Mass Innovation #16

Neuron Robotics President Robert Breznak and I attended Mass Inno together again, and it was a blast as usual. Thank you again to our wonderful hostess, Bobbie Carlton. How does she do it?

We got to talk about our TEDxBoston pre-adventure, of course.

I’ve been coming since December of 2009, so it’s often an opportunity to see old friends, and meet new ones. #MIN16 was no exception.

We met the following people:

  • Joe Baz of Above the Fold – he is a User Experience Designer – I should’ve talked to him about Ultimate Frisbee!
  • Kristin Brenna of 603 Clothing – they make environmentally friendly custom tee shirts, etc.
  • James Brennan – he gave us some great quick business advice
  • John Hopkins – he gave us some terrific fast financial words of wisdom
  • Jonathan Margalit of Innocentive – they work with around the globe brainpower to solve problems
  • Stephen Potischman of Real Cool TV Productions – they make beautiful web videos
  • Lalitha Ramakrishnan of LSR Associates – they are a translating service, both written and spoken, and
  • Christopher Temper of Baystate Financial Services – he of course provides financial services advice.

Mass Inno would not be complete without its presentations.

First up was Stephen Potischman of Real Cool TV Productions, which I’ve mentioned above. Second was Acquia Drupal Gardens – they help make the Open Source community software, Drupal, easier and better to use. Third was Episend – they make it easy to send nontext messages through Twitter and Facebook, etc. E. g. you can send images, files, mp3s and the like. Last was Pietzo Electric Bicycles – the presenter even rode in on one! They are a way to be green and bike to work without one major complaint people have: breaking a sweat in their nice work clothes on a super-hot day (this was the middle of a heat wave, so it was a rather timely presentation).

Mass Inno is also an occasion to see familiar faces. We saw:

  • Cynthia Andr√© of The Founder Institute and Greenhorn Connect
  • Eric Braun of TeamShare Solutions – they are opening up a South Short Innovation space
  • Braulio Carreno – he is a part of the Anything Goes Lab within the Cambridge Innovation Center
  • Danielle Galmore of Steelcase/Turnstone Furniture – they make (among many other things) funky modular work furniture
  • Dave Fogel of Swifton CFOs – they outsource the senior financial level for emerging businesses
  • Allison Friedman of Rate it Green, a service whereby you can check whether a company’s claims of being environmentally friendly are really the case
  • Paul Geffen of The Founder Institute – they provide a means for company founders to get together and exchange equity
  • Ben Hron of VC Ready Law – I’m sure Mike Cohen was around somewhere, too
  • Rama Nandiwada of IT Shore, her company provides scalable software solutions. She’s been an expert at Mass Inno!
  • Rich Sands of R Sands Consulting – he provides strategic marketing for platform adoption
  • Masoud Shadravan – he’s a software engineer looking for a new gig – Hire him!
  • Christine Sierra of Lexalytics – they provide sentiment and text analysis solutions, and
  • Marcia Weiss of Collaborative Partners in Leadership – they work with executives to improve their leadership skills, communication and relationship strengths and teamwork capacity.

Whew! I think I covered everyone. It was an unexpectedly busy evening; you would think that people would be away for the Summer. Instead, we found a ready audience for showing off the DyIO and talking about our event, #NRBR.

We always have fun at Mass Inno. I hope we can present there ourselves one day!

June 24, 2010 Lean Startup Circle Meeting

On June 24, 2010, I attended a Lean Startup Circle meeting held by Matthew Mamet and Matt Wiseley of EditMe. John Prendergast of BlueLeaf was the co-host.

The meeting began with John talking about what was essentially Lean 101. Lean Startup goes by the lean manufacturing principles of Toyota, whereby they attempt to minimize waste. Customer development is a sophisticated process whereby a product is developed but many companies don’t test what the people actually want. The lean principle is: try to replace guesses with facts, so make decisions based upon metrics.

Then the discussion turned to what pivoting is. In basketball, pivoting consists of the planting of one foot and turning the other one, so that one’s direction is slightly changed. The idea is similar for startups, e. g. you move to something new, by taking what you have and adjusting the direction ever so slightly. This is not a radical overhaul; it’s more like a small course correction. Lean is not the same as bootstrapping (e. g. self-funding) but the two concepts tend to mesh together well.

Then the program turned to EditMe’s experiences. EditMe started off small but eventually turned into (almost) all things to (almost) all people. Matt Wiseley became a Micro ISV, essentially a kind of one-man shop for developing the product. Feature after feature was released, and EditMe’s mission continued to become more and muddied. The Gartner Hype Cycle was explained, so what happened was, EditMe more or less rode a wave of interest but was harmed when that crested wave fell into a trough. What to do?

They surveyed their customers. They were looking for size and for usage of their product. This is customer discovery. After all, who knows what customers want better than … customers?

Next they went to A/B testing. The idea was to use Google Website Optimizer in order to determine which version(s) of their website would create the most conversion. A conversion happened when a visitor signed up for a free trial of their software. John noted that, in a future meetup of the Lean Startup Circle, David Cancel of Performable will be talking about why his company performs A/B testing.

Testing informed EditMe that certain website changes were winners. For example, adding customer logos to their home page added an air of validation from third parties. They also addressed some support questions by rewording their instructions, and headed some signup inquiries off at the pass by making their signup process considerably shorter (only four screens!).

Title copy, the bolding of copy and the perfecting of calls to action all produced big results. One tool they used was to check the Google Overlay to see where their users were clicking (or not). Big changes are preferable to small ones as results are clearer and emerge far more quickly. One week of testing was performed, and then a follow up test was performed for the purposes of confirming results. There was a 95% confidence interval.

Testing then led to an abundance of data, which needed to be understood. A database was created, in order to check the following steps:

  • Acquisition – are people coming to the site? Google Analytics was used to measure this.
  • Activation – are people converting to trial users? This was another area where Google Analytics was used as the measuring stick.
  • Retention – EditMe’s own data was used for this, to show whether trial users became paid users after the expiration of a 30-day trial period.
  • Referral – were customers telling their friends? EditMe used its own data for this. And,
  • Revenue – this information came from EditMe’s own financials.


EditMe was able to prove that conversions were rising. One idea that came out of testing was to see a marked difference between people who converted to paying customers and those who didn’t, in terms of their use of the product. Therefore, EditMe started to send out little reminders using Mail Chimp. They used autoresponders, custom events and drip campaigns, and were able to tie their information directly into mailings. Hence users who had not yet converted to paying customers are now sent a reminder email every week, telling them how complete their account is. This is directly attached to the differentials between converting users and nonconverters, e. g. if converting users have 12 users on site, and prospect only has eight users, the prospect’s customized email reminder tells them that they need four more users on site in order to make their profile more “complete”.

EditMe’s experience with lean methodologies and (pardon the pun) leaning more on analytics to drive decision-making, showed that it was a possible to, in a somewhat scientific manner, get a better understanding of –

  • Who would like their product;
  • Where to find them;
  • How to encourage them to try the product, and;
  • How to help them understand how to use the product.


And isn’t a fuller and richer understanding of customers a huge component of what social media marketing is all about? This was a very thoughtful discussion and there are two recommended readings: Four Steps to the Epiphany and E-Myth. They have gone onto my Amazon Wish List.

My First Hosted Event

I am a tad nervous.

My company is sponsoring an event tonight. It is a Meetup for Tech Crunch, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in Harvard Square. The venue is John Harvard’s Brew House on 33 Dunster Street. Here is a map, in case you want to follow along.

I have clothes picked out. The camera is packed (I hope the batteries work). I even have calories saved up.

I want very much for this to go well.

At 8 PM, I will be taking a deep breath and plunging in. Big smile, business cards at the ready, DyIO ready to rock and roll. Only a few butterflies.

May 12, 2010 Mass Innovation Night (#MIN14)

On May 12, 2010, I attended the 14th Mass. Innovation Night.

As always, the night was hosted by Bobbie Carlton and Dan Englander, with Joe Perry of IBM graciously offering the IBM Innovation space in Waltham for the event.

The following companies had booths:

  • buckts – They make a Firefox add-on to aggregate together shopping, Google search, Facebook updates and the like.
  • Mystery Meet – Boston Foodies discover new restaurants by enjoying a special prix fixe menu at a new Boston restaurant on the second Tuesday of every month.
  • Pearl’s Premium Grass Seed – low maintenance grass seed that grows slowly and seldom needs cutting or watering.
  • Reinforced Care – reducing hospital readmissions by focusing on patient aftercare.
  • Software Horizons – ‘Design Once, Deploy Anywhere’ HMI Technology and
  • WOW Mobile – unlimited US calling, texting, Internet and email
  • .

The following experts offered their services:

Bobbie confessed that Mass. Innovation Nights is one small step to world domination. In Innovation Nights, that is. Hence there is now an effort underway to expand a little. The first expansion is set for Portland, Maine. Stacie Andrews presented about MEInno (Maine Innovation) and MeetImpact. MEInno will have their first event on Friday, August 13th, 2010. Stacie also runs Meet Impact, a calendar for New England events. She took names and websites and/or blogs and promised to create an interactive calendar whereby everyone could share upcoming events.

The following companies had a chance to present:

The presentations were all interesting although I have to give props to Boomerang for including smiling Buddha in their slideshow. For me, the single most useful items seem to be Webinar Listings (I love webinars and they are great for filling scheduling holes but I can’t always find them, so it’s a joy to see them all listed together) and Meet Impact (to eliminate as many scheduling holes as possible).

Oh, and contrary to perhaps popular Tweet, I did not clonk Josh in the head with a mug.

Thanks again to Bobbie, Dan and Joe — looking forward to the next one, which is going to be Thursday, June 3rd, 2010.

April 29, 2010 Social Media Club Event: Measuring Social Success (Big and Small)

On April 29th, I attended the Boston Social Media Club’s event: Measuring Social Success (Big and Small).

The discussion panel consisted of the Queen of Measurement, Katie Payne, Jamie Pappas of EMC, Christopher Penn of Blue Sky Factory, Holly Allison of Vico Software, Brian Carlson of CIO.com and Mike Proulx (pronounced: Pru) of Hill, Holliday. Hosts for the evening were Howie Sholkin and Todd Van Hoosear of Fresh Ground.

The panel discussion essentially consisted of Ms. Payne asking questions and the panel responding in turn. Some takeaways:

  • Ms. Pappas noted that the number of fans and followers isn’t too meaningful a measurement. She’s looking for sales leads and sees that EMC has the largest share of the voice and positive influence in their particular niche. She uses Radiant 6 for measurement.
  • Mr. Penn is looking for earned income. Essentially, rather than whether his company is an industry leader, but an answer to a simple question: can they stay in business tomorrow?. He’s looking for qualified leads but his only real metric is number of sales. He uses Google Analytics and Salesforce.com.
  • Ms. Allison was there to represent the small B2B player, with less than $10 million in revenue. Her visitors are:
    • 60% from social media, of which
    • 27% are qualified leads, of which
    • 15% are opportunities, of which
    • 8% become customers

    Her granular analysis comes from HubSpot and Salesforce.com.

  • Mr. Carlson is looking more for increases in traffic to his site, and better content. His users bring in research, story ideas and story building, and he can also vet sources through them. He uses Omniture.
  • Mr. Proulx is measuring how social media and earned media relate to the mix with paid media. He’s using Media Solutions for his measurements.

The discussion was lively and engaging. My only (small) quibble is – why does there have to be pizza at all of these events? I realize it’s a quick and cheap way to feed a lot of people, but when you’re watching your weight like I am, it makes for some awkwardness, as I ended up studiously avoiding the food which meant avoiding a lot of the networking as well. There were, to be fair, oranges, but they’re out of season already. And, who’s gonna peel an orange at one of these things? I realize I may be a killjoy — and I am well aware that the event was a free one — but surely there are better choices that could have been made.

All in all — if you can get past the pizza — an excellent evening.

Andala

Oh my gosh I love this place: http://www.meetup.com/OpenCoffee-Cambridge-Meetup/

It’s a gathering, every Wednesday, of startup entrepreneurs and venture capitalists. For my job search/career change, it’s not exactly like I’m fishing in the precisely correct pond.

But … I don’t care. The people are so lovely, it doesn’t seem to matter.

I think it’s good to be out and about, plus these are folks who may need my services in the future. Hence I need to exercise my patience. In the meantime, it’s also an insanely gorgeous day. Here in New England, those don’t come around too often, particularly in April. I’ll ignore my allergies as best I can and, once the MeetUp is done, go home and sit on my front porch, reading more about web dev and trying to change my skin color from #ffffff to about #ffffcc or so. It’ll be bad if I bypass that and go straight to #ff0000 or so.

Appointments

Life is outta control. Well, it’s not that bad.¬† But I’ve got a lot going on, even though I’m not employed. Looking for work is, as they (who?) say, a full-time job in and of itself.

Hence I’ve got a somewhat full calendar. Plus I’m working on the site and also doing work out stuff to lose weight. Which I have to schedule these days in order to be sure it happens. It is, of course, better than sitting around and doing nada but it’s a tad overwhelming at times.