Delta’s approach at engaging fliers at LaGuardia airport. Source: http://static1.businessinsider.com/image/512b78736bb3f77f7b00000c/laguardias-delta-terminal-is-packed-with-ipads-as-far-as-the-eye-can-see.jpg
Ah, the world is changing so damned fast, and the plethora of technology and startups is sometimes overwhelming. So what gives? How does one really bring in consumers and cultivate the relationship in such a way that they don’t leave? My answer: user engagement/ experience.
If you’ve been reading my blog for every so often, chances are you’d have read me go on about how technology is, in many ways, fragmented. APIs, large platforms, access and ease to program, etc. has lowered the barriers to entry (acquire) and exit (churn). Refer to “Who’s poised to profit in this fragmented, online dating world of startups?” The key for success for today’s entrepreneurs and is almost becoming the minimum/ common denominator is beautiful design and an engaging, easy user experience.
In fact, I actually once wrote how design was a key lever in success in “Winning Combination = Speed + Design + ???”. In retrospect, I should have chosen my words more wisely and had substituted “Design” with “User Experience”. I read a great Fast Company article about this evolution from design to user experience – “Move Over Product Design, UX Is The Future”. The article has several interesting points about this shift and this “[g]lobal competition and technological diffusion” per FastCo.
Here are a few takeaways and nuggets from the article:
  • “today’s product innovations, and the growth they create, are often incremental, narrow, and fleeting”
  • “Global Innovation 1000, R&D spending rose 5.8% last year, yet revenue for those companies increased less than 1%. Global competition and technological diffusion mean that competitors quickly catch up with most improvements, while the transparency of digital and social media also prompts consumers to quickly switch allegiance with each new alluring offer”
  • Go beyond the product or service you’re building/ selling. Instead, focus on the experience and the interaction of the consumer. Uber “fundamentally changed how you order, meet, and pay for a car”
  • Focus on the consumer, but you’ll have to be the one who leads the experience. Henry Ford famously said, “If I asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Consumers tend to focus on the pain and fixing that pain by “lessening it”. They need you to think more creatively and think more broadly. Delta, for example, brought the lounge experience to the gates in LaGuardia and Minneapolis airports. This way, Delta may not be able to speed up traffic controlling at a whole airport, but they can make the whole experience a lot more appealing (*phew!* that was a long bullet)
  • Your company’s culture is viral and spreads outward. “Before an experience will come across as real to the outside world, dozens, hundreds or thousands of employees need to be educated and empowered to deliver the vision”

I change the word from “customer” to “consumer” in many of the above after sitting down recently with MaxMedia. MaxMedia is a consumer engagement company here in Atlanta. They believe that there’s a much, much larger scope of people who “consume” an experience, a brand, an idea who may not actually be “customers”. I tend to then think consumer is the aggregation of both prospects (target and non-target prospects), and customers. MaxMedia has recently announced a new approach (for marketing but for real) called You&Me. The focus is all about – you guessed it – consumer engagement with the brand.

Consumers = Prospects + Customers

Okay, so let me step back and close this baby out…
Technological innovation isn’t enough these days. It gets you out the door, but by and large, the market catches up, and you’re struggling to hold onto those precious consumers. UX is key to bringing in consumers as well as preventing them from leaving. UX can be the difference between why I switched from Pandora to Spotify. UX is the masterstroke that enabled Airbnb to grow so fast, and made renting someone’s home for a more local experience rather than focus on price. Uber stepped back and reimagined the whole experience of ordering a car, and now, it’s so easy and fun to call your “own personal” black car service. The tech behind it all is cool, sure, but to us as consumers, it’s all just fun and opens our world to much greater.
What are your thoughts on the criticality of user experience in business/ startups? How do you see the interplay between the underlying technologies and user experience in gaining new consumers and keeping existing?

Pages and Pages of Apps – but which did I pay for? (You win if you answer, “None”.)
I’ve been reading a lot of articles and talking to a few entrepreneurs lately, and the themes are very similar – today’s tech businesses are rarely successful… only the platforms win in the long-run. That is, platforms like Salesforce, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, SAP, etc. This isn’t contrary to what “Who’s poised to profit in this fragmented, online dating world of startups?” back from March.
TechCrunch posted yesterday “The Majority Of Today’s App Businesses Are Not Sustainable”. In it, the article talks about:
  • 50% of iOS developers operate at $500 per month (per app). That’s 64% for Android developers
  • 1.6% of developers make more than $500K per month

There’s obviously a lot more in the article. It’s interesting, though, because you have to wonder how many of these apps they deem as “Have Nothings” or otherwise are not revenues from the app store itself (vis-à-vis selling the app), but instead, on a subscription model or otherwise on the backend not necessarily privy to TechCrunch’s article.
You can see the large disparities of the app revenues between iOS and Android
Further, the article does address how many apps are potentially hobbies for developers or even first-time apps letting developers practice and get their feet wet. From this standpoint, it’s also easier to see why in the article, monetarily, iOS dominates as a percentage. Pushing out MVPs or ideas on Android is simple and easy. iOS apps require a heck of a lot more curation before being published on the iTunes store. There are guidelines around styles (what kind of font, where to place buttons, etc.) in addition to things like having a Dun & Bradstreet Number that must be provided and adhered to before publishing on iTunes.
Then again, iOS buyers tend to be higher earners anyways. So… there’s that, too.

What’s your exit strategy?

TechCrunch goes on to talk about how most startups these days are really looking to be acquired rather than build sustained businesses. I can see that, too. Everyone’s always talking about liquidity events. “What’s your exit strategy?” is one of the most common questions you’ll get asked as an entrepreneur. Afterall, investors are looking for returns on their funds, not necessarily to “change the world” as so many say they want to.
What are your thoughts on the success on the app stores? How would you describe the disparities between the litany of apps for success and otherwise?
(Source: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-AXHA7x-C7hU/UfafILrYVuI/AAAAAAABeQg/wsuaHqzoELs/s1600/team+up1.jpg)
Finding the right co-founders and team members for a startup is critical. Not everyone out there is going to be a great fit even with the right technical or soft skills. The driving force of a startup is sometimes set both more implicitly and explicitly through its culture. Culture can be subtly enacted through actions, but also purposefully written in the company’s mission and values.
In my eyes and experience, building a successful team can mean augmenting yourself with others who may not see straight eye-to-eye, but that’s a good thing. If you have only agreements and “yes men”, then you may not ever venture out of your comfort zone for something more innovative.
However, finding the right team is tough. I was talking to an Atlanta entrepreneur who dives in and out of startups based largely on the capacity and tolerance for stress. After a startup, he’d jump off and go straight into development and consulting for firms like ad agencies. Then, he’ll grow weary of the rat race, and come up with an idea to then build. He was remarking about the traps he sees oftentimes where co-founders find each other after meeting each other once or twice, and then they struggle to make it work down the line wondering what happened. When he asked co-founders, they tended to have differing philosophies on how to grow the business. Of course, it’s hard to find out if your philosophies or personalities jibe well after only brief instances of meeting.
A psychologist by the name of Lara Honos-Webb wrote about romantic relationships and “Should You Stay or Should You Go?” by positing the 3 layers of people that can gauge the ability of couples to mesh. In startups and entrepreneurship, you’ve likely heard how co-founders are analogous to romantic couples, and even startups as a child given the level of attention and passion required to cultivate the startup to success. Heck, there’s even a “Founder Dating” site (www.founderdating.com)! Kinda makes sense to keep the theme going and share Webb’s view on the 3 layers and think about them from co-founders’ positions.
  • Superficial Side – In dating, this is the person’s overt personality and even physical appearance/ attractiveness. In startups, it’s still based on personalities, and should be less on attractiveness.
  • Daily Dose – In dating, this is the day-to-day and habitual behavior. In startups, this could be how one handles workflow or in some respects, communication.
  • Core Essence – In dating, this layer is what truly drives the person. This is the undercurrent of a person’s values that really drives the upper layers. In startups, this could be some of the risk tolerances and factors, the underlying reason/ passion for a startup, etc.

It’s my contention that much like in relationships, co-founders should have the same/ similar motivations down to the Core Essence layer. You want to know that the co-founder you’re thinking about partnering with is aligned with your values and how you want to build a business. The higher layers are important, but can be different and offer various perspectives as well as provide opportunities to continually push and play Devil’s advocate.
There’s yet another analogy of a startup but with horse racing – bet on the race (industry/ market), the horse (idea/ product/ service), or the jockey (team). I’ve always bet on the jockey, and find that the reason most startups fail (and maybe pivot) or succeed is down to the team. All the more reason why finding the right co-founders similar core essences.

What are your thoughts of co-founders and the startup team? How do you find the right co-founders today?
Just a brainstorming session with Don Pottinger (pictured) and Darren Pottinger on a Saturday morning. Typical.
Yes, when I want to get in a good “innovating” and brainstorming mood/ session, I need to isolate myself from the rest of the world. I like to disconnect, in a sense, and lock myself in an environment where I can let it all out.
Okay, so the reference to a padded room is actually more or less the sound-absorbing padding of room 201 at my former business school. I continue to go there even on the weekends to get away from my house where I’d otherwise develop cabin fever and the local Starbucks where standing up, pacing, and toting a giant whiteboard would be cumbersome.
Brainstorming to me is one of the most fun processes that helps me not only keep my thoughts at bay (to help me sleep at night), but a way for me to continue to brainstorm and innovate ways to improve life. People have all sorts of ways to brainstorm, but this is my blog, so I’ll share how I typically work. And it’s through these sessions where some of my greatest work is done, and where I hope I find my next nugget of entrepreneurial magic.
  • Isolation Mode. Siddhārtha Gautama and Ralph Waldo Emerson saw fit to disappear from the world to find enlightenment. Me? I like to go to spaces with large rooms where I can lay down, pace back and forth, dance (yes, I said, “dance”), and just get away from the world. For me, classrooms tend to be phenomenally suitable places to get away and lock out the world (and lock me in).
  • Let the Tunes Play. I love music. I love how music has a way of changing your mood and even invigorate/ amplify whatever mood you’re in. I listen to Spotify or my personal workout KILLIN’ IT mix in the classroom or via my new Mini Jambox. It’s great. I’ll listen to music with high tempo and some hip hop-ish undertones (overtones, too) because it gets me pumped up and confident. When brainstorming, confidence is high.
  • Whiteboards.If you know me at a personal level, you would know my affinity for whiteboards. I have three in my house, and one day, would love to have my office painted with that whiteboard paint. In the classroom at Emory, I get to take advantage of mammoth whiteboards… three of them that slide up and down. I say Entrepreneurship is like an art, and with whiteboards, I find my empty canvas.
  • Bubbles, Outlines, Comics. When I’m throwing ideas, I’m putting them into whatever format I feel like. Sometimes, I’ll “organize” my thoughts in outlines like this past Saturday, or I’ll do bubble diagrams where I put some central question or theme in the middle, and address it with bubbles connected all around the central idea.
  • Discard Nothing, Capture Everything. I put just about every one of my thoughts about an idea on the board. (It’s why I love big canvases.) Any idea that pops up in my head can be a valuable piece that can bring about some odd way I haven’t thought about before. Sometimes, you have to consider “bad ideas” because innovation requires thinking exactly why bad ideas are bad. Is that just because “it’s always been done that way?” Why wouldn’t a business model from another industry work here? At the end of my brainstorm session or when I need more room, I’ll take pictures of everything and look back upon them for ideas later or for implementation.
  • Start With Something or Nothing. Okay, that probably sounds silly, but really, you don’t have to have an idea to which you want to explore for a brainstorming session. Just enter the room fresh, keep some water and snacks handy, and just be ready to throw anything on the board that pops in your head. With a little list of ideas like “What do I do everyday that I hate?” or “What are the trending hashtags or Tweets where people use the phrase ‘worst ever’, ‘can never do’, ‘this sucks’?” The idea here is to search for areas where people are sharing common pain points, and are passionate enough to share it on social media.
  • Brainstorm with One or Two Others. I tend to brainstorm with just one other person, if at all. It’s good to get another’s perspective. It’s like when you need to talk to vent… you just want someone to hear you. However, in this situation, that other person could play devil’s advocate to your ideas.
  • Plan For Nothing and Something Will Come. When you start a brainstorm session, yeah, you can put some plan or hopes that you walk out with a deliverable or plan of attack. For me, I don’t necessarily always do brainstorm sessions for a goal to come out other than to stretch my mind from a creative standpoint. This past weekend, I got to brainstorm with two buds and co-founders of Body Boss for the next Great Thing. We didn’t go in thinking we’d exit with a killer idea or a strategy. However, we stumbled on a potentially great idea that we’re now exploring. If you stumble on an idea in your session, embrace it, and take the steps to make it happen – whatever it is.
  • Have Fun!Like I said just above, brainstorming and innovation should be fun. It’s probably a nerdy thing, but for me, I gladly do this on a Saturday morning like I just did. To me, this is an interestingly fun way to hang out with friends while not spinning our wheels doing something that would require us to spend money for an expensive dinner, or just sitting around watching some TV/ game. (Though, we watch the World Cup game later.) Brainstorming and thinking of new ways of approaching things like paying for things at a grocery store, communicating with team members in soccer, whatever… it’s about plugging into your creative power plant that could be barely running due to otherwise a non-creative, mind-numbing job you do 40+ hours a week in a cramped cubicle. But hey, I’m not judging if that’s your thing…

Dang, I should really try to start trimming my writing. However, this is a passion of mine, so it’s natural I write more. I’m a big proponent of following your passions and exercising the Creative Muscle that’s probably largely dormant with our normal day-to-day. Take a moment and think about something you don’t like (that’s easier than what you do like), and just step back, and think of all the different ways it could be improved. Maybe you’ll be as fascinated about your creativity as I have been by others.
What are your thoughts about brainstorm sessions? How do you exercise and flex your creative muscles?
The worlds of sales and marketing are changing so much and so fast. With the explosion of technology over the last several years and the lower barriers to entry into starting businesses and the like, customers “have the power” – borrowing from the famous “Porter’s 5 Forces” (thank you, MBA!).
When I think about what I do, I don’t niche myself to sales or marketing or the other “business” aspects. I say I’m in Business Development. Breaking it down that’s “business” and “development”; as in, I develop business…  directly contributing to the growth of the business. So for me, sales and marketing, in particular, are just facets of what I do. Especially in my area of interest of technology and SaaS, lines blur but my general tactical and strategic tasks fall in business development.
Jon Birdsong, CEO of local Atlanta-based Rivalry, recently made the comment over dinner, “salespeople are mini-marketers”. He and I are in alignment that these days, salespeople are really becoming their own marketing machines especially as marketplaces are becoming inundated with products.
(My view is that the world will continue down this path till Buyers have so much power that they start dictating more niche products, thereby eating away at the potential profits. Cue: market exit and consolidation. You’re hearing it from me.)
Anyways, I recently spoke to a buddy of mine who runs several car dealerships, and I was sharing with him the marketing startup I’m currently more-or-less consulting with as a business development guy.  He spoke how they largely market on 3 tiers, at least for his major brand:
  • Tier 1 – The Brand’s National (or international) campaigns. What’s happening nationally? This is all brand-based, and it’s necessarily to drive people into dealerships. Think: Superbowl commercials.
  • Tier 2 – The Brand’s Regional campaigns. This can be regional like the Southeast, or more local-driven like campaigns for Atlanta-area dealerships. These campaigns do try to bring in consumers down the funnel.
  • Tier 3 – The Dealership-Level campaigns. These can be specific commercials or even print media (print? Yes, print) to drive consumers to a specific dealership.

In startups and in particular for business development, I don’t necessarily think I’ve operated in more than two tiers so far. Again, I’m waiting for one of the startups to go big… we’ll get there! However, these are some major efforts where we’ve played in the tiers.
  • Building the brand (Tier 1). With Body Boss, we eventually wanted to go into B2C after more traction in the B2B space, but we consistently published material like blogs, social media posts, and the like to establish ourselves as thought leaders and connectors in strength and conditioning.
  • PR in startups (Tier 1). It’s highly doubtful our target audience of strength coaches were going to be visitors to design and creative websites like awwwards.comor were going to visit techno-blogs like nibletz.com. However, we wanted to continue to build our brand even in those spaces – you never know who knows who. All that, of course, should be secondary to driving PR in the relevant industry of your target audience. Reaching out to the experts and connectors (like major publications, LinkedIn groups, professional organizations) will be the primary tool for PR in driving your brand’s existence to then drive sales.
  • SEO and SEM for drive inbound marketing (Tier 1/2). – This is kind of a mix, but the general thought here is that especially with technology, the world is “local” or at least “regional”. The most important element is driving potential consumers into and further down the sales funnel. This is where good content like through blogging and guest writing experts can lead many in.
  • Tradeshows and conferences (Tier 2). If you can obtain a list of the conference attendees, you can send out a nice little message that can be more of your larger campaign (maybe Tier 1). Otherwise, on the conference floor, your goal is to introduce your brand to everyone there who could be interested in your offering. I love these for many reasons, but in general, if done right, you can get a lot of people started and down your funnel quick. Your drive shouldn’t be to make the sale then and there, but to set up an appointment later.
  • Business Developers/ Salespersons (Tier 2/3). I was tempted to just write salespeople because that’s in many ways the goal here, right? To make sales? Make money? Anyways, as a sales person, I’m constantly making cold calls and emails (and tweets, etc.). My method is very different than that of my CEO’s, so for me, I can definitely see the “dealership-level” type of strategy where I’m creating my smaller marketing initiatives aligning with the larger brand’s, and then trying to get prospects in the door. And hopefully, a handshake to move forward, of course.
  • Random pitches (Tier 1/2/3). Okay, so maybe not the formal definition of “pitches”, but everytime you walk out your door and speak about your company, you’re doing some marketing activity. Sometimes, it’s a complete stranger who sees your shirt and is intrigued – could he/ she be a potential buyer? Maybe someone with a good connection? Or maybe even an investor? You never know who you’re going to meet.

Salespeople are quickly becoming marketing gurus in themselves, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. In fact, I see more salespeople becoming more and more critical to not only drive new business, but to maintain these relationships beyond the first sale in this increasingly fragmented, saturated market of technology and SaaS companies. And with the cut-throat, perhaps negative light most people see or hear “salespeople”, I definitely prefer the moniker of “Business Development”.
As a business grower and developer, I’m constantly refining my marketing message to drive more interesting conversations with potentials, and then using sales techniques to convert latent needs into more active needs. In startups, as a business developer, you’ll need to work and think on all 3 tiers when it comes to development.
What are your thoughts on sales and marketing for startups? How do you operate in 3 or more (or less) tiers?