At the Intersection of Communication and Humanity

How to be a Considerate Communicator

By Ray Newal, Managing Director of Techstars Bangalore Accelerator

The Metaphor of the Traffic Light

On a recent bike ride, while passing through a four-way intersection, a thought occurred to me regarding the role of contracts and signaling systems in interdependent situations. Without traffic lights, speed limits, and a contract between drivers to obey the traffic laws, cars would crash into each other a lot more than they do. Bike riders like myself would never stand a chance. The combination of signaling systems and contracts allow us to bring order to chaos. In the case of traffic, these systems help us get from point A to point B in one piece.

But what happens when the signals and associated contracts are no longer relevant to our behaviors, or can’t keep pace with the magnitude of interdependencies? Technology has a way of impacting human behaviors and sometimes making them obsolete. When behaviors change, we need new ways to manage them. Prior to traffic signals, cars and carriages were sufficiently sparse and slow enough to allow the driver (or rider) to visually assess the situation at an intersection and act accordingly. As cars became cheaper and faster, and roads became more highly trafficked, the visual approach stopped working, leading to the advent of traffic signals and road signs.

While communications started out as a simple interdependency, it too has become increasingly complex.

The Telephone and the Mailbox

Here’s a previous, universally accepted communications contract: the sender would dial or write when they had something to say, and the recipient would pick up or respond when they recognized an incoming call or a letter in the mail. This contract and signalling system worked very well when communications required us to be physically proximate to the telephone or letterbox in order to receive calls or letters. It worked because the expectations of the caller or sender were defined by the chance that the receiver would be by their phone, or in the case of letters, that the mail would probably arrive—at some point. It was manageable and even fun for the recipient to get phone calls after dinner, or check the letterbox on the way home from work. On the off chance that the phone rang, or a letter was discovered in the letterbox, these communications received the full attention of the recipient—even a telemarketing call may have been received with pleasure!

Our Relentless, Wireless World

In a wireless world with devices always readily available in our pockets or purses, we find ourselves in dire need a of a better contract and signalling system. Even though our devices never leave our sides, the device in your pocket now works harder for the sender, making sure those competing calls and messages get heard as soon as they arrive. Instead of making life easier, mobile and internet communication has conspired to create a feeling of obligation on the recipient side. The result? We feel like we have to be perpetually responsive to communications, regardless of whether we are focused at work, exercising at the gym, or spending quality time with loved ones.

Wireless technology, communications software, and mobile telephony have gradually increased the volume and frequency of communications, making us ubiquitously accessible, and creating a perceived obligation of round-the-clock responsiveness because we have yet to develop any new contracts or systems to deal with this increasingly complex interdependency. Just as there are potentially fatal consequences of traffic flowing without mutual acceptance of traffic signals and rules, there are also significant consequences of communications traffic flowing without a system that respects our ability to receive those communications with mental availability, and attention.

With the traffic light stuck on green, the flow of communications never stops, and our lack of attention has become the unfortunate by-product. In work and life, events that receive our full and undivided attention are rare and infrequent. Indeed we’ve stopped being present for much outside of what happens on the device in our pocket.

A New Contract for Communication

In the absence of any better signalling system for our digital communication, we need to develop a new contract for communication that is less reliant on the recipient to manage their accessibility. Considerate communication requires us to be conscious and empathetic of the recipient’s attention by selecting how and when we communicate with them. By considering the recipient, we also optimize the receptive value of what is being communicated, meaning we get the responses we need when we need them.

Here are some of my ideas on things we can do to be Considerate Communicators. I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments!

  1. Skip the cc

Let’s all agree to avoid copying each other on emails. I get it, copying is to ensure everyone relevant to a given subject is in the loop. Slack is a better tool for this: it’s a great repository for FYI’s, group discussions, and media pertinent to a topic. Instead of using email to keep everyone in the loop, let’s use email to send things to people who need to receive and respond to that specific subject.

  1. Set email priorities

In email, there are things I need to respond to ASAP, and there are things I need to look at within the next day or two. For anything else, we shouldn’t be using email. Let’s use the tools that come in just about every email system these days to mark priorities, so that no one misses a message that needs to be seen and responded to within the next day. Everything else will get a response within 48 hours. If it doesn’t require a response it won’t be sent as an email, it will go to Slack.

  1. Urgent contact

When something needs to be seen and acted on NOW, there are tons of tools that do a good job of grabbing someone’s attention. At Techstars, we use Voxer for truly urgent communications. You could also use messengers like Whatsapp, Facebook, Telegram, Slack DM, etc.—whatever works for your company, as long as you set expectations around that particular platform. Let’s use these sparingly, because very rarely does anything actually need to be responded to right away. Let’s not use calls unless it’s an absolute emergency. Unscheduled calls should fall within the domain of one’s friends and family members.

  1. Complex conversations

Let’s move complex multi-angled discussions to the place that complexity is best managed: scheduled synchronous communication. This can be Skype, Hangouts, phone calls, or a good old coffee meeting. Whether these are one-on-one or involve a group, these discussions are always best handled in real-time. But even if it only requires a one-on-one conversation, let’s remember to respect each other’s time by scheduling the conversation. An IM chat can also become an easy entry point into a synchronous voice or video discussion, if both parties agree to it.

  1. Respect the time block

Let’s honor and respect each other’s time blocks. Short of having a tool to manage our mutual awareness of each other’s time blocks, let’s just agree to not send work communication outside of the workday that requires an immediate response, unless it’s an urgent/crisis situation. Every workplace has its own definition of what this means, so feel free to interpret the word ‘urgent’ in a way that suits your environment. If you’re working across time zones, respect the clever default DND in slack, or build this into your expected response times for email and other modes of communication.

  1. Informing everyone

Let’s use Slack (non-DM and general channels) as a way to inform everyone. This means we have to stop using these channels as if they were continuous Whatsapp conversations, and instead add context to discussions so that those coming in later (that day, week, or year) can make sense of what is being shared.

A World With More Intentional, Better Communications

If we start becoming more intentional about being considerate communicators within our teams and with our friends and family, we will start to see some of the principles spread externally. It won’t happen immediately, but eventually our inboxes will be lighter, our Slack channels will be richer with context and information, coming back from vacation won’t be so daunting, and quite possibly, we’ll look forward to answering our phones again.

***

How do you keep your inbox lean and your startup team in sync? Share your favorite tips and tricks in the comments!








How to Effectively Use Mailing Lists to Update Mentors, Team, Current and Prospective Investors On Your Startup

This post was originally published on Thoughts on Tech Startups and Venture Capital

Mailing lists can be a simple yet powerful tool to set cadence and keep people up to date on your progress. The advantage of having several mailing lists is that you can share the right kind of information with the right group, and choose the right cadence for each.

List for Mentors

Mentors are a handful of people who are close to the founders, but aren’t involved in your business day to day. Use this list to deeply engage mentors and help them help you.

The mentors list is particularly handy when you are going through a mentorship-driven accelerator like Techstars. Since most accelerator programs are three to six months long and you are trying to get a lot done, weekly cadence for these emails will ensure that you can get the most out of the mentors. After you are done with the accelerator, sending an update once a month is sufficient.

The key thing in the mentor update is to ask for help. Explain what you are struggling with and put down specific asks for how people can help you.

In order to get better response, use @specificmentorname through the email, so that asks aren’t generic but addressed to specific mentors.

Consider including the following in your mentor updates: Shout outs – thank specific mentors for their help, update on KPIs and milestones, short list of non-quantitative wins, struggles and asks and a short bullet list of upcoming goals.

List for Your Team

When you are starting the company and there are only a few co-founders, it seems like everyone knows everything that’s going on. It is, however, a good practice for the CEO to send regular updates to the team, even if you are just two people.

Early stage startups should be setting goals and making progress every week. Having a weekly update email along with the weekly meeting and weekly goals will help your team get aligned and execute.

Once your company grows and scales, you can switch the cadence of these emails to monthly and later on quarterly.

The content of the email should be similar to the mentors email. Include shout outs and thank you’s to employees who did a great job, summarize KPIs and wins, explain struggles, ask for help and set new goals.

Lists for Investors – Current and Prospective

Use one mailing list to keep your current investors up to date. This is absolutely critical and we’ve previously written a separate post explaining why this is important.

In addition, you should have a separate list for a group of investors who said they want to be updated on your progress. This is particularly critical for raising a series A and beyond, and is handy in slower funding environments since investors are more hesitant to commit.

Mark Suster, in his classic post, explains it best. He says that later stage investors want to invest in lines, not dots. That is, they want to get to know you, want to see your progress and want to get more conviction that you can execute.

A great way to prove your worth to investors is to show them how you execute over time. If the investor asks to keep them posted, ask if they want to be on your updates list.

Since these folks are prospective investors, name the list something simple, like updates@company. Send these updates every four to eight weeks, but not more often than that. For a later stage company, consider sending them quarterly.

The focus of these updates is your progress against your KPIs and milestones. You are showing that you can set the goals and, hopefully, achieve them. It is also important to be candid about your struggles. You aren’t necessarily asking for help, but you are not just delivering the good news.

Expect that prospective investors will reach back out with questions. If you are hitting it out of the park and numbers keep growing, expect that investors will want to meet again and potentially propose to invest.

We’ve seen this simple system of engaging potential investors via a mailing list really work. Remember that like any list, there is a social pressure. An investor knows that there are other investors on the same list who are getting the updates, and feels compelled to act if they are interested in your business and you keep growing and executing well.

More Lists to Help You Communicate

The four lists we talked about above – mentors, team, investors and prospective investors are the basic lists that all startups should setup.

In addition, you can, of course, use lists for other communication. For example, you can use a news@ mailing list to update friends of the company – anyone who is not a mentor or investor but you want to keep updated.

Once you have a formal board of directors, which I highly recommend you set up after you raise a seed round, create a separate mailing list for the board. The investor list is a broader list that would include all investors, but a board list would include just the board members. This is part of effective board management that we covered in this post.

Basic List Maintenance

Lists can be a very effective way to help you manage your communication with your team, mentors, investors, etc. Be sure to clean up your lists and keep them up to date. Be clear and be careful who you are sending information to and why.

Keep your updates formatted and short. People don’t have time to read lengthy updates. Lead with essentials.

Be direct, ask for help, engage and build advantage for your startup through simple mailing lists.

 








6 Things You Can Do Right Now to Increase Email Signups

Moran is a marketing advisor with the Techstars accelerator in Tel Aviv and the founder of Marketing Ramen, marketing strategies for startups on a budget. She’s building marketing strategies and helping startups grow. For full bio – moranbarnea.com, connect with her @moran_barnea.

It’s no secret that maintaining a blog on your website takes a lot of hard work and dedication. Doing research, writing high quality content and sticking to the publishing schedule does not come easy.

But if you stay creative and think like your readers, your efforts can become highly beneficial.

People often forget that the objectives of having a blog is to engage your community of readers, advance your website’s SEO efforts and generate more leads. Therefore, if you have a blog that no one reads, you may just as well not have one at all.

Improving your blog’s ranking in Google’s SERP will dramatically increase your chances of being discovered by your target audience, which is only half the job. It is also very important to establish a community of returning readers whom you will later be able to convert into clients.

Therefore, if you decide to commit to launching a blog, make sure that as many potential clients as possible know about it.  

If you feel that your “muse” left you, your analytics keep showing low traffic and your content is rarely shared, here are six things you can do right now to increase your email sign-ups (for free):

Twitter Lead Generation

If you have a Twitter account, you can pin a tweet encouraging people to sign-up to your blog. If you are using Twitter Ads, instead of pinning a regular tweet with a link to your blog, use Twitter’s Lead Generation Card to pin a tweet that includes a signup form from your Twitter account page. Having people sign up directly from Twitter will increase the signup rate (more clicks = more drop offs).

See below how Justin Wu (AKA Hackapreneur) did it on his Twitter page:

screen-shot-2016-11-07-at-3-00-11-pm

Facebook Sign-up Button

If you have a Facebook page for your business, you can add a sign-up button to your page as I did below on Marketing Ramen’s Facebook page; Additionally, you can pin a post that encourages people to sign up to your mailing list, to the top of your page’s Timeline. The post will remain on top until it is removed or unpinned. Since I use MailChimp for my email marketing, I created a dedicated list on my Mailchimp account and linked it to the button in order to track the leads that came from my Facebook page.

screen-shot-2016-11-07-at-3-00-22-pm

Visible Blog Tab in Website Navigation

If you launched a website for your startup, keep the blog tab visible in your navigation menu. How will this increase sign ups to your email list, you ask? Well, the more visitors see that there is a blog on your website, the higher the chance that they will visit the blog and eventually sign up for it. Using “pop-ups” that encourage people to sign up for your blog on different pages of your website such as “Technology” or “Products” will not do the job as the pop-up will be out of context.

Here are 2 examples of a good placement of the blog tab in navigation bars, and 2 not so great ones:

#Good: blog tab is in the top menu:

screen-shot-2016-11-07-at-3-07-57-pm

Another good example:

screen-shot-2016-11-07-at-3-08-03-pm

#Bad: blog tab is hiding in submenu:

screen-shot-2016-11-07-at-3-00-45-pm

Another not so great example:

screen-shot-2016-11-07-at-3-00-54-pm

Subscription Popup

Add a popup that will invite your visitors to sign up for the blog when they visit your website.

screen-shot-2016-11-07-at-3-01-08-pm

If your website is based on WordPress, there are several free plugins you can use to add a popup to your website. My all-time favorite and highly popular is SumoMe but you can also check out HelloBar or the MailChimp plugin if you use Mailchimp for your email marketing.

If your website is not WordPress based, you can also add a popup, just need a programmer to help you with it ;-).

Gated Content

One additional thing you can do to increase the signup rate on your website, is to use any piece of gated marketing content you may have in your possession. It can be a white paper, a case study or whatever you think would be beneficial to your visitors.

Add a check box field to the gated content form, allowing visitors to automatically subscribe to your blog after filling out the form in order to download the gated content

Here’s a great example from Hubspot. The field at the bottom of the form allows the users to check the box in order to subscribe to Hubspot’s blog.

screen-shot-2016-11-07-at-3-01-28-pm

Recruit External Websites

Lastly, you can recruit other websites to promote your blog. Search for websites that publish lists of best blogs in your niche or industry and reach out to them to include you in their future posts.

Let’s say you are running a cyber security blog for your company and you are interested in promoting your blog among your target audience.

screen-shot-2016-11-07-at-3-01-54-pm

The top organic results of a quick Google search for “best cyber security blogs” will bring you links to articles that list the most popular cyber security blogs.

In addition to exploring the opportunity of being featured on those blogs, you may also improve your SEO rankings for “best X blogs” or similar keywords by posting an article on your website listing the best blogs in your industry.

Promoting your website on third party websites may require payment, but from my experience, these organic lists are a great source of traffic because usually their readers have a strong intent to search for your product or have interest in the industry in place.

Do you have other tips to increase blog signups? Comment below 🙂








Hot Shot Email: Custom email address important? (Comic)

#entrepreneurfail Hot Shot Email

 

What does your company email address say about you?

Nothing screams “newbie” as a free domain email address. And nothing dates you as much as a Hotmail or Yahoo! email address, especially if you are a technology-focused startup company. This is an #entrepreneurfail that can easily be avoided.

It is important that as you launch a company, you focus on building a sustainable business and not waste your time on unnecessary distractions. However, first impressions come from communication, preparedness, appearance and aptitude. Little touches such as your own domain name, and a web presence add significant credibility. If a potential client searches for your name or your company name, do they hear virtual crickets chirping? Or do they see a robust online presence including your:

  • Website – even if it just a landing page with contact information
  • LinkedIn profile
  • PR/Blog posts about your Business

And when future customers look to contact you, are they typing an unprofessional phonetic alphanumeric email address like “mybiz4u@hotmail.com” or a more professional one like “info@mycompanydomain.com”?

How did we tackle it?

We use GoDaddy and Gmail to solve for our email. GoDaddy provides us the domain and linking it with Gmail gives us the UI and the accessibility that we are all used to. Here are the steps we used.

  1. Purchase an operational domain name and a Gmail account.  Good luck to you if you need to find a domain name – see our post here for resources and inspiration to find yours!
  2. We used GoDaddy for the domain name; they give you 100 free email aliases with every domain you purchase. (This means you can create You@YourDomain.com, YourIntern@YourDomain.com, Info@YourDomain.com, Sales@YourDomain.com, etc a hundred times over).
  3. Forward the aliases to the appropriate Gmail addresses based on how your team is structured. For example, if you are wearing multiple hats, “You” and “Sales” can be forwarded to your Gmail account, while YourIntern and Info can be forwarded to your intern’s Gmail account.
  4. Remember to create a catch-all alias (or use an existing one as a catch-all), so you still receive emails that may have typos in the address. Now, at this point, you are successfully configured to receiving mail to YourDomain.com.
  5. To send email from your domain, we are going to leverage the free SMTP relay that GoDaddy provides when you buy a domain.
  6. To configure this, create a mailbox on GoDaddy and make a note of the credentials. (Their customer service can help).  It’s these credentials that will be needed to configure your outgoing email in Gmail, so it looks like its coming from your domain.
  7. Go to your Gmail account. Click Settings, then click Accounts. Here, Gmail gives you the ability to send email from a different email account. Follow the UI to add your applicable email alias using the SMTP settings from GoDaddy. You’ll have to update the SMTP Server, Username, Password and Port. (We used smtpout.secureserver.net and Port 25 but yours may be different).
  8. That’s it! Your team is now configured to send email from @YourDomain.com. You will see a drop-down choice in your “From” field in Gmail, which will allow you to select the email address you want to send an email from.

What do you think? Do you believe using a generic email address may hurt your chances of getting your next client? Or do you think it is too superficial to matter? Let us know in the comments below…

This comic and post were originally created by Kriti Vichare for #entrepreneurfail: Startup Success.

 








Wham, Bam, Thank You SPAM: Email Marketing No-No (Comic)

#entrepreneurfail Email Marketing Giveaway

As alluring as social media is, it is fleeting and many people never see the posts more than once if at all.

Email provides one of the highest conversions in online marketing because everyone checks their emails – even if only looking at the subject line, and it is always in their inbox until deletion. Catching folks on social media is hit-or- miss.

Unfortunately, the state of email marketing generally consists of the following:

  • Too much email
  • Not enough email
  • Unclear calls to action
  • Irrelevant information
  • Too selly sell

The way to combat the “Wham bam, fear of SPAM” blues, here are some tips and tricks to nurture your email subscribers, and not be an #entrepreneurfail:

  • Remember, the ideal balance is 80% content and 20% sales-y emails
  • Offer them discounts that you don’t put on social media (and tell them that it’s exclusive for them)
  • Encourage engagement by running a contest, asking for votes or design ideas, and reward the winning entries – and give them a little fame
  • You don’t have to only share your own content – curate other articles/posts/content out there and share with your subscribers
  • Aim to reach out to your email list at a minimum 1-2 times a week (I’m guilty of failing at this one, as my subscribers may forget about me between contacts)
  • It’s ok if people unsubscribe since you want only your true future potential customers.
  • The rest will remember your site and come to it as necessary
  • Always have a call-to-action in the email
  • Include all your social media links at the bottom of the email and include links to your site on the email
  • Include a button that says forward to a friend on the email
  • In the future consider setting up an autoresponder (all the mail clients have it MailChimp, Constant Contact, AWeber, etc etc) which will automatically send pre-planned emails to your new subscribers

The subject line is the most important – make it irresistible and compelling so they have to open the email:

  • You’ll Never Believe…
  • You won’t want to miss this…
  • Jaw-dropping _____ for the new year
  • Yes, You could be <enter someone famous>

 

Do you use email to reach out to your potential customers? Tell us more in the comments below.
This was created by Kriti Vichare for #entrepreneurfail: Startup Success.