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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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PR Lessons: The Difference Between Good and Great

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These days our marketing team is going through the effort of selecting a new partner for our public relations(PR) and brand building efforts at KidoZen. This selection process comes after a failed attempt to work with a different PR agency which, despite their best efforts, turned out not to be the best fit for our current needs.

After being incredibly frustrated with the experience with our former PR partner, I shared my thoughts with a few of my advisors and they almost laugh at me explaining that my frustration was just a symptom of not knowing how difficult is to find the right PR partner for your company. It’s absolutely true, the KidoZen marketing team has decades of experience in PR and still managed to select the wrong firm for our current goals.

With this experience I learned a very fundamental lesson that could be valuable for every startup CEO: when comes to PR, you quickly learn the difference between good and great. Below I summarized some of my thoughts that, hopefully, will be helpful when working with PR partners

Different Stages, Different PR Needs

When selecting a PR firm, it is very important to clearly understand in details your current PR needs. The stage of your company is one of the fundamental elements that needs to be considered when working with a PR partner. While a mature company might have the need to increase its visibility in the public markets media outlets and specific types of investors, a smaller startup has completely different needs.

In Early Stages, Small PR Firms Might Be Better

There are many exceptions to this rule but, in my experience, I’ve found that smaller PR firms might often result in better partners for startups during their series A-B timeframe. Boutique PR agencies have the flexibility of growing with your company and can devote the right level of attention to your team to understand their PR needs.

Find Someone Who Understands Your Space

This is a tricky one. Every other PR agency, will do their due diligence in order to appear knowledgeable in the space but that doesn’t mean they are true experts. Deep knowledge, experience and connections in your current space are key in order to be a solid PR partner. When going through your selection process, push your potential partners in terms of understanding of the new trends in your space, your competitors, acquisition patterns, VCs investing in the space etc.

Good PR is not Cheap

Might sound obvious but I was a bit surprised of how expensive good PR agencies can be. While, as a startup, you need to remain very cost-conscious, it is important to realize that good PR work is going to require a significant investment on your side.

Connections Matters

When selecting a PR agency, look for someone who is really connected in the space. Connections are extremely important because, more often than not, your PR partner will have to call favors in order to increase the visibility of your company.

You Need an Internal Marketing Team

As engaging in PR efforts, don’t attempt to manage your external PR partner. It will drive you insane. It is important that your internal marketing team owns the relationship and manages the communication channel between your team and your PR partner. At the end, a good PR partner will grow with your company and it is key to have dedicated resources focused on nurturing that relationship.

 
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Posted by on June 24, 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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Fighting the Culture of Asking with a Culture of Giving

grLast week I hosted a dinner for a few folks in the tech community in FL that I thought will benefit from meeting each other. We had a wonderful time enjoying wine and discussing the technology market. When leaving, one of the attendees approached me to thank me for the invitation and she quickly expressed her surprise that I didn’t take advantage of the event to explore some new business opportunities around my new venture (KidoZen). My response to her was very simple: dinner was part my attempts to fight the “culture of asking”.

The “culture of asking” is one of the most detrimental aspects of modern business relationships. With some exceptions, of course, we constantly engage in business dynamics on which each party is constantly asking for different things for their benefit. While asking favors is part of everyday business, I find it incredibly constraining to nurture a relationship on the premises of always thinking how to benefit from it. Instead, we can really create long term relationships if we spend the time thinking how to benefit the other party without expecting anything in return. While we consider giving a fundamental element of personal relationships, its rarely part of modern business relationships.

A few years back, one of my longtime mentors advised me to devote sometime every week to think about how to help some of my business acquaintances without expecting immediate reciprocity. To this day, I have been trying to practice that regularly and couldn’t be happier with the experience.

The explanation is very simple: Giving is not only a pure way to help other people but also an incredibly effective way to build strong business relationships. Here are some of my favorite reasons while giving is more important than asking:

  • Giving makes you feel good: Spiritually, chemically, biologically…you name it…people always feel better when they give than when they ask for something.
  • Asking is short-term, giving is long-term: Giving helps people build relationships without a short–term objective in mind.
  • When you give, people feel obligated to reciprocate: As opportunistic as it sounds, when people receive a favor, a nice gesture they feel psychologically obliged to reciprocate it in the future.
  • Giving allows you to be genuine: Being genuine is one of the hardest things to achieve in a business relationship. However, there is no better setting to be completely genuine than what you are giving something without expecting anything in return.

These are some of my favorite reason why I think is important to foment a culture of giving. I would encourage to follow the advice it was once given to me and think hard about what to do every week to help some of your business relationships without expecting anything in return. However, always do it because is right and without a second agenda. You will find it incredibly rewarding.

 
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Posted by on July 17, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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