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My Growing Ed-Tech Startup That’s Living the DreamWorks

How I Sealed the Deal of a Lifetime with the Support of Comcast NBCUniversal LIFT Labs Accelerator, powered by Techstars

If you’d told me a few years ago that I would become a tech founder in Silicon Valley, I would’ve laughed. That was a far cry from what I was doing back then — studying Medical Informatics and Respiratory Therapy in Taiwan.

Cut to 2020.

Thinker-Tinker, the ed-tech company I founded in 2016, just closed our biggest contract to date — working with DreamWorks to develop its inaugural line of DreamWorks Trolls interactive smart plush toys.

A massive and exciting leap from where I began? Absolutely. And one I couldn’t have done without the help of Comcast NBCUniversal LIFT Labs Accelerator, powered by Techstars.

From Solo Founder to Super Accelerated Startup

The mission at Thinker-Tinker has always been centered on designing better and more engaging learning opportunities when it comes to screen time for kids. In our second year as a company, we launched two successful crowdfunding campaigns featuring our original educational smart toy, Octobo.

This octopus-shaped soft toy learns, plays and grows with kids through your mobile device, interactive storybooks, and educational apps. The number of preorders we received during that time blew us away: 558 preorders in just 40 days.

We had demand. But exactly how Thinker-Tinker was going to grow to meet that demand was still very much up in the air.

It was around this time we were selected to join the inaugural class of the Comcast NBCUniversal LIFT Labs Accelerator, powered by Techstars, which takes place at Comcast’s global headquarters in Philadelphia.

I knew I needed support with thinking bigger and imagining how I could scale my business. I also knew I wanted to join an accelerator that could support my vision of bringing healthy entertainment to kids. I quickly learned that LIFT Labs partners specifically with companies tackling breakthroughs in connectivity, immersive experiences, media, and entertainment. In addition, they connect founders with experts from inside the company and with their network of partners, making their program uniquely valuable for media-relevant companies. The LIFT Labs accelerator felt like the perfect fit.

Turns out, that was one of the best decisions of my life. The 13-week LIFT Labs accelerator gave me everything a founder in my position could possibly hope for, and more. I was immediately connected with power players in the media and toy-making industries, leading to life-changing conversations and incredible business opportunities. And throughout everything, LIFT Labs equipped me with world-class mentorship that proved crucial for weathering the highs and challenges of any growth journey.

On top of all this I got:

  • Storytelling expertise in the form of pitch workshops and media training, plus marketing assets like a product video, photos and stories I could use to market my company.
  • Access to mentors and experts that would have been nearly impossible to get on my own, resulting in relationships with startup champions inside the company who still support me today.
  • A “forever” network of fellow founders and leaders. I’m just as close with the people and mentors in my program as I was when I joined two years ago.

These resources and opportunities combined made all the difference for Thinker-Tinker, giving us what we needed to become the company we are today. Ultimately, the resulting business-savvy and network gained from the program was also what helped us to attract the attention of one of the biggest media partners out there: DreamWorks.

Big Moments, Bigger Opportunities

Today, Thinker-Tinker has a lot to look forward to. Our DreamWorks Trolls plush collection is already well on its way and will be launching in Fall 2020. It will take Thinker-Tinker’s creativity to an entirely new level, by allowing fans to bring their favorite Dreamworks Trolls characters to life by collecting unique Trolls plush toys to unlock features in the interactive music game, Music Stars powered by Thinker-Tinker.

It’s incredible to think that I could go from being a new startup founder to collaborating with a huge global franchise in a matter of years. But, big moments like these truly clarify the importance of the type of support you seek when founding a company. I know I couldn’t have reached this milestone without the LIFT Labs Accelerator program and all the support it gave me. The people I met, the connections I made, the introductions I received, the mentorship — everything brought Thinker-Tinker to new heights and I’ll be forever grateful for the results.

If you’re ready to start your own adventure, apply to be part of the 2020 LIFT Labs Accelerator before applications close May 10, 2020.

And want to support Thinker-Tinker’s next chapter? We are currently running an equity crowdfunding campaign with Netcapital for a limited time, to offer a chance for folks like you to own a piece of our business and join our exciting journey! Invest today.


My Growing Ed-Tech Startup That’s Living the DreamWorks was originally published in Startup Grind on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Jeremy Webb Startup Grind - Medium https://medium.com/startup-grind/my-growing-ed-tech-startup-thats-living-the-dreamworks-910660da7402

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Startup Spotlight: Aptivio

In 2018, Guy Mounier founded Aptivio, the world’s first Opportunity Cloud for Real-Time Sales Coaching. Today, Aptivio is on a mission to help 36 million B2B Relationship Sellers uncover revenue opportunities and guide their high-value actions.

Prior to Aptivio, Guy co-founded and ran CustomerMatrix, a FinTech for Corporate KYC and Client Onboarding backed by HSBC Ventures and acquired by Med Tech Group in December 2017. Additionally, Guy co-founded, bootstrapped, and ran BA Insight to become the leader in Agile Information Integration Platform for improving employee and customer interactions.

Guy is part of the 2014 Young Leader program of the French American Foundation, which is dedicated to helping strengthen the relationship between France and the United States. He also volunteers and helps fundraise on behalf of several non-profit organizations in the areas of STEM Education, High-Tech Accelerators, and Young Entrepreneurs.

Check out what he has to share about building Aptivio and growing his superstar team.

— In a single sentence, what does Aptivio do?

Aptivio provides real-time opportunity guidance for B2B Sales Reps.

– How did Aptivio come to be? What was the problem you found and the ‘aha’ moment?

We developed our domain expertise at a prior FinTech Startup called CustomerMatrix and focused on Know-Your-Customer (KYC) for Corporate Client Onboarding. Financial Services firms do not simply sell a product, but also buy risk, hence they have developed advanced methodologies to monitor company behaviors through social media and news, internet searches, web profiles, job postings, etc. to anticipate potential demand and risk. We coined the term “Opportunity Science” then to describe such approach.

The “aha” moment came when we realized that the most important aspect of connecting Relationship Managers to Opportunity in real-time required to be at the point-of-need. Too often cross-sell/upsell analytics or net new leads are generated out-of-context and ignored by the frontlines. The key is in recognizing the context in which the Sales Rep is, be it prospecting in LinkedIn, emailing a client in Office 365, mapping an account in Salesforce, or reviewing a sales forecast in Einstein, and instantly pushing contextual insights and actions associated with the opportunity, risk, or buyer detected for that Client.

Aptivio has built from scratch the world’s first Opportunity Cloud that help 36 million B2B Sales Reps uncover hidden revenue opportunities and guide their high-value actions. It monitors 1 million businesses 24/7 and globally, as well as over 1 Billion behavioral data points describing that Clients are doing and saying in order to anticipate what they are thinking. We leverage Oracle Cloud Infrastructure to process such a gigantic amount of data.

— What sets Aptivio apart in the market?

Our sales process mining engine leverages AI and billions of behavioral data points per day to automatically onboard our customers’ go-to-market playbook, and continuously improve the quality of sales coaching from user feedback. The current status quo is the development of expensive and suboptimal manual or ML model-driven workflows. This “deep tech” approach represents 16 to 35 person-years of effort to replicate and is currently in a patent-filing stage.

Our business model is also quite disruptive. Unlike other pure-play vendors in the AI Sales Assistant space such as Clari, People.ai, Chorus.ai, to just name a few, we do not compete head-to-head with major CRM platforms such as Salesforce Einstein, Microsoft Power, Oracle CX, and SAP C4C. Instead, we fuel the digital sales assistant offered by major CRM vendors with our Opportunity Cloud unique ability to detect hidden revenue opportunities, right buyers, competitive blind spots, and best pathways to successful outcomes.

Lastly our proprietary data and intelligence captured in the platform improves our ability to match B2B Sales Reps to the relevant opportunities. It learns from users accepting or dismissing the action alert recommendations. It also applies sales best practices across boundaries of the organization.

— What are people most excited by when they first see Aptivio?

Sales Operations and Leadership teams are most excited about our ability to generate better quota attainment, sales efficiency, and better adoption of the Cloud CRM investment. The outcome can be linked to a single metric: our 80% daily active use which demonstrates the relevancy of the sales coaching delivered by Aptivio. With time allocation across potential opportunities being the single most important decision to be made by a Sales Rep, their reliance on Aptivio for real-time guidance demonstrates the quality of insights they are getting.

— Have you pursued funding and if so, what steps did you take?

We are pursuing Seed funding, and the process is going well despite the Covid-19 crisis, as we are already 60% committed. While investors focus has shifted first and foremost on portfolio companies, some do make net new investments selectively. Our focus on Enterprise Clients and digital transformation initiatives have made us particularly recession-resistant compared to other sectors.

— What KPIs are you tracking that you think will lead to revenue generation/growth?

The early indicators for Aptivio’s exponential revenue growth are:

  1. The Number of CRM Account Executives incentivized in selling digital sales assistants + co-selling Aptivio, a certified ISV partner.
  2. The Number of Clients who refer us to their Peers and Partners to empower them with Joint Go-To-Market.
  3. The Number of Sign-ups for free trials that take place in the various CRM Marketplaces.
  4. The Number of Joint Webinars and other Joint Marketing Postings that we do with CRM Partners to boost SEO and awareness of our solution.

Aptivio is my 3rd Startup, and I have raised $30 million in equity for past 2 Startups (1 expansion-stage and 1 acquisition). I have found that the most important thing when you walk into a meeting with a potential investor is to be truly ready for fundraising. Nowadays, you can readily find Advisors, Incubators and Growth Accelerator which will groom you to ensure that you meet the criteria, both in terms of proper level of traction, investor pitch quality, and in terms of targeting investors that will understand your space. Take advantage of these resources. I did for Aptivio, and I can attest that even if I had experience raising investor money, the perspective you get from peers and advisors remain priceless. You are just too close to your opportunity to answer as objectively as you should the hard questions: Why This, Why You, Why Now.

— Who is your cloud provider?

Our Cloud provider for Big Data storage and compute is Oracle Cloud Infrastructure. It has been one of the most reliable and secure Infrastructure Cloud we have used to date, and we have had a lot of experience running Cloud services on top of Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services before.
We also leverage Microsoft Azure Cloud for their micro-services orchestration capabilities, called Logic Apps, which enable us to quickly assemble scalable backend workflows across hundreds of data and enrichment APIs.

— How do you build and develop talent?

Aptivio has developed an extensive set of self-service help centers and online certifications targeted to both Clients and Employees. When a new employee joins the company, he or she goes through a rigorous on-boarding process that involve a set of fundamental skills required to be up-to-speed on the various technologies that we use internally.

On an on-going basis, we support the tuition or training costs reimbursement that help enhance the skills of our employees, with both a direct benefit to their productivity on the job, and the long-term employability in the labor market.

— What’s been the biggest success for the team?

The biggest success for the team is a recent one. We discovered in the process of pivoting and trial and error in our search for product-market fit. We finally uncovered a profound shift in both client and sales behavior taking place: The decentralized approach of empowering Sales Reps directly with the means to conduct client opportunity discovery and outreach.

That profoundly important discovery led us to shift our go-to-market approach to partnering with major CRM platforms’ digital sales assistants, aimed at coaching Sales Reps at the point-of-need. As a result, we are seeing an exponential increase in the number of qualified sales leads we are receiving from CRM Vendors and Partners Sales Teams, both eager to leverage external data to improve the relevancy and quality of sales coaching provided.

— What are the biggest challenges for the team?

One of the biggest challenges for the team has been on the development of a scalable product. Given the enormous amount of data to process (a trillion data points so far), and the complexity of the data types, mostly unstructured with fuzzy association to relevant Companies, People, and Products, as a result “connecting-the-dots” has been a particularly difficult exercise.

Another major challenge has been in finding our product market fit. When you gather a lot of useful customer insights, it can be tempting to have a centralized approach to lead generation, and therefore target the Chief Marketing Officer with your offering. However, we noticed rather quickly that beyond cutting through the overwhelming number of lead generation offerings in the market, the conversion results are quite poor, mainly driven by both Client AND Sales Rep resistance to mass-marketing outreach. Such resistance manifests itself in the form of spam/junk filter policies in the Enterprise, or lead fatigue among Sales teams that ignore the deluge of “prioritized” leads they receive.

— What milestone are you most proud of so far?

As an early stage Startup, what we are most proud of is figuring out our product-market fit. It took us a few pivots to reach our inflection point, but we finally cracked the code to 80%+ daily active use of our Sales Coaching front-end, a level only seen in Facebook and other social media platforms.

After 12+ months of business development efforts, we struck formal strategic partnerships with major CRM platforms and their built-in digital sales assistants such as Oracle CX Sales Assistant, Salesforce Einstein, Microsoft Power, and SAP C4C Sales Assistant. It enabled us to “compute” the sales context, figure out relevant actions to recommend, and push an action alert that would be timely for the Sales Rep.

— What advice would you give to other founders?

The main advice would give to founders today when starting a new company is to leverage incubators or accelerators. Beside the resources made available such as free cloud credits and potential equity investment in your company, it also gives you a definitive edge when fundraising with institutional investors, simply because you have already been vetted among many other startups.

Aptivio is part of the Oracle for Startups program currently. We enjoy the balance we found in getting substantial discounts on the costs of the Oracle Cloud Infrastructure, especially given the data storage and compute-intensive nature of our business. We also benefit from a go-to-market team that connects us with the relevant product teams and relevant Account Executives.

We’re building a joint offer with the Oracle CX Digital Sales Assistant product team and running webinars target to the CX Sales team. Eventually, we plan on presenting at OpenWorld towards the end of the year, hopefully with a joint Oracle CX Sales customer!


Startup Spotlight: Aptivio was originally published in Startup Grind on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Jeremy Webb Startup Grind - Medium https://medium.com/startup-grind/startup-spotlight-aptivio-2cb7d3a81b89

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Why Forever Transactions Are Uniquely Positioned to Weather a Crisis

We explore the benefits of becoming a subscription-based business with the world expert on subscription pricing and membership models, Robbie Kellman Baxter.

Around the world, everyone is adjusting to an unexpected “new normal”: sheltering in place, worrying about the elderly and immunocompromised among us, trying to overcome anxiety and stress, and helping students embrace new distance-learning protocols.

Most people, except those on the front lines and in essential businesses, are working from home. And business owners are leading through this crisis, trying to hang onto customers when seemingly all forces are working against them.

Subscription-based businesses appear to be the most resilient during this time of crisis. With predictable recurring revenue, they have greater flexibility to withstand the storm. They also build what we consider a “forever transaction.”

How can startup entrepreneurs build a forever transaction model with customers?

In a forever transaction, the customer trusts the organization to solve a problem or achieve an objective “forever.” The customer thus transforms into more of a “member” and stops looking for alternatives. Often, the customer signs up for automatic subscription pricing — the holy grail for many businesses.

The forever transaction lies at the heart of successful businesses in the Membership Economy — a term I coined to describe a massive transformation in every kind of organization, from nonprofits and associations to the most profitable of companies. It’s about a move from ownership to access, from anonymous transactions to known, formal relationships and from one-way messaging to two-way communications between the organization and its members.

Using this model, organizations of any size can achieve consistent revenues, a more robust market presence and higher valuations. However, implementing a forever transaction model is not a trivial task. You’ll need to call on all of your existing leadership and business acumen, supplemented with new approaches for sustaining long-term revenue streams and building lasting relationships with the people you serve. It requires a different way of doing everything in your organization — from how you design products to how you take care of the customer post-transaction to how you market and sell.

It will also require a forever promise that you make to the people you serve, that will serve as your North Star. This promise tells them how you’re going to help them achieve their goal or solve their problem on an ongoing basis, and helps refocus you from being product-centric to being member-centric.

For example, if you have a nail salon, step back and think about what customers wish you would do for them forever — perhaps it’s “make sure their hands are always well-groomed.” The ultimate goal isn’t a manicure — a manicure is simply the way the value is packaged. Maybe people would prefer a subscription that promised to keep your nails always looking great — so if you walk out of the salon and chip a nail, you can get it fixed without incurring an additional fee.

Same thing for car washes. We don’t want a car wash — we want a clean car. Most car washes have already begun offering subscriptions for unlimited washes. Still, they could take it a step further by, for example, having valets pick up cars at office parking lots, driving them to the car wash and then bringing them back to the parking lot.

You build a forever transaction by focusing on the long-term need, rather than the short-term “product” or “service.”

What are the most significant challenges entrepreneurs (and INTRApreneurs) face in launching a subscription-based business?

Whether you are an entrepreneur launching your own business, or an INTRApreneur building a new business inside a larger company, expect to face some of the following organizational and skills-based challenges.

If you and your team haven’t built a subscription business before, you may be missing essential skills. Every role is going to be just different enough to cause challenges.

For example:
• Product teams need to optimize features that attract purchase but also features that engage customers and drive ongoing usage and loyalty.
• Sales teams need to be more like farmers, nurturing and growing relationships and less like hunters, who capture prey and bring it home for others to process.
• Marketing teams need to communicate as much after the moment of transaction to drive usage, as before to drive acquisition.
• IT needs to be way more sophisticated than in most traditional businesses, to support new metrics and track behavior.

Significant analytical horsepower has to be applied to reinvent everything from the metrics to progress-tracking to processes to team roles and functional expertise.

In addition, businesses considering launching a forever transaction should beware:

• Dealing with a middleman, which may alienate partners.
• Cannibalization concerns if the transformation doesn’t work.
• Technology setbacks and the potential for unexpected technology hurdles.
• Unexpected leadership priorities that may slow down or speed up your process.
• Disappointing early results, which merit thorough exploration before conceding defeat.

What steps should I take to build a disruption-proof business model?

Know your forever promise. Consider the bigger promise you’re making to your best customers. What problem are you going to solve for them, or what goal are you going to help them achieve, forever? Step back from your products and services and just think about the situation the customer faces and how you can help them to succeed in meeting their objectives.

Determine who your best members are, and more importantly, who they aren’t. Be very specific about who you serve and why.

Focus on customer success, not customer support. Make sure your subscribers are delighted, not just that they aren’t having a problem. That way, they won’t have a reason to look for alternatives. And if you don’t hear from customers for a while, and engagement is dropping — take it as a red flag that cancellation might be around the corner.

Don’t wait until customers cancel to try to win them back. Focus on not losing them in the first place.

Find a way to have the customer “in all rooms” where decisions are being made, both in structured and unstructured meetings. You want to feel as if your customers are watching you, eager to see how you are leading, and hoping you’re worthy of their trust. Amazon leaves an “empty seat for the customer” in meetings to ensure customer-aware decisions. Maybe you should, too.

Periodically take a step back. Consider the biggest challenges that are preventing your best customers from achieving that goal you promised to help them with. If you were launching your business today, to solve the same problem and help the same people, how might you serve them differently?

Some businesses offer great free trials — is that a good strategy? What is the role of “free” in a crisis?

In normal times, I advise subscription business leaders to make sure to consider the role of “free” in their business model, in a deliberate way. They should ask themself what the ROI of free might be.

A free trial can be useful if one of your big challenges is that prospects either don’t understand your value proposition or don’t believe your promise.

With a free trial, you don’t want to provide too much or to fully solve the problem.

In contrast, freemium provides ongoing value for free. You might use freemium for one of three reasons:
• To change behavior.
• Because the free members are the product.
• Because free subscribers are an acquisition channel for paying subscribers.

In normal times, these are the only reasons to justify giving something away (other than philanthropy).

But in extraordinary times — such as the current COVID-19 pandemic when people face dire, unexpected challenges — these rules can be adjusted. In such situations, consider providing even more free value to take care of your members, establish and build relationships with tomorrow’s members, and to take care of your community.

Be deliberate about what you give away and what the rationale is, even in times of crisis. If you’re trying to help people who have been laid off, then only make your offer to people who have been laid off. If you’re trying to help the elderly, be specific and explicit. The biggest risk is that you give away too indiscriminately. This can result in both a reduced perception of the value you provide and a lack of revenue that drives you out of business.

Innovation comes during hardship. What business trends do you think will emerge from the COVID-19 crisis?

Companies have already had to innovate to continue providing the benefits their customers expected. Restaurants have figured out how to do takeout and delivery, and have upped their sanitary processes. Teachers are finally taking distance learning seriously.

We’ve seen clothing and vacuum manufacturers make hospital equipment, and perfumiers and breweries make hand sanitizer.

We talk about being agile and able to change, but until recently, many organizations had never been tested in this kind of extreme, time-sensitive, and life-or-death way. I think this crisis will leave a lasting sense of can-do and confidence with our generation, and a new spirit of possibility.

The Entrepreneurs’ Organization is committed to providing virtual learning and ongoing support for its members throughout this COVID-19 crisis.


Why Forever Transactions Are Uniquely Positioned to Weather a Crisis was originally published in Startup Grind on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Jeremy Webb Startup Grind - Medium https://medium.com/startup-grind/why-forever-transactions-are-uniquely-positioned-to-weather-a-crisis-df5174cfe661

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12 Startups That Are Stepping Up to the Plate by Offering Free Resources and Virtual Technology

Startups are known to be adaptive, innovative, and agile. When there’s a crisis or disruption, these up-and-coming businesses are quick with a solution, and this situation is no different.

Despite being hit hard themselves, startups are stepping up to help by offering their virtual technologies and resources for free. Among them, I’m proud to share, are several cloud startups from the Oracle for Startups community.

Here’s a running list of some of the startups who are putting their ingenuity and inspiration into action:

1. Evreka is Offering Disinfection and Cleaning with Award-Winning SaaS

Evreka is a SaaS company focused on improving waste collection and cleaning operations by providing high technology and environmentally friendly solutions. An Oracle Sustainability Innovation Award winner, Evreka digitalizes and optimizes waste collection and cleaning processes, thus reducing costs, saving time and increasing public satisfaction.

“In light of our global experience in urban cleaning, disinfection, and sterilization, and by being aware that we all have responsibilities for a livable and sustainable world, we will provide our process management and tracking in disinfection operations technology completely free of charge to all relevant institutions and organizations,”
said Umutcan Duman, CEO and cofounder of Evreka. “We want to contribute with solidarity to increase and strengthen the fight against the virus.”

To access Evreka’s free solution, click here: wecare.evreka.co/covid19/. To learn more about Evreka, click here: https://www.evreka.co.

2. AgroScout is Extending Help to Farmers and Growers

AgroScout’s software solution enables growers and farmers to turn a low-cost commercial drone into a digital agronomist, providing pinpoint detection of disease and pests, thereby protecting crops and increasing yield. During this economic crisis, AgroScout is offering its solution at discounted rates and including free use of a drone for two weeks in the case of growers who do not already own one, so the grower can try out the system without any cost.

“In these challenging times, we don’t want to ask farmers to put their hand into their pockets unless they are 100% positive it’s going to help them out,” said Simcha Shore, CEO of AgroScout. “In addition to our discounted offerings, we are also providing online demonstrations so growers can be acquainted with the system and understand the benefits.”

The solution accurately and autonomously detects, identifies, and monitors diseases, pests, and other agronomic problems in the field. Data is uploaded to the cloud and analyzed by AgroScout’s deep learning algorithms with the goal of sending growers accurate crop stress statuses, disease, and pinpointed pest locations, accompanied by treatment recommendation, directly to their computer or mobile device.

You can take advantage of AgroScout’s current offers here or by emailing sales@agro-scout.com.

3. w3.care is Supporting Patient Triage via a Mobile App

Brazilian startup w3.care is focused on mobile emergency care through telemedicine and artificial intelligence solutions for ambulances, rescues, and healthcare units. The startup has developed a new and free service, TeleCOVID, which helps identify potential patients and calculates their severity into low- and high-risk profiles. Low-risk profiles receive care instructions and best-practice procedures, as well as connections with medical professionals. In the case of high risk, the TeleCOVID will start the medical tele-orientation using the w3.care platform, which is HIPAA and HL7 compliant, to help better connect high-risk patients to immediate care. (No personally identifiable information is used during the process.)

“Telemedicine is critical right now and the ability to help triage via TeleCOVID is helping the general population and the many medical doctors and organizations we are working with,” said Jamil Cade, MD and CEO of w3.care. “We are helping medical professionals to tele-triage, tele-orientate, tele-monitor and use real-time data visualization to battle this pandemic.”

To access information on this free service, visit their website.

4. Kinetica is Giving Real-time, Active Analytics Helping on the Front Lines

Kinetica is providing free access to its Active Analytics Platform for researchers, data scientists, and academics trying to analyze the impact of COVID-19. Kinetica helps organizations build real-time active analytical applications that react instantly to changing conditions. The platform leverages powerful GPUs to process and visualize complex streaming, historical, and location data at scale — layering on machine learning — to deliver real-time information for insight-driven actions and results.

“Our hearts go out to all those affected by the outbreak of COVID-19. I believe it is our duty to do all we can for the safety of our community,” said Kinetica CEO Paul Appleby. “Kinetica was founded on the idea that data can change the world. By providing our analytics platform for free we will help provide critical, real-time information to protect the most vulnerable, assist emergency responders, better care for the sick, and find a solution against this terrible virus.”

Use this form to provide a basic overview of your project, and access the platform free.

5. GridMarkets is Throwing Studios and Artists a Lifeline

GridMarkets, a cloud rendering and simulation company for studios, animation/visual effects, and other industries, is providing its service at a significant discount (and in some cases, at no cost) to studios and freelance artists in need. GridMarkets’ “COVID-19 Relief Program” (powered by Oracle’s VMs) can help studios and freelance graphic artists in many ways, including:

• Enabling studios to continue work so they can preserve their cash and business
• Providing a lifeline to the artistic community
• Bootstrapping a freelance business (if they have been laid off by their studios)
• Helping professionals refresh their artistic “reels”
• Creating helpful community VFX 3D tutorials

“Visual effects studios and freelance 3D artists, who produce the world’s visual content, are being crushed by COVID-19. Demand is down and anyone fortunate enough to have a project is now, understandably, ultra-budget sensitive,” said cofounder Mark Ross. “Our visual effects cloud-based rendering and simulation service, powered and secured by Oracle, can be up and running for a studio or freelancer in minutes with no special skills required. We have cut our prices and made grants available as a way of giving back to the artistic community in their hour of need.”

Learn more about GridMarkets’ COVID-19 Relief Program on their webpage.

6. Complete Intelligence is Helping Navigate Volatility in Markets and Supply Chains

With economies around the would essentially being put on pause, there is a new level of uncertainty in markets and supply chains. As a result, manufacturers are quickly trying to pivot and make adjustments on the fly. Complete Intelligence is offering a free report and consultation call to help businesses adjust to volatility in markets and supply chains.

“We’ve seen a big shift in how category managers and planning managers are looking at their supply chains,” said Tony Nash, CEO and founder. “With entire economies being shut down with coronavirus, companies are taking a closer look at the concentration of supply chains by region. Our AI/ML software helps companies easily visualize their supply chains, and helps them pivot quickly.”

With Complete Intelligence, businesses can easily visualize their cost data, make predictions and plans, all in the context of a global economy. The company uses more than 15 billion data points in their AI/ML tool, so planning teams can see their cost projections in the context of market influences.

Contact Tony Nash at tnash@completeintel.com for more information.

7. Sauce is Keeping Storytelling Fresh — Even While Working From Home

Video is paramount to brand storytelling, but creating great, engaging content when you can’t send out video crews or get face-to-face is a problem.

Sauce’s platform allows businesses to keep engaging with their audience, by transforming every organization’s community into a video creation team. The London-based startup enables video creation leveraging smartphone cameras, so anyone can become part of the film crew. The result is authentic user-generated content.

With features for editing, subtitling, and music — the platform is collaborative, fast, and robust.

“We’ve received an uptick in organizations needing advice and direction around video creation,” said Sauce cofounder Priya Shah. “We want to meet their needs with advice and technology resources so they can keep their video content and storytelling fresh and constant — even while we are all working from home.”

Contact Priya at priya@sauce.video for advice on capturing great video, even when your whole team is at home.

8. BotSupply’s Chatbots Are Triaging Customer Service Calls

BotSupply is a conversational AI company that helps organizations create engaging and relevant customer experiences using their bot platform. Today, the cutting-edge startup is providing its AI platform for free to public and non-profit healthcare organizations so they can do what they do best: save lives.

Triage and response teams across industries are being overloaded with customer calls. As call volume increases, so do wait times. Chatbots help these organizations provide information in a timely manner, automating the most repetitive queries and routing only the most critical ones to human agents.

“The beauty of chatbots is that they are so flexible and easy to implement that you can respond to any crisis in a matter of hours, not weeks. This is something other communication tools simply can’t do,” said BotSupply cofounder Francesco Stasi. “We are happy to offer these resources free while many are in need.”

To get started, contact Francesco at francesco@botsupply.ai

9. TravelTime is Providing Mapping Services for Governments, Healthcare, and Startups

TravelTime’s platform processes maps and data from across the globe and delivers optimized travel time mapping, so you know what’s reachable in minutes, not miles.

Today, TravelTime is offering its data and mapping services to governments, charities, health services, and NGOs for free. The startup is also covering mapping and data costs for other startups and small businesses.

“Although the current situation is disrupting our personal lives, our technology remains as solid and stable as always and so it is business as (un)usual for us,” said TravelTime cofounder Charlie Davies. “There is no time limit on this, there is no contract, there is no assumption for future use. We want to repurpose our data and services to help. Lots of people have helped us along our way, now it’s our turn to try and do the same for others.”

Any government, charity, health service, or NGO that is actively helping to address the crisis can get unlimited free access to data to help them plan their responses, including:

• Arranging visits to vulnerable patients
• Mapping the right locations for testing centers
• Communicating to the public which test centers are right for them

Small businesses and startups can also take advantage of these services. Access the request form here.

10. Jobecam is Keeping HR Recruiting at Pace with a Virtual-AI Platform

Brazilian-based Jobecam is offering free access to its virtual recruitment platform so human resource teams can continue recruiting. Jobecam is a 100% digital recruiting experience that brings agility, accessibility, and diversity through AI-driven video technology. A pioneer in video blind interviews, Jobecam’s solution improves the recruiting experience and makes it virtual in a time when face-to-face meetings aren’t possible.

“In this moment of uncertainty and social isolation, we all need to come together and help,” said Jobecam COO Thereza Bukow. “By making our solution free, we enable businesses to be more agile in their recruitment process and deliver a better experience that is secure and modern.”

Jobecam’s solution offers:

• Registration of unlimited job posts
• Automatic screening of candidates
• Recorded video interviews
• AI-based intelligent rankings
• Live interview room, cultural matching, and video curriculum

Contact Jobecam by emailing cammila@jobecam.com or thereza.bukow@jobecam.com.

11. Holler Live is Offering Real-time Employee Feedback That’s Simple and Meaningful

Dutch startup Holler Live is offering their real-time feedback solution free to human resource managers, so employees can provide their opinions and feedback on various topics, including how they are adapting during this time.

“Employees across the world are working from home — many for the first time. Holler provides an easy way for employees to voice their opinions and feedback — allowing human resource managers to better understand how staff are handling the changes and challenges of remote working during this difficult time,” said CEO Rado Raykov.

With one swipe, Holler Live allows people to express their opinion in an easy and universally understandable way. Holler Live partners get specific and user-permissioned alerts, permitting them to promptly respond in real-time to the opinions of their target audience, whether it’s employees, customers, or other stakeholders.

To access Holler Live’s free solution, please email rado@holler.live or sign up here. Watch a video of the mobile employee engagement solution.

12. aiconix is Keeping Media Rolling with AI-powered Content Tools

German startup aiconix is offering its multilingual transcription and subtitling solutions for free and discounted rates. An AI-powered media and content creation platform, the technology enables media and entertainment professionals to produce better content more efficiently by automating routine workflows and creating new content from large amounts of unstructured audio-visual data.

“In these days, where everybody communicates online, it should be essential to reach also those who need barrier-free access, and provide searchability in audio and video files,” said CEO and cofounder Eugen L. Gross. “We want to provide our live transcription and live subtitling feature for free for the next three months to those who need it like hospitals, authorities and NGOs.”

From press conferences to media content, aiconix’s transcription and subtitle services can plug into any data stream in multiple languages allowing organizations to quickly repurpose and disseminate valuable content. The platform enables automated subtitling of videos, semantic text analysis, transcription of audio, automated recognition of faces and local celebrities, label detection, and much more.

Contact aiconix to access your discount and get started: Live@aiconix.ai or contact form.

Startups are also reducing operating costs by taking advantage of free and discounted cloud with Oracle for Startups. Learn more and join them at oracle.com/startup.


12 Startups That Are Stepping Up to the Plate by Offering Free Resources and Virtual Technology was originally published in Startup Grind on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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VC Corner Q&A: Matt Carbonara of Citi Ventures

Matt Carbonara is a Managing Director at Citi Ventures and works with entrepreneurs innovating in enterprise IT, cybersecurity, customer experience, and marketing. He strives to create win-win scenarios that provide customer engagement and product feedback for high-potential startups while motivating innovation and business transformation for both Citi and its clients.

Prior to Citi Ventures, Matt was at Cisco where he led investments and acquisitions in the areas of enterprise networking, collaboration, and IoT as well as in the country of Israel. He also has investment experience from Comcast Ventures and TeleSoft Partners.

And prior to becoming a venture capitalist, Matt was employee 10 at Terayon Communication Systems, a Sequoia and Lightspeed-backed startup that went public. There he architected and designed application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs) before moving into product marketing and product management.

— What is your / your fund’s mission?

As strategic investors, Citi Ventures champions and partners with entrepreneurs who are defining the future of financial services and enterprise markets.

We invest in five key areas that we believe are critically important to the ecosystem surrounding the banking experience. Those include:

  • Financial Services & FinTech
  • Data Analytics, Machine Learning & Artificial Intelligence
  • Commerce & Payments
  • Security & Enterprise IT (including Cloud and DevOps)
  • Customer Experience & Marketing

— What is one thing you are excited about right now?

What excites me right now is the pace of innovation among entrepreneurs. The creativity and innovative mindset we’re seeing today, particularly in the enterprise IT and financial services industries, are driving a much faster pace than even just five years ago.

— What are the 3 top qualities of every great leader?

When evaluating companies, I always look for leaders who have a clear vision for their company, drive for team building and company culture, and value honesty and transparency.

— What was your very first investment/when? And what struck you about them?

My first investment was in Matrix Semiconductor in 2003. The company was disrupting the multi-billion-dollar memory market, but it was the leadership team that truly stood out to me and drove our investment decision.

— What is one question you ask yourself before investing in a company?

I always ask myself, “Would I want to be a part of this team and dedicate myself to its effort?” I’ve found that my answer is a test of my conviction for the opportunity. It helps identify the quality of the team, the magnitude of the problem the company is looking to solve, and ultimately, its ability to attract additional talent and capital.

— What is one thing every founder should ask themselves before walking into a meeting with a potential investor?

Is this an investor relationship I envision for the long-haul and will they help me move my company forward?

— What do you think should be in a CEO’s top 3 company priorities?

From my experience, CEOs should consider the following priorities:

  1. Build your company direction, strategy and culture, and ensure its communicated across the entire organization.
  2. Put time and resources into the well-being of your employees’ personal and professional growth.
  3. Strategically raise and allocate your company’s capital.

— Favorite business book, blog or podcast?

  • Book — Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini
  • Podcast — Invest Like the Best with Patrick O’Shaughnessy

— What is your favorite thing to do when you’re not working?

Coaching my daughters in sports is my favorite pastime.

— Who is one leader you admire?

John Chambers, CEO of JC2 Ventures (former CEO & executive chairman at Cisco), and Chuck Robbins, current Chairman and CEO at Cisco, are two leaders I admire equally. Their leadership and decision-making have inspired me throughout my career.

— What is one interesting thing most people won’t know about you?

My interest in venture capital came from the first startup I worked for. Our CEO scheduled an all-hands meeting (for all 13 of us at the time) to celebrate and pass around our Series B financing check. The excitement and determination from not only our CEO but everyone in the room sparked a passion in me to pursue the career I’m in now.

— What is one piece of advice you’d give every founder?

As a founder, there are so many distractions and decisions blocking the way to success. All I can say is don’t lose focus on your vision. Don’t forget, it’s what got you this far.

Startups interested in an opportunity to pitch Citi Ventures can apply here.


VC Corner Q&A: Matt Carbonara of Citi Ventures was originally published in Startup Grind on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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Startup Spotlight: OVFX

OVFX is a full service production company, 2D/3D animation studio, and IP holder specializing in Kids and Pop Culture content. Based in Baltimore Maryland, the OVFX team is paving the way to modern filmmaking using technology similar to that of Avatar and Planet of the Apes at a fraction of the cost.

We recently chatted with Walter Carter, the Director of 3D and Visual Effects at OVFX, who carries 20 years of entertainment software development experience. Check out what he had to say about the challenges and highlights of leading a creative team and what goes into building a successful VFX studio.

— In a single sentence, what does OVFX do?

We’re a full service visual effects (VFX) and animation studio with its own IP––Kulipari––currently on Netflix.

– How did OVFX come to be? What was the problem you found and the ‘aha’ moment?

The cost of high-fidelity visual storytelling is going down. Dovetail that with an area ripe with experience, but low on opportunity and you get us. When you look at the number of streaming providers (globally) and their need for original, cost effective content, we saw we could provide a very stable and cost effective solution to their needs in a number of forms.

— What sets OVFX apart in the market?

VFX are typically bid upon to provide a service for clients. In this new age of streaming formats, content providers need a constant stream of NEW entertainment to satisfy their subscribers. OVFX is its own client which provides fully-packaged theatrical entertainment to theaters and streaming providers alike.

— What are people most excited by when they first see OVFX?

If it’s the public, I’d say season three of Kulipari which is in early development now. If it’s the team, it’s the fact that we have an opportunity here in Baltimore of all places to pull this off. We’re going to make Skywalker Ranch East Coast a real thing. But ours will be called… “The Amphibilands.”

— Have you pursued funding and if so, what steps did you take?

We have generous private investors that believe in us and we’re currently entertaining investment suitors.

— How do you manage growth vs sustainability?

We reduce our burn rate by having a core team of creatives that scales as the project needs.

— How do you build and develop talent?

We start from a talented base and then provide the latest software and best hardware to provide our artists with a creative platform competitive with any AAA studio.

— What are the biggest challenges for the team?

The render puzzle is the most expensive and time consuming thing we have to plan and mind our dollars and cents around. This is where storytelling though advanced visual engines––like unreal engine — begins.

— What’s been the biggest success for the team?

Landing our project on Netflix for two consecutive seasons and being the second most watched show over the long Thanksgiving weekend during season two of Kulipari’s debut.

— What milestone are you most proud of so far?

Our proof-of-concept animation sprints. We’re doing Hollywood quality animation and problem-solving in the same time it takes other teams to get off the tarmac.

— What advice would you give to other founders?

Don’t give up. And also hire smart people — smarter than you.

— What’s up next for OVFX?

We’re currently shooting the live action reboot of Kulipari: An Army of Frogs using the same techniques and pipelines that were used to make films like Planet of the Apes and Avatar. And we’re are now applying that same technology and storytelling to the private sector: Medical, Government, Science, Defense. We call it the Disney-fication of information. Because content is content, whether it’s Hulu or Hopkins.


Startup Spotlight: OVFX was originally published in Startup Grind on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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Why We Banned Requirements From Our Job Descriptions

Why We Banned Requirements from Our Job Descriptions

A Memo on Performance-Based Hiring

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

What follows is a memo I wrote to explain the hiring philosophy at Luminovo to our team. If your job descriptions still include a list of skills and experiences (like “X years of Python experience” or “a university degree in communication design”) you might benefit from reading this. As it was originally written for internal training purposes, there are some references to Luminovo that you can happily translate to your own company while reading. I hope this will help you put your own hiring process on a sound footing.

Purpose

This document serves to explain the philosophy of performance-based hiring that our hiring process is based on and includes advice and specific suggestions on how to put that philosophy into practice. Among other things you will learn about performance profiles, the opportunity gap and the two types of questions.

It is meant to be read and discussed by everyone involved in recruiting new talent.

Other Resources

Most of the content of this document is based on the book Hire With Your Head by Lou Adler.

Performance-Based Hiring

“Teamwork makes the dream work.” — Some person with a knack for rhyming.

We need to hire and retain top talent. It is the single most important factor underlying all of our (potential) success. To do this consistently and to avoid hiring mediocre team members is the goal of the performance-based hiring process.

As the name suggests performance-based hiring leans on assessing how an applicant’s past performance lines up with the desired performance on the job. In other words: can this candidate get done what we need them to get done?

Asking this question might sound obvious, but most hiring processes do not actually put their focus on this. Instead they often ask if a candidate has skill A or skill B, how many years of Python experience they might have or what their university degree is. But focussing on what the applicant needs to get done as opposed to what skills they have offers some key advantages:

1 — It puts a focus on the opportunity gap.

More on this later.

2 — It mitigates expectation mismatch between employer and employee.

As you will probably experience for yourself writing good performance profiles is hard. It’s hard because often times you haven’t really thought that much about what a person will need to do once they start. To avoid bad surprises for either side it’s a good idea to clarify this as much as possible before a person starts rather than after they do.

Snoopy could have benefitted from a good performance profile. Source

3 — It leaves more breathing space for unorthodox applicants.

Sometimes we might not know exactly (or have misguided ideas of) what skills someone needs to have to achieve our performance objectives. By putting a focus on what the candidate will need to get done, we put the focus (by definition) on what matters most to succeed on the job. Another way to look at it: if someone can do what needs to get done, they probably have the skills they need to do what needs to get done. Who cares if they have an Ivy League degree.

Performance Profiles

Embarking on the journey of finding a new Luminerd always starts with writing their performance profile.

While normal job descriptions will often have a long list or requirements (like skills, experience or academic laurels), the best people don’t get excited when they see a list of skills they already possess. Instead a performance profile should focus on what the candidate needs to do to excel in their position. The challenges that our job opportunity comes with is what the best people are interested in and that is what the performance profile should focus on. A good way of thinking about the concept of a performance profile is simply to reframe the role into a “success profile”. You should ask yourself: What does a person need to do in this role in order to be considered successful?

A performance profile consists of a list of performance objectives. Each performance objective should define superior performance and clearly state what needs to get done on the job. Instead of focusing on what people need to have, it should focus on what people need to do.

A job description telling us that you are looking for a “good communicator with proficient Python programming skills and a Master’s degree in Machine Learning” distracts from what we ultimately care about (on-the-job performance), might exclude good candidates and it often is an artifact of lazy thinking demonstrating that you do not yet clearly understand what a new hire will need to do to succeed in the role you are looking to fill. A good performance profile for this role will have performance objectives describing what this “good communicator” you are looking for will need his communication skills for and what outcomes they will need to produce with their Python and Machine Learning experience. Two possible objectives could be:

  • “Implement and tune state-of-the-art ML models to get the best possible results given a dataset and metric to optimize”
  • “Effectively communicate and document your approach, progress, results and challenges both within the team and towards our clients”

For more advice on writing good performance objectives, see the Appendix (Writing Performance Objectives).

After reading a finished performance profile the candidate should know exactly what will be expected of her once she joins the company. A good performance profile can serve as an on-boarding document and as the basis of future performance reviews. And it does not stop there! The logic of writing performance objectives and understanding a person’s opportunity gap can be used to continuously “rehire” people within your company and get them psyched for the next step they and your company will take.

Note: We often include some bullet points that are not proper performance objectives in our performance profiles (“attend insight hours and fun team events”). Their purpose is to illustrate that Luminovo is an awesome place to work at. Do not confuse them with proper performance objectives.

The Opportunity Gap

Remember: our goal is to retain and hire the best people. But the best performers screen differently for a job than the average performer. For the best (like you, dear reader 🤗), each new job is a strategic decision they evaluate based on what they can achieve and learn both in the short-term and the long-term.

This gap between what an applicant does now and what they could be doing in the future if they take the job is called the opportunity gap. It consists of job stretch (immediate responsibilities, tasks and challenges that are new to the applicant) and job growth (long-term growth prospects we can offer) and is the best way to motivate the best people for a new job.

Understanding an applicant’s opportunity gap is key to making sure they are right for the job and the job is right for them.

Note: The belief that the opportunity gap motivates the kind of people we want to work with is actually embedded in our operating principles (Keep Learning. Focus on Impact.).

Interviewing

“Interviews should be a fact-finding mission, not a popularity contest” — Lou Adler

The first thing to keep in mind when starting to interview a candidate is that there is little correlation between interviewing skills and on-the-job performance. We want to use on-the-job performance as our selection criterium not interview performance.

The second thing to realize is that the interview is there to collect information, not to make a decision. Often people tend to make a gut decision only a few minutes into the interview. Force yourself to delay the decision as long as possible! And work against your intuition. A bad first impression should be an invitation to find facts that prove you wrong (and the same goes for a good first impression).

By now we have defined what our candidates will need to do on the job (thanks to our performance objectives) and we have agreed that we ultimately care about on-the-job performance (as opposed to interview performance). Time to start the seemingly black magic process of trying to predict the future of how well a candidate will do their job.

Predictors of Success

At the core of performance-based hiring is the belief that the best predictors of success for on-the-job performance are not skills, but energy, talent and comparable past performance.

The energy a candidate brings to your company largely depends on their motivation to do the work that needs to get done and to understand a candidate’s motivation you need to understand their opportunity gap. Talent will impact how much time the candidate will need to bridge the opportunity gap and the best way to think about it is in terms of comparable past performance. The most talented applicants will have a consistent track record of exceeding expectations in the things they have committed themselves to doing.

This leaves us with comparable past performance and fortunately there are only two types of questions you need to know about to understand this predictor of success.

Two Types of Questions — The MSA

The first question is called the “Most Significant Accomplishment” question. It arises naturally from a good performance profile and goes something like this: “As a fill-in-role-title-here you will have to fill-in-performance-objective-here. Can you tell me in detail about the most significant accomplishment that you believe has prepared you to do this well?”

Instead of going broad and brushing over all the things they have ever done, you want to dig deep into their most significant accomplishment. What was the situation you faced when you started the project? What were the biggest challenges you had to overcome? What were the results obtained? What skills were needed? What skills were learned? What was your role and who did you work with? What would you do differently?

Fact-Finding

All of the follow-up questions above are examples of fact-finding. Without fact-finding asking the MSA is worthless. Doing good fact-finding lies at the heart of performance-based hiring. If you just let the interviewee tell you about their accomplishments without doing fact-finding, all you will be doing is measuring interviewing skills (the thing we set out to avoid in the first place). Fact-finding is great because it works two ways. On the one hand, it helps uncover candidates that are good at interviewing and inflating their achievements of the past. On the other hand, even candidates that are bad at interviewing (say they get very nervous in interview settings) are good at talking about things they have spent a lot of time doing and know in-depth. It lets you go past interviewing skills and helps you to truly understand their comparable past performance.

As you get better and better at fact-finding, you will realize that to conduct an insightful interview all you need is the MSA question and a very good understanding of the job the candidate will need to do (as summarized in the performance profile). As you can ask the MSA about any performance objective, it is usually a good idea that everyone involved in the hiring process coordinates before the interviews to decide which interviewer will focus on which of the performance objectives in their line of questioning.

Comparable

You might have noticed the implicit tension between a candidate’s opportunity gap and their past performance. More and better examples of past performance imply a smaller opportunity gap which will negatively impact their motivation to do the job.

The key to resolving this issue lies in the word comparable. You want your candidates to have comparable past performance, not necessarily identical past performance. Comparable accomplishments can be made by doing something different in a similar setting or doing something similar in a different setting.

When we write performance profiles we try to avoid making too many assumptions about what skills are needed to do the job at hand. In the same spirit, we want to leave the choice of what a comparable accomplishment can be to the candidate when we ask the MSA question.

Don’t sell (too much)

“Recruiting is more about buying than selling. If you sell too soon, you stop evaluating. If the job is compelling, candidates will sell you as they attempt to convince you why they’re qualified.” — Lou Adler

Every interview is a two-sided affair of the applicant convincing us and us convincing the applicant that he should be working for Luminovo. The best people are interested in working with great teammates and this holds true for you (the interviewer) just as much as for the interviewee.

However, you cannot tell a person straight off the bat how great a job is. They need to learn for themselves. If a job seems too easy to get, it becomes uninteresting. So do not start selling (yourself, the job or the company) too soon, even if you are convinced of an applicant’s qualifications.

Rather spend the interview talking up the opportunity gap. Everyone is proud of their accomplishments, so the optimal interview is one where you get the candidate to see the job opportunity and he starts trying to sell you his skills and relevant experience.

You can do this by using the recruiting and challenging questions technique during the interview. It goes like this: Use your questions (and the lead-up to it) to challenge the candidate and talk up the challenges they will be facing on the new job (“Your experience with X is really impressive, but I feel you have not had the chance to do a lot of Y. Can you tell me more about related accomplishments that might qualify you for this new challenge?”). The MSA question is a natural fit for this questioning technique.

Two Types of Questions — The Jam

What is even better than asking about comparable past performance? Seeing comparable live performance, right there in the interview! In a jam you just take a problem that the person will face in their new role and ask how they would go about solving it. The closer you can approximate the real-world setting the better. A jam is meant to be a collaborative session where you hash out the solution in a back and forth between interviewer and interviewee.

Starting the Interview

It is usually a good idea to start the interview by outlining what exactly you will be doing in the interview in what order and telling them about which performance objectives you think are the most important for the role.

During the Interview

Make sure you listen more than you talk. After asking a question resist the urge to fill an awkward silence. Instead wait and give the candidate time to think and answer.

Ending the Interview

End the interview by giving the candidate 10 minutes to ask their questions. At the very end close the interview with a question like this: “Although we’re seeing some other fine candidates, I personally think you have a very strong background. We’ll get back to you in a few days, but what are your thoughts now about this position?” It creates competition (without this great candidates can quickly lose interest and you strengthen their negotiation position later on if you tell them flat out that they are one of the best candidates you have seen), demand (express sincere interest — people will think more about why they want a job when told they are well liked and qualified; with a neutral or negative ending people will go away thinking about why they are not going to get it) and surfaces concerns on the candidates side early on by asking them about their first impression.

A Note on Cultural Fit

Many recruiting processes put an active focus on “cultural fit”. Would I like to grab a beer with this person? I agree that cultural fit is a factor that is crucially important. But cultural fit in the sense of “do I like this person” does not deserve any extra attention, since we would never hire someone we do not like anyways. Interviewing is hard and needs to be learnt, but judging whether you like someone is easy and every new interviewer already comes with years of practice. Try to determine whether you like a candidate, only after you have determined his competency.
There are of course some parts of cultural fit (like giving pro-active feedback and valuing psychological safety) that we should be checking for and for these we have our operating principles (or you could think about them as value objectives) that (just like performance objectives) focus on what people do as opposed to what they have.

Appendix

Writing Performance Objectives

A good performance objective should:

  • Describe the results needed by the candidate to be successful, key process steps to achieve these results and give an understanding of the environment (like pace, resources, professionalism and decision making processes)
  • Be SMARTe

Specific: Include the details of what needs to be done so that others understand it.
Measurable: It’s best if the objective is easy to measure by including amounts or percent changes.
Action-oriented: Action verbs build, improve, change, and help understanding.
Results: A definition that complements the measurable piece by clearly indicating what needs to happen.
Time-bound: Include a date or state how long it will take to start and complete.
environment: Describe the company culture, pace, pressure, available resources, and politics.

  • Convert having into doing, technical skills into results. Use active verbs not passive ones (“be responsible for” is passive!).

If you are hiring a role that is already being done in the company, the best way to go about writing a performance profile is looking at what the best people in that role at Luminovo do and what sets them apart from the average performer.

Last but not least a good question to ask yourself while writing a performance objective is the following: If you posed the MSA question about this objective could you imagine getting specific examples of what they have done in the past from your candidate (that’s good!) or would you expect it to lead to very vague answers (that’s bad!).

A legal perspective on writing performance objectives

In Germany, it is (thankfully so) illegal to discriminate against applicants based on age (also gender, ethnicity, sexual preferences, religion or disability). Thus, if you are a young and dynamic startup looking for a “young and dynamic team member” you are putting your company at risk of being sued. If you write performance objectives instead of job requirements and focus on what people do as opposed to what they have or who they are you are much less likely to end up discriminating in your job descriptions (be it by accident or not).

Thanks to Erin Bacsy and Patrick Perner for your feedback on the first draft and putting our hiring philosophy into practice every day. 🤗 Thanks to Sebastian Schaal for indulging the good and keeping in check the bad ideas I have for rethinking how we do things at Luminovo every day — and for knowing which is which.

If you have feedback, thoughts or think any of this is bad advice, I would love to hear from you.


Why We Banned Requirements From Our Job Descriptions was originally published in Startup Grind on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Jeremy Webb Startup Grind - Medium https://medium.com/startup-grind/why-we-banned-requirements-from-our-job-descriptions-33a774e1a1c2

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We’re Celebrating All Things #Mentorship This Month

All Our Mentorship Events Will Be #SGVirtual and Open to the Public

April is Mentorship month at Startup Grind. And though we planned this theme at the beginning of the year, it feels eerily relevant to everything that’s going on in our world today.

For anyone who’s ever had a mentor — and we hope everyone is raising their hand right now! — you know they’re the pinnacle of wisdom and nurturing.

But you also know that mentors aren’t just there to cheer you on during the good times. They show up to encourage you during the down times, too. They challenge you to think creatively. Mentors push you past your comfort zone and make you face things you’d rather not face. They show you that yes, you can do it. And if there’s ever a time to appreciate that type of connection, it’s now.

Over the next 31 days, our Startup Grind events will be tackling topics related to mentorship and what mentorship means in our personal lives and to our work. How do we find mentors? What can we learn from our mentees? Etc.

And because times like these call for creative ways to connect, we’re doing something new. All our mentorship events this month will be #SGvirtual and open to the public.

Have a look below to preview some of our featured events. Or simply click here to see the full #SGvirtual events list.

A Few of Our 60+ Upcoming #SGvirtual Mentorship Month Events

Now, maybe more than ever, we can collectively experience the benefits of connecting with mentors, leaders, entrepreneurs from around the world. And always remember: remote ≠ alone. Enjoy the virtual sessions and keep on grinding!

Want to Register or Explore All Upcoming Events?

Click here to view the complete list of #SGvirtual mentorship events. All events in April are open to the public and virtual, giving you the opportunity to connect with other communities like never before.


We’re Celebrating All Things #Mentorship This Month was originally published in Startup Grind on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Jeremy Webb Startup Grind - Medium https://medium.com/startup-grind/were-celebrating-all-things-mentorship-this-month-c077f55d9ca4

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VC Corner Q&A: Amy Cheetham

Amy Cheetham is a Vice President at Costanoa Ventures, where she’s focused on investing in the next generation of great enterprise technology companies.

She began her career on Wall Street, working at JP Morgan, where she spent time as a technology investment banker and a cash equities trader. Before joining Costanoa, Amy ran North American sales strategy and operations at Zuora, a public enterprise software company that sells enterprise-grade subscription billing solutions. Prior to that she spent three years investing in growth stage technology companies at Summit Partners, where her investments included Podium, InfoArmor (acq. AllState), and onXmaps. Originally from Maine, she now lives in San Francisco with a very spoiled golden retriever.

— What is your / your fund’s mission?

Our mission at Costanoa is to build the next great early-stage boutique venture firm that helps exceptional entrepreneurs create smart technology and solve hard problems that change how business gets done.

— What is one thing you are excited about right now?

In 2011, Marc Andreesen famously stated that “software is eating the world.” He was right, of course, and nearly every company has become a software company at least in some regard.

In similar fashion, I believe that financial services are becoming less of a vertical solution and will come to have broader horizontal applications. Every company now has the potential to become a provider of some level of financial services. There is a global trend of software companies beginning to add a payments functionality or bundle debit cards in with their offerings — Facebook, Uber, Apple are just a few of the first movers in this trend. I’m excited about the broader implications this will have for innovation in banking-as-a-service and other financial infrastructure technologies. This should open up significant added revenue potential for many verticalized software vendors that now are able to add payments or other offerings.

— Who is one founder you think we should watch?

No single one, but I’m broadly bullish on non-Bay Area founders and teams. At Summit Partners, I did deals in Montana, Phoenix, and Salt Lake City. The Costanoa team and I are so excited about the talent in these markets and many others across the US and Canada (so email me if you’re starting something new!).

— What are the 3 top qualities of every great leader?

  1. Empathy. Having the self-awareness and compassion to effectively understand customers’ problems and manage and build a great team.
  2. Vision. Having the ability to envision a product or even a world that doesn’t yet exist and put that into action.
  3. Communication. Having the ability to effectively share a vision to hire and retain employees, gain customers, and even convince VCs to invest.

— What was your very first investment/when? And what struck you about them?

My first investment was in 2017 while I was an associate at Summit Partners. The founder got a call from his father, the owner of a local tire shop, complaining about the dichotomy between the overwhelmingly positive verbal feedback he’d gotten from his customers and the limited, but more negative, reviews he’d received online. The latter were affecting his business’s online reputation and in turn, its foot traffic. His father wanted a way to improve his online reviews but didn’t know how and couldn’t find a simple, easy to use solution to help. Eric set out to solve this problem and began building what would become Podium.

I was immediately struck by the backstory and the fact that Google’s location business search based much of its ranking algorithm on reviews and, as such, driving foot traffic with mediocre or limited reviews was difficult. Not only did small and medium-sized businesses need recent reviews to drive up their search rankings, they also needed a higher volume to smooth out the bell curve of a few unhappy customers. Podium was quickly able to drive this for them with their easy-to-use review generation platform. While the company has grown to be much more than a simple review platform today, it initially proved a wedge that solved a key pain point and drove exceptional growth for the company.

— What is one question you ask yourself before investing in a company?

Why now? Timing is everything in venture capital, and it’s easy to mistake early traction for good timing. There are numerous examples of great technologies that were too early or too late to market.

For example, Friendster, which launched in 2002 and shut down four years later, is a great example. Five years later, Facebook appeared on the scene with much of the same core functionality and a very different outcome. Sometimes customers aren’t ready or VCs don’t feel comfortable backing early movers in a market or adjacent technology isn’t ready to support the growth of a new and innovative idea.

— What is one thing every founder should ask themselves before walking into a meeting with a potential investor?

Is this someone I could spend the rest of my (company’s) life with? It’s easy to get caught up in the madness of a fundraising cycle, but it’s important for founders to vet their future teammates (and board members) and ensure this is the type of person they want around the table in good times and bad.

— What do you think should be in a CEO’s top 3 company priorities?

This is very stage-dependent, but broadly, all CEOs should be focused on:

  1. Developing and communicating a clear and concise vision for the company. This translates into how easily the product can be sold to customers, prospective employees, and VCs.
  2. Building a diverse team and a productive, healthy culture that can execute on the company’s vision.
  3. Maintaining a relentless focus on the customer.

— Favorite business book, blog or podcast?

I don’t typically read business related books because I think other non-fiction genres offer great learnings that can also be applied to venture. I’m currently reading about the opioid crisis in rural America — this has opened my eyes to the changing dynamics in healthcare insurance and what these changes could mean for innovation in healthtech and insurtech over the next few years.

— What is your favorite thing to do when you’re not working?

Get outside. I am an avid runner, hiker, skier, and cyclist. I love to spend my free time enjoying San Francisco and the beautiful surrounding areas we are lucky enough to live near. When forced inside, I like to read and cook.

— Who is one leader you admire?

Shalane Flanaghan. As a marathoner myself (albeit a comparatively slow one), I am constantly inspired by Shalane’s positive attitude, grit, and stamina. While she certainly had a storied career, her most high-profile success came late, at age 37 after reconstructive knee surgery, when she won the New York City marathon. She overcame a lot during her career and I think she can teach us all about hard work and self-belief on the road to success.

— What is one interesting thing most people won’t know about you?

I’m from a small town in rural Maine where I grew up riding horses and maintaining my parents’ large vegetable garden.

— What is one piece of advice you’d give every founder?

I’m going to give two, because they’re connected.

  1. Listen. Listen to customers (current and prospective), employees, investors, other founders, and even your family. This doesn’t mean you have to act on everything you hear, but you’ll learn a lot if you continue to be open and receptive as your company scales.
  2. Talk. Cultivate and maintain a group of founder friends where you can talk about the challenges you’re going through. Running a startup can be a lonely endeavor and creating a close-knit group that you can fall back on is critical to making those lonely times a bit less lonely.

Startups interested in an opportunity to pitch Costanoa can apply here.


VC Corner Q&A: Amy Cheetham was originally published in Startup Grind on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Jeremy Webb Startup Grind - Medium https://medium.com/startup-grind/vc-corner-q-a-amy-cheetham-2592c942a171

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Jeremy WebbVC Corner Q&A: Amy Cheetham
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