Alex's Tech Thoughts

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Proving You Can Do Something

People always ask me “how can I land this or that job?” Or “how can I land this or that investor?” The key to “landing” that thing you want is usually being able to prove you can do something or that you deserve something before you actually get it.

In the job scenario, if you start thinking about what you would do if you got the job and went ahead on your own and did it, you immediately would have a leg up on every other candidate.

Same in the investor scenario. It is very very difficult to raise money as a first time founder without proof you can accomplish what you say you will. This is why you need to go out and get traction, you need to prove that you have a real shot at building this business before anyone will entrust money into your care.

In every scenario where you want something and someone is deciding whether you are worthy of said thing, if there is an action you can take to prove you deserve it, do everything you can to do so.

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Being Present

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We live in a world where almost everyone is digitally connected at all times. Being present is hard. I definitely struggle with it. Every single day. It affects my relationship with my wife, my family, my friends. I don’t think it is going to get better on its own. I need to actively work on it.

I already have a few things (three below) that I’m doing to be more present. I’d love help adding to the list:

1) Never use my phone at meals when I’m eating with others. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Nothing worse than someone on the phone at a meal. Be present.

2) I’m Jewish and observe the Sabbath so I don’t touch electronics from Friday sundown to Saturday sunset. This allows me to spend all the time with my wife, family, and friends basically eating, going to the park, and sleeping over 24 hours. You should take off a digital sabbath; it is glorious.

3) Date night once a week. Every Tuesday night my wife and I have date night. We usually go to dinner. No electronics allowed.

What do you do to be more present?

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Present Work Life Balance
Fear Of Getting Fired

The fear of getting fired is something I know happens all the time but is rarely discussed. In the world of BD I think it happens a little more often than elsewhere because of the nature of the role. The whole concept of a BD role is a pre-sales function where you are trying to find great opportunities for your business, do a few similar type deals multiple times, put together a process and then hand it off to a sales team to blow out of the water. But sometimes the deal is hard to replicate. Or you spend time on an industry you think might work and it doesn’t. The fear of getting fired is strong then.

I think I’ve written about it before (this is post #682 for those keeping track so it was hard to find) but I once felt I was very close to getting fired from Aviary early on. It was back in 2010 and I was just learning how to be part of a team (I had previously been a one man show in NY for an Israel-based startup) and was also just learning how to do BD and Partnerships the right way. Aviary was in the midst of pivoting into what it is now a photo editing API for web and mobile and I was working with @Msg on talking to prospective partners. My job was to build out a pipeline of industries and companies that would make sense to pitch and learn everything I could about said industries/companies.

I look back in disbelief but at the time I “wasn’t getting it”. I was having a hard time understanding and learning how to approach the research and how to approach the companies to make the product and offering successful. Looking back it was because I wasn’t putting in the time and effort to truly understand what I wasn’t getting. That was until @Msg said something along the lines of ‘this isn’t working out, I’m off to SF for a week, spend all the time during the week to get this right. When I get back we will have a sit down about it. If things aren’t working by then then I’m not sure this is going to work.’ It was very direct, it was very scary, but it worked. I killed myself that week working on understanding what I was doing wrong (it happened to be I was just trying to memorize companies and spit it back and not holistically learning about what they do and what they care about to understand if they would/could even care about us).

@Msg came back, we had a talk and I “got it.” In retrospect I see this as a big turning point in my career. The day I got it. The day I understood why one company would want to work with another company. I was 22 at the time and still learning my way but the fear of getting fired really propelled me to where I am now.

I’m not here to say that the fear of getting fired is good for everyone. It worked for me, but I am not you. I will say that fear can push people out of their comfort zone and make people a little desperate. Desperation can lead to doing things you didn’t believe you could accomplish, which is why the fear of getting fired can propel you to the next level.

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Recharging My Batteries

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The last few months have been quite the ride. I really haven’t had time to take care of myself as well as spend time with family. I went from all-in at Dwolla for almost two years to leaving and starting SocialRank with Michael. There was no time off in between. On top of that, as you now know, I have been co-authoring a book over this time. It started in April 2013 and the manuscript was delivered by January 2014. So while I was leaving Dwolla I was finishing up the manuscript with my co-author, Ellen.

The first two months of SocialRank was all about building the initial product. Then the next two months were about fundraising. I’m tired.

We have some big stuff coming out in July and August at SocialRank. Also, Pitching & Closing is coming out on July 25th. But right now I need to recharge my batteries. It also happens that a childhood friend is getting married in Israel. So my wife and I decided to take a few days to unwind and come back stronger than ever. We’ll be in Israel from June 8th to the 18th.

So this is au revoir for now, but I’ll be back.

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Vacation
Pitching & Closing Book Comes Out On July 25th

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I’m very excited to announce that I’ve co-authored a book called Pitching & Closing with my good friend Ellen DaSilva from Twitter. The book is being published by McGraw Hill, comes out on July 25th, and you can pre-order it now on Amazon.

I’m often asked about what books non-technical people joining startups can read, especially around business development and partnerships. The list is virtually non-existent. It mostly consists of great blog posts patched together. So when McGraw Hill reached out in April 2013 asking if I wanted to turn my blog and acquired knowledge into a book, I said “HELL YES!”

But then I took a step back and realized there was no way I could do this on my own. While I’ve written 600+ posts on my personal blog, they were mostly short three paragraphs or less “thoughts” (hence Alex’s Tech Thoughts). Turning short posts into a full book is not easy. This led me to reach out to Ellen DaSilva. Ellen has been a good friend for the past few years and is very helpful in providing edits and feedback to my Forbes posts that go out twice a month. Ellen quickly came on board and we got to work on the book.

We delivered the manuscript in January and now here we are ready to promote it.

The full book title is Pitching & Closing: Everything You Need to Know About Business Development, Partnerships, and Making Deals That Matter. The book is broken down into 5 sections: Part 1: Business Development, Part 2: Introduction to Partnerships, Part 3: Pitching and Closing, Part 4: Best Practices: Preparation and Execution, and Part 5: War Stories.

Each section has a lot to offer but Part 5 is especially insightful with real-life examples, as we have sub-chapters on individuals in the BD/Partnerships world and tell their stories. People like Tristan Walker (CEO/Founder of Walker and Company), Gary Vaynerchuk (Founder of VaynerMedia), Eric Friedman(Director of Sales and Revenue Operations at Foursquare), Erin Pettigrew (VP of BD at Gawker), and more.

As the book comes closer to its release date I’ll be sharing more about the process of writing a book, some things I’ve learned along the way, and how we plan to promote it.

Two ways you can help to get the word out:

1) Buy the book! As I said, it’s available for pre-order on Amazon right now. Once you buy it, please share this post and/or the Amazon pre-order page. I guarantee the book won’t disappoint. There are tons of immediately useful tips to help grow the business side of your startup. Many people have read it and across-the-board they think it will go down as the go-to book for people looking to break into the non-technical side of early-stage companies. So please share.

2) Colleges. This book is meant for people looking to learn the basics of BD/Partnerships, the difference between being good or bad at your job, and how to break in. A big goal Ellen and I have is to get our book in front of teachers and administrations to have it included on the required reading list for next semester. If you know anyone at any school that would be interested in chatting with us, hit us up at Ataub24@gmail.com and ellenjdasilva@gmail.com.

This is just the beginning and we hope to help people continue their education post-book with pitchingandclosing.com and sharing great stuff at @PandC.

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Pitching & Closing Book Ellen DaSilva McGraw Hill
What I’m Looking For Right Now - May 2014

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I like helping people. I like when other people succeed. I also like asking people for help. A year ago I had a post called “What I’m Looking For Right Now.” The post was a call for help on an initiative (that became Dwolla Credit) and resulted in a ton of inbound help.

Well the time has come for a new “What I’m Looking For Right Now.” This time, however, I can be a lot more specific.

Two weeks ago we announced funding for SocialRank. In that announcement we also spoke about an early-access program for a product called SocialRank Market Intelligence.

SocialRank Market Intelligence gives brands the ability to run any handle on Twitter through the SocialRank platform to see that handle’s most engaged, valuable, and best followers. There are many potential applications for the product ranging from keeping tabs (or more) on your competitors to a movie studio running handles’ similar entities to a film they have coming out to build a better advertising/outreach campaign.

We plan to allow one brand per industry into SocialRank Market Intelligence in the early-access period (lasting till end of the year). We are looking to work with best-in-class brands. We already have a few Fortune 500 companies lined up. One per vertical means one airline, one hotel chain, one beverage company, one credit card company, one movie studio, one tv network, or one music label, etc.

So, if you know a social media manager, digital marketer and/or head of digital for a best-in-breed brand that you believe can make use of SocialRank Market Intelligence, please feel free to send them to this early-access request page and/or introduce them to me directly (Alex@socialrank.co).

Don’t be afraid to ask for things you want. Most people can’t read minds. Thank you!

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SocialRank Help what i am looking for
No Job Is Worth Starving For

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This past week I’ve been interviewing a few potential summer interns for SocialRank. There is high demand for the upcoming SocialRank Market Intelligence and I need some help this summer figuring out who we should be working with while in early-access.

One of the candidates and I were talking about pay and I said that no job is worth starving for, that we plan to pay our summer interns at SocialRank because it is the right thing to do, and that at the end of the day when people get paid for their work they do a better job. It means more.

I’ve been an unpaid intern before. It wasn’t necessarily a bad experience but looking back I see how it can become a bad situation. If you intern for free for too long your work becomes less valued by prospective employers as well as by yourself.

The bottom line for a business and an intern is that if you actually need help, in the form of an intern or part-time worker, then you should pay for said work. If you want to use the argument that the intern’s training is enough compensation then don’t be surprised when the intern “doesn’t work out.” Remember, you usually get what you pay for. If you pay nothing, you probably won’t get an intern who will contribute that much.

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Sell The Sizzle

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I recently sent around an early version of a deck I’m using for an upcoming product to some of my investors, friends, and family for feedback/spelling/grammar corrections. I got amazing feedback and improved the presentation over this past weekend.

One comment (that actually came from my dad) made me take a step back and re-think how I was positioning the product in the deck. He wrote something along the lines of “the presentation is good overall but you aren’t selling the sizzle. Sell the sizzle.”

He was right. The presentation did a good job of giving all the facts and information about what the product does and how a brand can use it. But it didn’t make the other side go “Wow- I need this right now.” To do that we need to sell the vision of what the product was going to be and why, as a brand, you need to say “YES I AM IN. WHERE DO I SEND THE CHECK?”

And that is the difference between a good pitch and a great pitch. A good pitch is something the other side says “Yes, let’s do this. But soon.” Whereas a great pitch is when the other side wants to hash out the details of the deal before they leave the room.

Sell the Sizzle is a good mantra to live by.

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Sell the Sizzle Pitching Decks Presentations Startups SocialRank
Travel startup, Wanderu, lands a partnership with Greyhound

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

Let me know your thoughts!

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Forbes Wanderu
Stop Making Excuses

I remember hitting “peak excuse-making” at the age of 13. It was my bar-mitzvah trip and I went to Israel with my father for a few days. We traveled all around Israel doing activities. I think I complained and made excuse after excuse about why I didn’t want to do this and that. I was a whiner. I’m surprised my father didn’t drop me off at the side of some road and leave me there.

Then again in high school when I played basketball during my sophomore year I used to get hacked down low (I was an undersized Center) and would complain to my coach that they were scratching me and making me bleed. I’m surprised I wasn’t benched (actually we were not a deep team, so I’m not that surprised).

Anyways, the reason I shared these two stories is that somewhere along the way, particularly in the past few years, I’ve made a deliberate effort to stop making excuses. When you decide to stop making excuses about your situation, whatever it may be, the world opens up. Life and any idea or dream you may have can become a reality. You need to believe in yourself.

My wife and I have this ongoing thing we tell each other when we begin to doubt ourselves. The doubter says something like:

"I don’t think X is going to work out. I think I’m going to give up."

Then the other says “I believe X will work out, do you believe it will? Because that’s the only way it is going to happen.”

Somehow magically that usually solves the problem, at least for me, and I get back at it. And guess what, it usually does work out.

So stop making excuses. Get back at it and make whatever you want to happen happen, because believing in yourself and working your tail off is the only way to possibly make your dreams come true.

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The First Step In Hiring Your First BD Employee

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As we announced our first hire at SocialRank today (not BD though), I think it’s a good time to do a post about hiring your first BD employee. In fact this past week I had a conversation with a founder looking to hire their first BD employee and was not sure how to go about it.

When thinking about hiring your first BD employee you need to decide whether you are looking for someone to come in with an existing network or for someone to work with the founder who is currently working on BD/Partnerships. This is probably the first and most important question to answer. The reason being that if you need one but hire the other your expectations will be out of whack. If you need someone with a built-in network in your industry but the person you hire doesn’t have one, well you are not going to get anything done. Now your hire needs to find their way in the industry when you needed them to come in and get things done quickly.

So how do you decide what you need in your first hire?

This is usually answered by what your founder(s) strength(s) are and how much demand there is for your product/offering. If one or two of your founders are working on partnerships or BD, you need to ask yourself if you really need a BD person.

For the most part, other than when fundraising happens, a founder or CEO can spend most of their time on product and developing the business. Usually when that happens you should hire a junior BD person to help support the founder. This is a great time to bet on a fresh-out-of-school, high potential individual to come in and learn the ropes (with the hopes that they can lead BD/Partnerships in a year or so).

If the founders don’t have a strong BD/Partnership background, then they need to bring on someone to run that side of the business. A big mistake people make here is when they hire high potential people with no background in their business. This is a error because they want results quickly but it will take a MINIMUM of six months for even the best people to learn a new business. So if you hire someone who is good, but doesn’t have the network, you need to understand that it will take time for things to get done.

To close out- here are four questions to ask yourself before hiring your first BD employee (they are all different sides of the same dice):

1) Are we looking for someone with experience?

2) Are we looking for someone to support the founders?

3) Does this person need domain expertise?

4) Can this person come in and take time to learn the business under someone more experienced?

If you answer these questions honestly you’ll know the general make of employee you are looking for. Now comes the difficulty of finding that person, but that’s for another post.

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Hiring Startups
Timing With Press

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If you’ve never worked with reporters or been involved with press announcements you may not know how to deal with timing when going to reporters with news. Over the past few years I’ve generally learned how to deal with it. Knowing this doesn’t mean that everyone that you want will cover your news, but it does make sure you give reporters enough time to get back to you and decide if it is interesting enough for them.

To explain timing I’ll use SocialRank’s recent funding and product announcement. We announced the funding and new product on May 13th at 11am ET. To make sure we received coverage I began reaching out to reporters on May 1st and 2nd (a Thursday and Friday).

The messaging in the reach-out was that we’d have some news coming out on the week of the 11th (not needing to commit to a hard date yet) and that we wanted to give them an early look. I also said that it would be a combination of a fundraise news, a new product, and some numbers sharing. This gave them enough to pique their interest. I also tried to keep it short.

Some got back to me immediately saying they were interested in chatting. Others got back and said it wasn’t a good fit for them or that they’d pass. I scheduled times to sit down with the ones who were interested. Ones that didn’t respond got a follow up email on Tuesday and Wednesday (in this case May 5th or 6th).

At the same time I put together two blog posts about our announcements (not one post on purpose in this case). At the end of speaking on the phone or in person with reporters I told them that I would follow up with a firm date of announcement and the unpublished blog. Within 24 hours of talking I sent them the blog posts and the hard date.

From there you need to make sure that the reporters, who want to cover you, have everything they need to be successful. This is everything from trying the product to giving them an answer to any question they might have.

And this is it. Cross your fingers that it all works out. It is mostly out of your hands. Some people plan on covering and it falls to the wayside because something bigger comes out at the same time, but this post should be a good indicator of the timing around dealing with press.

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3 Thoughts On Seed-Stage Fundraising

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Coming off our seed round of funding announcement yesterday I have a ton of thoughts about fundraising. Right now I’ll just share three main thoughts, but expect more posts in the future, because this is an important topic in startup-land and I don’t think enough people talk about how to go about it (from the founder side - most are investors or tech bloggers talking to founders or pontificating about how it is done).

Thought #1 - Learn how to play the game

A lot of people said this to me before we went out to fundraise and I didn’t 100% understand it until I was in it. An entirely separate post can address this topic but I think that the companies that fail to raise funding don’t fail because of their company, they fail because they don’t play the game right (regardless of age, gender, ethnicity). I learned the game by talking to a bunch of investors and founders. YC graduates are the best at playing “the game.” While I do want to do a separate post on the game of fundraising, I think the biggest rule is that you shouldn’t start fundraising or asking people for money for a seed round until you have a lead or first big check. A lot of people go fundraising without “raising traction.” This is different than product traction. The basics of “raising traction” is having a term sheet or first check in. This puts you in a more powerful position in your raise (as rejection shouldn’t faze you when you have a lead- the people you are pitching to participate are either in or out, end of story and move on). Going around asking for money without this is a quick and easy way to fail on your raise.

Thought #2 - Same piece of data, two different reactions

If you could see the polar opposite reactions from prospective investors on the same piece of data you would be floored. I think someone needs to make a Tumblr with side by side comparisons of prospective investor reactions to companies. One good example from our raise was the response to the fact that Michael and I left our jobs in the beginning of January and launched the product at the end of February (with two billion-dollar companies as partners - Spotify and GoPro - to boot). I distinctly remember a back-to-back meeting I had when one investor was so impressed with what we accomplished in a month and half while another said the fact that it took us two months to build means we have no defensibility. Whatever the truth may be, just remember investors will usually have strong opinions on your startup and it’s okay for some not to be a good fit and not participate. Just prove them wrong on the field.

Thought #3 - Get the round done as soon as possible

The goal is not to become a professional fundraiser, the goal is to build a business. Money helps you accelerate that but don’t continue to take investor meetings once you’ve got the round committed. Get the money in the bank and get back to the company, product, future.

These are three quick thoughts on fundraising and I’m sure I’ll have more to share in the near future.

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Fund-raising SocialRank Startups
Big Day For SocialRank

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Today is a big day for SocialRank. We announced a $1M seed round and an exciting new product called SocialRank Market Intelligence.

We are only a few months into running SocialRank but are making some huge strides with our business.

If you have a quick second, please share our news. Your help in spreading the word would be greatly appreciated.

You can read some of the announcements online here:

Funding Announcement

New Product Announcement

TechCrunch

VentureBeat

The Hollywood Reporter

AdOps Online

Now that I have gone through the fundraising process I have a few thoughts on it. Look out for a post tomorrow :D

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SocialRank New Product