They say timing is everything. For specific roles at startups, they would be correct.
I’ve noticed that a big piece of whether someone is a good fit at a startup depends on the timing of their hiring. Sometimes companies are not ready for specific roles. This makes sense. But also, one person could be saying something really smart for a long time, make no progress, leave or be let go and then someone else can come along say the same things but this time action is taken. I’ve seen it happen time and time again at a range of startups and it just seems that is the way things are.
Hiring at startups goes hand and hand with success. If you make the wrong hire it will kill your company or at least slow it down a handful of months (the process of hiring, bringing up-to-speed, firing, finding someone new, bringing up-to-speed, etc., is a long one).
Bottom line: Startup hiring is tough. Timing is a big piece of the process and if you aware of it, you can use it to your advantage (i.e. not hiring roles too early, etc).
Some Thoughts On Bringing On and/or Becoming An Advisor To A Company
Now that I’m a founder, I have put some thought into bringing on official advisors to help the company. Michael and I are clearly not experts in many parts of company-building and having a few good people help out is tantamount to success.
At the same time I’m in the middle of becoming an official advisor to one or two companies and have some thoughts on that.
1) Don’t have too many advisors
Too many cooks in the kitchen syndrome can happen very quickly when having too many advisors. If you have a lot of advisors, make sure they each help you with one specific task (i.e. press, fund-raising, product, design, clients, etc.) and that is all.
2) Make sure they prove themselves first
If you have one or two conversations with someone you want to bring on as an advisor and they haven’t done anything to help your company, hold off from making them an official advisors. Wait till they actually help you with whatever their specialty is. Be very upfront about the fact that you want to start dating before you get married (euphemism) and if they have a problem with that, then they probably won’t be very good advisors.
3) Advisor compensation
From friends I’ve heard that 0.1-0.25% in terms of stock options is appropriate for an advisor. I’ve also heard that you should give someone as much as you want them to be involved (this can go from 0.5-1%). If someone is looking to be your advisor and wants 5% of your company, don’t do it, they clearly are out of touch with proper advisor grants.
4) On becoming an advisor
There are two companies I’m helping out more than the just occasional intro or product feedback. I don’t think I have enough time to help any more than one or two companies at this time. The two companies need help in understanding and executing on building out a killer API platform strategy (something I’ve done for the past four years at Dwolla and Aviary). I’m at the stage with them right now that I am just trying to show value by helping them with hiring, raising, product, partners, etc.
All of these points are simple and maybe even obvious. I think they are important things to stop and think about when becoming an advisor or bringing on an advisor to your company.
I spent most of last week in SF. I enjoy visiting. I get to see friends, meet with other tech people, and generally have a good time.
I have been to SF a handful of times in the past few years and developed some thoughts on the main difference between the SF tech ecosystem and the NY tech ecosystem.
I think both are great, but at very different stages in their maturation. If the SF tech space is in the bottom of the 5th inning (of a metaphorical ballgame) then the NY tech ecosystem is in the 2nd inning. This means not all of the batters have gotten up and there is still a huge opportunity for a player to emerge (i.e. a startup or individual).
When you spend time in SF, everyone around you is in tech. The billboards are about tech companies or startups. The conversations overheard at coffee shops is about the cool new app they are working on. Whereas in NY, save a seamless, venmo (shout out to Lucas) or Oscar Health ad in the subway, the billboards are major brands. If you go to certain restaurants you’ll overhear people talking about apps, but usually not ones they are working on. Mostly the city is filled with more than struggling entrepreneurs; it is struggling artists, Wall Streeters, and more.
The bottom line between SF and NY, in my opinion, is that if you are part of the NY tech scene you have a unique opportunity right now. It is a chance that you can be one of the first batters. In baseball you have 9 innings. If no one gets on base, it takes about 3 innings for every batter (9) to bat. If NY tech is really in the 2nd inning, we still have at least 1 inning for some of the best and brightest to bat. What I mean by all of this is that if you start a company or get involved in the tech scene in NY right now you can still be one of the biggest players in the NY tech scene. Whereas in SF, unless you build the next Airbnb, Dropbox, or $10B+ company, the bigger company executives and founders generally won’t take major notice of you.
NY tech is in a really interesting inflection point and I’m excited that I’m building a company in NY right now.
"The greats weren’t great because at birth they could paint. The greats were great cause they paint a lot."
- Macklemore and Ryan Lewis – Ten Thousand Hours
I love this song. I love this line. It is also very true. To become the best, to become great, you need to do whatever it is you want to be the best/greatest at, a lot. It needs to be on your mind 24/7. Every waking hour you need to focus your attention on becoming the best. It is not easy and this applies to all fields and all types of work.
Whether you are an athlete, programmer, rapper, or something else, becoming the best is no easy feat. It requires 10,000 foul shots, 10,000 pitches, 10,000 verses spit. And even then you may never see greatness, you may never become the best.
The Ten Thousands Hours song is a good reminder that people are rarely born with greatness but rather need to work hard to achieve it.
There are generally two schools of thought regarding timing when approaching companies for partnerships. One is that you can go whenever and just make sure you communicate effectively. The other is that you only have one shot and should only go when you are ready.
I think both make sense, but it depends on your relationship with the person on the other side. There are times when I go to a prospective partner early on and use those meetings to better understand what they really want. There are other times when I hold off going and only approach when fully ready to engage.
Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. For example, there was a big brand we almost had for the launch of SocialRank. We were missing a key feature and didn’t have time to include so we lost the partner for launch. We have since added the feature but the partner has yet to re-engage with us (after a few back and forths). Going early sometimes works against you.
I think there is one last thing to remember when approaching a potential partner too early. Sometimes when you get a warm introduction from a friend to a prospective partner you can forget that the person you get connected to isn’t that close friend. Some people only give you one shot, so be wary of falling into the trap of thinking someone is closer to you than they really are and plan accordingly.
I went to breakfast with a friend last week and we got to talking about product and company launches.
One of the things we agreed on was that if you do a blowout launch, or what we called “The Blitz,” it can be the best thing or the worst thing for your company. The Blitz is basically doing press everywhere (usually with someone like a NYT or WSJ leading the charge. Think of a company like Brewster’s launch).
If you do it right it can turn you into the leader in your business space overnight. But if you do it wrong, it can be deadly for your startup.
I have a few companies in mind that have done it right and some that have done it wrong. The point of this post is: you need to consider carefully whether you want to perform the blitz when you launch (and anyone can do this either by themselves or by hiring a PR agency). It may be to your own detriment.
Last week I wrote a post about Startup Options and how there are a lot of things startups don’t tell you about getting stock options. One of the things that stuck out for a few people who emailed me was the last paragraph:
“I’ve been thinking about startup hiring and how it is mostly selling the dream, but also moderately a very misleading situation. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard friends and colleagues say that they joined a company to find out things are not as they seem. Growth is not what the management was saying in the interview, a pivot is in the works, and much more.”
I have thought a bit more about due diligence when joining a company. I think there is an unspoken piece about joining venture-backed startups and that is that if they have raised money from top investors things must be going amazingly. This is hardly the truth. After being around the early-stage startup world for the past 6 years, I’ve found that just because a top-tier investment fund has invested in a company does not mean they are doing well in any capacity (this is not company-specific, but a generality).
Some of the best investors strike out big all the time. You have no idea what was pitched to the investors and how things have changed from the time of investment to the time you decide to come onboard. This is why you need to do your own due diligence when joining a company (and not rely on public signals that may be outdated). This means asking hard questions. If the question is too hard for a company to answer or if they won’t share certain information (when late in the stages of considering employment), you need to reconsider whether you should be joining the company.
The Due Diligence Farce is real and I think one of biggest reasons why there is employee turnover at startups.
I’ve been writing a post every few months about a few companies I am excited about. Sometimes they are new. Sometimes they are not (but I have only recently started using). If you haven’t seen Part I, Part II, Part III or Part IV you should check them out.
Boxed: I heard about Boxed a few months back, I think through my mom (which is always a good sign for a startup). Boxed is a simple mobile app that lets you order wholesale from your mobile phone. It is basically Costco for your phone. I have heard good things and my wife and I are starting to use it.
Hotel Tonight: I’ve known about Hotel Tonight for some time but I am about to use it for the first time when I go to LA next week. I’ve been playing with it and the discounts and prices look awesome. I’m not worried to have no place to sleep in LA until the morning of. I think Hotel Tonight is a genius concept and hope it does well as a company.
Charlie: I met the founders of Charlie a few months ago. They are building a really simple product to help people prepare for meetings. You sign up for Charlie, they pull in your calendar and you get an email with key things you should know about the people you will be meeting each day. They are still in beta, but I’m excited about what they plan to put out soon.
EnagageInbox: Still in beta but EngageInbox is simple deep linking in emails. Allowing users to choose items and checkout all in your email. I think if they build a killer API, I don’t know a company that wouldn’t add it as a way to increase conversion.
Product Hunt: Not a new product, but Ryan Hoover is doing some really good things with Product Hunt, a daily leaderboard of the best new products. I can see it becoming a Hacker News-like site, specifically focused on products. If you launch a new product and don’t put it on Product Hunt, you are doing it wrong.
Startup stock options are confusing on purpose. It is in the company’s best interest for you not to understand a) how much they are worth b) what it really means to get stock options c) how to actually make money on them, and everything in between. It is in their best interest for you to forfeit potential salary in the hopes of landing a golden ticket to Google/Facebook/Twitter IPO-land. Employees usually don’t know that they will need to buy their options if they leave a company and that cashless exercise is few and far between. That you have to pay AMT taxes on paper gains, even though you have outlayed money to buy them and have not seen any real profit, because there is little to no liquidity in the private markets.
It’s not any company to blame, their goal is to get good talent in the door and tell the talent that their stock may someday be worth 10-30x what it is worth today. And you can get some of that if you can accept a salary 5-10k lower than what you need to live comfortably.
Now that I’m a founder and looking at hiring in the next few months, I’m thinking about these things. I want to do good by my future employees, but also want to be smart about things (from a company level). I’ve been thinking about startup hiring and how it is mostly selling the dream, but also moderately a very misleading situation. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard friends and colleagues say that they joined a company to find out things are not as they seem. Growth is not what the management was saying in the interview, a pivot is in the works, and much more.
I don’t have any answers for this right now, but what I do know is that ESOP (employee stock option plan) needs some disruption.
It has been a month since we launched SocialRank. It’s been a wild month and I wouldn’t change it for the world. While things are looking really good, we have definitely made some mistakes along the way. Here are a few (which we’ve since fixed):
1) Not explaining certain terms well.
One of the biggest questions we received when we launched was what does ___ mean? The ___ was Most Valuable Follower (MVF), Most Engaged Follower (MEF), and Best Follower (BF). We had a definition but it was hidden in a little “i” button (i for information), which was nearly impossible to see.
A good friend said that we should make it painfully obvious what each thing means. So we decided to put it in plain text above each section. Now when you go into each section (MVF, MEF, BF), it tells you exactly what it means and what you might be able to do with the information.
2) Not capturing all emails
Michael and I wanted the most smooth experience possible when logging into SocialRank. We followed the Minimal Homepage Theory, which is getting your users to come in and do one thing only. This was to log in via Twitter. While your report was being generated we allowed users to put their email address in. But if your report went very quickly, you wouldn’t have enough time to type out your email address.
Anyways, this meant that we didn’t get emails for each user. We got for most, but we definitely missed some. Being on Twitter allowed us to be able to DM or tweet at them from our notification account, but it was still a major mistake. We now ask users to finish their account and enter their email address (and have been working on ways to get the people we missed).
3) Not optimizing upgrade to premium
When we launched SocialRank we did not optimize the conversion to premium. The premium page was a mess with a very confusing layout and spelling mistakes. We also only had Monthly billing, not including a yearly option at a discount at launch. It’s amazing that a bunch of brands actually upgraded, not because of the product, it is well worth less than $1 a day, but more because it was just all over the place.
We have since fixed things, showing what you get by upgrading very clearly, monthly + yearly options and just generally a more coherent premium page. It still needs a bunch of work, but the conversion is much better.
This post isn’t supposed to show that we’ve fixed every issue that we have at SocialRank. There is a lot to do in terms of improvements and advancements. It is more to just show that nothing goes perfect when launching a product. You need to continue to focus to make it better if you want to take your product and company anywhere. We are happy to have the opportunity to do so.
When I think of good ideas about building products and starting companies, I always think about the first thing I would do to get the ball rolling. For SocialRank, it was building a simple tool to help brands and individuals find out more information. SocialRank will be so much more, but you need to start somewhere and build from there.
I recently thought about the contact/address book and how it still sucks. There are a lot of companies working on solutions (I recently started using Connect.com which is as good as they come so far) but no one has cracked it yet. I think everyone is looking for the killer app instead of starting with building something simple that helps professionals immediately.
If I were to start a business that had the vision of building the killer contact/address book I would start simple. There are two things that frustrate me to no end about my current contact/address book situation and they are Duplicates and Bad Emails.
If I were to attack this problem I would build a simple tool to help eradicate duplicates and remove bad emails (i.e. someone leaves a company, changed email, etc.) This would add a lot of benefit to me and I think is a big problem for professionals. I would then slowly layer on top of those features and build out the contact/address book.
This post was titled Building The Killer Contact Book but it could just as easily been called Want To Start A Company? Start it with something simple.
But serendipity is real and putting yourself in a position for good things to happen is a form of serendipity.
I’ve had my share of serendipitous moments, but I think one set my current professional path in order. So here is my story of serendipity.
In 2010 I was working for an Israel-based startup called Media/And. I had graduated in 2009 and was running US operations for this startup. I was fairly sure I was ready to move on and was silently looking for the next thing to do. I went to a conference called the #140conf run by Jeff Pulver at the 92Y. During lunch I went across the street to a kosher pizza restaurant. I sat down next to a girl who looked like she was at the conference. She wasn’t at the conference but her name sounded familiar. Her last name was Koyfman and I asked if she knew Mo Koyfman from Spark Capital (who I had met once or twice before in the scene). She said he was her brother. Small world.
Flash forward a week or so later I had made the decision that it was time to move on and I reached out to 2 or 3 people that I thought could help me find a good role as a junior BD person. My chance meeting with Mo’s sister led me to reach out to him to see if he had any companies in his portfolio that might be a match.
For the past few months I haven’t been very active in the NY Tech scene in terms of networking and meeting new people. I haven’t had the time to work on the BD Meetup, which Eric Batscha and Alex Guttler have taken over (and which is returning in the next 30 days). And since starting SocialRank, I haven’t had the bandwidth to go to other events during the week. Well I’d like to get back at it and I have just the way to start off.
One of the highlights of SXSW this year was the two nights that Ben Huh (Cheezburger founder) hosted a game of Werewolf at the Austin Hilton. Werewolf is a simple game about deceiving your friends. It is similar to the game called Mafia. It’s a party game that is all about the survival of your species (whether you are a werewolf or a villager). We played it Saturday and Sunday night and this was some of the best time I had in Austin. Everyone took it seriously and it was tons of fun.
Anyways, I am going to be hosting a monthly NY Tech game of Werewolf. We are going to have the first event at the awesome office of Work-Bench on March 26th at 7pm.
Michael and I both became our own bosses on January 11th when we started our own business. Being a boss has its ups and downs. Lots of responsibilities but also lots of freedom. I think there is one major pro and one major con to being your own boss, and they are the same thing.
You control your own destiny.
As hard and smart as you work will be as far as you go. There are other factors, and you will need a little luck, but most things are in your control.
You control your own destiny.
If you need some downtime (like a vacation), it will impact your job and output. Your livelihood is at stake and that can be a scary thing (which in turn might make you run yourself into the ground over-working yourself).
The best and worst thing about starting and running your own business (with no employees) is just the different side of the same coin.
It is common to call the monthly progress of a startup the heartbeat of your company. What this means is that every month you want that “beep boop” sound that continues to push your product/mission/vision forward.
Usually this consists of a combination of growth, new feature/product releases, press, and fundraising, some public and some private. For Michael and I at SocialRank, we are already working on some of the biggest features that brands have been asking for to release in the next few weeks.
Keeping that heartbeat drumming is paramount to your company and traction.
Anything you ever do publicly will lead people to give feedback, whether solicited or unsolicited. Feedback is great. It makes you better and stronger. But feedback can also slow you down and make you second guess everything you are doing.
I think there is a good balance of digesting feedback from a variety of people and trying to filter by the source of feedback. For example, there is a big difference between getting feedback from a paying customer and a friend or investor that thinks you should add X, Y, and Z.
There is a quote, I’m not sure from where, that goes something like ‘every startup founder should listen to everyone and no one at the same time.’ To me this means you should stick to your convictions about where to go with your business but listen to everyone and cherry-pick things you think will help it improve.
They say timing is everything. In the case of SocialRank, they are right.
Originally we planned to launch on February 11th. Looking back, this was unrealistic, but it was the original launch date of our product. Thank goodness we didn’t launch then because during that afternoon Klout was bought. Bullet number one dodged.
The second launch date was February 19th. We ended up pushing it as we got some feedback from brands (i.e. add individual and brand filters) and wanted to implement before launch. This is where we dodged bullet number two, because on the 19th Whatsapp was bought for almost $20B. That dominated the internet for a good few days.
I’m writing this piece before we launch on Tuesday (two days ago, when I post this) not to say something big won’t come out then, but because you can’t always control all the major things going on in the world. We didn’t push our launch for anything else besides the product not being ready for primetime.
Bottom line: Timing your launch is bull. You can’t control other factors out there. Launching your product when it is ready and continuing with improvements post launch is the best you can do.
We launched our product yesterday, so now I think it’s a good time to share some of Michael and my goals for SocialRank. We have two sides to the product: one is for individuals and the other is for brands. We have different goals for each side.
On the Individual level we have three goals:
1) Have people try the tool.
2) A good percentage to share the results of their best follower on Twitter (i.e. the viral mechanic we have in place - “want to see your Top 10?”).
3) Add enough value for people to come back once a month for their new report.
Putting this in perspective it means we won’t be upset or disappointed if individuals using the platform aren’t using the product every day (I would even argue, there is not much for them to use every day…yet).
On the Brand level we have four goals:
1 + 2) Same as Individuals
3) Have the brand get enough value from the basic version to upgrade to the premium version to see more.
4) For the brands using SocialRank to engage with and reward their best followers, most valuable followers, and most engaged followers.
This is a higher order than for individuals and we are excited about the challenge.
Writing this down and putting the information out there helps us stay focused and only do things that help reach these goals.
1) Phone charging is the biggest issue at the conference. Make sure you carry around a charger at all times. On top of that, you should consider making the investment in the Dark Energy Reservoir, the best portable charger on the market.
2) You don’t need a SXSW conference pass. If you want to go to the panels, sure you need a pass, but if you are going on a budget, RSVP’ing to the meetups, parties, and happy hours is more than enough. I’ve been going since 2010 and I only had a pass once. I also only used it once (to go to the Jay-Z concert two years ago).
3) Don’t use automated sign-up systems. The people that get signed up through these services usually get banned by the event runner. While it takes a few minutes of your time to sign up for everything (which you should), you at least will know what events are happening.
4) Go with the flow. RSVP for everything, but make decisions when you get there. Use Foursquare to see where friends are.
5) Hydrate, bring sneakers, and yes it rains in Texas.
I recently set out to read a bit more about building the best homepage possible. There is a lot of psychology and thought that goes into building the perfect homepage and I read a ton of posts. One particular article stuck out, called “The Minimal Homepage,” by Mattan Griffel, founder of One Month Rails.
Read the post, as it is worth the time. The concept is that for most websites the best solution is to have very little on the homepage but enough to show your value proposition and get the person to convert to whatever it is you want (usually a sign up). People think they need to explain to you every reason why their website/offering/service is the most amazing thing since sliced bread as the first thing on their homepage. But the truth is that your homepage should pique their interest enough that they give you their information to find out more.
Even if you are not about to launch a company, it is worthwhile to read the post.
Last week I met a founder of an up and coming company. She had raised a small round of funding and was considering going out for a series A (or big seed) soon. The problem was that every investor she spoke with wanted her to go down a different path for the company. The founder wasn’t sure what to do about balancing what her vision was versus what the people that were going to give her money wanted.
I think this happens often in the early-stage company-building phase. Founders go the route of taking investor money and the investors need to obviously like the product AND vision. The problem here though is that if you ask 100 potential investors where they think the business should go, you’ll get 100 different answers (and rightfully so). Your goal as a founder is to build a company for your users, members, and customers, not for investors.
With investors you need to be able to prove to them that the direction you plan to take your business is the right one (by using data and the like). You may be tempted to follow everything they suggest to a T, but never mix up building a company for investors with building a company the way your actual customers/users/clients want it.
I feel like every time I log onto LinkedIn things regress in terms of usability and capabilities. I’ve considered going for the premium version, but I don’t think anything I want to do on LinkedIn would need a premium account.
LinkedIn is different things for different people. Recruiters (and job seekers) are the big cash cow for LinkedIn. But business professionals also (try to) use LinkedIn as a contact book, and this has become almost unusable.
I use LinkedIn for two things:
1) Dig through my personal contacts
2) Look for people I want to get connected with
I have some hacks that work for the latter. But the former is a complete, utter mess. The old contacts view was better than what we have right now. I hate that it is very difficult to pull all my contacts in SF before going on a business trip there (figuratively, no planned trip right now).
So, LinkedIn, either fix contacts (happy to give feedback on how to do this) or someone please use LinkedIn’s API to build a better contact manager for LinkedIn.
Naming your company is important. How important? I’m not so sure yet. There are plenty of dumb sounding company names that do alright. I think it depends on how consumer facing your name/brand will be.
I don’t have much experience naming companies, but here is the Modern Mast naming story:
Michael and I were thinking about names for the product we were going to put out but couldn’t agree on it when we needed to send in our incorporating documents to our lawyers. So we decided to take our initials and throw it in one of those word jumblers to see what we could get. Our initials are MS and AT. We ended up seeing the word MAST. So first we were going to be Mast Inc, or Mast Computing. But both were taken as corporations. Then when we were looking through the Mast (sailing) wikipedia page we stumbled on the history of masts and specifically “modern masts.” Thus the name was born: Modern Mast.
Now MM is only the incorporating name and we will be revealing the product name in short time, but a few things about naming a company:
1) A two year old should be able to say your company’s name. If not you’ve failed at naming your company.
2) When talking to someone on the phone, if the person needs to ask you more than twice how to spell it, you’ve failed at naming your company.
3) If someone sees your company/product name they should be able to infer what the product will do (or at least say, “Oh I get it,” once you explain). If not, you’ve failed in naming your company.
4) Domains and public handles matter when picking a name. If you can’t get the domain, handle, or at least something close you will be making your job difficult but you haven’t failed in naming your company.
These are just some thoughts I have on the topic. They are by no means the rules. Please share your thoughts about naming your company below!
One of the best things I learned over the past five years working in the startup world was how to think. Learning how to think can be the difference between being successful and failing at your company.
There are three things I keep in mind in regards to learning how to think:
1) Ask a lot of questions
Asking questions helps you think and make decisions with more information. Only ask questions you can’t find yourself (i.e. by doing a simple google search).
2) Think about potential problems and proactively try to solve them before they arise
This is a recurring aspect to keep in mind. The best startup people anticipate problems before they come up and problem-solve so that they never become major issues (or if they do, they have a solution in place). The way to train yourself to get good at this is to map out (either on paper or in your mind) all the results you can think of about a certain scenario. For example, if you are about to launch a new product, besides figuring out how to execute the basics of the launch you ALSO need to think about unexpected scenarios you might get yourself into and figure out solutions for them.
3) Thinking correctly helps you avoid wasting time
This last one is what I see from first time founders who spend way too much time on things that aren’t important. It could be anything from spending countless time on business cards to pitching investors (before you have a product). Learning how to think correctly helps you avoid the time-suck of various un-important things one does at a startup and gets you focused on the right things.
I recently asked my followers on Twitter to share some good articles about pricing a product. Here are some of the articles people shared: here, here and here.
I’ve also spoken to a few people and here are the two things that stuck with me:
1) Don’t leave money on the table
Apparently the goal is to find a price that a customer “complains” about but still ends up purchasing. This means that you didn’t leave money on the table by underpricing your product (while I hear this, I don’t 100% agree and would rather give a customer 110% and delight them than price it at the point where they are upset but still purchase- but that’s me).
2) Pricing makes something valuable (as opposed to giving it away for free)
If you don’t charge for a product, there is a perception that your product is worthless. If you think about it, it makes a lot of sense. People find value in something that costs something.
Bottom line: Read the articles, talk to customers and figure out what the best price for your product or service is.
The absolute worst thing you can do as a founder or as a member of a startup’s management team is think you can do everything. Unless a founder and their team have relentless focus on doing one thing really well they will not get enough traction to be successful.
How does a founder or the management team go down this path of trying to do too many things?
Well, it is usually a mix of a few things but all stem from the ‘shiny things disease’. This is the theory around distractions that arise at startups that take away your focus on what’s important (i.e. a big cool splashy name company reaches out because they want to do something with you but it will make you spend the next two months building custom features and delay your big new product that will bring on 10x usage/users).
Maybe you tell yourself and your team that you don’t want to bet all your money on one horse or put your eggs in one basket. You rationalize that putting pieces of your team on a bunch of things rather than everyone on one thing will let you have more to show at the next board meeting or when raising your next fundraising you’ll be able to show multiple use cases.
But this mindset will sink you because you don’t have infinite developer resources or personnel to devote to focusing on multiple initiatives AND do them well.
So how do you avoid the feeling that you can do everything?
Focus on one thing and do that one thing really well! The good part of the “worst thing you can do as a founder” is that it is usually easily fixable. It might not feel good to cut off companies/partners/features to focus on one thing but it is very necessary.
At Aviary, Avi the founder became the king of focusing on one thing. But he (and the company) didn’t start off that way. When I joined Aviary they had a suite of web-based editing tools and a website called Worth1000 (for photoshop contests). The tools were great but they weren’t in-line with the future of mobile and on-the-go, lightweight tools (i.e. the suite was flash based and web only). Long story short, Avi (and the board) made the executive decision to focus on one thing and do it well. The team rallied around building a light-weight photo editing API for web and mobile and the suite of tools and photoshop contest website became secondary products. As the API began to gain traction the team slowly shut down the other products (even with a ton of users and usage). Flash-forward to this year and Worth1000 was sold off, Aviary heavy tools are, I believe, being worked on by a different team and Aviary the company and API have 75 million MAUs.
So as you can clearly see, it is very possible to right the ship even if you first struggle with the worst thing you can do as a founder.
The Most Important Thing When Trying To Get People To Help You
Everyone wants help. But not everyone knows how to get it.
I think most people in the world want to be helpful to others. The problem is that it is always easier to be unhelpful than helpful. This is why it’s important to figure out exactly how to make helping you the easiest thing possible for the other person.
This means if you are looking for an introduction to a potential partner, investor, or something else you need to give that person an easy forward-able email so they can get the green light from the person you want to be connected with.
The same goes with helping you get a job, networking in a new industry, or anything else that involves getting people to help you. Spell out every step for the other side to make it as easy as clicking a button to help.
Cut out all the barriers that would hinder someone from helping you and you’ll be surprised how many people respond positively to requests for help.
h/t to Nicola (an email thread with her inspired this post)
It is very hard to build a successful satellite office. While technology is getting better there are still tons of internet/bandwidth problems when it comes to communicating with multiple offices (i.e. Skype, hangouts are delayed or buggy). I’ve run a satellite office for two companies now and while I definitely got better as time went on, it was still very hard to move at startup speed when decision makers are all across the country or world. If you do need to have a satellite office, here a few tips to make it work.
Tip #1 Over-communicate
One of the things I didn’t do that well when I was the only employee in the US for Media/And and made sure to improve when I joined Dwolla, was to over-communicate with my superiors. This meant having a shared document with our COO and writing up all meeting summaries on a daily basis. This was a lot of work but it allowed my superiors the ability to know what was up.
In BD and Partnerships things take time early on. You need to talk to prospective partners, understand their needs. Maybe you have what they want/need. Maybe you don’t. If you do, great, deals might happen quickly. If you don’t, you need to go back and build it. Then deals will begin to come in. Long story short, it is very easy for your superiors to think you aren’t making progress early on, so over-communicate as much as possible to show them that you are.
Tip #2 Have A Full Team At Each Location
If you are going to have a remote team, make sure you have a complete team at the location. This allows you to move a lot quicker than if you have pieces of your specific team (i.e. API team, Design team, etc.) spread out.
Tip #3 Travel To HQ Often
Building a company is sort of like building an army. If you want to build a good team, you need to spend copious amounts of time with the team to build a deep bond. This is why if you are a remote team member, you need to travel to the mothership for a minimum of a week every 6 weeks. It doesn’t matter what your role is at your company; spending that time in the trenches with your teammates is priceless.
One last thought: Now that I’m a founder, I think I will be very hesitant to add any satellite members to our team for a long time. It’s not that it never works, it is more that it makes your job harder, and with all the difficult things that come with startups this just stacks another odd against you.
There are the lovers. There are the haters. Then there are the ignorers.
Lovers are great. Haters can hurt. But ignorers, these are the worst.
What is an “ignorer?”
Before defining an ignorer let’s define the lovers and haters in this context. A lover is someone who shows love to you and your business. They share, like, fave, retweet, pin your posts. They are your fans and express their love publicly.
The haters on the other hand also share your stuff, or at least comment on it publicly but the tone is negative and they hate on it. While haters can make people uncomfortable they are better than the ignorers, because at least they make people have an emotional response to what they are doing.
The ignorers are the third bucket and they are people who ignore what you are doing. It could be when you want a reporter to cover you, a potential investor to meet with you, want to recruit a phenomenal iOS developer. The ignorers are the worst because they make you feel like you don’t matter. They don’t even hate on you, they don’t feel any emotion towards you and that sucks.
This is why, I believe, some people purposefully try to get people to hate them and their companies, because it is a lot easier to deal with haters than ignorers (think of someone you hated in a TV show, like Sawyer from LOST- in the first season you hated Sawyer, but by the end of the show he was everyone’s favorite character).
There is only one solution for turning ignorers into lovers or haters and that is to build something that makes them notice you. If you build something that makes them have an emotional reaction, you win.
One of the things Michael and I decided once we started building our own company is that we would do our very best to become something we are calling “founder profitable,” as soon as possible.
What is founder profitable?
What founder profitable means is that we will work on bringing in enough revenue to cover the (livable) salaries of the founders (us) and associated costs.
Considering that it is only Michael and I right now and on top of that we have all the pieces to build a company (mainly a “builder” and a “seller”) this allows us to do a few things:
Build the right product
Having enough money in the bank to cover the founders at such an early stage will allow us to build the right product. By covering our basic living and operating expenses through bringing in enough revenue from our initial product will not only help validate our initial product but it will allow us to take our time in building the right features and offering without the pressure of hyper growth or managing a big team.
Not accept the first money offered to us
One of the most frequent things I see with startup founders is them taking the first money thrown at them because they need to. They don’t get the terms they want, they don’t get the investors they want, all because they won’t have enough money in the bank to cover the team’s expenses and payroll if they don’t accept the terms in front of them.
By becoming founder profitable you can control your own destiny.
The biggest regret I hear from startup founders is that they wish they had more time. More time to find product/market fit. More time to build more features to make their product more attractive. More time to make their business successful. If they would have gone for founder profitability, they would create more time for themselves. This breathing room gives a team more time to be successful.
These are just a few reasons why becoming founder profitable is a smart path to take, if your product/offering/service allows for it.
This week’s article is a no-brainer. Marc Andreessen wrote a post for the New York Times that finally helped the masses understand the power of bitcoin. It might go down as a tipping point in merchant adoption of bitcoin.
The 3 Biggest Mistakes BD People Make When Pitching
There are a million things you can do wrong when pitching a person, company, or organization. These 3, I believe, are the biggest no-nos.
Mistake #1: You make your pitch via email
We all do it early on in our careers. We are sending an email to someone (sometimes to someone we don’t know) and write a wall of text expecting them to read an email that would take 5-10 minutes to process and then respond to us with interest. It is the classic rookie mistake. The mistake being that the initial email to someone, whether you know them or not, should be short and should pique their interest to find out more. The goal is to grab their attention in five sentences of less, not to close a deal via email.
Mistake #2: You don’t ask for next steps in a meeting
One of the biggest mistakes BD people make when pitching is to not ask for or lay out next steps at the end of a meeting. If you go through an awesome presentation but you don’t seal the deal (or at least lay out the plans to seal the deal), well I hate to tell you, but you just wasted your last hour. Make sure you ALWAYS end a meeting with all the next steps (even if that means the person you were pitching needs to go back to their team to talk). After you get back from your meeting (usually next day), make sure to send these next steps via email to solidify them. If you don’t do this, the deal will, almost always, fall by the wayside.
Mistake #3: Assume you know what the other side cares about
This mistake is the ultimate BD/Partnership blunder. Every BD person does this at some point in their career. You head into the meeting with someone you want to work with and make a ton of assumptions (the worst being you know what they care about). This is why at every meeting I go to, I make sure that one of the first questions I ask is, “What do you folks care about right now?” (or, “What’s important to you?”) Another good question to ask is “What are you working on?” as usually whatever a company is working on at that moment is not public information and there is no way to know the answer unless you ask.
While these three mistakes might be the biggest, they are by no means the only mistakes BD people make. By, at least, identifying these you may be able to avoid them and be on your way to closing more deals.
Why Not Knowing To Put A Period Before @ Mentions Is A Twitter Product Problem (And Not A User Problem)
The most common mistake by Twitter users is putting a handle (@) to start a tweet. By starting off with someone’s handle that means only people that follow both you and that handle (whether it is an individual or brand) will see the tweet. Sometimes this is done on purpose but most times it is not intended.
@baconseason is an awesome guy - you all should follow him
.@baconseason is an awesome guy- you all should follow him
In the first example, only people following @baconseaon and I would see that, making it irrelevant because they all follow him already! The second would be seen by everyone following me, making it relevant.
Without making any changes to how the regular twitter feed works, Twitter should take the Fiverr approach. Fiverr, the #1 marketplace for $5 (and up) services, has text pop up when you are doing something wrong (or in this case, against their TOS) while communicating with members fulfilling services.
See the below screenshot:
The first is before I begin communicating with the seller. The second is after I do something wrong (in this case, telling them to email me).
So how can Twitter solve this problem?
Easy. When someone starts a tweet with a handle as the first word, Twitter should pop up (not as an overlay but like Fiverr) some text that says “By starting with someone’s handle, the only people that will see this will be the people that follow you and that handle. Are you sure you want to do that?” This would only be done when composing a new tweet and not replying to someone else’s tweet.
I DM’d Jordan and asked him how much they were. He told me $300 a ticket and that they are three rows behind the basket. I told him it was a little too rich for me and would pass. Jordan responded that he would like to sell them to a Knicks fan who would enjoy the game and told me to pay what I want. I ended up paying $500 for both seats.
Now this is where it gets interesting. I decided to pay Jordan in bitcoin. If you don’t know what bitcoin is, read this post. We agreed that I would pay him $500 in bitcoin, at the time about 0.7688 of one bitcoin as the price of bitcoin on coinbase at that moment was $650. Now flash-forward almost a month and bitcoin is $950 on the Mt. Gox exchange (making my tickets already worth over $650).
Two thoughts I have:
1) How can bitcoin become a legitimate way to buy something when the price fluctuates like this? (I know it should eventually calm down, but then the allure of “making money” by holding bitcoin goes away and so does the care from regular people).
2) I’m wondering if I just bought, what will become, the most expensive Knicks tickets of all time.
The week before bringing back my personal blog, I had a few friends and industry folks do guest posts from Monday to Friday on this blog. There were some really good posts and I’m thinking of doing a few each month.
What do you think? What would you like people to contribute? If you are interested in contributing yourself, hit me up at Ataub24@gmail.com
Every year we see predictions for the next year. I think that is all good fun, but I’m more interested in predictions for the next 10 years. This is why I’m going to make some (bold) predictions for 2024. Five specific predictions to be exact. Here we go:
1. Travel will be disrupted, majorly
I think over the next ten years travel will speed up and companies will be built that disrupt the way we currently move from A to B. Things like the Hyperloop interest me, but I hope within ten years humankind can move a few more steps into the future. I’d like to believe that we will be very close to individual air travel. Think the Jetsons. There is much to do to make this a reality, the first being building the vehicles that can travel in the air, at a level that is under planes but above ground-level. On top of that there needs to be infrastructure built, rules and regulations that come into play around air traffic controlling of individual planes and more. It’s a major undertaking and I think we will see some of the first steps by 2024.
I’d like to also believe that by 2024 we will be closer to quantum teleportation. There have been some breakthroughs recently as scientists transported light particles in 2011. In 2024 I think we will have some variation of teleportation. Getting to teleporting packages, gifts, etc will be a huge step. If it gets to a point where people can be teleported, this will be a game-changer and trillion dollar industry overnight. The opportunities around docking stations, teleportation support, etc. could be amazing. Teleportation- let’s do this!
2. Food will have major breakthroughs
I think the food industry will also have major breakthroughs in the next ten years. I think some company will release a food product that tastes like whatever you’d like without putting on the weight. Think space food in its compactness but Manna from the desert.
3. Robots: one in every home
I think within the next ten years a charismatic founder will proclaim that his goal is to put a robot in every home (think of Microsoft’s computer-in-every-home mantra). The charismatic founder might just be Google founder Larry Page. These robots may start off doing the dishes and cleaning up, but I think they will get smarter and smarter and while never having A.I., they will be the next push of in-home hardware to become mainstream.
4. Wearables will be unnoticeable
Right now wearables are a hot industry. I think this will continue but the noticeability of these products will shrink and shrink and shrink, until they will not be noticeable with the naked eye. Think Google Glass in your contact or in a normal looking eye glasses. Wearables are here to stay, you just won’t notice them in ten years because they will be baked into whatever it is you already have that looks “normal.”
5. Retail will be more like Minority Report
The last prediction for 2024 is that retail will continue to get more and more personalized. This is a mix of in-store experience through your phone (push notifications) and in-store billboards that will be able to identify you by some marker (let’s hope not your eyeball!). I think some of this stuff is happening right now, I just think by 2024 whatever is happening right now will be on major steroids. It will be interactive and numbers will show it does a better job at selling than salespeople do. Maybe this is some sort of in-store robot. Combining Predictions 3 and 5!
These are just some of my ideas for 2024. Add your predictions below!
What Do You Want To Know About The People Who Follow You On Twitter?
Now that the cat is out of the bag about my next steps, I have a question that I want to bring up on my blog.
But first a few thoughts. I think Twitter is the most interesting consumer company of our time. I have met some great people, contacts, and eventual friends on Twitter (it’s also a dark-horse professional network). I think Twitter does a poor job of telling me more about the people who follow me. I know very little. I think it would be very interesting to find out more information about my followers. I personally have a long list of things that interest me in finding out (it was one of the reasons Michael and I built MVF way back when). But I’d like to hear from all of you.
What do you want to know about the people who follow you on Twitter? It could be anything from what country they are from to what industry they are in (some of this is covered in twitter ads analytics but not everyone has access to this). It could be to find out who RT’s you the most and who is your most engaged follower. Whatever interests you.
I can’t guarantee that the thing you want to know will be in the final product. We’ll definitely have people’s MVF’s plus a few tangential data points. But if it is something cool we might just knock it out and share it with you.
Hit me up in the comments section or email me at Ataub24@gmail.com.
I'm Starting A Company And Here Is How It Went Down
This past Friday was my last day at Dwolla. The past two years have been nothing short of amazing but it was time to start on my own journey. Well actually not on my own. Michael Schonfeld, better known as @baconseason and I are starting our own company as of today.
Michael and I met back in May 2011 on Ohours. Michael was living in LA and doing freelance development. I was working at Aviary but thinking about fun side projects to work on. I convinced Michael to leave LA and move to NYC. He got a job at Nerve Dating and we started to collaborate on a little project focused on online debating. We built the app and had a few investment offers to run it full-time, but decided to decline them as it wasn’t something we were ready to work on for the next 5 years. At the same time I had been introduced to Ben Milne, the founder of Dwolla. Ben mentioned that Dwolla was also looking for a developer evangelist and next thing we knew Michael and I had both joined Dwolla to open its New York office and run the API platform (the business side by me and technology side by Michael).
Fast-forward 22 months and it is time for us to set sail.
So what will we be working on?
That’s a great question. Before answering, here’s a story: While Michael and I were thinking of side projects together in 2011 and 2012 we built an app called MVF, which stood for Most Valuable Follower. The premise of MVF was to find out who, out of all your followers on Twitter, was your most valuable. Michael and I put together a formula, built the hack, and put it out there a few days later. Within a week we had over 50kpeople and brands trying the application. We had everyone from the tech crew usuals to the band The Smashing Pumpkins and former NBA player Jamal “Monster Mash” Mashburn trying out the tool. It was fun. But we both had full-time jobs and eventually needed to shut it off because it was taking up too much time. Even though we shut MVF off, every few months we’ve had a brand reach out to us asking if we could turn it back on to find out more about the people who follow them.
The first thing we will be doing at Newco is spinning back up MVF and layering some good stuff on top of it. Things that people and brands might find interesting about those who follow them (If there is something you are especially interested in, as a person or brand, please email me at email@example.com).
The reason we are bringing MVF back is that it is very much connected to the business Michael and I are building. It’s still too early to jump deep into that (not stealth, but not fully baked), but we can say it has to do with social media, commerce, next-gen advertising tools, and something we know very well: APIs.
We’re very excited about this opportunity to build a business and will have more to share within the next month (we work fast). Oh, and the name of our company (not the product we will be launching) is Modern MAST (MAST = Michael, Alex, Schonfeld, Taub).
It’s clear that hardware startups are back on the rise. Bolt, a Boston-based hardware accelerator, launched its first batch of 7 companies out of an application pool of 850. Techstars partnered with R/GA to launched a new accelerator for startups focused on “connected devices” in NYC. Today’s hardware hackers have unprecedented access to capital through platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo. And, if Coin’s pre-launch sale and Pebble’s early popularity tells us anything, it’s that today’s hardware consumer is more willing than ever to be an early adopter.
The folks at True Ventures recently outlined some key drivers behind today’s hardware revolution: ubiquitous wireless infrastructure, cheaper components, better prototyping tools… the list goes on. I’m surprised, however, that emerging hardware business models have yet to receive as much attention as they deserve.
Here’s a couple I’m particularly excited about:
Kiwi offers a clear hardware value proposition: a WiFi-enabled wearable multi-dimensional sensor. The company’s vision, however, lies beyond just the product offering, and is focused on creating a platform where third-party developers can create unique apps for the Kiwi Move. In the same fashion that the iOS App Store created a software ecosystem for the iPhone in the communications space, Kiwi hopes to do the same for the quantified self vertical.
Shapeways is an e-commerce store that sells well-designed and quirky objects. Unlike a regular e-tailer, they hold no inventory and have no supplier contracts. Instead, by sourcing raw materials and producing all the items in-house, Shapeways leverages the creativity of the crowd to offer manufacturing-as-a-service.
On paper, Planet Labs is a satellite company — the company’s core competency is the impressive low-cost and low-footprint satellites they’ve created. In practice, however, Planet Labs is a data company. Rather than simply selling the hardware, or selling connectivity access to the satellites, the company hopes to provide up-to-date earth imaging data that will serve “humanitarian, ecological, and commercial endeavors,” including industries such as agriculture, energy, and mining.
Unlike the hundreds of traditional webcam manufacturers, Dropcam treats webcams as a subscription good. In addition to their flagship WiFi-connected two-way webcams, Dropcam also offers a cloud-based video recording and storage service on a monthly subscription basis.
As Paul Graham describes, investors tend to have a “deep-seated bias against hardware.” Traditional hardware companies face many challenges when pitching to VC’s – there is often a higher capital requirement and the decision can come down to just gross margins and supply chain efficiency.
Each of the companies I’ve listed above have realized that it’s no longer enough to just deliver a beautiful and functional product – a meaningful software and/or services component is required to thrive in today’s software-eating-the-world environment. As an investor, I’m very encouraged to see hardware companies evolve this way, because while today’s infrastructure certainly makes it easier to start a hardware company, it’s ultimately an innovative business model that will set a company apart.
Disclaimer: IVP is an investor in Dropcam; views expressed are my own.
The Future of Social Connectivity: Graphs and Platforms with Mutually Beneficial Personalized Marketing
Fred Clark is the founder of workswim, a socially driven home improvement marketplace for goods and services. He is a 2010 Fellow at the Systems Biology Center New York. He has authored/ co-authored two technical papers in Human-Computer Interaction, available through the ACM Digital Library. Connect with him on Linkedin.
Ok, we have found each other on the internet; in fact, we have found almost every person that we have ever interacted with, and some that we haven’t. Now what? There must be more utility in our new-found social connectivity than looking at each other’s baby pics (not to knock parenting), or reading each other’s 140 characters. The future of social connectivity lies in applying specific information regarding said connectivity, to specific problems in which said connectivity is a key variable.
The sciences have been analyzing networks that resemble social networks for years. Take for instance, bioinformatics, deploying graph theory to model the complexity of human cells. Graph theory, in short, is the analysis of networks which contain pairwise relationships. So in the case of social networks, an “edge” exists between two people, or “nodes,” if they are “friends.” The traveling salesman problem is utilized on a variety of different networks to yield different conclusions in each case. Effectively, the problem is about optimization; given a list of cities, what is the shortest route that visits each city once and returns to the point of origin?
To solve the traveling salesman problem, within the context of a large social network, say, all consumers in America, is intractable, but if it were possible, marketers could pinpoint the precise people to target, in order to saturate the entire population with their message, for the most economical price.
This is, of course, assuming a certain amount of word-of-mouth. The essence of the traveling salesman problem is to look at the overlap in connectivity between nodes.
Marketing tech companies are popping up, building massive analytics tools; in a sense they are taking the pulse of social networks in real time. Who needs the intuition of Don Draper anymore? But the most innovative companies will not rely on this data to uncover customer sentiment; they will tailor their platforms to very specific areas utilizing existing social connectivity information. You don’t need to jump through hoops to find out what your customers think about a product or event, if by design your platform uncovers that sentiment in a way that is mutually beneficial to both the marketer and the consumer.
There is no reason to reinvent the wheel. We don’t need another Facebook, or someone to make “Facebook” for a specific industry. The “graph,” or connectivity matrix, if you will, has already been built, now the name of the game is finding innovative ways to apply this information, and to directly market to individuals, without guessing. I don’t mean by invading people’s privacy either. I am strongly opposed to gathering information on individuals. What I’m talking about is placing relevant purchasing options within natural processes.