Tag: startups

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..

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..

18
Jan

How to Not Get Hired at a Tech Startup in 2014

I’ve been doing a lot of interviewing recently (#we’rehiring @Percolate), and have seen a very broad range in overall candidate thoughtfulness and “preparedness” for today’s startup workforce. As a result I thought I’d put together a list of observations and recommendations that might help anyone interested in a job at a tech startup bolster their resume and be better prepared for their first interview. Although I’ve interviewed developers in the past, in my current role I’m interviewing almost exclusively for non-technical (or “soft technical”) marketing and PR roles. Because I think the developer interview track is very different, I’m going to focus this essay on suggestions for non-technical job applicants. If you’re applying for a job at a tech startup in 2014, here’s how you can pretty much guarantee you’re not going to get hired.Continue Reading..

12
Jan

What Can We Expect from Jelly?

Jelly, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone’s new mobile startup, is pretty fascinating.  For context, Jelly is a social question app based on mobile photos, placing it at the intersection of Q&A (Quora), local, real-time information (Foursquare), short-form visual content (Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter) and ephemeral, person-to-person swipe-based interaction (Tinder). Creating a visual layer (interlaced with conversation) over local information is a big, ambitious idea that in most cases I’d say is trying to bite off more than it can chew, if the founding team wasn’t so strong and well-connected. Continue Reading..

27
Oct

Easier to Do Well Than Good

If you’ve ever been hand-delivered a cease-and-desist, you’ll probably agree with me they’re pretty under-whelming—just a plain manilla envelope of papers that kind of resemble some high school essays teachers return to you at the end of the semester. When I got mine years ago from a former employer saying the startup my friend Josh and I were launching belonged to them, it turned out to be my first lesson as an entrepreneur that it’s often a lot easier to do well than do good.Continue Reading..

22
Sep

How I Got My Startup Profitable in 6 Weeks

[Originally posted as an essay on Medium]

My previous startup had a sales cycle problem. We sold an enterprise product targeted at agencies and big consumer brands, and — while we could clearly articulate benefits — we could only point to an opaque, fuzzy ROI for the buyer during the sales process. As a result our sales cycle (including delightful hurdles like vendor approval that consumer web startups should thank their lucky stars they never have to deal with) could stretch for months.

“Never again,” I said to myself, and I set a goal: my next product would have a two week sales cycle. If I couldn’t get a user to convert from free to paid in fourteen days I’d move on and test if retention emails and down-the-road product upgrade notices would entice them back.Continue Reading..

15
Sep

Growth Hacks: Website Traffic Generation Tips

A common question I see asked a lot by first-time startup founders and marketers on sites like Quora and Reddit Startups is “How do I drive traffic to my startup’s new website or landing page?”

In the interest of sharing some of my favorites, here’s a quick list of some of the channels I’ve found to be most effective for growth-hacking (particularly when you’re working with a limited marketing budget):Continue Reading..

12
Nov

What Dharmesh from Hubspot Taught Me About Google+

Right or wrong, I consider myself a fairly tech-savvy marketer. I’ve built close to a dozen websites, advised companies ranging from Fortune 100’s to two-person team startups on how to optimize aspects of their digital strategy and gotten hundreds of thousands of views and clicks on an assortment of content and conversion destinations. And, given my background, I’ve been well aware of Hubspot for some time. I first got a demo of Hubspot’s lead gen analysis tools in 2010 and recall immediately thinking “Wow. This much knowledge about your inbound traffic is powerful.”  Turns out I wasn’t the only one thinking that by a long shot. And as an active member of the Boston-Kendall-Cambridge tech scene, I’m even more aware of Hubspot’s dramatic rise to prominence in the Boston startup scene, as well as the reverence the entire entrepreneurial community holds for Hubspot Founder and CTO, Dharmesh Shah.

“He’s so impressive,” a friend and Hubspot colleague once told me; “still highly active in the code base – an incredible analyst and tireless innovator.”

So when I caught on Twitter that Dharmesh was speaking at an Intelligent.ly event (aside: in the very cool 500 Harrison BzzAgent South End co-working space, right above Cincocento, the Aquitaine Group’s elegant new restaurant loft), I made the trip over from Kendall to see what I could learn from the Hubspot luminary.Continue Reading..