Startup CEO’s Motivational Moments For Any Occasion

Written by Greg Rublev, a dedicated web products geek and the founder of LeanWagon, a startup helping connect health seekers with expert health coaches.

As a typical startup founder I am often faced with difficult situations. Well, “often” is probably an understatement.  “Always” is more like it.    As Steve Blank said in his Customer Development Manifesto:

Startups Demand Comfort with Chaos and Uncertainty

Making dozens of decisions in the absence of good (or any) information, and constantly operating outside of your comfort zone is, well, not comfortable. And it can be discouraging. I recently met with a CEO of a funded company that is far ahead of where my startup, LeanWagon, currently is, and after an awesome 30 minute discussion where he provided great insights and advice, for a brief moment I saw how uncertain and troubled he actually is – and then he said “we are doing the same stuff you are, just burning a ton more money”. Wow. As my co-founder Dean Hantzis likes to say: mind=blown.

So, I thought I would share a few videos with all startup founders that can use a little inspiration to keep moving ahead and make progress quickly.

1. If you think what you are doing is hard – you are doing the right stuff.

2. If you are trying to change a market stuck in its old ways – it might just be ready for change and is waiting for the right spark.

3. In danger of crashing? Gain more speed!

4. If you wrong someone you care about – apologize. Quickly. Emphatically.

5. Family members ask you: “why don’t you get a real job”. See if you can spot them in this clip.

Bonus:  Not sure about a new hire? Remember Phil Libin’s most important rule

If you are doing a startup, the key is to move quickly. If you are down – pick it up and keep going. Not because you will succeed faster, but because you will learn faster. As Steve Blank wrote:

A Startup Is a Temporary Organization Designed to Search for A Repeatable and Scalable Business Model

The faster you move, the faster your search will progress and the faster you’ll find out what works (sometimes) and what doesn’t (most of the time).  There is no time to pout, pause or “reflect”. Bring it on!

Posted in Entrepreneurship, startups | Leave a comment

5 Tips For Pitching A Session At An Unconference

Written by Greg Rublev, a dedicated web products geek and the founder of LeanWagon, a startup helping connect health seekers with with expert health coaches.

Today is a big day for me: my first time attending an unconference. I’ve been to plenty of conferences and tradeshows and really was not sure what to expect from an “unconference”, besides that it would be somehow different. Product Sessions Board at Product Camp BostonAfter just an hour at Product Camp Boston, I could see how! Rather then being a passive attendee, roaming from session to session, I had the power to choose what sessions were offered. Every one of the sessions was presented with a brief pitch at the beginning of the event, which not only gave me the power to choose what was relevant to me, it also gave me a great way to know what was available! However, some pitches resonated much better then others, and I began to think “why?”. After listening to about 40 pitches, a few patterns emerged as to what came across well and what fell flat on the floor.

1. Open strong.
A few speakers, such as Bruce McCarthy started with a prepared joke which made the audience laugh. A few others, like Steve Johnson, improvised a joke which worked just as well. However, one person made a joke at the expense of the previous presenter, and although it was funny, it was in bad taste and painted the rest of his 90 seconds in that color. Make people laugh. Be positive. It works.

2. Make it relevant
Everything you say should be related to the main topic of your talk, including the jokes and the gimmicks. When talking about freemium business models Christian Kirsch threw candy at people – it was a gimmick, but it supported his message. In contrast, there were people bringing up the Celtics and it only distracted from their message. Focus. You only have 90 seconds. Make it count.

3. Don’t sell
You have 90 seconds to pique my interest. If you take up some time selling your company or service – it will have the opposite effect. I am trying to decide if I want to go to your session, not if I want to buy your product, and any time used to sell is time you are stealing from my ability to make the decision about your panel. Just don’t do it now. Wait for your session where you’ll have plenty of time to sell.

4. Speak slowly
Yes, you only have 90 seconds, but your job is not to give a condensed version of your talk. Instead, you just need to make me interested in coming to the talk. One hook is enough if it’s good, but only if you say it slowly so that I can understand what you are talking about. Less is more. Slow is best.

5. Close strong
Know what you will say at the end. Whether it’s a prepared joke or a catchy phrase, don’t improvise the closing – it is the last thing we hear from you and it will shape an overall feeling for your pitch. Prepare. Don’t wing it.

I am loving Product Camp Boston. Looking forward to next year!

Posted in products, Uncategorized, unconference | 7 Comments

Are online CRM systems secure?

Some companies would never consider putting their business information into an online CRM system and prefer on-premise solutions. They haven’t yet seen the full benefits of having their sales data available via an internet connection, accessed from anywhere rather than just from the office. Concerns about the security and availability of cloud-based data are understandable, but are they really justified? Are online CRM systems secure or not? Are they reliable?

Regarding data security, in many cases it is actually safer to keep your data in a web-based CRM, simply because on-premise solutions are often not monitored properly and can become the target of computer worms and viruses. Without the proper security, it could be straightforward for an experienced hacker to break into your local network. Decent cloud-based CRM systems implement industry security standards and encryption techniques. It is good practice to ask your CRM supplier to provide their security and availability disclaimer to make sure they comply with best practices. Editorial comment: It is also critical that CRM data backups are performed regularly.

In terms of availability, most online CRM systems provide 24×7 access and up time. It is unlikely that unscheduled downtimes will occur on a reliable system and sound hosting. The truth is that in-house hardware and networks are often not as closely monitored and may be much more likely to crash in comparison with cloud-based systems. Sometimes managers think that shared server/cloud solutions means limited connectivity. This is not the case since these days servers are almost never bogged down by multiple users, and the situation is being constantly improved as Internet speeds grow every day.

There is another security issue a company should be aware of which is solved to an extent by online systems. Where an employee is leaving their job, he or she may try to copy customer data and in the case of on-premise CRM systems, an IT savvy employee may easily be able to steal without being noticed a database stored on office servers. In contrast, it is easier to prevent wholesale data theft with cloud solutions by ensuring that employees don’t have API access.

While at first glance it seems to be safer to have a CRM in-house, it is not the case anymore. Online CRM solutions actually prove to be more secure, reliable and even more cost effective.

This post is provided by OnePage CRM Sales blog. OnePage CRM is an online CRM software designed exclusively for small business – it keeps core CRM functions on one page, ensuring continued everyday usage. Intuitive one-page screen maintains a live list of your customers with associated actions you need to take to effectively follow up with them and bring every single contact forward towards a sale.

Posted in security, tools | Leave a comment

The Advantages of Google Gmail over Microsoft Exchange

Only a three short months ago I was a happy user of Google Apps for Business at a company which shall remain nameless. Unfortunately, many (if not all) good things must come to an end, and we went through a transition to Microsoft Exchange. Needless to say, this left some scars that are yet to heal!

These days, more and more businesses are choosing to rely on outside-hosted email services rather than their own internal email systems. The reasons for doing this can be varied, but it usually boils down to an effort to cut costs, saving the business money as well as reducing the need for the internal support of email service by employees or management.

The selection of outside email providers often boils down to a choice between two leaders in the field: Google Gmail, or the hosted version of Microsoft Exchange.

The first and most undeniable “plus” that Google Gmail has over Microsoft Exchange is cost. While Microsoft Exchange costs an average of about $140 per year per user, Gmail costs only about $50 per year per user. That’s a savings of about $90 per person for Gmail users. Multiply that by the size of your staff, and the cost savings escalate exponentially. Cost is definitely a big motivator in choosing Gmail over Microsoft Exchange.

Another thing to consider is the innovation factor. Google is well known for being an almost obsessively innovative company. They project a vibe and ethos of always wanting to be first, always wanting to be the best, and pushing the envelope of what is possible technologically. For example, in 2011, Google added over 40 brand new, innovative features to its Premier Gmail product. This was in addition to 45 new updates added to the Docs and Sites apps. By comparison, hosted Microsoft Exchange had three year lapse in enhancements to its platform. Now that there have finally been upgrades to hosted Exchange, Microsoft users are scrambling to update their mail systems.

One argument that Microsoft Exchange advocates put forward is that Google Gmail simply does not have as many features as Exchange. They also claim that Gmail is lacking in easy ways of getting support from Google. They also point out Gmail is not usable on a full range of mobile devices.

However, these claims turn out to be little more than outdated myths; perhaps they were true at one time, but no longer. A support phone number for Gmail and other Google products is available by simply clicking the “Support” tab in the Google Apps control panel. These days, Google’s email, Contacts and Calendar can be easily synced with native or easily-installed apps on the vast majority of the smartphones that are available today.

As far as features go, Gmail is steadily gaining on Microsoft Exchange all of the time, rolling out new and innovative add-ons on a regular basis. Outside companies have also created apps that can backup Gmail email accounts, further adding to security and peace of mind.

Innovation, ease of use, minimal cost and quality support all add up to making Google Gmail the smart choice for your business. Combining it with a Gmail backup app will ensure that your data is safe and protected, helping your business to get the very most out of its email service.

Posted in apps, blog, tools | Leave a comment

Simple Math is Far From Normal in Russia

Russians voted yesterday to elect Vladimir Putin to a 6 year term as president. Apparently, they also voted down one of the most basic mathematical theories: most complex social phenomenon, e.g. elections, follow a normal distribution – they look like bell.

Official results with 6M votes via @tvrain

Take a look at this graph based on official counts of 6 million votes showing voting precincts by participation rate and vote percentage. Notice, how Putin’s opponents in red and blue follow a normal distribution pattern of a bell curve. Also, notice how Putin’s numbers seem to increase with participation – no bell curve there.

15 Million Votes via @tvrain

Same story with 15 million votes.

The basic conclusion here is that the more people voted in a given precinct, the higher Putin’s vote percentage. Why would that be? Well, consider a tactic called “carousel voting“, where a number of people are paid to get on a bus which takes them from polling station to polling station, where they vote again and again. That certainly drives up participation at those stations. Want to guess who they voted for each time?

Russian ingenuity knows no bounds. It is exemplified by great entrepreneurs like Sergey Brin of Google and Phil Libin of Evernote. Thinking “outside the box” was developed out of necessity during the Communist times and is now firmly part of the culture. In this case, it helped Mr. Putin get re-elected, and in the process reminded us that Normal Distribution is only a theory rather then a mathematical law. The Prince of Mathematicians would be quite impressed.

Posted in Entrepreneurship, russia | Leave a comment

Facebook’s “The Hacker Way” a Must Read

Facebook’s S1 filing is a fascinating read and the following section is a must for anyone building technology products.

The Hacker Way

As part of building a strong company, we work hard at making Facebook the best place for great people to have a big impact on the world and learn from other great people. We have cultivated a unique culture and management approach that we call the Hacker Way.

The word “hacker” has an unfairly negative connotation from being portrayed in the media as people who break into computers. In reality, hacking just means building something quickly or testing the boundaries of what can be done. Like most things, it can be used for good or bad, but the vast majority of hackers I’ve met tend to be idealistic people who want to have a positive impact on the world.

The Hacker Way is an approach to building that involves continuous improvement and iteration. Hackers believe that something can always be better, and that nothing is ever complete. They just have to go fix it — often in the face of people who say it’s impossible or are content with the status quo.

Hackers try to build the best services over the long term by quickly releasing and learning from smaller iterations rather than trying to get everything right all at once. To support this, we have built a testing framework that at any given time can try out thousands of versions of Facebook. We have the words “Done is better than perfect” painted on our walls to remind ourselves to always keep shipping.

Hacking is also an inherently hands-on and active discipline. Instead of debating for days whether a new idea is possible or what the best way to build something is, hackers would rather just prototype something and see what works. There’s a hacker mantra that you’ll hear a lot around Facebook offices: “Code wins arguments.”

Hacker culture is also extremely open and meritocratic. Hackers believe that the best idea and implementation should always win — not the person who is best at lobbying for an idea or the person who manages the most people.

To encourage this approach, every few months we have a hackathon, where everyone builds prototypes for new ideas they have. At the end, the whole team gets together and looks at everything that has been built. Many of our most successful products came out of hackathons, including Timeline, chat, video, our mobile development framework and some of our most important infrastructure like the HipHop compiler.

To make sure all our engineers share this approach, we require all new engineers — even managers whose primary job will not be to write code — to go through a program called Bootcamp where they learn our codebase, our tools and our approach. There are a lot of folks in the industry who manage engineers and don’t want to code themselves, but the type of hands-on people we’re looking for are willing and able to go through Bootcamp.

This is not just about code, here are all the things everyone in technology should be hacking:

  • Business models
  • Product features
  • Metrics
  • Messaging
  • Demos
  • Presentations

Alright, now go hack something!

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Russian Elections Failure, Farce and Falsification

“Putin’s power is weakened”, “Communists gain seats in the Duma” screamed the headlines on Monday.

Dramatic? Yes.

Is THAT the story? No.

Not even close. Unfortunately for Russia’s young democracy, the real story is far more sensational. The real story is that the electoral process was interfered with in the most basic way.
1. Not with electronic voting
2. Not with ballot stuffing
3. Not with forged absentee ballots
4. Not with butterfly ballots
5. Not with voter intimidation
6. Not with robo-calls with misleading information
7. Not with counts and re-counts
8. Not with complex legal arguments and objections
9. Not with gerrymandering voting districts

Instead, in a typical Russian-style substantive elegance and concurrent clumsiness, they simply changed the results. What?!? “How is that possible”, one may say? Well, luckily, in the world of social media, pictures and video, several people involved posted exact photo/video accounts of what happened. Unfortunately, most of them are in Russian, so here is a rough translation of one. I certainly won’t do it justice and will paraphrase most of it,  the Author is Dmitriy Finnikov:

1. I decided to participate as a voting commission observer in my home district #6 in Moscow, for Yabloko Party
2. I attended meetings that prepared observers and informed them on the process. Attended twice since I like to be prepared.
3. I arrived for the election, met the Director, Deputy and members of the District voting commission
4. All preparations were done correctly, but started a little late
5. Voting went along fine, with first time voters receiving chocolate candy from the head of the Commission.
6. After voting, everything was done according to protocol, votes were counted, tabulated and a summary sheet was signed by all members of the commission. Yabloko: 134, Communists: 202, United Russia: 128.
7. I asked the commission director to give me a copy of the Voting Summary Sheet.
8. Commissioner said he will make a copy, and left with both Voting Summary Sheet originals.
9. Commissioner never came back. Nobody could say where he was. He answered his cell phone and each time lied saying that he will be right back.
10. I learned that the Commissioner of the other district that voted in the same building as us, was also missing in an identical situation.
11. I was worried, because without the final meeting to confirm the Voting Summary Sheets, the results were illegal and I did not have a copy of the sheets. I created another copy of the Voting Summary Sheets and asked all members of the committee to sign it, but only two did.
12. It’s close to 4 AM, and the assistant Committee Director offered to take the vote envelopes over to the central Voting Committee. I refused to let him do that. Soon, all observers but him left.
13. At 7 AM a driver showed up and attempted to take the vote envelopes. I told him that he can not do that, as it is against the law until the results are certified on the spot by the committee.
14. At 8 AM two policemen showed up, and forced me aside, so that the deputy Committee Director could take the envelopes and put them in the car. I followed in my car and got to the Central District Committee first!
15. I made my way into the Central Committee meeting room right behind the Deputy carrying the envelopes with votes, and asked the members why the Director left without providing me a copy and conducting the meeting to certify the vote. I am given non-sensical answers, while everybody is giving each other blank stares. Meanwhile, the ballot envelopes with still-accurate counts are being stuffed into a black bag right in front of me.
16. I saw on the wall right behind the person stuffing the the real ballots into a garbage bag, the combined voting results, which showed very different tallies for my district: Yabloko: 4, Communists: 29, United Russia: 515. (see table below).  The video is priceless, as it shows this entire scene in all it’s glory.
17. I was forced out by security. I found myself crying, thinking about that 18 year old girl who got the chocolates for voting for the first time, but whose vote was simply erased.

I know that this probably didn’t make you cry, like it made me, since I didn’t tell the full story with all the heart-wrenching details. But I hope it at least makes you mad, like it did me. Similar stories are repeated over and over by other observers.  Why do I think this is true and that we should believe the author? Well, because there are many like him, the video is pretty convincing and this is what I would EXPECT to happen, having lived in Russia and knowing how things work there. It is the foundation of how communists held on to power for as long as they did!

So, is Russia a “flourishing democracy where the communists are gaining while Putin’s party is losing ground”? You be the judge!

Summary Table: Voting Results Comparison for Moscow’s District #6.

Party Actual  Results Reported Results
Yabloko 134 19.2% 4 0.6%
Communists 202 29.0% 29 4.2%
Putin’s United Russia 128 18.4% 515 73.9%
Others 233 33.4% 149 21.4%
Total Votes 697 697
Posted in blog, russia, social | 1 Comment