Recently I watched an interview of a small but growing and profitable startup, where the interviewer asked the Co-founder about how they have achieved this growth so far and what are their future plans? To that, he replied — “We haven’t spent anything on the marketing yet, and we’ll continue to not do so for a long time.”
The biggest lie startup founders tell to the world is — “We haven’t spent anything on the marketing yet!”.
Of course, I wouldn’t share the name of this company as I admire what they’ve accomplished so far with a small team. But this post is not about that company only. I’ve seen many startup founders tell this lie during their interviews and their startup’s PR outreach.
The reason why everyone is so tempted to tell this lie is — they want to tell the world that how awesome their product is and how fast they are growing, and that too all “organically”.
Are these founders mistaking Google AdWords or Facebook Ads as the only form of marketing?
If that’s the case, then the correct statement would be — “We haven’t spent anything on Paid Advertising yet.” And I can buy that argument as it may be true for many early stage companies.
The key mistake these founders do is — they’re not accounting the time they are investing on all other marketing channels apart from these paid advertising channels.
Sure, you’re getting a lot of SEO traffic from Google for free, but haven’t you also invested your development time in building SEOable pages, URLs, etc. solely for marketing reasons?
Sure, you’re getting a lot of traffic from Facebook for free, but haven’t you also invested your time in building those viral features and gaming mechanics in your product for marketing reasons?
Sure, you’re getting a lot of word of mouth traffic, but haven’t you spent time in building that Dropbox like two-sided incentive referral program for marketing reasons?
Sure, you’re getting a lot of conversions from your site’s landing page, but haven’t you spent lot of energy in that content marketing blog post and having a kick-ass product demo video on your site?
I can go on and on, but you got the point.
Next time when you hear someone says they are not spending anything on marketing, simply ignore that bullshit and make sure to not repeat that mistake.
So when the time comes for you to contact Comcast’s Customer Service, you are already not looking forward to the call, and also have very low expectations for getting your issue resolved in a timely manner. But when you receive a totally unexpected “wow” and pleasant experience, you can’t resist but to share that experience and give credits to those have worked hard on changing a demoter like most of us to a promoter. And since I work at a company who provides software to large enterprises to deliver similar “wow” experiences to their customers, I had a special appreciation by being on the other side of the fence.
So here’s my experience –
A few days ago, we had an outage in our area for the Internet connection. Well, I didn’t know it was an area wide outage before I called Comcast Customer support. All I knew was — my internet connection wasn’t working after a couple of reboot cycles of the modem, router, etc. So eventually I called the 1–800-Comcast number.
Instantly after few rings, it detected me based on my phone number, and I didn’t have to go through the series of authentication and identification steps. I was ready to get served.
Proactive reminder of a pending task
The moment I was authenticated, the automated IVR (Interactive Voice Response) system proactively reminded me that I need to upgrade my modem. All I need to do is to visit the nearest Comcast location and receive a newer modem.
Natural language interaction
After that reminder, the next prompt was — “How can I help you?”. It didn’t ask me to listen to all menu options, and then let me figure out in which category of their menus does my problem fit, and then keep pressing respective numbers to traverse through menu tree to reach to the destination option I need! There was no such crap! It was a free flow open interface — just talk what your problem is in natural language — the way you would normally talk with a human agent.
I said that “my internet is not working”. That’s it. And it figured out what my intent was, and offered me the right treatment.
Once their automated IVR system understood what my intent of call was, then it immediately prompted my address and zip code and asked me to confirm if I’m calling about that region. I confirmed “Yes”.
Then it informed me that there is a known outage in that area, and their technicians are looking into it. They expect to resolve the issue very soon.
Empathic user experience
While they explained to me that the technicians are working on resolving an outage, I was still wondering, but how long shall I wait? While I was just thinking about it, the automated IVR system asked me — if I would like to receive an SMS update on my phone about when the outage will be resolved? I confirmed “Yes”.
Then it prompted my mobile number and asked to confirm if it should send me an update on that number. I confirmed “Yes”. That’s it. In the end, it greeted me well and said it would update me as soon as the issue is resolved.
Roughly about 30 minutes, I received a text from Comcast that the outage issue is resolved and I should have my internet connectivity back. And sure it was! No refreshing of webpages in browser to see if the internet is back. The automated system informed me as soon it was available.
And I was a delighted customer! It was a complete self-service experience across many different topics, and I did not have to talk to a human agent once. I certainly had many “wow” moments during the entire interaction and post interaction. Obviously you can see that as I wrote a whole blog post about it!
I wish they continue to bring this kind of experience to other common issues their customers are facing, and I’m sure one by one these disgruntled customers would turn into their promoters!
As mentioned previously, I was on a hiatus for more than two years and didn’t update the world what I was up to in that period. A week ago, I met my school friends after a long time and they also didn’t know about my whereabouts. I shared some of the details with them but thought I should share it with the larger audience — specifically not only what happened but also how it happened and what lessons I learned from that experience.
Two years ago, in March 2013, my co-founder Manish and I sold our two years old startup Shopalize, Inc to 7 Inc. It took four months to sell a two people company with a series of activities like talking on hour-long phone calls with advisors and lawyers, writing carefully worded emails, passing technical due-diligence hurdles, and negotiating tedious legal terms.
Every time someone learns that we sold our startup, the first question they ask is — “how did that happen?”. And most of the times, my answer is — “I got lucky!”.
Shopalize was started four years ago as a Social Marketing platform for eCommerce retailers. For the first year, I self-financed the company using my savings and working out of my home. I didn’t have the proper experience of building Web software applications, so learned it on the go while building it. Few friends helped me in the part-time, but it took me almost 9 months to launch the beta version of the product. My plan was to launch it in 6 months.
Once I had the beta version to show to people, I started getting more interest from potential co-founders, advisors, potential customers, etc. As they say — a picture is worth a thousand words, and a prototype is worth a thousand pictures. With the beta version ready, I was still searching for co-founders who could join me full-time. I met Kris (now a friend) in a startup meetup, who joined me full-time as a co-founder to help on the sales side. He helped to get the first customer and taught me how to run sales operations. With that first customer, we were officially launched.
Post launch, we got a dozen customers in the first couple months, but we still had not proved the product actually works and delivers the value as promised. The product lacked many things from the functionality, stability, and capability perspective. In fact, it was broken for a large set of users. There were many incidents where I was embarrassed as I didn’t know how to fix those issues and had to figure it out on the go.
Then almost a year into the business, Manish joined us as a third co-founder to accelerate the product development efforts so that Kris can focus on sales activities and I can focus on both customer success and product development activities.
With the team of 3 people, product in the beta stage, and few customers on board, we decided to raise an angel round. Our advisors invested some money and kicked off our fundraising. With that little financial help, we hired few contractors in India to help us accelerate the product development efforts.
Over the next few months, the product started getting better, we started showing results and ROI to our customers, and we started getting confidence in our product. Kris and I started closing more partnership opportunities, Sales leads, and overall we started seeing our customer base was growing. We had started making some revenue to cover our operations and contractors costs, but we were still not paying ourselves.
Meanwhile, we started seeing many competitors popped up in that space with seed funding raised. We were worried about growing competition and were struggling to get good attention for our fundraising efforts. We believed in what we were doing, but we didn’t have strong growth or product market fit yet, or substantial revenue to prove that we were onto something big that was in high demand.
We discussed other options and decided to halt the fundraising efforts and continue building the business by being scrappy and nimble. We decided to grow monthly revenue to $10K-$15K before raising a seed round. We knew that achieving that kind of revenue with small size customers was a long grind, so we decided to focus on mid-sized enterprises with the bigger deal size. We started getting good interest from few mid-size companies. We thought if we could get few such customers then we could bootstrap our business and could survive for some time.
But selling to mid-large enterprises means you have to invest more in product and technology from functionality, scalability, stability, and security perspective. We thought it was the right thing to do and worked even harder to make our product and platform better. On the other hand, it was taking a lot longer to close the enterprise deals and we were getting impatient as we were running out of money.
Meanwhile, Kris decided to pursue some other opportunity. It was a big loss both mentally and physically. We struggled for some time but eventually managed to get back on the track. I took the responsibility for sales and Manish took the responsibility for product development.
Sometime in November 2012, I received an email from our legal counsel that he wanted to meet me. He tried to understand what our business do in detail and then he suggested to introduce me to a CEO of 7 Inc to discuss some strategic opportunity. Apparently our legal counsel was also a legal counsel of 7 as well and he thought we could be a good fit into 7’s vision.
In general strategic opportunity always sounds exciting as it could be an acquisition offer or a partnership opportunity. But since I had not heard about this company before, I wasn’t sure what to expect out of this meeting. I looked at their website, read press releases and tried to understand what they do. I did not think that it could be an acquisition opportunity so ruled out that option. Now for partnership opportunities, in theory, a successful partnership with a larger company could help your company get more customers, but in reality, partnerships are rarely a real thing as either large company is buying your technology to sell to their customers or you are buying their distribution channel. But more importantly, in early days of startup, these things eat up your time and energy. So I wasn’t really sure what would be the outcome of that meeting, but I was looking forward to meeting and learning.
I met with the CEO and after quick initial introductions, the first thing he asked me was — “Do you know <one of our competitor’s name>?”. I said — “Yes”. Then he asked me — “How are you different?”. Normally, if this would have been a potential customer, I would have answered with my typical differentiation points, but I somehow I didn’t think this was about them buying our solution for their usage, so I responded — “Product wise, we’ve pretty much very similar offering. Company wise, they’re much larger, and we’re just 2 people company.”. He responded — “Ok, if you have a similar offering, then we would like to acquire you.”.
I was shocked. I wasn’t prepared for him to let the cat out of the bag so quickly. He hadn’t even looked at our product demo. On the other hand, I was impressed with the fact that he didn’t waste anytime in any irrelevant discussions and jumped on the main point straight away. He asked if we would be interested in selling the company. I said we would be open to offers but weren’t not actively looking to sell the company. Given that we were just getting started with the enterprise customers, we thought we had a revenue making potential ahead of us and there was no need to sell.
But I tried to understand in detail why they wanted to acquire us, what exactly they wanted to do with our product & technology, how did they see we fit into their company, etc. He explained everything and I was impressed with their vision and plans for using our technology. He also asked me about our future product plans, fundraising plans, etc. and asked us to demo the product to their larger team in the following week.
We were invited to demo our product to key execs from Product, Engineering, and Data Sciences departments. By this time in our business, I had given many product demos to potential customers, but this time though, it wasn’t only about selling the product, but it was also about selling the company, the people, the vision — pretty much everything.
Meanwhile, our advisors and investors coached and mentored me on how to present, what to emphasize, how to connect with executives, etc. It was a huge help. This shows the importance of having the right advisors on your board.
When we walked into the room, there were around 10 execs to hear it. A 30-minute demo turned into an hour or two hours discussion. During discussion, I kept questioning myself why the heck a 500+ people company wanted to acquire a 2 people company, and why they couldn’t build what we built in-house.
But based on their questions during the product demo, I realized that we were experts in our domain. We had data about our product, our customer engagement, what had worked, why it had worked, etc. They didn’t know all of that. And they didn’t want to waste their time in learning that from scratch.
In the end, I thought they were impressed with our product, our knowledge, and realized that we were also impressed with what they do and were excited about the future.
Post successful demo, I was invited in a following week to hear the financial details of an offer. The first offer was extremely low, so I pretty much declined right there without taking it to discuss with my advisors or co-founder. I had a certain range in my mind, so was not ready to sell Shopalize anything below that range.
After a few days, we got another revised offer, but it still wasn’t in the expected range, plus it also had some clauses. After few back and forth negotiations, we agreed on the financial terms and signed what’s known as a term sheet with the intent to purchase. Once a term sheet is signed, a deal is happening unless something horrible happens during due diligence.
The due diligence
7’s team sent over a list of hundreds of technical, legal, and business questions that we needed to answer for the deal to go through. What type of technology, libraries, database had we used? Had we used any open source softwares? Did we have IP assignments from every contractor who touched our code? How did our billing system work? How did we make money?
Tracking down document after document was really tedious work. And during this time, we had to keep our business running as normal, and keep the whole thing a secret from our contractors, friends, etc.
On the technology due diligence side, we had to integrate our product with their technology stack to prove that it could be easily integrated and deployed to their clients as it is with minimal changes once we come onboard. So we had to make quite a few changes on our side to make that happen. Luckily, we were smart enough to do only changes that we thought were anyways needed for us to make our product ready for the enterprise-grade customers, and we pushed back on all the changes that we thought were custom requirements for 7’s specific environment.
On the legal due diligence side, we had to do lot of negotiations on various different clauses, but after series of negotiations, heated exchanges, and counters, 7’s team was satisfied with our asks and we were satisfied with the terms of the deal and their plans post-acquisition.
In the end, our lawyers conferred with their lawyers. It was agreed that after months of due diligence, we had signed all required documents and all closing conditions had finally been met. Then money was officially transferred to our accounts and we were part of 7 Inc.
Overall, it was actually a great outcome for all of us involved in Shopalize. Specially for my co-founder and me it was a life-changing event. The financial rewards were great, and if I ever want to start another company, every piece of that process will be easier. Also, we had received a jump in our professional career in terms of roles and responsibilities. If we would have continued the same employment path instead of taking the leap in entrepreneurial journey, we would have never achieved what we’ve achieved today. My co-founder joined 7 as a Director of Engineering and I joined as a Director of Product Management.
Post acquisition, the one thing that I’d been planning for more than few weeks was how to announce the acquisition on Facebook with my friends and family members. I wanted to share with them that there is a hope in taking this crazy entrepreneurship route if you work hard (and get lucky), you can make your mark in the Silicon Valley’s startup stories. While writing it, more than announcing the outcome, I ended up thanking every single person who helped me in this journey starting from wife, co-founder, part-time helpers, advisors, etc. Without their support, guidance and trust, we would have not accomplished this outcome.
By no means, we had the greatest outcome compared to other Silicon Valley’s success stories. But my hope in sharing this story is that at least people who know me and follow my blog can relate themselves with me personally, and can believe that if I can do this, then they certainly can. With that belief, I hope more people will take the leap of faith to start more great companies and in the process they’ll become great leaders.
As a startup founder, I observed that there are really 4 core resources that I work with every single day –
Each one has different level of importance and value at different stage of the company. All these resources are associated with each other in some way. Sometimes one is dependent on the other, and sometimes they’re exclusive to each other. Here are few examples how they’re associated with each other –
You may spend more money to save time, or you spend more time to save money.
You spend more money to get more people, or you have less people since you can’t spend money.
You get more people to do things in less time, or you take more time to do things due to shortage of people.
You can do more things in less time if you’re knowledgeable about it, or you need more time to do things as you don’t have prior knowledge about it.
You need to spend time to acquire knowledge, or you don’t acquire knowledge since you don’t have time.
You got the idea.
The point is — you’re constantly making decisions between these 4 resources and trying to figure out which one is more important than the other at that given instance. Sometimes you take rational decisions, and sometimes you take it based on your gut. But as a founder, you need to master the art of prioritizing these resources and understanding the importance of each resource at the different stage of your company — and that’s what they call — “execution”.
A couple of days ago, I stumbled upon a Reditt thread which was discussing the small lifestyle changes you’ve made to have a big impact in your life. The most popular comment on that thread was about how one person improved his life by being a Producer vs a Consumer. Here is brief excerpt of that comment –
I make sure to start every day as a producer, not a consumer. When you get up, you may start with a good routine like showering and eating, but as soon as you find yourself with some free time you probably get that urge to check Reddit, open that game you were playing, see what you’re missing on Facebook, etc. Put all of this off until “later”. Start your first free moments of the day with thoughts of what you really want to do; those long-term things you’re working on, or even the basic stuff you need to do today, like cooking, getting ready for exercise, etc. This keeps you from falling into the needy consumer mindset. That mindset where you find yourself endlessly surfing Reddit, Facebook, etc. trying to fill a void in yourself, trying to find out what you’re missing, but never feeling satisfied. When you’ve started your day with doing awesome (not necessarily difficult) things for yourself, these distractions start to feel like a waste of time. You check Facebook just to make sure you’re not missing anything important directed at you, but scrolling down and reading random stuff in your feed feels like stepping out into the Disneyland parking lot to listen to what’s playing on the car radio — a complete waste of time compared to what you’re really doing today.
Very well said. I totally agree with this philosophy. Though I try to follow this philosophy many times, I fail to follow it consistently for good length of time. But I’m not going to give up. I need to follow this discipline again more consistently. Writing this blog post can be considered as producing my own thoughts instead of just consuming a Reditt thread.
Why I believe in this philosophy?
The short answer is — producing helps us grow. If you observe your consumption activity, most of the times it’s a passive activity. When we’re watching a TV or online Video, or reading a news or blog article, for the most of the part we tend to believe in what the content producer is telling us. We rarely think on our own while we’re consuming something. So we don’t develop our own view points and our own thinking. While I agree leisure time and rest is important, and we need to consume something entertaining without thinking much. But too much of this behavior becomes a habit and eventually it makes us weak as over the period we stop thinking.
On the contrary, when you produce something, you stretch your mind. You come out of your comfort zone, stretch your own limits, and you think on your own! You develop your own view point. Every single producing exercise is a great learning experience on many different levels — sometimes tangible and sometimes intangible. But with this constant habit of producing something, you continue to grow — both personally and professionally.
If that’s the case, then is consuming totally useless?
Of course not. While I agree that being just a consumer is not a good thing, I strongly believe that consuming is just as important as producing. If there are no consumers, then there won’t be any producers, and vice-versa as well. So we need both — producers and consumers. We just need to follow a discipline to do both things with good balance. To produce some great stuff, you also need to consume new information, knowledge, and ideas. So you definitely need to consume what interests you. But you also need to put certain limit on it and make sure it doesn’t become just mindless consumption. In day to day life, I would give more emphasis on producing something meaningful, but at the same time, I would allocate some time to consume something relevant and thought provoking — ideally something which will even inspire me to produce something new.
So what should you produce more and consume less?
The first thing — you need to believe that you need invest more time on producing than that you spend on consuming. Producing could mean your day-to-day office work, home tasks, replying to important emails, writing a blog post, or even Tweeting some interesting insights of your own (not retweeting someone else’s blog post link). Even during your day-to-day work — brainstorming new ideas, architecting new design, programming some function — falls into bucket of producing Vs just attending meetings & presentations, or reading programming articles or books — falls into bucket of consuming. Similarly, just watching funny videos or someone else’s photos, watching TV serials or sports channels is most of the times mindless consumption. We just need to limit the time we spend on these consumption activities.
Again, both producing and consuming activities are important, you just need to find a way to produce more stuff than what you are consuming. At the end of the day, it’s the right amount of balance will make you feel proud, enriched and excited Vs exhausted and less motivated. Hope this blog post will inspire you to produce more stuff — let it be hacking a project in the part-time, writing a blog post, painting some picture, or anything which excites you, and pushes your limits and make you think. Happy producing!
I’m sure you’ll find hundreds of articles if you Google how to provide the best customer service. Those articles will be full of tips and tactics, disciplines to follow, software tools to use, etc. This post is not about tips or tactics. It’s about a simple philosophy. Ok, I’ll not stretch too long, but here is a simple secret to provide the best customer service –
Treat your customers the way you want to be treated by other businesses, and you’ll be naturally providing the best customer service.
That’s it. Ok, I understand you might ask why do I believe this simple philosophy works. Let me share my recent experiences with you. In last month, we released monthly subscription plans to our appointment reminder software product. After launching these plans, I started getting more emails from customers regarding feature requests, pricing concerns, issues they’re facing, etc. Since that product is still majorly operated by me, I answer all of these customer support emails. And I follow one simple philosophy — put myself in the shoes of the customer and answer emails or treat them the way I want someone to treat me. That means writing detailed emails on how to solve the issue they are facing, or giving them extra free credits when inconvenience is caused, or refunding their money if they’re not happy.
Here are some of the testimonials we received in last 2 weeks –
“P.S. You provide excellent customer service. Thought you would like to know that.”
Here is one more –
“This definitely calls for me “advertising” for this app on my Facebook and twitter sites. That’s about 320 friends right there. And I can convince many of them that you guys have a price range for them, as u have many plans! so hopefully I can bring you more business. You deserve it PLUS I will be sure to let everyone know that you’re ALWAYS HERE for us with your first-class customer support. I know everyone appreciates that! ;)”
So far so good…but you might say that how this will work when your organization gets bigger…and you’ve to hire customer support professionals. Same thing. Just give your customer support professionals freedom and sense of ownership of your company. Just tell them that treat your customers the way they want to get treated by other businesses. Ask them to use common sense more often that some rule book.
Recently I experienced horrible customer service experience from American Express, ICICI Bank and a local Thai restaurant. At all these places, the customer support representative was just following the corporate guidelines, was thinking their profit, and was not really concerned about how customer was feeling. They had limited authorities to resolve my issues, and had common answer that they don’t have permission to fix certain things even though they thought it was right thing to do. They had to involve their supervisors, who also weren’t much of any help. Their apologies were also very fake and scripted.
It’s very valuable to get a new customer, but it’s extremely important to satisfy existing customers and make them your loyal fans. And the only way to do that is to be authentic and treat your customers the way you want to be treated.
Last week I wrote about how I improved my productivity and happiness by being inactive on Social media. But that’s just one part of the story. Definitely few things really worked well, but there are few other things which could have also worked well but didn’t. Here are those –
What worked well
Improved my focus and productivity: As I said before, this was the biggest benefit I achieved by staying focused and less distracted. I could finish 2 major milestones on my plate –
I launched my social commerce solution company Shopalize in Private beta. It’s still not open to everyone to access yet as we’re currently working on acquiring early customers and trying to hash out product flow with them. Once we have more confidence on our product and it’s value, we’ll open it to more people.
I also launched major upgrades and subscription plans for my appointment & personal reminder service company JustRemindIt. It was a lot of work to add these enhancements on both Web and iPhone application at the same time. So I’m really glad I could complete this milestone as planned.
Spent really quality time with family & friends: This is something I can’t measure quantitatively, but I would definitely say I felt lot happier and relaxed spending more and quality time with people I care about. In general, I was majorly focused on my work, but whenever I used to get tired, or stuck on something, instead of spending time on the Internet, I spent it with family or friends — either helping my wife day-to-day house activities or just hanging out and relaxing with friends. Simple tricks I mentioned in previous blog post helped me to give full attention to people or events around me, and not get distracted by other distractions.
Improved my self control and discipline: This is kind of a side benefit. Typically you gain more self confidence when you see yourself following certain discipline consistently for good time. It’s just re-affirming that you’re disciplined and you can control your actions.
What didn’t work so well
Missed Social media: I’m learning lot of things on both technical and non-technical fronts while building my online businesses. Every time I learned about some hack, insight or advice, I wanted to share it with the world, but I restrained doing it. My natural instinct was to be more social and vocal, but I forced myself to stay silent. I guess Social media has really become an integral part of our lives. Every time we get excited about any small thing, we want to share it with the world. Of course, if you don’t share anything, your life is not going to end, in fact you’ll live very happily. But I guess by being more social, you’re expressing your happiness, excitement and learning with the world, which might make more people happy, excited and knowledgeable.
Might have not learned as much as I could have: Working alone means you will learn from your own readings and experiments. You don’t have a colleague or friend with whom you can brainstorm different ideas or thoughts. So by limiting how much time I spend on content consumption, I definitely must have missed many interesting articles on various different topics. But I knew that this would happen, and that’s why I had decided to consume the information reactively rather than proactively.
Couldn’t grow blog subscribers, Twitter followers, and personal brand: No one wants to engage with your blog if it’s dormant and you don’t write valuable content. Similarly no one wants to follow you on Twitter if you don’t share interesting articles, insights and inspiring quotes unless they’re your friends. You might ask, but why one cares about these numbers? Sure, many people do not have to worry about these metrics. But if you’re building an online business, then it’s super important to build your brand and make your identity known in the industry. It opens many opportunities for you and your business to meet with new people, get word about what you’re doing, get feedback and valuable introductions, etc.
So overall, being inactive on Social media didn’t affect my personal life in any significant way, in fact it actually helped me a lot. Similarly, it also didn’t hurt my professional life in any major way, but at the same time, it didn’t help me either. In fact, it would have been helpful if I would have been more active on Social media.
Plans going forward
Since there are both advantages and disadvantages of being active on Social media, I need to find the right balance between on what activities I spend more time vs what activities I spend less.
More Blogging & Tweeting: This is definitely valuable to build my personal brand and identity. Blogging helps me to clear my thoughts and put it in concise and crisp manner. It is improving my writing and my communication abilities in general. Tweeting enables me to share and discover thoughtful articles and insights and connect with similar minded people. Both blogging and Tweeting are related to my interests — entrepreneurship, startups, marketing, etc. So I’m going to invest more time in connecting with people who share my interests.
Less Facebook, Foursquare, etc.: All other social activities, I’ll be spending very less or no time. I think Facebook is good enough to check 1–2 times in a day. Facebook is a true social graph. So I’m connected with people from my real life social connection — from my nephews to uncles, from elementary school friends to grad school friends. I feel comfortable sharing my personal life things — like interesting life events, inspiring quotes, funny videos, songs I’m listening or things I’m buying — something that can be relevant or interesting to all types/ages of people. But I’m not sure it will be relevant if I share my professional interests related things like articles or quotes about Startup, Internet Marketing, etc. My nephew or uncle won’t be interested in that.
This way I would be less active on certain types of Social media sites, but will be active on few of them. As a result of it, I still can be focused on my work and spend quality time with my family and friends, and also don’t need to compromise on growing my professional presence and connections with interesting people from my industry.
First of all, I haven’t blogged anything in the last few months. In fact, I haven’t also socialized much on Twitter, Facebook and other social media services. Well, there wasn’t any major reason for my inactivity apart from my simple attempt to focus on few important milestones on my plate. I wanted to spend most of my time on my work and with my family and friends, so wanted to restrain myself from all other distractions a.k.a. Social media as much as possible.
To me, spending time on Social media means spending time on Email, Blogs, News Aggregators, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc. In general, I wanted to consume minimum required content — like checking important emails, reading interesting blogs or seeing friends’ updates only couple times a day instead of being hyper active. And I also decided not to produce any content at all — no blog posts, no Tweeting, not even Facebook liking.
I had not set any time limit for this experimentation. I decided to continue doing it as much as I can or until I complete important milestones on my plate. Writing this blog post may be considered as the end of this experiment, which lasted closed to 2 months. I guess part of the reason I’m ending this experiment now is because I just completed 2 major milestones on my plate and other part is because I missed being active on Social media.
So I thought what’s a better way to end my dormancy on Social media than writing about tactics I used to shut off myself from Social media and be more productive. In this article I’ll just cover simple tactics I used, but in the next blog post I’ll also write about what worked and what didn’t work so well as a result of this experiment.
So here is a list of tricks I used to improve my productivity & happiness –
1. Unsubscribe from newsletter & notification emails
I wrote about this before — now a days email has became more of a notification medium rather than a communication medium. Every single day you’ll receive tens of newsletter emails that you’ve subscribed to (e.g. Daily Deals, Events, etc.) or notification emails from web services that you’re using (e.g. Twitter, Quora, Foursquare, etc.). Most of these newsletters are not relevant and are complete distraction. All those notifications emails take your attention and waste your time. Unsubscribe from such newsletters that are not really important. Also change your email notification preferences on most of these social services to receive no email notification about any activity that happens on that site. It’s not going to matter much if you don’t learn who started following you on Twitter or Quora.
2. Consistently keep your inbox clean
I don’t read every single email I receive. In fact I delete more emails than I read ones. To be specific, I only read emails that are sent only to me. I rarely read or participate in emails that are sent to groups. Most of the times I delete them based on the subject and my judgment of it’s relevancy to me. If I have time, and if it’s relevant, then only I’ll read it. Keeping this minimum engagement with emails definitely helped me to focus on important emails, and not feel burdened with email overload. Deleting non-personal emails also helped me to keep my inbox clean and find relevant emails quickly when needed.
3. Close your email browser window
Another trick that helped me immensely was to close the email browser window when I’m done with reading/writing emails. If I keep that tab open and if I receive a new email, then Gmail shows a notification count of how many new emails I’ve received. When I see such notification, my natural instinct is to click on that tab and see who sent me emails. Seriously, do we need to be so hyper-responsive to check these emails? I don’t think so. So I simply close that email window when I’m done with checking/replying emails. As they say — ignorance is bliss. Then in few hours (1–2 hrs typically) I’ll open my Gmail, read/reply/delete emails as necessary, and close the window again. Practice it, and you’ll definitely see the results.
4. Logout from Twitter & Facebook every time you’re done browsing
This is another simple trick that works really well if you want to spend less time on Twitter or Facebook. Whenever you login to Twitter or Facebook, these services store your cookie on your computer, and next time you visit their URL, you’re already logged in to that service and you’ll be spending next 20–30 mins in browsing without even realizing it. You don’t visit these sites with the goal of spending 30 mins on it. You think that you’ll just spend 5 mins, quickly see what’s going on, and get back to work immediately. But it rarely happens that way and you end up spending 30 mins of your precious time. But next time you visit these sites, make sure to logout from them when you’re done with browsing. This way, if you try to visit their site for 5 mins, then it will redirect you to their login page and ask you to enter your login credentials. Don’t check the “Remember me” option while signing in. When typing a service URL doesn’t log you in automatically to that service, and when you’re faced with additional hurdles like entering login credentials, most likely you’ll realize that you don’t want to login now, and you’ll give up signing in saving your next 30 mins of precious time.
5. Schedule your content consumption routine and be reactive than proactive
This is a simple discipline — just schedule your day. Decide when you’ll be reading news or blogs, when you’ll be Tweeting or Facebooking, and follow that routine. News in the morning, or Facebooking after lunch, whatever it is, just plan roughly, and try to follow it. One more thing to add is — you don’t have to read every single interesting article that you found on that same day. If you don’t need that information right now, then don’t read it. Read it when you need it or when you have ample time. Be reactive to read information, not proactive. Sure, real-time information is valuable, but you’ve to judge what’s more important to you at that moment — finishing your tasks or reading some more information.
6. Use a bookmarking service
This ties to above suggestion — do not read every single article that you find interesting at that moment. When I browse news sites or blogs after I wake up, my goal is to discover as many interesting articles as possible in given short time, and bookmark them with appropriate tags (Delicious) for later reading or searching when it’s needed. Most of the times I read it during lunch break or when I’m having leisure time on the weekend.
7. Don’t keep your mobile handy when you’re at home
This is another simple self discipline to spend quality time with your family & friends. Now a days we’re consuming and producing more and more content on mobile devices. I think it’s useful to use mobile devices when you’re not at home and killing your time in some waiting queue or waiting for someone at a coffee shop. But when you’re at home with your family or at friends’ place for party, then don’t keep that device handy all the time. Develop a discipline to keep it somewhere else — far from your easy reach. If you have your mobile handy, then you’ll have that constant urge to open those Email, Twitter or Facebook apps and spend your time browsing/updating things which are not important. Instead just be with your family and friends, and enjoy being in that moment.
8. Measure how many times and how much time you’re spending on certain sites
This is just to know what you are doing now so that you know what do next. I used to visit Hacker News, Twitter, Google Reader atleast 8–10 times a day. It was a major time killer and distraction. Just by measuring how many times I visit these sites a day boggled my mind and I reduced it down to 2–3 times a day. Also measure how much time you spend on these sites. Just by knowing how much total time you’re spending on these sites will help you understand how much time you can save and use it to spend somewhere else.
So these are the tricks I used to focus on my work and finish few milestones on my plate. I typically worked 10hrs-14hrs/day and still found lot of quality time to spend with my family & friends. Whenever I used to get tired or stuck on something, instead of spending time on Social media, I spent it with my family and friends — either helping them on any day to day activities or just hanging out and relaxing with them. Shutting myself off from Social media definitely made me happier as I spent amazing time with my family and friends and I also did not need to compromise on my work and sleep hours at all.
Hope these tricks will be useful to you as well to become more productive. What tricks do you use to be less distracted from Social media noise? Please share your ideas in the comments.
Now a days my personal inbox is primarily filled up with notification, alert or newsletter emails. Most of the emails I receive are about notifying me that someone has commented on my Facebook status or Blog entry, or someone has started following me on Twitter or Quora. Then there are alert emails from financial institutions or insurance agencies reminding me about paying my bills. And the third category is emails from companies or products about their promotions, offers or monthly newsletters.
In fact, now a days I receive very few personal emails. My friends are communicating with me on the social networks like Facebook and Twitter. My family is communicating with me using phone or similar VOIP services. Very rarely my friends or family members will send me a personal email asking about my whereabouts. If at all I receive email from them, it will be mostly related to some work only.
Over the past decade we’ve been believing that email is one of the most widely used communication medium, but I think it’s not entirely true anymore. The communication part of email is slowly dying down. The communication aspect now has been taken care by other social properties on the web, and email has become more of a notification medium for your communication activities on other services.
One problem with this trend is, even though our communication is happening on other services, we still spend similar amount of time on email services to manage these notification emails — we still have to open it, read it, and then delete it. And we also spend same amount time on other services to actually communicate with our friends and family. Now a days I don’t even open these emails and simply delete them based on their subject line.
I understand that I can stop receiving these notification emails by setting some options on other services and reduce my email overload, but my problem is I do want to receive these notifications. It makes sense to have one centralized notification centre which informs me about the activities that are happening on different distributed services.
But may be the current form of email services is not efficient to receive these kinds of notifications. All modern email services are fully loaded with features that are designed to foster 2-way communication. Features like Reply, Forward, Attachements, etc. make no sense if I just want to receive a notification from other services.
May be existing email services can identify these notification types of emails automatically, and separate them out in different view, and show me in different format, and once I read it, delete them automatically. Or may be we need some stripped down version of email service as a separate application to just receive notifications from all other services. Another thing can be done is to enforce these other services to only send text-only notifications, with really short message body, and not to send lot of unnecessary junk like graphic images, other marketing material, etc. That would also make accessing these emails much faster and simpler.
Anyways, I don’t know which email service will initiate this kind of change or will someone create a separate simple notification service and take off this burden from email service. These are just my observations and expectations, and I would love to hear your observations and experiences.
I was discussing with one of my friends about our temptation about starting a startup in hot markets. Here are my brief thoughts on it –
In my opinion, at any given time, there are always more than 1 hot markets. “Real-time web” is one, so is “social-gaming”, and so is “iPhone apps”, and so there are many. The key is — you pick one market, and keep pushing your idea in that market. It’s easy to get distracted by other hot markets all the time. It’s very tempting to switch to other hot market just because few others became successful in that market. But when we notice such successes, and realize that it’s a hot market, there are many others who also notice it and realize that it’s a hot market. Also, after we switch to that market and before we really start making our impression into that market, it might be over competitive and too late, unless we’ve that kind of expertise and speed of execution.
I think the key to win based on hot market approach is — we need to be pioneers or early adopters of that market. We can’t be too late in the game. I think 2–3 years is late. But just being pioneers or early adopters of any hot market does not guarantee any success. It’s our relentless belief and persistence to stick into that market until people start believing that market might make us successful. We can’t just hop-around to hot markets before we really execute for long and well in one market.
On the other hand, I’m not saying we should completely ignore the trends of hot markets. The best strategy might be to see how can we leverage those trends for our existing idea and market. We need to see what we can learn from other hot markets, and how can we bring similar experience to current ideas. There would be more innovative opportunities on the intersection of two or more hot markets.