How to Write a Search Engine Friendly Blog Post

Here is a super simple Sunday tip on how to make the titles of your blog posts, and the posts themselves, a little easier to find for people searching relevant topics on Google, Bing and Yahoo. Go to the free Google Keyword Tool in AdWords and type in the subject of what you are writing about. It will give you a list of permutations on what people actually type when looking for that topic ranked from the most searched terms to the least searched terms each month. You want to use the most searches words and phrases in the title and the body of your post when relevant and appropriate.

For example, when I wrote How to Choose a Venture Capital Investor, I searched Venture Capital and found that “how to venture capital” gets searched 2,240,000 times a monthly globally.  I made sure that phrase was in my title and the body of the post. I also noted other variations and included them in the post as well.

When I wrote What’s the Difference Between a Leader and a Manager, I found the below terms:

I am no SEO expert and I am sure this is just the tip of the iceberg. I learned this little tip on the SEOMoz blog, which is chock full of amazing SEO and SEM tips.  They are experts, so read that if you want to dig deeper.

23 more posts to go in my 30 posts in 30 days challenge.

Homepage Google photo courtesy of Lifehacker

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What’s the Difference Between a Leader and a Manager?

I don’t think many people in business ask themselves this question, or at least they don’t think about it often enough.  I would like to believe I came up with a great, or at least fun, way to answer this question a few years ago using logging as an analogy.  It’s super simple and visceral and once you hear/see it you will never forget it, so here it goes:

The manager in a logging company is the woman who finds the most efficient way to chop down every tree in the forest.  She plans diligently weeks or months in advance, going over every minute detail, every contingency to ensure she has the proper equipment, licenses and people to do the job as safely, quickly and cost effectively as possible.

The leader in the logging company is the woman that climbs to the top of the highest tree and shouts “hey guys, we’re in the wrong forest!”

And there you have it: big picture vs. day-to-day management. Both are extremely valuable, but also very different. I feel like this should be on one of those inspirational posters, but then again, maybe that’s where I got it from in the first place.

24 more posts to go in my 30 posts in 30 days challenge.

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The SalesCrunch Startup Story

I decided to take Fred Wilson’s lead on AVC today and write about how and why I started SalesCrunch.  Basically, I started SalesCrunch from a burning need.  During the four-and-a -half years prior to SalesCrunch, I had built the three sales teams at Trulia that now account for 200 of its 400 employees.  Hiring and ramping the first 10 salespeople was all about me getting in the trenches with them, meeting with customers, doing demos, creating collateral, preparing proposals, etc.  I nearly lived on a plane the first few years. When we hit 10 people it was clear that “strategy” couldn’t scale any further and I had to get off the road.

But if I couldn’t be on the front lines with the salespeople, seeing and hearing what customers were saying, how was I going to coach them?  More importantly, how could I take the hundreds of hours of training I put into each of those first 10 salespeople and transfer it quickly it across to the next 200 salespeople?   When I looked around at all the other fast growing and even large technology companies that were building large sales teams, it seemed no one had a solution. Everyone was simply hiring as many salespeople as they could and throwing them into the fire with maybe a week or two of training.  They expected most would fail and they would find two or three good salespeople for every five to ten they hired.  I thought that was nuts. First of all, its extremely costly.  It takes months for even the best salespeople to ramp up, so you don’t know if someone is going to work out until you have tens of thousands of dollars invested in them.  Worse, it’s completely demoralizing to the salespeople, including the head of sales who holds the key to the revolving door.

I thought about how to solve this problem every day for a few years when three trends came together that presented a solution to me:

  1. More and more sales were happening virtually. Between online meetings, presentations, demos, email, IM, LinkedIn and Facebook, larger and larger deals were getting done without ever meeting someone face to face.
  2. Salespeople had to login to an increasing number of tools to get their job done to keep up with #1.
  3. The dominant online meeting platforms created in the 90s were horribly broken and singularly focused.

Now, to understand how these three things came together for me to create SalesCrunch, you have to appreciate that Trulia is obsessed with using data to make smart, informed decisions.  For consumers, Trulia makes it extremely easy to understand massive amounts of housing data from home sales to local crime statistics, school information, average commute times and even how much your neighbor paid for their house so you can make a smart home buying decision.  Trulia visualizes all this data and more in a way that is simple and easy to understand, like these interactive maps.    Internally, we analyzed reams of data every day to run our business. If I could share the KPI (key performance indicator) spreadsheet we reviewed every morning,  you would fall over, overwhelmed by how much is measured.

So when I looked at the three trends above, I saw a huge opportunity to create a single, next-generation meeting platform that would fully integrate into tools people already use everyday like email, LinkedIn and Salesforce. By simplifying people’s lives, we could capture and measure every single interaction they have with or about customers, analyze what’s working, what’s not and constantly improve everything based on real-time data. We could also take what the top 20% of salespeople say and do with customers to create 80% of the revenue in most companies and instantly transfer those best practices to the rest of the sales team.  We could not only save companies money by reducing the churn of their salespeople, but also we could help them and their salespeople make a great deal more money by making what works for some repeatable and scalable by everyone. Most importantly, we could offer the 5 million people who try sales and fail every year a greater opportunity to succeed and become financially independent.  How’s that for impact? Now you know why I started SalesCrunch and how we are going to save the world, one meeting at a time.

25 more posts to go in my 30 posts in 30 days challenge.

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How to Choose a Venture Capital Investor

As we prepare for our second round of venture capital financing at SalesCrunch, I thought it might be interesting to talk a little about the process we are going through to select the people and firms we want to work with.

I have raised a few rounds of venture financing in my career dating back to the first coming of the Internet in 1999, but there has never been a better time to be a technology company raising venture capital. There is more money available from more venture firms than ever before, even compared to the “web 1.0″ days. Back then there were only a few proven business models like ecommerce (Amazon | eBay) and online advertising (Yahoo).  It wasn’t clear then, nor is it clear now, if online advertising would be big enough to support more than a handful of select companies.  A disproportionate amount of ad revenue still goes to a few large players like Google, Facebook and Yahoo. Remember, advertising is all about reach and frequency, so if your audience is small….  Anyway, now there are several additional proven business models, including social commerce (Groupon | Gilt), social selling (Chloe & Isabel), virtual goods (Zynga), consumer apps (iPhone store), consumer subscriptions (Birchbox), marketplaces (TaskRabbit | WorkMarket) and software as a service (Salesforce | SalesCrunch:), to name a few.  There is also more liquidity from acquisitions and IPOs then there have been in a long time.

More proven business models and liquidity means there are more options than ever for entrepreneurs to raise capital.  So how do you pick your ideal firm? Here are a few of the more important things to consider:

  1. Vertical focus – first and foremost, focus only on partners and firms that have experience investing in your space. Make a list of the companies in your space that you most admire and research their investors, but avoid your competitors’ investors if the company is still active in their portfolio, as it will be a conflict of interest. When I left Trulia, most of my personal venture connections focused on consumer internet companies. Most didn’t have experience or interest in the consumerization of enterprise software. They took meetings with me because they knew me, but I ended up wasting a lot of time before I finally focused on people and firms that really understood and appreciated what we were doing.
  2. Stage – what you don’t want to do is waste your time pitching firms that are too early or too late stage. If you are raising $10M, an early stage firm with a $30M fund likely won’t be able lead the deal or write you a $5M to $10M check. Conversely, if you are raising $1M and you are pitching an $800M fund that has no track record of doing seed stage deals you are probably wasting your time. The other thing to be conscious of is how much of the fund has already invested and how much is allocated for future rounds in existing portfolio companies. If a firm has invested or allocated a large percentage of their fund you could be wasting your time. A good salt test is to see when they raised their last fund via press or filings and how many investments they made in the last year compared to each of the previous three years. If they raised a while ago and have slowed down considerably, you have a pretty good indication.
  3. Reputation - Now you have your initial list of ideal partners and firms, start doing your homework on which have the best reputations. You can search the web to quickly figure out which are the top tier firms in your space. You can also get a sense of the partners by Googling them and reading their blogs, but you will need to work a little harder to get the real skinny on people. Go on LinkedIn and figure out who you know in common and start asking anyone that has worked with them about their experience. You want to talk to entrepreneurs who worked with them in successful startups and ones that have failed so you know what to expect in both situations. I’ll do a dedicated post about the most important terms in a venture deal, but at this stage you just want to find out if the firms on your list have a reputation for fairness and for being entrepreneur friendly.
  4. Chemistry - you are going to have to live with your investors for a long time, so you better like them.  Chances are they will join your board and you will spend a great amount of time in good times and bad solving big problems and overcoming interesting challenges. Spend as much time dating them as you can with them before you get married.
  5. Geography – this is much less of an issue than it use to be.  When Trulia got started back in 2005, you needed to be in Silicon Valley to get funded as an internet company. Now, there are more hubs like New York, Austin and Denver and VC’s get on planes more than ever.  SalesCrunch has investors from New York, Silicon Valley and Boston. Groupon and 37Signals are in Chicago.  All that said, if you are a starving and/or unproven entrepreneur, you will have to move closer to one of the hubs to afford to take meetings and have VCs willing to invest in you.

We are very fortunate to have some amazing, top-tier investors already at SalesCrunch. We are just looking for one or two new investors who can help us take the company to the next level, so we only need a short list of four or five that match the above criteria to find the one or two we need. If you are starting from scratch, your list might need to be a bit longer and include lots of angel investors as well. This isn’t as comprehensive as it could be, but at least its a good start.

26 more posts to go in my 30 posts in 30 days challenge.  Its getting harder now.

Credits:

Image of Steve Jobs and Mike Markula provided by Ink Magazine

Image of iFund provided by The Christian Science Monitor

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Love Your Customers by Specializing Your Sales Team

Everyone has heard the age old adage that it costs less to keep the customers you have than it does to acquire new ones.  That is true on multiple levels. First, there’s the cost of getting someone to buy your product or service in the first place, or the “cost of acquisition.”  Then there’s the cost of unhappy customers spreading negative word-of-month that turns one lost customer into several very quickly.

It’s a wonder then that so many companies fail to staff and train sufficient account management and/or customer service people to ensure existing customer happiness and success.  Too many companies assume that salespeople are properly motivated to manage customers after the sale is made, but just the opposite is true.

Salespeople are paid commissions to keep them focused on one thing – selling.  But if the only tool they have is a hammer every problem looks like a nail.  Meaning, if they are compensated to sell then that’s what they are going to do.  You want salespeople swinging their hammer at customer problems when appropriate, but most problems post-sale require a less blunt object.  Account managers, customer service reps, technical support, etc should use a different set of tools and be compensated on metrics that measure resulting customer satisfaction, like retention and churn.  Only when customer problems require a hammer does the salesperson get called back in to nail the deal!

At SalesCrunch, we have a very highly specialized sales organization broken down into three groups.  All three groups wear the “Customer Success” moniker regardless of what role they play in the customer life cycle as a reminder of their #1 priority.  Here’s how the groups breakdown:

  1. Customer Success Consultants. Our consultants are 100% focused on qualifying prospective customers to ensure there is a good mutual fit. They schedule a meeting with our Customer Success Managers if, and only if, our platform alleviates at least one big pain for them.
  2. Customer Success Managers. Our managers take handoffs from our consultants, drill down into customers’ deepest, darkest problems and demonstrate the aspects of our platform that can help them the most. They then manage the entire customer procurement process until an agreement is signed.
  3. Customer Success Specialists. New customers are immediately assigned a Customer Success Specialist who does 1-on-1 training with each and every individual user to get their account setup and run them through the platform until they are 100% confortable before the first time they use it with a customer.  Our business and enterprise customers often have dozens or hundreds of individual users, so this is no small feat. Our specialists also provide ongoing support to customers.

By specializing our team, all three groups are super focused, motivated and compensated to ensure their part of the customer experience is the best that it can be.  It also makes them highly efficient by eliminating context switching between prospecting, qualifying, selling and servicing customers, all of which require very different skill sets in our opinion.

This is one of many posts I will do around the benefits of specializing your sales team, so stay tuned.

27 more posts to go in my 30 posts in 30 days challenge.

Credits:

“Love” homepage post image provided by Lyndit.com

“Will You Buy Mine” post image done exclusively for DirtySexyMoney by Eric Uhlich Illustration. All rights reserved.

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Is Super Pro Rata Super Bad?

I was talking to one of our investors the other day about our upcoming fundraising when told me his firm wants to participate in this new round “super pro rata”.   It reminded me of all the funny MBA-speak we have in the Internet startup world. So what does he mean by super pro rata and is that a good thing?

There are two answers to this question, but let’s define pro-rata before we talk about super pro rata.  It is extremely common for investors to have “pro-rata rights”, or the right to maintain their percentage ownership in a company in later stages of financing. So, if Accel invests $1M in your first round in exchange for 20% of your company they have the right to keep that 20% ownership in subsequent rounds of financing by investing more money. Incidentally, your company is now worth $5M ($1M is 20% of $5M) after the financing or “post-money.”   Let’s say you raise $10M in your second round of financing. Accel needs to invest $2M in that round just to keep their 20% ownership stake, which leaves 80% of the financing to new investors. So let’s say these new investors are also buying 20% of the company for this new $8M. This means your company is now worth $40M ($8M is 20% of $40M) post-money.  That means Accel owns 20% and the new investors own 20%, for a total of 40%, and both investors have the right to keep their 20% stake going forward. While Accel had to pay up to own exactly the same percentage of the company, their 20% is now worth 8x their original $1M investment or a whopping $8M. Not a bad return, but it’s only on paper right now so don’t get too excited.

Now, let’s look at where super pro rata comes into play. There are two different ways super pro rata is used. One is super good and one is super bad:

  1. Super Pro Rata – If Accel wanted to own more than 20% of the company in the second round of financing then they would want to participate “super pro rata”.  Simply put, they want to own their pro rata percentage of 20% and they want a piece of the other 20% the new investors are going to own with additional $8M investment.  Presumably, they want to own more because the company is doing well and it’s smarter to invest more money into something you know is getting traction rather than to invest in a new, unproven company or concept.  It is ultimately up to the founders to let investors own more than their pro rata in subsequent rounds. When an existing investor wants to participate super pro rata, it is a good sign and it sends a positive signal to other investors that things are going well since existing investors have the most information about a company.
  2. Super Pro Rata Rights – This is when an existing investor adds the contractual right to buy more than their pro rata share in subsequent rounds into the term sheet of the first found of financing.  It might seem like a subtle difference, but wanting to own more and having the right to own more are very different.  Plenty has been written about why super pro rata rights are bad by Mark Suster, Brad Feld and David Beisel. Net-net, this is bad because it significantly reduces your options for new investors in subsequent rounds, which drives the valuation of your company lower and reduces your chances of getting funding at all.  As Mark points out, if the investor that has super pro rata rights exercises them, then there might not be enough room in the round for new investors, so they get to name their price. If they have super pro rata rights and don’t exercise them, it sends a red flag to new investors. Basically, you’re damned if they do and you’re damned if you don’t, so don’t do it!

So, to sum it up, super pro rata is super good, super pro rata rights are super bad.

28 more posts to go in my 30 posts in 30 days challenge, so stay tuned.

Photo complements of Break.com and EntertainmentWallpaper

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Challenge: 30 Blog Posts in 30 Days

I have aspired to blog several times a week since I founded SalesCrunch almost two years ago in order to document the roller coaster ride that is a startup along with all the incredible lessons I learn and people I meet everyday. Unfortunately, running a company keeps getting in the way of writing about it.  So I am stepping out on the ledge here and committing to writing 30 posts in 30 days in the hopes that it will get me in the groove and force me to write faster and in short form.  The latter is my biggest obstacle right now, as spending a few hours writing writing each day just won’t scale for me. The timing for this challenge is perfect, as we are in the process of preparing for the kick off of SalesCrunch’s Series A fundraising in a few weeks.  This challenge will give me the opportunity to document that experience from the trenches, which should prove both interesting and a little amusing.

I consume online mainstream media every day, but I read a handful of blogs from individuals in the technology startup space that I enjoy most. I am hesitant to admit that I look forward to two things as a ritual every single morning: 1. My coffee 2. Reading the latest AVC post.  AVC, if you don’t know, is the widely read blog of Union Square Ventures partner @FredWilson documenting his observations, insights and learnings on all things startup and Internet technology. Fred is an investor in Twitter, Etsy, Tumbler and Foursquare, amongst others, so his insights are pretty darn educational and inspirational if you play in our space. But the main reason I read him everyday is because he writes every day, including weekends.  I have been reading him for about two years now and I don’t think he has missed more than a day or two in that time.  Moreover, he is incredibly consistent at posting every morning between 6-7am. You can count on his latest post being ready when your coffee is done brewing. I have long admired his commitment, tenacity and consistency .

Now, I don’t necessarily want to post 7 times a week – that just sounds daunting. But I would settle for 3 or 4 times a week. Even at that pace I don’t think I could capture all the incredible things I learn everyday, but its a solid start.  Mark Suster writes Both Sides of the Table long-form once or twice a week and has found a large following. He told me in a tweet that he spends about five hours a week blogging. I would be ok with that spread out over 3 or 4 shorter posts.

So why do I want to blog? Everyone has their own reasons for blogging; here are a few of mine:

  1. Help me think and articulate my thoughts. There is just so much noise and distraction coming at all of us everyday, especially when you are running a fast growing company. Writing forces me to find some white space to assimilate that information and articulate my takeaways concisely.
  2. Document my passions and life’s work. Startups can be extremely time consuming and everything moves at warp speed, so I want to be able to reflect back on experiences and emotions down the road.
  3. Become a domain expert. I take a lot of pride in what I do, so it goes without saying that I want to be an expert in it. Writing forces me to look outside my day-to-day, do research, talk to other experts and form a position on trends and topics.
  4. Help others through learn my mistakes and experiences. I often get asked advice from other entrepreneurs and technology CEOs, especially about building scalable, repeatable sales teams. I got sick of writing the same advice in email over and over, so I just started putting those emails in blog format at pointing people to it when they ask.
  5. Exposure for my company. Of course, if all this helps drive some awareness and authority for my company, then all the better.

I try to focus on numbers 1-4 above as the primary motivators, as there is a very good chance very few will ever read anything I write with all the other noise in the world.  I write, first and foremost, for me and maybe a few friends that I can help avoid my mistakes.  #5 is just icing on the cake.

You have just read the first of 30 posts in 30 days. So, with my reputation on the line, here’s to another 29 posts in the next 29 days.

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How to Compensate a VP, Sales at a Tech Startup

This post originally appeared on the SalesCrunch blog.

A friend of mine, the Founder & CEO of a fast-growing online media company, is getting ready to hire his first VP, Sales. He emailed me asking about compensation ranges. For context, his company’s platform accesses millons of highly engaged consumers and it sells targeted advertising to brands and the advertising agencies that represent them. Here is the question he asked:

“Quick question regarding sales compensation.  I am looking to hire a VP of Sales, and have a couple really solid candidates coming who I am likely going to make one offer to. Both have asked about compensation for the role, and both are pretty heavy hitters (with 15+ years experience).

One worked in top positions dating back to Lycos… the other is the current EVP of Sales for (a six-year old, 100+ person media company in NYC) who started when they were a few guys. Trying to get a sense of a compensation package (salary, % sales/bonus, equity) for both that they won’t balk and at the same time we aren’t shooting the moon on either.”

I asked a few key questions to better understand and assess the situation:

Q: Are you hiring this person to build a team, sell or both?  If build a team, how big and how fast?

A: Person would likely start by helping us continue to refine/pitch, the packaging of the story to brands/agencies. We’ve already got a couple people who would report into them (who are already making inroads with agencies). For team, would think adding a couple more people over next few months is about right. This would give them 4 people under management, which hopefully would get our foundation pretty solid as we then really look to scale out.

Q:  How far along is the product you are selling? Have you sold a bunch already and proved it works and just need to scale or are you still in customer development?

A:  In terms of existing traction, we’re in some good conversations and already have some very early cash coming in around advertising (~$50k/mo). Have only started a couple months ago though, so idea is to bring in someone who can take the helm on sales and push ball even faster, while helping us optimize existing guys on team selling, as well as get us thinking about other resources we may need.

Q: Are they going to manage ad operations as well or is that going to live under someone else?

A: Yes, our current ad ops person would be reporting into them.

Ok, so before putting a number on this position, let’s talk a little about the kind of team this VP, Sales is likely to manage. I am going to use ad sales in this example, but these numbers hold as true for salespeople selling Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), traditional software (if it still exists) and most other high-tech products as they do for online media.  Sales reps calling into large brands and agencies can make between $100k to $650k on the high-end. Yes, you saw that correctly – $650k on the high-end.  Let’s say they don’t have any experience selling online advertising, but they worked as an account manager or on a sales operations team and know the mechanics. You can expect to pay a salary of $50-$75k with an opportunity for them to make up to another $50k+ in commission the first three years. Their quota is likely between $500k-$750k a year.  A friend of mine ran a team of 30 reps on the national ad team at Google.  They would often train people right out of college and they fell into this camp with a OTE (On Target Earnings) of $100k on the high-end their first few years. Once they have 3-5 years experience, they should be expected to sell ~$1-$2M a year and their OTE is somewhere between $125-$175k with ~$100k of that in base salary and the rest in commission.  If they have 5+ years experience and are good,  they should be selling anywhere from $2M-10M on the very high-end. If they are selling $5M, their OTE is somewhere around $350k, $125-$150k base and the rest in commission. It is the exception rather than the norm, but I can think of two people off the top of my head that were selling more than $10M and who where making $650k+/year.  One was at  Shopping.com (eBay) and one was at a fast-growing ad exchange. Both had 10+ years experience and both built very deep relationships at most of the brands and agencies in their space. In other words, they owned the customer relationship and they got paid handsomely for it. That is somewhat unique to the advertising world.  Its a great situation for the rep, but not so great for the company, as it watches its highest paying accounts walk out the door every day.  A topic for another post.
So now you know a little more about the people on the team this VP, Sales will hire and manage.  How much do you think they should make? More than the sales executives they manage? Not necessarily. The irony of becoming a sales manager is that you get a ton more responsibility, but you often make less money than your highest performing reps. In fact, the highest performing reps are often the highest paid people in a company with under $100M in revenue. How is that for career advancement? Comp for this level of VP, Sales at a fast-growing tech company losing money is $200k-$250k+ plus equity.  For comparison, comp for a VP, Sales at an established, profitable online media company can be $300-$500k plus equity, more if they manage a really big team. I actually found the below VP, Sales Compensation Survey on the Boston Search Group website after writing the above. It proves these numbers hold up for SaaS as well as online media. To determine the equity portion on the startup side, I use Fred Wilson’s model for all positions at a startup company. It comes very close to what I was doing historically and it’s a nice, objective third party source you can point candidates to for credibility.
So now the question is how do we structure the compensation for our new VP, Sales to drive the desired behavior?  There are at least two common models to comp a VP, Sales:
  1. Base salary + commission override on the team – basically, they get a smaller percentage on every deal their team closes.
  2. Base + bonus.

Whatever you do, you don’t want the VP, Sales to own any accounts.  If they own accounts, the sales team will see their manager as competition who gets to cherry pick the best accounts instead of a coach or a resource to help close deals. At the early stage of the company, you want a player/coach who is selling side-by-side with each rep. I don’t like option #1 at an early stage because it forces the VP to focus too much on short-term revenue at the cost of the long-term product, customer and team development.  I like #2 with the bonus based on no more than 3 key performance indicators (KPIs), as its impossible to focus on more than 3 in any given quarter. Also, I suggest bonus be paid quarterly so the VP is motivated by the KPIs and so those KPIs can be changed quarterly with company priorities.  The 3 KPIs early on might revolve around 1. Revenue 2. Recruiting 3. Ramping existing reps.  You can modify these as time goes on to focus on new priorities. For example, the revenue KPI might be more specifically targeted to new accounts if the priority is to broaden the base of customers. If your VP is managing sales operations, as is the case above, then one of the KPIs could target customer satisfaction to make sure ops is filling orders and managing customer well on the backend.

By the way, none of this addresses the type of person you want in an early stage company as your VP, Sales. Despite conventional wisdom, you do NOT want a veteren sales executive from a large company in your space. You want an evangelist that knows how to deal with uncertainty, a complete lack of structure and can manage the customer development process. I go into more detail about this in my post “Startup sales: The Missionary Position” and in my interview with Steven Blank “Tips for Hiring your First VP, Sales at a Startup“.

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A Tribute to My Friend and Trulia Co-Founder Sami Inkinen

I woke up this morning to an outpouring of good wishes on Facebook to my good friend and Trulia co-founder Sami Inkinen.  Sami announced in this great blog post that he would be stepping down from his operational role as President at Trulia after 7+ years. I cannot imagine Trulia without Sami. Fortunately, I don’t have to as he will remain on the board and continue to guide the strategic direction of the company through it looming IPO and beyond.

Sami and I were basically attached at the hip for the first four and half years of Trulia’s life. We traveled extensively together around the country the first two years rallying the real estate industry to our cause to revolutionize the home search experience for consumers, brokers and agents alike. We worked hand-in-hand on all things revenue related at Trulia. We spent hours together everyday and pulled many an all nighter making shit happen.  Sami is an incredible leader, visionary, executioner, thinker, motivator, Ironman Triathlete and friend.

(I let him win:-)

In my farewell email to my fellow Trulians (below) I talked about how I crammed an MBA sized education into every year I was at Trulia. A very big part of that education came from working with Sami.  The CEO I am today comes from a culmination of 20+ years of starting businesses, studying entrepreneurship and what it takes to build great companies. But an inordinate part it can be directly attributed to what I learned during the four and a half years working with Sami.

I know Sami will go on to do amazing things. I hope he will start another amazing company after some much deserved time off climbing Mount Everest and winning a few more Ironman Triathlons.  I only hope he gives me an opportunity to invest in whatever he starts next, as I know he is going to be a kick-ass CEO and whatever he touches will turn to gold.

I leave you with the my farewell letter to my fellow Trualians, as so much of it refers to my time working with Sami:

January 2010:

I will be leaving Trulia at the end of March after 4-1/2 incredible years. When thinking what I wanted to leave you with there is just so much to chose from, so many great memories, so many stories and so much video footage I will never be able to show you thanks to the cease-and-desist letter Daniel and Rebecca sent me on Saturday.

But seriously, I wanted to leave you all with some profound wisdom or at least a golden nugget. In thinking about what that would be I couldn’t help but think about the last time I had a chance to work so intensely with an amazing group of smart, diverse people for such a long period of time, which for me was business school. The more I thought about it the more I thought it was the perfect analogy because I absolutely went to school on Trulia every day I was here.

Anybody that has gone to business school, or has thought about it, knows that half the reason you pay $50k per year is what you learn and the other half is the people you meet.  Like a startup you spend countless hours, many all-nighters and even more weekends in close quarters with your classmates and you all (ok, many) become very close friends. Thanks to my business school experience I have 35+ of my closest friends and a place to stay pretty much anywhere in the world I go, as 50% of my class was international.

Well, at Trulia I felt like I got MBA every single year I was here.  Not only did we cram just as much learning into every year, but also we added 35+ new incredibly smart, passionate people each year that spent countless, days, nights and weekends together tirelessly building this company.  I look around at Trulia and I see 100 really good friends from all over the world. When I think about what I take away from my time here its something like 25% what I did, 25% the friends I made, 25% what I learned and the memories I made with those friends and 25% monetary. I say that to make that point that only a small fraction of the time I spent here was about a paycheck.

I am so excited for all of you that I leave behind.  As Trulia goes from 100 to 300 people in the next few years you too will learn and grow 10 times over!

So if there is a golden nugget I can leave you with it’s to take advantage of the opportunities you have here to get your MBA every year for the next 5++ years at Trulia.  Take a look around you everyday, because you have the privilege of working with an incredible assemble of smart, ambitious people that are going to change the world. We are a relatively young company in terms of average age, so for most of you the people you work with over the next few years at Trulia are going to shape the way you think and determine a lot of your future opportunities.  So spend as much time as you can getting to know as many of your fellow Trulians as possible.  And I don’t mean just the people you already work with everyday, but all those other people you don’t. Come in a little early in the morning and have coffee with them, go to lunch with them, have a beer in the kitchen at the end of the day with whomever is standing around.  You are a much larger part of each other’s future than you can possible imagine right now.

Finally, I hope you will always consider me a friend and resource and never hesitate to reach out to me for anything.   My business card might change, but I leave a big piece of my heart and soul at Trulia and will always bleed green.  Thank you all for 4-1/2 incredible years.

Your friend and biggest fan,

Sean

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What is Evernote and 5 Ways I Use it to Run My Company

What is Evernote?

Evernote started out as a lightweight note taking, syncing and archiving app, but has quickly become a way to capture and collaborate on just about anything from concepts to projects.

What is SalesCrunch?

SalesCrunch is the next-generation online meeting platform with a focus on applying science to the art of selling. We are a fast-growing internet technology company backed by leading venture capitalists, including Accel Partners, First Round Capital, Nextview Ventures and AOL Ventures.

Where I use Evernote:

The beauty of Evernote is that it automatically syncs on all your devices. I have it installed on my three main devices:

  • MacBook Pro
  • iPad
  • iPhone

I use Evernote to run SalesCrunch in five main ways:

  • Note Taking: Obviously, most people start out using Evernotes for simply note taking.  We run a paperless office at SalesCrunch for several reasons: it saves money, encourages organization, boosts productivity, saves file storage space, makes information sharing and collaboration easier, keeps confidential information more secure, and has a positive impact on the environment.  You cannot take reams of paper with you to meetings and on the road for business trips, but you can take your entire life’s notes and memos with you on your iPhone using Evernotes. You cannot easily share hand written notes with team members in other locations, but you can share Evernotes with a single click.   Evernote is a driving force in the paperless office movement.
  • Virtual Project Management – As builders of the next-generation online meeting platform, we are big believers in the virtual workplace and distributed workforces.  More and more business is done virtually these days. We regularly sign five and six figure contracts without meeting vendors or customers in person. Why then should we limit finding great talent to a physical location? We have 12 employees distributed around the country and the globe. Three of us are in New York, two in San Francisco, one in Atlanta, one in D.C. one in North Carolina, one in New Jersey, one in Michigan, one in LA,  and one in the Philippines. We have tried several applications to manage projects and processes virtually, but keep coming back to the simplicity of Evernote.  I have a shared Evernote Notebook for every one on my team. We use notebooks to break projects down into tasks and deadlines. We can then collaboratively manage projects in realtime, check off tasks as they are completed and stay in sync on progress across multiple time zones without picking up the phone or adding more noise to our already clogged inboxes.

  • Capture Tool - I am a big proponent of the Getting Things Done (GTD) productivity methodology. A key pillar of the system is to capture all your “stuff” in one place in order to have a single view so you can weight, prioritize and process projects and tasks. Evernote can capture pretty much anything, but here are a few of the big things I use it to capture:
    • White boarding: Startups are like art in that you are in a constant mode of creation. You are brainstorming new ideas and solving new problems every single day. I am a highly visual person and I find white boarding and mind mapping to be extremely effective and fun ways to brainstorm with my team. The challenge is capturing and sharing the offline white boarding thought process and next actions, especially when your team is distributed all over the map.  Everynote solves that problem by letting us upload pictures of the white boarding session and add additional notes or next steps in a shared notebook for reference, further collaboration or project management.
    • Read it Later – Let’s face it, we are all inundated with information these days. This is especially true in the technology space, as we are often producing a lot of the online content the world consumes. I could spend my entire day just reading all the great stories and articles about our industry and customers. If I stopped in the moment to read stuff as it came to me in email or as I browse the web I would never get anything else done. But I have down time on my commute or when traveling and its awesome to have a bunch of stuff saved for offline consumption.  Evernote has a very convenient Chrome browser plugin that lets me click a single button to capture articles, blog posts and even entire web pages with a click. I just whip out my iPhone or iPad on my commute, waiting at the airport etc and catch up on my reading. Awesome!
    • Meeting Notes – we covered note taking above, but I wanted to give you a few examples of how we use Evernote for collaborative note taking.  For internal meetings, we simply take turns being the official scribe or notetaker. That way one person takes notes and shares them with all participants at the end of the meeting.  It gives everyone else the opportunity to focus 100% on the conversation.   We do board meetings every six weeks and every board member uses Evernote on a variety of devices.  Everyone is taking notes on the stuff they care about and it’s easy for everyone to share their notes with me or each other at the end of the meeting. This gives me everyone’s unique perspective on what was important to them in each board meeting.
  • Blogging  - I am proud to label myself as a high-energy, thinker/doer type.  I am constantly on the go, I don’t need a lot of sleep, my mind is constantly spinning and the more there is to do the more I get done. I have a very hard time sitting still for very long and I do my best thinking when I am doing something physical. In fact, my best ideas come when I am working out, which I do four or five times a week. I have this mental image that all the information I consume on a daily basis clogs my mind, but it all gets literally shaken loose as I am pounding weights or running.  I don’t think I am alone: if you look back at the great Greek philosophers like Plato and Aristotle they did most of their thinking on their feet, walking around outside, not sitting still at a desk. If I try to sit still for an hour or two to write a blog post, for example, I instantly get writer’s block. But as soon as I start moving around the ideas start flying. Initially, I just used Evernote to capture these ideas, but now I just write blog posts in Evernote as the ideas come to me while working out, walking, commuting, etc. You can see from the below screenshot that I wrote this entire blog post in Evernote before putting it in WordPress and adding photos.

  • Getting Things Done - I mentioned above that one main tenant of the GTD system is capturing your stuff in one place.  Another main tenant is the idea of batching your like-tasks to reduce context switching, which significantly reduces productivity. Studies have proven that it takes 10 minutes to switch between tasks, so multitasking is a huge productivity drain. GTD solves this by having you organize and process all your similar todos at once. For example, do all your email in one session, all your errands at the same time, anything that requires you to be at the office at the same time, etc. There are hundreds of software applications built around GTD that help you organize your to-dos in like-batches. I use Omnifocus, one such application, but I am slowly moving to Evernote to streamline my capture and task management into one place and to be able to easily share projects and related tasks with my team who don’t use GTD or Omnifocus. I really like the simple check boxes in Evernotes to manage tasks. Here is a good blog post by another GTD follower on how he has adopted Evernote to GTD that I am using to make the transition.
  • Daily To-dos - While I am a big proponent of GTD, sometimes it’s just too damn complicated.  I balance that out by starting every day with a simple list of the three things I MUST get done that day no matter what else happens. I got this from Tim Ferris’s book The 4-Hour Work Week. I don’t schedule any meetings or check email in the morning so that I can get those three things done before I open the flood gates of meetings, incoming email or other demands on my time. I use a new Evernote each day to list those three things with check boxes next to each and I display that list on Evernote in my iPad so it doesn’t get buried under open browser windows and applications. This keeps me focused on those three things regardless of other distractions.

In conclusion, Evernote is a simple but powerful platform on which you can run a very large chunk of your company. I hope the examples above of how I run SalesCrunch on Evernote get your mind spinning on how you might do the same with your company to enjoy a little more stress-free productivity. Break a leg!

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