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Startup Lessons: Selecting the Right Tools and Processes

toolsSince the early days of KidoZen, I’ve been obsessing about using really different an innovative tools to improve the productivity of the team. With our rapid growth, we continuously revisit and sometime restructure some of the tools and processes we are using to improve the communication and efficiency of the different groups at KidoZen. Considering how difficult is to model the right productivity processes and selecting the right tools in fast growing startups, I’ve been surprised about how little has been written about the subject. In that sense, I’ve decided to write a series of blog post about our experiences and current practices. In a fast growing environment, if the management team does not devote the time to innovative on the internal processes and productivity tools, it’s very easy to follow well-established practices and adopt well-established solutions like Salesforce.com, Office365, Marketo, etc. Even though those tools are best in class in their categories, they are built on traditional business processes which, sometimes, are not the best fit in a fast growing environment. Since the very beginning, we really wanted KidoZen to operate differently and innovative in our internal processes and communication structures. In that sense, we carefully looked at all the new vendors which were innovating the in the productivity space and went through the effort of evaluate their capabilities against our internal processes. Below you can find the different categories of tools we have implemented internally. I will be publishing individual posts about each specific category.

Document Repository: Internal portal to store and collaborate in corporate documents.

  •   We started with: Google Docs,
  •   We are currently using: Google Docs

Voice-Video Communication: Video conferencing platform for internal communication

  • We started with: Skype
  • We are currently using: Google Hangouts

Web Meetings: Platforms to host web meetings with partners, clients, etc

  • We started with: GoToMeeting + GoToWebinar
  • We are currently using: GoToMeeting + GoToWebinar

Internal Communication: Platform for internal communication between groups of employees, share news, etc

  • We started with: Nothing
  • We are currently using: Slack

Task Management: Platform for managing and tracking short-term tasks across the different teams

  • We started with: Asana
  • We are currently using: Trello

CRM: Systems to manage you current leads, accounts, etc

  • We started with: Salesforce.com
  • We are currently using: Insightly

Marketing Automation: Platform to manage leads, campaigns, etc

  • We started with: Nothing
  • We are currently using: ActOn

Relationship Management: Platform to manage the communication with your partners and related contacts

  • We started with: Nothing
  • We are currently using: RelateIQ

Email Marketing: Systems to author and manage email marketing campaigns

  • We started with : Constant Contact
  • We are currently using: ActOn

Internal Integration: Platform to integrate data across different systems

  • We started with: Nothing
  • We are currently using: Zapier

I hope this helps, the next few blog posts will go in details about our selection criteria and the specific capabilities we are leveraging on each one of these systems. Please provide feedback if there are other categories that we you would be interested on learning more about.

 
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Posted by on July 22, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Google Acquires Appurify: Our Perspective

Great post on the KidoZen website about yesterday’s Google acquisition of mobile testing vendor Appurify http://www.kidozen.com/google-acquires-appurify-perspective/

 
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Posted by on June 26, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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How to Run a Board Meeting: The Slide Deck

A few weeks ago, I blogged about my first board meeting as a CEO of a venture backed company. The response to the blog post was great and I received a few emails asking me to share more details. In that sense, I decided to put together a template of the slide deck I am using during board meetings.

The purpose of the board package slide deck is to provide a clear summary of the current state of the company including the major milestones achieved and challenges faced since the previous board meeting. CEOs should use the slide deck as the main vehicle to drive the discussions during the board meeting and it should be structured in a way that prevents unnecessary discussions that might derail from the main goals of the board meeting. In order to present the current state of the company, CEOs should give clear metrics about the main areas of the business: finances, sales, business development, product, team, marketing, etc.

While preparing for my first board meeting, I looked at different recommendations to structure the slide deck but, at the end, decided to create a specific structure that work for our investors. Even the slide deck template before might result as a good reference, I suggest you do the same and try to find the flow and structure that works for your company.

I hope this helps. Let me know your feedback.

 
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Posted by on March 20, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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My First Board Meeting as CEO

board-meetingLast week I ran my first board meeting as CEO of a venture backed company. Among other things, that’s the reason why I haven’t been actively blogging in this space as the preparations for the board meeting took a considerable part of my time.

Even though I sit at the board of a few other companies and have a good experience participating in board meetings, I didn’t anticipate the intensity that takes running a board meeting as a startup CEO. In that sense, I think the experience broaden my perspective of the value that a board can play in an early stage startup and, hopefully, that will make me a better board member. In any case, I thought I’d summarize some of the lessons I learned while preparing for this board meeting.

Overprepare

I couldn’t stress this enough. As a CEO, it’s your duty to your board to be super-prepared for the board meeting. In my case, I found myself working the entire weekend putting together the board package and obsessing about every little detail. At the end, I ended putting together more than 200 pages of documentation but I think our board members got a very in-depth view of the KidoZen strategy and they were able o be very productive during the board meeting.

Deliver the Board Package a Few Days in Advance

If you have the opportunity, deliver the board package a few days in advance so that your board members have the time to review it. Even though this is a pain, understand that your board members don’t have your same level of understanding of your strategies and having the time to review of board package in advance will make them more productive during the meeting.

In my case, I didn’t have the opportunity to deliver the package with so many days in advance but, instead, we printed the entire 200 pages of documentations and delivered to each board member so it will make it easily for them to read when they were offline.

Focus on Making the Board Meeting Productive

Most board meeting are a complete waste of time. If you are not well prepared, you can find yourself getting stuck in unproductive discussions that won’t add any value to your company. Additionally, keep in mind that some of your board members can be really disruptive during the meeting. To mitigate that, you need to have a super detailed agenda and be extremely clear about your goals for the board meeting and relentlessly trying to control the agenda even if it means being strong with your board members.

Financials Matter

Presenting an accurate picture of the state of the company is a super important part of the board package. In that sense, presenting detailed information about the financials and other key performance indicators is super important to help your board members get a good understanding of the state of the company and identify the areas on which they can be helpful.

Be Honest, Disclose your Challenges and Failures

No CEO likes talking about their failures and current challenges. However, it’s important to realize that your board members are co-owners of your company and it’s their job to help you and advice with those challenges. In my case, I have a included a “Challenges Slide” in every single section of the presentation such as business development or sales to highlight the areas on which we could use a lot of help.

Have Clear Goals and Resolutions that Need to Be Approved

Resolutions are an important part of the board meeting and one on which you can end up spending way too much time. I believe it’s a good practice to highlight the resolution that will require voting in advance so that your board members can be prepared to have an intelligent discussion about it.

Have your Legal Counsel Present During the Meeting

Not a standard practice, but I find it super helpful to have your legal counsel present in the meeting to draft the minutes and assist with any legal matters. Most top-tier firms will offer you a good rate for those services event more if thy are really invested in your company. In our case, our legal counsel assigned one of his associates to participate full time in the meeting and they were extremely helpful in several discussions.

I hope this helps, I will have a follow up post about the board package soon.

 
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Posted by on January 29, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Back To Work: About New Year’s Resolutions

nyeThe entire KidoZen team is back at work this week and I never seen this level of excitement. Obviously, we ended the year with a very good momentum and have super ambitious and really exciting plans for 2014. Like most people, I spent part of my holiday break reflecting about 2013 and setting the goals and plans for 2014.

During that time, I was super happy to discover that I hit over 85% of my 2013 goals, had some pleasant successes in areas I didn’t  plan for and I still manage to do a decent  job on the resolutions I didn’t accomplish. While 85% might not seem particularly impressive, my satisfaction comes from knowing that my 2013 goals were super ambitious. At the end, I believe that’s the only way to set goals.

From New Year resolutions to our monthly/weekly plans at KidoZen, I like to evaluate goals based on the following rule:

  • Accomplishing Over 90% of the Goals: Probably our goals are not ambitious enough
  • Accomplishing Between 75% to 90% of the Goals: We are doing well, let’s keep pushing to get close to 90%
  • Accomplishing Under 75% of the Goals: We are doing something wrong, time to reassess.

As always, the key to accomplish goals is to stay really focused, iterate and adapt.

In terms of my New Years Resolution, I have some super ambitious goals both personally, for my family and I can’t not even tell you about some of the crazy goals we are trying to accomplish with KidoZen. It should be fun ;)

 
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Posted by on January 6, 2014 in entrepreneurship, leadership, startups

 

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Enterprise Software Lessons: Selling Top-Down vs. Bottom-Up

ABCEnterprise software sales are always a difficult task for a startup and something that is fundamentally different from the consumer market. Traditionally, enterprise software sales developed a reputation for being a long and bureaucratic process. However, recent technology movements such as the consumerization of IT, the popularity of open source technologies or the emergence of mobile devices have opened new avenues for products to get into the enterprise.

When thinking about selling to enterprises, there are two main models that will dictate the core of your strategy.

  • Top-Down Sales: Some products get sold directly to a decision maker like a Chief Information Officer(CIO) or Chief Marketing Officer(CMO).
  • Bottom-Up Sales: As an alternative to the top-down sales model, some technologies have the capability of getting adopted within enterprises by non-decision-makers such as developers or information workers before they make all the way to a decision maker.

While the top-down approach have been the cornerstone of enterprise software sales for decades, bottom-up models are a result of the new movements such as the consumerizaiton or IT or the democratization of software. As any new and evolutionary model, it’s very tempting for startups to try to embrace a bottom-up sales model. However, it’s important to realize that both models have very well defined strengths and weaknesses and, more importantly, they have a profound impact in the structure of your sales organization.

Top-Down Sales

This model is great for generating revenue from every single customer. Additionally, a top-down sales model is essential to land large deals that need that become strategic to your customer.

The top-down sales approach typically comes at the cost of longer sales cycles that require a well-established sales force. Additionally, achieving relevant market share with this model is extremely resource intensive as your sales force needs to be involved in every deal.

Bottom-Up Sales

The bottom-up model is great for achieving volume and spread your footprint within a wide customer base. This model does not typically require a large sales force and guarantees that your sales executives only get involved with a prospect after they have evaluated the product and are truly interested.

While achieving customer volume is great, the bottom-up sales model does not necessary conduct to revenue and might put you in a situation of supporting thousands of non-paying customers. The tech startup scene is full with stories of companies that were able to attract a massive number of non-paying customers before going out of business. More importantly, embracing a bottom-up approach requires a level of scalability that can become resource intensive for any startup.

Top-Down Does Not Mean Free

When embracing a bottom-up sales model, it’s important to realize that the model doesn’t necessarily require to offer a free entry point to the product (fermium). While fermium models makes a lot of sense as a top-down approach, there are plenty of scenarios on which enterprise software startups can charge a small nominal fee as a starting point.

Deciding whether to adopt a top-down or bottom-up sales model is essential to structure your sales organizations and customer acquisition processes. For some products, top-down and bottom-up approaches are mutually exclusive. However, technologies like Box, AWS, MongoDB have proven that you can effectively developed both sales models achieving large market share while also acquitting paying customers.

 
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Posted by on December 23, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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I am Back! And We Just Raised $5 Million Dollars

KIDOZEN-LOGO-NEGATIVE_2After a hectic couple of months, I am finally able to sit down and share some exciting news with you guys. The last 2 months have been incredibly intense for me to the point of affecting my regular writing on this blog. However, I do have a good excuse. If you haven’t read the news, I am super happy to announce that KidoZen just completed a $5M Series A led by Third Point Ventures!

Since the Wall Street Journal broke the news two weeks ago, I have been having different conversations with different folks from different backgrounds: VCs, journalists, entrepreneurs, partners, etc, explaining our reasoning and experience during the process. Based on those conversations, I thought it might be a good idea to share some of those insights with you guys. In that sense, I summarized some of the not-so-obvious lessons that I either learned or validated during the process.

While I work with various VC groups as a tech advisor, this is the first time I have raised institutional capital. In that regard, you might find some of my perspectives useful if you thinking on starting the process of raising VC money for your company. For the purpose of this blog post, I am going to keep the explanations short and simple. We can expand into the details in subsequent blog posts.

If you can, only raise capital when you are ready

From a financial standpoint, KidoZen didn’t need to raise capital. We have a large number of paying customer and revenue numbers on the mid seven figures. We decided to raise capital because we felt the company is at an inflection point from the growth perspective and we have a very aggressive roadmap in order to continuing acquiring meaningful market share. That position gave us a lot of leverage during the process in order to bring on-board the right partner under the right terms.

You are always raising

Officially, we met with different VC groups the last week of September and received the funds the week before Thanksgiving. While you might think that was a very rapid process, the fact of the matter is that we have been having unofficial conversations with different VCs for the good part of the year trying to identify the right partners for a company like KidoZen.

As a CEO, I am of the idea that you are always raising capital. Whether you are officially raising or having informal conversations, it’s your job to keep potential investors interested and up to date about your company and progress. If you only go on a fundraising exercise when you need it, you will put yourself and your company under unnecessary amounts of pressure that might result in an unfavorable deal.

Keep the team focused (or don’t tell them anything)

When we started our official fundraising process, the KidoZen executive team made the decision of not sharing the news with the entire company. While that might look contrary to the principles of transparency we constantly predicate, we decided it was very important for the team to remain focus on the product, customer and partner acquisition and not add any additional distractions.

Raising capital is a very stressful process. As a CEO, you need to decide whether you want to share that pressure with your team or put that burden upon yourself and keep the team focused on execution. There is no right answer, it all depends on your current state and culture of your company.

In our case, we decided that sharing that level of pressure and uncertainty with the entire company was going to become an unnecessary distraction. At the same token, we made the commitment to share the news with the team as soon as we knew the outcome regardless of whether we were successful or not.

Be honest, all the f… time

I can’t stress enough the importance of this. If you are truly partnering with your investors to build a great company, you need to be completely transparent with them. We see our investors as part of the team and not as an external entity. If your investors really believe in your company and are really interested on investing, they will roll up their sleeves and help you address any problems that are an impediment for the fundraising process.

Make sure your company is organizationally ready for institutional investors

Complementing the previous point, If you are thinking about raising institutional capital, I would suggest you take a serious look at your company and make sure it can undergo the detailed due diligence process which is typical is series A-B-…Z. in our case, I completely underestimated our readiness as a company and encountered numerous challenges throughout the Series A process. Thankfully, our investors, legal counsel, finance group were incredibly efficient fixing any unexpected issues and brought the process to a successful closure. At the end, I think that exercise made KidoZen a stronger and certainly more operationally organized company.

Trust your investor

Either you see your investors as true partners and part of your company or as a glorified ATM. If the former, is your duty to be completely honest with them, trust their judgment and accept the occasional criticism in order to make your company better. If you don’t like to be challenged on your decisions or have a problem when people disagree with you, I would suggest you explore other avenues to raise institutional capital. Dealing with VCs is too painful to do it just for the money.

Get help, don’t do it alone

Another one of my mistakes. I really thought that I could handle most of the fundraising process by myself with the help of our legal counsel and finance team without the need of additional help. What that ended up being mostly true, the process was as painful as short. Raising institutional capital can be incredibly stressful and not having anyone to share your challenges and frustrations with makes it even worse.

In my case, there were a couple of times on which I felt completely exhausted about the whole process. At the same time, I didn’t want to communicate that state of mind to the team because I felt it was very unfair to them. To this day, I can’t thank enough my dear friend (and new KidoZen board member ;) ) Jason Port for his support and help during this process.

I know a lot has been written about the process of raising institutional capital. I hope some of this ideas resonate with you as I was positioning them from my own experience. I will share more details in a future post.

 
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Posted by on December 13, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Giving Back to Customers

Last month one of our top KidoZen clients approached us to host a series of strategy sessions about enterprise mobility for the benefit of some of its developers and IT executives. After brainstorming a bit, we structured a program that included different thought leadership sessions followed by a KidoZen hackathon on which developers got to implement brand new enterprise mobile apps powered by KidoZen.

From the logistics standpoint, this was a bit of a commitment on our side given that we needed to devote the time and resources to put together the lab exercises and sessions. To that, we need to add the fact that 4-5 of our engineers were going to spend an entire day not focusing on our product but rather working on a hackathon exercise. Any organizational logic was telling us that this was a huge commitment on our side but we decided to go for it anyways.

After a few days of preparations, we hosted the strategy workshop and the hackathon last Friday. The experience was awesome!!!

Watching developers hack for 3-4 hours on your platform, coming up with innovative ideas and figuring out solutions by themselves is a special feeling that not many people get to experience. The KidoZen team had a blast engaging directly with the customer and they certainly appreciated our commitment to a long term partnership. For us, last Friday gave us the opportunity to honor the trust that this big customer place on us and to, in some sense, give back to them.

Building long term relationships with your customers and partners require you to put the necessary investment to make them successful even if that doesn’t translate into financial benefits for your company. As painful as it might look like, it is important to realize that a partnership is only successful if both parties can benefit from it and they are committed to honor it every step of the way. We certainly enjoyed the experience this Friday and are looking forward to many more in the near future.

I’ll leave you with a photo taken during the last few mins of the hackaton.

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Posted by on September 16, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Enabling the Mobile-First Enterprise

I have been traveling for the last 12 days between visiting customers and speaking and conferences and that have prevented me from blogging as regularly as I would like to. Thankfully, I will be heading home tonight :)

However, there is a new article I would like to share with you guys and get your feedback. This Monday ReadWrite published an article of mine about the “Mobile-First Enterprise” which is a topic I spend a lot of time thinking about it. Essentially, the thesis of the article is that we are witnessing a movement in the enterprise that goes beyond the implementation of mobile apps and instead is re-engineering entire business processes with mobility as the first class citizen. The article attempts to formalize some of the principles of that movement.

Uou can find the article at http://readwrite.com/2013/06/17/enabling-the-mobile-first-enterprise#awesm=~o9j5DAF4kj6dH0

It’s a very easy and short read. I hope you enjoy it and send me some feedback

 
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Posted by on June 20, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Stay Away from Workaholics

workaholicI find writing this post a bit ironic and I am, without a doubt, a workaholic. Between the rapid growth of KidoZen, leading the strategy side of TelIago and some third-party projects I work around 16 hours during weekdays and another 8-10 hours during the weekend. I don’t complain about it. I have the privilege to be at a point in my life on which I enjoy what I am doing more than at any other time in my career and I am convinced that it takes that kind of effort to make a difference in this highly competitive market.

Having said that, I tried very hard to not encourage that type of behavior within our team. At KidoZen, our teams work fairly regular 8-10 hour days and although, occasionally, we end up putting insane hours at the end of each release cycle, we never encourage or reward that type of behavior. At this point in my career, as I am convinced most workaholics are damaging to the team dynamics.

My reasoning here is very simple: If you are going to regularly work insane hours you need a structure to sustain that rhythm and most people don’t even think about. I can work long hours because I meticulously divide my focus during the day on different aspects that help keep me fresh. Contrary to that thinking, I found that most workaholic behaviors are completely triggered as a continuous and disproportioned response to short-term needs with little strategy or structure around it.

Here are some of the reasons why, I think, you should stay away from workaholics:

  • Workaholism is contagious: When someone regularly work insane hours to accelerate certain delivery, their colleagues feel compelled to do the same even if they are not equipped to do so
  • Competitiveness: Related to the previous point, workaholism indirectly foment a level of competitiveness within a team that can be detrimental to the long term goals of a specific project.
  • Long term performance degradation: Unless you take the time to structure a method that allows you to regularly work long hours, your performance will degrade over time as an inevitable consequence of exhaustion.
  • Burnout factor: Being burnout as a consequence of working long hours ends of affecting the overall performance and attitude of the team.
  • Short-term focus: If you are constantly burning hours focusing on short term objectives, it becomes really hard to keep thinking and contributing to the long term strategic vision of a product or company.
  • Working hard for the wrong reasons: Ultimately, I can live with workaholics as long as they are driven for the right reasons but I found out that, more often than not, you encounter people whose only objective with working long hours is not passion or motivation but a selfish desire to score some points with their management team.

Those are just some of the elements why I fundamentally try to not encourage workaholic-type behaviors within our team. I would be very interested to hear your thoughts about it. More about this topic in a future post….

 
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Posted by on May 17, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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