Blog

01
Aug

The End of the Org Chart

There isn’t much to do in Maspeth, NY on a weekday afternoon. Nestled next to an expressway on the outer Brooklyn-Queens border, Maspeth’s defining feature is its warehouse district  — a collection of gritty, similar-looking buildings next to a small creek and set of train tracks. At peak mid-summer heat, with temperatures north of 90F, Maspeth almost feels like a desert — a mix of industrial stone dunes and sandy brown streets. I know all this, because a bad customer experience incident sent me there.

A week before, my phone broke and I ordered an upgrade replacement to my office (it’s easier to get packages at work). Here’s the remaining minimum viable context: I had a busy week of meetings in the city, the phone was incorrectly shipped to my home in Brooklyn (signature required), neither my phone company nor Fedex could change the delivery address, and I was about to leave for a trip. I had a choice to make: (1) either let the phone get returned to sender and wait another week for a second phone unless I go buy a second out of pocket, or (2) go pick up my phone before it got sent back. In Maspeth.

Riding there, I started thinking about the experience, how it could have been prevented, and why ‘customer friction’ happens more with certain business characteristics than others. That thinking led me to a realization I first shared on Twitter: five years from now — at most ten — the best companies won’t have “departments” or “business units” as they exist today. Or if they do, they’ll look very different from the today’s accounting team down the hall that reviews spreadsheets with methodical precision.Continue Reading..

27
Apr

The Best Product Marketing Advice I Can Give You

Two of my favorite books on communication are Luke Sullivan’s Hey Whipple Squeeze This – A Guide to Creating Great Ads and Al Ries’s Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind. Although I describe them as “communications” books, they’re really advertising books. Or rather, books that study communication through the lens of advertising. I’ll come back to why this is important in just a moment (and yes, I owe you a great piece of advice about product marketing — bear with me just a few more sentences; it’s coming, I promise).

Both books also pre-date the spectacular rise of the internet. Positioning was published in 1981. Hey Whipple‘s first edition is from 1998. And whereas most digital era marketing books get distracted by the latest “shiny object” industry fad, tactic, or technology trend, Positioning and Hey Whipple shine through with clarity on the long-term principles of effective communication:Continue Reading..

30
Mar

Why I Think Zuckerberg is Trying to Kill Influencer Marketing

I have a new theory — call it a prediction — about the future of influencer marketing.

Recently, Instagram has been meeting with some of its latest advertisers and media partners to council them on the social platform’s latest algorithm update — a transition that will rank newsfeed content by relevance, rather than chronology, similar to its parent Facebook’s own newsfeed algorithm. Instagram’s advice to marketers, succinctly summarized, boils down to this: “Make better content to keep up with the aesthetic expectations of users, and get ready to advertise [even more] to distribute it, because Instagram organic reach will ultimately follow the downward trend as Facebook’s.”

While any marketer caught off guard by this shift couldn’t have been paying attention to the last few years of social media history, what’s interesting to me is how the organic reach race-to-the-bottom keeps reaffirming the same, cyclical social advertising sequence:Continue Reading..

06
Sep

How to Build a Brand the World Will Remember Tomorrow

This essay originally appeared on Percolate.

Brands want to be chosen by customers, and marketing as a discipline is aimed at increasing that likelihood. As a growing body of academic research shows, almost all customer purchases are at least partially memory-based. This means a critical priority in marketing and advertising is creating and reinforcing positive brand memories, associations that lead customers to buy. Multiple studies(1,2) show brand recall strongly correlates with brand selection, and is often triggered by in-the-moment needs. Strong brand and product memories translate to sales.

But how do executives ensure their teams are effectively marketing for memory? Here, a four step approach is recommended:Continue Reading..

02
Apr

The Year Social Media Moves Beyond Social

This essay originally appeared on the Percolate Blog.

Social is entering a new era in the history of its communications potential. In doing so, ‘social media’ companies like Facebook and LinkedIn are briskly redefining their identities, business models and the boundaries they are able to connect people — or brands to people — within. All told, 2015 looks more and more like the year social will formally move beyond social, and the time when advertisers and technologists stop talking about a company, marketing channel, event or job title as ’social,’ and, instead, simply describe it as something that is.

After all, what is or isn’t social anymore? Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are now closely interwoven throughout all modern media — from live event and TV experiences to journalism to federal government policy awareness — and thanks to mobile are now first screen centers of attention.

How do you define a social company? Today, Facebook generates more annual advertising revenue than Fox News, CNN or MSNBC, with a much faster underlying growth rate fueled by mobile device adoption and budget reallocation to digital.

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As we’ve talked about in the past, Facebook is also distancing itself from its own company pages and contest tabs, becoming a modern media company that connects people and serves ads across a network that extends well beyond Facebook.com. And if the definition of a social company is as open-ended as one that creates or facilitates interactive communities, brands as diverse as Amazon, eBay, Uber, Github, Kickstarter, Venmo, Medium, Pandora, Spotify and a litany of other companies are also intrinsically social businesses. ‘Social’ is where people spend time on the internet, it’s what people intrinsically want to do in their lives and with their phones, and it’s been a central element of human behavior for thousands of years.

Continue Reading..

23
Dec

How the Human Brain Experiences Your Brand

This article originally appeared on the Percolate Blog.

The best brands are built to last a lifetime. GE’s existed for over 118 years, IBM recently celebrated it’s 103rd birthday and even innovative Apple is steadily approaching 40.

But while the best brands are complex, multi-dimensional and designed for longevity, a brand’s visual identity — its logo, colors, fonts and style guides — can be analyzed and understood by the human brain in less than half a second, according to researchers. Moreover, how our brains process branding and a business’ visual identity carries important lessons for marketers, entrepreneurs and designers.Continue Reading..

23
Oct

Managing A Startup’s Most Valuable Resource: Time

Covey's Four Quadrant Time Management Matrix

[The following is an excerpt from my essay “Time Management for Startups: Quantify, Prioritize, and Automate” that originally appeared on Sixteen Ventures. To read the article in its entirety, including Lincoln Murphy’s forward, conclusion and other productivity recommendations, please go here.]

Whenever I write a guest post or article, I start by brainstorming how I can organize a collection of past experiences into a targeted story or message around a topic. I started doing that for this essay too, when a simple thought occurred to me: I have a lot of different experiences to choose from. In fact, I’ve been working at or on early-stage SaaS companies for over five years now.

Wow. It certainly hasn’t felt like five years. Between trips to CES and SXSW (and close to a dozen different countries), hiring — and, sadly, firing — great people, building two successful businesses and struggling through two disappointing failures, five years got archived in a flash, almost 2,000 days.

Could I have made better use of that time professionally? Could I have achieved more goals over that span? On reflection, I think the answer is “yes” – particularly early on. Because entrepreneurship is so centered around urgency, most of us not only find it challenging to maintain healthy work-life balances to begin with, but we often over-focus on the next customer meeting or feature release or conference, and the one right after that, failing to optimize around our most precious resource: time.

Why Time is So Precious for Startups

Startup time is different than normal time. Startups succeed by doing more with less, and they rely on the core advantages of speed, focus and vision to grow and distrupt rapidly despite smaller budgets, fewer people, scarcer resources and less established brands. Somewhere between 75-90% of startups fail and the average Y Combinator startup goes 23 months between its founding and either exit or failure. If you consider Y Combinator class-members to generally be the cream of the crop, that means the average tech startup has an even shorter lifetime. But although startups fold as a result of things like founder incompatibility and lack of product-market fit, ultimately, every startup’s most previous resource — and biggest risk – is time.

Running out of money, not getting product traction, getting beat out by a competitor – all symptoms of not moving fast enough and losing out to time.

Paradoxically, despite the fact that time is the lifeblood of innovation, most entrepreneurs don’t really focus on time management systematically or strategically. Prioritization is done out of necessity, so execution can keep base with business realities (i.e., getting sh*t done).

But science and success suggests there are some better ways, and if you’re willing to commit to five more minutes of reading you can take advantage of them too.

Three Principles for Optimizing Startup Time

Although there’s no one size fits all time management cure-all, here are three practical, data-backed productivity principles I strongly encourage you to test professionally, particularly if you work at a startup:

1. Passively quantify how you spend your time
2. Prioritize for growth impact by focusing on growth importance, not growth urgency
3. Automate as much as [non-]humanly possible

Let’s walk through each one.Continue Reading..

28
Sep

How to Win Anyone’s Attention

The average person now consumes twelve hours of media, checks their phone close to 110 times and sees an estimated 5,000 marketing messages each day. When most of us also regularly put in 8+ hours on the job, it’s no wonder our collective attention span is more taxed than ever.

Data overwhelmingly confirms it too. According to MailChimp 80-85% of marketing emails are never opened, and even in digital video — one of the most promising frontiers for marketers — 56% of viewers regularly skip pre-roll and vocally prefer ads that are fifteen seconds or less. The National Center for Biotechnology Information at the U.S. National Library of Medicine finds average human attention span decreased from 12 seconds in 2000 to 8 seconds in 2013, no doubt influenced by the influx of real-time content streams available to us 24/7/365 on social at a moments’ notice.

As a marketer or advertiser, all this is also a reality check and constant reminder about how precious attention has become. If you’re thinking about what this means for your marketing efforts, or you’re producing a lot of quality content but struggling to get noticed, here are four principles you can apply to win anyone’s attention.

Continue Reading..

16
Aug

Jump In

I’m Chris, I’m 29, and this is the most honest thing I’ve ever written. In the first let’s say (hope?) third of my life, I started three companies, visited 26 countries, lost all my money twice, saved one person’s life, and let too many friendships I valued more than I could show outwardly fall into disrepair. I also could have died at the ages of 4, 16 and 21. But I didn’t. Instead, I’m staring into the sunset of my twenties, and this is the story I didn’t know how to tell any sooner.Continue Reading..

22
May

Why It’s Impossible to Hire Good Growth Engineers

June 2016 update: I’m back hiring growth engineers at Percolate. Click here and follow the instructions to learn more or apply.

I’ve spent a nontrivial part of my last two months at Percolate focused on hiring growth engineers — software developers who are passionate about agile, creative app development, customer acquisition and scalable experimentation. This clearly represents a valuable skill-set, as talented individuals in this role can have a major impact on the overall trajectory of an early stage company.

The Current Hiring Trend Clearly Favors Growth & Marketing Engineers

The challenge for recruiters, however, is that it’s basically impossible to find good growth developers. Why? After going through hundreds of resumes and dozens of screening interviews, I see four major thematic challenges:

1. Mentality and experience don’t align. Being an effective growth developer requires being able to balance periods of creative ideation with rapid prototyping sprints. There’s also, in my opinion, more “competitive” impetus in growth development vs. more traditional software development. With customer acquisition the most important priorities are being fast (ideally first), original and unconventional, rather than writing clean, reusable code that’s been thoroughly unit-tested. My observation is younger software developers tend to embrace these work parameters more enthusiastically than more experienced engineers (for a variety of obvious vocational and lifestyle reasons). Unfortunately, a lot of the job market candidates who have the best mentality for growth development are recent graduates from development bootcamp programs like General Assembly, Hacker School and App Academy. As a result, these types of devs usually only have three to four months of experience, primarily focused on a single framework like Ruby on Rails, and need additional mentorship and skill-development to reach the point where they can be effective in a growth-oriented, more independent role on a smaller dev team.

2. Most developers want more structure. Engineers, are, after all, engineers. And while engineering fundamentally entails technical problem-solving, it’s also closely linked with defined — sometimes even strict — parameters, documentation and requirements. By comparison, there’s a lot of blank slate fits and starts in growth and marketing. Most web and mobile engineers don’t like unstructured, vague or open-ended assignments, and would prefer a more steady, structured work environment.

3. Most engineers like big(ger) teams. Although the solitary hacker-with-headphones archetype still hasn’t been entirely dispelled from startup folklore, the reality is most engineers are social, like collaborating, and want to work on big teams. There are practical considerations for this — big teams can manage bigger projects and accomplish more work — as well as social advantages: development efforts become more modular, engineers with different expertise compliment each others’ work, and larger engineering teams can solve problems collaboratively. On the opposite end of the spectrum, most growth engineering teams run extremely lean and are much more individual contribution-oriented.

4. The best growth engineers tend to be fiercely independent. In rare instances where I come across great growth engineers, they almost invariably dislike being directed or managed. Again, this is largely a practical matter — if you’re talented enough to devise your own technology products, build them, then acquire users, traction and revenue, you’re about as self-sufficient as someone in the modern workforce can be. In addition, you also bring a very holistic and thorough vision to product development overall. Finding a marketing-oriented engineer like Dharmesh Shah, or, among the younger generation, a Robert Matei, Myles Recny, Nathan Bashaw, or Carl Sednaoui (and most recently Taowei Huang) is a needle-in-a-hackstack quest to begin with… then you have the heroic task of convincing them whatever you’re doing is worth their time.

Ultimately, great growth engineers possess a rare combination of technical proficiency, creativity and competitive drive, alongside a willingness to be an experimental self-starter. Very few marketers (even those who refer to themselves as “growth hackers”) and software developers can put all the pieces together, making growth engineers one of the single hardest roles to recruit for. In some ways, maybe this is a good thing, as individuals who fit this talent profile can generate a true competitive advantage when they’re focused and given the resources (coffee, budget, distribution exposure) they need to be successful.

By the way, if you live (or want to live) in NYC, want to prove me wrong and think you can make an awesome, fast-growing technology company grow even faster, email me today or apply here so we can hire you.

[highlight image credit courtesy of The Drum]