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Forget the [Infographic]

Posted on May 25, 2012 in Family and Friends, Featured |

Forget the [Infographic]

I love Infographics — quick little pieces of information, quirky and clean. There’s always something more interesting about data when it’s wrapped around pretty graphics and bold statements. For believers like me in first impressions, five-second-glances and elevator pitches shorter than a trip to the first floor, Infographics make marketers lives full of yummy nothingness.

But the problem with Infographics is simple: They don’t say jack. They don’t do jack. They don’t sell your brand or your story. What they do is entertain. Unless I missed the marketing class on entertaining consumers with nothingness, Infographics don’t belong in a marketing plan, they belong in marketing materials. Infographics are take-aways — think of them as eye candy for your message. Does eye candy sell?

Show me an Infographic that sells a brand and you’ll find a convert in me. Data Visualization has been around since long before I cranked-up my early Power Point templates, but the difference is the spend. An Infographic requires marketing spend that startups just can’t afford. Show me a startup that extra funds to support data compilation, graphic design, print costs, social media distribution and I’ll show you a startup that’s got questionable spend.

My Pinterest of Infographics here: http://pinterest.com/samanthafein/ — I didn’t say I wasn’t interested in them, just that I wouldn’t waste my startup marketing budget on creating visual displays of randomness.

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The Santa Moment

Posted on Nov 22, 2011 in Featured, Holidays |

The Santa Moment

If you’re a parent, you don’t need to read the rest of this story.

It’s the story of the kid and the Santa jig, and the jig is up, and you are left as the grownup fool telling your kids for the past eight years that a giant fat man breaks into their house each year. If you’re already a parent of a kid older than mine, you know the sock-in-the-gut feeling of your baby’s childhood blinking away.

Today was that day.

I picked up my sweet Thing 2 from school, a rarity since returning to work. I took her out for a special treat (curry meat pie — my girl is special) and we spied friends outside. While we were chatting with them, our favorite toddler boy, Teddy said, looking at his hand-me-down pink tricycle, “Dis bike too small fo-me!” And his parents replied, “Well maybe you.should.ask.for.a.new.BIKE.from.SAN.TA!

And that was it.

She got it.

In one sentence. It was over.

She looked at me, took my hand, squeezed hard, and said, “Yeah, ‘Santa, or Mommy and Daddy.”

Stunned, I took her by the hand and walked away. I stared at my buddies with that Oh-Holy-Crap-That-Just-Didn’t-Happen eye stare. But it had happened. And there was no going back.

I tried to undo-the-undoable. I told her that our friends were trying to talk their son into asking for a bicycle from Santa instead of from their parents because bikes are expensive. And parents can’t afford bikes. And Santa helps because he can. And, you know, wink, wink, wink.

She didn’t buy it.

She rolled her eyes at me.

So I took her for a fancy haircut at a grownup hair salon to distract her.

Or maybe, to distract me.

She got a bob cut.

It made her look young.

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If I… Was A TechCrunch Disrupt Wannabe

Posted on Sep 15, 2011 in Family and Friends, Featured, If I..., Work |

If I… Was A TechCrunch Disrupt Wannabe

I sat glued to my computer this week, listening to every single tid-bit I could take in from this week’s TechCrunch Disrupt. In years past, I’ve gone rooting for my buddies, cheered-on technologies, and, looked-up phrases I’d never heard of (“Crowd-sourcing” first sounded like some kind of flash mob to me).

This year, the intake was just as intense — big and bold and full of life and technology I could eat-up like a still-warm chocolate chip cookie.

And that’s it. Each of the companies at TechCrunch Disrupt this week had something in common: a solid foundation. A great startup has the makeup of a great chocolate chip cookie,  using all kinds of awesomeness to make our lives better and leave us wanting more and more.

Like all great bakers know, flavors can change, textures can vary and bake time can alter density, but all have the same core ingredients.

The foundation of a great startup and a great cookie are the same: a solid base, some grease to make things run smoothly, a leavening agent to make things rise, and, of course, a sweet overtone.

Chocolate Chip Recipe for Startups

2 1/4 c.  flour to create a solid foundation for the problem you are solving

1 t. baking soda to make the idea rise and grow with purpose

1 t. salt to take when your idea gets bashed

1/4 c. white sugar for addictiveness

1 c. light brown sugar to give the product some richness

2 sticks butter to grease-up users and make their user experience smooth

2 eggs to bind the concept to the real product

1 1/2 t. vanilla to enhance your product’s feature set

1 12-oz bag chocolate chips for making a product special and rewarding

1 c. rough chop nuts because if you’re an entrepreneur, you’re probably nuts anyway

 

1. Preheat your idea to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Knowing the temperature of the environment is so important to your product. Bake an idea on low heat and you’ll miss the window of opportunity; turn up the heat too fast and you’ll burn (or worse, burn through your seed money).

2. Cream the butter and sugars until smooth. One thing people forget is that if you churn butter too long, it will make your cookies flat and shapeless. Make user interactions smooth, but, don’t over-cream. Instead, firmly lead users to the actions you want them to take (a purchase, a comment, social sharing). Drop every barrier to entry, but be sure to not leave them flat and directionless.

3. Add eggs, one-at-a-time. Eggs bind everything together. This is the place I believe that a great marketer is key. Bring all the elements of technology, a great story, and, clean UI together into a cohesive product. Look at the #tcdisrupt finalists including my favorites, CakeHealth, Bitcasa, Trello, they each have the same binding principals, even though their stories and companies are vastly different. Bind the product together by hiring a great marketer to bring it together.

4. Measure vanilla, and then let it drip a bit over the top. Vanilla is one of those secret ingredients. Taste it on its own and your tongue curls, but leave it out of the perfect chocolate chip cookie, and you’re missing the aroma. I always measure one teaspoon, then let it dribble a bit more into the bowl. The same goes for highlighting your feature sets. Throw your capabilities at a customer and they’ll be left bitter. But give them the aroma of what your product can do for them and they’ll be following the aroma all the way into becoming a repeat customer. Otherwise: don’t oversell your features.

5. Add the dry ingredients. People say to sift the dry ingredients to incorporate. I don’t. I like to gently add them in at a really slow rate, watching them fold into a slow-churning stand mixer. The flour comes first, of course. The ultimate stabilizer is your core product, your core technology and your stable financials. Even if it’s in early beta, it’s still got to be stable enough to hold all the other yummy ingredients together.

Next, I put in the salt. I love salt in cookies. A cookie without enough salt means it’s all too sweet — and that’s just not a reality for a startup. Be ready to take a grain of salt with all of your feedback. That means, be ready to iterate, change and be a grownup enough to handle it when it comes. And it will.

Lastly, I add in the baking soda. I measure this so carefully (really the only thing I strictly measure). Your growth plan — whatever it is — needs to be measured very carefully. What is your rate of growth, how do you plan to scale, and, can your flour and butter and eggs handle how much rise you are giving to it? A growth plan is so much more precise than you can imagine when you’re drawing out little PowerPoint charts of hockey stick-looking growth (Oh, and so is accuracy, which I unfortunately learned once when a VC modeled our market expectations and we had ourselves with a user base larger than the population of China within six years).

6. Take a deep breath and look at your batter. Solid, creamy, full of promise. Now, add the magic and dump in those little chocolate chip morsels. It wasn’t a chocolate chip cookie without the chocolate chips, was it? This is your differentiator, your money call, your 12-minute TechCrunch Disrupt finalists pitch. After all that building and binding, make sure that you didn’t forget why you started all this in the first place — and make sure there’s plenty of that morsel of awesomeness that makes a chocolate chip cookie a chocolate chip cookie and what makes your startup yours.

7. Add the nuts. Not sure about this last step? Trust me. Why the nuts? Some people love nuts, others hate them! Some have anaphylactic shock from nuts. You could kill someone if you add this in! I say add the nuts. Because it takes a little bit of crazy to be an entrepreneur who is willing to take the big risk.

8. Scoop a tablespoon of dough onto baking sheets and put into the oven. It’s ready to go-to-market. The temperature is just right. You have a product ready to go. Bake for eight minutes or until you get traction and the product has risen enough to take it out of the incubation. Some folks cool their cookies completely, but I don’t – a warm, baked idea is wildly desirable and everyone wants a hot cookie — get your product to investors while it’s hot.

9. Make sure no one is looking and put your fingers in the leftover dough, and sneak it in your mouth. You made all that yumminess.

So many ideas, so many companies make it to this point and not beyond. And that’s okay. I keep non-baked cookie dough in my fridge at all times, just like I’ve got new business ideas rattling around in my head all the time. There is little that tastes as good as homemade cookie dough. Somehow the magic of bringing everything together can be more rewarding than a fully baked product. Lick your fingers and enjoy — you’ve created something that has all the fundamentals of the perfectly balanced startup.

Nom, nom, nom.

 

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SCRUM for Startups

Posted on Aug 4, 2011 in Featured, Work |

SCRUM for Startups

I learned about SCRUM last year when @la_gringa moved to a SCRUM model with her engineering team and got excited about the simplicity, the huddle-up approach and the ability to be successful in small chunks, working up to a large chunk of success. And although it applies mostly to agile development systems and theories, the same application can be applied to startups.

I’ve had a killer engineer walk out on me after I was (correctly) accused of changing directions for the umpteenth time. I’ve watched exhaustion hit teams of awesome folks after scrambling toward Beta. I’ve pushed things in and out of priority in fear of exceeding my monthly burn rate.  I’ve seen frustation from product owners and developers who are kept from using emerging technologies because previous decisions have already determined the course. SCRUM helps curb eager entrepreneurs and keep focus.

The concept of SCRUM works for startups because, we simply can’t afford to do anything else. Streamlined communication, quick huddles, sprints and backlogs work for us marketeers and entrepreneurs too.

1. Ownership. As startup minds, we tend to own a lot of pieces of a project. Letting ownership creep into other vital parts of the business (say, um, sales), slows down the process and keeps the owners from having command and control over their domains. The next time you, the entrepreneur, thinks your hand belongs in every piece of the pie, remember: you are not the owner of ever piece of the process and meddling in someone else’s sandbox can extend the production process and cause development lags. So hand it over, honey, and let the project owners own. If you can’t do it, be your own SCRUM master and whip yourself a few lashes.

2. Define your SCRUM team. Cross-function is key for us. We’re startups, afterall. But not every function crosses over at the same time or on the same sprint. Assemble the teams, assign the backlog and sprint like hell. Rinse and repeat. This means that each piece of a solution is represented by the person who can accomplish the sprint’s task for their specialty. I bet you’ll put yourself at the tippy top of each of those. When that happens, remember that you and you alone do not a SCRUM team make.

3. Sprint and sweat. I remember one of our first clients who wanted to be able to play with his prototype as we went along. Crazy! How could we have one whole chunk of the process finished enough for him to tap around on?!  Sprints make a lot of sense for startups. The end-product (and the audience it serves) is a moving target. Competition, client needs and learnings all keep things fluid. Overall the product is moving in a forward direction. In a sprint, you bust ass on one thing with no interruptions or changes for about two weeks. Then you huddle-up and check-in. A sprint gets one.thing.done.completely. Put a few sprints together and you’ve got yourself a product.

4. Burndown, not burnout. A great VC told me to put a stake in the ground and move forward from it. The burndown chart is a visual way to track what is left to do during a sprint (and during a full backlog cycle). As a marketer I like the burndown chart because it shows us where we’ve come from and what we’ve got left to do. It puts all of us team members, team leaders and product owners on the same page. We know what we’ve done (YAY us!) and what’s left to do (time to bust-a-move).

5. The Daily Bread. SCRUM meetings are an ADD’d out, caffeine-deficient person’s heaven. A daily 15-minute meeting with three questions for each person: (a) What have you done since yesterday? (b) What will you do today? (c) Is there anything standing in your way today?  I love this method. For entrepreneurs, we have a truckload of things to do in a day. Are you kidding me? But apply a daily SCRUM approach to your day, to your team and create an environment where everyone is on the same page. When you’re head-down in building at the speed of light, it feels good to know where everyone else stands.

Applying SCRUM to a startup environment creates a sense of ownership, but not dictatorship. It protects the process (the sprint process and the greater product). SCRUM determines the collective path and knocks back daunting tasks by breaking it down into chunks of successful sprints. It shows you where you’ve come from as a startup, as a series of smaller teams and as a lean response team. We don’t code in a box. We don’t sell in a bubble. We don’t market in a funnel. We huddle, we call the play and we play it.

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“What’s Your Ideal Job?” and Other Recruiter Questions

Posted on Jul 7, 2011 in Featured, Silly, Work |

“What’s Your Ideal Job?” and Other Recruiter Questions

As most of you know by now, my company Threxy has closed. After six extraordinary years, I’ve decided to go in-house again. Why? Because I miss collaboration, I miss the startup feeling, the long-vision roadmaps. I miss the ability to see a project through instead of just advising others how to. I’ve been the Annie Oakley of outsourced marketing long enough and I can’t wait to begin working with a team again.

In the past few days, I’ve spoken with some fantastic companies and, as you’ve probably experienced yourself,  I’ve been asked the same battery of questions by almost every person I’ve spoken with. What do you say we make it easier on all of us? I’ll just go ahead and answer the questions now… then we can move onto the fun stuff like experience and interest and cool technology.

To the recruiters who are seeing my blog for the first time (welcome and, um, happy-ish reading), this, like most of my writing, is just plain silliness.

Q: What is your ideal job?

A: Well, I could be snarky and say, “Not having one,” but that’s not true at all. I love to work on projects I can wrap myself around. My ideal job today would be a VP Marketing role in a smaller size company that is building out or rebuilding their marketing initiatives. My ideal job would involve working with smack-down-smart brainypants, because, well, that’s what I call fun. I’d throw in a tasty product that is actually exciting to market and one that could benefit from my experience. I’d like to learn from my colleagues. Mama always says, “Learn and teach, learn and teach to keep the balance of work just right.”

Q: What is Threxy? It sounds a little dirty.

A: Threxy is not an adult business, although I’ve made sales programs for enough of them to know more than I should about it. Threxy stands for “Three Ex-Yahoos!” and it’s a company we started in 2005 with three ex-Yahoos (product, engineering and me, the marketer). We had a product idea that we incubated and took through the funding stage. A killer VC told me to scrap it, take the assets and create something new. He was right. From the bones of FamilyRoutes came a six-year business that built online products, developed product and marketing strategies and knocked back about $1 million in revenue. Not bad for a true cottage (like, really, in.my.cottage) startup.

Q: What are your salary requirements?

A: Now, really. Etiquette says to never talk about money, sex or politics and we’ve already covered two of the three. My consulting rate is about $150/hour. That would be over $300,000 per year if I applied the same metrics to a 40-hour work week. I’m not asking for that much, not even in the same ballpark. So there you go.

Q: What makes you a good fit for this role?

A: See, this is a trick question. No one is the perfect fit. It doesn’t happen. It’s about having the right skills to apply to the right company, at the right time, with the right team. Stars have to align — that or a great recruiter. Which is why I’m on this call anyway. So tell me, what makes me a good fit for this role?

Okay, maybe not the way to answer that one. I know people apply to hundreds of jobs online. I’ve known friends and colleagues who click Apply to every job with their keyword search results. That’s not my approach. I’m looking for a company to call home, a place to sink my brain into, and a place to enjoy watching a company grow and develop. I’m only applying to companies where I think I’m a good fit. That said, I’ve had two calls already where the job description and the job offered were different things. Thank goodness for great recruiters who can navigate it with me.

Q: So you graduated from Syracuse University in 1992?

A: <<Crickets>>. Most people don’t know that I didn’t ever receive a degree. I left Syracuse University in 1992 with a good education and a lot of life lessons, but no, I did not graduate, despite my genius IQ. Did I just say that out loud?

Q: Are you willing to relocate?

A: Nope. San Jose to San Francisco is about the max I’m willing to shift. I have too good of a life to consider anything else.

Q: Do you do SM, SEO/SEM, CRM, UGC, SCRUM or PCP?

A: Yes, I have been doing social media since before SM was a catchphrase and I’ll be doing it long after it is called by another name. Social media to me = customer engagement where customers are. SEO/SEM are in my planning and management suite but not my day-to-day job. There are people a lot more skilled than I at executing on SEO/SEM. CRM is old fashioned lead generation and customer retention. So yes, I’m a marketer to customers and CRM is about customers. I earned my chops building, monetizing and growing UGC. I’d consider myself well versed. I know the SCRUM philosophy because two of my clients are using it and because I try to follow what product and engineering are doing. After all, the whole reason you have a company is for the product, right? PCP, nah, but thanks.

Q: Tell us something unique about you so that your resume will stand out!

Are you telling me my resume doesn’t stand out? Okay, fine. Here you go: I once spent five minutes alone with Michael Jackson. There you go. Does my resume stand out now?

Q: It must be hard closing your company and going in house.

A: Not really. I’ve been looking forward to it for a year. This step was planned and I’m literally thrilled and like a kid waiting to open birthday presents over finding just the right company to work for. I am very proud of the company I built, but I’m also proud to say that phase of my career has finished and I’m onto this next one.

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Pinkie Toes

Posted on Apr 13, 2011 in Featured, Rants |

Pinkie Toes

My son once wore nail polish. It was black, or maybe it was blue. I would only let his little 3-year-old tootsies be painted “boy” colors. And really, the only reason I let him get his toe nails painted was because his twin sister was getting hers painted, and, well, there you go. On another transgender moment in parenting, I once let him wear  fairy wings, a pink princess dress and pink Fancy Nancy high heels too, but he ditched them before he could get to the grocery store, claiming, “Girl stuff can’t go in my car seat,” (dang fairy wings).

I’m pretty hard core about boy stuff being boy stuff and girl stuff being girl stuff. I’m sure it comes from raising my son in a same-sex household by two women and a twin sister; I’m particularly sensitive to making sure my Thing 1 is alllll boy.

JCrew got nailed today when Jenna, the company’s president and focus of their email marketing campaign, was photographed with her son painting his toenails bright neon pink. Conservative media went completely postal saying insane freak-o-matic things on-air, accusing JCrew of ““blatant propaganda celebrating transgendered children.” Transgendered children? What the smack are you talking about? Fox News went on to claim that the little boy would need therapy some day for his neon pink tootsies. And then I got mad.

There is little to celebrate about the painful acknowledgement of a transgendered child. And what the hell is in that nail polish that could make someone transgendered? Whatever it is, Glen Beck has been using too much of it. Or maybe I used too much of it and it made me fall in love with a woman — or wait, maybe not enough bright neon nail polish. That’s it! My mom didn’t paint my nails pink enough! That’s how I must have ended up with La Gringa. Oh, it’s so clear now.

I know a child who is transgender. The pain for the parents is unsurpassed. The sheer love for the child is a force of nature — they protect their son so passionately, working with therapists and family members to try to ease the pain for the child and themselves.  The child, a boy, identifies as a girl. He always has. And let me tell you, it wasn’t damn nail polish that burdened this poor child’s soul. Being transgender is no joke. But neither is a mother’s love.

At some point, The Female Brain and The Male Brain should be compulsory reading for anyone that plans on representing themselves as media, conservative, liberal or trans-political. The chemistry of a human — from the love of lacy panties and pink nail polish to the soothing sound of crashing cars and jackhammers — is imbedded in who we are from long before our toes were painted. The sheer irresponsibility of the media to pounce on the sexual identification of a child, and in this case, a specific child named Beckett, is abhorrent. Shame on you.

I signed the petition in support of the ad. And, more importantly, I just bought the Tranny polish from Jcrew.com and will put it on every man and woman I know — to “celebrate” the beautiful, tortured transgender children among us.

Sign the petition.

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