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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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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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Some Thoughts About Strategic Alliances

In the last few weeks we have been announcing a series of strategic alliances around our KidoZen platform. While watching the press releases I was reflecting upon the great job our team is doing finding, structuring and nurturing the right types of partnerships. This process has been a learning experience for us given that, as any new startup, we had to go through the process of figuring out which models of strategic alliances were effective for us and our partners.

Establishing effective strategic alliances is one of the hardest things on the early days of any startup. Identifying the right partners, make your technology visible to them, building and getting in motion the right partnership dynamics are some of the fundamental elements that need to be master as part of your early business development effort.

Based on our experience, there are a few lessons learned that I think might be helpful when structuring strategic alliances in startups.

Don’t Focus on the Big Guys

When thinking about strategic alliances, a lot of startups make the classic mistake to focus on the biggest players on a specific category. As tempting as partnering with a big company might be, you need to be aware of the level of effort and resources that might be required to establish those types of agreements and get the right level of attention from your potential big partner.

Instead of focusing on the big guys, we have found very effective to find the medium, boutique players on a specific category that are truly innovating in the space and devote the right resources and focus to the strategic alliance.

Have a plan to execute after the agreement is signed

A lot of business development folks think about strategic alliances mostly from the marketing perspective. Big announcements, solid press release but no real plan of how to execute after the agreement is signed. As a startup, you should spend the right time focusing on putting the dynamics in place to make the partnership effective and deliver real value to your company and your partner.

Honor the Partnership

Partnerships are only effective is both parties can benefit from it. As a startup, it’s natural to focus most of your attention on driving value to your organization but you should also put the right level of effort to honor your partnership agreement and make your partner successful even if it require sacrifices on your side.

You are Always Looking for Partners

Signing solid strategic alliance is a constant marathon, not a sprint. If you are a CEO or head of business development of a startup, you are always looking and reaching out to potential partners even if you are not equipped to get any agreements in place at the time. Building strong relationships, keeping partners up to date about your progress and vision will do wonders for your company when comes time to build solid strategic alliances.

 
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Posted by on September 27, 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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Enterprise Software Lessons: The Importance of Building on Disruptive Platforms

I have been learning a lot about Bitcoin recently and I am excited about the possibilities that opens up to provide an anonymous currency to the internet. Apparently, I am not the only one excited about it. Lately, we’ve seen an explosion of startups trying to build technologies around Bitcoin. This fast growing ecosystem is an example of startups building on a foundational platform, in this case Bitcoin.

For any startup, there are very quantifiable advantages of building products on disruptive platforms but these benefits are even more obvious in the enterprise where technology disruption happens at a slower pace. For enterprise software startups, customer acquisition and awareness are well known challenges that end up consuming a lot of time and resources. Disruptive foundational technologies such as the IPhone or AWS can provide very interesting side effects for enterprise software startups to help them overcome some of those early-stage challenges. Below are some of my favorites:

  • Indirect customer acquisition: Once an enterprise decides to embrace a disruptive technology such as the IPhone or AWS they will be one step closer to needing your complementary product or solution.
  • Customer Network Effects: Being part of a selective group of technologies needed to implement a foundational platform in the enterprise will put your company on the radar of any enterprise looking to implement those type of solutions.
  • Indirect Marketing: The marketing developed around the foundational platform will bring more visibility to your enterprise software product.
  • Product Evolution: As the underlying foundational platform evolves, adds more features, etc you will have additional avenues to leverage those new capabilities as part of your enterprise software product.
  • Being part of a bigger ecosystem: To complete the cycle, being part of the ecosystem around a foundational platform or technology, will allow your enterprise software product to indirectly benefit from the efforts.

Obviously, not all enterprise software startups have the option of building on a disruptive platform neither is this a requirement to succeed. Quite the contrary, the startups that can capitalize building on a disruptive platform or technology movement are a very small percentage of the general enterprise software ecosystem. However, there are no doubts of the indirect benefits and network effects that a disruptive platform can bring to your enterprise software startup.

 
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Posted by on May 30, 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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