Startup
startup success and longterm stability

May 8, 2018
Balancing Startups and Stability

I’m constantly talking about startups, but also about stability. It sounds like two things that are constantly fighting with each other in an ongoing back-and-forth struggle for supremacy. There’s benefits to either force taking control, however when the balance is struck between the two I believe you see true power and velocity. As a result, rather than letting one “win” or spending all your energies pushing one over the other, it’s better to keep up with a balancing act. Here’s what I think that looks like.

Startup Specialties

There are so many excellent aspects of living like a startup. Of course the startup mentality has been glorified and turned into this unrealistic standard by which every dreamer or entrepreneur with an idea strives after. What is this startup mentality? Incredibly fast development times, lots of PR and buzz, excitement, energy, passion, working around the clock, releasing new features all the time, oh, and let’s not overlook…breaking things. Constantly.

Based on that list of ideals let’s expand on them a bit to draw some conclusions about the specialties and shortcomings of the startup mentality.

  1. Fast Development Times: This is one of the greatest strengths of a startup. No other business can hear the voice of the customer and respond with quite the same speed as a startup. Whether that’s because of the closeness to the customer (Every customer is the only customer to a startup), or the flatness of an organizational structure where changes can be made practically in ‘real-time’, or due to the relatively small existing customer base where changes don’t have to take into consideration existing use cases.
  2. Passion: Startups exhibit a passion for accomplishing the outrageous. This feeling of incorrigible confidence in their ability to change the world (though often mocked) is the foundation upon which a startup is able to legitimately re-imagine how things should work and improve them.
  3. New Features: The last specialty of a startup I’ll mention is their ability to create new features. This relies heavily on the first two points, passion mixed with fast development/response times creates new and improved features and never-before-seen things. Startups are particularly adept at this and often are able to unseat older more established businesses as a result.

But there is one aspect of the startup that I do not highlight as a specialty or a positive aspect. Breaking things. That’s right, startups break things. all. the. time. Not a strength. In fact it’s the opposite – which is why I consider stability to be the yin to the startup yang.

Stability Strengths

The benefits of stability are deep and obvious but I’m going to address them anyways. Whenever building software that people come to rely on, one of the biggest and most important issues relates to stability and usability. In fact, stability is considered of such importance that it serves as the underlying foundation for a variety of other business attributes: usability, user experience, stickiness, reliability, excellence, and even success. Now for symmetry’s sake here’s three defined a bit more:

  1. User Experience: When software isn’t stable the user experience is often one of the first and most notable things to suffer. If the user isn’t able to do what they expect because of bugs, broken things, or problems the result is a negative experience that ends in a lost customer.
  2. *Excellence: Just as the user experience is affected by stability so too is the general consensus around the quality and excellence of a product (and ultimately the company). If a product continues to break or lacks stability the company’s image and brand suffers drastically.
  3. Success: As mentioned this is the end result of a cumulative effect from everything listed above. Which means lacking stability ends up in failure. Success is contingent on a number of factors, but stability is without a doubt one of the greatest. A stable, growing product promotes a positive user experience, it speaks to excellence, and it ends in success.

For these clear benefits stability is of great importance for a business of any size, even the startup business. Therefore it stands to reason the greatest success comes from balancing both of these concepts.

Striking Balance

There’s several factors that require consideration when striking a balance and while this is not the one and only reason I’ll share with you one important factor you should take into consideration.

But first, there’s an important lesson to be learned here: This balance is not a 50/50 split. That’s right, in this case balance does not have to be an equal, straight-down-the-middle split between stability and startup thinking.

One aspect that needs to be strongly considered when balancing these two involves the target audience. Here’s what I mean. If you’re creating a product for the consumer (end user), for example an app, a service, or a low-price per transaction product, you will address this balance differently than if you are focused on an enterprise level, higher cost of acquisition product, goods, or service.

It seems obvious, but I think many times we tend to forget this difference. Please take note: I am not advocating low cost does not need to be stable. Instead, it’s still a balance but with a greater priority placed on the startup side of things rather than the stability side of the scale. Make sense? If you’re only spending $50 on something you’ll appreciate the speed of development, new features, and passion of the team and community more so than some minor stability issues. You’ll be more forgiving of them. If however, you have a $50,000 purchase you expect it to be absolutely stable, reliable, and excellent. Again, you still want new features, passion, and speed but you discount those items in favor of the user experience and a stable, reliable product.

So, the next time you’re considering your own balance between startup thinking (throw new features at the wall and see what sticks) vs stability (make your product excellent and bug-free) – consider your audience.

Have other ideas or ways this balance can be evaluated? I’d love to hear your feedback in the comments below.

February 25, 2018
Release with Purpose

One of the topics that frequently gets discussed in engineering circles (or maybe I should say product circles) is the concept of when to release. I say product circles because engineers I am convinced would be happy to keep a project in continuous improvement forever. It’s in our blood. We have this innate desire to continue to make something better and every time we look at a project we’ve found a half dozen ways we can continue to improve it before we call it a product and release.

This is a blog for everyone though, not just engineers so let me take the back a level and make it more of a general concept discussion.

The perpetual debate that happens in any company who releases software or ships a product is about when to ship and when to perfect. And there are a million different pieces of advice and ways to look at the situation. Apparently, based on the majority of those, most people tend to hold on to things too long and never ship. As a result the most common advice is to Release early, release often and iterate. Great companies have pushed this mantra in the past and possibly one of the most well-known of the modern era, says this:

Hackers try to build the best services over the long term by quickly releasing and learning from smaller iterations rather than trying to get everything right all at once. To support this, we have built a testing framework that at any given time can try out thousands of versions of Facebook. We have the words “Done is better than perfect” painted on our walls to remind ourselves to always keep shipping.

“Done is better than perfect” and “Move Fast and Break Things” are two of the common phrases associated with the Facebook movement. Both of these focus on this same sentiment. Speed and early releasing is more important than waiting for perfection.

I understand the mentality. I agree with the sentiment. And I encourage others at Mautic and in the community to think this way as well. There’s truth in saying that “we must quiet our fearful ‘lizard brains’ to avoid sabotaging projects just before we finally finish them”. But, it’s also important to not release prematurely. While this caution doesn’t need to be issued as often (as discussed above) I was discussing a tool improvement yesterday with one of our engineers, shout out to Don Gilbert for being a weekend warrior, and the conversation subtly shifted back into this debate. He looked at me and said, “We don’t want to delay a release for perfection.” My immediate response was, “We do want to delay a release for purpose.”

What I meant by that statement was simple: When releasing a product into the market, or really releasing anything (marketing materials, sales decks internally, literally anything) we should release intentionally. And if there’s something fundamental that needs to be improved or changed before a release, then hold the release for a purpose. A specific purpose. In this way you’ll release early and often, but you won’t release a problem. If you have a real and definite purpose for delaying a release you’ll fix that reason and still release. It will still be fast and it will still be frequent. But it will be polished.

January 27, 2018
The Importance of Process

Moving fast often has many side effects; whether you’re driving fast in a car, skiing down a mountain at high speeds, or falling from the sky with a parachute, all this speed has side effects. Our goal is to minimize the negative side effects while maximizing the positive ones. (If you don’t know what I mean by a positive side effect of moving fast then stop right there. Go figure this out first. The adrenaline rush is second to none.)

But instead of talking about the highs that come from moving fast I want to spend a couple minutes looking at the lows. I want to explore those negative side effects that come up whenever we’re moving fast. And rather than exploring the entire range of ways we can move fast I want to focus on just one area that is becoming more and more common in today’s world and one with which I have personal experience. I want to share a sure fire way to minimize negative side effects caused by moving fast when building a product.

This is important because of the myths and cliche statements we hear commonly shared in the mindset of today’s startups. These phrases are tossed around as common vernacular and lingo that every startup should claim as their ‘mantra’ for existence. But this mindset is dangerous and potentially deadly for longterm success. Here’s a common example that many of you have probably already heard:

“Move fast and break things.” – Facebook

This thinking is a pervasive cancer that if followed without discretion and proper context leads to those dangerous side effects I mentioned earlier.

To be clear, the problem is not in moving fast, nor is the problem in breaking things. The issue is deeper and more subtle. Moving fast is a requirement for success in the startup scene today. It seems with every advance in technology so the pace of a startups rise to success must also grow exponentially. Speed is equated with success and the giants who paved the way seemingly preach this gospel without regard for side effects. But I’ve gone long enough without providing more context for what I am suggesting. If moving fast is not the problem what is?

The problem does not lie in breaking things either. There’s nothing wrong with breaking things as you move fast. It’s naturally an inevitable side effect and I would suggest it is not a negative side effect. But now we’re getting closer to the true issue.

We must learn from what we break and we must move fast in fixing them when they do break. As we move we have to build in proper processes. These processes help to govern our speed and shape our direction. And this is where the fault becomes evident. If a startup or a business moves fast without the proper process than mistakes will snowball and problems will grow into an insurmountable obstacle. And that is why processes are so important. But let’s get specific for a bit and evaluate what those processes look like practically speaking.

1. Get Past Repetition

The first process that needs to be established in your quest to move faster is to get past repetition. This process means when you fail and break things you want to protected yourself from doing it again. You don’t want to fall into the dangerous trap of repeating your past failures. Failing is acceptable and part of the process. Repeatedly making the same mistake or breaking the same thing is not acceptable. This means you need to diligently set up a process to help you guard against this. Now you may be wondering what this looks like. The first and possibly greatest way is listed as another separate process below (Document Failures).

Here are a couple practical ways you can get past repetition.

  • Share information within your team. Whether this is done through regular and frequent all-hands meetings or done informally in chat conversations. It is important that everyone knows how the company is doing where you have succeeded (and failed). Knowledge truly is power.
  • Train New Team Members. Much in the same way that the first point educates everyone on the team by giving them current information about the status of the team success, newly joined team members need to be brought up to speed on those conversations. Create a powerful and robust database of the company’s history (and I don’t mean the marketing story about how the company has risen through startup struggles to be a powerful force to be reckoned with.). Make this down and dirty. Make this real.

2. Use Positive Reinforcement

The second process you should setup as you move faster in your startup involves the implementation and use of positive reinforcement. This is incredibly important because failures and mistakes can be discouraging. Team morale may falter and if this is not guarded against this will lead to a downward spiral, increased discouragement, and ultimately failure. Positive reinforcement means looking at your failures not as catastrophic and dismal but merely a part of a greater journey. Positive reinforcement encourages failure for the sake of growth.

Now of course I don’t mean go seek out failure so you can grow. That would be crazy! Instead, when failure occurs (and it will) seek out the lesson to be learned, the means by which that breakage can make you stronger for the next time. Encourage your team members by reminding them of the big picture. The best way to rise up from a fall is to turn your eyes towards where you are going.

3. Ask the Right Questions

The next process to build out involves a standard to be created at every point when a failure occurs. Don’t ignore failure, but don’t blindly encourage your team either. Instead, do a proper post mortem on each failure point. Know why you failed and know what you can learn from it. But I didn’t name this particular process Error Reporting. Instead when you break something you need to be able to diagnosis it properly. This means above all else you must ask the right questions after you break something. This can be tricky because who is to determine the right questions?

Asking the right question meanings that you must first have a strong understanding of the objectives. But thankfully, when the above processes have been created (using positive reinforcement and protecting against repetition) then everyone knows what the goal is. And knowing the goal means you can ask the right questions. As you can see these processes are linked. They work together.

4. Redirect Appropriately

When moving fast and breaking things there’s another important process you need to create. Redirect as needed. That’s right, moving along at breakneck speed doesn’t mean doing so blindly or without direction. Only a fool would not take the experiences and failures and learn from them. Learning from them is more than asking the right questions, it’s more than telling the team, and it’s more than staying positive. Learning from mistakes means acting on the knowledge gathered and using that knowledge to redirect or change course.

I’m sure this is more easily understood than the other processes and its different for every startup. But the takeaway is the same regardless. Learn from your mistakes and change your path as a result.

5. Document Failures

Finally, the last process I’ll describe for you is one that has been hinted at repeatedly through a variety of the other processes. As I suggested earlier many of these processes are interlinked and co-dependent. Of course you can establish a few of them without the others. But implementing them all will give you a significant advantage. And it should be said that you may already be doing some of these processes already just with different names or implementations. Ensuring that your startup in one way or another follows these processes will increase your likelihood of success and growth.

So, the final process is documentation. Writing down what happened, when it happened, and most importantly why it happened. By having this level of detail in your documented mistakes you’ll prevent yourself from creating the same ones again (or at least guard against it). It all ties in together.

Write it down, share it, learn from it, encourage one another, redirect as necessary. Follow these processes and you will not just blindly move fast and break things. But you will instead move fast with a purpose and break things as you make them better.

This simple acronym, GUARD, will help setup the right process and allow you to move fast and break things…the right way. With intentionality and proper direction you can accomplish incredible things and truly accelerate your growth. Without these processes and guidelines you’ll fall victim to the same trap as so many other failing businesses who think moving quickly means constantly failing. Build the right processes and watch your productivity explode. Who knows, maybe something you say will be the next ‘mantra’ that everyone is quoting.

December 2, 2016
Determined or Workaholic

Some people try to label me a workaholic. They seem to think that because I stay up late or get up early to get work done that I must be a workaholic. But there’s a difference. I realize not everyone will see it and you might not agree but let me see if I can persuade you to think about it differently.

The dictionary definition of workaholic is as follows: A person who compulsively works hard and long hours.

This means anyone who is compulsively working long hours or hard hours is by very definition a workaholic. However, let’s dig into that definition a little bit more. The interesting word in that sentence is: compulsive. Compulsive means a result driven by an irresistible urge, especially one that is against one’s conscious wishes. And now I hope you see the real root reason why I would fundamentally disagree with the label of workaholic.

If you’re in a situation where you are working obsessively on something, but loving what you do, you are driven to see its success and you are hyper-focused on seeing your work brought to completion…that is not a workaholic. That’s focused, intentional, and deliberate choices made for a very specific purpose.

In those late hours (or early mornings) when I am diligently striving to create something never before seen I am motivated and driven by a goal and a vision. My “why” statement is the foundational belief upon which I build my work schedule and my calendar. I am consciously and willfully making choices which will enable and empower me to accomplish the goals I have set. This is the exact opposite of compulsion.

Compulsive behavior by its very definition is an irresistible, uncontrollable urge to work, regardless of desire, motivation and purpose. This behavior lacks the fundamental basis of “why”. Therefore, workaholics are not driven by their goals and their desires to accomplish something, they are not driven by an innate inner fundamental belief, instead they are controlled by an external force. Workaholics have lost their basic human right to freedom.

So as I hope you can see, I very strongly object when someone would suggest that I am a workaholic. There is no situation in which I would consider myself a workaholic. Yes, I spend a lot of time creating something incredible. I pour myself into what I do and I am highly motivated to see its success. But it’s a conscious choice. It’s a daily decision I make to wake early, stay late, and change the world. I’m driven by my “why” and my vision. And I hope you are as well.

November 29, 2016
No Shame in Learning

The fear of failure can be a crippling feeling. Whether it’s the struggle with personal pride, the feeling of rejection, or simply the internal disdain for not being successful. Whatever the motivating factor, fear over failing can inhibit your success significantly. I know from personal experience the deeply intimidating feeling of being observed by the world and the intense pressure associated with this feeling of scrutiny. Granted this is often a perceived feeling and lacking substance but the feeling exists none the less.

This feeling tends to force a tendency I hold already – the deep-seated desire for perfection. If I can release perfect software, if I can build a perfect company, if I can create the perfect culture then I won’t fail. But what a ridiculous and impractical goal. Sure it sounds excellent but the reality is that no one is perfect. No plan is perfect. There will be failure.

An advisor once shared with me an important nugget of information that I hold on to now as I create and grow. He said,

“Have no doubt you will fail, you will zig and you will zag along your path as you build this company. Don’t beat yourself up for that. Just keep your eyes focused on the goal and press on. There’s no shame in learning”

Sure it’s not necessarily new advice or revolutionary even; but in the moment it was exactly what I needed to hear. There’s no shame in learning from failures and using them to make yourself better. The key lies in that simple statement. Rather than focusing on failure as a missed opportunity or a flaw in your person or process it is far better to think of those failures as learning moments. And if you learn from them-they weren’t failures at all.

Failure isn’t bad, the fear of failure can be. Ultimately the outlook you have and the way you deal with failure is far more important than the actual misstep. If you learn from the mistakes you make, if you use those failures as ways to improve your product, your business, even yourself, you’ll be better as a result. I’d be so bold as to suggest you’ll be better than if you hadn’t experienced those failures at all. How many great inventions have you heard about which came to be as a direct result of a failure? There are story after story of incredible successes built on the back of a failure. In every instance it’s the ability of the person to learn from their failure which makes all the difference.

So, maybe you’re in a tough spot right now, maybe you’re a bit paralyzed with the idea that you’ll fail in the undertaking you’re in the midst of. If so, I hope the advice I received and have shared with you now will help you to press on, make bold decisions, try new things, and even fail. Just be sure you learn from each failure; and who knows what you’ll do next!

Be excellent by spending your time wisely.

May 6, 2016
Know Your Limits

Most people recognize that as they get older they start to slow down; or at least their bodies start to slow down. There’s less they can do and there are more things slowly seizing up. Recently I had a friend jokingly comment that they were ok with the minor aches and pains, and the crick in their neck was not that big a deal because as they said, “Hey, I’m 53 now and things are starting to break down.”

As they get older people start to understand their bodies better as well as getting smarter about what they do. In short, they know their limits. Maybe it’s not staying up as late, not eating everything they want, or not jumping into that pickup basketball game like they used to. As a result of this self-imposed limiting they are able to do more and do it better. This seems counterintuitive. Self-limiting should mean less gets done and more experiences are lost right? In reality, once they start restricting themselves and understanding their own limits they can push themselves within those boundaries and experience life more fully. I find this truth to be insightful for many other aspects of life as well, both personally and professionally.

Let me share what I mean. I titled the post Know Your Limits. I tossed around several different ideas but finally settled on this. Originally I wanted to express the idea of self-awareness and how knowing what you were good at would equate to being capable of doing things excellently. Ultimately being excellent, being known for doing excellently is important to our feelings of self-worth and personal value. We want others to recognize our talents and skills. We want to feel as though we’re accomplishing something worthwhile and in our hearts we want to feel that we are providing value to those around us. This lead me down the path thinking about what helps us accomplish those feelings.

I began to think about the next logical level from the end result of doing something with excellence. How do we do something excellent? Well we have to be able to do it “right”. There’s usually two ways of doing something ‘right’ – either through training or natural ability. However, even those natural abilities and talents need to be cultivated and refined. This requires work and time spent improving, tweaking, adjusting our practice until the end result is clean, polished, and excellent.

Next in the progression involves looking at how many different things we’re working on. Why is this important? I’m glad you asked. As I just shared, every talent or ability requires work and time. Time. I’ve talked about it frequently on my blog in the past because of the critical role it plays in everything we do and every journey we undertake. And here again we see time becoming an integral factor in our path to excellence. If we recognize that time is the only asset we can’t beg, borrow, steal, store, or create more of then we need to think about all those way we are consuming it. This means we have to consider how many different things we’re working on and the time required to be excellent. I’m sure everyone’s familiar with the commonly shared almost anecdotal 10,000 hours rule. If not, a quick Google search will reveal a number of helpful posts on the subject. I’m not going to question the legitimacy of the post, or the specifics of the claim. But it provides a good basis to help shape our thinking.

10,000 hours. If we look at the average life expectancy we find there are approximately 689,412 hours in life. We then find that we spend about 90,228 hours working in a typical life. If we ignore the fact that there are probably a dozen other demands on our time even at this somewhat unrealistic view of our time we still only have approximately 9 things we can truly master in a lifetime. (90,228/10,000 hours). Wow. That is not a lot. And yet, how many of us, myself included are trying to be excellent at dozens (if not more) of different things? We believe we can beat the system and be excellent at everything we do. Some of this is natural human optimism. But if we can recognize this temptation to be overly optimistic and idealistic then we can begin to cultivate and refine our talents in a more achievable way.

And so we return to the title of this post and the goal we want to accomplish. In order to be excellent, in order to do things right, in order to be successful we have to recognize and build the right foundation. We have to know our limits.

It’s incredibly hard to be this self-aware. In business it’s incredibly hard to stay focused on those few areas where you can truly be excellent. As you get closer to achieving excellence others will begin to recognize your differences and your ability to rise above. When they do they’ll begin to use and promote you and your brand…and they’ll want you to solve all their problems. This is the trap many fall into. Those problems will start to creep outside those areas you have focused on and become excellent in performing. If you know your limits and the limits of your business you’ll be prepared to answer these requests the right way. Of course there are ways your business will continue to grow and adapt and become better but prepare your customers by making them aware of what they are requesting and your current abilities in those areas. Share your limits. Don’t be afraid to grow but also don’t be afraid to share your current strengths and weaknesses. Your customer’s will respect and appreciate that even in this you are doing things excellently.

Let me know if as you have read this post you’ve thought of other ways knowing your limits is beneficial to your success. I think the concept of time management, efficiency, and self-awareness are all critical elements for ultimately being excellent. Are there important elements? Are there other benefits to being self-aware and knowing your own limits? I look forward to seeing what you think.

The Louvre as a marketing pyramid scheme

April 28, 2016
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?

The Scheme

As I learned from a good friend there is a simple diagram which can be immensely helpful in creating this structure. I call it a pyramid scheme for startups. Only this pyramid scheme is highly beneficial and immensely helpful. And totally legal.

I’ll start by giving you the picture and then digging into it a bit to better explain each level and what it looks like from a couple different perspectives.

"marketing

How the marketing uses the pyramid

First, we want to look at this pyramid scheme from the position of the marketer. The marketer needs to create the branding and marketing message for the organization. They have to start with the core and work out. In this role they need to take this pyramid, start at the top, and work their way outwards (or down).

marketing strategy marketing plan

A good marketer recognizes they must begin by identifying what the company is (What we are). Once they have a good handle on the “why” for the business; they align with the company goals and objectives; and then they shift their focus to be slightly more broad and begin to create the marketing message. This marketing message should point people to what the business does and funnel traffic “upstream” into the what and why statement.

We’re Different. Here’s How.

Continuing downward the marketer then begins to build on this marketing message into some of the specific ways in which the business is different from the competition. This is the differentiating aspect of the marketing message. Again, this stage is broader still in the overall marketing context and begins to include other sources, the general market space, and a broader reach.

The broadest and most generic marketing message is the bottom of the pyramid. The last part a marketer builds out and focuses on revolves around the practical application of the business/product to an audience. How the customer would use the product.

An interesting point you’ll notice as the marketer builds this pyramid from highly specific (company-focused) to very broad (audience-focused) there begins to form a number of different “channels” or as more commonly known “verticals”. This can be easily shown in the pyramid with the following minor addition.

marketing channels marketing message

What you’ll see is with the addition of these vertical markets the marketer continues to funnel everything upwards into a single core message and becoming more company-centric and refined.

It’s a brilliant way of thinking about the marketing message. I think it represents similar concepts to what you’ll find if you look at Simon Sinek’s presentation on Start with Why. Which incidentally is also one of my personal biggest influences. I’ve written on that topic time and again. But this is only one part of the equation.

How sales uses the pyramid

We can take this same pyramid structure and look at it through the eyes of the salesperson. If we start from a sales standpoint we have to approach the situation from the opposite direction

sales funnel sales path

The reason for this is simple but let’s walk through it anyways as an exercise. First, when you’re approaching a business from a sales perspective you have to start from a common point. The best salesperson recognizes that instead of yelling about what makes the business great the best way to begin involves listening. A salesperson that listens first to a customer, understands and helps identify pain points is going to have a much easier job providing a solution that solves specific problems.

You have to listen first.

This approach of listening and identifying pain points means simply identifying how the business/product would be most effectively used by the customer (aka the bottom of the pyramid). This is a critical step. This lays the foundation for the relationship and helps the salesperson reach the broadest possible audience. Keep in mind the verticals we discussed previously. Listening to the pain points and identifying use-cases means targeting a specific vertical path from the bottom of the pyramid.

Secondly, once the customer recognizes and relates to the pain points and how they would use the solution the salesperson can continue to refine the sales message to begin to highlight key differences between the product and the competition. This is still the differentiating step, but specifically as it relates to the pain points previously identified.

Relate to your customers

The third step is the relational step. At this level in the pyramid the salesperson takes the differentiating factors and leverages those along with the pain points to relate to the customer. Here the interests of the customer need to be aligned with the solutions provided by the company. This is the “caring” level where the customer begins to see in a semi-focused manner why this particular company will uniquely be able to help them.

Finally, the last step in the sales process is where the company can share a bit more of their personal message, culture, and experience. This is where the company can open up a bit. Note, that you don’t want this to occur too early in the relationship but rather be saved until the connection has been made and the basis for a relationship formed.

I hope you find this helpful to think about as you work within your company (really any stage company can probably benefit from this). Keep these principles in mind as you build your marketing strategy and your sales strategy. Focus your time and efforts where they matter most. Of course this isn’t a perfect picture and there are ways this could be improved upon both generally and also in specific company use cases.

As I’m learning and thinking on these things I’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions. Have you found a particular pyramid or other diagram that helps identify and organize your thoughts around preparing a marketing message (sales traffic) besides the funnel. Because, yes, I’ve seen enough funnels to last a lifetime.

Free marketing automation software is a tool.

January 12, 2016
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.

8 step onboarding process for communities

July 30, 2015
An 8 Step Onboarding Process

One of the hardest thing in growing any community is not finding new volunteers (though this can be difficult), the hardest thing is encouraging those new volunteers through the initial process of contributing and continuing those contributions over time.

The Concept of Onboarding

This process of bringing in new volunteers and welcoming them into a community is labeled as onboarding. Onboarding is not a difficult concept and every single role in every single business undergoes some form of this process in the beginning. This is the process by which the new individual “learns the ropes”, understands the job description, identifies the work to be done, and determines a way to accomplish that work.

Corporate Backgrounds

Many jobs have specific processes to accomplish this onboarding task and most companies outline them clearly in their manuals and job training programs (usually run by HR). Unfortunately while in corporate environments this is regularly seen as a necessary part of the process it is far too often neglected in open source communities and volunteer organizations.

I’ve seen this firsthand when communities encourage new volunteers to join, they beg for new helpers, and then they strand them. Oh, they don’t mean to strand them but they inevitably do. They leave them behind to fend for themselves. There’s many reasons for this and these organizations never mean to intentionally abandon their new volunteers but it happens; and it happens far too much.

Identifying A Process That Works

So if we can recognize there is a problem then we can formulate a solution! I propose the following 8 step onboarding process for community volunteers. This won’t be comprehensive and shouldn’t be applied blindly to every organization but I believe it gives a basic outline which can be used and adapted to meet many of the current problems found.

Step 1: Immediate Engagement

The very first step in the onboarding process is the easiest and the one step that most every organization understands and does fairly well. Every onboarding process must begin with finding new volunteers and immediately engaging them. Here’s the important thing to consider at this step: The organization must have someone responsible for reaching out, engaging, motivating, and encouraging new volunteers. Again many communities understand this importance and do this remarkably well and with determination. It’s easy to encourage people to join. It’s relatively easy to smile and cheer on an initial interest from a volunteer. For the sake of this article I will assume you are this person.

Step 2: Baby-Step Accomplishment

This second step is an important one. The same person (you) who initially engaged and encouraged the volunteer should provide them with a basic “task” or “responsibility” they must complete. When the volunteer has done this first step they need to be met with praise and recognition. The encouragement to get involved turns into praise for a job well done. Remember that no accomplishment is too small and nothing is too insignificant to turn into an opportunity to encourage and praise. You want to motivate and encourage continued engagement.  Recognizing the time someone spends to accomplish a job is the perfect way to demonstrate this.

Step 3: Group Introduction

Once the volunteer has been engaged and has completed their very first minor accomplishment (and I do mean minor, this is something very easy to do!) the next step involves introducing them to a larger group of other individuals. You want to introduce them and make sure they feel welcomed by others. This is where community growth becomes a team-effort. Not only do you engage with the new contributor but you must also engage with existing team members and volunteers to ensure they are welcoming and friendly to the new person!

Step 4: Peer Connection

Of course you know that not everyone will make immediate friends with everyone else. Things like personalities, culture, regions, languages, and timezones all affect personal relationships. This makes some connections harder than others. Some relationships form naturally and immediately make lasting connections. Others just don’t. The important part is to identify one or two individuals in the group where a connection has been made and ensure they grow. You will need to connect directly with both the existing volunteers and the new volunteer. You are actively engaged in enabling and empowering these relationships.

Step 5: Second Accomplishment

The next step in this process of a successful onboarding means taking the time to observe and watch for the second accomplishment by your new volunteer. At this stage the peer connections you helped establish previously should be the primary points of contact within the group or team for the new volunteer and should take the lead in identifying tasks to be completed. They should also be the ones to encourage, support, and praise the new volunteer. Your job is not done however, you will need to watch and be ready to again recognize the work completed. You are a cheerleader and encourager.

Step 6: Engage Someone New

Here we have a turning point in the onboarding process. The new volunteer is no longer a new volunteer. At this point they are familiar with the organization, the team, the project, and the various other aspects of “how things work”. They have not yet become seasoned experts but they are highly knowledgeable. This is important, at this point they have a maximum potential impact for further growth. Think of it as the intersection between knowledge and passion. This intersection is the perfect time to have them begin engaging with new volunteers. They become actively involved with encouraging others to get involved. (The new volunteer is beginning to fulfill Step 1 above)

Step 7: Identify Opportunities

Our new volunteer is now officially considered no longer new. They are one of the key members of the team and serve in a variety of capacities. They now are available to work as a peer connection with new volunteers brought into the group. In addition, because of their tenure and involvement they are very aware of opportunities for growth within the project or community. They are active in identifying these, solving them, and delegating them. They provide these items to others who are currently at Step 5, their second accomplishment. (Remember: peer connections work to provide the tasks for that step).

Step 8: Advocate

We’ve reached the final stage of the onboarding process. I realize it feels long and exaggerated but this process is truly all part of what makes a community grow strong and for the future. This final step involves the volunteer engaging, motivating, and encouraging others. At this step the volunteer has been turned into…you. And thus the cycle completes itself and the community begins to scale.


Our goal in creating an onboarding process is to see the community flourish and grow. We all want to see viral growth and watch our volunteers thrive not only within the community but also personally. This 8 step plan for onboarding volunteers will give you the power to scale your community and increase your engagement with your contributors. Take this process, implement the specifics unique to your community and establish a system that will empower your volunteers! And of course I’d love to hear your stories of your journey!

July 27, 2015
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.

Ride Sharing Lyft Car

I was familiar with Lyft but to be perfectly honest I hadn’t checked them out earlier partly because I was a bit turned off by the “fun” nature. I’m looking for a nice, professional ride, not a party car with a giant pink mustache. But here I was in Portland preparing to return after a long week of conferences and I decided to give the mustache a chance. I’d be leaving in the dark anyways. And so in the early morning hours with some hesitation I requested a Lyft and waited.

My driver, Max arrived promptly and to my relief the mustache effect was minimal. He helped me get all in and as I had heard I rode in the front seat instead of the back…no big deal. We settled in and he immediately guessed my destination to be the airport (I suppose there’s not much else people use Lyft for at 4 in the morning). I explained it was my first time using Lyft and was interested to see how things went. I had barely gotten these words out of my mouth when I was treated to one of the most heart-stopping experiences you want to face at a time of day when your eyes are barely open.

one way street

Max had pulled out and started driving along unaware he was driving the wrong way on a one-way street. No big deal, it’s deserted roads at this time of day right? Mostly. You see the one vehicle that seems to always be on the roads is the impressively-built, industrial-sized, public transit, also known as the city bus, equipped with a wonderful set of powerful headlights. It was at this moment, caught in the brilliant glare of two spotlights I turned to Max and rather casually observed;

“I think you’re going the wrong way.”

I can’t help but think in that moment how much I felt like John Candy and Steve Martin in Planes,Trains, and Automobiles. If you’ve seen the movie you know what part I’m referring to. Let’s just say I was relieved to see that Max did not have horns and an evil laugh when I turned to him with my now fully-open eyes and racing heart.

Thankfully Max was able to pull a quick and well-maneuvered three-point turn (I guess the Department of Motor Vehicles must have planned for this type of thing when they made three-point turns a mandatory part of the driving test.) We escaped without incident and were able to get back headed the right direction and had a relatively uneventful remainder of our trip to the airport. (Not sure there’s much more that could have been done to make it more exciting at this point).

So now comes the question. Would I use Lyft again? After a hair-raising experiencing like this do I feel comfortable doing it again? I’d have to answer absolutely I would. Things happen. Mistakes can be made by anywhere and at any time. This could have very easily been a once-in-a-lifetime fluke. But if I book a Lyft in the future and find myself in a similar situation, or any other less-than-optimal experience…well that might just close the book on the service for me.

Tolerance

You see, as humans we’re tolerant of an occasional faux-paux (well, most people are). We recognize that things happen and we’re willing to overlook them, forgive them quickly; particularly in a new service or new product. We are more tolerant. However, repeated negative experiences build on each other. We don’t forget things quickly (I can assure you I won’t forget this Lyft ride anytime soon).

How quick are you in turning?

This is the aspect that can absolutely destroy an otherwise great startup. You can have glitches in your beta, you can have a bug here or there that hopefully can be fixed quickly. A minor three-point turn and you’ve redirected the user back onto a successful journey in your app. But fail multiple times and your users will leave. They will establish a perceived pattern, they will assume a poor product, a bad implementation, and leave you with a failed startup. Yes, first impressions are important and critical to get right, but they are not the only thing to consider. The overall user-experience, the attention to details, the responsiveness handling issues or bugs when they arise are just as important.

Are you listening?

In my startup life these are the types of lessons I’m learning. Listen to your users, they may be telling you that you’re going the wrong way. You may need to pivot or simply do a quick, three-point turn, but always be listening. I hope if you’re in a similar situation you can draw some inspiration, encouragement, or at least a laugh from my journey and use it to make your startup-life more successful.