This past week I caught up with a friend who happens to be a Thiel Fellow. We got to talking about how using your situation (whether it is being a Thiel Fellow, a college student, or something else) to get in front of someone is an important thing for people to learn.
We joked that no one is going to turn down an introduction to a Thiel Fellow. It’s an unbelievable vehicle to leverage.
For me, I’ve always used my “situation,” whatever that may be, to get in front of the people I wanted to. In college, I used the student angle to get meetings or introductions to people I wanted to know or talk to. When I interned at Viacom/MTV Networks, I used that situation to look up executives at CBS, Paramount, MTV, VH1, Comedy Central, and other subsidiaries to ask for meetings while I was there, to pick their brains, and make lasting connections.
The same situation at Aviary and Dwolla. Being a venture backed startup gives you the opportunity to have some legitimacy behind who you are and what you are working on. It’s a lot easier asking/getting an introduction when you are person X, from company Y that has $Z in venture funding from big investors- rather than person X, solo, looking to get connected.
So figure out what your situation is and use whatever it is to get in front of people you want to know.
I was at a poker game last week with a lot of people who are in the finance space. It was a day or two after news came out about Snapchat rejecting a $3B offer from Facebook. They could not comprehend why the Snapchat founders rejected this offer. The truth is, most people in the tech space can’t comprehend how they could a) reject that amount b) be worth that much.
Here are few reasons why Snapchat is worth that much and probably more:
1) Facebook is photo central. It is a HUGE piece of its business. This chart may shed some light on the trend of photo uploads: https://twitter.com/Hadley/status/401103084014673920. Facebook is playing whack-a-mole with up and comers and $3B is a steal for a company matching them in photo uploads. Think about how crazy Instagram for $1B sounded in 2012. Now? It looks like a steal.
2) The founders (have already taken or) will likely take a chunk of money off the table in the next round (i.e. sell some of their personal shares). This means they have little to no financial risk and want to/should go for the GOLD. There are very few times when companies get to go big like this. Facebook rejected a billion dollar offer from Yahoo! when it was still a college/young person thing in 2006. We should all admire the Snapchat team for trying to build a long-lasting business on their own.
3) There is no such thing as NOT being able to monetize a massive active user base that loves your product. It is just a myth.
4) Jordan Cooper wrote a great post about why Snapchat is special. One piece in his post that really stuck with me is the fact that a snapchat disappears in a few seconds so it requires a receiver to focus their attention on the content. It says “this is f’ing important.” As opposed to a photo on Instagram or Facebook that you can pay as much or as little attention to as you want.
5) This leads to monetization. If you can keep the flow intact but offer experiences or deals from brands/companies. This could be a gold mine. They haven’t monetized by choice, not because they have difficulty.
These are just a few reasons why Snapchat is exciting and worth a lot in the eyes of FB/others and I, for one, applaud the Snapchat team for thinking big.
There was a lot of buzz in the tech world about Coin on Thursday and Friday last week and I didn’t get a chance to really digest it all until the weekend. I’ve read some great posts (Mike Dudas post and Quora) and would like to share some thoughts below.
1) The team at Coin should be really proud about the launch. It was very well done. The interest shown definitely proves there is demand for this.
2) I don’t think I’m a good use case for Coin. I own two cards, American Express and a MasterCard debit card. Unless Coin could grab my ID, health insurance, business card, Metrocard, gym membership, Dave and Buster’s card, and Prairie Meadows gold card (shout out DSM!) then I unfortunately have no use for Coin.
3) The price point of Coin seems to be at odds with the type of people that would need to consolidate multiple cards (lower-income, multiple credit card needing demo). There was definitely a lot about that rumbling on Twitter.
4) My biggest concern with Coin is merchant acceptance. This was the main reason I didn’t pre-order one. Can you imagine going to a bodega in Manhattan and giving them a Coin to swipe? They will tell you they don’t accept this “card.” Now you need to explain that this IS your MC/Visa/Amex/Discover. The “convenience” of Coin just disappears and now instead of carrying multiple cards you need to explain what it is to every place where you want to pay.
Not-so-bold prediction: People with a Coin will need to carry their Coin + all the cards they consolidate to Coin for most of the early phases.
5) Last thought is about card present vs. card not present. The fees associated with “card not present” are much higher than “card present” and the question is whether using Coin means the card is there or not in the eye of those that matter. The answer to this could also lead to non-acceptance by merchants (because of fees).
All in all: these five things aren’t ones that Coin can’t overcome, but I think people who are pre-ordering may not be fully aware of the situation (a nice launch video can do that). I would recommend anyone considering buying a Coin to take a look at their FAQ’s. It dives in pretty deep.
My father gave me some good advice when I was younger. It went something along the lines of, ‘Never invest money you can’t immediately lose. Even better, if you ever make an investment, you should, in your mind, believe that the money is gone forever.’
This helped shape how I view any type of monetary or non-monetary investment (i.e. time, effort, etc.). I actively try to strike an appropriate balance on what I invest my time and money in. Unless I’m willing to 100% lose the money or time for the action I take, I try not to do it. Or if I do something and regret it, I make sure I never do it again.
Bottom line: choose what you put money and time into very wisely. Maybe you’ll get your money back (and more) and maybe you won’t. But assume it is gone forever, the second you hand it over.
My Favorite New App- QuizUp: The Biggest Trivia Game in the World!
Last week I went to the launch party for a new app called QuizUp. The event was fun, but the app was even more addictive. I’ve been playing for the past week, and I think QuizUp is the new killer gaming app.
The premise is simple: addictive trivia games that you can play against friends or strangers. There are over 300 topics to choose from and 150,000 questions available. Each round there are 6 regular questions and one bonus final question (worth 2x). The amount of points you can receive depends on answering the question correctly and quickly. Every second that goes by, you lose potential points. It’s a lot of fun and as you beat friends and strangers, you go up in the ranking of being knowledgeable in each category.
When the show LOST was on, I was a huge fan. I immediately played a few rounds of LOST trivia. There were some great questions, and after reaching a level 12, I’m still seeing new questions (although here and there I get a question I’ve seen before). I’m ranked Top 5 in NYC (find me and challenge me).
I have always been a fan of Trivial Pursuit and think this is a nice 21st century version. I’d love to see them build specific combo games (i.e. LOST + Fringe + Heroes trivia game). I’m excited about this company and already have my family hooked. If anyone wants to play me, add me as a friend. I don’t reject challenges :)
My favorite type of company is one that empowers their users to make money from them. Think YouTube, eBay, Fiverr, and more. People can make some good side cash or even make it their career.
Last week I caught up with Walker Williams, the founder of Teespring. I had previously written about Teespring when they were still at Brown, before getting into YC. YC came and went, Teespring kept growing and were even highlighted in the New York Times Magazine in a feature piece on the YCombinator program. Things are going well over at Teespring.
Anyways, one of the things Walker mentioned was that a bunch of people have been making some crazy money on Teespring by putting together campaigns (t-shirts, sweatshirts, etc.) that include funny or topical things. He mentioned paying out tens of thousands of dollars in profit to various individuals.
Being the curious person that I am, I am experimenting to see if I can make some of that magic happen by putting out a funny/topical sweatshirt.
The sweatshirt has the words ”Unicorn Investor” and a nice unicorn under it. This is homage to Aileen Lee’s article in TechCrunch about Unicorn Investors. You can buy it here (Thanks to Adam Waxman for sending over an awesome png of a unicorn).
If you are looking to make some extra side cash, I would go check out Teespring, come up with a catchy or funny shirt/sweatshirt/other item and see if you can move some units.
Part of unspoken agreements at startup companies is that employees will be taking on multiple roles in the organization as the company grows. With limited financing and resources employees are expected to do their job, plus other functions that they might not know anything about.
If you don’t pick up the slack when needed, you may not be around for long. Startups aren’t easy and this is one of the more daunting concepts around working at a startup. You’ll definitely be pushed in uncomfortable directions and might not know how to respond.
Here are a few tips on how to tackle that new role that is being thrown at you on top of your existing responsibilities:
1) Read + Learn about the new responsibilities. If you do BD and need to learn marketing best practices pick up a book or head over to the countless marketing expert blogs (ask around to find out who is good and who is all noise) and dig in.
2) Bring in an expert. Whatever the skill set is, ask management or your investors to help conquer the beast that is the new thing you are needing to tackle. If it is paid advertising and you have no idea what is left and what is right it’s your responsibility to ask for help.
3) Know yourself and at a certain point if you have so much to do that you can’t even do your own job talk to your boss and put it all out there. You may need to hire someone to fill that role.
4) Go work at a different (bigger) company. Less potential reward, but more stability and hey if you are good, you can move up in the ranks and make a good salary/career out if it. Some people realize they are not right for the startup life at this point. It’s a hard lifestyle to maintain.
3 Tips For Students Looking For Internships At Startups
Internships are important. I think the most important thing internships help with is figuring out what you don’t want to do with your life. At least that’s the experience I’ve had. Startup internships, something I haven’t done, are especially helpful as you get to do many things and can figure out fairly quickly if you like this lifestyle or not.
Here are a few tips when looking for internships at startups:
1) Use Twitter and other online networks to connect with people. I see people tweeting out job opportunities daily and being on Twitter and other social entities helps you put yourself in a good position to get lucky and find an opportunity. For example: How About We is looking for a BD intern. Here is the job posting.
2) Find a company you want to work for and start doing the job before you get the job. Talk to as many people as you can find at the company or who know the current strategy of the company and figure out what you can do to add value to the team before even interviewing/getting fully in front of them. That’s one good way to impress a team and have them want to bring you on as an intern.
3) Ask every friend, family member, acquaintance, stranger, for leads. This obviously needs to be done in a strategic way, but you need to use everything and I mean everything at your disposal to land an internship. Having zero internships on your resume will bring up major red flags when you are looking for a full-time job.
It’s okay to try and get an internship by asking your network for help. It’s actually not just okay, it’s expected. It’s only people that never get anything accomplished are the ones looking at people with a “connection” to someone or something and say, “well they only got that because they knew the person.” Well of course they did. How does anyone get anything? Most people don’t hire strangers, there are too many question marks. You need to know people to get things. It’s just common sense.
Now that doesn’t mean you can’t meet the people you need to know by a) reaching out to them (now you aren’t a stranger anymore), b) getting front of them by any means necessary. Early on in my career I did some crazy stuff to get in front of people I wanted to know or be connected with (stuff you don’t share or post on your blog). But all of the stuff has paid off and I have a solid network of great people who I can depend on and who depend on me. Everyone has to start somewhere. Getting an internship and doing whatever it takes is a good place to start.
With each the work really starts after you put the news out there.
When you announce funding that’s when expectations are really put into place. You need to live up to whatever valuation you are getting.
Same with new product launches. Now you finally see how people use your product or service and adjust/add/subtract accordingly.
That’s the funny thing about working at startups or on products. While outsiders may think the end game is getting that article about your new funding or product release, the truth of the matter is that it is only the first inning.
This weeks article of the week is a great piece by Eugene Wei the head of product at Flipboard. Eugene spent time at Amazon and wrote a pretty amazing article about how Amazon looks at their business. Worth the 5-10 minutes to read it. You can find it here.
It is not always easy taking the next step in your career. Sometimes the next move is not clear. Other times going sideways can mean going up (ie former CEO of Burberry joining Apple). A lot of people struggle with career moves and how to handle them. It’s probably the thing I get asked about the most.
From my limited experience, if you are going to make a move, you always want to do it in a position of strength. This means that you are either in a good role (and for one reason or another you want to leave) or something good or big just happened. If you don’t need to move than you should wait for the terms you want to come before deciding you want to make the jump.
The other type of jump in your career is one within your organization. This could be getting a promotion or taking initiative and doing more than expected of you (which will probably lead to a promotion). I’ve gone through this when I was working at Aviary. We were a month away from a big product launch and my boss got sick so I led a lot of the pitching to line up launch partners. The launch ended up going very well and from then on I led most deals for the company.
Bottom line: Making the jump in your career is tough thing to do and there is usually no clear path. Try your best to put yourself in a position to get lucky (and have a good career) by doing the best you can at your current job. Whatever you are doing, do it at 110%.
Two weeks ago a 13 year old 8th grader from New Jersey emailed me to find a time to talk about startups. Impressed with the kid’s email, we set up a time to chat.
The kid is years ahead of his peers and I told him some things he could do to put himself in a really good position to be successful in the future.
The thing that I tried to hammer home though was the fact that he’s at a stage where he could take tons of risks and fail silently. He has absolutely zero expectations right now, no one is depending on him to put food on their table, and this is an opportune time to take the biggest risks.
This got me thinking about the amazing opportunities today’s youth have, especially while in college. For many young people (obviously not all) college is a place to party and waste time. But for a select few, college is a great opportunity to experiment and take risks (safe ones!). Starting a company has never been easier and during the four years of college is a great time to go for it.
Let me tell you, with what I now know, I wish I had my four years of college back.
You can tell a lot about companies by how their employees respond on Twitter to competitors’ announcements. I’ve seen everything from jealousy and nervousness all the way to battle cries from top management down to junior employees. This post isn’t to say what is right or wrong, just an observation (my personal opinion is to ignore commenting publicly about such things- however, it is okay and even necessary, to defend yourself to naysayers).
One of the most notable competitor call outs was a few months ago when Yelp’s board member Keith Rabois made a swipe at Foursquare. Dennis, Foursquare’s CEO, jumped in to defend his company and sort of mustered up a battle cry for his team (telling Rabois that he is going to make his tweets look foolish). Rabois probably thought his tweets were amusing, the problem was that everyone who commented on them could see clear as day a Yelp board member nervous about Foursquare. It makes sense. Foursquare is mobile first, social, lots of developers using their API. If I were Yelp, I would be scared too.
Bottom line: I recommend shying away from publicly commenting about moves competitors make. There is never anything good that can come from it. You will probably come off as some variation of jealous and nervous (even if you are not). Always and I mean always, defend yourself if a competitor calls you out.
"So you wanna be a rock superstar? And live large, a big house, 5 cars, you’re in charge Comin’ up in the world don’t trust no body Gotta look over your shoulder constantly”
- (Rock) Superstar by Cypress Hill
At startups, the worst thing you can do is get too comfortable after a big announcement. Case in point, yesterday’s big Dwolla announcement. There is no room for complacency and your team needs to continue to work towards the next milestone, whatever that may be.
This doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the win or you should jump to the next thing (sometimes the next thing is just continuing to make the present thing better and better). It just means you should continue to sleep with one eye open. Remember, the actual blood, sweat, and tears at startups happens behind the scenes and are not part of the splashy press announcement.
Bottom line: Don’t get too comfortable. Keep striving for better.
For me, it all started 10/31/2012 when Ben introduced Michael and me to Brian Billingsley, the director of Strategic Business Development at Alliance Data Systems (with the email subject: “My Favorite Email Introduction Ever”) to figure out the best way to team up and issue credit to the Dwolla network.
Almost one year later, we are releasing Dwolla Credit to the public.
We’re actually announcing 4 things today.
The first is Dwolla Credit, the product. Select users will be able to get access today (you can apply here).
The second is the partnership with Alliance Data Systems. You can read about it in countless other public press.
The third is the 40+ merchant partners that will be accepting Dwolla (and Dwolla Credit) for the launch. Most of them are live today, some of them are going live this and next week. There is something for everyone and you can find them all at the Storefront. Maybe next week I’ll write a post about how we went about getting 40+ companies involved in our launch. I think that would be an interesting post.
The fourth thing is the Storefront. We are using the opportunity of the Dwolla Credit launch to release Storefront, a place to find merchants that accept Dwolla. The 40+ merchant partners are just the start, but we will be adding more companies (whether they accept Dwolla Credit or not).
In this launch I’ve taken on multiple roles. Early on it was as project manager, then I did a little Product (before the awesome Brent Baker joined Dwolla to lead Product), and then (since July) I have been leading partnerships and closed the 40+ partners with Brian Kil for the launch. This has been the most exhilarating and stressful time of my life. I’ve never been part of something so big. The next few months are going to be an even wilder ride. By the way, we are hiring :)
Lastly, you probably can help. Here are some ways:
1) Share the news. Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, somewhere else. Give some love to this blog post or oneoftheseawesomearticles.
I’ve written before about staying focused and this post is not that different. It’s actually sort of a staying focused cousin which is ignoring the noise. The noise could be anything from mid-day distractions (that aren’t associated with the thing you need to be focused on) to non-important industry events. I’ve also posted recently about tech press noise.
This is one of the reasons I go through my calendar every Sunday and try to cancel, push off, or stack into one block (on one day) any meeting/call/etc. for the upcoming week. This is one method of ignoring the noise and staying focused. I think one of the most difficult professional issues our generation has to overcome is focus and noise. I’m always open to more suggestions of how to do that.
Pitching in front of teammates can sometimes be more awkward than pitching in front of strangers. I’ve been there. I’m not 100% sure what it is. It could be that after good and bad pitches you have to spend time with them. This especially feels awkward when a pitch doesn’t go as planned.
To make pitching in front of teammates less awkward, I like the idea of asking teammates, pre-pitch, for feedback afterwards. This way, you don’t just feel judged but actually try to get them to tell you one or two things you can improve next time. You may still feel awkward, but at least you will have good communication with your teammates.
How do you go about pitching in front of teammates? Any thoughts?
I use LinkedIn every day. I think it is a good tool, but has potential to be great. Here are three ways LinkedIn can get a little bit better and on its way to “great.”
1) Who Should You Know
LinkedIn has so much data about you, professionally. They should use that data to tell people who they should know. There is a reason why there is a famous saying: “It’s not what you know, but who you know?” If LinkedIn could tell you (or make suggestions about) who you should know it would be a very valuable offering.
2) Business Trips
When I take a business trip, I usually dive into my connections on LinkedIn and filter through the city where I am traveling. It takes some time and is very laborious. It would be great if LinkedIn had a “smart” business trip offering. I enter the city I am going to and the nature of the trip (partnerships, raising money, meetings, etc.) Then it recommends who I should reconnect with or meet by using my contacts. How hard can this be? They should put something together and slap a beta on it.
3) Online to Offline Networking
LinkedIn has a unique opportunity to take digital networking (and staying in touch with business associates) and take it offline. There can be major monetization opportunities as well. I think if they have the cash they should try to buy Meetup or build a competitor to go after monthly, quarterly, and yearly professional events. This is one thing Hashable did well at the beginning. The people you met by going to a Hashable event were pretty amazing and made up for months of networking.
Last week I wrote a post called “Someone Needs To Build.” In the post I shared an idea about catching up on news. I also mentioned that I may write a post every once in a while about ideas that people should build. I don’t plan on writing one each week, but I have another one to share now. Also, I’ve changed the name of this “series” to “Steal This Idea”. On to the idea…
During the Jewish Holidays I was eating a meal with my parents at their friends when the hostess mentioned that if her house was burning down she would grab her photo albums. This was odd to me as I don’t have any photo albums anymore. Everything is on my desktop and on Dropbox. This piqued my interest. I ended up asking other people during the holiday if they had photo albums and if they were digitized. To my surprise a large majority had albums that were not digitized.
The Idea: Build a service that allows people to request someone to go to their house and digitize all their photos. You would charge a fee per every 100 photos digitized. In the digitization you would give them a flash drive copy, a desktop copy, and upload it to the website (cloud offering). You can start real slow: just buy a portable scanner and do the first 50 on your own. People might think it is not scaleable and to that I would say that it is just as scaleable as Uber (a $3.5B biz). That’s the idea. If you run with it, let me know!
BD Developments: What Should You Share With Full Team vs. BD Team
Expectations at startups are a funny thing. You want everyone to be optimistic about your business, you want to always keep the excitement and energy, but how much of that should be living in reality?
One of the biggest mistakes I see other BD/Partnerships people do is oversell the progress between their company and a partner. They have a good meeting or two and share it with the team without putting the proper disclaimer on it. BD deals fall apart all the time. Sometimes it is the employees’ fault, other times the priorities don’t match up and your partnership gets punted a few months out.
This can have a major negative effect on your team. Remember, the BD/Partnerships team is used to rejection, unlike your community/product/engineer/support team. So if you oversell a partnership internally, a) they will think you can’t do your job, b) they will be majorly let down, and c) subsequently overall morale will take a hit.
I’ve seen this happen majorly at companies before. One company I know was in very early on acquisition talks (not a BD deal, but similar in concept). The company was doing okay, but not well enough to justify another round they would need to raise in less than 6 months. The CEO shared the acquisition talks with the team. The team could only think and talk about this for 3 weeks until the deal fell through over pricing. Morale was hit in a big way and the company never recovered.
Similarly in BD, if you have a big deal you are working on, if you are at a point you are sharing it with the team, make sure you explain to the team that the deal is still a big question mark (even if you are positive it will happen) and that you will keep them up-to-date on the progress. Better to over-deliver. Trust me. Letting down your team is sometimes an irreversible scenario.
P.S. This is a timely post as last night Louis CK launched his new $5 show. He now accepts Dwolla. Brian Kil had been working on that deal for months, but we didn’t share it with the team because we knew it could fall apart any moment (we didn’t know 100% until this past Friday).
30 Mentionable Non-Founders At Startups In NY Tech
We have hit peak list-making in the startup world. A lot of these lists are of founders, VC’s, press people. I’ve been on lists before, it feels great to get recognition for hard work. One list I haven’t seen is one of non-founders in the NY tech scene. These are people who usually aren’t mentioned in the press but are busting their asses to make their respective companies successful.
So here we go, 30 mentionable non-founders at startups in NY tech. No slides!
Jake Furst- Director of Monetization Partnerships at Foursquare
Jake runs all monetization partnerships at 4sq and with their big push in monetization, he is a key employee there.
Eric Friedman- Director of Sales and Revenue Operations at Foursquare
Eric is another key employee at 4sq in their big monetization push. Before Eric joined 4sq, he spent time at USV during the heyday of investments in Etsy, Meetup, Kickstarter (and follow ons to Twitter, Zynga, Tumblr, and more).
You can’t really say that Ashley got Obama re-elected, but she was definitely a big piece of it. Ashley was the Director of Innovation and Integration for Obama for America. She will be snatched up pretty soon by a startup in NYC.
Mike Dudas- Sr. Director, Mobile BD at Braintree/Venmo (and PayPal)
A big reason why PayPal bought Braintree was their slick mobile partnerships with Airbnb, Uber and others using Venmo Touch. A big piece of the mobile BD team at Braintree / Venmo was Mr. Dudas. Dudas was previously working in BD for Google Wallet.
Lindsay is one of the funniest people in NY Tech. She is a social media mastermind and highly capable. She has worked at Chloe + Isabel, Elle, and TIME OUT.
Nam Nguyen- Head of Business Development & Strategy at Aviary
Nam and I worked together at Aviary. We used to call each other Batman and Batman (instead of Batman and Robin). Nam has grown professionally, in the past two years, leading deals like Twitter at Aviary. He is one to watch in NY tech.
Scott is one of the most impressive Business Development guys in NY. Scott recently left Singleplatform (after they sold for $100M in 2012) to do a little traveling. I’m not sure when he gets back, but when he does he will be a hot commodity.
Libby left Hearst Ventures to join Branch in May 2012 as one of the first hires at NY startup, Branch. While Josh and the founders get most of public praise, Libby has been a huge piece of building and growing Branch and Potluck.
Steve is one of those rare triple threats in the startup world with a BD, Writer, and Engineer background. Steve also spent some time at Morgan Stanley (in the TMT group), is a contributor to TechCrunch (he has a fabulous blog), and now leads BD at GroupMe.
Andrea recently joined NewsCred to lead their content team. I’ve known Andrea for a few years now when she was at Disney ABC Television Group and AOL and have nothing but good things to say about her and her work.
Brian Kil- Business Development and Partnership at Dwolla
Brian works with me in BD/Partnerships at Dwolla. Brian is quickly growing in his role and is even doing things I can’t do (he recently got an intro that I tried and failed to get!). Brian is still in the first few innings of his career but watch out.
Katherine has been in the BD/Partnerships game for a decade at companies like The Knot, Time Inc, Like.com and for the past 3 year, Houzz. She is a big piece behind why Houzz is one of the fastest growing startups in the US.
Maxine and I met when she was leading business development and partnerships for Clickable. I put together a panel where she and Kristal spoke about a partnership done by Amex and Clickable. She is real pro in biz dev and is well liked by all.
Jared Grusd- Global Head of Corporate Development and General Counsel at Spotify
Ask anyone about Jared and they will sing his praises. Jared has a deep history doing deals in the tech world, specifically at Google and AOL and is one of the under the radar but biggest players in the tech scene.
Nihar was one of the first employees at SeatGeek and is responsible for some of their biggest deals (Hearst, TicketFly, and other music entities). Nihar also gives back, mentoring a few companies in the scene.
Paul moved from Seattle (where he was the chief of staff of the office division at MSFT) to NY two years back to join Aviary (and was my boss). After I left for Dwolla, Paul joined Betaworks to be one of their senior executives. I learned more about BD/Partnerships from Paul in the 6 months we worked together then I’ve learned my entire life.
Michael is the lawyer/corp dev/biz guy at Sailthru. Before Sailthru he ran business and legal for Howcast. Michael is another superstar in the NY tech scene.
Kate Huyett- VP of Acquisition, Retention & Revenue at How About We
Kate is another Goldman banker turned startupper. Kate leads user acquisition for How About We, one of the fastest growing dating websites on the web. She also teaches some great classes at GA and on Skillshare about user acquisition and breaking into the tech scene.
I’ve clearly left people off, please help the error of my ways by leaving some missing folks in the comments and I’ll add them!
I got an email from a recent college graduate this past week:
How many meetings does it usually take to close a partnership or what is the progression of what should be accomplished in each meeting? I’m referring to earlier stages where you are trying to make a name for yourself.
Here is the 3 meeting process I envision:
1) Exploratory, where you ask questions to understand the potential partner
2) Talk about partnerships, benefits, how it can help, answer questions about what each party does, etc., and follow up with a BD deck that outlines how the partnership would work
3) If they like what’s in the deck, talk about how to actually execute the details of the partnership in terms of finalizing details
Please let me know where this is flawed. Thank you, Alex.
This is quite close, but the truth is that some companies move quickly, others take time. There are many variables, including size of company, priorities (i.e. are you hitting on something they are actively trying to solve?), etc. I’ve had deals that have closed in the first meeting, and deals that have taken months. Just keep this in mind, and let whatever will happen happen. If you see the opportunity to close immediately, do it. If you sense it will take a long time, don’t push for a quick close (this will turn off the partner). Use your judgement!
It’s been awhile since I’ve done an article of the week. This is mostly because I was off the grid 3 out of the 4 Fridays this month. That being said, here we go with Article Of The Week XI.
This week’s article is me actually making up for not including my good friend Sam Rosen (one of the reasons this blog actually exists- when we sat down for the first time in November 2010 he said “hey, you should start a blog” and then I did) and his startup, MakeSpace in my 5 companies that excite me list last week. I had no idea that Sam was publicly coming out that week with the product, and if I knew I would have included him (he wasn’t stealth but wasn’t going after press and trying to validate his business, which he did).
Networking, physical and digital, is a crucial piece of Business Development and Partnerships. I have written about it many times- but I think there are two things that not everyone knows and would be helpful to share.
You Don’t Always See Immediate Results
This is very important. When you put in a lot of time into networking, there is a chance you won’t see immediate results (there are also times when you do see immediate results- and this messes people up sometimes- expecting immediate results at all times). If you don’t see immediate results, don’t get discouraged, it WILL work out. You just need to continue meeting new people and strengthening ties with existing people. I see people give up all the time, thinking that nothing came from networking, but if they would stick at it- they would eventually see results. I’ve never met a well-networked person that hasn’t gained something from having a good networking.
Finding Pockets At Events
Make sure you are attending events where you know at least one person that knows other people attending. This leads to being sucked into pockets at events. These pockets are hubs of people congregating and can led to meeting a bunch of new people. This is a good thing and what I call finding pockets at events.
You don’t always need to go to events with people that know other people, but that assumes you feel comfortable going up to strangers and starting conversations. You’ll still need to find these pockets, but it will be substantially harder.
Both of these things aren’t the biggest things by themselves but are key things to understand about networking.
I’m starting a new blog series on ATT called “someone needs to build…” The idea is that once every while I will write out something I could really use in my life and how it would function. Anyone can take it and run, or if it exists already – please point me that direction. Here goes.
Someone needs to build a way to catch up on missed days of news in summary form. I was out for a bunch of days in September for the Jewish Holidays (Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot I and Sukkot II). A lot of business days were missed. In another use case- one goes on vacation and unplugs.
It would be great if there was a tool where I can go to and enter date 1 and date 2. Then I would specify which topics I’m interested in (sports, fashion, entertainment, politics, business, tech, healthcare, education, etc) and it would spit out the biggest/most important happenings or stories from that timeframe.
To build it you can use Twitter’s API as well as tap into other news outlets and use some automation to summarize the content. I would even pay for access to this (as it would save me tons of time to scouring the web and twitter for news).
Thoughts On Braintree + PayPal Alliance (From Someone In The Payments Space)
I was out of the office on Thursday and Friday for the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. I’m now just absorbing the info about Paypal buying Braintree. I have a few thoughts about it and thought this would be a good platform to share them.
First a few disclosures :)
1) I have friends at Braintree/Venmo, Stripe, Square, Paypal, etc. I think they are all swell folks and really hope they all succeed in life, both professionally and personally.
2) I run BD/partnerships focusing on online integrations for a payments company called Dwolla. Some people think we are competitors to some of these companies. I personally see us as mostly complimentary. We are building a 21st century Mastercard or Visa- a 21st century payment network. All of these companies aggregate MC/Visa/Amex/Discover and have built their company and product on top of the existing infrastructure. Our theory is that if you want to build a new network, and do it right, you need to build the payment network from scratch (not dependent on Visa/Mastercard/Amex/Discover). I imagine some of these other companies will say they are also trying to build a new payment network but are just going about it differently. Time will tell, but even PayPal hasn’t been able to shake MC/Visa/Amex/Discover once they built their network on top of them (so there is still the same CC fraud/fees). This is all meant for another post though- just wanted to disclose.
Some thoughts on the acquisition (in bulleted form):
- It can’t be said about most deals, but almost everyone won on this deal.
Braintree got a big exit (for employees, investors, etc)
PayPal got old users/customers back with a more agile team
Chicago wins with a nice exit
Payments space wins with a good exit
- If you work at a payments company that isn’t Braintree/Venmo or PayPal stay focused and try not to get too distracted by this big acquisition. It is easy to, but try to spend your time talking to your customers, improving your product, etc. It’s all that matters in the end.
- A lot of the press played up the reason for the acquisition was that this is PayPal trying to get back in with developers. Maybe it is just me, but when I think about developers and payments- I don’t think of Braintree. I think of Stripe. It’s not to say Braintree isn’t good to developers- they are. Just they aren’t the first company association when I think of the two words “dev” and “payments.” The press played this up (not sure if it was a focus in any release from PayPal or Braintree)- so it is interesting to note that a few outlets claim that Stripe was PayPal’s first choice.
- That being said, I think Venmo Touch and mobile commerce is the big diamond here (Dudas alone is worth at least $300M out of the $800M :D). Stripe doesn’t have a big mobile side, so this puts Braintree a leg up. Frictionless payments are all the rage now and PayPal knows this. I think this is a great pick up.
- However, separately, I think there is a point of diminishing returns on frictionless payments (when receipt comes after the fact and you only opt-in the first time). I saw this tweet from Megan Quinn last week and it made me think that at a certain point, payments like this get looked frowned upon by customers that overspend (I don’t think it’s as bad as a justFab tactic- but very hard to track spending and people may revolt against it at some point). But that’s also for another blog post.
- Braintree probably won’t lose existing deals (as much as HackerNews commenters thinks it will) because they are going to be owned by PayPal. I would say that except maybe the super anti-PayPal customers that Braintree caters to (and that moved to Braintree for the fact they aren’t PayPal), they should be fine.
- One question remains though is will Braintree be able to get new business from the up and coming startups. I’m sure some startups will be wary of their overlords. Also- if Stripe comes out with a good mobile solution, this will complicate things for Braintree.
- The last unanswered question is can PayPal let Braintree win or is the PayPal brand for developers so toxic + the fact that Braintree markets itself as anti-PayPal help or hurt them win/lose new customers vs a stripe or square. PayPal’s president was very particular on his words of saying that they are staying independent “for now.” This clearly means they have plans to merge at some point. It will be interesting to see 6 months to 1 year down the road on how it plays out.
These are all of my general thoughts. Some were general, others critical, and I think the payments space got 10x more interesting.
Balancing Personal and Professional Goals At Startups
It’s very hard to balance personal and professional goals at startups. I have a myriad of things I’d like to accomplish in my life. Some are personal, others professional. At times they cross over and at times they are at odds.
While I don’t have all the answers to balancing your personal and professional goals, I do have one tip.
That tip is, keep a list. Divide items by personal and professional. Try to cross things off as often as you can. Some are short term goals, others are long term. For example, at Aviary, I really wanted to meet as many people as I could in venture capital, tech press, and BD world. I wanted to leverage my situation of being at a venture-backed startup to grow my network. I definitely met a lot of people and at some point I crossed it off my list.
How do you go about balancing personal and professional goals?
LWD is quietly becoming a powerhouse in children’s clothing online commerce. They recently took in financing from Revolution Money and have cracked the nut on social commerce. Just check out their Facebook page and you’ll understand.
They haven’t launched yet, but I’m pretty excited about BOND. Without giving too much away, they are building a gifting product, that is mobile-first and for professionals. I would put your email address in to stay updated on when it will become available.
I recently met the founders of Pijon, a monthly care package for college students sent by their parents. I’m impressed with what they’ve built in a short time and think we’ll see some good things from them the rest of the year.
I also wrote a Forbes piece about them and am excited about Eponymous. While Warby Parker goes after building a huge consumer brand and Luxottica is focused on $1B+ brands, Eponymous is going after the brands no one else going after. And these are not small brands! They recently launched their first partnership with Steven Alan and I’m sure this isn’t the last we’ve heard from them this year.
There are many reason why a startup fails. Depending on the stage of the company there are a trillion scenarios where your startup just doesn’t work out. And while there is no one reason your startup will fail, I’m fairly certain hiring the wrong employees is in everyone’s top 3 reasons why it does.
And it makes sense. Hiring the wrong employee can set a company back so badly that some never recover. If you think about it- let’s say in a good scenario- you come to the realization you hired the wrong person 6 months after said hiring (because it never happens instantly). Now you need to let the person go and find a replacement. That will take another 1-3 months. Then that new person needs to be brought up to speed (and you run the risk that they might also turn out to be the wrong person). So we are talking 9 months to one year of time lost for a role.
Now think about hiring the wrong person in multiple roles and only raising enough money for 18 months. Startups need to make enough progress to justify another round of fundraising, taking the business to the next level.
So, you can see how hiring the wrong employee can really sink a company. But what can a company do to make sure they hire the right people? I think it goes without saying that they need to ask the right questions in the interviews (or courting process). On top of that, you need to hire for the here and now as well as where you want to go. This means making sure that if your company is going to be growing, you have the right personal to grow with the company.
I’m not a hiring expert, so I would love for someone who knows what they are doing to jump in the comments and give some helpful tidbits about hiring the right employees and tricks to spotting the wrong fits.
4 Things People Need To Stop Saying In The Startup World
There are a few “sayings” in the startup world that need to stop being said. I am guilty of having repeatedly said all of these things, however I think we can all agree that the following 4 things need to be removed from the startup lexicon.
Yes we know your startup is just crushing it. You hit 10 million downloads after being featured as the App of the week in the App store and closed that DOPE money from that awesome Menlo fund that invests solely in Stanford Mayfield Fellows. But please spare us.
The killing and crushing it meme is getting old. When someone tells me they are killing or crushing it, they are probably doing the opposite. People who are actually killing/crushing it don’t go around telling people that they are. They just are.
Company: “We’re looking for a rockstar/ninja/jedi at our startup for X role.” Normal People: “What the hell does your startup do?”
Do you rob banks (ninjas)? Are you LARPers (jedis)? Or do you play music in stadiums (rockstars)?
Please stop. Thank you.
Two Consecutive “Douchey” Hashtags (on Twitter and off Twitter)
People who use two consecutive “douchey” hashtags (on Twitter and off Twitter) should receive capital punishment. Think #YOLO #LOL #STARTUPLIFE. Someone needs to start a White House petition. I’ve saved you a google search.
This is when someone is looking to get to the top of your inbox. Instead of doing the nice thing and sending a two sentence: “hey just checking if you got this” they write “ping” or “bump.” It’s pretty passive aggressive and is the fourth thing we need to remove from our dictionary. Instead of doing this why not just put together one general short follow-up email you can use in this scenario and turn it into a canned response. Then when you need to use it next time, people won’t think you are an ass.
The only context in which you should be saying any of these is if you are being sarcastic and mocking people who say them.
It may not seem like it, but internal presentations and meetings are as important, if not more important, than those outside your company. Selling internally is crucial and if you don’t come with your A-game your ideas might not be heard or at worst deemed not valuable and eventually let go from the company.
Communication is probably the most important thing in a professional career. If you are doing a great job but can’t express what you are accomplishing or your new idea on how to grow X metric it will, 9 times out of 10, go unnoticed. Not being able to communicate internally (as well as externally) can hinder your career big time.
So what can you do?
Take internal meetings seriously. Come with research and ideas. Be prepared. Talk! (but don’t talk for the sake of talking, add value!). The worst thing you can do is just show up to meetings and hope to wing it.
The article of the week is a Medium post by Antonio Garcia. Garcia sold his Company to Twitter and then joined Facebook a few years back. The article is about the recent acquisition of MoPub by Twitter.
Stop Trying To Force The Startup Life On Everyone (It Is Not For Everyone)
Last week I saw a tweet put out by a startup founder that was along the lines of disappointment that a bright developer chose to become a engineer at a bank rather than at a startup. While I understand the reasoning behind this person and others wanting more developer talent in the startup scene, I think it’s time we stop trying to force the startup life on everyone. IT IS NOT FOR EVERYONE.
Working at a startup is not a walk in the park. It is a lot of hard work. Some people don’t want the uncertainty of needing to look for a job every 2-4 years (remember, not everyone jumps on a rocket ship). Personally, I have probably lost a few years of my life from the stress and anxiety of working at early-stage companies. I go through months of not being able to sleep and having other ailments from putting 110% of myself into my work.
It takes a unique makeup for someone to want to do startups. It also takes a special makeup to succeed in the startup game (yes, it is a game). Shaming on people because they have a skill and want to go in a different direction with their life is not fair. They may have school loans to pay back, maybe they are expecting a child soon and need stable employment, maybe it is something else. Whatever the case may be, make sure to educate the person about the opportunities that comes with a startup, but leave it at that.
One thing that is not spoken about in the early-stage tech world is how many startup founders come from money or stability. I’m by no means saying this applies to all founders or early-stage startup employees. But if you dig a little, you will see the “risk” that some of these people are taking is not as risky as they may seem (to be explicitly clear: the founders/early-stage employees ARE NOT saying or making it out that they are doing something risky, it’s more of the media and press around startups in general). Usually the worst-case scenario is the founder loses their investors’ money, feels a bit embarrassed and moves back into their parents’ comfortable house/apartment for a short time to plot what is next.
I’m even talking about myself. I grew up in NYC on the Upper West Side. If I lost my job, and ran out of cash, My wife and I could live in my parents’ or inlaws’ apartment/house until I got back on my feet (I’m hoping it never comes to this, Mom!). I’m lucky. Most people are not. These are the people with talents that would rather go to a bank/hedge fund, big co or some other place that will, short-term, pay the most money for their skills. They need some living + breathing room.
Anyways, this was a bit of a detour, but I think it would make a great long-read on one of the tech blogs. The story being, the truth about how “risky” startups are and how a majority of founders come from means. And I mean all of this in the nicest way. I don’t think people should be hated on just because they come from means. It is what they do with it and the name they make for themselves that matters.
So bottom line: While it is entirely fine to educate people that the startup life is a great career, by no means should we be “hating” on people who decide that this is not the lifestyle they want. It’s not for everyone.
Early-stage startups these days are made up of a bunch of generalists. Non-technical and technical alike, companies in their infancy need people to do many things. Most people that do “many things well” are generalists. It’s like the age-old question of whether you’d rather be really good at a bunch of different sports or the best at one sport (usually that “would you rather…” is around being the best [ENTER SPORT THAT PEOPLE MAKE FUN OF THAT IS NOT A “REAL” SPORT]).
At a certain point, generalists need to develop a specialty or they will not make it to later stages of a company. This usually happens when you see co-founders or early stage employees that don’t really have a place in the company as they grow. Sometimes they leave on their own, other times they stay for a few months or years, sort of lingering (they usually take over some sort of internal Company labs project where they do experiments around the API or try to build ways to make the product better but while thinking out of the box and not with the core team.
This post isn’t here to say whether being a generalist or a specialist is better than the other. I think everyone would love to be the best in the world at something. But that’s obviously not always possible. The post is here to say that one should be aware of the inevitable shift in your company when you go from hiring generalists to hiring specialists, so that you can plan accordingly and decide whether or not you want to tweak your skills (to be that killer person at X, who is irreplaceable) to scale with your company.
There are a few types of people when it applies to email. I think I’ve probably encountered most of them at this point in my career and would like to list some of them here. Understanding what type of person you are dealing with helps tremendously with correspondence and expectations.
Here are four stereotypical inbox folks-
The Fast Responder: This is the type of person who responds to every email within a 2-hour period. They don’t have the longest responses, but they are tied to their mobile phone and get back to you quickly. It’s tough to hate on this type of person because they respond to you when you email them (whether good or bad, it is better than silence). There are a few breakouts of the fast responder. One is the fast responder who knows you. Another is the fast responder even if they don’t know you. Some people are just nice and respond to everything. In both cases, the fast responders are great. The only downside is on their end: that being so “ON” probably doesn’t give them time for anything else besides work.
The Once-A-Day Responder: This individual usually responds to all emails in the morning or at night. During the day, they skim through their inbox and only respond to time-sensitive emails (i.e. changes to meetings that day, family, etc.). Depending on the individual, they can be a morning or night person. Personally, I’m a once-a-day responder. I’m a night owl and usually get to all my emails at night. I try to get them all done before going to bed, but sometimes I need the next morning to finish up.
The Organized One: This stereotype usually has crazy inbox filters with color coating and an exact strategy to be efficient with email dealings. They aren’t put into the other buckets because their strategy is a hybrid. Some filters get the fast responder, others get once-a-day, and a bunch goes into the empty abyss (inbox blow-upper). I sort of envy these people. I’ve tried to be The Organized One, but haven’t found a strategy I can stick to yet.
Inbox Blow-Upper: The last group here is aptly titled because they periodically blow up their inbox and claim inbox bankruptcy. They are the types that if you get lucky and catch them at the right moment you will get a fast responder persona. But most of the time the email gets lost in a inbox black hole. Inbox Blow-Uppers are not bad people. It’s usually not their fault. It’s usually founders of companies or executives who have so much inbound, and if they don’t have an assistant, it’s just not fair to expect them to respond to a large majority of emails. They have meetings day and night; have internal things to do (presentations, board meetings, etc.) and answering their email for a few hours is not their top priority. The best have other avenues to contact them (gchat, text messages, the PHONE!) and know if someone truly needs to get in front of them they will find a way.
So why is this important for BD? Well if you email someone who frequently blows up their inbox and starts over or responds to non-core things once a week you need to make sure you follow up periodically with a nice note, so you can get back on their radar. It’s not you, it’s them. You just happen to hit them at the wrong time (could be for a myriad of reasons) and a nice follow up and note could get everything back on track.
Did I miss any other email types? Share in the comments.