Managing Complex Change

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Found this flow diagram useful for thinking about the necessary steps for leading a large organizational initiative. I especially like how the chart shows the unintended consequences when one of puzzle pieces is missing.

To do or not to do

Enjoyed this excerpt from Ross McCammon.

“Innovate. Please. The future depends on it. But also: Invent. Because the feature depends on results, too. Things we can touch and walk through. Things we can smell and experience. Services that will change our lives.

Innovation merely ensures that we are working on something. Invention ensures that we are creating what we said we were going to create. We need actuality. We need fulfillment. We need results. And our words need to connote obligation as much as promise.”

Having been in tech for half a decade, there’s more talk than ever before on creating innovative products, but so much of technology are mere solutions in search of problems. Instead, why not commit yourself to the problem and aim hell and high water to solve it?

Deck Making 101: How to make an effective BD presentation

Since many business people spend an inordinate amount of time making powerpoint decks, I thought I’d share a few tips I’ve picked up over the years. It’s remarkable how in today’s day and age, we still rely on having a slideshow to pitch major ideas. It’s a skill that’s pretty underrated, and one that you might as well master through experience. I’ll keep updating this as I think of more.

Basics:

  • Always try to limit the slide to 1 idea and 3 bullet points if possible
  • Use active verbs (e.g., Launch, Test, Review as opposed to Open, Check, See, etc)
  • Try to only have 2 text sizes in the slide (Header and body text)
  • Make sure everything is aligned, powerpoint comes with an auto-align tool
  • Use the grouping function to move groups of images together without hitting shift + image over and over again
  • Always cite your sources (even if it’s with a little asterisk)
  • Imagine the person looking at your presentation is going to only have time to see the first 1-3 slides, would the presentation still win them over?
  • Have an appendix section that is packed with answers to FAQ’s

Tell a story:

  • Each slide should enable you to tell a story
  • One narrative strategy of the best stories are ones that convey where someone was, where they are now and where they will be
  • Consider using a timeline, gantt chart or graph to tell a story
  • A slide should be able to stand on its own meaning that if you weren’t there to present it, someone should be able to understand the meaning of the slide without commentary
  • This is because most decks are sent after a meeting and you want to assume your listener hasn’t taken notes

Deal Slide:

  • Always have a partnership/deal slide when going into a meeting. It presents the meeting with a natural close and answers the “So what are the next steps?” for your audience
  • The partnership slide should focus on making a test simple and not involve complex negotiation
  • The spirit of the slide should be all you have to do is this little and you get ALOT (in terms of revenue, audience, etc)
  • Use company logos

Visuals:

  • Use transparency effects to give the slides more depth
  • If something is a 3-step process, visually convey this with 1, 2, 3
  • Have eye candy visuals that combine a potential customer’s visual assets with your software, increases the odds of getting a deal done. They want to see how it will work with their system/game/product
  • Mockup visuals for large customers are essential

Creativity is execution

Just wanted to share a little anecdote from two years ago that I think describes creativity quite well.

It was Super Bowl Sunday and my friends and I had skipped off to Maine for a ski trip. We had a total of 20 people staying in the cabin that we rented for the weekend. Many of us were excited to watch the big game but there was a problem: the TV in the cabin was stuck on a single channel.

Naturally, everyone banded together to try and figure out a solution. The diversity of all the possible solutions being thrown around the room (and the way each person handled the problem) presented a nice case study into creativity.

Some of my friends decided to go out to a local electronic store (Best Buy, etc) to try and track down a replacement remote for the TV. Others decided to tinker around with the TV and find a way to hack the schematic/controls in order to change the channel. Both attempts proved futile with all the surrounding stores closed around the area and the TV with no way to change the channel without a remote. A few others became frustrated and decided to tackle the problem by going to a bar instead to watch.

After much deliberation and a few hours later, the game was about to start and no one yet had a solution that would allow us all to watch the game together in the cabin.

I wanted to watch the game and came up with a solution by breaking the problem down into the simplest form. The key to all of this is getting a remote but how did we know which remote? Even if a store was open, the remote we bought wouldn’t work with 100% certainty. Wouldn’t people who lived in the same neighborhood have a remote that would be compatible with this TV?  Likely so. They would also likely have the same cable provider.

Not telling anyone, I snuck out into the cold and started knocking on doors. Most people were surprised that I was walking the barren tundra that is a New England winter. The first 4 houses didn’t have a remote but that last one did. I brought the remote back to our cabin and while everyone was staring at the TV (playing the wrong channel), I flipped the button and changed it right as the football was being kicked off. Mouths dropped in disbelief followed by cheers of joy.

Taking this story and extrapolating lessons learned, I’ve found more often than not that creativity is hardly ever a stroke of genius or coming up with a bright idea. Instead, it’s having a simple idea, going out into the cold and knocking on doors.

Hitting Send – Guiding Questions for Writing Better Business Emails

“Don’t worry if I write rhymes, I write checks” – P.Diddy

A big part of getting deals done boils down to sending the right email.

It seems almost trivial at first, but upon further reflection, this is actually one of the most important things you’ll need to master if you’re hoping to acquire early customers for your company.

For anyone who spends a lot of time thinking about the perfect way to word an email, having a list of key questions to mentally go through can make the difference between a response and radio silence.

Here is a checklist of questions that I’ve found useful right before I think about hitting the Send button:

1) Benefit Focused: Is the email customer centric? Is each sentence phrased in a way that is useful information for the reader? If the reader was thinking “So what? What’s in it for my company or me?” after each paragraph of your email, would the “So What” be answered?

2) Tone: What is the tone that I want to convey? What do I want them to feel after reading it? (Examples include urgency to act, grateful for your help, relieved, etc)

3) Desired Result: What is the targeted advance? (Will this help me get to a further stage such as green light from the decision maker or help towards another important step in the process?)

4) Anticipating the Response: What is the next desired step to take after sending this email? Can I preempt any objections with this email? What are the red flags or FUDs (fear, uncertainty, doubts) that I hope to uncover with this email and can I ask directly to uncover them or find a way to address it in the next meeting? (Examples: who will be in the meeting? What is the agenda and can I prepare ahead of time to set the agenda of the call/meeting)

5) Timing and Brevity: When do I want to send this email? Is there a better or more opportune time? Is the email phrased in the most concise way possible while still hitting all the goals above?

Startups & Fear

To the critic, startup is a noun. To the entrepreneur, startup is a verb.

This piece of wisdom is adapted from a recent book that I read (which I really enjoyed and highly recommend), called Art & Fear – compliments of a Hacker News thread on best books in 2014. The book is one of the most comprehensive descriptions of what it takes to create art and understanding the artists’ emotional journey. It speaks volumes on how to achieve anything difficult, (whether it is sports, tech, art, business), and I found it highly applicable to the journey that entrepreneurs face.

My personal interpretation is that whenever you hear someone critiquing a startup idea, they are observing the idea as a finished product whereas most successful entrepreneurs view their product as a work in progress, something which they constantly look to improve on a daily basis. What matters is whether or not they are getting better at the process.  In short, I think the metaphor rings true, a startup in the eyes of an entrepreneur, is an active verb and never a concrete noun.

Thiel Lectures

Lots of things going on at Skillz and I’ll be back shortly. In the meantime, I highly suggest that you read Peter Thiel’s lectures (now turned into a book!) I reread them over the weekend and they have always provided much insight + inspiration.

Tech Isn’t Enough

A useful reminder:

“It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough. It’s technology, married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our heart sing.” – Steve Jobs

The Only Sales Book Startup Founders Should Read

It should come as no surprise to anyone that sales is an integral part of a young company’s biggest needs. Getting the first few deals is one of the biggest morale boosts for the team and even greater confirmation that you’ve achieved product-market fit with paying customers.

When building a company, you’ll inevitably get to the point when you have to construct a partnership or business development opportunity that does not rely on a quick one-off transaction at a low price point. The most commonly used word for this is the complex sale. (I’ve also heard it called the consultative sale). The reason this type of sale is differentiated from other types is because you’re usually dealing with higher spends with multiple decision makers, where post-sale support is just as important as getting the deal done.

Examples of this could include any type of B2B sale, an advertising deal with a third-party traffic source, a referral/affiliate revenue share, a licensing deal, etc.

Aspiring technologists/entrepreneurs should embrace these types of deals but information on how to excel at doing them is sparse. The best book that I have found on this subject is called SPIN Selling. Don’t let the title put you off as the word SPIN is merely used as an acronym to help you remember the methodology.

  • The book’s core idea is that complex sales are done not by selling or pushing your product in someone’s face but instead, asking questions and uncovering implicit/explicit needs.
  • The difference between implicit needs and explicit needs are that implicit needs are the implications of a result of a problem and challenge. A rough example, having a car that is 10-years old and having it break down every 5 drives is a problem. The implicit need is the desire to have a car that doesn’t break down. The explicit need is a verbal commitment to do something about this. To get from implicit -> explicit need, what you need to do is do a better job of investigating and asking what Rackham calls SPIN questions.
  • SPIN stands for Situation, Problem, Implication, Need-Payoff.
  • Situation Question: What type of call logging software do you run here?
  • Problem Question: How do you keep track of all your customer’s phone calls between 20 offices?
  • Implication Question: How many dropped customer calls did you have this year? How did the 20 offices deal with this? When something went down, how long did it take to fix? (in days, dollars, etc)
  • Need-Payoff: To deal with the thousands of dropped calls and X dollars in foregone revenue/year, would it be helpful if you had a service that has 24/7 uptime and synchronized call logging/sharing? In what other ways could this help you?
  • By asking these types of questions, you are much more likely to get a deal done and in a way that benefits your customer’s problems.
  • A few other gems:
  • Building rapport is not as useful for complex sales as you probably think.
  • Whether you ask open-ended or closed-ended questions (aka Yes-No questions) matter less, it’s to what end the question is being asked and whether they fit the SPIN framework.
  • There is no set order which you should ask these questions but planning the call ahead of time with these types of questions has been tested time and time again to get results.

Perhaps the main reason that I like this book is that it reframes the concept of selling, specifically as it pertains to closing. Closing is an overemphasized term that is misused in complex sales, as the author rightly points out, because what you are doing isn’t closing on a deal. In actuality, you are opening a relationship with another company. I find that when I adopt this mindset, transparency and accountability come part and parcel, aligning both parties for long-term success.

Last word: Building awesome tech is hard, but bringing it to market is just as tough. A book like this one helps bridge the gap.