Launched in January of 2012, mPortal’s blog The Connected Experience showcases thought leadership from CEO D.P. Venkatesh and the entire company.
On June 4th of this year, mPortal was acquired by BroadSoft, which is launching a new business unit called “BroadSoft Design.” The following Q&A took place before the BroadSoft acquisition and provides insights into mPortal’s pre-acquisition blogging operations.
Holly Dowden, now a senior director of product marketing at BroadSoft, assumed management of the blog when she started with mPortal in 2013. She was nice enough to answer a few questions for us and share some insights. Enjoy!
Full disclosure: SBX worked with mPortal on the launch and management of its blog.
Can you tell me a little bit about your career path and how you came to be the force behind mPortal's blog?
I actually came to this role with very little background in social/digital marketing. My career path in technology has mostly focused on product marketing and various related roles. However, when I first started at mPortal there was no one solely focused on marketing, and the first thing on the agenda was to create some awareness of what the company could offer. There were some start and stop attempts that had been made in the marketing arena, but I needed to amp up the game. I really have to give a shout-out to HubSpot here – their marketing automation software was the one thing we had in place, even if it was not being used to its full potential. As a resource, HubSpot has been invaluable to me, not just for its tools, but for its massive online training library.
Is your job solely focused on blogging and blog strategy, or are you responsible for other things? If so, what things?
No. At a small company you often have to plant the seed, sow the seed, bake the bread, etc. Although I have a VP title, I am a marketing team of one, so not only do I set the strategy, but I am also the one who creates most of the content, pushes the buttons on the tools, and generally gets the messaging out there. I also try to do a lot of research in order to stay abreast of market trends, which often feeds back into our blogs.
What are your blogging goals? How do they align with corporate goals? How often do you look at and refresh your blogging goals and strategy?
We don’t have a formal corporate goal per se for the blog. Because we have such a small team, we use the blog as a way of keeping our “content” updated and fresh. It’s really the easiest way to keep engaging customers and partners, by writing small pieces which are optimized as best we can for SEO, and then sending readers back to our website with appropriate CTAs.
What metrics to do you track and why? Are there any insights you’ve gleaned about your readership from tracking these metrics?
I use HubSpot to track the number of visitors to our blog, as well as downloads of content and “conversions” (to contacts). We don’t have the type of business model that lends itself to turning inbound contacts into customers in a direct/linear sort of way, although we do follow-up with everyone who has filled out a CTA form. We don’t attach hard ROI to our digital marketing efforts. It’s more about brand awareness and customer engagement, which is a very nuanced thing and doesn’t always lend itself to direct and measurable results.
What benefits have you seen from the blog? Anything that was a surprise?
The major benefit for us is building a solid repository of information that can be used again and again in different ways. As most bloggers know, it’s not your most recent blogs that necessarily matter the most – the longer a blog is up there, the more hits it will get. I can’t say that I have seen any surprises to date; it’s more of a consistent, slow and steady wins the race deal, from my point of view.
Strategy-wise, what tactics did you employ to attract the target audience you were seeking?
Currently, we don’t spend a lot of time engaging a specific audience, which of course is something we aspire to do. Our contact database is filled with people who are in our industry, but I’d like to see a lot more segmentation. Strategy-wise, we should also be making an effort to socialize with specific online communities and bloggers, which again we are not able to tackle at the moment. Being completely transparent, most of our traffic is organic, which – while not a bad thing – is not the ideal.
What incentives do you use to motivate blog contributors?
This is typically the most difficult thing to do at any company – get people to take time out of their busy days to contribute content to a blog. We handle it in a couple of different ways. First, we rely on SpeakerBox to help with a lot of the content development. This is an absolute lifesaver - without SpeakerBox writing support, I’d be dead. Even if the content is needs adjustment, it’s much easier for me to edit than to start from scratch – and most importantly, it keeps me on track. In order to keep our content as meaningful as possible, we often try to connect our writing support partners with our SMEs. We also give a small stipend to mPortal employees who DO contribute blogs, however the content has to be of the highest quality for us to accept it. And lastly, I simply write a fair amount of posts myself.
How do you promote new content?
We use a couple of consistent methods – Twitter, LinkedIn and a monthly email blast to our contact database.
Do you keep a personal blog? If so, what about? And, how has that experience helped you with your business blog?
No. I get more than my fill of socialization at work. It’s fun and challenging, but I like to cut it off at some point!
MindShare Board Member Steve Balistreri from Deloitte and MindShare Co-Founder and Board Member Gene Riechers at the July Class for 2015
Last night the DC-based MindShare organization heard from its co-founder, board member and a man who really doesn't need an introduction: Gene Riechers--an entrepreneur, venture capitalist and currently the vice-chairman of EdTech company EverFi. He shared some insightful tips from his years in this industry, which I tried to capture here as best as I could!
If I made any misstatements in my recap, the error is all mine!
What is MindShare? Launched in 1997, the organization handpicks 50 to 60 CEOs every year from the area’s hottest emerging growth companies to come together in a private, intimate setting. Its mission is to help CEOs build long-term, sustainable companies by creating opportunities for growth, building a sense of community, and fostering teamwork in a professional environment.
In other words, MindShare is an amazing group of new entrepreneurs who come together to learn, engage and network.
Each meeting features a different speaker or panel of experts, with topics including: raising capital, hiring the best talent, sales, marketing, and finance among others. CEOs who attend at least five of the eight sessions will graduate, and join the 900+ alumni from the organization that continue to foster discussions and provide support for one another.
I have recapped several MindShare programs over the years, which you can see here.
Some key takeaways from Gene's remarks last night:
- Think about entrepreneurship as theater acts; Act I, Scene I: get your product launched, gain traction with sales and marketing. But know that eventually, someone, possibly even you, will obsolete your product. Be sure to think about how you are going to obsolete your product, so that someone else doesn't do it to you.
Act 2, Scene 1: What’s your second act? Can you be smarter about the 2nd market as well as the 1st? He's seen people be very successful in their second act because they weren't content with their first.
- It's important to talk to your customers, but still have a vision for what the broader market may need, rather than being reactive to a finite set of customers. While it sounds counterintuitive, he can cite many companies who died because they listened too much to customers, and kept tweaking and modifying their delivery for a small part of the market, missing out on the greater opportunity.
- Great companies are bought, not sold. The best time to sell is when the market thinks you're hot, not necessarily when you are ready. The best deals are when companies come to you. The way software companies get bought with a 15X multiple versus a 5X multiple is because the buyer sees a great trajectory for themselves.
- What tends to keep you up at night should not always be the competition necessarily--the companies that might release their next version before you release yours--it's the companies that come out of left field and disintermediate the space. Board member April Young used the example of the introduction of Google Maps and how it destroyed TomTom GPS and the car dashboard GPS systems that were all the rage. You could use the same anology with Uber and AirBnB and other similar disruptive companies...that's who you have to anticipate entering your space.
- Think about your actual addressable market. He's seen too many people do a poor job of analyzing the true addressable market for their product, and then they assume theirs will continue to grow. Then, after they eat all of the low hanging fruit, they wither and die.
- Start establishing a culture where if people don’t grow with the company, they need to leave. Set the tone early and often. When it becomes apparent to everyone that someone might not make the cut at the next stage of the company, it's better understood why.
- Understand that sometimes as the CEO, you may have to fire yourself! It happens. As a VC, he counseled CEOs early on that there may come a time when they are not the best to serve as CEOs, and maybe they need to go. There is usually one of three reactions: 1) yes, you get it, and know it's best for the company, 2) yes, you say you get it but you really don't believe it will ever be true, and 3) you react with, "who me? Really?!?!"
- Don’t tolerate mediocrity Keep hiring As. As hire As, Bs hire Cs. Look at a bell curve, keep pushing the curve up. You'll be a stronger company.
- Really do your homework and due diligence on reference checks. Get really specific and drill down, so you get better answers from the people providing a referral. Make the questions specific, and drill down to get better answers and examples.
- When hiring a VP of marketing, ask different questions than might seem intuitive. Learn about the process they follow, how they evaluate a market and what processes do they use for determining the answers to very specific questions. A good VP of marketing will ask more questions than provide answers in an interview.
- When hiring a VP of Sales, seek someone who has a process for making people successful. Learn how they train their people, what tools do they use? What have they done before, and how did it get done?
- Look to engage a board, consider just one board, a Board of Directors or Advisory board. Smaller boards are better. Don’t select people for who they know, that could be short sighted; look for someone who can provide strategic advice. Also a tip: look for someone you can have a meal or a drink with, who you like and respect, who can be a good sounding board.
- From his perspective as a VC, he looks for companies when they are early and onto something big. He quotes: "once you have a good amount of market research on a product or market, it's probably too late start!"
- A mediocre plan executed with "great violence" will be more effective than a great plan with no buy in or passion. He calls it the “Violence of Execution:” engage your team in developing a plan and it will be stronger than if you develop the plan and hand it down.
I know I've missed other relevant and valuable points, but this should whet your appetite as far as helping provide advice and thoughts to growing your business as an entrepreneur. Thank you to Gene for his time!
Gene has been involved in building great technology companies in the DC area as both an operating executive and as a venture capitalist. As the Vice Chairman of EverFi, a leading education technology company. Gene is also a director of Opower (NYSE:OPWR), the global leader in cloud-based software for the utility industry. Gene was a General Partner of Valhalla Partners, one of the leading venture capital firms in the mid-Atlantic region.
Prior to co-founding Valhalla Partners in 2002, he was co-founder and Managing Director of FBR Technology Venture Partners. He was named to the first annual AlwaysOn "Venture Capital 100" list in 2010. Gene is also a co-founder of the MindShare program, the leading mentoring organization for technology entrepreneurs in the greater Washington area. Prior to his venture capital life, he joined four early-stage ventures, all of which went public.
Gene has a B.S. degree from Penn State and an MBA from Loyola College. He has served as a guest lecturer at the Harvard Business School, University of Chicago, and Georgetown University. Gene and his wife have 4 kids (and 1 grandson!) and live in McLean, VA.
I spend a lot of my life on the DC Metro line.
There are worse places to be. Just because I can't think of any right now doesn't mean that there aren’t—North Korea, there, I told you.
Hmm… come to think of it, those Pyongyang Metro cars (hand-built by Kim Jong-un and powered by his electric personality, no doubt) are probably advertising-free, because North Korea doesn’t have products yet.
So maybe it’s a wash. After all, DC Metro ad creative can be fairly painful to ingest. Just ask this guy:
But let's look at this objectively.
Display advertising in all its legion forms (digital, print, out-of-home, etc.) has two serious problems.
The first is that we've all gotten really good at avoiding it -- which is why a lot of websites today are forcing visitors to watch ad creative for a few seconds before they're allowed to skip past it... because... well I know I'm always in the mood for buying new tires after I've been Clockwork Oranged with tire propaganda.
Print and OOH advertising is in even worse shape, because we don't even have to click out of it -- we can just walk away. Oh, and here's a good marker for spotting when an advertising technique is in its death throes: they start putting it on the floor.
Have you seen this? It's pretty logical actually, since most of us aren't even looking up anymore thanks to near-total smartphone immersion. And when we do glance away from the screen, it's usually downward as a quick check to make sure we're not stepping on a baby or a condor or something.
Here's the second big problem for display advertising: lack of metrics.
Now I'm not a big fan of metrics, which is one of the (several) reasons I'll probably never get hired as a CMO.
Here's my issue with metrics. If one were to make a Venn diagram of two properties -- A) Things that are important to know, and B) Things that are easy to measure -- you'd notice quite a bit of space in between those circles.
This is the "low-hanging fruit" problem (not the least of which being that soul-crushing turn of phrase). The pursuit of metrics tends to lead us away from difficult, important questions, and towards the drooping succor of meaningless (but easily collected) data points.
Here's a quick dramatization of how this goes:
Marv: Hey, Carl, did that ad buy help us at all?
Carl: Did it ever! Our social engagement levels went through the roof, which is to say that the handful of people who talk to us on Facebook were particularly spunky this week.
Marv: We spent six hundred thousand dollars on that campaign.
Carl: And we got 27 new likes! What's your point?
But okay, let's say for argument's sake you've convinced your bosses to fund a new round of sparkling Metro display advertising. Clearly in this scenario, you've bothered to produce some roundly PHENOMENAL creative to showcase there, right?
Well, let's take a look around the Silver Line as Marlon Brando whispers "the horror."
Now unless this is a cleverly veiled teaser for Terminator: Genisys, this ad is a pretty weak showing.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not against free technology and job training. It's just that this headline and visual manages to be both creepy and condescending at the same time. Maybe this ad makes sense in 1994 when Mosaic is being rolled-out, and we haven't yet decided if this Internet thing is catching on. Also... what kind of a book gets designed and published in Microsoft Office? Erotic Hunger Games fan fiction, that's what kind.
Hmm... Turns out a good number of my work assignments are technically harassment. Great visual, though. Just to clarify, is the giant hand stopping the harassment or is that part of an unwanted groping gesture?
I know some of the folks who do marketing for NFCU, so I'm trying to be kind here. But seriously, just how lazy can this ad creative get? I mean, what, did they just Google the word "home" and then grab the first iStock photo that popped up? Is some poor sailor really out there thinking, "Hmm, I never realized I wanted a home until I saw those cookies"? This is so bad it has me starting to look back fondly on the "harassment hand."
I think it's in Williamsburg. Am I wrong about that?
Ugg. Is this supposed to be a provocative question? Because provacative questions aren't typically boring, vague, and self-serving. Who the heck is walking around asking this question, anyway? But here's the kicker -- they don't even bother to answer the question or even address it in the body copy. It's just a solicitation for more (likely unanswered) questions!
I really, really... really want this to be a joke.
Okay, last one. And I know this technically isn’t a Metro ad -- but it's from our very own office building, and I snapped this picture while riding the Silver Line to work.
I am 90% certain this is the exact conversation that happened over this headline:
Carl: You know what's better than everything you want? Everything you want, and more!
Marv: No, see, Carl, that would be worse, because it includes things you don't want. That’s like saying "here's the ice cream you ordered, plus a cinder block."
Carl: The banner’s already gone to the printer, so...
Did I miss anything terrible? Send the worst ads you see to email@example.com for a chance to have your picture posted and wrongly attributed.
Ever turn on the TV and come across one of those DIY home shows on HGTV or a similar network? I admit; I love ‘em. Nothing quite like seeing someone take a sledgehammer to a dining room wall.
Sadly you won’t find a similar show focusing on a communications or marketing manager trying to decide whether they should tackle a PR program themselves or enlist an outside firm. I understand why this doesn’t exist – I don’t think it would be as compelling as, say, the aforementioned sledgehammer. But if you’re in a position where you need to effectively get the word out about your business, it’s probably something you’ll run into far more often than remodeling your kitchen.
But how do you know if you should hire an agency, or go it alone? That’s tough to answer, because everyone’s foundation and blueprint for success is different.
You can start figuring it out by asking yourself four questions:
1. What are my needs and goals?
Creating awareness around the launch of a new product or service requires a far different approach than promoting a company or its management team. For the former, a short-term project might be sufficient, and that could be something you might be able to handle yourself if you have the resources and time (see questions two and four). On the other hand, creating and sustaining awareness of a company – including its products and services, position in the marketplace, and management team – may dictate the need for an extensive, ongoing program that involves everything from media relations to award and speaking submissions and beyond. Unless you have a large marketing team behind you, this may require the expertise of a PR firm.
2. Do I have the resources in house?
Speaking of which – what does your internal team look like? Is it just you and one or two others, or do you have a whole group of people at your disposal? If you’re going it solo, or even if you only have a couple of internal resources, you might want to consider hiring outside help, both to serve as consultants and “arms and legs” that can help you achieve your goals.
3. What’s my budget?
It’s always the first question that the contractors ask on one of those home shows -- and it should be one of the first questions you ask yourself when considering hiring an agency.
Agencies are not inexpensive. This is especially true of full-service firms that offer a combination of media relations, content development, social media strategy and support, and more.
Before even beginning to talk to an agency, ask yourself if you have the financial resources to commit several thousand of dollars per month (if you’re looking at an ongoing retainer) or enough funds to cover a one-off project (often another several thousand dollars). If not, it might be best to maximize your cost efficiencies and examine your in-house options.
4. Do you have the time?
Is it worth your time to do all of the important things that must be done to accomplish a successful PR program, including researching reporters, writing and publishing blogs or press releases, managing social media channels and executive interviews, and more? If so – have at it. If, however, you find the mere thought of doing that overwhelming – and you have the budget available – consider hiring a PR firm.
However -- don’t make the mistake of thinking that hiring a firm will get you entirely off the clock. Even though a good PR agency will take a significant load off your communications plate, you’ll still have to invest some time into the relationship, in the form of input, access to executives, meetings, and more. It’ll just be a lot less of a time commitment than a DIY approach involves.
My colleague, Katie Hanusik, had some other great points to make about working with a PR firm in her post on PR for Startups. Check it out – and then take a look at our guide below for some insight into DIY media relations strategies and tactics.
This past Friday, June 12th, LifeFuels™, a health technology company, came out of stealth mode and debuted its Personal Fueling System™ during its launch party at its Reston, VA office. Co-founded by serial entrepreneur Jonathon Perrelli and Maxim Wheatley, co-author of Startupland and venture associate at Fortify Ventures, the LifeFuels system enhances nutrition and hydration management via innovative, intuitive design and technology that syncs to devices that we all use every day.
The LifeFuels system is built around what people are already carrying – a smartphone and a water bottle; and what people are already buying — vitamins, minerals, supplements, and flavors. The system consists of:
- Dispensing bottle (seen above) – a 16 ounce bottle with a screw on lid that houses five (5) one (1) ounce recyclable pods for single and multi-serve (up to 30 servings) use for personalized nutrition and hydration.
- The LifeFuels App – a mobile interface that learns from your body, behaviors, and lifestyle and aggregates data from your other favorite fitness wearables (i.e. FitBit or Apple watch) and apps (i.e. MyFitnessPal) to bring you a complete picture of your nutrition, hydration and activity information.
- The FuelPod™ Marketplace –a vast and growing online selection of vitamin, mineral, supplement and flavor products formulated by brands you know and love for smart, easy consumption and tracking.
LifeFuels has partnered with dozens of known brands to help create a large and rapidly expanding marketplace where you can select the products that fit your lifestyle and health needs. Brands include Natural Stacks, EBoost, H2WOW, Boku Super Foods, BabyBooster, SOS Rehydrate, Sprayology, and many more.
The launch event kicked off at 6 pm at the Reston office. The company served hors d'oeuvres and refreshments while friends, family, partners, and brand ambassadors mingled and toured the office. LifeFuels moved into its office about three weeks ago and made office design magic happen in record time – transforming a dated, mundane space into a work paradise manifested through a calming, island-like vibe. There is no shortage of cool details, like the integration of natural hardwoods and stone and an actual deck on the top-story office’s patio. There are boat sails that provide shade and grassy areas that make you feel a million miles away from corporate America.
Around 7 pm, the LifeFuels team unveiled the Personal Fueling System and shared this video:
The team took turns talking about the company (Jonathon Perrelli), the product hardware (Maxim Wheatley), the product software and app (Rob Lawson-Shanks), and its partners and marketplace ecosystem (Ethan Gills).
“Today, fitness wearables measure basic output like steps, heart rate and pace, but activity tracking is only a partial view into our wellness picture,” said Jonathon Perrelli, Co-Founder and CEO of LifeFuels. “The LifeFuels system uses intuitive products and concepts to smartly automate and track the missing piece: what we put into our bodies. We’re fundamentally changing the way people consume everything from water enhancers to energy drinks, nutritional supplements, strength training formulas, and weight-loss products.”
LifeFuels opened business for pre-orders at $99 for the LifeFuels systems to be delivered later this fall.
For the second part of the CONNECTpreneur Summer Forum (click here for Part I), the event showcased a panel discussion focused on “What’s Really Happening in Early Stage Financing.” Panelists included big names in the investment community, including:
- Joe Burkhart (moderator), Managing Director, Saratoga Investment Corp.
- Leslie Jump, Founder and CEO, Startup Angels
- John May, Founder, New Vantage Group, Former President, Angel Capital Association, Co-author, Every Business Needs an Angel
- Sever Totia, Managing Director, Edison Ventures
- Hank Torbert, Principal, RLMcCall Capital Partners
Introductions for the panel were made by Elana Fine, Managing Director, Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship, Robert H. Smith School of Business, University of Maryland. Here’s what we were able to learn from the panel (please note these are not direct quotes, but paraphrased responses from the panelists):
What is the state of the market for people trying to get funded?
Leslie: We’re experiencing a period of incredibly fluidity with a lot of cash going in at really early stages, especially with crowd funding. It’s a good time to be raising money if you have stuff people want to buy.
Sever: It’s frothy times, if you’re thinking about raising capital, it’s a great time to do it. In this area, one of the most exciting things is the experience of the entrepreneurs.
Leslie: Back in the day when we were cutting our teeth, there weren’t a lot of options. The infrastructure for being an entrepreneur didn’t exist. There wasn’t co-working space, there weren’t cloud computing resources, and it was the early days of laying internet pipe. That has changed. But what hasn’t changed is the entrepreneurial charge. Back in the old days we did it all on main frames. But we were given 6-8 weeks to launch a product. Today, there is the same fearless drive, different infrastructure.
John: According to the WSJ, people starting businesses are at an all time low. But, they are only talking 1 or 2 percent. And, they are talking about the absolute hardest group of people (entrepreneurs) to get data about. If you go to 1776, I don’t see a lot of empty seats. So it’s a buzz factor to say its down 2 percent, but I’m not worried. Also, everyone assumes there are angels everywhere. There are less than 5 percent of people who can afford to be angels and only 5 percent of that 5 percent are able to be multiple investors. Trying to get more angels so we can fund more entrepreneurs.
Hank: I mentor a lot of kids in college; probably 10 percent say they want to go work for a big company. The rest are trying to find innovative ways to start a career. Now it’s engrained in our mentality to be entrepreneurial.
What’s happening in our market? Why are people financing to such levels?
Hank: There are currently a lot of people with capital, but not enough quality deals, which is why our focus is finding deals. What’s missing in the marketing place is having a nomadic approach to different industries – not enough investors are going out and looking (for investment opportunities). We’re focused on looking for strong partners, not passive capital.
Sever: When private equity firms buy a business they hire CFO, etc., but how do VC firms differentiate from other VCs? For us, we back teams, we all roll up our sleeves and help the teams and help with the business model. The time of writing a check and leaving it behind without monitoring are gone. Most investors get in and do the work to help the company. We know companies on average 34 months before we invest. We meet the company early and immediately begin to help.
John: There are less than 1000 VC firms in the US and less than 5,600 employed in the VC space in the US, so what we really hear from most people is what do you do with friends and family, angels, etc.? You have to do due diligence on the entrepreneur front to make sure you have a good relationship with the investors: ask questions, talk to CEOs of other companies. Don’t assume because they are rich they aren’t angels from hell.
Hank: It’s like a date when you meet with a funding source. You have to make sure your long-term plan is aligned. Make sure you really think it’s the right deal for you or don’t do the deal.
What are the most common mistakes entrepreneurs make when pitching investors?
John: The earlier the stage of the company, the more it is about people, people, people, for the investor. We’re only investing in the dreamer and the team at the beginning. For investors, just because you have money doesn’t mean you always get the deal. There is often too much focus on the product and not enough attention on getting to know us.
What are the most important things you look for when you assess the entrepreneur team?
Leslie: I look for a hacker, a hipster and a hustler. And, that they all work well with each other.
Hank: A management team that is willing to listen. One of the biggest issues for us is if you aren’t willing to listen, then we don’t want to deal with you.
John: Come clean about past problems and how you overcame it/them. Disclose, disclose, disclose. Don’t hold negatives in until the end. If you waste our time and we walk away you’ll never get another shot.
Sever: Markets and teams. We are thematic investors, so we pick themes in the markets ahead of time and find people who live in those spaces. So for us it’s all about the team.
Hank: A lot of folks don’t understand the other players in their space. You really need to understand your business, your sector, and who’s in it.
John: Have an advisory board (we don’t care if they’ve invested) that will elevate you above the crowd.
Sever: We look for companies proactively, but we also get referrals and if you have a board with access to investors that’s a huge advantage. It’s invaluable.
When looking at a deal, what are the baseline things you want businesses/entrepreneurs to show you?
Leslie: This varies by deal stage. Very early – fundamentally I want to see a cash flow statement that adds up. Bad math is a huge mistake when going for investment. And I want to see product roadmap and where you are in hitting milestones.
Joe (moderator): A deck more on past than future. Earlier stage, specifically, there has to be a way to show investors you’ll get from A to B.
Leslie: I want to see that they are 1000 percent passionate, how your idea will be big and how you plan to get there.
John: I need to get a good sense of, “if we need a 5x return on our money,” that you have an approach to figure out what we need to do to get that rate of return. You need a plan and vision of how big the business can be.
Sever: Sell-cycle dynamics. Pricing is one thing, we all want the highest price, but terms and conditions also matter.
What are you seeing entrepreneurs not putting enough thought into? Where are they missing on terms and conditions?
John: Valuation early on – liquidation preference, anti-dilution clause, observer role/information rights.
Leslie: Entrepreneurs are driving deals. Liquidation is going down from a startup perspective; they should absolutely have information rights as an entrepreneur. Valuation – we all think its great to get the biggest valuation possible. But you could have a down round, so think rationally about it. Don’t go nuts.
Sever: Rich as a King (book recommendation) – how to think about the pie getting bigger, rather than ownership up front.
What technology are you following most closely right now?
Hank: Cloud to cloud technology and remote battery management/sensors.
Leslie: The Internet of Things and smart city tech
Sever: Mobility on the enterprise side, mobile adoption for the enterprise, data management
John: Batteries and agricultural tech
The quarterly CONNECTpreneur event was presented by appnetic, Tech 2000 and Lore Systems and has been attended by over 3500 business leaders over its 3 ½ years. You can connect with the event on Facebook, on Twitter @connectpreneur, and www.connectpreneur.org.
This morning, I attended the “Big Idea CONNECTpreneur Summer Forum” in Tysons Corner, VA where a full room of business leaders, CXO’s, angels and VC’s got together to listen learn more from one of the industry’s leading CEOs, as well as about the areas up and coming startups and from a panel about early stage funding. For those of you who couldn’t make the sold out event, I wanted to make sure you at least could access the highlights.
Let me just start by saying it was packed this morning...
Fireside Chat with Timothy Chi, CEO WeddingWire and Co-Founder, Blackboard
The event was kicked-off by Tien Wong, CEO of Tech 2000 and Appnetic, where he thanked guests and sponsors before Timothy Chi, CEO for WeddingWire and Co-Founder for Blackboard took the stage to lead the event’s fireside chat. Prompted by questions from Tien, he gave background on his up bringing, noting he was born in Ohio and ended up at Cornell University, where his career started. He’s only had two jobs in his life: Blackboard, which he started during his time at Cornell and WeddingWire, for which he considers himself very fortunate.
Timothy got started with Blackboard when he met some people freshman year that stayed with him throughout college. Starting with class website and realizing a demand for curriculum online, they started to develop software to automate this process? so it could scale. Soon after they started, Timothy and team were introduced to other developers moving toward a similar goal, and together, they launched Blackboard.
Chi noted how much fun he had growing Blackboard, raising a ton of money and surviving both the .com boom and bust. He noted because they were more of an enterprise software company than a .com, they were able to survive and scale in the early 2000’s. The company went public in 2004.
Later in 2004, Chi, recently engaged and planning his wedding, couldn’t figure out why it was so difficult to secure services for his upcoming nuptuals. So, he set out to solve the problem. There were a lot of companies in the “wedding planning” space and the value they provided was inspiration preparation – they gave the wedding vision, but then left it up to the consumer to figure out how to make it happen. He thought there had to be a tech solution to make the actual execution easier. So, he created WeddingWire, which today is one of the largest sites for local wedding services, and is expanding globally. Brides and grooms come to the WeddingWire site for consumer reviews and recommendations about local businesses. Its all crowd sourced so it’s robust and recent and helps couples make better purchasing decisions.
A look at funding and cash flow:
- The company has currently taken $33million total in 3 rounds of funding
- WeddingWire turned cash flow positive in 2011
- In 2008, they got funding from Martha Stewart Living, which proved to be a significant partnership in launching the brand
- Approximately 85% of revenue comes from advertising
- Competition includes anyone chasing local ad dollars
According to Chi, WeddingWire still has a ton of opportunity for growth, but the industry doesn’t come without noted challenges. He pointed out an interesting anomaly of their ecosystem – their merchants need to reacquire customers each year, unlike businesses such as the restaurant industry. Additionally, WeddingWire has experienced the challenge of scaling operations and maintaining corporate culture along with rapid growth.
Chi stated, “We want to hire the best, keep great people around and have them believe in what we’re doing. But, you’re also hiring so many people its hard to find that balance…When recruiting, we just look for really talented people. I ask myself, would I want to spend a 4-hour layover with this person?”
He noted they had a very challenging time hiring engineers, and found that knowledge and learning was incredibly important to the candidate pool in this space. So, they went out and hired an internal RUBY trainer to create engineers in house. That trainer now holds coding and HTML classes in the evenings that are overflowing. He says offering these additional resources for educational advancement has been a huge part in retaining great employees, specifically Millennials.
Incredibly interested in the science of motivation and why people do certain things and lead in certain ways, Chin shared some reading/speaker recommendations:
- “Thinking Fast and Slow”
- Daniel Pink lectures
In concluding his talk, Chi noted that his key to success has been surrounding himself with great people.
Next up, the company showcase presentations, which highlighted up and coming tech companies in the DC metro area, all of which are in the process of being funded or looking to be funded. Be sure to check them all out:
- CirrusWorks – David Giannini, Executive Chairman
- Dashub – David Sandler, Principal and Strategic Advisor
- AgoraVR – Jason Ganz, CEO
- DelightMe – Marie-Louise Murville, CEO
- Rosetta Health – Buff Colchagoff, CEO
- Helix – Tom DeWitt, President & CEO
- valAUrum – Adam Trexler, President
- SwitchPitch – Michael Goldstein, Founder
Check out “Big Idea CONNECTpreneur Summer Forum: Part 2, All Star Investing Panel “ next week to hear more from the rest of the event!
Launched a few months ago, CC Pace’s blog has started off with a bang. In full disclosure, SBX helped them with the strategy, implementation and design processes (as you’ll see below), but the content is all their own.
Jenna Bayer, marketing manager, at CC Pace was nice enough to answer a few questions for me about their new-ish blog, explaining how it came to be, how she measures success, and what results she’s seeing so far.
Can you tell me a little bit about your career path and how you came to be the force behind CC Pace’s blog?
I’m embarking on my fifth year at CC Pace. I started as the sales & marketing coordinator for our Agile Training program and always had an interest in finding new ways to market our classes and services. I tried a number of smaller-scale marketing tactics throughout the years, but when CC Pace started to focus more on our marketing efforts, I knew I wanted to be involved. The blog was something I was really excited about, so fortunately, I was able to play an active role in driving the effort forward.
Is your job solely focused on blogging and blog strategy, or are you responsible for other things? If so, what things?
I manage our corporate marketing efforts, so the blog is a big piece of my focus, but not the sole focus. A little over a year ago we redid our website with a new look and feel. Since then, we’ve spent a lot of time updating and creating collateral to match our new look. I am also focused on expanding our social media efforts and streamlining internal communications, among other things.
What made you decide to implement a business blog for CC Pace? Was it a tough sell to the executives, or was it a top-down priority?
Over the last few years, we’ve really made marketing a priority at CC Pace. Part of that effort meant bringing in outside marketing expertise to help us develop and implement a marketing strategy—the decision to work with SpeakerBox was an easy one as they immediately seemed to understand our business needs and goals. Having a blog was a big part of the marketing strategy that Speakerbox helped us to define and was also something we saw a lot of our competitors doing. We knew we had a story to tell and a team of experts with experience to share, so it wasn’t a tough sell to the executives. As with most things, the leadership team at CC Pace was very supportive of this initiative. Of course, there was concern for the time commitment that keeping a consistent stream of content would require, but each unit agreed to a schedule—some post weekly, others monthly.
What is your process for producing content? Are there specific editors/writers? How did you choose them? Are they held to an editorial calendar?
We have six unique categories that make up our corporate blog. The editors are generally the practice/unit leaders, and the writers are—for the most part—volunteers within their respective teams. I worked with all the editors to establish targeted schedules initially. After a few months, we revisited the schedules to figure out what was truly feasible based on their experiences. In some cases, we increased the frequency. In others, we reduced it to accommodate other time commitments. After we identified our writers, Speakerbox held a “training session” for our writers to identify best practices and get everyone comfortable with their new tasks. Because we have so many unique personalities, I really wanted to make sure those voices came through in our posts. We made it a point not to set too many guidelines or parameters for producing content in the beginning because we really wanted to see a broad range of voices and ideas come through. Now that a lot of our writers are getting comfortable, we’re seeing some really unique and fun posts. For example, one of our Agile trainers rewrote Lee Brice lyrics as an “ode to Agile,” while one of our Financial Service consultants found inspiration for a post about competitive advantage at a hot dog stand. It’s been really fun to see the creative progression and unique personalities shine through!
What are your blogging goals? How do they align with corporate goals?
As with any marketing initiative, we want our blogging efforts to increase leads and ultimately revenue. However, while we work towards those larger goals, I want to be consistent with our content schedule and continue to grow our readership. I really want this to be a place clients and other members of our communities of practice can come for ideas, ask questions and get valuable information and insights. Our interactions on social media have been good, but I’d like to see more feedback and interactions with our readers as these efforts grow.
What benefits have you seen from the blog so far? Anything that was a surprise?
We’ve seen a 15 percent increase in our total web traffic since we launched our blog. We’ve also seen an increase in employee engagement with blog and social media contributions—so that’s been great to see! The business units that have been more active on LinkedIn have seen a lot more activity in terms of dormant clients and prospects viewing their profiles and getting reacquainted. There is a buzz around CC Pace and our services that wasn’t there before the blog, so I’m confident that we’ll see more measurable results in the future.
How are you promoting your blog content?
We did an email campaign to announce our launch back in January and have since included direct links on our signatures, collateral, etc. We also have been increasingly proactive about promoting our content on our social media channels and in our respective industry groups, where appropriate.
Here on the Sounding Board, we talk a lot about creating and promoting content. But, what I find really interesting is how folks consume content on their own time and the differences in the consumption of that content based on demographics.
I came across this great infographic on The Generational Content Gap, which shows how Millennials, Gen X, and Baby Boomers are consuming digital content differently.
What I found most interesting and relevant was the following:
- All three generations agree that blog articles, images, and comments are their top three forms of content to consume (in that order).
- 300 words articles hit the mark for actually getting read.
- More than a quarter of Millennials use mobile devices as their primary way of viewing content.
- Facebook is still king when it comes to sharing content, for all generations.
That said, the biggest take away for me from this type of information is how it should guide my content creation and promotion for SpeakerBox and my clients. Our target audience for the Sounding Board and SpeakerBox’s social pages cross all three of these generations, so, to me, it validates our traffic source analytics for Facebook as the highest referrer to our blog and it makes me think that we should be sharing more videos and images.
For others looking to better market content, the first thing to do is really define your target audience then let these results be a guide on how to best reach them.
We often take a look at social media from the perspective of our clients – what platforms are being used, what’s the importance of social for SEO, who’s doing what right or wrong. But recently, I came across a piece of research focused on television and radio stations that I found interesting.
The study, which published May 4 of this year, was the third in a series of reports developed by the Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA). Professor Emeritus at Hofstra University in New York, Bob Papper conducted the study, which surveyed 1,688 operating, non-satellite TV stations and 3,704 radio stations at the end of 2014. The research covered everything from the social stats that I plan to discuss in this post to newsroom salaries, women and minorities, etc. Obviously, the social piece is what I was most interested in and seemed most relevant for a discussion on The Sounding Board (and, since you’re reading our blog, probably the most relevant for you, as well).
Here’s a look at some of the main findings:
- 72.4% of news directors said they did something new in social media in 2014 while 27.6% said nothing new
- 42.9% of radio stations said they did something new in social media in 2014, but 57.1% said nothing new
- 99.3% of TV stations have a Facebook page vs. 90.8% of radio stations
- 99.3% of TV newsrooms are active on Twitter vs. 59% of radio newsrooms
These show that TV stations started using Facebook and Twitter more this year than the year before (in terms of the report, they did more planning when it comes to participating in social) and that radio was already relatively active on Facebook and Twitter so they didn’t do anything new, just focused on increasing engagement and probably creating better content.
What is interesting is the newsroom participation on Twitter, which makes complete sense. Radio stations aren’t as active, because they don’t necessarily have continually new content to push out like broadcast news, since it can be assumed the mix of surveyed was most likely a mix of music and news stations.
So how can we make use of this data from a B2B perspective? I think it helps to show that having a continuous stream of new (or even refreshed or repurposed) relevant content is what makes it possible for businesses to increase social activity, which is the first step to achieving business goals through social media: engagement, brand awareness, website traffic, SEO, etc. that help close deals and sell. For news stations (and some businesses) this happens easily and organically, but for others, i.e. the “radio stations” of business, you have to get more creative with your efforts. Again, this may mean more repurposing existing content than creating anything new and simply being more strategic with what you have to work with. This can come in the form of visuals, video and infographics that present content in a new and interesting way for your audience. Although being a “TV station” business can sometimes make life easier from a social media perspective for volume, it doesn’t always mean your content is superior. Creativity and strategy are still vital.
Want to read some interesting facts about businesses on Facebook? I liked these easy to read “25 Facebook Facts and Statistics You Should Know...”
*Image credit: http://www.socialmediatoday.com