Laying Bricks vs. Building a Cathedral in Business

June 12th, 2012

I believe a story that summarizes the Power of Vision really, really well is the story of The Three Bricklayers.

As the story goes, three bricklayers are working together, side by side in the hot summer sun.

A young child, passing by on his way home from school, stops and looks at the bricklayers. "What are you doing?", he asks.

The first bricklayer replies: "I'm laying bricks."

"And you?" Says the child. "What are you doing?"

The second bricklayer answers: "Feeding my family."

"I see." Said the child.

The third bricklayer is then asked the same question: "What are you doing?"

He responds.

"I'm building a cathedral."

Whether you are the CEO of your company, or the newest employee. Whether you've been there for years or it's your first day. Remember one thing: no one wants to go to work thinking they're laying bricks. People want to go to work knowing they're building a cathedral. People want to go to work knowing they're building something magnificent. Something that simply NEEDS to be built because without it the world would be worse off. Help one another see the cathedral you're building together. And someday, you may just step back and realize what you've built:



My Jiminy Cricket and The Power of Parkinsons Law

June 4th, 2012

I believe one of the most important things to remember when it comes to the topic of time management in business is Parkinson's Law: "Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion." It's my Jiminy Cricket when it comes to productivity.

Here are some examples of what I'm talking about:

If I were to ask you the question, "How long does it take to clean your room?" What would you say? A half-hour? One hour? Two hours? The whole day?

What if I told you you only had five minutes to clean your entire room?

Would you be able to get it done in the shorter timeline?

If I were to tell you at 9 AM on Monday morning that I'd like you to have the company Quickbooks account reconciled by 6 PM the same day, what time do you think you would finish reconciling the books?

What if I told you that you only had two hours to reconcile?

Would you be able to get it done in the shorter timeline?

It turns out that time can be a really funny thing. Sometimes, I'm sure you look back at the end of a day and wonder where the time went. Other times, I'm sure time seems to drag on and on and on and on. In the world of startups, it is likely 90% vs 10% in favor to things moving fast vs. slow. However, just because you think life is moving fast doesn't mean you're not falling victim to the effect of Parkinson's Law. It is likely you are.

Do this the next time you think about a project you'd like to get accomplished by day's end. Think about how much time you think you'll need to get the project done right. Now. Cut that time in half. Can you still get the project done right? Now. Cut that time in half again. Can you stillllll get the project done right? What would Jiminy say?

You'll often find that if you think a project will take four hours... it will end up taking four hours. If you think a project will take one hour... it will end up taking one hour. If you think a project will take five days... it will end up taking five days. No matter how big or small the task, if you set a time limit around a project, the task will often times occupy the space allotted.

So the next time you think about managing your time, and the next time you're looking to be "more efficient" or "move faster" or "be more productive"... just remember my Jiminy. Remember Parkinson's Law. It's the only "time management" lesson you'll ever need to know.


Where Can I Learn the Basics of SEO?

May 10th, 2012

Samuel Johns is the Sr. Marketing Associate of Organic Search at Vistaprint. Samuel is from Australia, and has a strong Australian accent. My only regret in life to this day remains not having been born in Australia so that I could have his accent. I bet it pulls in ladies.

Samuel is a highly respected Marketing leader in Boston. The man drops SEO knowledge like Little Boy on Hisoshima. Total destruction. He's a great guy to have by your side.

I asked him recently to help craft a blog post aimed at helping young people in Boston who were interested in learning about SEO. And without further adoo... Samuel writes:

It’s the question Ryan asked me and it is the question I get from a number of people wanting to learn more about SEO: 'Where is the best place for me to get a basic understanding of SEO?' The question gets asked so often that I’d created a stock standard email of the resources to send out to people. Below I’ve taken the standard contents from the email and elaborated on each of them a little bit. Hope you find it helpful.

1. Google: The big brothers of search

  • Google Guide to SEO: A guide to follow and easy to understand for any novice. A great place to start, in combinations with the SEOMoz guide listed below.

  • Google Webmaster tools: With anything, you only learn by doing. Google Webmaster tools allows you to start getting your hands dirty and will provide great insight into how your website is performing from an SEO perspective.

  • Google Webmaster Blog: Provides education and updates related to Webmaster tools.

  • Google Inside Search Blog - Worth checking out to learn about the history of Google’s changes to the algorithm and keeping up with new features they are launching. They’ll post every so often about a number of the updates made.

  • Youtube Videos: Matt Cutts is the Search Quality Specialist at Google (SPAM Police). He often answers common questions through some really simple and quick YouTube videos. Well worth looking through and seeing which ones are relevant to you.

2. SEOMoz: The founders of SEO education and thought leaders in the space:

  • Web Version or PDF of the SEOMoz guide to SEO. It is quite possibly the best guide to SEO for any beginner. The original version of this was written 2 years before Google even published their first version. Hence why the Google version has a lot of the same elements as SEOMoz.

  • SEOMoz Learn SEO: In the right nav of the “learn SEO” page on has some of the best and basic gems related to setting yourself up for success by building the base.

3. SearchEngineLand: The one stop shop for SEO news and industry updates:

  • SEO Table of Elements: To get a quick snap shot of the elements and various functions within your company that can affect SEO. SearchEngineLand has created a periodic table of SEO elements. The table will help give you an overview of a number of SEO elements to think about.

4. Blogs to follow:

How was that? Do you now consider yourself an expert in SEO, or soon to be expert?

Feel free to ping across any questions you may have and remember to share any other helpful tools to get you find on getting started in SEO. Twitter: @samuel_johns


Top 10 Questions To Ask People in Interviews

May 6th, 2012

I'm really happy to see a number of young men and women who I have been working with over the past two years since moving to Boston starting their companies, making money, and growing their teams. It's really, really cool to see young people discover their first couple of AH-HAH moments, catapulting them into making their hobbies legit businesses. I love it. And with graduation right around the corner for many of them, they have begun focusing their attention on taking their products and building teams around them. Many of them have been asking: "What questions should I be asking people in interviews?"

Great question. And to answer that, I have put together a combination of questions that I like to ask, and questions that I think are really interesting that I picked up from a recent recruiting event put on by Scott Savitz and a number of other entrepreneurs in town. Just remember that of all serious things within a company: managing your board, building your user base, closing deals, etc, there is one that trumps all, and that is BUILDING YOUR TEAM. Interviewing is one of the first steps in the process, and it will end up affecting your life and everyone else's lives in the company more than anything else.

So, let's rifle through them with a twelve gauged shot gun, shall we? Right!

  1. Tell me about you, from as early as you'd like to go. Where did you grow up? Where did you go to school? (Simply to learn about the person, make them feel comfortable, and make you feel comfortable.)

  2. Why did you apply for this job? (This is really telling with regards to motivation and why the person is on your doorstep. Where they pushed to you? Or drawn to you like a magnet?)

  3. Why this company? (Ask this. I've found most people don't. I think it's important to see if the person buys into your vision here. Can they even relate the purpose of the company back to you?)

  4. What do you like about work? (Do they like the people they work with most? Do they like the actual work? Do they like the competitiveness? Do they like things structured? Loose? What else can you learn?)

  5. What do you like to do for fun? (Simply to learn about the person.)

  6. How did you do in high school? (I've never asked this, but I was recommended to try it because it might show me how people view their prior selves.)

  7. Tell me about something you are proud of. (My favorite question to ask people.)

  8. Do you like to win? (Very telling from someone's response how competitive they are.)

  9. Do you like to hit deadlines? (See how quickly they respond with the word "yes." Find out why they like hitting deadlines. Is it because you want them to, or because they do?)

  10. What is your current compensation and what are you expecting? (The easiest way to find out if you are going to be able to afford someone is to ask.)

Beyond these questions, I've learned it is always best to try to focus on competency based interview questions (also called situational or behavioral interviewing). These are questions like: "Tell me about a time when X happened and tell me about how you handled it." Instead of reinventing the wheel and listing out 20 behavioral questions you could pick from, my recommendation is to google behavioral interview and check out questions. One simple rule I always have though: never ask someone an interview question that you're not prepared to answer yourself. Good luck!


Put your pitch-er-ee on the spot

April 18th, 2012

This past Thursday I was invited to go to the Northeastern Entrepreneurship Club's Demo Day. At the event, over a dozen companies demoed their products and services to a crowd of hundreds of people. It was an awesome night, and I think serves as a great model for entrepreneurship and youth in the city of Boston. The gang at NEU have done a tremendous job over the past few years and everyone in the city of Boston takes notice. Great work guys. WOO WOOOO!

Now. I'm gonna throw some old knowledge at you that I'm sure you've heard a thousand times: it is important to pitch, and repitch, and repitch again in order to get better and better at delivering your value prop to others.

However, if you're having trouble figuring out what your value prop is in the mind's of your customers, try this: The next time that you pitch your company to someone, tell them before you start pitching that after you have finished speaking, you'd like them to repeat back to YOU the pitch you just told them.

I'll tell you what happens (or at least what I've seen happen).

By putting someone on the spot and asking them to pitch what you said back to you, you immediately grasp your viewers' attention like you've never seen before. It's like giving someone a test. It immediately grabs the other person's attention. They zone everything else out.

Now, say your pitch, and ask for them to say the pitch back. And get ready to take real good notes.

Almost always the pitch will be different than what you said. However, what is interesting (and what you should most certainly write down) are the SPECIFIC WORDS that the person chooses to repeat and emphasize back to you over and over again.

If it takes YOU (the entrepreneur) two sentences to deliver your pitch, it will likely take the person you are pitching four sentences or more. Pay close attention to the words that are repeated as they try to state the pitch back to you. Remember, you've said your pitch dozens if not hundreds of times, and your listener hasn't. Encourage them to keep going. Write their repeated words down. And thank them.

Run this exercise with a number of different people.

From what I've found, the words that consistently resonate with your customer base are the ones that are repeated more often than the words that are ignored. These are the words that resonate most with your customers. You should encourage the use of these words, and eliminate words that confuse people / are too "big" / are hard to pronounce / or are too scientific.

I've seen brave students get up in front of crowds of people and pitch their ideas. I've seen some do their homework, and I've seen some get slaughtered. And as someone who has done their homework before and also has been slaughtered before, I'm here to tell you it aint no thanggg. You learn from each pitch, and you move on. Get creative with new ways to learn from others when pitching so that you can get to your core value prop. If nothing else, some of the pitches you hear back will make you laugh!