Startups & Fear

December 15, 2014 in Start Something

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

September 10, 2014 in By Innovation Only

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

July 15, 2014 in By Innovation Only

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

July 13, 2014 in Start Something

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.

Creating Knowledge

May 11, 2014 in By Innovation Only

“Centuries ago, the critical constraining resource was land. Those who controlled the land controlled everything. At some point, the constraint became skills, and guilds and merchants created more wealth than did landowners. Later, the industrial revolution moved the constraint to capital, and power became financially driven. Today, the constraint is knowledge: technical knowledge, management knowledge, process knowledge, and market knowledge. Much of this knowledge is (now) being expressed as software.”

Source: “Implementing Lean Software Development” (M. and T. Poppendick)

Resume Faux Pas: Your Objective vs. the Company’s Objective

April 8, 2014 in Work Smarter

For job seekers, your resume is make or break. It’s the first point of contact with a hiring manager, regardless of company size. When I see a friend or potential applicant make use of the Objective sentence in their resume, I feel the slightest cringe when it is structured along the lines of…

Objective: “Seeking a challenging position leveraging analytics skills that will enhance my leadership skills and technical background.”

I’ve definitely written Objective statements like this before.

The question you have to ask yourself is this: What is your objective from the POV of a potential employer? A hiring manager reading this is usually thinking just one thing: WIIFM (What’s in it for me?)

They would be more inclined to move you forward if your objective was positioned from the company’s perspective as opposed to your own.

Some alternatives that could work:

“To share my experience of sales and marketing analytics to help a fast-growing tech startup to better understand their customers, developing best in-class dashboards and reports, and training future hires to do the same.”

“Seeking a position that allows me to directly increase the lifetime value of existing customers at X through my analytics, engineering and client-facing business background.”

By taking this approach, your resume shares how you plan on actually creating value, while giving the hiring manager ammo/talking points for championing you.

Imagine him or her saying, “Take a look at Jeremy, he’s the one who wants to help our company improve our reporting and mobile app tracking. He’s got a bachelors in engineering and was also previously a consultant. Let’s have a chat with him next week.”

Yes, one could just include this in the cover letter, but I recommend putting it in the resume. Cover letters have a tricky little tendency of getting lost.

So He Put In More Windows…

April 1, 2014 in Work Smarter

Coach K on Lebron James:

“The game is a house, and some players only have one or two windows in their house because they can’t absorb any more light. When I met LeBron, he only had a few windows, but then he learned how beautiful the game can be, so he put more windows in. Now he sees the damn game so well, it’s like he lives in a glass building. He has entered a state of mastery. (Source)

Great analogy for early stage companies and picking up different skill-sets whether it is marketing, engineering, product, sales, etc.

Some places to learn “how beautiful the game can be”…

Now for a little “Get Real”:

“I’ve looked up every company that did an IPO in the U.S. since 2000. Even the best-known employers of knowledge workers often have fewer people than a local car dealer or Walmart store. For instance, real estate site Zillow has 812 employees, and travel site Kayak has only 205.”

(Harvard Business Review - Why Do App Developers Still Live with Their Moms?)

What I’m Reading

March 1, 2014 in Prevent Boredom

Met the guys at Hashicorp and I’ve been playing and dabbling around with Vagrant for a few weeks. Awesome tools for getting a run-time environment right out of the box and for the design-centric folk, being able to focus on testing designs without worrying about the nitty gritty.

Eloquent Ruby - Lots of programming language books have a lot of information. This one contains knowledge.

Running Hadoop on Mesos


Young Money: Inside the Hidden World of Wall Street’s Post-Crash Recruits

I’ve read a few of Kevin Roose’ s articles in the New York Magazine and wanted to check out his latest book. Interesting cross-profiles of young people and how they are faring after the recession in the field of high finance.

“Doing thousands of little things, day after day, inching along as consistently as you can, in the right direction, as best as you can tell, is management  - and motivating or inspiring everyone to work together for long-term purpose is leadership.” (The Partnership)

“History is a tale, Franklin came to believe, not of immutable forces but of human endeavors.” (Benjamin Franklin – An American Life)

“This means answering the most testing question of all. What will keep the scintillating twenty-three year old engineers in the world’s greatest colleges and universities yearning to hear word that they have been offered a job at the company formerly known as Apple Computer, Inc.?” (Return to the Little Kingdom: Steve Jobs and the Creation of Apple)

“Business development is not a science but it does operate by a logic that is subject to analysis.” The more people you know, the more opportunities you get. (Creating Rainmakers)

The Beginning of Infinity: Explanations That Transform the World

Weekend Inspiration

February 22, 2014 in Start Something, Travel the World

Here’s Your Copy! – A Contrarian Approach to Writing Copy

January 18, 2014 in Work Smarter

This one is for all my engineering friends who dread writing copy.*

I personally do not enjoy writing copy. The thought of slapping CTA (call to actions), rhetorical questions, and sprinkling fun facts next to an awesome looking product is never a fun exercise.

In case you don’t know, “copy” is the all-encompassing word used in tech companies for consumer-facing messaging. It’s the text you find on product tutorials, reengagement emails, and other “seemingly” trivial pieces of collateral.

The realization that one soon discovers, is that writing good copy is hard. Effective copy should not only instruct, it should persuade. There are also professional copywriters for this sort of thing. Given the resources, leaving it to them is probably the best option. Alas, in an early-stage company, you need to do it all sometimes. I’ve included just one simple trick that I’ve found helpful. (Shout out to an old friend Zach for this one.)

Ready for the tip?

Use Cosmo.

Yes, you read that correctly. Any time you want to write a piece of copy, I am suggesting that you check out Cosmo as your source of inspiration. Let’s take a look at why it works:

Brevity: If you check scroll down their site, no title or subtitle is more than six words.

Emotional Appeal: Their magazine titles are a bit much but rationality is not what they are striving for here. Most of your members, users, subscribers make daily decisions in a similar manner.

Attention-grabbing: Pretty self-explanatory. There’s a reason why you can’t look away at an issue of Cosmo near the checkout aisle of the grocery store.

Knowing their audience: Remind yourself who your intended audience is and find words that resonate with them.

Granted, sites like Upworthy, Buzzfeed, etc are taking the viral web by storm due to their use of mysteriousness and hyberbole in their headlines. Effective as they may be, checking Cosmo is still a preferred source. The I-ching of copywriting, if you will. I’m exaggerating just a bit here, but if nothing more, this tip is a way to remind yourself that copy works best when it is conversational.