Category Archives: Communcation

Actions speak louder then words

A person, company, organization community can be judged on its actions and behaviours not its intents. Especially when the shit hits the fan. Its easy to be nice when the world is all good. Behaviours, the culture under stress shows the real capacity of the leadership.

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Choosing a name for your startup

Through my marketing career I have helped companies name themselves and their products.  Each journey is unique, sometimes it is quick and sometimes not, it should not be rushed. More recently I have helped out a couple tech startups, think this through. Here are my insights from the perspective of a startup or small business. I will assume you do not have a large advertising budget to educate your consumers or users.

The strongest names tend to be:

  • Unique
  • Easy to say(pronounce) and easy to write(spell)
  • Easy to understand
  • They tend to reflect Values or Benefits of the product not features, not sure of what FBV are? Look here
  • Have emotion as they describe inherit values
  • They may use words, with inherent trust in them, or coming a mythology already in place
  • They may be counter-culture, to rest of their sector
  • At least one noun
Bad names:
  • incorrect spelling
  • acronyms
  • boring
  • based on the latest trend
  • swear words
  • when using two words or more there is an inequality in the power of the words
  • adverbs

Things that do not matter:

Too many companies choose names based on what is available on the web.  URL vs Google search – in my humble opinion people rarely type in the URL bar, but instead will type the company name straight into their search engine (Google, Bing or Yahoo).

Corporate or product naming

Corporate branding – about the values, behaviours and thus culture of your organization.  So that you can attract the right talent to your organization.  In Simon Sineks’ book Start with the Why – people don’t buy what you do; people buy why you do it

Product branding – All about your customers and their needs/desires.

An example from a startup weekend (54 hours – No talk, all action):

We wanted to build a tele-presence (e.g. you could control it from a web browser) robot (on wheels, inductive charging and video camera) that people were comfortable with having in their home, it would either check to see if their pet was ok, used to communicate with tech-phobic granny or sweep the house to see if all was good.  We felt the biggest market was to look after or checkin on either pets or grannies, our price point was $300. Women cared most. So I went to a dog park to see if small dog owners in apartment block inner cities would be interested.  There were more women the first morning, all small dogs, about half could not get home to check their pet at lunchtime and would then rush home after work.  They said “I would love to check-in with Frankly, he is so cute”. The term check-in appeared a lot in conversation.  However they did not like the idea of a robot, it felt too un-organic, but one suggestion was “well if it looked like a bear that would be cool.  So I started asking what animals people liked.. They seemed to reflect the movies of the time so, chicken, panda, penguin and monkeys.. so it made sense to call it ANIMAL + CHECKIN.  So I tried Chicken Checkin – people reacted with a surprise and then a smile (That is good). This played well with the audience would buy it for their grandmother as well (the grand daughters using their own or mothers money for their grand mother). I then used animal names people wanted most on the higher price scale, aspiration and all that. Chicken checkin as the cheapest base model, Chatty Panda for the good model (two way video conferencing) and periscope penguin (extendable neck – kitchen counter).

One other thing I knew the leading competitors at the start-up weekend – one was being led by a local Venture capitalist on home security – so i was guessing they would be going for rational proposition, a touch of fear (of home invasion), republican and money.  Another competitor was being led by a local Angel – another way to give money to homeless people, so very emotional, democrat, and fair.  In terms of name and brand I was looking for humour, clarity, independent, emotional but tying into common sense.  Essentially I was ensuring we would portray something very different in the pitch, not just in product but in style. It worked to a degree we won best presentation.

You can read the start weekend post here.

The importance of emotion

Every word comes with a meaning to a person, it may even not be about the word but the letters used.  They may not or love the name simply because of their history. People always come with baggage.

Literal versus abstract names – its on a scale

Personally I believe the more literal the name, the less education(marketing) will be needed for people to place you. And it is important(why psychology and memory) for people to be able to place/position you if you want mass market rather than just visionary buyers.

Comparisons

How would you choose a child’s name? Why do certain names mean more than others? We have a surprisingly amount of prejudices/emotion based on human names, often based on the first person we met with that name

Process

If you are finding difficult here is a process that may help you discover the name. This journey may help you explore more than just your name but your whole business. Its important to keep it separate from the design process.

Stage One: Research

  • Know your shit – the business, the sector, the competition
  • Know your values – a process in its self, which should really involve others
  • Research your stakeholders – Porters five forces (Customers, Suppliers, Competition, New Entrants, Substitutes)
  • Choose a perspective (Who are the first set of customers you want onboard, who will champion your cause – what is their psychological makeup? What words do they like and use)
  • Your name is not alone – Type, colours, logo – will add clues to what you are about and can dramatically change the way words are perceived.

Stage Two: Get past the NOW

Sometimes people are so fixed about their idea, filter and prejudices that they cannot see clearly.  As the startup journey is very often emotional, it can cloud us from ration thought, which can be helpful.  That said a good name depends on having a strong emotional connection.

First Impressions

Get your team together and put the following questions on flip chart paper – give everyone post-it notes and a felt tip (it limiteds the number of words used) and describe:

Q1 – What do you(the organsation) do?

Q2 – How does your consumer/user benefit?

Q3 – What do you change in your consumer?

Q4 – Why are you unique? This one tends to get more bullshit answers than the others, be honest.

Q5 – What are your values and how does this reflect in behaviours and product/services? (If you are seeking actual behaviours then your values are not a reality, yet..) You should know this BEFORE you consider your name.

Everyone gets to put up there own views, no filtering or founder bullying.  Each idea should be discussed (people can keep adding) and grown. Brainstorming – not sure how? Have a look here.

Stage Three: Record the journey

Reserve a lot of wall space..

The Wall of Names – somewhere there should a wall of ideas, post-it notes with names, all are valid ideas. Each person would try to grow each idea, or help it down the evolutionary ladder. The more people you allow into the process the more ideas you will get.  This wall is not limited to words , pictures, sketches and photos are equally good.

The Wall of Customers (for product name) – the same as above but describes the customers you want. Their personalities, their drivers, fashion, music, everything

The Wall of Talent (for corporate name) – What are the types of people you want to attract? We all want smart people to work for us. But what kind of smartness? At a small business level your talent will be limited by the personality of the founder/leader. The unaware founder will want lots of people like them, but with different capabilities. The smart founder will be looking for different types of personalities as building a team is often about weaving, very different people together (as they all have different perspectives and will be able to see different problems and solutions).

Stage Four: Step out of your space

A fair degree of innovation comes from looking at other people doing other things, in other places and seeking what we can learn from them.  In part this happens so often that Michael Porter had two elements (Threat of New Entrants and Threat of Substitutes) in his Porters Five forces model to account for people who can come from another sector and replace what you are doing e.g. Apple taking over music and in part mobile.

Look at other organizations in other sectors (not your own) – which organization would you want to be from any sector profit, non-profit or governmental.  You are looking for the organizations that you admire and would like to emulate in some way.  For each organization breakdown why you like them, into values, people, products/services, get a little deep here, you are trying to truly see past the marketing/propaganda to see how they are connecting with you.

Unique possibilities

After you have reviewed the organizations consider what does not occur in your sector that already exists in another.

Stage Five: Deciding

Choosing a name is not an easy process.  Some people start with code names e.g. Project ALPHA, so they can just label it. Labelling is important for most humans.  If you are on a timescale I would suggest taking everyone out of work to start the above process, allow for no distractions, if possible get an independent to help facilitate the session.  They will concentrate on getting the best out of people in terms of ideas.  What ever you do always sleep on it.  The brain generally does some amazing stuff whilst you are asleep.

Names are like falling in love, you know it.  This can take time. Everyone will feel it.  That said even after choosing you may have doubts, thats ok.

The advocate – you will need at least one person to love the idea and explore its possibilities. Without a true advocate you do not have a good name.

Good places to think about it – Road Trip (with the team, not alone) you are together but in the real world with different stimulations, walk around a shopping mall, go to a conference about something you know nothing about, read an autobiography of someone with a completely different life to you. Lack of sleep can help 🙂 Expose yourself to different forms of stimulation.

Good books

These books are not directly related, but each has taught me something with naming:

Sticky Wisdom – Understanding and growing creative cultures

Eating the Big Fish – About branding when you are the punk on the block

How to have Kick-Ass Ideas – Shake it up

Visual Meetings

Logo Design love

If you want to deeper into branding here are a couple other reccomendations

Designing Brand Identity 

Brand Sense

Brand Portfolio Strategy

I welcome your thoughts and experiences.  Where did your names come from?  What are your favourite names?

A cold startup weekend in Seattle – The rise of the designer

After Vancouver Startup weekend, I pretty much decided to head to the next Seattle event.  Mujtaba Badat @MujtabaBadat (he presented Duke Nuke – one of the winners) and I became friends after the Vancouver event and so drove down to event from Vancouver together.  The Seattle event was themed the “Rise of the Designers”  on January 13 – 15th 2012.

Bootcamp (Thursday night)

I loved the idea of the bootcamp, but we could not get down on thursday night.  In the last event I helped out with business model, marketing, wire framer and social media setup. This weekend I wanted to help out with front end web dev. The bootcamp offered the following:

    1. Get your computer configured with all the tools needed to work collaboratively with your future team members.
    2. Setup and configure a GitHub account with a skeleton project including:
    3. App Engine – web framework with simple user accounts, database, and hosting.
    4. Bootstrap – HTML design toolkit
    5. jQuery – client side Javascript framework
    6. Backbone.js – Rich application HTML5 framework

FRIDAY EVENING

Entering into the venue there was real energy, most people were up and talking to each other.  There was the fresh smell of pizza, beer and excitement, it was infectious.

Networking

I met as many people as I could without being rude.  Sometimes I forget that I have a British accent and I find that americans tend to listen to my accent more than my words for at least the first sentence.

Speaker – Matt Shobe CEO Big Door (@shobe)

Here are some highlights I took from his presentation.

  1. Surpass fear (learn from everyone, the answer is yes to any reasonable request)
  2. Successful teams (speed of execution, empathy, transparency (Good honest arguments))
  3. Openness (No such thing as a private conversation with your customers, Admit your mistakes publicly)
  4. Personality (The spirit of the people who created the product, find opportunities to high-five your customers when they succeed)

Preamble

The event was hosted by John Morefield (@jamorefield) and Shane Reiser (@shanereiser). There were about 36 designers at the event and 20% returning from other startup weekends. Ideas

So one difference at this event from Vancouver was that you had to put your pitch online.  I liked this, as it made it easy to track which ideas you like. There was about 50 pitches. The ones that stuck with me include:

  • QR Codes for giving to homeless,
  • Robots – Here is Justin’s initial pitch
  • Writing community
  • A wish list of places you want to go
  • After party mobile app
  • make the most of an event
  • A mobile app to plan surprises for people
  • Bus route app
  • Web monitoring to provide affordable home security
  • Superheros mobile app where you could conquer real life locations

The ideas were presented and we than got a chance to meet the pitchers and discuss further. I was looking for an interesting idea, but also people who would be fun to work with.  I wanted to avoid people who came over as too serious or who appeared to need to control. I also wanted to avoid ideas that had being researched in great detail, as then focus tends to be narrowed and there is less clay to play with (although they are more likely to win).  I did not care about how good a presenter the idea pitcher was.  We were given three votes.  After the vote 15 ideas remained.  Each pitcher got 60 seconds to tell us who they were looking for.

Deciding who to join?

  1. QR Codes for homeless donations I really liked and they had a decent sized team.
  2. Robots: the pitcher (Justin Wu) I had met during networking and I loved his energy but he had only two others on board, one tech and one interior designer.
  3. The Surprises App had a really big team, maybe too big.
Here is Justin’s initial pitch:

The Team In the end I decided Robotic team, as they had no business person (yes I wanted to code, next time), I had never worked on a physical product before and I knew I would enjoy working with Justin (he has sooo much of energy, and surprisingly he works at Microsoft!). We moved quickly to find the best location, a window for light, a white board and near where the food would be setup.. The team consisted of Justin @jzwoo (Microsoft engineer) – standing at the back, Guru (Microsoft engineer) sitting down on the left , Elijah (Interior Designer) hiding at the back on the left  and me (the nutter in red). Justin basically wanted to find a business model excuse for playing with robots!  We brainstormed use cases, the strongest seemed to be:

  • Checking in on elderly parents
  • Playing with your pet at lunchtime
  • Security for second home owners or people who travel a lot

Getting to know Robots

Justin talked about the capabilities and what we would have to build ourselves.  From this we felt that an Open source robot operating system, with a modular chassis into which you could plug and play extra hardware and sensors. The intention was to allow the shell to be different shapes and materials. We also considered giving 1% of profits to WWF and modelling our robots on endangered species Making money with a consciousWe live on one planet when it’s done it’s done. So we considered what could we do sustainably. 100% Organic Polymers seemed easy enough. We debated the concept of Cradle to Cradle – essentially we take back your dead robot to recycle and reuse.

We broke up for the night and I started playing with some ideas for names, concentrating on the product rather than the company.

SATURDAY

Up early with the Dogs

In the morning I went to the nearest dog park to gut-check some early name and price points with the locals and to see if I could learn anything to help us. I learned that the most receptive target market was young, professional woman, who live in small apartments (especially tower blocks) and whose commute to work was at least 25 minutes.  The price point seemed to be under $300  I tested a number of names and found that animal concepts worked well, but that most women did not like made up names.  The name “Chicken Checkin” brought a number of smiles to people’s faces.  Pushing a bit further, most of the people I spoke to had grandmothers who they all felt guilty about not interacting with enough and that about 50% did not live anywhere near them,

Name

I sold the “Chicken Checkin” idea to Justin and the rest of the team as they came in, and updated them on what I’d learned. Justin worked on giving an us a set of robot feature set that would cost under $300. This was a product name only, the company name would be Life Style Robots.

Drafting the Business model

Version One Life Style Robots

I found some research conducted in Japan that showed elderly people preferred robots to look like robots or animals but not humans (maybe they watched Battlestar Galactica). Also women tend to care more for aesthetics of a device (and this was rise of designer weekend). So I played with some concepts and trialled them out on random women in coffee shops and fellow weekenders. I worked on animals that had fat bellys so to be able to accommodate the chassis.

  • Chicken checkin – to be our cheapest option under $300
  • Chatty Panada – Use an iTouch equip device and allow for two-way video and be under $600
  • Periscope Penguin – To be able to see above a kitchen counter to be under $700
  • Reaching orang-utan – with long arms

Mentors

So during saturday several mentors came over to ask what we were up to.  After describing our idea they would give their perspective. Early on some of the advice was tough to listen to as it was extremely critical.  Each of them had some really different styles.  The style that really worked was those mentors who owned their perspective and gave what they saw as our weaknesses with ideas about how we could overcome them. At some point on saturday we had two mentors come and give their perspective, both were pretty aggressive with their opinions.  Some of their advices was not helpful as they wanted a lot and we just did not have the resources (people to carry them out). We as a team felt really deflated.  Justin had being to a couple of events and he said he called this “Mentor Whip Lash” and his perspective was to take the good advice and follow our instincts.  Labelling it seemed to help. For the mentors that came after this, whilst we listened, and I wrote copious notes and then we also chose what to ignore and what to take on. NOTE – this is not say that the advice that was given was wrong, in some cases we needed to process it, others we wanted this to be our path, and not the mentor’s. That said mentors sometimes need to tell us the uncomfortable things.

Social Media

Facebook page is the easiest, least resource intensive way of getting a presence on the internet.  That said, you need 25 likes of your page before you can own the URL for the page. So my poor Facebook friends got spammed.. I asked some of the other teams to help out too. www.facebook.com/chickencheckin/

Mock design

Elijah (our interior designer) took the Chicken concept to heart and started to mould a physical mock-up.. Of course we are building a physical product! Clearly the egg came first.. Software

Justin and Guru concentrated on the software: in our perfect world we want to show the robot being controlled by a web browser or via smart phone whilst video chatting.

Who should pitch

Sometime during the day Justin said that his head was going to be in making sure we could present the robot and asked if I could present the pitch. I nearly said no but he looked stressed when I started to, so I agreed.  We talked about how to divide the pitch, I would get two and half minutes (out of four) leaving the rest for the robot. At some point on sunday one of the mentors check us out and the presentation and told us that Justin should pitch as does not sound “above the audience”. Sidenote – Over the last couple years US TV and film has put a lot of English people into ‘evil’ character roles. I wonder sometimes if is becoming part of the american psyche to assume that we are.  (Mwa-Ha-Ha-Ha-Haaah!!) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v2hmP8_mXUc&feature=related

UPDATES

During the day, teams stopped for 15 minutes to give each other updates with where they were, including accomplishments and problems.  Most teams stayed in the same space which kept the energy high.  I believe a couple of teams went to a VC’s office and another some other office space. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pH9Gx_IdLic&feature=related

Drafting the pitch

So as the cards fell out, I ended up  building the presentation deck as I was the only one comfortable with design and presentation software.  So I built out the skeleton of what we need to cover. My process is to put down everything, work out what is missing, fill it out and then replace all the words with images.

Drafting Business Model Version two

Website

Saturday night I worked on the website as I was the only one with any front end web skills.  I did not finish it for the weekend.  I was looking for a playful style, that showed a prototype mentality. Its in HTML 5, Css 3 and Javascript so it may not work on IE9

SUNDAY

Concept diagram & logo

Elijah built a couple of concept diagrams so you could see our device to scale and then he started on a logo. Building the pitch deck

I pitched a couple of times to mentors and strangers alike. I am an amateur designer and would loved to have a graphic designer on the team to help me build out the visual story.. We got some good news the pitch length was going to be five minutes.  Now we could really cover the business model.

Business Model version three

At some point we narrowed down our target market to provide senior citizens with life style robots and dropped home security and pet care. Whilst they were nice additions there was no way I could sell all three markets in three and a half minutes. Better to focus. Guru pulled a competition analysis together. Elijah helped me pull out some more figures together and Justin gave us the final breakdown of components and costs.

Research

During the day I kept researching to find some real nuggets of information and to be ready for the Q & A. I think this is where our team size hurt us as if we had another person we could have worked out all the figures we needed for a professional, investor pitch. I went to a couple of stores to find some senior women (over 65) or women in their fifties (their daughters) to talk about our Chicken checkin. I spoke to five woman in their fifties, three out of five liked the idea, but on two occasions they were with their daughters (grand daughters) who really liked the idea.  Again, three out of five (woman in their 50s) did not live anywhere near their mothers. I had a great conversation with one elderly lady who frankly I wanted to adopt as my grandma! She had a great sparkle in her eyes and was very cheeky. Practice, Practice, Practice

I found a quiet spot and practiced my pitch out loud and timed it.  I was coming in at three minutes forty. I showed it to a couple of others in another group and got feedback. Later, I joined the locals around pioneer square, talking out loud whilst wandering around. 😉  I even practiced my chicken noise with a homeless guy for a while. I got back to find the pitch length was back down to four minutes.. back to two and half minutes. I watched Mujtaba give his (it was very good for CloudSense) and I gave mine.  We gave each other honest feedback.

Err.. Snow in Seattle!

I love snow, trying to think about the project not skiing down a mountain 😉 Maybe we could put the robot on skis or a board and test it.. Pitch order and technical check in

About 4pm we chose our pitch position. Our team felt going near the end to help us buy more time to get the robot ready, so we might learn from the other pitches and be more likely to be remembered by the judges after 14 pitches (a lot to remember).  We ended up pitching last!

The other pitches It’s really hard to pay attention to all the other pitches, when you are waiting to do your own.  I think I watched nine:

  • Iron Curtain was polished, this was led by Seattle venture capitalist Greg Gottesman, who also pitched.
  • Street Code was powerful, this was pitched and led by one of the judges (Mike Koss who was replaced by Adam Philipp). They had two pitchers.
  • Suprize had a lot of bumps but was immensely funny (in a good way)
  • WhichBus was gorgeous
The Judges were well natured, yet asked some good questions.  Adam took on some of the aggressive business questions.

Our Pitch

I knew I had to bring the audience back to life after a long weekend and 13 other pitches and Q&A. I had to give them all the energy  I could muster (I was balancing my drinking of energy drinks with water), but being sensitive enough to feel what they wanted from me.  Our pitch can be seen (well just heard really) on Ustream http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/19798455 and starts at 45:20 it misses about 10 seconds but the sound quality is really good OR or you can see below on YouTube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2978E3H1cTU&feature=mfu_in_order&list=UL http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MNNpuR7mBEw&feature=mfu_in_order&list=UL It starts with Chicken Checkin Screen and ends with Demo Time.. Sorry cannot get the slide show to exclude the other images..

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I started the pitch with a Buuraaa ac (chicken noise).  A couple slides in I noticed a big spelling mistake in one of the slides (I changed the word right at the last moment).  I would have liked to allow some of the jokes to rest with the audience but I did not have time.  At the end of my section I asked the audience to cluck to encourage our chicken checkin robot to come out.  The audience was awesome! 🙂 I am pretty sure I even heard a judge cluck 🙂 I then handed off to Jason at 2 minutes 40ish, to demo the robot.  Of course there were a couple technical hitches but we showed it working.

The Q & A

The judges were speechless. “The obvious question is… I guess there isn’t an obvious question….”  was tweeted out referring to Scott Rutherfords’ reaction (one of the judges).  I got asked some good questions and I gave OK answers, but I should have practiced this more. There were questions about the serious uses of the robot, what market validation had we done, an offer for help and the cost margins.

F*ck, we won something..The judges awarded five companies and we won best presentation and came third, prizes for which included:

Iron Blanket (@Iron_Blanket)came out top with the best business model, followed by Street Code(@StreetQR_Code) with the best market Validation, followed by us (Chicken Checkin) for the best presentation, followed by Surprise with the best UX.  With honourable mention going to WhichBus for best design. More detail can be seen here on Geekwire.  For the other teams have a look here http://swsea.posterous.com/

Reflection:

We had to drive back to Vancouver, so we headed, straight after the event (with the snow we were not sure how icy the roads would be), so we missed the after party 😦 .  Mujtaba and I reflected on what we learned, how it was different from the Vancouver event, how are respective pitches went and what we would do differently next time.  It was at this point I noticed how HUNGRY I was, having not eaten since breakfast..  Junk food here I come..

1.  The size of teams

I think Iron Curtain had 14 bodies and Surprise was 13 bodies, having that many people really helps what you can deliver in a weekend. Clearly you need good leadership if your team is that big. At just 4 people we needed more people, but we did good.

2.  Graphic Designers and Artists are important 

We did not have a graphic designer, in fact 75% of team were engineers. Having that capability on your team will make such a difference in UX, branding and story telling. I need to find a way to recruit one next time.. Maybe show them a very badly drawn presentation that breaks ALL of the principles..  Just in case you want more proof, here are the sketches I did in my hostel for the pitch for the website (saturday night). 3.  Pre-weekend work

Both in Vancouver and Seattle it felt like, those that had some good pre-market research done before the weekend started. This gives a team a real edge, as it can be quiet difficult to do effective market research at the weekend.  Some people avoid their e-mail, some businesses are not even open, depending on the weather it maybe possible however to find people shopping, which gives the possibility of some direct marketing (face to face clipboard questioning).

4.  Accessible network

Having friends to help out to cover spots that your team is missing is really helpful, I saw this happen both in Vancouver and Seattle..  As well as having friends respond to your survey to get some serious validation. Maybe give some of your specialist friends a heads up and an offer for beer..

5.  Awards

Having the awards broken down into why they were in best was really good. However, there was a little confusion (and a lot of emails) as the judges did not state beyond best design, best UX, best presentation, best validation and best business model any order of winner(s). But this was cleared up after Geek Wire published an article declaring the winner – Iron Curtain (well done guys) and that the order reflected the position of the winners (reverse). We just have to work out how to reward developers with some credit now.

6. Pitching

I learned from my first startup weekend that you need to always focus on how, what you are doing is going to help the pitch. I think I took too long in letting go of parts of the pitch (e.g. the two other sectors – pet owners and house security), mentors certainly told me what to concentrate on, but on occasion I resisted (because targeting 50 year old women seemed a tough nut to crack and maybe not so fun).  I think my pitch was OK, but not brilliant.  Areas I could have strengthened it were in demonstrating the market validation and building out the finances. Maybe having that extra slide with component prices etc, ready for the Q&A.  And of course I should have practiced the Q&A with some of the team to be stronger on the answers. Don’t get me wrong I am extremely proud to be part of a team to win best presentation and win some prizes, I just want to learn and be better.

7. A place to reflect and share

As there was no online announcement, there was no place to see the final winners and prizes given. In additional people like myself write blogs, to reflect on the experience, process it and hopeful learn (and publicly show off our failures and successes).  It would be good to have a final page listing the winners, the final teams and who was in them (with contact details) and blog postings. On this occasion the GeekWire Article and the #swsea(twitter tag) became the informal places to carry on the conversation.

8. An idea? Angel List for Startup Weekends

It would be awesome if Startup Weekend started to keep an archive of all the startups, maybe even profiles for people who do it on a regular basis. Maybe even game it like foursquare? Maybe that could be my next pitch??

Other Perspectives:

After finishing this article I re-surfaced and found some other posts, have a look: Harmony Hasbrook  on the team “Hungry, Thirsty, Bored.” Dwight Battle on the surprise team. Paige Pauli on the WhichBus team. Katie Kuksenokon multiple teams.

[Update] Here is a promotional video looking at the Designer story.

BIG Thanks to:

A place to stay Not from Seattle I stayed in the Green Tortoise Hostel

The Venue – The Hub A great location, one BIG room. Thanks to Lynsdey  who was an awesome hostess.

The Startup Weekend Crew  Thanks to John, Sean and Ashley (@A6Hodgson) – You are a great waffle maker 🙂

The Food Was awesome, particular the Thai food on saturday night.

T-Shirts Thanks to Rohre from Five Bamboo for the T-shirts.

Extra Video Thanks @adamlovering for the extra video!

Your recruitment system maybe losing you paying customers and damaging your brand

Your brand is the COMPLETE experience, every interaction, anything that can change motivation and/or attitudes, with your company.  This can  include the consuming of your product and service, repair, suppliers and yes your recruitment process. The good modern brands are human and often concrete, you can trust them.

SYMPTOMS

You are only worth an automated response..

If a person spend hour’s, maybe days writing a letter of introduction, adapting their resume/CV, maybe even pulling a slideshow or video together for you. And than they receive a notification that you will not even bother contacting them, because you have so many applicants.  You know this type of letter:

“Hello Applicant,

Thank you for your interest in XXXX Company and for sending us your resume link and supporting information. We’re always looking for the best and brightest new candidates who are interested in joining our fast-growing team.

Please note, due to the vast number of enthusiastic applicants, we are only able to contact those we select for interviews.  We will however take the time to review your resume, cover letter and all related materials you’ve sent through, and will contact you if you are selected as a shortlisted candidate.

We frequently add new positions to the Careers Page so keep an eye out for more opportunities to work at XXXX company.

Sincerely,

Automated response”

I wonder who in an organisation is so naïve that they feel that this experience will encourage the ‘recruit’ into buying any of your products let alone a service. Many organizations don’t mash together their HR and marketing talent.  When the applicant started the process the applicant was a keen advocate, which you have turned into something else.

No closure for the applicant

The typical scenario is where the applicant is not even told when you have been thrown out of the process, or when the process is complete and they have not got an interview. The applicant then does not even get a chance for closure. The first they may hear is through a press release on your website or indeed nothing. That’s just plain mean and very common.

As an applicant we only care if you have the capability

Most employers will not look at a candidates’ application if they have not even taken the time to write a relevant cover letter that covers off the person spec.  So they expect you to spend time on them but they are not always willing to do the same. Aren’t good relationships formed on equality?

You are just a transaction..

It seems most Applicant Tracking Systems have being built from the aspect that you are just another process to deal with.  They do not see you as a human that or you should be treated with dignity or respect. In fact the more they ‘take over’ the process the less human you are treated. People are not simple nor are the ways you should interact with them.

We are often more protective of our friends than ourselves

The applicant may not be alone during this journey through your recruitment system, as they may share it with their friends e.g. can you check the letter please, especially if they are woman.  Friends don’t take it kindly if you reject, ignore or attack their friends. You haven’t just pissed off one person; congratulations you just gained two pissed off people for the price of one – who now thanks to online social media have the ability to share globally. They may not indeed talk about the job application process, they just may look at all your marketing as another ‘poke in the eye and respond negatively.

Motivation..

Your worse case scenario is that you have just given them the motivation (see this TED video) for the job applicant and their friends to dislike your products and services and look to your competitors.

Bottom line – the buying power of every rejected applicant is?

In the end this will affect you financially. The chances are that you will reject more applicants than you will take on board.  You will, probably still want them as a consumer? Who will pay a company that has just rejected them? or even taken the time to communicate, er, anything after the initial application.

Not just B2C

In the B2B sector relationships are even more important and in the end B2B purchases come down to a very human emotion e.g. Trust.

Evidence

StartWire, recently completed a survey of 2,000+ job seekers, asking how a company’s application process affected their view of the brand. This is what we heard:

  • 77% said they think less of companies that don’t respond to job applicants,
  • 72% would be deterred from recommending or speaking positively online of your company
  • 58% said they’d even think twice about buying your products or services if they don’t ever hear from you after they submit their application.

CAUSE

Outsourcing to save money

I wonder who missed the lessons from out sourcing call-centres to another country where the understanding of both culture and language was insufficient to handle the customer care in an appropriate manner. Now its automated on a computer (and they are really known for their customer care!), you are not even worth a human response.

Good ‘customer service’

If your customer service system treats your customers as just a transaction you deserve to go out of business.  Humans want to be treated with respect and dignity.  Even politicians know this hence why some of the most sophisticated marketing happening on the planet is happening in election campaigns.  But some of the best sustained examples I have seen in customer service are from Zappos (http://www.zappos.com/) or Freshbooks (http://www.freshbooks.com/)  They essentially treat you with respect and appreciate your time is as valuable as theirs.

Who is accountable for this?

Maybe the CEO for not paying attention or CFO for cost cutting, or the HR leader being squeezed or even the CMO for not considering the brand impact.  In the end HR needs people to ensure a good experience.

The days of unaccountable recruitment and HR process are coming to an end if you are consumer-facing provider.

ON-COMING TRENDS

On-line accountability

On-line systems are rating well everything. For example http://www.ratemyemployer.ca/ it’s only a matter of time when people start rating recruitment systems and HR.  We already have individual rating systems for people such as http://blog.ratemyprofessors.com/

It will not get easier to find talent, just more competitive

The economist wrote two pieces about how hard it is in get the right talent:

The Search for Talent – http://www.economist.com/node/8000879

The battle for brainpower – http://www.economist.com/node/7961894

Another article of interest – Canadian tech CEOs see shortage in talent. – http://www.pwc.com/ca/en/emerging-company/connecting-vision-to-reality/ceo-report-emerging-companies.jhtml

In these circumstances, is it wise to give job applicants a good experience? They may return and have grown since they last applied, if you gave feedback last time, they may have responded to it and exceed your expectations on the next attempt.

Gen Y

Now add Generation Y behaviour to this and you have an interesting power cake just around the corner.

WINDING UP

Is your recruitment system losing you customers and damaging your brand? How many job applicants did you reject last year?  How much social influence did they each have?

Corporate/Organisation culture

It seems to me that corporate culture is on a journey from repression to expression from viewing human beings as number, resources, sales figures to, surprise, human beings. It can be seen in the HR titles e.g. VP Personnel -> VP Human resource -> VP People.  I think the organisations that have the lead HR person reporting into finance or corporate or operations are worse off.  There is one person, that a lead HR person should report into i.e. CEO.  In terms of political power HR are generally one of the weakest on a board (if they are even on it), I think in part because so many of their process orientated capabilities are being outsourced, maybe because people are too complex or too emotional compared to finances/sales/operations. Or maybe its because in some organizations leaders are taking on the role of HR for their teams (about time).

Reward, if possible give feedback and say thank you

The job applicant, was a person who wanted to help your organization grow, for a moment in time were probably your most passionate advocate.  Yet they are often treated like robots, resources or costs.  How would you like to be treated?  If someone has invested more time in your company than the average, why not say thank you.  Tell them what they are missing in terms of capability or fit and prove you mean it. I think the best companies employ on ‘fit’ before capability.  Who is to say that this person maybe a future employee? Consider it another form of relationship marketing.

Leadership accountability – Don’t pass the buck!

If a candidate gets through a number of stages, it should not be HR having to give the bad news, the leader should do what they are paid for and give the bad or good news. I believe leadership is taking on the responsibility of your decisions both the easy and tough ones.

Suggestions

  1. Tell the applicant when they have been removed from the process.
  2. Give some useful feedback; the chances are that you have spent some time human processing anyways; at least give the biggest single reason why they were knocked out.  You may find that there are a lot of standard reasons e.g. you do not have enough relevant experience or the average interview applicant will have 5 years more experience.
  3. Say thank you in some meaningful way.
  4. For those who you think culturally match, consider other posts or put on a watch list.  But be careful no one believes “we will file it and if something comes up we will contact you.”
  5. The deeper the experience (number of interviews) the more likely rejection will be felt.  But also they are more likely to be match for your organization and thus the more likely they may be a future employee.
  6. For all candidates that have being interviewed by the manager, should be given the news by the manager.

FINAL THOUGHT

You are nothing without your people.  The ones you have now and the ones you have yet to work with.

Why should I be your next CMO/VP Marketing

Dear CEO,

There are Marketers who are marketers… then there are Marketers that are techies, entrepreneurs, educators, leaders, community-builders… and marketers. I’m not your average Marketing VP: I’m a Marketing VP with benefits and I’d love to help you take your company to the next level.

To cover off on the traditional stuff first, I’ve chalked up about 19 years total in marketing, communications and campaigns. My experience in every sector from government and non-profit to private corporations, and in several markets, reflects a breadth that mirrors your client base. There are few-to-no delivery channels I have not explored, and I have a habit of driving organisations to get a ahead of the wave in using the latest and greatest, with social media no exception. I’ll leave my resume to provide the details of my engagements and achievements.

Now onto the bonus material…

You’ll find I have zero distance to travel when it comes to creating marketing strategy around a SaaS model. Spending the last two years creating a tech start-up has honed my product management, development and business model know-how to a fine point. In fact, technology is and was my first love: I have computer science degree, an IT consultancy to my name, led 110 people IT department and more recently refreshed my hands-on experience with a web dev qualification.

In addition, my career here in Canada began as VP Marketing for a Vancouver SaaS success story, Vision Critical, where I led a major re-branding initiative, a new website launch and contributed to sustained growth throughout the recession despite major marketing spend curtailments. Speaking of which, you can’t get away with working at a market research company without great data to inform and back-up your efforts: whilst there, I initiated the first customer satisfaction system. In all marketing I do, I expect to deliver ROI metrics.

I have a passion for people: I love them. I just can’t help it.

This has taken me down a number of roads, including serving, developing and communicating to communities (and the multiple groups, agencies, businesses and services therein) as a politician.  What this brings to my marketing (aside from experience of managing budgets of £71 million and approximately 400 staff) is getting the balance between a results-driven and value-driven approach. All great brands are built around emotions and values.

My bordering obsession with human psychology helps me to both understand client needs, both in product features, but also in terms of the complete customer experience and the messages they want to hear. It also makes me a great leader. I’m the guy that puts out a lot of positive energy and gets to know everyone. I also relish the opportunity to grow those around me: you’ll see that education and training forms a major theme throughout my career. Right now, I teach Marketing, Public Relations and Advertising part-time for BCIT.

CEO, I hope this provides a sense of what I can bring to the table. Successful marketing requires a great CEO – Marketing relationship, so I believe fit is as important as capability and I would love the opportunity to see if we get on. 🙂

Kind Regards

Eric Brooke

P.S. Here are a couple of opinions about me:

“Eric is a prolific thinker and one of the most well read individuals I know. While he is skilled in Marketing and Communications, he is a strategist at heart, looking for greenfield to take companies and pushing organizations to consider bold new directions. While visionary in his thinking, Eric is equally tactful in his negotiation. He is one of the few people I’ve met who can succinctly articulate and communicate multiple sides of an issue without offending anyone in the room. He knows when and how to move around roadblocks, invite debate, and get things done. Eric is someone who can really make a difference in organizations large or small if given the runway to do so.” Jason Smith, President, Vision Critical

“Eric Brooke is a professional, thoughtful, inventive and provocative marketer and communicator. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Eric on a number of projects, most recently and most deeply on a task force charged with rebranding Vision Critical and Angus Reid Strategies. In this role, Eric brought a tremendous amount of energy, branding experience and resourcefulness to the task. He did an excellent job balancing the need for being a team player with being willing to challenge conventional thinking and the status quo – a role we needed him to play.

In addition to understanding marketing, Eric also has a deep knowledge of communication, change management and organization development – in our case bringing a company brand/vision to life for staff and customers. This is something that sets him apart from those who have only had experience with traditional marketing and will be truly valued by those who require successful transformation.” Andrew Grenville, Chief Research Officer, Angus Reid Strategies

Branding for Tech Startups

A lot of people seem to believe that a brand is about advertising. That it is merely corporate identity, the name, and the logo, the colours used.

So here is what after 19 years of marketing I uses a definition for my start-up and my marketing students.

  1. Its starts with the founder(s) vision,
  2. It shifts according to the team they have built and their values plus behaviour
  3. Its is limited by the technology used
  4. Its expressed and reflected in the product built
  5. And finally it is decided on by users and their experience both with the product and customer/support team

Whilst it starts with the founder(s) it is decided and defined by your users.

I believe good strategy and brand can support each other.  It’s not about spending lots of money on an icon, name or colours.  It is about the sum expression of what you are already doing.

For me a good strategy and brand go together through having a vision, mission and values.  These will evolve but they will help guide your decisions – what space am I in (Vision – some call this Brand promise), How will I change it (mission) and how will I make decisions (Values).

Here is ours http://www.professionalyou.com/vision.html once we had done this, it was easy to develop a corporate identity as our prime value is Growth, hence the tree and colours.  This value set has/is helping me make a large number of decisions about what we are and what we are NOT.

Once I wrote the vision, mission and values name came to me i.e. Professional You. Not in a sudden flash admittedly. Personally I prefer names that are concrete and that mean something.  If you take no time I believe it shows your users that you do not care, that you are only temporally, why should they invest in you if you can not get the basics right.  Sometimes sharing this journey (of choosing your name) can also be powerful when users want to know who you are.

It is both my strategy and brand; my pitches are cleaner for it, my messages cleaner and my decisions easier. People tend to trust clarity, if you are clear people find it an easier journey to trust you, branding can help you with this.

So far I have spent nothing on advertising, on creative agencies and a local (Vancouver) designer helped with the logo for free.

Occasionally I tweak the vision and mission as I form better ways to describe what we are up to.

It will continuing evolve but in the end users decide, so do not forget the importance of your customer/user facing staff if they are happy your customers are more likely to be also 🙂

P.S. Do tell your users who you are and what you are about.  It is always disappointing if you go to the About Us on a web page, to see that you don’t care to make an effort or even bother to introduce yourselves and its not polite 😉

Abstract vs Concrete

I think abstract is dead and concrete is in. I am biased its my style, I am a survivalist, if I could build a shelter to protect me from the impeding zombie or alien invasion I would 😉

Technology companies and their expressions

Do you remember those websites from technology companies in the 90s’?  For me they seemed to love the abstract.  It felt like technology people were leading web development and to a degree they were. Admittedly the technology did not make it easy.

In a recent gig I worked on creating a new web site in which the aim was to  show off the people. This was a professional services company and most business development relied heavily on contacts and relationships.  In effect people were buying these people and their brains.

Technolgy companies who offer faceless applications make me sad and very unlikely to trust them. All these applications that you should make my life easier and make me efficent seem to be lacking the human story, they are/were abstract and expected me to understand their ‘clever’ context.

I think showing a technology in action in is a way to help but you need to show what it does for a person, its more concrete and less abstract. Don’t talk about it show it.

The need for speed

We are in a world that ‘requires’ instant gratification. We have become impatient.  Whilst we can Google anything we don’t want to unless we have to. We want to click and swipe less. We are being bombarded with thousands of messages every day and we start to ignore or even deny the existence of the things too big or complex for us to understand. To understand something that is abstract takes longer than something concrete, in part because we have a framework to reference. Coming back to gratification we generally know that if something is concrete it is more likely to gratify us quicker than an abstract thing.

Logos

There are a bunch of successful logos, but I think the ones that are really succesful come from something that actually exists.  Yes we can train our brains to fill up the brand cup and understand the values and their brand promise but in the end I think the journey is quicker and more complete if the thing actually exists. And maybe the more common it is the more reminders you will.  I think designers can be so ‘clever’ that they are the only person who understand what they have done.  This may miss the opportunity to ‘educate’ a viewer about the company and its values.

Company Names

There was a horrible stage in human history where we decided to reduce company names to acronyms. OMG the letters.. What is more disturbing is the number of North America tech startups that are repeating this era.  It makes me want to give free branding consulting.  Ok why is it bad?, enuff screaming already.. You are expecting the viewer to know or care, to work out who you are and what you are about.  Yes a logo can ease this journey.  But a society where instant gratification is driving force or goal, people will make a judgement in the first few seconds if they want to engage, consider it like dating, you know straight away if you are physical attracted to someone, it is no different with Logos and names.

Choice limitation

As our lives and choices become more complex we often looking for a simply journey or option. If I want Orange Juice I just want orange juice and the packing that can help me a quick simply choice will win. I DO NOT care if it has 15 features, I want to know it is orange juice the real shit not the frozen from concentrate shit. Make it simply.

Its got legs, Spock..

For a while we consumed and created media in abstract environments e.g. office desk, office chair, computer and monitor. Yet we are starting to bring those devices into new spaces and out into the world..  now they are travelling with us rather us travelling to them..

Visual Thinkers

We are already this, but we are starting to use it in more mediums and ways. Cinemas, Television, Videogames, WYSIWYG Interfaces, smartphones, they have all infected us with their UX ways.  First they had to train us how to use their interfaces.. Now we are needing less and less training.. in part what was once abstract is now concrete and we have learnt more in UX into lean into what is ‘natural’ for humans.

Tactile Thinkers

Our entire body is our biggest sensory organ.  We started with abstract controllers and now we are going back to basics.  We got diverted with Keyboard, Mouse, Talbets, Palm Pilot, and now we are waving our figures and hands and legs around to control devices (with iPhone, Kinect). We are starting to control, and engage with real and virtual environment through more concrete controllers.

However..

For some of us where concrete ends and abstract starts maybe further along a scale.  I reckon those who have taken their education and learning to higher level through books/web or higher education will see somethings that are abstract to others, as concrete to them. I think the human mind will allow you to build a tower of babylon into the skies, built on partly concrete and abstract to understand something out of the reach of others.. Maybe that is what genius is the ability to exist in a world entirely of abstract concepts.. But I am guessing that this is still a minority in our human race.

At what point do the facts matter?

Like many Tech junkies I have being following the rumours, the comments and the suggestions about the iPhone 4 and its so called antenna ‘issue’.  I think its fair to say that most rumour sites and newspapers have really exaggerated the overall impact of this issue.  I was left with the impression that about 50% of users were ‘suffering’.  Some experts and  journalists were ‘suggesting’ a product recall.  The Consumer reports were not recommending the phone implying this issue did not affect any other phone, as it was not mentioned for other Smart Phones..  And of course this was Apples’ Vista from Microsoft..

So I thought I would watch Steve Jobs press conference with his side.  http://events.apple.com.edgesuite.net/100716iab73asc/event/index.html

  • All Smartphones have issues, interesting comparison here http://www.apple.com/antenna/
  • He stated only 0.55% of iPhone 4 customers have called AppleCare about the antenna issue.
  • Return rates through AT&T for iPhone 4 are at 1.7% for comparison iPhone 3GS return rate was 6%.
  • AT&T data on dropped call rates. Less than one call per 100 more than iPhone 3GS.

I was very surprised to hear these figures, not because I don’t believe Mr Jobs but because my impression from the collective media was so out of sync with the facts.

Consumer Reports apparently missed the same issue with all of the great smartphones out there.  It makes me wonder the quality of their testing. http://blogs.consumerreports.org/electronics/2010/07/apple-iphone-4-antenna-issue-iphone4-problems-dropped-calls-lab-test-confirmed-problem-issues-signal-strength-att-network-gsm.html Were they driven by listening to the buzz?  A quick web search shows a lot of smart phones with simliar problems..

It did not escape my attention that the vast number of critics making comments about the iPhone 4 did not actually own one.  Was this a form of iPhone envy?  It goes without saying that general public view Apple as the leader in the market, which from figures they have a bit to go, why worry about facts..  But humans do love to knock the ‘perceived’ leader in the market.

This social media hype, reminded of the DJ that was announced dead on Twitter, until he tweeted revealing it was not true.  http://www.nowpublic.com/culture/dj-tiesto-has-not-died-his-twitter-account-confirms-he-fine-2637723.html What if he did not have a twitter account?  What if he titled is next album “From beyond the grave (according to twitter)”

People really like to pass bad news fast, regardless of if it is true.. mobs seem to form on the online social media tools quicker around negative issues.  I think online social media tools can pass stupidity, far faster than any tool we have had in the past.  And I think the human race will prove this too the extreme.  But of course we should not forget the other side, that social media tools are very effective for passing propaganda from one firm to another.

I feel disappointed that most of the reports from professional journalists, including the New York Times had sources that stated things which according to Apple are “patently false.” http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/16/technology/16apple.html?_r=2 hmm does that mean I trust a corporation over a newspaper..

It worries me that facts are not important, that there is no accountability for untruths.  It seems less and less people check the sources of information or at least confirm with another source. It feels like people are lazy about their information and its’ validity.  This is often covered up as ‘opinion’ and maybe I am just as guilty.  I am a little old fashioned I will try to check the facts, read different newspapers to get past the propaganda pieces and past the editors ‘view’ or the owners ‘view’… but like many on this planet my thirst for ‘knowledge’ sometimes outsteps the need for proven facts..