2015's Greatest Hits

More so that recent years, music has been a central part of my life in 2015.  These are my favorite tunes and memories from 2015. 

2007 Edition
2008 Edition
2009 Edition
2010 Edition

2011 Edition
I skipped 2012 for reasons I'll write about one day.
2013 Edition
2014 Edition

Live Shows

I had a goal of at least one live show per month in 2015.  While I didn't get one in each month, I'm pretty sure I saw 12+ shows on the year...which isn't too shabby considering the circumstances -- kids, work, etc.

The best show of the year was Baroness at Local 506 just a few weeks ago.  They're an all time favorite band that I had never seen live.  The house was packed and the energy was unbelievable.  And of course Baroness destroyed it.

A few other standouts are Hiss Golden Messenger (at Haw River Ballroom, an amazing venue), The Sword (great, great show even though the new record wasn't that great), and Diarrhea Planet.

Kelly's favorites had to be Guster -- after which we had drinks and convo with the band, nice guys! -- and Jump, Little Children, her all-time favorite band that did a short reunion tour this year after a 10 year hiatus.

DBTs @ the Cradle

DBTs @ the Cradle

Jump, Little Children @ Visulite in CLT

Jump, Little Children @ Visulite in CLT

Kelly loving Kylesa @ Motorco

Kelly loving Kylesa @ Motorco

DIarrhea Planet @ King's

DIarrhea Planet @ King's

Pusha T @ Hopscotch

Pusha T @ Hopscotch

Chatting up John Dyer Baizley of Baroness @ Locat 506

Chatting up John Dyer Baizley of Baroness @ Locat 506

Jason Isbell with Ponzi @ DPAC

Jason Isbell with Ponzi @ DPAC

Guster with Kelly and Shawna @ Lincoln Theater

Guster with Kelly and Shawna @ Lincoln Theater


Favorite Records

Purple -- Baroness
I'm not sure I've ever looked forward to a record quite like this one...and did it ever deliver.  The band was in an awful bus accident in late 2012 that left every member of the band with very serious injuries.  To recover from something that horrific, re-group the band with new bass and new drums, and then create art this powerful, this epic, this f*cking tight is truly inspirational.  Many of the songs speak to the accident and the recovery process.  I've loved this band for a long time, since Red in 2007 -- seeing them in Chapel Hill in December was definitely the highlight of the musical year for me.

Southland Mission -- Phil Cook
I knew of Phil Cook via Megafaun and Hiss Golden Messenger, but didn't know that he released solo stuff.  This record he put out in the Fall is so, so, sooo good.  Definitely an Americana throwback feel and great songs.

Run the Jewels 2 -- Run the Jewels
I listened to a TON of rap in 2015 -- probably no band more than RTJ, but also Kendrick Lamar, Meek Mill, Future, Pusha T, Chazz French, Action Bronson, J. Cole, and others.  Not really sure why the sudden re-interest in hip hop -- maybe because it is a Durham thing or maybe because it scratches the same itch as metal or maybe because I'm just a badass.  Looking forward to RTJ3 in 2016. :)

Good Graphics -- Rozwell Kid
Much like Diarrhea Planet, these guys are a 90s guitar pop throwback.  Catchy hooks, great harmonies, and clever lyrics.  Not sure if they'll ever be a national act, but I highly recommend this EP and their 2014 record Too Shabby.

Honorable Mention:

  • Benji -- Sun Kil Moon -- super depressing 2014 album that I listened to a TON.
  • American Sharks -- American Sharks -- really tough stoner metal.
  • Beat The Champ -- The Mountain Goats -- John Darnielle never disappoints.
  • To Pimp A Butterfly -- Kendrick Lamar -- obviously.
  • Star Wars -- Wilco -- also obviously.

American Titans

I played in the band for the first time since business school in 2015.  My friend Joe called me, asking if I knew of a bass player interested in jamming.  I replied that I own a bass that I can reasonably play -- so we got together and it all got started.  

The American Titans are a three-piece -- Joe (vox, guitar), Mark (drums), and me (bass, vox) -- that plays high energy guitar pop, punk, rock.  It has been amazingly fun for me to play bass -- which I've never played in a band.  It actually took me a while to stop playing bass like guitar and figure out how to lock in with Mark and actually serve the song.  And it has been incredibly therapeutic to have a once-a-week ~2 hour outlet where I strap on my bass, forget about everything, and just shred.

We've played a couple gigs in 2015.  I'd like to play several more in 2016 and maybe record a few of our songs.  And I'd love to bring a song or two of my own to a rehearsal in 2016.  I've got zero time to put into the process, but I've got plenty of pent up confusion, anger, love, hate, joy that needs to find its way out somewhere -- might as well be a 2 minute explosion of drums, bass, and guitar.  :)

This is a live recording from a rehearsal -- a decent take, not the best quality, no monitor, so the vocals are a bit off.  But you get the idea.  :)

Here's to more great music in 2016.  Happy new year!

A Note on Purpose, Values, and Mission

Obligatory nod to the "climbing the mountain" company mission metaphor.

Obligatory nod to the "climbing the mountain" company mission metaphor.

I've spent a big chunk time the past couple weeks working on big picture RevBoss stuff -- mission, purpose, values, culture, etc.  I think about these things on an ongoing basis, so it has been enjoyable writing everything down and getting the team involved in the process. 

I started a team process with a couple whiteboard sessions and then a professionally moderated workshop in March in which we discussed personal values, career goals, and whatnot. I've been surprised by the organic nature of the process -- the team and I have been very honest with each other vis a vis our expectations from RevBoss and the things that we care about.  I was so surprised by how easily it has started coming together that I began to wonder if I wasn't properly managing this process or thinking about it the wrong way or whatever.

To check myself, this morning I dug up a culture deck that I built while running my last company, Argyle Social.  We did a lot of things right and a lot of things wrong at Argyle, but I think most of my former employees would agree that we did a very good job fostering a great company culture.  So I was surprised to see that the culture deck that Adam and I presented to the team wasn't very good -- full of platitudes, half-baked goals, and blah blah blah.

This lead me to consider a few things:

  • Leadership frames and reflects the culture, but it is really the team that defines it.  Adam and I built an OK deck and started a conversation, but the great people we hired at Argyle actually created the culture.
  • Culture, purpose, values, etc. should map to things that the culture- and value-creators (e.g. your employees and your customers) care about, not your investors or the market or whatever else.  Argyle's purpose was to become the dominant mid-market social media blah blah blah...at which employees stop listening because this stuff doesn't really change their day-to-day life in a meaningful way.  (And Argyle obviously fell far short of this lofty, shitty purpose.)
  • Any attempt to define culture and values should be incredibly honest and personal, not copied from the Netflix Freedom & Responsibility Culture deck.  I think we were mostly honest with ourselves at Argyle...but I also remember not spending very much time on the process, maybe a coffee chat or two.  And the quality of the document we created doesn't reflect much rigor.

So it has been interesting working through this process a 2nd time with a new company at RevBoss.  I'll share what we come up with in a few weeks.

2014's Greatest Hits

These are my favorite tunes from 2014.  And this is the obligatory tip of the hat to Chaz Felix for introducing me to the "annual greatest hits" format many years ago.

2007 Edition
2008 Edition
2009 Edition
2010 Edition

2011 Edition
(Guess I skipped 2012)
2013 Edition

Think I'll make Spotify playlists out of the legacy editions.  Kinda funny to read these to see how much easier it is to share music online these days...

Live Music

Unlike last year, I saw quite a few live shows in 2014.  Here are a few of my favorite pics:

Don't need no coffee, don't need no coal.  This mother f*cker runs on rock and roll.

Don't need no coffee, don't need no coal.  This mother f*cker runs on rock and roll.

Will Hoge.  Snapchat from Kelly.

Will Hoge.  Snapchat from Kelly.

Mastodon at Hopscotch.

Mastodon at Hopscotch.

Straight Teeth at Lincoln Theater.

Straight Teeth at Lincoln Theater.

Weezer worship.

Weezer worship.

Ev living the dream.

Ev living the dream.

So much beer.

So much beer.

Haim.  Another caption from Kelly.

Haim.  Another caption from Kelly.

Valient Himself.

Valient Himself.

DBT in Raleigh with Erin and Evan.

DBT in Raleigh with Erin and Evan.

Tom Petty from box seats.

Tom Petty from box seats.

Basically a mid-30s white people karaoke concert.  So much fun.

Basically a mid-30s white people karaoke concert.  So much fun.

Favorite Records

Here are a few of my favorite new jams from 2014.  Brief notes below the Spotify playlist.

Diarrhea Planet -- Aliens in the Outfield
DP is modern bro rock at is finest -- tough vocals, gratuitous guitar wankery, moments of unexpected musicality, offensive band name, etc.  Spooners is my favorite from this EP.  My #1 concert goal for 2015 is a Diarrhea Planet show.

Sturgill Simpson -- Metamodern Sounds in Country Music
Probably my favorite record from 2014.  Turtles All the Way Down offers a complex religious / identity question couched in a golden age country music sound.  A Little Light sounds like a song my grandma might have liked.  Sturgill blew it out as an opener for Jason Isbell at DPAC this fall...and arguably stole the show.  Seeing him at the Lincoln in Raleigh in February -- I'm excited because he's going to be playing very big stages going forward.

Mastodon -- Once More Round the Sun
While this isn't even close to Mastodon's best record, I really like it -- if only based on the strength of the first four songs.  The Motherload is the most mainstream-ready song they've ever done...and it is my favorite from the record.

Hiss Golden Messenger -- Lateness of Dancers
Love MC Taylor's voice and the easy delivery on this record.  They did a great version of Southern Grammar on Letterman a couple months back.  These guys are based in Durham -- hopefully I can buy 'em a beer in 2015.

DBTs -- English Oceans
The strongest DBT effort in several years.  The Cooley songs are especially good.  Shit Shots Count sounds like an Exile On Main Street b-side.

Best Concert of 2014:

Getting Cat started early.

Getting Cat started early.

Here's to lots of good jams in 2015.  Happy new year!

On the Argyle Social Shutdown

Argyle Social emailed its customers this week announcing that it is shutting down at the end of May.  You can read about it here, here, and probably many, many other places.

I've gotten a lot of calls, emails, and texts from friends, family, and customers over the past couple days, so I figured I may as well share some quick thoughts.  There are certainly many perspectives on what went wrong at Argyle.  I'll share some of mine once the dust settles and my kids start sleeping through the night.

For now, I'll say that I'm incredibly proud of what we built and proud that our product helped our customers solve meaningful problems.  And I'm humbled that so many people loved the product, the company, and the brand.   I'm sincerely grateful for all of the people that believed in us along the way -- investors, customers, employees, friends, etc.  And I'm thankful that Adam continued to fight the fight for as long as he did -- I know it wasn't an easy decision for him to pull the plug, but I support him 100%.  

I'm obviously disappointed that things couldn't come to a better resolution.  Building companies is a tough, tough business and markets are completely unforgiving -- but its just business and markets.  After taking many violent blows to the head/ego as the CEO at Argyle, I've learned over time that my work doesn't define who I am.  Work is my sport -- I love to do it, I take it very seriously, and I'm pretty damn good at it.  But it is only one aspect of my identity and it is not even close to being the most important.  So it sucks that Argyle is shutting down, but life goes on. 

In fact, the death of Argyle actually feels like old news to me -- especially considering that I'm well into my next thing at RevBoss.  I've had practically zero involvement in Argyle since I left the company about 18 months ago, but it is a weird feeling to know that something that you started, built, and loved is going to completely disappear.  I wouldn't say that I'm sad -- I processed all of my Argyle emotions and moved on long ago, probably more quickly and easily than you might expect.  But I definitely feel nostalgic.

After helping build Bronto and starting Argyle, I plan/hope to spend the rest of my career building companies.  Even with all of the inevitable heartache and sleepless nights, I can't imagine anything more personally and professionally rewarding than developing the vision for a new product/service, breathing life into a new company, and then building the team to take it to market.  So I'll keep building, learning, failing, and working my guts out.  And I'll keep making friends, helping people, and loving my work along the way. 

I remember pitching an investor during the early days at Argyle.  He asked me about what we plan to do with the company -- flip it immediately, raise a ton of capital, run it forever, etc.  I remember answering very honestly that I would like to let Argyle run its course and then start another company.  And then another.  And then another.  

So for those of you keeping score at home:

1.) Argyle -- not that great financial return, 10X everything else return -- experience, friendships, wisdom, battle scars, hilarious stories, Argyle pants, etc.

2.) RevBoss -- TBD

Soft Landings and the Lack Thereof


One of the more perplexing problems for second and third tier tech start-up communities is the dearth of soft landing options.

I've witnessed this problem in Durham a few times over the past couple years.  Great team, good product, but can't quite get over the hump. These companies either limp along like zombies, slowly fade away, or explode in a blaze of glory with Bon Jovi playing in the background. 

Failure is the default state for start-ups, so none of this is surprising or necessarily even a bad thing.  That said, it's mouse nuts for a large tech incumbent to absorb a small, talented team based in San Francisco / Silicon Valley and to do so for a small sum that gives investors some, if not all, of their money back and maybe even puts a small chunk of change in the founders' pockets.  So what might have been a train wreck turns into an "exit" and a blog post on Techcrunch.

Even if it is remote, the mere possibility of an acquire-hire makes it somewhat less "risky" to start a company in a massive, well-connected ecosystem like San Francisco / Silicon Valley.  If the company goes sideways or can't close a round of financing, a talented team can sometimes find a buyer simply as a function of labor market supply and demand.

It is less common (based on a hunch and absolutely zero empirical research) for a start-up based in a place like Durham, NC or Omaha, NE or Oslo to experience the same kind of outcome.  When you're on opposite coasts or continents, it is challenging to build relationship depth and frequency with acquiring / hiring companies in the Valley.  

And even if your company is well-networked, it is a tough sell to get BigCo to acquire a small team 1000s of miles away from HQ if your company doesn't have an overwhelmingly compelling technology and/or product and/or income statement...in which case you wouldn't be in need of a soft landing.

This creates a number of difficult problems for second and third tier geographies: 

  • Talent is less mobile because of the acquire-hire virtuous cycle. 
  • It is harder to recruit because of the perceived "risk" of being a non-1st tier company. 
  • It is harder to manufacture (even small) exits that keep founders founding.
  • It is harder to generate press for "exits" -- even if it is small, an exit is an exit.

All of this leaves the "go big or go home" start-ups in second and third tier communities with a likely "go home" scenario that is more likely a smoking crater than a soft landing at TechBigCo.

I think that the solution to this problem is a numbers game.  Small communities need more start-ups, which will lead to many more failures but also more wins.

2013's Greatest Hits

These are my favorite tunes from 2013.  And this is the obligatory tip of the hat to Chaz Felix for introducing me to the "annual greatest hits" format many years ago.

2007 Edition
2008 Edition
2009 Edition
2010 Edition

2011 Edition
(I skipped 2012 for some reason)

Live Music

Sadly, I didn't attend any memorable live performances this past year.  I actually bought a ticket to see The Sword in Raleigh back in the Fall but ended up flaking out because I was so damn tired.  This is what happens when you have 2 young children and you're working your guts out to build a new business. 

I did, however, start jamming with some guys a couple months ago and suspect that we might turn into a "band" that plays a "show" at some point.  We're working up some 90s era alternative covers and I'm the lead singer -- it is hilarious and fun.


Here are my 2013 jams.  All the links go to Spotify or YouTube.

Flying Over Water -- Jason Isbell

I've loved Jason Isbell for a long time -- see here for a blurb I wrote about Dress Blues, which I think is the greatest anti-war song ever written.  I'm glad that his 2013 record Southeastern and his new-found sobriety are helping Jason finally the attention he deserves.  He's easily one of the best songwriters in the business today.  Flying Over Water is one of my favorites, though the entire record is more or less perfection. 

No Strings Attached -- Valient Thorr

VT's Our Own Masters record was a strong effort, much better than the band's previous record Strangers.  No Strings Attached is actually quite a bit different than everything else on the record, but I love that it is such a positive and uplifting song.  It is a strong reflection of a great band that has been in the trenches for many years and has developed a hard-core following.

The Wire -- Haim

Not much I can say about Haim that hasn't already been said.  They've got lightning in a bottle.

Me & You & Jackie Mittoo -- Superchunk

I'm not quite old enough to be in the Superchunk demographic, though I remember people talking about them in high school.  I never actually followed up on the recommendation in part because I was too busy trying to learn to play Jimmy Page licks on my Fender Squire at the time.  (It is actually a little embarrassing to publicly admit this considering my personal connections in Durham/Chapel Hill and my shared acquaintances with the members of the band.)  I Hate Music prompted me to listen to the rest of the back catalog, so I'm up to speed now...just several years late.

Daddy's Song -- Harry Nilsson

I can't remember how it happened, but I was addicted to Harry Nilsson for a couple months this year.  I started listening to him in college but never really ventured beyond the greatest hits.  Digging deeper into his catalog is well worth it.

Nimh -- Colossus

I listened to this record a lot driving back and forth from Cary.  I'm pretty sure that this is the only song in history based on The Secret of NIMH.  I only realized after the fact that Colossus is from Raleigh -- they're a great classic metal band.

The Mighty Machines Theme Song

Thomas LOVES Mighty Machines, a CBC show that we let him watch on Netflix.  He sings the hilariously over-the-top theme song all the time.  And he goes bananas when I sing it for him in my best Creed voice with a rousing guitar accompaniment. 

Daughter -- Loudon Wainwright III

My daughter Catherine was born on May 14.  I listened to this song quite a bit before she was born -- its a beautiful song about a father and a daughter.  It moved me to tears more than a few times, including once in a Holiday Inn in Akron, OH when it happened to pipe through the lobby music.  

Did You Write 500 Words Today?

One day this Fall I did the math on how much money I was spending on lunches.  It didn't take long to decide that I just wouldn't eat lunch out any more.  It was a chore at first but became an obsession once I got a decent streak going and didn't want to break the chain of consecutive "brought" lunches.  And now it is a habit.

I've eaten out for lunch at most 5 times over the last 3 months, all of which were business-related and expensed to RevBoss.  As a result, I've saved at least $450 over the past 3 months if you assume ~15 lunches per month @ $10 per lunch.  I've also gained productivity time every day by eating at my desk.  And best of all, I've lost ~7 pounds and get to write this self-congratulatory blog post about the whole thing.

Considering the success I had changing one behavior, I started thinking about other new habits I'd like to develop and decided to set up this nifty app called Commit to help me track my progress.  It is really simple, but should do the trick.  

For example, one of the habits I plan to develop is to write 500 words each day.  Each day I'll get a reminder from the app and I'll see the string of consecutive days accumulate as I go:


I spent some time thinking to ensure that the daily commitment and the metric I'm tracking relate to the specific behavior that I'm trying to develop.  For example, my goal of writing 500 words per day has a dual purpose:

  1. I want to whip my writing muscles back into shape for my own personal pleasure and for the purposes of marketing RevBoss.
  2. I want to consume less and create more.  And in order to have time to create content, I'll have to spend less time consuming it.

Also -- the daily habits I want to build map to my 2014 goals, which are obviously longer term and more difficult to measure each day.  But each day I can know that my daily routine inches me closer to the prize.

So here's to new habits...

Triangle Start-Up Bloggers

The Durham / Raleigh / Chapel Hill start-up culture has grown significantly over the past 3 or 4 years. Many more companies, many more founders, and hopefully many more successes to come. It is still a small town but I keep meeting new, interesting people just about every week, which is pretty exciting.  

A vibrant founder community generally means a vibrant blogger community. So I thought it would be useful to start building a list of Triangle-based entrepreneur bloggers. (Note -- founder/exec/investor personal blogs, not company blogs.)  

Here are some of the Triangle start-up bloggers that I read on a regular basis:

This list seems awfully small. Leave a comment to let me know anyone that I left out and I'll add them to the list. 


How To Introduce Someone When You Can't Remember Their Name

I had a Seinfeldian conversation with a couple colleagues today about the awkward social exchanges that ensue when you can't remember someone's name, especially when you're introducing a friend or significant other at a party. 

We settled on two possible solutions to defuse the awkwardness and avoid the shame of admitting that you can't remember someone's name: 

Your Last Name Method

When introducing Person A to Person B -- and you can't remember Person B's name -- you can simply ask them for their name. 

You:  "Person A, meet my friend...I'm sorry, remind me of your name again?"
Person B:  "John."
You:  "No, sorry, your last name."

This is by far the weaker of the two approaches insofar as you practically admit that you can't remember the person's name.

This is Person A Method:

My go-to move is introducing Person A and Person B as follows: 

You:  "Oh hey there -- it is great to see you!  Allow me to introduce my friend Person A."
Person B:  "Pleased to meet you...my name is John Smith." 

Simply force Person B to state their own name as a part of the interaction.  It is foolproof! 

So there you go. 

On Leaving At 5pm

I was 24 when Bronto started hiring experienced people for senior roles circa 2005.  I felt bitter that the new people left the office at 5pm on the dot every day, especially considering that they were making way more money than me.

Now I'm 32, have two kids, and try to be home by 5:30 most days.  I've come to realize a few things:

  • Work is a piece of cake compared to parenting young children. 

  • Your co-workers with young children are exhausted.

  • Your co-workers that leave at 5pm (probably) work just as hard and care just as much as you. 

  • The 5pm hard stop makes me more productive during normal working hours.

  • Productivity is more important than time spent working, in the office or otherwise.

  • You don't get paid well for being experienced, you get paid well for producing results. 

  • 7am coffee meet ups are just as cool and just as productive as 7pm beers.

  • The secret to maximizing weeknight family time is putting down my phone when I walk in the door.

  • I'm exhausted by 9pm, so I work on easy stuff at night.  I do my heavy lifting in the morning.

What time do you leave the office?  Any hacks that you can share? 

East Coast, West Coast Start-up Stereotypes

Shortly after I left Argyle, I emailed several professional friends and colleagues to share the news and to start having conversations about the next thing.  Most of the recipients were local, east coast friends.  A fair portion were west coast - either San Francisco or Silicon Valley.

The (overly-generalized) responses followed a theme:

East Coast:

  • Are you OK? -Lots of people
  • OMG - I can't imagine Argyle without you.  -CEO of SaaS start-up
  • I'm sure it must be hard to leave your baby.  -VP at SaaS company

West Coast

  • Congrats!  -CEO of marketing software start-up
  • I'm jealous that you get to move on to something new!  -CEO of SaaS start-up
  • Gotcha - call me later!  -CEO of SaaS start-up

The responses illustrated cultural stereotypes that I recently discussed with a west coast friend.  

Valley/San Francisco start-up people are transients - they bounce from thing to thing, companies come and go, people change jobs very frequently, everyone is searching for the big win.  The quick change game is so deeply embedded in the culture that no one is loyal to anything and people often abandon ideas too quickly in search of the next shiny object.

Small-market east cost start-up people - like in Durham, NC - take a more traditional view.  Fewer fundraising options and less experienced, more conservative investors leads to more bootstrapped companies, which leads to more early stage revenue.  So there are more very small successes that somehow manage to limp along or very small successes that never graduate from weekend/part-time hobby.  Entrepreneurs hang on longer, sometimes longer than they should.

These are obviously extreme stereotypes - the vast majority of people in the game fall somewhere in the middle.  But I suspect that you might be able to think of examples of each extreme...

Just Be Like Apple

Tom Webster published a typically brilliant post about business models and the dangers of the "just be like Apple" philosophy.  

I was in business school 2007 - 2009, Google was the undisputed online king and Facebook was just finding its footing.  Apple was on its way back but no where near the juggernaut it is today. 

Google sometimes came up as a teaching case study...and ALWAYS came up in the student commentary - "Well, at Google they do this..." "Google does 20% time..."  - particularly in innovation and entrepreneurship courses.

I certainly piped up with than my fair share of Google praise because I actually understood Google's business, which wasn't the norm in MBA classrooms in 2007.  

Most of my classmates didn't understand Google's business, but didn't let that stop them from jabbering about it.  It was annoying.

One of my profs finally forbade students from discussing Google, essentially pointing out that Google is a once-in-a-generation money-making machine the likes of which the world has never seen and that it is dangerous to think that all organizations should - let alone can - emulate Google's model.

So we stopped talking about Google.  And I was glad.


I was the only person in the Kenan-Flagler MBA Class of 2009 that showed up on campus with a Mac.  No joke.  I wrote a silly, whiny post about it.  

I'll bet you a dollar that there are way more Mac users than PC users in the MBA program today.  In fact, I'll bet you several dollars.

Turns out that the "Just Be Like Apple" strategy works pretty well if you've got Steve Jobs steering the ship.

​How To Start A Podcast: Behind the Scenes at Social Pros

I co-hosted my last episode of the Social Pros Podcast this week - at least my last episode as the official co-host.  My friend and co-host Jay Baer signed up a new batch of sponsors and I stepped aside to make room for the new headliners, though I hope to continue pitching in from time to time as a guest host, contributor, heckler, butt of Jay’s jokes, etc.

I’m proud of what Jay and I built - 54 episodes by my count.  Social Pros has played a leading role in sparking a renaissance of the podcast form - see The Work Talk Show, Human Business Way, SocializedBusiness, and others I’m sure.

In honor of the effort, here are some details about the work that went into building Social Pros:

The Backstory

Former Argyle Social COO Tristan Handy and I were looking for creative, counter-intuitive advertising outlets for Argyle and Tristan thought to advertise on a podcast based on previous podcast advertising successes he experienced at Squarespace.  We couldn’t find the right podcast to sponsor, so we figured we might as well just start the podcast.

We already had a sponsor relationship with Jay, so we pitched him on the idea.  It didn’t take long to sell him on the concept and thus Social Pros was born.

Narrow Focus

Social Pros works in part because it has such a narrow focus - real people doing real work in social media.  Instead of boiling the ocean, we set out to build a podcast about social media professionals for social media professionals.  The hyper-targeted vertical orientation created constraints that simplified programming, guests, marketing, and sponsorship.

Repeatable Format

Both Jay and I are super-busy, so we had to come up with a format that worked for the listener and didn’t require enormous prep.  We quickly iterated to find a formula that work:

  • Brief intro and goofy banter about college basketball, parenting, or other silliness.
  • Guest interviews - 20 minutes rapping with the guest.
  • Stat of the Week - 5 minutes discussing a recent social study datapoint.
  • Social Pros Shout Out - 5 minutes discussing unsung social/marketing heroes.

Jay usually prepped the guest interview, though I always had a question or two in reserve.  The Stat of the Week prep generally took 10 to 20 minutes, depending on how much digging I had to do in order to find a datapoint.  If often got suggestions from Jay and listeners.

I can’t remember who came up with the Shout Outs - probably me because of my history of “shout outs” with DJ Waldow - but it was definitely clever idea.  Social pros like to share insightful content and people, so we designed a podcast version of the “like” social gesture.  This is 5 minutes of content that we don’t have to create each week.

If you’re just getting a podcast off the ground, I suggest starting out with a simple, repeatable format.  The Social Pros format started out simple, evolved over time, and I'm certain will continue to evolve in the future.  

Audience Building

This was actually the easy part for us - Jay had already aggregated a massive, well-deserved audience and Argyle had accumulated a massive house email list.  So after a few quick emails/tweets and a handful of episodes, Social Pros had a significant following.

How do you build an audience for your podcast if you aren’t Jay Baer or Argyle?  No idea.  I guess you could ask Jay how he built his empire.  Or you could start a software company.

Guest Contributors

We aimed high when it came to guests.  And thanks in large part to Jay’s network, we bagged some great interviews - Jeremiah Owyang, Howard Lindzon, Scott Monty, Rand Fishkin, Tom Webster, DJ Waldow, and plenty of others.

The guests are important parts of the promotion equation, in part because there is a probably obvious quid pro quo.  Guests were eager to participate in our podcast to promote themselves, their book, their brand, whatever...and then would promote their participation in the podcast.  Definitely a virtuous cycle.


We recorded every episode in one take, live via Skype.  The mixdown and post-production typically took 30 to 60 minutes.  Piece of cake.

So go start a podcast!

Massive Tech Incumbents & Social Media Services

Dell's social media listening service - which you can read about here - recently popped back on my radar.  (Dell actually announced the service in December.)  So I did a little digging / thinking purely out of curiosity.

Dell lists the social media listening amongst a panoply of other outsourced services - including insurance services and medical revenue cycle management services, all under the same business process outsourcing section of the site.  Nothing says smoking hot sexy market segment like the phrase "business process outsourcing".  

At first glance, it seems that social media doesn't belong - but it most certainly does.  The social media mechanics for large brands are enormously complex.  Responsiveness at scale requires sophisticated planning and systems - same thing for monitoring and mining the firehose for consumer insights.  Both are repeatable processes that a capable company can execute over and over regardless of brand, context, etc.  From this perspective, social media listening and payroll processing look surprisingly similar.

Dell's role as a "social media agency" is almost certainly predominantly reactive support-based and focused on business process, not creative, brand, marketing, etc.  I would be very surprised if the company staffed up the creative resources necessary to dream up and execute the next brilliant social media campaign.

Interestingly, Clemson University stands out as the non-big-business featured on the site.  It looks like the Dell/Radian6 relationship with Clemson is primarily for research and education.  Reading between the lines, I think that Dell helped Clemson build a social media command center and possibly provides ongoing related advisory services.

I suspect that the social offerings from massive tech incumbents in search of services revenue aren't a direct threat to the core business for top-tier social media marketing agencies.  But the new offerings will definitely compete for the same budget dollars and create strange market dynamics top-tier brands - Dell for social infrastructure and support, a social media agency for creative and campaigns, and a media agency for social ad buys.

Social TV, Honey Boo Boo, And Other Nuggets From Nielsen's Social Media Report 2012

The most recent episode of the Social Pros Podcast features Erik Deckers of ProBlogService and No Bullshit Social Media fame.  It also features me in my pajamas.

The Stat of the Week turned into a winding conversation about some of the data points in Nielsen's recently released Social Media Report 2012.  The report is incredibly meaty and well worth 20-minutes of cursory reading...and probably another 60-minutes of close reading.  

One of the more fascinating datasets in the report relates to Social TV or - in layman's terms - Tweeting while watching Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.  Some of the highlights:

  • 41% of tablet owners and 38% of smartphone owners use their device daily while in front of their TV.  Note that the report says in front of their TV instead of while watching TV.  Subtle but meaningful in my opinion.
  • The report further breaks down specific activities by device.  For example, 45% of tablet users but only 22% of smartphone users report shopping while in front of the TV.
  • Social TV is on the rise and not just during Presidential debates and Gossip Girl finales.  In June 2012, 33% of active Twitter users Tweeted about TV-related content, a 27% increase from 26% of active users in January.

My favorite social TV habits from 2012 include laughing hysterically at backchannel chatter during the Presidential debates and Tweeting cryptic minutia related to whatever basketball game I happen to be watching...err whatever basketball game happens to have on my TV screen while I'm in the room.

What are your Social TV habits?

"Hey", "Wow", and Other Brilliant Subject Lines

This week's Social Pros Social Media Stat of the Week is actually an email marketing stat.  I'm an old-school email marketer - as is Jay - so I just can't help myself.

Businessweek.com has a detailed piece about the Obama Campaign's email marketing strategy and operations.  I was astounded by the team's intellectually curious testing and ruthless, data-driven execution.  Some of the highlights:

  • The campaign would test several email drafts and subject lines - often as many as 18 variations - before picking a winner to blast out to tens of millions of subscribers.

  • The subject line  - “I will be outspent" - outperformed 17 other variants and raised $2.6M, according to testing data shared with Bloomberg Businessweek.

  • Several effective strategies were counter-intuitive.  Dropping in mild profanity - such as the subject line “Hell yeah, I like Obamacare” - often drove big results.  Simple, ugly designs - plain text, garish colors - often out-performed perfectly styled emails.  

  • Even in the face of ungodly email volume from the campaign, people didn't unsubscribe.  Best line of the article:  “The data didn’t show any negative consequences to sending more.”

So why are email marketing data points relevant to social media marketers?  In part because you never see articles like this written about social media marketing.

I don't think that it makes sense fo community managers to split test 18 versions of a tweet, but I do think it would be helpful to spend more time reflecting on previous campaigns - successful and less-than-successful - to seek out patterns and datapoints to inform future efforts.

A well-managed email marketing program can be an amazing conversion tool.  A well-managed social marketing program can be an amazing retention and amplification tool.  Both require discipline, data, and craftsmanship.

Social Media & E-Commerce: Why Can't You Two Get Along?

I record the Social Pros Podcast every week with digital marketing impresario and Indiana Hoosiers bandwagon fan Jay Baer.  Each episode, we discuss a "Stat of the Week".  If I can get my act together, I'll start sharing thoughts on each week's stat.

Though my Black Friday tradition is firing up the chainsaw and cutting firewood with my dad and brother, I recognize that shopping is the official national Black Friday pasttime for most.  So we discussed some recent data from IBM in this week's episode.

On Black Friday:  Shoppers referred from Social Networks such as Facebook,Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube generated .34 percent of all online sales on Black Friday, a decrease of more than 35 percent from 2011.  

Source:  http://www-01.ibm.com/software/marketing-solutions/benchmark-reports/black-friday-2012.html

0.34% a minuscule number!  And it's decreased from last year!  So if you're a community manager for a brick and mortar retailer, you might want to let the panic ensue.  

Or you may choose to rationalize the numbers by suggesting that Black Friday is all about in-store transactions.  In which case, the Cyber Monday data should tell a different story.

But it doesn't.

On Cyber Monday:  Shoppers referred from Social Networks such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube generated 0.41 percent of all online sales on Cyber Monday, a decrease of more than 26 percent from 2011.  

Source:  http://www-03.ibm.com/press/us/en/pressrelease/39543.wss

Surprisingly - the data from IBM is light on details.  (Or maybe I just didn't dig deep enough.)  So there may be some methodology-based explanation behind the numbers.

That said - it might be the case that social platforms just aren't good channels for retailers.  Despite the emerging hyper-targeting capabilities, real-time social channels aren't email marketing light.  Conversion-oriented marketing and messaging doesn't resonate on social and there are plenty of studies that prove.  Forrester and GSI Commerce recently analyzed 77,000 transactions and found that less than 1% of transactions for new and repeat customers can be traced back to social links.

That's not to say that all hope is lost for retailers - social platforms are great for building customer relationships and developing customer loyalty.  

I think that the static in these numbers stems from misalignment in the channel and the quantification.  Relationship building is a mid-funnel - post-funnel in some cases - activity.  IBM is using a late-funnel metric to quantify activities from a mid-funnel channel.  And the numbers don't add up.

I'm a Free Agent

Argyle Social and I recently parted ways.

I've emailed a number of my friends and colleagues about the change, plus it has popped up in the local tech press - so I figure I may as well publicly comment.  

The context of the situation is confidential, but I'll share some personal, non-confidential thoughts at some point in the near future.  

I remain on good terms with the company,  the team, and the investors.  And I remain a sizable Argyle shareholder, so of course I wish the company nothing but continued success!

I'm taking some time off in Nov/Dec to spend time with my son Thomas (read: to give my wife some time off from our son) and to catch up on projects around the house.  I'm currently deciding if I'd rather re-do a bathroom or refinish the upstairs hardwoods.  Or I might just read Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb to Thomas another 3,000 times.

As far as what comes next - I'm not exactly sure and that's fine.  I'm enjoying the time off and doing 2 or 3 meet-ups / calls a day to catch up with colleagues and to learn what's out there.

Send me an email at eric at ericboggs.com if you'd like to have a chat.

On Removing Distractions

We've made some moves at Argyle over the past several weeks in the name of removing distractions.  Which is another way of saying that we've made certain decisions in an effort to focus on the most important thing.

Turns out this is really hard to do.  

First, you have to clearly define the most important thing.  This can be scary when you're a start-up in a dynamic market.  Defining the most important thing requires ignoring other opportunities, which can be nerve wracking and can spawn second-guessing.

Then you have to know how to pursue the most important thing, which is a function of the clarity of the definition and your team.  One can set a context and define a priority, but the method of pursuit is often best defined by the team that will do the work.

Then you have to actually pursue it in the face of 10,000 distractions - internal, external, personal, and otherwise.  I think that this is the hardest part.  It is so much easier to just react to whatever drops into your lap.

I think the framework holds up, but I don't feel like I'm doing a very good job of executing it.  Though I think that it is a process and a skill that I can improve over time.