Archive | November, 2011

Networking.com

30 Nov

Being unemployed sucks. I know because I was out of work for 6 months before taking my current position in October. So when a complete stranger emailed to ask me to coffee to discuss his job search, I immediately agreed. He found me through a mutual acquaintance, who thought I might be able to share some insight on career opportunities in the startup world.

I chatted for 30 minutes with this gentleman, who is looking to change careers at 50-something, and shared with him some awesome networking events. He also asked about Twitter (my twit-putation preceded me, yet again) and I shared my thoughts on how to use it effectively in a job search.

The whole encounter got me thinking about the importance of networking, particularly in a close-knit community like Des Moines, and the role technology should (and shouldn’t) play.

Though I’m not a full-fledged geek, I’m usually an early technology adopter. I was the first person at my first job to get email (and then showed everyone else how to sign up). I’ve been on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter for years, and I’m now trying to figure out why I should care about Google+.

Over the years, I’ve incorporated all of these platforms into my networking repertoire, with varying results. Here’s some of what I’ve learned about successful “technetworking”:

1. Use it as a supplement. Technology should never replace face-to-face networking. For the introverted, sending an email or chatting on Twitter can be a non-threatening way to make an introduction. Likewise, technology may expose extroverts to shy (but important) folks they may not otherwise meet. While it is perfectly acceptable, even encouraged, to start networking via technology, it eventually needs to transition into real-life encounters to become a truly worthwhile relationship.

2. Give as much as you take. I can credit social media directly for finding me my last two jobs, for creating at least a dozen of my closest friendships, for uncovering what became some of my favorite social events, and for rewarding me with a variety of awesome prizes and swag. That said, I’ve used it to help others find jobs, locate lost pets, spread the word about charitable events, and much more. The best way to get someone to help you is to first help them.

3. Don’t expect overnight results. If you think you can sign up for all the social media sites tonight and have your dream job or thousands of loyal new customers tomorrow, you are living in Fantasy Land. Virtual relationships are as much work as real-life ones—and they should be. People want to work with and help people they care about, and that extends to the online world. I can’t help everyone in my social-media circle, so I let the selfish, impatient ones weed themselves out and instead focus my time on those who engage in a consistent and meaningful way.

4. Consider your image. Before getting started, think about why you are using a particular site. What do you want to accomplish? This will help guide both the image you project and the types of people with whom you interact. I’ve been told by some that I’m too open and crazy with my social media but there is actually a method to my madness (basically, in the words of Groucho Marx, “I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.”). Remember that anything you say on the ‘Net never EVER goes away.

I’m sure there are many more “rules” for technetworking success and I’d love to hear what you’d add to my meager list. Please leave a comment with your suggestions. And if I’ve never met you, let’s start a conversation. (find me on Twitter or shoot me an email, bmollenkamp at me dot com) and see how well this technetworking thing really works.

Geeky Gift Idea

23 Nov

Have a special geek in your life? Not sure what to get him or her for Christmas? I found something you’ll love — this awesome t-shirt from SnorgTees:

It’s only $19.95 and is so freaking cool, I’d wear one (hint hint). Consider this find to be my little Christmas gift to you. Happy Holidays!

There IS such a thing as a stupid question—and that’s a good thing

16 Nov

Whoever said “there are no stupid questions, just stupid people” was stupid. There are many, many stupid questions…and you better be asking them if you want your business to succeed.

I’ve learned a lot about the value of stupid questions in the last month in my role as City Manager at StartupCity Des Moines because I’m usually the one asking them. As a non-techie working in an über techie world, I almost always feel stupid. I don’t understand much of what I hear around me. Back-end utility? Gooey (um, I mean GUI?)? SEM? It’s all Greek to me. I know I’m ignorant and, as such, I’m not afraid to ask the questions that others who are supposed to know this stuff may not have the guts to ask.

Last week, I asked one of our startups why a button on his mobile app was green. Stupid question but it helped identify a problem that other ordinary, non-techie users might have. Yesterday, an applicant stopped by the offices to pitch his startup. I didn’t understand the technology behind the idea but I asked some stupid questions about why his target market (women) would want to use the site, and he left needing to rethink his approach.

Stupid questions can uncover some really important information. The people using your product or service don’t share your encyclopedic knowledge about it, nor do they have the same IQ as you. But their experiences are as valuable—actually, they are more valuable—than yours. If they don’t understand and love what you have to offer, then you have nothing to sell.

To uncover the stupid questions—and then make needed changes to address them—you need to look outside of yourself. Get in front of as many people as possible, even those you don’t consider a target market. Sometimes the stupidest (and best) questions come from the unlikeliest sources. Let everyone play with your product, if you have one, or describe what you are doing and how. Then give them permission to ask you anything.

Listening without judgment is key here. Remember, these are probably going to sound like stupid questions to you but there is something to be learned if only you curb your instinct to explain, justify, rationalize, and roll your eyes. Take notes on everything you hear, even if it seems totally silly to you, and watch for trends. If more than one person asks the same stupid question, it’s probably not so stupid after all.

By now you are probably thinking, “she’s just describing a focus group.” That’s true, it just happens to be a more organic, valuable, and cheaper DIY version. Long before you can afford to hire a big marketing firm to organize a formal roundtable of targeted users, you can empower yourself to improve your product using useful data from real-world users.

So the next time you find yourself saying, “that’s a stupid question,” stop and explore whether it might actually be an opportunity to improve.

Geekpreneurs: Can you tell your story or is it time to get help?

7 Nov

In the last year, I’ve been introduced to a lot of amazing startups and I’ve discovered two distinct types of tech entrepreneurs. The first is the Non-Geek Visionary, who has an amazing idea but doesn’t have the technical skills to make it happen. The second is the Geekpreneur, who not only has the idea but also has the ability to build it.

What I’ve noticed about these groups is that the latter often has a hard time recognizing weaknesses and bringing others on board to handle those areas. It makes sense. Their product is truly their baby—they spent countless hours taking it from dream to reality—and handing even a piece of it off to someone else can be scary.

Geekpreneurs frequently drop the ball when it comes to marketing. An encyclopedic knowledge can make it difficult to devise a clear, concise, and clever way to communicate the product to others. “I understand what I’m doing, why don’t you?” Building something amazing is meaningless, however, if no one knows about it, understands it, or cares about it.

Creating a great “elevator pitch” isn’t difficult, but it requires stepping outside of yourself to think objectively about your product. Unfortunately, that’s not something most of us can do. The most successful business people are masters at delegation and Geekpreneurs (as well as Non-Geek Visionaries who struggle with marketing) would be well served to ask for help when it comes to writing a bio, one sheet, web verbiage, and other marketing materials.

(Shameless plug: I love using my journalism background to help entrepreneurs tell their stories. If you need help, contact me.)

Are you a geek, nerd or dork?

4 Nov

Fun discussion in the office today with some of our in-house geeks. I got to be the smarty pants for once because I was able to educate these tech guys on the difference between a geek, nerd and dork. Smart and focused on a tech project but still able to get laid? Congrats, you’re a geek! Focused on tech stuff but not so smart and lousy with the ladies? Sorry, but you’re a dork.

I learned about the differences a year ago when I came across an awesome Venn diagram on the topic (source: Buzzfeed). I liked it so much I hung it in my last office. I think it hits the nail on the head. What do you think?