Smart Networking

Life Hacks – Smart Networking

 

I wanted to kick off a new monthly series I’m putting together about various life hacks aimed at helping you get ahead.

To be perfectly honest, following along with the crowd rarely helps propel you forward, it DEFINITELY doesn’t make you stand out.

Today, I wanted to talk about Smart Networking. No we aren’t talking about connectivity between electronics and computers, we are talking about connections between people.

How many times have you gone to an event, and aimlessly wandered around, hoping to meet someone who will become a valuable resource, either personally or professionally.

I know I did, a lot!

Finally, I decided to come up with some ways to improve my odds of bumping into the right people, and starting a fruitful conversation.

This idea really isn’t novel, but I find that a number of people (again including myself), miss out on this fundamental trick.

So here it is. Know who is likely to be around you before you step foot out of your door. That’s right, do some research on the meetup your going to, if you’re attending an event, do a search on LinkedIn, or Twitter, and see if you can find other going to the event.

I started using this technique when I went to the office. Our office had a great registration system, that allowed you to reserve a room, or cubical, for the days you were planning on coming in.

And here’s the better part, you could actually pull up the names of the other people reserving space in the office! From there, it was easy to sift through the company directory and compile a list of who’s who.

Doing this put me in front of some heavy hitters, including several C level executives at my company.

Finally, my last trick, I ALWAYS sat in the cafe. This almost guaranteed that I would catch people walking in and out of the office, especially if they were grabbing coffee. Match the face to the name, and there you go, instant connection!
Hope this helps you, on your path to smart networking.

Value based pricing

Value Based Pricing

Value based pricing

Many contractors, myself included, create projects estimates based on amount of effort * hourly rate + margin + overhead. The problem with this, is you are easily undercharging for projects which may provide a lot of value for the client. Value based pricing focuses on understanding the benefits the project contributes to the client, and pricing accordingly.

 

Value based pricing falls into two buckets.

  1. The value of the skills you are providing may command a much higher rate than a market-priced generalist
  2. The problem you are solving may result in a beneficial impact to the companies financials

In both cases, it is important to understand the effect your work has on the companies ability to earn or retain revenue. By knowing these factors, you increase the ability to charge a higher amount based on the expected outcome of the project, rather than just the hard cost + margin.

For example, a company looking to build software that improves customer conversion rates. After careful analysis, you conclude this software will increase revenue by $100,000/yr, but will only take you 2 weeks to build.

Assuming a rate of $100/hr, 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, and a 50% margin, you get

($100*8*10)*1.5= $12,000

That’s $12,000 to help a company earn $100,000 MORE a year.

Value based pricing dictates that by understanding the value the company is receiving from your solution, you should price as a factor of their net gain. Watch his short video to learn more.

 

 

books

Expanding your knowledge

Never settling is a cornerstone of entrepreneurship. No matter where you go, the people who seem to get a head the most are the ones who are always hungry to learn more and expand their knowledge. One of my personal goals is to read 12 books a year, one for every month, though sometimes I shuffle that around depending on my time. In the beginning, most of these books were technical or business related books, which I enjoy reading, but after a while become repetitive and stale.

But I noticed something odd. The more I read these kinds of books, the more afraid I was of taking chances, afraid of making the wrong decisions. What I realized is, by spending more time on reading about a topic, and less time actually getting hands on and taking risks or building, the more time I had to second guess the decisions I made

In this blog I touch on the importance of reading new material, and also the dangers of falling into the trap of knowledge paralysis.

Framing the conversation

The importance of framing your conversation

The importance of framing your conversation

Have you ever had a conversation with one or more people, and feel as if you point was completely missed? Chances are, you answered yes to this question. We’ve all be there, and the fact of the matter is, communication is difficult.

Our ability to understand what someone is saying is based off of our own set of experiences, knowledge, and even emotional state. Except for some really impossible occurrences, no two people will have the same set of experiences, and as a result, if you are trying to convey a message, you need to understand how to communicate your ideas in a way that your audience understands.

In this weeks video blog, we look at the importance of framing your conversation to the people in the room.

 

 

impostor syndrome

Who is the impostor in the window?

Building off of yesterdays topic, Fake it until you make it, I wanted to talk a little bit about impostor syndrome, and how seemingly smart people end up holding themselves back.

No, this doesn’t have anything to do with being secretly replaced by pod people from the planet Z. Impostor syndrome has a lot to do with the inability to truly feel deserving of one’s accomplishments. People who suffer from impostor syndrome tend to believe they are frauds, got to their destination by luck and not their hard work, or they will be discovered as being phony.

There is a growing amount of research behind the roots of impostor syndrome, including some great Ted talks about the subject. Evidence is growing and spreading rapidly, especially throughout the engineering community. Some of our top talent, are struggling with the idea that they actually are top talent. I think environment has a lot to play with this, surround yourself with people smarter than you, you’ll start thinking you’re sub-par, vice versa, surround yourself with lesser skilled people, and you’ll think you’re top of your class.

I want to talk about my continuing struggle with it.

To begin with, I do not classify myself as a software developer/engineer. I don’t spend my time reading up on the latest languages, or delving deep into the nuances of compiling. Yes it interests me, but I’m more interested in producing cool things, not just learning concepts. I like to build and see the fruits of my labor, not pass tests. This notion came on strong during a prior phone interview with Microsoft (I didn’t get the position), I was asked if I studied programming techniques as I needed them, or spent time outside of projects learning programming not directly related to what I was working on.

In fact, I was a little perplexed at this question. To me, it makes complete sense to let the project guide my pursuit of knowledge. I recently read an article about Elon Musk which talked about how, when SpaceX was started, Elon was very naive about rockets from an engineering standpoint. 2 years later, he became an expert through and through. Elon started with a specific objective, and used that as a guide for his pursuit of knowledge. Point being, there is 10^10^10 things to learn out there, and rather than being a perpetual student, I choose to lead with my goals first, and fill in the blanks as I go. I can achieve this because I understand how and where to find the information I need, once I figured out how to learn, learning is easy.

But, even with that being said, I don’t spend a lot of time simply studying programming, therefore, I’m not as good as someone who does, therefore my accomplishments can’t be as good as theirs, so I probably got lucky, oh my god they are going to find out I’m fake…..

See how easy it is to spiral out of control? Thinking that way, I won’t recognize my actual talent for building some really sweet stuff.

Rather then looking back at the things we have accomplished, we begin looking at what others have done, and downplaying our own work. Oh I didn’t do this, or I don’t know that, or I don’t spend as much time on X. Insanity!

All of these thoughts are ridiculous. In order to fight impostor syndrome, we need to internalize our accomplishments and take ownership of them. Things don’t happen purely out of luck, things happen because you are dedicated and persistent. Sure you may start by faking it, but over time, we become that which we were faking, and we need to live up to what we achieve. The first step, as always, is recognizing the thing you want to change, then beginning to work at changing it.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act but a habit.”

– Aristotle

 

 

Prefer to be visible

Prefer to be visibile

Wow. What an incredible day. Today I finally forced myself to get up and go over to the Philadelphia Tech Breakfast. The traffic gods must have been in my favor because not only did I make it downtown, but I made it early! (If someone from Septa is reading this, I’m still waiting for those credit card ticket machines on the regional rail line……) The event consisted of two demos, SocialRadar (where is my android app!), and RedBerrRy, who presented in front of a panel of three great VC’s in the Philly area:

At the end of the demos, the audience was given the opportunity for a quick lightning pitch. As such, I forced myself to jump at the opportunity. Getting up, caffeine surged through my body, and I discussed ReplyWire for a few minutes. Surprisingly, no one told me to quit my life and become a hobo! Seriously, how could I be afraid of that to be a possibility. Anyways, I gave my pitch, answered a few questions, and have more to think about. Brett made an interesting point during the event, in reference to gaining market traction, “you don’t want to be a player in the market, you want to be THE player in the market.” Basically, aim for a top spot, and figure out how to get there. Also while at the event, I ran into some great folks I haven’t seen in a while. Alex from Zivtech, Everret Reis of Down2theHire, and David Whitaker, one of the original founders with me at BraveGenius. Not only that, I also ran in to fellow 40 under 40 winner Cliff Canan of Nooch, and Ryan Draving of Referable. Quite the day. As always, let’s get to the point! Earlier this week, I talked about the importance of having something to show for your efforts at the end of each week. Today, another important lesson is exemplified, the importance of being out there. Being seen at industry events, meetups, and social gathers, is a key factor towards making yourself known to the world around you. When we build a product, you aren’t building it for yourself, you are building it for your customers, so you go where your customers are. How are people going to know what you’re working on if you’re not interacting with them? That’s why people in LA write out of Starbucks! Patrick McKenzie of Kalzumeus Software has a great article about the topics I’ve written about this week (inspiration!), and his main points are

  • Prefer Working On Things You Can Show

  • Prefer To Work Where People Can See You

  • Prefer To Work On Things You Can Keep

I’ll let you peruse his article, because honestly, it’s very well written, but just to touch on the topics, being visible is one of the most important things you need to do. If no one knows what you have done, how are they going to know what you are capable of? In the argument of Quantity over Quality, the question arises, does either matter if no one sees it? During my time at Claims Compensation Bureau, I created some really, REALLY, cool stuff. In fact, I designed and implemented an entire system that allowed claims analysts to write their own custom code to calculate recoveries (essentially a layer of programming abstraction, think about it like JQuery is to Javascript). But, out of all of this, none of the 3 items Patrick discussed were met, I couldn’t show it, no one outside the small company saw me working on it, and I couldn’t keep any of it. Great job on something very few people can see! The moral of the story is, the things we work on are badges of successful execution. Make sure, at least to some degree, people know you are working on it, people see you in your industry, and you can take something with you.

What would you say, you do here?

Speaking of taking something with you (Not safe for language).

 

40 under 40

From Top IT Pro to Philly 40 under 40

Wow, I can’t believe I didn’t announce this on my blog, what was I thinking!

Last year I was fortunate enough to be named one of the top 13 IT Pros in the Philadelphia region by the Philadelphia Business Journal.

This year I was doubly fortunate to be named one of the top 40 under 40 in Philadelphia by the Philadelphia Business Journal.

I’m honored to be joining the ranks of people who seem way above me! (They say surround yourself with people smarter than you, right?). It’s really great to be recognized for my efforts, and my goal remains the same, improve myself and the lives of the people around me, and keep trying new things.

I had a conversation with one of my mentors recently, as I was apprehensive about what I was doing (referring to investing my time and money in to ReplyWire). Here is the conversation

Mentor: “If you weren’t working on this project, what would you be doing?”
Me: I thought about that for a little bit, and responded “I’d probably end up working somewhere, and being bored…”
Mentor: “Well, this is what you signed up for”

 

Moral is, if you want to reach for something, you’re going to have to take the risk of giving it all you have.

Everything will be alright in the end. If it’s not alright, it’s not the end

 

 

About-us_Business-development_large2

What roles do business developers play in early stage startups?

It’s been a very busy several months. I have a ton of updates to write about, including my month long reboot trip to South Africa, my brief holiday foray creating a brick and mortar retail business, and my upcoming software platform, ReplyWire. These will come, but now, I want to touch upon the responsibilities of business developers in early stage start ups.

During my lunch walk today, I began pondering about what the next steps are for my new platform, ReplyWire. Beyond the enormous number of technical items left on my punch list, there is something else which takes precedence. Business Development. The questions concerning who is going to buy my product, and how much they are willing to spend on it, is far too important to put off, and not having the answers to these questions makes me really (and rightfully) uncomfortable.

Spending some time reflecting on it, I started to think about the various conversations I’ve had over the years with business founders, mentors, developers, etc. Somethings I hear repeatedly, and I too am guilty of the philosophy as well:

“Business development starts when the beta is ready for use.” ~ Technical side

“I don’t have anything to focus on until the [software] developers come back with something” ~ BizDev side

“We don’t have anything to sell yet, so we are holding of on approaching potential customers” ~ Probably me

Looking from the outside, it’s pretty obvious what’s wrong with these statements, and why I’m feeling uncomfortable. Truth is, business development starts before the first line of code is even written! Before I started ReplyWire, I had two users lined up for the platform. Now unless they are each paying a million dollars a year, two users really isn’t sustainable. But I pushed ahead, creating a mostly functional MVP, pushing of BizDev until I had something I can show.

Alright, that’s fine and dandy, but realistically, someone should have been on the phone, making calls, and lining up meetings, during the whole time. (This is where having a team is important, and wearing all the hats makes progress tedious and exhausting)

So I did a little bit of research and came across an article in the Harvard Business Review, Why Most Product Launches Fail. During the interview, Joan and Julie discuss the failings of products when adequate research has not been done prior to product launch. The product either doesn’t meet the needs of the customers, or there is no demand for the product.

In an effort to give my product some validation, I’m switching more to a BizDev role, and contacting other platform providers which I theorize could make use of ReplyWire, finding out what their needs are, and seeing if my platform would be a good, and sensible, fit.

I’m always getting hung up on the “What is your target market” question. The reality is (I’m guessing), the answer to this question is your best guess until you either prove it, or disprove it, then you make another guess!

In short, the next time you come up with an idea, or come on to an early stage start up, make sure that there is no procrastination on the business development end. There are absolutely important things which need to be done, and that revolves around identifying and reaching out to potential customers, and obtaining early stage feedback. If you wait until launch, there may not be enough resources left for the push, or worse, you may find some of your assumptions are wrong, and now you need to re-tool, adding time and expense to your project.

“When you have nothing to lose, you have everything to gain” ~ Unkown

Shut up and do it

Shut up and do it

Hi there! Remember me? Maybe I forgot for a little while. Perhaps it hasn’t been a priority. But what matters is what I’m doing right now. This summer has been long, there has been a lot of ups and downs, and unfortunately over the past couple months, I’ve strayed from the goals I have originally set out to accomplish.

But you know what, that’s OKAY.

It isn’t the things you did not do that defines someone, it is the things they do. One of the easiest things I’ve found is how easy it is to STOP doing something. How inviting the couch is, how nice it is to sit down, TV? Yes please!

So I regressed a little bit, but the important thing is, identifying the areas you want to change, and make a conscience effort to change them.

This past Saturday I gave my first presentation. The topic, Exploring Fear, the place, Bar Camp Philly 2013. I’ve written about fear before, it’s a big topic, and one I was excited to talk about. And  by excited I mean nervous and sweaty. Good thing I wore a black shirt.

But! I have a goal in mind of taking my experiences and lessons, and becoming a presenter. What better way then to get up and do it. I decided to do the talk late in the came, after the first session was already complete. I really tried to convince myself that I wasn’t ready, but then I forced those thoughts a side and scheduled the session. Now I was committed.

Jump to the session, it’s 4:15, only 2 people in the room. Wow, now that would be scary, what’s worse than a room full of people? A room with no one showing up. But in a few minutes, there was a good 30 people there. I started my talk, and it was great, I didn’t even have to picture anyone sans clothing!

The talk quickly moved to a discussion, where to my surprise, people really opened up about some of the things they are afraid of.

It was nothing short of amazing. I really can’t express my appreciation enough to those who shared.

As I was talking, I remembered some of the lessons and challenges I face in the past couple years, and I need to remind myself, there is no RIGHT WAY, simply taking action, no matter the path, will eventually get you to where you need to go.

Taking action… This is harder than it sounds. Many times, we jump to far, and do too much at once, other times, we are easily distracted and don’t even realize we are back sliding to our old habits.

So what are my actions? I started biking, my goal is 290 miles biked before my 29th birthday. I’m at 260.5, and my birthday is next week, better get on it!

I also made an at home standing desk. Looking back, I realized much of my energy in the beginning of the year came from me standing most of the day. Two days in, and I’m already feeling positive affects.

Next, I started to revisit the goals I had at the beginning of the year, and see where I stand with them. Turns out, I need to get to work on that again. But That’s OKAY

Truth it, everything is OKAY, as long as you are comfortable with the decisions you make. Jobs come and go, relationships start and end, but at those final moments, you only have to answer to yourself. So if you’re putting off doing something, start, even if it’s the wrong way, you do it backwards, or upside down. Things NEVER get easier, you only get better at handling it.

“Action may not always bring happiness, but there is no happiness without action. ”

― William James

 

minimum-viable-product-merkapt

MVP: Multiple Validations Prescribed

In software, as well as other manufacturing processes, there is something known as the MVP, or Minimum Viable Product. The purpose of the MVP is to validate a product or idea, and ensure that it is on track to meet the customers requirements. In today’s lean startup philosophy, the goal is to produce a product demo, either working or not, and quantitatively test the market, without investing too much time or money.

The other benefit of the MVP is to quickly release a small set of useful features, with the goal of allowing your customers influence the direction and growth of the product.

A great example of this is IMVU, an online, avatar  based, chat program. In an article appearing in Hacker Monthly, a story unfolded where the company, struggling to get on it’s feet, began the undertaking of an advanced physics engine for their chat application. The idea was to be able to click around a virtual room, and have the avatar walk from one place to the other. Engineering estimates were very high. Along the way, a shortcut was taken, rather than having the avatar walk, it simply transported from one area to the next. Results? The customers loved it, and the company saved tens of hundreds of thousands of dollars on development, which quite frankly, no one asked for, and wasn’t necessary.

So what’s the reason for bringing this up? As someone who’s worked in application development for the better part of a decade, I cringe at the idea of spending resources building a product, only to have it fail several months later. Granted, you’ll never be able to mitigate 100% of the risk, and many times, a products usefulness and viability is lost due to competition, market changes, or poor execution. However, if you do your research early and often, you can almost guarantee that you’ll have at least some paying customers come launch time. If you don’t, then the maybe you need to rethink your product.

Early and often… Something I stress to my diving students about equalization, do it early and often, before you feel pain, thus avoiding injury. Maybe there is a correlation. The title of this post, Multiple Validations Prescribed, is exactly that, validate your idea early, and often. Before an MVP of a product can [should] be started, perhaps an MVP of the business model should be tested. Find out if anyone is even interested, what they want, and what they would pay. Take it to the people.

At the end of the day, it is very rare that you will ask the right questions the first time, or collect the right data. But that means you just need to iterate, quickly. Apply some agile methodology to you market testing, change, react, send out additional questions, go buy someone a drink. What easier way to figure out you are on the wrong path than going out and proving it. In my previous post, My Obsession: Science!, I spoke a little bit about my passion for technology, exploration, and discovery. Science is also heavily focused on testing and validating ideas, so why not apply the same principals to you MVP. Go out and experiment, survey, interact with your potential audience.

At the end of the day, you are making the product for them, not you.

I find great value in doing, rather than postulating, and I hope you do to.

“Test fast, fail fast, adjust fast.”

-Tom Peters