Extracurriculum Pt. 2

Insipired by Dorothy’s recent blog post, I though it was time for a post wedding review of side / personal projects I’m working on:

1. Read more books – I’ve decided I need to start reading more books and not limit my reading to internet/blogs. I recently bought a Kindle Paperwhite, which is amazing. No cumbersome books to lug around and now I can change the text size to fit my reading preferences.

2. Learning to Code Pt. 3 – This week, I start my 3rd session of learning Ruby on Rails. This time, I’m taking a different approach that I think will help me learn more effectively. I’ve got a group of friends together and each week on Tuesday nights, we’re going to go through a chapter of Michael Hartl’s Ruby on Rails Tutorial.

3. Meditate - One of the things that became extremely transparent during my last vacation is how stress effects my body. I believe meditation (or exercise) may be the keys to managing this stress.


That’s the list for now, more to come in next year’s new years resolution post.

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The proper way to ask for introductions

Over the last few years, I’ve requested and taken a ton of introductions & meetings. I’ve made a lot of mistakes and seen a lot of mistakes being made – Here are some tips I’ve picked up from various people and blogs along the way.

1. Do your research, don’t be lazy

Before you even request an introduction – make sure you’ve done your research. If you’re raising money for your mobile startup, don’t ask for introductions to any and all investors. Research the ones that are interested in mobile startups and then request introductions to those investors.

Also, read David Cohen’s blog post “Asking for Introductions“. The lazy way to ask for introductions puts the work of making connections on the person doing you the favor.

2. Double opt-in introductions

Double opt-in introductions means you ask both parties for permission to introduce them to the other. (Read Fred Wilson’s post about this subject: http://www.avc.com/a_vc/2009/11/the-double-optin-introduction.html) Being introduced to someone without consent puts everyone in an awkward and uncomfortable situation. The person who didn’t give consent will be annoyed and the person being introduced is automatically viewed in a more negative light.

3. Get the right person to make the introduction

I often run into people who are desperate to be viewed as “connectors.” Its easy to spot these people – they’re constantly dropping names and constantly offering to introduce you various people. You’re better off not getting an introduction than having these people be your first contact with a potential business partner/investor, etc. Its the equivalent of all the men/women your aunt keeps introducing you to – these suitors are always immediately viewed with a skeptical eye.

4. Be accommodating

If you’re the one asking for the meeting, be accommodating. This might seem obvious, but people fail this one all the time. “Hey ___, I’d love to get your feedback on my new startup – can you stop by my office in Harlem at 8am – thanks!”

5. Give opportunities to back out

When asking for a meeting, give people a graceful way to say no. For example: “Hey __, I know you’ve been busy with your product redesign, but do you have some time this week to chat about my new startup? If you’re swamped and this week isn’t good for you, I can ping you in a month or so when things cool down”. People have a hard time saying no. If they begrudgingly meet with you, its not likely they’ll be very helpful or be super excited to help you.

6. Don’t be deceptive 

A few months ago, I turned down a meeting with someone looking for product feedback. Later that month, he  emailed me saying that he had a potential client opportunity he wanted to discuss.  When we met, it turned out there was no potential client opportunity – he just wanted to talk about his product and get feedback. I’m not sure what he was expecting, but I was annoyed – and not very helpful. Be clear about your intentions when asking for meetings.

 

I’m sure i’m missing a few things, but the points above have been top of mind lately. Watch David Tisch and his Basics talk, it includes everything you need to know.

david tisch’s basics

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Onboarding new employees properly saves time and money

I recently had conversation with a classmate of mine about onboarding new employees that made me realize that not everyone follows the same steps. In fact, this is one area where I think bigger companies do a much better jobs than the typically startup. Most onboarding processes stop at equipment, HR and the first day. Institutionalizing a process that extends deep into an employees tenure is the proper way to do it.

Why is this necessary? A properly onboarded employee can be effective much sooner and reduce the time and stress from other employees. It saves time, money and headache to setup a proper process and stick to it.

Here’s my process:

1. Trigger onboarding process - Once an employee is hired, it triggers a predetermined onboarding process. I’ve setup email groups for larger organizations, but typically its 3-4 employees that have a specific set of responsibilities they need to execute. For example: HR/Admin (Add employee to payroll, setup benefits, get legal documents signed), Tech (Purchase equipment, setup email, assign usernames/passwords), Hiring manager (setup training plan and schedule, role specific tasks). Setting up an established process with roles eliminates any question of responsibilities and makes for a smooth process.

2. Introduce the new employee - No matter how small the company, a new employee should always be introduced to the entire company via email then in person. The purpose of sending an introduction email is twofold. First, it is the one opportunity to clearly  communicate the new persons roles and responsibilities. Too often new people join a company and you find employees asking, who’s that – or unsure about the role he/she plays within the company. Second, the email serves as a great way to give the team a detailed background on who is joining the team (experience, accolades, skills). When the employee arrives for his/her first week, make sure he/she gets a chance to meet all employees (if the company size permits). Third, sending this email will make the new employee feel more welcome and make your current employees feel good that a great new employee is joining the company.

3. Kickoff meetings – Upon arrival, the first meeting I have is a detail history of the company’s history. I’ve found that going over the history of the company is super helpful because it gives a ton of context into why things (products, processes, dynamics) are the way they are. Next, I review a detailed org chart and go over everyone’s official and unofficial roles and insight into their work styles. I also make sure to explain how each person/department interacts with each other. Explaining this to a new employee significantly cuts down on having them figure it out on their own. 

4. Additional training - The next series of meetings are tedious, but necessary. They include product/service overview, overview of clients, product roadmap, marketing/pr efforts, etc. These should be predetermined and standardized for each company. In the following weeks/months, I try to have the employee spend some time with each department head to learn more about their role/dept and further establish a working rapport.

This is my process – It reduces the time employees spend getting up to speed, which translates to less wasted time for everyone!

 

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Condition One Unveils New Generation Software At CES

I spent last week at CES with Condition One, we announced some exciting news. Straight from the C1 blog:

 

I am writing from Las Vegas in the middle of the Consumer Electronic Show (CES), the biggest tech event of the year, where we are unveiling the next generation of Condition One software.

Here’s a look into the details behind our latest announcement:

• Ultra-HD 2.7K Resolution: The resolution of our new video player is now 5x sharper. We’re now capable of displaying a 2.7K resolution, which is mind blowing on a retina display. You can check out a demo by downloading our showcase app for iPad and iPhone here.

• Live Streaming: We’ve always believed that Condition One has the power to bring people into a video in a unique and powerful way. With the goal of pushing the boundaries of storytelling even further, we have created a real time live-streaming solution to not only bring your audience into the story, but to bring them into the moment as it unfolds.

• Web Player: You asked us to bring the Condition One experience to the web… and we heard you! With Condition One, you can now make immersive videos for the iPad, iPhone, and the web.

• Camera Flexibility: Our clients shoot with many different cameras from the inexpensive, lightweight GoPro Hero 3 to the Hollywood grade RED Epic. We want to empower as many content creators as possible to create immersive videos and now we’re revealing the cameras we use. We’re excited to share that our technology is now compatible with a wide range of high resolution digital cameras including RED cameras, video enabled DSLRs, and GoPros.

The Condition One team is working at maximum velocity to make the Condition One experience even more immersive and powerful. Our new software was inspired by your feedback and we would love to hear what you think about the new features and product upgrades.

If you’re attending CES this week, stop by our booth #75510 located on the 3rd floor of the Venetian. We’d love to give you a demo!

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So you want to work at an early stage startup…

Over the past few months I have had 1-2 people every week asking me how to get started in the startup industry. These people range in age and experience from undergrads to corporate veterans. I thought it would be helpful to write a blog post about most of the points I make during these conversations. I’ve written this post in 3 parts:

1. What early stage startups are really like

2. How to get in

3. A special section for MBAs

Disclaimer – My opinion is just one data point, not absolute truth. I’m writing this from the business side of startups.

Before you get started, this is what an early stage startup is really like

Forget about The Social Network, the perception of what working at a startup has been totally distorted by the mainstream media. Here’s what it’s like.

It’s hard work:

I can’t overstate this enough, it’s really hard work. I mean “hard work” in multiple ways. First, you’ll be working long hours. Unlike some jobs, there’s an unlimited number of things you could be working on and not enough people to work on them. The lack of resources will make you wear multiple hats, usually in disciplines you aren’t comfortable with or have much knowledge in.

Second, the challenges you are working on are extremely difficult. You’re likely building new products/services so you don’t have a blueprint for success. You will go down the wrong path many times only to realize you’ve made a huge mistake. Picking up the pieces, figuring out the next move and continuing on is tough work.

Luck plays a huge part:

A few years ago I attended a panel of 5 CEOs, each with exits greater than $250M. When asked what the biggest factor for their success was, each of them stated that luck played the biggest role. The role of luck is one the least discussed aspects of monetary success in this industry. I would argue that in typical professions Success = 10(Hard work)  X 10(Intelligence) X Luck. For startups, I would argue that the success equation is Success = (Hard Work) X (Intelligence) X 20(Luck). Consider the vastly different outcomes of the 20th employee at Facebook vs. the 20th employee at Friendster.

Forget about the money:

We’re constantly bombarded with the startup success stories. Instagram just got sold for $1B, oh my! - 1,000  millionaries at facebook, crazy! For every success story, there are 100,000 startups struggling to keep the lights on or raise their next round. For early stage startups, it is not unheard of for salaries to be < 50% market rate. In exchange for low pay, startups often offer equity – but keep in mind that the low percentage of success doesn’t give a high expected value from that equity. 2%-10% of $0 is still $0.

Even upon raising money, salaries for non-engineering staff are typically below market rate. Ultimately many people are hoping/praying for a huge payout that will 9,999/10,000 never come. I always make the analogy to Hollywood actors/actresses. Many are allured to acting because they dream of stardom and money, but the reality is that most wont see either. But there are those who have a deep passion for acting so regardless of fame and fortune, would still pursue the industry. Startups are much in the same, if you’re in it for the money there are easier ways.

Get ready for failure:

This one is tough, failure is par for the course in startups. Look at any successful entrepreneur and you will likely see a graveyard of failed endeavors. As I mentioned previously, the odds are low for success and failure is not always your fault. But, constantly “failing” is tough for anybody to experience. The constant ribbing from your corporate friends is tougher to endure than you think. They are steadily making their way up the corporate ladder while you move from one startup to the next. Having your cousin or grandparent ask why you are out of work yet again is not easy. Try explaining to your future mother-in-law that although you just turned 30 you are going to take an unpaid internship (seriously, this did not go well for me).

It’s not that glamorous:

Yes, it is cool to hug your co-worker or have a keg in the office – but for the most part working at an early stage startup is not that glamorous. Typically you’re working out of a shitty office where you have to wash your own dishes and take out the trash. Forget about your own office, expense accounts, good coffee and clean bathrooms.

 

Still interested? Here’s how you get started

Before you proceed, think long and hard if you’re willing to accept the realities above. If you’re ok with them, here’s my advice on how to get started.

Start getting relevant experience, now:

Regardless if you’re still in college or have 20+ years of working experience, start getting relevant startup experience to make the transition. It boggles my mind when someone’s resume is filled with experience as a financial advisor and applies for a startup marketing position. There’s very little chance that a founder with very few resources is going to hire you with little to no relevant experience. Whenever I mention this to people, the most common response is – “But Andrew, how do I get any experience if I don’t have any experience.”

Get it any way you can. Lets say you’re interested in startup marketing. Ask your friend who works at a startup if you can put together a social media strategy for her. Ask your buddy who has a “startup” idea if you can write a marketing plan for him. See if an industry group like the NY Tech Meetup can use extra volunteers to get the word out about their next event. Be resourceful and clever, but start getting experience. Now your resume looks more attractive when you finally apply for a full-time position:

Before:

John Doe

Experience:

Financial Advisor – Morgan Stanley (2009-2012)

After:

John Doe

Experience:

Marketing Volunteer for NYTM (2011-2012)

Marketing Consultant for Condition One (2012)

Financial Advisor – Morgan Stanley (2009-2012)

The second one looks much better and at least warrants an interview instead of an immediate toss. When I’m looking through resumes, I don’t take more than 20 seconds in my initial pass – if nothing catches my eye, I’m going to pass.

Just attending events or reading blogs isn’t going to cut it:

This is probably the biggest mistake I see people making when trying to “break in” to the startup world. People think that by attending every startup panel/party or reading Fred Wilson’s blog they are making their way into the startup world. I understand where this could be deceiving; attending events and reading blogs are easy things to do, should be done and makes you feel well-informed. But if you want to work at a startup, you’ve got to meet the right people at these events, setup follow up meetings, offer to help, etc.

My advice is to target select number of events that make sense for you, then spend the rest of your free time with your head down getting the relevant experience mentioned before. Judge which events have the type of people you’re interested in connecting with or can help you on your quest. Always keep in mind, the successful founders you want to work with are usually hard at work day and night and not often attending each and every event.

On another note, people always ask what blogs to read – I’ve setup this special link to answer that question

Be realistic:

If you’re making a career transition, doing it sooner will lessen the pain. The more years you have in another industry the harder it is to transition. You get used to the good money, good title and perks associated with climbing a corporate ladder. Be realistic about what type of position you are pursuing and lower your expectations for your starting point. I was talking to a friend who worked in real estate, with no digital or startup experience, that he’d be willing to accept a senior strategy position at Foursquare…. he was serious.

If you’ve spent 5 years as a financial advisor, you’re not likely going to be head of Business Development at Pinterest. But, you might be able to find a role as a Business Development Associate at an early, unknown startup, take a big pay cut, work your ass off and prove yourself.

It’s going to be hard work:

Breaking into any industry is difficult. Often, after I detail out all the things they can be doing to get into startups, people respond with “that seems like it’s a lot of work.” This is by far one of the most frustrating things for me to hear. No shit it’s hard work, there’s a seemingly unlimited pool of business people interested, but very few coveted positions. So breaking into a hot startup as an early employee on the business side is going to require a ton of work and a little bit of luck.

Check out my friend Luke Hristou (@LukeHri). In November 22, 2011 from his parents house in Salt Lake City he writes a blog post titled My Goal to be a TechStars NYC Associate Day 1.

So here begins my journey, to try to stand out from the crowd, to meet each and every great entrepreneur and mentor involved with TechStars, to learn, to express, to help… and maybe, just maybe with a little luck and a whole lot of hustle end up in New York on March 14, 2012.

He doesn’t stop networking and doing whatever it takes to achieve his goal. Fast forward to March 14, 2012, he’s in NYC as a Tech Stars Associate in NYC. In his first month he seemed to secure meetings with all the major startup people in the city and often left the office way after 2am. Today he’s doing “a little bit of everything” as one of the first employees at bondsy.  This is the type of hustle you’re competing with, so think about Luke the next time you think you’re working hard.

If startups are something you truly want to pursue – it’s going to be a tough road. But there will be plenty of people willing to help you and the end result will be extremely rewarding.

Good luck.

A special section for MBAs

Over the past few years, I’ve seen a tremendously positive shift in how MBA programs have embraced entrepreneurship. As a MBA myself, I how difficult it is to be saddled with tremendous student debt and then choose to pursue a low paying startup job. But for those of you who are interested, here’s some advice.

Relevant experience counts, your degree doesn’t.

I rarely mention my MBA when I give someone a rundown of my experience – for the most part, it just doesn’t matter in this industry. Your fancy degree (undergrad/grad) doesn’t entitle you to any special treatment or consideration. In fact, I think the perception of MBAs in the startup world actually hurts more than it helps. While you were spending 2 years in business school getting an academic education, others were slogging it out in the trenches of a struggling startup. You can guess which experience is more valued.

Spend your 2 years wisely. internships every semester:

Be wise on how you spend your 2 years in business school. Don’t expect to follow the 1-internship-during-the-summer-and-done model of your fellow students. My goal was to do an internship every semester (except fall of 1st semester) in a variety of roles and a variety of startups. My schedule was:

Spring 1st year: Marketing at a mobile startup

Summer: BD at a video startup

Fall 2nd year: Strategy at advertising startup

Spring 2nd year: Generalist at pre-launch startup

As I mentioned before, experience counts. A MBA program gives you two solid years to get a wide variety of experience. Getting active in clubs is nice, but that experience isn’t going to go as far as real internships. If you came into the program with irrelevant experience, you should leave with a ton of experience and hopefully offers.

Roles are not typical:

Along with my advice above to be realistic, understand the various roles at startups. I often hear MBAs saying they want a “strategy” role at a startup. For a 5 person startup, the founders are setting the strategy – there’s no full-time position for a “strategist.” You will have to get your hands dirty and wear multiple hats. If that’s not something you’re comfortable with – think twice about this.

Don’t be a douche:

Fight the negative stereotype of the douchy, entitled MBA. You might be working for someone younger than you, you might be getting paid less than your first job out of undergrad, you might have to work your way back up from the bottom, you might have to take an unpaid internship, you might have to sit in a little desk with no privacy next to the bathroom… so humble yourself – nobody owes you anything because you have $170k in debt and a fancy degree.

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