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Author: jeanneleez

Automating Your Marketing Processes for Free

Automating Your Marketing Processes for Free - ibuildcompanies.com by Jeanne Heydecker

Set Up Your Web Site

The first thing most startups do after branding is build a brochure web site, then move either towards building a sales funnel through landing pages or they build out an e-commerce site. There is a cost for your domain name registration and web hosting. I use dreamhost.com for both. They’re cheap and dependable. WordPress and Shopify are open source and free to use to start, but there are costs as you move forward, especially into e-commerce. If you know how to code, you may want to experiment with Drupal and other old school Content Management Systems (CMS) software or go straight to HTML-5, bootstrap and more. After you have that process completed, search for suitable themes for your web site. Many are free, other can cost a few hundred dollars. There are several web sites on the web offering themes for WordPress and Shopify, so simply google “free WordPress themes” and there are no limit of links to good, free stuff.

SEO is important and getting your self “found” by the search engines and your target audience. When writing posts, tag and use categories generously. They will automatically create pages based on those tags and categories which will enable you to get more content out there with a different format. Go out and find a free xml site map generator for your site to scan your site after all that is done and submit the site map to google.

Automating Social Media

First I use a free plugin on my web site that automatically sends a post to my LinkedIn corporate page whenever I upload a blog post. I use ifttt.com which has free “recipes” to automate posts, so once the post shows up on LinkedIn, it also shows up on Twitter and Facebook.

Automate Your Email Campaigns

I then use a free MailChimp template to automatically send out snippets of any new blog posts that get posted that week. (You will need to add a new email campaign, click on automated and then click on “Share blog Updates” to get started. )

I also write a bunch of blog posts at a time, so I devote a whole day or so to getting them done and scheduled, so it’s basically on autopilot for 90 days.

NOTE: I’m not getting paid for any of these links. If you need this done for you, this is how I would recommend you do it. Once you get this far, this link lists all sorts of cool web stuff like UI/UX tools, debugging software, etc.

I’m always looking for free tools to automate these types of mindless tasks, but this process was a huge time saver! What tools do you use to automate your marketing for free or at a low cost (remember, your time is money, too!)? If you have better tools that you’ve found, please share them in the comments.

Do you want to outsource this type of work so that you can focus on higher level activities? Subscribe today to learn more about building your business and receive a free PDF “Process Plan for Creating Your Own Innovation Program”. Feel free to email us to learn more about how we can help you grow your business.
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Women in the Workplace

Women in the Workforce- ibuildcompanies by Jeanne Heydecker

I have found in my experience that it is far easier as a woman to bootstrap a company than pitch for funding because so few investors put money into women-led companies. You are also seeing very few women working in the VC sector, citing toxic working environments, essentially being a boys club. While this is changing at a glacier’s pace, women are still starting more companies than men today, especially in rural areas with microfinance programs and more affordable telecom and internet.

People say that gender equality is the ideal here. But many people have different ideas as to what that means. It doesn’t just mean you get EXACTLY the same salary and benefits as a man in the same position. Here’s where I’m going to get some haters because this means you have to show up and work during your menstrual cycles or cite “women’s issues” as a reason to take a few days off. You’ll need to share child care pickups with your partner if you have one or pay extra for someone else to do it for you. You need to do your job and not use your gender as a way to underperform. Women need to work twice as hard to get equal respect from the men in their team. That is the reality. Because I’m a white American woman who worked in India for ten years, I was the only woman in the boardroom other than sometimes a relative of the owner of the company. I never saw women move beyond manager in traditional Indian firms. I experienced the same thing in Myanmar.

So your challenge is to be twice as good as the best dude in the room. You have to be smarter, faster, more analytical AND also not be too direct or act too ambitious. Your soft skills (interpersonal interactions) can’t be the same as the way men interact with each other because you’ll be considered a “b*tch” and reported as “not a team player”. Your challenge is to find the fine line between showcasing your skills without challenging the fragile male egos who have a different expectation as how women should work in the work place. 

In my experience managing large male sales groups, it can be very tough to do, but you need to model the right behaviors, set proper professional boundaries, call them out when they say or do something sexist (I try to make a joke about it, but sometimes being direct is only way for people to understand their behavior won’t be tolerated), and be a role model for other women on the team. The more women stand up for each other, mentor each other, the sooner we won’t have to have this conversation again.

Do you want to outsource this type of work so that you can focus on higher level activities? Subscribe today to learn more about building your business and receive a free PDF “Process Plan for Creating Your Own Innovation Program”. Feel free to email us to learn more about how we can help you grow your business.
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Always Be Mentoring

Always Be Mentoring - ibuildcompanies by Jeanne Heydecker

Whenever I join a team, I typically meet everyone for one-on-one conversations. I’ll ask them about their work, what they would really like to be doing and where their interests lie outside of work (some of the most boring people you know at work have the most interesting lives outside the office!). As part of these conversations, I can begin to understand the skill sets people have and who has that hunger in their belly to learn more, be more, do more.

Since I have been doing this a while, I have learned a few things. I’ve seen a lot of stupid stuff happen and bad decisions being made. I’ve also seen brilliance and had surprise encounters that created things that changed the world. As I’ve aged, I have become more and more determined to make my legacy about the next generation of leaders. There are some really, really “bad hombres” out there, but there are plenty of human beings out there determined to make this planet a better place as well. I want to leave this place better than when I first got here and the only way I can do that is through building true leaders.

Leadership comes naturally to some people and you can recognize those people regardless of what position they’re in. They may be a janitor, or a security guard, or the waitress, and not necessarily in the C-level suite. I used to work with a lot of younger Indian executives who constantly came in wearing suits and ties to work the night shift at a call center focused on calling the United States. Even though I was the head of the entire India center, I came in in jeans and simple shirts.

The power doesn’t come from the suit; it comes from within.

Once you find these potential leaders, find out for yourself if they are willing to transform, do the work involved to get that next promotion, get down in the trenches with the workers and ensure the work is done properly on time. People who insist upon respect simply due to having a particular title need to earn that respect, and you can only get that by sharing your knowledge, being there for them, teaching them. I have a four part plan that always works:





Mentoring is simple enough with these rules in place for just about any hard or soft skill requirement.

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How to Hire the Best Talent and Repel the Worst

"How to Hire the Best Talent and Repel the Worst" - buildcompanies.com by Jeanne Heydecker

Talent acquisition is vital for every company. Without employees, a business cannot exist. Without talented employees, a business cannot grow.

#1: Great Job Opening Descriptions

You need to sell the opportunity and your company. Your job opening descriptions should sell the job. They are NOT job descriptions. Why would someone want to work in that position in your company? What kind of impact will that job have? What’s the team like? What is your company’s reputation? Is it attractive to potential candidates?

#2: Timely and Excellent HR Telephone Interviews

HR should review every entry first thing every day, and again anything else that came in just after lunch. Shortlist and make the calls same day. Seriously. Discipline yourself. The “Black Hole of HR” that every candidate complains about starts right here.

#3: Positive Candidate Experience at Your Office

Develop a series of standard questions and a rubric that helps the interviewer score the interview and use the same interviewer for all interviews for the same job. This should typically be the hiring manager who will be managing, mentoring and monitoring their work in the company. Review the interview questions and the rubric with the interviewer prior to ensure he/she understands how to use them properly.

#4: Be On Time

Offer them a drink or snack, especially if you interviewer is running late. Offer them a tour of the office, maybe meet the team. Ensure the interview room is clean and temperature comfortable. Keep on schedule as much as possible. Follow up with a one-page candidate experience feedback form with open questions.

#5: Timely Email and Telephone Updates Prior to Offer/Refusal

As soon as the interviews are finished for the day, meet with the interviewer to shortlist possible candidates and the definite “no’s”. By end of shift, send out emails thanking them all for visiting your organization and tell the shortlisted candidates you should hear soon and let the “no’s” know as nicely as possible.

#6: Excellent Offers and Empathetic Refusals

Develop email templates that are on brand that you use to send to candidates that you have called, negotiated the offer and they have accepted. You want an introduction email that details all the items you agreed about (Title, salary, start date, etc.) along with attachments of any employment contracts you need signed. We also recommend a Welcome Kit that introduces the company, its leaders, perhaps a welcome letter from the CEO, a documents checklist, a first day induction schedule, a list of special programs you might have like team sports, corporate social responsibility programs, and a list of cool benefits your company offers.

Emails to people who didn’t get selected should be empathetic and positive even though you’re telling them that this job isn’t right for them. Find a way to write that in way where the candidate still continues to feel smart. valued and important and always encourage them to continue to apply and recommend their friends (if appropriate).

#7: Fabulous Talent Acquisition Strategies

If you are still just using newspaper ads or job portals, you’re missing a lot of opportunity to meet potential new hires. Most Careers sections of web sites are completely out of date that is embarrassing. Keep it updated and maximize your section with videos from your HR team on how to ace an interview at the company, videos of people doing the jobs you’re hiring for, posting photos of events and more. Use your imagination. You can do a lot with that section of your web site.

#8: Don’t Forget Social Media

You should be posting jobs on your corporate social media pages. You have a corporate page on LinkedIn and Facebook, right? Right? Use them, especially Facebook, as an insider’s view of the company. Identify one person or a team that posts photos, films events, adds albums of special event photos and films from hired professionals, report on the impact of your CSR programs and your sports tournaments – the list goes on. Invite the public to come with you to clean that riverbank or visit the veterinary service to help. People who are like-minded will be ideal and open to possibly joining a company that shares their values.

On- and offline networking is still a very good way to identify potential applicants, especially if you’re looking for high level employees. Local business networking events, speakers at local seminars and other business programs are an excellent way to meet great candidates and attract high profile employees.

#9: Creative On-boarding Techniques

Beyond the welcome kit mentioned above, plan out the first week of your newbie’s schedule. Assign a mentor who helps them figure out the schedule, has lunch with them each day, introduces them to other folks in the company. HR should be sure IT does their work quickly, getting their email set up, ID badge ready on day one, along with a gift bag of branded office supplies (note pad, mousepad, branded pens and pencils, staplers, etc.)

#10: Candidate Experience Feedback

After the interview process, getting candidates to complete a quick form can be skewed by candidates wanting to only say positive things about the company in order to get the job. After a week has gone by, it would be great for HR to sit down with the new hire to get a more honest opinion of what could be improved.

A great HR team continuously innovates, updates, upgrades, tries new methods and keeps focusing on finding the best talent possible. Be creative, focus on your candidates, and the best will bring their friends.

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Why I Love Startups

Why I Love Startups

Having spent the past 25+ years taking startups to the next level, strategy and marketing-wise, here’s my take on what they are and why startups are great. I love building things. I will not live forever, but perhaps something I’ve built will live on beyond me. While many startups are well run by experienced serial entrepreneurs who have learned the hard way how to build companies, most startups have a reputation for the following:

  • smoke & mirrors (no product ready to ship yet)
  • R&D’s undelivered promises (the tech doesn’t work yet)
  • deadlines not met (postponed launches, cancelled press tours, nothing to show at a conference, etc.)
  • constantly shifting product specifications (developers can’t always simply add a feature — it may require a complete do-over)
  • salaries paid on ad hoc schedule (if you’re funded, your burn rate could be out of control; if you’re bootstrapped, cash flow can cause huge issues for payroll)
  • inexperienced leadership (no financial management, no growth strategy, no monetization experience)
  • job role roulette (yesterday, you were making collections calls, today, you’re running marketing, tomorrow, you’re in charge of customer service)
  • frat office culture (boys acting like children, sexual harassment, partying long into the night, you name it…)

These are some of the many reasons why many of the more brilliant talent out there aren’t interested in working for startups. These companies give startups a bad name, and you can figure out which are worth your while by asking about these situations (other than the salary issue, but you can ask about how they are funded and how long they have until the next series of funding, how often the product requirements change, or anticipated product launch dates) during your interview process. If you identify any of these issues, you may want to look a little closer at the organization before accepting their offer.

The company can be any size, but generally under 150 people. Maybe funded, maybe bootstrapped, usually runs lean, doesn’t have a lot of processes and a (mostly) flat hierarchy. I saw a lot of changing business models, which is VERY difficult for established companies to do with their entrenched staff and systems (particularly if there is a labor union involved). Changing company divisions from cost centers to their own P&Ls dramatically changes the way a company does business. Reorganizing a sales department’s income structure, incentivizing new business over old, to improve a sales funnel — that will significantly change an older business to a startup structure.

One company that definitely wasn’t a startup brought me in to work “under the radar” and I was told by my boss, “It will be easier for you to be forgiven than ever get permission here.” I worked as a (mostly) lone wolf, with no support except my boss and the Board, and implemented significant change that was certainly not liked by the staff and their union, but propelled the organization into the top recognized in their industry, winning many awards. (I didn’t win any friends, for sure, but I did win a Webby Award for the effort.) Without my experience in startups, I couldn’t have accomplished what I did there.

Startups have their place and a lot of people can’t work there. Startup staff need to be able to take up the slack, sometimes bullying their way through projects to make things happen. They may have to take out the trash, feed the fish and water the plants. When I co-founded a company, the founder and I always argued over whose turn it was to clean the bathrooms and do the vacuuming. Once we brought on other staff, we all shared the cleaning of the office. Leaders need to be able to lead by example as well as present their mission effectively and build solid teams that understand their targets and goals. Let the brilliant people do what they were hired for and get out of their way.

The startup mentality is hard to implement in larger companies because of the cultural attitudes of middle management. People don’t like to take risks, especially those that may affect their career. They have a fear of the unknown. People are incentivized to make things complex in order to create value for their work — a good example would be the endless amounts of paperwork to be reimbursed for your travel expenses. (I’ve given up on that one.) Many owners want to call all the shots and don’t give their executives any authority but all the responsibility. Executives need to be able to assemble a decent team, eliminate waste (in staff and processes), and implement decisions on the fly according to changing business conditions. In one company that I worked for, that meant eliminating half the staff. In another, working nights to be in constant contact with my clients on the other side of the planet. Without the freedom to make these difficult changes would have meant failure, not just for me, but for the company. Excellence comes from providing talented staff with the right tools at the right time for the right purpose, and providing measurable incentives for measurable deliverables.

During the tech bubble I saw a lot of inflated salaries, offices and arrogance (if I ever hear “focus on the eyeballs and the money will come” again, I’ll have to kill that person.). The burn rate at some of these dotcoms was sheer greed and ego. These “kids” had an idea and a presentation and no idea how to make money. I was typically hired for my experience and then had to listen to these kids tell me that, “one year of dotcom experience was worth five years working in brick and mortar companies, and to do it their way (no offense).” But I love revenue. I wanted to focus on making money. They didn’t.

They were only successful because of one thing. What I saw was lucky timing — in an emerging market early with first mover advantage. What I also saw was exit strategies — IPOs & buyouts were the preferred methods because actual earning of revenues was work and took waaaay too much time.

Bitter? Not really… well, except when I meet the rich ba**ard at a function and learn he’s still rich, and I’m still working on it. :-/

But I love a good startup with a good idea, especially one that does good for the community at large. I love the potential of growing a business. I’ll always take the “road not taken” because that will always be the more interesting path on which to tread. But tread lightly if you take this path; be fleet of foot, flexible, and ready to make a move at a moment’s notice. It is important to your success.

“The world is moving so fast these days that the man who says it can’t be done is generally interrupted by someone doing it.” — Harry Emerson Fosdick

Be the disruptor, not the disrupted.

Do you want to outsource this type of work so that you can focus on higher level activities? Subscribe today to learn more about building your business and receive a free PDF “Process Plan for Creating Your Own Innovation Program”. Feel free to email us to learn more about how we can help you grow your business.
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Maximize Team Performance

Maximize Team Performance - ibuildcompanies.com by Jeanne Heydecker

Appraisals and performance management programs are time consuming and don’t necessarily bring you any tangible results. We’ve tried simple forms with a list of attributes to measure, 360 appraisals, psychometric testing, the works. They can be extremely biased, even outright discriminatory. These meetings are emotionally charged and the listeners only hears one thing – the uptick in percentage of salary they will receive. They don’t listen to the performance data, their attitude, issues with their behavior – nearly everyone goes into the meeting with expectation of a raise and sometimes a promotion and no one is happy with what they get.

Incentives are regular bonuses paid to team members who meet defined targets within a specified period. One thing I have always advocated for is performance incentives given often – once a month or quarter being much better than annually.

I use a methodology called SMART:

  • Simple: It is easy to understand what is to be accomplished. This could be the number of widgets manufactured a dollar number of sales,
  • Measurable: The target is easy to quantify through data whether it has been achieved.
  • Achievable: The person can actually achieve the target if they work hard and effectively.
  • Relevant: The work is based on achieving an outcome relevant to the company and the client.
  • Time-Based: It is easy to understand when the target needs to to be achieved.

This process can be used for products and services as well as across the company. It cannot be as biased or as emotionally charged as an annual appraisal meeting. There is one caveat to this and bear this in mind. Some people will game the system, either out of greed or sheer stupidity. I once had a sales incentive program for an office supply company and one of the products was rolls of scotch tape. They cost the company 30 cents and the retail price was $1.20. We were offering 5 cents for each roll sold by the sales team. One sales guy sold 100,000 rolls of tape to a major university for 28 cents each, causing the company to lose $2,000. He still expected his 5 cents per roll.

Set up your individual incentive meetings instead of having appraisal meetings. Negotiate with the individual what they think is appropriate (For example, if the person made two sales last month at $10,000 each, don’t expect them to do five sales the following month unless that’s realistic.) You want the incentive to be challenging enough to make the team member stretch to reach it, but not make it impossible. They should agree to the goals that are set in place for him/her. To make this more palatable, instead of an “all or nothing” incentive, you can always use a sliding scale so that if the team member was able to deliver $45,000, they would still get a significant incentive for more than doubling their previous month’s sales.

As for the team as a whole, this means each individual has a set of targets to meet in order to get paid incentives, but the team as a whole needs to achieve a whole different set of goals to meet a team incentive. This can be as simple as just adding up the entire team’s numbers, but I typically add in a little bit more to the mix. Maybe it’s a percentage from new clients only or from a certain industry sector. I know, that sounds like more work but here’s why it’s important that you do both:

  1. Individual “A” players should get paid better than average players on the team. They are valuable to your company and deserve it. They want to play with other “A” players and underperformers will not challenge an “A” player to strive to get even better.
  2. Individuals who don’t don’t make their personal targets will keep the team from achieving their team targets. This sets up two different herd mentalities depending on the team:
    1. The team will get together and help the underperformer achieve their targets in order for them to get their team incentive. This helps the underperformer learn how to do their job better through team mentoring, therefore solidifying the trust and sharing of information amongst the team, or
    2. The underperformer will be quickly ostracized and leave the job due to a perceived hostile work environment. This typically happens when the underperformer refuses their help and blames others for their situation.

Let your teams manage their teams. Let them think about faster ways to do things better in order to achieve those targets. As they achieve more, increase the targets incrementally and their corresponding incentives. They’re making more money for the firm – so give them a piece. I doesn’t hurt to share the wealth and your “A” players will stay longer, be more loyal, recommend your company to their friends who are also typically “A” players… It’s a win-win-win all around.

One thing that can also create competition is make it clear what everyone’s targets are, along with the team target they share and plot that on a white board, updating it daily. Use green for on schedule to make targets and red when they’re not. Employees may not feel comfortable with this at first, but I have found that when everyone is in the green, the difference in team dynamics is positive and engaged. When I see a lot of red, I can step in and see what I can do to address their frustrations and challenges.

Try it out in your company and tell me how it works for you.

Do you want to outsource this type of work so that you can focus on higher level activities? Subscribe today to learn more about building your business and receive a free PDF “Process Plan for Creating Your Own Innovation Program”. Feel free to email us to learn more about how we can help you grow your business.
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How to Get Hired in Marketing at an International Company

How to Get Hired in Marketing at an International Company

I am always interviewing people for various positions within Marketing departments. I am usually disappointed in the quality of candidates HR was coming in with. I warned my managers that I was going to ask for my 15 minutes back if they wasted my time with a stupid interview.

If you want to work for me, these are the things I look for in an Internet Marketer.

You need to write excellent casual English. You can’t work in a dotcom serving a global audience and be an internet marketer without excellent writing skills in English. I don’t care how lyrical your poetry sounds in Bengali, Brazilian Portuguese or Ubuntu. It’s all English, all the time. I will typically send you an email to schedule a phone interview. Your response better be clean, polished and well written — no casual SMS texting style emails.

You need a crisp, clean, consistent and well formatted resume or CV. I want to know what you accomplished at those other companies. What were the goals, how long did it take you, what size was the team. What your role was in accomplishing those goals. I don’t care about whether you like cricket or long walks in the sand. Just your job. If I see typos, grammatical errors, inconsistency in tense (worked, works, and will work in same sentence), you’re finished. Your lack of attention to detail doesn’t impress me. Don’t cut and paste from other people’s online resumes either. I’ll notice it and Google it and see who else I really should hire.

You need presence on-line. I will Google you. I’d better see you on more social networks than just Facebook. If you don’t have an active Facebook and Linkedin account, I’d be suspicious and put you in the “maybe” pile. This, more than your MBA, means a lot — that you get it. Twitter, Snapchat, Pinterest, Instagram and any new mobile technologies will attract me even more. I want to see references. I will read those profiles completely. I will check the dates when you joined. I will notice the number of followers you have and the quality of those connections. I will read the comments you leave to others, I need to see that interaction within your social media.

If you’re looking to do SEO, I’d better not find forum posts where you’re pitching your web site to link farms or hit-builders just to jack up meaningless traffic. I want to see the keywords you worked on, the competition, where you finally ranked and how long it took to get there.

If you are a content writer, I want to see at least three samples of online content. I will test it with a plagiarism tool. If I like the work and our in-person interview goes well, I will ask you to hand-write another piece here in my office without any internet access, including your phone. Be prepared. If I tell you that you’ll probably be working on real estate sites or fashion sites, or whatever, do a little research the day before.

If you are a linker, you need to be able to tell me what the different types of link exchanges are, how they work together, and why PR and authority have value or why you think they don’t anymore. You need to be able to tell me the process you go through to get links, and what the expectations should be for a particular industry, if you’ve had experience linking in the past.

If you are a web designer, don’t let me catch you downloading free web templates and passing it off as your own. Just like the content writers, you will spend an hour in my office designing a Photoshop mockup of a web site. If you have UI and site architecture experience, I may ask for even more examples. BTW, and this is a huge pet peeve of mine: web designers have a background in DESIGN, not computer applications. You should have a really slick portfolio on line. If you can’t make me jealous when I see your work, don’t bother me at all. I’ll want that hour back.

Bottom line, I like a small team that works efficiently as a team. The more HR-related tasks I have to do, the more I am kept from doing the important work that meets company objectives. To me, and most Americans, we identify ourselves by our jobs. The first question we ask in an introduction is, “So, what do you do?” It’s that vital to us. More than what our father’s name is. More than what our backgrounds are or whether we’re married or single. Keep that in mind next time you’re interviewing with an MNC or just happen to end up interested in working for a company whose marketing department happens to lead by an American, especially this American.

Do you want to outsource this type of work so that you can focus on higher level activities? Subscribe today to learn more about building your business and receive a free PDF “Process Plan for Creating Your Own Innovation Program”. Feel free to email us to learn more about how we can help you grow your business.
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Are There People You Know Who Should Be Reading These Articles?

Top Four Mistakes Why Entrepreneurs Fail - ibuildcompanies.com by Jeanne Heydecker

I have been writing posts about business, leadership, marketing and startups for quite a few months now and would love it if you could forward it people who you think could best use this information to build their startups and learn more about building a sustainable business. You can use the form below or subscribe here and pick up a couple of free PDFs on building innovation programs and the other on the hierarchy of competence.

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Thank you for your help. Cheers. 🙂

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How to Work with No Money by Mentoring Interns

"How to Work with No Money by Mentoring Interns" - ibuildcompanies.com by Jeanne Heydecker

When my co-founder and I started a web design company in Chicago in 2000, we had very little money, even though he wanted to go pitch every Silicon Valley investor on what he thought was the next big thing – local events. We even developed a really crappy pitch deck to present to investors. I was deeply against the idea of bringing in funding, both of us having just worked at Lycos when it actually was something. (Does anyone really remember Lycos anymore? What about Tripod, Angelfire, Salon… They’re all still around, but does anyone even visit them anymore? I digress.)

He had a bit of money on hand since he cashed in his Lycos stock (as an employee in the first set of digits, he had a significant score). Plus he’d sold them just prior to the stock market downturn so we were selling at $75 a share. That gave us some running time, but everything costs money. You have CAPEX. Brand. Office selection. Web site. I’d never built my own site before but now that was going to be my job. Still, he wanted to focus on local events. Start in Chicago and expand to New York, L.A., San Fransisco and beyond.

We planned on hiring a CTO to handle the tech stuff which would require funding. We were working out of a space not being used by a local traditional newspaper – enough for two desks, no more. I asked my cofounder about business models and over a large jug of cheap white wine, we discovered the architecture that would change our entire business model. For example, in events, you want to pick a category, like LBGT, family friendly, nightclubs, concerts, business networking, etc., then have a list of links to events to choose from. You click on an event to get the details of the event. It could then link you to sites, signup options, etc. Sounded good, but then I spun it around his head. “Why stop at events? This works for everything. You can put up directories, press releases, jobs… it’s all the same architecture: a category page, list and detail, plus the same back end…

We changed out business model then to componentize options for web sites (We were way before SaaS and all) and provide features that the customers could update on their own. We were all about starting with one feature and adding more as they needed them and we hadn’t thought of renting them like SaaS, but we did want to offer a monthly maintenance fee, so it sounded pretty sweet.

Back in 2000, web sites cost people a lot more money than they do now. CRM back ends cost companies several thousand dollars and few people in those companies knew how to use them, so they paid for training as well. Our components were small, intuitive, easy to use and were simple for us to install. But it took us a while to figure out how to do this with no money. We had no CTO or technical staff. It was just me and my co-founder who knew a little bit about coding but needed to be working on sales, finances, and other stuff. That’s when we decided to hire unpaid interns, in local graduate programs, to work on building the components. Once we had one ready, robust and quality checked, it would be easy to replicate the rest.

Attracting unpaid interns requires that you sell the experience they get. As a tiny startup, each one of them would be working on client projects which they could list on their resumes. We would supply them all with references and letters of recommendations, as well as make introductions on their behalf to our own set of contacts. Some worked full-time, most part-time, some worked weekends. They were responsible for creating the first version of our events component after a few months (we were also developing other, standard web sites for clients in order to pay the bills while we worked on this side project) and QA’d the hell out of it. When we started offering it, people liked it.

We had a lot of lawyers as clients and they needed directories, so we had to add an upload feature for photos. We had that done and started selling the events and directory components as part of our sales pitch and the directory was doing quite well. We decided it was time to continue building out our suite of BuzzWare. By the time we were done we had a number of offerings:

BuzzWare Web Add-On Components

We didn’t have an experienced marketing team, but we had two interns, one who’d run her own PR company prior to starting her MBA, and the other a former dotcom marketer going for hers. They created a marketing plan with nearly no budget, but we came up with some very interesting ads that created a lot of interest:

Banner and Print Advertising Campaign

We were way ahead of the times. Today, these components would be simple plugins for WordPress sites, most likely featuring premium, paid features, but that’s why timing is the most important and uncontrollable attribute that can guarantee success.

We gave our interns incredible experiences and they learned a lot. They had to wear a lot of hats and volunteer for things they’d never tried before. They were given free reign to come up with new ideas and solve challenges in client software as a team. They went out on sales calls. They reviewed logs to see what was driving traffic (there was no Google Analytics back than; we used WebTrends), and analyzed what industries were more receptive. We crafted presentations for the CEO. He networked everywhere. Our interns got to be part of everything.

Whenever I hear from one of our interns from back then, it is so gratifying to see where they are now and what they are doing. Some are now people whose name and businesses you would recognize that are located in Seattle and Silicon Valley or Alley. Others have their own smaller firms and others hold high level positions in companies on the cutting edge of fintech and nanotechnology and I am very proud of them. I’m glad that we gave them a good start and that they loved the experience, especially when we weren’t able to pay them. They felt the experience was worth every penny we didn’t pay them. 🙂

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The Dark Side of Entrepreneurship

"The Dark Side of Entrepreneurship" - ibuildcompanies by Jeanne Heydecker

I’m not into conspiracies or wear tin foil hats but there has definitely been a significant rise in high profile suicides of C-Level employees and founders over the past few years. People must marvel at the idea that someone so successful, so admired, and so well known would commit suicide.

No human on this planet has never endured a bad day. Bad days can make you depressed but that type of thing is fleeting and not a chronic mental illness. The attributes of great entrepreneurs and senior executives can be the exact definition of certain types of mental illness, from psychopaths, sociopaths, bipolar disorder, as well as people on the autism spectrum such as Asperger’s Syndrome. It is well known in the community who some of these people are, and having a background in therapeutic psychology methodologies such as cognitive behavior analysis can help you work positively with these folks. It can also be drastically demoralizing and emotionally abusive for you as well. You may need to part ways if you are working in that type of work environment for your own mental health.

Being an entrepreneur means never showing that you’re having a bad day or else you risk encouraging rumors that there are problems within the company, such as cash flow issues, product launch delays, market changes, new tech disruption making your product obsolete… If you share your own fears, they can balloon into very nasty and usually completely incorrect gossip, which can have a follow on effect where you start losing your best team members, or investment money starts to dry up. This only exacerbates the problem for the entrepreneur who typically feels that he/she can’t express their fears or mourn the loss of a big opportunity without losing the faith and support of their coworkers.

For some founders, this effect is palpable. I know personally what losing sleep wondering how I was going to make payroll next month feels like. These people are counting on you to do what you do in order them to feed their families and keep a roof over their heads. They took the job believing in you and your mission. For some entrepreneurs, this burden becomes all consuming and can lead to depression and ultimately suicide. Their feeling of betraying the people who trusted them is just too much to bear.

For founders who are feeling in any way like this, you are not alone. You need to seek help. Help can come from many areas. It may be family, a trusted friend or mentor, a confidential community of founders, or a professional. It may even be a combination of two or three of these, but you need to seek help.

No company is worth your life.

Failure is part of life. Learn from it and move on. It teaches you how to do it differently the next time. You may even bring many of the same people with you and you’ll wonder at just how close you came to never being the person you were really meant to be.

If you have a challenge and need help, reach out – even to me. Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed about. Would you deny yourself the medication you need for diabetes or a heart condition? The brain is an organ, too. A very complex one, so there’s no blame to be made, shame to be felt. Just get the help you need. There is light at the end of the tunnel, even if it’s just New Jersey. 🙂

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