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    Formally a developer for SpaceX, Ryan Lester writes about his open source startup Peer.FM which aims to change how we stream music.

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Archives for: January 2014

There were 48 posts published in January 2014.

Optimize Your Startup Work Strategy

Building a startup is hard. If you’re lucky enough to have funding, you’re in a race against your runway. You need to show some serious traction before you can refill the bank. Bootstrappers need to work even harder against potentially tighter deadlines.


You’re living this, so it’s obvious to you. What might not be as clear is that many of you are working too hard and taking your eye off of what’s really important.


Chances are that you’re in your business because you think you can provide something that’s not available from any of your competition. You have a very specific audience in mind and you’re hustling to provide the solution that solves their problems. That’s why you shouldn’t be building anything that doesn’t fit that exact criteria.


Find APIs That Solve Non-Core Problems


The part of your application that is unique to your business is 20% at the most. That means that at least 80% of what you create is generic unless you build on top of it. This fact makes it a glorious time to have a startup for those who are willing to take full advantage of APIs.


Many companies and APIs have risen to fill gaps in common, and often time-consuming, elements of applications. For example, my employer provides transactional email deliverability. You don’t need to configure SMTP servers or manually look for bounces, unsubscribes, and spam reports. There are similar examples across many other problems that developers should not be solving on their own.


Infrastructure is the most common umbrella for these services and can fill the gaps, allowing you to focus on what makes you special. Very likely, you are already hosting your application in the cloud, one of the more adopted types of infrastructure. I already mentioned email, but there are other companies providing similar communications, like Twilio for telephony and Urban Airship for mobile notifications.. So, why are you trying to solve these problems yourself?


“Can We Build It?” Default to “No”


There’s a common drive among engineers to try to build everything for ourselves. In many cases, that’s a great trait. We sit at a computer, hack away for a few hours, and create something new. When the thing created is core to what you’re building, it’s beautiful. When it’s not, that’s wasted time not spent working on the product that your customers want. Focus and time are two of the most sacred mantras for bootstrappers.


Another forgotten aspect of building everything yourself is that everything needs maintenance.. In any code base, it’s rare to write code that won’t be touched again. It’s best unload the bulk of the code to an expert — that way the code and its fidelity is maintained.


Beware of the CTO or technical co-founder who insists on building everything in-house, often under the guise of user experience, risk management, or having more control. These are all over-optimizations for startups. If it’s really important, you can build it yourself later when you will almost certainly have more time and money. Right now, you likely have little of both.


If any more than 20% of your application was built by your team, you’re probably working too hard. What would you do with more free time? I’m guessing you’d put it back into your startup. And that’s okay, because it’s admirable to work hard on the right things.


Take an oath as co-founders to always try to solve a problem with an existing solution before building your own. Put a time limit on it and thoroughly explore the pros and cons of using a particular API or cloud service. Startups are too difficult to put effort into stuff that doesn’t make you special. By sticking to this oath, you’ll be consistently working on the right things and not working so hard on the wrong things.


Why These Mobile App Trends Have Failed

The mobile app industry is something to look out for as recent studies have indicated that mobile usage has increased 115% in 2013.  With such high stakes - the next round of mobile apps that succeed are expected to raise our expectations even higher.


Although the success for app developers is risky because of high competition, developers are at an advantage because they already know what failed in the past. In order to expect what’s next to come, we must review the mobile app trends that didn’t last in 2013.


1. Apps that Exclude Children as a Target


Kids are the true customers when it comes to mobile app usage, as a recent study says that 38% of children under 2 years of age use mobile media. Additionally, the niche, parental market is to expected to target 14 million parents alone, by 2015.


With this in mind, it may be expected that discreet apps, such as Hide It Pro, which enables users to hide images and texts under a password-protected identity, may need to modify their interests with kid-safe additions in order to maintain a broader target market.


2. Mobile Magazines


To much of everyone’s surprise, mobile magazines seemed to be an ingenius way for niche users to receive their information on the go. Once these apps rolled out, that was not the case.


One of the largest problems that magazines faces was that mobile magazines were too tablet specified, while tablets are not designed for reading. Additionally, the app style magazine prevented the content from indexing with Google and overall hurt the magazine’s ability to gain readership.

3. Mobile Health Apps


Although mobile health apps are expected to grow 25% per year, over 50% of the apps do not succeed. Mobile health apps had high expectations for success and still do, but currently they seem to miss the mark when it comes to users’ needs. Typically because most developers are not in the health industry, the apps are unable to precisely offer want patients or health professionals needs. Another issue that the heath app niche has faced is the lack of customized clinical care as for most health focused mobile apps offer general solutions rather than a unique focus for the user - making it a difficult industry for mobile app success.

What Do We Expect to See?


Currently, the most successful apps today are in both gaming and communication. While we do not see a drop a neither style app, we also expect to see more educational apps for children, along with apps that will improve our personal productivity. Sometimes all it takes to move forward is to review the past.


7 Things To Consider When Choosing Keywords For Your App

Developing the right keywords for your app is a process that requires extensive research and diligent investigation.


Determining the right keywords is an important component of App Store Optimization (ASO), the processes and strategies employed to boost your app’s overall visibility to users. Ultimately, the right keywords can significantly boost your app’s rankings and drive downloads. So how can you most effectively research and choose the best keywords? Take a look at these top seven tips and tricks.


1. Don’t blindly guess. Never, never just assume that a keyword is good. Always do your research. It is crucial to get a clear idea of what people are looking for in relation to the purpose or topic of your app. Use tools like Google AdWords or MOZ to identify and compare the popularity of specified keywords. And throughout the research process, be sure to keep in mind the specific device you are targeting; keyword data will vary from device to device. So if your app is exclusively for iPad there is not point in looking at iPhone or Android keyword data.


2. Don’t repeat keywords. Never include your company name, your publisher’s name, or the app name in your app’s keywords- it’s redundant. Users can already search for your app using this information so there is absolutely no point in including this in the keywords. Remember, keyword character space is quite limited. Apple, for example, only allots you ninety-nine characters. Choose wisely.


3. Avoid overly used or overly generalized keywords. Considering the goal is to choose keywords that allow a potential user to easily find your app it might seem like a good idea to choose a general, frequently used keyword. After all, these words tend to be the most highly searched. The problem is that if you choose keywords that are overly used or overly generalized an extensive list of apps will show up each time a user searches that keyword. While your app may show up in that list there is no guarantee that a user will even see it among the multitude of results, let along choose it. Keep this rule of thumb in mind: it is better to be in the top 5 results for an average-searched keyword than in the top 100 results for a highly searched keyword.


4. Avoid highly specific or extremely unique keywords. While you don’t want to choose keywords that are too broad, you certainly don’t want to choose keywords that are too specific as people are unlikely utilize them in searches. Like highly searched keywords, infrequently searched keywords just aren’t a good idea.


5. Tailor keywords to individual markets. If you’re planning to launch your app in Colombia keywords in English aren’t going to be of much use; you are also going to need to develop keywords in Spanish. Never assume that keywords are equally appropriate in all markets, especially if you are planning on launching your app in different countries.


6. Pay attention to your reviews. Believe it or not, reviews of your app can be an excellent resource for effectively choosing keywords. The first step is to sort your reviews by ranking. Comb through all of the four-star and five-star reviews in order to find the specific words and phrases people are using to talk about your app (you want to associate your app with positive language, not negative language so never use bad reviews for keyword research). There is often a substantial discrepancy between the words you might think best represent your app and the words people are actually using to talk about and search for your app. Reviews can really help to bridge this gap. Strive to analyze reviews at least once a month. It’s not only helpful for keyword research, it’s also helpful for locating, diagnosing, and fixing bug, as well as for finding inspiration for potential improvements. For more information, be sure to check this great article explaining how reviews can be used to boost your ASOS strategy.


7. Pay attention to your competition. You always, always want to try and figure out the keywords your competition is ranking for. The Keyword Spy tool will definitely come in handy here. You are also going to want to pay attention to your competition’s reviews, not just your own. Once you know what keywords competing apps are ranking for work to rank for the same ones.


How Desktop Virtualization Enhances IT Capabilities

Virtualization of desktop computing capabilities is helping to make IT more of an asset for businesses and in many cases, enhances the capacities of individual employees within an enterprise context.


Let’s take a look at how and why these advantages are important.




Desktop virtualization solutions from companies like Dell make it easier for IT departments to deliver access to a full range of corporate resources to large numbers of people on short notice. Because data management is centralized in a virtualized system, traditional desktop hardware is not relied upon to provide the kind of computing capabilities that employees require.


Additionally, the systems being used by a team of employees within a virtualized network can be upgraded in one fell swoop rather than on a piecemeal or case-by-case basis. Software upgrades, therefore, can be introduced more regularly as virtualization makes IT departments more flexible and responsive.




At the current level of enterprise strategy and IT capabilities, virtualization offers what can be very valuable flexibility. A company can expand the scope of their IT applications quickly and across their entire workforce in direct response to market demands or increased competition.


Utilizing a virtualized desktop infrastructure means that IT ambitions and ideas can be acted upon much more rapidly than with traditional technologies, and in a much more comprehensive fashion. Even crucially, these kinds of fresh IT deployments can also be scaled back just as quickly, which means associated costs can be closely controlled and kept as low as possible.




Virtualizing desktops and the associated centralization of corporate data has the added benefit of making IT issues easier to troubleshoot as they arise. The enhanced visibility of an entire infrastructure means that even a single IT expert can resolve problems that might emerge and present problems for corporate users.


Where once a desktop failure would require an expert to be dispatched and scrutinize the hardware, virtualization provides the convenience of having network problems being resolved remotely and precisely.




Shifting desktop functions from traditional hardware and networks to virtualized alternatives also means that businesses are automatically ready to alter the number of people using their IT systems. With a virtualized setup, taking on and empowering new employees needn’t be a cause for concern in terms of IT expenditure as costs can be very closely managed and solutions very easily deployed.


Dell has a host of desktop virtualization solutions available. To find out more about these or any other Dell products, head to the website at dell.com.


The Future of Content Marketing is Owned and Embeddable

When we, as content creators and consumers, first engaged with the internet, we did so via platforms.


We chatted with Usenet, we built websites using GeoCities, and we distributed electronic mail through Yahoo! Groups. This technology, as primitive as it was in retrospect, allowed us to communicate in a way we never could before. And these platforms were necessary for reaching each other.


Until they weren’t.


As new breeds of platforms cropped up, we were allowed to steer clear of the noise on these legacy platforms and be the sole voice – control the mic, if you will – for a significant amount of the screen real estate. These new services, such as Blogger.com and Open Diary, seemed to almost completely distribute content creation and consumption back to the source. We even included comments after each post to encourage the dialog missing from this new content methodology. And these platforms were essential in stimulating a conversation that was owned by its creator.


Until they weren’t.


All of this disparate content creation seemed to require aggregation, if you look solely at the next wave of content platforms. Disqus aggregated our comments, SlideShare collected our presentations, and YouTube pulled together our videos. The promise was that we’d reach even broader audiences or build even more powerful relationships with other content creators and consumers if we gave up our content to these platforms. These aggregated distribution platforms were great for driving engaged traffic to us.


Until they weren’t.


One by one, these distribution platforms were acquired by mega corporations. And these institutions required growing revenue to appease their shareholders. YouTube inserts ads into your videos. SlideShare charges you for leads. Who knows how Disqus will change if and when they are acquired. The good news is that this uncertainty is swinging the pendulum again, although, this time, again in our favor. Just as the original content creation platforms gave way to individual content creation tools, these distribution platforms will give way to individual-owned, personal distribution networks.


And this is happening today.


It was revealed last year that WordPress now powers a fifth of the internet. That’s twenty percent of all sites, completely disaggregated, and entirely owned by their creators. And not just micro-sites, CNN, TED, and even the NFL all host sites on this powerful tool. Together, content creators using this technology write 33 million new posts and receive 48 million new comments each month. Maybe even more impressive is that these creators receive visits from over 384 million people, who view more than 12.9 billion pages, each month. And all of this happens with the creators retaining ownership of their content.


Our content is increasingly owned and controlled by us.


However, those 384 million visitors don’t just appear from thin air. We, as content creators and consumers, still rely on huge platforms to drive this traffic. We have to care what Google thinks of us. We have to troll for engagement on Twitter. We have to game the system at Reddit. And the worst part is that these platforms won’t let us get anywhere close to the top of our lead acquisition funnel. We may own and control our content, but not our relationship with our consumers from soup to nuts.


A critical element has been missing.


Not entirely missing, only missing to us content creators. Control over creation is one thing; control over distribution is a whole other. We’ll always seek out a new and novel way to distribute our content, just as we’ll always seek out a new and novel way to create it, but that doesn’t mean we should always have to give up control.


And that is what owned and embeddable content becomes all about.


Embeddable content opens the door to new and novel distribution sources, new ways to measure engagement, and new means by which to promote our work. Imagine, instead of comments, visitors embed your content on their own site, responding in kind, and linking back to you as the source. And even more interestingly, imaging all the new and novel ways in which this new distribution would free you create content. Consider this: If you were able to host high-quality, embeddable videos on your own site, would you create those videos differently than if they were only going to YouTube?


You would. So would I.


We’d build in more engagement. We’d paint the canvas wider than the video screen. We’d maybe even add a lead form. How about other content? Presentations, for example. We’d build the narrative with flexibility, especially if we could granularly measure engagement. We’d slide active links and videos early into the deck. We’d maybe even add a lead form. We’d take even more ownership and pride over the entire experience.


Experience is the key, it increases engagement.


When that experience is as engaging as we want it to be, then we, as content creators and consumers, will start to care again about integrating into these massive distribution platforms. Yet this time, those visitors will be seeing our content, on our sites, as we intended. Those embedded content backlinks will go to us and not to some faceless, corporation. Our analytics, leads and customers will be ours, without a platform standing in the way. The only platform will be the one enhancing our way forward, tying into what we’ve already created. We are really just waiting for the right kid, in the right dorm room, to make that certain future a reality.


And the pendulum will swing again.


5 Ways to Protect Your Cloud Storage From Cyber Criminals

Cloud storage is becoming a standard option for more and more people wishing to store their data conveniently and securely, but are we taking that security for granted?

If you make the decision to store your files using a cloud service, you need to bear in mind that all this means is that they are being stored on servers controlled by your service provider. Some cloud service providers may also be using another organization’s cloud services, so you should check the security and availability of a cloud service before deciding whether it is right for you. 


This article will take a look at just some of the way you can protect your cloud storage data from possible threats.


1. Think about who can access your files


Cloud storage services usually allow for three types of privacy settings, allowing you control over who views your files. These settings are:


Private – The files are only accessible to you (although the cloud storage provider may still have access to them, depending on the service).

Public – The files are visible to everyone, no restrictions.

Shared – People can only view your files when they are invited to do so.


These three settings can be applied to specific files within a folder, or the entire contents of a folder.


2. Think carefully about your passwords


Just like other online services, access is controlled with a set username and password. Try to use a strong and unique password for every online service you use, especially if you’re using the cloud to store important information and files. It is a common mistake to use the same username and password across a number of different sites, which leaves you vulnerable to hackers. After all, if one website is hacked, attackers could use the same credentials to access your other online accounts.

3. Check the terms


A decent cloud storage provider will outline clear terms and information about how their services are used, how your personal information is secured, and what they will do with it, if anything. If this information is missing, or the terms seem vague and suspicious, it’s a good idea to shop around and find a service that you are happy with before you sign up.


4. What kind of encryption is offered by the cloud storage provider?


Some storage providers safely store data in an encrypted form. When you log in with your credentials, they can decrypt your files, allowing you access. This is good for when you want to invite other people to log in and look at your files.


You can also use your web browser to encrypt information so that it cannot be read or modified when it is being sent between the cloud storage provider and your computer.


5. Can you encrypt the files yourself? 


The safest way to use a cloud service to store your files is to encrypt them yourself. By holding the key yourself, no-one else will be able to decrypt your information, but it will make sharing your files a lot tougher. There are various software options available to help you manage your file encryption.


Social Shopping Takes Advantage of Niches

Online shoppers are presented with a plethora of options when it comes to the decision on where to purchase a product, and on where to seek information on the product.


But when it comes to social shopping, quantity does not always prevail over quality, especially with Amazon and Ebay as a competitor. In this article, we’ll examine why more and more shoppers are taking to social shopping platforms to make purchasing decisions. We will also see how social shopping leverages the power of trendsetters to take the upper hand by closing the gap in the E-commerce circle rather than directly competing with large corporations.


The Power of Social


Human beings are inherently social and, in that innate tendency to connect with others, have the desire to seek affirmation and social reassurance. There’s no doubt that social aspects play a key factor in purchasing power on the web. There has been a 357% increase in sales from social traffic compared to last year (Shop Socially), and a total of 38,000,000 13 to 80 year olds in the US said that their purchasing decisions were influenced by social media (Knowledge Networks). That being said, it’s important to look at the main component propelling these statistics, the influencers.


Influencers, the Key Component in Social Shopping Purchases


When asked how shoppers formulate their opinions on products, 74% said they rely on social networks during the purchasing process (Sprout Social) and what’s more, 81% of US respondents indicated that their purchase decisions were directly influenced by friends’ social media posts (Forbes). So not only do they turn to social media, they look to people they trust, which is where social shopping closes the full circle in leveraging the power of these influencers to generate sales.


The particular appeal to these influencers is their authority within their particular niche. The influencers and the niches they are able to target are what give social shopping the upper hand against major corporations like Amazon and Ebay.These corporationsh mainly serve shoppers who know exactly what they want whereas more than 65% of shoppers who aren’t sure what they want turn to social media for gift ideas (Crowdtap) among the countless others in search of cool new products in their interest area or niche.


So Why a Niche Audience?


The way social shopping is fabricated encourages niche users to work together in forming a community (Readwrite) influenced by the collective activity of the group. There are often many different categories on social shopping networks, and niches are formed by influential leaders in each sector such as fashion, technology, books, music, home and garden, etc. The niches can even be filtered down into more specific subcategories, and social shopping networks often make deals with bloggers and trendsetters to be the voice of these communities, whom users with similar taste and needs can follow for advice and information on the products they’re interested in.


The influencers then leverage their power to generate big data around products that many nonsocial bigger corporations lack, which are the comments, reviews, shares and recommendations on products by trusted people in the community, people who have indicated they have or like a product, and more importantly, people who have indicated they want a product, which is one step closer to the purchase.


So what does this mean for stores and brands? A whole new level of personalization – the ability to connect with a highly targeted audience of users who are often overlooked by larger corporations who, in turn, target mass audiences. And on some social shopping networks, the stores have the possibility to send personalized offers and even to reward the influencers. And what does this mean for the user? A space they can turn to get all the information they need on the specific type of product they’re interested in, in just one visit.


Although Amazon seems to have mastered the E-commerce realm while it bets on efficiency, instant product comparisons, etc., the mass reviews by unknown customers or even the businesses themselves will not suffice for the shopper looking for a more personal, more curated experience. Soon, Amazon and companies alike will not be able to ignore terms like “social proof” and “curated shopping” (Clickz). Social Shopping networks like Wanelo, Svpply , Fancy, Fab , Moodyo and Open Sky have all created relevant, targeted audiences and communities that will inevitably pique the interests of the main players in E-commerce for their prominent influence on these niches and their purchasing power.


Personalized Online Tutor Technology

Let’s say there is a student in China who wants to learn English on the weekends. He types “English Tutor Online” into the search bar and clicks “Enter.” He finds a service, connects with a tutor, and schedules their first session.


The tutor and the student will need to utilize similar or identical tools on their respective ends to maintain the connection and foster learning. Tutoring has gone from across the desk to around the world, so it should be a priority for tutors to choose the right technology for their lessons. Online tutors need to choose the right tool for the job and know when to use it.


Education, in general, has gone from “the one-size fits all model resulting in unprepared students to technology-enabled solutions customized for each student” (The State of Education Infographic). So, most tech savvy students who need help with homework or receive actual instruction might want bells and whistles, but what about those who only know the basics? There are lessons that only need the bare minimum. Believe it or not, there are people who still have flip phones and write in MS Word 93.  Most tutoring sites utilize what is already available to the general consumer: Computer, internet connection, webcam, Shockwave, Flash player, whiteboard…beyond the basics, it is the tutor’s responsibility to choose the right tool for the job.


Like Eyal Eshed’s (the CEO of Speakingpal.com) advice about designing mobile apps in his CitizenTekk article, On Designing Mobile Education Apps, when developing a lesson for a tutoring session, there should be a purpose, and the technology should fit that purpose. Refer back to the student in China who has just started his lesson with a new tutor. The tutor attempted to teach the student how to ask for a taxi at a hotel’s front desk, but had difficulty illustrating the connection between the word ‘car’ and the concept of a car to the student. The tutor can use visual cues (with such tools as video, internet or whiteboard) to combine text and pictures to illustrate his point (Tutoring sites will most likely provide them, but there are sites that provide whiteboards for use on your own computer [Windows’s Digital Whiteboard ]); the whiteboard or video served a purpose. If the tutor wanted to incorporate a calculator in that lesson, it would serve no other purpose but to confuse the student. But what happens when the tutor does not have enough tools for the lesson?


The tutor’s next student needs help with Revit architecture software. Unless the student can see what the tutor is talking about by drawings on a whiteboard, the tutor will need to incorporate more technology into their lessons.  Revit software is not a run-of-the-mill word processing program; it’s a little more involved than that. You can’t just open it up and be an expert at it. Revit software is


“specifically built for Building Information Modeling (BIM), empowering design and construction professionals to bring ideas from concept to construction with a coordinated and consistent model-based approach. Revit is a single application that includes features for architectural design, MEP and structural engineering, and construction.”                                              -http://www.autodesk.com/

If the tutor does not have the software, how is that student supposed to learn from that particular tutor? As with any other program a student is trying to learn, to teach the aforementioned program it takes knowledge of its basics as well as its most complex features; you can’t do either/or without the program. The student would have better luck enrolling for a free trial or moving on to the next tutor who has the adequate tools for the job.


Online tutoring providers have taken advantage of technology to make their jobs easier and their services more available to students; the most effective tutor is the one who picks the right technology for the job and knows when to use it. As online tutors, you need to prepare your lesson and utilize the proper tool. As important as it is to choose the right tool for the job, it is equally important to know when it’s needed, or not needed. As a tutor, the most basic step to preparing for a lesson: prepare content and then see which technological tool will best serve it, not the other way around.


Big Data Reality Causes Privacy Concerns

Twice a year, ThoughtWorks publishes the “Technology Radar”—our view on the technology trends that are important in the industry right now, and the trends that will be important in the near future.


It’s a unique perspective from ThoughtWorks and our 2,500 consultants around the world, based on first-hand experiences delivering real software for our clients. Third parties cannot pay to have themselves featured on the Radar and the report is entirely independent in which technologies we include and what we say about them. The latest edition of the Radar was published this week.


One of the large themes we have been tracking over the past couple of years is around Big Data and Analytics. We think the “big” part of Big Data is over-hyped; most of the time you don’t actually need a massive cluster of machines to process your data. But the sheer variety, or “messiness” of all of this data presents new challenges, and there’s a real opportunity to use Advanced Analytics—statistical modeling, machine learning and so on—to gain new insight into your business and into customer behavior. An important trend we note in the Radar is the accessibility of all of these new Analytics techniques. If you do truly have lots of data you can simply go rent a portion of the cloud to process it, with SaaS offerings from Amazon, Google, Rackspace and others. If you want to analyze your data you can do it with point-and-click tools or open-source offerings such as the amazing D3.js JavaScript library.[1] Open-source is a huge democratizing factor here—you no longer need to pay for an expensive “big iron” solution for data processing and analysis.


We’re excited about the increased awareness around data because software systems can use data and analytics to provide significantly better end-user experiences, as well as delivering increased value to businesses. As has already happened with unit-testing, we expect it to become every developer’s job to understand the importance of data and what can be done with it. That’s not to say every developer needs a statistics degree or a PhD, but we’re expecting data engineering and analysis to become a bread-and-butter part of a developer’s job rather than some weird thing “those data science people” do in a corner.


While there’s much to be gained from better retention, analysis and understanding of data, it comes with a darker side. Companies employing advanced analytics have quickly realized that they need to avoid being too accurate with their insights or people feel unnerved, even violated. One way to avoid spooking people is to deliberately include less-relevant offerings and advertisements to a customer, so they don’t feel targeted. The strategy is to get right up to the “spookiness” line but not to cross it.


As we’ve seen over the past few months, any digital trail can potentially be considered an indelible record. Responsible organizations need to look at these revelations, as well as the weekly news of private-sector security breaches, and consider their response. In Europe, many companies are adopting a strategy of Datensparsamkeit[2], a term that roughly translates as “data austerity” or “data parsimony.” The method originates in Germany where data privacy laws are significantly stricter than in the US. Rather than taking an approach of storing and logging every possible scrap of information about a customer and their interactions, Datensparsamkeit advocates only storing the data you absolutely need in order to provide your service to that customer. This way their privacy is maintained even in the unfortunate event of a data breach.


Society is increasingly driven by technology, and changing at an ever increasing pace. As technologists it’s our responsibility not just to consider what we can do with our new tools, but whether it’s the right thing to do. Ethics are not the sole purview of philosophers, lawyers and politicians: we must all do our part.



So You Think You Can Dance in the Enterprise: Part Two

You have successfully crossed the chasm (if you don’t know what that means, stop reading and go buy this book immediately) by building an awesome product, choosing a target market, positioning the product, building a marketing strategy, and choosing the most appropriate distribution channel and pricing. Your scrappy, generalist business development team got you the early adopters, and there is tangible interest from the early majority. Next billion dollar IPO, right?


Not quite. Interest and attention from the early majority is one thing, but capturing them, let alone capturing the late majority and laggards, takes something few startups know how to build, a professional sales org. But whenever I say the word “sales,” entrepreneurs have a violent and negative reaction, invoking Alec Baldwin’s Blake character in Glengarry Glen Ross (best sales movie ever, by the way), laughing at his brass balls, and frowning upon his exclusionary coffee practices.


I argue that if you don’t build a professional sales organization that is equipped to go after enterprise clients, you might as well turn off the lights and go do something else. The fallacy from Field of Dreams (worst sales movie ever, by the way) that “if you build it, they will come” makes me want to tear out my few remaining hairs. The pernicious idea that you can “grow hack” your way to revenue by developing “enterprise virality” features and just see the money roll in could not be more damaging to companies. Growth hacking in the enterprise is one thing, and one thing only: sales.


The good news is that building a competent enterprise sales organization is not a black art, but a well-defined and documented practice. The org basically boils down to this:


Specialize Your Four Core Sales Roles[1]


Let’s start with a few definitions:

  • Inbound sales: Reactive responses to inbound interest in your product, usually from marketing activities such as PR campaigns or word-of-mouth.
  • Outbound sales: Proactive identification of sales opportunities via cold-calling a purchased list, or warm-calling referrals from existing customers. Also called Sales Development.
  • Qualification: The process of determining whether a sales lead represents a real business opportunity. Usually involves figuring out if the customer has a pain point that your product can solve (otherwise it’s just a science project), whether there is a budget, if it is a sizable opportunity etc.
  • Account execs: The core sale reps that engage the customer, find champions for your product, identify veto holders, influencers, and decision makers, flexibly pitch to various constituencies, and close the deal.
  • Sales engineers: A hybrid role with sales and engineering characteristics, SE’s support account execs through the more technical phases of the sales process.
  • Customer success: The role in charge of managing your customer relationships after the purchase, driving adoption of the product. Successful customer success reps will reduce churn and create new upselling and cross-selling opportunities.


Each one of these categories is a profession in and of itself, and building such an organization is the core difference between pre-chasm business development and post-chasm sales.


However, don’t fool yourself that this is easy. There are countless ways for the inexperienced to fail at building sales orgs. Here are a couple of the most common ones, and what you can do to avoid the missteps:


Hire the right people: I know, easier said than done, but as with any team, the wrong person will hurt everyone’s performance and job satisfaction. Here are my four hiring guidelines:


  • Does she know the industry I’m in? Do you think that an Ethan Allen sales person can effectively sell a payment system to mobile games? A person who successfully sells in my industry and brings a rolodex loaded with potential customers, will hit the ground running and generate immediate revenue.
  • Can he pitch my product to me? As part of the interview process, I ask candidates to prepare to pitch my product to a group of 3-5 people. Of course some of the details will be off, but if he got the gist of what we’re about, if he did his research ahead of time, and if he can think on his feet and be flexible, I want him on my team.
  • Did I check the right references? Not just the ones she provided, but also some from people on LinkedIn we’re both connected to. If I can find an actual customer that she sold to, even better. Give me someone that worked with her, and I will learn more in 5 minute than I will from hours of interviews.
  • Do I want to have a beer with him after work? If the answer is no, I won’t hire. At the end of the day, if a rep can’t master the art of making people feel comfortable, and build a relationship that goes beyond the workplace, he won’t be effective.


Compensation: Sales people are notoriously aggressive (as you want them to be!), and are world-class champions at gaming any system you throw at them. If the comp plan produces a misalignment of incentives between the rep and the company, you are in trouble. For example:


  • Base vs. variable pay: Try to avoid situations like low base-high variable that starves the rep during a lean quarter (don’t forget that enterprise deals can take anywhere between 6-18 months), and high base-low variable that discourages aggressive selling. The best reps will argue for a low base and an outrageous variable compensation.
  • Channel conflict mitigation: If part of your go-to-market strategy is relying on value-added resellers and strategic partners to sell your product and extend your sales reach, you need to take into account situations when a partner a rep go after the same customer. To minimize conflicts, develop a well-documented process that explains who gets credit, what price discounts are allowed, and when you double comp.


Building a top-notch sales org is in many ways antithesis to the nature and DNA of startups, and is the real source of the instinctive objection to professional sales. However, if you don’t take the plunge, especially when selling to enterprises, your company will likely never move past the fun experiment phase to become a self-sustaining, profitable business.


If you do this well, you are already way ahead of most of the competition, and your enterprise prospects will feel more comfortable betting on a product from an unknown startup.


[1] Ross, Aaron, and Marylou Tyler. “Specialize Your Four Core Sales Roles.” Predictable Revenue: Turn Your Business into a Sales Machine with the $100 Million Best Practices of Salesforce.com. West Hollywood, CA: PebbleStorm, 2012. N. pag. Print.