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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
December 15, 2014
Beta List Featured Startup Mautic
So there’s an awesome website, if you’ve never heard of it you need to check it out. It’s called Beta List. Beta List gives you just what it sounds like, a list of awesome new software platforms that are currently in beta. You can get a quick overview of what the app does and view a screenshot or two before visiting the site to sign-up for the beta.
No, not an advertisement!
Why am I talking about this website? I’ll tell you why. Yesterday I was notified, much to my delight, that our young, new community Mautic has been added to the list and featured. It may not seem like a big deal to you, but it’s pretty awesome to be placed on the list among other great up-and-coming beta apps. We’re incredibly excited to share Mautic with new people and introduce others to the future of marketing automation. Free and open source marketing automation.
Check us out!
If you have time I’d encourage you to stop by our listing, check us out, but also look around at some of the other amazing beta opportunities listed on the website. Oh, and I apologize in advance because you may get lost in the excitement of looking around and lose track of time.
May 19, 2014
Steps to Successful Funding (Part 1)
It’s one of the most common questions I hear and one of the most challenging parts of any small business looking to take the next step. How to get funding?
I want to start by saying I’m certainly not an expert in this field. There are many more wildly successful entrepreneurs and start-ups who have successfully navigated the world of angel investing, small-seed rounds, and venture capitalists. I only recently joined this group and have much still to learn!
I’m thrilled (and slightly relieved) to share that only last week one of the start-ups I co-founded successfully raised its initial seed round funding through angel investors. This was an incredibly exciting time for the start-up team and for me as well. Personally it was my first successful round of funding and it was a learning experience to say the least. I’ll share below some of the process and some of the lessons I learned along the way when seeking that initial investment.
Don’t Chase Money
The first and most important lesson is simple. Don’t chase money. This is a strange concept. As a start-up looking for investors obviously you’re looking for resources, for capital, for an investment in your company to allow you to continue to grow and expand. So why shouldn’t you chase money? Because chasing money is hard. Chasing money means finding the wrong type of investor.
What type of investor are you looking for? If you’re interested in finding shrewd business people intent on maximizing their profit, and the return on their investment, focused solely on how your start-up will benefit their portfolio and generate more money for them – then chase money. These investors are not evil – but they are not the type of first round investors you need. If you are chasing the money only, this is the type of investor you will find. You may think you only need the money and you can do the rest. Be smarter.
If you’re involved in a start-up you need to be talking (and listening) constantly. Building relationships is critical. The saying, “It’s all in who you know” does ring true to an extent. The connections you make with others is vitally important. A word of caution though – do not be just a “taker”. A strong relationship is a two-way connection. Not only should you be looking for connections which are beneficial to you, but you should also be seeking out ways in which you can provide value to others. Be willing to give of your time and your knowledge.
Stop. Let’s take a quick timeout on this point. Here’s something I heard from a good friend and is extremely applicable here. Always, always, be yourself. Be genuine, don’t try to fake interest, or try to fake a connection. People will always see through it – no matter how good you think you are at faking it. The best possible scenario is when someone believes in you so strongly they’ll invest in what you’re doing no matter what it is. Because they believe in you.
When connecting with others, remember you’re making a friend.
Be genuine. Be yourself. Be transparent.
Share Your Story
As a start-up you should be talking and sharing your story. Don’t be the obnoxious person who never stops rambling on forever about how great they are and how their idea is the next big thing. But don’t be ashamed to share what you’re doing either. Admittedly it can be a fine line. The point is you want others to be aware of what you’re doing. You want to communicate effectively. This means both talking and listening. Find out what the interests are of others, and when they ask, share yours as well. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Listen to their advice and their opinion on your ideas. Thoughtfully consider what they say and improve your start-up’s goals.
Remember, you’ll never find people interested in investing in your start-up if they don’t know anything about it. You should refine your “pitch” so it’s clear, concise, and catchy. Don’t be overly wordy and don’t label yourself as Google for XYZ. You should be prepared to share your idea in a single sentence AND in a short paragraph. There will be times when you may sense that someone is semi-interested but time is limited at the moment. Don’t try to cram too much information down their throat. Instead, give them a short tidbit and wait for a better time.
You’ll never find people interested in investing in your start-up if they don’t know anything about it.
As you find yourself making friends and connecting with others you’ll find those individuals who are genuinely interested in your idea and what you want to accomplish. Remember, you’ll never reach this point if you don’t make friends and share your story. Talk with these new friends and be open about the position you’re in and what your needs are.
Be smart and share your true start-up needs. If you need money, explain the reasons why you need funds. What is it that requires money and why would an outside individual, or investor, be the best solution? If you need help with getting the work done tell them. This comes back to an earlier point I made. Be genuine and be transparent. If you’re trying to hide the reason why you’re looking for help from others you’ll look shady. (More accurately – you are shady).
Along the way you may hear from people ways in which they can help. You’ll find advice comes easy and everyone has an opinion. Be polite and considerate and take everything you can. Filter the advice and apply it to your start-up. If someone mentions they are interested in becoming more a part of your business (because they believe in the idea, or because they believe in you) then you’ve already laid the groundwork and it’s clear what you need. Don’t push the issue. Allow the conversation to unfold and and mature. Be patient.
When seeking funding for your start-up it’s important to be patient.
I will pause here and continue in the next article with what you can expect after you’ve discussed things casually. (See, I’m helping with your patience already!) We’ll look at getting serious, respecting the process, planning for delays, and more. If you’re interested in this set of posts please feel free to tweet me. I’m certainly interested in feedback and thoughts. If you have suggestions for ways I can improve, or questions on how particular things happened, don’t hesitate to ask.
Remember, we’re all in this together!