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Technologies that learn our habits are curating our lives to make them easier. Consumers can commit to that.
Every Friday night, I drive down to Cape Cod with my dog, Romeo. I’ve noticed about that technology has created a radically more delightful experience for the two of us. In every case, the technology we use is being transformed by new applications that are infused with context.
It used to be that when we left our apartment in Boston, we’d always forget to actually go over to the thermostat and turn off the air conditioning. (It's Romeo's job to turn off the air conditioner, so that’s a constant source of tension between us.) Now when we leave our apartment in Boston, we don’t have to worry about it because the Nest thermostat does it for us--and turns it back on Monday morning. It learned our schedule.
Technologies that learn contextually improve our lifestyles.
It used to be that when we hit the road, we’d turn on the radio and listen to our favorite station, 92.9 FM. The problem is they never play our favorite band, The Grateful Dead. (Romeo toured with them in the seventies.) Now, when hit the road, we use Spotify and happily jam out to the Dead all the way down. Spotify understands the music we like and responds accordingly.
About twenty minutes into our drive, we have a whopper decision to make. Should we take the Bourne Bridge or the Sagamore Bridge to Cape Cod? Over the July 4th weekend, I made the wrong choice and we waited in traffic for three hours. (Romeo was not happy. He gave me the silent treatment.) Now when we make a decision, we use Waze, a real-time traffic mapping app, because it tells us where the traffic, cops, and accidents are so we can avoid all of it and choose the least problematic route.
By the time we get to Cape Cod, Romeo and I are spent. We like to put our paws up and watch a little television. But there's never anything good on Friday nights, so we default to whatever’s on HBO. Now when we put our paws up, we watch Netflix, which serves up shows based on other shows we've liked. And we really like the Westminster Kennel Club.
Adding context increases the user experience exponentially.
By adding context to traditional applications, new applications make experiences dramatically better for us. In the process, most of these applications are completely upending their industries. Here are a few more contextual technologies that are driving their markets in new ways.
Taxis -> Uber
Resumes -> LinkedIn
Online Advertisements -> Google AdWords
Newspaper -> Twitter
Travel Guides -> Trip Advisor
Thermostat -> Nest
Radio -> Spotify
Online maps -> Waze
TV -> Netflix
I love how all of these technologies sort out what I like. Stay tuned, because virtually every application we use may go through similar transformations in the next few years, including basic applications that businesses use, such as websites, email, and CRM. Each time a consumer tries a revolutionary product, he or she will never go back to the old one.
The reputation of "idea markets" for driving innovation is growing. But what do they look like in practice? Think of the example here as an internal version of Kickstarter.
At Rite-Solutions, idea markets aren't new: The 150-employee IT company has operated an internal Kickstarter-like program since 2005. So far, the program has generated more than 50 ideas, 15 of which have been launched--and now account for 20 percent of the company's total revenue.
One of these resulting products is Rite-Track, a GPS system that monitors the safety of school buses while they're in transit. The system (patent and trademark pending) is already installed in some 300 school buses in Rhode Island and Connecticut.
Here, in five steps, is how the Rite-Solutions idea market works, illustrated by how Rite-Track went from idea to product.
Step 1: Pitching
Someone asks a big "what if" question. Employees pitch answers in the form of ideas and then rate each pitch with one to five stars. The highest-rated solution moves on to the next step. In the case of Rite-Track, the question came from management: What commercial product could we make with our knowledge of real-time asset tracking, optimization, and visualization for the military? The winning response was, "We could make a product that would ensure a safer trip for children going to school on the bus."
Step 2: Official Proposal
The top idea gets fleshed out as an official proposal that contains a detailed description of what the product's capabilities might include. In the case of Rite-Track, proposed features included "provides en-route bus alerts and notifications" and "supports full display/recall/replay of bus activities."
Step 3: Employee Investment
When the proposal is ready, employees get to choose how much to invest in it. The company gives every staffer an imaginary $10,000 to spend in the idea market. Employees may also invest imaginary time or resources in the project, responding to the proposal's requests for assistance.
Step 4: Relationship Harvesting
After the idea gains a critical mass of imaginary investments, the company identifies which employees know people who can--ahem--put the wheels in motion for the idea to become a viable product. This is a deep dive into who they know and how you they them, filtering contacts in a way that's important to executing the idea. At this stage in Rite-Track's development, Rite-Solutions CEO Jim Lavoie asked whether anyone in management knew someone at any of the local school bus companies. As it turned out, a Rite-Solutions employee knew a VP at one of the companies.
Step 5: Execution
The idea moves into project management, where it might be taken all the way through to production, or perhaps patented but not produced, depending on business needs. By this stage, ideas that have failed to sustain interest have been purged; investors get a one-week warning to move on an idea or see it die.
People remember "nice." So how do you make it part of your brand?
When it comes to finding customers, clients, or even a job, I think we’re all pretty much convinced on the value of LinkedIn. But what about the rest of the social media universe? Does Facebook really matter? How about Twitter?
All social networks impact your professional success and that of your company, says Peter Shankman, speaker, entrepreneur and author of Nice Companies Finish First. “There is no divide between your public life and your private life,” said Shankman, speaking at a networking event hosted by High-Tech Connect, a specialized marketing consulting firm. As a member of the audience, my first thought was, “Ugh. Seriously? Now I need to sell myself to my Facebook friends and family?”
Well, no. To Shankman, selling is out and helping, or being “nice,” is in. And the way you build "nice" into your personal brand is with social networking. Then he exhorted the audience to put their social networks to work with a challenge that turned out to be not so hard--once I tried it.
What’s Nice Got to Do With It?
"I've never seen the value in being an asshole,” said Shankman. In fact, the opposite is true: Being nice has real worth in dollar terms. Shankman estimates that nice companies make 30 to 40 percent more than not nice companies.
If nice works for big companies, it can work for you, too. Shankman’s main message was that being nice can and will set you apart from your competition. That’s why your personal reputation with your social network, both online and off, really, really matters. Social media makes it easy for potential clients, partners and managers to learn about you and form an opinion about you. Remember, people hire people but before they do, they do their online homework.
About a year ago, I met with the partner of a personal financial management firm to discuss a website project. Toward the end of our meeting, he surprised me by asking about my experience playing lacrosse. That little bit of information about me was on my LinkedIn profile but not anywhere on my own website, so someone had clearly taken the time to do a some research. That little incident shows very clearly that I am no longer in control of what a potential client knows about me.
Try This at Home
My experience supports Shankman’s contention that social media is the starting point and main information source in many professional relationships. That’s why it’s so important that our personal brands are infused with “goodness.” Where to start? With your own social media network. Hundreds of Facebook friends or LinkedIn connections don’t mean a thing if you’re not actively being friends or connecting with them.
As Shankman says, “The idea that you're friends with someone just because you went to second grade together is bullsh*t. Your network is all you have and it’s only as strong as your weakest link. That weakest link is the person you haven’t bothered to say hi to in six months. Why are they in your network?”
Shankman challenged us to do the following: “Go home and go onto Facebook and find five or six people that you have not talked to in six months and either start a conversation on their wall or unfriend them.”
So I went home and tried it. First, I went back to my through Facebook mail, which included a note from someone I knew in the 4th grade but had been ignoring for months. She had reached out to me after she heard my name while reading a Forbes article about Steve Jobs. It turns out that my friend has a master’s degree in multimedia journalism. That immediately put our connection on a professional footing.
Responding to a connection and reaching out are good first steps in building an online reputation for niceness. Once you make those connections, keep them up by doing the following:
• Keep track of your connections in the media and send notes when you see them profiled, quoted or mentioned. Shankman mentioned two tools to help you with this task: Newsle.com and Prepwork.com. Newsle.com keeps track of media mentions of your Facebook friends or LinkedIn connections. Prepwork.com sends out a daily e-mail that briefs you on the people you're meeting with that day, including highlights from their LinkedIn profiles, recent blog posts and Twitter activity.
• Share articles, blogs or other items that might be of interest. I might not hear back from someone when I do this, but I have had the frequent experience of running into people and having them say, “Oh thanks for sending me that article. It was really interesting.”
• Think of what you might do to help someone in your network, or just ask. This simple gesture will set you apart from the crowd.
• Remember the Don’t Be Stupid Rule: If you’re going to a bar or other personal event you don’t want chronicled on Facebook, leave your phone in your car or at home so you won't be tempted to post. And remember, others are watching -- and posting or tweeting. “Everything is fair game,” warned Shankman.
There’s no saying where all this connecting will lead, but somewhere unknown is certainly better than nowhere at all. And, on the way you’ll be building your reputation for being good, helpful and nice--a reputation that, as Shankman says, will help you get there first. --Emily Brower Auchard
A version of this story originally appeared on One Thing New, the digital media company that is rebooting women's content.
Metal Mafia founder Vanessa Merit Nornberg describes what separates stellar salespeople from c-stringers.
Greg Shove, founder of SocialChorus, explains how you can make your customers into brand enthusiasts.
The Muse CEO has four recommendations for how to handle an on-camera television appearance.
Paralympic medalist Bonnie St. John explains how she has found the strength to accomplish more than she ever thought possible.
With unemployment high, you're likely to be overwhelmed with resumes. LaSalle Network CEO Tom Gimbel explains what you can do about it.
Before you dole out psychometric exams, you'll want to be aware of the law, learn how to prevent cheating, and find the right test for your company.
Increasingly, companies are turning to personality tests to vet candidates.
This is partly because resume fraud ran rampant at the height of the recession, when some people desperate for work lied about everything from their college education to employment history. Personality tests, though imperfect and viewed by some as discriminatory, can help employers cut through the bull and find dependable workers.
Ben Dattner, adjunct professor at New York University for organizational psychology, recently outlined some tips in Harvard Business Review to help employers use personality tests more effectively--and legally. Before you start sharpening pencils, read his useful suggestions.
Know the law.
Make sure you're familiar with anti-discrimination laws, the U.S. Americans with Disabilities Act, and the legal compliance of personality tests. To prevent offensive or discriminatory questions (and lawsuits), employers should always use the latest version of a test. Some, like the MMPI-2, have been updated to do away with discriminatory questions. However, you should know that you cannot legally diagnose an employee's mental condition, and his or her test results cannot inhibit future opportunities. Also, you should never post an employee's test results online or ever share them with anyone. Those results are meant to be private and job-specific.
Ward off cheaters.
This isn't a middle school take-home exam. Administering personalty tests is an official matter. Make sure you have candidates take the test at the office with a proctor. And to prevent "gaming" or any misrepresentation, be sure the results match up with the references and resume.
Give the right test.
For a personality test to be effective, you need to first know how to measure performance for the job for which you're hiring. "If an organization doesn’t have quantitative measures of employee performance on the job, then there is no basis for statistical correlations of how well psychometric tests predict performance," Dattner writes. As an example, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator was not created for hiring purposes.
The Wikipedia founder invites you to "imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowlege," and more.
To make lifelong customers, you've got to be positive. Here's why it works.
During a recent panel on advertising held by The Wharton School, a marketing and advertising strategist said the key to strong sales is inducing emotion.
"Whether it is pensions or pet food, decisions are made emotionally," said Orlando Wood, managing director of Brain Juicer Labs. "If you can give people reasons afterward [for why] they made the right decision, so much the better. If you can give them post-rationalization, then you may have won them for good."
Daniel McDuff, a PhD. candidate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who studied the effectiveness of advertisements while recording people's facial expressions and reactions to campaigns, agreed. The advertisements that generated the most sales, he said, made people smile. "[The ad] has got to make you feel something for the brand."
Good advertisers harness something Anne Rivers of BrandAsset Consulting and Baylor University professor Kirk Wakefield call "brand love." It's what Citigroup did when it purchased the naming rights to the new Mets stadium and named it Citi Field. By associating their brand with America's favorite pastime as well as the New York baseball team, consumers found themselves viewing the financial services firm in whole new light. Under Armour, the clothing and sporting goods company, found success once it began working with little league teams.
The bottom line: "Fame and emotional advertising is the best predictor of effective marketing and sales just about every time," said Wood.
So the next time you work an ad campaign, make sure it makes you smile.
Why you want to build the simplest possible solution to a problem, and launch it.
Once you've identified a real problem and done your research, start trying to solve it in the simplest way possible. Your first version should certainly embarrass you. "Minimum viable product" has become a startup cliché for good reason. Just build the simplest possible solution to a problem, and launch it.
This probably won't take as long as you might think. Each round of Y Combinator was designed to be three months long because Paul [as in Paul Graham, founder of Viaweb and co-founder of Y Combinator] wanted it to be a summer program, so students could decide to take time off from school if their company was going well. This happened to also be a reasonable amount of time to go from idea to a live product. If it takes longer than a few months to start testing your idea, it's because you're either trying too hard to perfect it (you never will, so don't bother) or there's some other bigger problem.
The first version of reddit was absurdly simple. We didn't have voting, and we certainly didn't have commenting or the ability to create subreddits. It was simply a place where one could submit links and, based on clicks, see them rise and fall on the front page. A new user would simply see a front page of interesting links to click on.
Hipmunk was a flight-only search when we launched (no hotels, car rentals, etc.), and even that was strikingly bare-bones. Thanks to Adam's hustle with the online travel agencies, we not only provided flight data but also started to collect a commission on referrals right away. We were making money from day one, which always puts a smile on investors' faces.
And bear this in mind: the first version of Airbnb, the startup that has more rooms available for rent than the Hilton corporation, started from a single apartment in the SOMA neighborhood of San Francisco. The founders began the site by renting out air mattresses in their own home to conference attendees looking to save money.
Once you're up and running, spread the word and start watching how users interact with what you've built. Listen to how they're talking about it. This is key. There's something incredibly satisfying about seeing the logs of the first users who try out what you've built. It's one reason why I can't encourage enough students to start building projects just for the experience of having real people all over the world use something you've built. Compared to dull schoolwork, learning by creating something relevant and usable is incredibly rewarding.
Once you've got something to show, use the growing number of available tools that allow people to share that great idea. We launched reddit in 2005, before "social media" was a phrase. Just five years later, launching hipmunk was drastically easier, because by then there were more tools than ever for people to spread the word about things they care about.
Word of mouth has always been the most powerful form of advertising-;and it spreads faster and farther than ever before. Make something people want, and people will find out about it. If you're not getting traction, it simply means you haven't solved that core problem of making something people want. But that's okay! Figure out what people are using. Talk to your users--those first hundred or so people who are willing to take a chance on a product they've never heard of are golden. Treat them well and get to the root of whatever problem it is that you're not currently solving for them.
Excerpted from WITHOUT THEIR PERMISSION: How The 21st Century Will Be Made, Not Managed, by Alexis Ohanian. Copyright 2013. Reprinted by permission of the publisher, Business Plus. All rights reserved.
A payment processing company is betting that discounting produce will help keep employees healthy--and insurance costs down.
Everybody knows what you eat affects your health, yet many Americans continue to eat crap. According to the American Heart Association nearly 179 million children and adults in the United States are overweight or obese--that's more than half the population.
For employers, all this chubbiness is costly business and one reason their health insurance rates continue to climb. For employees, the health risks of being overweight are multifold: Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, sleep apnea and fatty liver disease are just a few of the many things that can slow down or even kill a person. Plus, people who carry around too much weight are less happy and, as a result, less productive.
A New Kind of Wellness Program
I have a friend who works at a smallish Minnesota company that's using a pretty overt method for getting people to eat smarter. She had to do a fair bit of pestering to get me to talk to her boss about it, though. Wellness programs outside of Silicon Valley usually involve little more than health screenings and subsidized health club memberships (whereas companies like Google, Apple, Facebook, and LinkedIn have fleets of bikes their employees can pedal around campus and many of them offer free health insurance and generous vacation policies that are supposed to keep workers in a Zen state of mind).
Minneapolis-based Solutran--a payments processing company that competes with the likes of big guns like Citibank, First Data, and U.S. Bank--appears to have created something novel with its S3 Smart Coupon technology, the backbone to the Healthy Savings program the company launched this summer with health insurance company Medica.
On the surface it seems unimpressive--it's just a bar-coded card people can hand a grocery store cashier to get discounts on selected healthy foods.
But it turns out to be a tool employers can use to bestow Google-like perks on employees.
Health insurance companies can give Healthy Savings cards to their members and employers can offer the card to their employees to give them access to more than $1,300 of savings on healthy foods. And if a company is really serious about encouraging workers to choose healthy foods it can use the program to even help pay for the produce they buy.
Solutran itself does this for all its 130 employees, providing them with 25 percent off fresh fruit and vegetable purchases, up to $10 a week, meaning if someone puts $30 worth of produce in a shopping cart he or she only has to pay $22.50 for it at checkout.
"So you can see why if you had a card that did that you'd use it like crazy, right?" Solutran CEO Barry Nordstrand asks me.
I would, actually.
The Appeal for Big Brands
Nordstrand says nobody--not even Google--has been able to electronically track and pay for the produce purchases of employees at grocery stores before because the technology didn't exist to facilitate it.
Consumer packaged goods brands like the idea because it's a better branding opportunity than paper coupons since Solutran sends out regular emails to cardholders about promotions and is able to track and limit the number of times an individual can receive a discount. And unlike paper coupons, Solutran doesn't charge them any backend fees to use its S3 Smart Coupon technology.
Where Solutran does make its money is by charging employers and health insurance companies around $5 per employee or member per year for access to the program.
Nordstrand says at the moment Solutran is focused on selling the Healthy Savings program to health insurance companies that are incorporating it into their wellness offerings. Once on board, all employers working with a particular insurer would have access to it as well.
Nordstrand tells me the S3 technology is patent pending and other players in the healthy coupon space were surprised that Solutran was able to convince grocers in the Minneapolis and St. Paul metros such as Cub Foods, Rainbow, Lunds, and Byerly's to install its code in hundreds, if not thousands, of payment terminals as well as within the grocers' own back-end software.
"To integrate with point of sale is always difficult because the lifeblood of a grocery location is their checkout counter so that's kind of sacred ground inside a grocery retailer," Nordstrand says. "We needed to have a really good reason for them to want to integrate with us."
So what lured these grocers to go to the trouble? Nordstrand says by the time the program is fully deployed in the Twin Cities around 400,000 households are going to have Healthy Savings cards and if a grocer doesn't accept the card it risks losing business to another that will.
Solutran also financed the implementation of its S3 technology so there was no cost to the grocery chains that are using it. It also promises to quickly collect money from employers so that grocers are reimbursed for produce discounts within 48 hours.
"Fresh produce is one area of the store that's not generally promoted. There are thin margins and it's harder for grocers to discount it, so when we came up with this program there was a lot of interest in it," Nordstrand says. "And employees love it."
So far Solutran and Medica have rolled the Healthy Savings program out to 200,000 households in the Twin Cities but next year will take it nationwide. That's assuming they can ink deals with more health insurance companies and grocery chains in other parts of the country.
It could happen--Solutran's S3 technology is baked into certain versions of the terminal software sold by IBM and NCR and already used by several national grocers Solutran wouldn't name.
"Our goal is to integrate with all major POS systems," Nordstrand says. "We want to make it very easy for grocery chains to begin accepting Healthy Savings transactions."
Immigration reform might be critical to small business, but the real issue, say small business owners, is affordable health care.
The U.S. Senate's landmark immigration reform bill survived the August recess, indicating it might become law.
Many in the GOP-controlled House promised to use the August recess to rally Main Street around killing the legislation, while Democrats and Republicans mobilized their bases both for and against it. Regardless, town halls across the country remained quiet. How come?
The fact is, immigration just isn't at the top Main Street's mind. Despite extensive media coverage and lobbying by the tech industry, only 3 percent of small business owners think it should be the Obama Administration's top priority, according to a recent survey conducted by my company, Rocket Lawyer.
That's not to say that immigration reform isn't important. Policymakers just haven't been successful in pushing the issue to the top of small business owners' to-do list.
"Immigration reform does not impact our day-to-day operations or services," said Stan Wagner, director of outcomes at Red Thread Creative Group, a boutique creative marketing firm in Colorado. "The continued growth of the economy is my Number One concern."
Wagner is not alone in these sentiments--some 43 percent of small business owners say the economic recovery should remain a top priority. This continued focus on recovery comes even as things are looking up. More than half of the respondents claim their businesses grew during the first half of 2013, and a greater majority thinks the rest of the year will be better.
For Main Street, economic concerns appear to trump even the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which is set to phase in major changes to U.S. healthcare policy next month. Only 10 percent of small business owners say health care should be a top priority. Part of this feeling might lie in the continuing confusion over compliance with the law.
"It appears that our small business of under 20 employees could possibly benefit from the Affordable Care Act by joining a co-op or other larger groups that could more effectively negotiate a better rate," said David Little, Director of Marketing at Key West Technology America, a digital signage firm based in Lenexa, Kansas. "We remain hopeful, but have a suspicion everyone is going to pay more and get less."
While many still claim ACA will hurt small businesses, the law only directly regulates companies with more than 50 full-time employees, requiring them to offer health care coverage or face a penalty of $2,000 per employee.
What ACA opponents will not tell you, however, is that a vast majority (96 percent) of U.S. businesses have fewer than 50 employees, exempting them from most of the reform, and businesses with 25 or fewer employees who choose to provide insurance anyway can receive a tax credit to offset the cost. Nevertheless, nearly 60 percent of small businesses are still under the impression ACA will increase employee healthcare costs.
With their collective eye fixed on the economy, small businesses have yet to see how both immigration and healthcare reforms on Capitol Hill could ultimately help economic growth. The current immigration plan, if signed into law, could "improve the budget picture and stimulate economic growth," according to The New York Times. ACA, once fully implemented, also could drive down the nearly $3 trillion price tag on U.S. health care, allowing folks to invest and spend their hard-earned dollars in other areas that support the overall economy.
There's really no surprise here. Whether it's immigration, health care--or even government spying programs--at the end of the day, Main Street is most concerned with making ends meet.
Raising investment, changing careers, or leaving your city? Then you owe it to yourself to have coffee with 50 people.
Each time I make a significant change in my life, I have coffee with 50 people to get their views on my plans.
If you’re raising investment for a start-up, changing careers, or moving to a new city, then you owe it to yourself to have coffee with 50 people before making the jump.
Setting the goal of having coffee with 50 people forces you to be clear about your goals. Making the goal public, one person at a time, also makes it much stronger. Having 50 coffees is good because then you have to commit to the specific move that you want to make. You’ll also get input from smart and interesting people.
50 people could change your life
I first came across the idea in the book, What Colour is Your Parachute?. More recently, Mark Suster put a number on it in his article, Why You Need to Take 50 Coffee Meetings. Until then, I’d just aimed for as many coffees as needed until I had gathered enough input to act on. Now I aim for 50 because it simplifies the process, makes the goal concrete, and is large enough to be a stretch target.
Megan Gebhart became a bit of an Internet celeb and travelled the world meeting new people for the 52 Cup Project. She was inspired by a quote from Charlie Jones: “You will be the same person in five years as you are today, except for the people you meet and the books you read.”
The hidden insight in the 50 coffees idea is that the biggest changes in your life will only happen through the people that you meet and conversations you have. Human beings create and convey meaning through stories and conversations. If you change the conversations that you’re a part of, then your life changes automatically.
Who to get coffee with
This isn’t 50 coffees with complete strangers. The coffees will be mostly with friends and existing acquaintances. You know that favorite former colleague you keep meaning to catch up with? Now is the time.
Mutual introductions are good. Think one degree of separation. Ask your friends, investors, clients, and colleagues if they know anyone interesting you should meet.
Having coffee with a purpose but without an ulterior motive has made me more confident about meeting new people. I still get nervous about asking someone new for coffee, but I’ve met great people and made some real friends.
50 coffees are worth it
I had 50 coffees when I left law for design. I did it again when I moved to London, and most recently when I published a book. The 50 coffees idea has worked so well for me in the past for these reasons:
My best ideas always come up during a heated conversation. My brain seems to be wired up to my mouth--not always a good thing--but it means that I think better when I’ve got a smart conversation partner to debate with. (Caffeine is great fuel for conspiracy.) For any big life change, there are people out there who have already done what I’m thinking of doing. I can get more from their anecdotes than any book, blog, or article.
To get more input, I try to meet people who have very different backgrounds than mine. I'm not talking about generic catch-up coffees and awkward first-time meetings with sales prospects. Instead, I'm looking for a focused debate with an intelligent peer. The best coffee discussions are about an idea you’re both interested in, or where the other person can give you input on something they like discussing.
Make the most of the coffee
The focus on a real project or issue is what makes this coffee different from just catching up. Instead, you’ll be conspiring, debating, and swapping stories. Being specific about what you want to talk about will make the coffee feel much more valuable. Here's what I've learned:
Be intentional and focused. Keep the coffee under 20 minutes. I usually meet people at their office and use the walk to and from the cafe to get the conversation going.
Be honest about what you want. Tell the other person upfront that you want their input on a big move.
Don’t ask for anything. Let the conversation be the value. No selling, no pitching, no interviewing. The other person’s time, advice and story is all that you can ask for in a short coffee meeting like this.
Think ahead. Formulate five to ten questions in your head that would be interesting for the other person to answer and that would help you triangulate your problem.
Take notes. A general chit-chat will be lost in the sands of time. For your 50 coffees, you should be taking notes because it shows you’re there for a reason and it’ll help you find common themes. Bring a small Moleskine notebook.
A small tickle can be good before asking someone to coffee. Stef and Paul from the start-up foundry Makeshift add people to a Twitter list like, “We should meet” or “Would like to chat." You can do simple things like follow the other person on Twitter or favorite their tweets. Don’t overdo it and add the other person on LinkedIn before even meeting them--that's a bit too forward. Still, it's nice to make some sort of connection in advance.
TIP: Don't waste people's time
Having coffee is contrary to a lot of the popular start-up buzz. Many investors and consultants are sick of getting coffees with strangers who waste their time. Rob and Sal from FounderCentric and LeanCamp invented Startup Burger Nights to avoid coffee meetings, and I know of several London investors who use the “just grab me at Silicon Drinkabout” line to dodge coffee.
These days it's hip to be unavailable, which is fair enough, but your 50 coffees shouldn’t be the type of banal, time-wasting catch-up that people avoid. You should make the experience fun, easy, and productive.
TechStars mentoring coffee
Coffee meetings are easier in a connected context like the start-up ecosystem, but you can meet anyone if you ask politely. My trick is to watch the other person’s drink. When they finish their coffee, the meeting is over. The theory is that if they’re enjoying the discussion, they’ll be too engaged to drink their coffee. We all reach for our glass in a moment of awkward silence or when we’re bored. Their coffee cup is your hourglass.
TIP: Never steal time
If the other person gives people advice for a living (think consultants and creatives), then don’t ask them for advice on your problem. Instead, just absorb their way of approaching it. Ask for war stories of interesting projects. Ask about how they got started. Let them talk about what they’re interested in.
How to get coffee with anyone
There are lots of ways to ask someone for a coffee, but I like to keep it simple:
Pick a good place. Think from their perspective and offer to meet at a high-quality independent cafe close to their office. I’m lucky because my blogging for The Coffee Hunter takes me to cafes all over London. You can use FourSquare to find a good place that’s close to their office.
Make it a good time. Some people like to do quick meetings in the morning to get them fired up. Others prefer a regular morning coffee or quick lunch. The Brits like "stopping for just one" on the way home from work, and that can be a good time to meet people. The most important thing is that it suits them.
Be interesting. Figure out what they are working on or would be interested in discussing. Put that in the first email.
Be direct. Put the invitation in the first line of the email. The preamble stuff is nice, but don’t bury the lede.
Tip: Travel for coffee
People crave novelty, so ask for coffee with a local when you travel. I’m now in London and would love to have coffee with someone who has just arrived from New Zealand. Likewise, when I was in New Zealand, I would have been happy to hear from someone who had just arrived from London. Even if you're on vacation, you can always put on your nice jeans and T-shirt to ask a local for coffee.
My next 50 coffees
My next move is to get back into consulting with companies in innovation and social media. I’ve loved working with start-ups in London, and will continue to work with the start-up scene through Converge and the Innovation Warehouse. But now it’s time for the next phase of my career. I’ll be reporting back on the coffees that I have along the way.
This post was reprinted with permission from the digital brand strategy blog, PeterJThomson.com.
The founder of a company that helps people connect offline offers advice on how to get the most out of your technology -- without getting addicted.
With a mind-blowing background in technology for someone so young -- he worked with Fisker Automotive, the X Prize Foundation, and the Naval Research Laboratory all before he finished his bachelor’s degree -- Alex Capecelatro has more knowledge than most of us to solve his problems. But there was one issue none of his gadgets or science knowhow could cure.
"When I was traveling around for work and school, I found it difficult to find people nearby that liked to do similar things as me,” he wrote to Inc.com. "Technology does so much for so many, yet it does very little to connect us together in the physical world."
He’s not alone in noting that we live in an age of isolation and that our technology plays a role in our loneliness. Studies suggest more time on Facebook may correlate with feeling more depressed and some of the tech elite have publicly confessed to worrying about technology overload. The solution for many is to to sharply limit their exposure.
Capecelatro took a different approach, developing a tech tool to help solve his problem of lack of offline connections. His brainchild, At The Pool, is a social platform that helps like-minded people nearby connect in person and bond over shared interests. But no social network alone can ease our loneliness and beat our destructive tech compulsions. Getting the most out of your gadgets without allowing them to take over your life, Capecelatro believes, is also a matter of behavior. He offered five tips to help you walk the line between tech enabled and tech addicted:Try Something New Over the Weekend
"Activities that better your physical and/or mental well being are always a plus. Try stand-up paddle boarding or surfing for the first time,” he says. “Websites like Groupon and Living Social are great places to help you find fun things (at a discounted price). Just remember, it’s not about staying online and browsing the deals, but getting offline and living the experiences."Get There Quicker With Tech
Technology may not be a replacement for a social life but it certainly can help your social life involve less sitting in traffic. "Unless you live in a rural town, you’ve dealt with serious traffic jams. Here are some saviors to make your life much easier. Uber and Lyft are amazing (and inexpensive) car services that will pick you up in any city they are affiliated with. Waze is a phenomenal app that finds you the fastest route based off of other people driving. Parkme can help you find parking in even the most congested places," suggests Capecelatro.
But where exactly should you be trying to go? Another thing tech is good for is loading up on information and suggestions before you leave the house. "Applications like Yelp and Ness are great tools to help you find new places to eat and drink."Phone? What Phone?
OK, you’ve decided where to go and how to get there, now make sure you don’t see or hear your phone again. "We’ve all been there. You look up from your dinner plate and your companion is chatting away on her phone, sending emails at the dinner table. It’s rude and it’s insulting, but it’s also a habit bordering on addiction. To avoid being this person, keep your phone on silent and keep it out of sight, or better yet, try leaving it in the car when you go out with your friends," says Capecelatro.Set a Limit
"Set a limit on how many minutes (or hours) you want to be emailing, browsing Facebook, and exploring Instagram per day. By setting a limit you can enjoy technology without fear it will take over your life. Our recommendation is to limit Facebook use to 30 minutes in the morning and again in the evening (try not to post more than once a day), and 15 minutes of email four times a day. Being methodical about this will help accomplish your tasks without being overtaken by technology."Go Primal
The best antidote to our over-technologized lives may be to connect with our under-technologized past, believes Capecelatro, who suggests you "use technology to plan to go camping with some of your best friends. Use your favorite trail map app to find where you would like to go. From there, use all of the human instincts you have to make fire, cook dinner, and build a tent. Think about picking a spot with a natural body of water nearby to go play in! Technology can facilitate and manage the trip, just make sure to put your phone down and enjoy nature and the company of your friends too."
How do you manage your tech usage?
Addressing these "big picture" errors ensures your company's long term success.
Selling, like anything else, can be separated into strategy (your plan of action) and tactics (the actions you actually take.) I've written in the past about tactical sales errors but not so much about the larger issues of sales strategy.
The greatest business thinker of the 20th century, W. Edwards Deming, believed that long-term success comes primarily from fixing errors. With that in mind, here's how to avoid or fix the 10 most common sales strategy errors:
1. Neglecting customers when not selling.
If your sales strategy is too focused on acquiring new customers, existing customers can fall through the cracks. Changes in personnel or business models at your customers can be deadly to your ability to "revisit the well."
Fix: Have a regular schedule to contact every customer, especially those that have been inactive for a while. Ask your contacts if they know of any changes in the works. Offer to help if a transition is in the works.
2. Ignoring competitive threats.
If you've been the "industry leader" for a while, it's easy to forget that your competitors may be gaining on (or even leapfrogging over) you. And that's just the competitors you know about; there may be new approaches that come out "left field."
Fix: Make competitive analysis a priority. Check the news regularly for developments in your product or service area. When you call on a prospect, always ask who else is calling on that prospect. Make a plan to thwart any threats that emerge.
3. Failure to specialize.
It's a huge mistake to believe that "a good salesperson can sell anything to anyone." While there are some skills common to all sales situations, selling million-dollar computer systems face-to-face is very different from selling medical supplies over the telephone.
Fix: The top salespeople in every sales job usually have a natural talent for that kind of selling. They build upon that talent by increasing their knowledge of the industries into which they're selling, gaining experience in handle the sales situations specific to that type of selling.
4. Inadequate lead qualification.
The more you know about prospects, the less likely you are to pursue costly dead ends. The last thing you want is to spent hours and days developing an "opportunity" that won't pan out rather than pursuing one that will.
Fix: Change your sales process so that in the very early stages of the sales cycle you ask questions that reveal if the prospect really needs what you're offering and (more importantly) has the money to buy it.
5. Treating pipelines as afterthoughts.
When business is hopping, you naturally want to close as many sales as you can as quickly as you can. Even so, if you don't develop your pipeline, you'll eventually find that you've got no more sales to close.
Fix: Schedule some time every week for lead generation, like crafting sales emails to specific customers, cold-calling pre-qualified lists, and asking existing customers for referrals. Then do it.
6. Ignorance about your customer's industry.
In B2B selling, customers don't want to buy from you. They want to sell to their own customers. You can't help them do that if you don't understand the basics of their industry and the role they play in it.
Fix: Before you attempt to sell into any industry, research not just the major players in that industry, but also their business models and how your customers' customers use your customers' products and services.
7. Insufficient product knowledge.
Customers expect you--at the very least--to be an expert on your own products and services. That gets increasingly difficult in today's information-rich world, because customers can research your firm and end up knowing more than you.
Fix: Make product training a mandatory part of every internal sales meeting. Before calling (or calling on) a customer, review the offerings that are most relevant. Have all the spec sheets to hand (either online or in your briefcase), just in case.
8. Failure to debrief.
There's always a reason why you won or lost the sale (or why the customer didn't buy at all). Unless you learn that reason, and adapt accordingly, it will be difficult to repeat your successes but very easy to repeat your losses.
Fix: After every sales effort, ask the customer why they made the decision they made. Use that information as fodder for a "what happened and why" discussion that includes everyone who participated in the campaign.
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This rule lets you engage in the conversation, build awareness, and keep in touch with your followers without coming across as pushy or too "me" focused.
The 4-1-1 rule for Twitter was popularized by Tippingpoint Labs and Joe Pulizzi, founder of Junta42 and the Content Marketing Institute. (The earliest use I can find is Add Value on Twitter: The 4-1-1 Rule, and I first heard it at Joe’s presentation at OMS in San Diego last year.) The rule states that:
For every one self-serving tweet, you should re-tweet one relevant tweet and most importantly share four pieces of relevant content written by others.
What’s great about this approach is that it lets you engage in the conversation, build awareness, and keep in touch with your followers without coming across as pushy or too “me” focused. We’ve been trying to follow it at Marketo for our Twitter updates as well as our Facebook updates, and so far results are positive.
The 4-1-1 rule can also apply to your lead nurturing using email. Formally, lead nurturing is the process of building a relationship with prospects that are not yet sales-ready by conducting an informative dialog, regardless of budget, authority, or timing. Less formally, lead nurturing is the art of maintaining permission to “keep in touch” with potential customers as they educate themselves, with the goal of being top of mind when they are ready to move into a buying phase.
As I’ve often said, lead nurturing is a complex topic (which is why I wrote the book The Definitive Guide to Lead Nurturing) but if I had to sum it up into a single word, it would be relevance. If you are not relevant, your prospects will opt-out - or more likely emotionally opt-out. And nothing is less relevant or more likely to cause an opt-out than content that is too promotional, especially for the early stage buyers that are the core focus of lead nurturing. (Remember, the litmus test for good nurturing is content that is valuable even if someone never buys from you or a competitor.)
This is where the 4-1-1 rule can apply. As you plan out the cadence of emails you’ll send to prospects, try scheduling four educational or entertaining emails mixed with one “soft promotion” (e.g. attend an event) and one “hard promotion” (e.g. download a free trial or apply for an account).
Here’s an example of what an early-stage nurturing track looks like for Marketo today (with links to the underlying resource):
While this partly follows the 4-1-1 rule, here’s how we are testing our approach to fully embrace the strategy:
- These emails all point to an underlying resource. This is not always required in lead nurturing; some of the best emails provide useful and compelling content in the email itself.
- These emails all promote Marketo content. Fully embracing the 4-1-1 approach means promoting other people’s resources as well. As long as it’s relevant and useful to your audience, it works for lead nurturing.
- Instead of sending emails once every two weeks or so, with 4-1-1 lead nurturing you potentially send much more frequently since each email is highly relevant and rarely promotional.
What do you think? Are you using anything like this in your lead nurturing programs? What kind of results are you seeing? What kinds of challenges will the 4-1-1 bring to lead nurturing?
You can be smart, ambitious and talented, but until you master this ability you will never rise to the top.
There are many qualities necessary in a successful leader. They need to be bright, ambitious and competent communicators. But the most powerful leaders have an uncanny ability to build trust and confidence among their followers. They do this most effectively with one simple skill ... forgiveness.
It's easy to build faith among followers when everyone is doing everything right. But people aren't robots and even the best performers will have moments when they will fail spectacularly. It's at that critical point that true leadership shines. The leader who can forgive and rebuild the trust and confidence of the team is the leader who can overcome any challenge or obstacle.
As I contemplate my own transgressions and my ability to forgive on this, the Jewish Day of Atonement, I will focus on the insights below to help me forgive those who fell short of my expectations. Of course I'll start by forgiving the biggest offender ... myself.
1. Make Admission Easy
There is nothing worse than finding out about a transgression long after it happened. Often the coverup is more detrimental than the original offense, creating future suspicion and distrust. A great leader fosters an atmosphere of openness where followers can safely share their mistakes. Great leaders allow for less-than-perfect human behavior and proactively communicate the benefits of sharing and learning from failures. By creating a consistent and safe process for feedback and evaluation, followers will be comfortable with the uncomfortable aspects of examining areas to improve.
2. Omit the Need for Explanation
No one benefits from a long list of excuses. Sometimes mistakes just happen. There may not be a rational explanation for a transgression and ultimately you shouldn't need one in order to forgive. Great leaders don't focus on pinpointing blame; instead, they help the team grow from the experience. Evaluating circumstances to learn from mistakes has merits but, once the academic study is over, move on to rebuilding trust.
3. Treat Apologies as a Bonus
Is it truly critical to hear those two words every time something goes wrong? So often the words "I'm sorry" sound empty and are easily thrown into the mix without meaning. Great leaders are attentive to their followers' emotions and look for genuine acknowledgement and contrition. They encourage their followers to demonstrate real concern for the well-being of those around them, with or without words.
4. Empower People to Make Amends
Most often, diligent people are hardest on themselves. They know when they have messed up and they will beat themselves up, distracting focus from the important issues that need addressing. Through process and example, great leaders help transgressors find a path to redemption. They prioritize encouragement and resolution so erring followers are motivated to quickly resolve their issues and rebuild mutual trust.
5. Find a Path Forward
No one is best served by harping on failure and mistakes. They need to be examined, learned from and then left behind. Great leaders keep followers focused on the future and make sure everyone reengages in the journey ahead. After a major fail, they use structure, process and communication to help followers move on and strive together for the next success.
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Your brand name is only worth as much as you're willing to protect it. Here's how to do so without being a bully.
In the U.S., protecting your name with a trademark or service mark is an important step, but so is policing your brand to make sure no one is stealing your name and image. Think of a trademark as an alarm system protecting your assets.
Instagram® is dealing with this very issue, as it recently updated its brand-enforcement guidelines. Reportedly, the company updated its terms of service (TOS) and started sending 48-hour notices to apps violating its TOS and using parts of its name in their branding (i.e., “insta” and “gram”).
This wasn't the first time a brand had taken steps to protect its identity.
In 2006, MTV's parent company, Viacom, sent a sternly-worded letter to a U.K. boy upsizing snacks on a site called www.pimpmysnack.com. And in February 2012, the NFL stepped in when Roy Fox applied to trademark "Harbowl" and "Harbaugh Bowl," in the hopes that Jim Harbaugh's San Francisco 49ers and the John Harbaugh's Baltimore Ravens would play each other in the Super Bowl.
In both cases, the infringers backed down, but was this trademark bullying necessary? Unfortunately, the answer isn't that simple.
Failing to routinely monitor and enforce your trademark can diminish or erase its protection. For example, the word "escalator" once belonged to the Houghton Elevator Company, but became a generic term when the company failed to protect it. Likewise, “aspirin” was originally trademarked, but later entered the public domain. In contrast, brands like Kleenex®, Band-Aid®, and Xerox® are regularly policed and defended.
Too often, a big law firm representing a brand sends the same “cease and desist” letter regardless of the infringement. This is the easiest way to deal with potential infringers, as investigating each instance is costly, but when policing your brand or slogan, I suggest taking a measured approach.
Keep some form letters on hand, but be willing to engage those “on the fringe” of your brand. If you sell clothing and another brand starts a bakery, you might say that's OK, but you'll defend your mark should the bakery begin selling clothes. A “live and let live” agreement, which allows companies to keep operating under preset parameters would suffice.
Of course, there are blatant infringers who deserve little mercy. Just know that once you start sending cease and desists, you must be prepared (and willing) to sue. If not, you could lose your trademark.
When I counsel businesses, I tell them to take a stand on how aggressively they'll litigate. I tell them to be reasonable, too, so that when they go after infringers, their argument makes sense on paper. Once you have a plan, stick to it, then re-evaluate at least once every year. An experienced intellectual property attorney specializing in trademark protection can help.
Remember, your brand name is only worth as much as you're willing to protect it. There are ways to do so without being a bully, but don’t be afraid of a fight.