Monday, May 25, 2009

Become a Household Name

Best selling author, entrepreneur, and agent of change Seth Godin blogged today about the importance of being a familiar name to your prospective customers and I couldn't agree more.

Being a familiar name takes you miles closer to closing a sale. People like to buy from companies they've heard of.
As a web entrepreneur that runs a hyper-local technology blog reliant on advertising revenue through banner ads, this is often a benefit I tout when dealing with sales objections. While click-through rates wallow across many industries and banner ad blindness has become a threat on many high traffic sites, Godin still believes there is immense value in brand-building awareness campaigns.

It turns out that this is an overlooked benefit of banner ads. Banner ads are fairly worthless in terms of generating clickthroughs... you have to trick too much and manipulate too much to get clicks worth much of anything. But, if you build ads with no intent of clicks, no hope for clicks... then you can focus on ads that drill your name or picture or phrase into my head. 100 impressions and you're almost famous.
Repetition breeds familiarity and eye-catching graphic banners ads still get noticed. So if you're breaking into a new market or just trying to remain relevant in your local scene, pick a couple sites serving your demographic and give banner advertising another chance. You're be surprised at just how easy it is to become a household name.

Daniel Pink

This past weekend was re-reading one of my favourite light-hearted commentaries on thinking creatively. Daniel Pink had a nice little hit with his "A Whole New Mind" and there is definitely some fun value in his stories and structure. Perhaps my favourite chapter in the book is his call to action on "play" - the idea that to engage the right side of the brain and become more creative we need to learn how to play again. Something that is sadly beaten out of most of us throughout our education experience (see Sir Ken Robinson on that one). The chapter fizzles out a bit by focusing simply on games, humor, and joyfulness - but it still strikes me that stress and "busyness" that we often embrace in our activities (especially our entrepreneurial ones) limits our ability and desire to playfully let our mind wander. So the challenge to lay down on this blog entry is that each of us should take some time this week to just get silly, play with some leggo, or use some jump rope. To see new possibilities and find opportunity in the world around us we need to foster a playful attitude that enables openness, creativity, and imagination.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Serial Killer or Serial Entrepreneur?

Hi all, it is Raymond To again. I thought the Title would get your attention!
Having worked closely now for 6 months with the PeerFX management team, I am amazed at how much has changed and how much stayed the same. I know it sounds boring but us old guys who have been around the business block a few times have a need to make sure the next generation combine tried and true methods of success with their own ideas. So read on...

Why did I use the title? Serial Killer or Serial Entrepreneur? During the early days of starting my business, there were times when I thought being obsessed was the key to success to any start-up. Well, it is not. A quick recap of my career so far. Got my B.Sc in Biochemistry, then an MBA in 1990 from UBC. Then failed at 3 start-ups from 1989 to 1992. One was an education company I started during my last year of MBA. Another was an advertising agency called Left Brain Right Brain Marketing and the third was a plastic bag distributor importing bags made in Korea and selling them to convenience stores. After these failures, I needed to find a real job so I sent my resume to Corporate Recruiters who at first didn't want to hire me. Understandable given I was only like 24 at the time with no polish or experience. However I convinced the owner to give me a shot. Not much risk on his part actually because I offered to work for free. I ended up staying there for 10 years recruiting for many tech start-ups. Then in 2002 during the last economic downturn, I left to start GO Recruitment. I guess I was never cured of my entrepreneurial bug. Ask me why I did it during a downturn.

Looking back, I am blessed to have failed so early in life. What did I learn?

1. Be mad at something. Does this sound like a serial killer? Well, I don't really know but it sounds provocative and you will remember what I wrote. When I say "mad at something", it means there is something about the status quo which you don't like and chances are you are not alone. If there are at least 100 others feeling the same way and you can solve or reach these 100 people with the a low-cost or high value solution, then you likely have a potential business.
This was one of my drivers when I left my old firm to start GO Recruitment. People were complaining about what they didn't like from traditional recruiters and I ended up creating a business from their pain.
So Lesson # 1: Ask people what pisses them off and if you start to see a pattern, this is the seed for a start-up

2. Carry a weapon. Sheesh! This is all unintentional I am serious. This is your secret sauce. That idea that can solve the problems you heard about in your mission to finding that makes people mad. For me, it was changing the way companies engaged a recruiter. In the past, it was very transactional and brokerage based. I created an ongoing monthly or on-call hourly relationship which tipped the industry on its heads.

3. Find a Customer. Duh! This one is obvious but most start-ups forget to do this in parallel to building a product. Now a customer does not have to pay a lot and some you may have to pay to be your customer. Huh? I know. :-)These are called Beta customers.
The point of having customers or a customer is to validate whether your idea stinks or not. In my case, I was blessed to have 1 client immediately use my new "A la Carte"/Relationship-based model. That was Class Software which is now Active Networks after their founder Ralph Turfus sold it like for gazillions of dollars. Ralph continues to be a big supporter of our company. I just got an email from him today referring us 2 new clients.

4. Be thankful. It is corny but I still have that first invoice which my client paid me. I also still have all of my business cards. This can help you reflect where you have been and to contently smile during those days when things go well and to remind you also during those days when things all go to shit.

5. Build a board or at least a group of trusted advisors. You can't go it alone. When I left to start my own firm in 2002, I was a bit arrogant to think no one could be as good as me. A healthy dose of denial is good but there is always someone smarter. Ask them for advice. Ask them to connect you with their people. People are very willing to help. Be careful though, because smart people may not always make the best entrepreneurs.

What do you think?

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Customer Service Hello?

After spending an hour trying to reset my password for my Windows Live account I decided that I must blog about this.

I tried signing into my Windows Live account today to check my email and it won't let me sign in. Weird. So I check my firewall settings, internet proxy settings, etc. All the things that they listed on their help page I went through. Of course none of them worked.

I'm searching around online and everywhere for an actual customer service person. Nowhere in sight. There's a user community that lists the exact same solutions as in the help page. There's not even a place where you can send a customer service person an email to ask for help on my account.

Now. Email being extremely important to everyone in business. How would you feel if you were locked out of your email account for a day and nobody was there to help you. You couldn't even feel reassured that you sent them an email requesting help?

This has definitely been a big negative experience and I will probably tell thousands of people about it. Maybe I should mail them a book on how to provide better customer service - because right now there's ZERO customer service. Thanks Hotmail.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

This Keeps Me Going

"Some have thousands of reasons why they cannot do what they want to do, when all they need is one reason why they can." - Willis R. Whitney

Monday, May 4, 2009

PeerFX on Red Flag Deals Forum

Too cool. I was surprised when my friend sent me the link to view the forum thread.

Super awesome that people are talking about it. When there's debate about it, at least we see that there are supporters and those who are more skeptical - but both types are giving us some very valuable feedback that we wouldn't find elsewhere.

Join the discussion! The more people that talk about the service the better!

The Trial Period is Until June 2009!

We've been letting everyone sign up for free and test out our services at the low percentage fee of 0.35%. We're going to keep this deal out there for all of you until June, so hurry and tell your friends to sign up ASAP to take advantage of this limited time offer!

Our press release went out today and can be viewed here.

We know that our users are always looking for great deals so we will have promotions throughout the year - we're already planning our next one! So keep an eye out for our updates!


The Tech Guy's Perspective

Greetings! I’m a firmware engineer with a bit over four years of experience in the industry, and today I will be sharing my thoughts on working for a large corporation versus a small startup in my field, which may be relevant to other fields as well.

Let’s first start off with the corporations first. Here are the good things:

• Lots of resources
If you need a new piece of computer/test equipment, you will usually get it. There’s usually adequate test equipment for you to carry out testing if your work calls for it. The amenities in the office are very good: the two corporations that I’ve worked for had their own cafeterias with caterers, and one of them even had its own Starbucks!

• Standardized work processes
These are corporate-wide processes that everyone needs to follow. What I’m talking about are things like writing design/specifications/test documents, getting them reviewed, approved, and signed off and submitted into document control, all before actually starting work on the project. There are also reviews of all your work before it can be signed off. All these standardized processes take time and may be really tedious, but it’s well worth the effect in the long run.

• Lots of room for growth
The corporate ladder is a long one. In a large company, it usually goes from new grads, juniors, intermediates, seniors, leaders, managers, directors, VPs, then the chief whatnots. You can keep climbing the ladder as high as you want as long as you put in the effort and do what’s necessary. If there’s no room to be promoted in your team, then it’s just a matter of transferring to another team so you can get promoted there.

Then we have the startups. Again, the good things first:

• Decisions are made in good time
Because the number of people is usually small in startups, decisions can be made within 1-2 meetings where everyone who has authority has given their consent. As a result, there’s no idle time where the team is just sits around waiting for the final decision before they get to work.

• The energy
In a startup, there is no job security. If your company’s product does not sell, then you lose your job along with the rest of the people in the company. This means everyone in the company believes in the product that they are building. When everyone’s sailing the same ship, everyone helps out. When all your colleagues are focused, you become motivated to come into work and contribute.

• Competent people
Since startups have limited funding, they usually only hire smart, hardworking people. There is no room for slackers. The teams are small already, and no one likes to be around someone that needs to be babysat.

• Variety in work
Again, because the number of resources is limited, each person may be tasked to do quite a few tasks that may or may not be related. It’s a great chance to broaden your knowledge set, i.e., more things to put on your resume. You will also find yourself constantly learning new things instead of doing the same old task over and over again.

So what are the bad things for each of the corporations and startups? Well, basically just the opposite of the good points of the other. So which is better? I have to say that each has its good and bad, and its better if you can experience both; just remember to take the good things you learn from one, and apply it to the other. If you love your current job, then by all means stay there. But if you were like me and got fed up with the way things are, then try the alternative- just don’t burn any bridges before you leave in case you need to go back one day.

Thanks for reading!


Guest Blogger - ES Firmware Engineer

I just happened to meet up this guest blogger the other day and we chatted about how our work has changed in the past 2 years.

I found out that he had moved from a corporate to a startup environment - which got me thinking about having him blog about his experience while working in those environments.

I've heard so many people complain about working in a corporate environment on the tech team where their managers brought on their best teammates from past companies with minimal due diligence/screening/interviewing - which really lowered morale for the entire team.

They rant about people that put in the 9 to 5 (or sometimes worse, 9:30 - 11:30 and 1pm - 4:30pm...people just auto shrink their work days - it's amazing) and see their work as just another job. I have invited my friend to share with us his thoughts and experiences between these different workplaces. Enjoy!