Getting Ready For The Epicenter Of Customer Success: Gainsight’s Pulse Conference 2015

Tomorrow, I’m attending Gainsight’s Pulse Conference 2015 alongside team members from my amazing client, ServiceRocket, who are proud sponsors of the event. I’ve been watching the meteoric growth of Pulse these past few years, and am truly excited to be joining 2000+ other Customer Success enthusiasts and practitioners this year–the first time I’ll be in attendance. I’m excited to meet great people, learn a lot from the expert panels and sessions, and soak up all of the vibes and insights from the premier Customer Success event of the year.

In anticipation of Pulse, here are a few of the latest projects I’ve been working on in the Customer Success world:

The Ultimate Guide to Gainsight’s Pulse Conference 2015

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I worked on this guide alongside others from the fantastic ServiceRocket team. It includes recommended speakers, panels, events, and even events to enjoy when you’re in town. I really recommend viewing and downloading if you’re coming to Pulse this year. Published on ServiceRocket website.

Convert Your Prospects Into Customers With Pre-Sales Training

convert-prospects-to-customers-with-training

Through introducing customer training into the pre-sales equation, CSMs can help seal the deal and sow the seeds of software adoption and customer loyalty. Here’s why it’s so smart to leverage training to help convert your prospects into customers, as well as some tips for getting started. Published on the Learndot blog.

How To Build Training Programs Your Customers Will Actually Use

2015.04-Training-Actually-Use

To link your customer training to business outcomes and ultimately business return, you need to build training that your customers will actually use. To do this, you’ll need to create courses that are personalized to your customer personas with respect to delivery method, individual users’ professional growth, and ongoing feedback. Wherever your company is in the software training maturity model, you can get started building training your customers will directly benefit from and love to use. Published on the Learndot blog.

Named One of MindTouch’s Top 100 Customer Success Influencers To Meet at Pulse

Top 100 Customer Success Influencers at Pulse.

In other exciting news, MindTouch unexpectedly listed me as a ‘Top 100 Customer Success Influencer to Meet at Pulse Conference.’ I was surprised and honored by the mention, and look forward to connecting with others on the list as well as the uncounted numbers from incredible companies who deserve to be on here. Grab the PDF list of influencers on the MindTouch website.

Thanks so much for reading! If you’re at Pulse and want to meet up, tweet me at @SEBMarketing and say hi. As always, if you have any questions about the amazing companies or software mentioned here, please feel free to drop a line.

Roundup: Recent Posts I’ve Written For B2B SaaS Clients, March 2015 Edition

Happy March! Here is the latest roundup of recent blog articles I’ve written for my clients. Feel free to drop a line or leave a comment if you’re curious about any of the amazing companies I work with or any of the ideas and concepts mentioned here.

SuccessHacking: Customer Success As Growth Hacking: #CustomerSuccessChat Recap

Successful SaaS companies are recognizing and leveraging the relationship between growthhacking and Customer Success. After the February #CustomerSuccessChat, the fifth in the series, I wrote a recap for the Frontleaf blog on SuccessHacking — Customer Success as GrowthHacking. Lots of great expert insights were shared during the chat, and it was fun to rehash it and re-live the highlights. Published on the Frontleaf blog.

6 Exciting Emerging Trends In Customer Success 

If you’re committed to achieving your Customer Success goals in 2015, there’s never been a more opportune time to do so. We’re truly in the Golden Age of Customer Success, with ever-improving tools and processes available for reducing churn and increasing customer engagement. After Frontleaf co-founders Rachel English and Tom Krackeler released an episode of their always-awesome Customer Success Radio podcast discussing new trends that are emerging and taking hold in Customer Success, I wrote a blog summarizing their findings. Published on the Frontleaf blog.

How To Train Your Customers To Reach First Value ASAP

Onboarding is one of the most delicate (and critical) periods in the customer lifecycle. After the sale closes, when CSMs and CEMs first engage the customer (if they haven’t already come through pre-sales, to help drive success during a free trial), onboarding is the first chance to help your customers achieve success. Delivering the right customer training is paramount to ensuring your customers reach “First Value” as soon as possible during onboarding. “First Value” or “First Value Delivered” (FVD) is defined as the initial success your customer has with your software, according to your customer’s definition of success. Like Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC), ARR (annual recurring revenue), MRR (monthly recurring revenue), Customer Lifetime Value (CLTV), and churn, time to value (TtV) is now one identified by industry experts as a crucial metric that counts for SaaS customer growth and as a predictor of ongoing customer retention.  I wrote about some actionable strategies for training your customers to get to first value in the shortest time during onboarding. Published on the Learndot blog.

Interview with Rob Castaneda and Lincoln Murphy: Customer Training and Customer Success

Lincoln Murphy and Rob Castaneda featured on Sarah Brown Marketing

It was a thrill to interview ServiceRocket’s CEO Rob Castaneda and Gainsight’s Customer Success Evangelist Lincoln Murphy. Rob and Lincoln discussed best practices for training and customer success, as well as their visions for the future of training and learning software. We did an audio interview, and I did a writeup as well. Definitely worth a listen if you’re looking to incorporate Training into your Customer Success program (which you should!). Published on the Learndot blog.

5 Steps For Implementing Your First Customer Training Program

Learndot Enterprise Training Maturity Mode

Software companies who are still manually delivering Customer Training are learning the hard truth: If your company doesn’t yet have a formal Learning Management System (LMS), in effect, you are your LMS. Whether your customers are already knocking on your door asking for training or you’ve independently realized the revenue opportunities of implementing a training program, getting started doesn’t have to be difficult. I wrote about steps to getting started with your first Customer Training program. Published on the Learndot blog.

Building Success: Product Roadmap and Customer Success: #CustomerSuccessChat Recap

Creating products that customers love to use is crucial for retention and growth in the world of SaaS. But like delivering stellar Customer Success, this is easier said than done. Today’s fast-growing-software companies (FGSC’s) build products that reflect the voice of their customers. Yet they also recognize when the best thing for customers is to say no to some of their enhancement requests. So how do you determine which of your customers’ product concerns should be prioritized? And what are the best tools and strategies for aligning your Product and Customer Success teams and keeping customer experience at the forefront of every new deployment? I wrote a recap of the Customer Success Chat exploring these topics and more. Published on the Frontleaf blog.

Thanks for reading! – Sarah

Roundup: Recent Posts I’ve Written For B2B SaaS Clients, February 2015 Edition

I decided to put together a roundup of a few recent blog articles I’ve written for my clients, in case you’re interested in reading what I’m up to. Feel free to drop a line or leave a comment if you’re curious about any of the awesome companies mentioned here.

3 Ways CSMs Can Use Social Media For Customer Education

Customer Education article by Sarah E. Brown

How can customer success managers make use of social media for their customer education campaigns? I focused on some general best practices and case studies from Hootsuite and HubSpot, two SaaS companies who do this very well. Published on the Learndot blog.

Interview With Samuel Hulick: User Onboarding And Customer Education

Samuel Hulick by Sarah E. BrownIf you don’t know Samuel Hulick yet, you’re really in for a treat. I interviewed Samuel about the convergence of user onboarding and customer education and customer success. Lots of great insights in here for any SaaS company looking to nail these. Published on the Learndot blog.

Which Customer Success Analytics Platform Is Right For Your Business?

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I wrote an in-depth review of three customer success analytics solutions: Gainsight, Bluenose and Totango. The review came out of hour-long demos with each company and plenty of email exchanges to clarify additional questions. It’s kind of a long read, but I think it gives a pretty solid overview of the platforms if you’re interested. Note: After writing this article, I started working with Frontleaf, another amazing customer success analytics platform I highly recommend checking out. Published on the Learndot blog.

Staff.Com and Time Doctor Co-Founder Liam Martin On The Future Of Contract And Remote Work

My client Trada has created an awesome solution for small businesses who need help with their pay per click (PPC) campaigns called PPCPath. Through PPCPath, companies can hire AdWords experts on a contract basis to improve their campaigns at affordable rates. For the PPCPath blog, I interviewed one of the leading experts in contract and remote work, Staff.com and Time Doctor co-founder Liam Martin. Lots of good info and predictions in here, if you’re interested in the topic. Published on the PPCPath blog.

Avoiding The Pitfalls Of The Small Business Do-It-All-Yourself Mentality

I wrote this piece for Trada for a guest post on Duct Tape Marketing, one of the world’s most popular small business blogs, focusing on why and how small businesses need to outsource. Published on the Duct Tape Marketing blog.

To Boldly Go Where No Podcast Has Gone Before: Customer Success!

Frontleaf blog on podcast by Sarah E. BrownI helped come up with the concept for Frontleaf’s new podcast, Customer Success Radio, the first podcast of its kind in the industry, as part of their overall content strategy. Frontleaf’s co-founders, Rachel English and Tom Krackeler, have been churning out epic episodes featuring experts in Customer Success from the industry. I wrote about the story of the podcast and why and how it came to be. Published on the Frontleaf blog.

Growing Successful Customers: The Ins And Outs Of Upselling

This post highlighted the discussion from the most recent Customer Success Twitter chat I ran a few weeks ago for Frontleaf on the topic of upselling/cross-selling and customer success. I came up with the idea of facilitating a regular Twitter chat for Customer Success early on in my work with the company. There had never been a Twitter chat addressing Customer Success before, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity for them. Customer Success for SaaS companies is such a hot topic, the Frontleaf team and I correctly suspected experts and enthusiasts spanning the industry would be interested. I really enjoy facilitating the chats each month, and writing the recaps. Published on the Frontleaf blog.

Reflections On Being Out In Tech

Recently, I’ve been reflecting on what it means to be out in tech.

In the startup world, there’s a common understanding that we should bring our whole selves to our startup lives. When a well-known VC writes a blog about how he and his wife negotiate their partnership, we read it enthusiastically because we want to know about his whole self. Entrepreneurs who admit to and discuss their bouts with depression garner our respect and trust both for them and for their organization. I would argue that the “whole self” aspects of entrepreneurship are part of what makes this whole startup ecosystem so rich and exciting. As studies show, being our whole selves at work is also crucial for innovation. Being our authentic selves (and feeling comfortable and safe doing so) makes us more creative and engaged and better contributors at work. (Source)

But who gets to be their authentic self at startups, and who doesn’t? Which groups are still barely at the table, much less able to move through the startup world free to be themselves? As stats from tech companies brave enough to release them underscore, lack of diversity in tech is very much still a problem. While there are many aspects of this lack of diversity that need to be addressed (gender, ethnicity, age, disability status and more), for the purposes of this post, I’ll talk about a particular kind of diversity that I personally come up against: being a woman and being gay.

For the past few years, I’ve been out to my startup clients. I used to ignore inevitable pronouns and questions that would crop up after a few months on a project, but I felt like I was hiding myself every time personal lives became part of a conversation and I neglected to mention it. I’m grateful to say that, so far, coming out on the job has never been an issue for me. I have felt only supported by the clients with whom I’ve worked. It turns out, being out at work has not been an issue for me personally any more than my being vegan and ordering tempeh Ruebens at business lunches. That has been my experience, but I know that for many LGBTQ people, coming out in tech brings substantial risk.

In the United States, it’s unfortunately still a privilege to be out at the workplace. A gay CTO in Salt Lake City may worry about telling his co-workers about his engagement, lest doing so get him fired. This may sound extreme, but in many states with vibrant tech communities, workers can still be fired based on sexual orientation. Other issues with coming out at the workplace include simply being treated differently after coming out–not get promoted as quickly, not getting the best projects to work on, having assumptions made about your work based on your orientation/identity, and on.

When Tim Cook came out, it mattered to our community and to young people and to the world. Being out in tech shouldn’t be an issue, but in today’s world, whether we’d like to admit it or not, it very much still is.

Flatirons LGBTQ Tech Meetup

In May 2014, I founded the Flatirons LGBTQ Tech Meetup in an effort to create community around and bring awareness to a group who have been historically underrepresented in society and in tech. Since inception, we’ve grown to 100+ LGBTQ techies and allies, and have hosted diversity in tech-focused, dinners, panels, happy and coffee hours, and community networking events at local startups and technology hubs. The incredible people and co-organizers I’ve met as a result of this are now my friends and unending sources of inspiration (you know who you are).

Having dinner with Joel Spoksly, founder of Fog Creek Software and out leader in tech.

Having dinner with Joel Spoksly, out founder of Fog Creek Software, through Flatirons LGBTQ Tech Meetup.

Boulder, CO, where I live and have clients, has come under fire for diversity and tech issues. It seems like we can’t go a week without some council member suggesting that growing tech in Boulder is just going bring more “straight rich white guys”. I recommend reading Brad Feld’s blog on the subject if you want to read up. Our group stands in the face of those criticisms. Our members are exceptionally valuable contributors to Boulder’s technology economy. Local and international companies and orgs have embraced us, and we’re exploring new ways to partner with allies and companies working to make things better.

A recent Flatirons LGBTQ Tech Meetup held at Quick Left in Boulder, CO

A recent Flatirons LGBTQ Tech Meetup held at Quick Left in Boulder, CO

Our group is now an official partner of Lesbians Who Tech 2015 conference and we’re a NCWIT Affinity Group Alliance member. Our Meetup membership has been generously sponsored by Pivotal Tracker for 2015. We do volunteer work and community service (a few weeks ago 11 of us met to upgrade Out Boulder’s website, for example). Flatirons LGBTQ Tech Meetup has done events with Joel Spolsky of Fog Creek Software,  gSchool and Galvanize and 500 Startups, Lesbians Who Tech, SendGrid, Trada, Quick Left, and more. And we’re just getting started.

Since I moved to this beautiful mountain town almost two years ago, a lot has changed. When I first arrived, same-sex marriage was illegal. Now we have marriage equality. We now also have a LGBTQ tech meetup.

These days, I do my best to bring my whole self to work. Every day I feel grateful for that privilege, and reminded of those who don’t yet have it, and the work that needs to be done.

Thanks for reading. – Sarah

Book Review: Uncommon Stock Series By Eliot Peper


Uncommon StockImpressive (adj.) A male writer who spends only six hours in Boulder and is able to craft a compelling story starring a Boulderite woman entrepreneur. Also see: Eliot Peper.

Dissatisfied with the sparse startup fiction landscape, writer and startup vet Eliot Peper took matters into his own hands and wrote Uncommon Stock 1.0 and its sequel, Uncommon Stock: Power PlayBesides practically creating a new genre, Peper launched an entertaining and compelling series centered around startups, Boulder and human relationships.

Without spoiling too much of the plot of book 1.0, Mara, the outdoor sports-enthusiast protagonist, and her co-founder, James, get themselves into a lot of opportunity, excitement, and life-threatening trouble with their startup Mosaik. Along the way they deal with challenges like building the company, getting beta customers, managing founder roles, fundraising, risking their lives uncovering dangerous secrets through Mosaik’s software, and oh yes–being hormone-filled young adults.

Eliot Peper

Uncommon Stock Writer Eliot Peper

The plot twists and turns are undeniably gripping (without spoiling too much, let’s just say some ex-lovers get a little too crazy about amateur private investigating and pay the price for it), but, for me, my favorite part of 1.0 was how Peper captured Boulder’s startup vibe. I found myself nodding while reading about the savory dishes at local restaurants, beautiful descriptions of the Rocky Mountain landscape and local Boulder institutions.

Power Play takes us along for more adventures of Mozaik. Mara deals with the reality of being CEO at one of Boulder’s fastest growing startups, and the consequences of that role–less time out in nature, and more responsibilities and risk. More lives are at stake in this book, too.

I feel privileged to have been based in Boulder, CO for the past couple years, and really enjoyed reading descriptions of the local restaurants, trails, sights and institutions. If you’ve ever been to Boulder (for even six hours!) I think you’ll love that about this series, too. If you haven’t been to Boulder but appreciate early stage startup drama, Uncommon Stock will also be up your alley.

Peper (who seems overall like a really awesome guy) emailed me that he’s working on Book 3. I can’t wait to read it, and recommend you catch up on one and two so you can get excited about Book 3, too. You can follow him on Twitter to stay abreast of Uncommon Stock news.

Interview With Carly Brantz, Director Of Revenue Marketing At SendGrid

I’m so excited to share today’s interview with Carly Brantz, Boulder, CO-based Director of Revenue Marketing at SendGrid. Carly generously spoke with me about the challenges and rewards of leading revenue marketing for a successful tech startup, as well as insights into increasing diversity and empowering women in tech.

Sarah Brown: What’s your background, and where are you from? 

Carly Brantz: I am a Boulder native and have spent my life in the beautiful bubble of Boulder.  In college I studied Business and Spanish with big hopes of working internationally and using Spanish.  I found myself working in tech immediately after college, working for a data analysis and visualization software company.  For the last ten years, my focus has centered around email and email deliverability in a variety of marketing positions.  I began working at SendGrid when we were less than 30 employees and it has been an adventure being part of an extremely fast growing company.  Email is constantly evolving and it makes my job interesting to stay on top of the latest changes and how that is impacting what we do.

Sarah: What’s your favorite part of your job as a revenue marketer for SendGrid?

Carly: I love having clear goals and expectations of me so the transition I’ve had over the last year of being tied to a revenue number and having a quota has been exciting.  I am so proud of my team and the extremely sophisticated programs they have created.  It is rewarding to see them in a constant state of improvement.  The executive team has given us the freedom to try and test new opportunities, which allows us to be creative about new things to experiment with.

Sarah: As a revenue marketer, how do you fit into the bigger picture of the goals of your organization? What departments/teams do you usually work with directly?

Carly: At SendGrid, we have four primary revenue stripes: Direct, Self Service, Partnerships and Customer Success.  My team is responsible for supporting each of those stripes with relevant content, lead generation, outbound advertising, nurture programs and optimizing landing pages and emails. In addition to that, I am responsible for the Self Service revenue number with clear goals and focus around growing that revenue number and making it simple for customers to sign up for a SendGrid account on their own.  I work very closely with others in the Revenue department to ensure we deploy tactics to improve conversions, close business and provide an excellent customer experience.  I work with and depend on our Business Information team to provide the details on each stage of the sales funnel to make informed decisions.  Lastly, I work closely with Finance for closed loop reporting and ROI so that I can analyze the impact of programs and our revenue attainment.

Sarah: What are the biggest challenges you face on a day-to-day basis working as a revenue marketer? How do you meet those challenges?

Carly: With my team supporting all four revenue stripes, it can be a balancing act to figure out the right resources to allocate to each of those stripes.  Much of that is addressed by continuously tracking and testing everything we do in order to find the sweet spots.  I am a very data driven person and I’ve never liked the assumption that marketing decisions are based on a hunch.  That being said, it is sometimes challenging to find the data or know where I need to dig in deeper to find the answers I need. Fortunately, we have great tools and people to help provide me the analysis I need but there are times that customer behavior changes or website traffic is in flux and I don’t have one clear explanation.

Sarah: As someone who blogs on the subject, what do you think are the biggest challenges women face in tech?

Carly: I have been reading a lot about women and our hesitation to try new things or take risks because we are afraid to fail or lack the confidence to take a firm position.  I can certainly relate to that as I am pretty risk adverse. I believe many women in leadership roles and in tech lack the confidence and the feeling of being worthy to try something that may not work.  There is beauty in mistakes because you learn how to improve.

Sarah: Are you connected to other women in tech? If so, what has it been like to compare roles and discuss the growing trend?

Carly: I wouldn’t say that I specifically seek out other women in tech roles to form relationships.  I am connected to other women, but it has developed more naturally. I think it is important to identify themes that women are noticing in technology, to share what we are learning.  I am always fascinated to hear how other companies break out their teams and learn from where they have found success or where they noticed changes needed to be made.

Sarah: On SendGrid’s blog, you wrote a great post about “sitting at the table.” Can you share more about what this entails?

Carly: I was inspired by Sheryl Sandburg’s book Lean In.  She articulated so many of the things I have felt and seen in my career but couldn’t quite pinpoint. I know personally, I have a tendency because I am grateful of everything I have in my career, to limit myself by not asking for more. Men ask for more, all the time, I see it every day, they don’t think twice about it.  We need to ask for what we want (and more!) and encourage other women to do the same.   I also find it easier to advocate for others rather than for myself.  I have been extremely fortunate to have an incredible role model and boss, Denise Hulce, VP of Revenue, who has encouraged me to ask for what I want, to voice my opinions and speak up when something doesn’t feel right.  This has helped push me out of my comfort zone.

Sarah: SendGrid is an active ambassador with NCWIT. What is the organization working on and why should people learn about their efforts?

Carly: Since our inception in 2009, SendGrid has partnered with NCWIT—the National Center for Women and Information Technology. NCWIT is an incredible organization that provides resources, research, and community outreach that help to create more opportunities for women in technical roles.  Over the past few years, we have sent groups to NCWIT’s summits and we are committed to continuing to participate in discussions that will create more opportunity for women in technical roles here at SendGrid and at our fellow tech companies as part of their Entrepreneurial Alliance, Pacesetters program, and their “Sit With Me” initiative.

Sarah: Anything else you’d like to share or elaborate on?

Carly: As a mother of two young girls, I have learned a lot over the past few years about treating myself with understanding as they grow up and as my career grows.  I think all moms have guilt one way or another and I was someone who was limiting myself because I was a mom and I was judging myself if I wanted more in my career because I didn’t want it to negatively impact my kids.  I think it is really healthy for women to have passions outside of their children and I believe that my kids benefit from seeing me in a successful career and having a focus in areas that are not centered around every move they make.

Carly Brantz of SendGrid featured on Sarah Brown MarketingCarly Brantz is a veteran in the email deliverability space working to make email simple and easy for developers by regularly writing whitepapers, research briefs and blog posts about email, technology and industry trends. Follow Carly Brantz on Twitter.

Boulder Startup Week 2014 Recap: Hacking Diversity And Growth

This year, I was fortunate to attend Boulder Startup Week (May 12-16, 2014), an annual celebration of all things startup-related in this beautiful Colorado mountain town. I’ve lived and worked in other startup-filled metro areas including NYC, LA, and the San Francisco Bay Area, and after living here for almost a year, I’ve discovered that Boulder has some pretty unique tech culture that isn’t typically found elsewhere (as far as I know).

Why is Boulder’s startup scene so unique? I think it’s because “giving before you receive, without having the expectation to receive” is exemplified here (for more on this check out Brad Feld’s Boulder thesis). So many companies and individuals in the community are committed to this, which I believe is why magical things happen within our startup community.

I’ll touch more on this idea of giving back to the community later in the post, but first, here’s a recap of the events I went to. I should note that I tackled a full client workload this week while fitting in events, and so I chose to prioritize attending diversity events and events on startup growth.

The first event I attended was the Startup Crawl, in which ten offices in Boulder opened up their spaces to meet and give out booze and refreshments to entrepreneurs and community members. The offices that participated: Simple EnergyShipCompliantPivotal LabsGalvanizeSendGridPivot DeskMobileDay/ JumpcloudKapostMocavo and Slice of Lime. I didn’t get a chance to visit every office, but the ones I went to, Mobile Day/Jumpcloud, SendGrid, and Galvanize, were a blast. I loved meeting awesome new people, and walking into noisy, sometimes raucous, rooms filled with great people laughing, talking, and toasting to our work and our community.

It was snowy when Boulder Startup Week 2014 began.

It was snowy when Boulder Startup Week 2014 began.

SendGrid's beautiful view. I got to see their awesome new office during the Startup Crawl.

SendGrid’s beautiful new office view. Photo taken during the Startup Crawl.

Amazing vegan lemon gelato served at new coworking space Galvanize in Boulder. Enjoyed during the Startup Crawl.

Lemon gelato enjoyed at new coworking space Galvanize in Boulder.

SendGrid's brand new swinger lounge was a star of the Startup Crawl.

SendGrid’s brand new swinger lounge.

The next event I went to was a discussion of a new book soon to be released by Foundry Press, Jane Miller’s Sleep Your Way To The Top* And Other Myths About Business Success. After holding leadership positions at food industry giants like Heinz London, PepsiCo, and more, Miller stepped in to helm Boulder’s Charter Baking Company, bakers of Rudy’s Organic and Rudy’s Gluten Free. Miller’s book, and the lively discussion, focused on the lessons she learned during her career. Miller also discussed how she became involved with Unreasonable Institute, leveraging her vast corporate management experience to help make a difference in the world. Peppered with advice and anecdotes, the talk was definitely entertaining and informative.

Sleep Your Way To The Top: * and other myths about business success

Brad Feld and Jane Miller discuss her new book on being a successful female CEO.

The next morning, I attended coffee hour/ talk on “Controversy of Diversity,” which focused on strategies for increasing diversity in technology startups. This was probably my favorite event of all of startup week. While enjoying Ozo Coffee and BronutsTara Calihman and Julie Penner kicked things off, followed by Ingrid Alongi, CEO of Quick Left, who talked about the big data behind the issues and Dr. Wendy DuBow, a NCWIT research scientist, shared tips on becoming a male advocate. I learned some startling statistics about how gender inequality around technology starts super young, as girls are often conditioned to think computer science is more for boys. Over time, the numbers of women angel investors have increased, and there are more women in tech, however startup management positions are still 96% male, according to Alongi in her fantastic, statistic-filled presentation. I was inspired by Alongi’s mission and company, as well as her passion for increasing diversity in the startup tech world.  

CEO Ingrid Alongi of Boulder's QuickLeft

CEO Ingrid Alongi of Boulder’s QuickLeft spoke at the Controversy of Diversity panel.

The NCWIT presentation was another highlight; DuBow said in addition to adopting gender neutral hiring language, there are specific strategies companies can do once women are on board to help them succeed alongside their male peers. This includes mentorship across gender, which I found to be a very important point and something I’ve personally benefitted from. There was also a Q&A session that included more discussion about the subtle ways startups can either encourage or discourage diversity, including creating during-work social events to avoid penalizing parents who aren’t interested in building company community at a bar, and trying to call on women during meetings, as men are still statistically more likely to speak out.

The Controversy of Diversity talk held at Techstars during Boulder Startup Week 2014.

The Controversy of Diversity talk held at Techstars during Boulder Startup Week 2014.

Startup growth panel at eTown during Boulder Startup Week.

“Early Stories At Big Companies “panel at eTown during Boulder Startup Week.

The final event I attended was “Early Stories At Big Companies,” on the final day of Boulder Startup Week. It was amazing to listen in to founders and early employees of big startups like Github, Twitter, SendGrid, and more share some lesser known stories of how they grew, challenges they faced, and how they overcame adversities. Some of the takeaways: “if you aren’t unhappy with your product when you launch, you’ve waited too long to go to market,” “take initiative and ownership of what’s important to you and the company,” “focus on what you really care about and what you’re spending your time on, and correct any misalignment on an ongoing basis,” and “don’t have an air gun fight in a parking lot outside your startup unless you want local police involvement” (you had to be there).

As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, I’ve been really inspired by our community’s “give before you get” mentality. Startup Week diversity events solidified my interest in helping to build community and support around a community I personally care about and am aligned with, which is why, with ally Brad Feld and other startup community members’ blessing, I’ve started Flatirons LGBTQ Tech Startup Meetup. Our group already has its first event scheduled, and is open to all. We’re also looking for a business sponsor of the meetup.com dues and possibly some events, so please drop me a line if you are or your company is interested in getting involved.

Thanks for reading my recap of Boulder Startup Week 2014! I’d love to hear in the comments if others attended these or other events and/or what your impressions were of the week.

 

How Liberal Arts Colleges Prepare You To Work For Startups

Liberal arts grades can do very well at startups.

The Internet is filled with articles featuring college dropouts who’ve achieved impressive successes in the startup world. There’s this piece from Mashable, this one from Upstart, and this article from Forbes, just to pick a few. There have undeniably been those who do well outside of the confines of college as they prepare or launch their startup. However, while it’s certainly not the right choice for everyone, I’ve recently noticed how my liberal arts education profoundly prepared me for daily life working with startups.  I had some startup-relevant experiences through work and internship opportunities during college, but I’ve also found immense value return down the line even through just what I gained in the classroom.

Here are a few of the ways that I’ve found liberal arts colleges prepare you to work for startups:

1. You learn to go to the source.

source

My alma mater, Vassar College, has a saying, “go to the source.” This means getting to the source of an issue in order to find answers. It applied just as well in history classes as it did when solving issues as part of student groups or through community service projects. When you go to the primary source to solve a problem, you can often find new insights that you’d miss if you only checked out secondary or tertiary sources. My friend Cordelia, also a Vassar grad, wrote a fantastic piece on how she sees her role as a developer at Salesforce as that of an archaeologist. Cordelia writes that she often excavates old code, and must learn to understand it before she can build upon it in new code. This “go to the source” attitude applies to startups that are attempting to make an impact or disrupt existing industries by offering new value in the marketplace. Going to the source also involves questioning previously held beliefs about what will work best through doing multi-variate testing of landing pages, social campaigns, ads, and more. By being trained to get to the source to find solutions–including through understanding the experiences of your customer and his/her pain points–you’ll be many steps ahead of your competition.

2. You learn how to create compelling, data-based arguments–and, if needed, adapt them.

Using data to make arguments in startups.

In liberal arts college, every thesis you argue needs to be backed up by supporting references and sources. Learning how to stake a position based on data is what I do all day long working with startups. Why should a startup post in LinkedIn groups at a certain of day? What is the optimal number of blogs to publish per week to fuel the inbound lead generation funnel? What budget should a b2b startup allocate for display advertising, and on and on. All of these questions can and should be answered by data. Additionally, data changes over time, and it’s crucial to be willing to go back to the data and continue to test your hypotheses to see if they still hold true. In liberal arts environments, we learn to question as new theories, studies and data emerge. This is crucial to being effective and agile in the startup world, as well as keeping up with the ever-changing digital marketing landscape.

3. Learning ethnography prepares you to study the experiences of your startup customers.

Learning how to address the needs of your customer in startups.

Many liberal arts colleges have an anthropology or sociology requirement that teaches you how to do ethnography, which Wikipedia defines as “research method designed to explore cultural phenomena where the researcher observes society from the point of view of the subject of the study.” Ethnography training has helped me immensely in learning how to collect data and survey responses in order to understand and address my startup clients’ needs, fears, and goals, as well as those of their target customers. By studying ethnography, you can also gain valuable insights into bias and how we often project our own experiences onto others. When startups don’t assume what their customers want and instead actually take the time to truly understand their customer’s experiences, they are usually rewarded with customer loyalty and increased success in the market.

4. You gain an understanding of how to approach and deliver constructive feedback.

Constructive feedback is very important in startups.

In my college nonfiction writing seminars, we had a concept called the “feedback sandwich.” Structuring criticism with what worked, what didn’t, and what was good but could be slightly improved (sharing some negative feedback betwixt positive feedback–hence, the sandwich) is incredibly effective. Sometimes feedback has to be 100% constructive, but often, there’s great stuff mixed in with not-so-great stuff. When editing writers’ blogs, I try to always highlight what’s good as well as what needs improvement. It usually helps us all focus on the constructive criticism without taking things too personally.

5. You learn how to lead small groups that can effect big changes.

Tribes by Seth Godin.In college, student groups I was involved in rallied together small groups of students, faculty, and staff to organize service projects, bring speakers, plan events, and more. Learning how to mobilize small groups to effect change is an invaluable startup skill. Seth Godin calls this phenomenon of small, strong groups making an impact “tribes,” which you can learn about in his book and Ted Talk on the subject.

6. You learn to recognize and understand societal inequality.

Inequality still exists in startups.

The liberal arts classroom offers many opportunities both through coursework and class discussion to unpack and recognize societal privilege and inequality among diverse populations. In the startup world, there’s still an undeniable lack of diversity at the leadership levels. Being aware of inequality and why it’s existed throughout history through the lens of a liberal arts education can help us move towards embracing a more equal startup world. Brad Feld, MIT grad and local Boulder VC, wrote a powerful article about increasing the numbers of women in leadership roles in tech.

7. Liberal arts colleges teach you how to write well.

Writing well is crucial to startup life.

This is the single-most important thing I learned in college: how to write a damn sentence. It behooves each of us in the startup world to learn how to express our ideas through cogent, clear writing. I took it for granted that I could write during school, but after, I’ve found it is pretty much crucial to my everyday life: writing social media strategy plans and social media posts, website copy, client proposals, startup client blogs, creative briefs, content marketing maps and, of course, emails.

8. You learn how to think broadly in order to solve problems.

Businesses need to think broadly to solve problems.

Liberal arts degrees are all about interdisciplinary thinking, and you have to think across silos in order to be effective in startups. I really like this Customer Success Summit talk by Jeanne Bliss on how startups can solve problems across departments. In order to address your customers’ needs, you’ll need to think broadly and across your startups’ departments.

Concluding Thoughts

Nothing can replace real-world startup experience. That’s why groups like Tradecraft, which train smart people to work in high traction roles at startups, are so great for those starting out, as they immediately immerse participants in real-world startup work. And, of course, in technical roles, it’s crucial to find people with technical skills above all else. But, for anyone worried their liberal arts college education isn’t helping to prepare them to achieve their goal of making a difference at a startup, I’d encourage them to reconsider. I’d also suggest strongly hiring liberal arts grads for your startup!

Does your startup hire liberal arts grads? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic.

The 8 Best Marketing Books I Read In 2013

Reading is one of my favorite activities, and reading marketing-related books allows me to constantly evolve both my marketing philosophies and practices as I help my clients better engage their online stakeholders. In no particular order, here are the eight best marketing books I read in 2013. These books made this list because they changed my perspectives and made me a better digital marketer and/or human being.

1.Hooked By Nir Eyal Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products by Nir Eyal and Ryan Hoover.

Hooked just came out this week, but I got the privilege of reading and providing feedback/revisions on an advance copy of the manuscript as part of a crowd-source editing project (how cool is that?). Delivered with humor, Hooked explores the human psychology behind habit-forming products and technologies. Why do we log in to Instagram or check our e-mail? Why do we use one keyboard and not another? What makes us loyal to our favorite brands and turn up our noses at competitors? I absolutely consider this essential reading for digital marketers, or anyone who really wants to understand (and better serve) their target audiences/markets in the ever-changing digital age.

2. Designing For GrowthDesigning for Growth: A Design Thinking Toolkit for Managers by Jeanne Liedtka and Tim Ogilvie

Design thinking incorporates a unique, collaborative process to determining whether an idea or product will work in the marketplace. What Is? What If? What Wows? What Works? Are the crucial design-driven  processes outlined in the book and in a Coursera class, Design Thinking For Business Innovation, which I participated in as a companion to the text. The book contains incredibly practical strategies for testing assumptions and using an iterative approach to developing business and marketing ideas.

Letting Go Of The Words3. Letting Go Of The Words: Writing Web Content That Works by Janice (Ginny) Redish

Letting Go outlines an easy-to-digest approach to creating  “marketing moments” and building user trust and confidence across all web content. While the book doesn’t address the flat design and mobile responsive elements that companies typically seek in website designs nowadays, the philosophies it contains on what converts on the web are timeless and valuable. Redish suggests using concise copy that entices users to take a clear action. A must-read if you’re doing web writing, editing, or run a business that includes any of the above.

Pitch Perfect: The Art of Promoting Your App on The Web

4. Pitch Perfect: The Art of Promoting Your App On The Web by Erica Sadun and Steve Sande

What so many app developers don’t realize is that developing and pushing out an app is just the first step–promotion is a crucial part of the process that can’t be underestimated. This book offers a lot of great advice for those who want to launch apps, optimize landing pages and SEO for the iTunes store and Google Play store, as well as create the ideal PR materials to support products. The authors’ best advice? Position your app well among existing apps in the marketplace and  build relationships with key bloggers and influencers in the space.

Persuasive Technology by BJ Fogg 5. Persuasive Technology: Using Computers To Change What We Think And Do by B.J. Fogg

In 2002, working out of his Stanford Persuasive Technology lab, BJ Fogg anticipated how deeply our lives would be changed by technology–even before smartphones, Facebook and many other modern technologies were around. Fogg’s research shows how technology can be used to persuade us to take action–sign up for a newsletter, install anti-virus software, drive slower, and influence user perceptions of a company or product. I paid particular attention to the ethical concerns related to persuasive technology section–one that’s quite timely in the wake of NSA surveillance and other potentially invasive applications of available technology.

Jab, Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook6. Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook: How to Tell Your Story in a Noisy Social World by Gary Vaynerchuk

Gary Vaynerchuk has a big onstage personality and equally big credentials to back up his stage bravado. After building multi-million dollar wine business WineLibary.Com, Vaynerchuk established Vayner Media, a successful (and profitable) digital marketing agency with home bases in San Francisco and New York City. His latest book explores the nature of each social networking platform, and discusses how brands can leverage each to support their marketing endeavors. While Vaynerchuk’s signature foul language and off-the-cuff style are present in this book, the information shared is top-notch and should be required reading for any marketer or company leader serious about getting a return on investment on digital marketing campaigns.

Information Architecture: Blueprints for the Web (2nd Edition) 7. Information Architecture: Blueprints for the Web (2nd Edition) (Voices That Matter) by Christina Wodtke and  Austin Govella

Information architecture is one of the most important aspects of a website, and this textbook introduces the core concepts of information architecture: organizing web content so that it can be easily found, creating user-friendly web interactions and interfaces that are easy to understand and use. It’s useful for marketers to understand information architecture philosophies and best practices as well as user experience (UX)–whether overseeing web development or not.

Ultimate Guide To Google Adwords8. Ultimate Guide To Google Adwords (3rd Edition) by Perry Marshall and Bryan Todd

This is a no-nonsense guide to Adwords, great for anyone who needs to set up a new campaign and/or wants to learn more. I appreciate how it outlines “peel and stick” best practices to get the best results and optimize ad ROI. There’s a lot of nitty gritty details that can make or break a PPC campaign’s success and budget. This book is one of the best in class for anyone working with Adwords on a regular basis.

Thanks for reading! I’d love to hear what books you read and loved in 2013 and why they made an impact on you and/or your business. Please feel free to share in the comments.