Alex's Tech Thoughts

Aviary Post Mortem: 5 Things I Learned

Last week Adobe acquired Aviary. I spent almost two years (2010 to 2012) working in BD and partnerships at Aviary and I’m very happy for the team there.

I learned more during the two years at Aviary than I did anywhere else in my career/life and I’d love to share a few of those things here.

1) If you want to move at warp speed, keep the team in one location.

We did this at Aviary at the end of 2010. Originally the team was a bit scattered across the US and Europe but by the time we focused solely on the API platform everyone working for the company had to be in the NYC office. This was really great and made the team move at lightening speed.

I’ve been involved with remote offices and while it is great to find talent wherever you can, it is not easy (on both management and the employees). It can work but those are the outliers, not the norm.

2) When trying to career learn, choose people you work with over mission.

I accelerated my career by 5+ years by working with great people that knew what they were doing. The people I reported to changed a bit during the two years, but it was always either Michael Galpert (co-founder), Avi Muchnick (co-founder and CEO at the time) and Paul Murphy (COO). While I wasn’t the biggest photo buff coming in, getting a chance to learn from them was well worth it. When in the “learning over earning” part of your career choosing the right people to work with is a far better investment than choosing a specific company or mission to work for.

3) Once you choose a product/company direction, run fast.

Once we decided on the API direction of Aviary, we ran so fast. By the time I left we were at 6M MAU on mobile and just a few months ago I think I saw them hit 85M MAU. Insane growth.

4) If you want to be the center of attention in your industry, run an industry event.

As we turned our focus to the API, we also announced that we would be organizing the first Photo Hackathon. We got all the companies with APIs that had some relation to photos onboard to participate. We ended up having hundreds of hackers and dozens of photo-related companies involved. The final demos saw over 40 hacks presented. It was a major success and something Aviary continued on.

One of the side effects of running these hackathons was that Aviary was in the center of attention for those 48 hours of hackathon. During that time we would get quality 1 on 1 time with some of the companies we wanted to work with. I remember Flickr wasn’t returning our emails when we first released the web API and mobile SDK. But once we announced the Photo Hackathon, Flickr magically reappeared wanting to participate. They sent a product and engineer to the hackathon and we got to show them the goods. A few months later they integrated Aviary’s offering.

5) Empower and support your employees and then give them space to flap their wings.

One of the best things at Aviary was that the management there really empowered and supported their employees. One could really blossom and accelerate with the support of the team. There were goals but the goals were realistically achievable with expectations and technology available. The management team really listened to what prospective partners were asking for and baking that into the product.

All of the above and more were reasons why Aviary was such a great place for me to work. I’m really happy for the team there and can’t wait to see what they do now that they have Adobe resources behind them.

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Aviary Acquisition Adobe Reflecting Lessons
Missing News - Ello Edition


I was off-the-grid from Wednesday at sundown to Saturday at sunset because of the Jewish holiday, Rosh Hashana (that went into the Sabbath, so a three-day holiday). During my time off, Ello launched.

By the time I got online Saturday night it seems that Ello had come, peaked, and went all in less than three days. This was pretty amazing considering the usual hype cycle takes a few weeks.

Is this just an Ello thing? Are hype cycles coming and going so fast that you could be offline for a few days and miss a whole internet fad?

All I know is that I strongly believe, more than ever now, you need to build a product that isn’t meant for a big splash but builds on top of itself and offers value to your target market (i.e. customer, user or client) again and again.

The slow build always shines the brightest in the long term.

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Ello Holiday Hype
Profiles and Founders: Where Are They Now? Part VII

Here is my latest Forbes piece:

Let me know your thoughts!

Part I can be found here.

Part II can be found here.

Part III can be found here.

Part IV can be found here.

Part V can be found here.

Part VI can be found here.

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Forbes Profiles Founders Series Where Are They Now
Crack for Brands


We have just hired employee #4 at SocialRank. His name is Ammar Mian and he comes to us from Moxie Communications and graduated from UPenn in 2012. He has also written for Priceonomics and Hacker Rank. He will be running content and working on BD, partnerships, data, analytics, and everything in between.

We are excited to have him onboard and I want to share one of the first things he said to us when he joined. We were emailing about creating a voice for our content, blog, and product when Ammar said that we needed to build crack for brands. Actually he said: “how could SocialRank be like crack?” Basically, something brands want to come back to every day and check.

Right now tons of brands use SocialRank, but it is more for finding specific followers for things (events, rewards, activation, etc). Finding people isn’t a daily occurrence but it is a weekly or monthly occurrence. We have some things coming out to make SocialRank a daily stop for brands but just the thinking about how to make your product addictive like crack is something every business should think about whether you sell to brands or individuals.

We are excited to have Ammar join the team and continue to strive to build crack for brands. We are hiring at SocialRank, specifically a full stack engineer. Send good candidates my way!

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Brands SocialRank Hiring
Snapchat’s Big Pickup + Future

Last week TechCrunch ran a piece on how Snapchat picked up the director of digital at Nike to win sports partnerships. That person is Eric Toda, an awesome guy that I’ve gotten to know over the past year working on SocialRank.

Eric’s hire is perfect not only because Eric is a great deal maker and marketer but also because Eric is probably the best snapchatter out there.

Here is some proof (I save a lot of them):






This also ties back to one of Snapchat’s biggest opportunities around live events, i.e. sports and media. Right when Snapchat put out stories a digital agent was telling me that this was a big deal for brand and media story-telling. She was working with clients to put together Snapchat stories and they loved it because when someone opened the snap, you had their undivided attention for that duration of time. I think this holds a huge opportunity for content and it is easy to see why they are snatching up former Facebook employees.

I’m excited for Snapchat’s future and to see what Eric does on it with sports brands.

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Eric Toda Nike Snapchat Sports Brands Live
Profiles and Founders: Where Are They Now? Part VI

Here is my latest Forbes piece:

Let me know your thoughts!

Part I can be found here.

Part II can be found here.

Part III can be found here.

Part IV can be found here.

Part V can be found here.

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Forbes Profiles Founders Series Where Are They Now
How Twitter Can Solve Its Onboarding Problem


Today’s post is one I’ve been meaning to do for some time. I’ve been publicly pretty vocal on Twitter’s onboarding process. Well today I put my money where my mouth is and wrote a post on how they can take a step in making onboarding better (i.e. turn more people into active users). I also got help form the talented Zhanna Schonfeld, as she mocked up a bunch of the ideas I share.

You can find it here on Medium where it shall live and (hopefully) flourish. 

If you enjoy it, recommend it on Medium and/or send it to a Twitter employee!

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Medium Twitter Onboarding
Making Progress At Your Startup - Public vs. Private


Startup progress is a funny thing. Sometimes progress is in form of an outward-facing product. Sometimes its in form of raising money to give your business more oxygen. Other times it is in form of putting time into fixing your infrastructure to scale to millions, something that is not so public facing in terms of the progress (as your product is expected to “just work”). I’ve thought a lot about the concept around progress at startups and what a good balance to have is.

Public and private progress is tantamount to startup success. Having a well-oiled machine and churning out product improvements (whether it be adjustments to an existing product or fully new product offerings), revenue or user progress, and more is key for public perception (which is reality). At the same time making non-public advancements at your startup are great and needed. The problem usually arises when you focus too long on one over the other (public vs. private).

For example, if a company focuses all their attention on advancements that are press-related (big partnership, new funding, new product, etc) they may get all this inbound and excitement around them while the non-public things get pushed to the side (the biggest one I see is product infrastructure). So while you have all this hoopla, you are building a house of cards that will ultimately collapse.

On the flip side, if you focus all your attention on private advancements that the public will never see and never know about you may go a long time without the public caring about you. “Public” could mean new and existing users (if you are a consumer-facing company) or new and existing clients (if you are B2B or B2B2C). Both scenarios are not good - striking a balance of public and private is important.

From my experience (and I’ve seen companies do both) - public progress should be seen at minimum once a month or once every six weeks. This could be in the form of a new product, funding announcement, partnership announcing, new key hire or even just a some small feature updates on your existing product. At the same time you should be getting all the private advancements in order in order to get to bigger public progress.

How do you handle public vs. private progress at your startup?

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Startups Private Public Announcements
Slow Dripping News


I’ve been interested in the dynamics around press and startups since joining Aviary back in 2010. One of the co-founders took me under his wing, teaching me some of the ins and outs of putting together a story, pitching, and generally getting someone covering tech to be interested in covering a product launch. I’ve taken the knowledge I’ve learned there and applied it to all my endeavors as well as with helping other companies get out there publicly.

I’ve been involved with announcements on everything from fundraising and product releases to partnerships and new hires. Sometimes it is an exclusive and other times it is embargo’d with a bunch of outlets covering. One thing I haven’t tried yet is slow dripping news. What I mean by that is having enough news or content that even if someone gets an exclusive, there is still so much “stuff” that is interesting and exciting that the shelf life is long and there is a lot more opportunity for coverage. We (@SocialRank) have some things coming out before the end of the year and I think one of them really fits this criteria, so I’m excited to try it out.

Have you ever had news you could slow drip? How’d it work out? Hit me up here or on email (

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PR Press Startups
Profiles and Founders: Where Are They Now? Part V

Here is my latest Forbes piece:

Let me know your thoughts!

Part I can be found here.

Part II can be found here.

Part III can be found here.

Part IV can be found here.

Checkout other articles in these categories:

Forbes Profiles Founders Series Where Are They Now
Founder Disagreement

If you have ever spent some time with me and Mike you know we have a healthy amount of disagreement (to say it lightly). We bicker here and there. It is always about product or technological capabilities of what we are doing. But no matter how much we argue about this or that we always end the day in a good place.

I don’t remember where I read it, but there was a post or article that said that Marc Andreessen and Ben Horowitz argue all day at work. Mostly about what the future looks like (which makes sense considering they are trying to invest in the future). This is good arguing.

But when is arguing bad? I think it gets bad when you start fighting or disagreeing about things that don’t matter or when you don’t really care about something and just argue to argue. Now, one side might find something important while the other side doesn’t. To resolve, you need to respect the other side and play out the issues in a mature manner.

Disagreement is good, but respecting the other side is paramount.

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Founders Disagreement
The #1 Quality In A Startup Employee


There are a ton of qualities you look for when recruiting for your startup. Everything from problem-solving and previous experience to creativeness and getting previous work recommendations. They are all important. But I think, for startups particularly, there is a #1 quality and it is the ability to self-start.

Startups are fairly hectic, with improvisation happening often. Once plans are laid out you want your team to ask themselves one question: “What do I need to do to make this successful?” Then to go out and execute.

Having the ability to self-start and not always needing to ask what to do next adds value to the team. At an early stage the last thing you want on your team is someone weighing it down because they aren’t using their mind to figure out what needs to get done.

This goes both ways. The management team needs to be able to express what is coming and outline the roadmap for the employees to be able to self-start.

So what do you think? Is this the #1 quality? What other qualities should you look for in a prospective employee?

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Hiring Qualities Startups
Heading To SF 10/5 - 10/7

I’m going to be in SF for three days at the beginning of October, 10/5- 10/7 with Michael. If you want to sit down or catch up, hit me up at 

If you think I should sit down with someone- also hit me up!

See you in SF.

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SF October Business Trip
Recruiting Mode


We are in recruiting mode at SocialRank. We finally put up a Jobs page for SocialRank and have a bunch of roles we will be adding. There is a lot we hope to accomplish and need the right team in place to get there. We have a unique opportunity right now to become the “Hootsuite for followers” (i.e. central location/dashboard to help brands manage their followers) and to get there we need the best people.  

The first position is a Full Stack Engineer to work with Michael and Zhanna. This is a key role at SocialRank with lots of responsibilities. This is the only job on the Jobs page right now.

The next job we will be adding is a Data Scientist. We have a ton of data and we need someone to create and apply models that organize this data. It is a bonus if they are a good writer as well :)

After that we will be adding an account manager to work with all the brands that have come in and use SocialRank. This person will be the point of contact for brands, identify interesting brands that come in, figure out creative ways to highlight brands, know what to track, and ask for those things.

If you like working with a small team that moves at lightspeed and gives you the flexibility to OWN your thing, then we are your company. If you have an interest in joining the SocialRank team or know someone that would be a good fit, please send them my way (!

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Recruiting SocialRank
My iPhone Homescreen (2014)


I’ve never done a post about my iPhone homescreen. Given that the new iPhone is coming out in a few weeks, I thought it was time. I think I want to do a yearly post on it going forward. Let’s get to it.

Above is my personal iPhone homescreen. These are the apps I use the most. I want to go through each one and explain how I use them.

Let’s start with the dock:

Phone, Mail, Chrome, and Messages.

Everything here is standard except Chrome. I find it 100x better than Safari.

Let’s go top —> bottom by row.

Contacts, Calendar, Settings, and Google Maps.

Again, all standard except Google Maps replacing Apple Maps. I also find it 100x better.

Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, and Tumblr.

All different networks. All immensely popular and used for different things. Instagram for photo sharing. Facebook for life. Snapchat for fun stuff. Tumblr for my and Bart’s respective blogs.

Clock, Uber, Pocket, and App Store.

I use Clock for all alarm-related activities. I use Uber multiple times a week since UberX is now cheaper than a NYC cab. Pocket is used to catch up on articles I want to read but don’t have enough to do at that moment. And the App store is the App store.

Often-Used Apps (In #1: Square Cash, Aviary, Swarm, Netflix, and Kindle; In #2: Vine, JustUnfollow, FB Messenger, and TwoDots; In #3: Lyft, WunWun, Flashlight, Comixology, and Product Hunt) and WhatsApp.

Here is where things get fun. Let’s start with “Often Used” #1. I use Square Cash to send money. It is the cheapest and fastest way to send money on your phone. Load up your debit card and you are good to go. I use Aviary to edit photos. I use Swarm when I have the desire to check-in somewhere. I use Netflix to watch content on-the-go. And I use Kindle for books.

"Often Used" #2: I use Vine for short clips. I use JustUnfollow as a great tool around tracking Twitter-related activities. I use FB Messenger for FB chat. I use TwoDots on my subway ride to and from work. The game is very, very addictive (shout out to my old boss, P.B.Z.).

"Often Used" #3: I use Lyft when in SF and Uber isn’t working. I use WunWun when I need something now. I use the Flashlight when I can’t see. I use Comixology to read the new issue of The Walking Dead once a month. I just added Product Hunt to the homepage as it is a website I check at least once a day.

The last app on this row is WhatsApp. My entire family uses WhatsApp for communication. So that’s why it is there.

Camera, Spotify, Twitter, and Foursquare

I use the camera to take photos. I use Spotify for music. I pre-load some songs to listen to in the subway (i.e. when I don’t have internet). I use Twitter for news and interests, and I use Foursquare to find places in the area.

These are the apps on my homepage. What am I missing?

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Apps iPhone Homescreen