Category Archives: How To:

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?

How To Prepare for Disasters. Emergency Healthcare and Rescue Tips.

I just finished up my National Ski Patrol refresher over the weekend. This is the 12th year I’ll be volunteering as a patroller at Mount Snow Vermont. For those of you that don’t know what ski patrol is or what we do, you can think of it as an EMT on skis or in my case a snowboard that is primarily responsible for the immediate response, rescue, stabilization, and transport of a patient off of the mountain and to a primary care resource such as a doctor or hospital.

Hurricane Sandy has made everyone aware of the importance of good preparedness and immediate rescue in emergency situations. With that in mind, I wanted to share a few tips that you could use in times of an emergency.

Hands-Only CPR. In times of an emergency or a disaster, it is likely that people around you may go into shock. This could happen for a number of reasons but the result is that a person may experience low blood pressure, a rapid heartbeat, or poor diffusion which means organ’s aren’t getting the appropriate blood and oxygen levels. These issues can lead to death. One serious cause of shock might be due to hypothermia. With many people still out of heat, coupled with another storm coming, it’s entirely possible that you come across someone in need of CPR.

We watched this video (below) at our refresher and it is a great lesson on hands-only CPR. You can do this without being certified in emergency healthcare and it could make all the difference in a life or death situation. As for the video itself, please disregard the emergency number in the video as this was created for the British Heart Association.

 

Have a Plan: In Ski Patrol, we train and plan for a variety of scenarios that are both likely and unlikely to occur. The likely scenarios are things like broken legs or head injuries. The unlikely scenarios are things like an entire chairlift collapsing. In either case, we have a plan and set of tools we can use to handle any situation.

In times of an emergency, it is important to stay organized and have a plan. Hurricane Sandy caught everyone off guard and many were ill-prepared. In 2001 my family was also caught off guard when an F2 tornado hit our house in New Jersey.

Just like the fire-escape route in your office building, your family should have a defined plan of action in the event of an emergency.

Have the Tools: I think we all now understand the importance of preparation so some things to consider include: food and water supplies, clothing for extreme weather conditions, medical supplies like bandages and medicine, tools like knives and shovels, and gas and fuel.

Below is an actual list of items that a Sandy victim is in need of. Might you need these things too in case of another emergency?

  • – work gloves to pick up your sewage soaked stuff
  • – black garbage bags to put them in….
  • – swiss army/leatherman type multi tools
  • – hand sanitizer
  • – plastic grocery bags for use over spackle bucket as toilet. baby wipes and diapers also
  • – paper towels / toilet paper/ zip lock bags all sizes
  • – plastic tarps to lay your good stuff on so it stays off of the wet porch and street while you pack it in your car…
  • – rope to tie down your roof and your hatch back so you can fit more stuff per trip.
  • – rubber boots for cleanup volunteers and the older people wandering the street in their slippers because they will not leave their homes….
  • – propane as people are using their gas grills to keep warm…
  • – flashlights/batteries/head lamps
  • – metal water/paint buckets to boil water on the grill to make cup of soup/canned ready to eat meals (think chef boyardee) especially with pull tops!/tea/hot cocoa/instant coffee also flip top canned fruit!
  • – certified red plastic gas cans… as people are bringing poland spring jugs to the gas station and being turned away .. 2- 1/2 gallon or smaller…. we would love 5 gallon ones too but they are very heavy to carry when full especially if you have to walk a great distance…….. trust me I know!
  • – our “pipe dreams” are for generators and hand trucks but we will work on the small stuff for now…
  • – I know there are more items but these are what WE needed when we were there… clothing and food being brought by local scout troops etc but the above things the stores down there are out of!

So there you have it. Having a basic understanding of life saving skills like CPR, having a plan, and having the right tools can make all the difference in another disastrous situation.

How To Start A Company

This post originally appeared on Forbes.com.

Starting a company is a daunting task and taking the first step sometimes seems impossible. I’ve encountered a number of people with the dilemma of “I know what I want to do but I don’t know how to start.” And rightfully so. Taking an abstract idea from thought to fruition is one of the hardest things to do. It’s why the failure rate of new business endeavors is so high. It’s also why most investors value people and execution of ideas above anything else. Ideas are a dime a dozen, but being able to execute on a vision is an entirely different story.

So how does someone actually start a business? The great thing about starting a business is that it requires creativity. Sure, you need to be creative in formulating the idea, but I think what goes overlooked often is the fact that you need to be even more creative with specifics around how you start the business. It doesn’t really matter what industry you are in. If you can be creative at both developing the idea and launching the business, I think you’ll have greater chances of success.

Here are a 7 examples of how you might consider starting a business.

1. Build a specific solution, for a specific problem, for a specific client. Most doctor’s offices confuse me. Not only do they confuse me, they drive me crazy. When I walk into a doctor’s office today I look over the counter and see endless shelves of manila envelopes. There must be thousands of sloppy, handwritten notes just sitting there unprotected in those color coated manila envelops. Every time I walk in I have the urge to walk up to the doctor and say, “give me $100,000. I’ll build you a digital solution for this mess and you will get lifetime rights to the technology. I’ll get to sell this to other doctors but you will get to use this technology forever.” If you see a specific problem that you think you can address, you might be able to find one client who will fund development. You will give them lifetime rights to the technology and in return, they will pay you and let you resell the solution to others.

2. Sell now, build later. Sometimes the best way to go about starting something is to first understand whether or not it makes sense to start. The best way to do this is to sell or pitch an idea to perspective clients before you even have a working or tangible product. When I was in college, I told the owner of a bar that I wanted to host an event on behalf of my marketing firm. I told him I was going to donate money to the charity I’ve worked with in the past. I told him I was going to bring in my entertainment. I told him I was going to create a marketing campaign. These were all lies. I didn’t have any of these things. I didn’t have a “marketing firm.” Well, he agreed to the event and I built up all the necessary pieces after it was sold through.

3. Go back to school. Do you know how much intellectual capital exists in academic universities? That’s why they are called academic institutions. They are pillars of knowledge and these pillars often facilitate cutting edge research. But sometimes these new technologies are never designed with the goal of commercialization in mind. When I was in school, I had a professor working on technology that could literally change the world. He had no interest in bringing this technology to market. He only cared about being published in some research paper. When I asked if I could take the technology to market, he was ecstatic. I expect there are others out there that have great innovations but have no interest in building a business with them. But maybe you do. Physically going back to school to explore these opportunities could potentially lead to the start of a new endeavor. It could be a school visit. It could be a school enrollment.

4. Combine and conquer. Sometimes two heads are simply better than one. It’s tough work staying motivated or even getting motivated in the first place to create a business. When you team up with someone and bring on a partner, you might find that a little bit of motivation and encouragement are enough to move the needle in terms of execution. Having a partner might also free up some burdens so you can focus on more pressing issues. And just having concerted dialog with someone else, who has the same directional goals, could also be that missing factor needed to start a new business.

5. Take money, make money. There are certain companies and industries that require a large capital investment to get started. For example, it would be nearly impossible to build an alternative energy company without some form of initial capital investment. These funds would most likely go towards research and development or manufacturing. In some cases, you may need to just go out and ask people for money in order to fund the development of the first iteration of your product or technology. But maybe you aren’t building an energy company and maybe a quick infusion of $5,000 to $10,000 from friends and family might be enough to kick start your company.

6. Leverage a distressed asset. People make great livings flipping houses (or used to anyway). They buy cheap and sell high. Many times people will buy cheap, fix up the house and bit, and than sell high. This is no different with businesses. There are plenty of distressed assets and companies out there that would love to be acquired for peanuts even though there is still huge potential and room for growth.

7. Don’t be glamorous. I heard a story once of a guy who sold hot dogs for a living. He made about $800k a year selling hot dogs and did so by setting up two hot dog stands at the entrances and exits of Home Depot stores. Not exactly an exciting job but it definitely pays the bills. There are probably a dozen other ways you can turn a low level job into a meaningful, high income producing business.

I’m sure this list can go on for quite a while, but what methods of launching a business have you seen?

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What is LinkedIn – A Guide To The Digital Rolodex

Image representing LinkedIn as depicted in Cru...
Image via CrunchBase

Most of my friends are either in the work world or are in the process of finishing up some form of school and the following question has come up numerous times – What is LinkedIn?

I’m not saying I know what LinkedIn is, what their vision is, what their roadmap looks like, or what they want to be when they grow up but I do know how I use it and that is what I’ve been sharing with those that ask me, “what is LinkedIn?”

I think it’s as simple as this.

1. LinkedIn is the new roladex.

When you meet someone in a business setting, you typically exchange business cards. But its very likely that in 2 years that business card is obsolete. With LinkedIn, you can see where people move on to. You can follow their career.

2. Sales Prospecting

Trying to find a new client you want to sell something to? All you have to do is search for the position and the company of the person you are trying to contact and you’ll get a hit list of folks that could be a good fit for your sale. You will almost certainly find the person you are looking for or you’ll find someone relatively close.

3. Recruiting

When you are looking to hire someone to your company you often base your search on a certain skill set you need (e.g. position, title or education) a certain perspective (e.g. industry or company), or a certain degree of loyalty (e.g. avg 3 yrs+ at each company). There could be more attributes you evaluate when hiring but the point here is that most of those attributes can be found in someone’s LinkedIn profile page.

4. Background Checks

When going into a meeting, it’s often helpful to know a thing or two about the person you are going to meet with. LinkedIn is a very good resource in this department considering most people have their schools, past work experience, organizations, awards, groups, and even blog posts all listed in their profile.

5. Introductions

There could be a million and one reasons why you would want to meet with someone in a business setting and LinkeIn prides itself an helping people access the social networks of others.

In summary, I think LinkedIn is nothing more than the new Rolodex but when you consider how dynamic this new rolodex really is, you quickly see how powerful this service can be. Furthermore, their recent acquisition of CardMunch further validates how serious they are about helping you organize your business cards and your business contacts.

In the future, I’d like to see LinkeIn develop strong partnerships and integrations with all of the CRM providers for sales pipelines and account management. For all of you that use Salesforce or equivalent CRMs, I’m sure you get very frustrated having to enter contact information of people you already have in your LinkedIn network. This could be a huge win for LinkedIn but for now, it’s still super helpful for the 4 points above…at least for me anyway.

How do you use LinkedIn?

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HOW TO: Use twitter to help your organization

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...
Image via CrunchBase

People have recently asked me:

“How can I use Twitter to help my organization? I know I need to be on there, but how do I use it? What do I do?”

Answer (3-parts):

  1. Define your organization’s objective
  2. Establish your voice
  3. Build an audience

DEFINE YOUR ORGANIZATION’S OBJECTIVE:

Before you do anything, you first need to define what it is exactly you are trying to accomplish. Are you selling something? A product or service? Are you recruiting or building a team? Are you entertaining for the sake of amusement? Are you informing and educating on a specific topic? Is it a mix or variation of the previously mentioned?

Once you figure out what your ultimate goal is, you can than establish a voice within twitter (or any social networking or media property for that matter) in order to communicate your goals.

ESTABLISH YOUR VOICE:

Now that you have figured out what you want to convey, you need to figure out how you will say it. People use twitter in many different ways, but 3 key examples are:

1. The “What I’m Doing” Method (Real and Random Examples):

  • Tonight…I am going to hit the treadmill. YIKES.
  • Taking a fun, random drive on a warm spring evening.
  • Just had the world famous Bongo Burger Aka Persian Burger. Ohhh yeaaah!
  • Eating with @—– at pf changs
  • At meeting, Fed to weigh options to revive economy (AP) http://cli.gs/PVX3HG #Finance

Unless I personally know who you are, I’m probably going to unfollow you if you tell the world Tonight…I am going to hit the treadmill. YIKES.” I mean, I really could care less if you are going to work off that cheeseburger you just ate for dinner. However, if you for example are someone big in the finance community and tell me “At meeting, Fed to weigh options to revive economy (AP) http://cli.gs/PVX3HG #Finance”, than I probably do care a bit about what you are doing.

Point is, when being personal and communicating in the first person, make sure what you are saying coincides with your goal as an organization.

2. The “Check This Out” Method (Real and Random Examples):

Look at the Twitter name. Look at the update. Very purposeful, very informative, and most importantly, the message ties back to the goal of that organization.

3. The “Conversation” Method (Real and Random Examples):

If I’m going to consider your organization legitimate and beneficial, I’d like to see that you are involved with some other people or organizations that are influential in your space. Demonstrate that you are engaged in your own community or niche market. This method, in conjunction with other twittering tactics, is how you are going to build an audience.

BUILD AN AUDIENCE

Now that you’ve identified what you want to say and how you are going to say it, you need to get together a group of people that will listen to you and hopefully pass along whatever it is you may be saying. You need followers.

If you are starting from ground zero and no followers on twitter:

  1. Head over to Summize.com or http://search.twitter.com/ (same thing).
  2. Type in some keywords that coincide with your organization’s objectives.
  3. Follow the people that are speaking your language and talking about the things you will be talking about. Reach out to them and tell them about your organization.

If you already happen to be on Facebook and want to leverage your existing FB network:

  1. Log in to Facebook and download the Facebook- Twitter application: http://apps.facebook.com/twitter/
  2. Now everyone in your Facebook network will get your Twitter updates.

At the end of the day the best way to learn anything is simply by doing, so if you are looking to create value from Twitter, just head over to to www.twitter.com, create an account, and dive right in.

Some tools that I use to help with Twitter:

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HOW TO: Streaming on demand music in your car

The Pandora app rocks...will the Masses use it...
Image by K. Todd Storch via Flickr

Forget pricey satellite radio, the crappy commercial filled FM radio, massive amounts of CDs, or your stale and unupdated iPod…

Here is how you can get free on demand music in your car:

  1. Take out your phone and download the mobile version of Pandora or Slacker radio (they are both free)
  2. Buy a cassette adapter for CDs or MP3 players
  3. Buy a car charger for your phone
  4. Connect the car charger and the cassette adapter to your phone
  5. Go to your Pandora or Slacker application and press play

Hands-free Bonus Feature:  When people call you just put them on speaker phone. Your friends will sound like radio jockeys.

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