The Mirage Age

In the swiftly evolving landscape of artificial intelligence (AI), we find ourselves living in what I call “The Mirage Age.” This era is marked by a fascinating paradox: the entities we interact with – our jobs, companies, and even our cultural norms – are simultaneously real and illusory. They exist, yet not in the forms we traditionally understand. This article delves into the three primary mirages of our time – Careers, Companies, and Culture – and explores how AI is reshaping them.

The Mirage of Careers

The concept of a career is undergoing a radical transformation. Traditional job titles and roles are becoming increasingly fluid, thanks to AI’s rapid advancement. A report by the World Economic Forum predicts that 85 million jobs may be displaced by a shift in the labor division between humans and machines by 2025, while 97 million new roles, more attuned to the new division of labor, may emerge.

In this mirage, what seems like a stable career path today might become obsolete tomorrow. Conversely, roles that didn’t exist a decade ago are now burgeoning. For instance, the rise of AI has created demand for machine learning engineers, AI ethics officers, and data scientists. This fluidity challenges the very notion of a ‘career ladder’ – it’s less about climbing and more about adapting and evolving.

The Mirage of Companies

Companies, as we know them, are also part of this mirage. The traditional brick-and-mortar business model is giving way to more agile, AI-driven operations. According to a survey by McKinsey, more than 50% of companies have adopted AI in at least one business function, streamlining operations and offering innovative services and products.

This shift is not just about technology adoption; it’s about a fundamental change in how companies operate and deliver value. Businesses that once seemed solid and unchanging are now fluid, constantly evolving entities. They exist in a state of perpetual transformation, driven by AI’s capabilities to analyze data, predict trends, and automate tasks.

The Mirage of Culture

Perhaps the most intriguing mirage is that of culture. Our cultural interactions are increasingly mediated by AI. We talk to Alexa or Siri, not just search on Google. This shift represents a profound change in how we access information and interact with the world.

A study by Pew Research Center highlights that 46% of Americans use digital voice assistants. The way we seek information has shifted from actively searching to passively asking. This change reflects a broader cultural transformation where AI becomes an integral part of our daily lives, influencing how we think, make decisions, and perceive reality.

Navigating the Mirage Age

In this age of the mirage, the key to navigating these transformations lies in adaptability and continuous learning. For careers, it means being agile and open to acquiring new skills. For companies, it involves embracing change and leveraging AI for innovation. And in culture, it requires us to be mindful of how AI shapes our perceptions and interactions.

The Mirage Age is not about the dissolution of reality but its expansion. It’s an era where the boundaries between what’s real and what’s possible are constantly being redrawn. As we move forward, understanding and embracing these mirages will be crucial in shaping a future that harmonizes human potential with AI’s transformative power.

More importantly, if you chase the mirage, it may not exist by the time you get there. The Mirage Age requires smaller, iterative changes, with less big bets and more disruptive flywheels.


  1. “Artificial intelligence is transforming our world — it is on all of us to make sure that it goes well. How AI gets built is currently decided by a small group of technologists. As this technology is transforming our lives, it should be in all of our interest to become informed and engaged.” by Max Roser, December 15, 2022. Our World in Data.
  2. “AI’s influence on technology is due in part because of how it impacts computing. Through AI, computers have the ability to harness massive amounts of data and use their learned intelligence to make optimal decisions and discoveries in fractions of the time that it would take humans.” Built In.
  3. “The power and pitfalls of AI: creating a just, equitable society with technology. From developing personalized learning platforms tailored to different abilities to identifying patterns and creating interventions to decrease homelessness, artificial intelligence (AI) can be used to transform lives across the society.” by Karen Shih, November 07, 2023. Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University.
  4. “The rapid deployment of AI and its potential impacts on human society and economies is now clearly in the spotlight. What will AI mean for productivity and economic growth? Will it usher in an age…” The Conversation.

Toxic Assets

In 2008, the world witnessed a financial crisis of unprecedented scale, largely precipitated by the collapse of the housing market. A significant contributor to this collapse was the widespread practice of offering home loans with no down payment, leading to a glut of homes that no one wanted to buy.

In 2015, a similar trend emerged in the tech financing landscape, where companies received seemingly infinite funding without a clear path to profitability. Just as it was problematic to allow home loans with $0 down, it is equally problematic to allow this kind of unprofitable investing culture.

The 2008 housing crisis was a stark lesson in the dangers of irresponsible lending. Banks and other financial institutions offered home loans with no down payment, leading to a surge in homeownership. However, when these homeowners were unable to keep up with their mortgage payments, the market was flooded with homes that no one wanted to buy. This led to a collapse in housing prices and triggered a global financial crisis.

Fast forward to today, and we see a similar trend in the tech financing landscape. Many tech companies, particularly in the Software as a Service (SaaS) sector, are no longer receiving vast amounts of funding for having no clear path to profitability. This trend is creating a new generation of toxic assets – tech companies that no one wants to invest in because they are not expected to turn a profit.

The solution to this problem is not to stop funding tech companies, but to ensure that this funding is given responsibly. Tech companies should be required to demonstrate a clear path to profitability before they can receive significant funding.

It’s time for the tech industry to learn from the mistakes of the past and take steps to ensure a more sustainable future.

The Great Reset

I was having lunch with a friend last week who leads HR at a Fortune 500 company. They just finished a large round of layoffs and are preparing for more. After years of taking free tax credits to keep people at work, quite the opposite is happening now.

It’s almost like after being stuck at home and keeping payrolls to comply with government laws, everyone is going through a great reset. But before we talk about the path forward, it’s helpful to understand a little about where we have come from.

One of the biggest reasons for the reset we are going through now, is that for years there was little to no change in many corporate payrolls. The impacts we are feeling now, comes from two years of not making any changes. At all.

Governments of the world encouraged businesses to keep their employees on payroll regardless of whether or not they were actually working. It didn’t matter if you had a great employee or a toxic one, you simply completed a form that had the number of full time employees on your team, and got paid for it.

This lead to nearly 40% of people starting a side hustle, and companies seeing employees as nothing more than $26,000 in free tax credits.

$26,000 Per Employee

Just look at what you still see, even in 2022, if you search for employee retention credit on google. It’s simply focused on the $26,000, instead of about hiring great people to do their best work.

search results on google for employee retention credit

Now we enter into a time period of rising inflation and a tight labor market. At the same time, businesses still have many people on their payroll that probably shouldn’t be there.

For a moment, let’s consider the impact ERCs have had on the business landscape, and what challenges that might pose in the future. Government programs were designed to help make sure that employees could retain their jobs and businesses would remain open. Especially local businesses. Everyone recognized that in general, the Employee Retention Credit was a necessary thing durning global lockdowns.

The Shift to Remote

But even while ERCs were intended to keep people at work, a majority of businesses that were able to do so, moved to a completely remote environment. So, the risks of catching covid were way down, and yet company after company continued to claim retention credits.

For many employees and employers, the situation worked well for a time, but now that COVID regulations no longer exist, how and when do employers insist that everyone returns to the office? How do you shift your mindset away from trading full time employees for tax credits? Who has been quietly quitting while collecting a paycheck?

There was a certain unspoken agreement during the ERC era, even if CEOs didn’t talk about it. Companies didn’t care about productivity because firing team members wasn’t in their best interest. They’d lose the tax credits. And on the other side of the equation, team members didn’t want to quit jobs that they didn’t have to quit.

A Tight Labor Marketing (That’s Exhausted)

One thing is certain. As leaders, we are going to have to reset goals, have clear strategies and most importantly, have clear conversations with our employees. The great reset is inevitable for most companies, regardless of industry.

To make matters worse, many HR teams are under pressure to deal with a workforce that is exhausted. The last two years have taken their toll on everyone, whether we admit it or not. People have had to restructure their entire lives. And at the same time unemployment is at record lows, and wages continue to spike for many workers.

unemployment at record lows

Think about the data above. There are millions of people that might not be in the right job today. And on top of that, 40% of people are thinking about quitting their job soon. And on top of that 50% of companies say they are expecting layoffs in the near future. If ERCs were mean to freeze people at their current jobs, I guess we are going through the great unfreeze.

The Great Reset

Companies have been paid for multiple years not to let anyone go, regardless of whether or not they were unhappy, not contributing, or downright toxic. Two years changed everything, and the future isn’t clear if anything will go back to normal, or even what the new normal is in a hybrid world.

The workplace is currently going through the great reset. Mainly, resetting goals and teams to ensure success in this changing environment.

How to think about the great reset:

  • Evaluate your overall team from top to bottom, leave no one out, including yourself.
  • Acknowledge that there will be more, not less, team transitions going forward.
  • Offer surveys to better understand the well being of your employee. Setup tools like Culture Amp or Lattice to measure how you are doing.
  • Be ready to have a plan in place to hire and replace team members that leave during this time. Invest heavily in HR and recruiting talent.
  • Make investments in the overall health and well being of your employees. Encourage counseling, education and mental health services.
  • Explore the idea of a hybrid workplace and to reshape the hybrid environment to match a changing financial market. Find what works for your business instead of chasing a one-size-fits-all approach.
  • Stress the companies financial and future goals. Be candid about current situation and desires for the future, even if it means making fairly radical changes.

The majority of these goals deal with employees and the relationships formed with other members within the workplace. The last couple of years have taught us that the human connection is so important to success, whether it be in business, personal life, or in educational institutions.

Chase Simplicity

Clearly, the work environment has changed. 75% of hybrid or remote workers agree their expectations for working flexibility have increased, according to Gartner. And at the same time work feels more complicated and confusing for many than ever.

How would you rate your workplace? Is it simple and at a times complicated? Or complex and at times chaotic? It’s time to chase simplicity and ditch complexity. Google calls this their new Simplicity Sprint.

How to eliminate complexity:

  • Reduce the number of goals down to only ones that matter. If your team has 8 goals, ask yourself if 3 will work instead.
  • Eliminate standing meetings that could be replaced with asynchronous work and collaboration.
  • Create a new human-centric model for a hybrid environment. Design work/projects around employee-driven flexibility.
  • Understand that the current economic climate will foster a need to optimize costs. Review your tools and technology and eliminate waste. You’d be surprised how many companies leverage Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, and Sharepoint at the same time for file storage.
  • Use of data collection might be used more for effective results. Consider technology to track productivity, employee engagement, etc. 
  • Research an ever growing interest in a shorter work week. With inflation on the rise, many companies are finding it difficult to raise pay and attract/retain talent.

When looking at strategies, we must analyze what we already have in place. What have we done in the past that has worked? What hasn’t? There is probably no better place to start than at the beginning. Once we determine our needs, strategies will become clearer.

Candid Conversations

Goals and strategies can be in place, but unless we have open conversations with our employees, we cannot guarantee success. It’s important that we reset our expectations, set clear goals, eliminate complexity, and then follow on with candid conversations to move forward.

How to have more candid conversions:

  • Remember the goal is the best outcome for the company and the individual. Companies have big visions and missions, and people want to do their best work in a place that is a good fit.
  • Every discussion should be factual and structured. Start by asking employees questions. Listen and be positive. Remember the goal is the betterment of the team.
  • Be clear and honest about the issue at hand. No one wants to spend hours hashing out a problem because people are not forthright.
  • As employer and manager, it is your responsibility to lead the discussion honestly and factually. Put personal feelings and pride aside.
  • With that said, it is okay for you to personalize the issue before the difficult conversation. Empathy can go a long way in conversations that are difficult and often help to drive the best results.

Never has open and honest conversations been more important than in today’s workplace. And with a hybrid model being the model of choice, it is more important than ever that we are taking time to reflect and talk. 

Final Thoughts

It is clear to many employers that a hybrid workplace may be here to stay. And that we all need to reset our thinking after a few years of lockdowns, employee retention credits, and added complexity.

Like everything in life, maybe we do best when we revisit everything from the beginning. We go back to the start and what made us great. This is a critical thinking skill called identification. I believe once we have identified the problem, we can then take that information and apply it to the current workplace.

As long as we set clear goals, implement creative strategies, and participate in open conversations, I believe we can stay ahead of changes and problems.

Staying Healthy in a Hybrid World

The Covid pandemic forced the majority of the global workforce to abandon their traditional office space. It challenged them to create a new and very different home work environment. At times this was vastly more productive, and other times it was much less productive.

Today I want to explore one area I think we will all need to address going forward as leaders. What sick time looks like in a hybrid work environment. This can be both mental and physical issues. And more importantly, how to handle the overarching challenge of maintaining business continuity and productivity, despite an increasingly hybrid work environment.

With approximately 35% of Americans now permanently working from home, employers are having to reexamine their workplace policies, especially when it comes to sick leave. Some companies are even contemplating if sick leave is even necessary.

What is sick time in a hybrid world?

Do I call in sick when I am already home? Since you are already working from home, to call in sick may seem pointless and maybe almost irritating for both employees and employers. Figuring they can battle the illness and still produce quality work, workers forge forward. Especially since in an office based world, there are legal ramifications to forcing team members to work while sick. 

Here’s a few examples.

  • How do you handle a sick day when you are already working from home? Do you really need to let everyone know at 8am that you will be staying in bed and continuing to work all morning?
  • How do you handle a team members one hour doctors visit at 9am when most team members aren’t fully online until 10am anyways?
  • How do you handle recurring doctors appointments that are increasingly difficult to track? Team members that found it difficult to hide health issues at the office can technically leave throughout the day without anyone noticing if they plan visits early in the morning, around lunch, or late in the afternoon.
  • If you are feeling run down on a Friday after, do you simply take a half day to recoup your mental health and then make it up working on Sunday afternoon?

At the end of the day, many of these issues center around the futile attempt to balance workplace productivity with health. And I’ve written before about how this is a largely futile attempt. Productivity is an illusion. We should instead chase value and results.

How should we look at the impact of family?

Often, not only are team members working while sick, but they are playing caretakers to sick children, but again, they forge forward. In the beginning it may feel that all is under control, but Greg Courser, an occupational medicine physician at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, warns, “people are not going to get better, they’re going to get sicker; they’re going to get more stressed out and there’s going to be all sorts of consequences that we don’t even know about yet.”

Pre-pandemic the lines between parents who were primary caretakers and working parents were very clear. But how do you address working parents who are the primary caretaker?

The EEOC has made it abundantly clear that working parents are going to more protected, not less in the future.

If a parent starts work at 6am, leaves to drop off their children at 8am, and returns to work by 10am, is that a productivity boost or a drain? Similarly if a parent leaves work at 3pm for pickup from school, but then gets back online at night, does it even matter?

Most of us never liked to call in sick to work. Often, we would go into the workplace sick putting others at risk; we would feel guilty. Now, we can stay home and avoid getting our coworkers sick, but the guilt still exists; it is just different. 

Do we admit that we are prioritizing health?

We now feel guilty for calling in sick since we are already home. Research would agree, though, if we don’t put the computers down and concentrate on our own physical and mental health, the workplace is in real danger. Dropbox has even gone as far to see that stress is slowly eroding workplace productivity.

Is it important to create an environment where team members are encouraged to push through sickness or for them to raise their hand and take care of themselves? Especially since men and women both have very different reactions to stress and admitting health issues.

To create an inclusive environment, it may be impossible to ignore the lack of definition around health and sickness.

Most experts agree that while some people can manage mild illnesses while working, most illnesses take time away from work to recover; even if the work is at home. The risk is that an illness will exacerbate and take a longer time to recoup, often requiring more doctor’s visits, more time off, and more use of insurance. 

How do we balance it all?

You could argue we still haven’t found balance at work. Some chase work/life balance. Other companies are implementing tracking and monitoring tools. But the risk is that the stress of all of it will have a negative impact on your psychological health, often leading to poor performance at work and even depression.

It doesn’t matter if you’re sick at home or at the office; if you’re working sick, research suggests your company is not the recipient of your best efforts.

Since research suggests people are not clocking in sick, making “sick days” a thing of the past, employers need to review this policy carefully.  These practices require understanding from both the employee and employer, and have the potential to redefine sick leave. No longer should we ask, “should I call in sick”?  We should already know the answer.

Where do we go from here?

Ultimately, every organization will need a more defined health policy in the future that addresses remote, flex hybrid, and office environments. Right now the majority of companies are leaving it up to team members to decide on a case-by-case basis.

We all know that doesn’t work in every other area of work. So, why would it work when it comes to something as critical and also confidential as our health? Here’s a few examples of some items you could write into a health policy for your team members.

  1. How to handle communicating when you are sick
  2. How to handle working partial days or partial weeks
  3. How to handle doctors visits or recurring health appointments during the day
  4. How to prioritize long-term physical health through checkups
  5. How to prioritize long-term mental health through wellness checks and mental health days
  6. How to plan your week around your productive time and unscheduled family emergencies
  7. How to communicate your schedule to your team and your manager as soon as something changes in your normally recurring schedule

How can we lead by example?

Ultimately as leaders we set the example for our teams. If we need time off, take time off, But don’t simply turn a 40 hour week into a 32 hour week without any plan to makeup the time. We can all work together in this new hybrid era.

I believe strongly in a future where productivity, value, and health can be woven together in a framework of sustainable happiness. But it won’t happen without clear definition and candid conversations.

Leading in Difficult Times

The last few years has been one of the most challenging events of our time. And while some of have pushed forward, many are still afraid and stuck in a type of holding pattern of sorts.

For those of us in the business of leading, the stakes are high when it comes to how we handle this fear. I think it’s helpful to understand just how deep some of these fears permeated into our society.

  • People struggled with simple everyday tasks. I can’t even begin to count the number of times I heard people struggle with whether or not they should go to the grocery store versus whether to have their groceries delivered.
  • For the first time, parents struggled with their child’s education. The very school that had educated previous siblings was not safe enough or compassionate enough.
  • People let fear embed its way into family conversations often causing tension and anger with the people they loved most; this was especially evident in decisions about the vaccine.
  • Then, there was the workplace; everyone was scared, and the fear was real. Employers had to lead during required stay at home policies; employees struggled to work from home while their family literally “watched.”

There are now entire fields of study dedicated to understanding the fears that have come out of the last few years. There is even a Covid-19 fear score. And despite life returning to some form of normalcy, the fear still exists. And it impacted almost everyone equally.

Fear based leadership attempts to get results by instilling fear in employees. Most CEOs recognize that this form of leadership is destructive and destroys the confidence of the team.

It is believed that leaders turn to fear based tactics when they feel unsure, less confident in their own abilities; leaders become fearful of current, changing situations and feel the need to regain what they perceive as lost control.

Fear is the key here, and to many, these are fearful times. In the last two years our world has been turned upside down, and one only needs to listen to any news channel for even a brief time before they begin to fear; fearful of financial future; fearful for our health; fearful for our freedoms; fearful for our future.

Here are three ways that we can lead during difficult times.

Step back

As leaders, if we internalize these fears without putting all in perspective, we run the risk of becoming a leader who rules by fear simply to survive. We will lose the respect of the people we need most-our employees. Perspective is often hard to find, though. Where do we find it in a world that on the surface can seem negative? Where do we find perspective when we ourselves are fearful?

Be transparent

We find the answer in honesty and transparency. We find the answer by listening to our employees–truly listening, not just hearing. We work to pick up on subtle cues that our workers are stressed and try to find ways to relieve that stress. 

When we can’t change the situation, we are honest. Sometimes as leaders we can’t change the situation but we can soothe it. We can offer many tangibles, but sometimes all anyone needs is to hear, “I hear you.”

Set goals

We find the answer in setting clear goals and expectations and recognize that sometimes situations change. As a leader, we must be able to create a team that is not scared to make mistakes but is willing to grow from the mistakes. If fear is prevalent, very few mistakes will be made but neither will ground breaking ideas and growth. Our employees must trust themselves to do what it is they need to do to meet our expectations.

We find the answer in ourselves. The world’s greatest leaders lead by example; if we rule with fear, our employees will respond with fear. If our perspective is fearful and negative, our team will be fearful and negative. It is our jobs as leaders to look within; to find perspective. 

The world can be a scary place or it can be a place of ever-changing wonder and beauty. When the world changes, we have to change with it; we cannot fear change or fear itself.

The Illusion of Output

We are in the midst of the one of the most fascinating shifts in modern labor. Businesses are desperately trying to get teams back to the office, while many people are considering whether they even want to work at all.

The culprit is not remote work, millennials, or corporate real estate. Those are a red herring. The central issue is productivity.

If I hired a brilliant engineer that could code more in 25 hours than a mediocre one could in 40 hours, would I care if she worked 25 hours a week? Not really.

If I hired an amazing admin who could balance a calendar and optimize my world, would I care if he could do it in 30 hours a week instead of 50? Nope.

The gap that exists is what I call the illusion of output. The gap between what a company assumes is done each week and what is actually accomplished each week.

Organizations by their nature are terrible at translating goals and initiatives from the top all the way down through the entire organization. And now some of the smartest people in the world, have had 2 years to think about this gap. Even if they don’t have a name for it.

People are quitting their job in record numbers, working multiple jobs, getting raises, and exploiting this gap to their advantage.

The 40-hour workweek has stood in as a poor replacement for well-written strategy and great middle management. That illusion is now gone. And while it’s easy for companies to blame remote work, the location where employees work is irrelevant.

Work from home? Try work from anywhere. That is where we are headed. And it only needs one thing to thrive. Clear goals.

Corporate America doesn’t realize it yet, but they are geared for remote work. The typical earnings call has a “give me the highlights and don’t waste my time” feel to it. No filler, no illusion of output, just results.

Is it really that hard to imagine a future in which companies only care about results, instead of where and when you work?

Not Everyone Can Be a CEO

“My goal is to be the CEO one day.”

I have heard this line a thousand times when I ask people what their end game is. The problem is it’s very different from what CEOs say when you ask them how they got there. You always hear some variation of this quote from great leaders.

“I never really set out to be a ‘CEO’ of a company.”

Sure CEOs are natural born leaders. Yes, they love being in charge. And they would rather not work at all than work for someone else.

The difference is subtle but telling between those that crave power and those that can’t avoid having power given to them.

Those that set out to be “in charge” will rarely find their way to the C-Suite, no matter how hard they try. And more often than not, they will despise executives above them in the corporate ladder instead of trying to observe and learn from them.

These types of people want to set the pace through their words. They see the CEO as someone who simply barks orders. They don’t see the painstaking work and strategy that goes on behind the scenes.

Those that set out to cast vision, be vulnerable, and mentor others will generally find themselves with more authority and responsibility as their career progresses.

More often than not, These people want to work exceptionally hard and set the pace for others by their actions. They appreciate the good and the bad of a leader and embrace the sacrifices needed to lead.

Ultimately, it’s pretty easy to tell who is going to be in charge one day. It’s the people that care more about results than about ego. Those are actually the people that end up as great CEOs.

Kevin Mayer’s Departure from TikTok is Par for the Course in 2020

100 days on the job. Most new employees are barely out of formalized onboarding in 90 days, let alone quitting their job. But a CEO’s role is different. They are brought in to champion a vision and then bring it to life.

Kevin Mayer was brought in from Disney+ to TikTok to do much the same. To take one of the fastest growing apps of all time and help it scale globally. Then things all changed due to circumstances largely beyond his control. And now he’s announced he’s leaving the company immediately.

After all, we are in 2020. The year where one minute we are planning summer vacation and the next we are quarantined by the CDC in our homes.

The only thing constant it seems this year is fear, uncertainty, and doubt. Was Kevin right or wrong for bailing on TikTok? Was he forced out or was this his decision?

It seems from his statement that he had a goal to be the CEO of a global company, and won’t settle for anything less.

“I understand that the role that I signed up for—including running TikTok globally—will look very different as a result of the US Administration’s action to push for a sell off of the US business. I’ve always been globally focused in my work, and leading a global team that includes TikTok US was a big draw for me.”

That is really the only thing that any of us can do. Know your values. Know your goals. Stand up for yourself. For what you believe in.

Was his decision to bail on the company right or wrong? Only time will tell.

Why I Quit LinkedIn and Started a Monthly Newsletter Instead

After 10 years of the hustle and grind, you can say I had “made it.”

Fortune 500 companies. Mergers and acquisitions. Running some of the largest consumer websites in the world. Making the top of the Inc. 5,000 list.

Everyone talks about getting “there”—to your goal, the top of your own personal, proverbial ladder. But I’ve noticed, nobody really talks about what happens once you are there.

Burnout, exhaustion, and to top it all off you find that you don’t have much privacy anymore. Everyone knows your story.

So, for my own mental health, I decided to do something kinda crazy… 

I closed my LinkedIn account.

Instead, I exported my LinkedIn contacts, filtered the ones that were most important to me—the ones I wanted to stay in contact with, and created a monthly newsletter.

Five months in, I can easily say I have had an amazing experience and an incredible response. Lately, I’ve found myself looking back over the last few emails and I’ve noticed a few things that have inspired me to maybe leave my Linked-In account closed…

Digital Privacy

My biggest realization was that my entire life has been on display and up for sale to the highest bidder for the last 10 years on LinkedIn. That might have been something I was comfortable with for a season, but at some point, I found that I just wanted more privacy.

Ever since Microsoft acquired LinkedIn, I have seen more advertising on the platform and even more violations of my privacy. Not the least of which is LinkedIn faking genuine messages through their sponsored “InMail” product.

I was getting roughly 10 inbox messages and 25 connection requests per day. 99% of them were spam. The freedom in only getting direct communication from a select few people I care about connecting with is refreshing, to stay the least. It frees up space in my mind to actually have a personal, impactful connection with people I know will impact me in return.

Powerful Networking

You would be surprised to find out I have had three times the number of job offers since leaving LinkedIn and 10 times the number of incredible conversations.

Now, I’m not currently looking for a job, but I know that is the reason why many people are on LinkedIn. What I can tell you is that your next job will probably come from someone you already know, not a social network. A personal email does so much more to create a profound impact and build relationships than an impersonal social post—even if it’s a direct message.

The powerful thing about email is that if someone forwards your email, the other person is more likely to see it. Social media is now controlled by algorithms that largely surpass organic content—they even timeout and disappear. When you send a story link on Instagram or Facebook thinking the content will help someone grow or inspire something, that link will eventually timeout and the person you initially send the message to may never see it. That opportunity to impact someone’s life or business vanishes.

Adding Value

The big problem I find with social media is that so much of what is being posted online does not actually add value. Especially in this pandemic, there’s been an influx of new content—people creating content simply for entertainment rather than for growth. There’s nothing wrong with entertainment—we’re all struggling right now and need a smile every now and then—but where is the actual value, the personal connection?

The newsletter allows me to process how I can add something of value to someone else’s life. It’s not posting to hundreds of thousands of people at once, it’s the initial gambit of a 1::1 conversation with another person. I’m aware of both the importance of that action and the intrinsic value of the place that I take up in someone else’s inbox.

Genuine Conversations

Do you remember the old days when Facebook was new and LinkedIn was a novelty? At the advent of social media most platforms started out as a series of incredible back-and-forth conversations. They were an online facilitation of a never-ending networking event. In recent years, with the influx of the influencer culture, social media as a whole has devolved into quick sound bites, sophisticated algorithms, and, unfortunately, trolls. 

The followers I had? I don’t own their time or even a place on their feed. Those highly-coveted spots are controlled by an algorithm that only maybe understands what they want and is regulated by fickle elements completely outside of their control or mine.

However, every month with the newsletter presents an opportunity to begin an incredible two-way conversation with each individual person my network—all in the privacy of my inbox. I don’t have an algorithm that suppresses my content to only 10% of my followers—100% of the folks I send the email to get a chance to read it. Every single person on my list gets the opportunity to hear what I have to say—and hopefully experience a little growth in the process. 

That inbox real estate is golden to me. A golden opportunity to have a personal conversation about something more important than what I ate for lunch or wore to work today—that adds no value to your day or your business. I would much rather have an impactful conversation that allows you to learn something new, experience a new viewpoint, and take that growth to your business and to the marketplace.

Mindful Thinking

Posting to social media has largely become reactive. For most, posting is rooted in emotions and reacting to current events. The Black Lives Matter movement and the Coronavirus pandemic both showed this in one very large, very reactive capsule. In the midst of two congruent media frenzies, so many people ran headlong into saying something tone-deaf, inappropriate, insensitive, and flat out racist because they didn’t stop to think.

With social media, there is a level of anonymity that seems to go hand-in-hand with a post (even if there is a name attached to an account). There’s a kind of distance that seems to give people the license to say whatever they want without accepting the responsibility for what they say. Recent events have disputed that and many people found themselves immediately held accountable for the things they said.

The monthly newsletter forces me to be mindful and proactive. To gather my thoughts before posting anything, and to edit and re-edit to make sure I’m saying not just what I want to say, but what will actually add to the conversation at hand and benefit my readers who aren’t just my audience—they’re my friends.

My June newsletter about how to have vulnerable conversations in the midst of the Black Lives Matter movement allowed me to have more candid conversations than I would ever be able to on a social media platform. I saw more engagement than ever before because people needed to have a conversation about how they felt and ask questions from someone who was willing to listen and ready to talk, not hear yet another sound byte.

Final Thoughts

All in all, I’ve found not only value, I’ve found new friends and more opportunities than ever before—not just in business, but personally. More opportunities to mentor, more opportunities to have impactful conversations, all from one email.

Now, I’m not saying you should do this, but…maybe you should? 

What I am saying is that it’s time for a social media evaluation of your own. What are you putting into the world? What could change in your life if you removed this one thing from your plate?

How much time would you free up? How much more would you be able to do? How many more purposeful, personally engaging conversations would you be able to have?

If this post is a surprise to you because you’ve enjoyed my blog and found value in my posts, I’m grateful for your time and I’m so sorry you’ll miss it. However, you can sign up to receive The Inner Circle where I’ll be from now on. I promise to only drop into your inbox once a month with valuable thoughts about business, investing, and career growth. 

If you haven’t guessed it by this post, more than anything, I value deep relationships. The newsletter lets us have a deeper conversation that leads to meaningful connections. I’d love for this to be the start of a conversation between you and me, so I’ll see you in The Inner Circle.

Slack is Afraid of Microsoft (and Headed in the Wrong Direction)


I’ve been your #1 fan since day one. An investor since your IPO. A power user since we adopted it Aha! and used it to become one of the fastest growing remote companies in the world (before remote was cool).

Over the last year I had accumulated a decent position in Slack for a personal investor. Sure, you probably don’t know I exist, but a week ago you punched me in the gut.

When I heard that you had filed a formal complaint for anti-competitive behavior for Microsoft, it was the day your company started down a different path.

You may end up growing to a $100B market cap company. You may end up selling out to Salesforce, Google, or hect even Microsoft. But it doesn’t change the fact that you lost me as a fan this week.

Microsoft was afraid of Slack. Whether you know it or not. It’s part of what made your company so easy to support. You have a superior product.

But here’s what companies with superior products do. Win. They don’t complain that their opponent isn’t playing fair. And whether you intended to or not, that’s how you came across this week.

I understand your vision to unite apps. And that Microsoft’s compliance is critical to that eco-system. But now you are telling me that without the governments help you cannot complete that vision.

What do you think Microsoft wants to do? Crush you. If I had to guess, and I have absolutely no inside knowledge of this, I’m guessing Microsoft tried to invest in or acquire Slack at some point.

Or, they are just pissed from your ad in the New York Times. What do you think would happen? You spurned them and now they called their bluff. If you were really so dependent on them, you should not have poked the bear. That is Sun Tzu 101. You were outmatched and decided to attack head on.

Today when every single other tech stock I own was up, Slack was down. Because you signaled your defeat. You signaled desperation. You signaled you were afraid. You signaled that as the underdog you need the governments help to win.

I would argue that your desperation (and loss of investors like me) will likely do far more damage to moral, talent retention, and talent acquisition, than the complaint would ever win.

I sold my Slack for the same reason I don’t own a ton of Walmart stock. Walmart only becomes the dominate e-commerce player of Amazon gets hit with anti-trust. And I don’t like the idea of 2nd place winning due to a technicality.

It’s ok though. I didn’t lose nearly as much money these last few days as I would have last week. Because I sold the majority of my Slack stock the day I heard about the EU complaint.

I have worked hard my entire life to compete. That’s what competitors do. You just became a complainer. It punched me in the gut. And after I got my breath back, I sold most of my shares.

Thanks for reading,

Keith Brown

How to Have Vulnerable Conversations at Work

The year 2020 will forever be remembered as a year of change in business. Both the medical and social levels demand a necessary shift in the way we function as businesses.

The lines between work and home have vanished for everyone. Under quarantine, we went from a separate home and work life to everything happening under the same roof. There is no longer any illusion of what life is like outside of work. We’ve gotten a glimpse into the reality of life for so many other people. Now, more than ever, leaning into love seems to be the only viable step forward.

Whatever the conversation at hand in your workplace, it is important to begin with self-education. Beyond that, start having transparent conversations. But those conversations only come in an atmosphere of vulnerability.

But, especially in the political climate of the summer, the question often comes down to how? How do we even begin to talk to one another? And how do we facilitate these conversations in offices and digital meeting spaces across the country and around the world?

You create an atmosphere of vulnerability.

Why vulnerability?

Being vulnerable involves feeling safe because when you don’t feel safe, you would rather protect yourself than risk opening up. Rather than transparency, unsafe environments create conversations that devolve into defensive stances and accusations. You’ve probably seen a conversation escalate once or twice, especially on social media.

Safety generally happens in circles of people you trust. That’s part of the disconnect right now in so many organizations. On any team, you hopefully have different groups of people from different backgrounds and all walks of life. The problem is that there is a real lack of trust between backgrounds, races, and lifestyles. Because there is no trust, many companies speak in platitudes or try and fail to make politically correct statements.

We can often misinterpret our own closed-off nature as safety and think of vulnerability as a risk—one many leaders might think of as unnecessary.

The insidious undertone of questions is: Why take the risk of a vulnerable conversation when you can just be silent and let “political” issues pass in time? Why speak up and “rock the boat” when you can go on about your day? Why not leave everyone safe in their isolated thoughts? But that line of thinking is why systemic inequality and racism still exist.

Aesop said, “Our insignificance is often the cause of our safety.”

Food for thought…

If you are playing it safe, you are more than likely insignificant in the conversation at hand. If you want to have a significant impact, you have to be willing to take a few risks.

The truth is, you cannot actually build trust and thereby a safe environment without vulnerability. A proverb says, “faithful are the wounds of a friend” (Prov 27:6). It is better when someone hurts you in an open conversation than if they flattered you through lies.

Tough conversations tend to go best when you don’t think of them as difficult conversations. Having an open dialogue is a normal and healthy thing but to some, vulnerable conversation may be new.

Facilitating Candid Conversations

The best, most productive teams, are happy teams. And happy teams only truly happen when team members feel safe and acknowledged in their work environment. And that only comes about in an atmosphere where vulnerability is accepted and valued.

The one thing we can all recognize is the difficulty of understanding what it means to create a vulnerable space where candid conversation can happen organically if you’re new to the idea. This idea is bigger than “watercooler” talk about the game on Sunday or the latest episode of the team’s favorite show. I am talking about conversations that impact the atmosphere of your office and change the dynamics of your team for the better.

So I pulled together a few of the thoughts that have helped me facilitate possibly vulnerable conversations over the years. I hope these tips help you navigate difficult or tough conversations with your team.

How to have vulnerable conversations at work:

  1. Listen first. 
    People are used to being told what to do at work, but that doesn’t work well with candid conversations. Those are a two-way street. 
  2. Ask how you can help
    Don’t assume you know what to do, or how to help someone. Before speaking, take a moment and think through what you want to say. 

    People will understand your “what” easier once they understand your “why.” Be real, be human, and share who you are. Asking how you can help should develop naturally out of the conversation. As people see your why, they’ll understand your motivation for wanting to help and appreciate you more because of it.
  3. Reflect
    Sometimes the best insights will happen later, as you reflect on yourself and those around you. You may never fully understand what someone else is experiencing, but it’s often enough to admit that you don’t fully understand, but you are trying.
  4. Support employees and allow them to be themselves
    Provide a safe environment and encourage questions and open dialogue. When the national atmosphere is thick with emotion, then it might, understandably, lead to some emotional responses at work. Be careful to not belittle or patronize teammates if they get emotional.
  5. Talk candidly, even about difficult topics. 
    If you know your team has areas where you’ve failed, don’t hide from it. Call it out those areas with transparency and share the steps you are taking to improve it. Many team members feel like they cannot criticize a company for fear of being ostracized. When leadership shares constructive criticism of their own company, then it creates an environment conducive to feedback. In one conversation, you open the door to a candid conversation.
  6. Confront your own bias. 
    We all have lenses we view life through. For many leaders and company owners, it’s an unintentional lens of white or even male privilege. How do you cure this? Try not to hire, promote, and fire based on your own personality or who you get along with. This mindset creates homogenous teams and echo chambers. If no one on your team is challenging you, you and your team will never grow past a certain point.
  7. Don’t force it. 
    Some employees may not like discussing personal or difficult issues at work because some personal topics are often rooted in trauma. Be careful to never put anyone on the spot or force the conversation. Just make sure you are doing what you can to make the environment safe.
  8. Set realistic goals. 
    If you don’t have an open and transparent culture, change should not be your goal overnight. Set actionable steps to get there by starting with identifying the root issues preventing a positive and safe culture. 

The point is to show your employees that you and your company are comfortable with and open to change. Maybe it is certain leaders or even the organizational structure that keeps your team from having a candid conversation. Take measured steps to change your organization from the top down. That action shows your team members that you are not only aware that change needs to happen, you’re willing to do something about it. 

That willingness speaks volumes about how much you care about your team. It tells your people how much you want to see them and your company grow through tough conversations.

How To Rescue Vulnerable Conversations

Here’s the thing… The best, most productive teams, are teams that are happy to be around their co-workers, happy to come into work, and happy working for you… Those kinds of happy teams only occur when team members feel safe and acknowledged in their work environment. The only way that happens is when vulnerability is not only accepted but when it is valued.

Now, let’s be real, we’re all human. Sometimes, our mouths run away with our words before our minds have a chance to catch up and a vulnerable conversation turns heated before it’s too late. In a heated discussion, it can be easy to forget we are talking to people with feelings, wounds, and trauma of their own.

So, let’s set the scene… your goal was to create an atmosphere that supports vulnerable conversations within your team but in the process, a conversation quickly got out of hand. Maybe someone misheard something. Maybe someone said something else without regard for another person’s perspective. Or, maybe the conversation was ugly from the start? Don’t worry, there are ways to save a conversation that’s already gone south and reestablish an atmosphere of safety and vulnerability with your team.

What to do if a tough conversation goes (or has already gone) south:

  1. Take a moment to pause. Like we already talked about, sometimes, there are moments in national history that are more emotional for some than others. Regardless of what has come before or what comes after such a moment, people are bound to get emotional. If or when that happens, be willing to take a step back from a conversation.
  2. Level up your thinking. If you need to, walk away gracefully for a moment and gather your thoughts, examine any bias, and calm down. If you sense any team members getting emotional, you may also gracefully encourage them to do the same and you can return to the conversation when they are ready. The point is to not get defensive and to see the bigger picture. If you are the leader, you are responsible for diplomacy and de-escalating the situation rather than escalating it.
    What this sounds like: “Let’s take a breather…” “I need a moment to gather my thoughts…” “Let’s come back to this in a few minutes…”
  3. Listen more than you talk. As the conversation progresses, focus on actively listening in the moment and not just listening to make a good argument. A well-articulated opinion might sound great, but it is not always the most important issue on the table, nor is it always helpful.
  4. Be willing to forgive. Maybe a conversation went south before you could course correct. Maybe you’ve been a silent witness to inequalities and/or systemic bias in your workplace and waited too long to say anything at all. Forgive yourself. Forgive anyone who might hold that against you with grace. The path forward through where we are now to where we could be in a decade is paved with forgiveness.
  5. Focus on the future and hope. Your team might, understandably, be concerned with the history of how certain things have been handled. If you know their concerns are both true and valid, listen, acknowledge, and ask for forgiveness. Then, turn the conversation to how those things can be addressed and fixed in the future. The conversation is a good start, but actions will always speak volumes about your willingness to change your organization for the safety and wellbeing of your team.

The most important thing in deescalating a conversation is being aware of when a situation requires intervention before it becomes untenable. Learn to recognize the signs of an escalating conversation (power stances, clenching fists or jaws, sudden changes of body language or tone, and disruptive behavior) even in yourself. Be ready to measure your response and stay calm, listen to concerns, and shift the conversation to the future and to hope. 

As a leader in your organization, it is critical that you remember you set the tone for the future. Every tough conversation is an opportunity to further establish what that future looks like. You can freeze and watch a conversation escalate, or you can recognize your position is one that the future of your company hinges on and encourage growth, candid conversation, and vulnerability in your team. 

No matter what the world is facing, I believe one thing we can all do is start having candid conversations. First with ourselves, and then with others. No matter how hard they are, where we stand on political lines, or what our race or gender is, we can have those hard conversations, and then maybe we’ll start to heal our nation. 

Facilitating Vulnerable Conversations with Remote Teams

The past few days we’ve been talking about facilitating vulnerable and candid conversations in the workplace. I wanted to have this conversation in this space as an evergreen conversation but the context is too relevant now. The conversation is too poignant. We’ve been talking about having candid conversations with respect to the Black Lives Matter movement and its importance this year but the tips we’ve been discussion are absolutely transferrable to any topic. 

We talked about how to set the atmosphere for these conversations and facilitate them. We even talked about how to rescue them when they go south.

But the truth of the moment is that COVID-19 has most of us still safe at home even as summer breaks over the world. So how do you take those tips and translate them into the remote model most people are still working from?

While we’ve been safe at home, the national political climate has imploded multiple times this year alone, mostly for the better. Necessary conversations are happening on social media, across phone lines, through screens and glass windows, across balconies and over yard fences. 

But somehow the conversation hasn’t happened on your team yet… Everyone is keeping their thoughts to themselves, but you can feel the tension rising…

Address it now.

Not via email. That’s appropriate for your customers or clients who might be too numerous to all bring together though that’s certainly an option.

If you’ve avoided it until now, share why. Open your heart and set the stage and an example for the rest of the team’s vulnerability.

Leverage tools for transparency.

Unlike office environments, remote teams can no longer rely on those watercooler moments to facilitate candid, organic conversation. Rather, because we are all at home, leaders must be direct and intentional about creating the opportunities for these moments. 

Make a plan for a conversation with your team and put it on the schedule. As you prepare, make sure your company’s vision and culture are clear and communicated. This can be handled in private conversations between leadership, then communicated to the larger team. 

Pull your team together for a round table discussion on Zoom or Google Hangouts or Microsoft Teams or Messenger Rooms on Facebook—whatever application you use, make sure it is face to face. The most important thing in candid conversations that require vulnerability on the part of any person or group of people is that face-to-face connection.

As wonderful as the English language is, so much is lost in translation when communicating with just words. The nuance of emotion cannot be properly expressed with text so an email communication, text conversation, or Slack thread won’t do the conversation justice.

Set expectations for the future. 

Recognize that the moment we’re in right now won’t last forever. Eventually, we will get back to the office and those water cooler conversations can resume.

Until then, it’s important to set the stage for where your team goes from here. If the product of the conversation is that the culture of the company needs to change, be upfront about that and willing to listen to suggestions from your team. Then, again, after a private conversation within leadership, communicate those changes with clarity.

Be the light on your team and set an example for those around you. Because from this moment forward, it is up to each of us, leadership and teams alike to spark change in our own ways. In a leadership role, it is your greatest responsibility to create an atmosphere of hope and change. Do that well and your team will follow—even from their own homes.


If you enjoyed the post, I am so glad! This is an adaptation of what we discussed in this month’s edition of The Inner Circle, a monthly newsletter I send.

Something about me: more than anything, I value deep relationships. If you found value in this post, I would love it if you’d join us in The Inner Circle. The newsletter lets us have a deeper conversation that leads to meaningful connections. I promise to only drop into your inbox once a month with valuable thoughts about business, investing, and career growth.

What Law School Taught Me about Learning

There was a time when law school was my future. It was all I thought about day and night. From researching the top legal fields, to understanding how tiers of law school impacted my future earning capability, I had it all down.

There was one problem, a degree plan. There is no undergraduate degree plan for law school. No certified required courses. No recommendation from the Bar Association. And that drove me crazy.

I wanted to be told the best way to prepare. I wanted the easy way out. So I created my own solution. Instead of buying up all the LSAT prep books I could find, I created my own undergraduate degree plan.

It was a blend of what I thought made a great lawyer. It was part communications part political science, with a little bit of psychology and business as well.

I felt great. I finally had my guide to success. Then everything changed. I launched a website my junior year for fun that ended up gaining meaningful traction. Nearly a million people visited the site in it’s first year, and my love for technology and digital strategy was born.

But here’s what I learned. All that law school prep that I did translated to my future career. I was not actually preparing to be an attorney, I was preparing to be a well-rounded individual.

This is why learning is powerful. It goes with you no matter what twists and turns life may take. So, instead of preparing for a specific future, prepare to learn.

Big Auto vs. Tesla and the Pace of Innovation

9 years. It’s a long time in the real world. And an eternity in the tech world. That is how long of a head start Tesla has had on big auto makers like GM, Ford, and Chrysler. That is why I couldn’t help but smile a bit when CNBC wrote about the Tesla competitor the new Ford Mach-E coming in early 2021.

Ford has a lack of innovation. The CEO even admitted this on stage several years back. And this lack of innovation, and slower pace of innovation, will be readily apparent in the e-vehicle copy cats that hit the market over the next 5-10 years.

From the exterior design to the interior style, big auto will find it safer to draw their cues from Tesla than innovate themselves.

What an incredible scene we get to watch play out over the next few years. Ford is excited their Mach-E gets to compete with the new Tesla Model Y. Meanwhile, Tesla says hold my beer Ford, and announces the Cybertruck. If you need any proof of the market Tesla just entered, do some research on America’s best selling truck, the F-150.

We should measure companies based on how quickly they iterate with new models, how reliable their software platform is, and how fast they can adapt to new technology.

That is what I invest in more than anything else. The pace of innovation. It’s why I’m a Tesla shareholder and not a Ford shareholder. And that is why big auto will never catch Tesla. They can copy them, but they will always be in Elon Musk’s rearview mirror.

What I Learned from Slack’s S-1 Filing

Slack released their S-1 today, and as usual with SaaS companies I took time to read through it. I do not usually do write ups on S-1’s, in fact, this is my first one.

As I read through it there were some interesting learnings worth calling out, especially around their strategy.

Here are a few takeaways:

Global Expansion

I knew they had users around the world. But 600,000 organizations in over 150 countries is about 100 more countries than I would have guessed. And not just countries, but they have active users in nearly every major country in the world.

They have established international offices, including offices in Australia, Canada, Ireland, India, Japan, and the United Kingdom, and plan to continue to expand international operations in the future.

Developers Galore

The Slack community includes 500,000 registered developers. Developers have collectively created more than 450,000 third-party applications for Slack to-date that are active, meaning used in an average week at least once.

As you read through the S-1, it’s clear that Slack’s strategy is a more multi-dimensional approach than you might think. It is as much about apps and files as it is about remote team communication. And that brings me to my next point…

Slack is an Aggregator

The positioning by Slack in their S-1 around aggregating other apps was brilliant. And they backed it up with stats that make your eyes roll as a SaaS leader. For example, according to their S-1, Slack says a typical enterprise uses more than 1,000 cloud services.

If you continue reading the S-1, you can clearly see this strategy come into play looking at their partnerships. They are adding major data sources in enterprise companies that allow them to more easily aggregate information as a centralized hub.

This gives Slack a second competitive advantage, not just as a hub for communication, but as a centralized aggregator of other cloud-based tools in large enterprises. Talk about sticky.

Mega Engagement

50 million hours. That’s how much time Slack users spend on Slack in a given week. During the week ending January 31, 2019, more than 1 billion messages were sent in Slack.

During this same time, on a typical workday, users at paid customers averaged nine hours connected to Slack through at least one device. They also spent more than 90 minutes actively using Slack. Compare that to YouTube’s 40 minute daily average viewing, and you can really start to put this data into context.

Efficiency at Scale

Unlike many other hyper-growth technology companies, Slack has managed to keep losses flat while maintaining growth. Revenue was $105.2 million, $220.5 million, and $400.6 million in 2017, 2018, and 2019, respectively.

In comparison, net losses were relatively flat/down at $146.9 million, $140.1 million, and $138.9 million in 2017, 2018, and 2019, respectively.

Organic vs. Paid Marketing

Sales and marketing expenses have increased, but not nearly as much as revenue. This is a credit to the Slack organic growth model they tout throughout their S-1. Organic growth is generated as users realize the benefits of Slack. And in turn they will always spend less on marketing than other technology companies.

Enterprise Grade

Slack may be a fun and energetic brand, but make no mistake, they are an enterprise SaaS company. Over the last 2 years they have seen total customers increase roughly 2x, but 100k customers increase more than 4x.

Slack Enterprise Customers 100k

You can see this in the incredible case studies they have from companies like Oracle and Splunk. These are listed near the end of the S-1, definitely check them out.

I found the Oracle one particularly interesting. Oracle has over 1,100 Slack apps installed and their team churns through 18,000 file uploads daily. That is the equivalent of roughy 4 files uploaded per person to Slack each day. When you see the combined user adoption, wide app integrations, and voracious daily file uploads, the enterprise value is obvious.

Major League Competitors

I love the competitors Slack lists in their S-1. First, they state their primary competitor as Microsoft. This is likely due to O365 having a similar aggregator model. And it makes total sense when you read their ultimate vision (see the previous section on Slack as an aggregator).

Don’t sleep on Office 365. It has quickly grown into a central hub for many organizations at scale, and is surprisingly well integrated with other apps. Slack also lists other communication and productivity tools like Alphabet, Cisco, and Facebook. But those comparisons are not nearly as interesting as their juxtaposition against MSFT.

Another Reason to Buy AMZN

Speaking of stock tickers like MSFT, buy some AMZN. Like so many other SaaS platforms, Slack is built on AWS. And it enables them to order and reserve server capacity in varying amounts and sizes distributed across multiple regions. Slack is pretty clear that they are dependent on the Amazon cloud. This follows another high-profile IPO company Lyft who will be spending $300M on AWS through 2021.

Hopefully this provided some insights into Slack’s upcoming IPO without having to dig through too much of their S-1. At the end of the day, I will definitely try to pick up some shares after the IPO based on what I read this morning.

Why Entrepreneurs Struggle with Empathy

I live in the future. Much like Marty McFly in Back to the Future, I feel like I’ve already lived it in some way. No, I do not own a time machine. It has more to do with the way I am.

You see, one of my strengths is vision. I can just as easily imagine what the future holds in 10 years as I can imagine what the next hour of my life might look like. And that causes problems.

And thus brings me to my epiphany. Relationships are not built in the future. They are build by taking life one day at a time. By walking hand in hand with those around us that we love.

This is why entrepreneurs often struggle with empathy. They are living a dual life. Imaging all the alternate realities and possible scenarios ahead. So, cut Marty a break. And as for you Marty, try to live a little more in 1985.

Thoughts on Facebook vs. Google for Growth

Just an interesting note from my project Facebook fan page this morning. I crossed the 30,000 fan barrier and wanted to see how much Facebook would now let me spend on a sponsored post.

So, I asked the question to myself plain and simple. Are Facebook Ads better than Google Ads at reaching people effectively?

As the fan base has grown from 20,000 to 30,000 the amount of money Facebook will allow me to spend on a given post has grown from $100 to $1,500 with more than 10x the reach from 85,000 to an estimated 1,000,000 users.

Facebook Estimated REach

It seems so far that your estimated reach grows exponentially as your fan base does. I wonder how much Facebook would let Coca-cola or Disney spend?

This seems like such a minute amount of money compared to the massive reach that is promised here. That is why I asked the question, is it better than Google now?

Of course the money spend on sponsored posts lets you access the untapped potential of Fan’s already in your network, which in my opinion is a genius play by Facebook here.

The real question is would you invest money into not only heavy Facebook PPC and CPM campaigns, but also sponsoring key posts to the limit of what the open graph will allow? And would this eventually replace SEO as a means of large scale traffic generation?

Facebook Will Never End SEO

If you are like me you followed TechCrunch Disrupt with great interest, especially as Mark Zuckerberg took the stage to talk Facebook’s IPO, mobile monetization, and even social search.

I’ve seen a lot of buzz online lately about why Facebook search would or would not end “SEO”. I think both of these arguments are absolutely moot points. Let me explain.

I remember getting into the marketing industry, one of the first things I was told was that I was not doing SEO, I was doing optimization for Google. And it is the same thing with Facebook.

Facebook vs Google Advertising

Facebook is simply another channel to optimize, it is not a replacement for Google Ads, Local SEO, or anything else. In addition to Google, there are many other dominant channels for marketing emerging:

  • YouTube’s Search Engine
  • Facebook’s EdgeRank News Feed
  • Twitter Search API
  • Apple’s iTunes App Store Rankings
  • Yelp’s Local Search Powering Siri
  • Zagat’s Restaurant Search

Yes there are many other “Search Engines” that I LOVE to work with. They all have algorithms I can pick apart, reverse engineer, and test against.

No matter what company powered that engine, I promise they would have patents that Bill Slawski could write about for years to come. Like Bill, I am passionate about learning, not about keeping Google in business.

Thinking It is Facebook vs. Google Limits You

Arguing with your social media friends about the merits of Facebook search vs. Google doesn’t hurt anybody but you. Google will keep right on going, and so will Facebook.

If you are loyal to a certain medium or method, you will always dependent on it. I for one, welcome a Facebook search engine if it does happen, or any other intelligent form of gathering information. Even if it eventually completely replaces Google, it’s just another green field ripe with potential.

Ultimately, you need to take a more strategic channel optimization strategy. This will help you make the right decision both now and 3, 5, and 10 years into the future.

25 Google ZMOT Quotes — The Zero Moment of Truth

What is the Zero Moment of Truth? Google defines it as the following.

The ZMOT, or Zero Moment of Truth, is a new decision-making moment that takes place a hundred million times a day on mobile phones, laptops and wire devices of all kinds. It’s a moment where marketing happens, where information happens, and where consumers make choices that affect the success and failure of nearly every brand in the world.

I think there is a lot that marketers and entrepreneurs can take away from Google’s study.

Here are some of my favorite quotes and sayings from Google’s ZMOT (Zero Moment of Truth) literature.

25 ZMOT (Zero Moment of Truth) Quotes

  1. I believe consumers will tell us what they want and need in their lives, if only we will listen anew every day.
  2. It’s up to us to join the conversation at this new moment where decisions are being made, and to provide the information that shoppers naturally crave, in all the ways that they crave it.
  3. If you care about helping shoppers explore, dream and find what they’re looking for – in short, if you’re passionate about the future of marketing.
  4. When consumers hear about a product today, their first reaction is ‘Let me search online for it.’ And so they go on journey of discovery: about a product, a service, an issue, an opportunity. Today you are not behind your competition. You are not behind the technology. You are behind your consumer.
  5. ZMOT is that moment when you grab your laptop, mobile phone or some other wired device and start learning about a product or service (or potential boyfriend) you’re thinking about trying or buying.
  6. 70% of Americans now say they look at product reviews before making a purchase, 79% of consumers now say they use a smart-phone to help with shopping, and 83% of moms say they do online research after seeing TV commercials for products that interest them.
  7. The best brands consistently win two moments of truth. The first moment occurs at the store shelf, when a consumer decides whether to buy one brand or another. The second occurs at home, when they use the brand – and is delighted, or isn’t.
  8. It’s the power to help shoppers make great decisions and to help companies tell their stories at the moment of highest impact.
  9. ZMOT turns small wins into huge ones – and potentially big wins into letdowns – millions of times a day, around the clock.
  10. The buying decision journey has changed. ZMOT is a vital new addition to the classic three-step process of stimulus, shelf, experience.
  11. What was once a message is now a conversation. Shoppers today find and share their own information about products, in their own way, on their own time.
  12. Word of mouth is stronger than ever. For the first time in human history, word of mouth is a digitally archived medium.
  13. No MOT is too small. If consumers will do research online for houses and health care, they’ll also do it for Band-Aids and ballpoint pens.
  14. Engagement with the customer today isn’t just pouring a message down on their head and hoping they get wet.
  15. Dad still watches football and he still sees your TV commercial. But now he grabs his laptop off the coffee table and searches for “digital camera reviews”. Before the game ends – and before he gets to the store shelf – he’s ready to make decision.
  16. American households now spend as much time online as they do watching TV. Yet in 2010, only about 15% of media ad budget money was spent online. Online decision-making is skyrocketing; online marketing budgets aren’t.
  17. Change your marketing mental model to include ZMOT, and you stand to gain a very big competitive advantage. Because you’ll reach those millions of shoppers who are making decisions before they enter the store.
  18. The average shopper used 10.4 sources of information to make a decision in 2011, up from 5.3 sources in 2010. Yes, that number nearly doubled in one year.
  19. 84% of shoppers said that ZMOT shapes their decisions. It’s now just as important as stimulus (76%) and FMOT (77%) in moving consumers from undecided to decided.
  20. That exception is now the rule. There are no barriers to access. Today’s shoppers carry access in their pockets. They create their own consumer guides a million times a minute with reviews, tweets, blogs, social network posts and videos for products of all kinds.
  21. We’re entering a new era of reciprocity. We now have the engage people in a way that’s useful or helpful to their lives. The consumer is looking to satisfy their needs, and we have to be there to help them with that.
  22. This is the new digital shelf. Consumers arrive there, 24 hours a day, ready to engage. They’re anybody’s to win or lose.
  23. Shoppers don’t always move through a funnel, narrowing their choices as they go; at ZMOT, they can actually widen their choices. The more they learn, the more options they consider.
  24. If you’re available at the Zero Moment of Truth, your customers will find you at the very moment they’re thinking about buying, and also when they’re thinking about thinking about buying.
  25. There are two heroes: the consumer who does the research, and the marketer who is smart enough to be there at the moment the shopper is looking for them.

I Love Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act

Often I hear website owners paranoid about what people post on their site. Of course nobody wants spam, but why are you so worried about what people say on your website? Think you are going to get sued for hosting defamation? Think again.

The CDA, or Communications Decency Act, specifically section 230, protects websites from what other people say. This includes comments, posts, and anything else you can think of.

Don’t think that’s such a big deal? Imagine the impact this would have on the amount of content available online today if the CDA didn’t exist.

Without the CDA, product reviews on and user feedback on would no longer be allowed because one false comment by a user could result in these sites being dragged into court and sued for unlimited damages.

  • Without the CDA, would not exist because the site would have to fact-check every posting made by all of its 500 million+ users.
  • Without the CDA, would not exist because the site would be liable for any inaccurate statements made in a video posted to the site.
  • Without the CDA, there would be no,,,, … basically no sites that allow users to post material.
  • Without the CDA, you wouldn’t be allowed to post comments about any other site.
  • Without the CDA, huge amounts of content on search engines like Google would vanish because search engines would be required to verify each comment made on the 30 trillion web pages they index or risk liability for anything inaccurate that appears on an indexed page.

UGC (User Generated Content)

Now that you know Section 230 of the CDA protects you, it’s time to introduce you to another 3 letter acronym, UGC.

There is a reason why Facebook recently added Q&A to their website. There is a reason why Twitter has built an entire business model off user generated tweets. UGC (User Generated Content) is powerful, and it does more than most will ever realize.

User Generated Content

What is it? Quite simply it is content that is not created by you, but rather the users of your website, blog, or social media network.

User Generated Content is the YouTube comment, it’s the guest blog post, and it is the long Facebook rant. It is the content you know and read each day, but from the perspective of the company that hosts that content. And this is all protected by Section 230 of the CDA.

There are people all over the world mindlessly plugging away writing blog entry after blog entry trying to generate traffic to their website. Then there are those of us (myself included), thinking tirelessly about ways to get users to generate that content (and traffic) for free.

Instead of working so hard at research, writing, and gathering data, why not put consumers to work for you and have them create your content for free?

With that in mind here are three reasons why your next website craves user generated content, and why it will succeed much easier (and faster) if you plan on incorporating it from the start.

Predict Trending Topics

You can read and monitor tweet deck all you want, but nobody knows what’s trending faster than millions of people worldwide. Instead of actively trying to figure out what’s hot and what’s not, why not allow people to post trending topics in your niche? This is one of the huge benefits afforded by the Communications Decency Act.

For example a huge mobile sms scam hit the web a few months back, and luckily for me I have a website that targets scams just like that. Right as millions of sms messages were hitting cell phones worldwide, a user was generating a detailed description of the scam on one of my websites.

Trending Topics from User Generated ContentGuess what? As thousands searched for that scam in the days to come I already had the article in one of my UGC sites. Thousands of hits in mere hours and I didn’t have to pay a dime for it. The research was free, the content was free, and the approach was completely passive on my part.

Mining Free Content

Paying for content is overrated, just ask facebook. They have convinced the whole world to be their personal band of content writers, constantly writing and promoting the facebook brand worldwide. They used the CDA to protect themselves and enable a billion users around the world to work for them for free.

Then Facebook took it one step further, turning users into freelance photographers and videographers, uploading rich media content 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Why would you pay for content writers when you can just find somebody’s emotional hot button and get them to write for you for free? Call it whatever you want, but people are willing to contribute to something they are passionate about, just look at any message board or forum on the web.

Gathering Consumer Intelligence

This is the last reason the CDA is so powerful, and in my opinion the most powerful one of them all. What’s more valuable than content or revenue? It’s the ability to predict the next big thing to hit the web, and that comes from consumer intelligence.

Consumer Intelligence Data from User Content

Learn what people need, and you have your next project. Instead of trying to market your product to consumers, intelligence allows you to create your next product based on a need. You are basically guaranteed demand and revenue from the get go, anything after that is just a sweet bonus.

People start businesses all the time hoping there is a need for them, why not gather the foresight ahead of time to all but bank on that next start up.

By leveraging Section 230, you can host UGC (have your cake) as well as store the consumer data (and eat it too). This is, as long as it’s not private or personally protected data of course.

User generated content, much like Google trending topics, always assure that you are feeling the pulse of consumers. While the rest of the world is throwing darts at a board, you can bet on sure things.

Get it now? The internet is what it is today because of free speech, and because the federal government doesn’t expect you to run around policing every square inch of your website.

So spend less time policing what people say on your site, and more time getting additional traffic to your site through UGC.

Quit worrying and just hide behind the CDA.

How Not to Be Another Broke Entrepreneur

There are tons of absolutely broke dreamers out there, and hopefully I’ve moved in the right direction over the years. I have definitely learned a few things along the way, and I’d like to share a few in hopes of saving at least one person from wasting at least one hour of their life.

Ideas, ideas, and more ideas, if you are creative then you already know exactly what I’m talking about. The problem is how to manage them, and which ones get top priority. I have always figured if something is going to work out, it won’t take long to do so. If you have a revolutionary new product and the first 100 people hate it, chances are the next 100 will too.

The definition of insanity is doing something the same way over and over again yet expecting a different result. Sure somethings just take time, but that’s the exception and not the rule.

Scratch your own itch

I love reading the story of William Hoover, inventor of the famous Hoover vacuum cleaner. He had problems breathing and wanted to solve them. So, he devoted part of his life to building a better vacuum cleaner. Years later, his legacy is seen in the thousands of Hoover vacuums around the world.

Set goals

If you think giving a new idea 6 months is a fair shake, then give it a go for 6 months and see how it turns out. Maybe something happened beyond your control, maybe circumstances had you distracted, then sure take that into account. Don’t second guess yourself, and don’t think you just need to hold out. That “just around the corner” mentality can cause years of wasted time you could be spending elsewhere. Be realistic about it and get outside opinions before you invest more time than you originally planned.

Diversify your capital

There was a season in my life where I thought I could just get rich quick and not have a backup plan, those days are gone. Don’t be so prideful about a single “greatest idea ever” that you don’t work, and don’t save your money. That idea may be awesome, but treat it like anything else. Decide a time frame, plan out a budget, and stick to the plan. No quitting your day job to “go for broke”, because that’s exactly what you will end up being if you get cocky about it.

Stop assuming the win

Maybe you were meant to work a 9-5 and need to learn to be content with the cards dealt to you. The majority of “entrepreneurs” I talk to are so sure they are going to hit the jackpot and live out the rest of their days on the beach somewhere. I really question people’s motives who simply want to get rich, because that’s really not what makes a successful entrepreneur. It’s that deep desire to be creative, overcome obstacles, and think outside the box that makes everything come together.

Have fun

If you aren’t creating businesses that you love, if you aren’t doing things you are passionate about, it’s going to make it really hard to succeed. You’ll always be trying to get away with the bare minimum, and spend your nights reading up on the latest “get rich quick” schemes.

Success is a road, and for most a long and painful one. Ask yourself what you want out of life, and why you want it. And please, don’t be another broke entrepreneur.

Social Media Risks for Your Business and Your Life

I used to advertise on facebook quite regularly. I could monitor the return on every dollar invested, and it was a great time to invest in buying fans. But lately a few things have changed and I stopped most of my facebook advertising.

Why? The reason is pretty simple. I wasn’t getting the same ROI, and it wasn’t worth it just to have the bragging rights of “oh I have X number of fans”. The secret was out, and everybody was looking to tap into this social media tidal wave. That means it got more expensive to get less results.

Beware of Social Success Stories

As a facebook advertiser, I get emails every so often touting success stories from businesses around the world. A recent email was listed as a marketing case study. The only objective listed was, “Harnessing the passion of global enthusiasts and sports fans“.

They go on to talk about increased fans on their facebook page, and the overwhelming amount of submissions for their campaign during the world cup.

Am I a purest for asking what in the world the ROI was on that campaign? I don’t care about being blown away, but how about some hard numbers? Before and after sales in key regions, new revenue generation, increased mentions on the web, anything?

Not even close. The final solution listed was, “Bringing soccer fans closer to the game through a range of interactive features on the fan page“.

Every time I hear of a social media success story it’s all about how many fans they have. I understand building fans is important, but doesn’t anybody care what those fans mean for the bottom line?

Having a large fan base in incredibly powerful, so I don’t want to discount that as a return on your investment. But like I said, is it too much to ask for some other metrics before a company shells out millions on a social media campaign?

Stop Using Every Social Sharing Button

It’s all about the user  experience and getting that great “social” traffic right? But do we really need to slap social sharing buttons on everything like we would Tabasco sauce on some 3 week old breakfast. I could provide a thousand more equally stunning analogous reasons, but let’s leave it at that.

My point will be brief today, and I hope to save you some page load time, and your users some waiting around. If you actively monitor what kinds of content is being shared, and the methods by the majority of content is being shared, you will find a few things to be true.

Without even knowing what kind of site you have, I can tell you the majority of shares will still be facebook and twitter. Perhaps a few will stumble, digg, reddit, sphinn,or some of the other auxiliary sites, but that’s the bulk of it. Why make your users scan through a myriad of icons just to find the few they are going to use on a regular basis?

Do you really think Mr. Wong deserves the same code weight on your page as your facebook share this button? Not to bag on Mr. Wong, cause you know I love the name, but if you are adding widget buttons manually you gotta look at this from an ROI perspective. You are adding an extra request on your page for that button, it’s taking a split second longer for that button to load, and your user is slightly more annoyed. Was it worth it tiger?

Visually you may think it looks really nice to have 200 different sharing options, but the “average web user” could care less. There is not one size fits all sharing, and you can’t get anything out of the box and expect a non-custom application to jive in your environment. 

Web usability is like a bulletin board, and you are still thinking it’s art. People need to fly in, scan the post, quickly find the share button of their choice, and be done with it.This is a common sense lesson in usability, but it all revolves around testing.

Experiment and follow your user base, and then customize your website around them. Don’t target tech savvy bloggers who like to use Google buzz if your fan base doesn’t even tweet. The fact is most people have only adopted tweet this and facebook share/like, so until the evidence supports otherwise, stick with what you know is worth it.

Invest In Your Own Company First

I am always amazed at a corporations ability to transfer “ownership”. To me it’s the secret of so many of the giants in the business world today. Look at facebook, for example, and you’ll quickly see my point. It’s “your facebook page”, or the “Lebron James fan page”. But you don’t own your profile and neither does King James, and you certainly don’t see any revenue off it. Has facebook cut you a check yet?

Every day you login to your facebook account and go to work for Mark Zuckerberg and the rest of the facebook team. You build content, invite your friends to join, and submit pictures and movies that facebook owns the second you upload them. Every time you engage with another person on facebook, they visit one more page filled with those lovely facebook ads on the right hand rail.

Every time a company sends people to their facebook fan page, they are sending millions of impressions (and dollars) into the facebook coffers. Are they sharing this money with you? Not that I am aware of.

For the most part I don’t think we have anything to complain about, but it is mind boggling to me how facebook gets away with not cutting celeb and large corporate fan pages at least a revenue share deal. Maybe they do and I just haven’t gotten that special invitation yet, but I certainly haven’t heard of it.

Sure facebook is a free service, so what rights do we have to demand anything? Well none if we don’t ask for them. But I think facebook would be hard pressed to have Lebron shut down his fan page and take those millions of monthly ad impressions offline.

I’m no celebrity, but if I told Lady Gaga how much money their fan page is making facebook, I know they would want a piece of that pie. After all it’s their brand, their name, that drew those millions of fans, not Mark Zuckerberg…

You Might Not Need Social Media for Your Business

Social Media was one of the buzz words in 2010, and it stands to reason that 2011 will be much the same. Still, you shouldn’t have a social media campaign just to have one. Over and over people think that having a facebook or a twitter account is their gateway to thousands of new visitors.

Then after awhile they give up thinking that they just don’t get social media. The bottom line is that some markets just don’t need social media. Did I just commit blasphemy? Everybody needs a facebook fan page right?

I would say that every business needs to be involved in social, but from a reputation management standpoint. For some markets facebook isn’t going to make or break your business, but it will sure help your customers connect with you if they have a problem. I love the ability to use twitter to keep people updated on recent happenings, but I definitely don’t expect it to be my main source of traffic.

If you have a product that is viral or revolutionary, by all means tweet it and watch social at it’s best. But for most of the people I work with that just isn’t the case. They are in a competitive market, and are just looking for more ways to get new customers. For that I’d say Google is still your best source of traffic.

The problem with most social platforms is they tend to be a replacement to the web. Don’t believe me? Create a facebook fan page for a website and watch how many people leave that fan page to interact on the website. The majority of consumers on facebook are comfortable with it, and see no reason to leave to do their commenting, liking, and sharing.

After all can you blame them? Is there anything they can do on your website that they can’t also do on facebook? Well I can think of a few things like purchasing products, downloading software, and reading articles. But those are very specific things that all need to be taken into consideration before you dive head first into social media.

Social Media Harms Your Personal Life

I was up late last night reading blogs of entrepreneurs, and one thing absolutely rang true when I heard it. “If you want to be successful in life, it won’t be doing what everyone else is doing, because most people aren’t successful.”

That being said the average amount of time the world spends on facebook continues to grow leaps and bounds every month, the interaction levels absolutely crush everything else on the web. I simply can’t continue to waste away on Facebook like everyone else, there is too much to be done, and I consider each moment I am alive to be a privilege.

Twitter keeps me updated with news, tech blogs challenge me to learn new information, 1 on 1 conversations encourage me. Facebook keeps me updated on the vacation habits and insecurities of what I consider to be total strangers. Are there people I actually care about on facebook? Absolutely, but I value those people because we interact outside of the social network.

There is no beginning and no end to the surfing, and it is extremely easy to find yourself wasting hours a night doing absolutely nothing in particular. Rarely do people go on facebook to accomplish a goal, and that’s what makes it so dangerous. Sure endless surfing is a problem the web has in general, but at least the random surfer model outside facebook yields a greater change of useful content.

Beware of Ambient Awareness

I am tired of ambient awareness, a term coined by many who have researched the new social relationships of the 21st century. People have abandoned close personal relationships in favor of being “aware” of hundreds of people. Facebook has trained us to crave ambient awareness, we are now conditioned to want to know what hundreds of people are up to at any given moment. It’s a method of control and stability, quite frankly one that is too addicting for most.

I don’t work for free, at least not when I have so many other things that require my attention. The next time to you log in to facebook check out the right hand side of your screen. See those ads? Every time a friend of yours visits your page and clicks that add facebook just made money off you. Not that other sites don’t make money off your time, but facebook wants to make money off your life. Just a thought.

I don’t have one circle of friends, and you don’t either. We don’t have hundreds of people we share equal amounts of information with, we have many different circles. Facebook encourages you to share your entire life one circle of friends via video, images, notes, text updates, etc. Recent updates allow you to segment who sees what, which begs the question why be friends with those other people at all?

Own Your Life and Your Media

I want to own my life. You don’t own the pictures you post to facebook, and you certainly don’t own your facebook friends. At any given moment any given thing could happen. You download your entire digital life to facebook, and now they own it 100%. That kind of dependence on anything outside of electricity isn’t comforting. Facebook owns your page, your content, and your life when you are logged on. You do realize your facebook page isn’t really yours right? No way Jose.

I can’t for the life of me figure out what I get out of it. I continue to put things into two categories in life, business and pleasure. Facebook certainly isn’t business, at least not my personal account. I manage several fan pages for websites I run, and those will keep right on going.

As far as pleasure, I can think of plenty of things I would rather do with my time. I tried for years to at least provide my friends on facebook something of value, even though the majority of them never returned the favor.

A study released some interesting facts about the kinds of content that gets shared on facebook. The most shared word was “stupid”, and “hot”. Another study also found the more intelligent the status update, the less likely it was to get shared. The more syllables, the higher the reading level involved, the faster it got buried. Not that I expect all social content to be newsworthy, but come on, tell me something I don’t know.

This is my personal choice, and one that I am excited to finally make. You don’t have to follow in my footsteps, but at least it’s some food for thought. I challenge you to budget your time, examine your friendships, and ask yourself where your headed in life. If nothing else think about whether or not you really need to be on facebook all those hours a week.

Insane Mobile Phone SMS Stats that will Blow your Mind

Some would call SMS marketing the most effective marketing channel ever invented. They wouldn’t be wrong either.

With a bone-crushing 98% open rate, if text messaging were an Olympic athlete, it would win all the medals in every sport, even figure skating.

Running a text messaging campaign isn’t rocket science. It’s actually the complete opposite of rocket science. It’s as simple as you typing your message and hitting the big send button. Congrats, you are a mobile marketing expert already.

Who isn’t utilizing text messaging nowadays? You have political candidates reaching over 10 million subscribers during some recent campaigns, to American Idol receiving more votes via text message than the President received to win the presidential election.

Want Value, You Get Value

With a 98% open rate for text messages, there couldn’t be a more efficient use of your marketing dollars. And when we say dollars, we actually mean cents. It’s really that affordable.

Text messages are quick, only taking a few seconds to hit thousands of phones at the same time. Once it’s arrived, the average time to open is 4 minutes. That’s scary fast!

Outside of senior citizens who still very much need a landline phone, everyone has a mobile phone. Maybe not everyone, but it’s getting very close. In the United States, 91% of people have a mobile phone; that’s a lot of mobile phones!

72% of all mobile phone users regularly send and receive text messages. According to the CTIA (Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association), in 2009, Americans went crazy for text messaging, sending more text messages than actual phone calls.

Did you know that 82% of all Americans never leave home without their mobile phone? Did you know that half of all Americans sleep with their mobile phone? If you want to reach your customers where they are, mobile is the only solution.

More Great Stats on Mobile…

  • More than four in 10 Americans say they “can’t live” without their mobile phone.
  • Nearly half of Americans say they sleep with their mobile phone nearby.
  • 79% of smartphone users would find it useful to download money-off coupons to their phones.
  • 73% of smartphone users would receive instant money-off coupons as they pass by an item in a store.
  • 72% of all teens ages 12-17 send and receive text messages.
  • 35% of 12 year-olds say they text daily.
  • 54% of 14 year-olds say they text daily.
  • 70% of 17 year-olds text everyday.
  • Girls are more likely to text than boys with 77% of all girls texting while 68% of boys do.
  • Older girls ages 14-17 are the most avid texters – 69% say they text their friends every day, while 53% of boys the same age report daily texting.
  • More than 7 in 10 (71%) of cell-phone owning parents of teens 12-17 say they send and receive text messages on their cell phones.
  • 65% of all adults 18 and older send or receive text messages.

An Open Letter to This Years Graduating Class

I remember going to work with my dad growing up. From the first time I saw his degree hanging on his office wall I began adding things up in my mind, and more importantly in my spirit. I don’t think I realized how much weight I was putting on that piece of paper all those years.

But in putting that moment of graduation on a pedestal, I was setting myself up for years of disappointment after graduation. Instead of telling you congrats (which you deserve), I’m going to write you the letter I wish I would have gotten back in college. I’m going to say everything that your parents, friends, and your teachers probably won’t tell you. It’s not going to be pretty, but it’s the truth. And with that in mind, I give you…

To This Year’s Graduates

First off, congrats for making it through college alive. There were so many reasons you could have given up, quit, and done other things. You have learned a lot, but very little of it will help you in the next phase of your life. I know you went to college to prepare you for a job, but very few of you will actually use your degree from this point on.

What it will do is allow you is apply for jobs that other people can’t, demand a slightly higher salary, and in general make more money over the course of your life. There are so many great things about college, so hear me loud and clear, you did the right thing.

But you know all that already, you’ve been told it your entire life. We went to college because it entitled us to a better life. Sadly, that’s where most of the problems start. Do you feel like you deserve a high paying job? I know I did.

Here’s the problem, this isn’t the same economy your parents graduated in. This isn’t the same world your teachers in college grew up in. I will rarely say don’t take advice from your elders, but this is one subject where they simply can’t help us.

If you grew up in a time where water was always plentiful, how would you be able to tell someone how to live through a drought? I graduated in one of the worst job droughts in recent history. My parents had no idea what I was going through.

You need a job, and it’s time to go to work regardless of where it is. You have a college degree, but might have to work at a job that doesn’t even need a degree. Your first feeling the day you start working at a job you feel under qualified for can be pretty rough. I worked at 3 or 4 jobs after college that didn’t even need a degree. Hect, at times I thought about going back to jobs I had during school.

Doubt and regret can be powerful depressants if left unchecked. Surround yourself with positive people!

Having a job that doesn’t require a degree after college isn’t the end of the world. We just aren’t prepared for it mentally. As college grads we are ready for $65,000 a year, full benefits, and a brand new car. Here’s the facts, in all, 17 million Americans with college degrees are working at jobs that do not require a bachelor’s degree. Nearly half of all college graduates are working at a job not requiring a degree.

The fact that you don’t have your dream job is bad enough, but we didn’t just promise ourselves a job now did we? The college degree means so much more than it should. We expect the job, and the job affords us the luxury of the other great american dream, buying your first house.

When you end up not making what you thought you would, you end up living where you thought you’d never be again. Of the members of the class of 2011, 85% of you will have to move back in with their parents after you graduate.

But there is a light at the end of the tunnel, you just have to realize that college isn’t the end of tunnel. You studied hard, and you will reap the fruit of your labor in the right timing. It just might not be when the moment you walk across the stage and get your diploma.

Now the real learning begins. So what should you look for in a job? Find someone who will do more than just pay you, find a mentor who will educate you. College prepared you to learn, something you will do the rest of your life. The real currency of your future isn’t your salary, it’s wisdom.

When I graduated all I saw was salary, and that is the worst possible way to evaluate the right job. The right job isn’t the one that pays the most, it’s the one that will teach and train you the most. The best job is the one with the potential for you to grow as the company grows. Preferably with stock options along the way!

Just a little secret about this. If you love what you do, stay humble, and surround yourself with people that value wisdom, you usually end up making a lot of money anyways.

I’ll say this one more time loud and clear. It’s not time to go crazy impressing your friends. I know you really want to show that your degree meant something, but that’s pride. You earned your degree, and nobody can take it away from you. That’s the value of it. Ten dollars an hour or a hundred thousand a year, your degree is still worth the same.

Want a big dose of humility? The median starting salary for those who graduated from four-year degree programs in 2010 was $27,000.

This is a brain race, it’s no longer warm and fuzzy. If you hate education, lifelong learning will be a forced march. If you stop learning, you will become unemployed and unemployable very quickly.

Keep learning, never stop learning, and surround yourself with people that enjoy learning. See a common theme yet?

This isn’t just about you. At the risk of sounding too patriotic, America needs our help as young people. There are now almost 46 million people in the United States on food stamps. We are official $14,000,000,000,000 in debt, although the actual number is likely much higher. Get your finances in order, if you don’t believe me ask Dave Ramsey.

It’s time to get your head out of the clouds and get to work. I know you think that 4 years of college will now reward you with a lifetime of relaxing at a 9-5 cushy job, but me at 23, your sadly mistaken. The good news? If you read this, and took it to heart, you are now 3 years ahead of where I was at your age.

Want to know where you will be in 5 years? Ask yourself what your 5 closest friends will be doing in 5 years. If you think they will be doing pretty much the same thing, with pretty much the same problems, so will you.

The ROI of Advertising on Facebook

Experian Hitwise released a recent study touting that 1 Facebook fan = 20 extra visits to your website. They studied top retailers, and came away with the conclusion that since big companies are winning online, anybody can just as easily. I couldn’t disagree more with their blanket statements about Social Media, and thought they hid some key findings in their study.

Just like each business is different, all Facebook campaigns aren’t created equal. Understanding your goals and setting realistic expectations are much more important than knowing the value of a fan for Coca-Cola. If you are a small to medium sized business on Facebook, you aren’t going to see these same results. If you dig a little deeper into the numbers, you’ll see what I mean.

Building your fan base on Facebook, doesn’t necessarily translate into massive amounts of traffic back to your website. The Experian Hitwise study claims ROI on average 1 Facebook fan equals 20 visits. What they failed to mention is that this is more a multiplier effect than a baseline. Even if you don’t have a Facebook fan page, large companies can still expect to see thousands of visitors from Facebook on a monthly basis.

“Our data shows that for the top retailers, even if they have no Facebook fans they can still expect to receive on average 62,000 visits from Facebook each month. However….within retail each new fan acquired will drive an additional 20 visits to a retailer’s websites, which in turn will generate extra sales both online and offline.”

I want you to go out and try something sometime. Build a website about a random product or service, and then build a matching Facebook fan page. This website can’t piggy back of a similar brand already in existence, I want you to create something that isn’t on the map at all.

The whole point of ROI is to determine a set return so that others can follow a template approach. The problem is that unless you already have 62,000 people coming from Facebook every month, you’re going to have a difficult time proving the ROI in terms of visits to a website.

Facebook is designed to be a closed system that makes money off internal traffic. If I was an executive over in Palo Alto, I might refer to users leaving Facebook as leaks. Your incoming traffic means less revenue and time on site for Facebook. Think about that.

Google beat Facebook to one billion monthly visitors, but Facebook still crushes Google in terms of time on site. It’s this same metric that drives them to want to keep users inside their system longer and longer.

So if your business revolves around getting traffic back to your website, you’re fighting a losing battle against a company bigger, better, and stronger than you. So keep that in mind whenever you hear “Social Media experts” talking about Facebook ROI for your small business.

6 Ways the Hoth Builds Valuable Links to Your Brand

Today I was able to attend the Hoth‘s webinar about SEO link building. It was lead by Alex Pyatetsky, and discussed a wide range of topics surrounding link building. There were a few mentions of the Hoth and their product, but for the most part Alex stayed on topic.

I’m not going to discuss everything that was said, because a lot of it was introductory stuff, but I had a few good takeaways that are worth sharing. Alex came across with an interesting way to look at link building. Very similar to the way nutritionists use the food pyramid, he discussed a link building pyramid to maximize your efforts when creating links to a brand new or existing website.

There were three steps to this method, and all of them involved getting the quality, authority, and relevant links we know are vital for improving organic traffic.

Foundational Link Building

While most people want jump out of the gate running, Alex said that foundation link building was key to this entire process. Dominating your niche starts at the bottom, by getting authority links from your inner circle. He called this the circle of family and friends.

You can also recruit investors, employees, and people you have existing relationships with. These foundational links are the easiest to achieve, but they are the most crucial to your overall SEO strategy. Without a base of solid authority links, the next levels won’t be as effective. You will only be as strong as your foundation.

Online Activity

Once you get a good foundation, you can move onto to general link building, or online activity. This includes things like blog commenting, forum posting, guest posting, and paid advertising. This part of SEO link building is a little bit more difficult. You don’t have as much control over these links, and the weight they hold.

Most people want to immediately start with services from companies like the Hoth, but he said that would be a mistake. It was refreshing to hear such honestly from a link builder!

I found it interesting that Alex still valued blog commenting as an important part of the second stage of SEO link building. He stated that blog commenting is under valued by many people. His logic was that blog commenting still allows you to place choice, relevant links on pages across the web. These links can come from authority pages, and there are plenty of opportunities out there.

Another interesting blog commenting strategy was the, “be first to comment” idea. By being one of the first few people to leave a quality comment on an authority blog, you are getting the attention of not only the blogger, but everyone who visits the posts and browses the comments.

Alex’s strategy was the follow important thought leaders in his industry, and be the first to leave an insightful post that adds value to the original. He had some great examples of this working very well to his advantage. Here is a great quote from Alex’s thoughts on blog commenting…

It’s more than just link building for the sake of the link, its getting the attention of the right people!

Another good nugget was taking advantage of commenting Loyalty programs, who give the most frequent visitors a link back to their website. Commenting regularly on an authority blog can be just like adding a blogroll link that you have control over. That link is powerful and just as relevant to your niche.

Online Activity

For blog commenting, Alex discussed commenting tools like Comment Kahuna to help you find relevant content. The big theme for the second part of the SEO link pyramid revolved around relevant blogs, it was definitely a big them.

Another really cool point he brought up was paid advertising as a form of link building. Not in the sense that your are buying links, but that the best way to network online with a blogger is to buy ads on their website. I’m sure this is a technique they have used frequently for the Hoth, as I have seen their ads all over the web.

Once you are a paying customer you have an automatic in with them, which can lead to guest posts and further discussions that wouldn’t be possible otherwise. Here’s Alex on buying ads for link building again…

Buying ads is probably something you are doing anyways, realize that it’s important for relationship building, which will lead to quality links.

Surgical Link Building

The last part discussed by Alex from the Hoth was surgical link building for SEO. This includes social bookmarking, article marketing, guest posting. This is also I’m guessing where a large part of the Hoth’s business comes from. While I’m sure they would help with any aspect of your link building efforts, surgical building is their specialty.

This is the final part of your strategy, and luckily you have control over things like anchor text, location, keywords, and scale. Surgical link building is the difference between the winners and losers.

Risks of Automated Link Building

Beware of picking up link building software from an affiliate store Link building tools are great for casual pushes, but you just can’t game Google like that anymore. Sure you can build hundreds of thousands of links in a few days, but at that point you aren’t doing anything but hurting that website. The other unfortunate thing is that many of the bookmarking sites that come standard on bookmarking demon have been spammed to the moon and back.

These have all turned into bad neighborhoods on the web you definitely want to stay away from. So if you need something to submit a few of your best articles too in mass, go pick up a tool, but trust me it’s not going to make or break a website. The best way to build links is still time and effort, it just doesn’t come that easy anymore.

Summary from Alex @ the Hoth

Unlike some other surgical link building methods, The Hoth is safe to use on new sites, etc. The reason is because we model the authoritative link -> multi site syndication model. In other words, all of the links we build *make sense* to the search engines and we do see new sites rank just by using our product.

It would therefore be easy/convenient to conclude that its the only thing you need, for really solid, sustained rankings. However, as I mentioned in the webinar, this isn’t the smartest approach. Although you do get authority, relevance and popularity from a tool like ours, its not a replacement for the foundational authority of links like blogrolls from friendly industry blogs.

Likewise, although our links provide relevance through relevant content and anchor texts, they are not coming from root-domains that are relevant to your niche. Therefore, its smart to supplement what we do with the activities I suggest in the “Friends, Family & Fools” and “Online Activity” portions of the link building pyramid (the bottom & middle levels).

We have seen some people rank for over a year just using our tool, but it would be arrogant for me to say that everyone can achieve the same thing. Using the tool as part of a well rounded strategy (i.e. “The New Link Building Pyramid”) is a much more consistent way to achieve rankings, and much more stable for keeping them.

Part of a Bigger Picture

Think of this as the seasoning on your dish, you may have all the ingredients, but it’s that last pinch of salt that makes it happen. The problem is most link builder’s won’t be patient in waiting for this last step, and that’s understandable. We live in an instant results world where people want traffic and revenue almost overnight.

The temptation is to only build only surgical links, but without the foundation of link building, you might rank well but you won’t stay near the top. This can lead to huge swings in traffic, but also frustration Alex from the Hoth says.

If you just build surgical links you might rank, but your totally at the whim of the search engine. You’ll see volatility, and you’ll be pulling your hair out more often.

As the webinar came to a close Alex offered more great advice about your overall link building strategy, talking about going after the low hanging fruit, and then branching out from their. Link building can be a science, so stop reinventing the wheel. There is a smarter, more consistent way to build links for SEO.

Optimize Your LinkedIn Profile Using These Simple Marketing Hacks

If there was an SEO anonymous support group I’d introduce myself like this.

My name is Keith, and I have a problem. Anything that can be reverse engineered and optimized, I attempt to manipulate for fun, personal growth, or financial gain.

So naturally when LinkedIn introduced endorsements, I was all about it. The end game: getting a large amount of quality endorsements across areas I consider my strengths.

So take a journey in problem solving with me, and keep your optimization hat on. Here’s some practical Search Engine Marketing strategy you can use to increase endorsements and views on your LinkedIn profile.

Avoid Skill Stuffing

The first thing I ruled out was adding the maximum amount of skills to my profile. I call this skill stuffing because it reminds me of 2007, MySpace, and keyword stuffing. We all know how those last two worked out.

When it comes to selecting skills it should be something done with careful research. If friends and co-workers don’t immediately recognize you as an expert in that field, don’t list it as an expertise.

Avoid Spam on Your LinkedIn Profile

LinkedIn is going to assume that you are being honest with your skills, and serve those up to your network of friends and co-workers when they view your profile. While it’s a proven fact that most people lie on their resume, stretching the truth on LinkedIn won’t get you very far with endorsements.

Do The Keyword Research

The foundation of Search Engine Marketing is based on a process of data analysis and research. Now those same skills should be cultivated even more carefully based on the Endorsements display engine.

Run your current skills through a keyword tool and see what comes up. Try using popular and niche descriptions of your skill sets to see which convert the best.

LinkedIn Profile Keyword Research

Understand that when it comes to endorsements, an endorsement by someone in your network equals a conversion. The goal here is to provide better industry skills, remove the bad matches, and ultimately increase daily conversions.

Get More LinkedIn Endorsements

Add skills only after a process of examining your background, doing the keyword research, and adding only the results which match your reputation on LinkedIn.

Just like clicks and conversions are measured in paid search, you should keep track of the number of people endorsing your skills on LinkedIn. Be sure to go through every few months and remove and add skills, just like you would test different ad copy in PPC.

Gain More LinkedIn Recommendations

Remove skills that have few or no endorsements and add better ones in their place. Think of removing skills as adding negative keywords to a PPC campaign, it will be another tactic that improves your conversions over time.

It’s hard to think about removing a skill based solely on how others interpret you, but in the end who better to judge than a competent jury full of your industry peers?

Each time LinkedIn serves up the endorsements widget, you are competing with four other people for that conversion. You don’t have to have the best possible match, just the best out of four.

If you have already gone through the steps above, then you will only be showing your strongest hand each time. Otherwise it will be left up to to chance and you’ll be wasting valuable free impressions (more on this later).

Endorsements Are Advertisements

It doesn’t matter what you think you are a rock star at, how does your network interpret you as a subject matter expert? This is similar to having a conversation with a client where you say, “I know how you want to target your niche, but the data supports a different conclusion.”

I review profiles of other Keith Brown on LinkedIn, to see how poor targeting will negatively affect the percentage of people who endorse you. When someone visits your profile they are presented with an opportunity to endorse you for a variety of skills.

If some are good matches and some are bad, chances are they will begin to remove skills and if you’re lucky endorse you for one or two.

Suggested Skill Endorsements

If someone is going to go through the trouble of removing more than a few skills from the widget, they might as well abandon the whole process altogether. You want the endorsement to make sense and be a natural extension of that person’s visit to your profile page.

LinkedIn Profile Optimization Tips

LinkedIn is basically giving away free impressions if you do this right. How, by serving up these suggestions free of charge? So, take advantage of the offer while it lasts. Like all good things this will likely come to an end soon, and you’ll be asked to pay for prime placement across your network.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that LinkedIn knows how much engagement endorsements have gotten, and they will look to monetize that traction more in 2013. It won’t take long given the emphasis on rolling out more improvements to their premium profile pages.

Understand LinkedIn’s Algorithm

Think about your core skills as a huge key to your visibility on LinkedIn, and if their endorsement engine isn’t already thinking, it soon will be. The skills that get clicks will get served up more, and the rich just get richer. Now is the time to tackle your profile updates, and specifically take advantage of this new feature while LinkedIn is giving you all this free exposure.

If you follow the LinkedIn blog, you’ll understand the amazing things they are doing with data. By seeing this engine through the eyes of a search engine marketer, you can be one step ahead and look forward to lots of recommendations, endorsements, and a strong LinkedIn presence in 2013.

Balancing Acid vs. Alkaline Foods in Your Diet

I’m fascinated with algorithms and equations. Part of me thinks that I don’t actually love optimizing for Google, as much as Google is the most profitable problem solving puzzle the modern world has ever seen.

What does this have to do with balancing the equation of acid and alkaline foods and a healthy diet? Read on.

I see websites in terms of positive and negatives. A + for keyword density and link profile, a – for too many on page links and shallow content. So obviously when I started looking at my health goals for 2012, I took to it with the same mindset.

The average American diet is seriously out of balance, and I realized that mine is too. Healthy eating doesn’t just mean watching your protein, carbs, and intake of double cheeseburgers, there is a whole separate equation that I was missing. This starts with the types of foods we eat and even includes focusing on more non-GMO produce and organic meats.

The issue is clear. There are no alkaline foods to balance the equation, just check out the chart below and ask yourself what our average American diet looks like.

Chart of acid vs. alkaline foods

This is where the equation of balancing acid vs. alkaline foods comes in. You have to understand why it matters, how it works, and the consequences of not getting it right.

Have you ever seen somebody buy an above-ground pool on a whim and then not keep the water balanced? They forget how important the right chlorine levels are and soon the water is green with algae.

Balancing your diet is like drinking balanced water. It does not happen overnight, and it requires slow and careful changes to get there.

Balancing your diet is like balancing water

It’s the same thing with keeping your car clean or vacuuming your home once a week. A clear space leads to a clear mind. And that brings me back to balancing your diet.

It’s the same way with our bodies. According to most medical studies, too much acid in our diet leads to arthritis, cancer, stomach problems, etc. Too much alkaline foods in our diet can also lead to problems.

The issue in America is that we consume far too many acidic foods, and barely any alkaline foods. I love what microbiologist Dr. Young says about internal pH.

The pH level of our internal fluids affects every cell in our bodies. The entire metabolic process depends on an alkaline environment. Chronic over acidity corrodes body tissue, and if left unchecked will interrupt all cellular activities and functions, from the beating of your heart to the neutral firing of your brain. In other words, over-acidity interferes with life itself.

Like many others, I often wonder why so many people have health problems today. It seems that more people than ever struggle with obesity, high blood pressure, and chronic auto-immune diseases. But all you have to do is look around to see we aren’t doing a very good job of balancing our diet.

Chronic health conditions were found in 12.8% of children studied in 1994, compared with 26.6% of another group of same-aged children studied in 2006, the researchers found.

Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food —Hippocrates

We have to get better at understanding the foods we eat, instead of just treating everything with a prescription. Not once have I ever seen a doctor who asked about my diet, they all just want to prescribe medicines to “fix the problem”.

But often the problem is not in our bodies, more often than not it is caused by the foods we eat. We’re doing this to ourselves, and a large part of it is that we keep our bodies constantly in a state of high acidity.

Image of foods with highly acidic content

I am the typical American, no different than most. Here is my typical day:

I wake up with a big bowl of acid (cereal), and wash it down with a cup of acid (orange juice). Maybe on the way to work I stop at the gas station to fill up my car, and while I’m inside I grab some acid (red bull) as a wake up drink.

For lunch of course it’s more of the same, a double acid burger with cheese, acid fries, and to wash it all down more acid (coke). After work I need some acid to unwind (beer), plus some acid (chips) to snack on.

Whew I’m finally home! Now I can have some grilled acid (chicken), with some cheesy acid (bread), and maybe a salad before. That used to be the way the majority of my days went, does that sound like you?

Sure I’d throw in veggies or fruit (alkaline foods) now and then, but the most of the time my daily intake was 80-95%, if not 100% acid. Now my goal is different, more alkaline foods and less acid ones each day.

Image of alkaline foods

Many people attribute a highly acid diet to be one of the main causes of premature aging, and that’s exactly how I felt, like an old man.

I really encourage you to just think about what you eat for a few days, in terms of acid vs. alkaline foods. Keep a mental checklist, or maybe write it out if you aren’t quite the spatial thinker I am.

You might be surprised at just how much acid you’re throwing at your expecting your body to deal with each day.

Bitcoin and the Psychology of Distrust in our Currency

Politicians aren’t solving the debt crisis, so entrepreneurs around the world are. Bitcoin, a decentralized digital currency, was created in 2009 based on an open-source p2p internet protocol. Think of it as the Napster of the international economy.

In late 2011 a bitcoin was worth $2, last week it was $180, at times reaches as high $218 per bitcoin. Now there is more than a billion dollars of bitcoins in circulation, and the number keeps growing. The chart below shows the market value (in USD) of a bitcoin over the last 12 months.

There are even stories of freshly minted bitcoin millionaires, who turned 5 grand into more than a million dollars riding the wave of distrust in traditional fiat money.

Sure it’s a bubble that might soon pop, but the more I learn about unregulated international currency like Bitcoin, Ripple, etc., the more fascinated I get with the whole concept of a system of exchange that lives outside government.

Really it’s all psychological. Do people trust the government anymore? No, and that’s because the government has a face to distrust. A computer program holding all our money is sterilized. We can be just like Dorthy and trust in the invisible Wizard of Oz behind the curtain.

The more the US economy gets into debt, the more Eurozone countries fall into bankruptcy, the stronger these movements will grow.

Pinterest CEO Ben Silbermann on Launching a Successful Business

The following is my rough outline from the 11AM SXSWi session featuring Pinterest Co-Founder and CEO Ben Silbermann. There was lots of great advice on monetization, design, building a successful business, and social communities. And I felt like sharing a few of those things with you today.

The questions covered everything from his job history, to early challenges at Pinterest. There are lots of great learnings here as well.

Job History

  • Started in sales support for Google, working specifically with Adsense.
  • Quit Google to develop iOS applications, before starting Pinterest.


  • The idea came from visiting people’s homes, and seeing “collections” of people’s lives that needed to be shared online
  • Wanted a person’s “board” or collection on Pinterest to be more beautiful as a whole than each image could be individually.


  • Quality was the most important aspect, with meticulous testing done on layouts, contrast, colors, fonts, and how the site would work in different people’s devices.
  • Ben liked to go to bookstores and look at lifestyle magazines, to gauge interest in certain verticals.
  • In a world were buzz dies after 24-48 hours, the Pinterest boards have a timeless elements.

Early Designs at Pinterest as a Startup

Early Months

  • For the first 9 months Pinterest had 10,000 users.
  • Growth happened much slower than they had hoped.
  • Ben personally emailed the first 5,000 users thanking them for signing up, and opening ongoing communication.
  • Up until the middle of last year it was only 5 people working in his apartment.

Interesting Uses

  • Each day people find a use for Pinterest that they would have never thought people would use it for
  • Lot’s of museums have joined lately, to share their art with the world.
  • Travel boards are also new, and people create elaborate travel guides to cities all over the world.
  • Clones have always happened, now they just happen faster and faster with the low barrier to entry of technology.
  • Most of your focus shouldn’t be racing against competition, but against making the greatest product possible.
  • The competition doesn’t come from similar design, layouts, or code, it’s all about the people.

Copyright issues

  • As a company they care about that issue, overall it is part of their culture, and giving value back to each of the users.
  • The mission of the site isn’t to keep people on the site forever; it’s driving traffic out in the world, and driving real actions to build their content.


  • Long-term monetization will have to be something that speaks to the heart of the product itself.
  • Helping people discover things they wouldn’t have found on their own.
  • They have a lot of work to go on the discovery process before they continue with monetization.

Future Innovations

  • Redesigning the profiles on Pinterest, to make your profile very different from what you have on Facebook and Twitter.
  • A visual snapshot of what you are about, and to make it easier to discover new people based on pins
  • Expanding the number of things you can pin to include Vimeo and Netflix.
  • Platform expansion with a common and stable API framework for developers.

Social Community

  • We have to invest in social norms the same way we invest into infrastructure and technology.
  • Getting the right kind of behavior in a social site is important to growing the community in the right direction.
  • Early on they personally reached out to users, to make sure they were cultivating the community correctly and encouraging the right behaviors.
  • They character different kinds of users, because each has it’s purpose in the overall growth of the website.
  • New ways to share are simply new ways to connect with other people; we are always actively seeking out ways to connect in new ways.

Launching a Successful Business

  • Most people generalize whatever they did, and act like that was the strategy that made things work.
  • People will say great founding teams have a certain look and feel, but every company cuts it’s own path.
  • Every company is under a lot of pressure to look and act like the last company that was successful.
  • Be good to the people that you build relationships with along the way. It will become part of your DNA.
  • Identify those people that are passionate about your products from the start, which will be immensely valuable as feedback.


  • Sometimes they overthought problems, as long as you can see failure as one more option that’s off the table; you’re in a good place.
  • Do not be paralyzed by so many options, the best way to find out is to ship, the worst thing that users and customers can say is no.
  • It’s important to have people outside your business that you have good relationships with, don’t get tunnel vision in the way you think about your company.

Closing Remarks

  • Pinterest is still small, 20 team members, 10 joined in the last four months.
  • The team culture is the core of their business; rather than have a figurehead, they want to grow as a team.

Ultimately, I felt like Ben shared things in this session that he probably will not share as much of as CEO of Pinterest as they grow in the future. So, I hope to capture some of that here in case one day they find themselves a much larger company, prepared to IPO or get acquired.

What Duplicate Content in Google’s Index Means to Me

One of the problems facing digital strategists currently is that of duplicate content, and search engine’s like Google are working harder than ever to discourage website owners from publishing it on the web. Duplicate content is just that, content that is a duplicate of something that already exists. If you aren’t familiar with this problem, here’s why you should care.

You’re going to be presented with people wanting to sell, co-brand, and white label duplicate content. You will have more than enough chances to host duplicate content on your website, and at least a few people will tell you that you can get away with it. Here’s why I think that in 2011, I’d limit the amount of time and money invested in content already found elsewhere on the web.

For a moment let’s say you aren’t starting up a website, but that you are starting a local library in your community. Let’s call this library Google, and say that it contains books that summarize all the world’s information.

You finish construction of your beautiful library and find that you’re missing one critical piece to the puzzle, books! You have all this empty space, hundreds of shelves just waiting to be filled with everything from encyclopedias to sports almanacs.

So you begin searching for books, looking everywhere you can find them. In the beginning your focus is filling every shelve with a book, so you aren’t as picky with what you grab. Donated books, used books, and maybe even multiple books focusing on the same topic will do for now.

You finally fill your library to the brim, and people begin to come looking for information on what is relevant to them. As word gets out your library becomes popular, and people begin using your building as a trusted source for information. A few years go by and people begin requesting books that you don’t have, and often people want a newer edition.

Now your task becomes not just filling up the library with books, but making sure those books are of high quality for all your customers. You begin tossing out old books in favor of new ones, and making sure that you only keep the most popular books on hand for people.

After awhile you begin noticing that you have multiple copies of some books. In your haste to fill up those shelves you grabbed 3 volumes of the same encyclopedia, as well as six copies of the exact same 1988 sports almanacs.

Rather than keep that stuff around, you decide on the best copy to keep on hand, and throw away the rest. Space is now at a premium in your library, and it’s pointless to keep around multiple copies when usually 1 or 2 at most will keep your customers happy.

Fast forward a few years more and you’re library is becoming one of the most popular places in the world! People come from all around the globe just to read your books and use your information for research. Now authors have taken notice too, and famous publishers and authors from around the world line up at your office hoping that you will include their books in your library.

But now you can afford to be picky, you can afford to reject more and more books each day. Space is limited, but you are still open to adding new books to your index, as long as they are worth it to your customers!

Google built a library, and now it’s the largest in the world. It’s also the most important one in the world to be listed in, and that means they can afford to be picky. Would you have two copies of the exact same book in your library? I don’t think I would either. Can you blame them?

3 Reasons to Add Community to Your Playbook

There is a reason why Facebook recently added “Q&A” to their website. There is a reason why Twitter has built an entire business model off user generated tweets. UGC (User Generated Content) is powerful, and it does more than most will ever realize. There are people all over the world mindlessly plugging away writing blog entry after blog entry trying to generate traffic to their website.

Then there are those of us, myself included, thinking tirelessly about ways to get users to generate that content and traffic for free. Throughout my career I have learned one thing. Instead of working so hard at research, writing, and gathering data, why not put consumers to work for you?

With that in mind here are three reasons why your next website craves user generated content, and why it will succeed much easier (and faster) if you plan on incorporating it from the start.

Trending Topics

You can read and monitor tweet deck all you want, but nobody knows what’s trending faster than millions of people worldwide. Instead of actively trying to figure out what’s hot and what’s not, why not allow people to post trending topics in your niche?

For example a huge mobile sms scam hit the web a few months back, and luckily for me I have a website that targets scams just like that. Right as millions of sms messages were hitting cell phones worldwide, a user was generating a detailed description of the scam on one of my websites.

Guess what? As thousands searched for that scam in the days to come I already had the article. Thousands of hits in mere hours and I didn’t have to pay a dime for it. The research was free, the content was free, and the approach was completely passive on my part!

Free Content

Paying for content is overrated, just ask facebook. They have convinced the whole world to be their personal band of content writers, constantly writing and promoting the facebook brand worldwide. This is the benefit of creating a community and watching it grow.

Then they took it one step further, turning users into freelance photographers and videographers, uploading rich media content 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Why would you pay for content writers when you can just find somebody’s emotional hot button and get them to write for you for free?

Call it whatever you want, but people are willing to contribute to something they are passionate about, just look at any message board or forum on the web.

Consumer Intelligence

This is the last reason, but is in my opinion the most powerful one of them all. What’s more valuable than content or revenue? It’s the ability to predict the next big thing to hit the web, and that comes from consumer intelligence. Learn what people need, and you have your next project.

Instead of trying to market your product to consumers, intelligence allows you to create your next product based on a need. You are basically guaranteed demand and revenue from the get go, anything after that is just a sweet bonus. People start businesses all the time hoping there is a need for them, why not gather the foresight ahead of time to all but bank on that next start up.

User generated content, much like trending topics, always assure that you are feeling the pulse of consumers. While the rest of the world is throwing darts at a board, you can bet on sure things.