Couple weeks ago, I was invited by a buddy to attend a lunch session for Juice Analytics on “Turning Data into Dollars”. My bud just joined the company having always been a bit of data guy, and figured I’d appreciate the talk especially with my own interest in data and background in consulting. These days with the Cloud, the whole Big Data movement, and all the tools available to companies, it’s important to have a solid game plan regarding data, monetizing or otherwise.

Golden Data Rule: He who controls the data, makes the rules.

One of the Juice Analytics co-founders spoke about how to leverage data to deliver more actionable visualizations that also tell a more compelling story, and of course, there were some nuggets of insight that I thought interesting enough to jot down in my little notebook and share with you. If you’re into data, need to make data-driven decisions, etc., these should resonate with you as they have with me.
  • You, Your Dashboard, Your Analytics… Together, You’re the Tour Guide. Like a tour guide you may follow visiting a national park, he/ she’s excited and knowledgeable, and rarely do they stray from the path. Your data visualizations should do the same in telling a story where you are knowledgeable of the data behind the scenes to give background and context should a tourist need more. Add context elements like call-outs to distill more complex data.
  • Plan for the “Extended Audience”. Rarely does a dashboard or PowerPoint deck go only one audience deep. It usually gets passed down the line, and if your reports aren’t clear and concise, it’s likely the message will be filtered and watered down so that the end-consumer isn’t getting the message you originally tried to convey. It’s like the Telephone (or Whisper) Game you might’ve played back in elementary or middle school (if you don’t remember, you probably still did it). With each successive person who passes the message, how does the message change? Will they need more context to relay the intended message?
  • Create Scores to Encourage Thought and Debates. The Juice guys (I really want to call them Juicers or say they’re “juicin’”) talked about how effective data companies will oftentimes create some “scientific” score to encourage others to debate and talk about their scores and methodologies. This can drive engagement and help position the organization as a thought leader. Think: ESPN’s Quarterback Rating (QBR).
Snagged this from ESPN on December 2nd. Darn… no Matt Ryan at the top. (http://espn.go.com/nfl/qbr)
  • Analysts Want the Raw Ingredients; Consumers Want the Snazzy Plate. That is to say, consumers don’t necessary care to see the raw ingredients of food. However, they want the final plate to be visually appealing, tasteful, etc. In the same way for data, consumers rarely want to see the eye charts that are data tables, but they want to see a compelling visualization to glean actionable insights. But as an analyst and data guy, I usually don’t care for the pivot tables and fancy charts. I want to see the data sources to do my own validation. In consulting, this is never more true. I always want to establish a baseline with raw data when starting a project, but as I start to draw conclusions, I need to prepare the plate (PowerPoint deck most of the time) that can be easily understood by the audience (easily digestible, too!).
Image sources (left): http://tinyurl.com/kuuw5vz; (right) from Epicure Atlanta Catering http://tinyurl.com/k3yadf8
  • Design For Action. Ah, I loved this part of presentation because it resonated so much with me after seeing so many terrible dashboards and metrics at various large companies over the years in consulting… effective, compelling visuals drive action. I’ve seen companies just overload SVPs with pages and pages of metrics and data tables. It was analysis paralysis, and nothing told a coherent story that motivated action (other than the action to cut down on the dashboards). Essentially, everyone was wasting their time either getting reports together or trying to decipher what the heck it all meant. Actionable visualizations should elicit a “I’ll get on it” response.
Next time you deliver a report, what’s the response of the audience?
Cool lunch session overall, and of course, there’s food so… yeah. Anyways, the session made me think a lot about what I’ve been doing in both consulting and in various startups. I’ve always been a big proponent on collecting and owning the data. With data, you can make data-driven decisions. If you don’t collect, however, it’s nearly impossible to get that back. In thinking about Body Boss, we’ve wanted to collect data to tell more compelling insight into athletes’ performance. Coaches don’t have the time to slice and dice every player on their roster to understand if players are over-exerting, if they’re not challenged, if they’re stagnant, etc. Body Boss was to deliver more actionable insights quickly and easily to both coaches and the athletes. In consulting, I’m oftentimes tasked to look at a lot of datapoints, and it’s my job to make sense of it all.
What are your thoughts on creating compelling, actionable visualizations for data? How are data collectors and providers challenged to deliver these reports?

A little more about Juice Analytics (from my view): Juice Analytics plays in a tough space in big data and effective reporting, oftentimes compared against the big player Tableau. However, Juice’s differentiator is being an application that can also be the engine that drives the analytics and visualizes the data in creative ways that tell a more compelling story. They can plug into all sorts of resources even a host of Excel files that can be repeated as part of business processes.
READY? FIRE! AIM… source: https://media.azpm.org/master/image/2012/4/6/2col-ff/civil-war_firing-line_fullframe.jpg
I’ve long known that I can be impulsive and highly engaged when I’m passionate about something. In one anecdote, I was helping a friend move and we were working on taking apart the bed. I immediately started to remove the screws and bolts until my friend just lifted the frame and showed it was a simpler operation. In startups, I’ve been hooked on an idea and gone door-to-door that afternoon with businesses to test the idea.
Then more recently, there’s the awkward opportunity where I open an email up, and start writing all sorts of incredibly deep, probably overzealous, and yet genuine message. It just so happened to span several hundred words long… whoops! Having a “ready, fire, aim” mentality is dangerous. Being that way at 2AM is a whole other level. As “How I Met Your Mother” showed, “nothing good happens after 2AM”.
source: http://media-cache-ec0.pinimg.com/736x/aa/13/77/aa1377e58ebffb0ac2d7a8c0d5594fd5.jpg
I was talking to an entrepreneur buddy recently about my overzealousness, he laughed, and said that it’s a common trait amongst entrepreneurs. It can be good, and it can be bad. Some reflections from this most recent experience and how to embrace and mitigate this mentality:
  • Can Impulse Be Sustainable? Everyone gets excited about something new from the get-go. However, is that impulse something that you can be excited about for weeks? Months? Years? Building a startup can be fun and in some ways, impulsive. However, the stamina required to continue a startup against the emotional, social, physical, etc. drains can be tough to overcome.
  • Co-Founders/ Trusted Mentors Can Limit the Risk. I’m not a fan of being a one-man band (solo-preneur). I’m somewhat doing it now with a new idea (I’ll share later), but it’s a long, lonely road. Being highly passionate and with a “ready, fire, aim” mentality (I’m calling it RFA from now on) doesn’t quite let me bounce ideas or have a great yin to my yang. Especially when it comes to having a technical partner, I’m nowhere as productive. My co-founders at Body Boss always gave great feedback, and there was always at least one person who played devil’s advocate. This really enabled the team to bounce ideas and think customer-oriented, design-focused, etc.
  • Passion Gives You Some Serious Freedom and Creativity. Like in my more recent passionate outburst, it can be hard for me to contain. It comes from a deep place within, and sometimes, that’s a really great thing. It can be highly inspiring for others while also incredibly liberating for you. Most people tend to hold back what they say or perhaps lack the words to put their thoughts into words (or actions). Being able to share can be an amazing way to share with others how you really feel. As a leader, this can be a powerful motivator.
  • I admit – I don’t always KNOW what I’m doing, but I BELIEVE in what I’m doing. True story. Building Body Boss, for example, was a great learning experience. I didn’t necessarily have “formal” sales practice in the past, but I could really feel what needed to be done. Everything from building and managing the pipeline to creating campaigns for outreach (to be known later as “drip marketing”) was all bore out of feeling. I’m certainly a man of conviction!
  • Don’t Overwhelm Others With Your Passions! Winston Churchill once said, “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter”. As I write my blog posts and crazy emails, I realize that I can be incredibly intense with how much I write. In fact, I’ve been called intense by a fair share of people. Oftentimes when I write a lot, it’s because I just sat down and started tip-tapping on my keyboard. If I take a little time out to think and let things digest, my words can be more concise and much easier to consume for the reader. In face-to-face settings, I need to work on listening more than speaking, even if it’s a passionate subject. Read: I should practice brevity and “passing the stick”.

Reflecting on my past, it’s clear how passionate I can get, and how they can quickly lead me down many paths. However, it’s important to temper those passions and that “ready, fire, aim” mentality with the right balance of conciseness and analytics. Analytics meaning being able to think holistically about areas and critically. Till then, I’ll need to also remember what my triggers are and put in the right stop-gates to mitigate sending crazy-long letters at 2AM even if they’re well-received. *phew* Write to the right audience! Or more generically, know your audience!
What are your thoughts about being passionate and the “ready, fire, aim” mentality? How would you practice a little patience and stem off potentially long diatribes to the wrong people?
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?
(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? 
(Source: http://s306.photobucket.com/user/paawkx/media/mario-foresight.png.html)
Rebekah Campbellknew at the beginning that the original plan for her tech startup wasn’t going to work. Yes, even before launching. Campbell is the Founder of Posse, the app where the community of your friends share recommendations and favorite places.
Campbell recently shared her experience on the New York Time’s blog – “When Plan A Doesn’t Work”. She had received funding for her loyalty app, to put it simply, but from the get-go, she knew that it would suffer. In fact, it crystallized as she forgot to download the loyalty app her hair stylist told her about after her appointment. She had focused so much attention on the merchant side, but didn’t think much around user engagement.
In many businesses, products and services actually cater to more than one user beyond your actual customer. Campbell’s experience is reminiscent of Body Boss, and how the two user groups we had to cater to – coaches/ trainers and players.
Some key take-aways from Campbell’s piece:
  • Step Into the Shoes of Your Users. Campbell heard about a loyalty app for her hairstylist’s salon at her appointment, and said she’d try it out. However, she forgot to download it. How would users of Posse download and start engaging right off the bat if she, like everyone else, forgot to download another app so quickly? (See “Eating your own dogfood and imitating the late Steve Irwin – Why would you do that?”)
  • Early Customer-Partners Are CRITICAL. Campbell was able to convince so many people prior to launch 2.0 to come in for focus groups, 1-on-1’s, and other tests/ interviews over and over again. That’s crazy amazing. To have a list of early customers/ users bought in to help you iterate and figure out what works is so incredibly valuable so you don’t build something no one wants.
  • Appeal to Those Who Like You. After focus groups, Campbell and team not only saw distinct behavioral groups, but that not all would be as receptive to Posse as others. Thus, she honed in on those groups that would be more inclined to engage with Posse. Save time, save money with focus.
  • Personalized Recommendations is the Future. The likes of Amazon reviews, Yelp reviews, etc. are great to kind of discover new places. However, how much credibility do you actually give some of those reviews? Instead, you more often than not ask those around you for recommendations of a good stylist, the places to go on vacation when in Rome, or where to go for BBQ in Atlanta tonight.
  • Be Beautiful. Be Simple. Be Novel. Everyone and their mothers are getting into tech these days. I regularly do a purge of apps on my phone if I hadn’t used certain apps after 2 weeks. With all that’s out there, it’s getting more difficult to stand apart. I found the following to be one of the most powerful nuggets in her post: “Like a lot of people, I’m lazy. If I’m going to try something new, it has to be so useful, so fun and so original that it blows my mind. Otherwise, forget it.

Of course I would love and appreciate this post – it was published on my birthday! Well, okay, it was obviously for its content. At Body Boss, we realized early on that we had two major user groups with very different inclinations for technology in coaches and players. We didn’t quite address this as quickly as we would have liked, and that could be a factor of our bootstrappy-ness; whereas, Campbell could iterate quickly with full-time employees with venture capital.
Campbell’s Posse 2.0 launched in March 2013 with over 70,000 users and 40,000 stores globally (at the time of publish). Looks like they’ve got some good momentum, and I’m hoping they go far.

What are your thoughts about Campbell’s article? How else could Campbell have iterated quickly to find the right product/ market fit to address customer engagement?
Source: http://nataliethecoach.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/9395228324_036aa68eab_o.jpg
So this is kind of funny… you’re about to read a blog post about online dating from my past and current experience. This is going to fun to share.
With the recent announcement about Body Boss, I’ve been gathering my thoughts to figure out my Next Move. While doing so, I’ve also jumped into the online dating pool. (Shh, don’t judge me.) When I’ve told this to others, people are really, really curious why I’m on there. I’m not sure if that means people don’t think the internet would embrace a virtual me or because I’m so great in real life (“IRL” for you non-online dating folk). I’m hoping the latter.
In any case, I’m finding myself applying so many of the entrepreneurial ninja skills to work on my Match profile. I thought it’d be fun to blog about. It’s funny because business (relationship) development in this case is much different than approaching coaches and a lot more attractive for the most part.
So what are some take-aways? Let’s go.
The layout of your marketing campaign! (Yeah, I’m going to show you my profile… c’mon now.)
  • First, online dating apps are like sales channels. Why am I on an online dating site? Because I’m expanding my “sales” channel of me. I’m giving myself web presence in addition to the brick-and-mortar version of me. It allows me to expand my audience to those I may have difficulty (or never) reaching.
  • Skin-in-the-game is good. That is, in a product/ service setting of a startup, free trials/ models by themselves allow subscribers the ease to stop using your product. Likewise in online dating, free apps lower the bar for people to join which is good, but more often than not, those members don’t have any pull to really pursue a real relationship. Thus, joining a paid model helps weed out the non-serious members.
  • You are what you’re marketing. I’m not selling a SaaS product or an app. Instead, I’m selling myself to the ladies online. Sadly, like a bootstrapped startup, I’ve got limited funds/ skills so my pictures probably aren’t the best. I have to work on that. However, the basic principles of marketing are the same in that every picture, every line you write has to have a purpose to attracting your market.
  • Quality over quantity – simplicity is golden. In online dating, you’re trying to get a member to write you a message, or to respond to your own, with the goal of going offline for a meeting. Like a good slick for marketing your startup, don’t state every benefit in the world and feature to your customer. In online dating, state only the most pertinent information that would entice a member.
  • Customer discovery is fun but can get weird. You can watch how your “number of views” or “winks” counts change after you implement changes (geez, I wish I could do A/B testing), but in the end, you can also solicit someone like a friend who represents your target market, and get feedback. Just remember that like in a real startup, you’re looking for honest communication where partners aren’t shy to tell you what they like/ don’t like.
  • Know your target market – who’s in, who’s out. One thing I learned early on with Body Boss is that I have to accept some coaches were not ready for technology or interested, in general. There are just some who will not buy what you’re selling, and that’s okay. As they say, there are plenty other fish in the sea.
  • Don’t forget the Call-to-Action. Most online dating sites have a CTA for you in the form of a blue button that reads, “Email her now!” However, you can also help a reader start a conversation with a simple question like asking where would she go anywhere in the world tomorrow given nothing to stop her, or in my case, a simple WINK and I’ll start the conversation. (I think of this like a turn-key sign-up process where I’ll help you get started.)

Obviously online dating is not a startup. For one massive reason, I’m not looking for multiple customers. That’d be weird and terrible. So far, it’s been a fun experiment online with this new perspective of being a more seasoned entrepreneur. Now, I just have to attract the right partner… And to the point about the target market, I have to do a good job as a marketer/ sales person to make it like I’m the best product for the reader.

What are your thoughts about online dating or dating in general as it could relate to startups and business?  
Last week’s post about the hiatus of Body Boss received a lot of good, supportive feedback – 21 Lessons from Failure. That was interesting to me because it wasn’t a letter to the world about the close of Body Boss as much as it was about a learning opportunity. Instead, I wanted to follow up the lessons learned with a personal letter, but I didn’t know really how to begin. However, I believe a serial entrepreneur has just given me the spark with his one simple question:

Does humility factor anywhere in terms of your lessons learned from Body Boss?

Absolutely!
Body Boss has been incredibly humbling for not just myself, but for the whole team. Body Boss has helped me realize the hardwork needed to build a successful business and what it means to build a brand you can be proud of. We started Body Boss full of confidence, energy, and lofty goals, but we have to balance that with a healthy dose of humility. Yet, in a lot of ways, confidence and humility aren’t necessarily on opposite ends of the spectrum, but they work closer together. It’s been an incredible experience learning more about our strengths and our weaknesses. It’s not lost on me how much there is still for me to learn and grow, and that will never end. 
For me, personally, I’m disappointed I didn’t lead the team to success. Body Boss was the creation of everyone around us, not just the Body Boss team. I’m a product of my family, my friends, Georgia Tech, Emory, and so much more. It’s why we kept our family and friends up-to-date on our progress in addition to our customers and partners. We have had amazing support from everyone around us, and we are so grateful. It’s incredibly sad to let everyone around me down now. Sales make or break a company, and as such, I shoulder much of the blame. I’ve been learning from my mistakes, and I have to now take those lessons learned and improve them.
I’m saddened for the incredible Body Boss community that we couldn’t create a vast nation of like-minded coaches, trainers, and athletes to share their achievements to motivate each other for greater. Body Boss was built on a premise of “Motivation through Team Competition”. In a word – inspiration. Inspiration to achieve greater.
In the afterglow of Body Boss, I can relish being a part of an amazing team. The mastermind behind Body Boss’s inception was none other than Darren Pottinger – a true Brains meets Brawn entrepreneur. His tenacity and thirst to learn and dream big is second to none. Don Pottinger was the glue that brought us all together and the man who really made Body Boss come to life and hum. He labored so many hours late at night trouble-shooting and refining Body Boss into a better product for our customer-partners. And of course, all the amazing graphics, the sleek designs that landed us on so many creative sites… credit that to the revered Andrew Reifman. There wasn’t a soul around who wasn’t impressed with his amazing work. These are THE BEST guys in their fields – I know that.
People ask me what my Next Move is. I’m not entirely sure. It’s funny, but after my little Personal Renaissance during grad school, I’m now at this intersection where I’m firmly devout in what I want to do, but I don’t know where that means I should go next.
In any event, I do know I need to keep building off the lessons learned and to keep growing. Am I eager to start a new venture? Absolutely. I reflect plenty, and I’ll continue to write about entrepreneurial ideas including Body Boss, and share my thoughts with the World. I hope my writing inspires others to pursue their passions – startups, painting, pursuing European soccer glory (I can still do that, maybe?), or anything else others are scared to chase and grab right now. For me, I’m reaching for the opportunity to build companies to provide jobs, to build a smarter, healthier future, and to leave a legacy of my family, my friends, and my communities.
I’ve always wanted to be a Great Leader for others, and with that, I do have to constantly find the balance and inter-play between confidence and self-belief with humility. Body Boss was a great experience for all of us in becoming more humble. It’s allowed us to learn and develop for the next chapters in our lives. For the last 2.5 years, I’ve been fortunate to be a part of this Dream Team. As we may sunset this endeavor, I’m excited for where each of us goes from here. I firmly believe we’re all destined for great things.
So to all of you, our supporters, I say this with every ounce of my being and with eternal gratification: THANK YOU.
“Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strengths. When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is strength.” – Arnold Schwarzenegger

This past weekend, the Body Boss team and I attended the Glazier Football Clinic in Atlanta. Last year, over 1,800 coaches – primarily high school and from the southeast – congregated to attend some great speakers (including Georgia Tech’s Director of Player Development John Sisk) and check out some of the latest “toys” vis-à-vis vendors like us. Oh, and like all conferences, it’s also a bit of a high school reunion for these coaches to see old friends again on an annual basis. I wrote about the experience in the post “Spreadsheets SUCK! No, really, see what Coaches wrote…
Last year, we attended this clinic and a few others, and we admittedly didn’t have some important features in Body Boss. We heard it over and over again from coaches asking us, “Do you have an app?” (We had a mobile web app.) “Can you still printout group workouts?” (No, just individuals.) “I have younger players so we don’t strength train.” (Well, you can sorta do body weight tracking…)
This year, we were able to answer just about every question. Body Boss had evolved so much since we first launched and the 2013 Glazier Clinic and the subsequent Clinics. We heard from coaches and over and over again about specific features, and we built out those features that the most anti-Body Boss customers wanted/ needed. So imagine now our excitement in being able to sell a product that the coaches actually ASKED FOR!
  • “Do you have an app?” Absolutely. We have native iPhone, iPad, and Android apps (for smartphones and tablets).
  • “Can you still printout group workouts?” Yes, we still give you the ability to print out personalized workout cards for all your players or select groups.
  • “What if I have younger players?” Well, players of most ages should train. Younger ages shouldn’t necessarily strength train with weight, but they can still exercise. With Body Boss, you can create Workout programs that are specific for kids and including video tutorials on how to do them. You can engage the younger players while actually coaching them on how to perform drills, and you can even upload video tutorials so parents know what to do and how to motivate their kids.

Yeah… that’s how that went. But we also had a greater time at this clinic because of the way we engaged coaches and focused in on not necessarily the benefits right off the bat, but instead, we opened around pain points. See, the old-school way of doing things was always to either write down a workout on a whiteboard or use Excel to printout workouts, and then have the time and energy to enter all that data for the team back into a spreadsheet. Clearly, you can see the annoying and time-consuming efforts in that. We challenge the old-school way of doing things by introducing technology into an otherwise low-tech world with Coaches.

We started off the Clinic with a blank whiteboard simply asking coaches to write reasons as to why the old-school way, spreadsheets, SUCKED. Our wording was chosen carefully to illicit an emotion and really capture coaches’ attentions. When you have someone tell you something “SUCKS”, you tend to perk your ears. What we got at the end of the Clinic was a number of fantastic reasons why the old-school way is a real PAIN.

We started with…

And ended with…

Our new marketing strategy hit on a number of cool things, sometimes not intended, including:
  • Pain and annoying things evoke such a great emotion from prospects – it’s easy to understand
  • Having a board where our customers could share a voice created a way to coalesce their emotions in sometimes succinct messages, and thus, rally any passersby and fellow colleagues throughout the Clinic
  • Hand-writing the reasons also showcased the variability of handwriting legibility/ readability which in the old-school way of printout and submit, was an evil coaches had to deal with
  • Made for an easier way to pull in passersby into our booth. Coaches could be pulled in not just by our handsome faces and siren-esque voices, but also by our visuals including a big TV monitor that looped through video tutorials, our app on multiple devices, and of course, our Spreadsheets SUCK whiteboard
  • Can be used to re-engage with the leads generated and be a great talking point with future prospects
  • Showcased the pain points of the old-school “it’s always been that way” methodology
  • Definitely left an impression with coaches with a standout, memorable booth
So in the end, we got 70+ contacts… several which are very warm leads, and several who have already signed up for the free trial. Of course, the hardwork comes really after the Clinic as we engage with the contacts to convert into trials which then we must try to convert into sales. But our initial momentum has yielded 3X the leads and contacts, and we didn’t even have our wonderful fitness models from last year!
And as for the whiteboard, it was a great idea that we used, and one that came out of nowhere. It reminds me of one of the great lessons my Entrepreneurship professor, Charles Goetz, taught me while I was at Emory, and that was the difference between latent vs. active needs. Approaching an industry and individuals where technology hasn’t been a big deal until recently (unless you’re in a research lab or something), a lot of the old-school methods can be dubbed “latent needs” where users don’t know about the pain and don’t need to address till they come to that bridge. What bringing the pain-points of old-school front and center, we might have just recategorized the old-school methods as ACTIVE needs. This, now allows us to address those needs directly with Body Boss.
So what are your thoughts about your experiences at conferences and how your messaging and products get tweaked? How would you shift customers’ latent needs to become active needs?

Alright, so it’s 2014! Happy New Year! Okay, we’re a little belated…

Into Year 2 now for Body Boss (since launch), and it’s Go Big or Go Home time.  Since we launched last year, we found conferences and clinics are really great platforms for us to market and sell Body Boss.  Especially for our target audience, the big clinics occur in the late winter months into the early part of summer. In fact, we’ve got a big Coach’s clinic this weekend for mostly high school football coaches throughout the southeast for the Glazier Football Clinic.

Preparation can really set yourself apart and really be a great marketing and sales diving board if done well.  So here are some tips and pointers for you as you think about heading to a conference either as an exhibitor or just an attendee…

  • Conferences are rarely where dollars are exchanged.  Yup.  If you’re looking to close a lot of deals, they’re not going to be at those exhibitor booths.  Instead, they may happen at a dinner or meeting room nearby, or more likely, later.  Conferences are more about making the connections.
  • Have some standout materials to give out.  When I say materials, I mean like content materials — one-page slicks, business cards, and otherwise.  I can’t tell you how many great leads and compliments we get from some of our materials. We don’t spend much money on the actual materials, but we make sure what we give out is designed well to leave an impression with the call to action (CTA).  Look into Moo.com for business cards, and Vista Print for some one-pagers.
  • Get out from behind the table.  I’ve seen some vendors sit behind a table waiting for people to talk to them.  This is HORRIBLE.  People aren’t going to just walk up because you have a table and a sign.  If anything, you look cold, and no one wants to work with someone who’s cold and uninviting.  Get out, and think about being proactive in pulling people in.  You’ve probably spent money to be at the conference, so spend a little effort to bring them in, too.
  • Give them a reason to talk to you.  First, your product or service should offer some value to the target audience or this whole post goes to the can.  Beyond, you have to captivate the audience to stop by.  One way to do this is with a good looking banner.  Let’s call this a minimum requirement because everyone else will at least have SOME banner.  If you rely on one the conference gives you, it’ll probably be terrible, and it’ll entice no one.  If you’ve got power at the booth, think about hooking up a TV or other display that alternates images or videos so wandering eyes will be quickly drawn to your booth.
  • Your booth is like a website.  If you’ve got the right signage, your product on display, or even someone demo’ing, you’ve done your inbound marketing.  Next, it doesn’t hurt to also have a little outbound marketing, too.  In conjunction with the “get out from behind the table” point above, say something interesting to grab people’s attentions as they walk by.  Heck, we’ve even dared or joked with coaches who walk by our booth, and just because we’ve got some personality and passion for our business, they want to come over to talk to us.
  • Hire models with brains (if you must).  With the whole “grab attention”, I think this is an important point.  I’ve seen some pretty cheesy booths in the past who hired models to help bring people in.  But what’s funny is that when these models bring in prospects, the prospects ask questions and the models have no idea what to say.  We’ve actually brought two great models in the past to a Clinic.  They were fantastic.  Outside of being models, they knew the business and they knew fitness.  When it came to coaches asking about the product or talking shop, the models were on point, and ended up getting several coaches to sign up for trials by themselves — a great asset, too, when the rest of us are handling other prospects.

Presentation is half the battle, especially, I think, at conferences where you’re really trying to lure people in. Then again, the best strategy is to have a strong following via word-of-mouth which could end up funneling potential customers TO you rather than you pulling others in. And while you’re talking to the masses, you’ll no doubt intrigue others to stop in and hear what you’re all about. Kind of sounds like a quality street show, not that I say it…

What are your thoughts on conferences?  What might I have missed?