The Internet Slowdown

Tomorrow is the Internet Slowdown. Essentially an awareness raising day in support of Net Neutrality.

My thoughts on Net Neutrality are pretty straightforward. I worked for an ISP (the one that Tom Wheeler of the FCC was on board of directors for 10 years) at an executive level for seven years so have some interesting insights into the matter from a business perspective. What is being proposed is that ISPs can charge Internet application companies fees to deliver their services to consumers at a faster rate. What is being proposed is that bits that move around the Internet can be treated in a discriminatory manner. One of the core foundations of the Internet is non-discrimination. I believe making this policy move would be a mistake. 

As a consumer I am already paying for last mile Internet service that is more than adequate to deliver any content me or the rest of my household might use. In my mind to go to an app provider and make them pay to ensure the level of service that I am already paying the ISP for is nothing more than selling the same bandwidth twice. ISPs want to do this because the ISP business model is based on overselling bandwidth to users. As consumer’s appetite for content has increased that bandwidth is no longer oversold. For ISPs to deliver the level of service they have sold requires more infrastructure which costs money and reduces earnings. The core of the ISP side of the Net Neutrality argument is about profits.

In the world of IP content and carriage are being separated which is not good for a company that is used to providing both. Not good for companies like Comcast and Time Warner Cable. Carriage is a commodity and in the future companies that provide it will only earn commodity type profits. So they are fighting it in every way they can, including the use of discriminatory practices and introduction of new regulations. I believe this is backward monopolistic thinking that is not good for the consumer, technology startups, or the development of our national technology infrastructure.

If you are of like mind please consider joining the Internet Slowdown campaign now.

September 9, 2014  |  Comments  |  Tweet  |  Posted in Internet

Back To Blogging

I had to take a bit of a blogging break. Somewhere or the other I lost the desire to write or perhaps had run out of things to say.

I have been blogging now for over eight years. When I started blogging here at FoG I would write about lots of different subjects. Then over time it became all about tech startups and entrepreneurship. It’s actually gotten to the point where I use FoG in the manner that web blogs are intended. As a place to keep things of interest so that I can go back and find them.

Entrepreneurs reach out to me on a regular basis with questions about this or that. More often then not I come here and do a search on the question and send them a link. So in some ways I feel that I have said it all. I am sure that feeling is I wrong.

With that said perhaps it once again time to broaden my horizon and not only write about entrepreneurship and technology startups but include other things that I find interesting right now. We’ll see now that goes.

September 8, 2014  |  Comments  |  Tweet  |  Posted in Personal

Balanced Teams

Last week Fred Wilson posted about this great interview of Marc Andreesson at Stanford Business School. Being a business school there were a lot of soon to be minted MBAs in the room and the interview is conducted by one of them. The whole interview is quite entertaining.

At about the 4:30 mark Marc gets asked about MBAs flocking to the tech sector. Marc has a five minute long and insightful answer about the history of business people and tech people working together. He talks about how now “a lot of entrepreneurs are engineers but not business people” and the “what has been lost is the art of building a business and in particular what has been lost is the art of sales and marketing.”

Marc’s logic is worth five minutes if you can’t listen to the whole hour. He has identified an early trend, the tech industry management pendulum is swinging to more balanced business/tech leadership teams.

August 13, 2014  |  Comments  |  Tweet  |  Posted in Entrepreneurship, Management

Answers For Raj

Call him a contrarian. Raj Parikh moved from San Francisco to Atlanta to start a consumer technology company. Seems a little crazy. He has his reasons and is blogging about his experience over on From Atlanta With Love. His most recent post ponders whether to stay in Atlanta or move back to SF.  While Raj talks about a number of positives for staying put he has three big unanswered questions. Here are the answers from my perspective.

Does a consumer tech mentality exist in Atlanta? 

Yes, it does. But before I go on have to say that I find the never ending emphasis on consumer tech versus business tech to be tiresome and misguided. When it is all said and done the vast majority of companies that people refer to as consumer tech are companies that have businesses as their primary customers.

With that said Atlanta has a richer history of successful consumer oriented companies than most people give it credit for. AutoTrader, CareerBuilder, HowStuffWorks, JungleDisk, RentPost, ScoutMob, TripLingo, Weather, and WebMD all come to mind. And the people that build startups are eager to play in the space. Just ask the 500 folks that registered for SwitchYards demo night.

Raj goes on to ask three sub questions to this big question. To quote:

Ultimately, having the right mentality comes down to positively answering three questions. Is there standalone value in user growth? Is it okay to prioritize user growth over revenue growth? Will investors invest in user-centric and user-first business models?

The quick answer to all three is yes. But here is the catch. You have to have organic user growth. My friends over at Yik Yak are exhibit A. With that said I think the odds are better for consumer oriented business models that are revenue first models and the general mentality favors those models.

Can we find our technical co-founder in Atlanta?

Yes. Finding a technical co-founder is the same regardless of what type of market you are trying to attack. You have to find someone with the proper skill set. You have to have a good concept, create some momentum, and sell the vision. If you are working on something where the domain expertise does not exist in whatever locale you are launching you need to move to where that expertise exists.

Can we find the right mentors and investors?

If you start looking at folks whose lineage includes some of the companies mentioned above I am pretty sure you can get some great expertise on how to acquire customers and scale a consumer tech company. If you are frugal and have strong user traction you will be able to find seed investors in Atlanta. You are not going to find venture capitalists from Atlanta to lead a round on a user centric startup. But money will travel if you are firing on all cylinders.

***

It is fun to see a new voice in the Atlanta tech community. Very interested to keep up and read where Raj’s journey takes him.

 

August 8, 2014  |  Comments  |  Tweet  |  Posted in Entrepreneurship, Startups

SalesLoft’s Success

The news broke yesterday that SalesLoft raised $800k from Tom Noonan. Back in January I took Kyle Porter up on his call for an entrepreneur in residence at the SalesLoft office. What this really meant is that I had a great place to sit in Atlanta Tech Village at no cost and from time to time could throw in my thoughts on some challenge that SalesLoft was facing. Over the past six months I have had a great opportunity to observe SalesLoft’s growth from about $400k to $2.5 million in annual recurring revenue. Here are ten things that have contributed to their success.

  1. Eating the dog food. The SalesLoft sales team uses their product to find the decision makers that buy their product. It is a pretty effective sales pitch when the objection becomes something like “how do I know it works?” and the answer is “how do you think I found you?”
  2. Reachable target. Not only is Prospector an effective tool but the target SalesLoft is after are in sales. People in sales answer their phones.
  3. Predictable revenue practices. SalesLoft follows predictable revenue best practices. Watching and learning this has been the most interesting part of being in the SalesLoft office.
  4. Sales development. SalesLoft practices sales development and has become a leader in the space.
  5. Early on Kyle made a concerted effort to connect with and do business with the key influencers in his market. These influencers give SalesLoft credibility by association.
  6. Open and objective results only work environment. The SalesLoft office has four 70″ LEDs. These LEDs display key metrics for all to see. That is unless they are being used to play Call of Duty.
  7. Hiring smart people and letting them do their job. The founding team is excellent at this and giving the people they hire the ability to grow into larger roles.
  8. Organized for success. The company is comprised of sales development, sales, marketing, client success, and engineering. That organization works well for a SaaS company. Oddly enough, I don’t think I have ever seen an accountant or attorney in the office.
  9. Strong dev team. SalesLoft has two engineers that could be CTOs. They work well together and crank out good product.
  10. Vision. That engineering team is currently cranking out a product that is going to make a real difference and give SalesLoft the ability to scale beyond its current customer and solution set. Any sales team practicing sales development and predictable revenue is going to want it.

It has been fun to watch SalesLoft grow from nine people to 20 some odd over the past six months. The entire team deserves kudos for scaling the company so quickly. It will be interesting to see how the injection of $800k fuels the fire.

August 5, 2014  |  Comments  |  Tweet  |  Posted in Entrepreneurship, Management, SaaS, Startups

Marketing Metrics Matter More

eMarketer had a nice write up entitled Execs to Marketers: Show Me the Metrics. They refer to a study by VisionEdge Marketing and ITSMA that found 85% of marketers claiming the pressure to measure marketing’s business value and contribution has increased. Of course it has. Online marketing metric measurement that every SaaS company worth its salt is employing is reaching into other industries. In other study 60% of marketing leaders stated they were reporting to CEOs and other members of the executive team on at least a monthly basis.

Marketing Metrics Matter

Of course all this reporting can be a challenging because in order to accurately report on a regular basis you need to have good data and getting that data can be hard. It’s part of the reason why marketing technologists are in such high demand.

I have a long held belief that if you can’t measure it, it’s not marketing. Seems that a lot of people are starting to think that way.

July 14, 2014  |  Comments  |  Tweet  |  Posted in Marketing

The Chief Marketing Technologist

The concept of a Chief Marketing Technologist has been around for some time, I first wrote of the concept over three years ago. It picked up steam big time when Gartner declared that by 2017 CMOs would spend more on technology than CIOs.  Today nearly 70% of large marketers have a CMT. Begs the question, what exactly does a CMT do? The Harvard Business Review has the answer in an article entitled “The Rise of the Chief Marketing Technologist.” It is summed up in the lower right of this infographic.

Chief Marketing Technologist

The CMT sits at the intersection of the senior marketing team, the broader marketing team, the CIO, and outside technology providers. They support marketing strategy by making sure the company has the technical capabilities it needs to effectively market and work with the broader technical organization to translate marketing requirements while keep marketing technology decisions inline with broad IT strategies and policies. Scott Brinker, one of the co-authors of the HBR article, also is the editor of the ChiefMarTec blog. Scott recently published a survey of CMT salaries.  Looks like it is a good gig if you can get it.

Screen Shot 2014-07-01 at 7.30.06 AM

And that not be such a hard thing to do if you have the right background. The survey results also said that CMT is presently the most in demand position for executive marketing placements.

July 1, 2014  |  Comments  |  Tweet  |  Posted in Marketing

Play To Win

As a have said before I got pulled into the Switchyards accelerator weekend which was followed by the Switchyards demo night, which resulted in VacayWay, a team I played on, winning the audience choice award.

We learned about the award on demo night. It was simple enough. Most retweets of a tweet by @switchyards announcing each company would win. Fair enough. We did not win by accident. We won because if you are going to play you might as well play to win. Here is our marketing effort to win the award.

It really started in our prep for demo night. We decided to do a Facebook launch contest with the help of PerfectPost. We were going to use the contest as a call to action at the end of our presentation. The contest had three actions. Subscribe to the VacayWay mailing list, Like the VacayWay Facebook page, and retweet the contest on Twitter. So that was setup and ready to go. When we learned about the Switchyards audience choice award we added a fourth action. Retweet the @switchyards contest tweet.

The other action we did is the most simple in the world. We asked for the vote. Closing out our presentation Caitlin Abshier asked the audience for their vote. She was coached on this. Always make the ask. Many of the companies that presented that not did.

Once we were finished presenting we did what every good politician would do. We voted for ourselves early and often.

We then laid a Twitter ad campaign over the top of the organic effort. I purchased the keyword terms tavani, switchyards, and #SYdemonight. Can’t tell how many of these folks really voted but we had 1,604 impressions, 56 tweet engagements, a 27% engagement rate, and 34 click throughs all for a whooping $37.58.

When demo night ended we were leading the audience choice award by about four votes. We were also winning when I got to work the following day by a single vote. Then our friends at Dibs got a little serious. Not exactly sure what they did but they pulled well ahead of us amassing 44 votes. We had some work to do.

So we went back to work. The VacayWay team used Twitter direct messaging to directly ask our followers to vote for us. It worked. VacayWay had taken about a 20% lead by Saturday morning.

Then I did a little marketing hack. Using a technique that I will not speak of because it is clearly in the grey area of online marketing underbelly naughtiness I ensured the win. End result: 277 votes, over six times our closest competitor. Victory. Tavani announced the VacayWay win last week.

Screen Shot 2014-06-20 at 1.06.45 PM

If you are going to play, play to win. You’ll lose if you don’t.

June 26, 2014  |  Comments  |  Tweet  |  Posted in Accelerators, Entrepreneurship, Marketing

The Switchyards Building

Last night was Switchyards demo night. Nine projects, I hesitate to call them companies, showed off what they had created last weekend to about 300 attendees. It was a good show and fun to knock off a little rust by participating as a member of the VacayWay team.

The big announcement of the night was by Michael Tavani about The Switchyards Building in Downtown Atlanta. He’s going all in to create some momentum for consumer tech startups in Atlanta.

Michael’s mission is to show that Atlanta can produce consumer startups. I spent last weekend working on a team and helping out some of the other teams in the first Switchyards batch to support Michael and the Switchyards initiative. Now Switchyards is looking for founding members. Essentially crowdsourcing some early funding. I am in on this effort as well. Join me. It’s just $50 to support a growing Atlanta startup ecosystem. As I have said before, regardless of what you might read elsewhere, more is good when it comes to the Atlanta startup community. Switchyards is more and another piece in making Atlanta a top startup city.

June 13, 2014  |  Comments  |  Tweet  |  Posted in Accelerators, Startups