Five Things Every Entrepreneur Should Expect

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After having spent most of my professional time in the startup community and working to grow one with two friends (Quiyk Sports) there are a few trends have become evident. While the current idealistic viewpoint of starting a business is that it is a professional freedom and that anyone can do it, the process is certainly not that simple and not without hiccups. Here are five things that I believe every entrepreneur should expect to encounter on their way to starting a successful business.

1. You will not win every battle

This is in reference to the various functions that go into making your startup run. For instance you may not ship every order on time, you may not fix every bug and you may have some unhappy customers. Things will not always go exactly according to plan, but that is alright. To survive and succeed, one must figure out how to rebound from mistakes.

2. You will not always be right

Even the smartest, most innovative and successful entrepreneurs are going to be wrong at some point along the way. Whether a team member suggests a more effective product update or customers do not love the new site design, you are bound to be wrong at least once in a while. The best way to handle that is to learn, iterate and then implement a solution.

3. Good communication will be your best friend

Whether it be internal between different teams or how you communicate your messaging to customers, good communication is key to running a successful startup. While it is about consciously appreciating great communication, poor communication or messaging will cause many problems for a business and avoiding that is crucial.

4. Customer complaints are one of the most useful learning tools

Hearing from frustrated or angry customers is typically thought of as a sign that one is doing a poor job. While in the micro sense that may be true, from a macro point of view complaining customers offer the best opportunities to learn about fixing your product/business. They are contacting you and complaining about things that need to be corrected, sometimes things that you thought were fine to begin with. For more on this read Phil Libin’s post on INC.com

5. It will be harder than you thought 

Until you try to start and maintain a business, it is nearly impossible to comprehend how difficult it truly is. You can plan and plan and plan, but the unexpected will come up continuously. To combat all of that, one must give 100% focus and effort to the business. Go into it knowing that the process will be harder than you think, more grueling than you are prepared for, but also that your finished product will be worth it.

What are some of your thoughts on beginning a business? Do you have a different list of ‘5 things?’

Nadav Swarttz, @NadavSwarttz

Why I Loved Interning at Wistia

This summer I interned at Wistia, a company which provides professional video hosting and analytics. I actually wrote a post shortly after my internship started, explaining what Wistia does if you want more information.

Now that the summer is over, it is time to look back on the internship. I had a great experience at Wistia and really did enjoy working there. There were many factors which made Wistia such a good fit for me but for the sake of this blog I will pick only a few to talk about. Here is why I had such a successful summer internship.

1. Incredible Company Culture

Whether you highly value company culture or not, there is no debating that it exists and influences everyone at a given company. At Wistia, the culture is exactly what you would envision as a CEO; fun, low pressure/high productivity, plenty of collaboration and general success. I am not exaggerating when I say that I am friends with everyone in the office and I am not recycling a standard cliche when I say that I truly had fun working there. I’ll get to the actual work in a second but are you still not convinced about the fun? Well if daily ping-pong games, a spontaneous company trip to an employee’s lake house and shooting a music video for a major product launch do not convince you, then nothing will.

2. Get Stuff Done Mentality

While we did do a great job of entertaining ourselves, the overarching theme of working at Wistia is to “Get Sh*t Done”. I first heard that phrase during my interview, I heard it during my first few weeks of work and then I really did practice it. As I was putting together a summer portfolio of my work, I was shocked by how much I got accomplished in such a short period of time. While we have fun as a company, we really did abide by this motto and were extremely productive. There is ‘meet and discuss a plan time’ but we did not over think the plans- rather we would begin implementation and iterate as we moved, making the process of getting stuff done faster and very efficient.

3. Real Work and Responsibilities

Piggybacking off of the previous point, I compiled a portfolio and some new skills that I am proud of and excited about. I was given assignments and tasks that I feel were valuable to the company and were important things to get done. The ability to take pride in and enjoy what I was working on was huge; the bottom line is that I am proud of the work I produced at Wistia which is extremely rewarding.

4. Commitment to Learning/Not Afraid to Fail

Something I really like about the Wistia philosophy is the high value placed on learning. The goal is not always to be right or wrong, sometimes it is about answering a question or discovering something new. Learning will point you in the right direction and is extremely useful. Additionally, failure is not treated as a four-letter word, rather it is a process that will lead to positive learning. The idea is that one can learn from failure and adjust to get on the path to success.

5. Freedom of Speech

From day one I was told to voice my opinion and participate in any meeting or discussion. Just because I was an intern, it did not mean that people didn’t want to hear from me. I followed that advice and jumped into conversations all the time. I found that I was always able to share what I was thinking and contribute to what was going on. I was treated not as an intern during these talks, but just as any other employee. It showed me, beyond what anyone could say, that the people at Wistia really did value the thoughts and ideas of an intern. A school of thought as simple as that makes you feel much more connected to and valued by the company.

Those are a few of the things that made my summer internship so great. I’m very grateful and thankful to the people at Wistia for the opportunity and for the overall experience.

If you would like to share or discuss anything about your summer internship/job or if you have any questions or comments for me, please feel free to comment below!
Nadav, @NadavSwarttz

How I Interact with Ads Online and in Social Media

Of all the ubiquitous elements of the internet today, advertising may be the most common. If a site is not selling you a product or service, they are almost certainly selling your eyeballs to an advertiser.

Since ads are on the vast majority of sites, it is thought provoking to consider how effective they really are. Click-through rates aside (because the people clicking through are by far the minority) what percentage of online ads do we actually process mentally and devote any thought to? What value does an advertisement hold if viewers do not comprehend any significant piece of the ad?

Take the sidebar ads on Facebook. In my personal experience, I barely even notice that they exist. My brain and eyes are focused on the content of my actual Facebook account; my eyes almost never wander to the side bar and it actually feels as if I’ve subconsciously trained them to look anywhere but at the ads. Forget ever reading the ads simply to read the ads. That is something I never do and I have never heard come across anyone who claims to browse the Facebook ads. However, the mere fact alone that hundreds of millions of eyes are on Facebook’s site every day may be all that a marketer wants. After all, even if we are not looking directly at an ad, it is possible that the brand’s name and look may seep into our minds below the level of consciousness so that next time we see their product or logo, we have a mild sense of familiarity. The juxtaposition between of averting our gaze from the ads, yet even so being exposed to them is something that advertisers must debate and try to make sense of.

Shifting focus to another social network, Twitter, the advertising experience seems to be a bit different. The “promoted” tweets in a Twitter stream are positioned right where our eyes are looking, directly in the feed, which seems to be an advantage. Additionally, to identify ads, Twitter uses a little orange box with an arrow inside to mark tweets as advertisements. This would seem to be a more effective way to show the user an advertisement than cramming all the ads into the sidebar. I know that in my own personal experience, I am actually drawn to that little orange box and I usually actually do read the promoted tweets- whereas I avoid the Facebook ads almost all together. Whether the reason for this is the placement, the orange box or simply the fact that Twitter ads are still somewhat new, I do not know.

Moving on from social media, many large corporations use flashy, disruptive ads to grab attention and place them in different locations. Whether it be the in-window-popup ads that need to be manually minimized, the long banner ads located in between two blocks of content, the roll over ads which only animate if one’s mouse moves over them and many others. It seems that major content generating websites take the ‘in your face and overwhelm you’ approach with ads. I find that when I’m on one of those sites, I’m already on a mission, I want to view my content and that is my sole purpose for being on the site- anything else I deem a distraction. Therefore I generally try to ignore the ads on sites such as ESPN.com, Yahoo.com, TechCrunch.com and other sites that put out content for users to consume. While scrolling through the sites, I may notice who is advertising (possibly because I am a Marketing Communications major and thus it is more intuitive for me) but I rarely if ever actually read the content of an ad. I avoid it because it takes time and it is not as interesting to me as the actual content of the site.

While there is no conclusion or any one “point” of this post, it is simply compelling to consider how internet users consume advertisements. Especially when one takes into account the sheer amount of revenue generated by online advertising today; 8.4 billion dollars this quarter in the U.S alone. It should also be noted that we cannot escape the ads, they are far too engrained in our society at this point, but how we interact with them is (mostly) up to us.

I’d be happy to hear what you have to say about online advertising. Whether it is an opinion, your experiences or another way to start a conversation, please comment below.

Nadav, @NadavSwarttz

The Other Problem with the U.S Postal Service

The financial struggles of the United States Postal Service have been well documented in the past year or so. TIME more or less declared USPS dead and ABC News warned of its impending default. All the while, USPS has survived and even had the foresight not to close hundreds of rural post office branches, in a recent decision.

Photo Credit: noomizo

It is clear that there are some major issues ailing USPS, there is no denying that. The financial woes and major debt of the company has been covered in the media and has taken a vast majority of the spotlight, rightfully so. But I believe there is something else that is truly holding the post office back and hurting it at the core of its business:

Company Culture.

Let me back up and explain how I discovered this. I’m currently interning with Wistia, a professional video hosting and analytics company. One of my early assignments was to help ship T-shirts to many of our customers in advance of the launch of our latest product. This lead to quite a few visits to the post office with full boxes of packed T-shirts. This process took some time and while at the post office I did not have much to do other than take packages out of the box and think to myself.

During these trips is when it began to hit me just how big of an issue company culture is at USPS.

Almost without a doubt, myself and the other Wistia intern would walk into the post office with each batch of T-shirts and instantly be able to count the number of smiles in the post office- zero. Of course people in line would are not expected to be ecstatic or energetic, but the employees rarely, if ever, seemed to smile. They all kept straight faces, maintaining necessary eye contact but never engaging in extraneous conversation. It was all business with them, nearly to the point that if they were replaced with robots it would barely be noticeable.

The most telling part of this is that I don’t blame them. Most times there was no music in the post office, just the dialogue between clerks and the customers. No background noise to break up the monotony. Just the same, required phrase repeated for every customer: Does your package contain anything hazardous, perishable or dangerous? (That may not the the precise phrase, word for word.) When you get up to the counter for the transaction, it feels as though you are the 5,000th customer of the day and the person at the desk is simply going through the motions of their scripted dialogue with you. It feels that way because that is exactly what they are doing; drained of their emotions and personality, their interactions with the customers are all predetermined. The employee’s uniforms are incredibly bland and standard: name tag, plain shirt and those thick-soled rubber shoes, always black.

It is especially troublesome that once you get past the lackluster service all you can think is how can a person do this for eight hours a day, five days a week? It just seems too repetitious to be stimulating. And while it is by no means my place to judge these people, or their jobs, there is a reason I felt this way waiting in the post office.

There is no tangible sense of company culture. Not a bad company culture, not a suffocating company culture but simply a lack of culture all together. I was not able to determine any sort of identity for USPS. While idea may be somewhat abstract, think of Apple and certain connotations or undertones will come to mind. Or think of Ford and the same thing will happen. When I think of USPS, there are no connotations or associations. I do not have any idea of what the company stands for or what some of its values could follow.

Without a company culture, preferably a resonant one, it is hard to inspire employees to be great. They will not work as hard and they will not be passionate or personally attached to what they do.

Finances can be fixed in many ways such as cutting spending, finding more efficient methods of production, trimming a work force and many more. Company culture is not something that can be fixed or even created in practiced ways. It is something that is cultivated over time and a concept that employees need to buy into. It also gives the business a human side that not only the employees can identify with, but customers as well.

Improving the financial stability of a company is one thing. Putting smiles on the employee’s faces is another entirely.

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I’d love to hear your thoughts or experiences of the post office and if there’s anything that you think can be done or should be done. Comment below!
Nadav, @NadavSwarttz

MBA vs. NBA

Along with business, one of my strongest passions is basketball. I love the game, the drama and any other over used cliches you can think of to describe sports. The business behind the NBA and other major sport leagues is also quite interesting. Yet, for many reasons, businessmen and NBA players are seldom compared side-by-side. That is why when I saw this excellent infographic, originally via HowToMBA.com and later via the Emerson College Sports Business Society, I knew it had to also live on my blog.

While the comparisons are not mind-blowing, they are somewhat revealing. Lebron James, one of the highest paid NBA stars, can hang with the MBA earners, even surpassing one in net worth. Yet when comparing the two “teams”, the MBA holders have a much higher average net worth, quite inflated by Phil Knight’s fortune.

However, some players do go into business after their careers, or in Steve Nash’s case during, and are quite successful. Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan are exceptional businessmen who have done very well for themselves.

This inforgraphic is simple, but allows us to look at two different types of people who are not usually compared. I would we interested to hear what you have to say about it and if it was at all thought provoking for you.

Nadav, @NadavSwarttz

MBA vs. NBA

What is Wistia?

Image Credit: BostInno.com

Wistia is the name of an up and coming company I’m interning with this summer. Wistia is a video hosting and tracking company for businesses which enhances video marketing campaigns. Customers are given access to a platform which hosts their videos and keeps them all in one secure loaction. Wistia also provides detailed analytics for each video that is hosted on its software.

But wait… How is that different from Youtube?

Well there are quite a few differentiating factors between the two companies. The first is that Wistia gives users the option to allow the whole web to watch their videos or set restrictions on who has access. Customers are able to keep videos internal, within a company, secured by a password and login information. For instance, if there is a training video for new hires, it can be shared through one’s company all while being kept private and strictly between employees.

As mentioned above, Wistia also brings powerful analytics to the table. The company has invented what it calls heatmaps, which track each individual viewer and their behavior as it relates to a video. Heatmaps show you who has watched your video, how many times they’ve watched it and which parts they have viewed; the heatmap details where a viewer a stops watching your video, which parts they skip and which parts they re-watch. The value of this information is that a company can see which segments of the video were interesting and effective and which parts bored the audience and led to skipping or no re-watching. Based on that data, companies can optimize their videos to be more effective and further engage with the audience.

Along the lines of video optimization, Wistia has a few features which help their customers make video a more effective tool. The first of which is the superembed; this enables users to fully customize their embeded video player from size, to color to the actual buttons that appear on the player. There is also the option to add social media sharing tools beneath the video. Another helpful feature is the call to action at the end of the video. This gives the user an option to add a click screen once the video is done playing, it can lead to another video, a website or a landing page. This tool is meant to ensure that at the end of your video, the viewer is not done engaging with your content. Wistia also has an optional feature for the beginning of videos, something called turnstile. This allows the user to require an email address before someone can view a video. This allows businesses to build lead generation and see who is truly involved with their content.

Stepping away from the product itself, Wistia also puts an emphasis on customer   support. They have full explanatory documentation regarding their technology and features, produce videos to educate their customers such as Video Marketing 101 (which displays the turnstile feature) and have recently started recording live webinars.

Security, analytics, features and support are what help Wistia make video marketing effective. If you have any questions or thoughts on the company or product, please comment below!

Nadav, @NadavSwarttz

How BlackBerry Lost its Cool

Photo Credit: tech.fortune.cnn.com

A few years ago, before the iPhone became a leading mobile device, BlackBerry was at the top. Not only was it essential for the business professional, but younger kids were getting one of the first widespread smartphones. Now of course, everything has changed; Apple’s stock seems to have no limit and Google is winning the smartphone battle.

So what happened to BlackBerry? It’s market share is down and the brand’s popularity is fading. But why? At one point in the phone’s lifespan Brick Breaker, a full keyboard and BlackBerry Messenger set the product ahead of the others on the market.  However other companies have not only caught up to BlackBerry, they have dominated it. What happened is that BlackBerry lost it’s ‘cool’ factor; and here’s how:

1. BlackBerry’s app store cannot compete

The Apple and Android app stores are one of the places where both companies continuously beat BlackBerry. They have more options, more useful apps and their phones make the app experience more enjoyable.

2. Brick Breaker does not cut it anymore

Stemming off of advanced applications is the fact that the iPhone has developed from simply being a phone, to doing a little bit of everything. Whether it is having over 500,000 apps, a personal assistant or an amazing camera, the iPhone is moving past what has traditionally been known as a phone. It is becoming a “jack of all trades” device and each new model is adding features. BlackBerry has not done a good job of adding features and capabilities to it’s products.

3. Just missing with touch screens

Apple and Android both produce phones with incredible touch screens whether is be the display or the functionality. BlackBerry also joined the touch screen market, but it’s Torch simply never caught on. As described in this review of the latest Torch model, the phone sounds impressive and useful. However, for whatever reason, BlackBerry has not been able to capitalize on the touch screen market like the other leading companies.

4. No Compatibility factor

iPhones are compatible with Macs, iPads and now the cloud. Androids run Google software and can be synced with that technology. BlackBerry does not have a similar network like the two other leaders in the market. The compatibility factor makes iPhones and Androids more useful and practical, a major advantage in the market.

5. Lack of advertising

BlackBerry had a major hole in its marketing campaigns; it simply was not advertising enough. While Apple was touting its features from the upgraded camera to Siri and Droid was working on its robotic image, where was the advertising from BlackBerry? Lately, BlackBerry has been making an effort to boost its ads with spots promoting the creativity of BlackBerry users. But yet again, it seems as though BlackBerry is just a little behind. Not only is the company behind, the message in its new campaign misses the point. BlackBerry’s new tag line is “We need tools, not toys.” What the company does not grasp is that Apple and Android products are both tools and toys; they have the professional functions of a BlackBerry but provide more features and entertainment. Once the front runner in the smartphone industry, BlackBerry has lost its lead and its cool.

Any other reasons for BlackBerry’s decline? Or thoughts on how BlackBerry can make a comeback? Please comment below…

Nadav, @NadavSwarttz

Vsnap: Turn (Boring) Emails into Action

I wrote the following post which originally appeared on the MassChallenge Blog and can be found here. MassChallenge runs an annual startup competition which aims to “catalyze a startup renaissance”. The following interview was conducted with the Community Manager at Vsnap.

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Image Credit: MassChallenge.org

Vsnap is personalizing online communication with quick video messaging, allowing users to record and send up to 60 seconds of content.

“Vsnap is a more personal alternative to standard email, and it can be a really great engagement tool for businesses,” said Vsnap Community Manager Trish Fontanilla.

In addition to video, users can send attachments and text with Vsnap, helping friends and family to stay in touch. But unlike standard email, Vsnap provides free analytics that detail whether recipients watched video or opened attachments, allowing businesses track their messages.

“We are helping small businesses figure out who their customers and users are,” Fontanilla explained. “Vsnap makes it easier to engage and connect with smaller lists…we’ve found that recipients are 41% more likely to respond to calls to action from Vsnap than they are from traditional email.”

A 2011 MassChallenge finalist, Vsnap launched last May and now has 5 full-time employees working in Boston. Vsnap has a pending beta version and iPhone, Android and tablet apps in the works. They also received a $40K investment stemming from a partnership between MassChallenge and the Massachusetts Technology Development Corp. (MTDC).

“Prior to being in MassChallenge we were in a super small co-working space. Now we have access to this great space, with amazing mentors and a view of Boston. The networking and collaborating with other companies has been a major help.”

Start connecting with friends, family and clients and register for free today!

You’ve Got to Get Privy

I wrote the following post which originally appeared on the MassChallenge Blog in a shorter form and can be found here. MassChallenge runs an annual startup competition which aims to “catalyze a startup renaissance”. I am currently interning with MassChallenge and was able to interview the CEO of one of their entrants, a company called Privy.

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As most small businesses know, there are always more things on the To-Do list than can possibly get done. That simply seems to be a given in the small business world where CEOs are constantly in search of tools to increase the efficiency of their businesses.

Enter Privy.

Privy is a new company striving to assist small businesses in running their own promotions online and streamlining the process for them. A conversation with Privy Founder and CEO, Ben Jabbawy, helped me understand just what a clever and useful company Privy is.

“We provide a platform so that [small businesses] can run their own promotions in a trackable, relevant way,” Ben said.

This platform provides the user with step-by-step directions for creating unique promotions, specific to their industry or from scratch. This software is used by all kinds of companies, ranging from restaurants to salons to retail shops. The fastest of those promotions can be done in three clicks. Once the online promotion has been designed, Privy can incorporate a website, Facebook page, Twitter feed and/or newsletter into the program so that all of the business’s preexisting assets can be integrated into the process.

This integration is a big part of what Privy does. Storeowners are given more content for their media as well as analytics and data that put the promotions in perspective in terms of their value to a business. Describing some of positive feedback from Privy users, Ben said, “Finally they can equate a Facebook fan, web visitor or email address into a real life paying customer.”

The slick promotions and analytics are great, but if the small business did not receive any customers from the program, then what exactly did they pay for? Well, they didn’t pay. Since Privy takes a percentage of the sales from their promotions, if there are no sales, the small business using Privy is not charged.

Now Ben could not have done all this work alone. He entered MassChallenge with a product demo and some alpha customers. Along the way he picked up three team members who now work at Privy with him. Talking about what MassChallenge did for Privy, Ben had this to say:

“We picked up some great mentors which accelerated the process for us. The progress and confidence we gained from MassChallenge was also incredible. MassChallenge did an incredible job of involving people who would normally be harder for us to reach and we wouldn’t have had access to them without the program.”

With the help of the MassChallenge competition, Ben and his team have been hard at work and have made much progress.

“We launched a polished version of our product, acquired a ton more customers, raised some funding and are in talks with several partners to help distribute product.”

As far as the long term future of Privy, Ben has his sights set high:

“I see us as an international company, where the culture and passion for small business marketing runs throughout the company. It will be a staple in the small business marketing world.”

For more information on this MassChallenge alum, check out: www.getprivy.com

Nadav, @NadavSwarttz