Breaking into Startups in San Francisco is not like on HBO

When I moved to Silicon Valley, I thought to myself:

Man, opportunities will come at me from every corner!

While it took me just over two weeks to break into the startup world, others aren’t so lucky to have pre-existing connections or traditional startup backgrounds and get rejected a lot. I got rejected too, before hitting it big at DigitalGenius.

Last night, a few awesome folk launched a different kind of startup podcast: one that’s about beating the stereotypes, conscious and unconscious biases of Silicon Valley startups. Not just white, male, top tier school graduates should be the ones joining companies backed by top VCs or household names like Google, Facebook or Twitter. Everyone should have a shot, but they don’t.

15275657_1613762892252245_1557369168892788736_n

That’s one of the reasons the community behind Break Into Startups came together and supports one another – the only way to break the pattern is if we all work together. No more job board rejections, no more interviews where you are given a hard time because you don’t fit the pattern.

If you agree with what I said, listen to their stuff, subscribe and leave a review to help spread the word. Share, tweet, post for a more inclusive, more creative world.

I’m refocusing this blog – Growth hacking vs. Growth Management

It’s been 2 months since I moved to San Francisco and I feel it’s time to refocus this blog on my newest endeavor – growth management.

I don’t believe in growth hacking as a sustainable strategy – it’s good for the short term, good to work with it if you don’t have resources, but once you are set to build a product or a brand, you’ll soon find it’s shortcomings.

I do believe in growth management as a structured, intentional and long term process that creates and leads a change management process within the organization. Growth management focuses on creating the right mindset, culture and infrastructure for a company to grow 10x, for a department to launch a product and scale fast without experiencing too many growth pains – like overload, intermittent service, poor quality or lack of materials etc.

I’ll try and transfer some of my learning here as I grow and build with DigitalGenius and it’s going to be an interesting ride for sure, as the artificial intelligence space is in its infancy and no one has ever scaled an AI company to the level we’re about to attempt. Join me in this journey.

How To Choose The Right Investors for Your Startup [with Examples]

I have been involved with startups for the past couple of years and one of the most frequent questions that came to both my mind and in entrepreneurship community discussions is how to choose an investor. This is a two sided question, as both you as an entrepreneur and the investor must find common ground on most things to share resources – their money & influence vs. your company and future success.

So for the entrepreneur, it’s a process of research, pitching and due diligence, while for the investor it’s a process of deal sourcing, evaluation, investor branding, network and due diligence. Both sides need to do a lot before any deal even begins to travel through the pipeline. Since I value the experience of others, I pulled the best advice from several online forums & communities to cover the top criteria on how investors and entrepreneurs choose eachother.

It’s very much like marriage – successful ones always are backed by lots of work, lots of getting to know eachother, bad ones are spontaneous and crazy.

Jason M. Lemkin said on Quora that the entrepreneur should focus on what they need according to the stage they are in. In the early days, you will look at:

  • Help scaling from nothing to something.  An investor who’s actually done what you’ve done for real can help you here 10,000,000x more than someone that hasn’t.
  • Help getting at least 1 great hire.  Can the investor help?  Hiring is always impossible.
  • Help with the next round.  This should not be underestimated.  Is the investor someone VCs like to follow?  For real?  And will he or she be able to help here?
  • Help with PR and promotion.  Most investors can’t do this.  But some can.  This can help.
  • Help making you seem Hot (or at least, Cool) before you deserve it.  Few can do this.  But it’s super valuable.
  • Help being a true mentor.  Related to the first point.  Very few can really do this.  But if you can get someone to really help you be a better CEO — this is worth its weight in gold.

Forbes.com, in a recent article, focuses on 4 key questions:

1. Do you click on a personal level?
2. What can they bring to the table?
3. What have they invested in before?
4. Do they usually do follow-on rounds?

While the first one is a no-brainer, given that you’ll be working together for several years, the second question is often overlooked when money shines bright. Look beyond the cash and check the points made by Jason Lemkin, check expertise, experience, network and resources. They will end up being more valuable than the cold, hard cash.

Here’s another great piece of advice from Entrepreneur.com backing what I just said:

Cohen: They should make introductions for you to other investors, customers and partners. They should be asking you what your issues are and how they can help. With my companies, if I know what your top three issues are on a regular basis, I’m happy.

Cnet.com had a piece about this from a few entrepreneurs that went through the successful investment process (the bold part is my choice):

“Pick investors who believe in you personally and who you feel you can be open with,” said Danielle Morrill, Referly co-founder and former director of marketing for Twilio. She advises companies to find investors they can trust and won’t abandon a business when it’s going through rough times.

Sales-Griffin’s final note is that it should never be about the money. “The real value is in the regular hands-on advice and strategic support,” he concluded.

Christopher Mirabile said on Quora that not all investors are created equal and went on to name several categories of sins related to investor behaviour. Helps a lot to have a red flag checklist when going through the hoops, although I don’t agree with him on all the points or the severity of them. Here’s a selection:

Deal-breakers:

giving you bad advice and insisting you follow it
lacking, honesty, honor, integrity and good common sense values
being bigoted, sexist or likely to harass or disrupt members of your team
being unable to make up their mind on whether to invest (or what strategic course to take) and always wanting another meeting

Red flags:

insisting on a board seat but having no value to add
failing to understand or keep current with the company’s technology or positioning in order to represent the company well
not being able or willing to introduce you to other investors or customers, failing to actively support and “talk up” your company, having no network or connections or networking skills to help you build the team
lacking business fundamentals or experience with sales, taking a lot of your time and requiring a lot of hand-holding
insisting on dilutive advisory shares or consulting fees for no, or dubious, value
being unpleasant, close-minded, inflexible and generally difficult to get along with
lacking knowledge of how to structure a round, lacking knowledge of how to stage capital into a company

And last, but not the very less least, Mikko Asaarela put together a very comprehensive list of questions investors should be prepared and expect to be asked.

1. Could you refer me to entrepreneurs who you’ve worked with who highly recommend you?

2. How many Founders/CEOs have been fired by the board from your portfolio companies? Can I talk to them? 

3. How much return have the entrepreneurs seen from exits in your portfolio?

4. Can I talk to the founders of failed companies in your portfolio?

5. What kind of follow-on investment do you think the company needs to succeed?

6. What is your end game?

There is no quick win or recipe for success. Every company and every investor are different, so go through the process of getting to know each other, research online and offline, ask tough questions and work on your personal / investor brand beforehand. It helps speed up the whole thing.

Brands, Content & the LinkedIn Native Content Ad Exchange

I was at the Grow with Hubspot conference in London, where LinkedIn’s Jason Miller (Senior Content Manager and author of this huge guide) and Kipp Bodnar (Hubspot CMO) held a fireside chat about the future of advertising.

After so many years and given their struggle to bring more than 1 out of 4 members per Quarter on the site, you would expect LinkedIn to showcase some sort of innovation. Especially when the revenue growth seems to have slowed down and the past two quarters have been flat.

LinkedIn Native Content Ad Exchange

If you don’t have inventory on your own website, start expanding somewhere else. Like Google did with the Google Display Network, once it realized the potential beyond search engine marketing.

So why doesn’t LinkedIn do the same with content? Their revenue is driven by the Talent Solutions, accounting for 62% of the Net Revenues this last quarter and their Marketing Solutions account for only 19%. There is a huge untapped market here because marketers have a problem:

Millions of pieces of content are published every day, but there are very few trusted ad exchanges where brands can easily place authoritative content that positions them as industry leaders. 

LinkedIn has the brand and the influence to solve this problem as a Marketing Solutions product. Just imagine if you could bid for your content to appear on the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Forbes, FT.com all on the same exchange. LinkedIn would provide the platform for it, share the revenues with the publishers that insert the embedding code and the brands would pay for the exposure.

LinkedIn can build this as an iteration of Pulse or buy one ad exchange / native advertising company, but they need to grow their advertising revenue base because with it, they will grow their brand and with that, the users will return more often.

What do you think about this? Would it be something that a marketing person could benefit from or should we stick to the media agency contacting the media company model?

Later edit: Recent analysis points to the fact that LinkedIn needs to pivot towards diversifying revenue sources to hedge against labor market risks.

Photo via Michael Ruiz

Looking for the new Romanian Country Manager for TransferGo

I’m heading off to the San Francisco Bay Area in less than 2 months and it’s time to find a capable, passionate and smart person to replace me at TransferGo for the Romanian Country Manager role.

For the past year, we’ve worked towards gaining traction in the Romanian diaspora for TransferGo and switching as many migrant workers from old, expensive cash to digital money transfers and help them save money for their families.

We’ve achieved a lot, I personally learned many great things from the people I found and worked with at TransferGo and there’s a great opportunity to capture the market in the next few years, as more and more Romanians abroad join the Digital Diaspora and get familiar with online financial services. TransferGo is a great place to apply marketing, management, planning and business development skills. It’s also a great place to be intrapreneurial, as the corridor teams that are run by Country Managers are pretty autonomous.

It’s not a place for a corporate manager, nor is it a junior position. If you are experienced enough and with an entrepreneurial spirit and would thrive in a flexible environment where you would build not only your team, but challenge your goals and strategies every day, then apply here and we’ll let you know if we want to talk more.

I’m here to answer any questions to the best of my abilities.

Logo_500x500 (1)

Secret Sauce #GrowthHacking book – the review of a preview

I recently got my hands on the free chapter of the Secret Sauce Growth Hacking guide. You can get it too here – secretsaucenow.com. In a nutshell, it’s a 14 pages walkthrough on how to get free press, whether you’re a startup or a more established company, but struggling to get your foot in the door with the media reps & journalists.

The chapter is well written and uses good examples and step-by-step sections where one can easily take the learning and apply it right away. Hell, I’m going to try it next week to see what happens, how fast I can get those couple of dozen media articles. I even have the right campaign in mind to do it. I bet you have one of those ideas, too, right now. But like me, you may be lacking the tools or the knowledge about the order or the approach which you need to take on to get noticed and published.

Even with my 10 years of digital marketing, growth hacking and PR experience in corporate, startup and agency environment, I was impressed with the big promise it starts with – the 1000s of journalists you can reach out to in a scalable way without risking to be a robot.

What you need to do to achieve this is to build that list of 1000s of websites (pay attention here, it’s websites, not contacts). Use the Chrome Scraper add-on for speed – it gets you directories. Cool, right? Ok, then once you have the list, then go to Buzzstream.com and push that list to get the contact details (magic!) and you are only left with the email and press kit to put together. Then you start mailing and replying to the ones interested.

Download the free chapter to find out exactly how to pitch and what to include in the press kit and please come back and tell me if it was worth your time.

Featured image source

Did Azimo follow the copyright rules in this blog post?

Later edit: No, they did not follow the rules, see the Twitter replies.

Today I stumbled upon this article on one of our competitor’s blogs. Azimo tries to capture more Romanian market share with 6 images that capture the country’s beauty. Ok, that’s a great thing, I’m Romanian and I love it when someone talks highly of my homeland.

The problem is that I’m not sure if they actually asked permission to use those photos they embedded via Twitter. The rules of online copyright say that if you use images for commercial purposes (as they clearly do), you must purchase/transfer the rights in some form from the user before posting the images online.

If the images are marked as Creative Commons, then you must showcase the license and type of rights the image holder has granted.

If a company / consultant does neither and they use those images on a commercially beneficial property, like a company blog, they are in breach of copyright laws. It’s 2016 and these rules have been around for some time so you’d expect every company that’s out there to know before they click publish.

So @HistoryTime_, @cliveyquack, @Itasha75, @sysgenic, @swedeninromania (instagram), @ancientorigins, did you give Azimo the right to use your images on their blog?

I wouldn’t want to hear an answer that’s not Yes in this case. Here’s a 5 year old article to back up my claims.

p.s. see the featured image to find out how to search for commercially usable images online with Google Search

SEO doesn’t work without branding

Even though TechCrunch now has gone tabloid, they still nail it from time to time. This week, I was reading an article on how the digital marketers decided to skip school, reinvent the wheel and discount all strategic management tools to go directly to instant gratification tactics and/or hacks.

My fight to pick right now is with the SEO. It doesn’t matter if you have a good SEO ranking if you are an unknown brand. As a corollary, SEO strategies are not effective in building brands if they focus solely on the SEO factor and not on the mix of PR & branding impact.

Just look at the A(wareness) I(nterest) D(esire) A(ction) model, a simple tool from the corporate marketing world. I, as a potential customer for your product, need to be first aware of it, then be interested in it, then desire it, in order to click and buy. If I’m not quite there, then what I will do is click to see if I’m interested, if I desire and then maybe buy. But the SEO article has to deliver, in this case, interest and desire, which, sadly, not many of them do. This is because the SEO people rarely work together with the PR people and they just run bland content, which doesn’t incite much interest, let alone desire. They focus more on action and on the link juice and that’s where they lose points.

The right way to do it is to link the PR, content marketing & overall branding strategy with the SEO by placing articles that are engaging, interesting, exciting and brand aligned on SEO properties to generate conversations, shares, social proof alongside the ranking increase. Hey, in the end, all those social signals end up actually boosting SEO.

So stop being boring, work with PR people and look beyond the DA/PA/other metrics you might be using.

old-seo-new-seo

Photo taken from the Relevance Agency website

What’s missing from Ebay Argos drop-off in the UK

Ebaynorthsanjose

I recently sold something via eBay and had to deliver it to Glasgow. It was a rather large package so regular post would have costed me in the range of double digits. That’s why I chose the eBay drop-off service via Argos, which I though would ease the process and make it cheaper. How wrong I was, you’ll soon find out. There are three episodes to this, all proving that the drop-off system needs a lot more work – both on communications & on operations.

Sunday

As I said, it was a rather large package, so I spent the morning searching for something to use as packaging, as the eBay section did say that I have to do it on my own. Argos does not provide packaging, nor do they sell it, which is poor judgement, from my point of view. Anyway, I went out to ship it via the Old Street Argos, most convenient option for me, and, when I got there, the lady at the counter did not only charge me before checking if the package can be accepted, but then refused to offer me a solution other than a refund and instructions to go to the post office to get “proper packaging”. When I asked what that was and how should I have known what “proper packaging” is, she called the manager who simply said: The eBay pickup guy will not take it. She also quoted me, charged and refunded me for a “medium package”, a thing that would alter my decision making process.

Tried to get packaging at Ryman, but they only had it with the DHL delivery, which was quoted at £17, an amount I would regret to not have take later on.

Time wasted: 2 hours
Money wasted: £5 for getting there and back

Monday

On Monday, I went to the post office and got “proper packaging” for £4. Okay, over my budget, but that’s a learning point. Tried to deliver it directly via the post, but they would have charged me £16 on top of the £4 already paid. SO I decided to go to Argos at Old Street once again. Big mistake. This time the machine was not working and there was no one to fix it at the time I went to drop off the package, so I went home.

Time wasted: 30 minutes
Money wasted: £2.5 for the extra trip

Tuesday

Finally, on Tuesday morning, I decided to change the Argos and went for the one in Camden Town. Even though the other Argos had quoted and charged me for the “medium package”, this Argos rep decided that my package is actually large, so I had to pay £2 extra for the delivery. What’s more, even though the store opens at 9am, there were people standing outside of the store up to 15 past, since they were waiting for someone to open the door. And I’m not even going to mention how long it took me to wait for the package to be handled.

Time wasted: 30 minutes
Money wasted: £2.5 for the trip, £2 for the extra charge

All in all, eBay drop-off seemed like a good idea, but it’s so poorly designed and executed that it took me three days, more money and many hours wasted, whereas I could have just sent it via Ryman’s DHL, that included packaging with £17. It wasted me a total of £12 and 4 hours, plus the frustration. Good job Argos & eBay.

Image source: Wikipedia

You can’t capture micro-moments just like that

Recently read about Google’s VP of Marketing saying that the advertising game is “no longer about reach and frequency”, but about capturing micro-moments. While the micro-moment focus is not news coming from Google, they’ve been at it for a while, the real deal here is the fact that a VP of Marketing is suggesting to drop demographics and identity to focus on immediacy and intent.

The author citing the Google rep tries to steer away from just micro-moments, suggesting to match customer data with context, but that’s still not enough. Let’s think about a use case:

Imagine you are searching for something you need, like money transfers or a sim card company for calling abroad.

Is it enough to stumble onto an ad?

What if that keyword group or market is saturated by competition and you see 10-15 different ads in a search result page?

How do you make up your mind which ones to click?

Then how do you make up your mind which ones to buy?

The short answer is that we don’t know for sure. But experience, past results and methodologies show that one person buying a product or service will go through several stages until they purchase. That’s AIDA (Awareness, Interest, Desire, Action), in this example. A customer is unlikely to take action if they aren’t aware, interested or desire your product or service and to desire, they must first be interested and to be interested they must first become aware. While you can short-circuit the model with Adwords, you can do it only if the perceived risk is lower than the promised reward and that’s difficult to assess if there is no awareness of your brand, product or service.

To build that awareness -> interest -> desire flow of customers, you want to look at demographics, reach and frequency of interaction with your multichannel touch points – that’s PR, events, offline branding, content marketing, emails, search ads, display ads, social media, endorsers, referrals, reviews. This mix becomes critical when you have a trust barrier to overcome, like in financial services or healthcare, for example, where the lack of delivery is financially or physically painful. In that case, Adwords alone cannot do the job. I like to compare its impact to that of the weapons in the case of the hunter and the hounds.

The hunter can only shoot the prey which is her weapon range, so she has to spend a lot of energy going out and finding the herds of deer. There are others out there too, so she might find herself heading to the pack and shoot or scare the prey. So her best bet is to bring in hounds to find and steer the prey in her direction. That way, she doesn’t have to waste time and energy going towards packs or shooting from afar, with little chance of success, but rather have deers come to her, cased by the hounds, and making single sure shots.

Chasse_a_courre

Image credits: wikimedia.org

But what are the right hounds (channels) to go for? How do you choose them? That’s where the narrative, strategy, product USPs and experiments come in.