHING else you need to be spending money on like office, computers, insurance, food, other so lets double it and call it $5MM

You get a stellar group that takes approx. 1 month per person to get up to speed (I think this is generous) so you are not running at full speed for 1.5-2 months per person.

Result:
Time ~ 10 months (but really longer in my opinion)
Have equal to or less than team in 5 months – hope they all can work well together – and get them up to speed on your product.

conclusion?:
Time is now an important ingredient to a startup trying to crank something and suddenly $200K per head for an “insta-team” situation makes a lot of sense.

I believe that you can buy a fully functioning machine, and pay a premium – or you can buy all the parts and assemble a machine yourself.  In the example of buying a car, buying the parts is most certainly not an option, and you are better off buying the finished product from a safe and stable Company.

A million things could go wrong with each scenario above – and I am sure I am leaving parts out, but I wanted to get my thoughts down after the request.

Stream vs. Share (the new Facebook)

Last week everyone shared things online through things such as the Facebook “like” button.  Starting last Thursday, everyone is now going to start streaming them with a new opt in functionality of all “verbs” on the new Facebook. Facebook held their F8 experience last week and according to MG Siegler, changed the game.  I called it an “experience” because they had Andy Samberg open the show and it was quite a production.

With last weeks announcement, the “game change” that happened is that previously Facebook had websites including “Like” buttons all over the web.  In a move that I commend as extremely smart, they have people “liking” content both on Facebook.com and offsite, which in turn puts more content into the Facebook news feed, then making the content seen by more people, hoping for more “likes”.  It is/was a Möbius strip of activity that resulted in more activity and attention.

Now, they have included a “always on” setting which takes your actions from apps, sites, and services and automatically ports it into your news feed. Although its not the same main news feed, its now a smaller, faster, news feed inside your main feed on the right hand side (yo dawg!)

The actions though are now well beyond “like” and include basically anything you can think of.

You will now be able to “watch” content, “read” a magazine, “listen” to some music, etc..

But the catch is, everything now goes into the mini feed that is a firehose of activity.

As RWW said (emphasis theirs)

Be forewarned though, with these apps you’re automatically sending anything you read into your Facebook news feed. No “read” button. No clicking a “like” or “recommend” button. As soon as you click through to an article you are deemed to have “read” it and all of your Facebook friends and subscribers will hear about it.

I did this myself with Rdio + Facebook and you can see the following results

Interestingly this activity came from my Android (using Rdio) while I was at the gym.  Embarrassing or not, the world of activity streaming is now here.

The firehose feed is interesting because if you interact with content streaming by, Facebook sees this as intent and automatically upgrades how important it thinks this content is.  I see the firehose as actually “training” the main Facebook feed, which is also interesting because you will be seeing content that is more relevant to you as well.  What is interesting here is that users are training the feed with firehose intent, and marketers will now be able to target towards this new streaming activity.

I see a ton of Spotify and Rdio activity right now in my firehose facebook feed, but as developers dig in, I expect to see much more content from third party apps, and expect to get bombarded with the initial requests to “stream” from apps I use.

 

Google AdSense ads to start showing +1 button

Google recently announced that they will be including the +1 button into AdSense ads.  You can read more in the post, but this has significant impact for advertisers who can now get a ton of social data combined with their campaigns.

From their email to AdSense customers

We previously launched the +1 button on Google search and for publisher sites to make it easier for people to share and discover content across the web. Soon, your users will be able to endorse specific ads and make the ads more likely to appear to their social connections. We believe that these recommendations could help your readers notice ads on your site more, leading to higher returns for you over time.

This is what the ads will look like – very similar to the Facebook “face pile” you see on sites where you have friends that have OAuthed

 

Its definitely an interesting move to increase engagement within advertising. There have been a ton of startups that have tried to tackle this problem and increase relevancy to readers and users by requesting implicit and explicit feedback from users, but none with the sheer scale of Google.  AdSense ads obviously litter the web and are a core source of revenue for many sites so the immediate impact here will be known.  It remains to be seen if there is an increase efficacy of the ad for either relevance, click through rate, or even recall but I will be following this closely to see the results.