“Why isn’t this door unlocked?!” Frantically cupping my eyes peering into DeveloperTown. It is April 1st, the first day, of my first big girl job, anddd I’m late. Someone walking by takes pity on me and lets me in, I mumble something resembling, “Thanks, I’m new” and scurry to the Verge House. (If you have not had a chance to stop by DeveloperTown, you should.)
Sitting on my desk is The book, Buzzing Communities by Richard Millington. Matt with more excitement than normal beams, “Happy First Day! Here’s a book to help!”
Mimicking as best as I can, I put on my “YES! I LOVE READING!” face, and grab the book and put it in my bag. (I have a pretty calm and just go-with-it type of demeanor, so trying to copy his excitement all the time is hard. Anyone that knows Matt…. knows he is generally always very excited)
Buzzing Communities in its simplest form, is a how-to for community managers. Millington identifies the real problems that we should focus on, and the wrong problems that community managers tend to waste time on. Community managers, will more likely than not, fall in the trap of listening to their instinct rather than data. Too many of us are reacting to a minority of members rather than focusing on the activities that make our community thrive. As community managers we overlook the need to value the community with hard facts with data to support it, which Millington mentions is crucial when surveying a community.
Follow These 8 Key Areas to Focus your Energy:
Millington identifies 8 categories/chapters that community managers should focus most of their energy: Strategy, Growth, Moderation, Events and Activities, Relationships and Influence, Business Integration, and User Experience.
The book is organized into very clear sections, with chapters, action items, and real world examples to back claims up. The sections go into moderate detail explaining what a community manager needs to do to get their online community thriving. It is supported by scholarly theories and he even throws in some macro and micro economic buzzwords. Do not be intimidated by it, it is still very relatable, easy to read, and well explained.
Millington goes into detail about why these overarching themes are important, provides tips on how to achieve, and provides specifics on how to measure how well you have done.
Every page got me more excited and fired up, I literally wanted to collect data and measure everything in the community (calm down, Kotterer).
3 reasons this book is a winner:
(1) I was actively thinking about my community while reading. I would be asking myself questions in between sentences, “Are we at this point yet?” “How do I collect data about a community!”, “Is my community healthy?”, “What value add can I bring to the table”
(2) It made my vision as a leader and manager clearer. There is a lot of noise in startup communities, and it gets loud. Focus on the right noise that will help you achieve your goals.
(3) Reiterated the importance of the return of investment (ROI) for your community and the significance of maintaining community loyalty. Millington does great job of going beneath the surface and identifying the real problems that community managers face and provides real insight and problem solving tactics.
I would recommend this book to anyone in a community management role at any level, or anyone who wants to know the inner workings of a community. Marketing and PR teams, will find this useful if they intend to build a community around their brand. If your job is to build an online community that has developed relationships around a strong common interest, this book is for you.
Update: Four months later I am now have a key card so I’m not locked out and I am equipped with skills and knowledge to be community leader…
Ludovic Ulrich hails from France, but he’s spent more than a decade leading projects at Apple, Microsoft, Salesforce—the goliaths of Silicon Valley. Sure, these companies may dominate the digital world, but they all wield a powerful weapon in engaging their customers and partners. . .
Sometimes it’s their own user conferences like Dreamforce, and often its partner conferences where they speak, exhibit, or and attend. Through all of his travels and conferences, Ulrich has developed a superpower he’s learned to use to support startups and his own initiatives.
Beyond being the Director of Salesforce for Startups, Ludo is a is the sensei of startup and technology conferences, having spoken at, sponsored, and attended dozens (if not more). In this interview, Ulrich shares exactly how to find the best conferences and how to attend those conferences to yield insane results for your business and career. Watch it here:
Or listen to the audio on how to find and attend conferences here:
I’m going to dive right in. But first, let’s address the elephant in the room . . .
Are conferences a waste of time?
The way that most people attend conferences, it’s a complete waste of time. But that’s not you. You’re in the 1% who wants to get the most out of your experiences. So, we’re going to show you have attending conferences can become the most valuable thing you do, mmkay?
“Do your homework,” Ulrich says. “Who are the sponsors? Who are the speakers?” If you’re not seriously curating your list of potential conferences, you’re missing the most important part of developing your event efficiency.
Find the conferences where you know—or are very familiar with—at least one of the speakers, sponsors, or organizers. These people can be your seminar sherpas, blazing the trail for your at conference breakout sessions or on the tradeshow floor. Lean on these people to get to the good stuff, especially if they’ve attended the conference before:
Which after parties are the best for your industry?
Which sessions are the most productive?
Use social media at events to follow the connections and chatter in your industry. Leverage connections with large brands to gain access to the best parts of conferences and learn how to make the most of your visit. Then, go to work on your plan of attack. . .
How do you stand out at conferences?
This ain’t no junior high school dance. So why do so many people play conferences as a lone wolf or around the periphery?
If you’re going to spend the money, and more importantly take the time, to attend an industry conference, you must jump in there and make the most of every minute. You want to be yourself, but you really want to be the best version of yourself.
Don’t mingle for the sake of mingling. Have 1-3 specific asks in mind before you even go to the conference (for investors, it’s __________ …. for developers, it’s __________ … for the media and bloggers, it’s __________).
Don’t actually take breaks during the break. That’s for suckers or people who drink too much Mountain Dew 🙂 …. But seriously, find the people who you really want to connect with (you probably created this list while doing your pre-conference research).
Don’t be a clingy conference goer. Make your connection, find an opportunity to reconnect later, then move on. No one wants to be latched to someone at the hip for an entire conference. This will inhibit your ability to move around, meet new people, and find new opportunities. So get your ninja uniform on and be the event assassin that I know you are. And yes, I mean that as a metaphor.
You were probably wondering, and the answer is yes, you can go too far. . .
WARNING: Don’t Be This Person at a Conference
Keep an eye out for any behaviors that might group you into one of these conference attendee categories:
The eye darter: These are the people who are never fully present in anything. They have so much FOMO (fear of missing out) that they’re constantly looking around for the next best thing—even if they’re already in a conversation.
The card pusher: “Here’s my card!” We all know this person. They push their cards on anyone and everyone even if there’s no logical reason to exchange contact info. As a general rule: don’t give out your card unless someone asks you for it.
The frat boy/girl: You can always find this person within proximity of the bar. “Open bar, dude!” is the warcry of the conference frat boy or girl. But a conference isn’t a frat party. So just know your limits, and you’ll avoid being grouped into this category.
How do you approach someone at a conference?
Ahhh, now you’re asking the right questions young padawan. This is the most important skill in for a productive conference attendee and there are a couple of important principles to keep in mind.
First and foremost, be respectful of people’s time. Everyone has ponied up their time and money (or their employer’s money) to be at the conference or tradeshow and there’s a finite amount of time to take it all in. So you need to always be thinking about answering one question:
How can you make it worth someone’s time to talk to you?
There are a couple of strategies here. It’s important to be interesting, so even if you can’t do something to directly help someone or their business, you at least have an engaging exchange and that person remembers (at least in general) what you’re all about. That means you should have a couple of canned anecdotes that bring you and your business to life!
Ask your marketing director (or a friend who is a good story teller) how to talk about what you do in a way that makes it interesting. You can find a few ideas here.
And I already mentioned this, but it bears repeating. . . Have a clear ask. Preferably this person will have mentioned something that makes you think they can help, but even if the opportunity doesn’t present itself, you can always go with something along the lines of “You know, I’m working on this facebook ad campaign and it’s really challenging because it’s my first time doing an ad buy… You wouldn’t happen to know anyone with experience with that, would you?”
Not the most tailored approach, but still much much better than “So I heard the Foo Fighters are playing later. That’s pretty cool.”
When in doubt, show that you’ve done your homework. If you don’t know anything about your new conferencemate’s company or industry, you can always create some value by sharing something interesting you learned about the conference during your pre-conference research. Maybe it’s an uber-secret after party, or maybe it’s just a hidden gem of a coffee shop that has great wi-fi and lattes . . . but if you’re generous to conference goers, the conference will be generous right back to you.
Where can I do more research on conferences and industry events?
I’ll be putting these strategies the Salesforce Startup Summit, a conference produced by Ulrich and his team within the larger Dreamforce conference in San Francisco. If you want to join me, just drop a comment below and I’ll send you a code to get 50% off your Startup Summit registration. Or check out other great conferences in your industry.
Before Justin Miller’s mobile company had 2.5+ million users, he was working out of a basement, searching for an industry where his tech company could thrive.
Miller has since been kicked out of that basement office, threatened by large-scale companies, and faced several funding crunches. But Miller’s startup, WedPics now powers personalized photo-sharing for 10,000 weddings per weekend, with monthly uploads in the millions. Watch Justin Miller’s candid interview from Verge North Carolina and learn the real story behind how he grew WedPics (and exactly WHY monthly investor updates are so important):
WedPics CEO and Co-founder Justin Miller didn’t have prior expertise or experience in launching or growing a tech startup. But the team’s resourcefulness made creative use of the resources available in the growing tech hub of the Triangle area of North Carolina (Raleigh-Durham-Chapel-Hill).
“This was everybody’s first startup,” says Miller. “But we were just driven and had the determination to figure out how to make things happen.”
Miller believes in his team and the startup community in North Carolina. He is a graduate of North Carolina State (NC State) University and veteran of IBM, where he spent 7 years honing his skills before launching WedPics (then named deja mi, inc) in 2011.
WedPics has $9.9 million in 5 rounds of funding, according to CrunchBase. Investors include the likes of well-known thought leader and investor Brad Feld and “Shark Tank” star Barbara Corcoran.
“None of us knew anything about the wedding space,” said Miller. But the team has prevailed through effective user acquisition, tech development, and communication. The co-founder attributes the WedPics investment success to one key CEO habit:
Write Monthly Investor Updates
“I needed to figure out a way to stay at the top of everybody’s radar,” said Miller. “[Doing monthly investor updates] is one of the best things I’ve ever done.” Here’s what Miller did with his WedPics investor and partner updates:
Send at the beginning of every month
Give overview of how we did the previous month
Provide cumulative overview of how we’ve been performing to date
Stay relevant (share only the information relevant to company’s current direction).
Make it a quick read (Pro Tip: use charts where it’s helpful).
Don’t expect responses (people are busy, so be consistent even if updates don’t immediately spark a dialogue).
Even if your tech company doesn’t have investors, you can use monthly investor updates to form and direct your thinking, keep your team on the same page, and facilitate partner opportunities. WedPics not only shared with investors and potential investors, but used the monthly investors reports to keep potential partners, acquirers, and acquisition targets updated on their team’s progress.
Side note: social sharing app Buffer does a great job of sharing their monthly investor updates. Read through their past updates here. I also really like the notes on investor updates from Groove CEO Alex Turnbull: read his advice here.
Watch the Full WedPics Interview to Learn More About Investor Updates AND:
WedPics User Growth Strategy
Why Sharing Personally is Important for Founders
Why WedPics is Still Taking Risks
How North Carolina is Supporting Startup Growth
Watch the WedPics interview …or…. leave a comment below! Are you currently sending regular investor updates? What benefits (or even negative side effects) have you experienced as a result?
I sat down into the red velvet seats of one of the greatest home theaters in the world. But I wasn’t in New York or Los Angeles.
Voicemail inventor Scott Jones recently made his home (read: mansion) into one of the most ambitious undertakings in the field of education. With the unveiling of Eleven Fifty coding academy, Jones launched a new approach to learning to code software. Full disclosure: Eleven Fifty is a sponsor of Verge. And there are very good reasons why we decided to partner up…
Watch the video below to see Scott’s answer to the question “Why learn coding?” and maybe even more intriguingly… Why Indiana?
So, why learn coding?
C’mon! Are you living under a rock?
I know I’m not the only one getting hit up dozens of times a week asking if I know anyone who “knows how to build iPhone apps” or someone in search of a “technical co-founder.” Coding skills are in high demand.
It doesn’t matter if you know the latest language or not, it’s the underlying principles and thinking strategies of software development that lay the foundation to build great software–whether you want to build the next enterprisey software death star… or just annoy your friends with a new app that will be hotter than Flappy Bird.
Why learn coding in Indiana?
Well, besides the fact that the Indiana startup community’s got it going on, there’s one critical aspect that sets Indiana apart. . .
By hosting their intensive coding courses in the home of voicemail inventor Scott Jones, Eleven Fifty has crafted an immersive approach to learning to code. Walking through the halls (and the sick home theater, and indoor basketball court, and commercial kitchen…), you can feel the knowledge being pumped into the brains of students as they develop real-life apps with hands-on guidance from some of the most talented trainers in software.
When the stereotypical entrepreneur is a 20-something with a sales or marketing background shooting for the moon, Neil Berman stands apart. He had a career in accounting before founding Delivra, an email marketing service provider that’s a “unicorn” in its own way.
The company itself is a rarity in the software world: it’s profitable. I spoke with the CEO about the advantages his accounting background gave him and what’s in store for Delivra.
Watch the full interview with Neil Berman here:
Dot-com Boom Beginnings
The year was 1999. Adoption of the Internet was rising rapidly, and Berman wanted in on “what I felt was a really big thing.” A former employer had once told him that if he could find a business that met three criteria – faster, better, and cheaper – he should go for it. Berman’s wife was working for the postal service at that time, and when he compared email communication to regular mail, Berman felt it met all three: “I stuck my stake in the ground and went from there.”
Until then, Berman was an accountant: “I still belong to the Indiana CPA Society.” Working on the public side of accounting, he gained an inner look at many companies and what made them successful… or not. When starting his own company, Berman just didn’t buy into the classic entrepreneurial model of raising money, growing as fast as possible, and selling out. Between his conservative mindset and desire for independence, he opted to not seek investors and instead grew organically, initially starting Delivra out of his own home.
“I’ve seen entrepreneurs with great ideas, but the faster they grow, the more money they lose. Then their business collapses, and they don’t really understand why.”
-Neil Berman, Founder and CEO of Delivra
To this day, the company is opening a new regional office every three months without having to raise money or get a bank loan. When mentoring others about entrepreneurial finances, Berman said, “I find that either their eyes glaze over or they’re afraid to ask questions because they don’t want to appear stupid.” He emphasized that it’s vital to understand your business’s key performance indicators, especially what you have to do to break even. “If you’re in school today, take some of those accounting classes that you hate,” he advised wryly. “I didn’t like them either, but it’ll be useful information someday.”
On Walking Away…
Like fellow CEOs Steve Jobs and Howard Schultz, Berman left his own company and returned, but for a very different reason. Six years ago, Berman’s wife became ill and passed away very suddenly. Devastated, he hired a team of five to run the company’s functional departments in his stead and traveled the world: “I didn’t know if Delivra was going to be my future. I had to get grounded again.”
…And Coming Back.
Two years ago, Berman did return: “Coming back home to email software felt comfortable for me. I loved the software business and wanted to take it to the next level.” However, while the company was still profitable, competition had considerably heated up during his absence, and sales had flattened: “What we were doing previously had stopped working.” Berman jumped back into the saddle and set about determining Delivra’s future.
On Consultants and Dirty Laundry.
Since he knew the business, the market, and the competition, Berman had a vision for Delivra’s path forward but hired consultants to help him make a more informed decision. After “doing what consultants do” – surveying and interviewing customers, staff, and people both inside and outside of the industry – they presented a recommendation that aligned with Berman’s hunch but was better defined and more actionable. When working with consultants, Berman stressed transparency: “You need to be communicative about everything. Air the dirty laundry.”
“The Magic Differentiator.”
Today’s email marketing industry is competitive, but Delivra is investing a lot of money in product development to offer clients a robust marketing solution. But perhaps its biggest differentiator is its focus on building relationships with clients via its expanding network of regional offices and offering them product enablement help up front: “We find that to be a magic differentiator. Although it costs more, we’re going to close more sales, and that’s how we’re going to grow the business.”
How do you try to apply a financial mindset to your entrepreneurial venture? Comment below!
See Delivra for Yourself on May 14th!
It’s pretty awesome to see what Delivra has built in Indianapolis, Indiana. We use Delivra at Verge and I’m blown away by the people at this company. Come meet them for yourself at Delivra’s open house on May 14th. Hope to see you there! Click here to RSVP →
Matt: You’re going to love this. Neil Berman is the founder of Delivra, which is an email marketing company that started in 1999. They’ve raised no money, they’re making millions of dollars, check out this interview, let me know what you think.
Neil, you have built a profitable business here with Delivra, which in the software world is rare. I wanted to get a little bit of background on why you decided to grow a software business in 1999, before anyone else was doing email marketing. You kind of saw into the future. First of all, why did you choose email as the place to start your software business?
Neil: Well, I was looking to get into the dot-com boom. I wanted to participate in what I felt was a really big thing. Big like television, big like automobiles, and prior to that big like telegraphs. I felt the Internet was a big thing. It was exciting, I wanted to get involved. In my mind, it wasn’t software at the time. It’s “how can I get involved here” and build some kind of – I call it infrastructure – a play that had some staying power and wouldn’t be a fad. Email, the communication piece, is what I came up with.
Matt: Yeah, you picked right!
Neil: And you know a little bit of luck, a little bit of timing, and a little bit of smarts.
Matt: You actually had criteria that you used to pick email, right?
Neil: I did, yeah. So a former employer once told me if I could find a business idea that met these three criteria that I should go for it. And, the three criteria that he gave me were faster, better, cheaper. So, when I looked at email, and coincidentally my wife worked at the post office, and I think that’s where my inspiration came from. I compared email to postal, and it’s certainly cheaper, faster, and better in that it’s more convenient. You don’t need a postage reply card anymore. A lot of people don’t even know what I’m talking about, if you’re under 30 years old! So I said hey, it meets the criteria; it seems to me that over time, this is kind of visionary that the postal budgets would move to email. I stuck my stake in the ground and went from there.
Matt: Before that you were actually working as an accountant is that correct?
Neil: I was, so I’ve got my CPA certificate. I’m currently retired which means I don’t have to go to school every year to keep it active, but I still belong to the Indiana CPA society. Plan B just in case!
Matt: It seems like you hear about a lot of entrepreneurs that start in the sales and marketing side of things, especially in sales and marketing of sales companies. I feel like that gives you an extra edge, or at least a different lens through which to look at you business.
Neil: So as an accountant I worked on both the public and private side of things. So on the public side I saw a lot of companies, what made them successful and what made them less than successful. I also understood how money flowed through a business. So, when I approached starting a software company I was a little bit prejudiced based on my history. I didn’t buy in to the risky, in my mind, approach where you raise money and you grow as fast as you can and then you sell out. Because if you look at that approach, which the way more entrepreneurs start, there’s many more failures than successes. If I’m 25 years old, I can take a chance, shoot for the moon, and if it blows up and I’m still under 30 then I could try again. I was a generation older so I had to take a more conservative approach. In other words, this is my last stand and I’m going to make it work no matter what. I’m going to never bet the farm. Lastly, I’m independent, and to me raising money meant I was going to have another boss or a board of directors, at least to report to, and I kind of just want to do my own thing.
Matt: You want to do your own business your own way.
Neil: Yes, and do it my way. Succeed or fail it will be on my shoulders.
Matt: You’re now doing $4 or $5 million dollars a year on track to hit a goal a couple years from now doing 20 million, right?
Neil: The goal is 15, but that’s only the next goal. The way we’re going to do that is we’re putting a lot of money into product development, and we’re opening regional offices. Put feet on the street in markets to participate locally at the rate of one office every three months, basically forever. We’re going to attempt to do things differently. Selling online today, a lot of competition, fewer people actually have sales people out there building relationships and can call someone at their place of business. We find that is a magic differentiator. Although it costs more, we’re going to close more sales, and that’s going to help grow our business.
Matt: You guys are building that off a foundation that you built over a decade ago in terms of how you run this business on a cash basis. Why is it important for entrepreneurs to do that?
Neil: I talked to a fellow yesterday. He created a social app, he works as a IT manager at a local company, and it’s really a cool app. He’s put a lot in to it, he put it online, but he’s not selling it, and he only works there part time. The reason I tell you this story is, he came in to see me because he had heard that I built a business without raising money, and he said, “This is my 401(k) plan, this little app, and I just want to do it myself. It’s not looking so good, what would you recommend?” So, I recommended to him that in addition to the technology, that he embed some services, basically account management and support. Charge more, and look for people who wants some help. His light went on and he goes, “I never thought about that.” But in addition to that you’re going to have to quit your job and go out and make some sales calls, go to the chamber meetings, go network with some people. Either you’re selling or your raising money, but it’s not going to happen by itself.
Matt: Do you think it’s important to quit your job in order to make the entrepreneurial venture work?
Matt: When is the right time to do that?
Neil: Well, to make it work it’s a 24/7 job. I worked 7 days a week for 5 years. And for the first few years, didn’t make any money, couldn’t take any out. So before you make the commitment I would suggest that you get all your bills paid, and your wife or significant other is making a living that does not require you to chip in. So, you’re going to be working for free, sweat equity for a long time, because you’re not raising money, and you have to to have something to live on. If you have a big dream and you’ve got a big mortgage on the house and you’re paying car payments on two cars and you’ve got four kids living paycheck to paycheck because wow, that’s a lot of overhead, you’re probably not eligible to start a business. You’ve already taken that path in the other direction. In that case I would suggest you just work hard a build your career working for somebody else. But, there’s nothing wrong with that. I did it for 30 years.
Matt: So, your personal balance sheet really needs to be balanced before you go and start something.
Neil: Yeah, pay the bills off. Or your wife or your family or someone is making those payments because you aren’t going to be contributing for a while. And every money you make you will have to put back into the business to grow it. I started out working for myself in my house. You can do that for quite a while, but eventually you need an office, and that’s not too expensive, and you need a website. But when you start hiring people, that’s a new day. They expect to get paid every Friday no matter what, so you’ve got to keep the momentum going there. Therefore, you’ve got to keep the expenses down and the revenue up.
Matt: Are there any specific metrics that you check on a regular basis? Or even a frequency in terms of what you look for in KPIs or key performance indicators on the accounting side?
Neil: We have KPIs with regard to activities for each of the functional areas of the business, and then those flow done into a financial statement. I would suggest if you’re in school today, thinking about this, take some of those accounting classes that you hate. Nobody likes it. I didn’t like it in school either. But I took them figuring, “this is going to useful information someday.” And it absolutely was. You just got to understand what it costs to write an order, a customer acquisition cost, what does it cost to service that client? What is the overhead that’s fixed that you can’t change? If you’re going to add 10% more business, how much extra will that cost? Fortunately in the software business not much. You have a high fixed cost and a low variable cost. For example, in the email business it costs virtually zero to send one more email, so us and all of our competitors are looking to add clients because the margins are high. So you need to understand those kinds of metrics before you get into business. Because I’ve seen entrepreneurs with great ideas, but the faster they grow the more money they lose, and then their business collapses. And they don’t really understand why that happened. We talked about opening these regional offices – before we did that, I hired consultants to do market analysis. I didn’t know which markets to go into and we had some criteria around that, and then I had them create pro formas to determine how long is going to take to be profitable? What is the average sale? How many clients do we have to sign up? And then if we can make the office profitable, how fast can we can we open offices without going into debt? We balance that all ahead of time, so we have criteria to open offices, we know we can open 4 a year, one every three months, organically, which means with internally generated cash flow. If we want to get greedier than that we got to go the bank or we got to go to investors. But I knew that before I jumped. Hire someone that can do pro formas, if you can’t do them yourself, because that will make you an honest man or woman.
Matt: Building the pro forma with over a decade of financial data and understanding how your business works is one thing, but what about an entrepreneur who is just starting out or is in the first several months of their venture? How much time should that entrepreneur spend on a pro forma? Did you create a pro forma right off the bat?
Neil: No, but I knew if I could keep expenses down close to zero, and if I could just sell X dollars, so in my head I kind of knew what to do. It was small enough that I didn’t need to get too complicated. So, when I’m talking about pro formas before you get into business, the ones that I don’t agree with, and I saw one recently from a startup that had no sales, and the pro forma was pages long, and it projected an income in year five of $32 million dollars. To me, that’s just, well very aggressive to say the least. I’d rather see a pro forma that’s not a hockey stick, that’s growing gradually, and tells me here’s what we have to do to break even. And if we do better we’ll make more money, but you really can’t predict at the start what that looks like. So I just like to know is what you have to do to stay in business, and to me, that would be the important information for someone looking to start a business to understand and understand in detail. When I talk to people about finances, I find either their eyes glaze over, or they’re afraid to ask questions because they don’t want to appear stupid. But this is the time to figure out what that means. If you don’t have a partner, have a financial person that you can check in with at least every 90 days for what I call a gut check keep you on track. I’m a big proponent to having advisors, whether they’re formally on an advisory team or they’re colleagues, but lone rangers are usually alone when it comes to being successful.
Matt: Entrepreneurship is a lonely job.
Neil: It is.
Matt: If you don’t have a team around you.
Matt: Well it’s been really interesting learning about the Delivra story, especially now that you’re back in this big growth mode and you guys are expanding. One of the things that growing a cash-based software business afforded you the opportunity to do was step away from the business for a little while.
Neil: I did.
Matt: which you personally chose to do. Could you talk a little bit about that experience and what kind of perspective it gave you on your business?
Neil: Ok, thank you for asking. Six years ago my wife got sick and passed fairly quickly, and I was not expecting it, so it was a big blow, and I had literally my head in a wastebasket. I had this very successful business which I didn’t feel like running at the time but felt I had the responsibility to make sure it continued. So I hired a management team.
Matt: How big was the team at that time?
Neil: There was no team. There was me, and I was running things myself. Now, I had functional department heads, since I’m not coder and I don’t know anything about IT, so I had people doing that. But I ran the sales team, which was also the client services team. So, I hired five guys in different areas, one in sales, one in client services, IT, software development, and another one to run the numbers. I just basically walked away. I started travelling. I came into the office, let them make all of the decisions, and that went on for a number of years until the smoke cleared. It was about two years ago, and I came back and looked around and said, “What’s going to happen next?” Competition was heating up. Our high end clients were leaving, our low end clients were leaving, sales had flattened out, and what we were doing previously had stopped working. I did a strategic plan with a consulting firm in town, and they told me what the next 10 years needed to look like, and during that project I realized I needed to make some changes at the top.
Matt: You had made some serious changes and a big decision by stepping away from the business, and it sounds like the right decision based on where the company is now. What pulled you to go travel after you lost the person that inspired you to start Delivra? What pulled you abroad?
Neil: Well, you have to find yourself and your life again. I was really back in my 20s emotionally going, “What am I going to do with my life?” My life’s partner was gone, and I didn’t know if Delivra and software was going to be my future. I had to get grounded again. Fortunately I came back and decided I loved the software business and wanted to take it to the next level.
Matt: What was it about the business that brought you back to it?
Neil: Well, two things. One, technology is always changing. Probably too fast for all of us! Exponentially, as a matter of fact. I like the challenge of keeping up with new technology. And I also liked the software business in that you’re delivering a service and product online and you don’t have to deliver that physically, which is very appealing to me. Those were the two reasons coming back home to email software felt comfortable for me.
Matt: You mentioned that you came back to the business that was in a very different state than you left it in. What was that feeling like?
Neil: It was not a company in trouble. They were still debt free and making money and paying the bills. But it didn’t look like we had a future without making some significant changes – in personnel, in product, and how we went to market. If you’re going to make a lot of changes in a business – and people don’t really like change – I had to jump in and take over running the daily operations, which I hadn’t done in years. So, it took a few months to get comfortable back in the saddle, but now that I’m doing it I’m having a wonderful time.
Matt: Were there any things that you did that helped you get back into that rhythm, and kind of get back to that flow state of peak entrepreneurship?
Neil: I needed to have a vision of the future, and that’s what I didn’t have when I was gone. So I came back and had to visualize where the company was going to go and then create a plan to do that. So, fortunately, I knew the business, knew the market, knew where the competitors aligned, and was able to focus on an area where I felt that they were ignoring.
Matt: You mentioned you brought on some consulting help. Did you set the vision and then bring on the consulting to help you figure out how to execute that, or did you bring people from outside the business in to kind of help you find out what that vision is and then go about setting a plan?
Neil: So I had a feel for what that might be, but I wanted to have an informed decision. So the consultants came in and did what consultants do – they did surveys, they talked to people inside and outside the business, talked to customers, non-consultants, staff. And they came back with a recommendation that aligned with what I felt it should be, but they defined it much better. The definition was very important for us. Even the terminology of how we describe that vision, which I wouldn’t have been able to do with the quality and the clarity that the consultants provided.
Matt: Anything that you discovered as you were working with these consultants that you think you might pass on to entrepreneurs that are thinking about bringing in consultants? What helped you be most effective with those outside teams?
Neil: You need to be transparent and communicative about everything. You have to air the dirty laundry, good news and bad news. Let them digest it and then regurgitate it back to you in a way that reorganizes data and information so that it becomes actionable. So I would just say, open up and spill the beans!
Matt: One of the things that I’ve noticed just in the vibe of the office here and talking to members of your team is that it is a very communicative office environment, and probably one of the benefits that you provide your clients as well. But when you think about the team that you’ve built here, what have you done culture-wise that has enabled some of that communication?
Neil: What I find is important in servicing our clients is we need to be collaborative. The software business is complicated. It’s different than manufacturing and selling a cardboard box. So we need people with specialized information and experience. Delivering mail into the inbox is important. We have a team that knows how to do that. Rendering your HTML email template on a phone, on a tablet and on a laptop requires some knowledge, and we have a team in charge of that. Being able to explain to a prospect why our services match theirs better than two or three other competitors. There are people who are good at that. So we have to collaborate together during the stages of the sales process and the stages of maintaining and servicing clients. So therefore, we have fostered a culture where there is little or no back-biting. Where we encourage the different functional areas to talk to each other. We cater in lunch every Friday for example so people who don’t have a reason necessarily to communicate during the week can talk about what they’re going to do on the weekend and become friends. It’s really just practical business process that if we get everyone working together – like a football team – we’re going to win more games. That’s my job, frankly, is to put a team on the field to win the games.
Matt: You’ve talked a little bit about the playbook for the next couple of years in terms of building your regional teams and actually having feet on the street to talk about your software and talk about the businesses of your potential clients. What are some of the other things we can expect to see from Delivra as you guys continue to expand and grow your client base?
Neil: We’re going to stay focused on email marketing as a core, as a hub around other digital marketing tactics, and we’re going to hook into those to create a more robust solution for our clients. For example, the next integration we plan on doing is with a software called Eventbrite. Many of our clients do events, so it’d be nice when people sign up for those events if they automatically synced into Delivra, and you could send them a drip campaign after the event, for example. We’ve got a number of other integrations with other key vendors which we think will help our clients be more successful in their digital marketing efforts coming up here in the future.
Matt: How do you guys try to differentiate yourselves from other competitors? I know other email players in the space have integrations too, and when you’re competing on a feature basis, everyone eventually has the same features. So what is it that you’ve build differently with Delivra?
Neil: I had a conversation today with a local organization in the healthcare industry. They’re using a competitor, and they were willing to talk to us on the phone. Through the conversation they admitted that they were using about 20% of the features that were available and paying a lot of money for that. So I said, “Why don’t you use more?” Their answer was, “We really don’t have the capabilities in house to implement all those, and we’re not getting the help we need. Or, if we ask for help, we can’t afford it.” And that’s the opportunity for Delivra, to offer the help up front and ongoing to take advantage of the toolset that we offer, and align the tactics with the business and marketing goals of our clients. This is not rocket science. This is just being able to enable clients to draw value out of the platform at a reasonable price. Doing that is the trick. We have a lot of internal control systems and activity reporting to make certain we can deliver services and still make the payroll on Friday.
Matt: It is really cool as a recent Delivra customer and someone that has experienced the service side of things, it’s very refreshing, especially someone that uses a lot of different software tools, to see your care and attention. You guys take things like list hygiene and deliverability very seriously. Can you talk to me a little bit about the importance of those things and maybe even what those things mean for someone who doesn’t spend a lot of time in email
Neil: So list hygiene has nothing to do with soap and water, or brushing your teeth. Today, delivering email with the blizzard of spam that’s out there is challenging. It’s part science and it’s part art. One of the ways to ensure that people are seeing your email in the inbox is what we call list hygiene. What that means is that you need to continue to engage recipients on a regular basis, and if you’re not, we suggest you stop sending email to them. By engagement I mean they’re opening your emails at least, they’re hopefully clicking through with a call to action to your landing page or website. If they haven’t done that at all in six months, stop sending. Because the public ESPs – the Gmails and Yahoos of the world – will keep track of what’s being opened and what’s being read or not. And they want their clients to only see email that’s relevant to them, and if yours isn’t, you will be relegated to the spam folder, or worse, they won’t even deliver it at all, even if there are no complaints. So this list hygiene thing has become just critical with regard to the success for your email campaigns and getting in front of people on a continuing basis.
Matt: I imagine you see tons of tons of email come through here with all the clients that you have and the emails servers that you have sending out messages all over the world. If someone is an entrepreneur and they’re still managing their email, or the lone email marketer at a startup is watching this, what are the one or two things that people do that inhibit that open or that action once they open the email?
Neil: Over half the email today is being read on a mobile device. If it’s email to consumers, 80% are read on a mobile device. So the first mistake I see people making is that their from address is not recognizable. Before I open an email I have to recognize who sent that to me, and if I don’t, I delete it. Number two, I look at subject lines, and on a phone you have 30 characters. Beyond that, your subject line will be truncated, meaning it’s going to be cut off. I see a lot of email where there’s a subject line and I don’t know what’s in there because they didn’t actually get to the subject of the subject until afterwards. And then third, there’s a couple lines below that called the preheader which people are ignoring today. You can extend that call to open my email in the preheader. So that’s where you start. You got to get people engaged. At least in my inbox, when we’re through with this interview, there are going to be 40 new emails, and I’m just going to scroll through those and delete 30 to 35 of them. You don’t want to be in my delete list, so what are you going to say in your subject line, in your preheader, in your from line that is going to encourage me to engage with you?
Matt: So with the from line, building trust over time so they know when they receive email from your name, or your brand’s name.
Matt: The subject line that actually gets to the point of the value, or the intrigue point, in the 30 characters that are viewable on mobile.
Neil: With you.
Matt: And then the preheader as you put it that you can actually edit in most email softwares that is a preview of what’s in there.
Neil: That’s what you need to do today. Get started!
Matt: Well Neil, thank you so much for taking the time. There was a lot we didn’t get to cover on the Verge stage when we talked a couple weeks ago, so I’m really glad that we could talk about this, and I really appreciate you sharing your experience both in business and life. So I’ll let you get back to your inbox and those 40 new emails!
Eric Clapton became a guitar god by first practicing riffs created by blues guitar legend Robert Johnson. Clapton developed his own style as he listened to other artists, played with new bands, and found the guitar licks that he grew to love.
Becoming a master of digital marketing is no different.
But first, you’ve got to get the right stuff into your brain (Clapton wouldn’t have become Clapton if he’d imitated amateurs). If you want to master digital marketing idea generation, you have to first get comfortable with borrowing things that work elsewhere.
Use this 20-minute daily practice to steal the best digital marketing ideas for your start up or growing company.
Become a magnet for digital marketing strategy ideas.
Set aside 20 minutes a day. Go ahead and block it out on your calendar so you commit to it. Then use the time as follows:
First 5 minutes: Choose the 10 best growth articles of the day.
Skim through the 3 best marketing ideas bubbling up on the internet that day. You can subscribe to company emails that you like to find fresh digital marketing ideas. But I like to use Q&A and user-submission tools to help me identify what’s worth reading and what isn’t. I highly recommend:
During this first 5 minutes, you should simply identify the 5-10 most compelling articles. Identify these by finding the submissions that have the most upvotes, comments, or keywords in the title that indicate the article might be particularly relevant to your business.
Pro Tip: You can do this process even more quickly by hold shift while you click each tab. This will open the article in a new tab without changing windows and allow you to complete this first part of discovery quickly.
Second 5 minutes: Identify the best digital marketing ideas.
Is it worth reading every word of every article that catches your attention online? (hint: probably not)
Get in the habit of good skimming technique by taking the 5-10 articles identified in your first 5 minutes of discovery and forcing yourself to review the article in 30 seconds or less. Do this by reading through the headlines and subheads, bolded words, and key phrases (which generally appear in the first and last sentences of paragraphs).
Your goal here should be to find the best 3 articles for you to dig into and really comprehend. These should be articles that challenge you to think in a new way or learn something new.
Third 5 minutes: Dig in.
Now that you’ve figured out where the gold is hidden, it’s time to put on your headlamp and headlamp. Because, we’re going mining!
In each of your final three digital marketing ideas, look for explicit tactics that are tied to measurable outcomes. As you identify clear tactics, jot some notes on how you might apply those same marketing tactics to your business. Here’s an example of a digital marketing concept:
“Add a live chat function on product pages”
Keep it brief, but descriptive. If necessary, add a couple of extra thoughts on how you could make this marketing idea work for your business. We’ll need that for the final step.
Final 5 minutes: Build out one digital marketing idea.
You should have about 7-10 concepts from three articles at this point. Now it’s time to identify and dig in once again.
Rank your marketing concepts by potential impact to your business or ease of implementation, depending on your current work capacity. Write a number to the left of each concept statement indicating which should be top priority (number 1).
Then, take your number one idea and bullet out a few more notes on that concept:
What existing campaign or marketing strength would this concept leverage?
Given your existing marketing strategies, what kind of impact could you expect to your key metrics? Write these down as rough goals.
How quickly could you expect to implement? Jot down what you think might be a good goal.
Save these notes to review at the end of each week. This is an important step for getting your marketing ideas implemented
Make your digital marketing idea your own.
Using this 20-minute daily practice with allow you to see enough digital marketing ideas to come up with your own ideas. By giving yourself some time between initial idea generation and review at the end of each week, you’ll give your subconscious the space it needs to gestate.
By making this a daily habit, your brain will begin to see patterns in digital marketing ideas. This discipline will help you steal and implement the best ideas, and give our business the biggest opportunities by making them your own.
BONUS: How to Get the Best Marketing Ideas before they hit the Internet
Pssst… here’s a little secret that the best entrepreneurs and marketers don’t want you to know…
The very best marketing ideas are usually shared at industry conferences months before the case studies get shared publically on the internet. This gives you time to capture the market and refine before others start stealing the same marketing ideas.
Join the MBO Digital Marketing Conference and Ideate Like a Boss
Verge HQ teamed up with one of the Midwest’s best digital marketing conferences, MBO. We’re hosting our pitch night this Wednesday, April 29th. We’ll have a panel of marketing tech thought leaders, as well as some of the most innovative software companies presenting their tech and marketing.
But just for you, you can attend the entire MBO conference and get more than $60 off your registration with the code VERGE15.
T.A. McCann is one of the few people on the planet who can claim astronomical success in not one but two areas; in his case, sailing AND entrepreneurship. But are they that different? I sat down with the tech company founder and America’s Cup winner about both bouncing back from failure and tips for achieving success.
Watch the full interview with T.A. McCann here:
Adventures in Entrepreneurship and Sailing with T.A. McCann
McCann got the entrepreneurial bug around the tender age of 12 when he started a lawn care business: “The feeling of independence and being able to control my own destiny has always been important to me.” Perhaps that’s why, after graduating from Purdue (which is still going strong when it comes to shaping entrepreneurs!) and becoming a mechanical engineer, he quit to pursue the freedom of the open waters. An accomplished professional sailor, he won the America’s Cup in 1992.
What do Sailing and Entrepreneurship Have in Common?
Quite a lot, in fact! In his blog post on the subject, McCann observes that the skill, engineering excellence and perseverance shown by Larry Ellison and his victorious Oracle Team USA are “all things that go into a building a successful startup.” From finding a competitive advantage to working under a deadline, watch McCann draw all the parallels →
“If you’re only achieving at 20%, the goal is too hard. If you’re achieving at 100%, then the goal is too easy.”
-T.A. McCann, Sailor / Entrepreneur / Investor
Resetting the Goal Posts.
McCann’s sailing career was not without some setbacks. When competing in the Whitbread Round the World Race (now called the Volvo Ocean Race), his team was closing in on victory when suddenly, the mast fell down. Bitterly disappointed, almost everyone on the team wanted to quit. But in the three days it took to get back to land, a transformation from despair to hope took place: “We tried to find what we could salvage. Could we still win the last leg? Could we actually complete the race?” After resetting the goal posts, the team did in fact win the last leg handily and achieved a lot of reset goals.
“We just showed up at the wrong time.”
Not every entrepreneurial venture was a success, either. McCann returned to the tech world from sailing in the late 90s – in the midst of the dot-com bubble – with a startup called Helpshare: “It was a reasonably good idea, and we had built the company properly, but right when we were planning to go raise money, the crash happened.”
The Case For Corporate Experience.
The loss was devastating, and McCann ended up joining Microsoft. During his three years there, he financially and emotionally recharged while still innovating and learning skills on the scale of a large company, “things that are different than what you need to learn for a startup,” like how to build software for hundreds of millions of customers in 123 languages. Eventually, a venture capitalist McCann had worked with through the product he had built for Microsoft Exchange invited him to become an entrepreneur-in-residence.
Entering a Red Ocean.
In 2008, McCann launched Gist amid several competitors already in the content discovery space. It started with the goal bringing users relevant news but evolved, using integrations with Google’s and Twitter’s APIs, into a social address book: “If I have all of my contacts in one place, and the system can give me news both about them and by them, then I can use to better understand them, and by understanding them I can build better relationships with them.” Through consistent customer feedback, Gist evolved into a relationship manager and caught RIM’s eye, which acquired the company in 2011.
The Importance of Building Relationships.
When I asked him for advice he would give to entrepreneurs, McCann underscored the importance of building relationships for recruiting, reaching thought leaders, courting investors, and finding customers: “The stronger a relationship is, the more likely someone is going to do something for you or recommend you or your product to somebody else.” His most recent tech venture, Rival IQ (which we use at Verge, and I highly recommend), can help you learn how to best build relationships with customers through data-driven marketing. McCann also shared his 5-3-2 Rule for building relationships on social media. Watch him explain the strategy →
Want to learn even more from T.A. McCann?
Join 1,000 founders, investors, and builders at this year’s Innovation Showcase in July! A limited number of Early-Bird tickets are available for the full conference with more than 70 fundable companies. Reserve your spot here →
Founder of several tech companies
Gist – sold to Blackberry
Started successful companies – succeeded wildly
Failed – willing to share learnings
America’s cups – sailing
1:05 When did you first get that entrepreneurial bug?
I got it very, very early. Around 12. I had my own grass-cutting and yard work business. “I recently found a business card that I made in printing class on a real hand-printing press by setting my own type in middle school.” I started another company when I was 15 around boat maintenance – grew up in northern Indiana on Lake Michigan. “The feeling of independence and the feeling of being able to control my own destiny is something that has always been important to me.”
2:06 After graduating in Purdue and becoming a mechanical engineer, he quit to do professional sailing, leaving the technology space for the mid 90s. Very successful at that.
The Internet was happening and I was starting to get a little bit bored with sailing so I started my first real technology company which was a web development company. Built a lot of the early sites for the marine industry. Mid to late 90s. The ideas for my first real software startup came in that time frame. We started that in 1998 and it wasn’t even venture backed, it was angel funded.
3:21 Sailing “open waters” – blue ocean
A lot of people in the startup community have actually had a similar background of doing some sailing. Ted Turner.
Parallels with entrepreneurship? – 4:00 – Blog posts. “How Winning the America’s Cup is like running a successful startup.” Funny enough I wrote that inspired by Larry Ellison and the Oracle team winning the last America’s Cup. He hired me and five other guys off the ‘95 America’s Cup team to get him into sailing and we went on to win five world championships for Larry, and then from there he wanted to step up to the biggest game in sailing which is the Americas cup.
Answer – 4:57.
That you have to have a hypothesis on the areas where you want to innovate. In sailing – it could be the sail design or the boat design or the crew
The more money you have the more different areas you can experiment in so you can run many different experiments at the same time
Once you have a hypothesis you go try to hire the best engineers you can. If you can hire those engineers ahead of your competition you can gain an advantage.
Figure out how to align all those different experiments so that you don’t get overly confused in one category or another and line them up from a timeline perspective
And in the case of the America’s cup or any competitive situation you have a timeline. When is the thing going to happen?
Parallels with startups – when am I going to run out of money or when do I have to raise more money?
What are the things I think I need to achieve by that time – how do I measure those?
Where do I run the experiments and for how long – keep running an experiment, call that category off in a category or that category becomes my competitive advantage.
6:12 – Ever on a boat and felt like quitting might be dangerous?
A few times when it was dangerous – really dangerous. The Sydney Hobart race – 2nd deadliest sailboat race ever. Seven people died. I was on Sayonara with Larry Ellison and a bunch of guys We probably had the best team on the water, all pros, lots of experience and it was challenging for us. – won
6:49 I was doing the Around the World race, and we had it effectively wrapped up. We had created a huge advantage, and the mast fell down. Once they came back to safe, where we weren’t of sinking, almost everyone on the team wanted to quit. Like, “I’m done.” Because we were gonna win, then we didn’t get to win. Took us about 3 days to get from where to the mast fell down to where we got to land. But in that time the skipper, and “all of us went through this transformation of wanting to quit and give up and go home to finding something we could salvage. Could we still win the last leg, could we be the top of the bottom pack? Could we satisfy our sponsors? Could we achieve our own personal goals of actually completing the Around the World Sailboat race?”
“Slowly but surely the team made this 180 degree turn to be really enthused about how do we achieve those things. A resetting of the goal posts. We in fact did go on and win the last leg quite convincingly and achieved a lot of those goals.
8:12 Did you take that same strategy during your first internet venture, Helpshare?
Didn’t know what I was doing very much, I was inexperienced, didn’t know what we were building, did know how to build it, certainly didn’t know how to raise money very well. In the midst of the dot com boom – late 90s. To be inexperienced in that time – parallels to today. to see Uber, Airbnb, Snapchat, Whatsapp – companies going from nothing to being worth billions of dollars in a short period of time. In that situation as a first time entrepreneur you have this sense like, what am I doing right, what am I doing wrong? At least I’m happy to be in the space. At least I’m happy to trying innovate
9:16 “Helpshare was a reasonably good idea, the implementation was reasonably good, the go-to-market strategy was okay. We really kind of missed out on timing. We had built the company properly, we had planned to raise venture money, and we just showed up at the wrong time. Right when the dot com crash happened was when we were planning to go raise money.
Now I’m 10 or 12 years older, this is my 5th startup I’m on with RivalIQ, I’m a lot smarter and have surrounded myself with lots of other smart people in Seattle. With a lot more experience we’re doing a lot differently now.
10:08 “Failure and success and resetting what success looks like – I think that is something that goes into software startups.”10:30 “The people who can both set the appropriate level of goals – because if you’re only achieving at 20%, the goal’s too hard. If you’re achieving at 100%, the goal’s too easy. The process of resetting the goals is really important. Building a rhythm and a team where it’s okay to fail a little bit. It’s okay for individuals to fail here and there, the team has to pull everybody up together. The team also has to push everyone to keep setting their own individual goals and the collective goals a little higher every sprint you put together.”
11:12 How were you able to move on from the lack of success with Helpshare?
11:45 “It took a long time.” “We needed time to recharge.” Had spent savings,. Founded with brother – both families were overextended financially and emotionally. Ended up at Microsoft. recharged financially and emotionally.
3 years. The whole first year was overwhelming since I’d never worked in a big software company. I learned a tremendous amount. Recharged intellectually – learning things that are different than what you need to learn for a startup.
13:31 But – I was doing my own innovations. I was building new businesses around the core exchange product I was working on. I was thinking about new international markets. My manager and team were quite supportive of that effort of staying entrepreneurial within the constructs of a big company with a big product. Within Microsoft a few of us built a program to offer venture capitalists the opportunity to introduce Exchange’s 125 million global customers to their companies who could build something to fill a niche within Exchange.
One thing led to another and I was invited by one of the VCs that we worked with to become an entrepreneur-in-residence.
16:52 How did you go about starting Gist, knowing that competitors out there in that space?
Slightly different premise in mind – bring me relevant news. Hypothesis, prototypes
– Connect to the inbox – find all the companies and people that matter to me – then hit the Google news Api and bring me back a bunch of news. Finding me news about people I cared about. Then broadened to Content about or BY someone.
– Understand customers and what they care about – build stronger relationships – more than just news discovery engine – evolved into personal relationship manager
All those first wave in that space are gone – acquired
Contact management – the problem is still there
20:47 On board of FullContact – first trying to solve the contact management problem. Started next wave – socially enhancing them – here’s their photo and their Linkedin and their last 5 tweets – super valuable
Next wave of social crm/social contact managers
21:41 What would you say to someone who is too busy building product to go out and network?
“Success in business is directly correlated to the size and strength of your professional network.”
Size+strength. “The stronger a relationship is the more likely someone is going to do something for you or recommend you or your product to somebody else.”
Recruiting – recruit great people. 2nd and 3rd degree connections
22:56 Key Influencers – who will drive that conversation. Build a relationship with them. Identify them and what they care about, then figure out how you add value to what they’re doing. They will be important part of product development cycle – and/or in your marketing and customer acquisition.
Fundraising/investors category – same thing – understand who they are, what they care about. Build a relationship before you ask for money. You have to ask for advice before you ask for money
25:22 – Is there a recent example you can think of where a contact turned into a relationship and that resulted directly in a new hire, a new customer, a investor.
27:59 What is your grand vision for RivalIQ
Premise that digital marketing is really challenging – what channel to use, how am I doing? Am I doing a good job? What is a good job? Many different choices for where they spend their time and where they spend their money. Easy to compare to how competitors – web presence, search, social. What it does today.
29:21 -Long term vision – how do we continue to help you make the right decisions. Where to focus. Organic search – “For sure, almost every company is going to have to do a decent job on SEO and organic search.” Next, probably 2 channels – what matters. What post content is resonating, how frequent. That problem will never go away – there will always be more complexity and more channels.
31:45 – Recommend that entrepreneurs go to channels where their competitors are, or go to channels that are underutilized and dominate there?
Depends on skill and interest of the company. 32:36 “It’s an 80/20 rule. 80% of your effort has to be in support of the normal channels because all your competitors have already built a customer base there. If you’re not there, then you’re missing out. You have to do enough to play along. The other 20% is experimentation. Let’s try something different.”
RivalIQ – 2 landscapes – competitive and comparative – latter that are awesome at marketing to your customer but are not your competitor. Who markets to my audience, or look at channel.
Long term vision – drive best practices – here’s who you should compare to, here’s what you should do differently to win with your marketing. Do it in a very data-driven way.
36:01 – What have you seen successful entrepreneurs do when it comes to social and content?
Very small company – pick a couple of keywords that matter to us. Then, find the key influencers about each of those keywords. Now I know 5 or 10 twitter people who are influencers for those keywords. Then, build into twitter list then you have a stream of content which is relevant to the keywords I care about.
37:29 The T.A. McCann 5-3-2 Social Media Rule – “for every 10 posts that I make (on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, or whatever your most important channels are), 5 of them should be about the space by one of those influencers. Retweet that stuff to my audience. Building relationships
The World Cup is in full swing, it’s almost officially summer, and the Innovation Showcase is just a few weeks away. Check out the best innovation and tech stories from this past week…
Tesla Charges (and Recharges) Ahead
Okay, this technically happened last week, but Tesla made headlines with CEO Elon Musk’s recent announcement that the company would open up access to its patents. Though a bold step, it echoes recent moves towards encouraging innovation from Twitter, Pixar, and other technology leaders. Bringing in more competitors will also help bolster the size of the electric car market. The company’s stock price has already climbed. Time will tell, but maybe nice guys – or at least nice, strategic innovators – can finish first.
Amazon Heats Up Smartphone Competition
Confirming rumors, Amazon revealed its long-awaited smartphone, the Fire Phone, this past Wednesday. Though a latecomer to the game, Amazon’s entrant brings some unique features, such as “dynamic perspective,” which uses front-mounted cameras to render 3D graphics in relation users’ head movements. Another feature, called Firefly, can recognize over 100 million items like books, songs and kitchen products and help you find more information on them or – not surprisingly – buy them on Amazon. What do you think: will the Fire Phone be a success, or even steal market share from Apple and Samsung?
You’ve probably heard about how unhealthy it is to sit for too long, but a new study shows a new reason to stand tall. According to Washington University business professor Andrew Knight, standing during meetings encourages teamwork and creativity. Participants in two teams, one standing and one sitting, were asked to work together on a project. Wrist sensors showed that the standing team had greater “physiological arousal” – the way the body get energized when creative juices are flowing, and were less protective of their ideas.
It’s no wonder that the new coworking space of the Anvil, where Verge holds meetups in West Lafayette, will include plenty of options for taking a stand.
A Tech Victory at the World Cup
An invisible but crucial player during the World Cup is the new goal-line technology, GoalControl, German-engineered to avoid a repeat of 2010 controversies over incorrect goal rulings. Claimed to be 100% accurate, GoalControl can detect goals in real time and take 500 photos per second. As far as France’s victory over Honduras, the technology might as well be an MVP. When confusion arose after the ball bounced off the Honduran goalie’s hand near the goal line, the goal-line technology came to the rescue with an accurate ruling of “GOOOOAAAL.”
And now I’m imagining what a pitch for GoalContol at a Verge Innovation Showcase would have been like!
Eyes on the Prize
Speaking of the Innovation Showcase, we recently revealed the 81 exhibiting companies. There’s no doubt they’re working hard on their pitches, but a recent study involving cartoon cereal mascots (no, we’re not making this up) underscores the importance of making eye contact.
Cornell University researchers manipulated the gaze of the Trix Rabbit on cereal boxes to look at the viewer or look down. They found that adult subjects preferred Trix over competing cereals and felt more brand trust if the rabbit was looking at them rather than away.
Not convinced the eyes have it? Check out 10 reasons why presenters should make purposeful eye contact with their audiences. Then, check out our quick-start guide on how to get seed funding.
And don’t miss these presentation tips from our interview with the legendary Thaddeus Rex.
Or come hear from Thaddeus for yourself at this Thursday’s Verge pitch night at DeveloperTown! There’s still time to RSVP. Register here >>
How about you? What’s coming up in your week ahead?
Last week I let all of my calls go to voicemail and checked my inbox at a record-low once per day.
That’s how I got myself free to have a series of freak experiences at the largest gathering of startup community leaders on the planet—the UP Summit, presented by UP Global. With more than 500 leaders from 75 countries around the world, I would have been paralyzed by the magnitude if I hadn’t found a 1-2 combo that unlocked the event’s full potential.
1. Go Up
I woke up each day and promptly punched my inner wuss in the face. Rolling out of bed in Vegas is hard enough on it’s own, but when you put yourself out there to learn something or meet someone new, your first instinct is to flinch.
It’s totally rational. As founders and instigators, we’re probably already balancing more projects than is healthy for a human being. The prospect of adding more action items and followups to the ever-growing to-do lists doesn’t get most entrepreneurs giddy. And breaking ground on a conversation with someone new can be a little scary.
Luckily, the UP Summit organizers facilitated in a few of the conference tracks that helped give some conversations a push. And Downtown Las Vegas delivered on its mission to foster connectedness, collisions, and co-learning.
It almost seems counter intuitive.
Sometimes, you just have to get the courage to walk up and ask, “Um… excuse me, sir, but I noticed you’re dressed as a banana. Why is that?”
OK, most times you won’t have an alley-oop approach like that. So, don’t give yourself any more than 2 seconds to think about whether or not you should talk to someone new. Make like an overused advertising slogan and just do it, because it’s the collisions that make the difference in building a community or a business.
Pro Tip: If you’re as exhausted by the “So what do you do?” line of questioning as 99.99% of the world (that’s a true stat I just made up), go for something relevant like the speaker in the previous session or the funky socks that your new friend is rocking.
2. Go Deep
Photo credit: @FrankGruber
There’s no value or meaning to creating small talk or collecting business cards. If you’re going to go up to someone new, go deep.
This one’s tough because every brain cell between our ears screams at us to stay in our happy place—that grotesquely mediocre zone of comfort.
The real happiness can be found in the quality beneath the surface.
At the UP Summit, the leaders in attendance converged upon Vegas from such a variety of cultures that we didn’t have as many how-about-the-weather, or did-you-see-that-game discussions. Without the crutch, we had to lean in (boom, Sheryl Sandberg reference).
The quality-over-quantity theme was threaded through every minute of time with the UP Global crew. Strong relationships sprouted from each event that catered to serendipitous connections. The deepest growth was rooted in scheduled blocks of time that allowed for potential collaboration.
If I hadn’t taken a swing at going up to new people at the UP Summit, I never would have met the dozen new friends from around the world. I wouldn’t have learned about new programs that I’m now planning on bringing back to my hometown. And I wouldn’t have found those new partnerships that will more deeply connect my startup community with what’s happening around the world.
If I hadn’t dared to go deep in my conversations I wouldn’t have learned from the best conversation I’ve ever had about how to grow a successful relationship while running startup. I wouldn’t have a startup friend to visit when I go to the Philippines this summer. And, most importantly, I wouldn’t have learned about what all of the inspiring people in the UP community are building.
So, my question is, why don’t we build intention around creating these kinds of experiences back at home? How can we keep the momentum going by going up and going deep?
The first time I visited downtown Las Vegas was in 2011. And I didn’t go there for the gambling.
A fortunate friend was building something that pulled me from Indianapolis to see “Old Vegas” in person. Such is the magnetic magic of Zappos CEO, Tony Hsieh…
Tony Hsieh and His Recipe for Building Community
It was Tony’s birthday, and we joked around as we drank digestifs in his condominium at The Ogden. Back then, most of the condos in the building were still waiting for tenants to take a chance on downtown Las Vegas. But a lot has changed since then.
The Downtown Project that Tony Hsieh and his team started years ago has built its own momentum and grown a thriving community. Dozens of startups and small businesses have taken root amidst the flashing lights and excitement of Vegas. Unlike the Strip, downtown has sprouted a series of successes over the past few years.
Looking back on that night at Tony’s, it’s now clear that master chef Hsieh had the right recipe from the start. We connected through Skype that evening with another friend, Jenn Lim, CEO of Delivering Happiness and co-author of the same book penned by her and Hsieh. They’ve each gone on to take their mastery of company culture to build community on a bigger scale.
It all builds from getting the right ingredients.
I’ve since been back to visit downtown Vegas a few times. And I can tell you that only one thing is constant…
You’re going to connect with a lot of people.
We once piled out of Tony’s Delivering Happiness bus into a reggae festival; Hsieh leading the way and handing out wristbands to us as we entered the gates. Not more than two seconds after ensuring that my wristband was securely fastened did I meet the outstretched hand of the mayor of Las Vegas. I still have her business card, which is not a card at all, but rather contact information printed on a poker chip.
And that’s one of the more “normal” collisions I’ve had in the community Hsieh helped construct.
It’s a magical experience to find yourself in a pocket of people who are passionate about what their building. But that’s the essence of community and Hsieh isn’t the only one who’s made the observation.
Kristian Andersen helped create The Speak Easy co-working space in Indianapolis to “foster serendipity.” That building has since become a place for a unique community to connect and build new companies. And they’re not the only ones.
Other communities have created similar spaces, where something interesting is waxing within.
In case you might be thinking about making a visit to downtown Vegas, I’ll let you in on a secret that is, more and more, becoming known. The best place to grab coffee is the Beat. But it’s not just because they make a good cup of Joe.
At the Beat, there’s something to be learned in each new interaction. This is especially true when there’s a culture of curiosity and sharing. And in Vegas, you couldn’t escape it if you tried.
Who would want to?
“It’s the enthusiasm, the passion, the time, and the energy,” said Tony, that’s at the core of a co-learning community.
The charge of learning something new can spark new momentum and carry you through the toughest challenges. It’s the same energy you can get at a Verge pitch night when a founder shares their new technology or a fireside chat blows open a whole new way of thinking about an entrepreneurial issue.
Growing communities understand that they have to learn together if they want to evolve. And that gives them a powerful and underlying quality.
“Outside of this downtown area, Las Vegas is the last place you’d expect to find a community feel,” said Hsieh. Most times, this community feeling of connectedness is catalyzed by a handful of leaders.
“Don’t underestimate the power that one or two people can have,” Tony encourages.
In downtown Vegas, there are many people running enormous projects. Zach Ware is an energetic guy, and has been Tony’s right-hand man on the Downtown Project from the start. He’s since become a partner in the VegasTech Fund and started a business of his own, Project 100.
But even though Zach stays busy, he stays connected as he continues to link up potential business partners, mentors and mentees, and friends.
Brad Feld is the author of Startup Communities and often points out that the fastest growing communities are the ones where visitors and new residents can quickly get connected to resources, events, and people.
As I prepare for trip to Vegas next week, I’m thinking a lot about how downtown will feel. And I’m re-reading a book that Tony gave to me back in 2011. I keep pondering community as I re-read one of my favorite truths in Triumph of the City:
“You need to walk a city’s streets to see its soul.”
I’m excited to take that first step into downtown Vegas again. Because its also the first step to building community with collisions, co-learning, and connectedness. And I can’t wait to bring some of it back to Indianapolis.
So, what are you waiting for? Get out there.
What other elements do you think a community needs for it to thrive?