Handwritten Follow Ups
I wrote about following up in business development before but it’s a general good practice to have in any encounter.
In fact, one of the ways I stayed on Dwolla’s radar to secure an internship was by following up. I followed up once by email and again with a handwritten card. Although that was the only time I sent a handwritten note, I highly recommend it when it’s a special encounter because it gives it a more personal touch and shows that you took the extra step and time. The person is also forced to open a snail mail (particularly out of curiosity) than just click a checkbox and trashing it.
If you have poor penmanship like I do, I recommend using two websites: SendOutCards.com or Inkly. They’re not quite “hand”-written but it’s definitely a great solution that can make a huge difference.
The Secret to Pitching in Business Development
I was always impressed with Chuck Palahniuk’s retelling of The Great Gatsby in the manifestation of Fight Club. Nick would be the narrator and Gatsby would be the rich and handsome Tyler Durden (everything the former wanted to be), with Daisy, of course, being Marla. Palahniuk totally Picassos Fitzgerald’s masterpiece and makes it his own.
After a few months of sitting in with Alex in meetings, I realized his pitch (that he often tweaks off the cuff given the person with whom he’s speaking) didn’t just include why someone should use us, but also how we’re special. I’ve realized Ben, our CEO, does this too. He tells the past, the present, and future of not Dwolla as a product or company but Dwolla as a mission, as a purpose.
Pitching shouldn’t be pitching in its core definition. Hearing a spiel of why your company is good is boring. Telling a story without it really sounding like a story is the art in pitching. How is your company special? How did you get where you are and why should someone want to work with you now? Giving your pitch a sense of purpose behind what you’re offering gives people a reason to pay attention, a reason to buy in, and a reason to consider you. As I’m learning to adapt Alex’s pitch and craft it into my own, these are some of the questions I’m thinking as I speak to prospective clients myself.
The Best Way to Break into Any Industry: Volunteering
I’m a huge supporter of volunteering at events, especially when you’re trying to break into a network of people. If you want to break into tech, volunteer at a tech event. If you want to do business development, volunteer at a BD event. If you want to break into film, volunteer at a film event. It’s as simple as that.
As a volunteer, people need to come to you. If they have any questions, they will come to you. If they need something done, they will ask you. Proving your worth as a volunteer to the organizer will also give her reason to introduce you to certain people.
How do you prove that worth? How can you get noticed? Always be attentive. Look around: what needs to be done? While others are looking the other way, step forward and get it done; it’s what you came to do anyway. Take out the garbage. Clean people’s plates. Refill the paper towel dispenser in the bathrooms. Make sure you know everything that’s going on so you can get it done and if it’s out of your control, you can go to the organizer and let him know what’s up.
The startup world is a community. Any vertical that people are passionate about has its own community. Treat it as just that- a community. Volunteering in a community doesn’t mean anything unless you go above and beyond to get things done. This adds value to the organizer and the attendees. They will notice you. They will know that you’re not there taking up space. They will speak with you. Take advantage of that time and make a connection.
Retaining Employees: The Difference Between Big Companies and Startups
My ex-roommate has been working at his first job out of college for more than two years now. It’s a corporate job and it pertains to his major, economics. Recently, he’s been working on his resume to send out to other companies. What took him so long was that his company had been paying to get him licensed in his field. He was waiting for those classes to be over and then apply.
The program is obviously designed to keep workers in the company by investing in them when they’re young but the program isn’t working as all of his co-workers do not aspire to grow in that company. Whether they do or not, that mentality is poison to productivity. Just the fact that they’re thinking it, even if they end up staying, is very revealing.
Why isn’t it working? What’s wrong with investing in something that would boost the resumes of their entry-level employees?
There are many factors that stem from recruiting to work environment but I think that “investment” (in its most common definition) isn’t enough. There’s no personal investment. Like with anything else, throwing money at a problem is rarely enough or rarely helpful. Throwing money is a Band-Aid fix. There’s no mentorship involved. There’s no one who’s genuinely invested in any of their personal and professional growth. Creating that relationship is crucial in forming loyalty.
Joining dwolla was never really about the money. It was a combination of what Dwolla was doing and how Dwolla would use me. The mentorship that was built (and is being built) between Alex and myself was crucial in my sticking it out until I got hired full time. Not only in terms of education in business development (which is what I sought out to do), but Alex also stuck his neck out for me a few times in the short time we’ve been working together. Outside of Dwolla, Alex really invests his time in me regardless of his schedule.
This kind of bond, I truly believe, is crucial to the success of a junior employee. Starting from scratch, Dwolla is cultivating me to grow within the company. This allows me to contribute to Dwolla’s success and strengthen my loyalty for it on a daily basis. It’s an honest and authentic investment in the person.
A general good habit to have is to always prepare for meetings.
If it’s meeting with a potential partner, a recruiter, or even within your own team, having a basic understanding is always very helpful. What does the potential partner do? What type of person is the recruiter? What needs to be accomplished within your team?
If you’re like me and tend to forget a few things during meetings (even casual catch ups), taking a few minutes to prepare for meetings will help you to be clear and to the point. I used to try to avoid looking at my notes or casually look at them during meetings. I’ve learned that it’s okay to look during meetings- it shows that you value their time (and yours).
If you’re charismatic and love doing things on the fly, preparing for meetings can help you take meetings to the next level. There will be a clearer sense of organization from both parties and it doesn’t take much time; a few bullet points will do.
In general, meetings suck. Meetings are useless and they waste time unless there’s execution afterwards. But long meetings just mean there’s less time for full up and execution. Preparing for meetings allow you to have a general understanding of where you want the conversation to go and you have a motivation to drive it in that direction. There are plenty of things that are overlooked because they just seem mundane but preparing for meetings is an often overlooked task that shouldn’t be.
I only watched three PBS shows growing up: Arthur, Zoom, and Bob Ross (not even Sesame Street so much). I still remember all the lyrics to the theme song of Arthur but Bob Ross is really who I want to talk about in this post.
The overall painting is always more beautiful than each brush stroke…but the latter is necessary to create the former.
I loved watching Bob Ross paint because he would make seemingly random strokes on the canvas but then when he went to sudden streaks a few minutes later, a part of the painting began to make sense. When he was done, it was hard to imagine that that painting came from what was, a little while before, blobs of paint on a piece of paper.
In startups, being very detail-oriented is an overlooked skill. Everyone likes to believe that they are, but in startups, catching the smallest things can turn into the biggest opportunities. Obviously, not every startup captures big opportunities.
Steve Jobs would always say that the fun was in the process. A lot of times, it’s hard to lose sight of why the little things matter. But that’s where patience and perseverance play a role to power through and wait for the overall picture that we’re painting.
In my Jr. BD role, a lot of my time is spent on building out the pipeline, which means researching verticals. A good old Google search is obviously one of my go-to tools. But sometimes researching unfamiliar territory requires you to Google the right things rather than looking through pages of the same, unhelpful things. Poring over the sites and finding common details can help narrow searches and target the companies that you should be reaching out to.
As Christopher Walken says in Man on Fire, “A man can be an artist. In anything, food, whatever. It depends on how good he is at it. Creasy’s art is death. He’s about to paint his masterpiece.” And then the character Creasy (Denzel Washington) proceeds to annihilate an entire criminal organization.
Everyone is an artist. Some are good. Some aren’t as good. Others don’t belong in that genre of art. While some art can be more glamorous than others, if you can’t learn to enjoy the seemingly mundane parts, you shouldn’t be painting that picture.
The rule of thumb for sending out emails is the shorter the better (~5-6 sentences). The idea is that you want to catch and then keep their attention from the flood of other responsibilities the recipient of the email may have. While it seems counterintuitive, the less work you do and the less you make them read, the higher the chance you have of a response.
There are a few best practices for this:
1. The subject line should be just a few words but include something that would cause them to open their email. Are they missing something on their website that you can provide them? Are they losing a ton of money on a particular offering? What is important to them? Why should they open your email?
2. A hack around the sentences problem is using links. Links to press releases, other helpful information that make for an easy read can help when strategically placed. (Read: Don’t go link crazy because a sea of blue text isn’t pretty)
3. Your intro should be in your signature. Instead of writing your name and introducing what you do, include it in your signature. Don’t waste any sentences. The point is for them to be intrigued by what you’re offering, not you yourself. If you successfully caught their attention, they can look at your signature to see who they will be interacting with.
These are just three things I use on a daily basis to hack around the rule when writing emails but there are definitely other things to stand out in someone’s inbox and keep their attention.
So incredibly proud to be a part of this team. It’s gonna be the start of an exciting ride.
AllThingsD (subsidiary of Wall Street Journal)
BusinessInsider (part of pitch deck used for round)
Scott Weiss (of a16z, joining our board)
Albert Wenger (of USV, already on our board)
The Financial Times (need account)
In a recent episode of The Office, when Dwight’s grandmother dies, the audience learns that it is Schrute tradition to take a Mossberg and shoot the casket immediately before burial to make sure the person is dead. The ridiculous reasoning behind this is that the Schrutes are essentially too proud to have a doctor declare someone dead…so they declare it for them, which also comes with the risk that they may not really be dead. Why ruin the funeral for their sake?
People, especially those in tech, always want to predict the next big things. One of the things that made Steve Jobs brilliant was that he was so easily willing to kill certain products and predict their extinction. iMacs came out with no floppy drives. The Macbook Air came out with no CD drive. People love predicting and being the first to declare something dead.
For some years now, people have been saying QR codes are dead. Not really. Active, prospering businesses still use QR codes; they’re still relevant today. I remember last year sitting in Alex’s Skillshare class (pre-hybrid), a student declared that business cards are dying. Nope. People in tech meetups are still exchanging cards all the time. In fact, not having a card may mean a missed connection.
Tech people are a proud breed. We are usually the early adopters in many things, leading us to prematurely declare things dead in favor of the “next big thing.” In spite of startup culture to move quickly, nothing is official until it’s official.
This thought is applicable to closing deals as well. You can have multiple meetings that seem very exciting, very productive, and all of a sudden the whole thing falls apart and the deal that you thought was a guaranteed close goes cold or dies out altogether and the partner goes a different route.
It ain’t over til it’s over.
One of the best pieces of advice that Alex ever gave me was last week in Iowa when I gave him an excuse on something because I didn’t have experience on it and he responded bluntly, “Figure it out.”
I was initially taken aback but I realized sometimes that’s really the best way to grow and understand: jump in the pool and see if you float.
There are a lot of spectators out there. While I’m lucky enough to have a mentor to show me the ropes, there’s really no excuse for those that can’t find one immediately. It’s about just going out there and doing it yourself and making things happen and then learning after.
In retrospect, it’s hard to believe that that seemed like a valid statement. I know better than that. I’d like to believe that I embrace challenge but getting stuck on a task as easy as that one was disappointing to myself.
There really are no excuses unless you went out there and tried it first.