FounderDating Success Story: ViralGains

Neha Palacherla   |   April 17th, 2014

Jay Singh and Dan Levin came up with the idea for ViralGains when they were still in college (it was called Viral Media Solutions at the time). In 2012, after managing to grow six figures a year in revenue, Kate Willett came on as a cofounder and ViralGains was born out of the original project. They then met Doron Gan through FounderDating, an engineer with a couple startups already under his belt (BZByte LLC, Shafir Inc.). With the addition of Doron’s technical expertise, ViralGains has become even more wildly successful. In just two years, they’ve raised $715,000 in funding, won MassChallenge 2013, and made over 1.2 million in sales working with 12 different Fortune 500 brands. In less than two years, they’ve grown quickly, becoming the forefront of online video viral marketing.

We talked with the founding team about how they met their fourth cofounder, Doron, through FounderDating:

What was the process like?

Doron: Jay reached out to me first. He’s very good at networking and getting himself out there. It was almost a year from when he first contacted me to when I joined them.

Jay: I had actually met 4-5 people on the site before Doron. We didn’t work together at first because he was working on something else at
the time. The first meeting was in early 2013, and he came on in August 2013. For over six months, we both tried our own separate things, and then we realized if we joined forces, we would have a much bigger opportunity.

Kate: Jay and I were working on ViralGains full time, while Dan was finishing up school. We had to make big decisions at the time about getting serious. Our main focus had been validating the market up to that point but the real question for us was: how do we find the technical genius to make this idea a reality?

How did you know this was a good fit?

Doron: I’ve seen big successes before with companies like Vlingo and I saw the team and what they brought. I saw all the right signs. From previous experience, I know that it takes at least 5-6 years to see something big through and I’m ready to do that. Kate, Jay, and Dan are amazing. With no technology at all, they did ridiculously well. And I thought that together, with me bringing the technology, we could do something amazing.

 Jay:  The idea was that if we could take the sales numbers we were having with the tech that Doron brings, we could make what we had even bigger and he was ready to make that long-term commitment. He said “I’m ready to commit to building something that’s big” and that’s how we knew

 Dan: I knew we were looking for someone with a great technology background, and when I met Doron I pretty much fell in love. His personality completely fit with the rest of the team.                                        

What’s your advice to people looking for cofounders?

Jay: I’ve seen a lot of founder conflict. We’ve been doing this for years total but in the last year and a half, I’ve seen a lot of small startups. I’ve seen 3-4 startups implode due to founder conflict. So what I would say is “know thyself and know thy cofounder.” Both people should really know what they want in the next five years and what they can agree on can happen in those 5 years.

Doron: This is kind of what Jay was hinting at, but you’ve got to go into it with the mindset that it’s a five year thing. You’ve got to have the skills to get through those conflicts in a positive way. Cofounder relationships are like being married. I’ve been married for about 10 years and I’ve learned the hard way how to resolve conflict and commit to a long-term relationship and it’s very similar.

Dan: Trust is essential. I can trust that each of my cofounders will kill it with what their focus is. I don’t have to worry about sales or the tech, my cofounders take care of that and I can focus on what I’m contributing to the company.

Kate: It’s also our devotion to the overall mission. There’s always a feedback loop so we know what’s happening, how we’re working to the end goal. And it’s also about we as cofounders empowering the rest of the team to out-innovate and be their best.

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Pitching Practice: A Public Relations Launch Checklist for Early-Stage Startup Founders

Guest Author   |   April 8th, 2014

This guest post was written by Peter Kazanjy, cofounder of TalentBin (acquired by Monster.com). 

At TalentBin, we’ve historically been pretty good at PR. But it’s not because we are particularly “strategic” in our communications approach, or anything that hifalutin’. Rather, I would attribute the majority of our success to being willing to roll up our sleeves, do work, and execute the proper blocking and tackling required ( that 90%+ of others don’t do) to target, pitch, and support press who are excited about our space.

I get a lot of people asking me about PR, and how to achieve coverage, especially around a launch or announcement. At the end of the day, it’s not a big mystery. It’s a B2B sales campaign, where you have a qualified, relevant list of targets (media list), a means by which to reach them (email addresses), a coherent argument for why what you’re doing is both a. news, and b. relevant to them (a pitch), supporting materials (press release), an agenda and narrative for your presentation to them (a press call), and then ready supporting materials to assist them as they write (a press kit). 

None of this is rocket science. It’s primarily well-crafted text, and maybe some images, in a Google Doc, to be delivered via email, and eventually trickle into a Content Management System editing interface, with the hope of it going live on a blog/media outlet. But it does take work.

If you can internalize one thing in this process, it’s that the journalist is your customer. They are busy, overworked, with deadlines, and lots of irrelevant dogshit pitches crufting up their inbox. And they have their own constituencies to please (their readers, their editors). This is why this is B2B sales: you’re selling them on something that is going to make them successful at their job – in the short term, a story that is going to please their readership, get shared, and drive page views, in the longer term a relationship where you can provide an ongoing stream of those stories and other help.

So always think about it in that context: How can I help this reporter deliver pertinent content to his readership, in the most streamlined, least time-intensive way possible, and, shocker, a lot of that will revolve around doing annoying pre-work for them. Which leaves them more time to do the writing and analysis – which is what they and their readers prefer, anyway.

Win. Win.

Do I need an agency?

No. You don’t. Not for your launch. 

A PR agency is composite of a bunch of different services. They can write. They can send email pitches/call. They can get your pitch listened to. They can schedule meetings with press. They can aggregate supporting materials. They can help you evolve and tighten your message. They can help you pull together your list of valid targets. They can do that on an ongoing basis. They can position you as a thought leader in the market and get you opportunities for guest writing, quotes, etc. They will do this for you for $10-20k a month that you don’t have. They will wave their hands a bunch about “strategy” and “honing your pitch” and so on. You don’t need all of this right now. You just need to launch.

Agencies are very helpful for ongoing support, and for labor augmentation, again, longer term. I’ve worked with Resound Marketing for nearly two years now and they’re fantastic. But for a one-off launch, you can do most of this yourself.

So what do I need?

You need to do work.

As an early stage company, you can do all the things needed for launch PR, probably with the exception of the pitch press and getting your pitch listened to. Sorry dude, you don’t have enough cred to get listened to, and that’s where a PR Media Relations consultant comes in. More on that later.

But you can do a lot of the other stuff and do it better and cheaper than a PR person who is never going to be as intimate with your problem space and market as you are.

The below is not particle physics. If you put on some fast punk rock on Spotify, you can rip through the below in a Saturday afternoon. Just do it.

A Narrative

First, you need a coherent “story.” About how your offering fits into the larger narrative of your market, the evolution of technology over time, what problem it solves, and why your hypothesis is actually valid, as demonstrated by traction of customers, competitors, adoption, etc. 

The good news is, a lot of this should exist from your sales pitch (either to your customers or users) or fundraising pitch. And, honestly, this story should be pretty damn easy to tell, provided your offering actually makes sense. It’s pretty much the same story you’d tell someone at a cocktail party or industry conference.

This is the central idea of your company and its place in the world, which will then be manifested in the various actual deliverables that we go into below. It’s not an actual piece of writing. It’s a narrative arc that can be re-told in different formats, of various lengths and depths.

A News Hook

This is the reason why the reporter would actually cover this now. Yes, your startup is interesting in general, but so are a lot of others. And because this is a launch, funding, etc., the hook should be the “OK, why cover this now?”. Launch. Funding. New massive product release for existing company. BD deal. The easiest is going to be launch of new company. But if you don’t have a news hook, just stop. No one will care.

(That’s not 100% right. You can do ongoing pitching for “trend” pieces, but that’s black diamond skiing right there, and agency/in-house PR team realm. So you’re not there yet, tiger.)

A Pitch

Your pitch is a manifestation of your story, but cut specifically for this news event.

It’s the news hook, expanded out into a larger framework, with the main thrust, and then supporting components (ideally no more than three – too many gets overwhelming). These are the things you want people to take away from the story, that ideally gets adopted into the storyline. When people talk about ‘setting the tone’ of a story, this is what they’re talking about. Creating the frame of reference around which the story is understood.

For instance, a product launch would be the main news hook and thrust, supported by the ‘why does this matter,’ which would be drawn from your larger narrative arc and where you fit in, and then your supporting arguments.

So for an Uber for Mopeds, this might be:

“MoBuddy, an Uber for Mopeds, is launching in San Francisco. It’s important because there are many riders who would like a public transit alternative, but for those who even UberX or Lyft is cost prohibitive because their price floors are based on the capital and operating cost of full size cars along with the labor cost of drivers. Moreover, there are many people who’d like to drive to supplement their income, but the capital and operating cost of a car – even a Prius – is prohibitive to many drivers. Lastly, with the rising congestion in cities, mopeds offer a more expedient and greener way to get around, rather than stuck in an Uber in traffic. MoBuddy is launching to help solve all these issues.”

The Pitch Email

This is a first date with the journalist. The goal of the pitch is a second date – an expression of interest by the journalist to learn more, ideally on a call, and then to write. So what does your pitch email look like?

It’s delivered via email, so it should have a compelling subject line that drives an open, ideally with the news hook in it. The goal of the subject line is to get the damn email opened. “Uber and Lyft are cool, but mopeds are even cooler. New moped ridesharing network launching in SF.” Or something like that. The “From” line is probably what’s really going to get this opened (That is, an email from a PR person that the reporter trusts), but the rest matters too. 

The very first sentence should be addressed to the reporter and cover why you think they’ll give a shit. This will show them that you’ve qualified them and done your homework. More on this in our “Media List” section below. The pure goal of this sentence is to get them to read the second sentence on what you do. To wit:

“Hey Ryan,

You do a great job covering ride-sharing like Uber, Lyft, SideCar and the future of transportation networks. As such, our about-to-launch moped ridesharing network should definitely be interesting to you and your readers…”

This flows into the first piece of actual story content, which should be a paragraph-long version of your larger pitch. It should have the news hook in it. It should have more context. It’s going to look somewhat like the first meaningful paragraph of your press release. If you have an explainer video (Here’s TalentBin’s), it should probably be linked in there too. And it should have a strong call to action at the end, such as “I would like to get on a call to tell you more.”

You can put more content “below the fold” (after your call to action and signature) – maybe some cherry picked stuff from the release – but the whole idea is that this is short, to the point, information dense, driving to the journalist hitting “Reply” and saying, “Yeah, let’s set something up.”

A Press Release

Another manifestation of your larger pitch is your Press Release.

Press Releases are weird, vestigial things. They historically went out across press wires, which charge by the word, so they are typically pretty terse. And back in the day, distributing it across the wire was a necessity, because email didn’t exist.

But in the process, the release became the lingua franca of “the story” and as such the “Release” persists as the common object of the news event – which is why having one is pretty important. It’s actually debatable if you’ll want to send your press release across the wire ($$$), but it’s still good to have, to email to folks as text.

It’s like a resume, for your story. Resumes are helpful, in that they’re a boiled down representation of someone’s career, but they’re also somewhat vestigial, in that the 8 ½ X 11 single page format, as necessitated by filing cabinets that no longer exist, isn’t really required anymore, but still persists. But if you’re applying for a job, and don’t have a resume, that’s weird.

What is the release for?

The resume metaphor above is helpful in thinking about this. The Release is the summation of the news event, and can be used by a reporter to determine if they want to cover the event, if they want to pass it to someone else, to refer to validate their notes, or even pull materials directly from.

What should be in the release?

Based on that, the release should have the expanded version of the pitch, contextualized in the larger story, handy proof points (customer examples, counts, stats) and then supporting materials, like a ready-made quote from you, the founder, and third party validators, like a quote from a customer, a quote from an industry analyst, and so on. And then handy boilerplate at the bottom that sums up the company in a tight little package with a bow on it. 

You can check out an example of something we did with the launch of “TalentBin 2.0” in this release here or the announcement of TalentBin’s crawling of the US Patent Database for recruiting purposes.

Tie it up. Put a bow on it. And put it on the shelf because reporters will ask for it.

Third Party Validators, Ready to talk

One thing journalists will want is third parties to talk with, or use quotes from.

This should be customers, analysts, VCs (though, that’s usually more the VC wanting to get some press than the reporter actually thinking they would add to the story – unless it’s a funding event), and so on.

Ideally you already have these relationships in place – if you don’t, there’s no time but the present to make sure you’re interacting with your customers and following industry analysts on Twitter and engaging in banter with them. This will help you for this use case.

 Think of these third party validators as supporting struts for your pitch’s arguments. Ideally, you should already have these folks in your back pocket, in a Google Spreadsheet, pre-validated (“Would you be open to being quoted in a press release?” “Would you be open to talking to a reporter?”). Even better if you wrote the quote for them, making them looking brilliant and articulate and awesome, and served it up for them to say “Yup!” or “Yup, if you can tweak this!”.

If you can get a set together, handling different parts of your story, even better. Like in our MoBuddy example, a quote from a customer who can’t afford UberX, for whom a bus commute is 60 minutes each way, but MoBuddy gets her there in 15 minute for $4. And another quote from a student who needs money, but can’t afford a Prius, so driving for Lyft isn’t an option, but now makes great money as a MoBuddy driver. Make it clear they may not all make it in, but once you have them in your back pocket, they’re helpful in other places, too.

This can largely be achieved while you’re getting the quotes for your press release. You can validate someone’s willingness to speak to press at the same time. (And, while you’re at it, get quotes for use on your website, your pitch deck, your sales deck, etc. and get it all OK’d in one fell swoop. Put them “in the cupboard” for future use).

If they are open to getting on the phone with a journalist, provide some coaching of the message you’d like to get across (“It would be awesome if you could focus on X, Y, Z”), again correlated to the messaging in your pitch. Send it to them via email so they can refer to it.

And after they’ve helped you out, send them a nice Treatful gift certificate for taking the time. Yes, they are getting publicity out of it, and that’s good for their career, etc. But come on, they did you a solid, so show some love.

Visual Materials to Support

This is one of the things that founders and PR folks often forget. The journalist is going to want visuals for their piece. Don’t make them do the screenshots. It’s just more work. You do it once (and make them perfect, and on-message), and you can provide them. Moreover, if there are various companies to be covered in the piece, but you provided screenshots, guess who’s more likely to get the visual? Yup.

My favorite move here is Skitch screenshots delivered as hyperlinks (because email attachments suck and get lost) in the press kit you’ll be sending over. E.g., New Export Functionality in TalentBin: https://www.evernote.com/shard/s56/sh/1e30249e-a692-47aa-8b4c-7f3392217ee8/c32d9b01f9b0a016baa86b8dc0e6db93 or something like that.

Start with the one you REALLY want them to use in the piece, but have backup ones for different parts that correlate to your pitch’s messaging components. (Plus, you’re going to need these for your sales deck anyway.)

So in our MoBuddy example, a screen shot of user-facing app, screen shot of driver-facing app, chart of capital and operating costs comparison of mopeds vs. a Prius, and maybe a picture of a driver and passenger riding together.

Extra credit for a video demo or other video materials. An explainer video is great (video plays great in a blog post, so providing that video in the materials so it can easily be embedded is key.)

My favorite tool for this is Jing. I can just take a screencast while you talk over it. It may not have amazing production value, but it can be referred to by the journalist, and if it’s good enough, it might get on the site. E.g., “ Video demo of TalentBin’s new MobyGames crawl: http://screencast.com/t/ZMh8VB7C

A Target List

You’re going to need a target list of reporters and outlets who are going to be interested in your news item.

But it’s not just TechCrunch, and that’s it. Think about your target list as all the folks who cover your space. So yes, that’s the “tech press” like TechCrunch, Wired, ReadWrite, Mashable, GigaOm, etc. But it’s also the broader business press who have subset reporters who cover your space – like in TalentBin’s case, the people at the Wall Street Journal, BusinessWeek, Time, Inc, etc. who cover HR and Recruiting. And the vertical publications who specifically focus on your space. In TalentBin’s case, that’s SourceCon, ERE, Talent Management, HR Executive, SHRM, etc. Or even local publications – like the San Jose Mercury News, SFGate, or LA Times – who have reporters that focus on business, tech, or your particular vertical (like HR/hiring).

But importantly it’s not just the publication. It’s the writer. Writers have “beats” that they follow. Leena Rao at TechCrunch is the enterprise and finance person. Anthony Ha is the AdTech guy. Ryan Lawler is the ride-sharing guy (you can tell – he covers Uber and Lyft and SideCar here, here, and here). Are we seeing a theme?

How to find these folks?

If you have your act together, you should already know the people who cover your space, and be following them on Twitter. (Caveat: if you’ve been following and interacting with these folks via Twitter, you actually might be able to get your pitches responded to yourself having established cred. But that’s black diamond skiing left for another time).

If you don’t have Google Alerts set up on your competitors, do so, so you can start creating this list of reporters who follow your space. If not, now’s a good time to start by looking at recent Google News coverage of competitors/adjacent companies. In our case at TalentBin, anyone who writes on LinkedIn or Monster or Indeed would be relevant to us to talk to. In fact, you can often go to your competitors and adjacent companies’ “Press” pages, where they’ve already helpfully linked to all the reporters that you should pitch, having already demonstrated interest in a related company ; )

This can also be where your Media Relations person (more on them shortly) can help you out. They’ll probably have access to Cision/Vocus to build these lists.

So now you’re going to make that list of people. It’s a Google Spreadsheet so you and your media relations helper can share it. It should have the columns of Outlet (e.g.. “TechCrunch” or “ERE”) Reporter, email address, vertical (e.g., “Tech”, “HR Press”, “Biz Press”), and bonus for “relevant beat” (e.g., “Linkedin” or “Recruiting”), and maybe even a link to a pertinent piece, and “Status” (as in, To Be Contacted, Contacted, Followed Up, Responded, Call Scheduled, Done.)

Screenshot_4_6_14_9_50_AM.png

Like this

Screenshot_4_6_14_9_46_AM-2.png

Or this

This is going to be the list you rip down, and it’s a mini-CRM too (you’ll track state of pitches in there) and you want the data you’ll need for outreach.

“Hey <first_name>! I love your coverage of <beat> (like <recent coverage> <link>), and as such, I thought you’d be interested in our upcoming launch of…”

“Hey Ryan! I love your coverage of Uber, Lyft, etc (like Seattle’s recent ridesharing mess), and as such, I thought you’d be interested in our upcoming launch of …”

Don’t worry about getting everyone. The important thing is having a solid list of leads that are targeted, qualified, and relevant.

 You’ll have more success and better responsiveness if the list is targeted to people for whom your news event matters, and whose readers will care.

A Place to do the Press Call

This may seem obvious, but a place to do the press call is going to be key. All of our above activity is driving to setting up press calls where you can dig into the news item, and have a richer conversation.

I use Clearslide for this, because I use the heck out of it anyway (I previously used Crunched). There’s a phone bridge that multiple folks can get on, you can share slides (which more in the “agenda” below), and you can share your screen. Join.me is also good for this.

At minimum, you should have the ability to share your screen and use visuals. This is transformative and should not be understated. The ability to “show” instead of “tell” is so important, so do it.

Include all of these coordinates in the Google Calendar meeting invite that is sent to you and the relevant journalist for the meeting so even if they miss it, you can say “Look in the meeting invite. Click on that link.”

An agenda for the call

Know what you want to cover on the call. Largely it’s going to be a deeper dive on the content that’s already in your pitch, and a chance for the journalist to ask more questions, dig in, and get other quotes aside from the one that you provided in the press release.

All that’s good, but I always like to make sure to drive the agenda to ensure your call doesn’t go off half-cocked and you miss important context.

This can often times be achieved through a couple of slides of background on what you do, etc. Don’t assume they remember your pitch email. Or watched the explainer video. Remember, these folks are BUSY! They have heard four other pitches like yours today. They’re walking into this only having half-read the pitch. So be helpful and refresh their memory.

During your conversation, always focus on the main thrust and supporting the components of your pitch. You will be tempted to go afield and demonstrate your intelligence. Don’t. Focus on your pitch and its components. When asked a question, answer it, but bring it back to the pitch or the closest relevant component.

You will hear furious typing in the background. That’s the journalist trying to get this all down so they can choose what to go with later. (By the way, this is why delivering them reference materials after the fact is so key!)

If you can focus on what’s critical and central for your pitch, it’s more likely that this will make it into the piece. It’s not that you’re trying be evasive. It’s just focusing on the parts that matter to your business and, ideally, to the reporter’s readership and larger market.

They may also ask for customers or analysts to speak to. And because you’re so prepared (right?), you will already have them, and can offer to email introduce the two, after the call. If they don’t ask, you can offer. Again, more potential column inches for you, and you look helpful and thoughtful.

Lastly, you should always offer to help if they need more on this piece, or even in the future. As in “This was really great, so let me know if I can answer any follow up questions on this, or in the future on recruiting and HR technology, social analytics, big data, and so on. I love talking about this stuff.”

A Media Relations Grinder

This is where the professional help can really be impactful. Unless you have a demonstrated history with the reporters in your industry who matter, it will be very hard for you to cut through the noise. 

This is why Twitter following and engaging with the relevant journalists and analysts for your space right now is good, but that takes time to establish credibility.

The means by which you can short circuit this is by working with a Media Relations consultant. Essentially, a PR person who is typically out on their own (no longer at an agency or in-house), but who has a history of working with the journalists you are targeting.

Because these reporters are constantly being pitched bullshit, the move here is to borrow the reputation and ‘contacts’ of this media relations person. They are essentially representing to the target journalists that you and your story are legit.

So you need someone who will be listened to. And the way that you can tell if this person will be listened to is to look at their past placements. They’ll have a book to show you. You can also check out who they follow on twitter and whom they interact with there. Oh, they don’t follow the target journalists? Red flag. They’re not engaging in Twitter conversations with the target journalists? Hmmmm…could be better.

You could technically be your own Media Relations grinder, and get a subscription to Vocus/Cision for journalist contact information. But if you have any budget, this is where to deploy it.

Journalists who matter know which PR folks are legit and don’t pitch bullshit, and as such the pitches those folks present will get a second look.

A Press Packet to deliver after (can also be delivered in lieu of meeting)

Lastly, you need all of the above, bundled into a helpful little kit to send to journalists post-call.

Your Release, all your pull quotes to choose from, images, video, and pre-validated customer/analyst references. FAQs like pricing, when the company was founded, who the backers are, and so on. Anything that the journalist probably asked/would have asked but forgot to in your call, bundled up so they can refer to it and not rely solely on the furiously typed notes.

I like to house this all in a “living” Google Doc and just send the hyperlink after the call in a “thank you” email. You can also just copy and paste all the materials into that thank you email, but just do so below the fold.

Lastly, if you can get a meeting, it’s better than not. Richer interaction and you’ll start forming a relationship by demonstrating expertise. You miss a lot of that if you just send a lot over the transom. So don’t send it instead of meeting, except as a last resort.

Go Forth and Conquer

There’s a lot of specification above, but I assure you, this is not hard. If I can do it, you certainly can.

So much of this is just good marketing practice anyway, and much of these materials you ought to have in your back pocket for your website, sales team, investors, and so on. It will definitely be reusable so invest in nailing it.

Do the work. Be ‘customer focused’ in serving the needs of the journalist and his readers. Have a compelling story. The coverage will come.

 

Need more advice about PR and launching your startup? Apply now to connect with advisors like Peter on the network. 

 

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To Hardware Startups: 6 Requests From Your Future Manufacturer

Guest Author   |   April 1st, 2014

This post was written by Aren Kaser, FounderDating’s Hardware ManagingDirector and CEO/cofounder of  Igor Institute, with help from Ren Livingston, cofounder of Stdio1. 

You’ve been working on your hardware product for months, or maybe years, and now it’s finally time to start moving towards volume manufacturing. Before you talk with contract manufacturers (CMs), it’s best to be prepared so you can successfully start the process of engaging with your new potential partner. I recently sat down with the team at Stdio1 (a product and manufacturing consultant company who recently brought Drone, by Evolution Controllers, to market) and asked them what the six most important things hardware startups should know about evaluating and selecting a contract manufacturer.

1. Be prepared to share everything.

Sending over a CAD file won’t be enough to get a CM started on building your product. Be ready to provide (and answer questions about) a complete set of documentation: Requirements, CAD, technical drawings, spec. sheets, schematics, and board layouts. Without complete information, a CM can’t provide an accurate quote, and you definitely don’t want to walk away with an unrealistic quote in hand.

2. Plan to visit the factory.

Whether it’s in China, Mexico, the United States (or anywhere else), visiting the factory is paramount to successful collaboration between a hardware startup and contract manufacturer. Only so much can be hammered out via phone and email. Put the product prototype in the hands of the people who are going to build your device. Not putting your prototype in the hands of potential manufacturers is like giving them a box of parts and text-based list of instructions on how build it. Don’t be surprised when they want to take it apart and put it back together. We repeat: visit the factory.

3. Respect the knowledge a CM brings to the table.

As a customer, you set the requirements and specifications for your hardware project. Your manufacturer will be required to meet those details, but they also have extensive knowledge of how to simplify and improve different aspects of a product, so keep an open mind when they make suggestions. It’s in your best interest to make their lives easier, since quicker assembly times and higher yields both lead to monetary wins for you. Respect what they have to offer, and work with your manufacturer, rather than against them.

4. Give them an honest (and realistic) assessment of production volumes.

If you communicate that you are a startup and will need to transition from low to high volume overtime, they will respect your up-front and honest dialogue. You may lose some CMs who aren’t interested in your low-volume work, but it saves both of you the wasted time of discovering that mismatch in later discussions. In some cases they may even work with you to amortize costs based on your projections. As with anything else, you get out what you put in, so be transparent about what you’re looking for.

5. Be flexible with your files.

 Different manufacturers use different systems, processes, and software. Your Bill of Materials (BOM) list, your documents, and your files—regardless of the template or software you use—might be different than those your manufacturer is used to working with. Bottom line, anytime you send files over to a contract manufacturer, work with them to perform a quick compatibility test, so you both can make sure the work will start on time. A project shouldn’t experience delays because of a mismatched system or software.

 6. Have a test plan to verify design integrity, engineering goals, and production quality.

Before you start manufacturing you need to have clear requirements, along with an extensive testing procedure defining how to ensure you’re meeting those requirements. A manufacturer will want to work with you to decide how things will be tested and defined. Even though you know every detail of a hardware product and its design, keep in mind that this does not mean that the manufacturer/factory workers will. Getting your CM to understand your product goals can be more productive that investing time and money in rigorous testing processes. A truck full of product that meets the letter of your requirements and not the desired experience isn’t very valuable.

Hardware product development is a complicated and lengthy process. But, with the right level of preparedness and expectations at every stage, you’ll be more likely able to successfully navigate some of the more mysterious phases…like manufacturing.

 

If you need more tips on working with manufacturers, check out the FounderDating Advisor Network

 

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Success, Sanity, and Happiness as an Entrepreneur

Guest Author   |   March 25th, 2014

This FounderTalk guest post was written by Scott Lewallen. He co-founded Grindr in 2009 and is currently  founder and CEO of Mezic MediaYou can also find him advising entrepreneurs on the FD:Advisor network.

Five years ago, I launched Grindr, and found myself thrust into the spotlight as a leader and co-founder of a disruptive technology and social phenomenon. As I sailed into the wild frontier of mobile apps and location-based dating, I asked myself daily – Will I be successful?

The short answer is – YES!

If you put in the hours and passion to pursue what you want to accomplish, something will happen. Working hard pays off. Sometimes, you hit obstacles and they suck. But those obstacles are powerful moments of reflection that can change you, your company, and your life.

I want to share these so-called obstacles, and how the questions they presented to me helped me grow both as a leader, and as a person.

Am I Enough?

Grindr was the first mainstream gay geo-social app to launch in the iTunes App Store. We, the founding team who built a product in a garage, gained press coverage overnight. They called us “The Hot New Gay App.” Everyone wanted to join the party. The world wanted to get on Grindr.

So here I was, at a hot new company, with my hard work paying off, and a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, and I still felt inadequate at times. I questioned myself. Do I know what I’m doing? I doubted everything. Was this color scheme okay? Does the user interface have enough personality? Can the average gay guy figure this out? Self doubt haunted me. We had reached a certain app ‘celebrity’ status and I continued to wonder if I was good enough to be here.

An actor friend of mine, Robert Mercado, offered some valuable insight:

“We’re all flawed. We’re human. We make mistakes. If you didn’t screw up you’d be boring. You would lose your creativity. I try to make it a habit and make at least ten mistakes a day. Mistakes are a gift from the universe.”

It made sense to me; realizing and accepting the fact that I was human, that I was flawed, and that I would make mistakes made me feel empowered, but free. It was like inhaling a breath of fresh air at the top of a mountain. It was not only okay to feel this way, it was a part of creative growth. If I was going to lead and succeed, I had to accept that I was a human being.

Can I Please Do Everything?

I’ve always been a stubborn perfectionist – the kind of person who insists that the accent towels in the bathroom are for aesthetic purposes only and should not be used as a hand towel. Period. I do things the right way, or ‘My Way,’ mostly because I want to do everything, every last detail of every project. Every pixel, every word, and every edit.ScottLewallen_FounderDating_EVERYTHING.jpg 

During my journey co-founding Grindr, I learned to gradually let go of this minutiae or absolutely nothing was ever going to get done. I refocused my passion for hands-on creativity into building and trusting my team, and through that produced the success that lingers today at Grindr.

When a startup transcends from bar-napkin sketches to a fast growing company, it’s impossible to do everything yourself. I had to embrace the fact that I was just one person, and it was challenging to let go. I was so used to doing everything. The idea of delegation haunted me.

Sometimes I would be offsite for day-long meetings, or out of town at a conference; yet, the deadlines loomed. And I learned, through trial and error, by assembling a talented and trustworthy team, discussing timelines and goals as a group, and allowing my team to thrive and trust intuition, the results were vastly superior than if I had micromanaged every step of the way.

I set up daily standing meetings, favoring Agile/Scrum methodology over waterfall, where we’d collaboratively share each morning what we’d accomplished, what we were working on, challenges, successes, and anything else anecdotal or interesting.

I found myself empathizing with my employees, “If I was in his position, how would I want to be talked to? How would I want to handle this design project? How could I improve this product?”

And that’s how I talked to my team, to them, not at them, or down to them, but laterally with respect, as colleagues and equals.

Trusting my team opened up an arena of new ideas that I would have never thought of on my own. I know now that I don’t have to do everything myself, and honestly it’s quite a relief. It has given me the opportunity to focus on the bigger picture and enjoy what I do more than ever.

Am I Insane?

Absolutely. 

In the early days of a startup, there are moments of pressure and chaos that make you question your sanity. Especially in the early days, when it’s just you or a handful of people doing the heavy lifting, you will find yourself on the verge of breaking down. I have many times.

Guess what? One day you just get tired of it. You give in. One day you let go. You stop fighting against the stream of sanity. I realized that daily tugs of war were not only inevitable, they were vital to the success of business and personal fulfillment. Moments of chaos became moments of clarity.

Don’t be afraid to escape the office for a while and take a breather. Go grab some Starbucks, take out a sketchpad and doodle for an hour, treat your team to a movie, or do something you find relaxing. Don’t fight the insanity, or your humanity. Recognize that it is all part of the process.

Am I Happy?

Sometimes in the routine of managing a company, it becomes easy to create a robotic template of your life. Wake up. Clock In. Coffee. Meeting. Work. Eat. Meeting. Sleep. Repeat.

 I settled into this pattern, guilty of complacency. It was so easy to forget any world outside of what I was doing. I would forget to stop and ask myself if I was happy. I didn’t want to become a work zombie, so I decided I had to change my lifestyle in order to achieve an optimal quality of life, a quality of life that, for me, included more smiling and laughing.

Happiness cannot be bought or manufactured. Happiness is a state of mind above everything else, and a happy approach to businessstarts with you. It’s infectious, inspiring, and will challenge you to approach everyday with a spark. Creating happiness for yourself will spread to the people around you. It’s tangible, it’s breathable, it’s obvious, and as a founder and creator it is vital to YOUR success.I learned not to take myself so seriously, and appreciate the process and the journey. I began charting my moods, and checking in with myself daily to ask myself if I was happy. I made a promise to that if the answer was No, I would find ways of adjusting my approach to my work, my peers, and my personal life to change that answer to a defiant and beaming “Yes, I am happy!”

One year ago, I left Grindr with an award-winning legacy of design, experience, recognition, and the world’s largest gay mobile app community. I resurrected my consultancy, Mezic Media, to create brands, apps, and products that people love. I created happiness for myself, and hopefully for the people I touched along the way. It made me feel wonderful.

I make mistakes daily – often by chance, and frequently on purpose. I push myself beyond my comfort zone. I take risks, and get lost, simply to challenge myself to find a way home.

So go ahead and have your doubts, worries, and mental breakdowns. Madness is what makes you a beautiful, passionate, and flawed human being.

When you find that moment of clarity in the chaos of starting your own company, you will be happy.

 

Get more of Scott’s wisdom (along with other advisors) on the network here. Have an honest founder story to tell? Get in touch!

 
 

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When Agile Fails

Guest Author   |   March 12th, 2014

This guest post is written by Boris Liberman, Senior Software Engineer at VisionMap. He has spent the last 18 years developing systems for enterprise storage, automated trading, and high performance computing.

Imagine you’re given the task of producing a system. The system has already been designed up to the point where your team of qualified engineers is guaranteed to be able to make it. But, given that your system is a non-trivial software system,  there is still an element of uncertainty. So you employ Agile.

From the design of the system your team easily divides the whole production process into stages. Each such stage becomes an iteration. Everyday people gather for a brief daily meeting. They report their progress so that you can easily track the progress of the whole project. When iteration ends, the team gathers and reviews their work.  At the end, either with minimal slip or even in front of the projected schedule team delivers the project without known bugs. Life is good.

But sometimes, Agile doesn’t always work. Here are three instances when Agile fails:

1. There’s not enough research.

Consider this situation.  You have a project that supposedly involves research. The design is preliminary and the team is diverse as far as the engineering and social qualities of its members go. You play by the same general rules. You meet every day, you divide the work into iterations, you have retrospective meetings, so on and so forth.

However, it becomes clear over time that each iteration cannot be completed as a single piece of work. You absolutely have to spend an entire iteration designing the work that will have to be done. During the next iteration you have to get that work done. Now, each design effort turns out to be a bit of research with great uncertainty as to the results and duration.

The outcome of this is either “design to time,” which leads to a potentially low quality/under-featured product, or a project that slips its schedule because the problem turned out to be more complex than was originally anticipated.

2. The schedule (inevitably) slips.

It would seem to me that when correctly executed, Agile provides very accessible means to spot potential schedule slips early on. Iterations are short and people report their progress daily, thus giving the team leader (or another person in the organization who has this responsibility) ability to track the project progress.

However, it takes a mature organization to deal with these issues. The actual complexity of the problem does not decrease because the team uses Agile. As such, Agile does not provide a solution for the situation where the assessed duration of a project is significantly less than the time that it will actually take, making the timeline difficult to follow.

3. Your team isn’t jelled.

Finally, if your team is not really jelled, you have to pay extra special attention to the developers, since under Agile framework the cost of an error can be very significant, due to the very likely possibility that there is a lack of detailed project plan existing before the Agile process kicks in.

The process of “jelling” the team, where people grow to trust each other, understand their team’s strengths and compensate for team member weaknesses, is a very lengthy process. Agile is very much a double-edged sword here. If people on the team are predisposed to openness and are of relatively similar experience, background, etc., the team will jell easily. Otherwise, extra effort has to be invested here from the standpoint of the organization.

Imagine you have two developers who would absolutely not agree to work as a pair, or that you have a developer who is very secretive about their work. It is entirely possible to resolve all these issues, but I don’t think that the Agile process can help here. It is more a matter of how an organization as a whole can jell a team, a process separate from, yet integral to the success of using Agile.

So why bother with Agile?

Agile is a sound set of practices based on common sense. However,  it would seem that modern software projects face more uncertainty than Agile can handle with ease. And if true research has to be performed under Agile process, it seems contradictory, because Agile is more of a manufacturing practice. You have to spend your precious time thinking and learning and trying and ultimately choosing just the right path for your project out of a great many paths, and such an activity probably should not be rushed.

Although it is possible to execute an Agile project on time, on budget and with high quality outcome, it is assumed that a great deal of work was done in advance in order to prepare the design of the system. It also requires a really jelled team that can play the notes exactly.  Basically, it’s not a one size fits all solution, and while it may work in certain situations, there are times when using Agile isn’t beneficial.

 

Whether you use Agile or not, it’s never too early to get started. Apply to FD to connect with cofounders and advisors today! 

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