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.

How To Email A Busy Person

Everyone is busy.  

I thought I was busy while working at Bronto...and then I thought I was busy while at MBA student at UNC Kenan-Flagler.

Then Adam and I started Argyle...and then Kelly and I had a baby.  And a few weeks ago, we bought a 1957 fixer-upper house in Durham.  

So I've got a lot going on these days - enough to truly qualify as "busy".

And I get more email than I can possibly process - a fair amount of which includes pitches, introductions, and solicitations to "pick my brain".  In part to be somewhat less irritating than the people that often email me and in part to save myself some time, I'm trying to build new email habits:

- I often include the entire message in the subject line, noting "EOM" in the subject line.  The recipient can process what I'm saying without even opening the message. 

- I often begin emails with "No need to reply to this message".  The recipient can read without having the pressure to chime in or actually process the thought.  

- I sometimes send emails to process and clarify my own thoughts - I ALWAYS pre-empt these emails with a "no reply necessary" blurb.

- Unless I solicited the intro, I ignore intro emails until the other half of the intro responds to me.

- I ruthlessly archive without reading.  And I respond with a quick "no" more often than comes naturally.

- I write short sentences/paragraphs and use bullet points.  Note this blog post.

Additional thoughts from the comments and Twitter:

- I use Twitter.  ~Erika @ Start-Up America.

- I add my standard mobile signature to a short note if I want to be brief without appearing rude.  ~Doug @ Twitter.

Email Marketing Tips For Start-Ups

Argyle is a social media marketing start-up and we're obviously big believers in the power of social as a marketing channel.  But we're also old school in the sense that we invest very heavily in email marketing.

I was employee #1 at an email marketing start-up earlier in my career.  I spent four years with the company and learned a thing or two about email marketing along the way.

Here are a few email marketing tips to keep in mind for your early-stage company:

Email Early, Email Often.  At Argyle, our email list was most important marketing asset for the first year.  (Our Twitter following is quickly catching up today.)  We collected addresses at every customer touchpoint and sent very frequent emails - usually weekly.  We fired out a message every time we had something remotely interesting to say - new product features, new blog post, whatever.  Momentum is important early on, so any glimmer of hope is worth celebrating and sharing.

Be Entertaining.  Our product was pretty weak for the first year, so we had to manufacture reasons for people to like us.  So I resorted to entertainment.  Our early emails had subject lines like "Hold On To Your Butts" and pictures from awkwardfamilyphotos.com to illustrate new features.  It was all about getting attention, sharing our personality, and making friends.  

Invest In Automation.  We used MailChimp for a long time because it is by far the best bang for the buck - great features and a strong API for peanuts.  And we hacked together some very basic hooks into Salesforce and a few auto-responders.  As soon as we had a full-time marketer and a few sales guys, we dumped MailChimp and moved our email marketing (and landing pages) to Pardot - a very specialized B2B marketing automation platform that integrates deeply with Salesforce.com.  (We also gave very strong consideration to Marketo - it is more powerful, but also more expensive.)  Today our email marketing programs are incredibly complex.

Email Like An Executive.  It is obvious that you should use email to keep in touch with your customers.  It is less obvious that you should use email to keep in touch with prospective investors, prospective partners, and strategic prospects.  I have a couple email lists that I email ~monthly with company updates and strategic content.  I do it all through Pardot and track the responses very carefully - just like we track our customer marketing emails.

Regarding Competitive Misinformation

This has become an increasingly common marketing interaction:

  • A prospect tweets about their experience evaluating Argyle.  Or a blogger mentions Argyle in a post.
  • A competitor swoops into the conversation saying "Hey - you should check out our product!".

I don't have a problem with this whatsoever.  Social is an amazing competitve equalizer.  There are no protected markets - most customers are highly visible and often talking about their business problems and buying process.  At any given time, it is pretty easy to track down someone that is evaluating one of our competitors or one of our customers talking about Argyle.

However, stuff like this crosses the line:

(Sendible is a tangential competitor to Argyle based in the UK.)

As the CEO at Argyle, I have unique insight into the claim that "lots of users" are leaving Argyle for Sendible.  Turns out that this claim is false. 

We are building *very* aggressive customer acquisition machine at Argyle.  We win business with great products that solve meaningful problems and a transparent, consultative, and affable sales team.  While we're happy to highlight differences between Argyle and other offerings, we never disparage or flat-out lie about our competitors.

We're overly transparent because it is good business and the right thing to do.  And because the market is always watching.

A Story About Durham

This post was originally published at TriangleStartUpFactory.com.

I first visited Downtown Durham to take a tour of the American Tobacco Campus, which was still very much a work in progress at the time.  It was 2005 I think.  There was an 8 foot barbed wire fence around the property and there were trees growing inside of the buildings.  I was a Sales Associate at Bronto Software, which had 7 or 8 employees at the time.  Bronto moved to the American Tobacco several months after my tour of the campus yet-to-be and my love affair with Downtown Durham was born.

In December 2009, when my business partner Adam Covati and I pinched our respective noses and decided to take the plunge with Argyle, we knew that we wanted to move into a Durham office as quickly as possible.  After several months working anonymously in our respective home offices, we developed enough traction and raised enough money to move into a tiny office in the Snow Building at 331 W. Main St, right above Beyu Caffe.

I knew that we made the right decision the day we moved in.  Adam and I were struggling to move a couch (that we bought from UNC surplus for $20) into our building and Jud Bowman, the Founder and CEO at Appia and Durham start-up veteran, happened to walk by and hold the door for us.  We were bumping into guys like us on the street before we had even moved into our office.

Fast forward to today - Argyle has 21 employees and has carved out its own niche in Durham on Rigsbee Avenue, right around the corner from Rue Cler.  The city is our 22nd employee.  It helps us recruit, it keeps us entertained, and it inspires us to keep looking forward.

Durham is a momentum story - the culinary, artistic, and (of course!) start-up scenes have grown by leaps and bounds over the past several years.  There is a palpable sense of forward movement in Downtown Durham that makes it a great place to launch and grow a start-up.  I'm excited to see Triangle Start-Up Factory accelerate more good things in the Bull City.

Tracking Churn Versus Froth

This weekend, Kelly, Thomas, and I had brunch with some of the very smart guys at Shoeboxed.  Much of the conversation centered about best practices for measuring customer retention, as all great brunch conversations do.  Which lead to some interesting ideas around tracking churn versus tracking froth.

Delineating between churn and froth makes it easier to more accurately pinpoint and address the reasons behind lost customers.  Churn represents customers that cancel their subscription 3 months (or more) after signing up.  Froth represents customers that cancel their subscription within 3 months of signing up.  These are simple definitions, there are many other ways to define the metrics.

A high churn rate more likely indicates a product problem.  Churned customers bought into the value prop and stuck around, but didn't get long term value from your product.  This might suggest that certain features might be lacking or that the scope of your product is too broad.

A high froth rate more likely indicates a marketing problem or, to a lesser extent, an on-boarding problem.  Your marketing programs might be generating leads outside of your sweet spot.  Or your sales team may not be properly qualifying opportunities.  Or your services programs might be under-resourced such that new customers don't get the proper resources/training to ensure that they properly use your product from the outset. 

Both metrics are important and inform different strategic decisions for SaaS companies.  Identifying the characteristics of churny and frothy customers and pro-actively addressing the issues will pay off in the long term.

Ramping New Sales People

We had a class of 6 new sales people start at Argyle last week. In addition to the usual sales, product, company training, we're doing some interesting things to get this class of (very smart, very eager!) noobs up to speed:

1.)  Just as I do with all new hires - I spent a couple hours with the new folks sharing the history behind Argyle and our mission/purpose/values.  I'm a big believer in mapping the day-to-day to the bigger picture as much as possible, so I like to make sure that new team members get a very clear picture of who we are and what we believe at Argyle.

2.)  The reps earn small wins every day based on their performance and level of activity.  The first rep to complete an assessment call earned a $50 AMZN gift card.  The first rep to complete 5 assessment calls earns a $50 AMZN gift card.  And so on.  Our Dir of Sales Vimal Patel is great at using games and/or small incentives to encourage the right behavior.

3.)  The reps level-up based on performance.  We have a few lead sprinklers that assign leads to sales associates.  Reps earn access to the "better" sprinklers based on their performance.   Reps start out cold calling and dumpster diving in Salesforce.  They will eventually (hopefully!) earn their way to the most desirable sprinkler, which allocates the "I'd like a demo of Argyle, please!" leads.  These leads close more quickly and more frequently, so the they have a very strong incentive to work up the food chain as quickly as possible.  This idea came from Tristan, our Dir of Ops. 


San Francisco Debrief

My business partner Adam and I spent a few days doing business in San Francisco last week.  All business and/or relationship development, no fundraising.  

I've been to San Francisco multiple times, but this was my first visit as the CEO of a start-up.  (If you're new to this blog - my company Argyle Social is based in Durham, NC.)  It was an eye-opening experience.  Turns out that a lot of what they say about the Valley is true.

1.)  Everyone very genuinely wanted to help us out.  We met with 8 companies - some big companies that you may have heard of like Twitter and some smaller companies that you will probably hear of soon.  Every conversation was incredibly transparent and collaborative, even though Adam and I were complete strangers for the most part.  A case in point of start-ups (and former start-ups made big) helping each other out.

2.)  Everybody knows everybody.  The UserVoice guy went to a beer night at Klout.  The Klout guy's brother is the API guy at Twitter.  The business development guy at Twitter went to UNC.  (You get the idea.)  No different than any other start-up community...except that the Valley connections are with the most important companies in the world.  Adam and I made great connections on this trip and I'm confident that these great connections will yield even more connections.

3.)  Start-ups are everywhere.  Adam got the great idea to start using Foursquare on the trip...and he convinced me to join the effort.  It was amazing - and, frankly, frustrating - to do a Foursquare check in at Klout and find that GitHub, EventBrite, EngineYard, a laundry list of other interesting companies are within a 100 yard radius.  There are a handful of start-ups in Durham, NC that I consider peers.  There are a handful of start-ups in every building south of Market in San Francisco.  And we didn't even venture out to Mountain View, Palo Alto, etc.

I'll be making trips like this (at least) once a quarter going forward and I strongly recommend it to any other CEO of a web start-up.  It is useful to get away from the office so that you can think, helpful to build relationships outside of your geography, and energizing to get plugged in to the epicenter of the business.  

Book a few meaningful anchor meetings that actually warrant the trip and then work your network to fill up the rest of your time with spec meetings.  

The Risky Start-Up Myth

Argyle presented at Tech Jobs Under the Big Top last week.  Big Top is a very cool, circus-themed job fair put on by Durham start-up instigator Chris Heivly.  

The event was a lot of fun and we met quite a few interesting candidates that I suspect we'll phone screen over the next couple weeks.  We also met an endless stream of unemployed people - some recently, some more-than-recently - that had spent their careers at big companies like IBM, Cisco, etc.  

Many young professionals and graduating students look to these big companies as the "safe" place to work.  You can get experience, you can move up the ranks, and so on.  

There are certainly reasons to work for big companies, but I believe that this "safety" is a fallacy in large part because one has very little control of their own destiny at very large organizations.  A fluctuation in the share price or a decision from on high or a mistake four times removed from one's role might end up in cancelled projects, missed promotions, or worse.  The unemployed big company people I met at the event seemed perfectly capable, just unfortunate.

Sure - start-ups are risky...and risky beyond comprehension in the very early stages.  But one's scope of influence is much larger and the distance between input and output is practically zero.  Plus, one can actually eliminate risk at a start-up.  Most of my day-to-day actions at Argyle are focused on making our business more predictable, repeatable, and scalable.

To bring this full circle, imagine the irony when one of the larger companies that participated in the Big Top event "pitched" the audience by showing a video that featured its employees gushing about their job security and peace of mind.  I couldn't help but laugh to myself just a little...

A Few Fundraising Lessons

Argyle closed a $1.24M Series A a few weeks ago.  You can read about it on our blog.

Though we ended up opting to raise an internal round, I spent lots of time interacting with several prospective investors.  I learned some lessons along the way, mostly by making mistakes.  Here are a few mistakes/lessons fit for public disclosure:

1.)  Don't waste time following up on unsolicited emails from Junior Associates.  It was pretty exciting to get pinged by prospective investors the first few times, but I quickly caught on to the schtick. The pitch is always the same - We've heard a lot of great things about you, we're interested in the space, let's spend some time on the phone. It only takes a couple of these phone calls to realize that these emails usually come from a 24 year-old Associates that just got out of an investment banking job, knows absolutely nothing about your business, and has next to no influence at their firm.  They're just prospecting for deals.

2.)  Don't waste time talking to funds that don't invest in early stage deals.  Everyone says that they're an early stage investor, but that's certainly not always the case.  Many mid/growth stage investors will spend time with early-stage companies just to get a close look at the business/team in hopes of building a relationship.  Make sure that you understand the fund that you're pitching - both in terms of deal stage and fund stage - otherwise you'll spin your wheels with someone that is 18 months away from even thinking about writing a check.  Most VC/PE funds detail the characteristics of a typical deal on their site...or they'll simply tell you if you just ask.

3.)  Don't discount the power of the network.  Several people helped me kickstart the fundraising process by making email introductions to prospective investors that I didn't know.  At the time, I was a bit surprised by how many of them turned into significant conversations.  Looking back, it makes a lot more sense.  The network is everything when it comes to putting a deal together.  Once I made a connection with an investor, it was very common for them to introduce me (via email) to a portfolio CEO or another propsective investor as a part of the shakedown process.  It really is a game of who knows whom and who thinks what - a game make all the more interesting because everybody knows everybody else.

These are the tip of the iceberg lessons.  I'll share the rest in my memoirs.  Or perhaps over drinks if you buy me enough beer.  :)

Quarterly Planning For Start-Ups

I've been switching in and out of quarterly planning mode for the past few weeks.  So I thought I'd share a few thoughts on the matter:

SWAGs are fine at first.  Our Q1 2011 plan was our first ever official "quarterly plan".  I put it together an hour before I presented it to the team.

I pulled most of the quantitative goals out of thin air and spent 30 minutes running through the product plan by Adam.  It really wouldn't have made sense to do much more at the time.  We were still in survival mode at the time, so the plan really boiled down to "ship product, get customers, as fast as possible".  

We moved around some of the product priorities, but we otherwise did just about everything that we said that we were going to do - including hit the number.  Execution against a plan builds credibilty with the team and the board, so this was a big win for us.

SWAG planning falls apart fast.  I did the Q2 plan in the same fashion and it burned me a little bit.  

My board called me out on one of the numbers that I lazily forecasted.  (We were very fortunate to have numbers that actually started to matter!)  And our Director of Operations called me out for not including him in the process, rightfully so I might add.

At this point, we had enough moving parts to warrant a more thoughtful plan around top priorities.  In retrospect, I think this transition snuck up on me a little bit.  When you're slogging it out every day, it becomes difficult to look up and recognize that you're actually starting to make progress.  

Survival mode becomes habit if you're not careful.  And a potentially a dangerous habit if you don't poke out of the weeds from time to time.  It is imperative to make sure that the team is marching towards the same objective, even when you're in the process of figuring out the direction.

Minimum Viable Planning.  The Q3 planning process has been much more collaborative and much broader.  That said, the process remains fairly lean. We're using the same planning template as the past, just with a clearer story and more supplementary content.

Instead of dictating the goals and plans, I've tried to set a direction and the top priorities - in conjunction with Adam - so that the team and I can collaborate on the plan.  Every functional area has provided P1s (short, memorable phrases like "Build Machinery" that represent the "priority one" for the quarter) and a few quantitative goals that align with the strategic theme for the quarter.  

We have a plan and it is a smart one.  And we're going to execute the sh!t out of it.

That said, there are definitely some things that I'll do differently when we start planning for Q4.  I suppose I'll write about it then.

The Importance of Homemade Words

My sister and I made up lots of words when we were kids.  (This is before my brother was born - when we stopped making up words and just taught Evan to repeat the silly things we said.)

The words made no sense whatsoever and I have no idea what in the world we were doing that made us come up with them.  But I'll never forget "chungum", "mezzali", "flowerdymane" and others - nor will I forget what the words mean!

Silly words and acronymns are fun and they're great tools to drive process for teams.  For example, we use the following at Argyle: 

  • Demopportunity - the combination of demo and opportunity reminds the sales guys that all demos should get converted as Opportunities in Salesforce.  And that they should think carefully about the prospects that they demo.
  • BLUW - this is an acronymn for Budget, Looking, Understands, Willing - which is Argyle's version of BANT.  We refer to leads as "bluw" - pronounced like the color blue - with regularity.  I ask "Is it bluw?" several times a day.
  • TWBAGMI - this is an acronymn for "This will be a great meeting if...".  It is pronounced as "T.W. Bag Me".  We don't use it internally, but I think about it when I run meetings to make sure that I'm working towards a goal - either mine or my colleague's.  My friend Matt mentioned the acronymn to me in passing in 2005 and it stuck.

Any homemade words or acronymns you'd like to share?

Tips For Your Start-Up's First Board Meeting

My friend recently closed a financing and will have his first board meeting this afternoon.  His company has been around for a while and is doing quite well - but this is the first institutional money he's raised and the first time his company has had an "official" board.

Exchanging emails with him this morning made me think about Argyle's first board meeting in October, so I thought I'd share a few thoughts that entrepreneurs might consider going into their first board meeting with investors:

  • Don't be nervous.  I was pretty terrified going into our first board meeting - I had never been a CEO and I had no idea how boards work.  Turns out it was a piece of cake.  If you've raised money from great investors, they've likely done 100s of board meetings and will help shepherd you through the process until you figure it out - which generally takes a meeting or two.
  • Start by saying "thank you".  The board members just invested in your company and - in doing so - showed that they have a lot of confidence in your company and your ability as an entrepreneur. You likely just wrapped up a stressful ("adversarial" - at least legally speaking) negotiation to get the deal done, so it is great to start out on a really positive note!  
  • Prepare a very simple board deck, if you even prepare a deck at all.  Certainly talk about any pressing near-term issues, but otherwise make the meeting a meeting about future meetings.  Talk in broad strokes about how the board should function going forward and discuss the indicators you'll want to track as a company.
  • Give your board homework.  I asked for 5 sales lead email intros per board member in the first meeting.  Everyone loved it.  And everyone delivered.  We got a customer out of it and a few very valuable relationships.
  • Enjoy the honeymoon.  For a very early stage company, the first post-investment board meeting should be a high-five event - everyone is excited about the future...a future that you're going to create with your fresh slug of cash.  This is a very exciting time for your company!  But recognize that reality happens quickly and board meetings will quickly evolve into actual board meetings!

You might also want to read some other tips for start-up board meetings that I published a few weeks back.

Sales People Do Exactly What You Pay Them To Do

The Argyle sales machine is powered by three very talented youngsters:  Danny, Matt, and Clay AKA "DMC".  Even though they're not 15 year sales veterans, they're very quickly learning the trade and very quickly driving results.  

They're also very quickly showing many of the classic sales behaviors!

They follow the money.  We made a minor tweak to our comp plan last month and the team very quickly figured out the types of deals that make them the most commission.  And now they're trying to find as many of those deals as possible.  Similarly, they're quickly learning to make calculations regarding their time, the particulars of the prospect, the likelihood a deal closes, and the likely pay-off.  This is exactly the type of balancing act that you want them to learn as a manager.

They ask for what they need to make more money.  Our product is constantly evolving and we definitely have a few shortcomings in some important funtional areas.  And the sale guys are very vocal about it.  In their minds, addressing these shortcomings will help them sell more product...which will help them make more money!

They ask for what they need to save time...which helps them make more money.  We use Salesforce.com and we have (what I suspect is) a reasonably advanced implementation for a team as small as ours.  But our guys are always driving for more process and cleaner workflow so that they can spend more time dialing and less time administrating.  (This type of process feedback is one reason our team rocks!)

In short - our sales team does EXACTLY what we pay them to do.  Which is why it is critical that sales compensation plans align with broader sales, marketing, product, etc. strategies.  More on this in a future post. 

The Sales Break Up Voicemail

If you've ever worked in sales, then you know this routine:

  • Lead pops up via free trial, whitepaper download, demo request, etc.
  • Sales guy immediately calls lead...no answer, leaves voicemail and sends email.
  • Sales guy tries to contact lead for a week or two with no response - leaves more vmails, emails.
  • ...
  • Sales guy eventually moves on to the next lead.

 This is a universal occurence and of couse we deal with it a lot at Argyle.

I recently read a blog post about leaving a "break up" message with these leads.  (Can't remember the source - will add a link if I can dig it up.)  Instead of the standard follow-up stuff - thanks for your interest, just following up, value proposition, etc. - the break-up message is literally a break-up:

Hey there - it's Eric calling from Argyle.  I've tried contacting you a few times regarding your recent inquiry.  We haven't been able to connect, so I'm guessing you've moved on to other options.  If there is anything I can do to be helpful, please don't hesitate to call - otherwise, this will be the last time I contact you.  I appreciate your interest in Argyle!

We've started doing this at Argyle...and it works.  Don't have any quantitative data, but the anecdotal evidence is pretty compelling!  Prospects call back and they respond to the email.  And if they don't, then your sales reps don't waste anytime chasing down prospects that aren't ready to start the sales process.

I suggest giving it a shot.

Three Tips For Early Stage Board Meetings

My friends Matt and Brad started a company called Windsor Circle and recently raised $350k to build e-commerce integration software.  Matt led his first board meeting a couple weeks ago and, prior to the meeting, emailed me and another local start-up CEO - Doug from Spring Metrics - to ask about "the three things to keep in mind" for early stage start-up board meetings.

Here is a summary of my response to Matt's message:

1.  Be careful that you don't spend too much time talking about product minutia.  We spend maybe 10 minutes of every board meeting talking about the product.  It is usually a description of what we've done and what we're doing next...and how it will help us generate more revenue.  

This might seem counter-intuitive to lean-start-up-product-driven entrepreneurs - Doug actually disagreed very strongly in a follow-up email.  The reality is that we OBSESS over our product and our customers at Argyle.  Aside from prioritizing projects, product development is the part of our business that I worry about the least.  (This is a testament to our product team - Adam, Mike, & Josh.)  So I prefer to use our board meetings to talk about business-building issues.

2.  You shouldn't show your board a number, forecast, etc. unless you can explain in detail where it came from or at least explain the assumptions you made when you derived it.  I've gotten called out on lazy numbers a few times, so I've learned this one the hard way.  This mainly applies to forecasts and goals - actuals are generally pretty easy to explain.

3.  You'll get MUCH more value talking about the future than reviewing the recent past.  The standard metrics and reports are important and it is obviously very important to understand how these numbers drive your business.  But it is also very easy to get caught up in details that don't matter nearly as much as pending decisions around fundraising, recruiting, partnerships, customer acquisition, etc.

I'm no expert in board meetings.  And I'll be the first to admit I was pretty terrified when I led our first board meeting back in October.  And I'll further admit that I've got MUCH to learn about being a CEO and running an effective board.  But I think we do a pretty good job focusing on key issues at the board level.

How Smart People Respond to Intro Emails

I send my fair share of introduction emails - usually solicited.  And more and more find myself on the receiving end - often unsolicited.  Doesn't really matter, I suppose.  I genuinely enjoy getting connected with new people.

Given the volume of these emails I process, I've learned the finer points of responding and moving the conversation from email to phone.  Here are examples of the wrong way and the right way to respond to an email intro.

The Wrong Way:

Nice to meet you Eric.  I'd love to steal about 15 to 20 minutes of your time to get your thoughts on how blah blah blah

Let me know if something works for you.  If it's convenient please feel free to grab a slot on my calendar here:  http://tungle.me/sucks

I received this one a few days ago - not the worst reply in the world, but could be much better.*  This person asked for the call...and then put the onus on me to schedule the call.  Plus, the email doesn't really convey to me how this call is worth my time.  Lastly, Tungle.me is massively annoying and off-putting.  

After I received this email, I made a point to tell all of our sales guys that they should respond to email introductions the right way.

The Right Way:

Thanks for the intro, Bo.  (Moved to bcc.)

Nice to meet you, Mark.  Would love to line up a chat to get acquainted and to share what we're building at Argyle.  In short - we do social media management with a focus on automation and conversion analytics.  Definitely think that there are some ways to we can be helpful to each other.

Here are a few days times that work for a call:

- Mon May 23 - 2pm to 3:30pm EST
- Wed May 25 - 2pm to 6pm EST
- Thu May 26 - 11am to 2pm EST

Let me know what day/time works and I'll send over an invitation.

Re: KFBS - I graduated from the full-time program in May 2009.  Based on your graduation year per LinkedIn, you might know my friend blah blah...

Hope to talk soon.


When I'm on the receiving end of a valuable email introduction, I do my best to close the phone call.  I frame what Argyle is all about, sell the conversation, make it dead simple for the other person to make it happen (just tell me a time and I'll do the work), and - whenever possible - try to make a personal connection.

Seriously - don't be lazy.  An email introduction can be solid gold.  Put in the effort to close the deal.  It pays off over time.

*I recognize that I might not be worth the effort of a more aggressive intro follow-up email.  :)

Directors, VPs, & CXOs

These days, we're spending more time thinking about new hires and organizational structure.  In particular, we're thinking about the hires we need to manage the different functional areas of our business - sales, marketing, client services, etc.

We actually have a list of the functional areas and a list of the people - some we know, some we don't - that we think might be a good fit for the role.  For each of these roles, we try to fit the prospective hires into one of three seniority buckets:

Director - younger person that might currently be a Director elsewhere and have his eyes on the VP job.  We would expect this person to get his hands dirty at first and grow into a leader/VP type.  Probably has a chip on his shoulders, probably hungry to work hard.  Big risk, potentially big reward.

VP - more senior person that is more about managing, less about doing.  She is probably already a VP...or maybe a Director looking to step-up.  More experienced.  Less risky.  More expensive.

CXO - very senior person, definitely with a track record, probably a game-changing hire.  Very expensive...but also most likely worth the price.  Biggest concern is cultural fit given our stage.

(I'm a stickler for accurate titles - so this stuff matters to me.)

There are obviously trade-offs across each - compensation, risk, experience, cultural fit, scalability, etc.  And as is often the case, I tend to liken trade-offs to sports.  

On one extreme is an inexpensive young player with all-star potential and big ambitions - you might draft Kevin Garnett...or you might end up with Gred Oden.  On the other end is very expensive veteran player that is a known quantity with a track record - sometimes it works out perfectly, just like Kevin Garnett going to the Celtics.

Ultimately - I think - it comes down to the person.  As our "people we'd like to hire list" migh imply, we'll look for the right person for the role - regardless of experience - and then figure out a way to make it work.

Where Should I Bank My Start-Up?

I had a quick chat with a Durham-based entrepreneur in our office this morning.  I'm not sure how we got to the topic of banking, but he mentioned that he had an account with SunTrust or Bank of America or some other "normal" bank.

I immediately suggested that he contact Zack Mansfield at Square 1 Bank - which is where we bank at Argyle - or contact someone at Silicon Valley Bank.  Many entrepreneurs don't know about these banks - but they specialize in financial services for start-ups and venture capital.

I made the suggestion for a few reasons:

  • These banks understand the process of starting and building a company.  And they understand the financing challenges entrepreneurs face along the journey.  So instead of working with a banker whose other customers are "traditional" businesses, you'll work with a banker whose other customers are guys just like you.
  • Because of the focus on entrepreneurs, these banks provide great networking opportunities.  Square 1 hosts a monthly event called NC Spark for the CXOs of it's Durham-based clients - always great conversations and beers.  The folks at Square 1 and SVB have both introduced me to prospective investors.  Zack at Square 1 recently made an introduction to an employee that we hired a week after the email introduction.
  • The advisory services we've gotten from Square 1 have been great.  Can't imagine that a relationship banker at SunTrust would be able to help me think through fundraising complexities and growth challenges we've encountered over the past year or so.  Adam Smith - Zack's predecessor, now at StatSheet - was particularly helpful in this regard.

So there you go.  Don't bank your start-up at the local BB&T.

How Growing Start-Ups Should Do Meetings

In short - all at once, very quickly, if at all.

I hate meetings just as much as the next guy - but I feel like we do them pretty well at Argyle.  On Monday mornings, I have:

  • 8am sales team meeting to talk about the number, the pipeline, and any interesting/important opportunities.  Since we have a small and growing team, we also discuss process and best practices. Salesforce.com drives all of the reporting automatically.
  • 9:30am client services team meeting to talk about our customers, outstanding and/or tricky support inquiries, and projects like demo videos, collateral, surveys, etc.  We're not as data-driven in this area as we need to be...but we also just hired our first Account Manager.  So we're still finding our way.
  • 10am meeting with Adam - Argyle co-founder and CTO - to make sure that we have at least one time set aside during the week to stay in synch.  Lately we've been talking about fundraising and baby raising.  (Adam has a 3-month old and I'm expecting baby #1 - a boy - in a couple months.)
  • 11am all-hands meeting to talk about the company and each of the moving parts.  It is important that everyone knows what everyone else is doing so that we're always pulling in the same direction.  It is also important to share individual and team successes across the company.  There are 9 of us now, so these meetings are quite a bit different that just a few months ago.  And I suspect that they'll be different again 3 months from today.
  • The product team uses a scrum methodology, so they have lots of meetings - but they're all very focused and very fast.  I join some of these meetings - usually also on Mondays.

Aside from scrum meetings, that's it - so we get it all out of the way at the beginning of the week.  

The meetings are very focused - we use the same agenda format for each meeting and focus on the same core metrics and topics.  We generally don't make decisions during these meetings - they're usually status updates, feedback sessions, Q&A, etc.

Because the meetings are focused, they're also usually very fast.  All are less than 30 minutes, sometimes less than 15.