Some thoughts from Jack Dorsey (The Princeton Entrepreneurship Club, Sept 2012)

Yes, the Mr. Jack Dorsey—inventor of Twitter and founder of Square (the payment platform)—was on the Princeton University campus yesterday for a presentation + Q&A session sponsored by The Princeton Entrepreneurship Club. In front of a full-house in McCosh 10, a casual but poised and polished Dorsey put his mega-success on pause to share some business wisdom with what was primarily tech-aware university students. Fortunately for my colleagues and I, many of the The Princeton Entrepreneurship Club events are open to the public. Apparently, the club doesn’t subscribe to the infamous stealth-mode philosophy.

Here are most of the highlights from my notes:

  • William Gibson: “The future has already arrived. It’s just not evenly distributed yet.”
  • Constantly! Reset. Rethink. Reorganize.
  • Try to structure your company in such a way that it allows for multiple founding moments.
  • Square’s motto: An idea that can change the course of the company can comes from anywhere.
  • New energy + new people = new ideas
  • Disruption is an undesirable approach. The ultimate objective is revolution.
  • “We need more confidence.”
  • “Square enables people to do what they love.”
  • A beautiful company will lead to a beautiful product (but not necessarily the other way around).
  • Recommended book: “The Score Takes Care of Itself: My Philosophy of Leadership” by Bill Walsh.
  • In speaking about the Golden Gate Bridge, “Small groups of people can do epic things.”
  • Also about the GGB, Dorsey said it was an example of a brilliant combination of engineering, design and utility. He discussed the fact that most people who use the bridge probably don’t consider how magnificent it really is. He added that great things can (and sometimes should) be forgettable.
  • The DNA of the company is essential.
  • Come to meetings prepared.
  • Square has sit-down and stand-up tables. Dorsey drew laughs by adding that the meetings that use the stand-up tables tend to be shorter.
  • Naming the company is important. It sets the tone for everything. Square was finite and fitting, yet at the same time extendable.

Jack Dorsey was refreshing, humble and ego-less. It was often hard to believe that one of the 21st century’s business/technology heavy-weights could be so understated. There was no you’re so lucky I’m here. No, I have all the answers kids so listen to me. It was simply one very successful (young) man’s view of the world, and a sincere willingness to share it.

One of the key takeaways for me was what he didn’t say. He rarely used the word innovation (and dismissed the use of the start-up anthem of disruption). Aside from that, his next most important message was the emphasis on people. Finding the right people to work for his company so those people can develop beautiful products for people in the market who will be excited about its availability. The key was not technology but people. Surprise! Very old school, yes? None the less, Dorsey’s ideas shimmered with pure brilliance. Everything old could be new once again.

From bar napkin to zillionaire in 10 “easy” steps

Funny how these things happen sometimes. A friend of a colleague/friend read my “How YouTube and Facebook are Killing Innovation and Success” from a couple weeks back. She/he appreciated the insight and suggested we get together to discuss a collection of ideas she/he and a couple “partners” had been kicking around.

A day or so later we met. After an couple of hours of mostly highly discussion she/he popped the question: “Mark, what would you do?”

Below is a rough and obviously very high level synopsis of the answer that came off the top of my head then (and has been refined a bit since):

Note: Many of these are not silos. That is, the reality is they are interconnected and take form in an agile and interactive fashion. They tend not to happen in a nice and neat linear list as you see here.

  1. Develop your logo / brand identity. This includes domain name(s), social media profile handles, etc.
  2. Formalize your mission statement. Be clear and concise about your idea to the point that all partners agree and sign-off, be it informally or formally.
  3. Organize your collection ideas into a 10 slide “”pitch-deck”. There could be multiple versions of this pitch depending on the target audience. Regardless, each pitch should answer the target’s “What in it for me?” Note: This step is as much about aligning the partners as it is about organizing your pile of ideas and crafting your pitch(s).
  4. Sketch out a marketing plan and set some goals. For example, how many Twitter followers and Facebook “friends” equals “critical mass” and success.
  5. Set up social media accounts (e.g. Twitter, Facebook, etc.) and begin collecting followers. Track that against goals and regularly assess how much resources it’s going to take to hit your targets.
  6. Set up a basic / coming soon / sign-up-for-beta website. Use any of the above content to flesh that out. Ultimately, the site should get beta sign-ups, help add FB Likes, Twitter followers, etc. The fact is, with barriers to entry so low, cutting through the clutter is a very difficult task. Most non-marketers severely under-estimate how difficult engagement really is. In other words, you’re not the only outfit with a great idea trying to get people’s attention.—Be sure to use Google Analytcis on the site so you can monitor: traffic, nature of the visits, clicks, etc. in order to gauge the level of interest. GA is essential. Collect and analyze your all data in order to refine the sketch of your marketing plan.—I’d recommend a blog on the site to communicate ideas, show progress, collect comments, etc. A blog is also good for SEO. That said, content generation takes time. Who’s going to do that? Reply to comments, manage the social media accounts (correctly), etc.?
  7. With that said, define roles. Of the partners, who is responsible for what, when, etc. Don’t assume. In fact, never assume. Also, there’s a massive amount of truth to, “The devil is in the details.” You’d be surprised how easy it is to not  on executing once you get past the idea on a bar napkin stage.
  8. As that’s all moving along, refine your wants-list into real business needs, (fairly detailed) functionality, wireframes (hand-drawn is fine), etc. and begin to design and develop the brand’s website. Your critical mass goals, sign-up progress and traffic will help to dictate your timeline.—The current rule of thumb is to get in the game with a raw but solid idea and refine as you go. None the less, you have to have some framework to start with. Especially, if there are multiple decision makers. It goes without saying that personalities change as the bumps in the road come bigger and faster.
  9. As all that’s moving along, develop a network for press releases and other “good will” type channels. Contrary to popular belief, big dogs (e.g. Facebook) don’t exactly go viral. Once the angel investors and VCs kick in their part those players open up their “little black books” of media contacts to fan the fire of interest in their new investment. When someone tosses in 5, 6 or 7 figures they aren’t just sitting around praying for “viral”. They’re playing puppet master. If you’re more grassroots and boot strapped then you might be limited to praying for viral. It’s up to you.
  10. Discuss if not formalize an exit strategy. You’d be surprised how well defining the way out helps to determine the path(s) you take. Building a house to live in and building one to sell are usually two very different approaches.

And now for the Bonus Tip:

Don’t quit your day job until your have to. On the other hand, there’s something to be said for, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” Having your back up against the wall can be inspiring—provided the partners agree on who’s going to bear that burden.

Mashable does it again

“Mashable’s Social Media Guide for Small Businesses” by Matt Silverman (Mashable.com, 4 December 2009). Brilliant! So jam packed with goodies that the best thing to do is get out of the way and let you jump right in. Enjoy!

The Art of The Twitter

“How Twitter Is Revolutionizing Business (140 Characters at a Time)” by Jason Ankeny (Entrepreneur magazine, December 2009). Jason rounds up both a history lesson as well as bits on the current state of The Art of  The Twitter. Unfortunately, the Entrepreneur web site is not as current as the print version. Not to worry, just whip up a Google/Yahoo! alert so you know when they finally get around to sharing this article digitally.

In the meantime, here is the run down on the sites/services mentioned:

oneforty.com — “A Better Way to Discover Twitter Apps. oneforty is your Twitter outfitter, with tons of resources for all things Twitter. Currently tracking 2031 apps that make Twitter even better.”

ChirpCity.com — “Local Twitter search, latest tweets from and about your city… and a top user list for the cities (listed) above.”

NearbyTweets.com — “Instantly find Twitterers nearby.”

Tweepz.com — “Search, find and discover interesting people on Twitter.”

SocialOomph.com — “Tools to Boost Your Social Media Productivity.” For example, schedule your tweets.

CalTweet.com — “Social Events Sharing Tool via Twitter & Facebook.”

Seesmic.com — “Stay connected and share information with your friends.”

Twitalyzer.com — “For Tracking Influence and Measuring Success in Twitter.”

ExecTweets.com — “Find and follow top business execs on Twitter.”

Tweetdeck.com — “TweetDeck is your personal browser for staying in touch with what’s happening now, connecting you with your contacts across Twitter, Facebook and more.”

BingTweets — “BingTweets enables you to see deeper, real-time information about the hottest topics on Twitter by fusing Bing search results with the latest tweets.”

Twidroid — “The Twitter & Identi.ca client application for android mobile phones.”

And while you’re waiting for Entrepreneur to update their site, be sure to check out Mashable.com’s Twitter Guide Book — How To, Tips and Instructions.

Good stuff, eh? Looks like Black Friday will have to wait. How about you? Please leave a comment to share any sites you feel should have been on this list.

One, two, tweet

“Staying On Message” by Jaikumar Vijayan (Computer World Magazine, 19 October 2009). There’s certainly no shortage of ideas and examples on the business uses of social networks. None the less, this is a solid collection to get your week started on the right click.

In addition, there were two other soc-net focused articles from ComputerWorld.com that you should be of interest to you:

“Social Security – Public cloud vs. internal social networks” by Stacy Collett

“Scams & shams: The trouble with social networks” by Robert L. Mitchell

Calculate your IIE (Investment In Expectations)

“What’s your Twitter ROI? How to measure social media payoff” by Mary K. Pratt (ComputerWorld.com, 21 September 2009). Ms. Pratt crafts a soft, user friendly overview of some of the ROI issues that are confronting organizations as they migrate their brand into the realities of Web 2.0 and beyond. If you’re in this camp then this article will let you know that you are not alone.That said, aren’t these the say type of questions we asked 10 years ago as the internet went mainstream? My stock tongue in cheek joke is — The internet, I hear it’s gonna be big.

Unfortunately, the article misses the mark on the point of social media, Web 2.0, etc. and the associated shift in the paradigm. The world as it now exists isn’t about the brands, it’s about the guests. I’m certainly not going to suggest that any effort be pursued at all costs. We are talking business after all. However, the old mind set of, is what I’m spending going to get my customers to do what I want them to, doesn’t really apply in a world where the guest has the power. The question guests now ask is, is brand such-n-such doing what I expect? Are they living up to MY expectations?

In short, you don’t really have a choice.

You’re going to have to surrender to the fact that some of the old measurements (of control) no longer apply. The approach needs to more holistic. There needs to be effort put into being part of the conversation (and stop focusing on leading and/or manipulating it). For example, the reality is, you don’t have to tweet. However, you do need to give people something to tweet about. It’s amazing what you can get for free if you know how to play your cards right. The fact is, in the history of business, no marketing tool has been more cost effective than word of mouth/Tweet/FB status.

Actually, you have two choices. One, figure it out now. Two, figure it out later. Either way, you will have to figure it out. These things — whether it’s Twitter, Facebook or their eventual cousins — aren’t going away anytime soon. If you wait to make the investment in understanding and using the tools then you will only be that much further behind the curve. This isn’t a sprint, it’s an ultra-marathon. So while you’re scratching your bum, focused on ROI, others are being guest-centric, putting their self-interests aside for the moment and pushing forward knowing that the return will come.

Because as we all agree, standing still isn’t the key to success.

God forbid we should actually talk to each other

“How Twitter Will Change the Way We Live (in 140 characters or less)” by Steven Johnson (Time Magazine, 15 June 2009). If you’re still trying to get your head around the latest mainstream media hype that is known as Twitter then Time has prepared a few thousand character expose that should get you up to speed — or dummied down depending on how you look at it. As one would expect from Time, Mr. Johnson is thorough as well as entertaining. However, the ball gets dropped in the last 30 or so tweets.

But what actually happened to American innovation during that period? We came up with America Online, Netscape, Amazon, Google, Blogger, Wikipedia, Craigslist, TiVo, Netflix, eBay, the iPod and iPhone, Xbox, Facebook and Twitter itself. Sure, we didn’t build the Prius or the Wii, but if you measure global innovation in terms of actual lifestyle-changing hit products and not just grad students, the U.S. has been lapping the field for the past 20 years.

The first discrepancy is  that at this point Mr. Johnson is off topic. What started as an overview of Twitter suddenly takes a sharp turn into cheerleading. Equating Twitter to the superiority of USA ingenuity is a bit of a stretch. The next discrepancy Mr. Johnson fails to recognize is that the if he mentions (i.e., “but if you measure…”) is a big if. Twitter is not the cure for cancer. Mr. Johnson then nose dives in the final paragraph.

This is what I ultimately find most inspiring about the Twitter phenomenon. We are living through the worst economic crisis in generations, with apocalyptic headlines threatening the end of capitalism as we know it, and yet in the middle of this chaos, the engineers at Twitter headquarters are scrambling to keep the servers up, application developers are releasing their latest builds, and ordinary users are figuring out all the ingenious ways to put these tools to use. There’s a kind of resilience here that is worth savoring. The weather reports keep announcing that the sky is falling, but here we are — millions of us — sitting around trying to invent new ways to talk to one another.

Read another way, Rome is burning and we just keep tweeting. And that’s a good thing? Are there benefits to Twitter? Of course there are. AU is certainly not anti-technology or anti-progress. We use Twitter, too. What we are is anti-hype. Bring together 17 million people, let them throw enough tweets around and eventually there are bound to be a couple success stories. The question is, how much time and effort was wasted to get to those one or two miracles?

Twitter is  a great tool and it can be fun but it’s hardly sliced bread.

Googlezilla verses the Twitter Monster

It’s a beautiful Sunday afternoon so let’s just keep it simple.

“The Tweet Smell of Success” by Noam Cohen and Brian Stelter (New York Times, Sunday 14 June 2009)

One has to assume that Twitter is looking not just at followers but also the followers of the followers, as well as the click rate of the links in the actual tweets. In other words, it’s not just about quantity but also trying to assess quality.

“Hey, Just a Minute (or Why Google Isn’t Twitter)” by Randall Stross (New York Times, Sunday 14 June 2009)

With that said, one has to wonder if Google isn’t missing the point. Immediate is important in ER but it’s rarely life or death in day to day business. McDonalds can serve faster but it’s still McDonalds. The latest answer doesn’t matter as much as the best answer.

Can you tweet me now?

“Social Butterflies Can Raise Money” by Michele Donohue (The NonProfit Times, 1 April 2009).  It’s difficult to go a day without someone asking, “What about Twitter?” or “How can I use Facebook?”. True success stories do seem to be somewhat limited at this point in time. However, all hype aside, when an 800 pound guerrilla – make that two 800 pound guerrillas – walks into your room and beats their chests it’s probably wise  to sit up and listen.

Most Twitter articles tend to focus on how you could / should use Twitter. Yet more often that not the blank stare is followed by, “But what do I have to say that that’s important?” While not mentioned directly, this article highlights another strategy for using this tool… Get others to Twitter about your company, event, etc. to their network. It’s possible you might be asking the wrong question. It’s not a matter of what you have to say, but how can you get others to say (good) things about you. Let them define the what, while you focus on supplying whats to Twitter about. It might not be necessary to build your own network as much as try to capitalize on ones that are already there and are sympathetic to your cause / brand.

While we’re on the subject of non-profits, this issue of NPT also had: “Spending more in a down economy” by Tom Pope, as well as “Destroying The Integrity Of Nonprofits” by Richard A. Viguerie. Unfortunately, Mr. Viguerie’s cutting-against-the-grain insights are not yet available online.

Twitter Dee and Twitter Dumb

“Web 2.0 tools like Twitter, Facebook can foster growth in hard times” By Sharon Gaudin (Computer World, 16 March 2009). Hardly a day goes by where someone doesn’t ask, “What’s Twitter?” and “Why should I care?”. Ms. Gaudin’s article is a rock solid primer for any organization contemplating launching their brand into the Twitter-verse. Enjoy!

Runnin’ with the big tweet dogs

“Tweet Your Message to a Larger Audience with Hashtags” by Darren Rowse (TwiTip.com, 6 December 2008). For those looking to up their Twitter game, here’s a quick read that packs a deadly word for word punch.

The definition of organic search is going to change

Great one… “I’m So Totally, Digitally Close To You” by Clive Thompson (The New York Times Magazine, 7 Sept 2008)

About three-quarters of the way in you’ll find:

“Laura Fitton, a social-media consultant who has become a minor celebrity on Twitter — she has more than 5,300 followers — recently discovered to her horror that her accountant had made an error in
filing last year’s taxes. She went to Twitter, wrote a tiny note explaining her problem, and within 10 minutes her online audience had provided leads to lawyers and better accountants. Fritton joked to me
that she no longer buys anything worth more than $50 without quickly checking it with her Twitter network.”

More and more often there’s a story about someone using their network cloud – so the same can be applied to Facebook to some extent – to solve a problem that prior to hyper-connectedness used to be solved by traditional search (e.g., Google). Granted, this could be one of the reasons why Google wants to exert influence on the cell phone market. Given that their biz model is built on search it makes sense that they are more than a little concerned. True there are already sites where one can post a question, and wait / hope for an answer. However, cloudsourced answer(s) can come almost instantly; from birds of your feather; and are probably more accurate and/or suitable.

The real story here… At this point, who needs Google?

Targeting Search Engine Rankings

“Targeting Search Engine Rankings” by Jonathon Love from Internet Retailer (www.InternetRetailer.com) not only aims to shine some light on the stepchild of search (i.e., organic search,not paid search) but it actually stumbles upon something very interesting that inspired a letter from AU to Jon and IR.

Good morning Jon

Interesting article. Thanks.

However, the other important story here seems to be… How ineffective search engines are at delivering the expected results (i.e., Wikipedia would looks to be the #1 “retailer” based on this study). At the very least a side bar article discussing this “shocking” find would have been nice. Also, to round out the topic some insight in how to adjusting marketing and other efforts to get to customers before they resort to what appears to be random searching.

Finally, how about some talk on the coming decline of search as the first step in the shopping process? As soc-nets grow it would seem only natural that we humans do what we used to do, ask our “friends” for recommendations. So unless the search engines can make major improvements, answers to questions such as “Where can I buy…” are going to best answered in the crowd-cloud. (Yeah,  crowd-cloud, I said it first!)

Yes, there have been attempts at this (e.g., Yahoo! Answers) but none, that I know of, within the context of a MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Who needs Google when one’s Twitter followers can return the right answer faster?

Regards,

Mark Simchock
Chief Alchemist
Alchemy United
Princeton NJ