My Friday video for this week features a VP of product at a fast-growing high tech startup (business social media), in an interview describing life in one of these startups, how product evolves, and some personal reflections as well, such as a comparison of startup life in San Francisco vs. New York. She’s worked in both, for different high tech startups.
And yes, this is @Meganberry, one of my daughters, and she’s talking about Rebelmouse, my favorite startup.
I first did magic when I was eleven. I made a lemon dance across a screen. It looked effortless but it took me countless hours. I debated the lemon’s smile; I finagled the dancing animation; I almost quit, but I did it. I put it on my site and watched it dance.
Just like the Wizard of Oz I had discovered the truth: magic requires a lot of hard work and a curtain. And there is no high like successfully pulling off magic.
So why do we throw our lives into startups, working long hours, fighting through daily failures and (mostly) not being paid enough? I don’t think it’s for some future payoff. Instead, we’re addicts seeking that next high.
You might think this high comes from having an idea. Certainly, there is joy in an idea. It can energize, inspire and push you to do great things. But it is fragile and could fall apart with one wrong word or bad day. The true startup addict knows that ideas are too fleeting for the high you’re really chasing.
The high comes from creating something out of nothing. Because, after all, what is more magic than that?
So, together, we work hard behind our curtain. We nurture our ideas into a plan. We start building, brick by brick. We change our plan. We build more. Halfway through we look at what we’re building and are sure everything is going wrong. We panic and then push harder. The last 10% seems to take as long as the previous 90%. Finally, we release. Our idea is live. It is all worth it.
All too soon the high is gone and we must start again. Looking for our next tweak, our next idea. Searching for our next creation high. Won’t you join us? We might even let you look behind the curtain.
(Ed note: things change. LiftFive no longer exists and Megan is now VP Product at Octane AI. This was posted nine years ago.)
Are you looking for real expertise in social media? Megan Berry today announced the launch of LiftFive, her new startup. I wish her all the best on this exciting launch day. And yes, she is my daughter and I’m very proud of her.
Suggestion: don’t just call it all social media marketing. Call at least part of it community management.
Why? Because words and phrases get worn out. Or they get clogged like a motor boat’s propeller in a swamp. And social media marketing has been worn out by too many people with too many fake names talking up too many products with too many fake offers.
I’m not at all against social media marketing; it makes perfect sense in some contexts. The big brand using social media to deliver messages, for example, is social media marketing. And Marketing is not a dirty word. Marketing is getting people to know, like, and trust your brand, so social media ought to be one of the tools.
But community management is a better way to describe the business role of developing personality, relationships with people, and conversation. Marketing is getting people to know, like, and trust. Social media belongs there. Social media should be part of the marketing mix, especially for smaller businesses, individual businesses, and expert businesses.
But there is a part of social media that differs from most of the rest of the marketing mix because it’s inherently conversational. Conversation means as much listening as talking, and no shouting.
Furthermore, the conversation is social media isn’t just a simple dialog, with two people at a time; it’s multidimensional conversation, with a lot of different people involved, at different levels, and different times. Authenticity, meaning real people, real opinions, and real participation, makes a huge difference.
And that, essentially, is community. So at least a subset of social media marketing is community management. It’s helping people, solving problems, expanding the community, and managing issues. It’s building the sense of belonging, involvement, commitment, and caring.
It’s funny — well, maybe annoying is a better word — how one of the so-called trappings of success is criticism. Get up in front of a crowd to speak, launch a website, develop and launch a product, start a business, and you’re in front of people. And that means you open yourself up to criticism.
I’ve been meaning to write about this since we talked about it together a month ago at Pam Slim and Charlie Gilkey‘s LiftOff 4 retreat in Portland. The subject that night was the negative thinking, the worries, the fear and the doubts that are part of launching a business. Somebody brought up this problem of dealing with critics. We talked about it, and agreed, basically, that it comes with the territory.
Reminds me of the cliche: If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen.
If you have haters, it means you’re on to something. Think of all the cliches I can spout about this: the opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s indifference. All press is good press. Haters gonna hate. Trolls gonna troll.
Success generates detractors. Expect it. It comes with the territory.
I need your help: Can you suggest a way to give a theme and a title to a series of Friday posts listing good posts and recommended links I’ve seen from the last week? My title here is too dull. I’m not nearly good enough at titles.
I don’t want to do this every Friday, but this is the fifth time since April 1, so I’m thinking maybe I should make it a repeated theme, with a cool title. Except I don’t have the title.
My absolute favorite this week is Megan Berry’s post on Mashable called 7 Tips for Better Twitter Chats. It’s a very good short piece on the step-by-step details of doing a twitter chat. Megan’s marketing manager at Klout (and yes, one of my daughters).
Shashi Bellamkonda of Network Solutions, alias the swami of social media, posted 6 Ways to Improve Your Online Content on the Amex OPEN Forum. Shashi knows. He practices what he preaches.
The SBA (U.S. Small Business Administration) has an excellent short piece explaining why you need a business plan on SBA.gov. It’s not a blog post published this week, but SBA.gov tweeted it this week, which caught my attention.
The TED blog posted The 20 most-watched TED Talks (so far). How can you resist this best-of-the-best list from the amazing collection at TED.Com. Trivia question answer: TED stands for technology, education, and design.
Over funding often produces bad behavior in early-stage companies. You hire people too fast, you over build your products, you try to force market adoption and you do PR blitzes before your product is really ready for prime time. And having too much money certainly raises board expectations that you will do big things quickly.
Hold a mirror up to a mirror, and you get some kind of representation of infinity, or something like infinity, intriguing but hard to explain. Just do it.
That’s something like what happened to me yesterday with a riff on business ideas. It started with my first view ideaswatch.com, which is a new website where people can suggest, list, and discuss new business ideas. Think of things you want. Things you wish existed. Those are business ideas.
I love it for several reasons: new business ideas are fun; they’re not owned so they shouldn’t be hoarded; they stimulate entrepreneurs; and the site seems well done. And this reinforces my own insistence that too many people overvalue business ideas; that an idea without implementation is just an idea, worth nothing. So why not share?
But it gets better. I clicked onto the site and started browsing the ideas already posted, and I found this one, called “Startup Failures.” Just to make it clear, the image here isn’t the main page. It’s a specific idea, one of hundreds posted on the site.
In case you can’t read the fine print, the idea is:
What if there was a website where people shared their startup failures so others can learn from that.
Which is where we start ruminating on the nature of ideas, and how nobody really owns an idea. Because:
First, there already is something like that, The Mistake Bank, the work of my friend John Cadell. It’s not specifically about failed startups, but its tagline is: learning from faux pas, miscalculations and decisions gone wrong. I posted about it here on this blog last month.
Just last weekend, by complete coincidence, none other but my daughter Megan was on twitter musing about roughly the same thing. The source tweet isn’t exactly the same thing, but it’s close. And their tweets were picked up by others. So people like the idea.
So we have a cool site encouraging people to post and discuss new ideas, and we have a new idea I found there, that’s a good idea, that I’d like to see exist. And we see here that, like all cool ideas, it’s already percolating. It’s out there.
And whoever makes it work deserves to make the money. If you, for example, take this and make money on it, then you and nobody else deserves the money. The value is building the business, not having the idea.
Don’t get me wrong: I think the thinking behind it, the advice wrapped around the idea of personal branding, is excellent. I’ve recommended, for example, Dan Schawbel’s personal branding book Me 2.0 and I’m sticking to it. Dan has a great collection of real-world suggestions in that book. But I’m beginning to think I hate the term. And maybe some of what’s behind it.
Last Friday I read Personal Branding is Bullsh*t (cowardly * by me, not her) by Arienne Holland, communications director of Raven Tools. She writes:
A person doesn’t need a brand. A person is a person whether or not there is paperwork filed with the government. A child doesn’t create a personality, she has one.
She also objects to a magazine article recommending personal branding for employees of large companies:
If you want to travel between companies, you don’t need a personal brand, you need skills and character and friends.
This was already on my mind before reading that because of a conversation I’d had a few weeks ago with my daughter Megan, marketing manager at Klout.com. At the time I was talking about some of Dan Schawbel’s recommendations, and Megan shared that she didn’t like the term. She explained that recently in Why I Hate the Term “Personal Branding” on her blog:
“Worse yet, there’s the idea that this is something new. Personal branding is just a new way to talk about reputation. Well, you know what? Reputation is a much better word for that.
Personal branding implies you should be fake to make it (if you disagree, do let me know). Before you tweet, interact, blog, or walk down the street you need to think if it fits with the image you want to portray. Well, you know what, if there’s only one facet to your personality you’re not an excellent brand, you’re boring.”
She’s not objecting to the things we do as personal branding, at least not if it isn’t faked; instead, she is objecting to the term we use to describe it.
There’s a lot that I like about the whole field of personal branding, particularly the emphasis on actual people and authenticity and humans communicating with humans. But I admit, I hadn’t thought of the underlying meaning of the term “brand.” It does carry a sense of artificial to it, doesn’t it? It makes us think of Mad Men, advertising, consumer opinion research, and expensive image advertising like insurance companies and such, on a very large scale.
Are you the same thing as your brand? If so, then what’s the point?
Last night I was halfway through a draft post patting myself on the back, illustrated with champagne glasses, when my youngest daughter, Megan, called from San Francisco, where she lives now. That’s @MeganBerry to you, blogger and social media expert, marketing manager of Klout.com. So I asked her this: “What do I do with my 1,000th post?”
“Do something that matters,” Megan answered. “Do something special.” She talked about favorites, lessons, advice, and reflections.
So, about 12 hours later, this is it, number 1,000. Gulp.
I started in 2006, but did only a dozen posts in the first year. I really started in April 2007, with reflections on family business, a personal note about passing the torch to a second generation. I changed jobs then – my choice – from owner-entrepreneur-president to blogger president of Palo Alto Software.
My personal favorite posts are on the sidebar here to the right. My favorite search is the one for fundamentals, particularly the series of 5 posts on planning fundamentals. My favorite categories come straight from the blog title: planning, startups, and stories: that’s specifically the categories planning fundamentals, true stories, and starting a business. And I also really like advice, reflections, and business mistakes. But I like most of my posts here. You kind of have to, to keep doing it.
Here are 10 blogging lessons I’ve learned:
Imitation isn’t just flattery, it’s learning. When I said I wasn’t a blogger, Sabrina Parsons said “you will be. Just start reading blogs.” So I did. And I imitate a lot of other bloggers I like to read. So many that I can’t name them all here; but my thanks to Guy, John, Pam, Anita, Ann, Steve, Seth, Matthew, Ramon, and so many others. Every blog on my blogroll here to the right.
Titles make a huge difference. That’s not just blogging. It’s been true for a long time. My daughter Andrea Breanna, CTO at Huffington Post, teamed up with his younger sister Megan to teach me titles. And Ironically, what they taught me was a lot of what I learned at UPI plus the power of questions, and lists of 5 and 10.
Short and simple: short sentences, short posts. Short thoughts? I like one-word sentences, and one-sentence paragraphs. And short posts, in theory: despite how much I admire Seth Godin’s short posts, I try, and usually fail.
Break grammar rules. Carefully. Rarely. Like right here. There’s no verb in either of the previous two sentences, so this post would have gotten me an F in Brother Salvatore’s 12th grade English class. 30-some years later, I’m glad he gave me that F on a 10-page paper for using “it’s” instead of “its” once. That lesson was worth it. But jeez!
Pictures add meaning. Thanks to John Jantsch for that one. And to Shutterstock for supplying me with the bulk of the pictures I’ve used on this blog for the last year. And don’t ask me to explain the illustration on this one. I didn’t want champagne glasses or cakes and candles.
Write Often, and keep writing. Find your pace. Honor consistency. Once a month doesn’t feel like a blog, but three good posts weekly is better than two good and three not so good. Break your routine occasionally for mental health. I write a lot and like it. I’ve done 1,000 posts here in three years. Plus 700 on Up and Running, and another 200 or so on Small Business Trends, Huffington Post, Amex Open, Industry Word, and Planning Demystified. Plus some guest posts on others. It’s easier to maintain momentum than overcome inertia.
Love the comments. Thank you. Not you spammers. But even you critics with annoying comments. Especially you critics with smart well written disagreements. Not the dumb generic praise intended only for your own SEO benefit, which I delete. But I love the comments, they make it live.
Love Twitter. Twitter has done wonders for my blogging, my daily work flow, and my growing satisfaction with web 2.0 or social media or whatever you call it. If you don’t get twitter, it’s not clutter, it’s not what they had for lunch, it’s blog posts and links and what’s going on in the world, as shared by people you like, now. My 18-point Twitter Primer feels as valid today as when I posted it.
Tell the damn truth. You can’t fake it for long. Keeping track of all your various personae is exhausting. Write as yourself, or maybe (just maybe) who you really want to be. I know this is a lame old quote, but I heard it first from Chris Guilleabeau and I like it: “I have to be myself. All the other people are already taken.”
Tell don’t sell. Lots of us blog for business. Much as I sincerely love the books and software I’ve done, I don’t blog about them here. Sure, the sidebar sells, I hope, but my posts don’t.
Here’s advice, in honor of this being post number 1,000:
Anything anybody can believe is an image of truth (paraphrasing William Blake).
Time is the scarcest resource. Time, not money.
Your relationships with the people you love are WAY more important than proving that you were right.