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.

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’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’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.

I posted recently about the importance to periodically check how a current role/ position fits into the greater journey – “Before Making Moves Based On Today’s Bad, Chart How All The Dots Align to A Path”. I took this to heart recently by reviewing my resume and updating my skills and experience. It’s made me aware of my career progression and my upcoming path as I head into my mid-30s. In short: optically, I’ve been rather stagnant.
Building a startup is incredibly hard work. Many startups do not come close to the type of success that is read about in the news or even the local startup digest. Entrepreneurship, though intrinsically rewarding, is not well-received professionally.
As I’ve had the great opportunities to lead sales at Body Boss Fitness, SalesWise, and SalesWise’s new product/ brand Burner Rocket, they’ve all been tough experiences to get through. Starting from virtually nothing and fighting to get scraps of the first 10 customers and then the next is rarely seen from the outside. The mind soaks up more information than what any “normal corporate” job may provide. However, it’s, in some ways, specialized. The bruises and cuts that I have felt by leading the charge for what a sales process may look like, what are the pieces of collateral that will help sell, how do we support our customers when we don’t even know the full metrics of what is working and what is not… those lessons are not always visible to the outside world. And yet, I know the incredible value that has been learned. I know the pains and the difficulties to get to where we are. I have good hypotheses for why we may not have grown at a faster clip, but from the outside, there’s little stock. Growing from 0-10 may not be as impressive as being a leader who hit the $2MM ARR quota from last year’s $1.5MM. Should that be?
Again, periodically looking through the portfolios of seemingly little accomplishments for early-stage opportunities, I can sense there’s a strain. There’s a pull and a fight between the desire to hop into a role where the hard work has mostly been done. Perhaps, there’s a need for an optimizer or a player to just “grow more”. It’s a struggle – to be a part of something so early that the chances of success are low. The challenges and rewards are greater. Or, do I take the easier route by following the path others have already trotted on before. In that way, perhaps I can have the requisite bullet points for others to note and say, “yes, he’s had that experience of hitting XX of quota”.
Being an entrepreneur and taking a real fight to creating something special isn’t always lauded. It’s rarely what folks are really looking for. But they’re the opportunities I’m looking for. It looks like I’m still on the right path.

Recently, my company and I left @ATLTechVillage. It was bittersweet — a place I visited right after @davidcummings bought the building, and always wanted to be a member of. As I left, I wanted to write a letter, but decided a list of lessons from my time would be more welcome…

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

Here are my 21 lessons learned from my time @ATLTechVillage… to all you Villagers, entrepreneurs, Atlantans, the Community. (Many more sure to come up as time goes & things marinate, but here goes!)

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

1Don’t EVER merge into the right-turn lane in front of ATV on Piedmont too late during lunch or afternoon rush hour. Police will yell at you to “unmerge”. Talk-back & get a ticket. Think you got away? Check your rearview. She’s likely running after you.

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

2If you want some mid-day entertainment, watch the traffic police during lunch or afternoon rush hour to see the above lesson in action. Warning: 15 minutes will pass without you knowing.

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

3Spend more time getting your oatmeal or morning coffee, and finally say hello to the people you always see, but still never get to know. It’s amazing how many strangers with familiar faces there are in the place you spend so much of your life in.

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

4If you’re going to interact with the @ATLTechVillage Community Team, be incredibly enthusiastic because that’s the level they always bring to the table. If you’re emailing, include at least 12 exclamation points. Doesn’t matter how many sentences.

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

5The ATV cleaning staff is made up of some of the hardest working, friendliest folks you’ll encounter – shout out to Rossy and Crescensio. They’re likely there before you, and they’re likely there after you. Say, “hola” and “adios” more often.

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

6If you enter the building and exit the building via the first floor, you have the added benefit of saying good morning and good night to the security team.

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

7@Lane_JKL is great at creative handshakes.

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

8The walls are thin. Realize that your Lady Gaga and “Kiki, do you love me” on the TVs and computers can be heard during a demo to Fortune 500 leadership teams (everyone).

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

9When you least expect it, those damn columns in the parking deck move causing you to scrape your car.

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

10Feedback and help are literally next door. There’s so much brain power and creativity in your own office, I’m sure. But there’s even more when you consider all your friendly neighbors.

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

11After walking to and from lunch on a hot summer’s day, the best way to cool down is sitting on the couch in the mailroom. It’s always the coldest, most refreshing room in the Village.

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

12Don’t wait for the elevator if you’re going up or down one flight of stairs unless you’ve got a good reason. From a productivity standpoint, you’ll lose time 75% of those trips.

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

13I never took advantage of the roof enough during the good weather days that I then regret during the bad weather days. When the weather’s nice, go up there.

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

14Even though many of the hallways are whiteboards (paint), the writing tends to stay there for a long time. Don’t write something that reflects poorly on the Community, your company, and you.

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

15Never steal food.

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

16Okay, the nap room is a little weird. But when you need it, it’s the best room in the Village.

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

17Freestyle (verb. To travel to and acquire beverage from@ccfreestyle machine on the 1st floor next to the Community Room) whenever you can for the exercise, for the break, for the hydration, for the community.

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

18Post a bunch of times on the Atlanta Tech Village Slack and Forum to sell used equipment. It moves your inventory and keeps good tech amongst good tech people. ?

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

19Go to events as much as possible. The world is built on relationships. Those “organic” meet-ups can make the world of difference – a sales opportunity, a partnership, a creative idea to get over a problem, a friend, etc.

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

20To the last point, say hello to more people, and then, go beyond to find out who people are. So many strangers with familiar faces, and the world needs more authenticity. Say hello and find out what drives people. You’ll be amazed.

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

21The Atlanta startup ecosystem is bustling. Amazing to see folks taking the leap and dreaming big in ATL & @ATLTechVillage. Soak it all in. Rare to be around concentration energetic people who love what they do! Say hello. This is the Village, not Atlanta Tech Building.

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

“Business insulation” – I’m going to trademark that to stand for both the visible and hidden layer(s) that stops/ slows businesses from learning outside processes and systems. I think about business insulation for two reasons:
  1. It’s common for companies in “typical” industry positions to operate much like they have operated since inception. Many industries and businesses stay closely aligned to original go-to-market strategies. Folks do not realize the opportunities afforded by fast-growing technology companies and the evolution of “best practices”.
  2. Companies with business insulation are ripe for both good and bad opportunities. The good opportunities include companies that can be made stronger and grow faster sustainably with streamlined workflows and minor tweaks to business systems. The bad opportunities (“challenges”) include the difficulties for companies to overcome the insulation. How do they learn of opportunities, let alone implement them? Think: change management is the number 1 driver of failed implementations.
Business insulation masquerades today as:
  • Excuses from “That’s just how we’ve always done business” to “Things are going well, let’s not rock the boat”.
  • Working so deep in the day-to-date that leaders are unable to pull up for a more strategic view. They’re unable to steer away from risks and steer towards opportunistic endeavors.
  • Hiring the same type of candidates repeatedly creating a homogenous workforce and culture.
  • A team led by distrustful executives playing political chess.
  • Lack of deliberate time for learning from current and outside industries.
Of course, business insulation has the benefit of keeping companies squarely focused on what they’re good at. That can be a type of long-term strategy. However, over time, these strategies turn companies into highly niche offerings that take the company from long-term sustainability to short-term rewards.
What elements are contributing to business insulation where you are? How are you contributing to the insulation? How are you tearing down insulation?
I know a few folks who are diving into new ideas. One way of starting up has been fleshing out the Lean Canvas — a simple one-pager in lieu of a business plan. 
Like a business plan, the Lean Canvas helps folks capture the key elements of a business without building out a detailed, largely never-to-be-used-again business plan. It’s certainly a good way to get started while thinking holistically. 
Another method I’ve been thinking about after reviewing “landing page how-to’s“(see Julian’s Landing Pages handbook) is what I’ll refer to as the Alternatives-Value-Personas (AVP) framework. This is a stripped-down version of a Lean Canvas. In fact, this may be a preceding model before the Canvas. 
 
(Source: https://www.julian.com/guide/growth/landing-pages) 
  
In this framework, the idea is to dig into the pain today — what exists — and describe the value of a proposed solution as well as the people involved. Why I bring this up as another option is to understand the problem and the people greater while having a hypothesis of the value of the solution. The most important facet of starting out a business is the market and the pain. Is there a pain at all? What exists solving the pain, or even contributing to the pain? 
Another option for folks is building on a Simplified One-Page Strategic Plan as David Cummings calls it. This is an outline layout of the key aspects of the business. You’ll recognize here, too, the template has specific sections for values, purpose, promise — cultural elements.   
 
(Source: https://davidcummings.org/2016/11/29/2017-simplified-one-page-strategic-plan/)  
There are a lot of different options to get started. However, the most important piece is understanding the audience and addressing real pain, or as one VC describes “hair on fire“. 

Where do you want to go? Where are you now? Are you getting to where you want to go?
These are questions I’ve been fielding recently. However, these are questions that should be periodically asked and answered. More than likely, myself and many others ask these questions only when things are bad. That is, thoughts arise like, “I don’t like where I am, what should I do next?” It’s akin to reevaluating bad habits or poor exercise form only when pain occurs. Even less often is when longer-term questions are asked.
It’s a problem.
We shouldn’t ask these questions so rarely. We definitely shouldn’t ask these questions simply when things are not going well. (“Don’t go to the grocery store when hungry” comes to mind.)
We should ask ourselves several times a year where do we want to go. Has this changed since the last time we asked? Why?
The difficult part of not asking these questions periodically, then, comes when we have to ask the question not out of a want and simply to stay aligned. Instead, the difficulty comes when the change must come out of necessity – when a drastic change must occur. The difficulty comes when we find ourselves further beyond our locus of control. The difficulty comes when things have become easy or comfortable, and we’ve adopted a higher luxury. That’s when lethargy comes in and we forget about our why.
Ask yourself: Where do I want to go? Where am I now? Am I getting to where I want to go? If not, how do I get back on-track?