Category Archives: Think

How To Make Slack Work For Your Business

There is a tidal wave coming and it’s changing the way we do work. We caught a glimpse of it in 2014 when Facebook acquired WhatsApp for $19 billion. Forget for a moment that the company only had 30 engineers. The fact that Facebook was willing to pay such a high price for this asset was a window into the world to come. That window showed us how important and scalable messaging can be. That window of messaging is only getting bigger.

Less than two weeks ago, Slack completed a $200 million round of financing at a $3.8 billion valuation. This is largely due to the fact that they were able to grow from about 15,000 daily users to over 500,000 daily active users in less than a year. That’s over 33x growth in just 12 months. They could be the fastest growing software company of all time.

People now are beginning to ask why? Why are companies rapidly adopting conversational platforms like Slack? Why do we need it when we already have things like email? And more importantly, how can we use it in our organization when it seems like just another tool to add to the mess of tools? As one CEO of a large technology company told me, “we already have email, Gchat, Facebook messenger, text messaging and WhatsApp. What do I need one more tool for?”

Perhaps the best way to answer this question is to look at one of the most successful CEO’s of all time, Andy Grove from Intel. In the 1980’s he also saw a tidal wave coming and he used it to his advantage to outperform his competitors, namely the Japanese DRAM manufacturers. The Japanese would work in the same rooms, side by side, in order to foster the most efficient means of team communication. However, the tidal wave that would help shift things in Intel’s favor, was their rapid adoption of electronic email, especially as the business became more global. From Andy Grove’s, High Output Management:

The informed use of e-mail— short for computer-to-computer electronic messaging— results in two fundamentally simple but startling implications. It turns days into minutes, and the originator of a message can reach dozens or more of his or her co-workers with the same effort it takes to reach just one. As a result, if your organization uses e-mail, a lot more people know what’s going on in your business than did before, and they know it a lot faster than they used to.

Now we have electronic conversation and thanks to companies like Slack, which have matured and polished this form of communication, it is now easier than ever to collaborate and work. It doesn’t turn “days into minutes” but minutes into seconds.

So how can you create “high output management” process and organization on top of Slack to accelerate your business and productivity? Here are five tips to best utilize Slack to organize your teams for optimal efficiency.

  1. Organize around key objectives. You have a sales team, a customer success team, an account management team, and maybe 5 other teams that touch the customer. Do you create one channel or group for each team? Do you create one channel for each customer? Do you create a generic sales channel? This answer will largely depend on the size and scope of the company. Consider the following scenario, which could be taken from an ordinary day at a large enterprise software company. You have an account executive working on large multi-million dollar deal. That deal represents one customer but requires the help of at least 10 people from various parts of the company including management, product and engineering. We’ll call that deal the “IBM” deal. In this example, it probably makes sense to create one dedicated channel for IBM, however it probably does not make sense to create channels for each and every account. Understanding the most pressing key objectives at your company is a good guiding light to how your team should organize in Slack.
  2. Real-time leading indicators. One of Slack’s innovations is their ability to integrate with third party systems and services. For example, every time our engineering team pushes out an update or fix, I can see the real time update and context around that update in a stream. Our engineering team uses this to gauge the pulse and health of our company’s engineering output. Before slack, this data was more obfuscated living in different silos. Now the entire team can optionally check in to gauge velocity on product. This concept of real time leading indicators can work in a sales situation too. Consider the scenario where a sales rep has five meetings but forgets to follow up with all five customers. Wouldn’t it be helpful to automatically and in real-time notify the sales rep that they forgot to follow up? This is the power of Slack. We can now seamlessly integrate with third party data sets and make those leading indicators available in real time for all, or just some, to see.
  3. Workflow. At Troops, when someone signs up for our newsletter, we get a real time alert that someone signed up. Moreover, we append third party data in real time so we can give the team greater context of who exactly the person is. For example, if john@smith.com signs up, we can quickly determine who he works for, what the company size looks like, where it’s located, what he’s been talking about, all in a fraction of a second simply by looking at just his email address. If we think the person is a VIP of sorts and needs immediate attention, we can quickly start a dialogue around the alert. The team can quickly give an emoji thumbs up or thumbs down on how valuable that person is, and if enough ‘thumbs ups’ are accumulated, a sales rep can reach out in real time. There are all sorts ways the messaging stream can be adapted to custom workflow but this is just one example.
  4. Cultural Development. If you ask someone about Slack that has any familiarity with it, you might hear them mention the word “giphie” within the first five seconds. Many people recognize that Slack itself just makes work more fun. But fun, has a very real implication on culture and productivity. If left unchecked, it can erode productivity. However, if embraced correctly, it can enhance culture and subsequently drive happiness and efficiency. At Troops, we are automatically surfacing client wins in real time in Slack. This happens automatically and ties in unique content to drive a stronger, sales-oriented culture. Before Slack, companies would resort to things like trophies, sales gongs, and bonuses, which is especially hard if teams are spread out across multiple geographies or time zones. Now, there is a greater ability to increase culture through “digital gongs” and celebration, across large teams or sub-sets of teams.
  5. Speed. As you are reading this article, it’s likely that you have over ten web browser tabs open. Each tab represents entirely different context, modes of thinking and ways of working. When you consolidate systems and services into one stream or one messaging interface, you can begin to increase the speed at which you do work. For example, at Troops we are able to execute commands in third party systems like Salesforce, Gmail, Calendar, and GitHub all from within one command line. This is very analogous to the google search box. Instead of having to click through a set of listings to find information, you can simply type a request and have Google spit back the information to you. Slack represents a similar opportunity, only this time, you can get more creative with what type of information you search for, what is returned, how it is returned, and who it is returned to.

This is just a short, high-level list of ways you should be thinking about maximizing the use of Slack and the other conversational platforms to come within your organization. If you think this trend is fleeting or that these messaging tools are just a fad, consider this. WeChat, another messaging platform in China, already has 20 million companies selling and marketing products through a messaging interface. This change in user behavior is so profound that it has driven Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella, to orient the company around this paradigm shift, and it seems this is his first major product decision that deviates from Microsoft’s legacy product lines. It’s still early days and we’re going to see the next wave of enterprise solutions being created through messaging interfaces like Slack.

What questions or comments do you have about Slack?

This Startup Failed In Year One And Is Now Doing Over $6M In Sales Per Year

This post originally appeared on Forbes.com.

On January 19th Kyle Porter, CEO of SalesLoft, a sales technology startup out of Atlanta came to chat with the Building The Sales Machine community here in New York City about the challenges of building company as it relates to culture, values and building the sales organization. Kyle and the SalesLoft story is compelling because the business was pretty much a failure in the first year. But now, they are an 80 person company and grew sales by 1000% in 2015. Moreover, they went from $1M to $6M run rate in the past 5 quarters and was rated the #1 Best Place to Work in Atlanta.

As someone who is building a sales-facing technology startup myself, this story is especially compelling to me.

So how did they do it? Here is what Kyle had to say.

Dan Reich: How did you get started with Salesloft?

Kyle Porter: When we started this company, we flat out failed in the first 12 months. In 2011 I started the company and had no idea what I was getting into. I was a really good salesperson but had no idea had to start a company.

A sales person is the closest job to an entrepreneur. It’s the role where you control your own destiny the most. And you have to have this relentless pursuit to make it happen. I had that gene inside of me. But I didn’t understand software development. I didn’t understand the culture of an Engineering Org, the prioritization of product management philosophy. I didn’t understand that you can only do so many thing at once. I had these guys build, build, build and ultimately I scattered them too thinly.

The other big thing that I was missing was the people’s culture. Think to yourself right now about how you think people should behave… If you start a company you HAVE to inject those things into your business. I didn’t make that happen. I had people that I hired that I thought might be good, but the culture spun out of control.

On the reboot: I’m going to start over from scratch but do 2 things wildly different. 1 I’m going to put thought into product management 2. Pay a ton of attention to culture.

Reich: What has become of the modern sales organization?

Porter: You either have a modern sales organization or you don’t. Are you striving to do things better? Are you using the processes and tools that are available today to drive your team forward? What I keep learning is that there’s stages inside these sales organizations.

When I started sales loft we had this hot thing that a lot of people wanted. So we could reach out to anyone with a “soft touch” and were able to kind of “carpet blast” the universe and get some really good numbers. Eventually, you need to go deeper and build real relationships with people.

If you’re out there and have a sales process that’s working but doesn’t require significant sales skills, you should be skeptical.

If you’re sending emails and people are responding, but you’re not actually diving in and solving problems and going deep, building relationships, connecting with people… those sales are going to eventually dry up.

That’s what I’ve learned about the modern sales organization. The good ones aren’t taking anything for granted. They’re going deep to build true problem-solving relationships with their buyers. They figure out ways to get really personal and interactive with their customers over time.

Reich: What should the SDR and Account Management interaction look like?

Porter: Two years ago this was shocking stuff, but now we’ve all seen the SDR [Sales Development Movement]. We’ve seen the specialization in sales between the people who prospect and bring in the business, and those that nurture the relationships and close it down. Now with the specialization, you’re seeing both disciplines get better at their craft. But now those two roles are coming together a bit more. They have empathy for the role of the other person.

Reich: What are your core values and why are they important to SalesLoft?

Porter: As an executive at your company, work hard to inject your personal core values into your business. What are the 3 things that matter most to me? 1. Positive 2. Self Starting 3. Supportive. The first person I hired: are they positive, are they self-starting are they supportive. This ran down to everything we’ve done. The difference has been night and day.

Now as you grow, it get’s harder and harder to control this at a company level, but you can definitely control it at a team level. So hiring the right people to start, then putting your best people into leadership positions, that embody and understand your values, then having them hire their teams to those values and letting them run with it; eventually you have a solid team, built around your culture.

We went from 3 core values, then my team came to me and said, hey I see a few other things we’d like to talk to you about. “We see people who are positive, supportive and self-starting at this company but they leave a bit to be desired. We also see people that are doing things that are not 1, 2, & 3 but we love it. So we went out to dinner and I asked my team to write down: Who are the top 7 people at this organization, that if we cloned them it would lead us to market domination? Write out the top 5 traits of those people and put them in the middle. Sure enough, 1. Positive. 2. Self Starting 3. Supportive. rose to the top, from that we mined out 3 additional core values. 4. Empathetic 5. Transparent 6. Exceptional.

Reich: How can you use your core values to measure a team (hire, fire, train)?

Porter: I’m a super broken record when it comes to core values. I’m sure people say “Kyle’s an idiot, he says the same things over and over and over again.” Well, I might be. But you better believe everyone at SalesLoft remembers those 6 core values. No matter how long they’ve been there, they can walk you through them. That’s important. That means they run deep.

I’m a parent. I have an 18 month-old baby girl, Brooklyn. Every night before I put her to bed I tell her the rules of the house: be nice to Mommy and Daddy, be nice to others, be nice to yourself. I say that to her over and over until she gets it. If she does something dishonest or not fair. I’m going to tell her, “share, share share”. People think that the job of the CEO is to be some mad scientist and write these elaborate equations locked up in a whiteboard somewhere… The job of the CEO is to ingrain the vision and the values into your team. That simply takes repetition.
I’m the chief reminding officer.

Then I’m injecting it into the hiring process. We have a matrix. Anyone hiring at SalesLoft score candidates on a Matrix according to our core values. By the time I see a candidate in the 3rd round, “I’ll walk right in and ask what are the SalesLoft core values?”. If that person doesn’t know it, they’re out.

Then we work it into management. If I’ve seen that Alex has shown a ton of empathy to a vendor. I’m going to pull her aside, look her in the eye and tell her “thank you”, and explicitly call out what she did, how it tied back to our values and how great it was. All of our managers are trained to do that as well. It makes a difference.

I’ll do the same thing if with negative responses to the values. If I notice that Alex wasn’t attentive to a note that was sent around the office. I’m going to pull her aside again and say hey, you need to be up on this, it’s part of being successful. When you’re not up on this, it hurts our company and here’s why… and “I know you’re better than that”. That matters.

Now, the reprimands are like 1:6 on the compliments. Go heavy on the positive. But stick to your cultures. That’s how you inject that shit right into the business!

Promote on culture values, hire on culture values, fire on culture values.

 

The Captain Of You

I feel like I’m a passenger of my own life.

I’m not afraid of going on welfare. I’m afraid of being ordinary.

As I heard him say the things I saw my life flash before my eyes. I recalled the decisions I’ve made, the places I’ve traveled to, the friendships I’ve made, the speeches I’ve heard.

But most importantly…

The things I’ve done.

Right or wrong, good or bad life is all about the choices we make and the choices we follow through with.

It’s about doing.

It’s about being the driver and captain of our own life and not being a passenger that’s merely along for the ride.

The irony here is that what holds us back to start, becomes the thing that drives us forward in the end. It’s what rips us out of apathy and tells us that something is wrong.

That thing is called fear.

Being afraid to fail leads us down a path of passiveness. And as we walk down that path we begin to realize just how bleak the path is.

Most of us have seen it before.

It’s a straight line and the roads are smooth from all of those that went before. The speed limit signs of society tell you to that you’re a million miles and decades away from your goal.

Your goal.

You forgot what that was because you were busy thinking about the next pit stop as you stare at the clock of life counting down the seconds and days until you reach a checkpoint.

Marriage. Kids. Buying a house. Paying off a mortgage. College tuition. Switching jobs.

Each pit stop you look back and wonder if you got on the right path.

Each pit stop you look forward and wonder if you can get off.

Where would that exit take me? Am I even capable of getting off?

You realize that the other path, the path of uncertainty and maybe even failure, is a lot less scary than this path of passiveness of ordinary.

You wonder what if you just got on that windy, uncertain road to begin with? And then regret starts to settle in. What if I did those things I was afraid of doing? What if I didn’t settle and do what was expected of me? What if I followed my dreams and put myself out of my comfort zone?

I read a quote somewhere once that said most people overestimate the cost of doing something and underestimate the cost of doing nothing.

Truth.

That person is a smart guy.

And right or wrong, the smartest thing we can do as people is to live life to the fullest. To be the captains of our own lives and to embrace fear head on.

The best thing we can do is to do.

Something..

Something that is extraordinary, scary and defines who you are and who you were meant to be.

It’s not too late.

It’s never too late to look fear head on and say it’s my turn to drive. It’s my time and I got it from here.

And in that moment, you realize you can do anything and that you are in control. You’re the driver again and the captain of your own life.

The captain of you.

How These 20-Year-Olds Raised $13M And Built A Massive Food Tech Company

This post originally appeared on Forbes.com

Being a young, first time entrepreneur is hard. Without a stunning success story or years of applicable experience, a new founder can face significant challenges starting and growing a company. A study by the University of California indicated that the average venture backed founder is 38 years old with 16 years of work experience. That’s quite a gap when it seems today that every new startup founder is in their early 20s.

What challenges differentiate a veteran entrepreneur and a newcomer’s experiences? What are strategies a first time business owner can employ to maximize the chances of success?

Eat Street's Office in Madison, WI
Eat Street’s Office in Madison, WI

Eric Martell started EatStreet, the largest independent food ordering company in the United States, when he was 20 years old with two classmates at the University of Wisconsin. EatStreet has raised $13 million and powers the online ordering of 15,000 restaurants nationwide. The startup, founded in 2010, exists in a cohort of foodtech and delivery companies that have some impressive deal flow: Instacart raised $220 million at a $1 billion valuation, Postmates has raised $138 million.

I recently chatted with Eric about starting a business in college and about the explosive growth of the food and delivery tech sectors.

Dan Reich: Speak to the challenges of starting a company at 20 years old.

Eric Martell: Early on, and to this day, we’ve had to convince others to take a risk on us, because we’re young and don’t have any pre-EatStreet experience running a tech company. In 2010, we had to convince the restaurants to take a chance on us. Matt was walking into every restaurant in Madison, WI with a simple pitch that our service would bring the restaurants more orders from new diners. Restaurants were wary of the entire idea, because if we took an order online and didn’t properly ensure that the restaurant received the order and could fulfill it, the diners would blame the restaurant for the poor experience. Additionally, we accepted payments online, which meant that we had to pay the restaurant every week, so they had to trust us with their money. Matt looked young for a 20 year old, and he heard more than once that the restaurant “just didn’t feel comfortable doing business with a kid.” Matt was able to sign up five restaurants when we launched February 1, 2010. With some results under our belt, we were able to expand that list to over 100 Madison restaurants within a year.

Additionally, in order to process online payments, we needed the trust of a credit card processor. We applied for six processors before getting approved… there was a lot of inherent risk to accepting online payments and transferring out the payments to restaurants on a weekly basis. It took over two months of searching before someone took the risk on us.

If it weren’t for those five restaurants and the credit card processor taking a risk on us, EatStreet would not exist.

Dan Reich: Do you still face challenges similar to these?

Eric Martell:  Although the nature of the challenges has changed over the years, we still face obstacles from being first time entrepreneurs. We’ve raised over $13 million from venture capitalists, and every single one of them has taken a risk in betting on our drive. We also form strategic partnerships with companies like Yelp, Google, Single Platform, and Hotel Communications Network. These businesses need justification to take risks on a company like ours. I’m glad to say that we’ve always been able to put up results, and the company is the strongest it’s ever been.

Dan Reich:  Do you think the current trajectory of food and delivery business funding and acquisitions will continue?

Eric Martell: We stand by what we’re seeing. GrubHub IPO’d a little over a year ago, and has consistently held its value as a multibillion dollar company. Over in Europe, DeliveryHero has raised over $1.5 billion, and Just-Eat also had a very strong IPO. With even Amazon and Uber eyeing the food delivery space, we’re happy to be where we are, with strong relationships with thousands of restaurants.

Dan Reich: Do you have any advice for first time entrepreneurs facing challenges regarding their experience levels?

Eric Martell: Persistence and results. Matt went to over 100 restaurants and only signed up five for our business’ launch. We could have called it quits after five credit card processor rejections. Our investment pitch historically has had less than a fifty percent success rate. Accept the failure as inevitable, and push forward. We’ve had restaurants that initially refused to sign up with us tell us today that when they finally did sign up with us, the additional orders we drove saved their business from going under.

Results might not always be present, but they speak louder than the best sales pitch. Focus on the aspects of your business you have control over, and grow like crazy. We didn’t raise a dollar until we had over $1 million in food sales, and that first million was the product of thousands of hours of promotion and hard work. It’s much easier to convince someone to believe in your vision if you have a track record of growth and hard work to back it up.

Native Advertising for Uber

Here’s an idea for Uber on how they can sell advertising that is unique to them and them only. We’ll call it native advertising for Uber.

Today, Uber passengers have the ability to split a fair with other passengers. But Why not let Uber passengers split a fair with brands or advertisers?

So for example, if I chose “split fare with coke” I might be prompted to watch a 30 second coke commercial or maybe I would have to fill out a branded questionnaire.

Either way, I opt in to the advertising, coke gets my full and undivided attention and I get a subsidy on my car ride.

Furthermore, if the brand or advertiser was providing me with real value then I might, keyword being might, be compelled to give them my email address or phone number. It’s already there in my profile along with my home address and other important travel destinations. And if Uber took this a step further, they could theoretically enable hyper targeted advertising based on who the passengers are.

And then when I’m riding solo in a car like I am now (yes, typing from the back of an Uber), I could get a better rate on my ride and Coke or whoever else can get a nice slice of my time and attention.

Brands and advertisers are already paying big money to advertise in airports, taxis, buses and trains so why not Uber? This form of advertising might be the first time there would be a truly interactive form of ‘transportation advertising’ because it wouldn’t be on some display in a taxi or on the back of your chair on an airplane. It would be on you personal mobile device.

I’m not sure I’ve seen this before and for all I know Uber could very well be working on something like this.

But that’s my idea of the day for Uber and now I’m at my destination.

How This Low-Tech Founder Got A High-Tech Startup To House $150M In Transactions

This post originally appeared on Forbes.com.

In a market like this where it’s relatively easy to raise capital at higher valuations, it can be tempting to spend big on customer acquisition. This environment has led to recent conversations around high burn rates and the relationship between “Capital and Success.” But some startups are realizing that overspending on customer acquisition may not lead to the return they are looking for and are instead finding different, more cost-effective growth strategies.

In just two years, Sweeten, a New York City-based virtual matchmaking service for homeowners and renovation experts, hit $150M in projects posted on their marketplace driven by one of the cheapest forms of customer acquisition: content marketing.

sweeten homepage

Under enormous pressure to post gains in the $12B NYC renovation space, Sweeten CEO and founder, Jean Brownhill Lauer, was initially tempted to spend on obvious advertising purchases. Surely, targeted advertising would bring homeowners looking for hand-selected general contractors and designers to the site. Instead, Lauer has bet big on a different approach: creating in-house content that gets serious traction with zero customer acquisition costs. Adhering to a strict no-paid-advertising model, Lauer’s team is using original content to drive social media activity and partnerships with widely-viewed shelter and design sites, drawing prospective customers to the site more organically.

In-house content over paid advertising

“We started with big ideas but severely limited capital,” Lauer said. “When we looked at our budget and tried to envision parting with funding to cover advertising costs, we knew we could get clicks and site visits but probably not much else. Instead, we’ve watched as our investment in high quality and highly visual in-house content has drawn those same clicks and site visits through collaborations with industry leaders, and at the same time, has been a particularly powerful tool in establishing relationships and trust with customers.”

For a company trying to bring trust and structure to an unwieldy market, this outcome is in many ways more important than page views.

Regular, reliable content

Sweeten’s blog features two key categories of regular content.

The first is fairly typical “before and after” photos that show how the site connects homeowners to contractors who are uniquely suited to a project’s budget, location, and style. The second is content that digs deeply into questions around the renovation process that most homeowners face.

This combination of content is attractive to both a design-savvy urban audience as well as actual homeowners who are desperately looking for reliable information before spending significant money on their own home renovations. In both cases, this content is relatively cheap to create and has a high return on prospective customers and users of the site.

Content partnerships and social conversations

In today’s world of Instagram, Pinterest and other ‘photo-first’ platforms, users continue to demonstrate an increasing demand for quality content. As Lauer said, “We’ve learned that quality writing and photos seem to be constantly in demand – there is this insatiable appetite for design gorgeousness and trustworthy information.”

And to prove it, Sweeten’s photography has generated a not-insignificant social presence with 160K followers on Instagram.

“The Instagram crowd loves our design perspective and actual homeowners are coming back to our site for guides to renovation pricing and regulatory insight that they need to feel ready to start a transformative renovation.”

Lauer is now focused on getting the most out of the content: tailoring it across social media platforms and building it into the site so that customers are getting personalized information as they use the marketplace.

Lauer is also seeing that investors are paying attention to the content cycle; “Our investors want to see site traffic and transaction growth, and they love the fact that we’re able to garner this kind of volume with zero acquisition costs. When you pay for a click, you might get that one click and then the interaction is over. When you create great content, you can get thousands of clicks and use that piece over and over again.”

More and more companies are beginning to realize the value of content over paid advertising.  Sweeten is just one example of a startup that is realizing this and for them, the result is over $150M in transactions.

A Student – Learning, Living at the Intersection of Business + Technology + Innovation + Culture.