Scaling Your Startup Through Measurement and Repetition

July 9th, 2012

"If you cannot measure, you cannot repeat. If you cannot repeat, you cannot scale."

I love this quote. I believe the first time I heard it was from Seth Lieberman from Pangea Media. He may have created the statement. I have no idea. But, I do love it. And I feel like it is the simplest way I can relate to the idea of "scaling a business." In order to scale a business, you must be able to repeat a process over and over again. Ideally, it is a process that has some sort of repeatable monetizable event on the sales side of the business, and some sort of repeatable viral loop on the user gen side of the business.

But how do you allow certain processes to repeat?!?! You must be able to make choices, spending your most valuable resources of time on things important to the business. Things that affect scale and growth. And in order to that, you must be able to set up hypotheses and test those hypotheses. You must decide what you're going to measure, and focus on, and what not to.

If you cannot measure, you cannot repeat because you will not know what to continuously repeat to get to scale. And if you never repeat, you'll never get the growth needed to scale beyond your initial hypotheses. If you cannot measure, you cannot repeat. If you cannot repeat, you cannot scale.


If You Are Going to Fish in Business, Go Fish in Big Ponds

July 1st, 2012

I went to visit my friend Carmen Scarpa at Tudor Ventures recently to get advice. Carmen grew up in my hometown of Andover, and then went to Harvard for undergrad and Harvard Business School to get his MBA. I highly respect his opinion. Very honest. Very direct. And very thoughtful. The kind of guy you want by your side as a mentor.

While in his office, I asked for his advice on a variety of subjects. I was also very interested in hearing about markets and industries of interest to him. I have always been naturally curious how venture capitalists and investors view industry evolution. As people whose jobs entail working with entrepreneurs who literally are aiming to transform industries, you'd think venture capitalists would have solid advice. Turns out they do. And while I could dive into what Carmen thinks are interesting industries to invest in or build products for, what stood out to me was his advice with regards to focusing on market size, rather than topic.

Carmen said: "Ryan. If you're going to fish, go fish in big ponds."

Or in other words: Think big, and go after big markets.

Carmen could easily have substituted the word "big ponds" for "big lakes" or " big oceans." The word to highlight here is "big."

Now, any entrepreneur who understands how VC firms operate would say... "Well duhhh. How else would VC firms get the returns their need to justify their investments without having a few of their companies win big in big markets?!?!?" And while we could have an entire conversation on that alone, I want to stick with this one statement. Because to me, it aligns perfectly with the way I always used to think about the world.

If you're going to fish, go fish in big ponds.


Smiling Is Important In Business

June 25th, 2012

I believe in first impressions. In business, as in life. And one key component to a first impression is a friendly smile. People who smile make other people happier. Smiling yourself can in fact make YOU happier, TOO! There is a lot of research that proves it. One person who knew the value of a smile was Dale Carnegie, one of the godfathers of self-improvement and personal development. And instead of me writing about my thoughts on the subject, I'll instead leave you with Dales's:

A smile is nature's best antidote for discouragement. 
It brings rest to the weary, 
Sunshine to those who are frowning, 
And hope to those who are hopeless and defeated.
A smile is so valuable that it can't be bought, 
Begged, borrowed, or taken away against your will. 
You have to be willing to give a smile away 
Before it can do anyone else any good.
So if someone is too tired or grumpy to flash you a smile, 
Let him have one of yours anyway. 
Nobody needs a smile as much 
As the person who has none to give.

- Dale Carnegie

The next time you're feeling in the dumps, or the next time you see one of your fellow employees in the dumps, smile. It will help them, and you. Give it a try.


Top 10 List of Things to Do Now that You’ve GOT the Internship

June 20th, 2012

I had the opportunity to speak tonight sponsored by MassTLC at MassChallenge alongside Greg Gomer and Walter Somol, one of my favorite people in Boston (dude is one of the nicest, genuine people I know and I dig him) and a new person I met tonight named Caroline from Brass Monkey. We spoke about our experiences doing internships and running intern programs. One of the questions focused on the quick and dirty takeaways that you, as an intern, can start doing TOMORROW to ensure you have a really great internship experience this summer. Here they are:

1. Introduce your boss to someone he/she wants to know. Bring in a whale. A shark. A big dog. A monster. A beast. A monsterbeast. You get the idea. Ask your boss who he/she would like to meet in town. Then find a way to that person on your own. Then introduce them! This shows your boss that your care about him/her and want to make sure that THEY MEET PEOPLE THEY WANT TO MEET TOO (not just you).

2. Commit to an internship. Or commit to an job. In a "job," I work to get paid. In an "internship," I work to learn. If you're looking to learn, remind yourself that every morning. Scotch tape it to your desk if you have to: "I am here to learn." And when things feel like a job, slap yourself across the face and refocus on learning. If you have a buddy intern working with you, make a pact to slap each other when your not learning TO WAKE UP AND LEARN. Otherwise, go work a job and #GETPAIDSONNN.

3. Ask every single person in the office out to lunch, and schedule each one in your Google calendar to keep track. BUT DO NOT PAY FOR THEM. Have them pay for their own lunch. They have more money than you. Don't be picking up 30 $25 tabs. That's dumb. Go Dutch. Pay for only yourself. They can pound sand on the bill. Dutch is the new American anyway. Right?

4. While on lunches for the first time with a new person, start each lunch with this question: "Where did you grow up?" Use that as your starting point to each conversation. What comes after growing up? High school! Then what? College! Then what? Their first job? Then what? Their second job? Marriage? Babies? More jobs? Talk about these things. IN ORDER. Focus on their TRANSITION POINTS. Why did they go from one job to the next? What did they like vs. HATE!?!?! Learn about what motivates each person. Could you see yourself in their shoes?

5. Schedule "Crush Hour" each day. Pull aside your bossman/bosswoman and say: "Hey Bossman. Here's what I want to do. I want to make sure that every single day you have a full hour dedicated to me helping with scanning, copying, mailing, stamping, organizing, ordering, etc from noon to 1 PM. Every single day. We're going to call it 'Crush Hour.' SO, if you ever need any one of those things done, any and every single day of the week, I am here for you, like Kermit and Miss Piggy. You know I got your back Bossman! I GOTCHU!" Your goal here is to focus everyone's attention on giving you things that are sucky into one hour of suckiness, rather than suckiness throughout your entire day. Try it. It works.

6. Make sure everyone knows your name. Introduce yourself to every single person in the company with a handshake, a smile, and a nice "Hi. My name is X." Then send everyone an email with your cell phone number and personal email. Ensure that everyone knows you are reachable. Always. Even after hours. It will go a long way.

7. Tell the boss that next year you want to manage the intern force. Why? Because you're living it baby! Who better than to run it next year but you? This shows leadership, initiative, and that you (hint hint) want to be around next year full-time!

8. Suggest two-minute drills. You're going to have a ton of questions as an intern. Write them all down, and then focus on a specific time during the day when you have "two-minute drills." Do it at 4 PM in the afternoon. Close to the end of day. When you have plenty of questions, and when people have more free time to answer them. You'll get tons of answers, and you won't feel like your "annoying people." By the way... if you ever feel like you ARE "annoying" your boss, ditch that loser and come and work with me at my business instead. My promise is to never make you feel like that. Ever. And if I ever do, you can slap me across the face. With both hands.

9. Be INSANELY positive. Not annoyingly positive (you know who I'm talking about). Others take notice of positive people. CEO's have to do some work that sucks. VP's have to do some work that sucks. Managers have to do some work that sucks. Associates have to do some work that sucks. And interns have to do some work that sucks. Embrace it. And NEVER EVER EVER say how much it sucks. Do you think I enjoy putting bills into Quickbooks? Private answer: "Oh helllll no." Public answer: "I love entering bills into Quickbooks. It allows me to understand what our expense structure looks like, understand our vendor relationships, and a whole bunch of other positives." Flip negatives into positives, and vocalize it. You want everyone thinking your the most positive person in the office. Not average.

10. Buy your boss a book that he/she NEEDS to read to help them. If your boss looks unhealthy and you realize it's because he/she is slammed at the office and not eating proper dinners, buy him/her a book about "How to cook dinners in under 10 minutes." If your boss is complaining about people in the office, buy him/her "How to Win Friends and Influence People" by Dale Carnegie. The best interns I've ever had to this day were ones who were not afraid about offering me advice and feedback on my own life and business style. They were honest with me. They looked at me as a friend, and I looked at them back the same way. They learned how to give constructive criticism and then offer problems to solutions. Many times, I've found a book can be the perfect solution. It helps someone recognize they have a problem, and then gives them something to do about it. And to this day, thinking about it now, the interns who have risen to the challenge and have received the best projects are the ones who have been the most honest with me and offered me feedback on my own performance.

That's it! I could go on and on, but I kept this to 10. Good luck! Hit me up if you have any questions. Happy to help.


Top 10 Things D2 Mighty Ducks Taught Me About Business Culture

June 15th, 2012

Culture. It is one of the top 10 words I hear entrepreneurs, investors, businessmen/women and people in tech in general talk about with regards to success in business. As everyone knows who has started a company, ran a company, or been a part of a company before, culture really is THAT important. And the easiest way to recognize it is to step inside another company in town and see how different the people, the atmosphere, the vibe, truly is from your own. Culture is important when it comes to employee happiness, employee hiring, employee retention, messaging, selling, packaging, everything! It's important for internal and daily operations. For internal communication. Up. Down. Left. Right. It truly is that important.

There are over 100,000,000 blog posts written about culture. It's a true, made up fact. You could go and read them all to learn about it. Or, you could watch D2 The Might Ducks. And learn everything you'll ever need to know. Teams define culture. You can decorate your office a certain way and preach to the world who you think you are, but at the end of the day, team defines culture.

Gordon Bombay was able to assemble a team who literally defined a generation of kids in America for years. For any 25 year old today, if they were to look you in the eyes and say that The Mighty Ducks did not define their generation, they'd be lying to you. (Yes. The Sandlot definitely deserves mention here, too.) The movie rocked me and my friend's childhoods, in the best of ways.

Here are the lessons I've taken away from D2 The Mighty Ducks:

1. Team defines culture. You build a phenomenal team, you have the opportunity to build a phenomenal culture. At the end of the day, it is as simple as that.

2. Inspire within your team the desire to win. Hire people who literally say the words "I want to win" or "I hate losing." Find people who will do anything to beat team Iceland in the finals.

3. Set an expectation for players to step up to the plate in times of trouble. Injuries happen (Banks injures his wrist). Sometimes your strongest players cannot be with you (Portman gets rejected). A strong culture emphasizes picking up the slack.

4. Every team needs a Bash Brothers. People who vocalize their team's strengths to the world, both verbally and physically, are incredibly valuable.

5. You can learn a lot from "old people." In the same way Gordon Bombay took advice from Hans and Jan, you must encourage your teammates to find mentors and people they can learn from, be inspired by, and change with. Culture strengthens as a result of strong mentors.

6. Everyone is a founder. From the original crew of Charlie Conway, Fulton, Goldberg, Averman, Jesse Hallllll (kid was a playa), Guy Germaine, Connie, and Karp. To the newbies... Louis Mendoza from Miami: the speed skater who couldn't stop on skates. Julie the Cat Gaffney from Bangor, Maine: the goalie with cat like reflexes. Dwayne Robinson from Austin: the puck handler who was all smiles. Ken Wu: the figure skater. Classy. Stylish.  Portland: the enforcer and second half to the Bash Brothers. Everyone is a founder of the vision of the company. Gordon Bombay emphasized this upon the merger of both teams, old and new. Everyone mattered. Everyone had their own role. But they were all equal in ownership of the vision. I've always looked at every single one of our employees at my company as founders. I don't care if you were there in the beginning or hired yesterday.

7. Secret weapons to your team exist outside of the office. Finding your Russ Tyler and knucklepuck happens outside your four walls. Go back to your routes when you need it most. Street hockey is the mother of all ice.

8. #WorkEthic.

9. Gloves. Stick. Shirt. Even your quietest team members have a voice. Teach them to fight for themselves and for the team. You're only as strong as your weakest player.

10. Ducks fly together.

These are my lessons learned. I'm sure I have another two dozen I could add to the list, but these were the big ones that came to mind. Team defines culture. But look only to those around you to determine what your culture is and has the potential to be.

Here's a question to ask yourself the next time you sit down and think about culture: WWGBD? What Would Gordon Bombay Do? The man was a master. A pure genius. I mean... think about it.

And in case you want to know where all of the D2 actors are now... I found this post online and you should check it out.