Tuesday, September 27, 2016

My Startup Toolkit

When I started my first company, FastPencil, in 2007, there weren't a lot of tools to get up and running quickly. But I knew it would be critical to leverage technology if I wanted to stay lean and get to first customer fast! So we immediately setup Google Apps for email and document collaboration. We also used Skype and a few other online services.

Today, there are a lot more services available for startups, and they're better than ever. Here's my basic startup toolkit:

Nimble Social CRM
Every company needs a CRM and most go straight to Salesforce, but I met John Ferrara from Nimble at a Social Selling conference and I'm blown away at what he has been able to do with social CRM. Some of you may remember John from the company Goldmine. Goldmine was one of the first popular CRM applications available. It helped you stay organized and connected to your contacts.

Nimble does all this and more... for today's social selling environment. I started using Nimble as I built out my new company, Radi8. It has been incredible. Not only does it help me stay organized and in contact with my prospects and leads, but Nimble gives me insight everywhere I go online. I highly suggest you give it a shot if you're just ramping up your startup.

Google Apps
If you don't already have it setup, take my advice and get Google apps for your business. It's easy to setup, you get email, file sharing, document editing and collaboration. It's fast and powerful. Don't even bother with Microsoft, this is the way to go for your startup.

Zen Desk
Customer support is critical and Zen Desk does it better than anyone right now. You can setup a simple account and plug it into your web site for instant customer support. As you grow you can add features and users to handle the increased load.

You probably already have a stack and your developers are taking care of that for you, but if you don't, take a look at Heroku. You can quickly setup and start building out your apps with Heroku, then expand and add services as necessary. Whether you like Ruby, Node or just plain old HTML, Heroku makes it easy... and fast. And that's the name of the game right now.

Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook Pages, etc.
Of course you should grab all the important social properties you can. Whether it's Instagram, Snapchat or just Facebook for your business, you can't go without social. One of the things we discovered while building Radi8 is that social drives organic traffic to your content better than any other program. But marketing managers seem to get overwhelmed with managing social. If you want to make an impact, invest in social for your business... social selling, social demand-gen, social network management, social analytics, social CRM. It's worth it.

I'm sure there are a few basics I'm missing, maybe I'll write about them in another post. But this should get your started. Remember, your goal right now in your startup is to find customers and validate your problems and solutions. Don't waste time setting up and managing user license for Microsoft, or screwing around with all the options in Salesforce. Get up and running fast, then worry about this stuff later.

Connect with me on Twitter (@MichaelPAshley) and follow along as we pivot Radi8 (@Radi8HQ) from a social selling app to a social demand-gen platform that will drive traffic to your content and give you insights into your social marketing programs.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Admit Defeat and Move On Quickly

The pivot
One of the hardest things to do as a founder of a startup is to admit when your idea isn't working... your idea about the business, your idea about the product, your idea about the problem! That's exactly where I found myself a few weeks ago. It was time to admit Radi8 was chasing a problem that wasn't very painful. But it's not always the fastest who wins the race... sometimes it's the one who turns around first when they realize they are heading in the wrong direction.

That being said, one of the most exciting things about reaching this phase in your startup is the freedom and excitement of changing direction. After a year of trudging along in one direction you gain a lot of very valuable experience and insight. Some of the most valuable things you develop are relationships with your potential customers. And if you've been paying attention, you should have learned what some of the real, and painful, problems they face look like.

With that information in hand, I made the tough decision to get back to the whiteboard and try a new direction—the pivot.

This time I vowed to spend more effort up front working directly with the potential customers I had already built relationships with. And I also made the decision to use a new tool called UXPin for my mockups, testing and collaboration.

UXPin for UI and UX design and collaboration

Why a new tool?
I've never used UXPin before but I have used other UI/UX tools like InVision and Balsamiq. Being able to mockup, share and test ideas quickly is critical at this stage. The reason I chose UXPin is their built-in design and collaboration features. I should be able to quickly mockup my ideas and flows using their designer and libraries—without ever opening Photoshop! Once I get the experience sorted out and tested, I can invite my designers in to produce the actual UI and then send everything off to engineering fully spec'd.

So this is the first of many posts I plan to do as I pivot Radi8 from a social selling app to something more like a social demand-gem platform. Follow along if you're interested and let me know if you would like to be part of the beta group to test out the new Radi8 app when it's ready.

Connect with me on Twitter: @MichaelPAshley and @Radi8HQ

Thursday, September 01, 2016

What Are You Committed To?

Lately there has been a lot of discussion about standing for the flag and the national anthem. Some feel it's disrespectful to sit in protest, some feel sitting in protest is the ultimate symbol of freedom. To me it's a statement of commitment.

What are you committed to?
It's pretty easy to look back on a long, fulfilling life and see what you were committed to. Maybe you're reflecting on your life, and you realize how strongly you were committed to helping the poor, or how fiercely committed you were to your family. Maybe you were committed to making as much money as you could. Maybe you were committed to donating all of that money to non-profit organizations before you die. Regardless of your commitment, it's much easier to see what was important to you in retrospect.

But what do you do when you're a young kid, just out of high school or college? Is it really important to be committed to anything right now? It's hard enough making a commitment to meet for a movie, or to study together. Why can't I just go with the flow? Why not just stand for the flag, and sing the national anthem, because everyone else is doing it?

Commitment is more important than ever
I believe it's more important than ever to help young kids find and make commitments that matter—commitments that will last a lifetime. In a world growing more and more fragmented, we need to have certain things to hold onto... things that don't waver, things you don't compromise.

Commitment takes courage
Standing up for something you believe in takes courage. Sitting down for something you believe in, when the rest of the world is standing, takes even more courage. But when you make a commitment, when you discover deep inside the light that burns for you, it's no longer possible to go with the flow.

Commitment takes integrity
Doing what you say you're going to do takes integrity. Commitment is a special kind of promise you make to yourself. Nobody else really knows what you stand for until you stand. If you decide in the heat of the moment that you're too scared to keep your commitment, the only person who really knows is you. That's why it takes integrity to keep your commitments. The more commitments you make, and keep, the stronger your integrity.

Commitments give you wings
You might feel like commitments are chains that hold you back from doing whatever you want. But it's exactly the opposite. Commitments give you wings so you can fly with confidence through this fragmented and conflicting world. When you hold tight to your commitments you don't waver, you are not easily swayed, not easily tempted. Freedom is not the ability to do whatever it is you want, whenever you want—freedom is doing what you say you're going to do. Exercise that freedom by staying true to what you're committed to, even when every force is raging against you.

Commitments are not beliefs
But they do reflect your beliefs. Commitments are real, tangible expressions of your values and beliefs. When you make a commitment to feed the poor, then you feed the poor. When you make a commitment to marriage, you stay married. When you make a commitment to your family, you do whatever it takes to support your family. Commitment is tangible.

What are you committed to?
Commitment isn't easy—it's hard. It might seem easy at first, but when things get difficult you'll really get tested. No matter what you are committed to, whether it's a marriage, a belief, or a cause, stick with it—don't give up, don't waver. You'll either discover deeper meaning in your commitment, or you'll discover that you're not really committed. Then, take a long look into the future... what do you want to say you were committed to when you reflect on your amazing life.