Friday, November 20, 2015

Transforming Life & Business: Recapping MassTLC’s Mobile Summit

By Peter Gorman, Principal, Black Rocket Consulting, @Petergorman 

Over the last 10-15 years, the ways in which we conduct our lives has changed significantly. From making purchases on our phones though Amazon and streaming the latest movies and shows on NetFlix or Hulu, to the ways we now leverage apps on our phones to find parking spaces and exercise with Fitbit, mobile technology has changed our lives and has made things more convenient to do and use. The days of thinking that “people will never want to do this on their phones” is gone, especially as newer generations of phones have almost the same capacity as our laptops. At the same time, the emergence of mobile technologies has created an industry like no other that is currently exceeding $14.4 billion and is continuing to grow.

Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council (MassTLC) held a forum on November 17th at Microsoft’s N.E.R.D. Center in Cambridge, Mass., to discuss the many ways in which mobile technology is affecting and improving our lives, as well as how we anticipate mobility changing our lives in the years to come.

Providing the keynote address at this forum was Philip Redman, who has been involved in the research and development of mobile technologies from its infancy, starting back in 1999 at Yankee Group, where he focused his research on wireless communications and with companies that were making the transition from analog to digital. Today, as Senior Manager of Mobility Strategy at Accenture Digital, Redman provided some interesting facts about how we have all quickly embraced mobile technology and how it has now become such an integral part of our lives.

For example, while the “old school” crowds still continue to wait in long lines to get into stores at midnight on Thanksgiving, currently between 25-30% of all Black Friday sales in the United States are now conducted through our mobile devices. And this is nothing compared to China’s Singles’ Day, where on November 11, 2015, over 70% of sales in one day was done through mobile phones on the massive Chinese e-commerce site Alibaba, totaling $14.32 billion.

According to Redman, four out of the top five global brands are all digital now. Given that analysts anticipate to see over 50 billion connected devices by 2020, the wave towards digital is clearly here, especially as enterprise businesses begin to see returns in their investments in the Cloud.

Today, some of the biggest and well-known brands are now being disrupted by new market entrants because of their foray into the market with mobile technologies. Examples here can be seen between BestBuy being disrupted by Amazon; Vodafone being disrupted by Skype, and American Express and Bank of America being disrupted by Square and Lending Club.

In order to survive in today’s market, Redman underscored the importance of businesses having a digital strategy that leverages Big Data, location capabilities and analytics to enhance the customer experience.
Redman capped his discussion by outlining “seven no regret digital characteristics required to win within the next few years.” These include being able to:
1.       Sense and interpret disruption
2.       Develop and launch new ideas faster
3.       Reorganize for speed
4.       Design a delightful user experience
5.       Understand and leverage data
6.       Partner and build “camps”
7.       Build a high digital quotient team

The Reality Panel of Mobile Experts
With Philip Redman having set the stage for MassTLC’s mobility forum, the discussion turned to a panel of mobility experts to discuss how mobility is going to change our lives and our businesses; how marketers are going to reach us in new ways; and finally, how mobile is going to change how we shop. Moderated by Nitzan Shaer of High Start Group, panelists for this part of the discussion included Geoffrey Bock of Bock & Company; Michael Davies of Endeavor Partners/MIT; and Christian Galvin of Fiksu, each of whom gave an overview of their businesses and how each integrated with the mobile sector.

Shaer kicked off the session with a simple question: If each of you were given a million dollars and had to invest it in mobile technology, what would you invest it in?

Michael Davies responded that his big investment would be in an interesting mobile app called Espresso, which based on your location can tell you how far you would need to drive to obtain everything from brown water that tastes something like coffee to the best coffee you’ve ever had. While I attempted to find this app online, I could not find it easily, so we’ll have to take Davies word for it that it exists. Christian Galvan of Fiksu, which sells mobile marketing and advertising solutions, said he’d invest in a mobile mileage app called MileIQ, which automatically tracks the miles you travel for business so that you can easily integrate this data into expense reports.

Geoffrey Bock strayed from investing all of his virtual million dollars in one particular area but instead chose to split his investment into two areas. Half would be in a mobile mapping app similar to Waze, in that it could tell him the best travel route and where accidents and police are located, but also indicate the precise time to leave based on whether patterns during travel. Bock explained that his son lives in Rochester, New York, and an app like this would help him avoid all the snow storms. The other half of the investment Bock would be into a mobile app that captured the user experience and transitioned the experience based on the context of what the user is doing (similar in nature to responsive design). “Don’t just give me the screen experience…give me the whole experience,” said Bock.

When asked what they expected from Mobility over the next few years, Davies saw more integration between mobile apps in a way that they would string together seamlessly to perform a task. For example, one could go from Yelp to OpenTable to Uber when planning a night out. In the future, one would see seamless integration between these apps to achieve a task. Galvin wants to see data being leveraged more to provide a utility. For example, people use Waze to get from point A to B, but this app now also tells drivers where the nearest Dunkin’ Donuts is located on the map. “We’ll see more identifiers integrated within apps to improve targeted advertising on smartphones,” said Galvin. Bock believes we’ll see more semantically-aware APIs, adding that Tim Berners-Lee’s vision of the semantic web is now starting to evolve in tools such as Google. He envisions a proliferation of very powerful, semantically-driven end-user apps to handle tasks within the workplace.

Davies rounded out this discussion by stating that he thought that there would be a shift in how companies promote themselves and that less emphasis would be placed on advertising and outward promotion. Instead, more focus would be placed on the user experience and how users rate a company and its products, such as in Yelp. For obvious reasons, Galvan politely disagreed with this assessment but agreed on the increasing importance of "word of mouth" marketing for increasing customer acquisition.

Mobile Transforming Transportation
Next up, the Mobility forum dispersed into several break-out sessions on how mobility is impacting industries including Transportation, Finance, Retail, and Healthcare. I chose to listen into the panel on Transportation, which was moderated by Ian Cox of Boston-based digital design and development agency, Cantina. This panel of transportation industry experts in this session included Jeff Baer of LinkeDrive; Igor Bratnikov of Wanderu; Eli Daniel of Bridj; and Nichole Mace of Zipcar.

To kick off the session, each panelist addressed why they chose to focus their companies on the transportation industry. Bratnikov commented that he created Wanderu because he saw a big gap between what the transportation carriers were providing and what the consumer wanted. With Wanderu, consumers can go online or use the app to find the best rates and routes for getting from one destination to another. Daniels was determined to figure out new ways to help consumers address the growth of urban development through improved transportation. With Bridj, consumers in urban areas can hop on shuttles that have routes that change dynamically based on the location of its riders. Mace aligned with the need for new transportation methods to address urban development by citing how one Zipcar can now serve 40-50 members whereas before, most cars were driven by their owners on a one-to-one ratio. She also noted that Zipcar is currently paying particular attention to how electric and autonomous vehicles will play into our mobile future.

Baer offered a slightly different response in that he has always been passionate about the transportation industry, specifically trucks and trucking. That and football (Baer is a big guy who played football for Northwestern University). “As a kid growing up in the ‘80’s, I always loved trucks and learned to code on a Commodore 64. I was excited to move to Boston from the Motor City and find a way to work with “wheels” and software. Boston has been fantastic and I can’t think of a better place to be building the LinkeDrive business,” said Baer.

Keeping with the Boston theme, each spoke on why the Northeast is important to their businesses. "It's one of the most traveled corridors in the U.S.," commented Bratnikov. "It also has a lot of universities from which we can attract talent. Plus, in the Northeast, you can easily get around…and travel to 20-30 popular destinations within a short amount of time."

Mace and others agreed that the location offers a wealth of talent with all the local universities in the Boston area. In addition to being headquartered in Boston, Zipcar uses the Boston area as its "test kitchen" for new innovations.

“Boston has a reputation as a dense area with a good transportation system. But is still offers many problems for people trying to get around. Our goal is to help them with this,” said Daniel, who also commented on how Bridj is also based in Washington DC and has recently expanded to Kansas City.

“This is one of the toughest places to operate in the trucking industry.  Due to congestion, endless construction and limited parking areas, truck drivers typically need to work harder for fewer revenue miles compared to a location in the middle of the country. Drivers often don’t want to come here. While most of our PedalCoach drivers are based in the Midwest, Massachusetts holds quite a mystique for them. But that’s good for us,” said Baer. “Our goals with PedalCoach are simple – to reduce your cost-per-mile by empowering drivers, and if we can do that in New England, we can do it anywhere in the country.”

In response to Cox's question about what each panelist saw as their greatest challenge to getting customer acceptance to their app, Mace noted that she was lucky that Zipcar already had a great reputation when she joined the company, but added that expanded partnerships are key to sharing their assets. And feeding off of what was discussed earlier in the forum, Bratnikov said that his company doesn't do a lot of self-promotion but instead relies on word-of-mouth about how easy Wanderu is to use. Baer commented that in the trucking industry, it's a little different because there is typically a lot of tension between truck drivers and the fleet managers who supervise them. "You have to have a product that works well," said Baer. “We also have a brilliant product management effort in being polite with our customers and working closely with them to meet their needs no matter how small.” Baer used an example of a truck driver who commented that the displays were a bit too bright. “Our customers are passionate about PedalCoach, so we rely on them to spread the word to other truckers about all the capabilities PedalCoach has to improve fuel efficiency and gain incentives through good driving behavior,” added Baer.

“Most of our customers are people who are not happy driving in urban areas and are seeking out new ways to get from one place to another,” said Daniel. “As a result, we are not stealing customers from other companies, but instead growing the customer pie organically. Getting around needs to be as seamless as possible, really fast and really responsive.”

Asked what technologies the panel viewed as changing transportation, Mace commented on how Zipcar is working closely with The University of Texas on creating a “car city” with autonomous cars. Bratnikov then remarked that he believed the ways in which people want to travel – not in how the transportation companies want you to travel – is having a big impact on the market.

Cox asked the panel how they are planning for machine-to-machine or IoT interactions with their technologies. While Daniel focused on the need for seamlessness between technologies, Baer spoke about an IoT problem that LinkeDrive solves with its PedalCoach application. “In a way, IoT has been around for over 20 years, starting in the trucking industry. But data has traditionally been very slow, low-fidelity, and difficult to send via older platforms and before 4G/LTE…and there has always been gaps in data transmissions due to drivers being in areas with little to no reception. Our aggregating, buffering and posting web-service enables the data to be sent back to the shop in real-time, or held securely until the truck enters a service area again. Most of our drivers are in and out of service areas everyday, and so the data gets where it needs to be in a timely fashion.”

Giving further insight into the trucking industry, Baer provided insight into how difficult the life of a trucker is and how this has driven an ongoing shortage of drivers in the industry. By working with the trucking companies to include cash-based incentives to drivers based on good driving performance, LinkeDrive’s app is helping trucking companies retain their best drivers. He added that the company is also constantly looking into ways in which to integrate PedalCoach with other mobile apps, such as a Fitbit, to add a human element to the customer’s experience and improve life for the truck driver.

Cox asked the panel why they thought one-third of the U.S. population still doesn’t have smartphones. Since LinkeDrive’s PedalCoach app can be used on an Android-based smartphone device, Baer noted that a few drivers are a little hesitant to use the technology at first. “While some drivers are still using clamshell phones, over 80% of drivers have a smartphone in their pocket. For those that may not be comfortable using a “smartphone,” we remind them that PedalCoach is really just a “gauge.” The most important gauge in the truck.”

Mace did not seem to be overly concerned with this percentage of the population who still don’t use smartphones. “We find that many of our customers who don’t have smartphones are simply using their desktop computers to use our cars.”

Wrapping up the session, the panelist ended with some final thoughts on the key takeaways from this breakout session on mobility and transportation. Mace stressed the importance of customer service in the loop of a great business. "There is a loop… Good technology builds great customer experience and helps to build the brand, which in turn helps to build the company and advance innovation.”

“The combination of mobile and cloud computing will continue to drive the transportation market,” said Daniel.

Finally, Baer touched on his earlier comments about moving to New England. “One great thing about the people of New England is that we are not afraid of anything. So, when thinking about mobile and transportation, I have two suggestions: Don’t be afraid of the humans and don’t be afraid of a little bit of hardware. The point of mobile enterprise solutions is to help humans perform better, and there will always be hardware in the transportation industry… That is until we can be beamed up!”


Talent Summit: Get Sh*t Done Panel

By: Jessica Caldwell, Community Relations Specialist at MassTLC

Having a leader with a vision of what their company culture should be is a fantastic starting point, but there aren’t enough hours in the day to run a business and follow through on all of the details that inspire people to work hard for the company. Often the job of turning that vision into reality is left up to the Chief People Officer or the VP’s of HR.

CPOs joined us at our Talent Summmit to tell us how they manage to get sh*t done. Our panel was comprised of Christina Luconi, CPO of Rapid7, David Almeda, CPO of Kronos, Lawler Kang, CPO of Rue La La and Dena Upton, VP of People and Talent for LogMeIn.

So, how are these successful CPOs building a great place to work? In one word; differentiation. It seems like a no-brainer, that creating a workplace that is truly different would cultivate internal loyalty and therefore a successful culture. However, talking about differentiation and truly practicing and implementing a differentiated environment are very different.

It all start with engagement. A company’s mission, vision and values are not just words but should be unequivocally practiced and preached throughout your organization. From the ground floor to the C-suite it is paramount for every person in the company to believe in your vision. Once you have engaged all of your internal employees they become ambassadors of your brand, it strengthens the internal team dichotomy. Running a company and a successful culture is a team sport, taking the time to get everyone involved only increases your chances for the proverbial win.

In multinational companies, there is always that large middle layer of employees. How do you hold them accountable and get them engaged? HR technologies allow you to put systems in place and provide that pulse for the company. Development is the driving force behind engagement and managers need to be responsible for engaging their people. You can implement an incentive program for your managers, much like a sales team. Evaluate them based on certain touch points and checkpoints to make sure no one is getting lost in the middle.

Now that Millennials have begun making their mark on the workforce, companies have to engage with multiple generations in the workplace. Does there need to be a balance hiring for culture fit versus diversity? Many of our CPOs believe that their target characteristics are blind to age, race, pedigree, etc. They are not looking for things that factor into diversity, but are always opening up their talent pool and building a culture for all thoughts to be welcomed. Everyone’s voice needs to be part of the solution. As a company, you need to be genuine and you need to make all employees feel as though you really care about them. An open flow of communication between employees and constant feedback will lead to success.

In order to be a great HR professional, you need to know all of the business functions well. You need to be engaged and passionate about what the company is doing. Authenticity and conversational leadership are also a must.

How do you start to build a great place to work? It is paramount that HR professionals recognize this paradigm shift that the work force is expecting with companies. Companies need to sell themselves to their employees to get them to buy into their vision and therefore their culture. You need to actively listen to your employees with authentic grassroots efforts. What do they want or need to excel? It is also important to use evidence based HR. In the past HR operated in reaction to trends in the market. With the new prevalence of HR analytics and data tools; internal HR personnel have never had more power to forecast those trends and be proactive in building and shifting the internal environment and policies and no longer being reactionary.

It is obvious that HR is seeing a major shift from benefit management to culture creation. Creating that differentiated work place with a great culture and great people, who believe in your mission is ultimately the factor that helps get sh*t done. 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Top Places to Work 2015

The results are in! The Boston Globe’s annual “Top Places to Work” list has been compiled of amazing Massachusetts companies who have perfected keeping their employees happy.

How did these companies get on the list? It is fairly straightforward: Employees fill out an anonymous survey, and the more positive they are about their company, the higher it ranks. Then employers are placed in four different groups: Small (50-99 employees), medium (100-249 employees), large (250-999) or largest (1,000+ employees).

MassTLC would like to congratulate our member companies who made this year’s list!


#2 – Kronos
#12 - Comcast
#17 - EMCCorp.


#1 – Hubspot
#5 – Rapid7
#21 – Imprivata
#29 – NaviNet
#33 – Foley Hoag


#19 – WinterWyman
#24 – Slalom
#32 – Bit9


#23 – InkHouse

Read more and see the complete list here:

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Deciding on an Enterprise Mobility Program

Deciding on an Enterprise Mobility Program

Mike Miranda writes about enterprise software and covers products offered by software companies like Rocket software about topics such as Terminal emulation,  Enterprise Mobility and more.

Does your company have everything it needs to succeed in the 21st century? Hopefully, the answer is yes, but it’s worth it to think through all this will entail. One element many companies are missing, despite their confidence that they’re destined to succeed, is an app. If you’d like to join the thousands of companies that have built their own, all it takes is an enterprise mobility platform. Below, we’ll cover what this important tool does and how to pick the best one for your company.

Why Your Company Won’t Make It Long without an App

An app is one of those things you may have been putting off for some time. Although just about everyone owns a smartphone that’s packed with apps these days, it’s still easy to think about them as the type of technological feature reserved for other companies in other fields.

However, this is the way a lot of people used to think about websites and the types of companies they ran. Then, it was blogs and then it was social media pages. It usually only took a few years for people to learn they were wrong about all of these and needed to act quickly if they were to take advantage of these options.

Apps are now in the same boat, insofar as most companies are realizing they need to develop some of their own. There are a number of reasons for this though. One is simply that apps offer one more way for you to engage with your market.

An app won’t just help you engage with your market though; it will allow you to do so in a way that will make it easier to track your customer’s relevant actions in relation to your company. Your customers will appreciate this because they now have a direct line to you and know that you’ll be using this app to improve how you service them.

Perhaps the app you’re planning on building won’t be for your customers though. Instead, maybe you’re looking for another way to connect with your employees. An app will not only allow you to do this, but as in the prior example with customers, it will let your company learn much more about your employees during business hours.

If you’ve been putting off acquiring an app with your company because you’re afraid of the costs involved, you’re not alone. However, thanks to enterprise mobility software, this is no longer much of a valid concern. This type of program can allow you to develop your own custom app from scratch.

Let’s now move onto the important features you want to look for in any app development program you invest in.

Intuitive Controls

The whole point of buying an enterprise mobility platform is that this type of software makes building an app something the laymen like you and I can do. If you find that it’s difficult to work your software, then it defeats its own purpose.

This shouldn’t even be an issue, though, when you consider how far along the software has come. You should literally be able to create the majority of your app by doing little more than clicking and dragging. Find a platform that works like this and it will be worth every penny you spend.

Another cool feature to look for is a window in the interface that shows you what your app looks like in real-time while you build it. This is the type of feature you find with a lot of coding software, so it makes sense you’d find it when creating an app. Basically, every time you make an addition or adjustment, the window shows you the effect it will have. The point of this feature is that it saves you from finishing your build and then being surprised by what you’ve been making this entire time.

One really easy way to ensure you get exactly what you want from your software is to request a demo. Most manufacturers will include one no matter what, but if you don’t see the option on their website, simply contact them and ask. They will most likely understand the importance of this request. While a demo won’t give you the full effect of what you’re paying for, it should still give you an adequate idea.

Flawless Assimilation

Enterprise mobility programs make it possible to create just about any type of app you may have in mind. There are a few basic models you may be interested in creating for your company or you might have something truly ambitious in mind.

Whatever the case, it’s important to think about how your app will be working with your company’s internal logic. At the moment, your company runs on a collection of systems, right? It’s vital that your app is able to play nicely with this digital infrastructure or you’ll most likely have created an asset for your company that falls very far short of the mark. In fact, it may even cause more harm than good.

Let’s say you’re creating a customer-facing app, for example, that allows them to place an order whenever they please. If you want this kind of thing to run smoothly and actually serve as a convenience for your customers, you need the app to connect with your company’s internal inventory system as well as the one for shipping, if your company handles it in-house.

If you skip this important feature, you’ll have to create a third-party connection or otherwise have the orders taken manually once they arrive at the firewall. Neither of these eventualities is very attractive. In fact, as we mentioned, they could become problems.

Create an app for your employees that involve a cumbersome workaround and they’ll most likely ignore your efforts and come up with their own. Aside from the fact that you then wasted your money, this kind of thing could leave your security compromised.

Reliable Security Measures

It probably goes without saying that you want to make sure you purchase an enterprise mobility program that makes security a priority. Without solid security measures, it will only be a matter of time before a hacker or some other malicious party comes around looking for a handout.

Keep in mind, too, that creating an app, while advantageous for a number of reasons, means that there will be more instances of access to your company’s internal system. It might not mean that your company gets more people trying to access it, but there will definitely be more instances of employees trying. This alone will make for an attractive offer to any hacker paying attention.

However, if you’re making your app for employees, then you will definitely increase the number of people trying to access your system, which represents an ever bigger risk.

Fortunately, encryption negates much of this. If the communications being sent from your app to your company’s internal logic are protected with encryption, then you have little to fear.
Still, it’s worth thinking about role-based access for your users. Find a program that makes this possible and you can keep access a bit more organized and worry less about who is using the app and how.

Application Maintenance

Whether we’re talking about a time card program or the blog on your site, it’s important that you’re properly managing it. This is especially true with enterprise mobility software though.

For one thing, you want a log book of sorts that gets a digital imprint whenever someone accesses the app. Then you want a way of monitoring what they did once they were using that app. This might sound like a security measure, but it’s just as much about improving performance and getting a firm understanding of what your users may like to see in the second version you put out.  

Speaking of which, this is also an important reason to find an enterprise mobility program that gives you plenty of management features. Here’s something a lot of people learn the hard way: the first attempt at making an app won’t be your last, even if you’re using an enterprise mobility program.

You’ll create one and it will look good and perform the way you want. You’ll even have a number of people test it out and then refine it a bit before finally releasing it. That’s when the feeding frenzy starts. Your app is going to get pushed to the limit and it’s then that you’ll know what you could’ve done better.

As long as you have management features with your platform, though, this doesn’t have to become a major concern. Just update the app based on what you found and send out an update to all the apps on devices that already downloaded it. That’s really all there is to it. 

Don’t become one of those companies that get beat out by competitors simply because they shied away from leveraging technology. While a lot of digital assets out there aren’t worth your time, mobile apps are. By using software to create your own, you can get a high-performing one that’s unique to your business.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

unConference 2015 Session: Crowdfunding for Startups

By Patrick Rafter (Principal and Co-Founder, Rafter Communications, and longtime MassTLC Ambassador, Blogger, @prafter
Benjamin Cavallari (white shirt) shares his crowdfunding tips

Surprisingly, the “Crowdfunding for Startups” unConference15 session was convened by someone who isn’t your typical startup CEO. In fact, Jay Donohue, President of Boston-based Global Office Link launched his company more than 21 years ago to assist companies with their real estate needs. In that time, Jay and his partner Ralph Maffe have completed well over $1 billion in real estate transactions. Beyond the duo’s 50+ yrs. of relevant experience, they’ve also developed and patented some very powerful online tools that help clients get the most from the Web and save millions of dollars.

As Jay’s exploring how crowdfunding might fit into real estate, Jay hosted a session of circa 25 participants, who had varying knowledge of/experience with crowdfunding.

Many of the session members were startup execs interested in learning if/how crowdfunding can be an effective funding alternative to maxing out their credit cards, tapping friends and family (what I call the MCI round), incubators, angel investors, or god forbid--- venture capital.

The session was highly interactive, informative and the participants: surprisingly honest. Once again, the unConference proved itself a unique gathering where attendees are open and giving, not secretive, nor overt self-promoters.

The early conversation centered on how crowdfunding became a more viable funding choice following the passage of the 2012 Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act --- bipartisan legislation intended to relax securities/other regulations restricting how startups raise money and which set federal guidelines for equity crowdfunding.

As people in the session hailed from across New England and other countries, there was also some discussion of whether/how individual states are friendly to startups and supportive of crowdfunding. With most of the audience from the Bay State, there was a discussion of the Massachusetts Crowdfunding Exemption, through which Mass-based business entities may raise up to $1 million in a twelve-month period, and up to $2 million if the company has audited financial statements.

While our gathering was comprised of lots of smart and successful professionals, three stood out for me:

Benjamin’s a producer at Cambridge-based Skreens Technology; a startup that’s building technology that “enables users to composite and blend their various HDMI inputs to create more useful layouts for both work and for play.”

My translation of Skreens’ techy-sounding value prop description: “Lets you watch, game, browse, Tweet, and more ALL at the same time on a single computer screen.” Through an insight-full description of how they’re doing it, Benjamin detailed how Skreens is running a Kickstarter campaign right now (which launched on September 22, 2015).

Five of Cavallari’s Kickstarter Tips:
1.       Build up an installed base of prospective customers before launching your campaign
Skreens spent a year exhibiting at conferences including the PAX events, Streaming Media East, NAB/Vegas and TwitchCON, which helped them gather a database of 5,000 names.
2.       Set an artificially low public goal that can be reached in 24 hours
Skreens’ Kickstarter first showed a $25,000 goal – far less than what they really wanted or needed to raise. As of this writing, with 3 days to go till the close of their campaign, Skreens has raised almost $402,000 through the support of more than 1100 backers.
3.       Have an internal staffer who is dedicated full-time to managing the Kickstarter campaign
Crowdfunding compresses lots of effort into a very short time. Success requires someone who eats, sleeps and breathes the campaign.
4.       Hire a creative PR resource to pitch your story to media and bloggers
As a reformed PR guy myself, Benjamin was preachin’ to the choir!
5.       Produce and Post a Killer Video
If a picture’s worth a thousand words, what’s the value of a well done online video? Whether you watch it on their Kickstarter page or on YouTube, Skreens put together an effective video that gives complete overview in 2:41 minutes, with a tagline of “Skreens: Everything you want on one display.”

When Benjamin said Skreens was “just plug, play, and play” – he got this ADD-crazed multi-tasker chomping at the bit!
A self-dubbed creative “Brain for Hire” through her company MESLIN Innovation Consulting, Marie Breslin is a newly arrived Program Manager at The Capital Network (TCN), which has played a vital role in Boston’s innovation ecosystem, by delivering educational programs that help entrepreneurs raise funds for their early stage startups. @TCNupdate has curated a network connecting New England's premier entrepreneurs, angels, VCs, corporate/strategic investors, government agencies, educational institutions, and area-expert service providers. 

At the #unConf15 crowdfunding session, Marie described some of TCN’s 40+ programs a year, which include events like breakfast roundtables, deep-dive topic lunches, mentoring and networking receptions.

Confused about valuations? Cap tables? Dilution? —The TCN’s 4-month Accelerated Education Program is a great way to come up to speed on the fundamentals of all things funding.

So if you’re with a startup seeking between $50K and $4M in seed, angel or venture capital investment, be sure to check out The Capital Network at

Andy Singleton is founder and CEO of Assembla, a hot Waltham SaaS company that provides workspaces for distributed software teams.

Andy shared his personal story of turning down
$10,000 from an investor in the early days @assembla, thinking (at the time): “Why would I want to take that?”

At the 2015 unConference, Andy said he’d love to get $10,000 from that investor today… The investor? None other than Paul Graham (aka @paulg), co-founder of Y Combinator-- the massively successful startup incubator that’s funded over 800 startups, including Dropbox, Airbnb, Stripe, and Reddit.

Andy’s story brought to mind Bessemer Venture Partners’ fascinating “Anti-Portfolio” – a summary of investments that Bessemer passed on (including Apple, eBay, Facebook, and Google to name a few). This webpage includes excerpts from partners’ comments made at the time they declined. It also includes this honest yet amusing line: “if we had invested in any of these companies, we might not still be working.”

If Kickstarter or Indiegogo aren’t a fit, you’ll find a helpful round-up in “Crowdfunding for Startups: 10 Kickstarter Alternatives,” an August 2015 BusinessNewsDaily article written by Nicole Fallon (@nicolefallon90).

Ultimately, whether a tech entrepreneur gets cash for their startup through crowdfunding, angels, incubators or venture capital firms, remember Rafter’s Rule: It’s not how much you take in, it’s how much you keep!

Friday, October 30, 2015

unConference 2015 Session: Spidey Sense and Mike Tyson Quotes — What Makes for a Great Product Manager?

Spidey Sense and Mike Tyson Quotes — What Makes for a Great Product Manager?
by: Julie Yoo, Co-founder, Chief Product Officer, Kyruus  Originally posted here.  

Scene: The MassTLC unConference 2015. Roughly 50 product management professionals from greater Boston gather in a large room. 3 facilitators (Lee Weiner, CPO @ Rapid7; Molly Baab, VP Product @ Rue La La, and myself) kick off the session by throwing up 8 pre-set product management topics to potentially discuss, which rapidly turn into 20 possibilities (product managers are not shy and tend to have opinions — surprise surprise).

We decide to break out into 2 groups — those who want to discuss the “people” related topics, and those who want to discuss the “process” related topics.

I ended up facilitating one of the more high-bandwidth conversations of my week with the “people” group.

Here were the 3 major themes we touched upon. I’ve sprinkled a few content links and my own commentary throughout to provide additional perspective:

1. What does product management mean in today’s tech world? What makes for a stand-out product manager?

We discussed the fact that there are 2 major dimensions to product management: 1. the “product owner” dimension, which tends to be more tactically- and project management-oriented as a core function of a scrum team, and 2. a more market-facing dimension that requires setting vision, understanding and articulating the business opportunity, making key decisions, and ultimately having accountability for the health and life of a given product.
  • In startups, you need people who can span both; as you grow, you may be able to specialize and potentially have different people (at different levels of hierarchy) playing those two roles. We all agreed that it is hard to find people who span both — those are your unicorns!
  • We also discussed the difference between product management and product marketing, and one person cited this classic SVPG article that provides a perspective on that distinction.
Everyone agreed that a key product management skill is the ability to define opportunity, versus give instruction to your engineering team. Engineers are motivated when they are given the chance to buy into a (data-driven) vision for a product. One person articulated that this dynamic ultimately tends to lead to better products and design decisions. In addition, visibility into long-term product vision and direction helps engineering teams make the right architectural trade-offs when designing their development approach.

The phrase “spidey sense” was used multiple times to describe a skill that all strong PMs have — this oldie but goodie talks about it as well.
  • A necessary element of spidey sense has to do with solving for the market, not the customer; solving for “what the user is trying to accomplish” vs “what the customer wants”. An enjoyable read along these lines is this post on being “product-driven versus customer-driven”.
There is the common notion of “product manager as CEO of the product” — but is that the right analogy?
2. Metrics — how do you measure product management success?

The obvious metrics are things like revenue, and perhaps more importantly, adoption and re-use rates of the product. A product could be selling like crazy but have low adoption, which hinders organic growth through reference customers and up-sells/cross-sells.

The harder ones to measure include how well and efficiently a product manager is able to defend, execute, and iterate on a plan, versus the accuracy of a plan. In the words of Mike Tyson, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth,” and it’s how a product manager responds to getting punched in the mouth that is the true determinant of ability.
An interesting “counter-metric” to consider is how often there is miscommunication about priorities and market opportunity within the company. That may be a signal that the product manager is not being effective at aligning stakeholders and communicating vision across the team.

“Dark Patterns” — we had a provocative conversation around this question: “If your product fails in the market, are you a failure as a product manager?”
  • One person relayed a story about being pushed by a company exec to build a product, even after the product manager had shown through a disciplined validation process that the proposed product had no utility or apparent market opportunity associated with it.
  • The strongest claim that was made in response to this story was, “if you find yourself building something that you don’t believe in, you are complicit in the problem.” See this great talk by Martin Fowler on YouTube that articulates this point (around the 10-minute mark).
3. Roles & responsibilities — how does product management function in an org?

Product management as a hub — think the classic “bowtie” diagram of input coming in from a thousand sources, decisions being made by the PM, and those decisions communicated out and executed on the other side.
  • What org structures best support this model? One company had product management reporting into engineering leadership, while several had engineering reporting into product leadership. A couple of companies have peer product and engineering leaders reporting directly to the CEO.
  • Is the latter the better model to support the notion of the product manager needing to lead by influence without explicit authority?Typically, the very people that the product manager relies on to be successful do not report to that PM, nor live in their team even, so the further down the org chart the PM function is buried, the harder that person will have to work to exert the right level of influence.
  • This SVPG blog post on Product Management Organization is dated, but many of the concepts described still seem to apply.
Roadmaps — necessary or not? We debated the merits of creating a roadmap in earlier stage companies, where the combination of speed and small size of team might not necessitate that much “formality”. However, on larger teams with more commercial presence, one person mentioned that it is as important to communicate what you are doing as it is to communicate what you’re NOT doing on some reasonable time horizon (e.g. 1 year), especially to enable field-facing teams like sales, marketing, and implementation services to represent your solutions confidently to their constituents.
  • We at Kyruus use a 90-day product prioritization and communication process loosely based on Pandora’s model as described here; we’ve extended it to publish a 1-year outlook on thematic priorities as well, as a means to reduce the uncertainty and communication overhead of our customer-facing teams needing to ask the product team about every potential feature that comes up in a field conversation.
Top-down clarity on company strategy provides a platform for the product manager to be successful. One person brought up the fact that definition and execution of product strategy comes much easier when the company’s goals and priorities are clear. It is a form of “air cover” that enables product managers to have ground to stand on and a backdrop against which to exert their influence.

Other key themes we discussed included the following:

  • There is a difference in approach to product management between companies who sell directly to their users, and companies who sell to someone different than the user base. In the latter scenario, the dual focus on “what sells” AND “what gets adopted” is of utmost importance.
  • Is an engineering background an asset or liability in product management? Some said it might constrain you in terms of being overly pragmatic about what is possible to build when defining opportunity; others felt it could be a huge benefit in terms of connecting and earning the trust of the engineering team.
  • Helpful or hurtful to have a PM who used to be the customer? Most agreed that it can be blinding if you project yourself as the ultimate representation of the end user, when in fact you were just one data point of many that would inform an overall market opportunity.
Are you a product manager or engineer who lives and breathes this stuff everyday? What do you think? We’d love to hear your comments.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

unConference 2015 Session: Hiring Good Tech Talent

The following is a list of best practices for a number of attendees that participated in the Technology/Development unConference Track.

The Challenge: finding/hiring good tech talent – both senior and junior
      Employee referrals – range from $500 - $5000 (more senior positions)

·        Post good job descriptions that make it attractive & “sexy” – draw them in
o   Understand what your purpose of the position is
o   Know what qualities in a candidate you are looking for
o   Opportunities à “Maybe”

·        Sourcing Candidates - Leverage networks – social networks **Build your network**
o   Linked In – especially for seasoned engineers and tech talent
o   Referrals and word of mouth
o   Job fairs – usually attract Junior talent – universities
o   University site posting
o   Monster – Old School – not much success there
o   “Casting Call”
o   Be Active and not Passive – reach out and search rather than wait for applicants
§  Reach out to authors of tech papers
o   **Attracting Millennials
§  Beer in Friday
§  Casual – jeans
§  Talk opportunities to grow – Development plans
o   **Attend Meetups or host them – grow your network and get involved
o   **Twitter

·        Talk to candidates – the interview
o   Want rapid learning -- velocity
o   What have you been doing at your current position
o   What is their passion - What are you doing on your own (hobbies)
§  Do they have passion for the job
o   Are they a cultural fit ? – meet the team
o   Collaborative process
o   Ask them to solve a general technical question, then ask “what if” that makes them refine their answer – offer to collaborate to find best solution
o   One idea was the “American Idol” Audition – candidate makes a presentation to a problem solve, then panel asks questions to try to derail them
o   Keep the interview structured - Studies show unstructured interviews are not proven to be good
o   Skills based interview –
§  structure the same question and repeat it for each candidate
§  understand how you will rate/grade the answers
§  ask candidate to code a solution and collaborate on a solution
§  talk about your team’s challenges and see if they can offer a solution or ideas on how to help
o   2nd interview – bring candidate in to a company project review – Check References
·       Have a clear Organization Mission

New Recruiting tools:
·        Referral Mob
·        Drafted


News article 10/23/2015 – War for tech talent escalates:

Hiring good Tech Talent – Where to start?

Upcoming MassTLC event – Talent Summit 9 November in Waltham