Archive for the ‘General’Category

Notes to Remember for When I Am Running a Company

I’ve been keeping a mental check list over the past few years regarding some ideas that I want to keep in mind when I am running my own company one day in the future. The purpose of this list is to gather ideas that optimize for employee happiness and to ensure that I do not repeat the mistakes I have either witnessed or observed through others. Let’s jump right into it:

  1. There’s no such thing as a free lunch. Is a “free” lunch in the office just another way to keep employees working at their desks for longer? I want to encourage employees to leave the office regularly to eat or pick up lunch. I think this would make employees feel supported in choosing whatever food they like, eat with whomever they prefer, in addition to contributing towards a more vibrant neighborhood by supporting small businesses.
  2. Unlimited vacation means no vacation. When vacation time is not bounded by minimums or maximums, there is inevitably going to be abusers of the system and also people who do not take off enough time. I firmly believe in a minimum vacation policy. Three weeks off, paid, for your first year. Then four weeks off every year after that.
  3. The company doesn’t own your personal work. Personal projects developed during free time are owned by the person, not the company. GitHub recently took a stand in this regard by stating that all personal projects that do not relate to their business are not owned by them. I believe this leads to numerous benefits for the employer and the employee, as stated on GitHub’s Balanced Employee IP Agreement page.
  4. Transparency regarding cash flow matters. Employees who understand exactly how cash flows in and out of the business are able to prioritize their tasks more effectively because they can make the connection between their work and the overall health of the business. Additionally, transparency regarding cash flow gives employees better insights into their own positioning in the markets for which they are creating goods or services.
  5. Butts in seats does not equal productivity. The optics of work are not work anymore. This attitude prevails from the manufacturing economy of the industrial-era, where more time on the assembly line actually correlated to increased productivity and revenue growth for the company. The information economy does not always reward longer hours with better productivity.
  6. We’re all learning. The workplaces where I have personally been most comfortable are environments in which the team has the mindset that we’re all learning (we do not expect you to know everything, but we do expect you to read a lot!), mistakes are tolerated, and we’re all just trying to do the best work of our lives. To that end, this list of ideas, of course, is just that: a list of ideas that I think will help me learn and improve in the future. If you have ideas that you think I might like to add to this list, please feel free to reach out and let me know!

 

30

06 2017

Stay Inspired with Dribbble New Tab

When I recently replaced my MacBook Pro, there was one tool that I quickly forgot how much I missed: Dribbble New Tab. I missed this tool because all of the sudden I was lacking my daily design inspiration, which is a critical part of the information diet for makers of all kinds. Since I discovered this tool a couple of years ago, The Dribbble New Tab application has become my go-to source for design inspiration.

The application works easily: Every time I open a new tab in Chrome, I see all of the most recent popular creative designs from Dribbble, a popular online community of digital designers. If I like a design and want to save it for future reference, I can click through the image and then click the heart button on the Dribbble website.

Give it a try! Add to Chrome:

https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/dribbble-new-tab/hmhjbefkpednjogghoibpejdmemkinbn?hl=en

 

31

05 2017

Sales Productivity Software Is Eating the World

In Jeff Bezos’ annual letter to shareholders last week, he proclaimed, “The outside world can push you into [stasis and irrelevance] if you won’t or can’t embrace powerful trends quickly. If you fight them, you’re probably fighting the future. Embrace them and you have a tailwind.” So, what are the world’s trends in sales right now, and importantly, which trends will help you move faster than ever before?

Increased Specialization in Sales Organizations

Recently many of the most successful sales organizations have greatly increased the specialization within their teams, leading to two primary sales roles: prospectors and closers. Prospectors are focused on the laborious process of generating new leads and qualifying them through the pipeline. Closers then take qualified leads off the hands of prospectors and in turn focus on converting qualified leads into new deals.

An increase in sales specialization is evident by simply investigating the Google search traffic for the keyword “Sales Development Representative” (SDR), an entry-level position that specializes in outbound prospecting and qualifying new leads. Over the past five years, the search traffic for this keyword has more than tripled:

 

As a consequence of increased sales specialization, the day-to-day activities of sales roles have become more repetitive and metrics-driven. For example, it is typical for an SDR to spend the overwhelming majority of their time completing just two tasks: manually researching and writing cold emails to an average of 265 new sales prospects every month (The Bridge Group 2016). Once the SDR is able to get a prospect on the phone for a certain number of minutes, the potential new customer is then handed off to a closer, typically known as an “Account Executive” (AE), who is paid for their number of deals closed. This rigorous approach of separating the sales prospecting and closing responsibilities has lead to more efficient teams and increased profits for all who have adopted the strategy.

But how can a modern sales team squeeze-out even more efficiency once all of the responsibilities are divided? The future is trending towards sales processes that make extensive use of their data to achieve dramatically better results, and the winds are picking up strongly. To paraphrase from Jeff Bezos’ annual letter once again:

We’re in the middle of an obvious trend right now: machine learning and artificial intelligence… Though less visible, much of the impact of machine learning will be quietly but meaningfully improving core operations.

In the context of sales, there are a number of time-consuming operations and outreach tasks where Bezos’ prediction applies: obtaining prospects, outreach via cold emails and cold phone calls, coordinating product demonstrations, and completing the onboarding process. Data and machine learning is already helping salespeople gain insights to be even more effective in each of these fundamental sales tasks. Let’s have a look.

Here are a few of the leading startups building sales productivity software:

Obtaining Prospects

Finding new leads has come a long way from paging through the phone book. Today, dozens of companies provide lists of high quality leads for purchase. 6sense, Data.com, and GrowBots are leading solutions that help sales teams obtain the contact information of in-market buyers.

Outreach

Establishing candid rapport with a stranger over email or phone call is among the most difficult of sales tasks to consistently complete successfully. In the past, only true sales grandmasters have risen to the top in this cutthroat activity. Fortunately, there are promising new products in this category that help build relationships during the outreach process, which is often referred to as “lead nurturing”.

For sales teams who are comfortable practicing a spray and pray approach, products like Outreach.io, SalesLoft, and Prospect.io have emerged as major players that help SDR’s automate outreach efforts. More recent entrants to the market have been focused on bringing much-needed context and personalization to outreach efforts. For example, sales teams using copywriters from Cavalry are able to get highly engaging cold emails written quickly.

Coordinating Demo’s

Once a qualified prospect is finally on the hook, it’s critical to not let the logistics of a test drive get in the way of closing a sale. Time saved for the prospect and AE is a win-win, so here are a few tools that have become go-to solutions for handling the demo process from start to finish: Calendly and Clara are automated scheduling assistants that make finding a convenient time painless. ClearSlide goes one step further by providing sales teams with insights into how their prospects are engaging with the demo experience.

Onboarding

Finally, once the sale is closed the onboarding process begins as the last remaining sales task. Appcues helps with onboarding by making it easy to implement a tour of an application’s features. Next, Drift and Intercom help companies automatically communicate with their customers in a way that is personalized to their usage of the product, leading to increased engagement and reduced churn.

What’s next?

While the influx of sales productivity software makes it easy to believe that the trend of sales software is pointing towards total human-replacement, I think that is the wrong conclusion to take away. In sales, the most appropriate applications of technology like artificial intelligence or machine learning will be the tools that enable more personal touches, better research, and more face time ? while removing needless overhead costs and administrative tasks.

Technology works best when it helps humans to mechanize a repetitive process so that they can do even more. Which software will you make use of to help you and your team achieve even better results? As Bezos says, embrace these new tools and the world’s trends will be your tailwinds, if not, you’re probably fighting the future.

26

04 2017

Ethereum

While in recent weeks it seems that politics and tech-scandals have dominated the headline news, a sleeper open source project has been gaining critical mass appeal: The Ethereum Project is a new blockchain developed by Vitalik Buterin that has similar characteristics to Bitcoin. Importantly, the blockchain can be used to reduce risks in market transactions and as a store of value. For example, take a look at the growth in the price of one ether over the past year (courtesy of Coinbase):

 

 

 

 

 

If you click to see a detailed view of this graph, you’ll notice that the price per unit has more than quadrupled over the past three months alone. I am not able to pin point the cause of the divergence of interest from Bitcoin to Ethereum, however, it is apparent Bitcoin is experiencing problems (such as the possibility of a hard fork) and also major public companies such as Microsoft are demonstrating serious interest in commercializing blockchain services using Ethereum. As a consequence, it is possible that a significant number of speculators are taking some of their profits from Bitcoin and diversifying their holdings into Ethereum. Either way, the interest in Ethereum is booming and there is still time to position yourself ahead of the curve if you wish to take part.

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31

03 2017

Vitamins Versus Painkillers

During a recent conversation with some folks in the startup world, I heard an entrepreneur call their product a “vitamin” product. Seeing that it was clear to me that this person was not making traditionally edible vitamins, I asked what this person really meant by calling their product a vitamin product. They explained the vitamins versus painkillers metaphor as follows:

A painkiller product solves your important pain immediately. The user experience takes you from having a headache to being perfectly delighted. A vitamin product sets you up for healthy habits over the long term. By using a vitamin product a little bit over many years, you will ensure a healthy lifestyle in all facets of your life, from physical to financial health.

This really struck me as a useful binary heuristic for going about classifying a majority of startups and their corresponding products. Either your product solves an important pain immediately, or the product appeals to the users’ emotions by reinforcing the belief that sustained use will lead to positive outcomes.

I am not able to quickly determine exactly who first coined this metaphor, but Nir Far is commonly referred to one of the authors who has popularized this heuristic. Far writes about vitamins and painkillers in his book Hooked which provides advice on how to build habit-forming products. Check it out:

The Real Reason “Stupid” Startups Raise So Much Money

Nirandfar.com | Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products

28

02 2017

Indifference and Reciprocation

As I think about the relationships in my life and the people who have come and gone, I can’t help but think about the feelings of indifference and reciprocation. I believe these two feelings reveal some of the strongest clues into any relationship.

Indifference

The Nobel Peace Prize winner and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel once wrote:

The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference. 

Wiesel says that emotions such as anger and hate do not describe the opposite of love. Instead, the opposite of love is the absence of any emotion at all. Indifference is complete darkness. Indifference knows our deepest secrets and our deepest desires. Indifference abounds when reciprocity fails.

Reciprocation

In a recent New York Times article appropriately titled “Do your friends actually like you?“, the author highlights several studies which consistently conclude that only about half of the people you believe to be your friend actually reciprocate the feeling. In other words, when you think your friendship is mutual, the odds your feeling is right is typically at best the flip of a coin.

It is important to note that reciprocation is not merely participation. It is something more: an act of generosity wherein one gives something of themselves because both parties recognize each other’s essential goodness. The adage “Never show up to a party empty handed.” comes to mind.

 

31

01 2017

1,000 True Fans

1,000 True Fans” is an essay that I read years ago and has stuck with me ever since. The core message of the essay is that in order to be successful in life as a creator, such as an artist, designer or software engineer, you only need about 1,000 true fans (I believe 1,000 is meant to be interpreted as within an order of magnitude, meaning >= 1000 and <= 10,000) to support yourself. Importantly, the author describes the characteristics of a true fan:

A True Fan is defined as someone who will purchase anything and everything you produce. They will drive 200 miles to see you sing. They will buy the super deluxe re-issued hi-res box set of your stuff even though they have the low-res version. They have a Google Alert set for your name. They bookmark the eBay page where your out-of-print editions show up. They come to your openings. They have you sign their copies. They buy the t-shirt, and the mug, and the hat. They can’t wait till you issue your next work. They are true fans.

In other words, the author describes that a true fan is someone who is obsessed with your work; they see deep value in your work and they take action to support you.

I find the challenge of attracting 1,000 true fans to be a much more attractive path than swinging for the fences in every at-bat you have in life. As the author describes, “1,000 true fans is an alternative path to success other than stardom.” and “It’s a much saner destiny to hope for.” And through this process, the creator often develops close personal connections with their fans, a much more appealing lifestyle to me than being loosely connected to everyone.

But is that all, should a creator call it a day when they attract 1,000 true fans? Of course not. This is merely a starting point. A creator with 1,000 true fans will likely have many more loosely interested fans. The takeaway I see in this essay relates to a graph that Paul Graham often draws for aspiring startup founders:

utility-graph-ycombinatorThe leadership at Y Combinator often draws this graph to persuade founders that they should initially build something that is extremely useful for a small number of people. This advice typically comes along with a warning that the tar pit of startup ideas includes any idea that is just a little bit useful to a lot of people; the worst path of action for a creator making new things is to build a product that no discernible group of people couldn’t live without.

Once a founder attracts their 1,000 true fans, they have validation of their ideas and can expand horizontally to provide deep utility to a wider group of people. Most of the best companies today started this way, such as Google who originally started with search, and now has expanded into dozens of other product categories.

As I think about making new things in 2017, I hope to keep in mind the critical support that a group of “1,000 True Fans” can provide to creators of any kind.

31

12 2016

Reverse the Ban on Supersonic Air Travel

With the first hundred days of Trump’s presidency right around the corner, Trump and his close advisors are about to set the pace of their Administration by proclaiming a number of Executive Actions that could become the guide posts of their policymaking over the next four years. One area that is critically important to me is commercial air travel. I believe the US airline industry has brought enormous personal fulfillment and economic benefit to millions of Americans, and I think Trump has a great opportunity to bring even more benefit to Americans by increasing the speed at which we travel.

Specifically, I propose that Trump reverse the ban of supersonic flight over the US. Reversing the ban on supersonic travel over the US would facilitate tremendous investment in the development of new supersonic airplanes, in addition to drastically reducing in-air travel time for American workers and goods. But first, let’s take a look back at why and when the FAA banned commercial supersonic air travel in the first place:

In 1976, amidst technophobe skepticism, the FAA banned civilian aircraft from creating a sonic boom over the US. The ban was due largely because of NIMBY groups such as Citizens League Against the Sonic Boom and the Anti-Concorde project who successfully lobbied the FAA towards creating a ban on civil sonic booms. And despite the baseless fear-mongering, such as claiming the windows in your house will break, the FAA did actually conduct a study with NASA and the U.S. Air Force regarding the effects of sonic booms. The results proved that the effects after 680 sonic booms over one particular testing site caused no significant structural damage. Thus, by sticking the the science, one has to reasonably believe that the effects of sonic booms are overstated, and more broadly, the ban on civil sonic booms is holding back technological progress.

The recently founded aerospace startup, Boom Technology, has recently provided a glimpse of hope as it aims to build a commercially-viable aircraft that is faster and lighter than the Concorde. But what good is this for American travelers if the policy of the FAA does not progress along with the new technology?

For President-elect Trump, whose own campaign was literally and figuratively propelled by a fine American-made jet, reversing the ban on supersonic air travel would be an easy early win towards dismantling needless regulation and bringing America back to the former glory of the Jet Age.

30

11 2016

Thiel Makes the Case for Trump

For anyone following the U.S. Presidential election campaign over the past two years, it is clear that so many of the events during this cycle are unprecedented and that this country is about to make a vital difficult decision for its leadership next week. Importantly, for the first time in many years, the nominee for one of the two major parties in America is a Washington-outsider, Donald Trump. While Trump’s crude comments and uncouth behavior in his personal life are inexcusable, my beliefs align strongly with Trump and Thiel on the serious issues where government has a large role to play. I agree that, as Thiel puts it, the “happy but misleading consensus about things [in America]” is a dangerous public opinion that will worsen a variety of issues over the next four years. Specifically, the big issues where Trump has spoken truth to the powerful Washington elites include:

  • Questioning the concept of American Exceptionalism.
  • Questioning the force of optimism, “Hope” (e.g. Obama ’08), without hard work.
  • Questioning our foreign trade deals, which have resulted in a $1/2 trillion deficit.
  • Questioning America’s role in fighting five simultaneous wars.
  • Questioning the effectiveness of our immigration policies.
  • Questioning the effectiveness of a government-based healthcare system.
  • Questioning general government bloat and inefficiency.

 

As Thiel puts it, Trump’s rejection of the misleading rhetoric in American politics over the past 30 years is not crazy, instead it is staring reality in the face and refusing to believe in bubble-thinking. And by questioning conventional beliefs about our biggest problems, we can finally begin to change our government and policies in a way that creates a better life for all Americans, not just the political and social elites.

I understand that the early votes are already being tallied and most of the electorate have made up their mind, but I encourage you to at least listen to Thiel’s voice of reason amidst the chaos in the media:

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31

10 2016

The Internet Isn’t Free

The VP of Google Display Advertising, Neal Mohen, once commented on the DoubleClick blog in 2014:

Advertising helps fund the digital world we love today — inspiring videos, informative websites, entertaining apps and services that connect us with friends around the world. 

I can’t help but think about this on a regular basis with my project Concorde. I am happy to invest my time in building an informative website for free, but the ongoing operational costs are not insignificant. Each month that the site continues to operate, I owe money to each of the vendors who keep my service humming along. That’s fair  I am happy to pay for the business-critical services, such as web hosting, email marketing, email hosting, SSL certificates, code repositories, and access to flight data. But it’s also nice to be compensated in return for providing a website that thousands of people have now come to find value on a regular basis. So, what option do I have to make money?

The quickest and easiest path to monetization is online advertising. While the online advertising industry has developed an unpopular reputation, Google’s Adsense program is considered the gold standard and deploys a lot of effort to ensure their quality of advertisers and publishers are top notch. The headline on the Adsense homepage says it all:

Turn your passion into profit. AdSense is a free, simple way to earn money by placing ads on your website.

So, that’s what I did. I placed three square banner ads at the bottom of the Concorde homepage and the deals index page:

screen-shot-2016-09-28-at-10-33-30-pm

And that’s it. Now for every 1,000 pageviews of either of the pages mentioned above, I am earning about $10-20 on average, which is effectively $0.01 – $0.02 per view. This is really great news to me because it pays my bills, and it’s great for the Concorde users because it keeps the service free. What’s not to love about tasteful and thoughtful online advertising?

30

09 2016