Idealist

Idealist

Working with the best Techies

Web entrepreneurs with no tech background like myself quickly find out how crucial the product and the tech is, and how difficult it is to find (and trust ) real talents. 

Today I don’t hesitate to delay a project until everyone agrees the product is “perfect” for the stage we’re at. With L’Idealist, it’s even more complex as we need to START with a perfect product given what we are selling. This involves a lot of testing and not compromising on key features. I went through dozens of designers until I found someone who could translate what I had in mind. 

Each time he interviewed a candidate, a former tech partner started with the following scenario, one that has no relation to computer science:

“If you want to work for me, I need you to mix a pitcher of the ultimate margarita for my entire eng team. We’re a large crew, so you are going to need exactly 4 liters of tequila. However we only have opaque three liter and five liter jugs.  How can you find four liters?”

" OK, so it’s that annoying puzzle from junior high, one so common that Bruce Willis and Samuel L Jackson dramatized it in that classic scene from the third Die Hard. My interviews always include this brain teaser and my hope is the answer doesn’t come easily. I hope the candidate squirms a little but eventually works through the riddle.  

The right one will ask for a clarification or two, look for a creative angle, and take the suggestions tossed their way to solve the problem. I’m not looking for a coding robot with a list of certifications. My team is made up of people who can think outside the box, who can talk like a human, and who get a kick out of using both sides of their brain. I am always looking for more of these thinkers. “

Obviously knowing how to code is key to building a website, but what good is that one skill unless you also know how to communicate? In my experience the best way to learn communication is by engaging in activities that move, challenge and give you pleasure.

Integral to a developer’s job is taking someone else’s code and working with it. More often than not you get that code in some kind of last-minute, down-to-the-wire crisis when the original engineer is nowhere to be found. It’s at these times when you prove your mettle and your method to solving problems is far more important than just the facts in your head.

A lot of “tech emergencies” (they can always be remembered fondly if the outcome is positive) practically involve no coding. Those fixes often don’t require engineering, but critical reading, knowing who to talk to, what to ask, and being able to incorporate their nuggets of wisdom to the problem.

So power down your computer. Forget about being the best at functions, arrays and other computer science basics; those skills you can develop along the way. Look to develop your creative thinking by reading a challenging book, joining a local  amateur theater group, or even learning mixology. Do that often, and eventually you’ll achieve something much greater than anything you can put on a resume: a truly beautiful mind. 

Up & Buzz : here's why

Got the peeps on a project with a lot of potential and we’ve come up with a v1 in a few days.
I don’t technically have time but I got the tip that a huge Consumer Web segment was underserved - and was blown away.
Until practically yesterday there have been no platforms selecting viral videos (and only that) and TRANSLATING them for international viewers who don’t necessarily speak English that well.
I mean, there isn’t even a video platform (like Gawker but without editorial, just the vids) in English, apart from “Upworthy”, and they’re Alexa 150 in the US and like 450 in the world.
Just sharing videos, nothing else!

5 Things Super Lucky People Do

From Kevin Daum : really basic but very well summed up. 

Bad and Good luck are irrelevant concepts. First, you can only “improve your luck” on a limited amount of things, those you can CONTROL. When cancer strikes, it is “bad luck”.

The moment we are born, we are already more or less lucky in theory depending where it is and who gave you birth and their genes. In theory as what matters is happiness and probabilities. As in, you have a higher probability to be happy by sticking to “principles”, and it’s rather your state of happiness which both makes you perceive “luck” and “increases it”.  

Luck and your life in general are just an infinite series of events, a part of which you have control on, a part you don’t. The more control you have and the happier you are, the less the probability something bad happens. 

I read a book from a guy who has done everything perfectly his whole life. Education, career, family, wealth, you name it, he was 100% in control. He had it all. Then he learns he has a non-curable brain tumor at 45, and it’s fascinating to see him write his memoirs while his brain functions less and less, till the point he just stops in the middle of a sentence which no longer meant anything. 

But at least, he wasn’t unhappy while dying; even for that, he was  ”prepared”. 

"The Luck of the Irish" is an American phrase that comes from the days of the gold rush in the 1800s.  Intolerant Americans figured the Irish people weren’t smart enough to find gold, and blamed their success on being lucky rather than skilled. In reality, America’s early immigrants have time and again proven themselves to be hardworking and smart enough to generate their own good fortune consistently.

So often I have witnessed people excuse their own inadequacies by crediting the success of others to luck.  Salespeople I know disparage their more successful competitors as lucky. If those salespeople would make as many calls or work as many hours as their competitors, they would realize that their probability of closing is fairly equal. The competitors are simply swinging the bat more often.

The truth is that seemingly lucky people are opportunists. They do the things that allow them to take advantage of the world around them. For them, it’s not about being in the way of good luck or bad. It’s the actions they take to get what Jim Collins refers to as a high return on luck whichever way the pendulum swings. Follow these five tips and you can be as lucky as anyone, no four-leaf clover or rabbit’s foot required.

1. Play to your strengths. So much time and energy is wasted trying to do things you probably don’t do very well. Author and Inc. columnist Lewis Schiff learned from his survey of incredibly wealthy people that they got that way by focusing only on what they do best. Everything else you can delegate, or you could find a partner to compensate for your weaknesses. That way, you will shine where you excel and attract opportunity. Good things come to those who emanate success.

2. Prepare in advance. Unlucky people often get that way because they’re reactive and unprepared for whatever comes. People who have stored food and water in their basements aren’t lucky to find themselves prepared when disaster strikes, they used forethought to make sure they had what they might need just in case. I personally scoff at this horrible recent trend of disparaging business plans because things change constantly. The point of a business plan isn’t to follow it no matter what, it’s to establish a structure for smart decision making that allows you to succeed no matter what the future might bring.

3. Start early. Some people seem to have more hours in the day. I myself don’t need more than six hours of sleep and am constantly finding ways to be more efficient. I use that extra time to start my projects well in advance. My rewards aren’t dependent upon the time of day that I take action. (This column is being written at 3 a.m.) But it does matter that I’m beginning to explore projects I expect to complete months or years from now. So many people only want to put their energy into things that provide immediate gratification. The most fortunate people I know are the ones who planted seeds early and now reap that harvest of happiness.

4. Connect with as many people as possible. The key to success is access to opportunity. Access comes from influence. If you’re influential, people will come and bring opportunities to you. The bigger your following, the more powerful your influence. The only way to build a big following is to provide value to many people. You have to provide the sort of value that will cause people to spread your thoughts far and wide, attributing credit to you when they do. Are you creating that kind of value? If not, figure how you can.

5. Follow up. Opportunities often come and go because people don’t respond in a timely manner. I’m always amazed when people ask me for something and I respond only to never hear from them again. Three months ago, a young woman asked me if I hire interns or assistants. I replied immediately saying I’m always willing to consider hiring people who bring value to my work. I asked her how she thought she could enhance what I could do. I never heard from her again. Perhaps she now considers herself unlucky that opportunity doesn’t come her way. I believe that following up is often more powerful and impressive than the act of initiating.

May you be so lucky to have people in your life that follow up.

The Strangest Cover Letter Ever

That beats the fake candidate with a fake resume, fake pics and names (yes, different names), because I figured that one might have an angle at scamming companies (I don’t know which one nor who could be retarded enough to even consider hiring him). 

Look, I’ve received a lot of bad/boring/misspelled/clumsy/generic cover letters. Boring would be the most common. But this one is really special, not just because it doesn’t come with a resume, or because that person’s name is a pun around “Darn it” in French, but altogether I entirely lost the reasoning, if there is one, at some point. 

I guess it’s a way to attract attention and if I was bored I’d try to find out who that is. 

From: Zut Allure (that’s a pun in French)

Subject: Product Manager for Fast Growing Start-Up (Paris (Etoile))

To: jobs@lidealist.com

Gentleman,

Your ambition and dream is spot on. In a world where there is the greatest transfer of wealth in history, from the middle class to the 1 percent; where do you want to be? 

With the damn one percent, I say! lol..  

Of course. I agree. 

But with all do respect, there are so many red flags in what I read. I don’t know if I can list them all so I will do my best off the top of my head to paint a picture. 

OK, when you say ‘Digital project manager’ you are not saying ‘Affiliate partner manager’. This to me means you have old, crusty, brick and mortar businesses as a network that, in stereotype, have a patriarch that is not dead yet but the sons or family see the future. 

They have no position in the New Economy. No keyword ranking. No email list. No blogs. No membership sites. No videos. No resources other than pictures of what’s in the shop and a simple website YET they are all sitting on a GOLD MINE!!!

If so? I get it…. Nothing wrong with that. 

Been there. Got the t-shirt.

The problem with the Pinterest initiative, and I see where you are going,… videos, email lists etc is not an option with your network…, but you say lets use their strengths and  blaze a trail: pics plus traffic equals new life!!

Logical. No? 

There is one major problem with that strategy. 

I lived it. It was called the Google Penguin and Panda updates. 

You attach your horse to one thing and be stupid like me, like JC Penny?  Bye, Bye…

You will, not at first, but eventually embarrass yourself in front of your clients like we did no matter what the ‘experts ’ you are listening to are saying. 

Yet, today I prevailed where JC penny is still clueless.  

You wanna talk Analytics? A/B testing? 

An ‘ex’ is a has been.

A ‘spurt’ is a drip under pressure.

Good luck. 

Bon Courage. 

You wanna meet over coffee?

Zut

(Phone Nber)

The First Commandment: Thou Shalt not be an Asshole (1)

It makes for a good title and a bit of fun, but Tucker Max is wrong : Assholes do not finish first. 

What could make me some kind of authority to even debate on this? 

We’ll get there, although if I had time I’d start with a story. Always start with a story, that’s simple.

First, don’t mix up “demanding” with “asshole”. Steve Jobs may be the first example of an asshole who was overly successful, but he was rather “anal” about details, uncompromising and the like, but he was not plain mean nor particularly manipulative. Anna Wintour is no “devil”, she’s just very cold, rather shy, puts results before people- and a total snob, but not “mean for the sake of it”.  

Now, there is a colossal difference between being respected (or at least not taken advantage of), and being a nasty egocentric person who mainly feels good abusing whatever small power they perceive to have (I’m your client - I’m a lawyer and you’re my client - I’m a semi-successful investor). 

Don’t always shut up when someone “crosses the line” (unless he’s crazy in which case ignoring/running away is the only option), because these people interpret that as weakness, and are thrilled to abuse it.

However, do think about a way to respond with clear arguments. That may take more than a second, and you must get a hold of your potential anger, which is why “temporary withdrawal tactics” are good. If anger is involved, it should be in a deliberate way: outrage does work in specific cases, but not in general. 

You never come off better rejecting someone nastily. No need to be overly nice and naive, and at some point you’re bound to encounter when you start running businesses a few types like: 

- the bullying smartass

- the old guy who’s not only supersmart but has seen it all, and looks at you with perverse and disdainful squinted eyes

- the loud and fast talking machine

- the power-hungry manipulative biat.., I mean woman

How do you project authority and deal with these types? 

Why is House of Cards so gripping?

1. It’s the first show to ever release its whole season instantaneously. It goes against the common-sense which would have Netflix release one a week to keep users subscribed. 

But as a result, everyone is pondering how to binge watch it in a proper fashion. We begin to think we owe Netflix something because they LET US DECIDE and in control. 

2. It’s the first show to ever picture a ruthless, amoral, manipulative and entirely shameless couple. Who obtain everything they want and crush any opponent within a few episodes for the most tenacious. 

The absolute lack of remorse is key: it is the basis of all religions and societies.

This is the opposite of the engrained belief that you just cannot get away with EVERYTHING, always. And even if you did, you would be deeply tormented, have relapses.. hesitate perhaps. 

So we begin to wonder if it is actually possible to be the most selfish and mean person ever depicted, be very happy for that, and never have anyone in your way. Surely no one could be like that in real life? even the nastiest politicians. 

More troubling, you can’t really manage to hate the Underwoods. You pity their puppets but think they are idiots.

Good and Evil have disappeared. All this is quite disturbing, and therefore, fascinating. 

Some say they can’t take it and comment: 

"Disgusting. I will not watch another episode of this abomination.
The show has become a gross irreverent abuse of our national pride and esteem by directly associating ruthless deeds down to and below Romanesque murder with the prestige of our nation’s capital and leaders.
I don’t care one lick if it’s really like that in DC or not. The message it gives to all Americans who aspire to greatness is low and unworthy of its association with our capital.”

Does one really believe the guy will stop after this 1st episode? 

L’Idealist, v2: what to expect?

Web product management is extremely gratifying when you see all your efforts taking shape. 

Thus far I have, on top of everything, done that and logged in about 1100 tickets, drawn mockups, sketches, specs of all kinds, briefed about 100 designers and tweaked things till I found the simplicity conveying the sophistication I wanted. 

I did not have a choice because I had suffered so much in the past working with products I didn’t think were optimal, yet no longer knew how to entangle the mess. And your product crafts your strategy. 

I am now ready to work with product managers  - but I’ll never stop entering those tickets, because creating the absolute best luxury platform is our core promise, why our vendors and customers will conclude deals with us.

And it requires a very sophisticated product as we are dealing with so many constraints, where almost each piece is unique. 

More importantly, the ground is laid out for a shinier version; it’s not only that all the details will be improved as usual, but soon everyone will have their own personalized version of L’Idealist. 

Stay tuned as I’ll comment new features along the road. They will be simple, powerful  - but you should not even notice them.

Avoid Premature Scaling

One of the key things I learned isn’t to loose my impatience to see things happen but to be more strategic about it. If you’re not ready for xyz “good” reasons (random external factors), then you’re no more ready than if it were for bad reasons (poor internal performance). 

Don’t try to compensate what you feel is “time lost” by panicking and sticking to the original plan praying it will somehow fall back into place. Nor should it signal doomsday.

Any perceived delay on something outside of your control should be an occasion to advance on another front. 

Below an excerpt from Close.io rather for B2B models - with L’Idealist we have to address both B2B and B2C sales. 

Most startups try to scale their sales efforts prematurely.

They build a product, get some early customers to use it and sometimes even pay for it and think the next logical step is to “scale sales”.

Wrong.

The big issue with this strategy is that you need to be sure you actually have a working sales model before you scale anything.

And most of the time early results cannot be replicated because they represent “low hanging fruit” types of sales. Examples include selling to other portfolio companies of your investors, people you have known for many years and any other source of deals that cannot scale or be easily replicated.

Ask yourself these questions to discover if you’re ready to scale your sales efforts:

  • Do we know who our ideal customer is yet? How do we qualify them?
  • Do we have a reliable and growing source of qualified leads?
  • Do we have a sales process and conversion funnel that has consistently produced repeatable results?
  • Do we have an estimate on our Customer Lifetime Value yet?

If you don’t have answers to these questions you’re not there yet. Don’t waste money & time at this point hiring more sales people. 

Instead invest your resources in learnings and exploration. 

Short term sales feel great and are important but what’s even more significant for the success of your startup is to develop a sales model that will generate predictable and scalable results.

How do you get there?
 

Follow the 3 step process outlined below and learn as much as possible each step of the way:
 

Step #1: Create a Customer Profile

You need to find out who your ideal customer is. How can you identify them and what qualifying criteria do they have in common? Without knowing who your ideal customer is and how to qualify them correctly you can’t develop a successful sales model.

Step #2: Discover Scalable Lead Sources

Now that you know who your potential customers are and how to qualify them you need to learn where to find scalable sources of appropriate leads. That’s the most important factor in your whole sales model. If you can find a way to generate high quality incoming leads via marketing and/or find great sources for high quality outbound leads you’re in a really good position to succeed and scale. Read this interview with Aaron Ross to learn more about setting up a successful outbound lead generation approach. Read Inbound Marketing to learn more about inbound lead generation for sales.

Step #3: Develop a Successful Sales Process

Once you know who to sell to and you know how to reach them in a scalable fashion you can now focus on learning how to effectively sell to them. Utilize all possible approaches like sending emails, making calls, presenting demos and meetings in person and see what combination works best for your specific target audience.

Make sure you track everything you do so you can learn from the data and develop a successful model. Here are the key things you need to track for your sales process:

  • Your conversion funnel from lead » qualified » closed
  • The average time it takes to move a lead from qualified to closed
  • The average deal value per close
  • Your average cost per close

Here are the metrics you should monitor to develop your predictable and scalable sales model:

# New Leads Per Month

% Growth of # of New Leads Per Month

% Leads that Qualify

% Qualified Leads that Close

# Average Time To Close

$ Average Cost Per Close

$ Average Revenue Per Close

Once you have these numbers you can start putting together a sales formula with the goal to validate if your model is predictable, scalable and profitable.

Once all the numbers add up to something that makes sense for your business you’re finally ready to scale.

What’s the best launch strategy for a web startup?

  • Have a great unique product. Not just great but also unique.
  • Reach out to your customer. It could be telling friends, SEO, paid advertising, PR etc. Limit paid advertising until people start buying from you, even just a few, and then scale according to your business. Usually having nothing to sell implies no paid advertising. 
  • Make a viral loop so that pleased customer can tell friends about their great experience with the product. Their friends will now tell other friends about their experience and so on.
  • The launch is a continuing process not a one time event.

This last point seems to be the hardest to get for a lot of people. You should actually “be launching” probably for a year. Why set a date, or worse, signal you’re not ready by putting “beta”? 

You can afford to label your product as “beta” if you are Google; otherwise just get real people to your product as soon as it’s viable, deal with the inevitable issues, and never stop improving. 

You’re not launching a car or a perfume and it still strikes me how many people still don’t get that. 

The 7 deadly Sales Sins… and the strange inability to follow-up in France

Again a great post from close.io which I am about to try out as a potential comprehensive solution. They apply what they advocate and follow up daily. The below applies to so many business situations in general, and while it is “standard practice” for a lot of American companies, I virtually never saw these common sense practices from a French/European one. 

I think the worst “sin” they commit over here is “not following up”. I noticed it was even worse in Italy but cannot really speak for other countries. It seems deeply engrained in our culture that following up somehow hurts your ego, maybe makes you a lesser human being, and that it is absolutely useless. Often enough, even as a client, I have to harass people for them to sell me what I want.

As everyone I hate having to harass anyone, but in general getting something done here requires a lot more effort than in the US, and I’ve come to the conclusion that in general when the “transaction” or “service provided” doesn’t happen on the spot, they just drop it, never ever answer, until you become such a nuisance for them that they’ll eventually do it - not because they see business potential, but simply to get rid of you (again I’m speaking from a CLIENT’s standpoint). The few exceptions come from international companies which strictly impose their standards. 

Web companies, who you’d think just have to copy the US CRM, typically make weak attempts at following up which at best involves a generic newsletter landing in your spam. You’ll never receive anything from a 5 star hotel you stayed at, a contractor, a lawyer you consulted, a store you bought from; it’s a challenge to get a hold of your bank rep (you really need to go to the very best private banks), and in general no one ever calls or emails back, even when they’re interested. No one ever tries to keep you as a customer, or again unless they are forced to by company standards. I think the general belief is “you’ll buy if you want to and interfering is not only useless but degrading”. 

All in all the economy still works as you still have to purchase things down the road, and you hardly feel the “consumer society” excesses like in the US, where you end up buying tons of things you don’t need! 

1. Not Understanding Your Customer: Many startups make generalizations as to what their customers want. There may be a specific market for your product or service, but each customer’s challenges are going to be different. I’ve seen founders conduct poor research into their prospective customer before pitching them, and then fail to ask those customers specific questions in regards to their unique needs and pain-points. Instead, they’ll talk on and on about how great their product is and its 10 unique features. Startups need passion for their idea, but not at the expense of taking the time to understand your customers and asking the right questions.

2. Not Selling: Most startups explain all the bells and whistles of their product, but fail to sell the core solution to their customer’s problem. To do that, you need to ask the customer questions to understand what they really need. A prospective customer needs to be sold on the 2-3 benefits your product provides to them, rather than the 100 features you’re planning to build into the product in the future.

3. Not Showing Up: Most startups don’t go out into the market to pitch real people and close actual customers. As a result, they miss out on two key experiences crucial to a young company. First, the founders miss the opportunity to connect directly with their earliest customers and develop long-term relationships. Second, they miss direct customer feedback, which often provides the best recommendations to improve a young company’s product or service.

4. Not Following Up: Most startups pitch once and never follow up again. Maybe they follow up once or twice, but not relentlessly. Startup founders & too many startup hustlers are not shameless enough (sound familiar?). They worry too much about intruding on the prospect’s time or being too persistent out of fear of losing the sale. If you lose a prospective customer because you followed up too much, then they weren’t going to close anyways. I’m not advocating calling someone every few minutes, until they rip their phone line out of the wall; but giving up on a prospect won’t lead to a new customer. Keep up with them until they come to a decision, either a “yes” or a “no.” Everything else doesn’t count. 

5. No Process in Place: Startups love to optimize their UI/UX but not their sales funnel. Most don’t even have a sales funnel to optimize. Startups today have access to a vast amount of data but often fail to track some basic metrics for their sales funnel; calls/emails, connections to decision makers, qualified leads, closed deals/deal value and time to close.

6. Not the Right Price: Startups often think the cheaper their service the better. While a low price tag does lower the barrier to entry for your customers, it can also dilute the value of your product. If your email or website plugin provides massive value for your customers, why is it the same monthly subscription price as Netflix? When you have a viral product that gets massive traction online, you can have a low price. When you need sales people to sell your product or enterprise customers, you need to consider if your product is priced appropriately to sustain your business. Ultimately, startups need to charge their customers what their product is worth and sell them on its value, not its price tag.

7.  Not Asking for the Sale: Sometimes simply asking for the sale makes the process move forward in the direction that you want. After all of the phone calls, demos, and follow up, some startups are still afraid to ask for a customer’s business out of fear of losing the sale. If you spent so long cultivating your relationship with the customer, wouldn’t it be easy to close your new best friend?

Some entrepreneurs start their business out of love for art or fashion, some for science and technology. At the end of the day, every startup needs to succeed in pitching their product or service to make their vision a reality.