Kathy Sierra was once among the world’s most popular tech bloggers. On her smart, funny, and vivid blog Creating Passionate Users, she tackled neuroscience, presentations, and how to build software that makes users kick ass. She helped develop the reader-centric Head First series of books for O'Reilly Publishing, and traveled the world giving speeches at tech events.
But in 2007, just as I took my first tentative steps into the world of social media, that all came to a screeching halt. Sierra became the target of a campaign of online harassment so severe that both Sierra and blogger Chris Locke ended up on CNN discussing the case.
Since then, she's lingered in almost total obscurity online. She threw her considerable passion and drive into learning to ride Icelandic horses as an experiment in better understanding how people learn and what it takes to achieve mastery.
But she stayed off the internet. For a while she was on Twitter -- then she left even that behind.
Over the course of my startup and social media adventures for the last few years, I took heart knowing she was still out there. She would pop up anonymously to comment on blog posts I had linked to via Twitter. I would email to see how things were going.
I went to see her in California in January 2012. We rode her horses and talked about the impact of gamification on learning and productivity. It was invigorating to see her mind in full swing, albeit privately.
But she didn't blog again; not for more than 6 years.
But Now, Kathy's Back!
As of this week, one of my all time favorite bloggers has returned to the world of blogging and the internet at a new site she playfully calls Serious Pony, in a salute to some of her favorites: The Oatmeal, Commander Taco, and Lonely Sandwich.
“I missed blogging,” she says. “For the past couple of years I kept telling myself that I was going to start up again.”
On her new blog, Sierra will write about a few topics that have become important to her during her hiatus. One is exploring new research on how to develop skills and knowledge, which Sierra calls “how to be bad-ass.”
Another topic is what Sierra calls “the API of you,” which is about the ways companies use gamification and other techniques to manipulate consumers, and how to spot those techniques and resist them.
“There are a huge pile of books that have been published in just the past few years about how to manipulate, seduce, and make things addictive -- how to work on people’s brains,” she says. “But the number of books designed to help you fight back, as a human, as a consumer? It’s like one book,” she says.
Her first post -- "Your app makes me fat" -- playfully digs into the topic of products that drain cognitive resources.
We're looking forward to hearing much more. We’re especially excited about her return to blogging because Sierra, who inspired our founders so much we have a conference room named after her in our newest expansion, has agreed to speak at HubSpot’s INBOUND conference in August. This will be her first public appearance since her return. We can't wait to hear her talk on Word of Obvious: competing in a post-word of mouth world.
Want to hear firsthand what makes us such big fans of Kathy? Attend her talk and many others at INBOUND 2013. Fans can save 30% off the ticket price with offer code KATHYSIERRA.
This was a guest post by Laura Fitton (@pistachio), inbound marketing evangelist at HubSpot. Dan Lyons contributed to the reporting for this post.
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Do your colleagues have a choice word for you? If not, here's why you want them to…
Sometimes one word can make all the difference.
I was at a conference and a friend who runs a startup introduced me to one of his friends, who was looking for a new opportunity. “I’d like you to meet Joe,” he said. “He’s great.”
I’m sure Joe is talented. I’m sure Joe is skilled. I’m sure Joe is, in fact, great.
But I only remember Joe because of something that happened a few minutes later. Another friend introduced me to one of his product managers. “This is Michelle,” he said. “She’s relentless.”
In the dictionary, “great” means remarkable in degree or effectiveness. “Great” is a wonderful word, especially when used to describe someone… but like “awesome” and “outstanding,” “great” is used so often to describe people that it has lost much of its meaning. When just about everyone is great… no one is great. Great is no longer impactful or memorable.
When described as “great, however remarkable in degree or effectiveness he may be, Joe seems like – however unfairly – just one of many. He doesn't standout.
But “relentless” – who can forget relentless? Hear the word and you instantly think of someone so determined, so persevering, so persistent and tenacious that nothing, absolutely nothing, can stand in her way.
A “great” product manager you might forget. A “relentless” product manager you remember for a long, long time.
Authentic Positioning Matters – Especially for Individuals
Many companies, as Al Ries describes in his classic marketing book Positioning, try to own a single word or phrase in the minds of customers. For Mercedes it’s “luxury.” For Volvo it's “safety”. At my company HubSpot it’s “inbound”.
The goal of positioning is to create an immediate and direct connection in the minds of consumers; that’s what branding is all about.
Individuals need to think about positioning, too. Where Tony Hsieh is concerned, that word is “culture.” Where Eric Ries is concerned it’s “lean.”
So imagine you ask a colleague or a boss or a customer for to pick one word that describes you and they aren’t allowed to use words like awesome, fantastic, great, terrific, etc. They have to pick a specific, non-generic word. What word would they choose?
The word they choose – for better or worse and, where you’re concerned, intentional or unintentional – is your positioning in the minds of the people you work with. That’s how they see you. That’s how they think of you.
That is how they remember you.
What is Your Most Important Word?
The cool thing is, you get to choose how people view you. As long as your actions constantly and consistently match your positioning, as long as you are intentional in thought and action, you can determine the immediate and direct connection people make when they see, hear, or think about you.
What one word best describes you? Better yet, what one word do you want to describe you?
Here are a few possibilities – in the right circumstances these are all wonderful qualities:
· Ferocious (hopefully in a good way)
So, back to the original question: What is the one word that can transform your career? As you've probably guessed — it's different for everyone. But, if you can find yours, it can have a profound impact on your person brand, and hence your career.
A short, powerful exercise…
Make a list of the adjectives you want people to repeat after they meet you, talk to you, see or read about you... what do you want other people to think of when they think of you?
Make your list. Then boil it down to the one word you want to encapsulate you – and, in effect, your personal brand. (If you don’t, other people will definitely decide it for you.)
Decide how you want to be defined.
Now, share your one word in the comments below. If you can't quite get it down to just one word, that's OK (I'm an easy going guy) — pick 2 or 3 words. But, leave them in the comments. We're not going to hold you to it, but the simple act of writing them down and sharing them is super-helpful. And, it will help others come up with their words.
I'll kick things off with the words I'd like people to associate with me: creative.
Read, think, GO!
Leave your one (or two) words in the comments.
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As many of you may know, MIT is near and dear to my heart. As my co-founder, Brian Halligan likes to say, “HubSpot was born out of the loins of MIT”. As such, I like to stay in touch and speak at MIT as often as I can. Over the years, I've built up a relationship with many of the people there. The leader of the entrepreneurial efforts at MIT for the past four years has been my friend the energetic and successful entrepreneur himself, Bill Aulet. While my “geek center of gravity” style is different than Bill’s (“business center of gravity” but loves technology), I have come to really appreciate what he has been accomplishing at taking MIT’s entrepreneurial education/training efforts to a new level. Recently I got a pre-release copy of his book, “Disciplined Entrepreneurship: 24 Steps to a Successful Startup” and my appreciation was taken to a whole new level. There is an art and science to entrepreneurship in that there is a body of knowledge that can improve entrepreneurs’ odds of success significantly, and it definitely involves discipline.
While it would have been more appropriately titled “Disciplined Entrepreneurship: 24 Steps to getting the Product-Market fit right when launching your high growth new venture as a standalone or inside a large company but also relevant to existing entrepreneurs who want to revitalize their startups” I realize that would have been a bit too long so I accept the shorter version. It really is a breakthrough guide on how to launch new products for entrepreneurs in a systematic manner. It is very complementary to what is already out there by Eric Ries, Steve Blank, Alex Osterwalder while deftly incorporating classics such as Crossing the Chasm, Blue Ocean Strategy, Innovator’s Dilemma, Democratizing Innovation and many more – as well as (humbly) Inbound Marketing. It pulls many different elements together very nicely in what Bill appropriately calls a “toolbox approach”.
The book is not only an invaluable framework (make sure to order early & sign up to get the poster – it is super helpful and very complementary with the book) but also has many interesting insights. The following are thirty five short highlights from Bill with convenient tweetable links so you can let your friends know about this and spread the good word of disciplined entrepreneurship.
31 Tweetable Insights from “Disciplined Entrepreneurship: 24 Steps to a Successful Startup”:
1) Entrepreneurship Education Crisis: Demand soaring yet high quality supply does not scale; gap filled by storytelling [tweet]
2) To build scalable eship education, we need frameworks that are flexible yet rigorous; valuable yet not constraining [tweet]
3) Hypothesis testing is unquestionably great but the question is which hypotheses do you test & in what order [tweet]
4) 1st Law of Eship: The single necessary & sufficient condition for a business is a paying customer [tweet]
5) 2nd Law of Eship: WOM (Word of Mouth) is critical to success of a high growth startup [tweet]
6) 3rd Law of Eship: We are an attacker w/ dramatically less resources than the defender so have 2 b much more efficient [tweet]
7) 4th Law of Eship: We have to have the unit economics work in a reasonable period of time [tweet]
8) 5th Law of Eship: We have to have a core (something that will be unique & very hard to duplicate) to be great [tweet]
9) 24 Steps are grouped into 6 themes & starts not with your technology or product but with "Who is your customer?" [tweet]
10) The 1st hypothesis 2 test is whether you have a well defined target customer who has a problem & money 2 pay 2 fix it [tweet]
11) Disciplined Entrepreneurs r not driven by 1 customer nor by spreadsheets but by a well defined target customer group [tweet]
12) Once mkt is selected, must deselect rest. Deselect = discipline. Every1 loves to select; no1 likes 2 deselect [tweet]
13) Q: Is deselection important? Steve Jobs: "I'm as proud of what we don't do as I am of what we do." - Ans: Hell yes! [tweet]
14) Build the company from the customer back & not from what you want out. Target Customer 1st, Product 2nd [tweet]
15) Primary Customer Research is essential: Walk in your customers' shoes - economically, emotionally & socially [tweet]
16) In eship, specificity wins & generalities don't - hence eship is about the quest for the holy grail of specificity [tweet]
17) Don't make your persona a composite, make it real person. This ends debates much faster & more effectively [tweet]
18) Validate your persona by listing 1st 10 customers & check to persona; also derisks & gives team confidence & focus [tweet]
19) "What can you do for your target customer?" - it must be specific, compelling & unique [tweet]
20) "How does your customer acquire your product?" maybe boring but essential - often overlooked [tweet]
21) "How do you make money off your product?" - unit economics of COCA vs. LTV must work [tweet]
22) "How do you scale your business?" - b/c limited resources, must start small & plan 2 grow big [tweet]
23) We need to train our entrepreneurs to have the spirit of a pirate & the execution skills of a Navy Seal Team [tweet]
24) "It is more fun to be a pirate than to join the navy" - Steve Jobs & embraced by MIT entrepreneurs [tweet]
25) MIT has spirit of a pirate ("creative irreverence" = hacking) but also enormous discipline hence success in eship [tweet]
26) Entrepreneurial Myth: "Entrprnrs are undisciplined" Wrong, great ones have enormous self-discipline [tweet]
27) Gr8 entrprnrs derisk risk & only bet when they know the odds are in their favor & there is a big payoff [tweet]
28) Fake it B4 U Bake It: Don't build until u have derisk market w/ real customers; build a site & market test 1st [tweet]
29) Don't build a plant to produce dog food until you prove the dogs will eat it. Logic is not enough, u need real proof [tweet]
30) Wisdom is scar tissue & scar tissue comes from failing & learning in the process. @24StepsofEship is based on wisdom [tweet]
31) "Truth will set you free" rather "Action will set you free" [tweet]
Which is your favorite? Which do you disagree with? Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
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The following is a guest post by Nathan Beckord. Nathan is founder/CEO of Foundersuite which provides software and templates for founders.
We launched my startup Foundersuite in June of 2013 with nearly 800 startups on our platform, several strategic partnerships, and press coverage by VentureBeat.
Nearly all this traction came from hustling, pitching, and “launching” at 5 different startup events, at a total out-of-pocket cost of $883.
Here’s how we did it. You can do some of this too.
Event #1: Startup Exits Conference, January 17
What it is: Startup Exits is an event I produce two or three times a year focused on “hacking the exit process.” We run it at Rocketspace, and it draws a crowd of about 150 entrepreneurs and VCs looking to connect with corporate acquirers.
What I did: Since this event is my baby, I had the liberty of inserting a 2-minute preview of Foundersuite into the mix. To ensure the maximum number of eyeballs, I staged my demo right before the segment with John O’Farrell of Andreessen Horowitz, who I knew would be a big draw.
To avoid the risk of an embarrassing crash or bug, I mainly showed screen shots of the product instead of an actual demo. I also framed it as something coming down the pipe, vs. any kind of actual “launch”-- a very, very soft sell.
Result: By giving a “sneak peek” we were able to get initial feedback on our product (this was the first time anyone outside the company had seen Foundersuite.) The overall reaction was good, which provided a boost to morale. This event also served as a “deadline” to hit, which rallied the dev team and got us focused.
What I could've done better: We had a registration page to collect beta users, but it wasn’t fully baked-- 10% of those who tried to register got spit out of the system. Also, we had no structured way to collect feedback, which is so critical to do early and often.
Cost: Nothing. In fact I made a small profit on the event, which went straight back into development. :)
Takeaway: Of course, I had the inside advantage here. It takes some effort, but putting on events is surprisingly easy-- and it gives you a captive audience to pitch whatever you’re hustling. And no, I'm not suggesting you host events just to peddle your stuff. The event should need to exist and focus on delivering value to the audience.
Event #2: SFBeta “DeveloperWeek Edition,” February 4
What it is: SF Beta is a bi-monthly mixer held at 111 Minna, a bar-cum-art gallery in the SOMA area of SF. Roughly a dozen startups set up demo tables, and it draws about 150 attendees. This event was held to coincide with Developer Week, and it focused on platforms and APIs.
What I did: I printed up two Foundersuite t-shirts from Zazzle-- one for me, and one for my product guy, Victor. Huzzah! We were official! I also printed up stickers and business cards, and I brought along a 27” Apple monitor. At the event, we put out a cardboard box and offered free beer for developers in exchange for their business card, and we ran demos of the product all night.
Result: This event served as a good catalyst to finally get our “game face” on and produce some marketing collateral. It also forced us to polish and tighten our pitch. In the end, we got about 40 new beta users to sign up. In addition, we made friends with a few external developers, and got their perspective on the product vision-- useful, since we eventually plan on opening up an API.
What I could've done better: Realistically, it was too early for us to start courting developers; although there was interest in building on Foundersuite, there’s nothing for them to do (yet). It might be tough to re-engage later.
Cost: $250 for the demo table, $88 for shirts, and $100 for stickers and cards. Also about $60 for follow-up beers with a couple engineers.
Takeaway: Find a small or low-key event for your first “coming out” party; use it as a shakedown cruise to tighten the screws and hone your messaging.
Event #3: VatorSplash, February 13
What it is: VatorSplash is an evening event of about 400 attendees that includes an on-stage startup pitch competition, a keynote, and VC panel discussions. There is also a demo pit for 30 companies. It’s held about 3 or 4 times a year in SF, LA and New York.
What I did: Because Vator was held only a week after SFBeta, I basically recycled the demo table setup. For extra visibility, I printed a large foam board placard at Kinkos and duct-taped it to the wall behind the table.
Result: The demo pit was somewhat empty, except during intermissions. Nonetheless, we had a strong run of investors stop by and check out our software. These visits led to a couple great follow-up meetings with guys like Mike Walsh and George Babu, both of whom provided some awesome feedback. We also signed on about 40 new beta users.
What I could’ve done better: I should have hired someone to run the booth, as the action was really in the main ballroom. Also, the event had an after party featuring the BSD-heavy band, Coverflow-- think VCs and ex-Facebook execs. If I’d been really ambitious, I would’ve rallied for some additional networking fun.
Cost: Zero. My friend Russ Bertuccelli was one of the sponsors and hooked me up with a free table, and we used the collateral left over from SF Beta.
Takeaway: Don’t be discouraged if a demo event is slow or mellow; it's the quality of the interactions that matters, not the quantity.
Event #4: Launch.co Festival, March 4, 5, 6
What it is: Along with TechCrunch Disrupt and DEMO, the Launch Festival is one of the largest startup events of the year. It’s put on by consummate hustler and promoter Jason Calcanis, and is held at the cavernous Design Center.
This thing was massive-- 50 companies demo’d their wares on stage over the course of three long, grueling days. The organizers claim 6,000 people registered, and I’d estimate that at peak times, close to 4,000 were actually there. The list of VC judges and sponsors reads like a startup founder’s dream. In short, this was showtime.
What I did: First let me start off with what I didn’t do-- I didn’t land a spot on stage, though not for lack of trying. I used LinkedIn to see how I was connected to Jason, and then worked every connection, avenue and back-channel to get intros and endorsements. He was responsive, but no stage time for me; however, I did get a free demo table out of these efforts.
Since this was such a large show, we pulled out all the guns. I brought along Victor and also hired my charismatic friend Rebecca Harris to run the booth with me, and that was money well spent. Not only did she master our pitch in about 15 minutes, but it allowed me to get out and wander the halls, which led to some great strategic partner discussions.
We also ran a “mildly guerrilla” marketing campaign at the show; for example, we changed our tagline from the plain “Startup Management Software” to the more provocative “Tools To Get Startup Sh*t Done” and plastered this slogan on our t-shirts, materials, and signage. Right before each lunch break, I would fan a dozen Foundersuite stickers on the lunch tables, which surprisingly, drove a number of people to our booth, while Rebecca did the same at the coffee stations.
Result: This show set in motion several things that, four months later, are still paying dividends. For example, we did a deal with Hack Reactor to use their students for a few projects. We also landed a free Ruby engineer for the summer via a deal with Innovation Norway. I met the folks from Draper University, which led to a speaking gig to their entire student class, and we struck marketing partnerships with two incubators. In addition, we gained about 150 new users and collected an absurd amount of feedback and new product ideas from the hundreds of folks who stopped by our booth.
What I could’ve done better: I still ruminate on how we could have better hacked the application process to land a spot on stage; we were probably dinged a few points when we temporarily took down the beta wall, as Jason saw it and called us on it (this conference is aimed at startups in stealth, who are making their first real debut).
Having a dubstep-blasting rainbow bubble machine (or at least a full-size banner display tower) might have helped, as the level of professionalism WRT booth accessories was a notch higher here-- our neighbor had a futuristic police car with a siren and flashing lights, while we were still using our cardboard box with the “Drop Your Card, Win Free Beer” call to action written on the side in red marker.
Cost: Parking was $15 per day x 3 days = $45. Rebecca cut me a deal and charged $240 for two days of demo help. New T-shirts and other collateral was about $100.
Takeaway: If you pay for-- or get selected into-- one of the large demo events, don’t hold back; such events can “make” your fledgling company.
Event #5: SFNewTech, April 24
What it is: SFNewTech is one of the longest running demo events around. Once a month, six new startups take the stage for an efficient format: 5 minutes of live product demos, followed by 5 minutes of audience Q&A. It’s a fun and casual vibe, held at a nightclub.
What I did: I got a slot as the third speaker to take the stage. Since Foundersuite has a lot of moving parts-- e.g., we have 4 separate software modules as well as template collections-- it was a challenge to demo it all in under 5 minutes. Thus, I gave a super-quick, high-level summary of everything, then drilled into one module, Investor CRM, to show the user flow.
During the demo, I focused mainly on the value proposition for the founder-rich audience. I also spent roughly 20 seconds of the opening explaining why we’re doing what we’re doing-- our mission-- and about 20 seconds at the end showing where we’re going next, which was a nice way to “bracket” the core content of the demo.
Result: This event generated about 55 new users, some great social media activity, and we got a cool video out of it. Also, a writer for Venture Beat was in the audience; he followed up afterwards, and we gave him the exclusive on our launch coverage.
What I could’ve done better: I wish I’d lost about ten pounds and got a decent night’s sleep before going on stage. :)
Cost: Free; the ringleader, Myles Weissleider, is a friend.
Takeaway: Getting stage time in front of a large audience of target customers is extremely efficient marketing.
...and that’s how we successfully hacked our launch. Net-net, our results by the numbers:
5 pitch events
~5000 relevant people exposed to our product
~300 new users of our product + an additional ~500 new users via viral loops
2 partner deals
1 speaking gig
3 interns, all technical
1 major media placement (and several smaller ones)
Lots of fun and new friends
Total cost: $883
...a pretty decent ROI, IMO. But remember, your mileage will vary (I had some inside connections which kept costs relatively low)
Nathan @foundersuite @startupventures
Want more? For the extended mix, I now present “Key Tips & Lessons Learned”:
• Use the novelty of being the “new new thing.” The period between your private beta and your public launch is a special time, when interest levels and curiosity about your startup run unusually high; you basically have a brief window where you can leverage the lure of the “sneak peek” to effectively generate buzz, get feedback, and make friends. Use it to your advantage.
• Be an all-consuming, feedback-eating machine. Events are Customer Development on steroids-- so figure out a structured, efficient way to collect and process the avalanche of feedback and ideas you will get. To be honest, we didn’t do a great job of this-- I’m still finding business cards and scraps of paper with user comments scribbled on the back. But the feedback we were able to process has been priceless.
• Play to the motivations of the event producers. Almost all of the event organizers I worked with were cool people, genuinely motivated to see startups succeed. But they are also building their brands, and / or trying to turn a profit on their productions. They are looking for interesting companies that people will talk about, and in doing so, create a halo effect around their event. Be that interesting company. Make it memorable for their audience.
• Pay it forward. You may have noticed that I was “hooked up” for free at nearly every event; this wasn’t by accident. In most cases, when someone set me up with a demo table or pass, it was 10% because I’m a nice guy, and 90% because I’d helped him or her out on some previous initiative. No one’s keeping score; but when you’ve been paying it forward long enough, it’s amazing how receptive your network is to helping out when it’s your turn to ride the startup roller coaster.
• Being cheap increases your ROI. Demo events are fun a great way to engage potential users and investors in a casual, low-risk way. But they take a lot of time and energy; in the case of the bigger ones like Launch Festival, they suck up the better part of a week. They can also be expensive-- TechCrunch Disrupt Startup Alley will set you back $1995. Work your network for the free booth hookup, or ask the producers for the “pre-funded startup” rate. Volunteer to work the door in the morning, or offer to promote the event to your network for a free pass. (Related note: It helps to have built a network that folks are interested in leveraging).
• Start the SEO clock ticking. Many startup founders repeatedly delay their launch because they’re not “ready,” and I definitely get the desire to avoid putting out a bunch of crap too soon, as public scrutiny can be brutal. But as Paul Graham eloquently writes, startups need to release early and often; in addition to getting user feedback, there’s a ton of value in making some noise and laying down an online presence early in the game. For example, it helps you to establish your social media voice (something we did way too late). Also, getting your logo on a few high-traffic sites will help boost your SEO; both the Launch Festival and SFNewTech events are still driving a steady flow of organic traffic.
Still here? Color me impressed. I’ll leave you with a few tips for hacking your onstage pitch and demo booth:
• Make your demo short and sweet. Get your product demo to < 3 minutes (5 minutes max). Keep it high level-- skip all the tiny product features and nuances that are important to you, but often turn into a confusing rat hole for people seeing your product for the first-time. With a shorter demo, not only will you be able to talk to more people over the course of the show, but you’ll have better attention and retention of what you’re offering.
• End with a call to action. What do you want people to do after they’ve listened to your demo? Do you want them to register on your site? Introduce you to users? Give you feedback? Invest in you? The CTA may differ depending on who’s listening; for example, at the SFBeta event, we printed two giveaway cards, one for developers and one for users. Each had a specific call to action of what we wanted to happen next. Bottom line: if you don’t have an “ask” connected to your demo, then you’re just expelling warm air and sound.
• WIIFT? For on-stage demos, build your pitch story line using the “what’s in it for them” framework (them being the audience). In other words, don’t show what your product does; rather, explain how it benefits your users, who ideally-- if you’ve picked your event right-- are also the folks listening to you onstage. If you can’t use the WIIFT approach, at least explain why you’ve built what you built. People love origin stories and mission-driven companies.
• Staff appropriately. Always have at least two people giving demos-- crowds come in waves, and a solo founder won’t be able to efficiently process the queue. But never have more than three booth staffers out front-- that just makes for a crowded booth and will scare people off.
• Usher along the salesmen. One of the annoying parts about having a table or booth is that you’re “captive prey”, and inevitably, you’ll get booth visitors who feign interest in what you’re doing, but who are really trying to sell you something-- banking, insurance, HR services, etc. Without being an ass, quickly end the conversation by asking for their card, saying, “awesome-- thanks for stopping by” and shaking their hand. Remember why you’re there: to talk to as many interested, relevant parties as possible. Keep the pipeline flowing.
• Be polite (ish) to competitors. Another annoying element of the demo table is when competitors come sniffing around. A key identifier is when a person has obviously intentionally turned their name badge around, or tucked it under their sport jacket. I don’t suggest you worry too much about this-- most attractive markets are plenty big enough for multiple firms. But one way of heading this off is by asking them where they work before launching into your demo-- then if it’s clearly a competitor (or an investor in a competitor), give the abridged demo version without the secret sauce.
• Have fun with it. You’re living the dream, pitching and hustling your startup baby. ‘Nuff said.
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Do you sometimes lack confidence? Good. Because truly confident people sometimes feel insecure. They sometimes feel uncertain. Show me someone who claims they are confident all the time and I'll show you someone who's not truly confident.
First things first: Confidence is not bravado, or swagger, or an overt pretense of bravery. Confidence is not some bold or brash air of self-belief directed at others.
Confidence is quiet: It’s a natural expression of ability, expertise, and self-regard.
I’m fortunate to know a number of truly confident people. Many work with me at HubSpot, others are fellow founders of their own startups some of whom I've met through my angel investment activity. But the majority are people I’ve met through my career and who work in a variety of industries and professions.
It comes as no surprise they all share a number of qualities:
1. They take a stand not because they think they are always right… but because they are not afraid to be wrong.
Cocky and conceited people tend to take a position and then proclaim, bluster, and totally disregard differing opinions or points of view. They know they’re right – and they want (actually they need) you to know it too.
Their behavior isn’t a sign of confidence, though; it’s the hallmark of an intellectual bully.
Truly confident people don’t mind being proven wrong. They feel finding out what is right is a lot more important than being right. And when they’re wrong, they’re secure enough to back down graciously.
Truly confident people often admit they’re wrong or don’t have all the answers; intellectual bullies never do.
2. They listen ten times more than they speak.
Bragging is a mask for insecurity. Truly confident people are quiet and unassuming. They already know what they think; they want to know what you think.
So they ask open-ended questions that give other people the freedom to be thoughtful and introspective: They ask what you do, how you do it, what you like about it, what you learned from it… and what they should do if they find themselves in a similar situation.
Truly confident people realize they know a lot, but they wish they knew more… and they know the only way to learn more is to listen more.
3. They duck the spotlight so it shines on others.
Perhaps it’s true they did the bulk of the work. Perhaps they really did overcome the major obstacles. Perhaps it’s true they turned a collection of disparate individuals into an incredibly high performance team.
Truly confident people don’t care – at least they don’t show it. (Inside they’re proud, as well they should be.) Truly confident people don’t need the glory; they know what they’ve achieved.
They don’t need the validation of others, because true validation comes from within.
So they stand back and celebrate their accomplishments through others. They stand back and let others shine – a confidence boost that helps those people become truly confident, too.
4. They freely ask for help.
Many people feel asking for help is a sign of weakness; implicit in the request is a lack of knowledge, skill, or experience.
Confident people are secure enough to admit a weakness. So they often ask others for help, not only because they are secure enough to admit they need help but also because they know that when they seek help they pay the person they ask a huge compliment.
Saying, “Can you help me?” shows tremendous respect for that individual’s expertise and judgment. Otherwise you wouldn't ask.
5. They think, “Why not me?”
Many people feel they have to wait: To be promoted, to be hired, to be selected, to be chosen... like the old Hollywood cliché, to somehow be discovered.
Truly confident people know that access is almost universal. They can connect with almost anyone through social media. (Everyone you know knows someone you should know.) They know they can attract their own funding, create their own products, build their own relationships and networks, choose their own path – they can choose to follow whatever course they wish.
And very quietly, without calling attention to themselves, they go out and do it.
6. They don't put down other people.
Generally speaking, the people who like to gossip, who like to speak badly of others, do so because they hope by comparison to make themselves look better.
The only comparison a truly confident person makes is to the person she was yesterday – and to the person she hopes to someday become.
7. They aren’t afraid to look silly…
Running around in your underwear is certainly taking it to extremes… but when you’re truly confident, you don’t mind occasionally being in a situation where you aren't at your best.
(And oddly enough, people tend to respect you more when you do – not less.)
8. … And they own their mistakes.
Insecurity tends to breed artificiality; confidence breeds sincerity and honesty.
That’s why truly confident people admit their mistakes. They dine out on their screw-ups. They don’t mind serving as a cautionary tale. They don’t mind being a source of laughter – for others and for themselves.
When you’re truly confident, you don’t mind occasionally “looking bad.” You realize that that when you’re genuine and unpretentious, people don’t laugh at you.
They laugh with you.
9. They only seek approval from the people who really matter.
You say you have 10k Twitter followers? Swell. 20k Facebook friends? Cool. A professional and social network of hundreds or even thousands? That’s great.
But that also pales in comparison to earning the trust and respect of the few people in your life that truly matter.
When we earn their trust and respect, no matter where we go or what we try, we do it with true confidence – because we know the people who truly matter the most are truly behind us.
So, what do you think? Are there qualities of truly confident people that I've missed? Would love to read your thoughts in the comments.
Note: The original version of this article was published as part of my participation in theLinkedIn Influencers program. The article was very well received. It got 1.1 million views and has generated 4,000 comments. This is v2 of the article with some minor edits. -Dharmesh
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This following is a guest post by Jonathan Gebauer. Jonathan is the founder/CEO at exploreB2B, based in Berlin, Germany.
There is a lot of talk about startup hubs world wide – the places where the next Facebook will originate from, the next Instagram, the next Pinterest. I am from one of these places, Berlin, the capital of Germany. There is no lack of technology startups in this city.
But to be a place where new technologies and innovations thrive – well, there are a lot of things missing.
I was born in Berlin, I live here and we founded exploreB2B here. I breathe the air of this city and feel at home. But when we started, the air tasted different – I thought I could feel a vibe in the air that consisted of innovation in the startup scene. Today I know: this taste was more hype than vibe.
A story that got me thinking
Let me start with something that has recently happened to us, and which inspired me to write this article. I received an email from a US based VC which read: “Hey, we love what you are building at exploreB2B, let us know if you would like to talk to us.”
(I am sure Silicon Valley startups receive these every week.)
So far so good – naturally I wrote back. When they found out that we are located in Germany everything turned stone cold. They replied how sorry they were but since we are located in Germany, they would need to inform their European team and they would get in touch.
Their European team never got in touch. So far, not so global.
This is no big deal – it just got me thinking. Why is it that the European arm of a Venture Capital firm seems to think and act so differently from their U.S. counterparts?
This also was not the first time something like this happened to us. The story of our PR failures has already been published. We Berliners often make ourselves believe that Berlin will become the “next Silicon Valley” – but being second does not matter. Silicon Valley is not going away – so: who cares about Berlin?
The exceptions: Berlin startups that reached international fame
There are, of course, exceptions to the general rule. Innovative tech companies that reach international fame and success. Let me list the few that come to my mind: Soundcloud, ResearchGate, Aupeo, Wooga.
The same timespan in the US has brought us: Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Dropbox, Zynga, Box, Yammer, Foursquare, Twitter, Quora, Groupon, LinkedIn… The list goes on.
There are a lot of things missing here. And the successful cloning of successful US startups (which happened with Facebook, LinkedIn, Groupon, and many more here in Germany) is not the same as innovation.
Tech is not global – why no startup hub can really prosper without Silicon Valley’s support
At first glance, Berlin seems to have it all. There are startup competitions every other day, meetups, hackathons, conferences, … There is a network of business angels and investors, the city has had a couple of exits recently. A couple of tech blogs write about the city’s tech companies (both in German and English). With Ashton Kutcher’s not-so-recent investments in Amen and Gidsy a slice of Hollywood glamour was introduced. The area in the city center where most startups reside likes to be called “Silicon Allee” now – noting a resemblance to Silicon Valley.
There also is a lot of talent in the city – talent, which startups can hire. Three universities and multiple “Fachhochschulen” offer a supply of well educated developers and marketing minds while the city’s historic background shows a tradition for risk-taking – including the risk to start your own company.
But technology and innovation needs more than just founders and employees.
It needs a community and this community needs to include established tech people and companies as well as access to the traditional economy. Not just people who are new to the industry but also professionals from companies of any size and stage. It needs access to the likes of Apple, Microsoft, Google. You need to be able to see the shining light of Bill Gates talking on stage. You need investors who have a crap-load of money to invest on nothing but a crazy idea and feeling in their gut. You need access to marketing experts that can give advice, to tech companies that provide exit perspectives.
Berlin does not have those things.
Silicon Valley can provide this to other so called startup and tech hubs. It does so in some cases. But other tech hubs currently only exist by way of Silicon Valley’s support. They get as big and as successful as Silicon Valley allows them to be.
We Berliners might not admit that this is a fact, but we do know it in our hearts. A common first prize in our startup competitions is a trip to the valley. Or office space in the valley. Or a trip to attend a tech conference Or… You get the picture.
The consequences for young companies
This situation forces companies in other startup hubs to adjust. In Germany, the Samwer brothers face a lot of criticism for their cloning operations of international and US startups. It is true: they have been involved in cloning Groupon, Facebook, Zappos, Pinterest, Fab, Amazon, and many more. What is also true, is: This is a way to deal with our situation. Cloning companies also means you have access to information on how marketing strategies will perform and how you can achieve growth. When expertise and support is lacking, this is a valid way to replace it.
Another strategy is to prepare for an early exit. Selling your company early for comparatively small sums seems to be quite common in Germany – creating concepts for a global approach is not. The latest example for this is the formerly hyped startup Gidsy (which got famous by the Ashton Kutcher investment) – which just sold out to a competitor in a not so glamorous way.
There is no tech community in Berlin – just a startup community. This makes it hard for companies to break out of the startup hemisphere. Gidsy was criticized for its lack of professionalization, but you have to ask the question: How can a group of crazy founders get professional if there is no community to help with the process?
The few exceptions to these rules are companies and founders that usually readjust their geographic locations sooner rather than later. Soundcloud has offices nearly everywhere, others are moving their operations to San Francisco.
How to bend the rules: A way out for those that still want to think big
I do not like rules that cannot be bent – and I do not like to go small when others hit it big. I like to compete and I do not like failure. I did not invent exploreB2B for a small audience and I do not want to think small. In a world where creative minds are thinking up solutions, there are always options to become more competitive.
Those of us being unlucky enough to have founded our companies in places like Berlin, London, Paris or Sao Paolo still have a lot of options – the whole tech industry was created by people who bent the rules but refused to be bent by them.
In the beginning I told you about a VC not noticing where we are located – well, this sort of thing happens to me all the time. I receive emails, tweets, Facebook messages asking me whether I will be able to come to a meetup in San Francisco, or New York, or London… I always answer: “Hey, I am in Berlin.”
Most of the time the next message is: “Ok, give me a call when you are back.”
The way out for us is to stop worrying about Silicon Valley. In today’s world it is like any other place in the world: a place on the map.
I get emails from London, have Skype calls with bloggers in France, worked with a PR agency in the US (that didn’t go so well…), had articles published on an Australian blog (Big thank you to Jeff Bullas).
The community we need is there – you do not have to see people face to face to be able to get their advice. When you are creating a company on a global scale stop thinking narrow. Never limit yourself to the things you can do in your city.
By doing that we will force Silicon Valley to do the same. The big investments might not yet have reached our startup hubs, but they will come.
We need to stop picturing ourselves in direct competition with Silicon Valley – Berlin will never become “the next Silicon Valley”. But it does have its own strengths. As does London, as does any other city in the world. Each one of those places should play on its own strength – instead of highlighting its shortcomings in comparison to the Bay Area.
For Berlin, I can think of a lot of strengths: the talent supplied from universities, its geographic position and its history of being a place where eastern and western Europe unite, its history of being a place where people take risks.
We need to play our local strengths – and remove our weaknesses by acting globally.
Think less local.
We are entrepreneurs, we are founders, we are innovators. We were born to break the rules.
What's your take? What should entrepreneurs do to make tech innovation truly global?
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Where potential employees are concerned, obviously skills are important. Yet we’ve all seen fabulously talented individuals become a team that was far less than the sum of its parts.
While expertise is important, cultural fit can be just as – if not more – important. It's something we obsess over at my company, result in what we call our Culture Code (that describes how we think about talent and culture at HubSpot).
As a result your interviews should focus on more than just skills and qualifications. You also need to ask questions to probe whether candidates will fit into your organization: Are they likely to play well in your particular sandbox? Will their work style and personality complement your team?
Will they not just survive but thrive in a fast-paced, often-chaotic startup environment?
Do your homework before the interview and you should already have a good sense of whether the candidate has the right blend of skills and experiences to be able to do the job well. So definitely dive deeper into an exploration of talent and expertise, but also ask questions to determine whether the candidate can do the job well in your organization – because hiring even one employee who doesn’t fit your culture creates a culture debt you may never pay off.
Keep in mind how the candidate answers is important, but the conversations that follow– since a great interview is a conversation, not an interrogation – can reveal even more:
1. “What concerns do you have about our company?”
Strange question? Not really. No company – and no job – is perfect for any employee (even its founders.) Every company and every job has its challenges and potential downsides.
The candidates you want to hire don’t think your company is perfect; they’ve done sufficient research to know that while yours is not the perfect company and the job is not the perfect job, yours is a company they want to work for because they can thrive, make a difference, develop and learn and grow and achieve… and be a key part of taking your company to even greater heights.
And as a result they’re willing to honestly share their concerns – because they trust you run a company that values openness, honesty, and transparency.
2. “What is the toughest decision you had to make in the last few months?”
Everyone makes tough decisions. (Well, at least everyone you want to hire does.)
Good candidates made a decision based on analysis or reasoning. Great candidates made a decision based on data and on interpersonal considerations – because every important or meaningful decision, no matter how smart it looks on paper, eventually has an effect on and must be carried out by people.
A company at its core is made up of people. Great employees weigh both sides of an issue, considering the “business” aspects as well as the human impact.
3. “Tell me about a time when you had to slog your way through a ton of work. How did you get through it?”
We all are required to at least occasionally place our noses on the grindstone. Most people can slog through the drudgery because they have to.
The candidates you want to hire can take on a boring task, find the meaning in that task, and turn it into something they want to do.
Great employees turn the outer-directed into the self-directed – and in the process, perform at a much higher level. And gain a greater sense of fulfillment.
On the flip side…
4. “What were you doing the last time you looked at a clock and realized you had lost all track of time?”
We do our best when a task doesn’t feel like work but feels like what we are meant to do.
I have never met an exceptional candidate that didn't at one point have this feeling where time didn't matter. Call it being “in the zone” or “flow” or whatever you want — all great people experience it.
This ability to commit passionately to a project/task is particularly important for high-growth businesses. These moments of high-creativity and high-productivity are often when the best ideas come.
Explore what candidates feel they were meant to do. A lack of experience is less important when a candidate has hunger and drive. And, if someone isn't passionate enough aboutsomething (whether it's related to their job or not) you should worry as to whether there's anything at your company that is going to get them fired up.
Why? You can teach skills… but you can’t teach love.
5. “Describe a time you felt you were right but you still had to follow directions or guidelines.”
Surprisingly, this question can be a great way to evaluate a candidate’s ability to follow and to lead.
Poor candidates find a way to get around the rules because they “know” they were right. Or they follow directions but allow their performance to suffer because they don’t believe in what they’re doing. (You’d be surprised by how many interviewees will admit they didn’t work hard because they felt angry or stifled and expect you to feel their pain.)
Good candidates did what needed to be done, especially if time was of the essence, and later found the right moment to bring up the issue try to improve the status quo.
Great candidates did what needed to be done, stayed motivated… and helped others stay motivated and get things done, too. In a peer environment, an employee who is able to say, “I’m not sure what we’re doing makes perfect sense, but it might, so let’s knock it out!” is invaluable.
In a leadership environment, good leaders are able to debate and argue behind closed doors and then fully support a decision in public, even if they (privately) disagree with that decision.
No employee agrees with every decision, every process, every “best practice”… what matters is how they react and perform when they don’t agree.
6. “What book do you think everyone on the team should read?”
This is one of my favorite questions. It's partly because I just love books and always looking for new ideas — but partly because most great people always have had a book that they found to be super-useful and like sharing with others. If the person can't think of a single book that they'd recommend to others, that's a warning sign. Either they don't enjoy reading — or possibly, they don't think that the kinds of things they need to learn can be found in books. Both worry me.
Curiosity is a wonderful indicator of intellect and, oddly enough, modesty, because curious people are willing to admit they don’t know and are then willing to work to learn what they don’t know. Curious people also tend not to be cynics (see “Skeptics vs. Cynics: Which Are Toxic?”).
Every business needs employees who can set their egos aside and ask questions. Every business needs employees who are willing to say, “I don’t know how – can you help me?”
7. “Tell me about a time you felt company leadership was wrong. What did you do?”
I certainly don’t have all the answers. And I’m definitely not always right. So I want people to question my perspectives; push back when I come to conclusions; ask, “Why?” and, sometimes more critically, “Why not?”
Power is gained by sharing knowledge, not hoarding it, so we make uncommon amounts of information available to everyone in my company, HubSpot. We don’t want to just “win” debates. We want to be right. We want to make smarter decisions and support smarter behavior.
So we want employees who aren’t afraid to take that information and run with it… and challenge, in a healthy way, each other and executive leadership. Especially executive leadership.
8. What does, “This parrot is no more!” mean to you?
Walk around some companies and you’ll hear Monty Python (the quote above), or Office Space, or Spinal Tap, or Seinfeld quotes tossed around all the time. That’s because recognizable quotes are like verbal shorthand, getting across in one or two sentences what normally takes much longer to explain. And, speaking of Seinfeld (of which both my co-founder and I are fans), one of the quotes we use all the time is “Why don't you just tell me the movie you want to see…” (from the classic MoviePhone episode).
The candidate doesn’t have to recognize the quote or cultural reference you make. In itself that’s not important – but if your team has, say, a quirky sense of humor, it’s awesome if the candidate does, too.
And just in case you don’t get much of a response to this question, go to…
9. “What movie, no matter how many times you’ve seen it, do you have to watch when it’s on?”
Same thing. A favorite movie can indicate a lot about a candidate’s personality. I can watch Moneyball over and over because it’s an entertaining movie filled with lessons on business and entrepreneurship.
One candidate may love a story about overcoming the odds. Another may love a comedy. Doesn't matter. The question really helps you learn more about the person (not their skills). This question often leads to a fun, engaging conversation.
10. “Tell me about the last time a co-worker or customer got angry with you. What happened?”
When your company is focused on getting (stuff) done conflict is inevitable. The candidate who pushes all the blame – and the responsibility for rectifying the situation – on another person is one to avoid. Better is the candidate who focused not on blame but on addressing and fixing the problem.
Best of all are the people who admit they were partly or completely at fault (because it always takes two to do the conflict tango), took responsibility, and worked to make a bad situation better.
Every business needs employees who will admit when they are wrong, take ownership for fixing the problem, and most importantly learn from the experience.
11. “What business would you love to start?”
Startups naturally attract entrepreneurs-in-training. That’s awesome: Sure, they may leave someday to start their own companies, but in the meantime your business benefits from their entrepreneurial spirit, drive, and attitude.
And they’re much more likely to fit in to your organization, since they immediately embrace the differences in working for a startup rather than a corporation.
What type of business they would like to start may not matter; what does matter is the fact they have ideas and hopes and dreams – because if they do, they will bring those ideas and hopes and dreams to your business.
12. “What would you most like to learn here that would help you in the future?”
This is somewhat of a follow-up to question 11. If they do have a startup in mind that they'd love to start someday. It's revealing to figure out where they think they need help (finance? marketing? sales?) The other benefit of this question is that it sends a signal to the individual that we care about growing people. The saying at HubSpot is “We don't want to just build a great company, we want to build great people.”
Now it’s your turn: Take a look at the qualities and attributes of your top performers. Think critically about the business culture you’re trying to create. What questions should you ask – and what conversations should you try to spark – that will help you identify the qualities and attributes your business needs? Yours may be different than these – which only makes sense since every company and every company culture is different.
And in the comments below, please share unconventional interview questions you like to ask!
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You may not be frequently giving out an embarrassingly gushing smile and you might not write little love notes during your lunch break. But, there are ways to tell if you love your job.
Of course, no job is perfect -- even the best of relationships have their down days. We all have to do things we don’t like. I love working at HubSpot, it's the best job I've ever had (but, that's by design). But, even I have “off” days where I'm not spending all my time doing things I absolutely love.
So all of the following may not be the case all of the time. But when you love your job, many of the following should be the case much of the time:
1. You don’t talk about other people; you talk about the cool things other people are doing.
“I hear Michelle has really improved our customer happiness scores.” or “I’d love to know how Mike managed to rescue that sale.” “Sherry developed a new tool that's made our lives so much better.”
When you love your job you don’t gossip about the personal failings of others. You talk about their successes, because you’re happy for them – and because you’re happy with yourself.
2. You think, “I hope I get to…” instead of, “I hope I don’t have to…”
When you love your job it’s like peeling an onion. There are always more layers to discover and explore.
When you hate your job it’s also like peeling an onion – but all you discover are more tears.
3. You see your internal and external customers not as people to satisfy but simply as people.
They aren't numbers. You think of them as real people who have real needs.
And you gain a real sense of fulfillment and purpose from taking care of those needs.
4. You enjoy your time at work.
You don't have to put in time at work and then escape to life to be happy. You believe in enjoying life and enjoying work.
When you love your job, it’s a part of your life. You feel alive and joyful not just at home – but also at work.
5. You would recommend working at your company to your best friend…
In fact, you can't stop talking about how cool your company is and the awesome work you're doing even when you're away from work. Your friends and family are envious.
6. You enjoy attending meetings.
No, seriously, you enjoy meetings. Why? Because it’s fun to be at the center of thoughtful, challenging discussions that lead to decisions, initiatives, and changes – changes you get to be a part of.
7. You don’t think about surviving. You think about winning.
You don't worry much about losing your job. You're more worried about not achieving your potential. Not being as impactful as you can be.
8. You see your manager as a person you work with, not for.
You feel valued. You feel respected.
You feel trusted.
9. You don’t want to let your coworkers down.
Not because you’ll get in trouble or get a bad performance review, but because you admire them – and you want them to admire you.
10. You hardly ever look at the clock.
You’re too busy making things happen. When you do look at the clock, you often find that the time has flown.
11. You view success in terms of fulfillment and gratification – not just promotions and money.
Everyone wants to be promoted. Everyone wants to earn more.
You definitely feel that way too… but somewhere along the way your job has come to mean a lot more to you than just a paycheck. And if you left this job, even if for a lot higher salary… you would still miss it.
12. You leave work with items on your to-do list you’re excited about tackling tomorrow.
Many people cross the “fun” tasks off their to-do lists within the first hour or two.
You often have cool stuff – new initiatives, side projects, hunches you want to confirm with data, people you want to talk to – left over when it’s time to go home.
13. You help without thinking.
You like seeing your colleagues succeed, so it’s second nature to help them out. You pitch in automatically.
And they do the same for you.
14. You can't imagine being somewhere else.
You're having too much fun. Learning too much.
How many of the above statements apply to you and your job?
If you said:
0-3: You may want to find a new job. Life is too short.
4-6: You don't hate your job... but you don't love it either. What can you do differently?
7-10: You really enjoy your job and the people you work with
11-14: You are deeply, madly in love with your job! (and your friends are definitely jealous!)
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There’s a massive amount available on the interwebs on how to improve the odds for success in new ventures. But almost nothing concrete is available on the care and feeding of your investors. You can do all of the Lean Startup experimentation you want, but we’re here to tell you that one of the the easiest and most underrated skills that a startup CEO needs is knowing how to keep your investors updated, excited and engaged.
The reason is: The CEO is the investor's user interface into the business. It's how investors see what's going on, and in some minimal ways, interact with the business.
We polled several early stage investors (including ourselves) that have 30+ investments each under their belts, and asked them their advice for entrepreneurs on how best to communicate with them and update them on the business. Here are the results.
1) Write your investors consistently. probably every 1-2 months (if you're early stage), and every 2-3 months if you're a bit further along. If you have a regular advisory board or board of directors meetings, that's a good time to send out an update. This is preferable to phone calls, both for you and for them. If you’re smart, you’ll send this letter out, in more or less similar form, not only to your investors but also to mentors, advisors and staff. And if you do ever follow up with calls, they’ll be up to speed and more productive.
2) Keep it short. 2 pages, max. Your investors want to know what’s going on, but they don’t need to hear every detail.
3) Use a template. We like the TechStars one. Katie Rae and Reed Sturtevant of TechStars Boston teach their companies to communicate with mentors in a way such that each letter builds on the previous one. Typically, the letter gives both highlights and low-lights since the previous communication, sets some short term goals, and then reviews the progress—or lack thereof—on the goals set earlier. Just knowing that you will be producing a report card helps focus you on the important stuff and ensures that things don’t get forgotten. Check out the investor update template for a sample.
4) Remind them what you're doing (now). I know this is going to sound strange, but often your investors are not doing as good a job as they could keeping up with all your activities, news, tweets and pivots. Always include a one sentence description of what you're doing (now) just as a friendly reminder. A side benefit to this is that it forces you to write (and read) your one sentence description. This is one of the hardest tasks in startup-land.
5) Tell them the one or two strategic problems you are wrestling with. Got a few hard decisions? You’d be surprised how quickly an investor will respond. And odds are pretty good that they’ve seen this movie before and can help you come to a better decision. If it’s personnel-related, though, you may wish to be more circumspect.
6) Keep it honest, but don’t tell your secrets. Would you be comfortable if this email ended up in public, or in the hands of your competitors? If not, consider editing it down.
7) Always have 1-3 direct asks. Looking for some specific introductions? Ask. Need to source some key personnel? Ask. Want them to share some important news on their social media networks? Don’t be proud, don’t be shy, just ask. 90% of the time, the investor will probably not be able to help, but in the 10% of the time they can help, it's often pure gold.
8) Cast a wide net, but bcc. The more people you can keep up on your company, the more likely it is someone will be able to help you out, and the more you can leverage your network. But respect your investors’ privacy, and make sure you are not revealing any confidences in the letter. (I still screw this up—when in doubt, leave it out.) One idea would be to setup a simple mailing list so you're not trying to type in email addresses manually every time.
9) ARCHIVE all correspondence in a shared folder. Your investors will be grateful that they don’t have to be organized. This tip is so simple, yet almost no one does this. Your investors have more on their plate than just you. Make it easy on them by putting everything they need to see into one folder which they can reference. Send each letter by email (don’t make them have to hit links or print out attachments,) but include a link to the shared folder with the full archive. Inside, have all of your historic correspondence, and perhaps even your latest pitch deck, any financials you want them to see, etc. You might consider having two separate folders—one complete one, for the inner circle, and one that’s been redacted down for the broader crowd.
Startups fail for lots of reasons— but one of the most common one is that they run out of money. Informed investors are generally happier investors—and at a minimum more capable of helping. And, if you're out raising another round sometime, chances are, your angel investors are the one's that can help make intros. It's easier for them to do that if they hear from you more often than once every 12-18 months when you need some paperwork signed.
Remember, this exercise is as much for you as it is for them.
This entire process should take you less than an hour or two a month and it's worth it. Besides, if you do it right, you'll actually find that it helps you to write these updates -- and it's not a complete waste of time.
This article was a collaboration between Ty Danco and Dharmesh Shah. Ty is CEO/co-founder of BuysideFX and an angel investor/mentor (you should be reading his blog). Dharmesh is founder/CTO of HubSpot, runs OnStartups.com and is an angel investor in over 40 companies (you can follow him on twitter @dharmesh).
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Entrepreneurs that are looking to get attention from bloggers and journalists will often pitch their businesses themselves or though a PR agency.
It's sad that most of those pitches fall flat and are likely to be completely ignored. A waste of time and money for everyone.
For example, here’s a pitch from a PR professional. I’ve changed it slightly to avoid embarrassing anyone:
“I’m working with a wonderful new business… The owners grew up together and decided to go into business… it’s a story I’m sure your readers will care a lot about!”
Uh, no. It's unlikely that people are going to care about this story.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure the entrepreneurs are great people, but many entrepreneurs can tell a tale of struggle and euphoria and heartbreak and someday, against all odds, turning their dreams into reality and making their business a success. While occasionally readers might be inspired or motivated, for the most part we’re just not that interested in other people’s stories. Unless those stories are particularly remarkable we're more apt to just keep living our own dreams and writing our own stories. So, the things we're interested in is not other people's stories, but information that helps us write our own.
So what should you do if you’re trying to spread the word about new products and services, landing new customers, bringing investors onboard… all the stuff you hire PR agencies to do for you or, more likely, try to do on your own?
If you’re looking for press, forget the formulaic, cookbook approach to crafting a winning media pitch. That approach may result in coverage in a few outlets… but not the ones you really want.
Quick rule of thumb: Any media outlet that will do a story based on a crappy pitch is a media outlet that will get you crappy exposure.
Let’s pretend you’re thinking about pitching me an article idea for OnStartups.com (which has a modestly sized, but awesome audience). You can apply the following to any media outlet or blog, though.
Here’s what to do and not to do:
Don’t tell me your story is unique.
No offense, but it really isn’t. There are thousands of Ramen noodle stories. There are thousands of 3 am “Eureka!” stories. There are thousands of maxed-out credit cards, relatives won’t return your calls, last-minute financing savior stories.
Your story is deservedly fascinating to you because you lived it (just as my story is fascinating to me), but to the average reader your story sounds a lot like every other entrepreneur’s story. Claiming your story is unique creates an expectation that, if not met, negatively impacts the rest of your pitch.
And if your story truly is unique, I’ll know. You won’t have to tell me.
Don’t tell me how much a little publicity will help you.
Never waste time by explaining how this could be a win-win relationship or, worse, by claiming you want to share your wisdom because you simply want to help others.
I know you want publicity, and I know why. I get it. I've been there. We’re cool.
Know what I’ve done recently.
It’s easy to think, “Hey, he recently wrote about choosing a co-founder, so I should pitch a story about how I help people find co-founders”
Um, probably not. If just wrote about co-founders. I’m probably good for a little bit on that topic. Never assume one article indicates an abiding fascination with a particular topic.
But do feel free to pitch if you aren’t a member of the choir I just preached to. Different points of view catch my attention; same thing, different day does not.
Know my interests.
You certainly don’t need to know I enjoy late-night walks on the beach. (Hey, who doesn’t?) But skim a few posts and you’ll know I have a soft spot for company culture, startup funding and startup marketing
So if you really want to get my attention, don’t use the tried-but-in-no-way-true “mention you really enjoyed something recent the writer wrote” approach.
Instead put your effort into finding an angle that may appeal to my interests. If you can’t be bothered to do that you’ll never get the publicity you want.
Forget a profile piece.
Straight profile pieces that tell the story of a business are boring. (At least I think so, which is why I don't post those)
The best articles let readers learn from your experience, your mistakes, and your knowledge. Always focus on benefiting readers: When you do, your company gets to bask in the reflected PR glow.
So,readers don’t want to know what you do; they want to know what you know. If you started a company, share five things you learned about landing financing. If you developed a product, share four mistakes you made early on. If you entered a new market, share three strategies you used to steal market share from competitors.
And while you may think the “5 steps to” or “4 ways to” approach is overdone, keep in mind readers love them… and even if I decide not to frame the story that way, developing mental bullet points ahead of time is a great way to organize your information (which helps me) and ensure you have great talking points (which definitely helps you.)
Realize that the more you feel you need to say… the less you really have to say.
Some people think bloggers are lazy and look for stories that write themselves. I can’t argue with the lazy part, but I really don’t want to read a 1,000-word pitch with a comprehensive overview of the topic and a list of semi-relevant statistics. The best products can be described in a few sentences, and so can the best pitches:
So now let’s get specific. Pretend you’re crafting your pitch:
Remember: forget what you want.
Many people think, “Wow, it would be awesome if OnStartups.com ran a story about our new product—think of the exposure! So many VCs would read it! We're looking for funding!"
Maybe so, but unless you focus on how readers can benefit from the story (learning about your new product isn’t a benefit to readers), that’s not going to happen.
Then, think about what I want.
I want to inform and occasionally – hopefully – entertain readers; the more you can help me accomplish that goal, the more interested I am in what you have to say.
Then craft your pitch with publicity as a secondary goal.
In the example above, the PR pro didn’t offer readers anything. His only focus was on getting publicity to benefit his clients.
Flip it around and focus solely on how you can benefit readers. When you do, your company will benefit by extension.
For example, if you want to spread the word about:
· New products or services: Share four lessons learned during the product development process; describe three ways you listened to customers and determined how to better meet their needs; explain the steps involved in manufacturing products overseas, especially including what you did wrong.
· Landing a major customer: Describe how you changed your sales process to allow you to compete with heavy hitters in your industry; share three stories about major sales that got away and what you learned from failing to reel them in; detail the steps you took to quickly ramp up capacity while ensuring current customers needs were still met.
· Bringing in key investors: Explain how you helped investors embrace your vision for the company; describe four key provisions that create the foundation for a solid partnership agreement; share the stories of three pitches to VCs that went horribly wrong and how those experiences helped you shape a winning pitch.
Sound like a lot of work? It is, but it’s worth it. When you offer to help people solve problems and learn from your mistakes, bloggers and writers will be a lot more interested.
More importantly, readers will be more interested in the news you want to share because first you helped them—and that gives them a great reason to be interested in your business.
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