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.

Business Lessons From Baseball Cards

This post started as a comment on David Cummings' blog - he wrote a great post about his brief experience as a sports memorabilia dealer when he was in high school.  His subsequent ventures have been much more successful...and his blog should be required reading for SaaS start-ups.

I've written once before about my childhood obsession with professional athletes - their autographs, their statistics, and - of course - their trading cards.  I had a great time as a kid soliciting autographs via fan mail, which was often ghost written by my dad.

David's post inspired me to jot down a few business lessons I can recall from my incredibly nerdy time trading ball cards with my equally nerdy friends in the late 80s and early 90s:

Ask for what you want.  I was obsessed with collecting Wade Boggs cards because we share the same, unique last name, because we both batted left-handed, and because we were both doubles hitters - which was code for "too weak to hit for power" in my case.  I knew what I wanted and I made the trades to get it.

Know what the other guy wants.  Similarly, I knew what my friends wanted.  Drew liked Joe Oliver and the Cincy Reds, Joel was a sucker for Jose Canseco, Justin went for any trade involving a Washington Redskin, etc.  I made some great trades exploiting these weaknesses.  I fleeced my (admittedly younger) cousin for a Jerry Rice rookie card with a crusty Art Monk card that he didn't have - just because he was obsessed with the distinguished Redskin.  (Of course, I'm sure I gave up the farm to get an elusive Wade Boggs card on several occassions.)

Understand value.  I remember verly clearly chirping to my father:  "This card is worth $10!"  And he would invariably respond:  "Worth $10 to who?"  His response infuriated me when I was a youngster because I never had a clever retort and because I knew that the card was worth something to someone besides just me - but I didn't really understand how or why, that is other than it was listed in the Beckett Baseball Card monthly as worth $10.  Turns out that the market defines the value - not me, not my dad, and often not even the hallowed Beckett.

Take care of your childhood toys.  My father had several thousand dollars worth (in 1991) of baseball cards from his childhood - Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, Willie Mays, etc.  He just made the mistake of clothespinning them to his bicycle so that his spokes would make a cool noise while he rode around the farm.  :)

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 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.  :)


I read Rework cover-to-cover this afternoon.  Time well-spent.

Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson wrote the book - they're two of the brains behind 37Signals, an iconic software company that creates amazingly simple, useful products and has helped redefine the online software business.

The book is about starting and growing a business.  It is simple, direct, and reasonable - basically a collection of one page manifestos, each coupled with a great illustration.  You can download a sample here.

Some of my favorite nuggets:

Who cares what they're doing?  "Focus on competitors too much and you wind up diluting your own vision."

Pick a fight.  "If you think a competitor sucks, say so."

Out-teach your competition.  "Teach and you'll form a bond you just don't get from traditional marketing."

Build half a product, not a half-assed product.  "Getting to great starts by cutting stuff that's merely good."

The content isn't necessarily earth-shattering - but the book's clarity, honesty, and applicability are truly genius.  Highly recommend the read.



NFLX hit an all-time high today, which reminded how much I love Netflix, its product, and its "Freedom & Responsibility Culture".  It also reminded me how much I hate BlockBuster and everything it stands for. 

Hey Blockbuster!  Remember all of those late fees?  This is what happens when you charge "fees" instead of create "value": 

Oh - that and your credit rating gets slashed.

Adios, Blockbuster.  I look forward to reading your Chapter 11 filing.  Wow!  What a difference!

Prediction - HubSpot Will Acquire An ESP In 2010

The ExactTarget / CoTweet deal got me thinking...and here's one of many thoughts:

HubSpot is going to buy an email marketing service provider 2010.  And I have a few pretty good ideas of who it could be.

Here's why it is going to happen:

It is blatantly obvious. 

The guys at HubSpot have built a fantastic B2B lead management machine with some nicely integrated SEO, blog, and other content tools.  (And probably more - I'm not an expert on their platform.)

Email is the obvious missing piece.  I think HubSpot already provides customers tools for simple nurturing campaigns...but my hunch is that there remains MUCH room for improvement. (What about mailings that are independent of a lead form or the HubSpot platform?)

I also suspect that many of HubSpot's low/mid-tier customers would gladly dump their existing email vendor for a reasonable, integrated offering from HubSpot.

(Yes - email marketing kinda goes against the inbound credo.  But if you do it right, email marketing makes inbound marketing MUCH stronger.)

Email marketing isn't easy...

...and it certainly can't be dumbed-down into a grader.  (Zing!)  Deliverability, workflow, reputation, best practices, etc. all have a steep learning curve - both for the customer and the vendor.  The best email marketing apps are highly specialized and get all of the little details just right.

Instead of trying to build it all in-house, HubSpot would be smart to buy a platform and all of the email marketing product/industry expertise that comes with it.

They've got to keep pace.

Eventually, HubSpot will to start bumping into up-market vendors like Marketo, Eloqua, and Salesforce.com - all of which have very strong email marketing components, either native or through amazingly tight integrations.  Thus, it would take them a long time to build out a feature-complete email platform that is strong enough to compel marketers to switch from their existing vendor.

So they'll buy a mid-tier vendor, integrate the platform with HubSpot, happily accept the top-line bump from the new contracts, and make up a lot of ground with their biggest competitors - all in one smart acquisiton.

They're flush with cash.

HubSpot CEO Brian Halligan recently said that the firm's next financing round would hopefully come from public markets, which means that their last round came at a great valuation and gives them a nice, long runway to grow...a runway presumably lengthened by the gobs of cash they're raking in every month.

A $8M - $15M acquisition is certainly in their sweet spot.  And the list of email marketing vendors that match that profile is fairly short.

PS - Here's why it won't happen:

  • They won't be able to get a good price from a good ESP.
  • Despite everything I just said, HubSpot seems like a builder...not a buyer.
  • I'm just taking a wild guess.

Culture According To Netflix

I can't remember how I found it...but this presentation about the "Freedom & Responsibility Culture" at Netflix from CEO Reed Hastings is pretty amazing.

Netflix doesn't seem like the ideal workplace for everyone...and that is precisely the point. It certainly sets the bar for me in terms of the company that I just birthed and the company I hope to build.

Also - you can take my commentary with a grain of salt. I haven't worked for an "organization" since May 2007...and that company was a late-stage 25-person software start-up.

A few of my favorite nuggets, all quoted/editorialized directly from the presentation:

Real company values are reflected in who gets rewarded, promoted, or let go. So true. Actions are way more important than granite-carved words in the lobby. Despite what they may say - your employees want more money and more recognition. Volunteer days, birthday parties, quirky events, Hawaiin-shirt-day, etc are nice and important - but only cosmetic reflections of a culture.

Adequate performance gets a generous severance package. Fear as a motivating factor? I don't hink so. Iron sharpening iron. A players want to work with other A players.

We're a team, not a family. This is probably borderline inflammatory for some, but I dig it. I've had the good fortune of working with tons of people that I like. But I've had very very very few co-workers that I love/respect as family - same for just about everyone, I'm sure. So why not just drop the lip service?

We're like a pro sports team, not a kids recreational team. Hilarious and spot on in so many ways.

Our model is to increase employee freedom as we grow. This is the most ambitious statement in the entire document. Certainly a worthwhile ideal, but only doable with A+ players throughout the organization. Not just at the management level.

Avoid chaos as you grow with ever move high performing people, not with rules. See above.

Netflix Vacation Policy - There is no vacation policy. Focus on what gets done. Not necessarily when and how.

One outstanding employee gets more done and costs less than two adequate employees. Yes, yes, yes. Salary/benefits are the obvious new-hire costs, but the secondary costs are just as important. One bad seed or one lazy colleague or simply an "average" performer can create all kinds of productivity, teamwork, and culture challenges.

Give people big salaries and the freedom to spend as they think best. Variable compensation is extremely motivating and an absolute necessity for some roles - ie sales. However, if you're running a Netflix-type org - A+ players, freedom, competition - then straight salary makes the most sense.

Individuals should manage their own career paths and not rely on a corporation for planning their careers. If I were Jeff Fischer - the Director of Career Management at Kenan-Flagler - or Shawn Graham - Director of Career Management at Pitt Katz - I would have this tatooed to my forehead.

Help Hajo Meet The Hoff

My friend Hajo is in the cereal business.  (I've written about him before.)  He specializes in delicious, gluten-free, custom cereals.  The concept comes from a similar business that has been very successful in Deutschland.

My friend Hajo is also German...which means he LOVES David Hasslehoff - because all Germans love David Hasslehoff.  This is a fact. Seriously - what is not to love about his legendary Berlin Wall performance

(Why did the Berlin Wall come down?  Because The Hoff rocked it so hard with the piano key neckerchief and blinky Christmas light leather jacket, that's why.)


  • Germany's greatest export to the US = delicious, custom-mixed cereal.
  • America's greatest export to Germany = The Hoff

Thus, over lunch last week, Hajo - with help from Allen and your's truly - came to the only logical conclusion:

David Hasslehoff MUST have Hajo's delicious Custom Choice Cereal. 

So Hajo set the goal of personally delivering a bag of cereal to The Hoff by the end of March 2010.  More on the CCC blog.

Here's how you can help in 3 easy steps:

  1. Get inspired.
  2. Repost this on your blog/social network of choice.
  3. Buy some yummy cereal from Hajo so that he can afford a plane ticket to LA.

Launching A Business In The Cloud

I started writing this in early July...and just now finished it.  So some of the temporal references are a bit off.


I've built most of the operational plumbing for a small business over the past few weeks...and I've done it all without installing a single piece of software or building a single MS Office document.  (OK - except for an overly-MBA'ed financial model in Excel.) 

Here's the playbook for launching a lightweight company in the cloud:

Web:  Squarespace.com

I showed my friend Tristan an early (and hideous) mock-up of Argyle's website one afternoon in the Kenan-Flagler cafe.  After a quick look, he replied with three very wise questions:

  1. What are you doing?
  2. Don't you know the best time to change directions in an IT implementation is at the beginning of the project?
  3. Will you please let me show you Squarespace?

I was on the cusp of a custom-built disaster...and Tristan intervened just in time to introduce me to the best web app I've used in a long time.

Except for the images I bought from iStockPhoto and a few blurbs of custom CSS and HTML, Squarespace elegantly powers every pixel of ArgyleMail.com.  Point and click, drag and drop, save and close - it could not have been easier to put together a polished, professional website.  All for ~$30/month.

I can't say enough good things about the service.

(Note - Tristan works there now.)

CRM - Salesforce.com

Admittedly, Salesforce.com is waaaay more than I need at this point.  However, it is very helpful for getting out of spreadsheets, formalizing processes, and taking baby steps towards becoming a data-driven company.

I paid $99 for a year's worth of Group Edition - which includes a handful of users, several helpful Google integrations, and more than enough functionality to keep me going for a long time.

I haven't done it yet - but it is (kinda) easy to integrate a web form to dump contact data directly from my site to my CRM.

Accounting/Billing - Quickbooks Online

While it isn't the prettiest application, Quickbooks gets the job done.  As far as I know, the online edition offers the same functionality as the installed edition. There are some other apps that offer similar services - Freshbooks is probably the most popular - but QB is the most comprehensive.

They also offer a merchant account service that is a little pricey, but integrates nicely with the service.  It is a little clunky billing customers, but I don't really have the volume to warrant an upgrade.

Operations - Google Apps

I run my email, my calendar, and (most of) my documents through Google.  Extremely easy and beautifully functional. 

I can't imagine why any small business would deal with the hassle of hosting their own productivity services when - after some easy DNS changes and a quick set-up - they can run it all through Google for free (in most cases) or cheap. 

The Salesforce.com integration makes it an even bigger no-brainer.

Prohibition Homebrew

Check out my friend Alex Foley's latest venture -  http://prohibitionhomebrew.com.

Prohibition Homebrew is an e-commerce site specializing in homebrewing supplies, ingredients, etc.  They're doing some smart stuff through Facebook Connect to cultivate a community of homebrewers.

From their site:

Prohibition Homebrew is the world's first fully integrated online community where homebrewers can share their recipes as well as track and document each batch of beer throughout the brewing process. Users can share photos, videos, equipment recommendations, and shop for necessary items in the online store. Each Speakeasy Community member can record and store data on every batch of beer they brew in order to improve and perfect their recipes.

Spread the word to your brewmaster friends!

Who Is John Galt?

I have a deeply held belief that the primary reason that most people go to the ballet is so that they can say that they went to the ballet.

Until recently, I thought the same thing about reading "Atlas Shrugged" - a beast of a book that is admittedly good, important, etc. - but amazingly redundant and philosophically somewhat glib.  Lots of people read the book and then like to talk about how they've read the book, blah blah blah...in which case I usually roll my eyes and admit that I have read it too.

(Yes - I recognize the irony of a post about how I read "Atlas Shrugged".)

Turns out, the book was an eerie harbinger of the mismanagement, bailouts, intervention, etc. we've seen over the past month.  The Wall Street Journal paints a scary portrait.

FYI - John Galt is the mysterious hero from "Atlas Shrugged"...which I read, by the way.

Time To Buy...I Think?

After getting Kelly's permission via IM, I just bought GOOG at 393 and AAPL at 104.  Yes - I ignored my own advice and used more of my student loan to finance the (laughably small) transactions.  Why?


- Advertising budgets will shrink during a recession, but direct marketing budgets should remain strong.  Companies still have to acquire customers - even if they're treading water - right?  (I think I read that somewhere...or maybe I just made it up.)  PPC advertising is much closer to direct marketing than advertising and should remain relatively strong (compared to other advertising categories) during a downturn.  The ROI is a cinch to calculate and - more importantly - the service works, thus the case for AdWords should remain a no-brainer.

- My recent liberation from MS Office to Google Docs has been a complete success.  I've opened Excel only a few times over the past month - and each time was to work in a very complex financial model.  Otherwise, I've worked exclusively with Docs.  The formatting isn't as slick as it could be and I can't do page numbers - both of which are fixable problems for Google, by the way -  but the content is exactly the same and my work-flow is much cleaner.  The way I see it - businesses are going to look for ways to cut corners, MS Office is expensive, Google Docs is free/cheap, most people don't build buyout models every day, and I'll turn a profit with my piddly Google investment.


- This one isn't as clear cut for me - instead it is more a depedent argument based on my Google hypothesis.  As companies/individuals move to Google (or the web in general) for their productivity applications, platform becomes much less of an issue, thus more people will be comfortable switching to Macs.

- Unlike iPods, iPhones aren't a luxury purchase.  They offer true productivity advantages and stand to change computing game going forward...that is if they haven't already.  They might not sell like hotcakes this Christmas, but they're still going to a hot ticket item and should find their way into the enterprise sooner rather than later.

- The Jerry Seinfeld and "I'm a PC" commercials are horrible.

2 posts in one day.  Wondering why I haven't been doing this more often of late...