The 3 Pitfalls of Scaling Your Business Processes

You hear about scale all the time.  That magical moment when your company really starts to get traction, and you need to start taking what a couple of you were hacking together and blow it out big. 

Scale your marketing, scale your team, scale your technology, scale your customer service.  But what a lot of tech companies are really doing, especially those in high growth mode, is scaling some kind of process.

This is a process that, in the early stages of growth, may have been performed by 1 person, but now requires 10 or more people just to keep up with rapid customer acquisition and product growth.

While scaling sounds very appealing to an early stage startup struggling to get by, is not something that comes easy – in fact it takes extreme discipline, a commitment to measurement and reporting, flexibility and a relentless focus on driving efficiency.  

Over the last several years I have seen scale firsthand – both in my own company, as well as in the rapidly growing venture-backed companies we work with. Through these experiences I have observed avoidable pitfalls when it comes to scaling processes – especially after raising a large funding round or gaining a big new customer.

Pitfall #1 – Not adding enough structure to keep up with growth

“But we’re a startup, we don’t need all that hierarchy, process, structure – it will just slow us down!”

While true to a certain extent, as you get bigger, complexity grows as well. Bob Sutton, organizational behavior expert at Stanford’s School of Engineering, advises companies to put in just enough structure and process to deal with this added complexity. He says, “The reality is you do need more roles, more hierarchy, more process. It’s unavoidable.”

So how do you know how much structure to add, and when to add it?

Kyle Lacy, VP of Marketing at Lessonly, follows the “5 P’s” to scaling: People, Principles, Process, Programs, and Performance.  

Kyle Lacy says, “the biggest challenge as a marketing team when you are scaling is the focus on continuous, rapid improvement.”  With the “5 P’s” he stresses that the foundation of any strong marketing organization is measure everything (Performance) to discover better ways to reach customers, and that it is critical to align team members with other parts of the organization.

As important as the “5 P’s” are, Lacy stresses that hiring talent is the most important part of scaling: “The most expensive thing a start-up can do is hire bad talent.”

Neil Patel, the man behind success stories like Crazy Egg and KISSmetrics, talks about the right moment to hire. His advice is not to throw labor at growth problems, but rather, to be aware of key triggers that tell you when to bring on people, and when not to.  

His advice is to look at hiring for growth through the lens of A) when the tasks being done will generate money, and B) when the tasks to be completed fall under a particular skill set.  In this way you can keep complexity at bay as you scale.

Pitfall #2 – Assuming your tech can scale without humans

Speaking of humans, do we even need them anymore?  AI and machine learning are becoming more and more common not just in the tech media but everywhere else as well, and it may seem like humans are pretty much going out of fashion.

But anyone building any type of artificial intelligence (and according to Saman Farid AI will be essential to pretty much every tech startup in the near future) will tell you that it may be achievable to get machine learning up to speed on 80% (give or take 10-20% depending on who you’re talking to) of what you want to do, but that last 20% is extremely hard to do with without human intervention.  

For one, you need lots of data to train algorithms.  And two, so much of what you are likely doing as you disrupt your space is new territory – you’re collecting data, experiencing nuances and learnings along the way that require judgment, insight, and flexibility.  All of which still requires humans.

Emily Hurd understands that balancing act between scaling tech and scaling labor very well.  As VP of Operations at one of the fastest growing companies in the travel benefits space, Rocketrip, she has scaled multiple functions of their business through a series of funding rounds and the acquisition of large, enterprise customers.  

As Rocketrip scaled in the early days, they focused technology resources on customer-facing and/or core product innovations first, and maintained a “delicate balance” of when to build out more product features, and where to add more headcount.  She explains, “If there are areas of the business where we can provide coverage with headcount, without sacrificing user experience, we’ll opt to do that while our technology has a chance to catch up.”

Erik Bloch, a director with PatternEx, talks about the relationship between humans and machine learning as well.  This is especially relevant in the security space.  He stresses that with AI/Machine Learning platforms you want the system to replace people doing repetitive tasks, and allow humans to train the system to help them out so they can do other things.

Pitfall #3 – Getting stuck in “hero mode”

Bloch, who is a veteran of 4 high growth startups, warns that when many startups start to scale, they continue to do things the way they were doing it in the early stages – for example, the CEO or early employees try and continue to work 24/7 and do everything themselves.  He stresses that it is critical to bring in the right people at the right time after securing your Series A funding round.

Hurd also talks about the tipping point for leaders to to get work off their plate. She follows a rule that if you find you’re spending 20% of your time on any one area of the business, it’s time to figure out a way to get it off your plate – whether through headcount or technology or both.  “And hire good problem-solvers who can make the tasks more efficient; you won’t scale if everyone just clones what you were doing.” 

In fact, in the early days Rocketrip’s CEO was even doing some of the manual data processing work himself, but once they started to land large customers the team realized it wasn’t scalable to have everyone do all the extra processing work on top of their regular day-to-day jobs.

The approach that they took to solve this and avoid “hero mode” was two-fold:  they developed a dedicated in-house support team that works in shift schedules to cover business hours as well as evening/weekend shifts, and they developed an offshore team to provide 24/7 coverage on back-office processes.

Tyler Leshney, President of ultra mobile, talks about the shift in thinking that occurs between early stages and scale.  “It’s so tempting to continue to react the way a start-up would.  In the start-up world the wins are dramatic, the losses tragic.

In the scale-up phase victories take longer to materialize and may be even tougher to recognize.”  He goes on to pinpoint what is perhaps the single most quality critical to success during the early days of scaling: “All you need is just a little patience.”

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3 Reasons Why I Never Incentivize My Employees With Money (And You Shouldn't Either)

“Come on man! Okay, let me make you a deal. If you can close IBM in the next 3 months, we are going to promote you and also add $10k to your salary. How does that sound??? Okay, then let’s get to selling!!”

How often do you hear business owners and CEO’s giving money as an incentive to employees in hopes of getting them to over-perform?

Quite often, right?

However, research does not support this obvious positive reinforcement as a solid means of getting more out of employees.

The reality is that money is nice and all, but it alone is not enough to motivate employees to perform better, work harder, be more productive and time efficient and take initiative.

Lots of small business owners think  that if they can just get the right people on the train with them, there will not be any more need for any extremal motivation.

Even though these top performing individuals will be insistent on getting competitive salaries, they do not require any extrinsic motivation.

They seem like natural go-getters.

They don’t seem to be people who would ever consider doing anything less than their absolute best, no matter what the situation is.

As a general rule of thumbs, people tend to work harder if they think that there are prizes for great results and penalties for bad ones.

With the exception of absolutely creme employees, most companies need to have some sort of way to motivate their workers.

It is of no question that money is definitely a driving force, but we all seek and desire more than monetary compensation by itself.

My personal experience working with people as employees has shown me that people also want to be acknowledged as key players who made a difference and are part of the reason behind a winning team.

This basically means that people want to rest assured that the company they are with is making progress and is doing well.

They want to know that their work is playing a role in creating success.

They want their hard work to be recognized as part of the winning team’s success.

Anytime you get the chance, take time to celebrate success.

Just meaningless “good job” will not work. If the company is actually not performing well, management needs to realize and take note of that reality and let the employees know.

But, even when a business is in trouble, if at any point, it starts doing well again, that progress needs to be noted to all people at the company, not just within the upper management.

1: Celebrations let employees know that the company is doing well and things are going great.

This is the first of the three things which are required to motivate employees.

2. Second thing is that employees need to know exactly how what they are doing is the reason for the success of that company.

So, how will they be made aware of this? Their direct supervisor needs to tell them. And as a CEO, if you cannot think of what ways an employee is contributing to the success of your company, then maybe you should reconsider that employee or that position in your company as a whole.

3. Finally, most employees want their hard work and efforts to be highlighted in some way shape or form.

Money is definitely one way to do that.

But even simply just saying “ thanks man!” when they do a good job on something can be immensely rewarding to an employee.

Instead of always calling out your employees on what they are doing wrong, try to catch them doing things correctly and acknowledge that they are doing it well and thank them for it.

Also, take that time to remind them how much you appreciate them and how valuable of an asset they are to the company, because after all, they are!

When you address an employee on his or her good works, be very specific in what they did correctly and what you are thanking them for.

Also, be sure to link that particular behavior to the company or a professional goal.

Things such as extra vacation time, a timely gift certificate, and awards at company meetings and ceremonies will go a long way to motivate and incentivize employees at any company anytime.

Carrots are awesome, but my experience shows that in order for it to be super-effective, we need to have some stick along with it as well.

Employees need to understand that poor performance and negative behaviors also have consequences.

So, yes, you can definitely make the argument that there are a few rock stars who don’t need any motivation at all, but the thing is that most people do need some form of external motivation to perform at their peak.

These rockstars are very expensive. Mom and Pop shops can’t afford them.

So, if you are a small business owner and you want superstar employees who help you make a lot of money, you need to focus on more than just money.

You need to see them as people and barrow it down to what specifically makes another human being happy and makes them want to do their absolute best at work.

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Data Hygiene: Five Ways You Can Do It Best

Precise data is exquisite to your business. However, in nature, B2B database is highly dynamic and thus degrades apace. A bad or outdated data harms the sales performance of your organization ruthlessly.

To solve, all you need is to maintain its hygiene — a comprehensive process that needs to be followed systematically. From detection of inaccuracies to data appending, data hygiene is an actionable plan that demands consistency.

Is aging data hurting your marketing and sales goals?

If yes, you certainly need to clean it up! Data hygiene refers to cleaning-up or appending your B2B database aiming at removing or updating lapsed or outdated contacts. As data hygiene is not a new term, marketers of all-sized businesses accept its relevance unarguably.

However, how to cut the scrap out of a database, often, becomes troublesome for many marketers. Data cleansing initiatives fall in tune only if its hygiene plans and execution fall in place with the goals and expectations of your business.

Here I have summed up some ways you need to know before implementing data hygiene in your strategy:

1. The Detect Plan

You can’t clean anything if you are clueless of what to discard and what to keep. Same is with your data.

Begin with auditing all the customer databases. Create a set of validation rules to standardize your B2B database and develop a Detect Plan to determine the data discrepancies and errors.

Rely on specific statistical methods of analysis and identify the inaccuracies that might comprise of the duplicity of contacts, domain errors, expired addresses, spelling-flaws (yes it matters!) or incomplete data.

As it is an inclusive process, the impact will go beyond your sales team reaching other departments too. So, using the collaborative intelligence of your team can simplify the process.

2. The Correction Plan

Once the loopholes are ascertained, commence with the second step- The Correction Plan. The standardized validation rules need to be integrated more comprehensively at this phase.

B2B customer data degrades apace and thus keeping it up-to-date becomes a strenuous job. To untangle, all you need is to define your records as per data type and then to remove duplicate contacts accordingly.

Eliminating duplicates is critical to the data clean-up as sending multiple messages or emails to the same organization can take you to the spam folders your readers.

Once you have brushed-out the duplicates, pick-up the lapsed contacts. These expired records are like dead leads that eat out the time of your sales team unnecessarily.

Move towards editing misspelled contacts as messages sent to wrong names are not going to reach your targets and even if they do, they are definitely going to annoy them.

3. The Verification Plan

To ensure the accuracy of the first two steps, verification becomes imperative. Invest in data tools and verify that the edited records are error-free and precise. Make sure the data that has come out battles the challenges and goals of your business. Validate it and edit it again, if required.

4. The Automation Plan

Maintaining data hygiene is not a one-day job, it demands consistency.

Go for automated cleansing. Create a systematize workflow to cleanse the data on a weekly or monthly basis. Prepare a calendar and stick to it. Appoint certain team/teams to work on it without missing a schedule.

This automation can be applied to old as well as newly entered records.

5. The Append-Plan

Regardless of how better you cleanse your customer database, you might skip the tails. Data appending serve as helping hand here, especially for the records that do not come in the reach of automation.

Opt for some reliable third-party sources that can append your data. Going for appending-data can benefit your business goals by providing you complete information that you might skip.

 #Bonus Tip – Legal Consent

Confirm that the data you are supposed to use does not surpass the rules laid down to safeguard business-people and individuals against un-welcomed emails or messages.

The database is exquisite to your business. Make sure you maintain its hygiene!

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Nine Reasons Why your Business must have a Live Chat on your Site

A Website is an online identity of your business. It ought to be interactive to hold a customer’s attention. Live chat helps reckon a human touch to your digital website.

This interface acts like a Consumer Relationship Representative available for everyone and everywhere across the globe.

A Survey of American online customers shows that clients prefer sites containing live chat. According to the survey, 68 percent of the visitors engage in live chat and 63 percent come back for repetitive purchase.

As a part and parcel of live chat, many advantages come live with it.

1. Guaranteed convenience.

Customers are comfortable with Live Chat rather than Phones. With Live Chat, customers can be assured of immediate attention which is practically not possible with Phones. For Online purchasing, customers love the idea of immediate help and assistance.

The hassles of finding phone numbers, dialing them, waiting for busy lines, long IVR Input processes and many more puts the customer off of his shopping experience. Thus, Live Chats are essential to have a smooth interface.

 2. Cost effective interface.

Phone calls require one-on-one attention, whereas during a Live Chat, one candidate can manage multiple clients simultaneously. This helps cut cost and, thus save the company’s resources. Maintaining a separate call center can be an expensive affair. The firm needs to hire executives, purchase phones, pay phone bills, even incorporate a call routing software.

On the other hand, a Live chat on the site helps save on these expenses. All that needs to be done is to install the software and you are ready to go.

With this businesses can keep directly in touch with their customers. Moreover, it is cheaper for the customers as well. They need not worry about their phone bills while talking to you. This helps instill goodwill among customers.

3. Synthesizing multitasking.

With Phone calls one needs to bear the pain of holding the receiver, waiting for the reps to pick up call. This process captures all time and attention of an individual. The automated responses overcome the hurdles of waiting.

Live Chat facilitates other variant tasks like Email updates and other Project Tasks. The Customers are notified by a beep sound when the representative is available for chat. Customers can get into the discussion with them right away.

4. High-tech solution. 

In this fast paced world, everyone loves speed. Your customers too ! In Live Chat, a customer can be addressed more speedily than a traditional call system. This yields better customer satisfaction by  eliminating the waiting in a Queue. Customers can get access to the reps whenever the need arises.

5. Providing 24/7 service. 

The Offices can be closed for holidays on the weekends or other public holidays. Online live chat can be utilized to provide 365 days service to the customers. With live chat, queries can be answered from anyplace, anytime.

With some inbuilt replies, customers reach can be maximized even for non-office timings. This round the clock availability will help build trust among the customers.

6. Storehouse of data.

Live chats facilitate storage of data for future reference. Vital information about the customer: his history, his path of landing, activity status during a chat, and so on, can be stored. This information can be utilized for better functioning of the sales department.

If a problem is arising simultaneously with multiple customers it can be tracked and one can arrive to the solution by utilizing the stored data. Further steps can be taken to curtail these problems in the future.

7. Burgeon the conversion rate.

Leveraging the availability of users in real time and persuading them to purchase products is a sale technique that can be used with a Live chat.

This serves as a boon to the business. Personally convincing the prospects to buy from your company facilitates gaining their confidence and helps in up-selling and cross-selling.

Trained Reps can advise the customers about the benefits of buying from them, they can also provide discounts/ free gifts persuading prospects to become actual customers.

8. Cut-throat competition. 

To survive the rat race in this competitive world, one always needs to introduce new strategies. Nevertheless, with changing business trends live chat has become an integral part of any business.

Yet, there are many companies who refrain to introduce it. This gives an edge of being a preferred choice to your customers over your competitors who still haven’t incorporated Live chat.

9. Customer retention.

Live chat helps to increase the satisfaction level of customers. Satisfied customers promote repetitive sales. Furthermore, the customers tend to become less concerned about what they are paying, a long as they feel comfortable.

That means comfortable with your company and the products. It helps to develop a long-term relationship with the customers.

Live chat, the most viable and essential business trend, provides an unmatched potential to your business. Still not convinced? Take our advice and  give it a shot. Setup a live chat and you will be surprised to realize how it provides wings to your business!

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7 Ways to Jumpstart Your Business According to Alibaba Founder Jack Ma

Once a tour guide, teacher, and three-time entrance exam taker, Jack Ma seems to have struggled a lot early in life. But when people look at the man now, they see a multi-billionaire, Alibaba’s founder, and arguably China’s most famous and well-loved entrepreneur.

Too often, people highlight the beginning and the end of rags-to-riches stories. You have to think a little differently to see that the in-between is full of lessons and exciting moments as well. It’s true not only for Jack Ma but also for others who lacked certain privileges when they were younger.

Certainly, you can take a page from the life of the e-commerce mogul and apply the lessons to your business. Here are seven ways for starters. You’ll never know which ones will work for you.

Turn people’s complaints into opportunities

Almost five years ago, Ma said 80% of China’s industries presented business opportunities, particularly those related to the environment. So keep an eye on local industries. Also, listen to what people are complaining about, according to him. You may find your next idea there.

Better yet, look into what bothers you. Ma created Alibaba because no Chinese beers came up when he searched for ‘beers’ on the internet. He has since been known for introducing services, such as Alipay, that turned out to fulfill huge gaps in his country’s economy.

See the future

What is next for technology? The billionaire places his bet on Artificial Intelligence (AI). “The new wave is coming. Jobs will be taken away,” Ma told CNBC at the Gateway ‘17 Conference, referring to the rise of AI. Job automation is a subject that looms in the horizon wherever in the world you may happen to be.

Imagine a future in which machines can do what humans can’t. What are the possibilities? And of course, what can you build to integrate or support these machines?

Improve your products and services

The Chinese entrepreneur puts a premium on listening to the feedback of both customers and employees. By tuning in to what people are saying, you’ll be able to gather ideas that will help you improve your products and services.

The same goes for brands who have been engaging their customers on social media. Let the data speak for itself. Understand what the shares, likes, comments, and statuses are telling you. Then build a strategy around what you learn.

Do not be afraid of competition

Business Insider shared what Ma said in the book Alibaba by Liu Shiying and Martha Avery: “I was never afraid of opponents who were bigger than I.” He often got into fights with his classmates when he was younger. It seems that he has kept the never-back-down attitude, which proved to be useful in his days as a startup founder. 

Avoid starting a business with friends

Instead, work on becoming good friends with the cofounder/s you have chosen, Ma said. The point here is not to avoid future confrontations with friends but to find someone who can share with you the burdens and joys of starting a business. That person has to have the same vision and tenacity. In reality, that person may exist outside of your intimate circles.

Be stubborn

Be relentless. It can be that there is only one person who believes your idea will work out and 23 who don’t. This situation is not your cue to quit. Ma persevered. He didn’t give up on his desire to create a business based on the internet, even if only one among 24 friends thought his idea was possible. You have to follow in the master’s footsteps, my friend.

Stay curious

Well, that’s a Steve Jobs line. But Jack Ma has also lived the quote it might as well be his. Back in 1994, when he was 30, the then-college teacher Ma went to the United States and discovered the internet. He didn’t quite understand it but still resolved to do a startup on this curious thing. He tried to explain his plans to the school president, who was a Stanford graduate, and some of his friends. But they did not quite get it, too. The 30-year-old submitted his resignation and went on to build internet companies. The first two didn’t pan out, while the third became the big online marketplace that we know now, Alibaba.

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The Lost Art of Negotiation

In most well-reputed business schools around the world there is a class on negotiation that allures undergraduates as well as MBA students – because who doesn’t want to be a better negotiator?

Entrepreneurs — and everyone else in the world — negotiation is used every single day of your life.

In case you didn’t take such a class, here’s an overly simplified but still useful tip for successful negotiations – a skill everyone, and especially entrepreneurs, can make good use of on a daily basis – illustrated by an anecdote taken from real life:

For a successful negotiation, your best bet is to make it win-win.

Some 20 years ago, my mother Beatriz – a classy lady who had an adventurous spirit and worked as an interpreter for the United Nations and other international organizations – traveled to Istanbul for work. During one of her breaks, she rushed to the bazaar, known for its great deals and rip-offs and therefore a fertile ground for bartering and negotiation.

A few minutes in, she came across a beautiful Backgammon set and asked for the price. It was, of course, too high. She made a counter-offer but the salesman laughed at her. With the clock ticking and Beatriz due back in the interpreter’s booth soon, she did not have time for the usual games of pretending to leave, drinking tea, and slowly reaching a price that suited both parties.

Walking away would have been the choice many people made. Instead, Beatriz suggested to the salesman that they play a game of Backgammon, and the winner could name his or her price for the set.

Unable to resist such an unusual proposition, the salesman agreed and set up the board.

Once the game began, it only took a moment before he realized my mother was either hustling him, or did not remember the rules of the game. If she had ever even known them. Hesitant, he asked if she had ever played before, aware he might offend her but unable to shake the feeling that he was playing someone who may as well have been blind.

My mother shamelessly admitted that she had never played Backgammon before.

Stunned, and greatly amused at this foreigner’s ballsiness – aka self-confidence to do things differently – the salesman laughed and sold the Backgammon set to my mother for her original offer, significantly below asking price.

Will this work every time? Probably not. But the moral of the story is that other than the traditional negotiation route, you can often think creatively to find a solution that is a win-win for all parties involved.

In this case, while the salesman did not win financially, he got an entertaining anecdote to share and a refreshing take on how tourists might try and negotiate with him. It was enough to be worthwhile.

Take a minute to pause and think outside the box.

So next time you’re about to negotiate something, take a minute to pause and think outside the box. If your provider cannot give you those 10% off the price, can they perhaps throw in some extra product? Or if your salary cannot be boosted as you had hoped, could you get a few extra days of vacation?

If you don’t ask, you’ll never know.

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How to Save Money on Your Early-Stage Marketing Materials

Startups face a difficult predicament. They’re usually starved for money, with limited access to cash and almost no stable revenue coming in. They need to build brand awareness and attract new customers as quickly as possible to establish that revenue stream. Unfortunately, one of the best ways to grow quickly is through a large-scale marketing and advertising campaign—which most startups won’t be able to afford.

It seems like a catch-22. You need money to build awareness, and you need awareness to make money. Fortunately, there’s a way out; finding ways to save on your early-stage marketing materials until you establish enough of a revenue stream to be self-sustaining.

Find the Right Vendors

For starters, you’ll need to find the right vendors to help you create and/or distribute your marketing materials. Your initial temptation will likely be to find the cheapest resource possible, but this method may leave you with an inferior vendor that earns lackluster results.

It’s much better to seek a low-cost vendor that prioritizes quality, such as Printing Center USA for your printed materials or 4 Imprint for your promotional products. Digital vendors, especially, have the potential to offer high-quality products and services for low prices; Facebook advertising, for example, allows you to set a budget of just a few dollars a day for a campaign.

Buy in Bulk

If you can afford to, it’s better to buy in bulk. You may like the idea of starting small, with a limited run of products or a limited number of allowed impressions for a PPC campaign. However, you’ll find that prices per item decrease as your volume increases.

You’ll be paying more overall, but you’ll also be getting much more for your money. That’s going to give you a higher overall ROI, which is what you really need to be successful in marketing. Push your quantities as high as your budget will allow, rather than experimenting with short runs.

Funnel Funds to One Strategy at a Time

While you’re at it, try to keep your funds concentrated on one strategy at a time. Conventional investment advice tells you to diversify your portfolio to guard against unexpected gains and losses, but in the marketing and advertising world, this approach can compromise your results.

Centralizing your funds allows you to get the most out of your target campaign, and gives you more experience with that campaign so you get even better at it. Spreading your funds out too much can cost you both value and experience.

Invest in Preliminary Research

Before you invest money in anything, spend some time researching the campaign. Get to know your target audience as well as you possibly can, learn the advantages and disadvantages of the strategy, and work to make yourself an expert in whatever campaign you’ve chosen to make your primary focus.

This knowledge will allow you to make the most out of your investment, improving your ROI and saving you the time and hassle of trial and error. 

Rely on Digital Goods and Services

Though physical means of advertising are still effective, you won’t see as much of a return as you’ll see on digital investments. Digital advertising space is unlimited and universally accessible, which means it costs nothing (or next to nothing) to produce.

At the same time, the audience for digital content is enormous, so you usually have a bigger potential reach with digital strategies. That doesn’t mean your marketing should be exclusively digital, but it should be a strong component of your initial buildup.

Reuse What You Can

Your time and resources are going to be limited, so work on reusing what you can. Can you use a headline on both a piece of blog content and a printed brochure? Can you recap the bullet points on your homepage in a banner ad that you’re posting elsewhere?

You should also consider investing in strategies that complement and enhance each other; for example, content marketing has a mutually beneficial relationship with both search engine optimization (SEO) and social media marketing, reducing what you’d invest in those strategies individually by bringing them together. Consolidate your efforts and your money will go much further.

Build for the Future

Throughout your early-stage marketing campaign, you should be gathering more data about which strategies work, which ones don’t, and how your customers are responding. These efforts are meant as short-term methods to address your low-budget marketing needs, but as your revenue increases, so should your budget.

Maintaining a high return on investment (ROI) on your marketing strategy means the more you invest, the more you’ll stand to make—so as you become more comfortable with your tactics, make steady progress in escalating them.

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Principles of a great "Ideation Channel"

15 points to consider before you buy or build an ideation platform

Sticky notes are great to quickly capture “ideas.” They also help the team look busy and productive. But when it comes to an ideation channel you need some serious technology to capture, process, and diffuse ideas within your corporation.

But what makes a good ideation platform? What are the key principles and components that need to be there?

There are several commercial ideation platforms out there  typically offered as a service. You can always consider designing and developing an in-house solution (although this is not recommended . It is also  a costly and risky approach). Whatever your strategic approach is, your ideation technology and processes must encourage idea submission through proper communication, simplicity and transparency.

A good ideation platform should be seen as an always-on channel, ready to accept ideas at any time and intelligently handle them. Your ideation platform should be able to ensure these ideas are discoverable and manageable by the right teams, in the right context. The following points reflect key principles of an effective ideation channel — the characteristics that you need to consider before you buy or built:

1. Always accessible: 

A good ideation channel should be always-on, always ‘open to ideas’. In many cases employees generate ideas as a response to a ‘call to innovate’ for example a hackathona brainstorming session or a programming challenge. But, on the other hand, employees should be encouraged to submit ideas on an ad-hoc basis, randomly, as ideas are being conceived. The ideation channel should be able to handle both supervizedand unsupervised ideation processes.

2. Everlasting ideas:

The technology should allow ideas to be always accessible and discoverable in the right business context. The principle here is that ideas should not expire, get auto-archived or deleted, unless the owner wishes to withdraw them. Thus, ideas are always “alive” and ready to be re-discovered in the right context, at the right time: instead of deleting ideas to reduce the “noise.”  You can prioritize them intelligently, against different business objectives and timelines.

3. Simplicity over bureaucracy:

Strict rules, multiple checkpoints and aggressive deadlines can kill innovation: what if the big idea comes out of context or out of time? The ideation channel and the underlying processes must be flexible, adaptive and efficient. It should be able to understand the content submitted by the user and automatically set the right context (instead of using a given context as a restriction).

4. ‘Seamless’ idea capture:

Less structure, input forms, validation rules and constraints, more automated classification, tagging, entity extraction and intelligent post-processing. Ideally, just a block of text should be enough .  NLP components could automatically process it to extract entities. This would include the identify use cases, summarizing it, recommend optimized titles and classifing it based on the underlying ontology, patterns and other metadata available.

5. Context is optional:

A good ideation platform should accept ideas with or without context attached. An idea may be submitted as part of a particular event . For example an ideation contest, a brainstorming session, a presentation or a ‘call to innovate’ by the leadership of the corporation.

In all these cases, the idea has a particular context . The idea may be the reference of the source event, the topics, certain problems to be solved or the business objectives. In other cases the idea can be random, captured with no particular context: an ad-hoc discovery, a new product concept, a novel feature for an existing product and so on.

6. Transparency:

The ideation platform should provide full transparency on any change, decision point, collaboration event, prioritization or other significant update happening in the lifecycle of the idea.

7. Discoverability:

Ideas should be easily discoverable via both search and recommendation functions. In an obvious scenario, users such as CPO’s, product managers, engineers should be able to instantly search the ‘ideas store’ using full text search and measures of relevance.

In a less obvious scenario, the system should be capable of capturing the business context and make recommendations on its own: for instance, a product owner ‘connects’ the active product backlog to the ‘ideas store’ via APIs.

The ideation platform automatically captures the context of the product being built, as described in the product backlog, and recommends relevant, fresh ideas to the product owner. In a more complex scenario, the system uses the business context to identify key users (top performers, based on historical data on idea generation) who could significantly contribute to the particular product .  

Then it would be recommend them to the product owner. In all cases, discoverability is much more than a powerful search engine. The ideation channel needs to be able to process streams of data, extract the business context and use it to make recommendations from the ‘idea store’ to the right people at the right time.

8. Controlled anonymity:

A good ideation channel should accept ideas with conditional anonymity , based on a time frame or other conditions. This allows the owner to ‘test’ the idea/ capture original feedback and thoughts without the obvious bias being introduced if the owner is known upfront.

9. Idea handling:

A good ideation channel should provide advanced operations such as Idea Merge, Extend and Split. Whenever a new idea is submitted (or, even better, during editing) specialized components analyze its similarity against the “idea store.” In case of strong similarity there is a prompt to the involved users, suggesting the option to Merge those similar ideas.

The system could further propose a merged version while maintaining the original source ideas and their history. Another similarity-driven scenario is the ‘Extend’ operation: here the system identifies the strong similarity on the problem to be solved and the overall context. But the system also recognizes the difference on the proposed solution (and possibly a complementary nature).

In this scenario the prompt action is to ‘Extend the original idea.’  Ideas are grouped under a master idea. Finally, a split operation is proposed when an idea is too complex or covering multiple problems or use cases.

10. Collaboration:

This is a core aspect of the ideation culture. A good ideation channel must promote collaboration and provide functionality to allow users to easily and effectively share opinions, knowledge and advice — thus increasing the probability to further develop the idea.

11. Team formation:

As soon as an idea attracts interest, its owner might need to form a team to more formally explore the concept and possibly do some planning. This could happen informally (external to the ideation system) or formally by setting up the team within the system.

In the latter case, the ideation channel could also recommend the right colleagues to consider inviting and also support the end-to-end invitation process to simplify the formation of the team.

12. Idea versioning:

The ideation channel should be capable of maintaining a history of changes and properly version the idea throughout its life cycle. This also enables insights along with a clear representation of the history of the idea — including the major updates and important decisions.

13. Intelligent notification:

The major stakeholders in the process, are the idea and business owners. While it is clear who the idea owner is, the identification of the business stakeholder/owner could be become complicated in large corporations.

The business stakeholder could be any or all of the CPO, product owners, commercial managers, the R&D manager, up to the legal teams if IP is involved. A modern ideation channel should be able to capture the hierarchy of the corporation. The channel identifies the inner structures and particular roles and automatically identify the stakeholders based on relevance to the idea and the possible actions to be taken.

For instance, when a new idea is submitted, the system should be able to automatically raise personalized notifications to the right stakeholders, using also the most appropriate call-to-action and communication templates.

14. Business Reporting:

A good ideation channel must provide accurate reporting and insights. Executives should be able to instantly capture the levels of activity along with customizable KPIs across multiple dimensions. A set of well-defined performance dashboards can typically cover the majority of these business needs.

15. Information sharing:

Modern systems need to be open, to expose functionality and data through standardized APIs. This is the case also for the ideation channel. This includes: ideas, process performance, business insights and other objects need to be securely exposed to other corporate systems.

For example, a smart corporate environment could automatically query the ideation channel to retrieve and present most recent activities on selected screens within the building. It also includes email widgets could consume the APIs to get the most active users of the month and present them through a dynamic email signature. 

This dynamically generated ideation summary to be shared as part of a regular news letter to subscribed users; or, leaderboards of top-performing users based on internal or external gamification programs.

Always consider the right context.

In all cases the above principles should be considered in the right context: not all of the item have the same importance while different prioritization is expected depending on the industry, the structure and the size of the company.

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Jeremy WebbPrinciples of a great "Ideation Channel"
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What Businesses Can Learn From These Common Mistakes?

Making mistakes is common practice in business, especially in the early days of getting up and running. While there’s really no surefire way to avoid them completely, making a mistake can also be a great opportunity to learn and grow.

By recognizing what isn’t working and what can be improved upon within your business model, you can set yourself up for success in the future. Yet, that can only be done if you know how to work with setbacks productively.

Luckily, companies today are open to sharing best practices, helping business owners and teams learn from their mistakes and potentially making them in the future.

Call in a second opinion

There are various reasons why a business may hold off from bringing in an expert. They may not have the funds to do so, or they may be having a hard time swallowing their pride. One important step to make is always to remember that asking for help is a good thing and all companies, big and small, need support from time to time.

Whether you’ve gone over budget, or are struggling to attract customers, carefully keeping track of your activity and reviewing it with an expert in your industry can help you clarify where you’ve gone wrong and realize the potential steps you can take to start making changes right away. ​

Learn to focus on your needs

With the rise of big data, businesses today are more prone to jumping on industry trends to boost their consumer engagement. While utilizing data is an effective way to familiarize yourself with the latest marketing tools and consumer behavior, it’s important that you know what works for you, and you alone.

Businesses can be subject to going overboard by investing in equipment or hiring too many members of staff when it isn’t actually needed. This can result in companies wasting important time and resources, which will set them back. In this case, it’s vital that you carefully evaluate your needs and not be afraid to make cut backs when necessary

Don’t think too big (yet)

It seems that in businesses thinking big is the ultimate goal. The language that defines success is often laden with buzzwords relating to aiming high and never compromising. While it’s never bad to be ambitious, focusing too much on the big picture could be detrimental to your business.

No matter what stage your business is in, it’s best to establish milestones and aim to reach them by taking small steps towards your goal. Replacing big strides with small steps will ensure that you don’t overlook the everyday tasks that are essential to running a successful company, such as your employee’s well-being and regular customer engagement.

While you may have your eye on a big investor or a potential collaboration, make sure you have a solid foundation from which to build, or your business may be subject to crumble.

Don’t focus too much on funding

With the rise of the startup ecosystem came the rise of venture capital funding. In many ways, startups have created space for innovative ideas to get off the ground, which was also accompanied by a boom in small businesses getting funded.

This doesn’t mean that seeking out investors in the future isn’t a smart move, but it’s important to note that without having an established a consumer base and steady stream of revenue, even if minimal, funds will only get you so far.

Whether you are just launching a business or are a veteran business owner that is facing challenges, learning various strategies to deal with mistakes in a constructive manner is an important skill to have if you are going to maintain a successful business model for years to come.

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Jeremy WebbWhat Businesses Can Learn From These Common Mistakes?
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How I hustled my way to a career change in 3 weeks

Earlier this summer, I decided it was time for a career change. As a young, scrappy, and hungry dreamer who sold enterprise software in San Francisco I felt like I was in a position to take advantage of all the opportunities that my life here had to offer. My networks, expertise, and residence gave me numerous options when I decided to embark on a quest to hire a future employer.

What do I mean by hiring a future employer?

For me, hiring a future employer is a different mindset than simply “looking for a new job.” It allows you, the employee, to mentally flip the script with a different perspective, thus coming from a position of power. In this position you’re able to constantly remind yourself of how much value you’re bringing to each employer you’re interviewing.

I come from a business background which means I like process and order. To help make a more thoughtful decision in my career change, I decided to treat it as an RFP process, a type of bidding solicitation in which a company or organization announces that funding is available for a particular project or program, and companies can place bids for the project’s completion. In this case, I was soliciting myself as the program or project for companies to bid on.

Here’s how I issued an RFP for this particular use case:

I created a matrix with various decision criteria and scored each metric on a 1-10 scale. Each decision criteria had specific questions which helped generate a score. Once criteria was set, I asked friends, trusted advisors, recruiters, and the Internet for suggestions on helping me source the most exciting B2B enterprise software startups based in San Francisco.

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The RFP was used to score each potential new opportunity. My research produced a list of 21 appealing companies. From these 21 companies, I submitted my resume to 11 with job openings that fit my experience level. Ten out of these 11 companies called for an interview. Late stage interviews were conducted with four companies and three extended offers. The whole process took three weeks.

Wait, how did this process only take three weeks?

In a few days I applied to all positions, and within the first week I heard back from the first round of applications. By the second week I conducted my first round of interviews. During the third week, I lined up late stage interviews with four employers.

When offers started coming in during the third and final week, I found myself with the potential to hire three companies, and I took another few days to make my final decision. What helped expedite the process? I made it clear to each company the urgency and importance of my process. Companies are more willing to move fast to try to hire someone when they know he/she is in demand.

Choosing one company.

Choosing one company out of the three offers was one of the hardest decisions of my professional career. In the past, I’ve set my heart on one company (and one company only) and did everything to get the job. While choices are a privilege, it also made my decision more difficult.

This process gave me a behind the scenes peek into some super cool companies, an experience I don’t feel that many professionals in my situation often have the privilege of enjoying in their own job searches. The companies I interviewed for represented an array of industries. Industries in IoT, experience management, enterprise mobile apps, cloud communications, and digital marketing. All of which were technologies adopted by iconic Fortune 500 brands. Because of this experience, I’m now more bullish than ever on the growth potential for tech and it’s ability to solve challenging problems.

After I evaluated the three different offers I decided to choose. Drum roll…

Hustle – a one-to-one text messaging platform founded in 2014 that scales and humanizes the way organizations communicate with people. As a social impact company, they’ve helped organizations like Spelman College, Human Rights Campaign, and progressive political action committees find more efficient ways to organize, increase donations, and evangelize their messaging. Within the past year they’ve expanded to business-to-business service offerings as well. Last month they announced Series A funding which will be used to propel future growth and to better execute their mission.

Going back to my matrix, the reason I chose Hustle was not only based on their overall quantitative score in my process, but also based on qualitative reasons aligned with my own past experiences, current passions, and various signs from the universe.

Here are the top five reasons to consider when you decide to join a new company:

  1. Regret. “Choose the opportunity that you’ll regret the most in three years if you don’t take it.” This advice came from the AVP of Sales at one of the companies that extended an offer. However this was one of the most valuable pieces of information I received throughout the entire selection process. Out of the three offers, Hustle was the opportunity that was too hard to pass up.

  2. Fear. In my podcast interview for Breaking Into Startups, I talked about how Doug Leone from Sequoia Capital uses fear to drive him. What opportunity scared me the most? What company scares you – for all the right reasons. There’s more risk at a very early stage company. Some roles are undefined at a new company. You’ll have tasks outside of your usual day-to-day routine. This is a risk in itself and takes you outside of your comfort zone. This said, I decided to do what scared me the most.

  3. For as long as I can remember I’ve sold something. I’ve always had a hustle, and then my side-hustle. I sold popcorn in Boy Scouts, sold mix-tapes in high school, sold sponsorships to my events, mowed lawns, rented homes during the Democratic National Convention, and started my own consulting company. I have been a personal trainer and created a cocktail menu for a new restaurant, etc. These kinds of “side” jobs can let you know that you are an entrepreneur. After I met Ysiad Ferreiras, VP of Sales, and read his story, I realized his experiences highly paralleled my own. I wanted a company that would provide me the chance to go from being an amateur to a professional ‘Hustler.’

  4. Social Entrepreneurship. I caught the social entrepreneurship bug back in 2009 when I joined the leadership team of a non-profit startup focused on fostering entrepreneurship for minorities. During my tenure at the non profit, I witnessed the challenges of fundraising and galvanizing members. I wanted a company that was uniquely positioned to provide substantial impact. Hustle is able to generate recurring revenue while solving problems in a big way that benefit the public good and that’s important to me. There’s so many big problems that tech can help solve.

  5. Collectivism. My recent trip to Japan as well as my time living in the Bay Area has taught me the importance and value of community – the advantages of collectivism over individualism. I’ve spent my entire career in sales as an individual contributor which at times can feel like somewhat of a selfish role because of its emphasis on commissions. As Senior Manager of Business Development, I’m now in a position where I will no longer be an individual contributor, but an advocate that is ultimately responsible for engaging new markets and helping our company as a whole. This role gives me the opportunity to align my progress with the company’s overall goals.

I feel incredibly lucky to work here at Hustle, and I’m confident in my decision. I have zero buyers remorse and truly feel that my process did not let me down. That said, I now want to share this process in the hopes of helping others on their journey to hiring their own future employers. ​

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Jeremy WebbHow I hustled my way to a career change in 3 weeks
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