skillshare - a lesson in marketing futility

Boy, do I suck at marketing.  I must.

It’s the only explanation I can come up with.

Five months ago, I moved to NYC.  In an effort to meet people in the startup world, I began going to MeetupsSkillshares and General Assembly classes.  Sure, there was knowledge to be had, but I was primarily focused on networking.

Well, a funny thing happened on the way to the Skillshare.  I began learning.

So I began taking lots of interesting classes.  I learned how to code.  I learned how to do cohort analysis.  I even learned how to travel like a rock star.

Now, I know I sound like a MBA.

Gasp! He’s an MBA? On hacker news?! Get him!!!

I should be teaching myself all these skills.  I should be talking about learning by doing.  But, when you’re new to the city, people assume you’re toxic.  Forget about getting consulting gigs right off the bat.

Not. Even. If. You. Offer. Your. Services. For. Free.

You are just too much of an unknown.

Back to the story.  The logical progression for me was to teach.  Luckily, I have a skill worth learning.  I was a professional poker player for three years before my MBA.

See, if you kept reading after my last mention of the words ‘MBA,’ you’d learn I’m not so typical.

I traveled all over the world.  Lived in Las Vegas for the summers to play in the World Series of Poker.  Even kept a poker blog.  Not to mention, I’ve taught poker before.

So, I set up my class on Skillshare and voilà…

No one signed up.

Next, I did what any semi-tech person would do.  I started spamming my Twitter feed.  And my Facebook feed.  And my LinkedIn feed.  If it had a feed, I was spamming it.

Still, no one signed up.

How could this be?  Didn’t I just graduate with a concentration in marketing?  Haven’t I put together marketing plans before?  Aren’t I applying for marketing roles at startups, telling people all the great things I can do for them?

Well well well, turns out what they say is true…

Marketing is hard work.  No matter how many classes I attend, marketing IS often times about doing.  It’s about testing.

But this isn’t one of those types of posts.  Marketing is obviously difficult.

So, I’ve begun growth hacking my own class.

Oh, it’s one of those types of posts!

Without analytics, it’s hard to track a number of the important metrics (e.g. bounce rate, etc.).  And, I can’t change the UI/UX of the site.  Let’s just assume the good people at Skillshare are as good at product as I think they are.

Here’s what I’ve done since launching the class months ago:

1. Change the class listing.

A fellow teacher, Joe Fairless, suggested I spice up the content and change the layout.  ”Make it sexy,” he said.

So, I changed from the original title “Poker - How to make an extra couple hundo at the poker table” to “Poker - How to Make Tons of Money Like They Do on TV (notice the capitalization).”  After having studied other class names on Skillshare, I recently changed the name again.

Now, I’m teaching “Poker - How I Made Over $200,000 a Year Playing as a Pro.”  It’s super cheesy.

Does my class stand out in organic search?  Maybe, maybe not.

I’m thinking of swapping the word “Made” with “Win,” but there is little way for me to test the two.  I’m also thinking about taking it a step further and ‘Caps Lock’ing the title.

Oh no, not Caps Lock!

Additionally, on the class page, I bolded endorsements and added them above the description of the course.  Nothing like a little social proof in the morning…

Also, I added a money-back guarantee and an early bird special.

I am attempting to imitate some of the more sought after classes on Skillshare.  But, it bothers me that there is very little way for me to measure or correlate new students with better copy.

2. Get smart on social.

This is obvious, but it’s typically one of the cheapest forms of customer acquisition.  I tweet @people that might find my class interesting.  Famous people.  NYC people.  Poker people.

I’ve tweeted about my class 34 times.  I’ve had 29 retweets/mentions.  Two of my poker friends, Dan O’Brien and Allen Bari, retweeted about my class numerous times to their 13,000+ followers combined.

And what are the results?  I’ve had 2 sign-ups using this channel.

While it costs nothing to continue tweeting, I worry that all I’m doing is degrading my feed. 2 sign-ups in 34 tweets.  Given the fact that I’ve only tweeted 266 times, I’m worried most of my followers will revolt (read: unfollow).  I don’t want to drown out my real thoughts with my poker class.  Just feels dirty.

Sidenote: My hypothesis for why my hit-rate is so low: twitter isn’t geo-local.  Even if you include a #NYC hashtag, those that click can be from Timbuktu.  Plus, tweets are only relevant for a few seconds in a feed.

3. Offer coupons to everyone and his mother.

Seriously.  If we’ve met and I liked you, I’ve probably offered you a coupon to my class.

Thus far, I’ve had 13 students.  4 got seats for free (100% off) because they were friends.  3 purchased a seat with a 20% off coupon.  1 purchased a seat with a 23% off coupon.  5 purchased a ticket at 100% full price.

4. Played with the pricing.

I started at $35 because it was consistent with most ‘money-making’ classes on Skillshare.   Also, if I get 10 students, that equals $350, the number I used to charge for one hour poker lessons.  Then, I moved to $40 when I increased the class time from 1:30 to 2 hours.  Finally, I settled in at $39, subscribing to the ’end in a 9' theory.

I’d prefer not to change the price anymore.  I think it disrespects people who have already taken the class and at some point, my time.

5. Post my class on CraigsList.

This hasn’t worked.  But, I did receive this awesome email from someone as a response:

So, I got a new student…JKJKJK

6. Offer perks to Meetup groups.

Poker Meetup groups.  Startup Meetup groups.  Investment Meetup groups.  It don’t matter.  If they are meeting up, I’m offering a perk.

This hasn’t worked either - but it’s still early.

7. Get crazy - teach cross-platform.

This one fell into my lap, but I will be teaching poker to corporate clients and/or private parties as one of Zaarly’s first 100 featured storefronts in NYC.  My storefront has yet to launch, so I don’t know the impact just yet.

8. Go old school - post a flyer in the building the class with be held.

Haven’t completed this task yet, but I plan on testing this week.

Looking back, out of the 13 students I’ve had, 5 are the result of an organic search on Skillshare, 2 are the result of my tweets and 5 are friends who came to support me (one student’s origin is unknown).  I’ve made $273 in top-line revenue  But, I’ve paid $70 to teach at Grind (a co-working space).  And, I purchased card stock and sharpies for name tags, which cost around $10.  So, bottom line, I’ve made $193 for 5 1/2 hours of teaching.  That’s a rate of $35.09/hr.  It’s a far cry from the $350/hr I used to charge for lessons.  But, I enjoy doing it.  I feel like things will improve if I find the right marketing channel.

It’s frustrating that I’ve yet to find my sweet spot.  I’ve learned how difficult it can be to reach an audience on a platform that may not be built with with my specific needs in mind.  Skillshare, like many other platforms, offers people an amazing opportunity to share with the world.  It’s my job to use the platform to the best of my ability.

Now I gotta get back to tutoring that student from Craigslist…

—-

Once again, check out the Skillshare class I’ve been referencing.

Dig this?  Follow me on the twitters @Josh_Goldstein.

—-

*I’d love to get on a NYC tech digest weekly email (Startup Digest NYCCharlie O’Donnell’s This Week in the NYC Innovation Community, Gary’s Guide, etc.), but I worry that the class is not specifically startup-related.

**Startup folk might not be my target market.  Traders, finance jocks and investment professionals might be better.

the perfect play

Perfection

There is this quote.  When I was a professional poker player, no matter how tumultuous things got during a session, it would center me. 

Proposed by internet poker legend Phil Galfond, the idea is simple at first glance.  Upon further review, it’s more complicated.

Phil wrote:

…every time the action is on you, it’s an opportunity for you to make the perfect play. Thinking about poker that way is good for your game.

To me, what Phil is suggesting is that every time you play a hand of poker, you have an opportunity to play perfectly.  The slate is wiped clean; each new decision is a chance at perfection.

Of course, knowing what the perfect play is is a bit more complicated.  If it’s true that poker is a skill game, then only the true greats should be able to play perfectly.

More than likely then, what Phil is suggesting is that each decision gives a player the opportunity to improve.

Mistakes made in the past are in the past.

No matter how many poor decisions one has made previously, each new decision is an opportunity for progress, either in the short term, monetarily or in the long run, as a better player.

At least that’s how I read it.  He might just mean that each new decision is an opportunity for one to play whatever he/she deems perfect.

Others I’ve spoken to say Phil is suggesting that certain decisions are under control; others are not.  Focus on the things one can execute on and try not to sweat everything else.

Still, others have told me they think Phil is saying perfection is about making lots of little correct decisions.  People overlook small things that actually matter.

However one interprets this quote, the best part about it is…

It transcends poker.

I’ve been thinking about how it relates to startups.

Entering Startup

At first glance, the concept appears to be at odds with lean startup methodology.  Lean is about shipping quickly and iterating.  It’s not about perfection.  Remember, if you’re not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you waited too long to launch.

But, by applying my first interpretation, one can see how the two are not too dissimilar.  Lean is about iterating to get to the perfect play.  It’s about moving forward.

If you’re Stickybits, the perfect play might be a pivot to Turntable.fm.  Or Burbn to Instagram.  Or Fabulis to Fab.com.

It could be creating a new BD relationship (Foursquare and Amex) or a redesign (Path).

If one interprets the quote differently, say focusing on only those decisions that are under control, he/she might contend that Square can’t do anything if another payments company releases a similar card reader.  It can only change things within its control.

Of course, the perfect play might also be to close up shop.  Sometimes, it’s best not to throw good money (or time) after bad.

And, knowing what the perfect play is might not be so clear.  But, knowing each new decision can be the best decision, the perfect decision, should give the decision-maker confidence.

——

Love it or hate it - wanna show me some love?  Check me out on the twitters @josh_goldstein.  Also, if you want to laugh, check out the first image when you google the perfect play.

Please upvote this on hacker news.

Special thanks to @earlofmuir, @JCurcio28, @Jvans1, @GregoryBBrooks for helping me rope in my thoughts.

I know I’m two years late here, but I am really digging this video from @simonsinek about why people buy things.

BrightContext: This was one of the deals I worked on last summer at Southern Capitol.  Awesome to watch them kick ass at TCDisrupt.

(Source: TechCrunch)

kayak - a model of customer service

Way before Kayak was IPO’ed, before it acquired companies like Side Step and swoodoo, and before it took $196M in funding from a bevvy of VC’s, it answered a customer service request from a naive research analyst with no understanding of the startup world.  The exchange looked something like this*:

Surprise surprise, I was that unschooled analyst.  I had no idea how silly my questions were or how crazy it was that the CTO of the company responded.  In fact, I didn’t put two and two together until years later, when I was reading this article.

Take a second and think about this again. The CTO answered my customer service request.  A request that was beyond ignorant and had nothing to do with his job.  And the kicker, he put his freaking phone number in the email!!!  Granted, Kayak wasn’t the travel behemoth it is today but it was still a major player.  To put this into perspective, a mere 10-months later, Kayak would raise that new $196m round of funding.

I wanted to run an anecdotal test to see if things have changed, given the IPO.  Certainly Mr. English isn’t still answering inbound requests.

These days, how long does it take to get a response?  And who is responding?

So, I copy and pasted the same ridiculous email from years ago and shot it off to Kayak customer service.  Here is the response:

Few things to note:

1. It took 12 minutes for someone to respond.

2. Young, the one who responded, is a ‘Director of Product Management’ according to LinkedIn.  Seems overly qualified to be responding to customer service requests.  Sound familiar?

3. She didn’t include her phone number (probably a good idea these days).

4. Don’t know if she is capable of contacting the CFO, but I like the way she handled my request nonetheless.  I’m sure they would have eventually told me I can invest when the company IPO’s.

Recently, I’ve been learning how to code (#subtlebrag).  I’m starting to realize why developers hate MBA’s, and some business folk, more generally.  Coding is difficult work.  Convention is that MBA’s should stick to excel/powerpoint and coders should stick to code (or product).  But, what my interaction with Kayak teaches me is that it doesn’t matter what side of the business you come from - you gotta take care of the customer.

*I deleted Mr. English’s phone number for this post, but it was included in his original email.

teaching my first poker skillshare class on 7/26!

Very excited to teach this class next week (7/26).

why i use foursquare (hint: often times, it’s not to check-in)

Note: This post is targeted towards those that don’t use foursquare

I had an outpouring of support over my last post re: my foursquare cover letter, something that I didn’t expect.  For that, I’m humbled.

But, following the post I received this question, one way or another, multiple times:

"Why foursquare?  Sure it’s hip if you’re into broadcasting your life but the check-in has become such a faux pas.  Why do you want to let people know where you’ve been?"

This is a much broader question than it may seem.  As someone who loves new technology, I’m always evangelizing the nerdy.  It used to happen to me all the time with Twitter (and still does every once in a while).

In order for a tech startup to go mainstream, it has to get over this hurdle.  It’s got to cross the chasm.  The average person needs to know what I’m about to say in order for foursquare to become local Google.

Back to the question.  My answer: foursquare is no longer about the check-in.  Sure, it’s the gas that drives the engine, but often times, I use foursquare because it is the best at local discovery in the business.  Often times, I don’t even check-in when I use the app.

Whaaaa?

See, I’m the kind of guy that likes to know what’s best to eat at a restaurant.  I’m the guy who asks the waiter, “what’s good here?”  My friends hate me for it.

Foursquare owns this space.  Because it’s mobile, you get people in the heat of the moment commenting on a restaurant (good, bad or indifferent).  And because it’s mobile, comments (‘tips’ on foursquare) are short and sweet.

What about Yelp?

Yelp is old news.  Comments are long (because they’re typically written after the experience when a user is back at his/her computer) and they are slanted to either exceptionally bad or exceptionally good.  Let’s not even get in to the algorithm policing the site. 

So then, where in the foursquare app is this information tucked away?

                  

                  

           

 

The tips are ranked based on quantity of likes so ‘Sichuan pork dumplings’ are the most recommended thing on the menu.

To steal another example from my friend Chris, here is a tip left for The Smile in New York City:

This speaks directly to the restaurant.  In two words, I know exactly what I’m getting myself into when I visit The Smile.  It’s nose-rings, converse sneakers, ray-bans and hipster food.

One thing to note: if I was doing a UX critique, I’d question why it takes 5 clicks to get to this information, especially if we aren’t talking ad impressions.  It’s obvious though: it’s particularly onerous because foursquare still wants the user to check-in. 

Dennis Crowley, the CEO, talked about the inflection point earlier this year.

Then, they go and release an update making exploration paramount.

And it’s beautiful.  The algorithm learns from where you’ve checked in before, what you’ve liked, what time of the day it is, etc.  And it spits out awesome recommendations.

Why, then, would I ever check-in?

Sometimes, it’s just nice to have record of your whereabouts.  I personally like record of what airports I’ve visited or sporting events I’ve attended.  I like keeping lists of places I want to go, all through the app.  And now, I want the exploration algorithm to learn about me.

One final note: Is it a social network?

Foursquare is a social network like twitter is a social network.  It’s social and it’s a network.  But, the goal isn’t quantity of connections like some consider Facebook and Linkedin to be.  It’s not Pokemon. It’s not, ‘gotta catch’em all.’  It’s more discerning than that.  It’s about connecting with those that visit the best locales.  Right, little guy?

the death of the cover letter

I’m officially a job seeker.  And it stinks.  Well, mostly just the cover letter part.

I have applied to a small group of startups that I’m supremely passionate about.  I spend hours researching them, attempting to network through Linkedin, Twitter, etc. and then writing thoughtful cover letters.  But, I’ve seen little to no ROI with this strategy.

Recently, someone from a prominent internet company (that I applied to) gave me some advice - if you are spending all this time on your cover letters, post them on your blog and see if anyone has advice.  ”If we made a mistake, prove it to us.”  While it could be that I’m not a fit for the job, it could also be that I’m making mistakes somewhere along the way.

My immediate reaction was: will companies I apply to in the future know I got rejected somewhere (read: am I a lepper)?  And, will they wonder why I didn’t apply to their company first?  I reuse filler text from cover letter to cover letter.  Will this anger them?

The answer is maybe.  But, I can’t continue to spend time on these things without feedback (from people other than my social network).  It’s very unleanstartup of me.

So, without further adieu, I give you my original cover letter for foursquare’s Business Development Manager posting from two months ago:

——————————————————————————————————————

Dear foursquare,

I am writing to express my strong interest in the Business Development Manager (Media Partnerships) role.  I’m a staunch advocate of the foursquare product, as I use ‘tips’ religiously to get recommendations at almost every restaurant I frequent.  And, I’ve received money back on more than one occasion when using my American Express card due to the partnership with foursquare.

OK, so I’ve established I use foursquare

I am scheduled to graduate with an MBA from the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School in May and will move to NYC shortly thereafter.  I am confident that my unique background sets me apart as a candidate.  It includes:

Deleted 3 bullet points about my skills (I reuse these sometimes, so I’d prefer not to post them)

As a member of the Business Development team, I’d love to drive new partnerships in media.  Some ideas include:

· Create a Grantland specific foursquare page that gives Bill Simmons, the Sportsguy, the ability to leave clever tips at sporting venues (ala Conan O’Brien’s page).  ESPN already has a relationship with foursquare, but this page might drive more of Simmons’ audience to the service.

· Connect with non-profit The Moth for StorySLAM-specific check-ins.  The Moth has a highly engaged following, as the weekly podcast has over 70,000 subscribers and over 1,000,000 downloads a month.   And, the user-base is likely to be different than the typical media platform.

· I’d love to connect with Small Demons, an LA-based startup, to make sure they are building on the foursquare API.  It’s a small company now, but they are building a database of places from fictional novels that actually exist in the real world.

· Finally, it pains me that Duke has a foursquare page and UNC – Chapel Hill does not.  It might not be in media, but I’d love to spearhead this relationship.

It wasn’t until the past three weeks, when my phone was stolen, that I learned how much I rely on foursquare’s service.  This job would be an ideal opportunity for me to leverage my skills to join a growing giant in the startup world.

I’m aware that last line was super cheesy

As someone who got into business school with more experience playing professional poker than anything else, I’m used to being the underdog, something that could come in handy when attempting to build strategic relationships with media companies much older and larger than foursquare.

Also cheesy

Thank you for your time and consideration – please feel free to contact me at any time if you have questions or need additional information.

Sincerely,

Joshua Goldstein

———————————————————————————————————————

I realize I’m not doing the Tristan Walker thing.  I’m not Alice Lee, I’m not Avi Lichtschein and I’m not Spencer Bryan.  In the grand spectrum, my cover letter is not much.  The BD relationships I’m suggesting are step one on a long list.

Now my questions: Am I using too many hyperlinks?  Is it too long?  Am I just a bad fit (probably best answered by someone at foursquare)?  It could just be that they are looking for more established BD players - people who have built strong partnerships with slow moving organizations in the past.  To them, I’m just another MBA with some interesting ideas and a unique (read: peculiar) background.

I can’t fathom how many applications they must get on a daily basis.  These days, HR at a kick-ass startup has got to be fun and hellish at the same time.

Given that, are cover letters really dead?  They feel very much like the antiquated business plan, helpful only because it forces me to go through the proper thought process.  What do you think?

UX Feedback for

I’ve been chatting with Jason Shah over the past couple of weeks.  Jason is known for doing awesome UX teardowns, which in layman’s terms means he can tell you how to improve your website (read: convert more sales, etc.).

I put together some feedback for Skillshare that is similar to a few of his posts on other companies.  It’s not as all-encompassing as his teardowns, but it should give others an idea of what I’ve been thinking about.  I’m sure the people at Skillshare have thought about most of this already.

First, four things that can be improved upon (in red) and one good thing (in blue) to note from the Skillshare Dashboard:

To be improved upon

1. Upper left: The profile picture is not a button.  Convention (e.g. Facebook, Linkedin, etc.) dictates the opposite.

2. Bottom left: There is no way to delete some of the “People you may know” to see others.  Facebook and Linkedin also have made it convention to offer an icon (negative sign, perhaps) or ‘X’ to see a different ‘person I know.’

3. Middle of the screen: “This is a popular class on Skillshare” - while the thought is good, the phrasing is too wordy.  I’d prefer an icon (maybe something that signifies ‘hot’ like a tamale or a thermometer) or “this class is hot!”  Additionally, it would be nice to see how many spots are left - by demonstrating scarcity, users would be more likely to feel obligated to sign up NOW.

4. Bottom center: The “Leave feedback” button should be a brighter color, if they indeed want people to leave feedback.  Obviously, they can run A/B tests on this, but the orange blends too much with the rest of the page.  Maybe use the same green they use on each class page.

 

Now that pops!  Of course, this all assumes that feedback is a main goal for this page, which it may not be.  I don’t have their data and I don’t know their long-term vision.

Good

1. I think it’s great they give me an opportunity to join the “Watchlist” directly from this page.

Next, the “Learn” tab:

To be improved upon

1. Right side: It’s not clear what time of day each event takes place, a key piece of information for anyone choosing to click on an event.  If I work 8am-8pm, I can’t make most Skillshare evening classes, no matter how popular they are.  This means lots of clicks (forward/back) to find a class that fits my schedule.

2. Right middle: How many seats are left?  Again, an opportunity for Skillshare to draw on scarcity.

3. Right middle: I can’t join the ‘Waitlist’ directly from this page.

All three points lead to one broader point: Skillshare should make it as seamless as possible for me to sign up directly from this page.

4. Someone else suggested - this would be easier to visualize in calendar form. 

Good

1. By telling you how many people have taken this class before, Skillshare is demonstrating strong social proof.

Finally, the profile page:

To be improved upon

1. Bottom left: When a user scrolls over each box, a name does not appear.  It’s nearly impossible to tell who my subscribers are or vice versa.

2. Middle: This is a bigger issue and my one piece of strategy I’d like implemented. Often times, I’m watching a class but I have no way of knowing when it’s filling up.  It would be nice if I knew how many spots were left in each class that I’m watching.  If things start to fill up, I’d love to get an email notice so that I don’t miss out.  I don’t think I’m alone on this one.

Good

Middle left: I like how clean the Trust & Reputation section looks.

I’d love some feedback from Skillshare or others.  What do you like or dislike about Skillshare’s UX?

8 features I wish Instapaper had

I love Instapaper.  

For all my non-techie readers (hi mom!), the service is simple and clean and great.  It’s free, unless you plan to use it on your mobile, which you eventually will.  And it’s run by one guy.

It solves a problem - save articles/websites/videos for later.  No more digging through random bookmarks.  No more trying to remember what you googled to get to that article you read months ago.  Just hit the bookmarklet, sign in and voila, there it is.

But, due to its simplicity, it’s missing some features.  I wish Instapaper had the following (in no particular order):

1.    Click on a saved article, open to a new tab – I find myself right clicking to open new tabs on each article way too often. 

2.    Stronger social capabilities – this is a big one.  Right now, I can follow a friend’s “Liked” list.  But, I’d much prefer more active push opportunities so that instead of sending my friends emails of links to read, I can send directly from Instapaper.  Imagine if you could share one article with X, another with X and Y and a third with X, Y and Z.  This would drive users back to Instapaper site, much like Facebook message emails drive you back to Facebook.  You could create personal groups around articles your tech friends should read or your family should read.  This could dominate if done correctly.  Instapaper already has all my interesting curated content sorted.  Now, if only I could share easier.

3.    Video vs. text – I save some websites for the embedded videos that I want to watch later.  This is a tougher problem to solve, but it would be nice if Instapaper recognized what was saved and showed a little icon if it was a video.

4.    More detailed analytics shown for individual articles – My “unread” stream is daunting.  I try to knock a few off, here and there, but it grows faster than I read.  Instead of summarizing articles (which would be a more difficult build), I’d appreciate it if Instapaper just showed how many words were in each article.  That way, I could knock off the shorter ones when I only have a few minutes.  In fact, based on my reading history, Instapaper could tell how long it takes me to read 100 words and give me an estimated time it takes to read each article.

5.    Better analytics on the whole – Coupled with the last idea, I’d love to see how much I’ve read, on the aggregate, and how much I have left.

6.    Partner with a text-to-voice reader, like SpokenLayer, giving me the ability to listen to my articles while on the go (not sure if SpokenLayer would need to get publisher’s permissions to do this)

7.    Mass “Like,” “Unlike,” and “Archive” buttons.  It’s annoying to have to go through each one individually – should be a select all feature.

8.    Give the user the ability to change the words “Browse,” “Unread,” “Liked” and “Archive” to something that better suits them.

All-in-all, some smaller things I’d love and a few bigger nuts to crack.  Rock on Instapaper!

I may not be an artist, but it doesn’t matter.  This was a GREAT commencement speech given by Neil Gaiman.

mba’s are not all worthless

I get it, I get it.  When it comes to startups, MBA’s suck.  We’re the worst.  We cost too much and do too little.

Dalton Caldwell, CEO of App.net thinks so.  So does Jason Freedman, CEO of 42 Floors (although he later rescinded part of his argument).  Suster has ripped into us. Stu Wall did the same.  And DHH, the creator of Ruby on Rails, says to be mindful of those with the diploma.  Recently, Ben Horowitz took a more contraian’s point-of-view.  But it’s clear, we are not well-liked in the startup world.

 

I sat through two years of class.  Went through the core like all my fellow MBA’s and expect to get paid a competitive salary.  But that doesn’t mean I don’t hustle.

In fact, I hustle harder than most.  To lump me in to the group, or to even generalize about MBA’s as a whole, is to clearly misunderstand what it means to get an MBA.  I didn’t spend my time in school restudying the four P’s.   I didn’t focus on high-level strategy over real-world problem solving.  I didn’t learn how to misuse theoretical frameworks.  We have more autonomy than that.

I chose a different path.

I spent the time working (read: consulting for) local startups.  I did user testing and market maps.  I learned Google Adwords and learned how to invest in companies.  I went to conferences and I studied UI/UX. 

See, I was the first professional poker player to ever get into UNC Kenan-Flagler’s MBA program.  I had a chip on my shoulder from day one - a chip that I will always have.  I want to prove that a professional poker player can execute in startups, even with my MBA diploma hanging from my wall (or more likely, shared work station).  

We are not all the same.

While in school, I spent all hours of day consuming tech news.  I secured a full-year internship at a local software VC, begging them to take me at first.  I incubated a p2p startup out of their offices.  I transitioned from a guy who always thought startups were cool to someone who actually knows something about them.    By choosing to get my MBA, I was choosing to explore.

I could have spent the last two years working at a startup.  But that presupposes I knew that I wanted to be working in this space while I was playing poker.  It was only after I got to school and realized exactly what I was born to do that I dove in head first.  I used the two years to understand both the foundations of business and the nuisances of a startup.

You might still think I’m green, but I’m hungrier than ever having just graduated.  Don’t doubt me - unless you want to make a mistake.  If there is one thing that my poker background suggests, it’s that I hate to lose.

It’s considered wrong to lump a certain group of people together, to stereotype, to generalize.  But, what do I know?.. I’m just an MBA.


KurbKarma at Techcrunch Disrupt

As someone who studied parking for months last year, I was particularly interested in watching this, a presentation from KurbKarma at Techcrunch Disrupt.

I hate posting something negative about a company, especially one that I’ve yet to use, but I found the responses during the presentation to sideswipe a lot of the major problems that exist with their business model.  First, a brief explanation of what the company does: you need a spot…you open the app…a spot exists…you spend $2 or ‘Karma Kredits…’ On the flip side, if you leave a spot, you post where it is… when you notice that someone has paid for the spot, you stick around until she shows up.  It’s all street parking spots.

OK, now I’m used to handling logistics questions from investors when it comes to peer-to-peer marketplaces.  I always thought a problem is the best opportunity that a company has to prove it’s worth; service recovery is often times more important than service.  But the number of problems I see here is exponentially greater than a normal peer-to-peer marketplace.

In the video, Fritz Lanman correctly points out that they will need to get both supply and demand at a certain period in time.  The company’s response: we are working on a number of cool marketing techniques.  Disrupt should help us market.

Sorry, this doesn’t solve the problem.  How do you get enough users so that supply can be recycled ever 15 minutes?  Because you are dealing with a specific time constraint, you need to be damn well certain there are enough users on the platform.  If I’m looking for parking, open the app and don’t find anything, I’m not going to use the app again next time.  I’m going to use another app or tool to find parking.  This was the same problem we dealt with when I was starting my company.  But, it’s even worse when the supplier is not giving away his real property.  And it’s worse again given the inherent nature of street parking (read: quick turnaround).

Adrian Aoun then asks, how do you make sure the suppliers will stick around?  The companies response is lackluster - there is a strong community feeling around parking.  Sorry, but if I’ve just spent $5-$10 on street parking and I’m running errands, I’m not sticking around for an unknown amount of time if someone ‘buys’ my spot.  I don’t have the patience and I don’t think others do either.  The response about listing spots in the future is a good one.  But, you run the risk of future logistics errors when the supplier chooses not to leave or loses track of the time.

Finally, David Samuel asks them to pick out a company they are using to model themselves after in the collaborative consumption space (even though they may not be considered a cc company based on the fact that the supplier never owns the property).  The answer: Airbnb.  Come on!  A better answer would have been we have studied the collaborative consumption space and are modeling ourselves after a number of great leaders.  Airbnb, Getaround, TaskRabbit are the most well known in the space, and for good reason.  We have studied Loosecubes, Zaarly, etc. And we are emulating them in a number of ways.

For the record,there are also interesting companies out there like ParkCirca, Parkatmyhouse or ParkingPanda that are addressing parking.  These are the current competitors.

Additionally, while this wasn’t brought up, but what if people tag the wrong place on the map?  You run into huge logistics problems when I tag the wrong street and ‘sell my spot.’  In essence, this is a huge customer service nightmare.  And I wish they had been asked how the company plans to fend off this and other customer service problems that can be foreseen.

Forgetting the fact that there is another company in NYC that has tried this, I’m not sold.  And it felt like there was very little user testing actually done to make sure the model works.  I understand that companies are not technically supposed to launch until Disrupt in order to present - but I doubt there is a rule against running small tests here and there as a stealth company.  I can think of a number of ways to go the lean startup route of testing, other than just getting early registers on parkingisabitch.com

I hope they prove me wrong.  I wish them all the luck in the world.  I’m sorry if this sounds vindictive.  This was just my reaction after having been excited to watch the presentation.

Joe Smith: How to use a paper towel

I really like how simple this is.