20 Debates Your Startup Should Stop Having Today

Startups are known for being fast-paced. But anyone who has worked for an early-stage venture knows that isn’t always the case.

When you lack infrastructure as a company, it’s tough to gain momentum and get things done.

It can be unclear who owns decisions in flat organizations.

You’re often doing things for the first time. There aren’t any past practices to rely on for guidance. [Read more…]

Progress

To catch you up if you missed my post from last week, I’m off into a new career direction of consulting.

I was so overwhelmed with gratitude for all of the messages of support, and somewhat surprised to hear from many others that they struggle with similar “self-branding” issues.

In my last post I promised to share my process with you. I tried a number of different methods to refine my offering, and some worked better than others.

Here’s what I’ve got so far. [Read more…]

Career and Life Update, the Sequel

As you could tell from my last post, I was in a career transition mode in December. I’m excited to share that I officially joined One Mighty Roar to lead marketing for our Internet of Things platform, Robin.

One Mighty Roar began as a digital marketing agency. Through client work we developed a few different products. One of the products was technology for connected experiences, so now we are rolling those capabilities out into a spin-off Internet of Things platform called Robin. We launch this spring and you can sign up for our beta here, although I think the audience that reads this blog would be more interested in just learning about the Internet of Things and subscribing to our blog. [Read more…]

Moving From a Small Startup to a Bigger Startup

Most of my few readers know by now that I’ve moved on to a new gig as the Content Marketing Manager at Localytics, an app analytics and marketing company.

At 40 people, this is a bigger company than Shareaholic was. I wanted to reflect a little on the experience of working at different sizes of companies, as I’ve now worked at 6-10 person, 40-person and 300-something person companies.

[Read more…]

Everybody Recruits: How Can Startup Business People Help Recruit Technical Talent?

I could use some startup recruiting advice.

Most people know I work at Shareaholic. Like many startups, we’re hiring technical talent.  You know – a little front end, infrastructure and customer happiness action. Even though I’m from the biz side, I want to help with recruiting. If the theme is “everybody codes” for your first 10 employees, to grow the next 10, I think the theme is “everybody recruits.” All hands on deck. The truth is, I feel just as much (self-imposed) responsibility for recruiting as anybody else, but I feel a lot less able to help. That really frustrates me.

I Don’t Know A Lot of Engineers

I have a giddy excitement when I talk about Shareaholic. It’s a ton of hard work and can be pretty intimidating, but this is the most challenging position and best learning opportunity I’ve had so far. As someone who strongly feels that it’s important to optimize for learning early in your career, this is exactly what I wanted for my 25-year-old self. I will happily chat anyone’s ear off to share my personal joy with them as well as preach the good news of content and ad tech. The problem? Most of the ears I have to chat off are those of marketers, not engineers.

The most consistent and best leads for job applicants come from personal recommendations. I went to school for PR. During college, I did PRSSA, and a bunch of other PR related extracurriculars. I had PR, journalism and marketing internships. I’ve had PR, community management and marketing jobs, expanding my professional network to even more marketers. My best friends are marketers. Some of them even date other marketers. I simply don’t know a ton of engineers outside of the ones I work with because my life experiences have exposed me mostly to marketers.

Many connections can be made online, but to be forth right, I don’t engage consistently on Hacker News and I don’t have a GitHub or Dribbble profile or things that would more directly connect me with technical folks. I’ve focused most of my online networking activity doing things like guest posts for social media and marketing blogs. Creating content is part of getting the message out and that’s been my job. But I can’t help but feel like I’ve sprinted up to a brick wall.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m grateful for my marketing relationships. And you know what? Maybe the marketer I know today knows the engineer we could hire tomorrow. But how do I scale the process discovering those secondary connections and then connecting the dots?

Do Hiring Campaigns Actually Work?

For a new hire, Hipster offered new recruits $10,000 and a year’s worth of PBR, among other hipsteresque welcoming gifts.

In its hiring campaign, LA-based startup Scopely proclaimed that it didn’t always hire developers, but when it did, it hired the most interesting engineers in the world.

My friends at HubSpot have $10,000 referral bonus for developers.

I’ve pondered campaigns like these and considered whether this marketing approach would be beneficial to our efforts.  I feel like these hiring campaigns are a good supplement to organic hiring efforts, but not a replacement for them. Most of all, it seems to me that one of their biggest benefits is the PR you get surrounding them, which probably increases the effectiveness of your organic efforts. This is just my assumption though.

Answer D: Other

I’ve considered these other things, but I’m skeptical. Any thoughts?

  • Career fairs – Is the sponsorship and t-shirt money worth it?
  • Hackathons – Are these efforts to get stuff built through your API, or veiled recruiting efforts? And if it is a veiled recruiting effort, how do you do this without being…well…a scumbag… and having that backfire?
  • Job Listings – Does anyone pay attention to Tweeted job postings?

Other Biz People Probably Feel This Way

I try to remind myself that things I’ve done such as press, messaging and generally just making our numbers better makes this a more successful startup. That makes this a more eligible job opportunity for the eligible engineer. But I doubt I’m alone as a biz-side person who wants to do more. So share your comments – how can people like myself do more?

Update – Starting to get some answers on my Quora thread on this topic – How Can Startup Business People Help Recruit Technical Talent? Check that out :) 

How Your Relationships Impact Your Career

Tonight I was in Central Square at a startup event for my friend’s company. I was with some of my favorite people, ones I love to spend time with the most. I left and walked to the T stop. I strolled along the side of Massachusetts Avenue in front of my old office where my ex-boyfriend used to drop me off on Monday mornings after a weekend together. I was always grateful for the ride to work, really thankful for his time. This will sound awful, but genuine appreciation aside, this other part of me felt relieved to get back to my weekday life, which felt more natural to me: sarcasm, work, startups, my friends, internet, the gym. Space. I wanted to want that weekend life, but I didn’t. It’s not my perfect life, and that’s ok. It’s ok.

Before I crossed the street tonight to get the necessary ingredients for my comfort food protein shake at Clear Conscience Cafe, I looked up at my old office where I met my next ex-boyfriend at a company party. I squinted at the window, noticing its fresh paint and new walls dividing the once open space into tiny separate offices. It looked a lot different. But I imagined what it used to look like, what it looked like the day I got a ZipCar on a Saturday morning to move out after we got acquired. I walked loads of office supplies and startupy knicknacks (ie, the Seth Godin marketing action figure) up and down the stairs.

I soaked it all in. It was a lot to take in. I would never come there to work again. So much had just happened.

Before I left, I stood in the exact spot in the universe where I first met him and took this picture.

____________

I’ve reflected on this one thought ever since I first heard the recording of Sheryl Sandberg’s 2011 Barnard College graduation speech back in May.

The most important career decision you’re going to make is whether or not you have a life partner and who that partner is. If you pick someone who’s willing to share the burdens and the joys of your personal life, you’re going to go further.

I think this might be true.

Relationships can be motivating, and they can also be distracting and negative. Point blank, it’s homelife, and that impacts your mindset and the level to which you can focus on work. (For a romantic take, I strongly recommend John Steinbeck’s impossibly beautiful and timeless letter about love here.)

As I’m clearly unmarried, I don’t have much of an opinion on the stay-at-home dad discussion that Sheryl’s point often sparks. But what I do know is that who you date impacts your career in many ways, but in the simplest way because it impacts how you spend your time. Not all significant others are cool with you going to a tech networking event and hanging out with a bunch of other dudes, and not everyone thinks a great Sunday afternoon involves getting ahead on work for the week. But these are aspects of a certain lifestyle and career track. 50 coffees, right? A lot of people are less likely to achieve 50 coffees if they’re always worried about that awkward jealously argument before or after Starbucks. Dark roast, dark times. And even if there is no tension about jealously, those are 50 coffees you’re not having with the significant other. There’s only so much time to go around.

On a practical level, the relationships I admire set expectations and plan when to see each other. If you have work to do on a Saturday or have an event to go to on a Thursday, say so. But this stuff is also about compromise, right? So say when you’ll be done if you’re still going to see that person that night. It’s amazing what setting expectations can do to build trust. From the outside looking in, that seems to allow people to still pursue the things they want to as individuals (like careers, or hobbies) but not neglect each other.

Looking back even to my internship days, I wish I’d put my intentions on the table more in relationships. I wish I didn’t ask if I could go to an event or spend some time working. I wish I just presented it as something I needed to take care of. If I could go back, I would have compromised my time less and made it clear that these things were simply a part of my life. It would have been more fair to both sides.

But had I not been a late bloomer and just done this stuff in the first place, I wouldn’t be so complicated, interesting and choke-full of excuses to play this song and whatever cliche songs I want this week. Right? Right?

Anyway, let’s face it: Splitting your time with someone else flat out sucks sometimes. Single is another relationship option too if you just want to focus on your career, or just because you want to be.

To finish these thoughts, I really wanted to make a joke about hiring fast and firing fast, recruiting A-players to your team, something witty about cofounders, probably something about dating/generating leads/sales funnels and maybe something dirty about conversion rates. Then finally I wanted to find a charming excuse to link to this post by Fred Wilson talking about the importance of family – because that guy blogs like six times a day and I heard he blogs like, on his Blackberry while on the treadmill while on the subway and if an overachieving badass yet also probably workaholic like him recognizes the importance of this stuff then. well. shit. We all should.

But I’ve got nothing. Just… fellow 20-something ladies, don’t be impressed so easily. Your attention and time is valuable – not to mention your heart. Texting you back isn’t a grand gesture. It’s just asking what time you’re coming over.

By the way, someone’s reading that freaking letter at my wedding one day. Whenever that day comes.

4 Helpful Slices of Startup Marketing Advice

startup marketing advice

I'm like a miniature Buddah.

I have drafts and drafts of unpublished posts reflecting on lessons learned. After oneforty, then HubSpot and now being at Shareaholic, I’ve definitely come out with some new wisdom that has made me happier and more productive. Some posts explaining this learning process ramble off topic and become too personal. Those posts get retired to the WordPress trash bin. Others haven’t been thought out enough. But these tips have been consistent from draft to draft, and I didn’t want to wait on sharing them any longer.

1. Blog First

When you’re starting a marketing plan from absolute scratch, it’s tough to know where you should invest your time in social media. Twitter? Facebook? LinkedIn? Figuring out where your audience is why monitoring and listening is so important. No matter what platform you focus on, a great blog will give you content to share on that platform and will give people a reason to follow you. It also has the most clear business benefit from an SEO, brand messaging and conversion standpoint. So when it comes to prioritizing marketing tasks, think about your own content first.

2. Remember to Play

I crank out a ton of content each week between blog posts and newsletters. Writing compelling Tweets and Facebook posts to optimize for engagement is also a form of content creation. With so much to create, it’s tough to also consume content. This may sound silly, but I try to take time to just look at other brands’ Facebook pages, other Twitter accounts and other blogs to get inspiration.  I even look at ones that have nothing to do with Shareaholic. More than any blog or conference I’ve attended (although Unconference was pretty sweet), there is nothing like taking time to “play” to rejuvenate my love for marketing and make me excited to create content.

3. It’s Not a Matter of Just One Thing

In marketing it can be easy to get stressed out about one campaign. However, it’s not one article, event or blog post that makes or breaks your entire marketing plan. It’s the culmination of ongoing content, PR and engagement that gets the message out there and draws signups for a product. Don’t be short-sighted. I’ve had to learn to look at the big picture things, like how we’ll engage attendees from an event rather than fret about the number of drink tickets we sponsor. Looking at each project as one piece of a big puzzle is helping me make decisions faster. (And this is coming from someone who took three months to pick out a duvet cover.)

4. Timebox Your Ish

This one is my favorite because it had the most influence on me. It’s not just for marketers, but for employees in general.

Learning to timebox my projects better is something I’ve worked hard on over the past year. I used to work crazy hours during the week and then try to work all day Saturday and Sunday too. Then I realized something: I’m not actually getting anything done. I’m falling asleep. I would be trying to read a blog post as part of research to write a blog post, and it’d take me forever. I couldn’t focus. What I accomplished over seven days could easily have been produced Monday through Friday, leaving me my weekends to either get more done or spend time with friends.

A ton has been discussed about work/life balance in startupland. I’m trying to timebox things Monday-Friday, take Saturdays off and then get ahead on Sundays. It is very very difficult for me to discipline myself to put a hard stop to things on Friday. However, I try to do it so I can take Saturdays off.

At some point I decided that Saturdays were friend days. I check email but don’t touch the computer. I walk around Newbury St. Sometimes I drink bloodys at brunch, go to yoga and coffee, nap, tan and get ready to go out for the night. They are my favorite days and these days with my friends have enriched my life with interesting conversations, laughs and memories.

(I love you people.)

The time I spent away from work over the past year or so helped me grow into the best employee I’ve ever been. These relationships helped me become a calmer, more confident and actually more productive person. I’m not so paralyzed by my own edginess.

We all have our thresholds and each startup employee has to discover hers. Having my Saturdays was key for me.

What little nuggets of wisdom do you have to share with the class? Let me know in the comments.

Where Them Girls At?

This post originally appeared on Bostinno, an awesome blog about Boston startups, digital culture and city news. If you’re thinking about joining a startup and want to learn more about what’s up in Boston, you definitely want to check them out. Or better yet, submit a guest post yourself :) 

I envision this possible scene from not so long ago: In a presumably messy Back Bay apartment, three 20-something guys gather around a case of Bud Light. Between chatter about sports and whatever the hell boys talk about when girls aren’t around, conversation turns to the future of media. From the collective genius of all three “bros,” a profound, ground-breaking conclusion is reached: Newspapers are effed. So they were all, “let’s do a media startup.” 2.5 years later, they have 1.3 million in funding and 20 people working for them. Their humble blog gets nearly 500,000 pageviews a month and has expanded to two other cities.

It’s not like they had degrees in journalism or years of reporting experience. They just had the wherewithal to pull the trigger on an idea and figure it out along the way.

Why don’t more twenty-something chicks do this? And should we give a crap whether they do or not?

Many say your twenties is the best time to start a company. For lots of young professionals, the post-college life means a low burn-rate and few significant personal responsibilities. Despite your lack of experience, your lifestyle offers you the freedom to take a risk. Even though there is a plethora of “women in tech” blog posts, I haven’t any other from the point of view of a 20-something woman other than this great post from Kinvey’s new Marketing Manager Kelly Rice. So I thought I’d throw my hat in the ring.

It Starts in School

Right now, most founders have computer science backgrounds. More men choose math and science focused college majors, like computer science. I don’t think it’s a result of little boys playing with science kits and being praised for their smarts versus little girls playing “school” with their dolls and receiving accolades for their looks.  I think it’s more a matter of education.

Math education sucks. A lot of schooling does this, but I think math education in particular rewards mindless repetition more than strategic problem solving and successful application of concepts. A talent for the latter is a better preparation for programming and metrics-focused marketing and product development. It’s better preparation for entrepreneurship. My real concern is that a lot of people, women included, are turned off by the idea of a computer science education and other quantitative disciplines because their interest isn’t ignited and their confidence isn’t built by the current system of standardized testing. I’m not saying everyone should get a participation award for an algabra test. I’m saying that more time should be spent building skills in finance, data processing and even programming than on the same algebra tests we’ve been using since Prohabition.

But not everyone is going to be a computer science major. And that’s ok. Many founders and early stage startup employees include people with business backgrounds – like PR and marketing for instance. But not a lot of guys choose PR majors. If they do end up in PR, they come in as a business major – which often includes classes like management, strategy and entrepreneurship. They’re more exposed to the world of startups, and therefore more likely to enter it as “biz side” people than their female counterparts. Most communications and PR majors are women, and they’re encouraged to join agencies after they graduate. Trust me, agency life is hard work! It’s different than a startup, though. Agency culture often prompts young people to focus on their specific role and the responsibilities that accompany it. Once that is mastered, then they can move on to higher level projects. Paying your dues is a frequently communicated concept as young professionals build their skills.

This is a lot different than the reality of startups, where early employees are involved in a little bit of everything – from the high-level strategic decisions to refilling the company Peapod order.

The point is, even if they aren’t computer science majors, more 20-something men than women choose to begin their careers at startups because their educational backgrounds and entry-level experiences encourage it.

It’s About a Lack of Perspective

We’re in a bubble. Not that kind of bubble, but I mean a bubble when it comes to our perspectives on founding teams.

This is the gender breakdown of TechCrunch readers from Shareaholic.

gender breakdown of techcrunch readers

Apparently, women don’t care about tech as much as men. And actually, that’s ok. It’s even ok if they care more about makeup and fashion, and it’s ok if they pursue an education in either one. A cultural change needs to happen where entrepreneurship and tech are presented as options for pursuing a career in the field you’re passionate about. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg recently told marketers at the recent ANA convention to “put a little Facebook in everything you do.” We should put a little startup in everything we study. This point is admittedly utopian, but it’d be pretty cool if the next online marketplace for cosmetics came from a founder who knows that industry and customers. It’d be nice if there was an actual healthcare or insurance professional on the founding team of Cake Health – regardless of whether that person is a man, woman, gay person, Latino, Jewish… you get the point.

We should focus less on female founders and more on female consumers, as well as other untapped and growing markets. If we do that, female founders and founders with different backgrounds will come. A venture fund or grant focused on healthcare startups or fashion startups, or an incubator along the same vein could be solutions. Those, plus more entrepreneurial, problem-solving and technology-focused experiences for all high school students would be great.

Getting more perspectives in on the ground floor benefits us all. People with different professional and educational backgrounds are exposed to different industries. They follow trends and experience inefficiencies that could be more interesting business opportunities than yet another social/local/mobile/daily deals app, social media marketing tool, or marketplace where you get recommendations from your friends for blah blah blah. It’s to our economic advantage to re-imagine the entrepreneur as not only a computer science major or Harvard MBA (although they’ve done some pretty cool stuff!), but to include people with different educational and professional backgrounds. We’d see business ideas that appeal to new markets and have more perspectives on the ground floor building those ideas into job-creating companies.

If those business ideas come from a 20-something lady, then all the better. After all, sometimes a female touch can’t hurt. Clearly a chick wouldn’t have named a tablet the iPad. And obviously no woman was around when they named Kaggle, Kaggle. Please. We’ve seen that Sex and the City episode. Twice.

Data As An Asset for Startup PR

I’m always learning new things about PR. I like observing what other companies are doing, and it seems like some tried and true strategies still work: Ride a trend, do a survey, predict yearly seasonal coverage (holiday gift guides anyone?) and insert your story into that… etc etc. But one strategy I’ve seen more and more is using your own company’s data to get coverage.

Boston startup folks at Runkeeper generated some buzz by sharing how getting featured in the Android Marketplace increased downloads by 637%.

I also loved what they did with their fitness stats for an infographic back in September. This got covered in The Next Web.

That’s a good B2C example.

For a B2B take, admittedly Social Bakers is an analytics company by nature so leveraging data for coverage isn’t that much of a stretch. But their presidential candidate Facebook stats infographic is a fun take on numbers and a good example of inserting your message/brand into a current topic of conversation.

(AND HOW CUTE IS THIS INFOGRAPHIC?)

This got them in TechCrunch.

I personally love a good infographic. But while fun, infographics may eventually wear out their welcome. As I’m learning about what works for other companies, thinking about a fresh way to present data is also something I’m considering for when I pull the trigger and use data (there’s a lot of it…) for our own marketing.

Data is particularly huge right now. Products and consumers generate and process tons of it. It’s overwhelming sometimes. And for some companies, this might not even work as the data may be confidential and inappropriate for a PR strategy. But in general, when it comes to data, I think marketers who are technically inclined enough to digest it, but also have the communication skills to promote it, will increasingly become assets to their companies. It’s two skillsets I’m definitely looking to enhance this year.

What data does your company have that could be an interesting pitch? Have you tried this before? Let me know in the comments!