NYT says Tech is Changing our Brains, but What About our Language?

Posted on August 26, 2010. Filed under: JumpPost, startups, venture capital | Tags: , , , |

Our language is changing.  Words like “OMG,” “LOL” and “TTYL” that were spawned within a digital environment out of constraints translating verbal thoughts into online communication (the primary constraint being effort of typing), have somehow managed to cross the chasm from internet vernacular into physical world verbal communication.  They have taken on a meaning that is distinct from the longer string of words which they were created to represent, and we have recognized them as enhancements in our person-to-person communication.  They describe a concept, or feeling, or action that is more applicable to a given use case than any combination of letters and sounds that existed prior to their creation, and thus they have penetrated our lexicon.

The words “Text” and “cloud” have existed for centuries, but have taken alternate meanings in light of our relationship and engagement with technologies like SMS and Data.  The phrase “text me” (or the use of text as a verb) alone, occurs in a frequency that I’m guessing has supplanted any other definition as the primary use of the word if we are measuring by volume utterance across contexts.  “Cloud” on the other hand, as a reference to hosted data storage has penetrated small circles of tech-savvy consumers, but it may be 3, 5, or 10 years before general population’s concept of “the cloud” grows to the point where this usage will truly enhance our day to day experience in a way that is competitive with the value derived from describing a puffy white object that holds rain in the sky.

What I find fascinating, is that while our relationship with the internet and technology more broadly is redefining how we communicate with each other in it’s absence (changing our offline language structures), I do not see the same language change in our non-verbal communication patterns.  Where did the “thumbs up” come from and how did it grow to represent approval or “good job.”  How did a forefinger and a thumb come to signal “ok?”  Was that a crossover from sign language which developed an application that was worthy of general population usage (like OMG, or LOL)?  That would be an instance of a language created through a set of constraints (hearing impairment) penetrating a non-constrained environment.  What about a wink or a smile, or any of the other physical gestures that countless online companies have tried to recreate on the web (Facebook poke, digital gifting, etc…)?  We spend an increasing volume of our time with head tilted downward, eyes on screen, two thumbs on mobile device.  Is there really not a set of non-verbal gestures that recognizes or applies to the fact that at any given moment 20-30% of the people we are surrounded by are engaged in this physical position and action?  What about prompts for people to take this position when they are not in it?

The reason I ask how these physical gestures came into prominence, is because I see a new set of constraints in our communication for which adaptation of our physical non-verbal communication would strongly enhance our experience.  Specifically, there is a set of use cases around real time mobile communications with people in physical proximity that requires multi-person synchronous or asynchronous engagement with an application or technology.  The best way I can think of to open up that use case is to graft these applications to physical world non-verbal gestures (either existent or new).  And what I don’t know is whether this type of communication is so slow to adapt that we shouldn’t even bother exploring it??  Anyone studied this?  Isn’t linguistics a major in college?  I’ll take you to good dinner if you can educate me here.  And if you happen to be Product/UX minded, we can even splurge on dessert.

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How Many People Are You Consuming in a Day?

Posted on August 25, 2010. Filed under: JumpPost, startups, venture capital | Tags: , , , |

When thinking about product, I often find myself going down the path of trying to replicate/enhance offline behavior through software.  Lately, I have been absolutely obsessed with the concept of productizing or at least enhancing offline, non-verbal communication.  I’ve been thinking a lot about what people consume on a local level.  It’s a question that is very important to our future at Jumppost and a question that is becoming increasingly interesting to investors and entrepreneurs as location based technologies change our capacity to segment users and build user experience by specific geographic parameters.

It is not surprising to me that much of the innovation we’ve seen in the last 12-24 months in the local space has been focused around the interaction between consumers and local merchants (restaurants, dry cleaners, etc.).  If we map local consumption patterns, I would say that local goods and services are the second most frequent object of consumption in a consumer’s local experience.  What I buy when I walk out my door definitely defines my local experience, and the things I consume in the largest volume have a great impact on my perception of my neighborhood, and as an extension, my perception of myself as a member of the community in which I live.

The only object(s) I see myself consuming that has a greater influence on my local experience, and as a derivative, my local identity, is the population that surrounds me.  Although a very lightweight form of consumption, I have been trying to quantify the volume of people that I consume in a given day.  I will call consumption any visual intake, and then value the volume of consumption by my level of engagement or interaction with each person I consume.  I’ve been asking folks lately how many people they think they pass by or see in a given day in New York, and the answers are all over the place.  Some people say 50, or 100, some say 500, and I personally would posit that the number is closer to 10,000.  Of those 10,000, I think I probably consciously register 1000-2000, maybe I make eye contact with 500, and have some richer form of communication whether verbal or non-verbal (i.e. hold a door, smile, etc.) with 100-200.

What would a product look like that attempted to replicate or enhance the experience of human consumption at the 10,000 person level?  I see elements of the answer in concepts like Chatroulette and Hot or Not, which take seemingly random consumption of other human beings, and then in both cases, push that lightweight (10,000 person) consumption down the funnel toward more active communication.  But then I wonder if the product that will capture/reflect/enhance my consumption of local inhabitants needs to push our extremely lightweight relationship down the funnel into some more meaningful communication, or perhaps it is enough to simply overlay that consumption with some richer dataset.  What if every person you consumed at the local level had a sign on their chest with a nametag?  What would change?  Would people say hi and push themselves down the communication funnel?  Not sure.  Maybe it’s not a nametag that people want.  Maybe I’d prefer to see an image of everyone’s spouse/partner on their shirt?  Or a floating sign with their occupation above their head?  Would that enrich my local experience and consumption of the people that surround me in a way that would improve the quality of my local experience?  Probably.  I don’t have a ton of answers here yet, but super interested in wrapping with anyone who wants to think about this with me.

P.S. If you have a second to drop your estimate of the number of people you think you 1) consume, 2) communicate with, and 3) make eye contact with in a given day, please drop your answers and the name of your city in the comments.

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Lost In Translation

Posted on April 21, 2010. Filed under: JumpPost, startups, venture capital | Tags: , , |

JumpPost is getting some nice love from the press.  Here’s a sample of our coverage.

WPIX Eveneing News: http://jumppo.st/c3CZbQ (VIDEO)

New York Times: http://jumppo.st/cJ7lSS

NY Post: http://jumppo.st/bNbCp3

Gothamist: http://jumppo.st/aktNeD

Curbed: http://jumppo.st/aKa9AU

Generally speaking, I think the press is doing a great job of communicating our value proposition and story.  We are supremely grateful for the attention and kind words.

One point of clarification: The NY Post said we are now raising $1 Million.  That’s not true.  I told Jennifer (who is awesome) that when we are ready to raise, we will likely shoot for north of $1 Million. We aren’t quite there yet.  The time element of our fundraising goals was lost in translation.  I only clarify because whenever I read in the press that a company is raising money, I interpret that to mean “the company has been in the market and is having a tough time raising money” (Foursquare type rounds excluded)

Not the case with JumpPost.  We have not pitched a single investor for outside capital in our 7 months of existence.  When we do, I probably won’t advertise it in the newspaper 🙂

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Why am I trying to build a “pre-market” for home rentals?

Posted on March 29, 2010. Filed under: JumpPost, startups | Tags: , , , |

Think about any market where inventory isn’t priced perfectly.  The early bird (in this case anyone using JumpPost) who gets to choose before the broader market sees the goods will capture the best deals.  The chump who buys a used car that’s been sitting on the lot for 6 months (the market has seen and passed on it) is obviously not getting the best deal in the market.  In contrast, the used car dealer’s cousin (who gets to see the new stuff coming into the garage before it ever get’s out to the lot) is probably going to do all right.  In a perfectly priced market, there is no such thing as a deal, in which case it does not matter when you gain access to the inventory, but luckily for JumpPost, home rentals exist in an imperfect market.

In home rentals, if you have 10 apartments coming into the market, each unique and priced individually, 1 of those apartments will be an extraordinary deal (the value vastly exceeds the price paid), 3 of those apartments will be good deals (the value exceeds the price paid), 3 of those apartments will be market deals (the value is commensurate with the price paid), and 3 will be bad deals (the value is lower than the price paid).  The numbers in each bucket, are a bit arbitrary, but you get the point.

Currently, if you search on Craigslist or really anywhere else for that matter, 95% of the rental inventory advertised is available to move in immediately or within 30 days.  What this means, is that everyone in the market is competing for the same inventory at the same time.  You’re ability to find an “extraordinary” or even “good” deal is mitigated by the volume of people who are also picking over the same opportunities.  All the good stuff goes immediately, you only have time to view 5 or 6 places before you’re on the street with a suitcase, and invariably you become the asshole who is paying $500 a month more than your best friend who is living in a nicer place than you.  Read: the people getting the “bad” deals are accepting them when they are under pressure from a) competitive renters in the market and b) time pressure due to their own expiring lease.

Now, imagine if you were able to get a sneak preview of everything that was coming onto the market, and there was a magic company that could get you in to view that inventory 30-90 days before the masses of Craigslist started picking through it.  That would be worth something, no?

You bet.  Jumppost strives to be that magic company.  Admittedly, we aren’t magic until we have a TON of apartments for you to browse and discover in our “pre-market.”  We are working on that, but Rome wasn’t built in a day.  If you believe in the mission (and unless you’re a rental broker you should), you are in a perfect position to help us build this “pre-market.”  By creating a post in JumpPost, you are giving your fellow consumers a “heads up” that the place you’re leaving is going to be coming onto the market soon.  You could do this because you’re nice and believe in helping your friends and friends of friends, or you could do this because JumpPost helps you to earn serious money for giving consumers the “heads up.”  Either way…do it.  And if you aren’t in a position to do it, get you’re personal referral code here, post it in twitter/facebook/your blog/email/whatever, and help us move this market for the better.

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Stress = |Expectation – Actuality|

Posted on March 10, 2010. Filed under: JumpPost, startups, venture capital | Tags: , , , |

It’s 1:14 AM on the morning of my company’s launch.  I am sitting at my desk, in a giant empty office…more or less waiting…everyone has gone home for the night, there is no panicking, no last minute hiccups…a couple loose ends to tie up with our lawyers, but oddly enough…we are ready.  This is what’s boring about working with Doug Petkanics… he is painfully reliable.  30 days ago we designed a product development roadmap that predicted we would launch our company today, and sure enough…we are launching our company…today.  Not 1 day late, not 1 hour late…right on freaking schedule.

I often write about the ups and downs, the unpredictability of startup execution, and stupid Doug Petkanics is screwing up my whole shtick.  Prior to bringing Doug on, an early member of JumpPost, Mike Weaver, defined stress to me as “the result of any disconnect between expectation and actuality.”  He said it is in these moments where an event occurs contrary to expectation, that stress is born.  Finally, Mike argued that in order to live a stress free life, we must shed all expectation, and simply live in the moment.  I thought about this for a minute, and then rejected his argument in favor of another that also seemed consistent with his definition of stress.  I said “in order to live a stress free life, you just need to be accurate when defining your expectations. ”

Doug seems to have mastered the alternate theory I put forth, and it is reflected in his consistently cool demeanor under pressure.  I’m not sure I’ve ever worked with someone with such a firm grasp of their own capabilities, but day in and day out, he perfectly calibrates our collective expectations.

Our value proposition is going to hit ~250,000 in boxes in the next 24 hours…should be an interesting first day live for JumpPost.com 🙂

Update: well, not quite 250K…about a 1000 people clicked through to a shared listing we had in NYC’s Thrillist…it’s a start 🙂

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This Makes JumpPost Happy

Posted on January 21, 2010. Filed under: JumpPost | Tags: |

I’ve decided to leave my apartment when the lease expires on March 31.  I sent an inquiry about an apartment I found on NakedApartments (I swear this is a real exchange and I really am looking for  a new rental).  Listing broker responds with the below:

Jordan,

Glad you contacted me. It’s good that you’re thinking ahead to your 4/1 move-in date. Anything that you see listed now is likely to be rented by the end of the week. I don’t want to waste you time by showing you a place that you’re not in a position to rent. Here’s what I’d suggest: Go to my company’s website, Rapidnyc.com. You’ll see that we have over 4,000 listings, many with low or no fees. You can browse apartments all over Brooklyn and get an idea of what’s out there. Then contact me again in March and I’ll find you an apartment in one day.

If you have questions, or would just like to discuss your apartment search, “make contact” with me so we can talk on the phone. I’d be happy to chat with you about what you’re looking for.

best,
Irene Antoniazzi
Rapid Realty

Wouldn’t it be sweet if I didn’t have to wait until 30 days before I am out on the street to start looking for a new place?????  Yea…That’d be sweet….would also be sweet if I didn’t have to pay Irene 8-15% of a years rent…

Soon…very soon…

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Newsflash: Your Startup Is Not In The Playbook

Posted on January 6, 2010. Filed under: JumpPost, startups, Uncategorized, venture capital | Tags: , , , , , |

A former investor of mine, Fabrice Grinda, recently wrote a blog post enumerating the reasons why businesses that are started with two co-founders are more likely to exit big than are those with a single founder at the helm. That line of thinking seems to be the common sentiment at least in the venture world, and one which having seen more than a thousand founder/cofounder setups while on the venture side, I think I would tend to agree with.  When I started thinking about leaving General Catalyst to start my first business, I mapped out a progression of events necessary to take the plunge and build a company.  The planned progression of events went something like: 1) idea, 2) diligence, 3) cofounder, 4) quit job, 5)raise capital, 6) build product, 7) achieve seed stage milestones, 8 ) raise more capital and scale.

This play book is sort of a standard one that I had heard many entrepreneurs and investors tout, and not having been through it before, I largely executed according to plan (minus 7 & 8 that is).  What I’ve learned, however, is that someone else’s play book is only a guide, and to execute against it without flexibility and recognition of your own context/data is a mistake.  Nothing in startup world happens exactly as you expect it to.  Sometimes a recognition that you need to write your own play book can prevent what I’ll call “inorganic progress.”

“Organic progress”, to me, is when the events in an operating plan occur as the result of successful completion of tasks/goals/learning on which that new event is dependent.  In other words, progress that occurs naturally or without force.  An example of organic progress would be when a management team builds a product, puts it out to consumers, people buy this product, and THEN they design a customer service program to support their newfound customers.

“Inorganic progress”, then, would be occurrence of an event ahead of completion of the tasks/goals/learning on which that event is dependent.  Or, forced progress.  The company builds a product, puts it out to consumers, and then designs a customer service program in anticipation of its first customers…although it may seem that management is getting ahead (or making progress) by finishing their customer service design quickly, they are doing so without the data/learning of customer feedback, and thus an event (the customer service design) occurs before it’s antecedent (inorganically).

It has been my experience that when progress is forced, although potentially forward moving from an aesthetic sense, this is progress in a wrong direction.  The customer service design, when created through inorganic progress, will not address the needs of the company’s customers, thereby creating an operational inefficiency that would not have arisen had management allowed this piece of progress to develop organically.

As it turned out in our last company, steps 1-4 were in line with the concept of organic progress.  My immediate instinct when starting JumpPost was to replicate a known play book: 1) idea, 2) diligence, 3) co-founder, 4) give up job opportunity in venture capital (replaced quit job), 5) raise capital.  What I realized when I began executing on this play book, however, was that I had a previously non-existent understanding of the difference between organic and inorganic progress.  Steps 1 & 2 were the same, but as I began to work on 3, I realized that recruiting A level talent, and especially a cofounder, could be a 6 month cycle.  A number of people I am close with expressed an interest in cofounding the company, and had I been executing to “plan,” I would have taken one of them on before moving forward to step 4, but this didn’t seem “natural.”  Why? Because I was missing two antecedents to this decision.  The antecedents, in this case, being 1) an understanding of what domain expertise would become most important to our company, and 2) an understanding of what caliber of talent I could expect to bring on board pre vs. post venture financing.

So…I sort of tabled the old play book, continued to meet with interesting people, but began executing the subsequent steps before completing step 3 (cofounder)…As soon as I moved past step 3, another deviation from the play book arose.  The play book would have said I needed to raise capital in order to develop the JumpPost product (especially without a technical cofounder), but again it didn’t seem natural…what I realized was that I wasn’t ready to commit to investors a single vision for the Company without the data of product/market fit behind us.  So I read a lot about a new play book, rooted in the philosophy of customer development, and then began recruiting a team to build something ahead of financing.  Now, we will begin to acquire the data needed to complete step 5 (fundraising) organically.

I ran into Chris Dixon on the street in our neighborhood a few weeks ago, and after chatting for a bit about this blog, he asked about JumpPost.  His first question was “how are things going? still searching for a technical cofounder?”  From an investor’s perspective (and Dixon is another example of a guy who has seen a thousand startup teams, and subscribes to the “cofounder law” for many of the reasons Fabrice articulated), acquisition of a cofounder (step 3) was a data point that would indicate where I was in the progress of a conventional startup play book.  Although my answer to his question was, “yea, I guess so,” the reality was I was well beyond this step in the play book, but only because I decided a while ago that I would design a new play book, drawing on conventional wisdom for sure, but not without a few of my own creative plays mixed in.

So all this talk of organic and inorganic progress is just to say that while I recognize Fabrice’s points about the benefits of a cofounder, I will not take on a “cofounder” until it organically presents itself.  As JumpPost progresses, I view every early hire, part time contributor, and even advisor as a founding member of our company and I rely on them all as a sort of “aggregate cofounder.”  The interesting part is we are going to hit step 6 (product) and have a real good shot of hitting step 7 (achieve seed stage milestones) of the old play book, before executing on steps 3 (cofounder) and 5 (raise seed round).  It just happens that this was the most organic and natural path of progress given all the events/goals/learning that we have experienced to date.

So, I guess my advice to entrepreneur’s considering Fabrice’s (and common wisdom’s) suggestion that “2 [founders] > 1”  would be, “yes, a cofounder does represent a huge amount of value when starting a business…BUT there are many ways to skin a cat, just make sure you don’t do it inorganically.”

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Entrepreneurial DNA Transcends Context

Posted on December 26, 2009. Filed under: JumpPost, startups | Tags: , |

I got a text on at 10:05PM on Christmas night from a number I did not recognize.  The body of the text simply stated, “Merry Christmas.”  In typical fashion when I don’t know the sender of the message (but obviously I should), I wrote back “thanks.  I got a new phone, who is this?”  Which is a nice way of saying, “I obviously didn’t take the time to transfer your number from my last phone to this one, you must not be that important to me.”  I waited a few minutes, and then the following reply came through “Anthony the guy who sold u the chocolate when we was playing soccer.”

I racked my brain for who this guy could be.  I do play soccer frequently, but I hate chocolate, would never by it for myself, and certainly did not remember buying chocolate from anyone with whom I play soccer.  I started thinking back as to whether or not I had bought a present for anyone, or given anyone chocolate recently, but I thought I would have remembered wrapping up a game of soccer and then transacting with one of the players in my game.  Still, I couldn’t place him, so I wrote back “wrong number bro” assuming that would be the end of it.  A minute later I get back “no its not u live in park slope. U don’t remember?”

When he indicated that I lived in Park Slope, I immediately realized who it was.  About 4 months ago, I was walking back from Prospect Park after a soccer game, dribbling my ball down the street in my neighborhood.  A young African guy wheeling a black suitcase approached me, unzipped the suitcase, and revealed a hodge podge of trinkets, batteries, and candy.  He asked me to buy something, to which I gave my standard response in these situations “no thanks man.”  I kept walking for a few steps, and I heard “hey wait, man…hold up for a minute”  I typically do not like to be “sold” by anyone, but I turned around as he ran toward me.  He looked down at my soccer ball and said, “are you any good?”  He left his suitcase on the street and gestured for the ball.  I kicked it to him and he immediately transitioned from a salesman into a soccer player, much like the guys in my pick up game in Prospect Park.  Despite his brightly shined dress shoes, he moved the ball with an ease which would have placed him in the top 10% of my regular game, and we spent about 15 minutes kicking the ball around, talking about soccer, and finally I asked him why he didn’t come by and play with us in the park.  He sort of looked back at the suitcase he had abandoned and I watched as he visibly returned to a different reality. Quickly our game was over…he explained that he would like to, but didn’t have the time to play (despite his talent).  I learned that he was a student by day, but that every day after school he walks around with this suitcase and tries to sell the contents in an effort to help support his family.  He then asked for my number, and said, “but I’ll call you, and we’ll go play sometime.”

As we prepared to part ways, he said, “so, are you going to buy some chocolate or what?”  Hating chocolate, but wanting to support this hard working young guy, I said, “fine, we’ll have a contest.  If you can juggle this ball more times than me, I’ll buy your chocolate.”  Sure enough, dress clothes and all, he crushed me, and I bought a couple Snickers bars, which I promptly though away.

I remember how impressed I was with him, that he was able to move past the challenges of a guerilla sales effort, find a common ground on which to establish a relationship, and then without sacrificing his integrity, convert that relationship into a sale.  I thought to myself, that this is a bright and resourceful young man, who I would bet will transcend the cards he has been dealt in life.  I told him if he ever wanted to talk about work or his career, he should give me a call, and then we parted ways.

His text on Christmas night confirmed my suspicion that he was, in fact, a special kid.  After recognizing where we had met, I asked why he never called me to go play, and again he explained that he has been busy with work.  He ended by texting “But amma come save my number and my name is Anthony ok”  His maintenance of our relationship (without the aid of a CRM tool, none the less) and his direct call to action, almost “demanding” that I save his contact info and remember who he is (especially when coupled with the work ethic he has shown in his after school job), is demonstrative of an ambition and relentlessness that breeds success.

I should be so lucky as to hire a team at JumpPost that is naturally wired with the character traits that Anthony possesses.  Happy Holidays to all.

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The 3 Most Important Words in a Founder’s Vocabulary

Posted on December 14, 2009. Filed under: JumpPost, startups, Uncategorized, venture capital | Tags: , , , |

I have always been amazed by people’s unwillingness to utter the words “I don’t know.”  These three words have been, by far, the most important words in the course of my professional development.  I remember working for a Hedge Fund when I was a sophomore in College, and being tasked with maintenance of a model that one of my bosses had developed to track financial performance of distressed public companies.  I had “sold” my way into this internship leaning heavily on my previous “experience” interning at a Broker/Dealer in high school, but the truth of the matter was, I had no fucking idea what the numbers in this model meant.  My high school internship had consisted of running tickets on a trading floor and picking up breakfast for a bunch of Boiler Room brokers.  While I did get a taste for the “excitement of the markets,” I received absolutely no background in accounting, could not read a financial statement, and was ill equipped to be updating and “analyzing” the data in this model.

I spent about 2 weeks faking my way through this task (while working hard to add value in other places where I was more confident), and then I realized how inefficient it was for me to be performing it with my limited knowledge.  I remember coming clean with my then boss, and saying, “I don’t know what any of these numbers mean.”  I expected him to be extremely disappointed, but instead he sat down with me, spent a few hours explaining the basics, and I became infinitely more dangerous and valuable to the Company.  I internalized that lesson early, and now I apply it on a regular basis.

Admitting that you don’t know something is by far the fastest way to learn it.  When I got to General Catalyst Partners, I literally did not know the difference between an application and an operating system.  I had to learn a whole new language, and the way I did it was by writing down every single word and concept I didn’t know, most of which were extremely basic and revealed my complete lack of experience, and then I would corner people in their offices and ask them to explain the items on my list.  For about three months I was the kid who didn’t know anything, and then for the next two years I was able to speak intelligently across just about every industry and market to which we paid attention.  I remember watching the learning curve of one of the guys who joined our team after me, and it was so much slower than it should have been.  I realized the reason was because he never asked for anyone’s help.  Never admitted when he didn’t know something, but instead sort of nodded his way through conversations about subjects he hadn’t learned.  Had he sucked it up and admitted what he didn’t know up front, his learning curve would have been much steeper.

Especially as a non-tech founder (and as a tech investor) I am constantly dealing in realms where my domain expertise is a fraction of the folks’ with whom I work.  SEO is a great example of an area where I lack the necessary domain expertise to be dangerous.  I could either keep on referencing SEO as a strategy we are going to implement at JumpPost, without understanding how it works, or admit that I get conceptually why Search Engine Optimization is important, but to be honest, I have an extremely cursory understanding of how it works.  As soon as I admit that, while potentially unimpressive to the investor with whom I am speaking, or the potential hire with whom I am recruiting, I am now able to sit back and listen as they explain the three pieces of “low hanging fruit” we can achieve while knowing nothing about SEO, as well as the three more complex concepts around the relationship between SEO and Product architecture that I can now implement during the build of our product.  The alternative, of course, being that I could gloss over this “blind spot,” notice in 6 months that we are stinking it up on organic search traffic, and then admit that we don’t really understand SEO, at which point I’ll have to explain to said investor why I just wasted $XX of his investment building a non-SEO friendly product that now needs to be rebuilt/augmented at an additional expense to the Company.

When you expose a “blind spot” in your skill set/knowledge base, those who are in a position to teach don’t feel any need to impress you with their knowledge.  Rather they speak to you like they would a first grader, which is exactly where you need to start when you are learning a new language.  Imagine trying to learn Italian by sitting in an a 3rd year Italian course.  It would be nearly impossible and you would immediately raise your hand and say “I think I’m in the wrong class, where’s Italian 1?”  If you’re a non-tech founder, for example, not raising your hand when designing a product with your lead developer and saying “Where’s PHP 101?” is simply stupid.  Your job may not be to write the code, but if you don’t understand the basics behind every layer of your product, how can you recruit intelligently, weight the effort of your design against internal resources, and contribute ideas to the development process in a method that is easily digestible to the rest of the team.  Even in areas where you don’t need to become an expert in your Company, taking the time to learn the basic principles behind everyone’s efforts is essential for effective communication both within your Company and with parties outside of it.

Beyond product, this practice applies to marketing, fundraising, business development, and every other effort that you are pushing forward in your Company.  I remember negotiating a business development agreement with Citigroup in my last company.  I identified a natural partner for our business, got in front of the right people to pitch it, and got their verbal commitment to move forward with a deal.  We sort of lingered in that realm of “ok, so we want to work together” for a couple of weeks, and then I realized that I didn’t know how to turn that sentiment into action.  I remember calling Brad Handler, who is the founder of Exclusive Resorts (and at the time a very important potential investor and business development prospect himself) and telling him “listen, I have this deal with Citigroup that is within reach, but I don’t know what to do now.”  He taught me how to write and deliver an LOI (Letter of Intent), described the process of turning that LOI into an Agreement, and coached me on how to get the deal across the finish line.  Now, in the course of acquiring this knowledge, I exposed our inexperience to one of the most valuable companies for the future of our business, but I only had to do that once, and every business development effort I encountered from that point forward I came at from a position of strength.

So the moral of the story is, don’t fake it.  When you don’t know something, admit it confidently, learn it, and move forward.

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“Open Sourced” Job Spec

Posted on November 27, 2009. Filed under: JumpPost, startups, Uncategorized, venture capital | Tags: , , , |

On November 5th, almost exactly 3 weeks ago, 253 people read my first blog post.  On November 25, 2 days ago, 4,730 people showed up.  While I am excited by the growth, I am still searching for better ways to harness the collective knowledge within this new community.    Despite more than 5,000 people reading the last post, only 8 decided to comment and continue the line of thinking.  Less than 2/10 of a percent participation is not very good.

Today, I want to experiment with a new concept.  I’d like to take a page from the open source software movement, and apply that spirit to the creation of a VP of Marketing Job Spec.  For those not familiar, the theory behind open source software development is that much of the coding effort required to carry out development of a project overlaps with the effort required to build other similar (or not so similar) products.  By openly sharing a body of code with everyone in a given community, all members within it are able to leverage what has already been accomplished/created, instead of reinventing the wheel from scratch.  So if I’m building an e-commerce site and I want to include a shopping cart function, I could spend hours developing my own from scratch, or I could just plug in an open source module that another developer wrote, knowing that his code will do the trick.  With the time I saved, maybe I will figure out how to build a feature on top of his code that reduces drop off, and then, if I’m cool, I’ll publish the code behind my enhancement back to the community (open source developers, if I butchered this, please chime in).

So now that I have all of you smart people reading this blog, I figured we could draw on some of your collective knowledge in an effort to create the ideal Job Spec.  Whatever we create here, will hopefully be the result of years of experience and lessons learned by those who have hired well (and not so well).  My hope is that the document we create will enhance our hiring at JumpPost, but also that it will serve as a template from which any startup recruiting a VP of Marketing can build.

I will start with a brief description of what JumpPost is, and then work into what I think we need:

JumpPost is somewhere between an online classifieds site and a low cost online real estate broker.  So, if Craigslist and Redfin had a baby, it might look something like JumpPost.  From a customer acquisition perspective, we are focused on general population consumers who are psyched about saving/making money during a change of residence.  We’re not interested in reaching home owners (at least for now), and folks who live in cities are more exciting than suburbanites and rural dwellers.  It’s a pretty wide net we can cast, and some of our value propositions are unique (read: won’t be competitive to acquire certain types of users), while others are highly competitive.  In a VP of Marketing, we are looking for someone who has a play book for building a liquid online community through a series of paid and non-paid customer acquisition strategies.

I’d like to collect contributions to three lenses through which we can identify a star VP of Marketing:

1) General Personality traits: What type of person makes a great online/consumer marketer? ideas that might be right or wrong include:

– data driven thinker

– addiction to analytics

– detail oriented

– quantitative bent

– understanding of relationship between product development and marketing efforts

– what else?  What personality traits do the best marketers you know exhibit?  Any surprising ones? Any huge red flags that your bad marketing hires displayed?

2) Specific marketing skills and experience requirements:

A) What unique skills should this person possess? ideas include:

– fluency in Google Analytics

– proficiency with SEM keyword tools/models (i.e. Clickable)

– what else? (I actually don’t know what are best in class skills here)

B) What experiences and backgrounds best prepare someone for this type of gig? Ideas include:

– comes from an analogous market acquiring similar demo of user (in our case: online travel, online classifieds, online real estate, online jobs, marketplaces, etc…)

– managed SEM campaign of $XX million budget with XX level of success (what are the metrics to judge success here? What’s a good baseline to measure outperformance vs. underperformance?)

– designed and executed successful referral program alla Gilt.com, Jetsetter.com, etc…(again, what’s a good baseline for measuring outperformance vs. underperformance?)

–  fluency acquiring customers from within larger platforms like Facebook, Twitter, etc…

– took an online consumer facing site from xx users to yy users in xx months (what’s best in class here, and how do we separate out the candidate’s contribution to that growth from all other efforts that played a hand?)

3) General traits and skills necessary for an early stage startup team member: What are the must haves and red flags when determining if a hire for any early role will be able to hack it in the beginning stages of  a company’s development? Ideas include:

– previous experience growing a company from alpha product to exit

– effusive and clear communicator

– “roll up your sleeves” attitude, no job is too small (not going to try to hire service providers to do all the work)

– comfort with a lack of structure and ability to create and execute own initiatives

– what else?  what are the best predictors that an early hire will be a star team member?

So, my suggestions are in no way exhaustive.  Please, those who have successfully and unsuccessfully hired an online VP of Marketing, rip this apart and share your experience in the comments of this post.  Where am I right on? What is way off?  Let’s try to fill these three buckets and I’ll publish a composite spec for all to build off of going forward.

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Consumer Liquidity, Fingerhut, and Good vs. Evil

Posted on November 20, 2009. Filed under: startups, Uncategorized, venture capital | Tags: , , , |

I remember the first time I truly understood the power of credit.  I was 22 years old, working in leveraged finance, and I came across a company called Fingerhut (backed by Bain Capital Ventures and Battery Ventures).  Fingerhut may be one of the most elegant and evil business models I have ever seen.  Essentially, they are a catalog retailer, much like LL Bean or The Sharper Image, selling consumer electronics, jewlery and other semi-luxurious indulgences.  Based on that description, who would you think is their target customer? Probably middle to upper middle class professionals with large amounts of disposable income, right?  Wrong.  Just the opposite.  Fingerhut’s mission is to get their catalog into the hands of sub-prime (low income) consumers, under the tagline “Now You Can.”  Basically, they have an embedded sub-prime credit vehicle which extends loans to their customers, who otherwise can’t afford the items in their catalog, so that these luxuries become attainable.  That practice, in and of itself is not so offensive, but here is where it gets fucked up.  The same Sharp 37″ Aquos LCD HDTV selling on Fingerhut right now for $999, is widely available on Google for $859 or less if I actually felt like sifting through all the results.  So Fingerhut charges sub-prime consumers a 15% plus premium for goods they shouldn’t really be buying, and their customers don’t blink.  Why?  Because Fingerhut extends a semi-usury line of credit to their shoppers who don’t have the cash (or credit) to buy the cheaper good elsewhere.  Now, insert all the nightmares you have already heard about sub-prime lending into the model, and you have a pretty good sense of how these consumers are getting raked.

So, here’s what’s interesting.  When a sub-prime consumer is going to default on some outstanding debt, they typically have more than one creditor chasing them for money.  So how do they choose who to pay and who not to pay?  With company debt, there is a very clear capital structure where senior lenders (low interest rate lenders) have a liquidation preference (right to collect 1st) over junior lenders (higher interest rate lenders), and both types of lenders get their money before equity holders (owners) ever see a dime.  But consumer debt doesn’t work like that.  If I have $100 in the bank to pay my creditors, but I owe $75 to HSBC, $75 to my landlord, $75 to AT&T, and $75 to American Express, it is up to me to decided who I pay and who I don’t.  Now, a rational consumer will pay the debt that carries the highest interest first, but it’s almost a coin flip if they are going to completely default on HSBC or Amex.  In fact, they will probably pay AT&T before they pay either credit card company, because the immediate impact of losing their cell phone is more “real” than the thousands of dollars they are going to rack up in debt by not paying HSBC (even though if you said, turn your phone off for a month and I’ll pay you thousands of dollars, they probably would do it).  Anyway, the point is: where do you think Fingerhut’s debt fits into this decision making process of who to pay?  Let’s just say the landlords of Fingerhut customers are not happy campers.  And there is where I first understood what it meant to make a consumer more liquid.  There will always be demand for a credit product that makes a consumer more liquid, especially if that liquidity is not available anywhere else.

Now obviously, whenever a lender is able to create a credit product that no other lender is offering, they are exposing themselves to a higher default risk, but in Fingerhut’s case, they have subsidized this higher risk of default (or rather they can tolerate a higher default rate) through the increased margins they are able to realize on the retail catalog sales.

When the economy tanked, and before I started to work on JumpPost, I spent about 2 months (with the help of a west coast venture capital firm), trying to figure out how I could make a now cash-strapped American population more liquid.  My energy turned to consumer finance and credit products, as that seemed to be the best way to put a little extra cash in people’s pockets, but amongst other very serious business risks, I learned that businesses in this space tend to dip their toes in murky waters.  I think most people, at one point or another in their career, are faced with an inflection point where they need to decide “Am I on the side of good, or the side of evil?”  It’s not necessarily quite so binary, and everybody’s definition of good and evil is different, but I think you need to be able to wake up in the morning and like the guy who you see in the mirror.  So, I found another way to put cash in consumers pockets: JumpPost.  We’re heads down getting an alpha product up and running, but as early as January, we’re going to start helping consumers earn a little extra spending money…And that feels pretty good.  Dudes at Fingerhut, probably not feeling quite so good.

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    About

    I’m a NYC based investor and entrepreneur. I've started a few companies and a venture capital firm. You can email me at Jordan.Cooper@gmail.com (p.s. i don’t use spell check…deal with it)

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