Inside My Brain

Thoughts about startups, tech, marketing, and life

CATEGORY: Business

3 types of communities that are crucial for a startup’s growth

Communities have been an enduring theme on my podcast and have been crucial to the growth of many of my guests’ businesses.

While I’ve taken a break from podcasting, I continue to listen to past episodes and learn from my guests, and it’s no doubt how important communities are to their success.

Being involved with or building a community can be an extremely valuable way to engage with people who may later turn into customers, partners, and friends.

No matter what stage your business is in – whether you’re just brainstorming ideas or in the millions of revenue – there will be communities that can help move you ahead.

Let’s see what these types of communities are and how they can help.

Startup communities blog image

Local startup and industry communities

The first community that is very important when you’re launching a company is the community of startup founders, entrepreneurs, and industry professionals in your city or neighborhood.

For instance, if you’re a web designer in Raleigh, NC working on a financial technology startup, you should be part of and contribute to communities that focus on web design, fintech, and the general tech startup scene.

Being part of a local startup ecosystem can be a very powerful thing on many levels.

First, you’ll have a bunch of like-minded people with whom you can learn from and share your issues and concerns while you all are building businesses.

Regardless of whether you’re a solopreneur or part of a team, it’s always good to have an outsider’s perspective and an alternative point of view to solve your problem.

There is so much to do and to learn, and helping each other through the thick and thin is a valuable experience.

Next, you may be able to leverage your local network in order to gain customers.

Many of these entrepreneurs and small businesses are looking for products and services that you offer, and having that existing relationship gives you a foot in the door to make a sale.

You certainly want to add value before you drop the sales pitch on others, and being known as someone who gives before she gets is a great thing for business.

Finally, being part of the local entrepreneurship ecosystem opens the doors to many other networks, whether they are local or abroad, or directly related to your business or not.

By expanding your network, you may be introduced to future investors, partners, customers, and many others who may be able to help your business on one way or another.

If you’re a designer in search of a marketer, someone from your local network just may have a contact who is looking for that opportunity.

If your startup is ramping up and you’re in search for investors, a local entrepreneur may know just the person looking to make a bet.

As you can see, being part of your local entrepreneurial ecosystem can be extremely beneficial. But of course, it’s important to give before you get.

Volunteer your time at Meetups you’re interested in, provide some services for free, and be supportive of others in the community. Be known as someone who gives to the community and you’ll eventually receive benefits in spades.

Local communities are frequently spoken about on my podcast.

In episode 10, I chatted with Ron Schmelzer, the CEO of TechBreakfast, which is the largest monthly morning tech Meetup in the nation. If you’re into the technology scene, TechBreakfast events are great places to meet people like you.

In episode 14, Alec Hartman talked about how he is helping to grow New York’s tech scene by building TechDay.

In episode 16, founder Andrew Hyde and then CEO Marc Nager talked about how they launched and grew Startup Weekend to be a global phenomenon. Startup Weekend was one of the primary factors why I became an entrepreneur.

As you can see, there is no shortage of startup communities. No matter where you live, I’m sure that there will be a local startup or industry community waiting to welcome you, and being a part of these can pay off big time down the road.

Existing online communities

Existing online communities are the digital equivalent of your local community. The fundamentals of how they work are essentially the same, with the activity occurring on your laptop or mobile phone instead of in person.

Online communities will allow you to ask questions and garner answers from experts, provide your opinion and expertise to help others, make connections you wouldn’t have made otherwise, and potentially gain new customers.

But just like in local communities, you have to make sure to give before you receive. Blatantly promoting your wares won’t work, and doing so may get you banished from some of these sites. So make sure that you add value before extracting it from these online communities.

There are many community sites where you can interact with other like-minded people.

Reddit is the first to come to mind.

Reddit

There are hundreds of thousands of “subreddits” (topic-based forums on Reddit), where people gather to share articles and discuss and debate different subjects.

Going back to that example of a web designer in Raleigh, NC working on a financial technology startup, you can join the r/web_design (153,000+ subscribers), r/startups, (109k+), r/fintech (1k+), and even r/raleigh (10K+) subreddits to have a huge built-in audience to engage with immediately.

For more info on how to market on Reddit, check out this post.

Facebook Groups are amazing resources as well.

When I started my podcast, I joined podcasting Facebook Groups like Podcasters’ Hangout and Podcast Community. I interacted with hundreds of fellow podcasters each day, learned from them, and picked up a bunch of listeners and reviews.

Quora is another great community in which to engage. Quora is the best question-and-answer site on the web, and many smart people ask and answer questions that span all kinds of topics. You can search for and share your knowledge about thousands of different subjects. It’s a great place to both learn and teach.

Build your own community

One of the best ways to engage your customers for a long period of time is to build your own community.

No matter whether you build your community in the real world, online, or both, you’ll have a population of people who want to hear from and engage with your content and offerings.

Again, the keys here are to offer value, give before you get, and don’t always sell.

In episode 1, John Von Tetzchner, the founder of web browser companies Opera and Vivaldi, built passionate communities around these web browsers.

At Opera, Von Tetzchner built the MyOpera community to a scale of 35 million visitors per month at its height. The users frequently gave feedback on the product, and many volunteers contributed their time to testing unfinished products.

At Vivaldi, John was able to build a community from many Opera users who shared the sentiment he did – that Opera was becoming more of a commodity browser and he believed that browser users needed something more powerful.

So he developed online forums that potential users could join to talk about what they wanted from a new browser. The company engaged this community and frequently asked them for feedback as they developed the new browser, which gave the community a sense of empowerment and connection.

In episode 12, Luis Congdon talked about how his private Facebook Group has helped him grow his podcasting audience and sell a lot of his product, a podcasting launch course called The Podcaster’s Secret Weapon.

I am a member of Luis’ Facebook group and I must say that he does a great job engaging and providing lots of value to his audience without being overt about selling his products. And even when he does push his products, he does it in such a way that helps his constituents.

Conclusion

As you can see, communities are critical to the growth of businesses.

Regardless of whether you’re just at the idea stage, in the process of building your product, or have sold millions in revenue, being part of or building a community can help you engage potential or current customers and partners and set yourself up for success.

What are some ways you’ve leveraged communities to move your business forward? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

I hope you found this interesting! If so, please share this article with the share buttons on the left and then sign up for my mailing list below.

Thanks for reading!

Focus, Discipline, and Consistency – my three goals for 2017

Happy New Year!

I didn’t make any resolutions for 2016, and I still won’t make any for 2017.

What I’m going to do is be as focused, disciplined, and consistent as I possibly can in everything that I do.

Let’s see what I mean.

Focus

I want to be more focused on both a macro and micro level.

On a macro level, I want to do fewer things, better.

That’s why I stopped producing my podcast. As much as I loved interviewing entrepreneurs every week, the podcast wasn’t getting me closer to my goal of launching and growing a successful startup.

So the time and mindshare that was spent on producing the podcast are now dedicated to working on my startup (more about my startup at a later time).

I’m still going to be involved with Startup Weekend, but I’ll limit my time on that as well.

On a micro level, I want to increase my focus on the task at hand, whether said task is for work or personal life.

When I’m working, I will minimize distractions from email, social media, and any other interruptions that come my way. I’ll dedicate specific times to check my email and limit my time on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media.

On the personal side, I just want to be more present in everything I do. For example, if I’m hanging out with my daughter, I’ll truly focus my attention on her instead of checking my phone every 10 minutes. I’ll concentrate on the people I’m with and the task at hand. It sounds simple, but in today’s world of technology all around us, I need to make that conscious effort to stay focused.

Focus is so crucial, and I aim to be more intentional about it in everything that I do.

Discipline

I’m going to work hard at being disciplined with my time and energy.

To do so, I’m going to schedule everything. All of my work tasks will be inputted into my calendar and assigned a specific time allotment. This will help me avoid Parkinson’s Law – where work will expand to fill the time available for its completion.

I’m also going to be more disciplined in my diet and exercise regimen. Vicky and I are starting our ketosis diet again, and I aim to exercise at least a little bit every day, whether that’s an hour at the gym or 15 minutes of push-ups and sit-ups.

Consistency

Finally, I’ll work hard to create a consistent cadence in everything I do.

On the work front, I’ll do a little bit every day to achieve my long term goals.

This might mean writing every day to consistently create blog posts for my role at Thorn Technologies, working on small tasks each night on my startup, or perform targeted engagement every day on social media sites.

In my personal life, this might mean working on a home project each week or being consistent in cleaning up the house.

Consistency is critical if you want to constantly get better and improve.

Conclusion

Focus, discipline, and consistency are my three goals for 2017 and beyond.

They’re not mutually exclusive, either.

It takes lots of focus to be disciplined, and lots of discipline to be focused and consistent.

If I can increase my focus, discipline, and consistency, 2017 is going to be my most productive year yet. And I believe I’ll improve my skills and relationships as well.

Let’s see how this goes!

What are your resolutions for 2017? Do you have enough focus, discipline, and consistency in all you do?

I’d love to hear from you. Write your thoughts in the comments, tweet at me @mikewchan, or email me at mike@mikewchan.com.

Are you patient enough?

I was going through the airport security checkpoint this morning and the man in front of me (I’ll call him “Dude”) looked really impatient.

The guy in front of him (I’ll call him “Guy”) wasn’t even moving that slowly. He was doing the typical things – taking off his shoes, putting his luggage on the conveyor, etc. – at a normal pace.

Dude was rolling his eyes, trying to move in front of Guy, and just being kind of pissy.

We walked through the metal detector and gathered our belongings. Dude was rushing and walked off while I grabbed my stuff.

When I looked up, I saw that Dude left his suitcase on the conveyor. I called to him and he had to walk back to grab his bag.

His impatience made him forget something really important and necessary.

(I thought about the fact that he might be late for his flight, but I found out he was on my flight, which wasn’t taking off for a while.)

This can happen to anyone. We’re all busy and have places to go, and we want to get there as fast as possible.

I admit I’ve been impatient when it comes to the startups I’ve been working on.

In the startup world, you’re supposed to “move fast and break things.”

You’re supposed to “fail fast”, “hire fast and fire fast”, talk fast, run fast, blah blah blah.

And I get impatient when progress isn’t made each and every day.

Maybe I need to better understand that things take time to develop.

For my first startup, I was impatient when things weren’t progressing. It failed for a number of reasons, but I think one of them was due to my impatience of things not moving fast enough. And I left some relationships behind.

I think moving fast is very important. In an ideal world, you’ll make quick decisions, build quickly, iterate, learn faster, and move forward.

But sometimes you need to understand that things take time, and some of the best products and companies take years and years to find success.

If you move too fast, you might leave things behind.

Have you ever left something behind because you were too impatient? Talk to me in the comments!

I hope you found this interesting! If so, please share this article with the share buttons on the left! That’d be awesome of you.

The importance of understanding your weaknesses – Chris Sacca on TWIST

Chris Sacca and Matt Mazzeo

Chris Sacca and Matt Mazzeo on TWIST — Photo courtesy of TWIST

I recently listened to part 1 of an interview with Chris Sacca and Matt Mazzeo of Lowercase Capital on This Week in Startups.

If you’re not aware, Lowercase Capital is one of the most successful seed stage investment firms in existence. Chris and Matt have invested in companies like Twitter, Uber, Stripe, Kickstarter, and many, many more.

The interview was really insightful and interesting. One of the things that stood out to me was when Chris said that he passed on Snapchat because he thought it was only about dick pics. When he told Matt that he passed, Matt was livid because he was a Snapchat user and thought it was an amazing product.

Chris is a little older, has a family, and thus has never swiped right or left (i.e. never used Tinder).

He isn’t in tune with the new ways that people are interacting with apps and each other.

This made Chris realize that his strength isn’t in taking the first meeting with a startup. He doesn’t “get” many of the products that are targeted toward millennials and younger people, so he’s not a good judge of whether he should invest in them.

Thus, he relies on Matt to judge those potential investments.

I love how one of the most successful investors in the world can openly admit his weaknesses and even more importantly, bring in people who can complement those shortcomings.

I think many times ego gets in the way and entrepreneurs (or anyone, really) think they can do it all.

Continuing to learn and understand new concepts is powerful, but sometimes you just have to realize that you can’t improve certain weaknesses enough. So you need to bring in additional resources and share the responsibility.

If one of the most successful investors in the world can be introspective enough to identify his weaknesses, everyone can.

It’s a powerful thing.

Have you identified your weaknesses, and if so, how have you dealt with them? Talk to me in the comments!

I hope you found this interesting! If so, please share this article with the share buttons on the left! That’d be awesome of you.

Ever feel like you’re an impostor? That can be a good thing.

impostor girl in glasses

I had a conversation with my co-worker Rob yesterday and he was worried that he was an impostor. I said that in some scenarios, that’s actually a good thing.

Here’s the backstory.

Rob is a huge Pokemon Go fan and awesome iOS developer, and built an iPhone and Apple Watch companion app for the game called GoTypeChart.

The app helps you quickly figure out what type of Pokemon to use for Gym battles in Pokemon Go.

I don’t play the game, so I don’t know much, but apparently there isn’t always a right answer for which Pokemon to use in each scenario. And some other “experts” said that some of the recommendations in Rob’s app were wrong.

Due to the negative reactions to his app’s suggestions, he felt that he was just an amateur Pokemon Go player and didn’t deserve to have an app like this in the App Store.

Rob felt like an impostor.

I said that’s OK.

The word “impostor” has negative connotations that typically include fraud and trickery. It doesn’t always have to be viewed that way.

Everyone is an impostor at some point.

Any time you learn something new and try to apply what you learned to a problem you’ve never faced before, you’re an impostor. You don’t really know what you’re doing, but you’re giving it a shot.

If you pre-sell a product that doesn’t even exist yet, you’re an impostor. Kickstarter? Full of impostors. But that’s a damn good thing that you were able to do that.

If you build an app but aren’t really sure what you’re doing, you’re an impostor. But you’re building something and putting your skills out on display, and that’s brave.

Impostors may lie and say that they know what they are doing, when they really don’t. But if you give it a shot and learn along the way, being an impostor can be a good thing. It means that you’re trying new things and growing.

So go ahead and be an impostor (the good kind).

Have you ever felt like an impostor, and what did you do about it? Talk to me in the comments!

I hope you found this interesting! If so, please share this article with the share buttons on the left! That’d be awesome of you.

Image courtesy of Jason Eppink on Flickr

Two topics – being sick sucks, and NFL on Twitter

I’ve been sick the last couple of days, so I didn’t write a blog post yesterday. To make up for it, I’m going to write about two topics today. Yay!

Being sick sucks

First topic – being sick sucks. Not just because it physically doesn’t feel good, but it makes me feel worthless.

As much as lying on the couch watching Band of Brothers and other TV shows sounds great, being sick makes me feel that I am shirking my other responsibilities, inconveniencing others, and disrupting people’s schedules.

First, I got no work done the last couple of days, and that work is piling up. Doesn’t make me feel good.

And I’ve had to move a bunch of meetings around. I had to cancel a podcast interview (I would have sounded like shit), and postpone some other calls and meetings. I don’t like to disrupt other’s schedules like that.

Also, I typically get my baby Maya dressed in the morning while my wife walks the dog. She and my mother-in-law have had to cover for me the last couple of days while I slept in. I’m inconveniencing them.

So while rest and relaxation is necessary to recover, my mind just didn’t rest well knowing the residual effects of my sickness.

I just won’t get sick next time. :)

NFL on Twitter

Yesterday, the NY Jets played the Buffalo Bills on Thursday Night Football, and it was the first NFL game ever live-streamed on Twitter.

I watched some of the game and it was pretty awesome (both the game and the live-stream).

Here is what it looked like (courtesy of Recode, that’s not me in a supermarket):

NFL on Twitter

No buffering, no delay, and tweets right below the stream so you can engage with other viewers.

Twitter has been skewered for slow user growth and a confusing value proposition to new users. On the other hand, avid users love the platform for real-time discussion of current events.

That’s why streaming NFL games is perfect for Twitter.

Sports is the most real-time content that you can get. Sports are essentially DVR-proof and discussions and debates about games being played are already happening on Twitter.

And the NFL is the king of US sports right now, so this should bring in many NFL fans to the Twitter platform.

And I see Thursday Night Football leveraging tweets in their broadcast more often in the future.

I think live streaming sports and other content will be the future of Twitter and it’s a big step in turning the company around for the better.

What are your thoughts about being sick and the NFL on Twitter? Talk to me in the comments!

I hope you found this interesting! If so, please share this article with the share buttons on the left! That’d be awesome of you.

Good design is all about empathy

design

I don’t pretend at all that I’m a designer.

I can’t create a logo, lay out a brochure, nor design a website. I don’t have a portfolio to show anyone.

But I think I know the difference between good design and bad design, primarily because I have empathy.

I’m sure designers of all types are rolling their eyes right now.

I think anyone who has empathy with a user of a product or anything where design is important (which is pretty much everything) can be a good judge of design. We may not know the techniques or secrets of how to properly design something, but as an end user, we know when we experience good or bad design.

Sure, Apple makes beautiful products. They are certainly amazing at product design.

They’re also very good at experience design. Walk into an Apple Store and you’ll see.

The interior design is striking. The product displays are interactive. The Genius Bar experience is great.

That’s the thing – design doesn’t have to be limited to products.

Design is everywhere, from physical products, to online interfaces, to waiting to check out at the supermarket. The best designs are the ones that empathize with the user, while bad designs prioritize other factors over user experience.

Case in point – I was in Austin a few weeks ago and waited on a line for 1.5 hours to buy brisket, pulled pork, and other barbecued goodies at La Barbecue.

Good design was when they provided umbrellas to shield customers from the hot sun and rolled out a keg to serve free beer to everyone on line. They know that waiting on line isn’t a pleasant experience, but they empathized with the customer and provided services to make the experience less painful.

Bad design was only having two people work the food truck. That may have been an economical decision; regardless, it caused the wait to be unnecessarily long and detracted from the experience.

Additionally, the guy who prepared the meat was also taking orders and writing them down with a fat sharpie on the paper on which he served your food. Not efficient.

And after you got your food, you had to walk to another window toward the back of the line to pay. Then you had to cut through all of the people on line to get to the tables to eat. Really bad layout and flow design.

Design can be as complex as designing a software operating system and as simple as the layout of a queue.

You may not be able to always prioritize design, but when you do, make sure that you empathize with the user as much as possible.

What are your thoughts about empathy and design? Tell me about them in the comments!

I hope you found this interesting! If so, please share this article with the share buttons on the left! That’d be awesome of you.

How important is alma mater when assessing job candidates?

graduation cap

Over the weekend, my buddies and I had a conversation about how much it matters where a candidate attended college when he or she is applying for a job. The context was that if I were to review a stack of resumes, how powerful of a signal is their alma mater?

One of my friends said that the university attended is a strong differentiator. He works in the pharmaceutical industry, and his argument is that many of the candidates have worked for other strong pharmaceutical companies, and that work experience is essentially equivalent. Thus, the college degree from a place like Stanford will trump the one from Rutgers. (Sorry, Rutgers.)

The other friend, who works in advertising and creative, argued that work experience trumps all, and that this experience will almost never be equivalent across candidates. Where the candidate went to college carries very little weight, and the companies where the person worked prior and the quality of work that he or she produced is a much stronger signal that can be defined.

I agree with both of them, because both situations are so different.

In the first scenario, I think where the candidate went to college is more important in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines. These “hard” subjects are more clear-cut and objective, and the differences in formal training and education can be vast from college to college.

Also, it may be more difficult to differentiate the work each candidate has done in prior pharmaceutical and other scientific companies. Many times the work contains research that may not come to fruition or management of drugs that have been around for decades, so the impact of a single candidate can’t be determined accurately.

In the other scenario, I love the fact that employment can be based solely on the quality of worked that is produced – a pure meritocracy – and pedigree is a much less influential factor. A job really comes down to how you perform, so why shouldn’t your selection be based solely on your performance in prior jobs?

I do think this may be a bit easier to execute in “softer,” more creative jobs, those where you can actually produce an end product. If you’re a graphic or web designer, you can have a portfolio to display your work. If you’re an advertiser, you may have ad campaigns that you’ve worked on that can be seen, heard, and assessed, even if that assessment may be subjective.

Startups align more with the second scenario; if you are a co-founder, your success is judged solely by the performance of your company.

On the other hand, I think that some venture capitalists will look at the founders’ pedigree as a strong signal of whether to fund the company or not. A software engineer from Stanford or MIT may be more likely to be funded than a business major from the University of Central Florida. (Sorry, UCF.)

I can certainly see both sides. I have degrees from Lehigh, Georgia Tech, and NYU; nothing elite, but very respectable schools. So I can probably get by on my pedigree in certain situations, but chose the route where merit rules.

I just hope that I don’t ever have to apply for a job again. :)

Regardless, like many other things, the value of an alma mater comes down to the specific situation.

How important is alma mater when you’re assessing who to hire? And how important has your alma mater been in your career?

Tell me about it in the comments!

I hope you found this interesting! If so, please share this article with the share buttons on the left! That’d be awesome of you.

How many people would listen to what you have to say?

say something

More than you think. Way more.

When I first started my blog, I really didn’t have much of a reason for doing so. I just wanted to get my thoughts out of my head and into the world.

And I didn’t think anyone would read it.

Who was I to start a blog? What knowledge could I impart on the world that people would actually be interested in? Who was going to read what I write?

In the beginning, very few people read my blog. My family, a few friends, and some co-workers read my articles every once in a while.

Same deal with my podcast. Who the hell would want to listen to me? What value would my interviews add over the thousands of other entrepreneurship podcasts already in existence?

Turns out, there are a bunch of people who read my blog posts and listen to my podcast interviews. It’s not a huge number but it’s way more than I expected.

I realized that there is always someone out there who is willing to read what you have to write or listen to what you have to say.

Even if the topic has been covered through and through, you have a unique point of view that will resonate with more people than you think.

And even if you’re not a true expert on anything specific, there will be people out there who will connect with your experience and story.

There will always be someone in the world who might be going through a similar situation as you are and is seeking advice.

So if you think you have a story to tell, you should tell it. You might think that no one will consume what you produce, but I think you’re wrong.

I think way more people are interested in what you have to say. So say it.

Do you have something to say, but have been scared to say it because you think no one will listen? Tell me about it in the comments!

I hope you found this interesting! If so, please share this article with the share buttons on the left! That’d be awesome of you.

How does other people’s success make you feel?

Unless you’re Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, or some other ridiculously wealthy person, there is always going to be someone who is more successful than you are, at least financially.

How does that make you feel?

I think other people’s success can bring out a spectrum of feelings.

Starting from the crappy end, you can be jealous and hateful.

You can complain that the 1%-ers get preferential treatment, claim that these people were raised with a silver spoon in their mouths, and say that they don’t deserve what they have. You can spew hate on social media or any other channel. That’s pure negativity.

Moving up the spectrum one step, you can be envious.

You don’t have what other successful people have, but you want it. There is definitely less outward hating going on, but inside you stew a little bit that others are further along than you are.

Next on the scale is indifference. Maybe you don’t really care about other people’s success and you’re cool with your current situation.

Finally, there is inspiration. Seeing others’ success motivates you to work harder, continue to learn, and achieve more. Witnessing how others have found their path in life makes you believe you can do the same and attain those levels of happiness, wealth, and satisfaction.

It doesn’t always have to be about the money, either. Success can be defined by your personal and social life, fitness and health, career, or some combination of those and other factors.

For me, in terms of my personal life, I’m indifferent and content. I have an amazing family, great friends, and a beautiful home in a great city. I’m healthy and happy.

Regarding my career, I feel a mixture of envy and inspiration.

I can’t help but be envious of other people’s career success, primarily because I haven’t quite found where I want to be and thus I haven’t gotten there yet. I haven’t made the impact that I’d like to as an entrepreneur, so I’m naturally envious of those who have.

But I do think it’s a healthy envy that inspires me to work harder, get smarter, and keep grinding. I want what others have, and I’m not talking about money. I want to launch and grow a company and have a positive impact on people’s lives, like many other entrepreneurs have done.

So how does other people’s success make you feel?

I’d love to hear from you. Write your thoughts in the comments, tweet at me @mikewchan, or email me at mike@mikewchan.com.

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