A Day Out in New York

10_31_16-towerLovely readers, it’s been far too long since I’ve posted anything to this blog. Happily I’m getting a chance to share my musings with a wider audience at the Apttus blog, and I invite you to follow me there.

Recently I had the pleasure of spending a few days in Manhattan. There’s nothing like it—a place where the endless variety of human experience is on full display for you to pretend to ignore it.

You never know what you’re going to see.

A man is dancing and yelling along to the deep bass line of music coming from his stereo. “Yeah, yeah, OH YEAH,” he shouts, throwing his arms to the left and the right. Which would be unremarkable, except that the man is driving at the time, paying no obvious attention to the road as he blasts through a light at 26th and Lex. Perhaps he won the lottery.

On 9th Avenue, a man is eating at a sidewalk table of a bistro. With him are four poodles in a baby carriage, all dressed up in identical French sailor shirts with pink and white stripes. The man nuzzles the dogs and feeds them tidbits from his plate. An Asian tourist is trying to take photos discreetly, but it’s hard to hide a telephoto lens. This isn’t normal in his hometown?

Near Columbus Circle, a homeless man has dropped a lit cigarette into a shallow grate. He’s trying to fish it out with a stick of aluminum foil, and two young women are holding out fresh cigarettes to coax him up off his knees. “Take them, take them!” they insist. Walking by, I wonder if this street scene is a setup: Drop a lit loosey, accept charity of two more smokes from well-meaning pedestrians, walk a few blocks and repeat.

And on 5th Avenue, in front of Trump Tower, a man wearing a cartoon-poop hat is selling “Dump Trump” buttons. He tells me he’s sold thousands online, and while we’re speaking a tourist approaches to buy one. The button entrepreneur explains that he’s exempt from the usual vending laws because he is exercising free speech—I certainly see no evidence that a squad of New York’s finest, ten paces away, is paying him any mind. It’s capitalism and political commentary at their finest, but he’s not attracting nearly as much attention as the other protesters, who happen to be four dressed-up small dogs.


It’s just another day in New York.


All photos taken by the author.

So You Took A Startup Job: Five Tips For Starting Out Strong

Mark Zuckerberg gives 5 startup tips

You just got a job a fast-growing startup. Congratulations! Your friends are jealous, your partner is nervous, and your parents don’t quite understand what your company does. No matter what happens to the company, you’re in for an excellent adventure.

But working at a startup is different from working anywhere else. These young companies don’t have the history of established organizations. Your colleagues haven’t worked together very long. The industry might not even be well defined. For these reasons many people struggle in startups, even though they are smart and skilled and have succeeded all their lives.

You want to be successful in your new job, of course. So how can you make sure you start out strong at a startup? The key is communication.

With that in mind, here are five tips for success.

  • Ask for information. You probably won’t be handed an instruction manual for your job (and if you are, it’s already out of date). You need to locate the resources you need, and your colleagues know how to find them. So ask: Where are the files of other people who have worked on this problem? What approaches have been tried already? Who else has worked in this area and might have details? There are no processes to share information, so you have to hustle for it. At a good startup people are happy to share what they know, and what they think.
  • Ask to join meetings. Ask to sit in on meetings, even if they aren’t about things you are directly concerned with. Sit quietly and absorb what you can about the products, the market, and how your company solves problems. Going to lots of meetings is also a good way to meet colleagues outside of your immediate team.
  • Write your job description. Tell your manager what you will be doing to move the company forward, and why it should be your responsibility. Don’t assume you will be doing the narrow task you were hired for – within three months you’ll likely be doing something different anyway. Every employee in a startup needs to be prepared to identify and tackle key problems, and unless you’re a new college graduate, you are expected to have the experience to do this independently. So take initiative and remember that “it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission.”
  • Have an opinion. Don’t wait to start inserting your good judgment into the company. You were hired for your expertise, and you need to contribute quickly – before you have a chance to learn everything about the company and its products. So when you observe something you would like to do, tell your colleagues why: “Here’s what I think I/we should be doing, and here’s how I/we can do it.” But since you are still new, follow up by asking, “I think this based on my current understanding of the situation. What don’t I know yet that might improve my idea?”
  • Check in regularly. Set up weekly check-in meetings with your immediate peers, each member of your team who reports to you, and your manager. Keep the meetings, and scale them back once you feel comfortable in your new job. Use these opportunities to ask more questions and learn more from the perspective of those who have been in the company already.

Fundamentally, all startups are trying to discover or create information that has never been found before. Your priorities and communications should flow from how your company approaches this basic goal.

What other tips do you have for someone starting a job at a startup? Share your advice in the comments.


Around The Twitterverse in Eighty Days: Eight Thoughts on Twitter

balloon and marketing and twitter

I’ve now been on Twitter for 80 days. In the amount of time it took Phileas Fogg to travel around the world, I have sent some 200 tweets and gained more than 400 followers.

I purposefully have not used any cheats or tricks to build traffic. I have used only Twitter’s own app and website. I wanted to immerse myself in the world of Twitter without any outside aids.

There are some parts of Twitter I like, but there are also some aspects that are incredibly frustrating. In the grand tradition of the Twitter listicle, here are my 8 observations about this much-discussed social network.

1) RAVE: Reach important people. On this blog I’ve reviewed several bestselling books. I use Twitter to reach out to the authors and let them know about my commentary. Some of these authors have responded. Without Twitter, I’d have no way of reaching these important influencers directly.

2) RANT: Twits and bots. Even though I only follow “real” people, a huge amount of my Twitter feed is garbage generated by software. Some users retweet their content over and over, while others have programs that automatically list their new followers or spout other junk (the worst offenses come from a tool called commun.it; if you let this program send tweets on your behalf, you are spamming your followers). I end up muting ¾ of my followees. The best content in my feed comes from publications I read anyway outside of Twitter, so I end up ignoring the feed most of the time. It’s just too hard to get interesting content into my feed and I’ve largely given up.

twitter bird is marketing good stuff3) RAVE: Networking with no intermediary. I enjoy meeting people with common business interests, and twice so far I’ve met people for coffee who I found on Twitter. It’s a great addition to in-person networking. Twitter gives a good insight into whether two people share complementary backgrounds and offers a natural way to start a conversation, something LinkedIn lacks.

4) RANT. Banality sells. As I hinted above, the most common content in my feed is in list form. And not good lists – it’s mostly warmed-over thought soup. I try hard to produce interesting content, but I can’t see a way to break through the mediocre material that many other creators are promoting. My most popular blog post broke through because I tweeted it many times. I don’t understand why my most favorited Twitter post is uniquely popular. Conclusion: Twitter rewards frequency not quality, which means it feels a lot like spam. Speaking of which…

5) FROTHING RANT. Direct messages are completely broken. Every direct message I’ve received, without exception, is spam. This bears repeating: I’ve received at least 100 direct messages, usually right after following someone. Every single one was a piece of garbage generating by a bot, usually asking me to interact on another channel. Early on I tried responding to some of these messages, but after about 10 replies got no response I stopped trying. Because direct messages are spam, of course, and the people who run the bots don’t read their direct messages either. It’s hard to overstate how bad this is for Twitter’s brand. Every other half-decent service solved spam years ago. I keep spam off my blog for free with Akismet, for example. How is this so hard? Why can’t I fix this in Twitter’s native app?

6) ECSTATIC RAVE. Unrivaled for breaking news. This summer I learned that a wildfire was devastating Middletown, CA, on Twitter. Periscope users were live-broadcasting the fires. This level of immediacy isn’t available anywhere else, and offers the most powerful argument I can think of in favor of Twitter. While this observation is as old as Twitter itself, I didn’t fully appreciate its power until an urgent and unfiltered breaking event appeared on my feed.

7) RANT. Where is everybody? 90% of my real-life friends are on Facebook (a steady trickle quits). 99% of my business contacts are on LinkedIn. But only around half of my friends and colleagues are on Twitter, and half of this group have abandoned their accounts. Very few of my interactors are people I know in real life. It’s not necessarily a problem but also not what I expected. Twitter didn’t build universal appeal and the quitters don’t seem likely to come back.

twitter tv is twitter marketing8) RAVE. Live other lives. One of the pressing problems with other digital networks – indeed, with much of the Internet – is that they constrict your experience to people like you. When you choose a virtual town square over its physical equivalent, you inevitably filter out those who don’t share your experiences, interests, prejudices, and background.

Twitter offers a way out of this troubling social trend because an entirely different group of people is just a click away. My favorite Twitter pastime is clicking on a random trending topic and trying to learn what it is and why people care about it. A click puts me in the middle of Argentinian politics, tween angst, or a college football rivalry. I learn something and, just maybe, gain a little empathy. For all its problems, Twitter may be the first platform that really can unleash the universalist ideals the Internet was founded on (remember those?) Global harmony! Peace and freedom! Reality is always more complicated than utopia, but Twitter uniquely offers a way to foster understanding across social and cultural barriers.

There and Back Again

Twitter is hard to define. As a social network, it is uniquely indispensable for breaking news and breaking down barriers. No other communication tool feels so open. As a product, however, it is in dire condition.

Twitter defines our cultural moment more than any other technology. Even if it will never be used as universally as Facebook, for example, it was Facebook that adopted Twitter’s hashtag innovation and not the other way around. Twitter has changed what communication means, and is changing our habits and expectations around this new order – much as radio once did generations ago, and the telegraph did decades before that.

The companies that brought these earlier inventions to the mass market – RCA and Western Union – are no longer movers of the world, yet their names endure and are endowed with respect. Perhaps this is Twitter’s future. There are far worse fates for the great disruptions of our age.

Yes, you can (and should) follow me on Twitter.