What I Learned From Building 3 Companies in 5 Years

a man holding the globe

I’ve started three completely different companies in the past five years: BlogDash, Feast and CMX Media. Each one has taught me a great deal. I’ve learned a lot about myself, about building a company, about other people, and about the world.

When exploring and moving quickly through new terrain, we often don’t stop to look back at what we’ve learned. This post has allowed me to see some of the bigger epiphanies that have changed how I think about startups and life. Let’s dig right in.

You don’t have to raise money.

There’s this unspoken belief in the Valley that in order to build a successful company, you need to raise money and grow it to massive scale. That’s just not true. Many companies have been able to build something massive without raising money, either by being scrappy or by building revenue-first companies. We haven’t had to raise any money for CMX because we started with a product that makes it organically (conferences).

If everyone is trying to build something massive, who’s going to take care of the smaller problems — the problems that are very real, but may not have a massive market size? Build what you believe in. If it happens to be something that needs investment, then great — raise money. If it’s not, that’s OK. Don’t build something to raise money. That’s a backward mentality. Almost every major business started with something very small and focused.

You can ignore most advice.

Other entrepreneurs love to give advice, but usually aren’t very good at it. People don’t want to give bad advice. It’s just that they often don’t have enough context to really understand your problem.

What’s worse than taking advice from entrepreneurs is taking advice from most investors. Whenever I speak to investors, they tell me what I need to do in order to succeed, which is usually for their benefit only. They’ll tell you what you need to do in order to be worthy of their investment. This may or may not be in line with what you believe in.

Of course, there are some investors and entrepreneurs who give great advice. From my experience, they’re the exceptions. What makes them great is that they ask a lot of questions and help you come to your own conclusion.

Just remember, no one knows your team and your business as well as you do. Use advice as a source of inspiration or to gain new perspectives, but never let it drive your direction. That decision has to come from yourself and your team.

Your worst-case scenario is better than you think.

Most entrepreneurs fear that they are taking on more risk than they actually are.

We never really address our worst-case scenarios. They remain this dark, ominous concept looming in the back of our minds. Is our company is going to fail? Are we are going to be broke — living on the street, ashamed, ridiculed and depressed? It feels like a nightmare and it can prevent us from really going for what we want.

But when you actually think about your options, you will realize that you have a much better worst-case scenario that you might think. If your company fails, you can get a job (entrepreneurs are very hirable), live with a friend or family while you get back on your feet, try a unique profession like working on a farm or working at a library, travel on an extreme budget, consult, join a friend’s company, etc. There are so many options, all of which are far from the depressing end that you might imagine if you don’t address the idea of your worst-case scenario.

Do what you believe in.

Do you believe in what you’re doing? It’s the single most important question for any entrepreneur. If the answer is no, nothing else matters. If the answer is yes, then nothing should stop you from moving forward. As long as you believe in what you’re doing, you stand a chance of defying the odds and succeeding.

Don’t compare yourself to others.

We get so caught up in the success and failure of other companies, and it can really mess with our emotions. Their success is not your failure. And even if it were, success itself is relative. People define success in a number of ways. So don’t get caught up in what other startups are doing. Focus on what’s in front of you. The only thing that matters is executing on your vision. At previous companies, I’ve made the mistake of looking too much to competitors to guide certain decisions.

Competitors can become friends

Startups change frequently. Someone you consider a direct competitor can one day become a great partner. A great partner can one day become a competitor. The best thing you can do is treat everyone you meet with respect and be helpful to competitors and partners alike.

Create space for honest reflection.

It’s easy to have your head down for long periods of time and never come up for air, talk to your team or see the bigger picture.

When I was working on Feast, my co-founder Nadia Eghbal and I often worked remotely. We made it a habit to meet every week just to talk. We shared our feelings. and our fears. We gave each other brutally honest feedback. We talked about the direction the company was moving and whether or not it felt right. The hardest and most important decisions we made for Feast came from those talks. They led to some of the most successful strides and always left us with greater clarity.

If you can do it in person, then leave the office, go for a walk, or sit in a park. Create physical, mental and emotional space where you can have an open and honest conversation.

Ask customers to pay as soon as possible.

If you plan on selling a product, it’s never too soon to ask customers to pay.

It’s too easy to continue building great things while gaining an audience and delaying the uncomfortable task of asking for money. But you must do it. It’s the only way you will really know if your business is real. If you ask for money, people will either say yes or no. If they decline, you can learn what you really need to build in order to solve a problem worth paying for.

Grow your culture organically.

I used to try to think strategically about what a healthy culture would look like for the companies I started. I’ve since learned that great cultures form on their own. They aren’t planned. They start with the founders and translate to the team. You can find culture in everything from the subtle interactions and habits that form amongst the team.

I think that’s why it’s difficult to develop a real culture when you hire too many people right away. I’ve seen that happen too. As a result, the company will try to manufacture a culture instead of growing one naturally.

You have to take care of yourself in order to succeed.

The startup world is so focused on speed. You work hard. You work long hours. You work late. You might fail, but it certainly won’t be for lack of hustle. That’s all good and commendable, but I’ve found it to be completely unsustainable and inefficient.

There are some really successful people who are workaholics. But there are also a lot of really successful people who build daily routines so they can take time for themselves and their families. They make sure they’re emotionally, mentally and physically healthy. If you want to help the world, you have to help yourself first.

At CMX we encourage members of our team to travel, work on their own schedule, and build their daily routine around what will make them healthiest and most productive.

Learn from personal experience.

You won’t truly understand what I’m sharing until you experience it yourself. So if you take one thing away from this post, continue to experiment. Put yourself in uncomfortable positions. Take risks. If you don’t know anything about fundraising but you think you need to do it, just start. You’ll learn quickly. Just take that first step and you’ll learn along the way.

A version of this post originally appeared on the author’s blog.

David Spinks is the CEO of CMX Media, hosts of CMXSummit and CMXHub, the world’s largest conference and online publication for the community industry. 

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

9 Great CRM Tools for Startups

CRM for startups



“My cleaning company uses Highrise. It’s for our service managers and owners. We track all of our email communication with clients, important information, anniversaries and notes about their homes/offices. It also has tasks so I can make sure my managers take care of things. With reminders, we never miss a client anniversary. It’s been a great web-based CRM solution. ”

Kyle Clayton, Jackrabbit Janitorial

Streak for Gmail

“The Poshly team uses Google Apps for Business throughout our organization, including for email solutions. Because we’re in Gmail all day, it’s easy for us to integrate Gmail-based CRM options, likeStreak. Streak is fantastic because it not only has traditional CRM capabilities, like shared contacts and accounts, but it also lets us save text “snippets” that we can use to standardize email replies.”

Doreen Bloch, Poshly Inc.

Intuit QuickBase

“Being a startup, we loved custom-building everything to our own needs, rather than getting frustrated with standard options. We absolutely love Intuit’s product QuickBase that allows a young company to customize fields and sections according to its unique workflow. After seven happy years, we’ve grown and are now migrating to Salesforce.com, which is better suited for larger organizations. ”

Shradha Agarwal, ContextMedia


“We originally used Zoho, but we switched to Salesforce.com as we grew our sales team. At this point, Salesforce.com has even more features than what we need; this will enable Salesforce.com to scale well as we continue to grow. ”

Jesse Pujji, Ampush


“We are big fans of Infusionsoft. While it’s not advertised as a CRM, it does so much more to automate your business and your marketing. As we’ve grown, it’s become more and more valuable. Sometimes, it seems as though it can do just about anything, which leaves endless possibilities for as long as we are technically a small business.”

Benji Rabhan, MorrisCore


“I’m a fan of ONTRAPORT. The software offers a good 360-degree view of your contacts, along with lead scoring and automatic routing of leads.”

John Hall, Influence & Co.


“Salesforce.com is an amazing platform that can be customized well beyond its basic features. There are also many plug-ins that can be used for things like marketing and ERP integration. We periodically make changes to the way we use the system, so it can grow as our organization grows.”

Ziver Birg, Zivelo

Our Own System

“We built our own proprietary CRM from scratch over the last five years. The existing products in the market, from Salesforce.com and similar companies, were not specific enough to our particular business. Building it in Ruby on Rails and hosting it in the cloud (Amazon’s EC2 stack) has allowed us to easily scale up as our company and team grew.”

Chuck Cohn, Varsity Tutors

Highrise and Salesforce.com

“When we first started out, we had a small team, and Highrise (37signals) was an excellent way to manage contacts, keep emails attached to accounts and delegate tasks. Now that our organization is bigger and we have more sophisticated campaigns, Salesforce.com really is the way to go. Innovative features, like Chatter, allow for an organization with a global presence to keep everyone in the loop.”

Michael Costigan, Youth Leadership Specialist

7 Truths About All Self-Made Entrepreneurs


Entrepreneurs are a rare breed. It takes a heterogeneous mix of confidence, risk tolerance, self-discipline, determination and competitiveness to start a business and see it through to success.

Entrepreneurs can come from myriad backgrounds and financial and personal support structures, but I most admire entrepreneurs who are self-made. They weren’t handed a business or a trust fund; they took an idea — or their talent for a trade or specialized profession — and set forth to build something. When you don’t come from money and don’t have a fallback plan, the risk, work ethos and single-mindedness needed to be a successful entrepreneur create a business-builder without equal.

That said, I’ve created a list of seven common themes that are true for every self-made entrepreneur.

1. There are only three things you need to start a business — a small amount of capital, a strong work ethic and persistence.

In a perfect world, it would be free to start a business. But it does cost money to file for an EIN and be recognized as a business entity on the state and federal level. You will also likely need capital for upfront infrastructure costs like Web development and accounting software. But aside from this, which should be fairly easily self-financed or put on a zero-interest 12 month credit card, all you really need is a serious dose of self-confidence and a never-say-die attitude. You will want to quit and you will feel like a failure. But success lies beyond these feelings of fear and anxiety. Always remember, failure only exists when you stop trying.

2. To be self-made means to rise from the ground floor. Even the most successful self-made entrepreneurs once walked in your shoes.

Every successful entrepreneur who ever lived started with nothing more than an idea. Remember this when you’re down and feel like the end is near. Use it as motivation to explore new ways of doing things, forge new partnerships or do something crazy. Self-made entrepreneurs are built to tolerate and withstand great risk. Hundreds if not thousands of people have already walked in your shoes. Channel this idea. Success lies ahead.

3. It’s very rare to be first-to-market at anything. We will all have competitors and few ideas are truly original.

“There are no original ideas. There are only original people.” –Barbara Grizutti Harrison

Everyone wants to be innovative — to come up with an idea that will change the world, disrupt an industry or set you apart as an “entrepreneurial genius.” But the truth is that few ideas a unique or new. Some of the most successful tech businesses, for example, are just iterative improvements on successful ventures that have come before.

Don’t get caught up market saturation or competition. No matter what you do in life, you will face stiff competition. Use your closest competition. Evaluate their strengths and weaknesses and improve your business positioning, brand message, and pricing and marketing strategy to get an edge.

At the end of the day, customers are a fickle bunch. If your business does it better, faster, cheaper or smarter than your rivals, you’re bound to find success.

4. Doubt will haunt you until you’ve reached “success.” Learn to get used to it.

Whether they let on or not, all entrepreneurs have high levels of anxiety about their business — even if they’re on the pathway to success. Running and building a business of any size in any industry requires a huge amount of responsibility and attention to detail. And things will go wrong. Frequently. You’ll second guess yourself (sometimes on a daily basis) and you’ll always fear you’re on the edge of failure. The sooner you accept this reality, the sooner you’ll learn to cope.

5. The first big milestones were equally challenging for all of your competitors.

Getting your first sale will be a big day. But there will be many days that pass as you ramp up your business and prepare to bring home the bacon. If you launch your business and have a slow start, worry not.

Very few businesses charge out of the gate at full speed. Growing a business can be a slow and painful process and you will need patience and persistence to weather your early setbacks. Remember, every great businessman had to start from somewhere. And for most, that somewhere was the same place you’re starting from now. 

6. The emotional and financial pressures you feel have been felt by every entrepreneur before you.

Just as you will have to get used to living with doubt and fear of failure, you will also need to adapt to the daily, weekly, and monthly financial pressures of being your own boss. As an entrepreneur, you have chosen to break away from the security of a bi-weekly paycheck for the chance at something more. Fortunately, you can find solace in the fact that every self-made man or woman who came before you had the same emotional and financial pressures bearing down on them. If they could do it, so can you.

7. In a fledgling business, learn to rely on no one but yourself for 90 percent of the work.

If you’re an independent-minded person, there is a good chance you’re used to doing most of the work yourself. As an entrepreneur, being a master-of-all-trades is in the first line of the job description. Working as part of a team is a valuable skill and one you’ll surely need as your business grows and you begin to scale, but in the early stages of every business you’ll need to rely on yourself for 90-100 percent of the work. While you’ll be burning the midnight oil most days of the week (and weekend), the satisfaction you will feel after finding success will be without equal.

This post originally appeared on the author’s LinkedIn column here.

Brendan Mangus is Principal Consultant at Colorwheel Media Consulting, a new breed of tech consultants specializing in helping early and mid-stage startups refine their product, define and grow their market and community and execute their outreach and go-to-market strategy. Prior to starting his consulting practice, he spent more than a decade providing marketing, branding and public relations counsel for a variety of clients.

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

Is Your Idea Really Worth Investing In?

Time Is Money

Do you have a great idea for improving your industry? For most people, inventing a new product is foreign territory. There are multiple steps (and costs!) involved in bringing an idea to life — like market research, product design and prototyping, patent and legal fees and marketing, just to name a few.

At Edison Nation Medical, we have worked with thousands of inventors and entrepreneurs over the past decade, and we’ve learned a lot about which ideas are viable and which are not, particularly from a financial point of view. We do know that innovation requires expertise and money.

The question is, how do you know if your idea is worth investing in? And, if it is worthy of investment, how much?

Calculating ROI

ROI is a performance measure used to evaluate the efficiency of an investment. To calculate ROI, the return or net profit derived from the investment is divided by the total resources that were invested (the initial investment plus any subsequent costs). The results are expressed as a percentage:

ROI = (Net Profit)/(Invested Resources) X 100

The primary advantage of an ROI calculation is its ability to quantify the benefits of investments and returns of varying size. For instance, if Jack and Cindy invest in two different products and Jack makes $50,000 in profits and Cindy makes $100,000 in profits, you might think that Cindy made a better investment.

But if Cindy’s costs were $80,000 and Jack’s were only $10,000, Cindy’s ROI is 25 percent and Jack’s is 400 percent, making Jack’s investment the better one. The absolute dollar value of profits generated is meaningless without considering the investment that was required to generate those profits.

Net Present Value (NPV) and Internal Rate of Return (IRR)

As informative as ROI may be, its greatest shortcoming is that it ignores the importance of “time value of money.” Consider two projects (“A” and “B”) that may require the same investment and eventually earn the same return; if the return for “A” occurs in just one year while the return for “B” is not realized until year five, the better investment is “A.”  Calculating the time value of money is especially important for new product introductions that typically entail a long developmental lead time and generate returns that vary year by year.

To do this, create an Excel spreadsheet and follow these steps:

  1. In the first year, show the total investment needed to launch your invention idea.  Enter this as a negative number to reflect your anticipated investment costs.
  2. In years one through five, you need to calculate your projected free cash flow (in other words, your anticipated profits after all expenses have been paid that year). If you have an income statement this will end at Net Income.
  3. From this Net Income, add back your Depreciation and Amortization. Subtract Capital Expenditures and increases in Net Working Capital (e.g. increases in year-over-year Current Assets minus Current Liabilities).

Net Income
+ Depreciation/Amortization
– Change in Working Capital
– Capital Expenditure
= Free Cash Flow

Then calculate the following important ratios:

  • Net Present Value (NPV): This is the present value of a series of cash flows generated by an investment, minus the initial investment. NPV is calculated because of the important concept that money today is worth more than the same money tomorrow. The basic rule of thumb is that if a project is NPV positive, it should be accepted.
  • Internal Rate of Return (IRR): IRR calculations are commonly used to evaluate the desirability of investments or projects. The higher a project’s IRR, the more desirable it is. The easiest way to calculate IRR is to use the formula built into Excel. Simply type “=IRR” in an empty cell and follow the prompts to complete the formula. A simple way to think of IRR is that, over the next X years, your invention may have some years with losses (in particular, year one), some years with profits (if all goes as planned), and some years that break even. IRR is a bit like calculating the average profitability over all X years, with extra credit if the investment gets paid back sooner rather than later.
  • Payback: This measures the amount of time it takes a firm to recoup the initial costs of a project without taking into account the time value of money.

Going back to our earlier example, Cindy’s IRR on her $80k investment in the first five years turns out to be 13 percent with a payback in two years. This is not a bad outcome for a personal investment, and it beats the returns she might get on a money market fund, but it is not a “25 percent return” as the ROI suggests.

Likewise, Jack’s product idea is still a very attractive investment, assuming he can keep costs to $10K and generate the anticipated profits as quickly as expected. But for him to represent his invention idea as having a potential “400 percent return” would also be incorrect since his true rate of return is 209 percent. The NPVs for both investments in this case are positive, and thus should be pursued.

Innovation Is a Business Opportunity

Why is any of this important to an inventor? Adjusting the forecast model may give insight into how best to proceed in bringing a new product to market. If the initial investment can be minimized through a shared developmental program, a project’s IRR can actually improve – depending on changes to the project’s return and the timing of those returns.

In our experience, those who view their invention as a business opportunity (and keep their emotional attachment to their idea out of the equation) are the most successful. Calculating the fundamental financial metrics is a critical first step to ensuring that you are making smart business decisions grounded in real data. If your idea still looks financially viable, it may well warrant the investment of significant time and money. If not, you may want to start brainstorming your next big idea instead.

Bobby Grajewski is President of Edison Nation Medical, a healthcare product and medical device incubator and online community for people that are passionate about healthcare innovation. Prior to joining Edison Nation Medical, Grajewski, a serial entrepreneur, co-founded two online companies (Heritage Handcrafted and eCollectors) and spent 5 years in venture capital and private equity both in the middle market and at larger LBO firms. 

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

8 Relationship-Saving Tips for Raising Startup Capital


Question: If you’ve raised startup capital from family or friends, what is one tip you’d give a fellow entrepreneur to make sure the deal doesn’t affect the relationship?

Underpromise and Over-Deliver

“Set extremely clear expectations. Don’t tell friends or family that you are the next Google or Facebook. Even if it’s possible, it’s unlikely. Convey to them the company vision as well as the risks, but highlight the risks so they understand what they are signing up for. Show them the long-term potential of your idea, and make sure they understand they are not investing in a savings account.”

Ben Rubenstein, Yodle

Protect the Relationship

“Some entrepreneurs think they don’t need a contract with a loved one since it’s a close relationship. That is all wrong! The closer the relationship, the more important it becomes to protect the relationship. That’s why it’s important to have a contract when raising money from family and friends, ensuring you both have a clear understanding of the arrangement and exit plan if something goes wrong.”

Rachel Rodgers, Rachel Rodgers Law Office

Don’t Do It

“Just don’t do it. If your idea has merit, you can find investors who don’t come with the baggage of a personal relationship.”

Robert J. Moore, RJMetrics

Rely on Honesty and Transparency

“If you’re going to take money from family and friends, make sure that it is money they are willing to lose — and that losing this investment will not have a negative impact on their lives. Make sure that those close to you understand the real risks involved in investing in a startup. It’s your responsibility to make sure the risks are understood before taking any money.”

David Ehrenerg, Early Growth Financial Services

Get Agreements in Writing

“Outline the specifics of the funding, such as whether any interest will be charged, whether the money needs to be paid back and, if so, within what time frame. Make the written agreement comprehensive, and include all relevant details so both parties know the exact nature of the agreement.”

Andrew Schrage, Money Crashers Personal Finance

Define Failure

“Here’s a script you can use: “While I believe the opportunity is worth pursuing despite the business risks, the risks are large. Since our relationship is more important to me than your investment, I only want to move forward if we share the following definition of failure: ‘a crisis of integrity or effort.’ The last thing I want is awkwardness between us if the startup does not work out.”

Kevon Saber, Fig

Let a VC Vet Your Idea First

“Never ask or allow your family and friends to take on a risk that an experienced venture capitalist won’t take on himself. VCs and angels view businesses on their merits and choose with their heads — not their hearts. If you can earn VC support, then it’s okay to open the doors to allow family and friends to support you monetarily and potentially benefit financially from your eventual growth.”

Manpreet Singh, Seva Call

Make Sure They Can Afford It

“Your friends and family care about you, possibly to the point where they might risk their well-being to help you reach your goals. Before you even start talking about an investment, you need to know for sure whether your friends and family can afford to help you. If they can’t, don’t even ask.”

Thursday Bram, Hyper Modern Consulting

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

10 Thoughts Every Startup Founder Secretly Has at Least Once

digital illustration of a female worker with thought bubble

One of our earliest team members, who left to start his own company, sent us an email recently. I’ll paraphrase here, but the gist of it was that despite his being one of the first people to join the team at Ampush, nothing could have prepared him for starting his own company from the ground up.

I’m not surprised. Startup founders are often portrayed as “living the dream”: Young, bright, usually C-level executives of their companies, working on “cool stuff;” running “The Show.” It must seem like an incredibly attractive career option. You don’t have to work up the corporate ladder at BigCo, or even be employed by the startup itself. But reality looks a little different. While there are great articles that give advice for working at a startup and that outline the startup social contract, very few give an open and honest view of what it’s actually like to be a founder/startup executive. (Though Quora offers some solid opinions.)

I thought I’d share my own view. Below is a list of 10 things a startup founder often thinks, but will rarely admit out loud:

  1. “I don’t know the answer.” The entrepreneurial process is by definition one of making it up as we go. It’s important for startup founders and even employees to accept that we don’t (and won’t) know the answer often. Instead, we have to focus on how to get answers, either by experimenting on our own or by cultivating a strong network — and then relying on this network for advice.
  2. “Our company is going under.” Whether or not it’s true, this is a thought that probably flashes through every founder’s head. Because founders know their business so intimately, they can point blindfolded to the three potential things in the market that would run their business into the ground. Founders who succeed are the ones with the personality and drive to do whatever it takes to keep their company alive.
  3. “I’m doing more work than you know.” Whatever work you see a founder doing, they’re actually doing five times as much behind the scenes. Until a company is several hundred people strong, all the other jobs that have to get done go to the founders. This includes but is not limited to: a potential acquisition; a threatened lawsuit; settling a dispute between two VPs; and any other task we can’t delegate, but have to complete.
  4. “I sometimes wish I had a boss.” Decision fatigue is real and when we are the ultimate authorities, most decisions trickle up to us. Founders can’t look up one level and get the answer. Our decision is there for every client, employee, and partner to analyze, criticize and doubt.
  5. “I do take it personally.” We try not to, but we do. Whether you’re an employee who chose to work at our startup, a partner or a client – if you’re unhappy, it makes us unhappy. We started our company because we believed there was a better way. If someone at any level of the company is unhappy, we take it personally and want to do everything we can to fix it. Really.
  6. “I hate office politics.” Founders generally prefer to concentrate on designing and building products or developing a pitch for a big client. What we don’t enjoy is breaking up arguments, dealing with he says/she says scenarios or negotiating someone’s job title. We just want to lead and continue to make the company successful.
  7. “I miss the early days.” The workplace dynamic changes very fast when a company goes from five to 15 to 50. Admittedly, we find ourselves nostalgic for the days of familial camaraderie, knowing everyone’s story, and being able to move quickly. At the same time, we as founders are ambitious and want the company to grow –  but we try our best to maintain that intimate feeling as we scale.
  8. “I’m struggling with work-life balance. A lot.” Yes, we have this issue in spades. While we do live for our company, we also know it can kill us. We don’t go to the gym enough, we eat horribly, and we don’t spend enough time with loved ones. Entrepreneurship can be a very selfish thing. We need to learn to manage our time better and to unplug to make entrepreneurship more sustainable.
  9. “I sometimes question the sacrifice I made.” This one is a big taboo. How can we ask other people to work crazy hours to build this company when we ourselves ask the question, “Is it worth it?” But founders are humans too. When we are working 100-hour weeks, investing all our money, and sometimes hitting walls, we will question what we are doing in the first place.
  10. “I’m not living the dream, I’m living in a dream.” As our company gets traction and starts to scale, sometimes it doesn’t feel quite “real.” It’s exciting but also surreal!  This explains why we may have unrealistic expectations or why we don’t always appreciate the gravity of our words or decisions for the rest of the company. Oftentimes what we’re working on does not feel like a reality – it still feels like a dream.

Jesse Pujji (@jspujji) is the CEO and Co-Founder of Ampush (@ampush), an advertising technology company that helps advertisers achieve measurable business results on mobile-first native platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. Ampush is a top Facebook Ads Strategic Preferred Marketing Developer (sPMD) powering fully-managed solutions for brands and direct response advertisers across travel, e-commerce, financial services, entertainment, and CPG.

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

Four Ways to Provide Value Rather Than Sell

businessman giving a handshake
If you’re anything like me, you hate the idea of being a salesperson. Even though my friends affectionately call me “Faceman” (after the suave and slippery character from The A-Team), I never took it as a compliment.  To me, being a salesperson always conjured images of sleazy tricksters who pressure and hustle people into buying things they neither need nor want.

However, after raising millions of dollars and selling services to countless Fortune 500 companies, I have come to grips with the fact that not only am I a salesperson, but I am also pretty good at it. These are a few tips that have helped me embrace selling:

  1. Don’t sell. This advice may seem odd given the topic, but I never walk into a meeting with the intention of selling anything.  My main goal is to understand the other person’s needs and find ways to help them. I love Jeffrey Gitomer’s “Little Red Book of Selling because it is all about providing value to clients and prospects before they buy a thing. As Gitomer says, “Become known as a resource, not a salesperson.”
  2. Believe. I walk into meetings with the intention of helping others, and I always believe in what I have to offer. If you do not believe in the product or service you are representing, then you should find another product or service. That may seem radical, but it makes a huge difference. When you believe in what you’re offering, you are providing an opportunity for someone else to participate in something you care about. Authentic passion is infectious and attracts prospects and clients.
  3. Offer the best solution (even if it’s not yours). One of my board members teased me once that I tell him the answer before he can ask the question. All too often, that’s how salespeople approach their meetings — the answer is always their product or service. But there are times when a prospect may not need what you have to offer. The key is to be knowledgeable enough to connect them to a solution that works best for them. While this may seem silly in the short term, in the long term it goes a long way to establish trust.  If you look at each meeting as the beginning of a long-term relationship, you’ll easily secure future and repeat business because people believe you truly have their best interest at heart.
  4. Meet the right person. In the book “The New Strategic Selling,” authors Miller and Heiman do a great job explaining how selling to organizations has become a lot more complex and often requires multiple stakeholders to get to “yes.” Many salespeople like to go to the person that is easiest to get to, but that person may not have the power or influence to close a deal. Miller and Heiman call this ideal contact the “economic buyer,” and you must work diligently to connect with this person in your organization if you want to build a strong book of business. This may take more work upfront, but it will pay off in the long run, because you will come into the organization with the air cover to make your solution a success.

While there are many other technical and tactical steps to being a strong salesperson, these four have made it a noble profession for me. So the next time my friends call me Faceman, I’ll just smile and happily play the part.

Tynesia Boyea Robinson is the CEO of Reliance Methods, which puts Americans to work by providing human capital strategy and placement solutions for clients like Walmart, the Carlyle Group, and the federal government. Tynesia serves on numerous boards and has published several articles, which have been featured in the Washington Post and in Leap of Reason. Education: Harvard MBA, Duke University EE & Comp Sci.

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

Perfecting Your Startup’s Operations Stack

startup COO

For the non-techies among us, the word “stack” is commonly used when describing website infrastructure. It encompasses components like the Linux distribution, server, background job processor, web framework and javascript framework. A “full-stack developer” is someone who is at least familiar with the entire set of tools. That is, he or she can dive into any part of the stack and fix things.

Modern startup office operations demand a similar agility from the COO or office manager. Most companies rely on a series of interdependent services that independently don’t do much, but together support a large and complex enterprise. Since we raised our Series A financing last June, I’ve had to become a full-stack ops officer, putting together 14 interdependent systems over two years and troubleshooting along the way.

I want to explain how our ops stack evolved and the rationale behind our choices, so that anyone in charge of opening or running a startup office can start creating a framework for their own ‘stack’:

First — the Money

Although not every startup makes money, they all spend it. The easiest headache to avoid is the tax reporting one. Open a bank account for your business. If you don’t have a tax ID for your company yet, then open a separate personal account. Make sure that all expenses flow through that account. Every ATM withdrawal, credit card payment, debit card purchase, and check should be tied to that account.

Related services are payroll and accounting. Don’t skimp on either; if you do, I promise you will regret it.

When it comes to money, my philosophy has been to hire professionals. Check references, read reviews, and then purchase these services. Although $100/hr may seem high for bookkeeping, the cost of not doing this is even higher. We went with:

  • Silicon Valley Bank. Nice team, favored by our investors, and with a wealth of connections and other services as you grow. Although smaller than Wells Fargo, Chase, or Bank of America, they feel startup-friendly and built for small business.
  • ADP. The other headache to avoid is payroll. There are some really interesting payroll startups coming out like ZenPayroll but limitations in the banks they can deposit into and the states they work in led us to the market leader.
  • Ravix Group. Like I said, buy accounting help. Even if you aced finance, put that prowess into analyzing the statements that a credentialed accountant will run for you each month. Ravix Group was a referral to us, and we use them for both accounting and HR support.
  • Braintree. When it comes to collecting credit card payments, don’t mess around. Braintree was recently bought by PayPal and I see that as a strength. Braintree is going to be around for a long time, and they’ll provide two things PayPal is not known for: easy API integrations and phenomenal customer support.
  • Bill.com. Every company and contractor we pay gets routed through Bill.com for two reasons. First, they pay by check and wire, making it easy for our vendors to be paid quickly. Second, they keep a copy of the original invoice so we always have a record of what each amount was for. Granted, it takes a little bit of time to get used to this and if you don’t use it correctly, these features are moot, but I love it. The Quickbooks integration is great too.
  • Expensify. For employee expenses, there’s nothing easier. We don’t couple reimbursements with payroll, so we can run reimbursements as quickly as we get them. Like Bill.com, Expensify tags every expense with a receipt and saves it for us, reducing our paperwork and saving the paper trail. Plus, they have a terrific iOS app, allowing employees to build expense reports on the go.

Second — the Office

My cofounder and I followed the Silicon Valley lore of working from coffee shops (we preferred Peet’s over Starbucks) before we had an office. Once we could rent an office, though, we always found it on Craigslist.

This bit of advice, granted, could be very San Francisco-specific. So I’ll speak generally: the best deals are the ones you find on message boards and through your network. Often, and I’ve seen this many times, the best office (with the most light, friendliest landlord, and best location) is also the cheapest.

Other major decisions you’ll need to make are office furniture, supplies, and food.

We went with:

  • IKEA. Obviously. But we loved this pine Ingo desk. It’s only $69 and looks much better than the typical Ikea office furniture. That’s why they don’t put it in the office category. Instead, it’s in the kitchen section. For employees who want a standing desk, I found an easy way to make a standing desk riser for under $50 using Ikea wooden legs and their cheapest table top. No matter how you slice it, Ikea is still the winner for lightweight, easily-assembled startup office furniture.
  • Amazon Prime. The $80/year we pay for Amazon Prime is brilliant. Often, deliveries for everything from computer monitors to toilet paper arrives the next day. I can no longer imagine spending my time shopping in a real office supply store.
  • Safeway.com. The one thing we can’t get on Amazon is food (although I understand that may change soon). Rather than make runs to the grocery store, we have the store come to us. We love Safeway.com for remembering what we ordered last time and filling our cart with it. We keep a whiteboard in the pantry so employees can tell us what else they’d like. With almost no exceptions, we’ll order it, and Safeway comes to our door to deliver.

Third — Your IT

At your startup, you probably don’t have an IT guy (or gal) to troubleshoot problems for you. If you’re at all like me, you’ve had to learn hardware and Internet networking on the job. Here’s some more advice: again, don’t go cheap. The few hundred bucks you might save on lower powered, less flexible web hardware will be lost after the first bug. And when it goes down, it’s not just you affected, it’s the whole office. That’s an office full of people that can’t work, and piles of money are burned with every second of downtime.

Here’s our office IT stack:

  • Webpass. We started with Sonic.net (again, specific to SF Bay Area) and pay about $100/mo for 20 mbs DSL speeds and 2 landlines. We’re going to keep Sonic for our landlines and as backup Internet, but the office is going to run on Webpass, a direct ethernet service that uses radio signals from a receiver on the roof to get asynchronous (read: same speeds up and down) Internet to the office. It’s a significant installation fee but the monthly costs are on par with any other business Internet service, and it will scale with our business.
  • Meraki. Apple AirPorts are cool, and were great for our first small office. But then we discovered Meraki, and it was all over. The control over your network, combined with the ability to create multiple wireless SSIDs (including one for guests!) and throttle them so you don’t get squatters is a very helpful service. The cost, relative to what your rent probably will be, is negligible. Get the best routing hardware for your office.
  • Google Apps for Business. Here’s a great solution that doesn’t break the bank. At $60 per user per year, it’s an unbelievable deal for the quality of service Google provides. All of your email, calendaring, chat, and document storage for that low, low rate. If Google Drive existed when we first got started on Dropbox, we’d probably have avoided the next point.
  • Dropbox for Business. I love Dropbox because it’s so easy, but with SkyDrive, Google Drive, and Box all right there too, there are many good solutions to choose from. One thing you don’t need to do is spend tens of thousands of dollars on Microsoft Sharepoint and a fancy VPN. Share with your employees the beauty of modern self-syncing file storage systems. Dropbox for Business is inexpensive and makes it easy to manage your users.
  • Apple. My mom couldn’t believe that we buy everyone a new MacBook when they start. The engineers get 15″ Retina MacBooks, and everyone else gets 11″ or 13″ Airs. These are company property, not gifts, but who wouldn’t like to start their day with a new MacBook? We do this because 99 percent of their day-to-day Scripted experience is on a computer. The few hundred bucks more we spend on Macs than comparable Dell or HP laptopss are negligible in the long run and make our staff happy. Also, always buy Apple Care. You’ll at least break even, promise.

These are the 14 solutions in the Scripted headquarters office stack. Just like an engineer, COOs and office or operations managers need to be well-versed in today’s SaaS solution landscape to continually improve and optimize the office experience for their employees.

So, what’s in your ops stack?

Ryan Buckley is Co-founder and Chief Operating Officer of Scripted.com. Ryan holds an MBA from the MIT Sloan School of Management and an MPP from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. Still and always a Cal Bear, Ryan graduated from UC Berkeley with degrees in economics and environmental sciences. He likes to dabble in PHP, Python, Ruby, Quickbooks, and whatever else needs to be done at Scripted HQ.

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

How to Get More Done During Your Summer Travels

Pretty young female passenger at the airport (shallow DOF; color

Question: How do you stay productive and get work done while traveling?

Practice the 4-Hour-Work-Week Mentality

“The most important thing to consider when traveling is the need to have a team who can take care of tasks that you won’t be able to be on top of 100 percent due to flights, meetings, etc. Plug in for a few hours a day to focus on tasks that only you can do. Also, practice the “traveling” schedule a month before so you can see potential issues and train employees to avoid any issues. “

Derek Capo, Next Step China

Set Up a Dedicated Time

“There’s nothing you can’t do while traveling if you have a laptop, iPod and smart phone. Try to set up a certain time during your days of travel to really focus on MUST-DO priority tasks.”

Pablo Palatnik, ShadesDaddy.com


“Airplanes are one of my most productive work environments. Prep in advance so you can work on big projects that require large amounts of time and focus. And don’t buy the Wi-Fi! Keep yourself cut off from the world to avoid distractions.”

Robert J. Moore, RJMetrics

Capitalize on Quiet Time

“I’ve found that some of my best, most focused work happens when I’m on a plane. There’s something magical that happens when you can focus on tasks without the distraction of fast Internet. I try to prepare some projects for every plane ride that can be done offline, such as writing.”

Patrick Conley, Automation Heroes

Sync Emails Offline

“I fly almost every week and have found it very productive to sync all my emails offline. I type more thoughtful responses on the plane or train when there aren’t other distractions. I also keep a second battery for my phone if I’m using it for emails (versus my laptop). To stay connected when traveling, I also keep a wireless connection card to get online anywhere at anytime. “

Shradha Agrwal, ContextMedia

Plan for Technical Difficulties

“Virtual working is fantastic and can be a seamless experience for you, your team and your customers. But there is nothing worse than being abroad without the proper working communication technologies. Before heading out for travel, run through your inventory and assess your needs. MiFi devices may be a good investment. And if you’re traveling internationally, stock up on the proper converters.”

Doreen Bloch, Poshly Inc.

Set Your Goals

“If your goals are set and your priorities are in line, you should have no problem getting work done while traveling. Everyone always asks how I am productive from exotic locations like Bali, Costa Rica and Nicaragua when I could be surfing. The answer is simple: I need to hit my goals to continue the lifestyle I choose, and if you constantly remind yourself of those, you will simply not slack off.”

Matt Wilson, Under30Experiences

Look Into Coworking Spaces

“Whenever I’m traveling, I contact a local coworking space about working out of the location while I’m in town. Having a place to go helps ensure I actually focus on work and gives me a place that’s conducive to working (which hotel rooms rarely are).”

Thursday Bram, Hyper Modern Consulting

Work on the Plane

“I like to write blog posts/do long-term roadmap thinking on the plane. There is something about trying to do work on a plane — your work either turns out incredible or you fall asleep. They are both good outcomes. “

Jordan Fliegel, CoachUp

Group Tasks by Location

“When I travel, I try to group to-do items in the “Getting Things Done” fashion. For instance, I’ll have a list of items I can do on a train or plane, issues to think about while I’m waiting in lines and projects to work on when I have a larger gap in my schedule. By being ultra clear on what I can do when, I’m quite productive. “

Elizabeth Saunders, Real Life E®

5 Steps for Giving Your Mobile App Exposure on a Global Scale

Flags Of Countries Around The World

Transcreation:  The process of adapting a message from one language to another, while maintaining its intent, style, tone and context.

If you’re a mobile app developer or have a business with a mobile application, you’ve likely already put hundreds of hours into building, testing, and launching your app(s). With all of that time and energy invested into your application, why aren’t you translating your application in order to maximize your global exposure?

We are in the midst of a mobile app explosion. Here’s a look at what the research firm Gartner is projecting in the mobile app market:

Table 1. Mobile App Store Downloads, Worldwide, 2010-2016 (Millions of Downloads)

2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017
Free Downloads 57,331 92,876 127,704 167,054 211,313 253,914
Paid-for Downloads 6,654 9,186 11,105 12,574 13,488 14,778
Total Downloads 63,985 102,062 138,809 179,628 224,801 268,692
Free Downloads % 89.6 91.0 92.0 93.0 94.0 94.5

Source: Gartner (September 2013)

When drilling down past this global data and looking at specific countries, more nuanced trends emerge. App Annie reports that Japan has surpassed the U.S. as the number-one country in app-generated revenue. Simultaneously, the BRICS—Brazil, Russia, India, and China—made formidable gains in app downloads, setting the stage for strong future revenue growth in multiple languages.

At the end of last year, Google Play announced translation services for Android developers.  Here are three highlights from Google:

  1. Zombie Ragdoll combined app translation with local marketing campaigns. In doing so, they found that 80 percent of their installs came from non-English-language users.
  2. Dating app SayHi Chat expanded into 13 additional languages and saw 120 percent install growth in localized markets and improved user reviews of the professionally translated UI.
  3. The developer of card game G4A Indian Rummy saw a 300 percent increase with user engagement in localized apps.

When parsing through the global data and looking at these three examples, it becomes clear if you’re only distributing your app in one language, you are missing out on a large portion of potential consumers. Here’s how to take your app global and ensure that your hard work is getting the respect and recognition it deserves.

1. Set Clear Goals

Before you dive into the world of translation, figure out what your goals overall are. Mobile app developers generally want four things:

  1. More downloads
  2. Better app store rankings
  3. More revenue
  4. Continued user engagement

There are hundreds of ways to get to these goals, of course. Translating and localizing an app is only one of them, but it’s an increasingly important one. Once you’ve weighted how important each of these categories are — i.e. we’re only focused on downloads or we’re predominantly focused on revenue — you’ll be ready to start setting clear consumer targets and build strategies to have consumers find you.

2. Set the Strategy

If localization is on your goal list, the next step is to set a clear strategy in terms of target market. Ask yourself these questions:

  • What markets do we want to enter?
  • What languages are needed?
  • What content within our app will be translated?
  • Who will handle the actual translation?

Certain apps fit into certain markets better than others. The Wall Street Journal reported that China was the largest market for Fotopedia, a company that makes photo travel magazine apps — representing 20 percent of visits (compared to just 14 percent from the U.S.). Just three years before, China was their 10th biggest market. Today they operate in 10 languages, including simplified Chinese.

3. Get Found

By the end of 2014, ITU predicts there will be nearly 3 billion Internet users worldwide. Between English, Spanish, and Chinese, you’ve covered more than 50 percent of the global online population. Add in 10 more of the world’s most popular languages and you’ll have 90 percent of the world’s online spending power covered.

To boost your chances of tapping into these growing online markets, consider appeasing search engines and app stores by taking these four steps:

  1. Generating quality content that is culturally sensitive
  2. Utilizing relevant key words in the local language
  3. Gaining positive reviews that are relevant to the app store reviewers
  4. Listing all relevant languages and app features

Once you’ve found your consumers and they’ve found you, you’ll need to have your app translated and localized to ensure you maximize user engagement and don’t lose users.

4. Streamline Your Translation

Updating any app can be challenging. Updating a multilingual app can be an even larger challenge — one that requires adaptability and integration. When transcreating app experiences for our clients, we focus on three things: the strings and remove the executable code, the context of their app, and delivering clear instructions to the translator — nobody is a mind reader.

We did this for Baby Chords, an app that arranges notes so that music is very easy to play. By helping them expand into more than 10 languages, Baby Chords is now gaining customers from all corners of the globe.

5. Don’t Settle

Whether you decide to translate your app internally, through a translation agency, through crowdsourcing translation platforms, or through machine translation, you’ll need to revisit your initial goals and determine the level of quality you’re looking for — and how much you’re willing to pay.

Remember that app localization is just the tip of the iceberg. When you’re selecting a translation provider, be sure that they can help you translate other modes of communication — confirmation emails, fulfillment for in-app purchases, translation of newsletters, localization of websites, etc. — or at the very least advise you on how to navigate ensuing language barriers, so that you can truly capture the attention of the users you’ve been missing out on thus far.

I’ve written about transcreation and translation pricing in the past, and would interested to hear your thoughts on these two topics as they relate to mobile app translation. Feel free to email me directly at ryan.frankel@verbalizeit.com or leave a comment below.

Ryan Frankel is the CEO of VerbalizeIt, the company that connects businesses and travelers directly to a 19,000-person translator community to deliver real-time quality translation. He is considered an expert on global communication and international customer engagement. Ryan is also a Wharton MBA alumnus, former private equity investor for Goldman Sachs and an endurance athletics enthusiast. You can reach him via email at ryan.frankel@verbalizeit.com.

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

12 Questions You Should Ask When Considering an Accelerator Program


Question: “What questions should entrepreneurs ask when considering an accelerator program?”

What Will I Gain Besides Money?

“All accelerators are going to offer some amount of seed money, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Because you will be giving up some amount of equity in order to join the program, you want to make sure it’s worth it. You should look for a program that can offer you strong mentors, access to business resources, connections, important business knowledge and access to strategic partnerships.”

David Ehrenberg, Early Growth Financial Services

Which Accelerators Will Teach My Company?

“Accelerators are investors. Some accelerators would rather see you shut down and join another portfolio company’s team if it becomes clear that your company can’t provide a return. A new accelerator opens every day, so it’s important to sort out the contenders from the pretenders. Look for top-notch mentors, investors and cohort companies that you can learn from. “

Heidi Allstop, Spill

Does the Accelerator’s Goal Align With Mine?

“Different startup accelerators have different opinions of what defines a successful program. Some accelerators focus on revenue generation, while others focus on a funding outcome at the end of the program. As you consider accelerator programs, be sure to understand what the ultimate goals are for the accelerator. Compare that with your own goals for your company before committing to participate.”

Doreen Bloch, Poshly Inc.

What Does the Data Say?

“Accelerators are all the rage these days, but most have shown to do a poor job helping startups succeed. Check out the accelerator data on www.seed-db.com/accelerators, and decide if an accelerator is right for you.”

Wade Foster, Zapier

Is the Accelerator Top Tier?

“I think accelerators are like MBA programs. The very best ones (TechStars, Y Combinator) typically pay for themselves many times over. They provide a network, access, education and more. The next tier down might be more of a mixed bag. I’d be thoughtful about exactly what you’ll get out of an accelerator that is not in that elite tier.”

Erik Severinghaus, Simple Relevance

Who Are the Mentors?

“You should join an accelerator program because of the people it will connect you to — not because of the money it gives you. Look at who the mentors are and identify who you need to know. Most of the time, accelerators will have a page with info about all of their mentor connections. Here’s an example from the accelerator I’m a mentor with, SparkLabKC.”

Kelsey Meyer, Influence & Co.

Does the Accelerator Have a Past Rate of Success?

“Accelerator programs are a bi-directional relationship. The partners of these programs are assessing your potential to be successful. You should evaluate their past rate of success because you are forgoing other investment engines in favor of this option. It all comes down to trade-offs, and the most objective determinant is made by evaluating past performance. “

Matt Ehrlichman, Porch

Is It Worth the Equity?

“Before working with TechStars, I wondered if the program and small investment were worth the equity. Now, coming out of the program on the other side, I know that my experience was worth the equity. The mentors, coaching and support that came from a top-tier program were top notch and totally worth it. “

Paige Brown, Dashbell

Can I Speak to Graduates of Your Program?

“There are so many accelerator programs today, and they can be valuable. I have been in one myself, and it definitely helped me focus my idea and get the help I needed to move it forward. You should speak to graduates of the program. Ask them what they really thought of it, what they got out of it and how the program helped them succeed.”

Natalie MacNeil, She Takes on the World

Am I Ready?

“There are more accelerators to choose from than ever before, and startups are going to these accelerators earlier. Make sure there is something to accelerate when you apply (a team, a product and some initial costumers) so that the mentors, services and investment can make a difference. Remember that you only have 10 weeks or so until demo day, so make them count.”

Christopher Pruijsen, Sterio.me

Should I Earn my MBA First?

“Accelerators are great, but many MBA schools offer them free of charge, and you will graduate with an MBA when it’s over. This is highly valuable in every sector. You also get free advice from a range of experts, and some even offer business plan competitions with prize money. I’d encourage you to consider if you are ready for the program, then decide if earning an MBA would be a better choice.”

Suzanne Smith, Social Impact Architects

Whom Can They Introduce Me To?

“If you’ve got a great idea, plenty of accelerators will take you. But all accelerators are not created equally. To narrow down the pool, you should take a look at their connections. You want accelerators that can introduce you to investors, mentors, startup founders and other people who can help you throughout your career.”

Thursday Bram, Hyper Modern Consulting

A Beginner’s Guide to Internet Marketing

beginner internet marketing

“The Valley skill set that should be in highest demand and greatest scarcity is neither engineering nor design, but rather internet marketing.” – Dave McClure ranting about what startups are missing.

Makes a lot of sense, right? Internet marketing has only been around for a little over 15 years while design and engineering have been around for far longer. Given the relative infancy of Internet marketing, there still isn’t a solid training/education available. That’s not to say that there isn’t a lot of information out there — you just need to be able to find the right resources by filtering through a lot of noise on the net.

Where To Start

The hardest part about doing things is starting. Internet marketing is no exception. The trouble in this space is that there are a lot of people writing content for the sake of gaining search engine rankings or for quick affiliate marketing wins.

The big takeaway with learning Internet marketing today is being able to discern signal from noise – getting the right information from the right people and taking action on it. I’m going to cover the areas that I think are most important in Internet marketing below as well as link to one blog that you should be reading if you want to learn more about it. I’m only linking to one blog for each category so you can focus on that blog and not get overwhelmed.

Blogs To Read


Organic search (SEO) is still the top growth channel in most cases today. It takes the most time and effort, but if you can execute well it brings the most long-term value.

One blog for SEO: Moz Blog – on top of having “The Beginner’s Guide to SEO,” the Moz blog has a lot of advanced SEO tips plus a helpful video series every Friday called Whiteboard Friday.


Pay-per-click (PPC) has evolved quite a bit from just text link ads in search results. Now there’s access to social ads, retargeting, video ads and much more. It might seem overwhelming, but if you have the basics down for AdWords, you should be able to transition into other forms of pay per click.

One blog for PPC: PPC Hero – PPC Hero has great how-to posts that provide lots of utility to the reader — their popular posts are a good place to start. They also have a series of guides and whitepapers. Bonus: I also recommend Brad Gedde’s Advanced Guide to Google AdWords. You can either pick up his book or the video training.


If you’re not looking at the numbers, you’re not going to get anywhere. Average order value? Bounce rate? Engagement? Traffic? Conversion Rates? All inside your analytics.

If you’re at a tech startup, you’ll probably be paying attention to lifetime value, churn and more.

One blog for analytics: Occam’s Razor – Avinash Kaushik is the Digital Marketing Evangelist at Google and really knows analytics. Most of his blog is Google Analytics related, but it’s great for anyone that is just starting out.


Email is still one of the best acquisition channels today. Just think about it — it’s essentially the world’s biggest social network.

One blog for email:  E-mail Institute – Includes a plethora of email marketing best practice tips.


Writing great headlines is one of the easiest ways to generate more click-throughs and eventually more conversions.

One blog for copywriting: Copyblogger – Great for improving your copywriting skills. Take a look at the headlines for their posts and try to mold them into your own. They say that the headline is worth $.80 of the $1 you spend on your content because if people don’t click on it, your content is almost worthless.

Social Media

At the end of the day, social media is all about connecting with people that care about what you do. There’s new platforms coming out every year and it’s hard to keep up with what’s going on.

One blog for Social Media: Social Media Examiner – Provides valuable, actionable social media posts to emulate.

Content Marketing

Content marketing is a new buzzword but the practice has been around for ages. The short explanation is that content that brings utility to your readers helps build brand awareness, likability, trust and more. Like SEO, content marketing takes a lot of time, money and effort to see results but it compounds over time.

One blog for content marketing: Content Marketing Institute – Up-to-date tips and tricks on doing content marketing effectively.

Startup Marketing

Startup marketing is a different beast from typical marketing. It’s very metrics driven and requires a lot of testing through different channels. It’s also a different mindset because there’s a finite amount of time to hit numbers. Most startups need full-stack marketers (re: growth hackers) to help with growth but there unfortunately aren’t many around today. You’ll also learn about customer development, product market fit and driving growth with little to no budget.

One blog for startup marketing: Startup Marketing – Sean Ellis’ blog covers a lot of these different topics well. You’ll also want to note that he’s now blogging on the Qualaroo blog (his startup).

Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate marketers are sometimes seen as shady, untrustworthy marketers, but I have found that untrue. They’re actually some of the most creative marketers because they tend to just make things happen by doing anything it takes to get the job done. Learning how to do affiliate marketing is just one piece of the puzzle. If you’re trying to grow a startup and you start an affiliate program, you’ll need to learn the ins and outs of managing an affiliate program.

One blog for affiliate marketing: Affiliate Marketing Navigator – Geno Prussakov’s blog on affiliate marketing. He’s a leader in the affiliate marketing space and has written a highly rated affiliate program management book.


Let’s look at some YouTube stats since it is the world’s second-largest search engine:

  • 600 million views come from mobile devices every day
  • 500 years of YouTube video are viewed on Facebook every day. 700 YouTube videos are shared each minute on Twitter.
  • Over 800 million unique visits to YouTube each month

Video will continue to grow as people shift more of their attention online. It’s a good idea to get in now while it’s still the Wild West.

One blog for video: ReelSEO – For video advertising and YouTube tricks.

Start Out With One Channel

Clearly, there are a lot of channels and a ton of information to dive into, so here’s my recommendation on how to actually get started: Choose the topic that you find most interesting and dedicate your time to it. Don’t spread yourself thin.

For example, I started off with SEO and created a few websites to test out different strategies/tactics. Once I started getting a hang of it, I tried running some affiliate marketing campaigns. One thing led to another and I was eventually helping large publishing sites and Fortune 500 companies with SEO.

But that wasn’t enough. I decided that I needed to branch out into other online marketing areas so I could become a well rounded marketer. So I picked up PPC. I learned more about Analytics. Then I learned how to do social media effectively. Then I layered on copywriting and so on.

Keep Learning

A good full-stack marketer understands that they need to keep learning because things move so quickly in the Internet world. Become complacent and you’ll quickly become average. Keep testing, keep reading, keep asking questions.

Although I wanted to keep the number of blogs recommended to one per channel above, I felt that it would be helpful if I shared some of my other favorite sites:

  • David Skok’s Entrepreneurship blog – Posts on growing a SaaS companies, includes great metrics.
  • Quicksprout – The blog of KISSmetrics and Crazy Egg co-founder Neil Patel. He covers topics from entrepreneurship to Internet marketing. He also has created some exceptional free ‘advanced online marketing guides’.
  • KISSmetrics blog – Widely viewed as a the best all-around online marketing blog.
  • Inbound.org – The Hacker News of Internet marketing. A good place to find the latest information.
  • And if there’s one post you need to read on acquiring customers, it’s Paul Graham’s essay on doing unscalable things to grow your business.

There’s a lot of information about Internet marketing online and it’s easy to fall into the trap of trying to learn everything at once. Start small and then branch out into other areas. Don’t be afraid to take risks every once in a while and you’ll be well on your way into becoming a full-stack marketer.

To me, a full-stack marketer is a growth hacker. But that’s up for debate since there are multiple interpretations about what a growth hacker actually is and isn’t. What do you think?

A version of the post originally appeared on the author’s blog. 

Eric Siu is the CEO of San Francisco-based digital marketing agency Single Grain. He also interviews entrepreneurs on his podcast, Growth Everywhere.

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses

8 Qualities to Look for in Your Newest Team Member


Question: As an employer, what ONE quality do you look for in every team member you hire and why?

Work Ethic

“You can be the smartest and most technically gifted candidate that I’ve ever met, but if I can’t detect that you’ll do whatever it takes to succeed in your job and help drive the organization’s growth, I probably won’t take a chance on you. Self-starters with indisputably strong work ethics are almost always a safe investment.”

Alexandra Levit, Inspiration at Work


“Intrinsic motivation is key. You can see this materialize on a resume in the form of side projects and challenging hobbies. Things like this indicate that the applicant prefers to spend her time deeply engaged in challenging activities.”

Robert J Moore, RJMetrics

A Chip on Their Shoulder

“Finding that daily motivation to keep driving forward can be a challenge. That’s why I always like to find what is driving a potential team member — the “chip on their shoulder” is the way I describe it. I look for employees who are internally driven and have something they are pushing toward. I want to know what motivates them — and help them channel that drive.”

Eric Koester, DCI

A Willingness to Get Personal

“I like to get to know the person we’ll be spending hours of time with, including what motivates her, how she spends her time outside of work and what her priorities in life are. I ask questions about hobbies, family and favorites in interviews to get to know them. “

Shradha Agarwal, ContextMedia


“We hire based on an individual’s ability to both give and receive love. It sounds hippie-dippy, but in reality, individuals who can approach loving and being loved by our family are also individuals who are self-actualized, ambitious, addicted to growing and willing and able to learn. They also love to matter, which translates to doing an exceptional job. “

Corey Blake, Round Table Companies

A Desire to Learn

“A team member’s desire to learn fuels collaboration and motivates each member to become better in his craft. At some point, everyone gets to be the teacher and the student. This chemistry sparks great conversations, and constant sharing of knowledge builds stronger, closer teams that trust each other.”

Bobby Emamian, Prolific Interactive


“We require everyone on our team (marketing, engineering, design) to do customer support, which requires everyone to have empathy. Being able to relate to our customers on a personal level makes it easy to make the right choices when doing product development or marketing.”

Wade Foster, Zapier


“Passion is what I look for in every single person I hire. It’s very important that my team members are passionate about what they do and can transfer that energy into their work. Hiring a person who is passionate means the candidate will go above and beyond expectations and truly want to help Come Recommended be the best agency it can possibly be. Skills can be taught but passion cannot!”

Heather Huhman, Come Recommended

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

How to Strategically Alter Your Product or App

Designer drawing a light bulb, concept for brainstorming and ins

Apps, products, and companies evolve over time. As technologists, we seek to improve our product by constantly optimizing one thing and tweaking the next. Although radical innovation will certainly help your product, sometimes little changes, such as introducing new or improved features, can have a great impact.

Mobile app developers often use new features to recapture users’ attention or stay up-to-date with current trends and technology. Many developers viewed the new iOS7 as an opportunity to refresh their products and roll out dramatic new design changes.

Introducing something new can cause headaches for companies and users alike. But whether you’re releasing an app feature or debuting a new product line, a data-driven approach can help you evolve without losing your existing customers.

Why You Should Treat Changes and New Features With Care

While a periodic refresh can help keep your company relevant, instituting dramatic changes without listening to your customers can prove disastrous. Fashion retailer J.Crew, known for its preppy-with-a-twist look, alienated customers when its new collections strayed too far from the classics. This is a good example of a company that confused customers by deviating too far from its fundamentals.

Haphazardly releasing new features can also appear as though your company is losing focus on its core competencies. Imagine if tomorrow Facebook rolled out a Dropbox-like file-sharing system, a professional network, and a video channel. You would probably feel frustrated — especially if the new features weren’t up to Facebook’s standards.

Here is a simple guide to how you can use data to drive the introduction of new features and keep both your company and your customers focused on what you do best.

  1. Gather as much data as you can. You should use real customer data to inform most decisions, particularly when rolling out new features. Every time you add or change a feature, you should gather information about its effects on customer behavior.
  2. Determine goals and conversion metrics. For app development, this usually works by determining a set series of “paths” you’d like your user to go through while using your app. For example, a Facebook-like application could read something like this: “Open the app, go through friends’ photos, ‘like’ a photo.” Your conversion metric to see if a feature worked as intended would then be the number of photos users “liked.” Ideally, you would also have a set of data to use as a comparison, such as the number of photos users “liked” before the feature was introduced.
  3. Tweak until you hit the success criteria. If the current conversion metric is lower, you know it’s time to go back to the drawing board to pinpoint the problem. Often, it’s a simple matter of tweaking the color of a button to draw attention to it. Other times, you may have to scrap the feature altogether. It’s helpful to determine significant drop-offs in the user’s path and remove any obstacles or explore A/B testing to isolate one variable at a time.
  4. Talk to humans and gather feedback. Although looking at numbers is helpful, sometimes it’s best to actually talk to the real humans using your product. Understanding their pain points will add context to the data you’re seeing. Of course, the caveat here is that sometimes the user isn’t always right. In Twitter’s early days, the most requested feature was private tweeting, but this wasn’t aligned with the vision and goal for the product. Take user feedback with caution, and keep your product vision and data in mind.

While you should always launch with care, a new feature doesn’t have to be perfect when you release it. Rolling out something in beta first allows you to gather useful data on what works and what needs improvement before you introduce it on a mass scale, and your power users enjoy being the first to try it.

At the end of the day, you should consider what’s best for your customers. Allow their feedback to drive improvements, and really listen to their pain points. If you keep customer data at the core of new features, you won’t lose them along the way.

Rameet Chawla is the founder of Fueled, a mobile design and development company based in New York and London, and the founder of the Fueled Collective, a co-working space comprised of over 35 startups in downtown Manhattan. Combining a decade of experience architecting web and mobile applications, Rameet has created apps for a wide-range of industry clients from high-end fashion brands to successful tech startups. He is passionate about building and being involved in disruptive technology ventures and can be found on Facebook and LinkedIn.

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.