Gist Founder and now VP of Gist at RIM, T.A. McCann, is speaking at Defrag 2011 tomorrow, Thursday November 10th, on what is takes to build, launch and sell a startup — from start to finish.
T.A. McCann, Founder and VP of Gist at RIM
A Startup: Start to Finish
Defrag 2011, Omni Interlocken Resort, Broomfield, Colorado
Defrag is the event for emerging tech trends — exploring the tools and technologies that intersect around the big data deluge, enterprise 2.0/social computing, cloud computing and other next level stuff.
The tech community is split down the middle on this one; in a tech startup, does college education matter or does a college dropout with a big idea have just as good a shot at finding success as an entrepreneur?
Last month Intelligence Squared held its first public debate in Chicago titled Too Many Kids Go to College. Peter Thiel, a long time advocate of young entrepreneurs ditching the books in favor of launching new companies, argued vehemently For the Motion. At the end of the 90 minutes, the audience poll was tied at 47% For, 46% Against, and 7% Undecided.
We all know the college dropout/tech-hero legends of Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and the late Steve Jobs. But what does the data really show us about this ‘we don’t need no education’ techie urban legend? Sure that recent history would reveal the cold hard facts and that data would support them — we got to work on this infographic comparing education and success rates among Y Combinator and TechStars founders with varying education levels. The data will surprise you.
Raising money is a crucial step to startup success. People who do it well, know it’s a sales process where identifying the right prospects, building a relationship, timing your pitch and following up are critical. In many ways, we built Gist to optimize this experience and increase your chances of success. Here are a few tips to make the most of Gist in this process.
1. Connect all your personal accounts to Gist (email, Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin) – this will bring all your contacts into one place.
2. Start using “tags” to create key subgroups. I use “investor_VC”, “investor_angel” “influencer”, ”competition”… You can do this from the web or from inside Gmail or Outlook. More details on how to do this here.
3. If you are thin on investor contacts, you can start looking at places like Crunchbase to find similar companies, check their investors and “add them to Gist” (with the right tags). Here is an example from our friends at Zaarly, who just raised a major round and are power Gist users.
4. You can also “add contacts” to Gist from news articles and conference agendas…so it is pretty easy to get a strong list. Also, as people make intros for you (email or LinkedIn) new investors will automatically be added to your Gist database.
5. As you add investors to the list, you might want to add further tags including location (I use airport tags like “SFO”), focus (“CRM”) or even persona interests (like “wine” or “running”). These tags come in handy when you are looking for all the people in your list who are investors, who like wine (which is most of them) or are located around SFO.
6. Now you have your list of 10-50 potential investors. Make sure you have their fullest profiles including Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook using the “edit contact details” in Gist. I also tend to cut and paste bios and other tidbits into the “notes” field (see Brad’s profile below). Key quotes, articles, relevant investments… Anything that will help you get a fuller picture of this investor.
7. Each morning you can start your day looking over the Gist dashboard (investors, competitors, influencers…) to see what people are
saying and where/when to make your pitch and how to fit it into their words. As you find tweets/articles that are relevant, you can share them;
sometimes back to the investors themselves “hey Brad, I really liked your post about Zynga…” or to your team “did you see what Brad said about the social gaming space…” This will help you build stronger relationships all around, show you are paying attention and are “in the know.”
8. As you interact (send emails, schedule meetings, etc.) Gist keeps tabs of this and ranks these contacts so you can stay focused on your most valuable prospects. You also get all this data inside your email client (Outlook or Gmail) so when you are interacting with Brad, you always know what is up with him, what he is thinking and in this case that he is traveling to Portland, which allows you to respond accordingly.
9. Keeping up with the right people at the right frequency is important. Use the Gist contact list (web) to see when you connected last and then reach out to keep your contacts fresh. I tend to review this weekly.
10. As you make progress on your startup, send your updates to potential investors. Get a good press mention or ship a significant update? Send it along. The easiest way to do this is inside Outlook or Gmail; select a tag (e.g. “investors_vc”), hit return (all the contacts in the tag will be shown with updates), click “actions” and now you can email them all with an update. Super fast and efficient.
11. Finally, as you are making the rounds, you always have access to your Gist contacts (updates, notes, shared contacts…) as Gist is available on iPhone, Android and BlackBerry. Make a big impression with your understanding of the space, the firm, the individual… 10 seconds before the meeting starts.
Getting to know your potential investors, customizing your message, and showing ongoing and relevant progress is key to building getting and staying funded.
Have other things you want Gist to do? Let us know. Found your own way to make it work even better, let the community know by making a comment here.
This post was written by T.A. McCann, founder of Gist. T.A. is now a Vice President at Research In Motion, which acquired Gist in February 2011. Previously T.A. was an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at both Vulcan Capital and Polaris Venture Partners. Find out more about T.A. at http://gist.com/tamccann
We’d like to take all the credit for the success of Gist, but really there are a bunch of awesome free or inexpensive apps and services that helped us get where we are.
From front of shop to back, the Entrepreneur’s Toolkit shows you our top picks to type faster, talk cheaper, schedule smarter, research better and market like we didn’t have a startup marketing budget.
Many of these services are free, while others pay in dividends, despite a small subscription fee.
Something new you’re using? Share your favorite services or apps with us.
It’s no secret that Gist is one of those rare startup success stories. We got acquired by RIM in January, making us part of a very small group (less than 10%) of startups who really make it. Having now achieved success in the traditional sense, we’ve been thinking a lot about what success looks like, after BIG success.
Helping others has become an exclamation point on what we do here at Gist, both through continued product development and our involvement in the wider Seattle startup community.
“You have in front of you everyday, a whole set of people who you could help in a variety of different ways.” – T.A. McCann
To capture this sentiment and what entrepreneurial success looks like for us today, Gist founder T.A. McCann sat down to talk about how helping pre-entrepreneurs fits into his experience of success.
Just be cool. Just be yourself. Just be who you are. Just be honest. These reassuring little nuggets are often the best advice we get about being authentic, but the truth is, they don’t always apply at work.
In Gist’s 10 Characteristics of the New Workstyle, we talk about authenticity as a shared passion for work. We propose dynamic, multidimensional products represent the environment and people who created them. But do passionate, authentic people, mean authentic, dynamic products? Not necessarily.
Putting authenticity into action at work starts with people working on what they’re passionate about, using tools, techniques and processes that work best for them, with the common goal of helping the end user, customer or consumer.
Finding your workstyle
A workman is only as good as his tools and if those are out of step with the creative process, then the product, project or team suffers. What is really important in cultivating authenticity in the workplace is encouraging authentic work practices, rather than authentic personalities. It’s more about giving workers the freedom to choose their tools than the freedom to practice scream therapy in a conference room. In life, the authentic self may take precedence but at work it’s more about finding and doing what works for you to deliver results.
Here’s a personal example. In another life, I worked at a public relations firm in San Francisco. My clients were exciting technology companies and startups and I envied the way they were allowed to work: from home, on Macs, on Google Apps, in their pajamas, over IM, from Puerto Rico, in the middle of the night, from a coffee shop, on an iPad, using every cloud application imaginable, sans meetings, sans titles, sans IT policies. It was a mashup of awesomeness. Paradoxically, I was provided an outdated machine to work on, which lacked mobility, battery life or even a hint of coolness. I was chained to my landline phone and imprisoned by three paper thin partitions and the humiliating glass wall of my cubicle and met with daily battles to access the dreaded VPN. Cloud applications were publicly touted as the way of the future in technology, but privately dismissed as a security risk remedied only by licenced software deployed behind a firewall. Working from home was frowned upon and Instant Messaging, video conferencing and collaborative tools were used by few and almost in secret by the most junior staffers. And then there were the meetings…oh the meetings. To give credit, this agency was full of nurturing managers, who encouraged me to be myself, embraced my quirks and listened to my suggestions about new ways of working.
Even so, the disconnect between the way I worked, the way I wished I could work and the way the clients who I represented worked, made me feel grossly inauthentic, effected my morale and likely prevented me from performing to my greatest potential.
For me, it was more important to be given the opportunity to work authentically, in my own style, than it was to reveal my “authentic self” at work.
Fortunately, in the context of the New Workstyle, is seems almost as unlikely for a company to tell its staffers what they can and can’t eat for lunch as it is to tell them what tools they have to use to get their work done.
Choosing what to work on
In addition to choosing our workstyles, choosing what we want to work on is equally important in moving towards the authentic New Workstyle. At a macro-level, we see:
people moving in between jobs at a more rapid rate, delivering results quickly and then moving on
more ad hoc collaborations between people who simply like working together
more interest-based business relationships, generated through common online connections
people becoming increasingly specialized in areas of business they find more enjoyment in, rather than being a jack of all trades (and a master of none) and being able to more easily market those specializations
Within the enterprise, this is emerging as a trend inspired by Google’s 20% Time, which places value on people’s individual pursuits and recognizes their passions as a great source of ideas and insights for the business. Google’s mechanism for doing this is simple: all engineers are free to spend 20% of their time (around one day a week) on pet projects and personal pursuits rather than on company priorities.
(Gmail Labs show the value of encouraging authentic work practices to drive product development and value for the user)
The logic: the company is relentlessly rigorous and inventive when it comes to hiring the best people for their culture (which includes people with wildly diverse backgrounds and experiences) and its leaders are interested in bringing all of their ideas and insights and energies into play. They figure that those individuals will come up with all sorts of new product ideas and directions for the company that the management team couldn’t possibly figure out alone. And that’s turned out to be the case: 20% time has yielded important new products like Google News and Google Suggest.
While it may not be achievable to have everyone in a business working on what they like all the time, a definitive shift towards this aspirational goal is in progress, a la The New Workstyle.
“There’s a lot that goes with true authenticity that isn’t helpful. Instead, the people we connect with would be much better served if we chose to be helpful instead. “Helpful” is a far more useful frame of reference than authentic… be honest with yourself and filter that into whatever it takes to be helpful to others. Present your most helpful side to the people who need it, and do so with as much genuine interest in other people’s success as you can possibly muster. ”
Steve Jobs resignation is a perfect example of this idea in action. From his resignation announcement:
“I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple’s CEO, I would be the first to let you know. Unfortunately, that day has come.”
Because authenticity can easily be mistaken for “being who you are”, being honest, or taking a warts and all approach, it can often seem incongruent with business strategy, where it is prudent to put your best foot forward. The principle of helpfulness can be used as a guide towards the authentic path. Where we might question the best way to proceed authentically in a situation, a focus on how we can best serve those we’re working with keeps things simple.
Each city has something that makes it unique and Seattle is no exception. Beyond coffee, music, and rain, we think the place we call home is great for startup companies and especially technology ones. We believe this so much that we created the ‘Seattle Startup Recipe’ to highlight the key ingredients required to make a thriving startup scene and that make Seattle a special place.
Startups can’t happen without a few important ingredients, including innovative and inspired people living and working nearby each other; a community that values collaboration and cooperation; and a local government and population that support new businesses (large and small).
We’ve highlighted a few of the ingredients below. There are many other people and organizations to add to our list so please tell us who you would add in the comments!
Big Tech Companies: Microsoft, Expedia, and Amazon call the Seattle-area home and companies like Zynga, Salesforce.com, and Google have set up shop here too. These companies support the community and bring smart people here from all over the world.
Sara Davidson, the sister of one of the Founders of Big Omaha, convinced me to attend Big Omaha and I now sit, think and smile because this conference was probably the most inspiring, beneficial and well planned event I have ever attended. Every. Single. Detail.
I have never been in a room with so many intelligent people who had a higher message than work, careers and business. This conference, for me, was about life and how to make every day, every hour, every minute the best by always striving to make yourself better and build better companies, together. It’s all about people — here are a few that made Big Omaha count for me.
I took notes like a madman and I captured some of the best, most actionable advice that I would like to share with all of you. The only thing I can’t wait for is next year.
Young Entrepreneur, Speaker, Founder @ Grasshopper, Grasshopper Labs, Chargify
David started his talk by making sure that the conference was ‘hyped’ up. To make sure that every single speaker who came on stage was going to get a ‘Standing O’ he went offstage and ran back on with the applause and energy that truly set the tone for what was to come.
He started with a video that I believe anyone in the world should watch. It is one of those videos that will make you want to get up, do something and always strive to do better. Here is the video
“Entrepreneurs Can Change the World”
He started off with ‘Marketing.’
Grasshopper sells a virtual phone service. He asked, “Who cares about my phone? No one. But we have helped over 80,000 people.”
The message is simple. It is about what you stand for, not what you are selling.
He starts breaking down culture and why it is so important when running a business: It’s your core purpose and value.
Core Purpose: This is your reason for being. The why.
Core Values: These are NOT aspirations. Such as honesty, respect and excellence. Those are total BS. Core Values should
⁃ Never Change.
⁃ Be your guiding principal
⁃ Transend your product or service.
⁃ Tell how.
David proceeded to talk about entrepreneurship and the lack of government funding that is provided for it. Entrepreneur wasn’t even on the spending chart so he drew it in and expressed his opinion on the government’s word supporting entrepreneurship and the facts that the chart showed. Basically, a lot of talk about support but not a lot of action.
He ended with this: “Authenticity is more important the selling” and I couldn’t agree more.
One last thing. To ‘Stand out in the crowd’ and do what many call ‘Guerilla marketing,’ they [grasshopper] sent 5000 bags of chocolate covered grasshoppers to top bloggers and influencers from around the web. The results were awesome.
Scott is the founder and CEO of Behance, a company that develops products and services for creative industries. Behance oversees the Behance Network, the world’s leading online platform for creative professionals; The 99%, Behance’s think tank and annual conference devoted to execution in the creative world, and Action Method, a popular online/mobile productivity application and line of organizational paper products.
You have a great new idea and then over time the excitement wears off. Then, you have a great new idea and over time the excitement wears off. But then, alright, you get the point. You never actually finish an idea because you always want the thrill of a new idea and it is hard to keep focused over time if you lose excitement. He breaks down the secrets to getting ideas done with the rest of his advice.
2.What kills ideas?
Lack of feeling organized kills ideas.
Lack of accountability.
Lack of leadership.
Lack of feedback exchange. Share ideas.
3. Making Ideas Happen… 4 steps:
4. Spend Energy on Staying Organized.
Scott lays out a simple equation:
Creativity X Organization = Impact.
Like any multiplication factor, one without the other results in zero. They have to compliment each other.
100 X 0 = 0
0 X 500 = 0
10 X 5 = 50
5. 3 steps to running meetings.
Back burner Items
6. Share Ideas!
This is one I hear people talk about all the time. Most people are scared to share their ideas but the truth is that sharing ideas is the best way to get ideas done. It creates the sense of accountability and it is the only way you can find people to help you. If people don’t know what you are thinking then they can’t help you.
Scott also had a great take on the word ‘Creative.’ He said when you tell people ideas the word turns into ‘Creative.’ (Create)
7. Insecurity Work.
This was all geared around the little things we feel like we need to do all day but are merely distractions. (i.e. Facebook, Email, Twitter, etc…) The things that we do but we probably don’t need to.
It is safe to say that Scott is one of the most organized and creative entrepreneurs out there and his book would be a good buy for anyone who has ever had an idea.
This is just the beginning. I will finish up 2 more posts with more great content from the Big Omaha conference and post in the upcoming weeks. To all of the people that I was able to meet in Omaha, thank you. It truly was a great conference and I have to thank the founders: Dusty Davidson and Jeff Slobotski.
What about you? Were you at Big Omaha? Have you came across any of these entrepreneurs before? Any other tips that you could add?