I sat down with a graduating senior from college recently to talk about startups. At first, I thought we were going to talk about the startup ecosystem in Atlanta. I didn’t know he had an idea that he wanted to pursue. Actually, he had three with two of them already in flight.

 

He had a lot of questions about how best to begin highlighting two ideas. One was a very complicated business. It would require building up significant trust between two markets. On the one side, it would have been a lot of manual work to move forward. Because of the idea, there would be significant legal implications. Read: there would need to be significant legal work upfront – not a cheap proposition.

 

Meanwhile, his second idea was based around a SaaS business with a single buyer. Here, he was already working with a friend technologist. The team was working on this idea with a free customer already – or at least, an agreement once the application was built. The pain point was a little clear, but could use some refinement and focus.

 

After speaking about both ideas, he started to realize how much easier it would be to develop and build the second idea. Though the first idea was complicated, that’s not always a bad thing. If a team is able to get past the hurdles that makes the idea so difficult, there could be good upside. This is the case for many successful companies including Uber, Airbnb, WeWork, etc.

 

However, there was little customer discovery in the first idea vs. the second. They already had a business that was interested in a solution to their problem, and it sounded like there could be a strong market. This would be simpler to get off the ground while enabling the team to do the proper customer discovery. As it stood, the pain points were mostly known. However, this is where digging in to truly understand the problem would be beneficial. He and his partner should work with several stakeholders who are impacted to understand the grander problem – understand what other businesses and personas could be experiencing similar problems. And how big of a problem? Read: what was the problem costing the stakeholder/ customer? What’s the value of a solution.

 

There’s a lot to consider for the soon-to-be-graduate. However, digging in early on the details of a focused pain point will help the team be experts for real customers. Meanwhile, tackling a more transparent issue has the added benefit of being able to find, market, and sell a solution faster.

 

Whatever happens, don’t go broader. Dig in on a focused problem area. Set a grander vision once initial success is achieved.

Welcome to the new site for Entrepreneurial Ninja and Daryl Lu (one and always the same). As you can see, the site has been restructured quite a bit. In short, I migrated from Blogger to WordPress on the backend. The cost for WordPress is higher as I am now hosting the site through Siteground where prior, Blogger was self-hosted and free.

Blogger was always a “good enough” blogging site. However, it lacked flexibility. This was apparent after working with WordPress for several companies. One of the primary areas I wanted greater flexibility was in formatting pages that were not blog posts. To this, you’ll see more updates come down the line starting with my My Story page. Then, I will redesign my homepage and so on.

As my roles continue to flex and adapt (as any good Ninja does), my digital presence must also flex and adapt. WordPress will allow me this flexibility.

All of this was spurred by the recent acquisition of the company I was building, Burner Rocket. I am unsure of what my long-term plans are. Building a new company from the ground-up is enticing. However, after 6 years of doing this with multiple companies, taking a break could provide some relief. Or, I can continue taking the plunge with another early-stage company. In any path I choose, I will have my personal mission to guide me – “to change the lives for the greater through entrepreneurial endeavors.” Whatever step that is, it will be a step.

I’ll keep you in the loop of whatever that next step is. Till then, enjoy the new look and feel of Entrepreneurial Ninja.

– Daryl, Entrepreneurial Ninja

 

Side note: For those looking for a similar migration from Blogger to WordPress, there are a few things to pay attention to in particular:

  • Retain link structures to assume search engine rankings/ equity
  • Most posts, media, etc. will transfer easily between Blogger and WordPress, but formatting may be off depending on the WordPress theme used
  • Page links will likely be broken due to the page structure defaulted by Blogger. As such, redirects will be needed
  • Changing from Blogger to WordPress will require updating DNS and nameservers – typically on the domain provider. The change may take several hours to propagate
  • Here’s a great walk-through of how to migrate from Blogger to WordPress from wpbeginner

The other day, a real estate agent came by to look at my house. In my house, shoes come off and stay at the door. My real estate agent started taking off her shoes and noticed my extension collection of shoes.

“Are all of these your shoes?”

“Yup!”

I have about 14 pairs of shoes at the door. I realize that as a male, I buck the trend of most. Most of my shoes are function-specific, though. I have shoes for:

  • Running
  • Lawn/ yard work
  • Black formal
  • Sandals
  • Brown business
  • Soccer turfs
  • Soccer cleats
  • Everyday
  • Hiking
  • Biking
  • Etc.

I use specific shoes to help me be at my best. My running shoes, for example, are just for running. I’ve used shoes for running and “everyday”, and found my feet to be cramped or hurting after long runs before. Then, my hiking shoes are also for when I go up north with my girlfriend during the winter months and there’s snow on the ground. These shoes are waterproof and have traction for the outdoor trails — very different outsole required vs. normal street. My bike shoes are strictly used in tandem with my pedals on my mountain bike. My soccer cleats are, of course, for soccer on natural ground. My turf soccer shoes have a different sole to accommodate the turf fields I typically play on for some soccer leagues.

 

I’ve become a bit elitist in my shoes. It’s obviously an expensive way to live; though, each function-specific shoe lasts that much longer than having a general do-everything shoe. Sometimes, a general shoe just doesn’t work or could cause injury in a sport.

 

I mention this story because I’ve noticed a similar trend in my nomadic work life. I’m the typical mobile worker. I am at Starbucks this morning. There’s no plug nearby, so I’ve decided not to use my Microsoft Surface Pro, yet. It only has a battery life of 4-5 hours now, and I plan to be here for a while this Saturday morning. I’m using my iPad (non-Pro), my alternative portable device, to write this post and hammer out emails. I love having this device as I can take digital notes vs. the written notebooks in the past which, as an archive, is hard to review.

 

My iPad started out with 30% battery life. I noticed my phone only had 14% battery life. I plugged in my Anker external battery which has two USB ports — one for each of my iPad and my Galaxy S9. Now, my iPad is at 59% and my S9 is at 42%.

 

My Surface Pro is my preferred mobile driver as it’s hugely powerful and can do everything I want for multi-tasking to my heart’s (and brain’s) desire. But I love using my iPad for very focused, specific applications. My S9 is a diversion with limited professional application when my other devices are unavailable.

 

But at home, I also have a 2013 MacBook Pro. It’s very powerful as well. It’s hooked up to a 28” external monitor. It sits on a stand to elevate to eye level while Bluetooth Apple keyboard and trackpad give me added comfort. The other day, I had my Surface Pro connected to a 24” external monitor next to my MacBook workstation, and I had my iPad out to take notes. But for the most part when I’m home, I use my MacBook because it’s got everything set up for long-term comfort.

 

Thanks to cloud apps, I can do just about everything seamlessly. I save a file on my Surface Pro in my Google Drive while at the coffee shop and leave the device in my bag at home. At home, I can access the file on my MacBook Pro to continue working. I took notes earlier on my Microsoft OneNote on my iPad, and I need to remember what that was, so I pull up OneNote on my MacBook, too. They’re synced together!

 

I leave home for dinner. While waiting, a client writes me an email that I see on my Galaxy S9 via the Gmail app. I can retrieve the file I was working on via the Google Drive app. Oops, did I save the file on my Desktop and not on the Google Drive? No problem. I can access my MacBook Pro via remote desktop. I’ll just log in and drop the file into Google Drive now.

 

Meanwhile, I need access to a team account that I don’t have the password for directly. My teammate’s out for dinner as well. But wait, I can log in still because I can use my LastPass account that has shared account details for the team. I can log in!

 

Oh, and I still have a Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus ultrabook laptop from 2012. But because it’s an ultrabook, its internal organs are slowing down these days. So, I don’t use it much. It’s still next to my workstation at home anyways.

 

When it comes to having options, having flexibility, having the tools to do things better, costs can rise significantly. It makes us that much better than if we were to go the generalist route, doesn’t it? In this digital age, how much of that can I legitimately start cutting? I’ve added subscriptions to help keep my development code private. I am archiving more files in the Google cloud. Thus, I must continue paying for growing storage. I have services that keep my sites up and running like this one. Those costs will have to continue lest I give up sites and domains.

 

Costs are only rising. When I decide to build my next company, my personal burn rate will be higher. Should I take on another role full-time before my next venture? Will I be more comfortable with the new lifestyle? Will my desire for “more” and “better” handcuff me to a new, higher-cost normal?

 

This is what happens when I clear my head in the morning and ask the deeper questions. It gives me a chance to evaluate my direction.

VLG’s investment in technology illustrates a commitment to providing mobile, digital, and direct mail services that address ABM challenges.

ADDISON, TexasOct. 25, 2018 /PRNewswire/ — VLG Marketing LLC (VLG) announces the acquisition of Atlanta startup Burner Rocket for an undisclosed amount. The Dallas-based digital marketing agency continues to increase the diversity of its proprietary technology offering that addresses shifts in business-to-business marketing strategies with the advent of account-based marketing (ABM) and account-based selling (ABS).
VLG Marketing acquires Burner Rocket

Mail SIM-enable Android Phone, Call, Text, Track, Alert via Slack

The acquisition now gives VLG—known for adventurous mail pieces, unique, personalized websites, and its proprietary DialogEngine platform—the ability to offer its clients a direct mail experience like no other. The agency and its customers will be able to mail SIM-enabled mobile phones to prospects, delivering real-time, trackable content to targets at key accounts.
“We’ve always viewed technology as the key to staying ahead in an industry full of copycat solutions,” said VLG President Michael Simmons, “because it gives us the ability to remain agile and meet the unique needs of our customers in an ever-changing B2B marketing space.”
Burner Rocket developed technology that allows agencies to provision and personalize mobile phones for one-to-one marketing engagement. The startup provided marketing and sales teams with key insights beyond customer engagement through sales team follow-up—a long time challenge for non-digital direct mail programs.
“In VLG, we found a company that will take our vision for Burner Rocket to the next level,” said Daryl Lu, one of the creators of Burner Rocket. “This is a great win for the Atlanta startup scene, but also a win for marketing and sales teams as they continue to engage prospects innovatively and with authenticity.”
“After seeing low efficacy of existing marketing technologies, we leveraged economies of scale allowing us to ship full-service cell phones to key accounts. They open the box, we call the phone — crazy idea but it performed phenomenally to get into conversations instantly,” said SalesWise CTO Jason Parekh. “VLG has a shared commitment to pushing the boundaries of marketing technology making this a natural fit.”
Burner Rocket was spawned by another Atlanta startup, SalesWise, which was founded by Gregg Freishtat and Jason Parekh. SalesWise developed a business relationship intelligence (BRI) platform that unifies information from all silos, including enterprise calendar, email, documents, contacts, and CRM data. The platform circumvents manual data entry by automatically organizing and presenting the data in an elegant product, boosting sales enablement, follow-up and close rates.
Contacts:
VLG Marketing, Angela Shori, 972.792.9550 or hello@wefightboredom.com
SalesWise (Burner Rocket), Daryl Lu, 678.221.4358 or daryl@saleswise.com
Related Links

I’ve been toying with a few ideas on the side these days. They’ve been all over the place including even speaking with Emory University’s Department of Technology Transfers. Hey, I’m an opportunist! I go after opportunities that I can bring to fruition and that sound exciting. I don’t always have experience in these areas. However, I’m betting on myself to figure it out as I go.
One recent idea has been in the SMS chatbot world. Specifically, how managers organize teams in preparation for the next game. Typically, this is done via mass email threads or annoying group texts. Then, players delay and delay responding. Oftentimes, the emails are buried. Then, managers must find subs should not enough people say they can make the game.
I immediately thought about using text messages as the delivery mechanism. SMS, specifically, might get faster responses minus the group messages (MMS). I’ve run into the problems of being a manager plenty of times in the past. I did not do the Mom Test. Instead, my friend and I just start digging into leveraging Twilio.
The problem is not overly complicated. The problem isn’t a big world problem. I don’t know how well to monetize. All this tells me I should not pursue the idea. However, I’m pushing on.
I’m pursuing this idea called TeamChatThing as a testbed to learn more about the SMS world and what’s available. What I like about SMS (short-messaging service, or text) is that aside from emails, phone, and face-to-face interactions, SMS is the next ubiquitous communication channel. SMS is something most people are so familiar with. There’s no need to push new users to download apps.
Team management aspect is a test. I want to test people’s responses and response times. I want to test the complications of RSVP’ing – specific use case. I want to dig into what’s possible to automatically respond and record responses.
Leveraging SMS for a chatbot is challenging. SMS is a stream of linear messages. It’s near difficult to create threads, let alone a simple response-question association. (Think about when two questions are asked on SMS and a single response comes in. Which question(s) is the response to?) SMS does not have much meta-data, either. SMS provides:
  • Phone numbers involved
  • Date & time
  • Message body
  • That’s it.

Complexity builds as players, in this case, are connected to different teams. Understand which team the player is responding to is tough.
It’s a fascinating problem. I’m eager to continue digging into what’s possible and the deeper challenges with SMS.
                                                                           
Yes, the way service is dubbed TeamChatThing. J

I discovered my dryer was broke last week – wasn’t heating. I called a local repair service that I had used before for a refrigerator before. While the technician – I’ll call him John – was working on the dryer, we just started talking about business. Turns out he’s one of the owners of the company. He and I batted back and forth thoughts on sales, where he sees opportunities and challenges for his profession, and how he achieves success.

Thoughts on Sales and Business

John started the repair teaching me about my dryer – the do’s and don’t’s. He walked through what he was testing and why. He was teaching me because I took apart some of the dryer before he arrived. I tried to diagnose the problem myself but found myself lacking.
As we talked about the dryer, he asked me what I do – sales. He asked me a lot of questions about sales and why I found it both challenging and rewarding. After a few more probing questions, I asked him his interest. John shared how he viewed sales as an “everyone has to do it” thing. He realizes the most important aspect of sales is building trust. He talks about how he often does not ask for a sale, but find people “buying” his services. Customers want to buy from him. He builds trust with customers. It’s what he was doing with me early on by teaching me about the dryer – establishing credibility. He established more trust while knowing I’d still need help to fix appliances anyways. Read: I’d be a customer again.

Where John Sees Great Opportunity

John feels most technicians, especially those working for big companies, work for a stable hourly wage. But the good technicians want commissions. These are the ones who know that if they deliver for customers, they’ll get repeat customers – earn more money. For John, he sees the opportunity for technicians who have the soft skills knowing technicians are the foot soldier sales force, not back-office staff. Technicians interface directly with customers.
Technical education is where John sees the greatest opportunities. John says local colleges and high schools have done away with many of the basic electrician courses, focusing instead on services. Now, there’s a dearth of capable technicians who can truly troubleshoot, and not just “part changers”. Adding to the problem are larger companies who do not offer proper training to technicians (hard and soft skills).
Being a technician is “recession proof”, he says. People still need to wash clothes. They still need refrigerated foods. People still need HVAC during recessions. He feels this is an area he’s poised to continue to succeed, but where other can step into looking for good job opportunities.

How John Succeeds

John enjoyed talking about business. He’s an avid listener to podcasts like Zig Ziglar’s to help him as a business owner. Since his job takes him across the city at times, John listens to business podcasts daily.
He’s a constant student. He cites his interest and passion for learning about electricity. In the past, in school, he did not apply himself or care much for different school subjects because they weren’t applicable to him. But when John started changing the context of geometry or science into terms he enjoyed like electricity or appliances – everyday objects – he started to absorb material faster and better. 
He credits his success to always learning. It’s one of the reasons why John schedules at least an hour a week – something doable – towards reflection and planning. He calls his Sunday his “ritual” day. He sets this time aside and turns off his electronics to focus on learning – developing “mastery” of his craft and improving his business.
There are entrepreneurs everywhere. They’re not always the internet stars in Silicon Valley. Most are the small business owners striving to build a life for themselves and their families – those pushing themselves.
Setting aside time for a dryer repair became so much more than just a repair. It was a networking opportunity and learning experience. It was an opportunity to meet a Stranger and be empathetic.

I received a gift of a book recently – Ray Dalio’s Principles. Funny, though, as my bud handed it to me realizing that it was a hefty book, and he knew how much I enjoyed audiobooks. However, I do love a good physical book so I can take notes on or re-read/ review. (Kindle e-books included.) Well, Jeremy, I listened to the e-book for this one, too. ?But are taking notes and reviewing the hardback you gifted.

I enjoyed Ray’s book based on his leadership and the principles he instilled while leading his company Bridgewater from the ground to a 1,600+ behemoth in the financial world. What was inspiring to read, too, was how he initially co-founded the company but early on, had to let everyone go including his co-founder who left as not much money was coming in. Ray had to rebuild his team from just one (himself) to the company it is today.
The book is can be broken up into a few parts – his and Bridgewater’s story before diving into the personal and business principles. There are hundreds of principles that grounds the company in its business dealings, and that enables it to continue to thrive.
In any case, here are a few of my take-aways:
  • Like Patrick Lencioni in his book The Advantage, Ray finds personal assessments to be highly informative. Each assessment provides a view into the strengths and weaknesses of team members, which enables Ray’s team to build teams to deliver the best outcomes. He takes a lot of the personal and politics out of the equation and leans into data.
  • Ray is a fan of leveraging artificial intelligence. Really, he’s a fan of blending both computer systems with human intelligence and interactions. He started building his forecasting and analytics systems from the start – continuously training it to perfect forecasting. He’s able to leverage opposing outcomes from either “system” to dive into what could be missing or inaccurate. Meanwhile, agreeing results from both systems gives high confidence of known outcomes.
  • One of the biggest drivers of Ray and Bridgewater’s success is the idea of radical transparency. This means that personal assessments are completely out in the open so that team members understand how each other acts and works. Transparency enables teams to make mistakes, but own up to them so the rest of the team can learn and prevent future similar mistakes.
  • Meritocracy over autocracy for Bridgewater. Here, all associates at Bridgewater has the ability to challenge authority as long as there is clear merit in the person and the process. This is also where Ray leans into his belief that credence should be given to those who have demonstrated success in at least three occasions of some task/ venture. I touched on this in one of my previous posts in how this affects how I feel in my own ability to coach. But thinking about this idea, Ray has also only had “one” entrepreneurial/ business success (with Bridgewater)… not three. ?

There are many, many principles in the book (just as the title implies). It’s best not to try to adhere to all of the principles from the get go. Heck, it may not make sense to adopt any of the principles. It’s important realize whatever principles make sense (for me, you, whoever). However, it’s a constant practice to not only align myself to my principles, but also ensuring a company is aligned. And much like Bridgewater, if some principle should be rescinded or updated, it’s all possible as long as there is merit and transparency to the process.

I’ve been thinking about the Amazon Effect lesson from my customer discovery research of e-commerce from last week. There are a lot of tenets to the Amazon Effect including the rise of expectations of delivery, access to goods, etc. but the one I thought about most was.

The Amazon Effect has affected some of the longest-standing fundamentals of web. That is, time on site used to be a valuable metric. Amazon has proven that a winning strategy can be the opposite — get in, find what you want, check out and get out. Fast. Come back again.

The idea sticks out because it flies in the face of expectations and a metric that website owners typically watch for – “the higher the time on page, the better”. Amazon, however, is about getting folks in and out. This is the experience Amazon wants to build as it then drives consumers to come back.
As I let this idea marinate, one thing becomes clear – Amazon knows its “wow moment”. They’re not just focused on shortening the path to check out. They’re focused on shortening the path to the “aha!” and “wow” moment. That’s the experience. That’s about getting customers getting exactly what they want, when they want, how they want, and where they want (at home, largely).
Southwest Airlines is another company who challenged a long-standing industry paradigm. In this case, it was the airline industry’s paradigm of filling a plane. Southwest can tout its success with 45 straight years of profitability. Most airlines believed profitability and revenue necessitated every seat on a plane be sold and filled. It’s one of the reasons they oversell flights.
Southwest, on the other hand, realized their bottleneck and path to revenue was the plane. As long as a plane sits on the tarmac, the more underutilized the plane is. Thus, it’s not making money.
Southwest built their business on turn-around time – how fast they could turn a flight around, even if it meant the plane was not full. They flourished with the “10-minute turnaround” as other airlines were turning planes at 60 minutes – the time from entering a gate, loading passengers and cargo, and leaving the gate.
For Southwest, the wow moment is arriving at the destination realizing their fees were far less than rivals (in addition to above-and-beyond customer service).
Longstanding business practices don’t always make sense. Consumer habits and expectations continually change. Stay focused on the customer, and realize there are more ways to achieve success, especially, when ushering the market into a new era.

I’ve been on a customer discovery journey over the last couple weeks. I haven’t dug deep on Mom Test-esque questions. Instead, I’m setting a baseline on the e-commerce space for myself.
Below are highlights from my discussions so far –
  • Initial round of 7 folks from the e-commerce space representing directors and managers of marketing with a couple in sales. Companies were each in the $1B+ category largely in consumer, but also having B2B opportunities.
  • Primary levers for growing e-commerce businesses:
    • Customer acquisition
    • Fulfillment
    • These two levers have the greatest effect on net revenue
  • To achieve higher sales, too, companies are evaluating:
    • Shortest path to revenue — “click-to-checkout”
    • Building an “optimal” customer experience
  • Customer experience for companies range from custom, and temporary, showrooms to shortening the path to revenue with engaging design elements (e.g. imagery, product information consistency)
  • The Amazon Effect has affected some of the longest-standing fundamentals of web. That is, time on site used to be a valuable metric. Amazon has proven that a winning strategy can be the opposite — get in, find what you want, check out and get out. Fast. Come back again
  • Combating the big players in customer acquisition can be difficult as they spend millions upon millions in advertising, especially, on Google and Facebook. Smaller players have to focus on niches and aiming for the repeat buy
  • There are big opportunities, still
    • Most folks still believe less than 30% of the market value (10%, more likely) is still uncovered in e-commerce (“Everyone’s gathering data, but how do you use it?”)
    • There is a lot of data being collected; however, most companies still don’t know how best to utilize the data to deliver good value
    • Dynamic pricing is highly sought after with most folks seeing this as a prime opportunity for customer acquisition and revenue growth (new and recurring)
    • Exceptional customer support and returns processes are vital to keeping customers. When you consider the difficulty of acquiring customers, keeping customers should be an ongoing strategy top-of-mind

I’m still digging into the space as it’s largely unfamiliar outside of my personal shopping. Any take-aways standing out for you that surprises you? Anything contrary to what you thought?

I’m listening to Ray Dalio’s book Principles. At whatever page I’m on, he talks about being open while also being persistent. His point revolves around the principle for always learning. To learn, people need to be open to listening. And yet, people are quick to dig into their own ideas, even if they haven’t showcased success – myself included.
Ray believes successful leaders should be able to showcase at least three instances of such in some area.
It dawns on me on this site that I espouse a lot about entrepreneurship without several successes – if we classify a liquidity event as success (e.g. stock offering, being acquired). That could continue to promote the idea that success only comes from a liquidity event which is not true. From this standpoint, should readers even value what I have to say? That’s a humbling question.
Though, Ray describes the value inexperience brings with it including new, outside perspective. He also talks about gaining buy-in from others with experience like an “influential committee”. Gain the support of those with the credibility or cite sources with credibility to bring credibility to the inexperienced.
I form my own thoughts, while oftentimes, cite or bring in others to provide credibility because I need it. I don’t have the CV to persuade without.
This brings two critical thoughts:
  • I must be careful in how I guide and advise others. I can speak of my experiences and what I’ve learned. However, I should be wary of how I guide others towards whatever their ideas of success are if I do not have the requisite experience to do so.
  • Seeking a “win” is paramount to me. Then, I need to seek my next win. I am not in the upper echelons of successful leaders right now because I don’t deserve to be. Oh, but I want to be in the group who helps architect the future. But how can I join the group if I don’t have the credentials to be amongst them?

Especially the last point, it’s causing me to reflect on my path of seeking my next entrepreneurial journey. Should I continue seeking very early-stage startups (or my own) knowing there’s such a great chance of failure? More failures only mean I become successful at failure, right?

Or, should I join a venture that is beyond early-stage where I can learn scale and gain mastery?
I’m thinking. Should I lean one way or the other? In short: I’m not there yet.