Blog Entries

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 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.

Why Process Matters in Your Startup

The importance of business/startup process management to keep operations seamless & scalable.

Business priorities are ever changing. The need to adapt in order to succeed will never end. But how do you effectively manage:

  1. The growth of your business?
  2. The introduction of new employees?
  3. The expansion to multiple offices around the world?

It is key that every member of the organization is on the same page in order to achieve both seamlessness in process and scalability of said startup processes. How is this accomplished? By setting processes in place to make sure that there is consistency and repeatability. This can be anything from how a sales cycle operates, to tactics such as when to post a blog, and how to effectively market it. Whatever your startup process is, keep the following in mind:

Implementation is Everything in your Startup Process

Process for process sake never has a good outcome. But, startup process done well can be a huge business advantage – and a lot of this depends on the buy-in of the employees and those implementing and adhering to the process on a day to day basis.. But, just coming up with a startup process is not enough. Periodic checks to make sure that everyone is properly following procedure, and feedback mechanisms to measure inputs and outputs is the only way to know if your startup process is working or not. ON top of that, once a process has been invented and established – your job still isn’t done. A lot of process ideas sound good in theory, but you don’t know the effectiveness until it is implemented.  Once you know it works, you must also reassess at the appropriate times to make sure that it still makes sense.  With proper training, sound processes can help  business run as a well-oiled machine.

The Key to Startup Process Success

The Key to Startup Process Success

For example, a process that might have worked when a company was a five person shop may not be suitable when the employee count grows to 20.  Don’t become complacent – it is a company killer. Always re-evaluate and make the appropriate adjustments to your startup process as your company grows and changes. Process micro-pivots are necessary to ensure optimal outcomes.

Don’t over complicate things

Simplicity is crucial.  We just explained how important startup process can be – that said not everything needs a process. Companies can easily fall in to the trap of over-processing even the simplest task, which can end up putting up barriers and creating unproductivity and pointless paperwork/meetings. The basic rule of thumb is that if only one employee is involved in implementing the process, and the process is less than 3 steps – a codification is probably not needed and it can be up to the employee how best to implement. But when multiple parts of an organization get involved, with multiple steps in between – a process should be considered.

For example, take the process used at Baked & Branded when a new lead is received:

  1. Initial contact
  2. Discovery call/requirements gathering
  3. Review/ask questions
  4. Produce statement of work
  5. Follow up meeting/client review
  6. Finalize statement of work with pricing
  7. Sign off on statement of work
  8. Sign off on terms and conditions
  9. Start project

Simple, right? But, sometimes other steps (such as another meeting to get clarity on some specific features for an application, or if the client decides to change the scope or pivot their idea) or even skipping phases or steps is needed to make this process work for each individual client. So the idea is to come up with a framework that can be easily tailorable and modified depending on the exact use case, with flexibility for an employee to use his or her brain and do what makes sense. You can’t build an exact process that will account for all variables. However, your process can be an over-arching template or blueprint on how to collect or gather the necessary information to move forward – the way we, for example, use different questions in the scoping document to gather enough information to create a statement of work and move on to the next step in our process.

Startup Process is Constant Change

This is a natural part of the business cycles and the evolution of any business, especially a startup. Change can be good, especially change in startup process. If you’ve had your processes in place for more than 6 months and haven’t modified or modulated them, it’s time to take a fresh look at what is working and what isn’t. Keep an open mind and adapt accordingly to keep your business running smoothly.

The lesson is: keep calm and iterate on.

What’s your best startup process advice? Tell us in the comments below or tweet us @BakedandBranded         .

Why a part-time CTO doesn’t work

At Baked & Branded, we talk to a lot of entrepreneurs each week, from startups of all different stages considering bringing in a part-time CTO. Recently, I began writing down the common questions our team gets asked constantly, as well as popular conversation topics that I see on professional networking sites, such as FounderDating and LinkedIn. Here’s one statement that I’ve come across frequently from entrepreneurs of early-stage startups: “We are looking for a developer or CTO to join our team for equity.” Believe it or not this even happens across Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn – where entrepreneurs cast the net so wide as to ensnare people they don’t even know.

Twitter Outreach for a part-time CTO

Twitter Outreach for a part-time CTO

To me, looking for a part-time CTO raises a red flag for a few different reasons. To build a solid Minimum Viable Product (MVP)—something that most Baked & Branded clients are working towards—then you are still looking at a couple hundred hours of development time. The MVP is usually not a simple front-end WordPress site; it’s more likely a full-blown web or mobile app (but with only the key features needed for basic functionality). A part-time CTO or developer who is only getting equity and no cash will still require a full-time job, leaving him or her just a couple hours a night to work on building your MVP.

This extends the timeline for bringing your idea to market, sometimes even by years. Even if you are OK with this delay, 9 times out of 10, the part-time CTO gets burnt out and quits. Who wants to code all day for a full-time job, and then come home only to sit and code for the entire evening for hundreds of days straight? Many of these developers (and people in general) can’t sustain this type of life-style forever. If they do stay around, tension often develops with the founders because the business team is waiting on the product, but the developer feels that she is not being met halfway or being cut enough slack given her constraints. From the developer’s perspective, it is extremely difficult to set accurate milestones for the product when the other side of the team is constantly out doing “seemingly meaningless” networking.

What does this come down to in the end? That YOU have to seel yourself everyday in an uphill battle to your part-time CTO. It’s never the other way around. Without your developer, your entire vision would crumble, which makes you realize how fragile your startup really is (and overly dependent on one person).

Your part-time CTO will interview you

Your part-time CTO will interview you

In a lot of cases, people know the disadvantages of hiring a part-time CTO for equity, but they do so anyway because it alleviates risk for the founders, and provides much-needed technical support on the team. Plus best practice for raising money says that you need to have your team established upfront and all the pieces in place. But this is starting to change.

What should a lead developer/CTO’s role be?

Assuming that you’ve decided not to go the in-house CTO route for whatever reason, you’ll still need to hire some developers to help build your product. And, you’ll also need someone to manage your developers correctly, find the right resources, define the architectural vision, and ensure that technically the team is delivering. This is what a CTO is supposed to be doing. To elaborate on this, I’ve put together a list of a startup CTO’s key responsibilities:

  1. Research and analyze the approach to a viable solution architecture or a plan/roadmap for how your product will be built.
  2. Based on the solution architecture, find the right team or individual developers to hire.
  3. Perform a code assessment and conduct interviews with these potential hires to make sure that they are qualified and have the skills required to build the product.
  4. Set accurate and feasible milestones.
  5. Define a product development process and management tool that makes sense for your product and your team.
  6. Have regular touch points with the team to ensure that the right product is being built and the product is being built right.
  7. Answer questions from the developers to make sure that the project does not fall behind.
  8. Unpack what is really meant when something is said, and read between the lines -especially when it comes to working with multi-cultural/global team.
  9. Review the code and identify any issues that need to be fixed.
  10. Build out a test plan for quality assurance, and continually have code reviews
  11. Keep track of defects and open questions blocking progress, and often-times solving them/solutioning on the fly.

I hope this sheds some light on what is required from your CTO as you’re looking to take that step into entrepreneurship. A CTO is a key person on your team and will ultimately make or break your vision. And most first-time entrepreneurs under-estimate all the things that a CTO really has to other than “build the product”. That’s why it’s often better to hire a Developer/CTO in the beginning, save your equity, and get your product out the door as quickly as possible…even if maybe the price tag isn’t “free” (and remember, there’s no free lunch).  It will save you time and aggravation upfront so that you can avoid spinning endless cycles that lead nowhere but to a product dead-end. Finding your CTO is as easy as getting in touch with us… so that THEN you can focus on attracting your internal team once the product is build. Which will it be – the easy way, or the hard way?s

Have a question or need clarity on anything? Use the comments below and I will be sure to respond, or you can contact me directly at Eric@bakedandbranded.com or on Twitter @ericsully or @BakedandBranded.

Interested in leveraging our expertise? Reach out via the contact form, or you can email me directly.

Lessons Learned at Denver Startup Week

Denver Startup WeekLast week was Denver Startup Week, a week-long, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily fest for entrepreneurs to learn, mentor and be mentored, network, and socialize within the local startup ecosystem – which happens to be thriving in Denver and is one of the reasons we set up an office here. The city has a great quality of life, a robust tech community with large feeder companies and startup pillars of the community, like Brad Feld, who consistently throw their collective weight behind efforts to draw talent, ideas and capital to the Denver area.

Speaking of Brad Feld, we recommend that you subscribe to his blog if you haven’t already. He is one of the most authentic and honest entrepreneurs we have ever come across – he bares his soul, no holds barred, documenting the ups and downs of the entrepreneurial journey so others can learn from his successes and failures. Not only that, but he disbars the notion that entrepreneurship and the startup life is an easy and glamorous ideal that can be achieved without blood, sweat and tears. Kudos to you, Brad!

Denver Startup Week - Registration and Basecamp

Denver Startup Week – Registration and Basecamp

Denver Startup Week was a massive event that took a lot of planning by folks in the Denver Startup Community, and a lot of external support and contributors as well (including some great corporate sponsors like Chase Bank). The event was structured with lectures and panel sessions during the day, with happy hours, mixers and social time starting at 4 p.m.. Attendees were also free to stop by the Denver Startup Week Basecamp any time to hang out, get information and programming, or get work done. Check out the full schedule here.

Denver Startup Week Basecamp

Denver Startup Week Basecamp – located at Arapahoe and the 16th Street Mall downtown. I stopped by for the open bar happy hour and Denver Startup finale celebration. There were workstations for folks to be productive, a dance floor, a huge lecture hall and beer-garden style ping pong tables outside.

Since I was in Mount Rushmore and the Badlands until Tuesday (check out my blog on that topic), the first session I was able to make was on Tuesday night: How To Develop A Marketing Strategy As A Startup – hosted by Elevated Third. On Wednesday I took a break (mostly to recover from my trip) and then on Thursday I bounced back to check out the evening session of Cofounders Lab Matchup at Galvanize. I got to meet a host of entrepreneurs, some of whom were at the very early stages of taking the plunge. At Baked & Branded, we’re excited to help these folks achieve their vision while they’re still forming their internal, equity-driven team. Ideas were pitched from microscope image processing, to a “deals near me” app, to software that helps researchers find the papers they need. We’ve already scheduled some meetings with a few folks from this event to help brainstorm requirements and get them started on the path towards creating a product.

Denver Startup Week Ping Pong

Denver Startup Week Ping Pong

Branding Session at Denver Startup Week

Branding Session at Denver Startup Week

On the final day of Denver Startup Week, I caught the noon session on DevOps (the cross-disciplinary mindset of development and operations) and then the afternoon panel talk on Long-Distance Relationships – Working with Distributed Teams. Afterwards, I caught the tail-end of a presentation on building a lasting brand (something Baked & Branded knows a thing or two about). Here’s the whiteboard the presenters put together.

Then naturally I caught the Happy Hour at the Denver Startup Week Basecamp, and was especially wowed by their craft brew selection at the open bar (all sponsored). I loved the Blue Moon Pumpkin Ale. It was the perfect beverage to add to ping pong and startup networking.

Open Bar at Denver Startup Week

Open Bar at Denver Startup Week

Over the course of the next few weeks, we plan on sharing some more of the lessons learned at Denver Startup Week around Startups 101 – so stay tuned to the Baked & Branded blog for more takeaways from this event. In the meantime, check out  our whitepaper on Tips Every First-Time Entrepreneur Should Know.

How to Guide for your Lean Startup’s Minimum Viable Product (MVP)

When it comes to building an MVP (Minimum Viable Product), especially when it is your first time, it is extremely important to clearly identify the goals of what you are trying to achieve. It’s equally important to remember that the goal is to be “lean” and that all the bells and whistles aren’t required for this first product. This post will give you some concrete ideas and steps to get you started on working with us on an MVP.

Ideas around your MVP

First things first – What is an MVP?

MVP, or Minimum Viable Product, could also be considered a very basic prototype of an idea.  An MVP is typically NOT something that is built to be sent out to the masses, but rather to a small batch of hand-picked, highly engaged users (e.g. friends and family).  To build a successful MVP, think about the core offering or value for these users (which would be described in your executive summary or elevator pitch), and build to that. Keeping a laser focus on what that value to end-customers is will help you not build too much too early, wasting time and money – and will also help you either avoid “the pivot” or identity that a pivot is needed as soon as possible.

MVP Process

In my personal experience, when thinking through the process of building an MVP, you really need to re-wire your brain to start to think in a different way. Instead of thinking bottoms up, think top-down from a user perspective – start at a high level and then think down through each of the functional items of the MVP.  A great technique we at B&B use is writing out specific use cases on how the end-user might actually interact with and use the product.  This helps you avoid the common trap of getting too detail-oriented and not thinking about the big picture from the user experience perspective.  By the time you’ve realized that you’ve gone too far down the technical specification path it’s usually too late – at this point you would already be down the development path and to turn back will be money burned.  Typically we write 2-3 use cases for each new product we are working on. These are also a great tool to provide to our developers to make sure they have an understanding of the end result and the business reason of what we are trying to achieve.

Let’s look at our MVP example use case

I find a great way to do this is to create a mission statement or executive summary that defines exactly what the product is supposed to do.  I have made up what an example of a use case that we will use as we walk through this process:

  • Goal: A chat system that allows for communication between different departments of a company, or allows for communication between individuals within the same company and/or department.

With this we identify that the problem we are trying to solve is around making communication easier between individuals or groups of people based on some factor that ties them together (i.e the marketing team or executive team).  From a high level this is pretty clear.

Next, we would think in terms of administration levels, and different roles and abilities of each of those levels would be. Here we could approach solutioning the problem in two ways.

  1. One way is the scenario where – if we were to lose sight of the fact that we are trying to build an MVP – we would come up with a laundry list of features that we would want to see that maybe aren’t entirely traced back to the use cases. The list gets very long very fast. And it will also be extremely expensive and complicated to implement. Read: high risk.
  2. The second, better way would be to throw out all these superfluous features and stay on task around what an MVP really is – focusing on solving the core problem as expeditiously as possible and that’s about it. We like to stick to the principle of KISS – Keep It Simple, Stupid.

Assuming we’re going with the second, recommended approach, now we have to define the user levels that would work for each associated user role:

  • Super admin – The developer/team of developers who created the application and has the ability to control all other potential clients who have access to the platform. This could be considered the “internal company” level.
  • Admin – This would be an external company who signed up for access to our application (our paying customer).
  • User – A user who would be invited by the admin to join to access and use the application.

These are therefore our core user roles. Now we need to define the abilities or features that each of these roles would have – let’s apply the two approaches/lenses of the robust, full product versus the MVP:

Using the MVP Lens

Super Admin

  1. Ability to see and manage all active companies who have signed up and who are using the free trial (assuming we do a 30 day free trial for them to get a taste of how it works)
  2. Dashboards
    • Top level list of all the companies with some data showing how many active users/groups have been added under this company.
    • Ability to deny/allow access of new clients (admins).
    • To be able to message admins/users directly for any trouble shooting and or support

Admin

  1. Ability to invite new users via email to use the app under their company
  2. Ability to create new groups and assign users to these groups (which could be departments broken up)
  3. Ability to communicate with super admins/users/groups
  4. Tracked message logs

User

  1. Ability to communicate with admins/users/groups that they are assigned to
  2. Tracked message logs

Using the Robust, Full-Product Lens

Assume all of the items listed above with the addition of what is in this next section -

Super Admin

  1. Dashboard of analytics
  2. High level looking at average total engagements each day.
  3. Deep dive for each individual company that is signed up.
  4. User level analytics to what days they communicate more/what features they are using the most, chat, video, uploading documents.

Admin

  1. Ability to assign other sub admins who can create new groups and assist with management of a large organization.
  2. Dashboard of analytics.
  3. High level dashboard aggregating data of each of the groups they have created such as number of communications per day, average number of times a user communicates.
  4. Dashboard for each individual group.
  5. Ability to communicate in all groups they have created either my traditional instant messaging, video chat, uploading and sharing documents.
  6. Ability to communicate with users/admins in private messaging

User   

  1. Ability to communicate via instant messaging, video chat, uploading of documents of groups they have been assigned to.
  2. etc. etc.

Now I list out every possible item that came to mind when building this type of application, but my goal was to show you a concrete example of what going outside the scope and intention of an MVP looks like.  A lot of the features that are highlighted in the robust section are great features to have, but when speaking with, say, a new client for Baked & Branded, I would make the recommendation that we consider these items for Phases 2 & 3 (Beta, full productization, etc.).  Remember that keeping the focus on the core offering is supposed to be the goal for the MVP.

Working with Baked & Branded to build your MVP

Question: How do I prepare a set of requirements to bring to Baked & Branded to help me build a technical statement of work to get a sense of cost & timeline? 

Answer: We like to keep things simple. It is easier for us to understand your goals when you have already compiled and validated the following (consider this your homework):

Section 1: An executive summary, which would be a 2-3-paragraph example of what your product is going to do.
Section 2: Who is the target end user/customer?  This is an important step for both of us to understand and for us to be requiring it will make sure that you have done your homework.
Section 3: Similarly to how I broke everything out via bullets (rather than written paragraphs), focus on that individual feature that you are looking to provide. This keeps things clear and concise.
Section 4: Who are your competitors (and you ALWAYS have competitors, sometime the status quo is your competitor)?  How do you plan to differentiate yourself from each of these and what do you think they do well/do poorly?

Question: Now that I have all this information together and organized, what is the next steps to get me to creating!?

Answer: With this information, it’s a great starting point for us to have a deeper conversation with you. We will set up a call to go over you business goals, ask some more in-depth questions, and also spark some ideas and provide some feedback from a different perspective on what you are trying to build.

Once all the answers are clear, then we can come in and perform our B&B magic – that is, build out a technical statement of work that will be our guideline to follow when we would start the project.  This also is a validation step to you so that you can see that we clearly understood the goals of your product.

Have a question or need clarity on anything?  Use the comments below and I will be sure to respond, or you can email me directly at Eric@bakedandbranded.com.

Interested in leveraging our expertise?  Reach out via the contact form or you can email me directly.