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Archive for February, 2010

Get the interview right

February 22nd, 2010   By   Filed Under: Everyone, Interesting, Weird and Wonderful

Things to do:

- Get rid of your coat and brolly at reception so you arrive in the interview room looking as if you already work there.

- Dress for the part, but road test the new shoes and suit first, so you look relaxed and comfortable.

- Be prepared to speak about yourself for at least two or three minutes, focusing on matching yourself to the company’s requirements. Rehearse with a friend if necessary.

- Be prepared for the tricky “aren’t you overqualified for this?” questions. Give honest but upbeat answers and then move on.

- End with an “assumptive close” by asking where the company is heading and how your role may change. It shows curiosity and leaves them with an impression of you already being in the job.

Things not to do:

- Don’t assume that because of your obvious experience you can wing it. You can’t.

- Don’t talk too much.

- Don’t ever criticise a previous boss or organisation.

- If you lack the specific qualifications or experience, explain what skills you have that qualify you for the job.

- Don’t forget why you are there – use concrete examples to show you have the skills and knowledge for the job, and what your achievements and ambitions are.

 
Sourced from the Sunday Times 21/02/10

Friday Inspiration

February 12th, 2010   By   Filed Under: Interesting, Weird and Wonderful

Startup Lessons for the Proto-Founder

“I started SpeakerText in October 2008 during the financial apocalypse. No one funded us. No one was gonna fund us. And I’m definitely a nobody. We launched in January 2010 after burning through just $4k of cash. While I’m still mostly a clueless hack, there are a few things I learned along the way that I think founders and proto-founders reading this blog might find useful. Here’s a few them, in list form:• Fake it ’till you make it. No one is interested in the company you’re going to start in the future. Starting is a declarative act. Just go for it. People won’t follow unless you lead. And once you convince yourself that you’ve got something, it’s a lot easier to convince others to join you”

Pitch like a mofo. The difference between your initial idea and your ultimate product is the difference between a slab of rock and the David. There’s a thousand problems you need to solve, and the only way you learn about them-much less solve them-is to pitch, pitch, pitch and pitch again to every smart person you meet. Listen to what they have to say and regardless of how jumbled and contradictory their suggestions or complaints are, try to look for patterns and distill the deeper underlying pain points or problems with your model. Think of it as crowdsourcing. The masses have much to teach you, if you let them.

Advisors, they’re easier to find than you think. This goes along with my above point about pitching everyone you meet. Most people are afraid of embarrassing themselves, so they keep quiet, especially around successful, important people who could help them. Don’t. I landed my first advisor-Joe Kennedy, the CEO of Pandora-when I pitched him after a talk at Stanford. He gave me his card; I followed up. There was no formal arrangement or anything, but I was persistent, hit him up with questions only when I was truly flummoxed (ie didn’t waste his time), listened and kept him updated on our progress.

• You need a Co-Founder, not an Engineering Bitch. Lots of business-y, idea-type people who say they’re looking for a co-founder are, in reality, looking for what is best described as an “engineering bitch.” Here’s how the pitch sounds from the engineer’s perspective: ‘For ten whole percent of equity, you will slave away to build a prototype out of my shitty idea, not have any say in the decision-making process…and oh yeah, you could be fired at any point.’ This does not make for a happy long term relationship. Instead, find someone you know and trust-I called up an old college friend-who will call you out on your bullshit and push back when you overreach. Date for a bit, then split the equity.

Recruit college kids. They’re young, hungry and don’t need a living wage. Experienced, talented software engineers have lots of options in life, and most of them involve getting paid. College students, on the other hand, have less options, and probably have their living expenses covered by financial aid. Thus, the opportunity cost of joining your half-baked venture is dramatically lower than it is for legit professionals. For students, your startup is more like a resume-enhancing ‘extra-curricular’ than a regular job. The right person will love the responsibility you’re handing them. Score for you, score for them.

• Go to job fairs. You’ll be the only startup there. This is a corollary to the previous point. I went to the Columbia Engineering Career Fair in October 2009 and left with ~150 resumes. We hired three guys from that batch and paid them in iPhones. Doubtful we’d have access to such a rich employee pool any other way. Bonus: Distinguish yourself by being the approachable guy in the T-shirt. Lots of the attendees will be wearing suits for the first time-and hating it. Your casual garb will looks very enticing.

• Sell the Vision, Not the Reality. You may or may not have a working product. Your product may or may not suck. You “team” may not really exist. But that doesn’t matter. What matters is your vision of what the product will be and how it will change the world. That is what gets people excited. That is what will make people work like dogs for no money, tell all their friends and drop everything just to get a product built.

• Treat everyone you hire like a co-founder. In normal jobs, people put up with a lot of grief and bullshit because they’re getting paid. In a ghetto startup (like mine), that’s not really an option. Treat people well, be honest, and don’t bullshit them. Trust and your rep is all you got. Err on the side of sharing too much. It builds trust and earns buy-in from the people you hire.

Try before you buy. When you’re hiring folks, don’t promise equity upfront. Specify some sort of trial period where the person is to accomplish a specific, delineated task. Make sure you own all the IP created during this trial period, and make no promises for later. After the month or so is over, then sit down and talk equity. Making this clear from the outset will put both parties at ease.

• “Stealth Mode” = FAIL. Your idea, as it exists today, sucks ass. Ok, let me rephrase that: My idea started off sucking ass. But I pitched smart people…and dumb people-and learned from both. Originally, SpeakerText was going to be a tool for journalists (I was a journo) to automatically transcribe and search within their audio interviews. Tiny, contracting market. Huge upfront software licensing fees. Customers are technophobes.
FAIL just waiting to happen. Had we kept our plans a secret, SpeakerText would probably just be one big bucket of fail today. Instead, after having tons of holes poked into our idea by friends, cousins, VCs, baristas, entrepreneurs and bored women at parties, we turned SpeakerText into a tool for video publishers and even our crappy v1.0 works with the massive market that is YouTube. Outcome: last night a Biz Dev guy from Disney/ABC sent me an email asking about partnering with some of their online properties. Reminder: we launched on just $4k.

• In case you missed it earlier: PITCH PITCH PITCH. Over the last 15 months, I have pitched nearly every sentient being I have met. This includes a guy I met at 4am after doing CPR on his mom (I’m a paramedic). The dude turned out to be a senior partner at a major international corporate law firm, and 6 weeks later he offered to take me on as a pro bono client. My point here is that you never know who can help you and you never will until you open your trap and pitch. Not only will this help you find help, but it will DRAMATICALLY improve your pitch and lower your fear/nervousness when time comes to pitch real investors. Plus, it adds big time on the competition research front, because your friends/acquaintances/ex-girlfriends will see articles about competitors and share them with you on Facebook.

Vest, young man. Starting a company without vesting your stock is like getting your girlfriend pregnant on the first date. Sure, it could work out, but if it doesn’t, you’re completely hosed.

• Get creative with compensation-use the iPhone Payment Plan. Imagine you’re a highly-trained software engineer. A crazy guy with a “startup” (i.e. me) approaches you about doing some work. Scenario #1: Dude, I’ll pay you $2,000 for 150 hours of work…3-4 months from now. Scenario #2: Dude, promise to build this and I’ll give you an iPhone right now. Plus, as long as you’re working on it, I’ll pay your phone bill. If I like it and it works, I’ll toss in an extra $250 at the end and we’ll talk equity then. If not, you can keep the iPhone and I’ll even cover the cancellation fee if you want to ditch AT&T. We tried both approaches at SpeakerText, and surprisingly, Scenario #2-despite being a lot cheap-actually worked out a lot better. There’s something about the psychology of receiving a cool gadget that doesn’t quite equal out to the cash equivalent. Also, paying up for the iPhone upfront fosters trust, which in turn boosts productivity.

Yammer is an awesome tool for fostering camaraderie on distributed teams. Use it.

Build something people want before you attempt to raise money. The word for “visionary investor” is “entrepreneur.” If you’re an unproven schmo with no credentials like me, people generally-and investors in particular-will tend dismiss you and your crazy idea. (If you’re a former Google VP, then you can probably ignore this tidbit.) The only-and the strongest-track record you can have is the product you’ve built and the traction/market feedback you’ve gotten.

• Need legal advice? Do the Lawyer Hop. Every lawyer will give you an hour of their time for free. Remember that. Need 10 hours of legal counsel? Talk to 10 lawyers. Need to learn about IP, patents, etc.? Call a patent lawyer! More questions? Call another one! Don’t feel the need to restrict yourself to a local geography either. You can call up America’s leading legal luminaries and get an hour of their time for free, every time. This won’t work for producing legal documents, but it will work for fundamental questions of “is this legal?” “do I need to patent this?” etc. Also, different lawyers have different perspectives, so the lawyer hop a good way to get a holistic, composite understanding of a particular issue. Plus, when you need to actually hire a lawyer, you’ll know what a good one sounds like-and have a fat rolodex of people you’ve already talked with to draw from.

• Patent lawyers will always want your money…except the good ones. Asking an IP lawyer, “Is my invention patentable?” is like asking a car mechanic “Does my car need any work done?” Unless you find a good one, the answer will always be yes. That’s how they make their money, but not how you make yours. Buyer beware.

• Start a blog. Sound intelligent. Be interesting. The same reason you’re probably dying to pitch Fred Wilson and/or Chris Dixon is the same reason you should start a blog. Again, if you’re a no-name nobody like me, you’ve gotta build a name for yourself from scratch. Writing an intelligent sounding blog and then submitting posts to Hacker News, Digg, etc. is a great way to put yourself on people’s radar. Just last week I met up with an big time seed investor from the Valley. He had messaged me on Facebook after seeing one of my blog posts on Hacker News. Now he’s making intros to other big dogs and generally helping to legitimize our brand.

• Tell a good story. Deep down inside, all Americans love entrepreneurs. People are suckers for the crazy, epic shit we do as founders. Don’t downplay it; wear it your on your sleeve like a badge of honor. Although it may not feel like it now while you’re in the trenches trying not to die, you’re living what lots of people (especially older, middle-management types) consider the dream. Tell your story to the right person (i.e. the frustrated wannabe founder with 3 kids and a mortgage) inside of a big organization and they’ll become your champion, guiding you through the sales process and giving you lots of actionable intel.

Comment on Brad Feld’s blog. But don’t kiss his ass. Important point to remember: powerful, successful people tend not to like having their ass kissed. People do that to them all the time, and my sense is that they hate it. And if they don’t, fuck ‘em-don’t waste your time on people who want you to kiss their ass. More often, people in positions of power crave genuine interaction. The more powerful the person, the more they are surrounded by sycophants. Don’t be a sycophant. Outside of intros, a good way to approach these guys is to comment intelligently on their blog. I turned an exchange in the comments section of Brad Feld’s blog into a pitch for SpeakerText that turned into an intro to someone else. Never met Señor Feld before, but we had a legit exchange in the comments and took it from there.

Help people. It just feels good. Honestly, I feel very lucky to have been helped and guided by lots of smart people who probably had much better things to do with their time. Guys like Seth Sternberg, the Founder/CEO of Meebo. Awesome dude. Sequoia-backed. Ridiculously helpful. When I grow up, I want to be like him. Starting a company can be really stressful and scary; depending on the day, it’s easy to lose hope and dwell on how fuct/clueless/ready-to-fail you and your startup are. If for no other reason, helping people who know even less than you do will make you feel good about yourself, boost your ego and as a result, make you into a more productive founder. Win-win-win.

Tenacity is impressive. A lot of people “start” companies, but very few actually have the tenacity and drive to bring a product to market, hire people, etc. People will expect you to quit, and part of how you will impress them is by simply keeping at it, iterating your idea/product/vision, and making progress. As my Dad likes to say: Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.
http://www.metamorphblog.com/2010/02/startup-lessons-for-the-protofounder.html

10 reasons why small businesses should blog

February 8th, 2010   By   Filed Under: Uncategorized

Blogging is almost the grandfather of social media. There are millions of blogs and bloggers worldwide, some read by millions, others by only a few.But, done properly, blogs can be a very important part of social media marketing for small businesses. Here’s why:

Convey your brand personality – even the best websites can be a bit dull. The best way to spice up your site is to include a blog. Here you can be more informal and get across your personality and the personality of your brand.

Demonstrate your knowledge, experience or expertise – blogging is a great way to demonstrate that you know what you are talking about. By going into greater depth on a subject you will engage with your visitors and demonstrate your knowledge

Make your website feel alive and up to date – static business websites can often feel as though they are ignored and are rarely updated. A blog will give regular, dynamic content that is changing on a frequent basis.

Give your customers added value – by blogging regularly, you can give visitors yet another reason to come back and visit your site, especially if you are using RSS or Twitter to send out updates about your recent posts
Help with search engine optimisation – a blog is a great way to build extra visibility with the search engines. Make sure your content is relevant and includes plenty of your popular search keywords.

Give visitors a reason to buy – whilst your website will give visitors lots of information about your products or services, your blog will offer a way for you to demonstrate why they are important or valuable. This could be through tips, guidance or possibly even case studies.

Become a thought leader – by blogging on a regular basis, you will build up a following in your industry and this will improve your recognition and publicity far and beyond your traditional customer base.

Valuable content for other social media channels – with so many social media networks out there, the challenge is often knowing exactly what content to share. Having regular blog posts provides a vast array of new, fresh content that you can tweet or share to your heart’s content!

Show you care – the time and effort that you dedicate to blogging will show to your website visitors that you really care about this business and are happy to go that extra mile

Embrace the blogosphere – blogging isn’t the end of the matter. If you are really going to make a blogging strategy successful, you need to be out there in the blogosphere commenting on other blogs and joining in the conversation. If you do this, your blog will be better known and your traffic will really start to grow.
By Social Small Biz on November 29, 2009

Ingredients of Marketing

February 5th, 2010   By   Filed Under: Everyone, Interesting, Weird and Wonderful

On the 3rd of February 2010 our own Dylan Co-founder Phil Edelston conducted a presentation named the “Ingredients of Marketing Mix”. He delivered an engaging and inspirational session to a group of thirty ambitious students, all of whom harbour an ambition to become successful entrepreneurs.

The presentation was part of a three day course linking in with NACUE – The National Consortium of University Entrepreneurs (www.nacue.com) which took place at the London Metropolitan University. Phil aimed to provide a detailed and practical coaching strategy covering key points such as:

• The background of marketing.

• What a marketing strategy is.

• How to put a strategy together.

Phil prepared by digging back into his own university lectures, using his own knowledge and experience combined to deliver an interactive and productive presentation.

Once the basic points were covered, Phil focused on marketing in today’s society and the accessibility that has been created through the current digital and social media.

As a widely expanding and popular domain, the participants were able to benefit in learning how to use these opportunities to their advantage.

As a successful entrepreneur himself (Phil co-founded Mash – www.mashmarketing.co.uk and Dylan* – www.dylanlondon.com ), Phil’s aim is to empower up and coming entrepreneurs, assisting in fast tracking their goals and provide any knowledge share that can help drive successful marketing initiatives through their businesses.

You can link in with Phil through www.linkedin.com/in/connectphiledelston

Recruitment set for Gradual 2010 recovery

February 4th, 2010   By   Filed Under: Everyone

The recruitment sector is set for gradual recovery this year, according to a report from market intelligence provider Key Note.

The report forecasts that the value of the permanent recruitment market will decline by a further 4.2% in the year ending March 2010, adding that a recovery is more likely to be sustained in the second half than in the first half of the year.

Growth in employment levels usually lags behind growth in the economy suggesting that demand for new staff will not start to emerge strongly until the second half of 2010.

In the year ending March 2009, the value of the permanent recruitment market dropped by 39% to £2.61bn on the previous year, while the number of permanent placements fell by 19.8% to 582,803.

The report shows that the financial services, construction, property and retailing sectors were particularly affected. Key Note anticpiates that sectors likely to show some reasonable improvement in 2010 include utilities, social care, financial services and technical/engineering and of these, technical/engineering and social care are likely to be significant growth areas.

And it adds that overall, the immediate outlook for the permanent staff recruitment market is better than it was for 2009, but it remains weak, adding that the market will still be intensely competitive in 2010, and that total revenue will decline, before beginning a slow recovery to finish the forecast period (2010 to 2014) at £3.1bn.

The report also predicts that fee rates are unlikely to rise in 2010 and may even be squeezed further, with the recovery coming too late for some recruiters.

Soccer ball generates & stores energy

February 3rd, 2010   By   Filed Under: Everyone, Interesting, Weird and Wonderful

Over 1.5 billion people-one quarter of the world’s population-live in areas with no access to electricity, according to a recent UN report.Capitalizing on a sport’s global appeal to address this problem, a group of Harvard University students developed sOccket, a soccer ball that turns energy from a kick into electricity.

The portable energy-harvesting device captures the impact energy normally dissipated when the ball is kicked, storing it to charge lights, cell phones and batteries. It works with inductive coil technology, similar to that found in flashlights that power up when shaken.

For each 15 minutes of play, it can store enough energy to power a small LED light for three hours. sOccket could eventually help ease the reliance on toxic kerosene lamps in developing nations, thereby reducing the associated health risks.

Currently in the prototyping stages, sOccket has been successfully piloted in Durban, South Africa, and the development team has plans to market a commercial version of the sOccket in Western countries as a high-end tech toy, possibly using a “buy one-give one” model, to subsidize the cost of distributing sOccket in developing nations.

Being an all-in-one soccer ball, portable generator, community builder and global health tool, sOccket is another shining example of the functionall trend covered in our sister site’s latest briefing. sOccket has attracted several development funding grants and is now in the process of developing production and distribution partnerships.

One to partner with or otherwise get involved in? (Related: Hippo water roller – Single-use toilet bag turns human waste into fertilizer.)

Inspiring Quote of the Day

February 2nd, 2010   By   Filed Under: Everyone, Interesting, Weird and Wonderful

“We are all better than we know; if only we can be brought to realise this, we may never again be prepared to settle for anything less”

Kurt Hahn, Co-founder of Outward Bound