Friday, April 25, 2014

Due Diligence Package

Whether you are raising a round of funding or looking at a potential acquirer, the due diligence process can be either smooth sailing or extremely painful. It depends upon how prepared you are and just how deep your investors want to go.

I know I have personally been through an extremely painful due diligence process when I sold a company to a public company. But I know it could have been easier if I were better prepared.

I recently sat in a session run by Gwen Edwards (an angel investor and representative of Golden Seeds) where she talked about how wonderful it was when someone showed up at their pitch with their due diligence package already prepared. This made me want to collaborate with Gwen on the contents of a good due diligence package. We started a list on a google doc and then I was inspired to create this LiveBinder as a template package from that work:

I hope this effort of ours makes it a little easier for both CEOs and investors to get through this processs!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Inspiration from a Pitbull

When you are working in a start-up the hours are long, you have a tiny budget, and progress is often slower than you want it to be. When I feel down or frustrated, I like to seek inspiration from others. I find great enjoyment in watching others who have overcome tremendous obstacles and it makes me feel that anything is possible.

My newest source of inspiration comes from my latest house-hold addition, a 10 month old pit bull. I know what immediately comes to your mind - tenacity, strength, and aggressiveness. But none of those are the reasons why Chewy is my inspiration.

Chewy came from the pound in San Luis Obispo. He was found as a stray. His tail is mangled and broken, so he can't really wag it. He had an abscessed tooth that had to be extracted and has scars on his legs. I don't know what the young dog has been through, but it doesn't look like he had an easy start to his life. Whatever scared his body however, took absolutely no toll on his spirit. Chewy loves everyone. Even our grumpy older dog gives in to Chewy's insistence on playing. Chewy was often used at the humane society to test new dogs to see if they would get along with others. Chewy isn't bothered by even the most aggressive dogs. He happily tries to get them to play and then leaves them alone if they growl or become aggressive. But he never takes it personally. He occasionally gets scolded for chewing on things, but he comes right back with a soft poke of his nose to let me know that he was just having fun.

Everyday I try to be more like Chewy. I try to find good in everyone, I try to enjoy the simple things that often fill my days, and I try to not let the grumpy dogs bring me down.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Customer Care Package

I was participating in the #custserv chat the other night. It is so stimulating to share ideas with others who make customer satisfaction their priority! But it started me thinking about how I can help make our customers more successful - right from the start. We have so many tools available to help them get started, but each person learns in their own special way. Do I point them at video tutorials, the help page, or the one page cheat sheet? When do I introduce them to the Tips and Tricks binder that we put together that helps them take our product to the next level?

I turned to the one product that I know can help me organize and share information better than any other - LiveBinders! (Ok, I know, I really should have thought of this before.) I decided to create a "Customer Care Package". It has tabs for everything you need to get started and everything you need to become an expert. The customer can pick whether they want to watch video tutorials or just scan the help page. It is also easy to update as I find more excellent getting started tools that our customers seem to just create on their own.

We decided that will be emailed out as part of the welcome message, instead of the list of links that we currently send out when someone signs up.

How do you help your customers get started?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Visual Communication

In my years as a CEO and then in my time coaching entrepreneurs at Astia, I can't tell you how many truly horrible PowerPoint presentations I have seen.  I just want to scream, "Hey everyone we are in the 21st century - visual communication is a fundamental skill!"

The fundamentals of visual communication should be taught in every high school across the country.  We communicate today through both language and pictures.  If you haven't learned these skills by the time you graduate college, please take a little time to teach yourself.  I'm not saying everyone needs to be a graphic designer. (Though I do think more people may should hire them.) But just some fundamental layout skills will go a long way to helping your communication with prospective employers, investors, and the media.

As I coach entrepreneurs I invariably find myself having to teach them the basics of graphics design, which is not the best use of my time or theirs. But it is important for their success.  We finally have some amazing tools that let us communicate more effectively than ever before, but for the visually uneducated it actually hinders their communication. A poorly designed slide or graphic confuses the audience and distracts from the message.

Am I going to see your presentation? You can help me keep my blood pressure low and keep your audience attention high by reviewing these resources before you create your presentation:

Great LiveBinder collection of websites on the subject:

Some great books on the subject:

The Non-Designer's Design Book: Design and Typographic Principles for the Visual Novice

White Space is Not Your Enemy: A Beginner's Guide to Communicating Visually through Graphic, Web and Multimedia Design

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Twitter as a Market Research Tool

So much has been written about Twitter as a marketing tool that I don't want to spend a lot of time on that in this post. But I'll be the first to admit that I love twitter for interacting with our customers every day. We learn so much by watching what they are sharing about our product and where they would like to see improvements. We also get to learn great things about why it doesn't work for some people and why others are such incredible fans.

What I haven't seen written up however, is what a fabulous market research tool Twitter can be. When we first decided to jump into the educational market, I knew very little about that space. So I decided to start following interesting educators on Twitter. At first none of them followed me back, but I didn't care about that because my motive was to learn more about them. I was blown away by the type of information that sped my way 140 characters at a time. Incredibly valuable tidbits such as:
  • Which upcoming conferences were interesting 
  • What was interesting at any given conferences 
  • What was going on for teachers at any point in the school year 
  • What were their biggest frustrations 
  • How technology was having an impact on their professional lives - both positive and negative 
This is the type of information that market research folks would take months to accumulate and here it was flying at me for free! 

After a month or so I could tell you so much about the educational twitter community.  I even had tweets memorized and would quote them to anyone who would listen.  I knew which educational blogs were most respected.  I knew who the leaders were in the community.  I found out who would share new cool technology first (the true early adopters), but also who would really dig in and learn something and share more detailed and nuanced information about new tools.  I wanted to reach both, but I knew that second group would be the most valuable.

Once I started tweeting, I was able to create tweets that would be truly useful to my handful of followers.  But that handful starting re-tweeting and my following grew quite quickly. Then twitter morphed for me from a pure market research tool to a customer communication tool.  Even today, a couple of years later, my favorite thing to do is to share fun things with our twitter community.  I've only met in person a small handful of them and yet I feel like they are our friends and I can have (short!) conversations with them and really learn from their advice.

Not all target markets are as active on twitter as the educators, but I would still highly recommend it to anyone trying to learn a new market, it is fast, easy, and free!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Changing Face of PR

I have been marketing companies since before the internet (can you even imagine what that was like?) But one of the most interesting evolutions has been the changing face of PR. I remember, in the old days, when you would do a product launch. Here is how it would go:
  1. Brief the analysts 
  2. Brief the monthly press 
  3. Brief the weekly press 
  4. Brief the daily press 
  5. Announce to your customers 
With that last little bit, your customers would be thrilled and start planning their upgrades. 
Wow, was that old-school or what?

My current company has never done a single press release. But since we now have more users than any of my previous companies, I started to think about how to announce our latest release in order to generate the most buzz.

My dear friend, Kaye McKinzie, who is always on top of all things PR, introduced me to PitchEngine. PitchEngine is so cool - you build your pitch with pictures and videos, set your announcement date, and hope you draw the crowds. I love this concept!

But back to reality for a minute. With hundreds of thousands of users and people that you don't even know teaching classes on your product every week, you just can't spring a release on them. I'm sorry, but analysts are no longer #1. In fact, I even wonder how important the press is at this point? We feel a need to let our customers know about the changes first. What if someone is teaching a class and the interface changes the next day? How will they feel about our company? What will they tweet about that experience? We spend so much time in our community and understanding their needs and desires. When we create something for them, shouldn't they be the first to know?

So shouldn't industry analysts and press just be following our customers? If they get the news from them, instead of us, isn't it in a more relevant context?  Our customers write amazing blog posts, create YouTube video commercials about us, and build on-line presentations that will knock your socks off.  They don't have the reach of the mainstream press but they have considerably more trust from their audience.

If I pay a PR agency tens of thousands of dollars a month, what will they bring us? I have worked with some fabulous PR agencies and I know the spikes in traffic that they can create, but is that how you build a sustainable business today? If I announce to our customer community first, instead of the movers and shakers, will the press eventually find us? Do I care if they do or don't when our fabulous community is growing exponentially just by word of mouth on Twitter and Facebook?

Share your thoughts with me. Let me know what you are doing for PR 2.0.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Leanest Startup

I have been reading Eric Ries' book The Lean Startup. At first glance on the bookshelves, I didn't think the book was relevant to me because, after all, LiveBinders is the leanest start-up on the face of the planet. I didn't think Mr. Ries could teach me anything about running with the absolute minimum capital. But it turns out the title of the book is quite misleading. The book isn't about running a capital-constrained start-up (though the preservation of capital is a happy result of his methodology.)

His book is all about finding out if your product will fly in the market before you spend enormous resources to bring the product to market. This is rather a simple concept that I wrote about well over ten years ago in my article: When to Release a Software Product.

But Eric takes this concept to the next level by creating a process that effectively tests ideas and assumptions long before the product is out in the market. He also provides metrics that founders and investors can use to measure their real progress in the market.

The book has made an impression on me. I'm a metrics driving person who loves statistics. But he adeptly made me dig deeper by labeling my fabulous growth stats (users, page views, visitors, etc.) as "vanity metrics".

He spends a lot of time showing you how to engage your customers early with the product. At LiveBinders we have always loved engaging our customers in discussions on product ideas. But this book has made me look at closer at the statistics and helped me create a deeper understanding of what we are doing right and what we are doing wrong.

Eric, if you are listening, thank you! You have me digging deep into our real metrics to understand exactly how we are doing in the market.

If you haven't picked up this book yet, it is time. If can't convince you to pick up this book, maybe you can get religion through this video: