Monthly Archives: April 2012

What I Learned About Great Meetings from Steve Jobs |

The principle of keeping meetings small and made up of smart people is deeply woven into the religion of electronics behemoth Apple and is key to any organization that wants to nurture quality thinking. The idea is pretty basic: Everyone in the room should be there for a reason. There’s no such thing as a mercy invitation. Either you’re critical to the meeting or you’re not. It’s nothing personal, just business.

Apple co-founder, the late Steve Jobs, actively resisted any behavior he believed representative of the way big companies think — even though Apple had been a big company for many years. When he called a meeting or reported to a meeting, his expectation was that everyone in the room would be an essential participant. Spectators were not welcome.

This was based on the somewhat obvious idea that a smaller group would be more focused and motivated than a large group, and smarter people will do higher quality work.

For a principle that would seem to be common sense, it’s surprising how many organizations fail to observe it. How many overpopulated meetings do you sit through during the course of a year? How many of those meetings get sidetracked or lose focus in a way that would never occur if the group were half the size? The small-group rule requires enforcement, but it’s worth the cost.

One reason why large, unwieldy groups tend to be created in many companies is that the culture of a company is bigger than any one person. It’s hard to change “the way we do things here.”

At Apple, because quality is stressed over quantity, meetings are informal and visible progress is made on a weekly — if not daily — basis.

In one large technology company with which I worked, I found a framed sign in every conference room designed to nudge the employees toward greater productivity. The headline on the sign was how to have a successful meeting. The content read like it came right out of a corporate manual, which it likely did. It featured a bullet-pointed list of things like “State the agenda at the start of your meeting,” “Encourage participation by all attendees,” and “Conclude your meeting with agreement on next steps.”

If big companies really feel compelled to put something on their walls, a better sign might read:

How to Have a Great Meeting

1. Throw out the least necessary person at the table.
2. Walk out of this meeting if it lasts more than 30 minutes.
3. Do something productive today to make up for the time you spent here.

Whatever your motivation, what you’re really saying is that you don’t have the right people on the job. So fix that. When populated by the smartest people, small groups will give management more confidence, not less.

Apple’s advertising agency — Chiat/Day, before it merged with TBWA Worldwide — succeeded by the same philosophy. I was a creative director, and our small group matched up well with Apple’s small group. Limiting the size of our group helped us produce work quickly, get information fast and have the agility to react to unexpected events.

The agency’s founder, the late Jay Chiat, had set a similar tone decades earlier. Jay and Steve had a unique relationship in the days of the original Macintosh. I had the pleasure of being personally ejected from a meeting by Jay during one of my several stints at Chiat/Day. Surveying the room before the start of a meeting, Jay took one look at my art director partner and me and said, “What are you guys doing here?” “Beats me,” I said. “We’re just responding to the invitation.” Jay told us to get out and “go create something.”

The working styles of both Jay and Steve have stuck with me over the years. I can think of no better examples of leaders with a talent for keeping their teams focused on the mission and focused on producing great results. And both built spectacularly successful businesses. It’s not a coincidence.

via What I Learned About Great Meetings from Steve Jobs |


Startup Founders: Don’t Freak Out

When I was working on building my first startup, Really Bad Things(TM) happened on an alarmingly regular basis. I was in my early 20s and living in Birmingham, Alabama (where there was no startup ecosystem at the time). So, when something happened that we thought would quite possibly kill the company, one of us (I had a co-founder) would freak out. Sometimes, both of us would freak out. Sometimes, we would freak each other out. Then, we would ultimately decide to take the Scarlett O’Hara (Gone With The Wind) approach — “I’ll think about that tomorrow” and get back to work. After all was said and done, things worked out quite well. But, there were so many “near fatal” events, that we lost count.

I’ve since done two more startups and spent time with many, many entrepreneurs — often in some of their darkest days. I have one piece of advice that’s going to sound trite (because it is):

Don’t Freak Out.

The reason I advocate not freaking out is that it doesn’t help —and often hurts. What you want to focus on during these trying times is ensuring you don’t go into a tailspin (often, when you panic after something bad happens, you cause more bad things to happen). More on this later.

Before we continue, just to set some context, here are some of the kinds of things entrepreneurs freak out about. See if some of them sound familiar.

1. Your lead investor in a funding round backs out in the final stages. (By the way, when this happens, you’re almost never going to hear what the real reason is).

2. You get a certified letter in the mail from some big law firm you’ve never heard of (nobody’s heard of law firms, until they they do). The envelope the letter came in is the nice, creamy, heavy-stock kind. It’s more expensive-looking than the one you used for your wedding invitations. The letter uses a lot of words to basically say “you’re being sued”.

3. Your lead developer leaves. This is about half way into a project to rewrite your product in Scala, which he convinced you to do.

4. A very big customer deal you were just about to close falls through. Normally, this wouldn’t be a big deal, except that you spent a bunch of time and money trying to get this deal done. Time and money you couldn’t really afford to waste.

5. You were about to be acquired, and now the acquirer has “gone dark”. Despite your best intentions, the team and you have been making decisions based on the impending acquisition. “It would be silly to do X, Y and Z when we’re going to be acquired next month…”

6. The production system that hosts all your customers came crashing down. And that live backup system you thought you had isn’t all that live.

7. One of your competitors just went and raised a ton of money. They’re blanketing the industry with PR, marketing, fancy new booths at tradeshows, local events involving a winnebago and taking out ads, seemingly all over the Internet. Potential customers, investors, friends and even your mom ask you about this big, bad competitor. You get tired of saying: “But their product sucks!”

8. Co-founder takes a job somewhere. Feels really badly about it. Promises to help out nights and weekends. You don’t have the heart to say: “Yeah, but it’s the emotional support I’m going to miss the most…”

Remember, if the pain doesn’t kill you, it only hurts a lot. A lot of the time, near-fatal events are often just that — near-fatal. They don’t quite kill you. Startups are vulnerable, but generally resilient.

Your natural reaction when something really bad happens is to think about the worst-case scenario.  But, that’s usually counter productive.  Think about the most likely scenario and solve based on that.

Try and make a realistic determination of how important it is to respond quickly.  Often, when something really bad happens, entrepreneurs make the mistake of assuming they have to respond immediately.  In many cases, that’s both unnecessary — and risky.  For example, if someone threatens legal action, resist the temptation to respond immediately

What you don’t want to do is start compounding a bad event with panic-induced mistakes. It’s important to remain calm and give yourself time (and sometimes distance) to make plan a thoughtful response.  I know, that’s easier said than done.  If it makes you feel any better (it should), know that most entrepreneurs (even the successful ones) have near-fatal events happen.

What do you think?  Have you had a near-fatal event recently?

Love startups? Join the OnStartups community on Facebook.

via Startup Founders: Don’t Freak Out.

The Power of Business Imagination |

You were born to believe, not bend to ego, so that you can be at your best and imagine a positive work lifestyle. Imagination is your pilot through unfamiliar skies.

Related: How to Hire Positive Employees for Your Business

Think about how you do business this way: You focus your thoughts on the strengths of your business, accepting the unfamiliar changes, and filter out the negative characteristics. Next you cooperate with a team of positive people whom you’ve chosen to attract, who compare and compete rarely, and you complement one another quite well, confirming, validating and expanding positivity throughout your business. Then Team [Company Name Here] Positive — customers and clients, employees and suppliers alike — believe together that your business can grow in phenomenal ways, and begin to imagine a broader range of positive solutions you can offer and achieve based on a positive work lifestyle.

See how it works?

Imagination is the key to your business success. You perceive, conceive and believe based on more than what you alone can see, hear, taste, touch and smell, and primarily on what you can imagine. The impossible becomes possible. The unexpected happens. The unexplainable occurs and all you can do is shrug, and say to your partners, “All I know is it actually happened.”

Your company’s success is the culmination of how you think about it, partner with others to think about it, and then collectively imagine outcomes that seem unrealistic at the moment, but are achievable as all of you believe.

When I speak to business groups of executives, entrepreneurs, and owners, I pass out apples to the audience. Then I ask, “How many apples are you holding in your hand?”

Of course, the first answer I get is “One” and usually the person says, “Hey, that wasn’t so hard.” I say, “OK, one. Anyone have another answer?”

The room gets quiet and then, usually from the back of the room, I hear someone say, “A bushel.” And I ask, “How so?”

Related: How to Tap the Power of ‘Thank You’

This person says, “Well, you can plant the seeds in this apple and grow a bushel of other apples.”

And then I ask, “Just a bushel?”

Someone else answers, “No, you can get an orchard out of this apple.”

“An orchard?” I say.

And then someone else says, “Oh, more than an orchard. There’s an infinite number of apples in this apple.”

“How’s that?” I ask.

“You plant these seeds and they produce an orchard of apples. And from the seeds of those apples, you grow other orchards and those orchards grow still more orchards and pretty soon you can’t count all the orchards.”

You’ll succeed when you imagine that you hold in your hand everything and even more than you could ever want to enjoy a positive work lifestyle. When bent to ego, you hold only what you see, hear, taste, touch and smell — the dimensions of your company that you perceive you can influence, control and manipulate. Your business holds so much more in store for you . . . if you will only believe that your focused, filtered, positive thoughts, conceived in a complementary relationship, can produce an infinite harvest.

via The Power of Business Imagination |

Rewards for users recommending apps to friends | Springwise

buzzdoes is an app add-on feature that pays smartphone and tablet users to suggest apps to friends.

We’ve already seen marketers rewarding the crowds for spreading the word about their product with California-based fashion brand Volga Verdi, which offers its Twitter-using customers discounts based on their number of followers. Taking a different approach to that concept, buzzdoes is a feature that pays smartphone and tablet users to suggest apps to friends.

Companies registering with the startup can add a button to their app which makes it easy for existing users to pass on a recommendation to a friend. The button, which can be customised to fit with the style of the app, takes the user to a list of their phone or social network contacts. Once the suggestion has been sent, the user is returned to the app. buzzdoes aims to make the recommendation process as simple as possible to ensure that user experience is not affected. Sharers who succeed in getting their friends to download the app are rewarded with cash, vouchers, free apps and other prizes courtesy of the startup. Developers pay for each new download they gain, meaning that the cost of each campaign reflects its success. Developers can also earn money from downloads of other apps that come about as a result of the buzzdoes button in their app. buzzdoes is currently offering a free package, which allows for up to 100 successful recommendations, alongside three paid options – Basic, at a setup cost of USD 69.90 for 300 recommendations, Pro, at a setup cost of USD 209.90 for 1,000 recommendations, and Enterprise, at a setup cost of USD 1,190 for 7,000 recommendations.

As any good marketer knows, there’s nothing quite like a trusted recommendation from a friend to help spread a brand’s name, and buzzdoes’ model helps incentives these recommendations. Could your business harness reliable recommendations between trusted sources in a similar way?



via Rewards for users recommending apps to friends | Springwise.

Site helps users choose restaurants based on atmosphere | Springwise

Hoppit is the first site to provide an eating-out search engine which filters its results based on the ambience of each outlet.

Tourists already have a variety of options when trying to work out what to do based on their mood. In the US, UK and Canada the I Feel London site, which groups activities by participant mood — energetic, sophisticated, hungover — is one such example. Taking a similar concept and applying it to restaurants, Hoppit is the first site to provide a dining-out search engine which filters its results based on the ambience of venues.

Based in Manhattan and currently available in 25 cities in the US, each restaurant in the Hoppit database is tagged with one of ten “vibes” or types of atmosphere. These include ‘classy & upscale’, ‘hipster’, ‘romantic’ and ‘cozy & quaint’, among others. Users can manage their search results based on these categories, as well as the type of people they will be dining with – whether friends, family, business associate or date — the food they would like to eat, and the noise volume they would like to experience. Hoppit then displays a list of the nearby restaurants suited to the user’s plans and mood. The service uses “natural language processing technology and algorithms” to sort its data, which draws on existing online reviews. Search results are complemented by food and drink deals through sites such as Groupon and Gilt City, which are shown beside the restaurant options.

Hoppit hopes to takes the hassle out of trawling through online testimonials and also helps outlets connect with clientele suited to the ambience of their restaurant. An idea to adapt for locations outside of the cuisine world?



via Site helps users choose restaurants based on atmosphere | Springwise.

The Creative Finder Adds Embed Function, Suddenly Becomes Great Image Source for Bloggers | Tech in Asia

Last month we told you about Singapore-based DesignTAXI and its new portfolio site The Creative Finder which gives designers, photographers, and illustrators a place online to show off their works. Today we received word from Alex Goh, the founder at DesignTAXI, that The Creative Finder has added an interesting new feature to its repertoire.

Images on the web service can now be embedded on external websites, much as you could with a Flickr image or a YouTube video. The interesting part here is that once embedded, the image links back to the creators profile and features a credit on the bottom that attributes the image to them. Content creators can enable or disable embedding permissions according to their preference.

There’s also a fairly intrusive “The Creative Finder” logo, and that may or may not bother publishers who wish to embed the image. I’d be ok with it, but I’m not sure if everyone else would be.

For bloggers who find themselves in need of stock images, but don’t want to screw around search for creative commons licensed photos, this could an interesting solution. The selection is somewhat limited so far (a search for ‘dog’ only gives 10 results) but this should improve as more people put their images on the site. You can see an example of one of the embeds below:

As The Creative Finder has been online for more than a month now, I was curious to know if the users embed permissions would be switched on or off by default. Alex tells me that the option will be on by default, but they did send an opt-out email seven days before launch. While I’m never a fan of automatically opting-in users to something different than what they originally signed up for, users can disable permissions later, and any embed on the web will subsequently result in an error message.

For creatives who want to show off their work, the site has a freemium model with paid plans of $9.99 per month and $14.99 per month bringing a range of added features over the base plan. And the free plan is indeed pretty limited, as you can only publish up to 10 photos. But with the new embedded feature, it does mean that more people could potentially see your work. Personally, I still prefer to rock my own photo gallery.

In any case The Creative Finder does look like a very promising service. And this new embed feature is a solid step towards making it a little bit better, not just for creatives, but also for those who want to use their work with proper attribution.

via The Creative Finder Adds Embed Function, Suddenly Becomes Great Image Source for Bloggers | Tech in Asia.

Ideosource Invests in Singaporean Edutainment Startup | Tech in Asia

Jakarta-based incubator IdeoSource has made an investment in Kark Mobile Education, a Singaporean startup whose “edutainment” tablet platform has yet to even launch.

The startup’s product, which will also be called Kark, will use interactive elements to help children aged four to twelve learn with its apps. The backing comes as Kark comes close to completing the JFDI–Innov8 2012 Bootcamp, a 100-day long program that propells fifty entrepreneurs from ideas to inception and investment. It hasn’t been made known how much Ideosource is ploughing into the startup, but it comes on top of the “S$15,000 investment for a negotiable equity stake” that comes from the intense JFDI and SingTel Innov8 course. Kark – and the other bootcampers – still have the chance to pitch to a room of investors on May 4th.

Kark’s founder and CTO Bullitt Sezaria, speaking after the IdeoSource backing, said in a press release:

We are delighted to have this support, which gives us the ability to continue building our product after the bootcamp and reinforces what we have believed all along – that games have a great future in the educational industry. We will be unveiling our exciting new product aimed at the family education market shortly.

Ideasource director Andi Surja Boediman described Kark as “a good innovation in digital industry,” and said that the team will support the entrepreneurs “in many ways.”

Kark still has the opportunity to impress more folks and maybe gain even more backing when they pitch at the ‘demo day’ in Jakarta next month. The city has proved to be a great place for the Singapore startup so far. JFDI Asia’s co-founder Wong Meng Weng said today:

We’ve been impressed with Kark since we first met the team in Jakarta. This investment, coming before the official Demo Day, is proof of the progress the startup has made since joining us in Singapore a couple of months ago.

via Ideosource Invests in Singaporean Edutainment Startup | Tech in Asia.