Thursday, January 31, 2013

Book Report: Click


Ever wonders what makes people click?  Brothers Ori and Rom Brafman tackle this timeless question (well!) in their new book Click.

They cite five primary factors that make people ‘click’:

  1. Vulnerability.  While certainly not a risk-free activity, sharing a personal vulnerability is an immediate way to appear authentic (you are placing truth over pride) and confer trust.
  2. Proximity.  Most relationships (personal or professional) are dictated by distance.  Be where the people you want to meet are.
  3. Resonance.  Sympathize with your audience and communicate your authentic understanding of them and their situation.
  4. Similarity.  The shocker here was volume trumps quality.  People are more likely to perceive more closeness with another that shares a number of trivial similarities (same hometown, birthday, favorite ice cream) than a singe large one (career choice).  While counter-intuitive to me, I can understand how the discovery of each new (even trivial) similarities is a cue that re-enforces your bond each time it occurs.
  5. Safe Place. This can be determined by frame (we are the most similar people in this room) or by a common adversary (we’re in it together!).

So if most of these factors are pre-determined what is one to do to improve the situation?  Of the many ideas outlined my takeaways were:

  • Personal Elevation.  The vast majority of people have a complimentary person.  Be it personal or professional, there are people out there that make you more than the sum of your parts.  Find them.
  • Modulate expression.  The ability to match your expression to the common level of the group demonstrates a strong awareness and creates comfort (see similarity).
  • Be the Hub.  Helping people meet is the most powerful way to meet others yourself.  There are always those that are at the center of communications.  If nothing else, identify the hubs in your life!

While I approach many of these pop-psychology books with a healthy does (or two) of skepticism, Click really delivered on some intuitive observations followed by quite a few actionable recommendations.

All the factors that make you Click are current.  It will align your present selves, but not your future goals. I think of the aspects of Click as an emotional fit (heart) – don’t forget about the intellectual fit (head)!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Priority > Urgency

imageTime is the most precious of commodities.  However, the vast majority of people I know are unable to effectively manage their time and allocate this limited resource to the most important tasks.

The biggest challenge here is confusing urgency with priority.  Urgent issues are one that need to be dealt with right now!  If you don’t act now, the opportunity disappears.  The pressure of an exploding opportunity often spurs us to action.  At HBS we fondly refer to this as FOMO (Fear of Missing Out).  On the other hand, items with priority are those which are truly important to you.  The stuff that matters.

As responsibilities and opportunities grow (and they inevitably will over time) the number of urgent tasks will quickly grow in volume to consume your enter life.  Without careful thought this can lead any but the most deliberate to spend their whole life blocking and tackling the urgent minutia – and completely missing what truly matters to them.

So how is one to avoid this trivial existence?  Triage.  Just like in any good intake ward – there are firm rules for who to treat first – the same should exist for your life.  Take a day and make a list of the most important goals in your life (build a great company, find a spouse, grow my relationships with close friend/family).  Then, be ruthless.

Every opportunity should be compared against that list of what matters to you.  If it doesn’t fit into one of your life goals.  Just say no! Nothing is  more liberating psychologically and nothing will make you more effective at the things that matter.  High volume mediocrity is still mediocrity.

If you’re a young employee – this is especially important to keep in mind.  Everyone will try and dump thankless work on you.  Don’t take it.  If you don’t gain anything from doing minutia (and if you’re at a big company you won’t).  Just say no. Don’t do things just because you are asked to.  Take  a strategic view.  If it doesn’t help you in the long run Go find better things to do with your time that will make for a great resume bullet point.

As a parting thought, I’ll share one of the most insightful questions of my first year – posed by Shikhar Ghosh. If you’re around 30 years old right now you have 50 years left.  Another way to look at this is 50 years x 50 weeks – you have 2500 weeks to live. 

What will you do?

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Whaling Venture Capital

In the new semester I’m enrolled in a course on the history of Venture Capital with Felda Hardymon and Tom Nicholas.  The fist case traced the history of the industry back to the swashbuckling day of hunting whales for oil (sorry PETA).


At that time there were three parties involved (aside from the whales):

  • Investors – wealthy individuals (doctors, lawyers, merchants) looking for investments more exciting than banks and mortgages can offer.
  • Captains (entrepreneurs) – they ran the ships and were the operational engine behind the venture.
  • Agents (VC) – the folks that coordinated captains and capital to get expeditions funded and underway.

Sound familiar?  This system, pioneered with the advent of new money (folks who can finance ventures that aren’t kings) required a new kind of coordinator who could aggregate capital and link it to strong capital.  Enter the Agent (aka VC). 

This model is a very high fidelity echo of the world we work in today.  Everything from the risk distribution (your ship sinks/you catch a whale) to the distribution of returns (the few most successful enterprises reaped the vast majority of rewards).

What’s fascinating is how economically impactful this model was.  Of the 900 whaling ships at the peak of this industry (which could bring in almost $100M 700 were American.  Why?  America was the country that truly embraced the Venture Capital Model.  To this day, Venture Capital is by far the most effective way to translate capital into job growth.

The hall marks of the VC asset class are:

Persistence.  This means a successful firm will likely continue to be successful.  Making investments in companies is very difficult to externally verify.  A huge amount of trust and instinct goes into the decision making process on all sides.  Subsequently, personal relationships are at the core of this industry.  As you are successful and grow – so do your relationships.  This also exists in Private Equity – making VC/PE the most persistent investment classes (by far!).

Cyclicality.  Whaling, like startups, follows a boom and bust cycles.  Either you catch the great white whale or you don’t.  Boom or Bust.  The returns on these investments (adjusted for risk) far outweigh those of any other class.  However, investors need to be able to whether the storms (aka losing all your money).

If nothing else we can all feel a little more rugged and seaworthy – as we are the whaling captains of modern day.  Just avoid being Ahab!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

David Teten of ff Venture Capital on White Space

Today David Teten came up from New York to share his years of entrepreneurial and investment experience with the Harvard GASA Business Club.  In addition to being a Partner with ff Venture Capital he is the Founder and Chairman of the HBS Angels of Greater New York. 

The talk was split into two major parts: picking a company and then making one successful (eg sales techniques).  David’s primary recommendation – which was re-emphasized throughout his presentation – was to pick a market with few competitors.  He noted that even great markets can lead to depressed returns due to overcrowding.  He also introduced a couple Market Maps which serve as a good guide to identify holes:


While the second half of his talk was designed to aid in conducting research on your new idea, all of the techniques were very useful tactical recommendations that will serve an entrepreneur throughout the life of a venture:

  • Search Google for specific file types (pdf/ppt/doc) to find some great presentations/material on your competitors
  • You can get access to a lot of great research through a Charles Schwab Account
  • Use trackers (ie to keep a finger on the pulse of your competitors.
  • Conduct polling – adwords, google docs, survey monkey, and now google consumer surveys!
  • Use a combination of affinity, information, other's’ credibility, and ego boosting to get people to return your calls.

Also, as a closing note David’s site ( has an amazing wealth of great content.  I particularly loved the section for CEOs/Founders.  And, he was kind enough to include a video of this presentation and slides online.  Thanks!



i-Lab Silicon Valley Trip in Review

After a long 10 days on the move and a redeye return flight I’ve just started to catch up on sleep from the whirlwind tour of Silicon Valley.  First, I wanted to include a couple pictures that didn’t make it past twitter from IDEO:

Our seminar in design thinking from the best:

We ended up building a prototype for screens that would play cute/funny videos in airports.  Stressed out waiting at the gate for a delayed flight?  Look at the puppies and feel your blood pressure drop!

One of many amazing prototypes kicking around the IDEO offices (a bike that pumps water as you pedal!):

And, to put a bow on the trip I took some time to consider and consolidate all of the advice, stories, and experiences that were shared by the great folks who took their time to speak with us.

  • There has never been a better time to start a business. There’s a lot of money out there.  VC/customer standards are getting higher – only because the barriers to entry (building/distribution) are getting lower.  All in all life is getting easier for entrepreneurs.
  • It’s all about execution and traction – not ideas.  Ideas aren’t worth signing an NDA.  VC’s probably can’t think like your customers.  Everyone relies on evidence.  Build only to elicit customer feedback or observe customer behavior.  That should be the driving mantra for everything you do.  This is MVP.
  • Be intellectually honest.  The biggest failures I saw came from great sales.  They sold themselves and they sold others on a powerful idea.  The rest of the startup exercise was simply confirming the bias.  Beware of this tendency (especially if you’re are a natural seller).  Use great scientific practice to find a great idea with proven promise.  THEN sell the living daylights out of it!
  • Think BIG.  VCs want markets in the $1B range.  Every VC has a sweet spot between ridiculous ($1 Trillion) and to small ($50 Million).  It’s hard to say what the limits are but everyone liked business with single digit billion dollar potential.
  • Expect to have an early prototype with strong traction, a great team, and a huge market before looking for VC.  Angels may only need one of the three to invest.
  • Keep in touch.  Just like entrepreneurship is a career – not a shot in the dark – everyone you meet in the startup ecosystem is a colleague.  Approach everyone from VCs to founders to customers with the knowledge that you’ll see them (especially if they are great) again and again.  You’ll develop a relationship over a lifetime – even if they didn’t fund you, work with you, or buy from you.  A “no” just means “not yet”.

And, in case you missed my cross-post here’s the post I did for the i-lab blog: What Investors Want with a Twist of

Monday, January 21, 2013

AngelList Launches Valuations

Ever wondered what the going rate for seed stage valuations is?  AngelList just launched an fun tool that easily lets you browse the valuation distribution for seed stage only investments:


This is especially useful, since at the seed stage, company valuation is much more dependent on founder credentials (you!) than at later stages (traction/evidence takes precedence).

The first thing I did was take a look at how my background maps to valuations.  The big surprise was that the valuations in Cambridge were almost a million dollars lower than those in Silicon Valley – further stark evidence that valuations are relatively depressed outside the Valley (fundraising road trip anyone?).  My full list for BuildAFlock is as follows:

College - Harvard


Incubator - Startup Weekend


Employer - Microsoft


Quarter - Q4 2012 (most recent)


Location - Cambridge, MA


Market - Location Based Service




I’m not sure how much faith to put behind the statistical mean here, but I do like the fact that this at least provides a range.  And, if nothing else browsing the numbers while thinking about BuildAFlock as a $3.8M company is a ton of fun!  What’s your number?

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Swing for the fences

Randy%20_%20compThe closing speaker for the i-Lab’s Silicon Valley trek was Randy Komisar of KCPB. In addition to being a general partner, Randy is the author of the Monk and the Riddle and lead investment partner for Nest

With such a long history in the Valley Randy was the perfect person to provide a longsighted perspective to put our whirlwind tour into perspective.  Here are some of my takeaways from his talk and Q&A session:

  • Execution is underplayed in TechCrunch, but is the key differentiation between success and failure.
  • It’s all about timing.  The tablet wasn’t revolutionary.  It was just launched at a time when the parts became cheap enough to support a broadly appealing price point.  Steve job’s genius was in timing – he struck at the right time again and again.  Also, he was never ahead of his time.
  • No great company has been started in Silicon Valley as a lean startup.   For nest they know they’d have to invest $100M.  Have a big ethereal vision attached to a small solid grain of traction.
  • VCs are a herd.  Wallstreet is at the head of the herd.  Everyone else is trying to funnel in and get into the front of the pack to be the first in line for an IPO or M&A deal.
  • Only 25 VC firms make money.  The rest don’t.
  • It’s more likely for you to be replace as CEO of a successful company than a unsuccessful one.  As a great business scales an entrepreneurial skillset is less valuable at the helm.  If a business is still struggling to find it’s footing – the original entrepreneur is the person you want at the head.
  • Entrepreneurs rarely understand the competitive landscape as well as they should.  Understand the past, present and future landscapes.  Learn why your idea may have failed in past ventures.
  • Entrepreneurs generally don’t have a good idea of what’s going on around them.  Avoid tunnel vision.
  • Don’t leap to the final vision.  Nest is building an internet of things.  But they’re going to start by building a revolutionary thermostat.
  • Read Getting to Plan B.  Randy mentioned this book several times as a great framework for thinking about startups.
  • Entrepreneurship is important because it challenges the status quo.  It’s about questioning everything that doesn’t work around you every day. 
  • Attack a problem with your passion (work on a problem you care about).  If you divorce the two you’re at the squeaky end of entrepreneurship.
  • Entrepreneurs are fueled by a passion to change things for the better.  They believe they see something nobody else does.  And they want to make this vision a reality.
  • To find a great idea – take stock of the things you care about and then search for opportunities within those areas that match your capabilities.
  • Look for the smartest highest integrity people possible to get the best downstream opportunity set.
  • Young people shouldn’t try and start companies.  95% of them will end up with nothing to show for it in 10 years.

With that sobering closing remark (which I personally disagree with!) our Valley experience concluded.  I couldn’t have asked for a more well rounded vision of the bleak challenges and incredible promise that come with becoming a career entrepreneur.

Friday, January 18, 2013

What World Will You Enable?

To end our last day of VC visits in the Valley we spent the afternoon with Adam Nash.  Adam is a true Silicon Valley veteran who has led product for some of the top companies including LinkedIn, Ebay, and Apple. 

He was most recently an EIR at Greylock, and has recently joined WealthFront – a company dedicated to democratizing access to the financial instruments currently available to high net worth individuals.

It was a unique opportunity to talk with such a thoughtful and experienced person at a time of transition.  During the course of our conversation Adam honed in on the reason for joining WealthFront.  He said that if he didn’t join the team their vision of the future – one he was deeply passionate about – may not come true. 

This criteria resonated completely with me and will be carried forward as the new lens of legacy to evaluate my ventures moving forward.  Whether founding or joining a startup – being a part of an early team requires a complete investment of your energy, time, and reputation.  And – it often will last far longer than one would expect.

Most entrepreneurs are inclined to act.  They want to jump in and get stuff done.  In almost any business this is a great attribute.  However, in the quiet time, the time before the business has been chosen or formed – we all need to take the time to make sure we choose a path that we’ll be happy walking for the next decade. 

I’m very happy that BuildAFlock meets that criteria for me.  If we can create a world – where in the next decade – I can get up and go to a great dinner party any night of the week – I would be ecstatic.  I know I’d be having more fun, and I know this would create the closer communities we all crave.

So let this be the premier test for what is worth making the all-in investment of your entrepreneurial energy:

Will you be a critical member of a team that is making a vision of the future that you are passionate about reality?

The Inventor and the Entrepreneur

In the middle of our last day of visits in the valley we were visited by Ben Horowitz of Andreessen Horowitz.

Ben is the rare VC that has maintained very close contact with his engineering roots to maintain an incredibly detailed perspectives on his ventures. He also reveled in his position as a engineer who has consistently been in a position of business leadership. From that perspective here are some great takeaways from the discussion:

  • Two is the magic number. Ben noted the best founder teams have two people: an inventor (technical) and an entrepreneur (business). One builds. One sells. And they have an even partnership (50/50). This is in stark contrast to other investors we spoke with who said an even split was implicitly flawed.
  • Startups need to be 10x better to overcome inertia – not just twice as good.
  • There are two ways that relationships fail:
    • Not enough tension – the partners aren’t pushing each other to mutually grow.
    • Too much tension – the partners push so much stress on one another that it forces the relationship apart
  • True entrepreneurs have an irrational desire to build a company. It’s never worth the money (even when you succeed).
  • Running a business consists of euphoria and terror. Lack of sleep enhances both.
  • Don’t hire people if you don’t know what to look for. At LoudCloud Ben ended up hiring and firing two whole executive teams while he learned what to look for. This is an expensive way to learn.
  • To be great you need to be the right person for a particular company at a particular point in time.
  • Don’t outsource. Building software is really hard and iterative. If you don’t have a technical founder nobody will be putting the love and care into the codebase that will enable it to scale.
  • A Thiel Test – do you have any beliefs that everyone disagrees with you about?
    • A bias against MBAs is that they are socially advanced, but this socialization is antithetical to breakthrough thinking.
  • If you want to do a startup be in Silicon Valley – be immersed in the best practice – be with the best and the brightest.
  • Truly revolutionary ideas look similar to stupid ideas. Stupid ideas also look like stupid ideas.
  • Join a rocketship startup to make money and learn about a subject area. However, you won’t learn how to find and form a company doing this.
  • Prepare for the dog catches bus problem. What happens if your business is a slam dunk success? Are you ready?

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Move. Faster!

Today we were lucky enough to get some time with Mike Cassidy at Google.  He was far from the expected big tech management speaker.  Mike’s a veteran leader of four successful startups (Stylus Innovation, Direct Hit, Xfire, and Ruba) and came to Google by way of acquisition.  Now he’s part of the clandestine Google X Labs which works on big picture projects like the driverless car. 

Mike is the rare person that carries himself and his interactions with urgency.  Everything from his presentation to conversation style screamed “Lets get going!”.  Quite appropriately the theme of his (well known) talk was on the role of speed as a central business strategy.  My takeaways:

  • Raise before an inflection point in valuation – it lowers closing cost/time
  • Move fast and get all decision makes in the room before pitching
  • Get contracts and LOIs from enterprise customers
  • If you haven’t built it at least have a plan down to concrete actionable details before pitching
  • Hire experienced people – no amount of all-nighters can make up for the speed 5-10 years of experience programming will bring.
  • Make an offer same day.  Draft the offer in the morning, complete a reference check at noon (if the interviews are going well), and hand the candidate an offer letter on the way out.  Ask for an answer the next morning – you don’t want to let them shop it around.
  • Set up all the infrastructure an employee needs day one so they can hit the ground running.
  • Probability of a deal closing falls 10% every day in doesn’t close.  Put pressure of the other party to close or cut your losses early.
  • Pivot hard and fast.  3/4 of Mike’s companies were very different from the original idea.
  • Find great people with great ideas. 3/4 of Mike’s companies were initiated by his co founders (housemate/fellow alum/industry expert).  He also mentioned scanning the MIT 50K (now 100K) site for interesting projects:
  • Start small – his first market was only $20M (telephony). You learn the ropes of a business and can build great personal value in that space.
  • CAC < LTV.  The CAC (Cost of Acquiring a Customer) must be less than the LTV (LifeTime value).  This seems obvious, but it’s important to plan for and have a good feel for how this metric is evolving in your business.


From the launch timeline Mike laid out (above) I feel pretty good about BuildAFlock.  On a small/prefunded scale we’ve follows this pretty closely to get from ideation to launch in about 3 months.  However, I’m very curious to see if we can maintain this pace at a Series A scale. If you’d like to take a look at his slides I found an old version here (content looks very similar):

Monday, January 14, 2013

VC Overview with Peter Wendell of Sierra Ventures

imageOur crash course in Silicon Valley began with a thousand foot overview by Peter Wendell of Sierra Ventures.  In addition to the basics of VC, there were a few core points that stood out among all the talks in this subject area I’ve heard:

  • Expect 4.5 rounds of financing on average before liquidity.  Shoot to raise 6-12 months of cash (just enough for a inflection point in value)
  • Founder groups are usually 1-4 people.  Seek a diverse team that can cover the critical areas of the business (product dev/sales), but maintain agility.
  • Founders are the decision makes.  They steer the business.  Employees execute.
  • Most founder shares are subject to reverse vesting.  This enables the founders to ‘own’ shares before they are vested.  This allows founders to maintain control and to enjoy favorable taxation (capital gains % vs. regular income %).
  • Spend some time on
  • As a founder you want to help VCs’ greed supersede their fear.  After this inflection point the checkbook comes out.


Super Simple Scrum

In my last post I discussed my process for task allocation using a calendaring system (ie Outlook). However, in order to do this successfully you need to be equipped to successfully estimate the amount of time a task require. In the engineering field there are countless methodologies to aid in this effort for developers, but my favorite is Scrum.

One of the core elements of Scrum is the calculation of a ‘load factor’. Before doing a task you estimate how much time you think it will take. After the task is completed you record how long it took you.

Load Factor = (Reality-Estimation)/Estimation


Initially this number will have incredibly high variance, but over time, your load factor will start to stabilize. This will enable you to revise any of your initial estimates. For example, My load factor is currently around 1.5. This means I’m consistently overambitious and underestimate the time required for a given task by 150%. So, next time I try to estimate a project – I’ll do my standard estimate and then just multiply it by 1.5.

Ideally, your load factor will fall over time as you become more aware of your personal bias and begin to adjust. However, many people (myself included) – especially those with large variation in task types (in a day I’ll do anything from coding to design to door to door sales) may never get to a low load number.

Luckily, the load factor has you covered. It’s a great tool to reduce the uncertainty of planning from the inaccuracy of your guess (one project) to the volatility of your load factor (over several projects). While I initially started using this system to estimate consulting work (where cost overruns are a serious client issue), it has proven so useful I apply it to every aspect of my life.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Time Management Process

Life is complicated. As we accumulate responsibilities and relationships throughout the development of our professional and personal life the challenge of keeping track of it all mounts.  We all need a system, and here is mine:image

Input generally comes in person and over email. If it’s in person I just make a quick note and send myself an email to get it into the stack.

Once I’m on my laptop I’ll go down all of my email items and decide to delete, delegate, or allocate.

Delete – I just don’t have the time or interest to do this.

Delegate – This is someone else’s problem. Rely all to the email to loop in the assignee and then delete.

Allocate – any task I commit to doing has to go on my calendar.


While, this may make my schedule look like a bit of a mess (see above), it prevents over commitment. Also, if the task has any notes (i.e. ideas I have or notes from a customer call) I’ll input them directly into the calendar item. If I have a meeting I’ll input the email correspondence leading up to the meeting right into the calendar item for easy recall on my iPhone when I’m on the move (great for sales).

If a work item is taking longer than expected, is recurring, or needs to be shifted – I simply shift the calendar item. And, in any given day I’ll usually have an hour or two of unplanned interruption, so I plan my schedule with a hour lunch and an hour before sleep that I can use as buffer.

Using calendars in this way enables you to force an allocation process in your life and provides a chronological record of notes (easier to recall/review). Stay organized my friends!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Book Report: Rework

I’ve long been a fan of the 37 Signals folks.  They really are the heralds of the lean movement.  The build super simple tools to run small companies and they do it using the best practices in the lean movement.  So, I was excited to dig into their book: Rework – a compendium of their best practices.

The book is organized in to 87 lessons that read like blog posts (just a few pages a piece).  Here are my seven favorites:

1- Scratch your own itch – build a product you will use.  Customer research becomes easy and part of your company DNA when you are the customer.

2- Interruption is the enemy of productivity – whether meetings, calls, emails, or colleagues stopping by – these little interruptions make sure nothing actually gets done.  I’m a big fan of arranging my work/communication in blocks. I will code or write for 3-4 hours with my phone off and outlook closed.  It’s good practice to carve out this time for your company on a regular (ie daily) basis.

3 - Go to sleep.  While everyone differs, my world revolves around sleep. Sleeping less makes me stupid and careless – often to the extend that I’m only creating more work for myself down the road.  Sure there are times where you need to pull an all nighter, but usually those events are preventable.  If you’re up all night – you’re doing it wrong.

4 - Welcome obscurity.  I think many misinterpret the lean startup methodologies to mean that you need to launch and build a product asap.  This often leads to a team maintaining the wrong business.  Lay out your theses and do the least amount of work possible to validate them in obscurity.  By the time you’re hunting for PR your business should be rock solid and ready to scale.  If it’s not spend more time on product and none on promotion.

5 – Press Releases are Spam.  Many young companies go chasing big press as a marketing mechanism.  Rework points out that they get far more customers from blogs/trade publications than big media.  In my experience I’ve certainly found this to be true.   I’ve gotten more useful leads from the HARBUS (the HBS student paper) than CNN.

6- Do it yourself first.  I’m a huge fan of this mentality.  I’ve done every job at my startup.  I know what it entails so I know what person I need and I can be a better manager (since I actually understand what they’re doing).  Also, if anything goes wrong, I’m never left helpless or blocked.  I can always pitch in to make sure the show will go on.

7 - Test Drive Employees.  Despite working at Microsoft – famous for their love of the brainteasers and intellectual horsepower tests – I don’t find that relevant to finding good hires at all.  If I’m going to hire for a position I look for comparable experience (ie this person has successfully done a similar job in the past) and then I watch them do their job.  Whether this is a 1-2 hour coding session where they work on a current company problem or even a weeklong period making sales calls – taking the time to watch someone work before hiring is the only way to make sure you’ve got the best candidate.

As the new year rolls in. These are great lessons to live by – the top two will definitely make my list of resolutions!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Borrowing Library e-Books on your Kindle

While certainly not news, I’ve just learned how to borrow books from my local library on my Kindle.  Mind Blown! 

This program, offering in partnership with, Overdrive, and local libraries, provides much of a local library’s collection deliverable direct to your kindle. 

This program is available is a large number of systems including New York Public Library, Toronto Public Library, and Boston Public Library.  A full list can be found here:

Since I’m in Boston, BPL was my first stop.  Their program is open to any student or resident in Boston (however, there was no verification so it seems pretty open…).  The entire process from signup to download of my first ebook (Rework) took about 3 minutes.  Their guides are not clear, so here’s a quick 3 step guide to get your borrowing ebooks like a boss:

1. Get an ecard (  This enables you to access all BPL electronic resources. 


2. Head over to the over to and do a search (ie Rework)


3. Click Request This Download


4. The link will take you to Amazon – just log in and download your book!


Now that I’m back to reading something other than HBS cases this has been a life saver.  Amazon and BPL my brain and my wallet thank you!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Super Simple CRM

From my last couple posts I got quite a few questions about how to keep track of your interactions as you sell.  There is certainly a full range of CRM (Customer Resource Management) software, but I find if your team is small (1-3 people) a simple spreadsheet in Excel works just fine. 

The goal is to create a document that is simple enough you can make a habit of keeping it up to date.  Heavyweight systems tend to be more laborious to use and reduce the frequency of data input (which is key). 

In it’s simplest form I keep a sheet with following columns:

  • organization name
  • email
  • first name of contact
  • last name of contact
  • website
  • status
  • notes

An example of what this looks like from Flock is as follows:


To create your first sales list you can usually just rely on the web (Google searching) or some select industry directories (in our case Yelp was quite useful).  This will help you fill out the majority of the fields to create a record for each potential customer.

As you send out your first emails, make a note of that in the ‘status’ section.  I usually keep this field short and tied to major stages of development (emailed, heard back, agreed, contract signed).  All the other information I input into the notes section.

When inputting information it’s a balance of ease of reading vs ease of writing.  I fall heavily on the side of ease of writing because I want to ensure that I get all the information in – even if it is in a messy context.  If the information turns out to be important later on (ie this becomes a key customer) I can format the information then.

As I engage in sales meetings I’ll usually just jot notes on a legal pad as I’m talking with the customers and then transfer it to the excel sheet as soon as I get home.  If I don’t happen to have a paper/pen handy sending yourself emails via iPhone work just as well.  For each meeting I take notes in two phases:

  1. During – While engaging with the customer it is important to write key issues/follow up items you’ve agreed on down.  I’ll usually come in with a few agenda items jotted down as headers and fill in notes under those headers as we talk.
  2. After – Once the meeting is over, I’ll immediately write down everything I can remember about the customer interaction.  This is critical to maintaining a consistent interaction each customer when you are meeting with hundreds. 

The nice thing about an excel sheet is it is very easy to review.  Every week I’ll just run down the list to make sure I’ve had a chance to check in with every customer with a current issue.  All the dormant relationships (sales that closed or failed) will be contacted every few months).  The biggest mistake I see new sales people make is failing to maintain consistent contact with their customers. 

Also, if you’re in a startup environment where you are just starting to understand your sales pipeline this list will serve as a record of your sales experimentation.  You’ll instantly be able to look down you list of closed sales and see from the notes what characteristics of your interaction of the customer made the deal work.

The whole mantra here is KISS (keep it simple stupid!).  When you start selling create an excel sheet.  Update that sheet after every meeting.  If you can do that you’ll be well on your way to delighting your customers!