The Multi-Tool of Tools for Startups. (Let’s hope I don’t get in trouble for copyright infringement.)
Okay, you already know starting and running a business is tough. When it comes to what kept myself and my co-founders up at night (many nights) included specifically sales and product development. That makes sense, though, as a technology startup. However, there are obviously many other parts of running a company like the boring administrative tasks, office, etc.
Luckily, there are a number of tools available to companies of all sizes to help handle things like marketing, setting up the business, and to even virtual team meetings. So what were some of the cool tools we used that helped us get set up quick?

Information Technology – the core of our business, right?

  • Ruby on Rails (RoR). This programming language was easy to learn and get set-up quickly. Further, there’s a highly collaborative community behind RoR wanting to help.

  • Heroku/ Amazon Web Services (AWS). Bundled with RoR (to my non-programming knowledge) is Heroku, a backend easily integrated with RoR that helps you set up your Production and Staging servers. Brilliant move so you don’t push broken code live willy nilly.
  • GitHub. Version control. Need I say more?
  • Pivotal Tracker (PT). This was used for tracking tasks and assignments. We largely used PT for development-related tasks/ projects, rather than business assignments. This was great, but you have to really be diligent in working and closing Stories (mini-projects within the larger Project), else it’ll just keep growing and getting out of hand.
  • New Relic.New Relic was our performance dashboard for our server. Was great to quickly see where our bottlenecks were, and be alerted when the server went down. Oh, and it’s bundled with Heroku!
  • SendGrid. Gave us the ability to automate sending emails including sign-up emails, invites to join a team, forgot password, etc. This, too, was bundled with Heroku. You can upgrade and downgrade as needed.
  • Google Analytics. Pretty much the defacto tool for any web business these days to track your web traffic. It does an okay job of tracking, but there are certainly other tools out there that can give you a little more power and insight. But Analytics is free. (Win.)
  • TestFlight. Apple is very stringent on what apps pass through their App Store. Add that to your basic needs to test your product anyways, TestFlight allows you to distribute your iOS app to other devices without needed to push direct or through the App Store.
  • Mockingbird. Our preferred choice for wireframes. I liked using PowerPoint originally, and I’ve used Balsamiq, but Mockingbird was the preferred solution of the team.

Marketing

  • Tumblr. Used Tumblr for blogging. Andrew did a great job re-skinning the blog to match Body Boss’ theme. I, personally, use Google’s Blogger. Both are fine, but I think, actually, WordPress offers more customization. I’m already on the Blogger platform, though, with lots of posts, so I won’t be changing anytime soon. Hopefully, Blogger catches up in themes and customization.

  • MailChimp. MailChimp is an awesome, easy-to-use newsletter tool based here in ATL! Simple to import and export lists of subscribers and design your newsletters. The costs are very reasonable, but if you’re a startup, you likely won’t have that many people to distribute to for a while (read: it’ll be free for a while).

  • Social media. Pick one. We learned that Body Boss’s audience wasn’t really on Facebook or LinkedIn, but a few were on Twitter. It was obvious that social media wasn’t going to be the best to reach all coaches, but those who were on the platforms were probably more open to technology than otherwise.

Sales

  • Pipedrive. Okay, this is one tool that we actually didn’t use. However, I saw this later, and saw it was a really slick tool to help manage the sales pipeline. By the time I saw it, Body Boss was becoming a zombie, so I didn’t try it out. However, I did refer a few people to it, and they’ve loved it.
  • Excel. Yup. Body Boss was in the business of killing spreadsheets within the workout tracking setting, but when it came to sales, I used Excel to track my leads, who signed up, and then manually performed drip marketing and Tips & Tricks emails post-sign-up. Not sexy, but when you’re bootstrapped, you make it work.

Misc

  • Google Hangouts. We didn’t always meet in-person. We didn’t have an office, and if we did meet, it’d likely be at a local Starbucks. So when it came down to regrouping as a team, Google Hangouts let all of us in on the call at one time with also the webcam functionality. That was great just to break out the monotony and put on funny Google Effects like beards, glasses, and cat faces.
  • Gmail. I mean… do I need to say anything here? It’s just too easy to use, and it’s just powerful with features including the calendar, Gchat, Google docs… yeah. One trick you should know that helps if you’re testing things: if you add a “+” at the end of your email username but before the “@gmail.com”, you almost have “infinite” aliases. So daryl@bodybossfitness.com, daryl+boss@bodybossfitness.com, daryl+ninja@bodybossfitness.com are all aliases and go to daryl@bodybossfitness.com. If you didn’t know, though, Gmail for businesses now costs money for everyone ($5 per person per month).
  • Starbucks. Not really a tool, but it’s nice to have a place to work from outside of home. There are coworking spaces popping up everywhere, but some are hard to get to or cost $$. With Starbucks, you get some ambient noise (sometimes too much for phone meetings), people watching, and the occasional entrepreneur next to you who you can confide in.
  • Vistaprint. You’re probably well aware of Vistaprint, and you might think they’re great for business cards… they’re okay. Instead, they’re great for rack cards – one-pagers to hand out and leave behind. Great color and quality.

  • Moo.com. THE SICKEST business cards. I’ve gotten business cards from Moo.com for Body Boss (two types) and for Beachscape.com before. Each card has impressed anyone I’ve given it to.
  • Swaghound.com. When it comes to swag, we were often told we had the best swag around at conferences – we gave whistles. We would run into coaches months after the conferences, and they’d have the whistle on their lanyards or on the key chains. Also, the conference show organizers would take a couple, and would use the whistles to grab the attentions of large crowds – free marketing not just for the whistles, but to stop by our booth.
  • Team shirts. No, that’s not really a tool, but I think it was good to have – you can find plenty of shirt designers out there on the web. I would wear my Body Boss shirt with our Trademark “What gets measured gets improved” with our website, and people would ask me about Body Boss. I would have trainers, coaches, players, etc. just walk up and ask me about the company. Pretty cool. I started purposefully wearing the shirt everywhere, too, as a sign of pride.
  • LegalZoom. Not really sure all the different steps to set up a company, but that’s why we used LegalZoom. We ended incorporating in Delaware, as a foreign entity in Georgia. I learned that it’s a bit more paperwork, and I don’t think you get many benefits from this set-up unless you get real big. If I were to do it over, I would incorporate in Georgia (small biz friendly!), and then move later if we get big enough.
  • USPTO. For our Trademarks (we have two), doing it straight on the USPTO website was easy. It’s really not that daunting that you would need to file with a lawyer or LegalZoom for most cases. Heck, if you need help, tweet me, and I’ll help. For patents, that’s a bit more complicated so I’d defer to my patent attorney bud Jay.

This is a Daryl Lu original brought to you by Microsoft PowerPoint. No judging. Work with what you’ve got!
I’ve been posting all these Quotes of the Week on Facebook, Twitter, etc. that are meant to be inspirational. Many of those as well as the blogs I’ve been reading have been about motivating/ inspiring those to quit their jobs in favor of ones that fit their passions. Or at least, pursue a future where you can be happy both professionally and personally – fits your values. UGA alum and recent TEDx’er Barrett Brookssays to pursue that job you say “TGIM” – Thank God It’s Monday, rather than Friday (TGIF). I like that idea, though, I’d suggest having that feeling everyday.
So, after all these ghostly voices telling you to pursue something greater, you’re ready to take the leap, right? No? Why not? Everyone’s telling you to. C’mon… Heck, I have a friend who just informed her grad school she’s dropping out to pursue her passion in singing. Ready? Set? GO!
Okay, okay, so let me fill in the gap – where you are, THE GAP, and actively entrenched in your passion. Yes, that GAP where you either are about to leap, in the air of your leap, or just leaped. What should you do?
  • Have a Personal Kumbayah Session. That is, take some time out of your “busy” day to realize who you are. When you’re making a leap either into foreign territory/ on your own, it’s important to do a little introspection so you hone in on what you want to do, who you’re looking to connect with, why you’re doing this, etc. This is also great to figure out if the voices in your head will bring you actual happiness (and all that hoopla) or if you’re actually hearing voices your therapist should know about.
  • Unify Your Marketing Message. I’m actively helping a startup right now whose message is a bit fragmented. As the startup looks to scale, it’s really important to unify the message for investors, customers, users, etc. From your Kumbayah, bring everything together with a succinct message so you can start marketing who you are to the masses and, especially, those who matter.
  • Build Your Brand. In my eyes for entrepreneurs, wannabe singers, dreamers, etc., you should start producing and sharing whatever it is you believe in. I started blogging a couple years ago because I wanted to be a leader in not only companies, but in industries. However, I already had great experiences to share, and shouldn’t need to wait till I was in my 40’s with several gray hairs to be valuable. First of all, I’m 29, and realized that my hair’s already thinning so gray hairs may never come. So start blogging, tweeting, singing on YouTube/ open mics, etc. Start building your brand and an audience. It gives you a “home” to fall back on and share with others, digital or otherwise.
  • Ask for Help or the How-To. I’m a big proponent of networking and reaching out to others and asking for help. I used to be pretty introverted and hated asking for help. However, people WANT to help you. If you’re going to go out and really change course, you’ll likely need help from others – partners, investors, or even potential customers. I’ll reach out to those who have been “there” and those who are where I want to be. You’ll be surprised with how small the world is and maybe find the new, exciting opportunity you’ve been craving for. Go to conferences. Go to meet-ups. Meet people. Volunteer!
  • Put Together a Plan. A lot of the above doesn’t quite lead anywhere if you don’t have some goals to achieve, and that’s why it’s always good to put together a plan with specific goals for what you want to accomplish. When you hit the goals, do a mini celebration, and continue on. Just remember, your plan is living and breathing and much like your journey, will need to adapt and be flexible, but don’t get carried away with delaying for the sake of flexibility.
  • Jump When You’re Ready. Or Not. I love the sink or swim mentality sometimes. When you’re backed into a corner, you have no choice, but to fight to survive. That’s why I love going full-time on a startup. A buddy from college was tired from consulting and booked a one-way ticket to Iceland and a 7-month sabbatical from work. When he returned, he quit the job, and is now pursuing his passion writing, traveling, and speaking — his story here on the Huffington Post.It’s rare you’ll ever be fully “ready”, but you’ll likely be ready enough. Refer to Jeff Bezos’ Regret Minimization Framework.

So what’s the point with all of this? Not everyone is an entrepreneur at heart or is ready for a startup’s demanding schedule and uncertainty (or to be a singer). But if you’ve got that pull to change direction or a great idea you want to explore, there’s certainly a lot of steps you can do to make that gap a little smaller as you decide to take that leap, should you choose to. I like to take calculated risks, so I hope this helps mitigate the size of the GAP for you. Happy leaping!

What other advice would you give to someone facing the Leap? How could someone narrow the Gap and position him/ herself for a successful pivot?
(Source: http://blog.vistage.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/high-potential-employees.jpg)
Have you ever been asked if you’re a “high potential”? How about if you’re an “A-player”? Athletic player?
I was recently sent this article by the CEO of a promising startup in marketing about A-players – “We’ll Trade 100 Employees For One A-Player” by Victor Belfor and Ben Smith. Context: the startup’s on the recruiting hunt for various roles, and the biggest trait they’re looking for beyond things like developer or sales is “A-player”. In the startup/ entrepreneurship world, there goes a saying… “Slow to hire, fast to fire.” There’s a reason for this…
Referencing Jim Collins’ book From Good to Great, Belfor and Smith write that A-players are those who possess the unique combination of humility and will. A-players have the will and drive that not only assures motivation, but enables them with the drive to run through walls, and not just see “no” as a reason for turning back. A-players are proactive. “The buck” stops with them. They may not be the brightest, necessarily, but you better believe that they will execute beautifully, and will have learned the skills and knowledge they didn’t have before.
Sadly (and rightly), you aren’t going to find “A-player” written on resumes. You ask a recruiter to find A-players, and they’ll say, “of course! Yeah, we can find those. Definitely.” However, it’s hard to really “filter” for A-players. Instead, it usually takes connections to find them. Here are some thoughts on A-players that I’ve noticed and found via articles I’ve been reading:
  • A-players can be anywhere and everywhere. They don’t come from Ivy League schools only, nor are Ivy League students all A-players. They aren’t exclusively found in Silicon Valley, Seattle, or otherwise. They surely don’t all drive fancy cars because they make a boatload of money. There could be a higher concentration in the Valley or in top tier schools, but they can be found anywhere. They can be young like 16-year-old Kelvin Doe of Sierra Leone who built a battery out of acid, soda, and metal scraps to help power the homes of his neighbors. (See article here.)
  • Connections know the A-players. Like I said before, A-players aren’t going to have “A-player” written on their resumes and CV’s. It’s difficult to really showcase that quality on paper. However, those who know A-players know why they’re A-players. Given a task, those guys (gals) hit it out of the park. Connections know the subtle cues of hardwork, execution, and humility that comes from knowing that A-player rather than reading about that person on a piece of paper.
  • A stands for Athletic. My former boss used to look for A-players, too, though, not necessarily using that term. Instead, he used the term “athletic”. That is, when we recruited at my previous company, we looked for those consultantswho could move from project to project, industry to industry, or business to business, and be able to pick things up quickly and unfazed. We looked for the kind of people who were “adaptable” and could pass the airport test.
  • A-players yearn for challenges. A-players aren’t motivated just for money. In fact, Zappos offered $2,000 for anyone to quit; the company believed A-players would rebuke the offer and stick around. Instead, they’re motivated by the challenges and the opportunities. They want to be in the room surrounded by more A-players. If you aren’t challenging this person mentally, socially, etc., you’ll bore them, and they’ll seek new challenges.
  • A-players have options. It’s rare that an A-player doesn’t have an alternative. Through connections, A-players probably have a host of opportunities, and it’s just figuring out which opportunities to pursue. Thinking that they don’t have options or worry about that person leaving is… silly. If you want them, why wouldn’t they be wanted by others? Treat them well to keep them!
  • A-players have the will to win. A former consulting Partner told me about how he hated getting flat “no’s” from clients and consultants during implementations. It wasn’t so much the rejection as much as it was that most times, people saw obstacles, and found reason to turn around. There was no thought or creativity for a solution. When asked a question, it was a “no, I can’t help with that”. A-players would say, “I don’t know that, but I’ll find out or find someone who does know, and get back to you.”

Richard Branson once said, “Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to.” In general, he’s talking about employee satisfaction, but it’s very applicable to A-players. You want to attract A-players with challenges and opportunities. To keep them, you have to continue challenging them while continually building the momentum with culture (environment full of A-players, vertical job loading, etc.).
What are your thoughts on A-players? How do you view the importance of A-players in a startup? How about in a large corporation?

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(Source: http://static.neatorama.com/images/2005-11/ninja-cat.jpg)
I just received a great article on A-Players, but I’m going to save it for next time. Instead, for this week, I’m going to continue last post’s rather unorthodox post with this Monday’s rather… unusual situation and what equally unusual relations I could draw from/ with entrepreneurship.
That is, I was attacked by a massive, never-before-seen pterodactyl! I’d show you, but it vanished as quickly as it attacked me in true guerrilla warfare. Okay, I wasn’t attacked by some flying dinosaur, but instead, I was ambushed by a seemingly domesticated cat. Yes, laugh it up.

However, there are some interesting nuggets that can be learned here that, like I said, I’d like to share with you that can be ported to entrepreneurship. Ready to see what weird parallels I’m talking about? Let’s see…
  1. Expect the unexpected. You’d never imagine getting clawed in the face by a cat, and emerge as if you got in a fight with Wolverine or an actual animal wolverine. I got a sense I was probably sitting in the wrong place as the cat soon became very territorial, and yet, I lingered. In a startup, if you have that gut feeling something’s wrong, don’t sit idly by and get your face scratched up.
  2. Don’t panic! Time for damage limitation. Once I knew I was bleeding a healthy amount, it was straight to the bathroom with Neosporin and cleaning wipes. It’s inevitable you’re going to run into troubles in your startup. What doesn’t help is rushing to fix a problem only to break something else. I remember once with Body Boss, we implemented “polling” in one of the apps – continuously hit the server with requests. It ended up crippling our server. We had to spend all night limiting the damage, while also putting in safeguards to mitigate against this type of event in the future.
  3. Be prepared with a First Aid kit. Goes hand-in-hand with the above about damage limitation. That is, be prepared with some plan to rectify problems. From many traps we stepped in at Body Boss (you’ll step in them, too!), we learned, for example, the importance of tracking more user engagement data while also building in stop-gates should certain apps or code have detrimental effects to our application. Our developers built in many other tests that automatically ran when we pushed new code greatly mitigating our exposure.
  4. Not all cats are going to get it. Domesticated animals are still animals. Some prospects aren’t really prospects. You may think they’re prospects, and you may get them to try out your product or service, but even so, you’ll find that some just aren’t going to change the way they do things to embrace your idea. Even if it’s a great idea… sometimes, natural instincts just kick in, and you have to be aware of that.
  5. What’s done is done. Learn and tell a great story. We can’t change the past. If we could, I wouldn’t be sitting here with streaks of wounds on my face. In a startup, whether you lose a great partner or sale or the whole ship goes down sinking, you can’t change the past. What you CAN do is learn from the mistakes and use that as a catapult to tell a great story and move on. I’ve already had some great conversations from the cat attack.
In essence, life goes on. With the ninja cat attack, I’ll need to monitor the scratches so that I can still live the dream of a career in modeling. Otherwise, I may just fancy hand modeling. (Yes, I’m completely joking.)
In startups, and in life in general, crap is going to happen. Sometimes you have the sixth sense, sometimes you don’t. However, be prepared to handle the situation, and if something does happen where badgers run rampant in your office, deal with it, laugh about it, and move on. Speaking of which, a great perk about being an entrepreneur is setting somewhat your own schedule so I don’t have to sit in an office and get awkward stares.
What are your thoughts about dealing with the unexpected? How have you dealt with a “cat attack” in your office?