Asking for feedback isn’t a sign of weakness

asking for feedback isn't a sign of weakness

The CEO of a multi-million dollar public company asked a new entrepreneur for feedback on their software. The entrepreneur was excited to share their honest thoughts and suggested a fix to one of the features. The fix was implemented that same week.

Meanwhile, a smaller competitor was hiring employees in an attempt to expand. They reached out to candidates with the promise of a job, only to redirect them to an impersonal screening call. The recruiter recorded answers to questions without actually listening to any of the responses. The candidate ended the call by asking for feedback to better prepare for the next interview. The recruiter then shamed the candidate for demonstrating weakness, and disappeared without replying to any of the follow ups. The company struggled and ended up laying off 50% of its employees before being acquired for parts.

After experiencing the culture of each of these companies first hand, their fate doesn’t surprise me. The CEO is a reflection of a company that is successful because it values feedback and continuous improvement. On the other hand, a company that considers asking for feedback to be a weakness is bound to end up failing. True weakness is being afraid of rejection and constructive criticism that might lead to you having to change.

Ask for, and listen to, feedback.


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First 100

danielle geva toronto

Hey Danielle,

Could you help me out? I’m writing an article about starting blogging.

Let’s say you were to go back to when you first started blogging. How would you get your first 100 Facebook fans?

1. Write an article

2. Post a link to the article on your Facebook page

3. ???

What’s the next step? 

Go back to when I first started blogging? Well, that was around May of 2010. How would I get my first 100 Facebook fans? I’d have to create an account first.

After disagreeing with Zuck’s views on privacy, I deleted my personal account. But then in late 2010, I had to create another account for managing clients’ pages (which I also ended up deleting).

There are hundreds of reports, which are saved somewhere in the cloud, with details of my recommendations, methods, and results for growing an audience on social networks. Thing is, most of the specific advice is outdated.

Best practices are meant to be broken, and the people who push boundaries get the furthest.

You can google the latest tactics for inspiration, but successful marketers are the ones that devise their own experiments. If you’re starting a blog today, treat it like a business. Start with a marketing plan, and then use trial and error to figure out what work best for attracting your target audience. Oh and remember to avoid making the pinball machine mistake. Getting 100 fans might be a strategy you consider to increase readership, but it shouldn’t be your high level objective.

Why you won’t get paid

Danielle Geva - Why you won’t get paid

Freelancing lessons better learned shaving someone else’s beard.

The oral contract

On legal shows, an oral contract is enough to win a case. In real life, the client knows you’re not going to sue them. A conversation about consulting terms leaves plenty of room for loopholes. The client takes advantage of you, claims it was all a big misunderstanding, and then they do it again. You blame yourself, and plan to get it in writing next time.

The follow up email

As soon as you’re done talking with the client over the phone, you send them a follow up with a recap of the terms discussed. You even get a reply with a confirmation (Exhibit A for your imaginary court case). Only your follow up email didn’t clearly specify the payment schedule. You expect payment at the end of the month. They pretend it’s understood payment is due once they decide the project is done. You blame yourself, and plan to include payment terms next time.

The invoice payment terms

At the end of the month, you send an invoice with a note at the bottom that says “payable within 10 days”. They ignore the note. You wonder if they didn’t scroll all the way down. They didn’t even open the PDF. Net 30 becomes net 60, and soon 6 months pass (eventually the statute of limitations passes). You blame yourself, and plan to send an official contract next time.

The unsigned agreement

The client sends you their standard contract, and you read every paragraph. Twice. You amend the payment terms, and ask them to remove a non-compete clause. They make the changes. You sign the final version. They never do. You read about acceptance by conduct, and wonder if you should keep working. They stop paying. You blame yourself, and plan to get their signature next time.

The profit-sharing plan

You turn the wheel while the crowd cheers: “How won’t they pay?!” The answer: a profit-sharing plan. When it’s time for payment, the client suddenly has zero profit. Or so they claim. Their engineer never built the promised internal dashboards. You don’t understand why it couldn’t be done on a spreadsheet. They never share their financials. You stop blaming yourself.

The shady client

Even when you do everything right (and learn how to better communicate), some clients are from hell. Instead of only preparing for worse case scenario, you need to work on preventing it all together. The next step isn’t charging the client before you waste your time. The next step is weeding out bad clients (which I’ll be writing about next).


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An expected twist

The story behind my decanter artwork

Whenever I see decanters, I’m tempted to buy them. They are essentially useless to me, but it’s difficult to resist their beauty and elegance. I try to justify the purchase by imagining other uses for them. Perhaps one could be used to serve water, another to store cotton balls, and a third as a vase. Then I think that flowers belong in the garden, and so I walk away.

It wasn’t until recently that I learned that decanters weren’t simply vessels meant to hold alcohol. One of their functions is to aerate wine. Allowing wine to breathe after being bottled up for years, seems like a fitting metaphor for my journey.

Over the past decade I spent the majority of my time as a marketing consultant. It wouldn’t be accurate to say that my creativity had been bottled up, especially while working with startups, but it has been too long since I’ve created art for the sole purpose of self-expression.

It’s been even longer since I’ve experimented with making something in the physical world.

Art isn’t a new passion. I’ve studied art for over 13 years, and those who are close to me always wondered why I ever stopped. Instead of getting into that, here’s how I got started again.

Whenever I used to have down time, I would log in to Codecademy, read a startup book, or clear my Pocket full of tech and marketing articles. My interests became too narrow. Contrary to popular belief, this isn’t great professionally. The most innovative ideas are the result of exposure to different topics and industries. I asked around for new sources of information, and ended up reading a few long form articles on random topics. This wasn’t enough. The articles opened my eyes to new ideas, but I needed to be more immersed.

I came across a chemical engineering course, and thought about diving in. Chemical engineering is vastly different from anything I’ve studied before. What are the odds that I would have studied engineering had I known about it earlier? Or, would I have known about it earlier had I was better suited to study engineering?

This lead me to wonder about the subjects I already knew about and somehow forgot.

Whenever a friend turns out to be a secretly talented artist, I encourage them to create even more and sell their art online. I tell them how they shouldn’t doubt themselves, and how I wish I could spend my days making art.

Instead of taking random online courses, I decided to rediscover one of my forgotten passions. It felt incredible to dig up my old sketchbook, and buy new art supplies. My curiosity grew, and being an artist no longer felt like a hobby or a crazy retirement dream.

An old sketch inspired me to play with shapes and lines, and the design of the modern decanter made for the perfect subject. The medium was a given. One of the last pieces I created years ago was in oil pastel. All that was left was to listen to my own advice and share the completed artwork.

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Lessons from sites that rely on user-generated content

Building a product that relies on user-generated content can start with you and your best friend posting everything, but that plan isn’t going to get you far. Since you can’t force anyone to create content, here are some lessons from Pinterest, Quora, and Hacker News since they’ve figured out how to get users to contribute.

Pinterest

Pinterest may have had a rocky start, but there’s no doubt that the platform is now one many aspire to emulate. In the beginning, Pinterest launched pin it forward campaigns to generate content by leveraging power users. Users would create a board, and then encourage their friends to create the same board with their own pins. How do you get your most active users to hand-hold newbies for you? Well, you could ask them nicely and hope for the best. Or you could offer them some incentive. Pinterest did just that by giving users more invites if their campaign worked. If you don’t have an invite-only community, you’ll have to be more creative, just make sure the reward is something users will actually care about. The best incentives reward both existing and new users as well as lead to increased product usage.

Since brands get so much value out of Pinterest they are much more motivated to have their images pinned than individual users. You might not be excited about the thought of having marketers use your site for their own agenda, but it works for Pinterest and many others. Especially if you’re looking to monetize later on. Pinterest built the Pin It button to make it easier for brands to have visitors pin their images, not to mention promote Pinterest. The button also means users don’t even have to be on Pinterest to create content. Building a tool this awesome that actually works starts with segmentation. Don’t just assume your most active users are the ones with the most to gain from your product.

Sometimes there’s just too much friction to creating new content. New users don’t want to look stupid and share the wrong thing, or they might not understand how your site works. I know you’ve spent weeks trying to design a beautiful interface, and are genuinely angry at users for not clicking on that now huge button, just to see what it does, but consider taking a step back. Instead of asking users to create their own original content, start by asking them to reshare someone else’s. Pinterest does this with the baked-in repin button. Users can easily repin images they like and see how well they’ve performed for other users by checking out the public number of likes, repins, and comments. This makes their first time pinning not as scary, and creating new boards becomes less overwhelming. Pinterest isn’t the only site with this type of feature, so if the concept of repinning doesn’t inspire you think about Twitter’s retweet and Tumblr’s reblog.

Quora

Quora has so much potential, so you might hear some rumblings about how it’s not doing that great. Ignore those and hope that people have such high expectations for your own site one day. Instead of listening to the haters, Quora focuses on delivering an incredible experience to its users. There’s a difference between telling users how magical it will be when, or, let’s be honest, if they create content and actually proving it before they ever start posting. When you want an answer to your question, you head to Quora. Chances are someone else has already asked the question and you can check out the answers. It’s less about showing how Quora works through random questions and answers, but more about having a search function that allows users to see how valuable it would be if they had posted the very same question. You bet that the next time that user, or visitor, has a question they won’t think twice about asking it on Quora. Be careful not to spend too much time building cool ways for users to engage with content if these features don’t actually motivate them to create, otherwise there’ll be nothing to interact with. The important lesson here is to gain users’ trust by spending less time making promises and more time improving their lives.

Speaking of broken promises, getting influencers is a classic move to drive customer acquisition. New users join in the hopes of having an opportunity to interact with people they look up to, but usually these influencers are just for show and don’t end up using the product. This isn’t the case with Quora. If someone asks a question about Robert Scoble, anyone can answer it, but often Robert himself will take the time to jot down the obviously most accurate response. Quora recognizes top writers which helps encourage quality answers, but before that you have to get well-known experts to join your site. Make a list of the leaders in your industry, and ask shared connections for an introduction. A cold email can work, but an introduction will increase the odds of them becoming a user. Since these influencers won’t have much time, be prepared to send personalized emails with a clear ask. Occasionally, that will mean creating content for them.

If influencers don’t convince Quora users to create content, then Quora hopes friends will. After new users sign up they usually follow some familiar faces. Existing users are then prompted to suggest topics to their new followers. Quora knows you probably don’t have a clue what your friend wants to ask, but you definitely know what area they’re interested in. Similar to the way Pinterest enlisted the help of power users, Quora knows that a recommendation from a contact is far more effective than an email from their team. Initially, you should manually reach out to highly active users and ask them to become advocates. However, you should observe what users do naturally, and then bake that into the product to make the behaviour easier to repeat.

Finally, Quora allows users to post their questions anonymously without the hassle of creating a new account. Before simply copying this, you should consider if anonymity might negatively affect the experience for other users. Quora’s decision was made long before all the hype around anonymous apps and was likely based on research and feedback from inactive users. Asking a question online can be embarrassing, and users might have a bunch of reasons why they don’t want the question to be associated with their identity. Being able to ask the question anonymously solves the issue for Quora, but might not be the right solution for you. Your users might prefer to instead limit the visibility of their content to their friends. Depending on your product it might be easier to build one of the above features over the other, but make sure it’s the one that actually increases content creation.

Hacker News

Hacker News has a straightforward design that makes it super easy for users to navigate the site and submit links. There’s no surprises after you hit HN’s submit button, and there are only two fields to fill out. No categories, no summaries, no checkboxes. Sure, there are also Show and Ask style posts, but new users don’t have to know what those mean and probably won’t notice them. Users not only understand how to use HN, but they can quickly learn exactly what HN is and what content is most appreciated. This isn’t a fluke, HN has very clear guidelines about the type of content that’s on-topic and quality posts that comply get upvoted to the front page. There’s no confusion that HN was made for hackers by hackers to exchange news that gratifies one’s intellectual curiosity. Strong brand positioning is one of the most effective way to increase user-generated content. This also happens to be very difficult to pull off. Whether your site relies on user created content or not, you should drop everything right now if you can’t fill in the blank: “When users need ________ they think about my product.”

This article focuses on how to get new users to create their very first piece of content, so I won’t delve into the promised rewards that follow which include making it to the front page or getting traffic to your own site. However, the articles written about the impressive power of HN are relevant since they are a proof of HN’s amazing ability to make things happen.

Endorsements from users are priceless, and you’re lucky if your users write about their positive experience. Actually, it’s not about luck at all. You don’t have to hope or wait, you just have to ask. Your users want to help but the biggest barrier is figuring out what you actually need from them.

It’s interesting to see that many sites, including Quora and Pinterest, allow users to do something new with the same address book. Perhaps the most unique reason that users create content on HN is because they want to belong to a pretty niche community. Even if most of your friends are part of the tech startup ecosystem, and have heard of HN, they probably don’t all frequent the site. Many users post content because they feel like they finally found a place in the internet where they can share their interests with peers. Building such a loyal community takes time and effort, but if you succeed you’ll find that users are eager to upload and create content they care about.

Key Takeaways

Here’s a summary of the actionable advice to help you get started on building your own product that relies user-generated content:

  • Leverage power users by rewarding them when they encourage new users to create content.
  • Identify the users with the most to gain from your product, and build tools that help support both of your goals.
  • Allow users to reshare content from others to reduce the pressure of creating original content.
  • Don’t just tell, but actually show users how much value they would gain from creating content.
  • Reach out to influencers and make it easy for them to stay active.
  • Build features that empower existing users to repeatedly motivate new users into taking action.
  • Help users overcome feelings of fear or embarrassment by letting them post content anonymously or to a limited group.
  • Design a straightforward product that doesn’t require users to struggle to create content.
  • Clearly communicate the problem your product solves and the content that performs best.
  • Ask users to share stories about their positive experiences on your site.
  • Build a community of users that are eager to share things they care about with each other.

 

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In case of emergency

In case of emergency chocolateA horrible smell spread throughout the house, and the sickly fumes seemed to be originating from the kitchen. Smoke gushed out of the oven as I pulled out some dishes and a burnt plant. A baking sheet was placed directly under the melting plastic, while our small fan was working overtime to keep the fumes away from the smoke detector.

Some people use their oven as storage, because the only thing they’ve ever prepared is a bowl of cereal. While I do bake often, the oven can be a pretty good spot to quickly hide the evidence of a messy counter. Luckily, I usually have a great memory and remove dishes before preheating. Usually.

The plastic on the bottom of the oven floor started to harden, but we were busy trying to pry chunks off the metal racks. After using hot water, scissors and serrated knives, what was left of the plastic container was mostly in the garbage. The whirring of the bathroom fan and the loud exhaust hood reminded me of the time my roommate set her grilled cheese on fire.

The pressure to quickly hit record as a show is starting is too much for some people. For me, it depends who’s around me. When my roommate and friend had no idea how to extinguish the small fire, I looked around for a second and then threw a pot lid on the burning pan and spatula. After that I carefully placed a wet towel over the mess to help smother the flames.

I’m much more likely to scream when I see a spider, or even a rather large ant, but if it’s up to me to place a cup over it and get it outside than so be it. You don’t always have to be calm under pressure, or take charge of a group, but you should be able to assess the situation and know when to step up.

[Image via A Fish Who Likes Flowers]


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Agent vs. Talent

One of my favourite quotes is, “only a life lived for others is worth living” by Albert Einstein. In life there are agents and talent, neither is superior to the other. While agents are able to promote others with ease, they are often unable to effectively promote their own talents. Likewise, those with talent rarely thrive unless they find a separate entity or individual to act as their representative.

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Social Media for Founders

Keeping up with social media can be overwhelming, especially once you start using it as a business tool. Gone are the days of chatting to random strangers and friends all night, you now have a company to run and promote.

There are three main activities that you shouldn’t neglect, these include: responding to feedback, joining the conversation and growing your network. The frequency and time spent on each one of the above tasks depends on your goals for both your personal and company brand. Below are some guidelines, which will hopefully help you spend your time more effectively.

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Startup Mistakes by Software and Tech Companies: The Rebuttal

A friend of mine shared this article with me over Twitter, after we discussed (and agreed), that tech startups underestimate the power of sales and marketing. I still believe that to be true, but the article sounds like someone in a suit with a ‘real’ job wrote it without the slightest insight into the mind of an entrepreneur.

While some points are valid, the majority of them were presented so poorly that any entrepreneur reading this would just shake their head in disgust and miss the message. Seeing as Twitter arguments usually go nowhere, I decided to write my ‘rebuttal’ here and highlight the important points from a different point of view.

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