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.
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?
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?
Here is my latest Forbes piece: http://onforb.es/1yArkTR.
Let me know your thoughts!
Part I can be found here.
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.
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).
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.
"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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
We launched SocialRank 2.0 yesterday and a lot of planning went into it. There are obvious outlets to get the word out about a new product or company, namely press from tech blogs and mainstream press. But there are other product launch strategies worth noting. Here are three:
1) Pre-seeding the product to friends and industry professionals
This is one effective strategy used when pre-releasing before launching a company, product, or new feature. We did it with SocialRank 2.0 earlier this week. On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday morning before launch, we hit up friends and people with medium and large followings on Twitter and turned on the new features for them before our 11am announcement. This, a) Let them play around with the features before other people, giving them a chance to evaluate it properly and praise the product if warranted, and b) Let them access the tool before the system was clogged up with announcement/press traffic.
2) Product Hunt
I recently wrote about Product Hunt and how it can be massive. Things have only become better for Product Hunt since. Posting your company or product on Product Hunt is a surefire way that players in the tech world will see it. You’ll also get great feedback. At a minimum, you’ll get a bunch of users interested in seeing and playing with new products.
3) Emailing existing user base
Once you’ve put your product out there, you need to let your existing user base know about it. What we’ve done at SocialRank in the past is send out an email to our user base the following morning after any big product launch. This allows us to continue the inbound of usage once the press day is over. I like the format of having three stories in the email newsletter. I like the lead story on top (in our case this month was SocialRank 2.0) and then two other stories below, one on the left and one on the right side. The subject line should be related to the new release (and should be catchy if possible, Quora does a great job around this). Remember this strategy is only for companies that are releasing a new product or feature as you already have a user base.
What other launch strategies do you use at your startup?
Here is the blog post we published.
Let me know what you think!
A friend of mine recently emailed me three questions she is struggling with about pre-pitching and I thought I should share the answers here as well.
The three questions were:
"1) Finding the right person and right level: I have a general idea of the department of the person I want to speak with, but how do I figure out if it is the right person?
2. Appropriate method of contact: If I do find them, do I send a LinkedIn message? Or use a sales program to obtain an email address?
3. Pricing: Competitors do not publish their pricing online, so it is difficult to know if we are competitive or how others price. Any insights on how to remedy this?”
For the first question I responded:
I usually think about who would need to be involved in the conversation to get the deal done. Sometimes it is the business team but other times it could be the product or engineering team. I would walk through the selling process and see who needs to be sold on the idea to make it happen. That’s usually the right person to begin with.
For the second question I responded:
I would shy away from blind reach outs. I would use your network to get in front of the right people. It will save you time and rejection. I would use LinkedIn to identify the right person or someone connected to the right person. Then I would find the mutual connections, ask them for an intro (while giving them context) OFF of LinkedIn. Then get a warm intro in. If not possible, then short, blind reach out is ideal.
For the final question I responded:
This is tough. Something we are dealing with now at SocialRank for some more premium stuff. For this I would ask the company you closed (note: the friend had stolen a client away from a competitor but more by chance and was trying to replicate it). I wouldn’t put it in an email, rather I’d get on the phone or meet with them in person and ask what the industry pricing is. Let them know that this is so you can offer a more effective and cost-saving pricing and want to know so you don’t over-price. If they have worked with competitors then they should know, right?
I think these types of things should be shared. What would you have answered?
Kramer tries not to watch the World Cup after “overdosing” in 2010. “The highs are high, but the lows? Oh, they’re low! They’re low, Jerry!”— Modern Seinfeld (@SeinfeldToday)June 12, 2014
I’ve been thinking a lot about the stress of startups recently. The above tweet from @SeinfieldToday expresses the highs and lows of startups pretty well.
For the most part, SocialRank has been a smooth ride so far (I probably just jinxed us). We left our jobs and took in $150k which was supposed to last us until the end of the year. We put out a product, we got traction with thousands of brands beginning to use us, we went and closed $1M. Sure there was a ton of rejection here and there but for the most part it was smooth sailing.
Actually there is one story that was super stressful. I thought I wrote it somewhere in a previous post but can’t find it. The story is that with 4 minutes to go on the February 25th launch of SocialRank, the website completely crashed and Michael couldn’t figure out what had happened. In 4 minutes articles from TechCrunch, Mashable, The Verge, Business Insider, The Next Web, Forbes, and more were planning to go live with articles about us. And our website was completely down. Michael and I looked at each other with the deepest fear possible. Michael would tell me after that he was more scared in that moment than any moment when fighting in Lebanon for the Israeli Army. With 1 minute to go Michael figured out that he cleared the wrong database, so he cleared the right one and the site went up with 20 seconds to spare. That was quite stressful, but for us so far it has been the outlier.
So back to the question. Is the stress of running a startup worth it?
The answer is: it depends.
It depends on your stress tolerance. It depends on what your life goals are. It just depends. There are ways to mitigate the stress and risk, but it will always be there. Right around the corner. If your goal in starting a company is to make money, then there are many ways to make money with less stress. Sure, a successful startup will net you more than 99% of other jobs. But there are easier ways to make enough money to be financially well-off.
The stress of hiring, firing, managing, building, re-building, pitching, closing, shipping, rejection, fundraising, legal, and a million more things can and most likely will take a toll on you. Starting a company is not for everyone. And that’s not saying that people starting a company are better or worse people than people who don’t. It is just the reality of the level of stress one can deal with.
This post was triggered by my friend, Seth Bannon’s post about the mistakes he made as a founder. His startup Amicus has had a pretty bad month or so. The raw emotion and stress in the post will make any founder shiver. I know when I read it, I checked our bank account to see if we were paying taxes properly (we are).
So is the stress of running a startup worth it?
I know that people who pre-ordered it on Amazon have been receiving it early.
The book was a fun process and would never have happened if not for Ellen DaSilva’s tireless work. I owe a big gratitude to her.
Also - feel free to email me at Ataub24@gmail.com with any questions, feedback, comments, jokes, etc.