Blog Entries

Tips for Keeping your Startup Inspired

Ideas for Keeping your Startup InspiredSustaining motivation and keeping your team inspired is a challenge for companies of any size. But, keeping your startup inspired can often seem like a full-time job . Being together every day, working long hours, and having taxing deadlines can create stressful times and grumpy employees. How do you avoid these low periods and keep your employees motivated and your startup inspired to move forward? Here are a few suggestions on how to engage and motivate employees in a startup work environment.

Keeping Your Startup Inspired Through Trust

Showing employees you trust them and respect their decisions can make them feel valued during stressful times.  Employees will produce more creative work if they feel you trust them to experiment with ideas. For example, Google allows their employees what they call 20 percent time. This is time spent one day a week to work on side projects, or work that they are internally interested in. Though Google has set rules and regulations about 20 percent time, it still allows employees the freedom to pursue new ideas and foster innovation. It is important that they know their contribution to the company genuinely matters. Feeling valued and trusted by an employer gives the employee the autonomy to produce their best work, and can keep your startup inspired to move on to the next challenge.

Keeping Your Startup Inspired Through Flexibility

Employees all work in different ways. Some are more productive in the mornings while others may get their best work done during the later hours.  It is important to understand your employees’ strong suits, and be flexible about where and when they work. Examples of everyday tasks that employees may need to balance are: child care, going back to school, or even commute times. If a flexible work schedule is established, it increases your employees’ abilities to produce – they will have the freedom and flexibility to manage their own schedules. However, just having a flexible policy isn’t enough. It is your job to ensure that your employees understand what is expected of them and enforce communication and accountability around their schedules.That way, you can identify employees that may be struggling with your policy around a flexible work environment, or who seems to be slacking more than others. This freedom can help keep employees happy, and builds another level of trust and faith within the company to keep your startup inspired – but communication and accountability are the key components to ensure nobody takes advantage of it.

Keeping Your Startup Inspired Through Transparency

Being open with employees about  success, failure, and new information is important to keeping motivation strong and your startup inspired. Communicating key information and decisions to your employees, and collaboratively asking for ideas and feedback will help with innovation. If employees feel able to contribute ideas, it boosts company morale and helps the team produce better results.  PricewaterhouseCooper implemented a strategy known as iPlace. This is a hub for employees to submit ideas, and vote and comment on their colleagues submissions. This invites employees to actively engage with the company, and suggest concepts that can evolve into real solutions. Solutions like these increase engagement, and help employees feel that they understand better what needs to happen next to continue company success.

By first creating a strong base of trust, then building it up through flexibility and transparency, employees will feel valued and motivated. These characteristics help create a strong company culture, and outline the values and norms of the work environment while keeping your team and startup inspired. Culture is strategic, and must be communicated and lived out daily by your employees.  These three pillars can help to better reduce stress, build up your culture and provide employees with a work environment they want to return to everyday.

Content and Social Media Promotion – Free Marketing Tools

If you are trying out a new marketing strategy using free marketing tools, don’t forget to baseline first so you can measure what you’ve accomplished so you know which ones to choose. That’s what we covered in our last blog – how Google Analytics can be used to set your marketing baseline. It’s a great way to figure out how you’re doing, so you can set the rest of your marketing strategy for the year.

Once you’ve baselined, you can take a look at the underlying analytics to figure out how to set your program for 2015. Google Analytics insights will tell you which social media channels you should be targeting, and which 3rd party sites are helping you drive referral traffic the most. When you have an idea of which channels are working the most for you (or have gathered several hypothesis around which channels could work well for you), you can start to look through the myriad of free tools that exist for you to promote your content.

We use a number of social media and content marketing tools to get our brand message across, as well as to find new startups and entrepreneurs to help create a product vision. Here are our top 10 most successful tools for 2014, from both a lead generation perspective and brand awareness perspective, supported by hard data from Google Analytics. We hope that your startup or organization will be able to use this as a guide on which tools YOU can leverage to also be successful at startup marketing.

Google Analytics - Start here before you select your free marketing tools

  1. Twitter. Obvious, but essential, especially if you are a B2B startup or organization. For us, Twitter is one of the number one drivers of content and we use it both to promote interesting and relevant articles that we find, that we think our users will enjoy, and also to promote our website and our message (design and development for MVPs and Betas). Moreover, the Twitter analytics engine is improving, as is the Twitter ads platform (still not as good as Facebook, though). So even if Twitter isn’t the most relevant platform for you, definitely check out their free marketing tool with analytics that shows you how your content has done over time.
    Twitter Analytics - a great free marketing tool

    Twitter Analytics – a great free marketing tool

  2. Y Combinator.  After Twitter, our #2 is surprisingly Y Combinator. We somewhat randomly stumbled unto this content feed and have been publishing to it since October 2014 or so, with great results. Because our content if fine-tuned to the techno-marketer-dev audience, Y Combinator makes a great feed for us to post on.
    Y Combinator - Free Marketing Tool

    Y Combinator – Free Marketing Tool

  3. Reddit. Beside being a useful channel for Walking Dead fans keeping up on the latest news on Norman Reedus, it can also be a useful free marketing tool for your startup or organization. It has been for us. The key is to follow the carefully designed and frequently monitored rules so that you don’t come off like a spammer, and focus on producing relevant content that actually answers peoples’ queries without overly-promoting your site or product. If you can walk this tightrope, Reddit can be a useful free marketing tool for you to add to your toolbox.
  4. FounderDating. FounderDating has been a great channel for us to get the word out about the design and development services we can offer to budding entrepreneurs and organizations looking to build design-driven prototypes and Beta. Since this community is highly biased towards single-founders and entrepreneurs, it makes a lot of sense for us to hang out there. Depending on your product or startup, it may also make sense for you. To join, you have to be recommended/vetted by fellow FounderDating members – so this process can take some time. Feel free to contact us with a recommendation request and we’ll be happy to help you out!
  5. Facebook. While only our #5 in driven referral traffic, we feel that Facebook has a superior advertising platform, which is why we’ve chosen to conduct paid advertisement exclusively on it (save the free as coupons we’ve received on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter). That said, keep a lookout for $50 in free advertisement credit which you can often find across for the usual social media marketing suspects – you can often go out of your way to find these credits at Rewardii, FounderDating, CofounderLabs, and more. Here’s a great tutorial we put together on how to use Facebook as a way to grow your email marketing list with a very low investment.
  6. Scoop.It. Scoop.It is a way to curate content around a topic. You can either build out the topic yourself, or you can suggest your content to other people that have similarly curated content to a page they’ve created (around a specific subject matter). In the past few months, Scoop.it has driven 2% of our traffic. While not a large share, we feel that it’s more promising than Snip.ly, AND we suspect that it leads to content pickup on Flipboard.
    Scoop.It for a free Marketing Tool

    Scoop.It for a free Marketing Tool

  7. Snip.ly. While this doesn’t even make our top 10, we thought it would be interesting to present to our readers, as we are still experimenting with it ourselves with mixed results. Snip.ly is an interested find that got brought to our attention in October 2014. It’s a marketing tool that allows you to promote your content alongside other relevant content. The process: do a Google search for the keywords in your content, and set the search settings to return only current results (e.g. this month). Take the top 5 listings and plug them in to Snip.ly. Snip.ly will prompt you to generate your brand’s personalized call to action attached to the relevant content you wish you share. When you share the Snip.ly content, and if someone clicks on the link of the Google article you shared, they will also see a referral to your content or site come up as they’re reading.
  8. What hasn’t worked? LinkedIn. We’ve taken advantage of the free ad coupons and have spent a substantial amount of time publishing content to it, and re-sharing it to our 3,000+ person network – and with very limiting results. We still haven’t entirely figured out why this isn’t working for us, as it SHOULD be a good platform to reach entrepreneurs and startup founders looking to build something amazing – but we just haven’t been able to make it sing for us. Maybe you will have better luck.

That’s what we’ve got as far as free marketing tools to use to improve your 2015 marketing tactics.

That’s all for this week. We hope our roundup of the free marketing tools that Baked & Branded uses for content and social media marketing promotionhas sparked some actionable ideas that you can incorporate in to your startup or organization. And of course, if you feel stuck, contact us!

Productive Startup Marketing – Baseline with Google Analytics

Now that it’s the New Year, it’s a perfect time for you take stock of your startup marketing strategy, analyze how you did last year, and set up your plan for 2015. This is certainly true for us, as we had a whirlwind 2014. There are a lot of tools out there to choose from – many of which are free or, at least, “freemium” (partially free, with an additional cost for additional features). We just published a blog on a practical guide on how to successfully do startup marketing, which we compiled mostly from our learning at Denver Startup Week last Fall. This two part blog series takes startup marketing to the next step – looking at Google Analytics to understand how you’re currently doing (Part 1), and then taking a look at the most effective marketing tools we have leveraged in 2014 for growth hacking on a limited budget (Part 2). Read on to take a peak under our kimono, and learn about our recipe for startup marketing.

Before you can figure out which tools to add or subtract from your product marketer’s startup marketing toolbox, you first need to take stock of how you’re doing. We can do this through Google Analytics. As an example, let’s take a look at Baked & Branded’s Google Analytics performance for 2014.

Google Analytics 2014 - The Baramoter for Startup Marketing in 2015

Google Analytics 2014 – The Baramoter for Startup Marketing in 2015

You will also need to do this to get a baseline. Take a look at your Google Analytics performance of your website for the previous year (or previous month if you are just getting up and running with your startup and your startup marketing execution). Take a look at some of the basic metrics that Google Analytics offers – total number of session, unique users, average session duration, pages per session, and bounce rate are some of the high level numbers you will want to start monitoring. And, if you need more help, we recommend taking the Google Analytics fundamentals course offered by the Google Analytics Academy. Google offers it both for its Google Analytics for a Website, as well as Google Analytics for Mobile products. From these high level numbers, we can get a sense of how long visitors are staying on our site, that they’re probably not viewing as many pages as we would like (e.g. we need to do a better job linking calls to actions and links to the blog and other pages into our homepage). Similarly, a goal for 2015 will be to get that bounce rate down. The bounce rate is the ratio of people who click away from your site immediately over the total number of visitors. More engaging content means that people will stay and read more. The average bounce rate is around 50%, so this is obviously something we need to improve. Our new website unveiling later in the Spring should help with this.

Next, take a look in Google Analytics at the “Acquisition” section on the navigation pane to the left.

Google Analytics Acquisition Channels - Breaking Down Your Startup Marketing Strategy

Google Analytics Acquisition Channels – Breaking Down Your Startup Marketing Strategy

This tells you how well you are doing at things like organic search and SEO (are people finding you on Google based on your startup marketing tactics), are you effectively getting people to click on the links “directly” that Google couldn’t attribute to coming from a separate source – which can mean a number of things including:

  • Typing the URL directly in to the browser
  • Clicking a PDF link (for example, if you created a piece of content that had liinks embedded in it).
  • Clicking a link in an email or email footer
  • Visiting your site from a saved bookmark
  • And more…

You can also see how many leads you got from social media marketing sources, as well as content marketing sources (referral links). And, if you tried any paid ads with those free Google Adwords, LinkedIn Ads, Facebook Ads, or Twitter Ads coupons, those will show up here as well in the “Other Advertising” section. You can click in to any of these to learn more. Here’s a closer look at how we did in social media startup marketing:

Google Analytics Social Media Acquisition - Breaking Down Your Startup Marketing Strategy

Google Analytics Social Media Acquisition – Breaking Down Your Startup Marketing Strategy

Twitter and Facebook clearly did the best for us, but some surprising sources like Hacker News and Scoop.it also made the list (we only started experimenting with these later in the year). Here’s a nice how-to guide from KISSmetrics on how to interpret social media analytics in Google Analytics.

The final Google Analytics screen to baseline is your “Referrals”:

Google Analytics Referrals Acquisition - Breaking Down Your Startup Marketing Strategy

Google Analytics Referrals Acquisition – Breaking Down Your Startup Marketing Strategy

Referrals help you figure out which websites your traffic came from. If you need help interpreting this data, or figuring our what to do with it, you may like this guide. Again, looking at these results, we can see that Twitter was a huge referral source for us, as was Y Combinator, Facebook and LinkedIn. There was also a good bit of traffic generated from some articles and blogs we published on other websites – just as Bitcoinbigfoot.com (since we accept Bitcoin), and Businesswire.com (news of our acquisition). Clicking in to Twitter, for example, will tell you which pieces of content drove the most traffic. For us, it was the link to our website, www.bakedandbranded.com.

Now you have the keys to the kingdom of Google Analytics to start poking around – you may find some amazing things! Of course, Google Analytics is just the tip of the iceberg – once you get a feel for what data is out there, and get a baseline to how you are currently doing, you can start layering in new tools, removing tactics that aren’t working, and modifying your content strategies based on what Google Analytics is telling you about your startup marketing.

That comes in our Part 2 of this blog. In the meantime, as always, feel free to contact us with your questions, or leave your comments below the blog!

Year-End 2014 Blog Recap

The Baked & Branded team, like many of our readers checking out this 2014 blog recap, has had an action-packed, exciting, and at times – unexpected – 2014. But hey, isn’t variety and change the spice of life?

The year kicked off with our announcement that we would accept Bitcoin – so in case your Bitcoin are burning a hole in your pocket, put them to good use and build something in 2015!

Then, we published a series establishing our process, why we’re different, and how we can help with your technology product development. Our 2014 blog recap roll includes CEO Eric’s thoughts on hiring a part-time CTO (bottom line is, DON’T), his post on how to put requirements together for an MVP (link), and CTO Viktor’s blog on agile project management tools and which are the best tools of the trade (link), with a lot of content sourced from FounderDating discussion boards. Our technical product development depth led us to rapidly bring on clients and provide value to startups and organizations alike through lean product development and a tried-and-true process.

This led to our big event in 2014 – later in the year, we were acquired by StringCan Interactive, a global digital strategy agency with headquarters in Scottsdale, AZ and other offices in Paris, France, and now Boston, MA (with the addition of B&B). From our humble beginnings in 2013 to a sale only a year later we grew a lot, adding dozens of clients to our roster as well as several internal teammates and a myriad of contractors and freelancers. From a strategic perspective, the acquisition made sense – StringCan Interactive came away with a design and development arm and a method to build and design software in-house, providing s full-service end-to-end (from strategy to launch) offering. Baked & Branded, with the addition of digital strategy provided by StringCan, now offers development, design, and full-service digital strategy for all of our clients no matter the size – startup, single founder entrepreneur, or organization looking to build rapid software prototypes. Contact us to learn more.

We are proud to be part of the StringCan team and can’t wait for what 2015 has in store. Here’s a holiday shout-out and greeting from the entire, combined team!

StringCan Team - 2014 Blog Recap

StringCan Team – 2014 Blog Recap

Besides the acquisition, we also had a great time participating in Denver Startup Week back in September 2014. For this event, we were able to build out an entire Startup 101 blog series that we now offer to you as part of our 2014 blog recap. Here’s the way the road-map looks:

  • Lessons Learned at Denver Startup WeekLink. This blog provides a recap of the event, complete with pictures, schedule and speaker info, and events we participated in. We can’t wait to do it again next year@
  • Startup Marketing 101. In this two-part series on Startup Marketing 101, we delve in to the biggest issues facing startup marketers (many of which can be tackled prior to even building). Part 1 is frequently asked questions and answers by experts. Part 2 tackles tools and tricks of the trade that can be applied to measure and analyze your progress.
    • Startup Marketing 101 – Part 1. Link.
    • Startup Marketing 101 – Part 2. how to you know when it’s working? – Link.
  • Managing Remote Teams. Another two-part series on building a fully or partially remote team for your business or startup. Yes, it can work, but it depends on the tools and practices you employ to keep your team communicating and information flowing. The first Managing Remote Teams blog is key advice from an expert panel, and the second is a day to day best-practices recipe for effectively managing YOUR team.
    • Managing Remote Team – Lessons Learning – Link.
    • Managing Remote Teams – Tools & Tips – Link.
  • The DevOps movementLink. You’ve heard of Development and you’ve heard of Operations, but have you heard of DevOps? This blog summarizes all you need to do know about the DevOps movement, and how it’s not just for big businesses. We also predict some trends for DevOps in 2015, including the renaming of the movement to DevQOps to include Quality Assurance, a very important part of the product development cycle.
  • Time to Talk to a Design and Dev AgencyLink. And finally, the last in our 2014 Blog Recap series of Denver Startup Week is a post that describes when it’s time to engage an outside organization to help with design, development, or digital strategy. The blog goes through key questions that you need to ask yourself to ensure you are mentally prepared (and financially prepared) to move forward with an agency.

Finally, another big 2014 blog recap highlight is our participation in a Webinar series led by our StringCan Europe (Paris) office. While these webisodes focus on European entrepreneurs trying to enter the US market, they are more widely applicable to the global entrepreneur as well.

  • Episode 1Slide Link. In the first installment, Eric Sullivan, the B&B CEO, goes through digital marketing strategies that can increase your reach to new markets.
  • Episode 2Link. This episode focuses on European companies trying to enter the US market, and provides advise on how to increase your profits by targeting American tourists. you can also view the Slide deck, without audio, here. StringCan Interactive Founder and CEO Jay Feitlinger takes a leading role.
  • Episode 3Link. In the last installment, yours truly (Chandra) runs through a case study on startup tripchi that illustrates how to acquire a 1 million person email marketing list on the cheap. Here’s the link to the case study and slide deck.

That brings the year, and our 2014 blog recap to a close. Here’s a an equally successfully, interesting, and fulfilling 2015! As always, we’re looking forward to working with you and being a part of your organization’s success!

Time to Talk to a Design and Dev Agency

Design and Dev Agency - Is it the right time for you?It’s a big decision to outsource portions (or all) of your product development to a design and dev agency. If you’re a startup, this is often a necessary step to attract a team, initial customers, and raising capital. If you’re a larger organization, you may need to build a new software product (website, mobile app, etc.) that isn’t in your wheelhouse. In these cases and others it might be best to bring in an outside design and dev agency to help you do what they do best – deploy a successful software product.

As you weigh your options, Here are some questions you should be asking yourself:

  1. “How do I know when the time is right?” If you’re finding that you’re stretched and doing a million things at once – this could be a good reason to hire a dev agency – especially if building software is not the thing your startup or organization does best. One of the things we see our customers struggling with time and time again is building their customer base – so if you’re starting to suffer here, you may also be at a point to bring in external help. Eventually, you’re going to come to the point that your competitors are doing a lot more than you, or that you’re focusing too much on perfection.
  2. What does it mean to work with a dev agency? What should I expect?” It’s not hire and forget.  You’re going to have to guide the dev agency account team and be VERY involved and hands-on in the process. It will take a lot of work on your end, and there needs to be balance on both sides for a real partnership to work. A dev agency can’t just pull something out of thin air – it has to come from the substance and value that you create/make available.
  3. “How much are you paying to acquire customers?” Working with a design and development, or digital agency (Baked & Branded has all three branches at its disposal) can help bring that cost down – this is one the chief advantages of working with an agency. If you have a pretty good sense of what your cost to acquire a customer is today (a program around measuring it, that is), then you can hire an external agency for the cost of what you would like this cost to acquire to be in the long-run. Over time and sales, lowering the cost to acquire will begin to payoff – and will be worth the cost of hiring the agency after a break-even point. And we’re not just talking about cost to acquire from a digital marketing perspective – you can lower the cost to acquire from a design and development perspective too, by re-building and optimizing your website and software to key conversions. Focusing on the core message of what you’re offering and weeding out non-qualified prospects will save you time later.
  4. “Does agency approach matter?” Make sure the approach of the dev agency you’re considering fits your budget and needs. Make sure the agency is tailored to your company’s business stage; an agency should not approach a startup as they would a Fortune 500 brand. There are agencies like Baked & Branded that are well suited towards early-stage ideas, including prototypes, Alpha/MVPs and Betas. The “early-stage” concept approach can actually apply to startups as well as a large organization – it’s the tailoring of the approach that will be different. Besides the cost of the services (and remember, you often DO get what you pay for) – also think about the style you want. Don’t be afraid to request a meeting and chat with the team you would be working with. Do more than just look at the agency’s portfolio. Dig deeper, ask questions. Be comfortable about the quality AND the quantity of work that they’re doing. Make sure their strengths are aligned with your scope.
  5. “What’s a scope document?” Make sure you walk away with a contract or scope document that outlines specifics and deliverables are written down. We always work up a statement of work (SOW) for our clients that specifies the scope of the project, as well as the phased-delivery approach and budget. Check out our President Eric’s post of preparing a scope document to learn more about our process. Having this SOW defined and signed is better for all parties involved, and serves to eliminate all doubt upfront. This is critical not only to protect yourself but also so that you don’t waste your money. It’s also key to setting expectations. You are a valuable client, but you’re not the ONLY client. It’s hard to think that way as a startup – but it’s a fact. You need to find a balance because you’re not ALWAYS the number 1 priority. Definitely feel free to ask questions about frequency of contact, preferred method of contact etc so that you know how many calls a week you should typically be having with your dev agency.

The Key to Successfully Working with a Design and Dev Agency

Besides the key questions you’ve probably been asking yourself, we also have a few tips on how to make the most out of your dev agency engagement:

  • Commit to your decision. After you’ve hired the dev agency, remember that you chose to go with them for a reason. But, you have to give your agency a chance to do what it’s good at and stretch its wings. Don’t just dictate what to do. If you really want a strategic partner, you have to give them leeway to flex their creative muscles.
  • Be honest. Bring things up early and often. Speak up as soon as you see something that works or doesn’t work and explain why; don’t wait until it’s too late. This will help build the relationship and make sure you’re moving forward together in the right direction. If you’re getting external pressure or if there are constraints, talk to your dev agency – they’re not mind readers, and they can probably work with you on it and help.
  • Look at metrics. Whether or not YOU like what your agency has come up with – the metrics don’t lie. If it resonates with your customers and you’re getting conversions, then it doesn’t matter whether you like it. If you set up a metrics and analytics program, you can get the feedback you need to ensure you’re on the right track. Baked & Branded offers several creative ways to do this through design, without spending much time coding the back-end. Contact us to learn more.
  • Keep your eye on prize and stay out of the weeds. Make sure you have actionable items that have been discussed upfront, and have been defined key deliverables/milestones so that you can look back at them as you go, and avoid unnecessary tangents.

You expect and deserve success from a dev agency engagement. The bottom line is that if you don’t value the expertise or service that the agency provides, then you’re probably not ready to jump in with an agency. You going to have to justify the spend, because it won’t be free. Of course, saving you time and wasted resource is the biggest factor – summed up as efficiency.

Baked & Branded is here to help deliver success and efficiency to you. As always, we’re looking forward to working with you bringing your idea to life! Contact us here.

Managing a Remote Team: PM Tools of the Trade

Last week we surveyed a panel of expert remote team managers for their advice on  managing a remote team effectively. This week we’ll cover some of the best project management tools out there for managing a remote team. Finally, be sure to read all the way to the end, because we circled back with our Denver Startup Week remote team experts to find out what traps to avoid, and some final words of wisdom.

Managing A Remote Team - Which PM Software Works BestWhat are the best project management tools for managing a remote team?

Tracking tasks and objectives in various iterations is paramount to the success of your remote structure. One way to improve managing a remote team is is through implementing project management software. We actually have written an  entire blog about this explaining why Asana is our project management tool of choice. Here are some other suggestions, straight from our panel of managing a remote team experts:

  • Pivotal Tracker: You can create epics, stories and tasks. Pivotal tracker is not the best for operational stuff (for example, on-boarding a new customer); it’s best suited to Kanban prioritization with cards. Pivotal also supports a concept called the Icebox (tasks we’re going to “ice” and do later).
  • RallyDev: Rally might allow for more customization around estimates and workflow customization than Pivotal, but for a small startup or organization, it’s probably overkill for managing a remote team that is small.
  • Jira: Atlassian’s Jira has an amazing wiki and documentation – Confluence – so you have help in customizing everything.
  • Basecamp: This one isn’t bad either. You can set up a project template with the same stories and tasks, and they’re easy to clone.
  • Kanban tools for managing a remote team: Kanban, in simplest terms, means better communication through visual management. Kanban boards are visualizations of your projects, where you can see the status of each task: parked, in progress or complete. Kanban is great for non-techie teams. Here’s a case in point: Harper Reed ran all the tech elements for the Obama campaign through Kanban. He took a non-tech approach and used sticky notes on a wall – because this made sense to the political community.
    • LeanKit is color-coded, which is a nice feature. The color coding tracks what everyone is doing in a snapshot. Everyone can also have his or her own swim lane. And LeanKit will email you when there’s a change in something for which you’re responsible.
    • Trello is free for very small teams. If you don’t need story points and velocity (like in Pivotal), you can start with something simple like Trello. This is very effective for managing a remote team of any size.

The Key to Managing a Remote Team SuccessfullyWhat are some traps that first timers may fall into while they’re managing a remote team?

  1. The trap of 100 percent off-shore projects – never do this! You will find that you will do a good job defining the requirements, but perhaps have too much detail in some places and not enough detail in others. Instead, consider a local project management presence in conjunction with an off-shore team. However, ensure that regular touch-points and calls with the local PM are happening. Finally, be sure to have periodic code reviews and be more integrated with the tech team from a technical perspective. We have some more tips on managing an offshore dev shop here.
  2. Conference calls where a group of people are together and one or two people are far away. If you forget that there’s someone on the phone, then she’ll never talk. Lesson: always check back with the people on the phone. At the very end of the meeting, earmark some time for people who aren’t present to give feedback. Always repeat the question being asked in the room so that everyone on the phone can hear it, and remember that side conversations will not be heard. One last tip for managing remote team overachievers: you can also put the names of the people on the phone on a whiteboard in the room or on a note-card on the table just to remind everyone they’re present.
  3. Assuming that it’s the remote worker’s responsibility to fit in. This is not true. It’s mostly on your company to acclimate your workers to the process, expectations and culture of your remote team environment. If possible, get a telepresence or video capability in your conference room to include remote workers (and help them feel included). If your whole team is virtual, you need to have a face-to-face meeting to kick-off so that they will establish relationships and work more effectively together.

Finally, here are some actionable takeaways you can start implementing tomorrow to improve your skills of managing a remote team.

  • Start simple. Don’t try to over-engineer your solution for  managing a remote team. We’re looking for a minimum viable remote solution as far as collaboration and sharing tools and process go (the less the better). Ask how everything is working with your team members and don’t hesitate to make changes when something is not working. You can even use a wiki to share knowledge and upvote/downvote suggestions.
  • Be flexible with changing tools and process until you find something that works. You may need to be using five or more different types of communication throughout the day. And, most importantly, give yourself the wiggle room to be flexible. Don’t schedule back-to-back meetings.
  • Implemented close-looped processes and good systems to monitor them. Let everyone know what they have to get done, and have a process so they can report what they got done so everyone will know what has been completed.

These are the keys to managing a remote team effectively. And, don’t forget – all the things that make remote work better are the same things that make in-person work better. Anything you do to improve managing a remote team will end up helping your organization as a whole.

We’d love to hear your tips and successes around managing a remote team. Leave a comment under this blog, or email us as cooks[at]bakedandbranded.com.

Managing Remote Teams – Top Questions Answers

As part of our Denver Startup Week series, this week’s post focuses on tips and  tricks to improve managing remote teams. Don’t forget to read our last two posts on startup marketing – Part 1 “Startup Marketing 101″ and Part 2 “How do you know when it’s working?”.

This advice comes largely from a panel of remote-working and managing experts in the startup world, including:

Denver Startup Week

The first set of questions that might be on your mind are those around process and process enforcement.

How do you enforce mandating a specific process. For example, how do you make sure that all team calls will be done through video chat?

When you’re managing a remote team, it’s OK to set boundaries and mandate that a certain percentage of time youremployees need to be available to easily video chat. A policy like this will mean that your team members will have to find a way to be in quiet places with good bandwidth for that percentage  of time — and that they can’t be hanging out in Starbucks around the clock (where there will be lots of background noise and poor Wi-Fi). The key to enforcing a policy like this is team transparency and buy-in. Choose the time period collectively and explain the drivers for why this is an important policy. And let your team members choose and publish their video chat availability on a schedule for everyone to see.

How do we choose and enforce a certain technology to allow the team to communicate?

Like anything else, there are lots of communication tools out there. The hard part is finding the right one that does the job and fits with your organization’s culture and ethos. Bandwidth constraints may actually dictate the telecommunications platform used to stay in touch. Working with a rural audience, for example, often presents bandwidth challenges and may lead to an increased use of SMS or text messaging. On the other hand, if bandwidth isn’t a problem, there are a plethora of text and video chat platforms to consider, including:

  • Adobe Connect – This is a Web conferencing platform for Web meetings, eLearning, and webinars. It is a pay-to-play service, but it is relatively cheap on an annual basis ($45/month).
  • Skype – You can call, message and share whatever you want for free.
  • Google Hangout – This is one place for all your conversations, including chats, video conferencing, and group conversations. It’s also free.

Even after the team agrees on one form of technology for communication, you always need a backup plan. Infrastructure in countries outside the U.S. isn’t always reliable, for example. Internet and telephone lines go down. Even in the U.S., sometimes your video chat tool of choice may decide to go on the fritz and flake out, and you have to have a backup plan to jump on the phone. You will experience rolling blackouts in India, and weird firewall problems in China. Moreover, there are days when, either at home or abroad, it just feels like the whole Internet is broken.

Another issue that commonly throws off a meeting between a remote team is time zones and time difference miscalculations. If one person calculates a time wrong, it will derail the entire meeting.

Two takeaways around managing remote teams effectively are:

  1. A good time zone app is key. We like TimeandDate.
  2. When you’re managing a remote team, you need to create a strategic communications plan that has a Plan A, Plan B and Plan C broken out by time. For example, after 5 minutes of failing at Plan A, go to Plan B, etc. So, have a cascading plan and anticipate (and be flexible) when technology problems and human errors occur.

What about collaboration tools for managing remote teams?

Join the never-ending debate on Google Drive versus Dropbox. And don’t forget Microsoft’s OneDrive and Box. You have to be flexible because each individual has his or her collaboration tool preference. However, keep in mind that Google Drive is better for searching documents and is nicely integrated with Gmail (that’s our preference), but each file-sharing service has its pros and cons. Here is the best table we’ve found summarizing the differences, thanks to CNET:

Collaboration Tool Comparison - Managing Remote Teams

Collaboration Tool Comparison – Managing Remote Teams

How do you position folks outside the country when you are trying to have them work with clients in your home country?

Say you are managing a remote team. There’s still a negative perception out there about 100 percent remote teams, especially overseas. For example, developers in the Ukraine aren’t getting as much business these days simply because of negative perceptions in the press around current events.

Some of the best advice we heard was around chunking out projects into small tasks to prove the viability and competency of the remote worker to your client. There are other benefits to chunking out work – such as productivity gains and transparency – so you should be doing this anyway as you’re managing a remote team. Another gem of wisdom we’ve heard about overcoming the negative perception of outsourced work is to establish on-the-ground advocates. Bring your remote team to your home-base to make connections, meet clients and learn the culture. Finally, as you will eventually find first-hand, it’s imperative to get a tech lead on the team who speaks English very well. Consider this in your hiring criteria.

Now you’re a pro at managing remote teams!

Consider the above just an appetizer for our next blog, where we will wrap up our coverage of managing remote teams, leave you with some final words of wisdom, and traps to avoid. Or, if this cliff hanger is just too much for you, feel free to email us at cooks[at]bakedandbranded.com or leave a comment below – we’d love to hear from you!

The DevOps Movement

Every company should understand the development and operations (DevOps) movement. Even if your startup isn’t building software, software is still relevant to your business. All companies are therefore software companies. Below are some of the lessons shared at the DevOps session during Denver Startup Week.

So let’s start with the basics. What’s the definition of DevOps?

In essence, DevOps is a word used to describe an optimization process that gets your applications from developers into production (operation) as efficiently as possible. It’s a cross-disciplinary approach that blends development and operations to take the best of both and integrate these disciplines (dev and ops) into the mindset of your team.

As such, there are two necessary components of DevOps – cultural and technical. And, they reinforce one another – you need automation tools to be able to implement DevOps (technical), and you also need to embrace the right mindset and be open-minded (cultural).

  • Culture. For DevOps to work properly, your ops team and dev teams must be in constant communication with each other – better yet sitting together and working together hand in hand on every problem. Go out for beers with each other, and establish rapport to build trust. This will help build a working relationship that is focused on solving problems, reducing friction and avoiding the blame-game when problems arise.
  • Technical.  From a technical perspective, successful DevOps teams can benefit from collaboration tools like Fog and Chef – orchestration tools to enable those two teams to work together and speak the same language. There are also ticketing tools like JIRA (which our team uses), that both dev and ops team members can use to collaborate on defects and enhancements.

The reason why both culture and technical systems are important is that together they enable both groups to have “skin in the game” when it comes to the various phases of product development. If dev has no skin in the game during the post-launch stage (where ops typically has to be on call) – then you can’t do DevOps effectively. Part of the cultural challenge is making development care about operations blowing up, and vice a versa.

After culture and technical tools, the next piece of the puzzle for successful DevOps is deployments. There are many theories on deployment – continuous integration, continuous deployment, a hybrid methodology, etc. It all depends on the application you’re building or supporting. But, the bottom line is that DevOps is about solving business problems and creating a great experience for your customers. And for a better customer experience, we need to closely involve the ops teams in the product development process (scrum, testing, customer demos, etc.), and vice versa, to help developers understand the ops mindset. This forces the often separate groups to come together and have the same amount of skin in the game. As a result, dev and ops feel more involved in the process and are both holistically “bought in” together.

The ultimate goal of DevOps is to roll out a process where any developer, anywhere, can manage and administer the product infrastructure and code. Implement a policy and process that encourages your ops people to code too – they can and should do more than just SSH (Secure Shell protocol) into boxes and fire things up. Cross-pollination of teams is another way to mix things up; send an ops guy to work on the dev team for a while and an ops gal to drink the dev Kool-Aid–you will be surprised at what comes out of it.

What’s next for DevOps?

One of the biggest problems going forward is the rising complexity of choice. It’s rare these days to own every element and every process within your data center. Most companies are outsourcing a larger chunk of operations (even caches are going the way of SaaS). With such a spread out architecture, it is a challenge to grow and build a framework when there are so many different interfaces (scripts, GIT push etc.) and processes. This leads to the natural next question – how do we enforce security and policy across dashboards we don’t control? Policy enforcement has very serious compliance implications.

But startups don’t care about compliance law.

When does DevOps start to matter for a startup?

Sooner than you may think. You will quickly get to a point where you have to put everything on Heroku and your bill is $15,000/month and you don’t have any customers. Then you “grow-up” and transition to AWS, then to a hybrid cloud, and ultimately you hire someone to save you money – now that’s where importance of DevOps begins to emerge.

The potential of the dilution of the idea.  Another threat facing the future of DevOps is an investment in the movement without really understanding the movement. Just because you cleverly give someone a DevOps engineer title, doesn’t mean that suddenly that person knows how to do DevOps.

The expansion beyond just dev and ops. QM/QA (Quality Management/Quality Assurance) is also increasingly important in the DevOps world – quality automation and overseeing the build process to make sure its meeting QM standards is just as important as the development and the post-launch management. QA/QM will be incorporated into the DevOps movement too – and perhaps the name will settle on a steady-state called DevQops.

Now that we’ve provided you some context and a framework for what DevOps is, our next blog will explore some tips and tricks to help build a successful DevOps team and make the movement work for you. In the meantime, as always, feel free to reach out to the cooks at Baked & Branded if you want to continue this conversation. We are here to help.

And if you’re still hungry for more, check out this awesome tech talk on DevOps by Gene Kim of NewRelic.

Startup Marketing – How do you know it’s working?

Last week we talked about specific tools your startup can use to begin your early stage marketing programs. This week we’re going to cover how you build analytics and feedback loops in to measure your progress and fiddle the nobs on your process.

The main thing you need to figure out in your startup marketing approach is -

How do you know when your startup marketing is actually working?

Here are a few suggestions we’ve come up with to tackle this question from a process perspective and ensure that your startup marketing is able to evolve appropriately:

  • Analytics through a cross-disciplinary approach. Look at the Obama 2013 campaign – the campaign director managed the creative team and the analytics team simultaneously, which allowed a great deal of synergy to flow between each discipline (incidentally, we are big proponents of the cross-disciplinary approach including the DevOps movement). The idea during the Obama campaign was to constantly test creative, vary, and analyze all in-house. You can also do this by using the Google Analytics app – just make it a habit to check everyday to see how you’re doing so that you can react accordingly. And remember, correlations do not equal causation—-so don’t step on to the “jump to conclusions mat” too quickly (a reference to Office Space for all you movie buffs out there). Keep in mind sample sizes and test cases, variance, etc. Don’t just pivot on a dime with only 10 responses.
  • More data is not always better. A big problem with Big Data is that it is paralyzing. Make your data actionable. Build test cases with hypotheses and outcomes (agile web design stories). At some point you have to do something, so decide in advance what you will do if that trigger comes. “If I don’t get any email signups in a week, I’m going to change the CTA on my landing page” – and then actually make changes. In other words, think in advance of the actions you will take once specific triggers are reached and specific goals are hit around your startup marketing analytics program. This will help ensure that your startup marketing is able to evolve appropriately.
  • It’s not all about numbers. Another way to say this is Quality can be more important than Quantity, and so it’s important to dig in to the statistics at a low-level. Yelp is fascinating – look how much time some people spend writing reviews. If you’re a small business owner with Yelp reviews, often it’s not actually about quantity but about quality of a single post or comment. You shouldn’t be afraid of negative comments and reviews you may receive as a result of executing your startup marketing tactics, because these are what you’re going to learn the most from – the quality of these can often be better than the hard metrics, just don’t get too hung up on them.
  • Turn big problems into smaller ones. If you feel stuck on a big task – break it down into smaller and smaller chunks until you can do the sub-tasks at a granular level. It sounds dumb and obvious this technique is super helpful and will help you start to tackle those daunting tasks.
  • Tracking your time doing your startup marketing is tedious but important. Ben Franklin kept track of his time…so should you! Track your time in 5 minute increments and then log it. Then you will realize how much time you’re wasting on certain things and how long certain things really take – and you can continue to fiddle the startup marketing nobs. A good productivity tool can and will actually change your behavior and help you to work smarter.
  • Avoid big builds and big programs with a “big bang” approach. Although this is more of a product development tip, I thought I’d throw it in here because all startup marketers should ALSO be clamoring for this. Trying to anticipate problems before they happen is a waste of time. As a marketer, you should be OK with imperfection and look at is as a way to engage your target audience and garner feedback. When they see you listened to them in the next build, they will be wowed!

From a startup marketing process level, these big picture concepts should get you started. But what about implementation…especially if you don’t have a lot of money.

In that case, here are some strategies you can implement on the cheap to fine-tune your startup marketing process, especially if you’re a growth hacker – trying to do a lot of startup marketing with a little.

  • Free trials. One great way to accomplish this is through free trials. If you sign up for trials, take advantage of the high-touch support teams – especially for free trials offered by startups who care about your feedback. This can sometimes lead in to an extended trial or more features for free, or a reduced price.
  • Free tools. This may sound obvious, but there are actually quite a lot of free tools you can take advantage of for your startup marketing program that can do the job 99% of the time. For example, Google Analytics is the way to go until you’re at an Omniture level….which you won’t need until you are well-funded. Don’t get hung up on needing to have the absolute best (or have whatever it was you used when you had your day job) – just use what is cheap and functional, even if it’s not pretty.
  • Ferret out UI weakness. Consider using heat map technology to track the web actions of your users. You can do this through Google Analytics in real-time mode, but there are actually specific tools out there that are more robust as purpose-built, such as MouseFlow. Through this tool, you can watch video commentating live of people actually using your product (live feedback) – it’s painful (and often laborious, especially when they’re not getting certain aspects). But it’s extremely elucidating.

Finally, a question we get a lot related to startup marketing is – “How much does my personal brand matter, and should I work on improving it? Or is this just a waste of time?”

  • Unequivocally yes – you are your brand. For things like Google Authorship (discontinued) the idea was to add credibility to your marketing. With authenticity, your product and your content feels less shady and more authentic. People trust people not machines. Your startup marketing program will be the better for strengthening the personal brands of your team-members.

Hopefully these tips have sparked a few ideas on how you can analyze and manage your startup marketing program going forward. As always, if you feel lost, or just want a sounding board – we’re here to help! Leave a comment below or shoot us an email at cooks@bakedandbranded.com.

Lessons Learned in Startup Marketing – Part 1

Denver Startup Week

Recently, we attended Denver Startup Week, which inspired us to create a series of blog posts that dig into issues related to getting a startup off the ground – building on the How to Build Requirements for an MVP and our whitepaper on Tips Every First-Time Entrepreneur Should Know. This series specifically focuses on topics and sessions covered at Denver Startup Week, which Baked & Branded was thrilled to be part of. We compiled these notes from the “How to Develop a Marketing Strategy as a Startup” session at the event. As always, the room was packed (standing room only) and there was high engagement in the first half when industry pros shared their wisdom (less so in the second half when it became a little sales-pitchy).

Startup Marketing Event - Denver Startup Week

Startup Marketing Event – Denver Startup Week

The key advice given in the session and what we agree with most is:

  • Focus on getting your product out the door – with emphasis on speed of perfection. Your product doesn’t need to be perfect, because you don’t even know what “perfect” is at this point. Avoid perfecting your product. Instead, keep calm and keep shipping.

What does this mean for startup marketing?

It means that you shouldn’t market a product until you actually have one, or at least have a beta program and a concrete delivery date. Of course you can do some preliminary “smoke test” stuff to collect emails etc. and validate your idea  but what good is having a serious and structured marketing program before you have a product (or as least a concrete delivery date of said product)? And while you should be doing some marketing and PR to gain company awareness, don’t get ahead of yourself by sinking money into product marketing campaigns before you have a product to sell. Focus on what matters first, even though it’s tempting to get distracted with gratifying but often useless things like gaining Facebook likes and Twitter followers.

This brings us to our second tip:

  • Be careful with social media – doing it right requires a huge time commitment, so if you can’t keep up with it, don’t bother starting. That being said, if you can launch and run a sustained social media campaign and it is not distracting you from your number one objective of shipping your product, then by all means, tweet away! You can also hire an agency to help you build and sustain a social media effort if it’s not something you can focus on. There are plenty of good reasons to have a social media campaign while you’re building your product, depending on your business objectives.

OK, so now you’ve got the product stuff figured out. Now where do you begin with startup marketing?

  • Writing is the number one most important secondary skill of a startup. Writing takes skill (and hence, practice). You want to get across what you need to say in as few words as possible – think elevator pitch or a back-of-the-napkin overview. Blogging is also essential – to increase search is the obvious reason (SEO), but the less obvious reason is to establish yourself as a thought-leader. Providing your audience with accurate and valuable information, without asking for something in return, builds your credibility and your reputation. The key objective is to take a stance on a topic, rather than simply reporting what other people have already said. You may be wrong or you may be right, but the point is to start a dialogue. You personify the company.

Don’t over-complicate pieces by being too wordy or relying on jargon For example, don’t use the word “utilize” rather than “use” or rely on marketing buzz words like “revolutionary” and “innovative” to describe your company or product. If you can make your point in five words rather than 20, use the five-word version. The simpler you make the idea, the faster someone will understand how you can help them and the more likely they are to buy. Take a look at grammar.ly – this is a great online tool that can help correct your wordiness, passive voice, etc. There are also firms for outsourced blog writing, which some local startups even offer. However, we recommend that you don’t outsource your startup marketing until you have dedicated resources internally to support your plan.

So, you have the writing down. Now what? How should you determine your startup marketing strategy?

  • The best advice is to try, measure, analyze and repeat. Don’t be afraid to try quirky things. Chalkboard signs at bars and restaurants are a perfect example; they will offer an item as a special and if it does well, it gets added to the menu. The medium isn’t important – it’s all about the message. So play around and see what sticks. Don’t be afraid to do something weird. Personally, I have been experimenting lately with ly and Scoop.it, and I’ve had some successes and some failures. Keep a log of everything you try; integrate what works into your repertoire and trash the rest..
  • Challenge your assumptions. Just because something is working, it doesn’t mean it’s best for your business. For example, just because your bounce rate is 30 percent, don’t assume that’s good enough. By challenging your assumptions, you may realize that a change is needed, which is especially true for the startup marketers at the pointy end of the spear. Take a look at The Lean Startup. Don’t just experiment as an exercise – actually pivot when it needs to happen and be ready to commit to the pivot at a certain point. The minimum viable product approach helps you do this.
  • Don’t be afraid to steal – all’s fair out there. Steal tactics, and especially competitor’s pricing as much as possible. If you’re not stealing then you probably aren’t doing a good job figuring out what your competitors are offering.

Which social media channel should you use?

  • If you have a B2B business model, consider Twitter and LinkedIn. If your audience is mostly consumers, try Facebook. Experiment on all and measure results. Then, focus your energy on the platforms that provide the most value. Paid search testing can also help augment your social media efforts, and measure your return/acquisition upfront, per channel. Penetrating LinkedIn groups with your thought-leadership pieces can also be effective (it’s worked for us). However, it’s hard to differentiate between a company and a thought-leader at the company – LinkedIn still hasn’t figured that out.
  • Blogging platforms like WordPress are good for aggregating domain authority. Tumblr won’t give you the domain authority or any long-term leverage. Ultimately, you can use anything that has a good infrastructure that ties in to search. An argument could be made that Google+ will be the next solid platform because it’s closely tied to search results (too bad no one is using it).

There are also great tools out there for experimenting with startup marketing:

  • Try A/B testing using tools like Optimizely and Unbounce, which allow you to experiment with similar, but slightly different variations of marketing collateral side-by-side in order to determine which option customers prefer. You can also try MailChimp, which allows you to experiment with email newsletters and Sharpspring, which offers landing page variations.
  • Paid search is also an effective research tool. You can advertise products that don’t exist to test demand. Use word strings from Adwords which will help you come up with your phrasing.

Our final words or wisdom for startup marketing:

The key to successful startup marketing is prioritization. Time is always an issue – and there’s an opportunity cost with everything you do. If you spend time on social media, for example, you’re taking time away from product development, etc. Also, try to get comfortable with the fact that there’s always more you can do, so be willing to maintain this perspective and focus on what’s most important. Peter Drucker’s quote sums it up: “There’s nothing quite so useless as doing w/great efficiency something that shouldn’t be done at all.”

What can you do to make the biggest impact? Do that.

And of course, if you get stuck, we can help!

Look for part deux of this blog series next week, when we’ll discuss how you know when your startup marketing is working.