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.

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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.

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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.

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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

My Switchyards Weekend

This weekend I felt a bit like Michael Corleone. Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.

I got pulled into another hackathon. This one the Switchyards accelerator weekend. It started innocently enough. With Michael Tavani asking if I would help organize. Easy enough. I know how to run these things.

Then Michael asked me to help vet the concepts. Sure. And I innocently asked “I have an idea or two, what is the process for that?” To which Michael replied to send him two or three sentences. So I did. Here is the first sentence of the concept I submitted.

A Kayak for vacation rentals.

I suggested it because I find the vacation rentals market very interesting. It is large, growing fast, in a state of transition, I have a little domain knowledge, and two of my comrades suggested that I explore the space. Much to my surprise the concept was in the top six of 20 concepts submitted. Surprised not because of the concept itself and the potential for it to be a big business if executed properly. Surprised because making a meta search engine is hardly a weekend endeavor. But after a little back and forth with some folks I decided why not. I decided to spend my weekend working on the project.

A team was selected to work on the concept. It consisted of Caitlin Abshier, Nachiket Kumar, Wally McClure, Luigi Montanez, and Rob Spee. Stephanie Roman lent a hand on Sunday as well. While I provided the vision, general direction, did some marketing tasks, and worked on getting pieces in place to make the business model work, the dev team had more intense work. As you might imagine, due to the data intensity, we are not live just yet. But what we have thus far looks pretty awesome to me. Some talented folks on the team. I learned a lot from them.

And the team is working hard right now to have something ready to roll this Thursday for the Switchyards Demo Night. It’s a free event and word is about 450 people have registered thus far. I hope to see you there for the great unveil.

Update: I neglected to thank Michael T and his team of volunteers. It was really his weekend. My part in it is just one small story. Thank all of you that made it happen.

June 9, 2014  |  Comments  |  Tweet  |  Posted in Accelerators, Entrepreneurship

LinkedIn Post Power

Yesterday I logged into LinkedIn and was presented with an invite to publish a long form post hanging off the update field.

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So I thought why not give it a whirl. I published my most recent blog post, “The Exit Curve” on LinkedIn yesterday.  The results were somewhat surprising. In less than 24 hours it has received nearly 1,500 views, 160 likes/shares, 60 up votes, and 4 comments (one being my own).

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This is exponentially more views and shares than what I have been experiencing as of late via FoG’s email, RSS, and Twitter feeds. Somehow or the other I have 1,476 followers, some but not all, are also connections. Moreover it would appear that LinkedIn is pushing out the content via email as part of LinkedIn Pulse.

As LinkedIn continues to roll out its long form post product it is a content distribution channel that should be considered to showcase your expertise and build your online brand.

June 5, 2014  |  Comments  |  Tweet  |  Posted in Social