A Pyramid Scheme for Startups

Most startups traditionally all want to approach the market in a similar way. Scratching an itch. Starting with a great idea. Focusing on fixing a problem that the entrepreneur has personally experienced or seen. This is common. And certainly nothing wrong with this way for getting started. Ultimately you have to feel passionately about the problem you’re trying to solve; the pain you want to alleviate.

If you didn’t have this deep-seated desire there’s no need joy in the task you’re undertaking. But too many times (I’m learning this too as I talk with others) this is the sole foundation and focus of the business. When this personal perspective is the only focus of the startup there will be a struggle. So how does a startup grow beyond this phase? What’s the better approach to take for a successful business? Continue reading A Pyramid Scheme for Startups

The Importance of User Interface

One of the topics you’ll frequently see me write about (or speak on) relates to user interface and the user experience. I am passionate about providing the user with an experience that is both pleasing and easy to use. As a result I find that I am constantly looking at and analyzing the software and the interfaces of others. I find some that I think work amazingly well and I take note of what they do right. Unfortunately the majority of the interfaces I interact with I find do things poorly and in some cases absolutely horrendously.

What is it about gas stations?

The latest interface fiasco which forces me to write this particular article is captured in the screenshot below.

how to improve bad ui/ux

For the careful observer you’ll probably notice this is not the first time I have shared an image from a filling station or gas station. In fact, the previous time I pointed out something from the gas pump it also related to the user interface. If you don’t remember that image I’ve included it below as a refresher.

gas station bad user experience

It’s hard to know where to start but I suppose I’ll begin with the first graphic since it’s the most recent one I have come across. There’s one major and very glaring problem with the simple four step process they’ve outlined on this card. If you guessed step number one then give yourself a gold star, you are right!

Yes, Yes, Yes

A good user experience should never begin with the first step requiring the user to cancel something. This starts the interaction off wrong from the very beginning. You want to instill positivity and encourage them, not start off with a negative. In fact, this is a rather well-known fact and a common practice in sales/marketing worlds. One of the earliest encounters I had with this principle came from a timeless book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie. If you’ve never read this book I encourage you to do so. As you work through the principles you’ll come upon Principle #14:

“Get the other person saying ‘yes, yes’ immediately.”

http://blog.dalecarnegie.com/leadership/get-the-other-person-saying-yes-yes-immediately/

Now, if we understand and agree with this principle then the idea behind this 4-step process beginning with a negative, “1. Press Cancel” is inherently wrong and a bad user experience. How do we make this experience better? Well, in this case simply changing the first step to “1. Press Go” or any other positive action word will resolve this conflict with the user experience. Maybe even drop the first step all together and move to a simple 3-step process!

One way to say yes

We started with the easy one, let’s now press on to the next image and a seemingly more difficult interface to fix. While at first glance this image and the user experience seems daunting and possibly unfixable the truth is that the solution is a simple one. One of the things I spend considerable time on is finding the best way, the most efficient way to accomplish a goal. I spend time finding ways to help others save time. I think good user interfaces should be efficient. And one of the best ways to be efficient I have found is by following another key principle. Keep it simple, otherwise known as the KISS principle.

“Keep it simple, stupid”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/KISS_principle

This is not a new concept and certainly not something specific to computers and software interfaces. But it can certainly be applied to these areas. Here is how you can apply the KISS principle to the user experience. Don’t make them click three buttons when one will do. Don’t give them 4 options to accomplish the same goal. Take the time to think through the interface and consolidate options. Give the user one way to say yes. 

I know you may be thinking I am over-thinking and over-analyzing something as simple as the way I pump gas, or how I interact with the rewards program at a gas station, but this is how I see the world. I believe we can make even the everyday experiences better and more enjoyable. Because every interface has the opportunity to improve a relationship, or harm one. The details matter. Every detail matters. Be thoughtful about how to do things better, how to interact better. Make it simple. Make it efficient. Make it excellent.

Free Software and Success

Marketing automation is highly complex. A free app gives the wrong signal as if everyone with MA can be successful.

I recently saw this tweet and it annoyed me. The foundational belief that if something is free it cannot therefore be of real value is completely and totally false. Availability has never implied success. Cost does not unequivocally equal value. Granted there are many areas of life and the world where a brand may charge a premium for a similar product. You may find yourself paying for a logo, or a particular “name brand” recognition, but this hardly means the higher the price the greater the value.

The reverse is even more fallacious. The more affordable (or even free) price does not automatically relate to the quality of the product, the value of the software, or even the ability of this software to be helpful in future success.

A free app means the availability of the raw goods, the resources, are available without cost. The impetus still lies within the business to correctly implement the software to be successful. Let’s take a different perspective.

Imagine you find a stunning piece of software, it’s beautiful, it’s highly functional, it does absolutely amazing things. But you can’t find the price anywhere. You’re convinced this software is just what you need so you agree to begin using it regardless of the price. Now, you have two possible outcomes, you either fail to successfully implement the software and it sits there, beautiful, shiny, untouched. Or, the second option, you take this software run with it, implement it, and it makes your business incredibly successful. You’ll notice one thing that’s not revealed. The cost. Through this example what we discover is that the price of the software plays absolutely no role in the eventual outcome.

The price of software tools used should never be thought of as an indicator of the business’s eventually success.

Now, marketing automation has traditionally be considered complex, detailed, and difficult to use. But the status quo exists to be broken. Disruptive organizations, like Mautic, demonstrate this fact. Mautic revolutionizes the marketing automation industry with convenient, easy-to-use, intuitive marketing software. Mautic empowers everyone, and gives each the tools they need to be successful. Mautic gives the raw product. Mautic supplies the things necessary to be a success; but does not guarantee it. And an interesting fact, as we look at Mautic and what it has the capabilities to do, we haven’t once discussed price.

This leads to two obvious and glaring contradictions to the initial suggestion. First, marketing automation is no longer complex and difficult to setup or use. Second, Mautic doesn’t make you successful any more than having the various parts to a bicycle means you can ride one. Regardless of price, software is a tool to be used to accomplish a goal. You can read more about this theory in a recent marketing automation tool article on Mautic.org.

Bottom line: Don’t reject something new based on preconceived possibly erroneous notions.

The Importance of Marketing Tech

Recently I answered a question on Quora about the efficacy and “rule of thumb” for the benefits of marketing technology and how this tech should increase revenues. I thought it was a great question and followed a train of thought I have recently been pursuing so I added my answer to the page.


I believe you will be hard-pressed to find any definitive metrics for how efficacious marketing technology is for a business. The reason for this is in part related to a previous blog post I wrote on Mautic.org. The short version, summary, of that post in essence says that marketing automation platforms and other marketing technologies should always be considered tools to be used and not solutions. Here is what I mean and how it relates to this question. Let me use an analogy to make it easier to understand.

I’m very interested in bass guitars. I love the idea of laying the foundation of a musical rhythm the rest of the band then builds upon to create beautiful music. Bass guitars come in a variety of sizes, shapes, and styles. Each has their own beauty and their own purpose. They are powerful tools that, when placed in the right hands, can be used to impress and stun the audience. But, if I were to give a bass guitar to my son (awesome kindergarten kid) the result would be vastly different. Obviously you naturally and instinctively understand this difference. The guitar didn’t change-the player did. And the results are completely different.

The analogy should be fairly self-explanatory. Those same principles apply to marketing tech. These are tools to be used and with the right marketing department they can impress and stun the C-Suite and others. Inexperienced or new marketers will find the benefits far fewer and their path much different.

Once we’ve established this baseline understanding there are numerous metrics and statistics which demonstrate what is possible with effective marketing strategies. But remember, you should think of this like putting a Rickenbacker 4001 in the hands of Cliff Burton. If I were to pick up the same instrument my results would be different. Here are a few statistics floating around regarding marketing technology and improvements in efficiency and costs. Your results may vary.

Marketers who implement marketing automation see 53% higher conversion rates and annual revenue growth 3.1% higher than others.
http://aberdeen.com/Aberdeen-Library/7603/RA-marketing-lead-management.aspx

Email marketing has an ROI as high as 4,300%.
https://imis.the-dma.org/bookstore/ProductSingle.cfm?p=0D45047B%7C4DA56D9737FF45DF90CA1DA713E16B80

Successful lead nurturing programs average 20% increase in sales opportunities.
http://www.demandgenreport.com/industry-resources/white-papers/204-calculating-the-real-roi-from-lead-nurturing-.html

So, there’s three quick stats, a quick google search will yield hundreds more. The key here again, is that the marketing automation platform, or the marketing technology used is only the tool to help you be a better marketer. The right tool can save you hundreds of hours. Pair your expertise with a powerful platform and the results will be epic.

*For full disclosure, I contribute to the Mautic, free marketing automation platform, and have a strong bias to the belief that a powerful platform doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Mautic is an open source tool capable of helping you rock out like Metallica.

Finding the Right Fit

(Building An Exceptional Team)

Part of my duties in my day-to-day life involve finding the next great talented person to join our team. I don’t think by any means I am an expert at this, but I have been told on numerous times that we have a great team. (That’s not me, that’s the team believing in what we do). Remember these are not just empty chairs floating around and in need of a warm body. These are highly important positions for your team. Every single team member is important. When it comes time to build a team or fill seats, whether that is for a business or for a community there are several things I think are incredibly important. Some of these qualities might be surprising and some may be noticeably absent. I would like to share with you the five qualities I seek most often when looking to build a team.

These might be different for you and you may find mileage may vary depending on the industry or the focus of your company or organization. But I believe the following five qualities are a great place to start when building a team. I’ll give them each to you quickly and explain why I feel they are important.

1. Honest

Of course everyone is looking for an honest employee or co-worker. No one wants to think they are working with someone that will lie, cheat, or steal (remember though: if it’s in the refrigerator and unlabeled- that’s fair game). But in seriousness, an outstanding team member must have outstanding character. They should be not only honest and trustworthy but open. No, not the type of person who blabs every little detail about their personal life. But rather, they are quick to share their concerns, their potential problems and their work struggles. They are open and transparent in both successes and failures. I believe this is one of the most important character traits you want to find.

2. Determined

I love determined people. I am highly determined. I’m motivated. I love to work with people who are determined. They take the tasks they are given and they “make it happen”. Sometimes today that feels like an overused phrase but this determination to accomplish things is important. Immediately you may think the opposite is laziness, but I disagree, the opposite of determined is disinterest. They may be present and performing their job but without determination they are not the outstanding team member they could be. Determined does not mean working long hours every day either. Determination may require an occasional late night or at the least the willingness to put in extra time when the situation arises, but being determined is not being a workaholic. Being determined is more about a state of mind.

3. Proactive

A great team member will be proactive not just in doing what is required of them but seeking out other ways to help the team succeed. This state of being proactive means being a thinker. Proactive team members are always interested and engaged, they want to see great things happen because they believe in what they are doing. But more about that deep down belief in the next point. Proactivity isn’t just doing more work or finding more work to be done. Proactivity means a sense of alertness to the team environment and the outside community. What does that look like exactly? I’m glad you asked. Here is a simple three word phrase that I like to use to describe this concept. Proactive means listening. Many consider listening to be a reactive or passive activity. But if you are actively listening to what’s being said what you’ll find is you are essentially hearing what could be next. If you are actively listening you are proactively building the future.

4. Caring

Yes, an outstanding team member needs to be caring. I don’t mean a touchy-feely, let’s all hold hands and dance through the fields type of caring. But the outstanding team member needs to care deeply about the team, the organization, and the community. How does this happen? Simple. When you build a team surrounded about a shared belief system. When you find those team members who see, understand and share the vision of the team then you will have found an individual who will care. Let me describe this quality by sharing another opposite. The opposite of a caring individual is an apathetic person. They show up, they do their job, and then…then they leave. They only punch the clock; these individuals lack determination, they lack the proactive understanding about the underlying foundation for why you do what you do. They don’t care. A caring individual must be deeply motivated by the reason why.

5. Excitable

The last character quality I like to seek out when identifying exceptional team members is their ability to get excited. Too many times I think the idea of excitability gets a bad rap. People label someone as excitable if they are easily agitated, that’s a completely different word. When I say excitable I mean someone who’s passions can be stirred. They are caring, they understand the vision and they are compelled by the vision to accomplish the mission of the team. And this excites them. This drives them and gives them determination. to be proactive. I love to see someone get excited about what they are doing. This speaks to me. I see their passion and this passion, this excitement, is contagious. It spreads throughout the team. If you have a team member that does not have the quality of excitability then the team as a whole suffers. But when excitement works its way through a passionate team then each person feeds on that excitement and the passion builds, and builds, and builds within the team.

And those are five of the key qualities I like to look for when building a team. When I find someone with those traits I have a pretty good feeling they will fit within the team. They will share in the culture of the team. There are some great examples of company culture and team culture which I follow but I will refrain from commenting or sharing my thoughts on that aspect of hiring in this post.

You may have noticed a few qualities conspicuously missing from this post. No I haven’t neglected the importance of formal training, potential salary requirements, or the hard-working nature of a team member. But these are secondary qualities. They play a part but they are not what I look for first. I want to build a team that will last, a culture that inspires, and a community that grows for years, and decades to come. When I meet someone with the five qualities I listed above the result is usually someone who will not only fit into an amazing team but become an amazing part of the community.

You’re Going The Wrong Way

This was my first experience with Lyft, the other popular ride-sharing service. I had previously used Uber on multiple occasions but all the recent publicity and press I figured it might be time to explore the alternatives and see what else was available in the ride-sharing space. Lyft is of course the second most popular service with others coming along behind them.

Continue reading You’re Going The Wrong Way

The Price of Free Software

Let’s talk for a minute about the topic of free software. As you may know I am deeply involved with the Mautic community which offers a free marketing automation platform. This platform is free, open source and available for immediate download by anyone interested. I am thrilled to be able to play a part in this community which seeks to support businesses, organizations, and people in their marketing efforts without asking for anything in return.

Continue reading The Price of Free Software

Cheaper by the Dozen

Each of you possesses the most valuable item in the world. I don’t care where you work, where you live, or where you bank. Each of you is incredibly wealthy. Each one of you possesses something invaluable. You’re probably thinking I’m crazy because I haven’t seen your bank balance. :) But I’m not crazy. Because it does not matter if you have any of the tangible goods or resources of the world. There is only one resource you have that can never be replaced. You can’t make more, buy more, or borrow more. You can’t re-use it. This resource is your time.

Continue reading Cheaper by the Dozen

The Secret to Growth Hacking

Recently I had the great privilege to travel and speak at the 3rd annual CMS Africa Summit. I was asked to deliver two keynotes and the second one focused on the idea of growing a community. The session title: Building Powerful Community Networks, was given to me by the event organizers but I believe it was quite insightful on their part.

Continue reading The Secret to Growth Hacking

Scaling Applications for Global Communities

Below is a transcript of the talk I gave recently in Oman at their Free and Open Source Software Conference (2015). If you want to watch the talk instead you can do so on YouTube starting at the 1:18:44 mark (Here is a direct link to my talk on scaling applications for global communities). Or if you prefer to download and read later, here’s a PDF version.

Continue reading Scaling Applications for Global Communities