Alex's Tech Thoughts

Profiles and Founders: Where Are They Now? Part IV

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Here is my latest Forbes piece: http://onforb.es/1vT3C5s.

Let me know your thoughts!

Part I can be found here.

Part II can be found here.

Part III can be found here.

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Forbes Profiles Founders Series Where Are They Now
My Skillshare Class: What To Do With It?

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I began teaching on Skillshare back on November 16th, 2011. First I taught an Introduction to Business Development class. It was quite long, so I made a Part I and a Part II. Then I added a “Practical Business Development” class (less high level and more ready-to-use-today skills). These classes were all given in person and it took a lot out of me to teach them each once a month. I felt it was good to share what I’d learned to help others break into the business side of early-stage tech companies and I actually made a significant amount of money (enough to make me go “oh sh*t” when tax season came along and I hadn’t put away the proper amount owed in taxes).

Once Skillshare moved their business to focus on virtual classes, I made an Intro to Business Development called “Make Deals that Matter: Business Development & Partnerships for Startups.” I took the slides from the Intro I class and made a video course. Skillshare featured the class when I put it out and I had a few hundred people take the class.

But that was when it came out in 2013. It did really well then but I never updated the content, it was never really interactive (as other successful ones were), it was just my voice over slides and I think the positive reviews took a hit because of that (only 70%, as opposed to my in-person classes that were 90% or higher and 95% overall). The class gets next to no new sign ups now. So I’m wondering what I should do with the class.

Should I make a new class around the more practical business development skills? (i.e. reaching out, intros, making a pitch deck, etc.) Should I work on making my old class more interesting? Is it not even me, and rather that the virtual Skillshare classes are too complex?

Any ideas? It would be nice for people to learn in the same way I felt people learned when it was an in-person class.

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Skillshare Book Pitching and Closing
Platform To Tell Stories

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This past week I almost tweet-stormed. I didn’t, but it got me thinking about the places online where you can talk about things. I think there’s still an opportunity to build the go-to platform to tell stories. The closest thing now may be Medium, but it doesn’t completely feel like a platform for “story-telling” exactly. I think pieces of what I envision exist on Reddit. But Reddit is a little bit of something for everyone.

I think a combo of Reddit + Medium would make an interesting site. Organized by short, medium, and long posts, and having the ability to have a subreddit-like experience but with different genres of stories (i.e. happy, funny, scary, sad, uplifting, etc.)

Does anything out there look like this?

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Stories Platforms
Writing as Networking

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Many people talk about writing, blogging, and contributing content as a way to get their thoughts out there. The thought process is that if you write enough about something, you will be seen as an expert in that. This is great but I think there is another reason to write and that is networking.

I used to go to 3-5 events a week. Some events were good and maybe I would meet 10-20 new people. Other events would be a waste of time and I’d meet no one. As I got more and more involved in the NY tech scene I went to less events. Now I maybe go to one every two weeks. Instead I use writing as networking.

What I mean by “writing as networking” is that if I write four short posts a week and have a few hundred people read each one, my voice and ideas are reaching many more than I could ever reach or connect with by physical networking. I post each article to all my social networks and for every post I write I receive a few emails and comments. This is the perfect way to continue networking without the laborious running around from event to event.

If you aren’t writing right now, maybe start with “writing as networking” in mind.

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Writing Networking
Profiles and Founders: Where Are They Now? Part III

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Here is my latest Forbes piece: http://onforb.es/1kY8RQd.

Let me know your thoughts!

Part I can be found here.

Part II can be found here.

Checkout other articles in these categories:

Forbes Series Profiles Where Are They Now Founders Recap
Initial Step In Building A Roadmap For A Small Team

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On the heels of the last two posts, one of the big things we did at the offsite was set ourselves up to build out a roadmap. It is an easy task to build a roadmap when you are a small company; it is not an easy task to stick to it. The reason being that things change so much at early-stage companies that what might have made sense three months ago now has changed.

So what we are doing, instead of building a proper roadmap and sticking to it, is listing out all the things we want to do as a company and perform a Bang/Buck analysis on it. This allows us to figure out the level of impact it will have on our business (Bang) and what it will cost us in time (Buck). We listed out 20+ things we want to do and are now figuring out in what order we will do them.

While we generally know what is next, doing this exercise helps us clarify. I think it might help you too if you are in a similar situation.

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Startups Roadmap Small Teams
The Number

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Yesterday I wrote about offsites and why they are important for your company. Today I want to write about “The Number” as it directly relates to the first offsite you and your co-founders take.

"The Number" is something a company needs to set up early on as it is connected to what you track and care about. Sometimes there is more than one number that guides whether there is success, underachievement, or failure. The Number is the metric you look at every day and if it is doing well, you are happy. If it isn’t, you are sad (i.e. your ultimate goal is to make The Number go up).

For most startups, “The Number” is usually a numerical goal around a few metrics, the most popular ones being revenue, new users, and activity (i.e. active users).

So how do you figure out what your “Number” is?

It’s actually pretty easy. You look at what you need to do as a business to be successful. At different times in your company’s lifecycle, different things may be more important than others. Your number is the thing that helps you become profitable, build a lasting business, raise more money, get acquired, etc. Whatever your end game is, “The Number” is your guiding light.

So, what is your number?

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The Number Goals Revenue Users
Offsites

This past week Michael and I had our first SocialRank offsite. We did it two nights last week (Wednesday and Thursday from 6pm-9pm) with one of our company advisors acting as the moderator/facilitator.

We discussed everything from what we want to be when we grow up to what roles we need to fill to be successful. It was really necessary and I highly recommend that any company should take 4-6 hours, go out of office, and do some game-planning with your co-founder.

It is hard to take a step back during the busy-ness of work. But, I think, if you don’t do this every 6 months or so your startup will hurt long term.

So, have you taken a company offsite recently? If so, how do you feel about it?

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Offsites Startups
Profiles and Founders: Where Are They Now? Part II

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Here is my latest Forbes piece: http://onforb.es/1yArkTR.

Let me know your thoughts!

Part I can be found here.

Checkout other articles in these categories:

Forbes Recap Profiles Founders Where Are They Now Series
5 Awesome Tech Podcasts for Startup BD People - Guest Post

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Listening to podcasts is one of my favorite ways to improve my startup knowledge and understanding of the tech industry. The 25 minutes it takes me to get to work is perfect for listening to a few short podcasts or part of a long one. And when I’m traveling around town between meetings, I often have headphones on, catching up on the latest news and interviews with leaders in the space.

If you’re on iOS, Marco Arment’s recently released Overcast app makes subscribing and listening to podcasts a dream. If you’re a Droid user, some recommendations for the best podcast apps can be found here.

Here’s a list of my five favorite podcasts to learn about startups, business development, and the tech world more broadly.

This Week in Startups: First is Jason Calacanis’s This Week in Startups (TWIST), which comes out every Tuesday and Friday afternoon. The show is fast-paced, really fun, and full of practical business insight and advice from some of the major figures in the industry.

Jason’s one of the most incisive and probing interviewers out there. He doesn’t shy away from asking hard questions, but conveys a lot of admiration and passion for startups and technology. Recent highlights include interviews with Alan Schaaf (Imgur), Hunter Walk and Satya Patel (Homebrew VCs), and Mark Suster (Upfront Ventures), and there are 500 more episodes in the archive. If you’re working on the business side of a startup, this show is a must-listen.

Product Hunt Radio: Ryan Hoover has created something awesome with Product Hunt, a way to discover new products and startups every day.

Just like the site, Ryan’s Product Hunt Radio carries an infectious love for new and well-designed products. Each episode is a casual conversation with other startup folks oriented around the latest apps and services. Ryan has a natural talent for analyzing products, and picking up on the things that make them interesting and effective.

From a business standpoint, listening to this podcast has taught me a lot about how “product people” think, and how to drive business growth through the product itself.

APM: Marketplace Tech: Hosted by Ben Johnson, American Public Media’s Marketplace Tech is often the first thing I listen to each morning. It’s both a report on the stories to watch for that day and a recap of key headlines from the day before. There are also short segments and interviews that dive deeper into companies, trends, and business issues.

Ben is a fantastic host and interviewer who makes the show sharp, fun, and fast-paced. It’s a great podcast for anyone in the startup world to quickly get caught up on most of the key news items of the day.

BBC Click: Hosted by the very funny Gareth Mitchell, this weekly podcast is great for a few reasons. First, most growing startups will need to think about international expansion or partnerships eventually, so learning about tech culture and companies abroad is always a smart move.

Second, Click’s longer format allows Gareth to examine different technology-driven businesses and trends in detail, which amounts to more thorough and satisfying analysis.

Lastly, Gareth and his team have a knack for identifying brand new technologies still in their early stages, which helps build my awareness of the recently possible.

a16z Podcast: If there’s a podcast I rush to listen to whenever a new episode is posted, it’s the a16z podcast. A fresh one typically appears every week or two. The discussion is usually a practical assessment of the state-of-play of various new technologies and sub-sectors from some of the leading minds in tech. 

Guests include Andreessen Horowitz partners such as Benedict Evans, Chris Dixon, Steve Sinofsky, and others, and entrepreneurs from a16z portfolio companies. Recent episodes have included Orion Hindawi (Tanium), Aaron Levie (Box), and Dan Siroker (Optimizely).

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I’m sure there are many other business-oriented startup podcasts missing from this list. Which ones do you like best? Let me know on Twitter: @natemodi.

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Nathaniel Emodi heads up business development for Wiser, a New York-based startup focused on delivering personalized business news to teams and companies.

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Guest Post Nathaniel Emodi
Want To Break Into VC? Here is a Surefire Way

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"How can I break into the VC world" is the second most asked question I get after "How can I break into the startup world."

To most, VC is sexy. VC, especially at the seed and A round, is really sexy. But there are very few VC jobs. Like next to zero. The chance of you getting a VC job is not as difficult as winning the lottery but there is very little supply and a huge amount of demand.

So how do you get a VC job? And just to clarify, I’m talking entry-level VC, not becoming a partner or above — that’s a whole other ballgame.

Well the truth is that it is simple to understand but not easy by any means.

The answer is — source as many good deals as possible. If you send high-quality deals to investors that they end up investing in, you will be looked at as a vital source of deal flow. There are only two things that every VC needs and that is a) $$$$$ to invest and b) access to the best deals. If you aren’t going to give $$$, your best bet is to be a point of access to the best deals.

This seems simple, and conceptually it is, but it is definitely not easy. At this point I’ve sourced a handful of deals to a variety of funds and it takes a few tries to get the right company/team to the right investor. I’ve found that the best way to help investors is to get a follow-up email from a company you meet (something like—- Hey Alex, it was great sitting down last week. Here is what we do…….. Let me know if you think anyone would be interested in talking to us….) Then I forward this along to a handful of people I think might be good fits.

There are some hits and some misses but it shows investors that I’m seeing companies before they are. This is key in the seed stage. It’s reached a point where some investors even want to know about high-quality potential founders when they are still at a company or in school so they can meet them BEFORE they even venture out. At a certain point if you are good at sourcing deals the VC firms you send deals to will want exclusive access to your deal-flow. This means they want you to join their team.

So if you are interested in getting into the VC game, what do you do? Well you go find great companies and get them in front of investors before the investors even know they exist. The companies can be childhood friends, some girl that your college friend is dating, some guy that you met on line at Whole Foods, etc. You need to keep your eyes open and ears to the ground. This is one of the only surefire ways to break into VC.

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VC Jobs Startups Breaking In
Streaming Video Is Hard For Consumer On The Go

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Maybe it is just me but I find video really really difficult to consume on the go (streaming not downloaded). Even the best of them like YouTube and Netflix always have problems. 

Just yesterday I was coming back from DC, where I spent the weekend, and was trying to watch The Killing season 4, episode 1 on Netflix. The amount of times it paused and loaded made me just give up watching all together. Maybe it is my phone service (Verizon) or the general fact that I live in NYC (subways) but I still think we have another 2-3 years until video streaming is seamless.

When Michael and I were thinking about company ideas, we were deciding between SocialRank and another company idea. We obviously went with SocialRank but the other idea was in the video space. It was a Saas business offering to sell to content creators. But the big holdup on Michael and my end was the bandwidth issue with video. I think it is a major reason why many video startups fall by the wayside. It just isn’t ready. YouTube, Netflix, and Hulu all have tons of money and they still don’t work 75% of the time for me. Again, I might just have shitty service, but it’s not like I have some third-tier provider. This is Verizon.

So, what do you think? Is video a few years away for mobile? Or am I crazy?

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Video Streaming Content Business Mobile
When To Start Tracking Growth

I’ve been thinking about the concept of “tracking growth” recently. In the startup world, there is a difference between gaining traction and growth. Traction can be having interest from the right people (customers, investors, etc.) Growth is a number you track every hour, day, week, month, year. Growth is the lifeblood of startups. If you are growing quickly, you can do anything in startup-land. But when should you begin tracking growth?

The easy answer is “from day one.” But I also strongly believe that the data you get from tracking growth from day one, if not looked at through the right lens, can be detrimental to your company. I think you really start making decisions based on the growth information when you have the right product that is ready to grow. This seems obvious but many companies track growth early and get too crazed about growing month over month before they really should be. The problem with the above is when you don’t have the right product ready to grow, the numbers you will be tracking will (at best) most likely disappoint you, or at worst cause you to do stupid things or gray area stuff to hit the numbers you want to be hitting.

I think a good middle ground is, at the early stage, to track things with the knowledge of bettering decision-making but not for “growth” purposes and then once you have the product ready to grow, then track the hell out of everything related to things you want to grow (usually users, activity, and $$).

What do you think about tracking growth at startups?

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Growth Startups Tracking Data
Investor/Founder Initial Correspondence

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Last week a few of us at the office had a debate around proper correspondence between investors and founders. I’d like to share it here to get some outside perspective.

The debate was about investors looping in admins to help schedule, and how it, if done wrong, could turn a founder off. The main argument was that at the seed stage, the #1 thing that a founder wants is an accessible investor and getting punted over to someone else, especially if done in a cold manner, feels as though there is already a buffer between you and the prospective investor.

The argument wasn’t that it would make the founder not want to take the meeting but rather that it would set a founder/investor off on the wrong foot. And how this is a negative for an investor in this day and age where there are many ways for startups to fund their company.

Some argued this stuff matters, others that it doesn’t.

So I turn to you, dear reader, for any opinion or story you could share about how an introduction to an prospective investor started off on the wrong foot because of correspondence or communication issues.

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Investors Founders Correspondence
NY Tech: NY Tech Meetup + NYC Built

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The New York Tech industry is awesome. Mature enough to have some great companies, but still early enough to make a name for yourself in the scene.

Tonight, Michael and I are presenting SocialRank at the NY Tech Meetup. If you aren’t coming, you should. I remember going to my first NY Tech Meetup (I just looked it up and I joined the NY Tech Meetup on August 4th 2009). It was at FIT, and Hunch, Blip.tv, and Comixology presented. It was an eye-opening night and cemented my desire to enter the startup world.

I’ve been on the stage before while at Aviary presenting the Web API, but never to present my own thing. Michael actually presented MVF back in 2012 (as “Hack of the Month”), but I was in SF for work so I couldn’t be there. So I’m really excited about getting on stage tonight.

Another thing I’d like to share here is a new newsletter called NYC Built. It is curated by a small group at RRE Ventures. NYC Built highlights the launches, new products, and funding of startups in NYC and Brooklyn. You should follow them on Twitter and subscribe to the newsletter. I received the first one and it is pretty great.

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NY Tech Meetup NYC Built Startups SocialRank