Archive for the ‘Tech & Startups’ Category
I’m a bit sad that Google announced this week that they’re shutting down Google Reader. I read Reader on the web when taking work breaks, on my cell when I have downtime on the train, and on my iPad when I want to relax and get caught up with the world.
Discovery is the key
I think the big problem with Reader and it’s declining use has been lack of Discovery. One of the things people who use Twitter like is they can easily search topics and hashtags to find new content.
Reader is very good at keeping my feeds organized, but these are just the websites I already know about. What if the smart algorithms at Google could study a users subscriptions and reading habits on Google News and combine them to give the user a more personalized experience? They could see I’m subscribed to TechCrunch and Mashable and suggest an article on VentureBeat that has lots of views and comments. This would be very valuable.
Then, they could throw in more social features like making it easy to Tweet, Like, and + the articles across the web. Yes, I think sharing News and Reader articles should be social network agnostic… it would generate more interest.
Also, why not allow comments under each article inside of Reader and News? Google could build it’s own comment system…. more like Reddit with a +/- system would be a lot better then the horrible Facebook comment system (a rant for another day).
The Future of News
I believe the future of news is providing a personalized newspaper to each individual. The newspaper would be smart enough the know my previous reading habits and subscriptions to suggest new content for me to consume.
Companies like Outbrain and Taboola do stuff similar to this already, but they only provide recommendations directly on the website where an article is being read. Google could build it’s Reader/News/+ hybrid to be a standalone place where each user could get content just for them.
Like this post? Feel free to add me on LinkedIn and tell me you found me via this article. :-)
As a busy salesperson, one of the most important traits to have is to be organized. Organization is often what separates a good salesperson from an excellent salesperson.
If you’re not someone who’s naturally very detailed and organized, there’s one very important thing you can do to change that. The trick is to write everything down! Anytime you have an idea, a task that needs to get solved at a later time, or anything else that needs to be remembered: write it down!
Two very awesome tools to manage this:
When you’re in Gmail, simply click the red, dropdown arrow next to the “Gmail” logo on the upper, left-hand corner when you login. When you click “Tasks” the Google Tasks window pops up. You can use this add your to-do list. Personally, I recommend that you write down everything you need to do. The cool thing is you can access this from any computer where you can login to Gmail.
Bonus: There’s a cool third-party app for Android that syncs with your Gmail account’s Google Tasks. Anytime I’m away from my computer and think of something to do, I can add it to my phone. Here’s where you can get the app: http://goo.gl/z4Wvw.
Bonus #2: Want to expand the size of that little Tasks window on your laptop? Bookmark this link to access Google Tasks in canvas mode (full screen): https://mail.google.com/tasks/canvas (you need to login to Gmail to view this).
For more detailed to-do lists and project management, I prefer to use Asana. Asana is a startup founded by ex-Facebookers and you can use it for team collaboration, but I just use it manage my work to-do list. Best of all, it’s free for individual use or for a small team up to 30 people!
Every single thing I have to do I write down in Asana. No more stuff written on sticky notes or on yellow legal pads on my desk… it’s all added to Asana.
Asana is pretty sweet because you can group items by “Projects” and under each Project you can have multiple items on your to-do list. From there, you can also have detailed notes on each entry with additional context. It’s pretty sweet!
If you need to have a note to follow-up with someone three weeks out, you can not only have a task that has “Follow-up with customer John Q. Public” but you can also have detailed info on the background of the customer and what the next steps should be. This way when you look at the note three weeks out you know exactly what needs to happen.
Personally, I use Google Tasks for my personal stuff and Asana for anything work related.
Example: At isocket, I would frequently send bug reports to our Ad Ops & Support team to catalog the issues I came across. After sending a bug report, I would make a note in Asana under a Project I had just for bug reports so I could make sure nothing I submitted fell through the cracks. A few times I caught things that hadn’t been even worked on, simply because I had logged them in Asana.
Bonus: Here’s a cool screenshot of Asana from Crunchbase that will help you visualize the product: http://www.crunchbase.com/assets/images/original/0016/8989/168989v2.png.
Are you a Maverick or a Superstar?
As Mark Suster once said, there’s a difference between Maverick salespeople and Superstar salespeople:
The Maverick is an incredibly good salesperson and can probably sell ice to Eskimos, they just usually aren’t the most process orientated people. They are great at sales, just not managing sales people… which is a completely different skill set. He uses the good analogy that a great chef isn’t always well suited to run a restaurant.
The Superstar is the rare individual who can both sell water to a whale but is also incredibly detailed and process orientated. This person is probably suited for a VP of Sales position (at least eventually)… they can both sell and manage others.
The main difference between both of these is organization and attention to detail.
If you want to be a superstar salesperson (or a superstar in any role), the thing that will set you apart is your level of organization and attention to detail. A good tip is to use tools such as Asana and Google Tasks to write everything down to remember everything and to help you get a lot of things done.
Like this post? Feel free to add me on LinkedIn and tell me you found me via this post. :-)
One of my biggest pet peeves related to the startup culture is when people who aren’t programmers refer to themselves as “non-technical.” They will frequently use this term to describe themselves in context such as posting to sites like Hacker News saying, “Non-Technical Founder Seeks Technical Founder for Startup” or some similar crap. It happens quite frequently in the internet tech startup community and it’s junk.
If two people open a restaurant, one who’s an experienced chef and one who handles the business end, I’m sure the business founder doesn’t refer to themselves as the “Non-Cooking Founder.” (Though feel free to comment and tell me if I’m wrong!)
Note: I have no problem when programmers call refer to people who can’t hack as “non-technical”… it isn’t their job to teach business people how to market themselves.
What Do You Bring to the Table?
Stop shooting yourself in the foot by telling people what you aren’t capable of doing right off the bat. What can you do? Can you do Sales, Marketing, or Fundraising? Do you have a decent bankroll yourself to fund the business or have a rich uncle who can help you build your project?
Maybe start calling yourself the “Marketing & Sales Founder” or something similar.
Product Development vs Customer Development
Steve Blank refers to startups as being in two camps: Product Development and Customer Development. The product people are the programmers and designers. If you aren’t going to learn the product side, at least learn as much as you can on the customer side. Learn as much as you can about sales, marketing, customer service, and any other business things you can think of to help the product people you work with out.
If You Have No Skills, Money, or Connections, Get Them!
Maybe if you don’t have the ability to be a A-Player Sales guy for your startup, perhaps you should go work for a startup for a few years before trying your own. Soon after moving to Silicon Valley, I realized I needed to spend a few years cutting my teeth at another startup before even dreaming of going at it on my own. Perhaps you should work at a restaurant for a few years before you try to open your own?
Ignore a lot of the entrepreneur porn: Not every successful entrepreneur is a 20 year old college dropout prodigy. Many successful Founders are people who spend years working in their field and learning their craft. Look at guys like Reid Hoffman and Marc Beinoff for good examples.
My year and a half at a small startup has showed me how to communicate my ideas, thoughts, bugs, and feedback successfully to engineers and how to respect their workflow and processes. If you’ve never worked with engineers working at an existing small startup, it can only help you if you do so. (Note: If you aren’t on first name basis with the CEO, you aren’t in a startup, regardless of what they may tell you).
Learn as much as you can in the real world alongside programmers, because they sure as hell don’t teach a class called “How to Communicate to Engineers” in B-School (…all though these days they probably should!).
Maybe You Should Learn Some Code
There are tons of resources for all of us useless business school grad’s to learn how to code. No, you won’t be a master overnight… but you can at least learn some basics on how code is written.
Or at least learn how to use tools like Balsamiq and mock up your ideas and pay some coder a nominal fee to get you a crappy prototype built.
Ok, I’m done with my little rant. I hope this was helpful in providing a few of you with some tips about how you can be more successful and a little less useless. With a little more hard work and effort at understanding the other side of the business, perhaps one day we’ll consider B-School grads as helpful contributors to the internet community (myself included!).
Did you like my crappy little post? Want to tell me I suck? Or, are you just obsessed with social media time wasting? Add me on LinkedIn and tell me how you found me: http://Linkedin.com/in/WestonLudeke
Congrats to my buddy Jason Shen and the team over at RideJoy for raising a cool $1.3m of funding! w00t w00t!
Full story here: http://bit.ly/xyVSnh
As seen on Quora: A user asks a question, “How do you dodge being “politely turned down” when you want to “grab coffee sometime” with someone when you have meaningful things to talk about?”
Someone awesome named Yishan Wong writes a brilliant post about how to get to exactly what you want from a busy person:
Send them a plainly written email explicitly outlining what you want from them, and ask if they are willing to provide it to you. If you don’t hear back (or they say no), then drop it.
This whole “grab coffee sometime” thing in Silicon Valley is incredibly annoying and stupid, and needs to go away and be replaced with straightforward requests like “I would like to ask you to invest, may I pitch to you” or “I want to get your advice on X, will you give it to me,” etc. I’ll give a long answer based on my experience with these sorts of situations.
The problem is that people whose time is “in demand,” i.e. they have a larger number of requests for their time than they can service, and despite the fact that they would like to be helpful, requests to “have coffee” completely obscure the true nature of the request. It’s not that the obscuring is considered offensive – it’s understandable, I can see how someone might not want to just come out and say that they want to ask you for e.g. several thousands of dollars – it’s that it makes it very hard to tell if we can actually help.
For example, when people want to meet me in person, they are typically looking for one of the following things:
- advice on the viability of their product
- advice on their career
- funding for their startup
- funding for their startup and referrals to other angels like Keith Rabois
- an intro to someone else that I know
- working at Sunfire Offices
- an employment referral to Facebook
- reference check on someone who worked at Facebook or PayPal
- hiring me for their startup
- being a technical co-founder
- consulting for their startup
The problem is that very rarely will the person say any of these things up front; instead, they’ll request to “grab lunch or coffee” and then beat around the bush for most of the conversation and then in the last 5-10 minutes of the meeting they will bring up the thing that they want, and I will quickly either agree or decline, depending on whether I’m able to fulfill the request. This pattern is incredibly consistent and happens almost every time. I can basically tell within the first 2 minutes of the conversation that this is going to be one of those times and so I resign myself to (hopefully only) a 30-minute-long meaningless conversation before the guy gets to the point. At the end, I can even tell the point where the guy is going to get to his actual request, and I think, “Ah, finally, here it comes.” Unfortunately, there is no way to short-circuit this process at the beginning by saying, e.g. “Just tell me what you want from me” without it coming across as being incredibly rude and presumptuous.
Interestingly, I want to be able to help whenever possible, but it turns out that I don’t have time to field numerous 30-60 minute conversations every day in order to get to the 5-minute request whose feasibility I can almost always evaluate immediately. And, because many of the assumptions made about what I can do are actually wrong, the answer to some of the items above is almost always no, i.e. I don’t invest in many startups, I’m not going to take a full-time job at someone’s startup or be their technical co-founder, Sunfire Offices is basically full, and Keith clearly gets annoyed when I pass on intros to him from anyone but people who can probably already just call him up themselves.
In general, I’d like to help if I can, and if I can’t, I still want to be as helpful as possible in giving you a clear and clean rejection so that you can mark me off your checklist and move on to the next guy you’re going to ask, and save you precious time. But this is impossible, because the obscured nature of the requests I get means that, as an overall percentage, the likelihood of my saying no is high, even if your request falls into one of the categories where I might actually be able to help.
So this is why people get politely turned down when asking to “grab coffee sometime.”
If you want to get around this, skip the fucking coffee and make your request clear and explicit. Most people in the Valley who are likely to get asked things of them want to be helpful if they can, and if they can fulfill your request, they will either do it right there on the spot in email (thus saving you both a meaningless coffeeshop trip) or say no, again saving you time. And time is your most precious resource almost all of the time.
 I’m even fearing that this answer will sound really presumptuous and arrogant, but I’m going to take that risk, in the hopes that it will help some young, striving entrepreneur.
 I don’t even drink coffee.
My final thoughts: This ties into a lot of the Hustling, particularly about getting what you want and no wasting people’s time. If everyone you know is doing things the same way, what are you going to do different that is going to get you noticed?
Ramit Sethi, the personal finance guru and master of behavioral psychology, has a new course he’s putting together on his site, I Will Teach You To Be Rich. His new material is all centered around readers finding their dream job.
I’ve long been a big fan of Ramit, from his blog to his book to reading his newsletter and even being a premium subscriber to his Earn 1K course. I’ve never been one to pay for self-help courses. I happen to think most people who are selling how easy building your own business is and that you should “never work for an evil bovine master” are completely full of shit. Entrepreneurship is hard. Damn hard. Most self-help people are selling feel good bullshit that’s been poorly researched and backed by pseudo-science and anecdotal evidence. I’m a salesman and a hustler to my core… you can’t bullshit a bullshitter.
Ramit’s work is another beast entirely. The work he puts out is incredibly detailed, researched, and thorough. Although I was extremely reluctant to give the man any money for more, higher quality material (an understatement to say the least), his work really is that good. Now, it’s finally time for me to pay it forward so to speak to give back to those trying to make it an industry and find their dream job with no connections… just like I did. And yes, I’m more than willing to admit right here in full view of the world that I have paid for quality courses to improve myself… have you?
The time was April 2010, I was four months into what I thought was my dream job. Before I got my Sales gig at the large software company I was renting cars making $12.50 an hour. Now that I had my “academy” sales gig I thought I was big time. I had a nice corporate gig and a much, much higher paycheck. Then a tsunami in the workplace hit us all to our core: A new round of layoffs to start the new fiscal year (we were on a April to April fiscal calendar). All three people I worked for got laid-off. I still had a job, but knew that one day I could very well be the next to be laid-off.
Since I still had my job (at least until the next round of layoffs) I used all of my downtime to learn as much as I can about technology. In my free time, I would read everything about technology that I could get my hands on: TechCrunch, Hacker News, Silicon Alley Insider, and countless tech blogs. I still liked the line of work I was in, but was clueless what I would do next if I lost my job.
Recognizing Opportunity and Sizing The Moment
After a long, miserable summer of 2010 in my cubicle hellhole… not knowing when the next round of layoffs were coming, I signed-up for Ramit’s Earn 1K course in late August 2010. I think I was still going through the preview course info or one of the first lessons when Ramit’s course had me do an “Idea Generator” about finding a business to start on the side. I remember filling it out on the things that interested me and writing down what I did in my freetime and things I enjoyed. Then it hit me: I still loved technology, startups, and media. I needed to find a job at a startup.
Then I realized that I needed to leave Houston to move to Silicon Valley. I still love Houston to my core, my family and friends still live there, and I still watch my beloved Houston Cougars on Saturdays (#8 in the nation). But I needed to be where the action is and where startups are… and that meant I needed to move to the Mecca for startups in Silicon Valley.
Thus concludes the first lesson: A hustler must be able to recognize opportunity when it arises and capitalize on it when it presents itself.
A Hustler Is Always Prepared
I wanted to quit my job right away, but I was (and still am) engaged to a lovely girl who at the time was an undergrad at UH. So, we soon talked it over and made plans to move to Silicon Valley in May 2011 once she graduated from UH. In the meantime, I would start saving my money religiously and do as much research as possible about startups and Silicon Valley. I spent even more time devouring posts on TechCrunch and Hacker News and countless blogs from people in the industry.
While most people would waste their time Facebooking and Twittering, watching television, and going out and drinking three times a week, I spent my free time doing as much research as possible about the industry. That’s how I was able to judge that I was making the right choice in my career: I found it interesting enough to spend my free time learning more about it… without any external motivators.
Lesson #2: If you want to be successful, you have to know as much as possible about your hustle, your trade…. and know the industry you’re working in. A hustler must be prepared at all times.
Once I made it to Silicon Valley in May of 2011, I had absolutely zero connections. I didn’t have a job lined up. I was living off of savings. I was doing interviews at several different tech companies but not entirely sure what I was looking for, other than a job at a tech company to stop the bleeding in my bank account (it’s a little expensive to live in the Bay Area if you didn’t know).
I remember one of my interviews with another nameless large enterprise software company dealing with the arrogance of the recruiter. I was already fed up at this point with dealing with stupid corporate people after the 17 months I spent in my last job: The company had just quit was doing their second round of layoffs right as I quit my job in March.
In April, one month before I moved to the Bay Area, I was out here for another interview when I happened to see a post on Hacker News for job at Loopt when I cold emailed Loopt CEO & Founder Sam Altman. I scored an interview at his company… and while I didn’t end up getting the job Sam himself came out and introduced himself and shook my hand. I was floored. Here was a badass entrepreneur that I admired greatly and he took the time to come out and shake my hand.
Thinking that moment over in my head and thinking about the arrogance of the recruiter at the large corporate company, I decided then and there my litmus test for finding a job in Silicon Valley: The Sam Altman Startup Test. If the CEO of the company can’t at minimum at least come out and shake my hand during my interview at the company, it’s too big to be considered a startup and is now a full blown company (probably with shitty org charts). If I wanted to work at a startup and work alongside the entrepreneur running that startup, they’d have to pass my new Sam Altman Startup Test. Yup, it’s kinda corny, but it’s very specific and defines the niche of the type of job I wanted… to work for an entrepreneur and learn how to run a startup.
Too many people don’t have a clue what they want or what type of job they want. Nobody can help you if you don’t know what you want. You have to define what you want. It’s actually a bit easier that you’d think. For me, even though I didn’t know specifically what type of tech startup I wanted to work for, I knew specific things would make a role perfect for me:
- No middle-managers/pointy-haired bosses. I decided I’m only worked for the person who has the final word on all decisions… the Entrepreneur.
- No dress code
- No org charts: a flat organizational structure.
- No 9-5. Give me the work and tell me what needs to be done and let me do it. I don’t function mentally in a 9-5 box.
- And for the love of all that is Holy, no cubicles.
Lesson #3: Read Jason Freedmans’ kick ass blog post about hustling called, “You Don’t Get Shit You Don’t Ask For.” Notice how at the bottom he says not to ask for general advice. Get specific. Be the same way in your job search and when you tell people you’re looking for a job. After meeting Sam, I started telling everyone I met that I was looking for a job, and being specific: “I’m looking to work at a startup where I can work with the CEO and where I, at minimum, shake the CEO’s hand during the interview.” That narrows it down quite a bit. Fucking get specific.
Find a Mentor. Tell Everyone You Meet That You’re Looking For a Job
Find someone who’s working at a similar job that you want and/or working in your desired industry. Reach out to them and ask for advice. Don’t pull the, “Let me buy you a coffee and pick your brain” shtick. Honestly, you’re wasting people’s fucking time. But, if you can email them a short email asking for some very specific advice or a very specific question you can learn more about the industry you work in while building your network with a future peer. I did this and score both some cool industry peers as well as a few interviews.
Then, be sure you’re telling everyone you come in contact with that you’re looking for a job. Remember, its’ estimated that as much as 80% of all jobs are filled in the informal job market. I was reading a kick ass blog post by Jason Shen, who frequently gets his posts upvoted to the front page of Hacker News. The post was called, “Winning Isn’t Normal.” It blew me away. Jason soon started a mailing list and I eagerly signed-up for more sweet blog posts like that one.
In a short period of time after joining Jason’s mailing list, we started emailing back and forth and I mentioned that I had just moved to Mountain View and was looking for a job. He soon got back to me and mentioned that his boss, John Ramey of isocket had seen my LinkedIn profile and liked my resume and wanted to interview me.
Within a few weeks I was working for isocket. It was perfect timing because Jason was leaving to join his own startup as a co-founder and be part of the summer Y Combinator class of 2011 to found Ridejoy.
isocket is the perfect job for me: a ten person startup in Burlingame and I get to work alongside the CEO John Ramey. And of course he passed the Sam Altman Test with flying colors: Not only did he shake my hand when I came to interview, he interviewed me himself for two hours.
Lesson #4: Ask for very specific advice from people doing the type of work you want to do and mentors. Also, tell everyone you meet what type of job you want.
Be Fucking Tenacious & Brazen
The last lesson is probably the most important: Be tenacious. Other people will tell you that your ideas are no good and that your goals are impossible. Well you know what? Fuck them. Seriously, cut them out of your life.
I also can’t tell you how many people told me that moving out here was “ballsy” or whatever. I’ll never understand how so many can sit still in life and not push themselves forward. I always have to be pushing myself for bigger and better things. If betting on oneself is “ballsy” or “risky” or whatever, then you’ve got a problem. You should be able to risk everything and bet on yourself and know that 10 times out of 10 that you’ll come out on top.
Most people don’t return emails. Follow-up. Call people a few days after you send them and email with your resume. Send a handwritten thank you note.
You have to take rejection and it has to fuel you. It has to light a fire inside of you to push yourself harder and get brazen. Make people take notice. I can’t tell you how many times I got kicked to the curb, how many times I failed.
You may not know exactly what you want, but keep your eyes open for new opportunities. I could’ve wallowed in self-pity when there were two rounds of layoffs in my corporate sales gig, but I didn’t. I keep my eyes open and kept looking for new opportunities. A hustler never rests.
When the light bulb went on in my head thanks to Ramit’s courses, I begun the process of defining specifically the type of job I wanted over the course of several months and interviews. I didn’t just interview aimlessly, I eventually got very specific about what I wanted out of a job.
In the end, I got the job I wanted only a month after moving to Silicon Valley. If I can do this shit, you can too.
Now get out there and hustle!
PS: Hit me up on LinkedIn and tell me you found me through this post.
Edit: I mistakenly spelled Jason Freedman’s name wrong. My humblest apologies to Jason.
I am neither an M.B.A. nor an engineer, but everything I do is as an advocate of hackers, engineers, and programmers.
Very fascinating interview of Chamillionaire by VC Mark Suster. Some great takeways:
- Be authentic and be yourself
- Learn from many different places and take things you like from other people and mold them for yourself
- It’s very important to connect with your audience and build up your user base. Then, stay connected with them
Kickass interview from Lean Startup guru Eric Ries done by Xconomy: http://bit.ly/q4rrVv
Eric and his buddy Steve Blank have done amazing work for the startup community. I loved attending the Lean Startup Demo and Conference at NYU last March.
Saw this via the Wall Street Journal. Very good list from Go Daddy founder Bob Parson’s on his rules for success. Here’s his original list: http://bit.ly/iSbj4m
Some kickass quotes he likes:
”A good plan violently executed today is far and away better than a perfect plan tomorrow.” -Patton
“As you think, so shall you be.”
“The temptation to quit will be greatest just before you are about to succeed.”
My favorite rule from the list is #7:
“Never stop investing. Never stop improving. Never stop doing something new. The moment you stop improving your organization, it starts to die. Make it your goal to be better each and every day, in some small way. Remember the Japanese concept of Kaizen. Small daily improvements eventually result in huge advantages.” -Bob Parson
Don’t forget to click the link at the top for the full list.
Amazing! Also found:
“If you don’t have pure passion, you’ve got no chance of victory.”
“Stop crying, keep hustling.”
“Hustling is the most important word in the world.”
Excellent article from Eric Paley http://epaley.posterous.com/the-curve-of-talent:
“The large company corporate world is filled with C players. The term “Peter Principle” was coined to describe this phenomenon in which people in large companies are promoted exactly one pay grade beyond what they can competently do and then stay in that role for the rest of their careers. Large companies thrive on inertia and the core job description of a large company employee is to keep that inertia going and do nothing to screw it up. If last year’s top line grew 8%, the job is to grow it 8% again, not to figure out how to make a step function change and grow it 20%. In attempting to achieve that 20% step function change, there is high risk of a misstep that could lead to a decline in sales. That’s simply unacceptable.
Large companies fire those who get F grades, because they are not at all productive. They accept C players, because they are somewhat productive with guidance and B players are hard to find. It is very easy for a C player to seem moderately successful when progress is largely based on inertia. Large corporations celebrate B players who can competently complete their job with minimum coaching and maintain inertia. These are the heroes of large corporations. Innovation within a function is risky and can threaten inertia.
Large companies have very few A players. A players don’t want to be at large companies because, more often than not, corporate bureaucracy and process not only fail to reward, but actually punish A players. By putting the objectives ahead of process and politics, A players step on bureaucratic toes and don’t retreat based on false territorial claims. Though there are exceptions, few large corporations create cultures that give A players room to win. It’s not fun trying to innovate at a large company when co-workers feel that you’re threatening the core inertia on which the business is based. They’ll say things like “that’s just not the way things work around here.”