Monday, July 28, 2008

Meet My New Friends

I have recently had the good fortune of having some of my posts selected and my blog linked to some sites that I enjoy and respect.

I have joined the BackBone Magazine blog team. I have been an avid reader of the magazine for quite a while. Backbone magazine was launched in January 2001, at the height of the technology bubble. They continued to publish throughout the tech meltdown and beyond, working as an active participant in the changing business world. Their primary focus has been on how technology enhances business processes, markets, profitability and productivity. Backbone magazine’s aim is to provide business people with a tangible tool to enhance the way they do business in Canada’s New Economy. I plan to contribute as a resource toward this goal for BackBone customers.

As a follower of Guy Kawasaki and his great collection of sites at AllTop I am proud to have been added to the StartUp section of the site with a huge selection of other bloggers who are absolutely top of class. Check them all out here.

At Ivara we have had a great a relationship with Barrett Rose and Lee an Executive recruiting firm that we use for many of our Sales and Services positions. They offer several online resources to their clients and have been kind enough to add my site as a linked resource for their customers, something I don't take lightly.

If I can ever be of assistance to any of my friends and followers please feel free to reach out at any time and please check out the sites and resources of my new friends.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Weekend Thoughts, Reads and the Last Lecture

Some of my Favorites and Musings from the week, hope you enjoy.....
1. On Friday we learned of the passing of Randy Pausch the famed computer science prof and all around great guy from Carnegie Mellon after a battle with Pancreatic Cancer at the young age of 48. His legendary "Last Lecture" is lengthy but always worth the time as the lessons are invaluable.....and very moving.
2. A quote from Michael Jordan (while the souce is questionable, the message is not)
I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occassions I have been entrusted to take the game winning shot....and I missed! I have failed over and over and over again in my life and that is precisely why I succeed.
Obviously, it is not important to just fail, it is important to fail and learn from those failures so that you do not make the same mistakes again. You may make new ones but not the same ones. In that vein there is a great Post Mortem on Monitor 110 that we should all read and use as a reminder to be honest with ourselves and analyze our failures so that we may learn from where we have been.
3. Almost every week you could pick numerous of Seth Godin's posts. I am a fan of Chris Anderson and The Long Tail. Seth has a post this week about the Profit in the Tail. If for some reason you have not read The Long Tail....grab it and read it (at least the article) this weekend.
4. Lastly, in support of my Delighting the Customer theme I provide a link to the Six Laws of Customer Experience. Have a read and I hope the theme of focusing on the customer experience is one that you will remember, maybe try some of my suggestions and by doing so you create not just good customer but good advocates, spokespeople and marketers for your growing business.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Keep them Engaged Through Leadership

OK, I think this is the last post in this "Delightful" mini-series so a quick recap is in order.
First I posted about the importance of Delighting your way to Success and how critical it is to improve upon the customer experience every time you deal with them. I gave some recommendations for implementation in your business to improve the customer experience and more closely align everyone at your company with your customer experiences. My Dairy Queen example was a simple illustration of the impact a positive experience has.
I followed up that post with a related one on a new role that we are seeing more of in the market and is that of a "Community Manager", which I am a proponent of and would suggest you consider for your organization. I used AideRSS and Akoha as examples.
Next I followed up with a piece on how critical it is to hire smart AND engaged employees right from the start rather than hiring just for smarts, and gave my thoughts on how to successful hire employees that will delight your customer. This is important for all organizations but especially for young startups. You do not have the luxury of being able to make mistakes against a really tight budget and very few staff. Take your time and get it right.
The last piece will be some simple thoughts on leadership that I think are important to keeping engaged employees in the game and on your team. Hiring the right people is absolutely critical to an engaged workforce but keeping them engaged and growing is all on you. There are so many leadership books out there by people who have forgotten more theory on leadership than I will ever know but here are my simple guidelines that I follow.
  1. Give direction - in the absence of being given direction by a leader employees will make up their own direction. This is hugely problematic because if you have 10 employees who are all engaged and acting in the best interests of the company but are pulling in different directions it will make the very difficult journey from point A to point B way harder than it already is. For small companies, you don't want to get meetinged (is that a word?) to death and a meeting schedule is a completely separate post so to start I would recommend the following. For 15 minutes at the start or end of every day huddle with your team. I posted some details earlier on the agenda.
  2. Open, focused and frequent communication - understanding the big picture and the strategic path the company is on is critical. Every chance you get reiterate the "elevator pitch" with your employees. Explain why you are doing what you are doing organizationally and strategically and how they fit in to that. What is their role in achieving this success and how can they impact total company success. Again, in a small organization it is much easier to see how you fit in and what your contribution means. Just make sure everyone knows the strategy and what success is so they are engaged as part of the solution.
  3. Lead by Example - BE FULLY ENGAGED! Engaged employees WANT to be inspired and look to you to be the rock through all the ups and downs you will face. Constantly reinforce your words in point #1 and #2 above with your actions. Your behaviour shows people what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour for others...when you don't think anyone is watching...they are. Don't give them reason through your actions to become disengaged.
  4. Measure Success and Reward Proper Behaviour - make sure any and all measurements or metrics you put in place for the business are aligned with the strategy you are implementing and base all rewards around those. Rewards do not need to be purely financial especially for highly engaged people. These employees want the company to win and want to be part of it. Non-monetary rewards like GH3 nights out and pool and beer nights on the company to acknowledge great work are great motivators and team builders at the same time. I am a big believer in that which is measured is improved. Put the right measures and rewards in place and they will drive behaviour and engagement that is consistent with the strategy and keep everyone in synch rowing the same direction.

By Hiring Delightful Employee's and Keeping them Engaged you will Have Delighted Customers!

There are so many things in business that are uncontrollable that have a material impact on your businesses success or failure. Who you hire and how you motivate them as the leader and how they interact with your customers are all controllable. Nail the stuff you can nail and this is one area that everyone can control....get at it.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Hiring Engaged Employees

My last few posts have presented my thoughts on the critical need to delight your customers at all times and have discussed some of the how's around that from the perspective of the types of roles you will require and some recommendations around the types of action plans you can implement. There is one major requirement for the execution of the plan and the consistent delivery of a WOW customer experience and that is PEOPLE.
It is imperative that the people building your product, the people hiring, the people interacting with customers, the people in your company are passionate about what they do and are portraying the message and delivering the experience you want. In early days for a startup this isn't so hard because all of these people = 1 person = you!
In all companies hiring right is a key success factor but as a startup and/or small company it can be the difference between success and failure. I know I am oversimplifying and there is tons of literature out there for more complex processes and systems and formulas and measures but this is what it breaks down to:
  1. Hire Engaged People
  2. Keep Them Engaged

If you Hire correctly, keeping engaged people engaged is not nearly as difficult getting unengaged people to engage. You have 500 things to do each day as an entrepreneur/founder/CEO and keeping your employees up during good times and bad is an absolutely critical aspect of your job but don't make that harder on yourself than you have to with less than ideal hiring decisions.

For every role there are key components or competencies of the job that they need to be able to perform and perform at the head of the class but to me this is really just table stakes. Once you have some one who technically can do the job you need done here are some key things to look for:

  • Attitude - Attitude is everything. How are they emotionally in the interview, are they engaging, upbeat, smiling, eager, excited....regardless of the role you should walk away feeling energized not drained
  • Passion - Listen for knowledge and passion for what you do. They won't know everything about everything that your company does but if they are not jazzed about the space and what you are doing from a macro perspective it will make my next point even harder for them to pass and that is......
  • StartUp experience - this is not a must for me but it something I have to feel very comfortable that the person understands especially depending on how I feel about the prior point. There are long days, all nighters, low lows and high highs and you have to be comfortable that this person has a "very healthy appetite for work" lets say
  • Spidey Sense - Call this your gut. You get a feel for someone during the interview. How will they fit with your team, would you feel comfortable if they were in front of your customer? your investor?

My last recommendation here is to have at least two interviews with someone before you make any offer. The first in a more formal, typical interview setting and don't limit yourself to an hour (schedule them in the early evening say 5:30). If things do go well you will want more time to explore and the time will fly. If they pass the first interview the second interview should be in a more informal setting and should involve more members of your team. If you normally go for a pool night, darts, GH3, whatever...invite them.

None of these are rocket science but they are 4 simple points I have written on my white board at the office as I go through the hiring process. Write them down somewhere so you have them and just take a look at the points before and after you conduct your next interview. I actually have a ranking and weighting for each of the four but that is just the finance guy in me needing to bring EVERYTHING back to numbers so I won't bore you with that.

Interested in your comments on your best and worst hires and what happened....hope these help!

Some other great posts on this topic:

Tech Capital Partners - discusses the value of Employee Engagement


Dharmesh at OnStartups - talks about his hiring thoughts for startups

Monday, July 21, 2008

Follow Up to "Delight" Post

More and more you are starting to see super exciting roles for "Community Manager's" at exciting young tech companies. In most cases I view these roles as the Chief Delightment Officer at a company who engages with, support and befriends the community and makes the product, brand and company real to users. As my prior post mentioned the responsibility for delighting customers lies with everyone but making someone accountable for care and feeding of the community in the early days is a great move. A great example of how this can work is Melanie Baker at AideRSS. She is a great cheerleader, access point to development, PR person, etc that people who are engaging with AideRSS can interact with to reinforce the product experience. Great product + great human interface = successful brand building and customer engagement.
There is no shortage of debate on this topic with an article being written by ReadWriteWeb , commentary about online community at the WSJ and new positions opening up with much more regularity than ever before.
I am all for this role and believe that managing your online brand, marrying the human experience with the product experience and Delighting your customers is critical to a startup.
If you are interested in what I think is a fantastic role in any organization Austin Hill, who has a startup called Akoha, is currently looking for a "Community Gardener", check it out. Even if you aren't interested in the role check out the job description as it does a fantastic job of giving you insight into the type, style and culture that Austin is building at Akoha. Even job description are part of the customer experience!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Weekend Reads

Some great stuff out there this week that I plan to either start reading or finish reading this weekend. Hope you find some of these interesting:
Seth Godin wrote a fantastic piece (all his stuff is great) on Scarcity which outlines ways Apple could dealth with the IPhone roll out better to further "Delight" (a theme for me this week) their customers.
I also really enjoy reading Fred Wilson, (NY based VC) who always offers a frank perspective on what's going on and is currently wrapping up a one month road trip across Europe (Based in Paris) meeting entreprenears and startups. He links to a piece on Failure which is particularly topical given FailCamp was last night in TO.
Every week Jevon over at StartupNorth has at least a couple great posts, this week was no exception. If you weren't able to make DemoCamp this week you missed a great time but one of the highlights was Jevon's "rant" on VC's and a call to action for entreprenears to save the VC's. He followed up with a blog post and lots of comments which you will find here.
Another site I found was doing a little work on Customer Experience is a site by Bruce Temkin who writes on all things customer loyalty related. Not going to highlight a specific article here but I would definitely recommend that you spend some time here researching how you improve the customer experience and build loyalty for your Company....enjoy and try to put some of this in practice.
Lastly but importantly there were several launches in the couple weeks and as my earlier blog challenges, try to go and check these out and provide feedback and commentary to the entrepreneurs. It is only through users trials and feedback that we can make product truly delightful for customers. Congrats to all mentioned below and readers please try these and provide your feedback:
  • AideRSS realeased several new products which I covered in an earlier post
  • Spreed:News presented at DemoCamp and has launched a version

  • PlanetEye released a travel service that I will be checking out as I approach my family Griswold vacation to Myrtle Beach that is upcoming
  • Praized also launched a local search platform designed specifically for social media sites

If I missed any please comment and add

Happy reading!!!!!

Friday, July 18, 2008


I have added a Top Posts widget to my blog courtesy of AideRSS. This allows you the reader to quickly have a look and see which posts have been the most active and are MORE worth reading, because clearly all of them are worth reading...right!
Lot's of valuable products launched recently at AideRSS including one for Googlereader that allows you set criteria around the news and posts that you get to your reader. Everyone is getting overwhelmed with data through the online media this product allows you to set filters allowing you to get only the information that is really important vto you so you don't waste your time reading material not relevant to your needs or interest. Please go check them out!

Delight Your Way to Success

I have been spending much time lately reading and thinking about customer engagement and experience and the importance of it in all businesses. Having a truly passionate customer base is not just for intimate startup companies, as Apple and the recent lines we all witnessed clearly illustrate. Having your customers so delighted with their experience that they will tell their friends and Twitter about their experience and proudly show/tell everyone they know is the most powerful (and inexpensive...sorry Finance guy in me coming out) marketing program any company can achieve. For a startup company positive word of mouth, press and chat is even more important as it can be the difference between success and failure. There are two sides of this experience that I'd like to cover, the product experience and the human experience that in my opinion are equally important.
Building product that is focussed on solving a specific problem that a target audience has or providing them with a new experience they will value is obviously table stakes. Truly delighted customers are looking for much more:
  • Make product consistent and reliable
  • Save time or improve the quality of time for the customer
  • Ease of use will increase adoption and stickiness
  • A slick, well thought out user interface is a game changer
  • Flexibility in design (because your customer is going to try to use you product in ways you probably hadn't imagined...and you want them to)
  • The WOW factor...can't really describe it but you know it when you see it
  • There can be many others depending on the application, audience, etc

You are not beside your customer when they use your product for the first time, make sure you nail form, function and WOW.


EVERY interaction you have with a customer is an opportunity to delight a customer and build your brand. Really folks, this is not hard. Every person in the organization, whether there are 3 or 3,000 is in marketing and sales. I posted earlier on a simple experience at Dairy Queen (sadly no freeby's have arrived at my door) which demonstrates the difference every person in your company can make.

Everytime someone calls in for support on your product....delight them

Everytime someone calls to complain....delight them

Everytime someone asks you where you work....delight them

Attitude is everything, be excited and passionate about what you do. If you aren't how do you expect them to be so moved they will tell their friends and wear your shirt. Always ask them for feedback and suggestions, engage them in making things better. Hiring, retaining and maintaining engaged employees is a seperate post I'll cover later.


My call to action that I think goes a long way to help at a startup: When people download things (product, trials, etc) from your site make it mandatory to enter an email address AND a phone number (don't worry if they have come to your site and are interested enough to download a trial, they will). Now, don't just email your customers call them. Have everyone in your company call at least one person a day to interact and ask some set questions to collect data. This is your chance to delight them on the phone and make a personal connection that will solidify your relationship. At the end of every day, huddle as a group for 5-10 minutes NO more and run through what you found out.

Several major accomplishments occur with this process:

  1. Employees stay engaged with the solution and are always in sales mode every day which creates positive energy and momentum and allows they to get better and more comfortable with it.
  2. The customer experience is enhanced and over time you will build a loyal following of delighted customers.
  3. You will accumulate data, critical intelligence, on your company/product and share it every day which will allow you to spot trends, isolate problems, share wins and drive product and the company forward in lock step with your user community.

Try it and let me know how it works.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

#DemoCampToronto18 Thoughts

My first DemoCamp is in the books!
Really enjoyed being part of a community that is working on a number of very cool things and kudo's to all who demoed, keep up the good work. Thanks to David Crow et al (who it was really great to finally meet) for all his efforts in coordinating the startup community.
The venue needs to support the reasons that participants attend and facilitate them getting out of the event everything that they wanted, in better language it needs to support not detract from the User Experience. I think it did some of both. On the plus side the very casual atmosphere of the bar setting facilitates great conversation and openness in getting to know new people and make introductions so I liked that aspect as opposed to something more formal. The negative was that for some/many it was VERY hard to hear the demo's. It was loud, cramped, everyone could not fit in the room and I think this really detracted from some of the great stuff people were trying to show and solicit feedback on to improve the product.
Overall I would vote for a new venue for 19 or a return to one of the old venues that people generally seemed to like.
DISCLAIMER-As most of my readers will know I am not a programmer and not as technical as most (being a dumb finance guy) so I tend to focus more on understanding the problem that is being fixed, trying to relate to it and the applicablility and usability of the solution and potential business model.
Some great demo's on the night which I would encourage everyone to check out. Refresh Partners, Blueprint and Ali of and Dr. Project all presented to get us started and showed some really neat stuff. Ali has Jabber chat for your site that he uses at Well that I thought was very usable.
Second group had Bitstrips, SpreedNews and Jevon MacDonald which were all pretty interesting. Bitstrips was fun demo that Jesse Brown pitched as revengeware where it allows you to completely build characters for a cartoon script with an infinite number of options, craft the setting and build the dialogue for your cartoon...Jesse also informed the crowd that there was a parental control setting built in and that it was required due to various office furniture that...ah never mind.... Spreed was interesting and I had read about them earlier in the day at Mark's blog as they had just launched yesterday. Unfortunately the demo struggled a bit with sound and tech and I am a first timer but it seemed like the demo broke the "infomercial rule" of DemoCamp. Putting those flagrant fouls aside the speed reading concept and the need to ramp up our collective ability to read, process and retain information that is coming at us at an exponentially increasing rate is a perplexing one to me. Admittedly I am not a fast reader and am even worse online (I am still a tree killer...although I do print double sided) so I think I will give this a try as it claims to more than double your ability to read AND retain information and early users seem to concur. Check it out and comment back with you thoughts!
The final act went to Jevon who presented something called a VC rant which I think was more aptly an ode to how we can all (startups and VCs and angels, etc) work to try to fix a funding problem that seems to be increasing at an alarming rate. Jevon has posted a copy of the presentation and a blog post at his site The blog post is a little less of a rant on VC's compared to the presentation and I think is a well balanced picture of what VC's AND entrepreneurs need to do to turn this around. there are several posts around on this topic right now and I posted some thoughts on this earlier as well.
So all in all on the night I had a really good time, I enjoyed a couple pints with some really smart, creative people who I had never met before, I met some folks for the first time that I had only Twittered with before (why does that sound wrong?) and I got closer to my startup community. All of that is good for me but I basically leached!
Here is what I can do today to give back and I expect my community to keep me accountable:
  1. I will be trying out products demoed and providing my feedback good and bad directly to the entrepreneur as this is critical for the continued evolution of these products and for the continuous improvement of the user experience and for the improved success of the community
  2. If there is any way that through a contact or a phone call or a Twitter question or a blog post that I can assist any community member please feel free to reach out and ask me for help. If I can't help directly I can help find someone who can.

You get out of events and communities what you put into them and while I have successfully made it through my first DemoCamp it definitely will not be my last!