Alex's Tech Thoughts

How Product Hunt Can Be Massive

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I’ve been a member of Product Hunt for over six months now. In the past two months it has been taking off in the press and in the startup world. Where I used to be asked for an upvote on Hacker News, it is all about asking for upvotes on Product Hunt now. I’ve thought a lot about Product Hunt and how it can be massive and I’d love to share my thoughts here.

For those who don’t know, Product Hunt is the place to go and discover new products every day. Users can upvote and comment on products. Right now most submissions are new products. I think Product Hunt has a really high ceiling and can become the go-to place to learn about products, whether they are new or just pushing new features/changes.

To become the place to learn about new products I think they need to evolve the product a bit more. To me, if Product Hunt offered company profiles that allowed for pushing new products, product updates, and everything in between relating to the life-cycle of a product it would play an important part of every company’s game plan when announcing a product or announcing new features.

For example with SocialRank, I learned about Product Hunt when Michael and I announced we were leaving Dwolla to start our company, incorporated under Modern Mast. Someone submitted “Modern Mast” then. There wasn’t much to say or even show. Two months later we put out the product SocialRank, and we posted it. We then announced a new tool in early-access SocialRank Market Intelligence, and we posted it again. I’d love to be able to link all three in one consolidated page.

The way Product Hunt can make the user experience accommodate this type of change would be if the posts would have color coded tags and filtering for Pre-launch, Product Launch, Product Update.

A bunch of people complained when “Modern Mast” was posted, saying there is nothing here (they were right!). Those submissions should still happen but users should have the ability to filter out those options. 

I think if done right, there is a chance Product Hunt can be some sort of Github for product stages/revisions.

What do you think about Product Hunt?

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Product Hunt Startups
Startup Team MoneyBall

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Earlier this month my buddy Greg McBeth wrote this post about Startup Moneyball. It focused on CEO/founder pay + equity compensation. It’s a good piece. It made me think about how one would go about building a startup team using Billy Beane and the Oakland A’s original strategy.

Now for those who don’t know the moneyball strategy it is one where the management looks to assemble a competitive baseball team by taking an analytical, evidence-based, sabermetric approach. In baseball they look at runs scored as the metric to improve. The more runs you can score the higher chance you have to get wins. Wins get you in the playoffs. Traditionally you would look at RBI’s (runs batted in), steals, or batting average. But Billy Beane and the A’s found that on-base percentage and slugging percentage were just as good, if not better, metrics to look at to determine runs per game. They were also cheaper to get on the market. The 2002 A’s had one of the lowest payrolls ($41M) but were a few outs away from beating the Yankees with an over $125M payroll that season.

So how would one apply Moneyball to startup team building? While I don’t think it is completely clean yet, I think the way startup founders can play team moneyball is by finding talent that is underpriced and undervalued and help them reach their potential. The early PayPal team did this, they would find great misfits (at the time), have them lead teams and promote within instead of hiring outside management.  

I see the biggest application of this when someone joining has just come out of school. I see bigger companies look at school pedigree first over potential talent in this early stage and here is where startup team moneyball can really take your company team to the next level if you do it right. I think personality traits, communication skills, and raw talent should be looked at way before you even look at schools. For example, Michael went to California State University-Northridge which is great and all but he isn’t a Stanford, MIT, or Caltech grad (I went to Yeshiva University, so I’m not one to judge). But ask anyone who works with him, he is an unbelievable technical talent. For me, Michael was my first moneyball bet (unconsciously obviously), and it has paid off in spades.

I remember when Michael and I were at Dwolla and he was looking for a developer evangelist intern. Michael found a young talent who was graduating high school (yes, high school). It wasn’t easy and he needed to fight for him, but bringing on Gordon Zheng was a great decision and has paid off in dividends. Gordon is still at Dwolla right now, kicking ass and taking names.

So how do you figure out who has tons of upside and who doesn’t?

I’m not 100% sure yet. We’re trying to figure that out at SocialRank. We have made two hires so far. Zhanna came on in May as our lead designer and front-end engineer. She came from Digital Ocean and Quirky before that. She has been nothing but stellar since day 1. Our second hire was Olivia. She is only in week two right now but has been great working with me on BD/Partnerships. Olivia doesn’t have any deal experience as she worked in finance for two years and then was a teacher for two years. But she is very personable and has strong communication skills which is really what you need to do well in BD/Partnerships.

For us, we plan to find future hires in a similar fashion. People that may get overlooked by bigger tech companies because they don’t necessarily fit the traditional mold, but have tremendous upside. These are just some of my initial thoughts on how to build a startup moneyball team. Leave your thoughts on the concept below.

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Moneyball Startups Hiring
Doing The Things Nobody Sees

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We’ve been quiet at SocialRank for the past 45 days. We’ll continue to be quiet for the next few weeks or so. The real magic at startup companies is doing the things nobody sees.

On the technical side, the stuff no one sees can be infrastructure architecture, user experience flows (although the end result is experienced) and more. On the business side, the things no one sees can be the work that goes into building out a pipeline of customers/partners/clients, qualifying what and who to spend time on, figuring out the optimal direction of the business/product, and more.

For us, we had to take some time to overhaul the infrastructure and design of our site. This sets us up to do some impressive things you’ll be seeing soon, as well as adding more networks like Instagram, Pinterest, etc.

Doing the things nobody sees is not glorified in the startup world but if you don’t execute well (and try to enjoy it) your startup will have significant problems and will probably not work out.

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Startups Operational

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Forbes BareBrands
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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Proving Jobs Startups Raising
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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Fear Firing Startups Biz Dev
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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Jobs Startups Hiring SocialRank
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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Excuses Life
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