Category Archives: relationships

Vinny the Linchpin won’t let you make a waffle

(Seth Godin’s new book, “Linchpin – Are you Indispensible?” just hit the New York Times bestseller list. It’s an amazing, life-changing book and my review is coming soon. If you don’t know the term Linchpin yet, you will. Until then, read this. Now, on to Vinny)

You don’t have to be an artist or a musician or a creative to be a Linchpin.

Sometimes all it takes is a waffle.

My client Altec Lansing is based in Milford, Pennsylvania and when I’m there, I stay at the Hampton Inn & Suites in Matamoras.

There is a self serve breakfast buffet just like at every Hampton Inn & Suites. Except this one isn’t like every one. And Vinny makes it so much more than self-serve.

I’ve only met Vinny three times but it only took once to realize what kind of guy he is. He waits on you hand and foot, transforming the experience from a self-serve breakfast buffet into a four-star restaurant.

Every time, Vinny enthusiastically lets me know what the hot dish of the day is. Sometimes it’s pancakes, sometimes it’s a eggs on a bagel sandwich. Vinny sells it and somehow, I’m always convinced it’s a good choice to start my day.

Vinny makes small talk if you’re interested but it’s never probing or bothersome.

Vinny insists on making your waffle for you, even though the machine is self-serve.

Vinny bustles around, making sure every item at the buffet is stocked completely at all times.

Vinny always wishes everyone a wonderful day but it’s his actions that ensure they start the day delighted.

Vinny doesn’t do his art only on good days. He does it every day.

It’s pretty clear Vinny doesn’t do this job for the money. He does it to give a gift and because he enjoys making people feel special.

To be a Linchpin, location doesn’t matter. Neither does title or how big your office is.

If Vinny can be a Linchpin working at a Hampton Inn & Suites breakfast buffet in Matamoras, what’s stopping you?

The Same People

Do you constantly hang out with the same people?

The concept of Dunbar’s number is an interesting one. Recently, I have seen more discussion on it and how it relates to social connections.

In short, Dunbar suggests there’s an upper limit to the amount of relationships we can maintain. That number, for the record, is 150.

You can read much more about Dubnbar’s number at Wikipedia.

Mashable wrote about how it relates to Facebook.

Jacob Morgan wrote an interesting piece on how Dunbar’s number is irrelevant and the importance of weak ties.

Chris Brogan talks about beating Dunbar’s number.

Personally, I think it’s all very interesting, but since I’m not a Ph.D., I’m not going to add any scientific arguments to the fray. I’m going to bring it down a level.

If you always go to the same networking events, switch it up. Try some new ones. Meet some new people. Your current network won’t (really) exclude you and you’ll probably meet some new people and learn some new ideas.

If you have a big social network, go out of your way to meet some of them in person or “IRL” (In Real Life – a popular abbreviation on twitter). Often, some of the real-life contacts can introduce you to other real-life contacts.

I have a list of people I want to meet this year, in real life. Some are people I’ve connected with online, others I haven’t. Others are a handshake or two away. It’s an aggressive list but I’m confident I can get it done. To do so, I’ll have to pass on some networking events that are frequented by current friends. In the end, I think they’ll forgive me.

While I find Dunbar’s number interesting, I’m not particularly concerned about managing my 150. I’d much rather venture out and meet some remarkable new people.

Your new competition

Quick. Take 30 seconds and list your main competitors.

(don’t worry, I’ll wait)

Done?

Good.

Sorry, but your list is wrong.

Unless of course, you listed Zappos, JetBlue, Southwest Airlines, Trader Joe’s, Wegman’s, Netflix, The Container Store and Apple.

Your customers are doing business with these companies, who are constantly raising the bar on engagement and customer delight.

Every time your customer’s online order arrives earlier than expected from Zappos…

Every time your customer chuckles at a Southwest flight attendant who weaves humor into the emergency exit script…

Every time your customer feels a human connection with a checker in line at Trader Joe’s…

Every time your customer is glad that there are so many helpful colored shirts at the Apple Store…

It’s happening right now. Your customers are experiencing this kind of interaction (notice I didn’t say transaction) today.

The bar has been raised.

What are you going to do?

Flowtown knows what you’re wearing

OK, they may not know what you’re wearing but there is a good chance they know your customers better than you do.

Flowtown uses emails from your customer database, (you do have an email database for your customers, right?) and can tell you interesting and valuable information about those customers.

I recently met the founders of Flowtown online. They are wicked smart guys with a product that is immediately useful to almost any business.

Below is my interview with Ethan Bloch.

Who are you and what do you do?
I’m Ethan Bloch and I’m the Co-founder and CEO of Flowtown.

Why should companies use Flowtown?
Because social media is hard and Flowtown turns social data in dollars.

How much does Flowtown know about someone from their email address?
Name, Age Group, Gender, Occupation, Location, Influence and almost every Social network they’re on.

Really? Wow. Do you know what I’m wearing right now?
I think you’d prefer I didn’t say ;)

So this would allow companies to do more targeted campaigns. For instance, if only 10,000 of their 100,000 members are twitter users, they could do a focused campaign, right?
Totally, way more focused. For example if you’re not on Twitter it would be annoying to get an email saying ‘Hi Clay, we’re building out our presence on Twitter…” you’d be like “I’m not on there, why are you sending me this?” On the flip side we’ve found that if you know someone is on a network and you mention that in your email, the performance of that campaign skyrockets.

Is Flowtown a replacement for traditional email systems like Flowtown, AWeber or MailChimp?
In the case of mainstream email service providers, I don’t think Flowtown is a replacement but rather an enhancement. For example we’ve built an integration with MailChimp where any MailChimp user can come to Flowtown and in 3 clicks dump a ton of demographic and social graphic information back into their MailChimp list and then use MailChimp’s segmentation feature to get more relevant with their subscribers.

You guys are adding interesting new features to Flowtown pretty quickly. Tell us about some of them.
We just launched an influence calculation (powered by Klout), where now when you import a contact list we’ll show you your top 50 influencers, which you can use to do 1-on-1 outreach i.e. we’re showing you the 20% that will drive 80% of the results, in respect to getting noticed and building buzz.

In fact everything we do at Flowtown is ran through this ‘Pareto Lens’ – early on, internally, Dan and I would speak of Flowtown as the 80/20 marketing filter for business.

Tell me about your partner, Dan Martell. How did you guys meet?
He’s a Rockstar – we wouldn’t be anywhere close to where we are today without Dan.

We actually met on Twitter back in September 2008. Did an IRL meetup, discovered we’re both passionate about marketing and moving the needle for business and the rest is history…

Tell us what your typical day at Flowtown is like.
I wake up around 6:30 and immediately touch base with David (VP of Engineering), he’s on EST so by the time I get up I’m already playing catchup.

(I jumpstart my day by using a strategy from Leo at Zen Habits: http://zenhabits.net/2007/02/jumpstart-your-day-night-before-evening/)

I’ll do a brief skim of all the new email that’s came in make sure there’s no bombs going off and then then I’ll work on 1-2 of the most important tasks I have scheduled for the day, for the next 3 hours, usually product, sales or biz dev focused, this could include new product mocks, coding, emails, phone calls, brainstorming and white boarding.

After those 3-hours are up I start going into a more ad-hoc mode, where I’m answering email/tweets, talking to customers, closing new customers, working with David on new features, bouncing around the bay for meetings, testing new features, breaking things and syncing up with Dan.

Later in the day/evening is when I go to the 30,000+ foot view of life, this includes research, reading (going through my Instapaper) and planning.

What did you do before you started Flowtown?
Right before I started Flowtown I was producing/hosting a video show called WSYK? (What Should You Know?) which was syndicated by Revision3. And I was a marketer full time at Cake Financial, a start-up that was recently sold to E-Trade.

Where do you hope Flowtown will be in 3 years?
Flowtown will be responsible for raising the bar on customer experience/service, by helping all businesses care for their customers like Zappos cares for theirs.

What’s the plan then?
Not sure if I’ll be ready, but I want to help fill the massive void in education. I hated school growing up and think there’s a lot we can do to improve the experience for children everywhere.

You’re from Baltimore. Please tell me you’ve seen the Wire or we’re ending this interview right now.

“You come at the king you best not miss.”

I love The Wire. My favorite character is Omar and if you don’t know why just watch this.

Thanks, Ethan.

If you want to try Flowtown yourself, enter your email address here.

Layering snowballs

With the right temperature and a little wet snow, anyone can make a snowball, but my friend Jimmy makes them all day, everyday, in sunny San Diego.

I had another excellent call with Jimmy and a potential client today. After the call, a light bulb went on and I realized what makes Jimmy such a great entrepreneur.

He only thinks in snowball.

Every component of every deal has the capability to snowball. Everything has high probability growth potential. I can’t ever remember Jimmy discussing a deal by saying, “that’s what we’ll sell. That’s that and we’ll move on to the next deal.”

It’s always designed to snowball.

But here’s the key. The snowball isn’t just for Jimmy, it’s for the clients too. He is a master at layering snowballs. Many deals involve three or four parties and Jimmy is particularly skilled at identifying each party’s needs; what they want and what they can give up without much pain. He sees multi-faceted win-wins like a Grand Master chess player sees so many moves ahead. And then he authentically articulates these win-wins so the clients see them too, which makes the sale that much easier.

How do I know Jimmy will be successful?

Eventually, a bunch of layered snowballs create an avalanche.

[photo by: nata]

Precious Moments

At the end of a long day, you’re heading back to your hotel room. Alone in the elevator, you push the button for floor 26 and want nothing more than room service and maybe a shower before working a few more hours. Before the elevator door closes, a hand slices past the sensor and the doors reopen.

Richard Branson gets on and clicks floor 27.

What do you say?

(Replace Branson with Steve Jobs, Marissa Mayer, Russell Simmons or the person you would most like to meet, either professionally or personally.)

This used to be called having your elevator pitch ready. The truth is, most people don’t want to be pitched, although Sir Richard may be the exception.

Still, it’s important to be able to make the most of this precious moment.

How do you introduce yourself? What do you say after that? Is it a statement or a question? Do you praise them? Talk about yourself? Ask them an interesting question? Tell a joke?

The doors just closed. What do you say?

Add your thoughts in the comments. I’m really interested in what you all think on this one. Don’t forget to include who you would want to meet.

photo credit: Chris Heuer

CES isn’t about tech

Photo credit: CNET

Social media isn’t about the tools, it’s about the relationships and connections that the tools enable.

It’s the same with CES and similar conferences. They aren’t about consumer electronics or the sessions or the swag. The real value is in the relationships and connections (personal, business and both) that can be developed or rekindled.

Via twitter, I connected with Sarah Austin and attended the opening keynote with Ford CEO Alan Mullaly and got to learn about the amazing new technology Ford is putting in their cars. Think of a Batmobile designed for a digitally savvy James Bond. I never thought a keynote speech could sell me on a car but I really want a new Ford tricked out with all the latest technology.

Through Sarah, I got to meet Scott Monty (head of social media at Ford Motor Co.), Ian Sohn and Karen Untereker, both cool people who work for Ogilvy.

While working the Altec Lansing (client) booth during the middle of the day, I met a bunch of cool people, including customers and other Altec employees I hadn’t met yet. I also met Cory, who dominated our Rockband contest and is better at that game than I am at anything.

At 3pm, I headed up to the Kodak K-Zone booth to listen to Chris Brogan, Jeff Pulver, Adam Ostrow and Daniel Brusilovsky do a great and fun little panel on what the year 2025 will look like. Afterward, I got to reconnect with Chris and meet Justin Levy and Colin Bower in person for the first time – both are super smart guys.

After wrapping up the booth, I met my good friend Donavon Roberson from Zappos for dinner and we both met John Bergquist, a good online friend, in person for the first time. I also met their three of their friends, who I will surely be keeping in touch with.

It’s great to learn about and enjoy the 3D TVs and underwater HD cameras but the gadgets will be different and new and shiny next year. Focus on the relationships and connections you make. They are what endures.

I wouldn’t trade the meetings & connections I had yesterday for any gadget at CES.

(Except a new Ford with the SYNC & myFord technology. Sorry guys, it’s just too cool.)

Enjoy CES and if you’re still here and want to connect, I’m here.

The Space Above

Storage Unit

Having moved five times in the last six years, I’m no stranger to temporary storage units. They’re all pretty similar. You pay a monthly fee and get access to a small space to store your belongings.

When you purchase a storage unit, they are always quoted in width x depth. A 10′ x 10′ space might cost $120 / month or a 5′ x 10′ space might be $80 / month.

Here’s a little secret. The value is in the space above.

The height of the storage unit determines how much you can store. A 5′ x 10′ unit with high ceilings can store as much as a 10′ x 10′ with low ceilings. Now I always pack my items in sturdy, stackable containers.

Think about your own business or relationships. Is there ‘space above’ that you’re not utilizing?

On that long drive, instead of listening to the music, you could listen to a great audio book or catch up with that relative or old colleague you’ve been meaning to call.

On that plane ride, instead of watching the in-flight movie, you could write the business plan for your new idea or draft the first chapter to that book you’ve been meaning to write.

At home, instead of watching House reruns, you could start a blog for yourself or with your child.

Space above is everywhere. Look for it and use it.

[photo credit: merfam]

The crowd you run with

west-side-story

“Associate yourself with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation; for ’tis better to be alone than in bad company.”
– George Washington (1732 – 1799) US Statesman.

It was true in the sixth grade and it’s true now. You are who your friends are.

Not exactly of course, but close enough. The choice of people you associate with is one of the most fundamental determinants of the type of person you’ll be.

Think back to high school. Do you remember any genius jocks who were the lead in the school play but also smoked at lunch and stole cars to joyride in? Not likely.

Now think about your workplace. Rarely are there two lunch tables both split 50% between heads down engineers and smooth-talking field salespeople. Hardcore coders aren’t usually meeting up with the creative ad team for happy hour (they’re over enjoying their own cocktails at Club Syntax).

Now think about your personal group of friends. This is where the widest variety of personalities is seen but if you host a weekly book club, it’s not likely that Official NASCAR Trivia is on your required reading list.

In smaller schools, communities or companies, there is a greater likelyhood for overlap but once the group gets large enough, groups form.

So why does this matter?

If you have a child in school, getting to know their friends is way more important than making sure their biology paper is complete.

At work, mix it up a little. Sit with the engineers at lunch, or tag along to happy hour with the creatives. You’ll learn something.

For anyone, more importantly than running with ‘the crowd’, surround yourself with people that motivate and inspire you. If you’re always being challenged, in a good way, the crowd will pull you up to realize your full potential.

Stop counting (start counting)

25th-hour

Stop counting how many Facebook friends you have.

Stop counting how many people follow you on Twitter.

Stop counting your LinkedIn connections.

Those numbers don’t matter.

I’m going to say it again, because it’s important. Those numbers don’t matter.

Start counting (how many) of those people you would start a business with.

Start counting (how many) of those people you would lend money to. Or borrow money from.

Start counting (how many) of those people would defend you in court.

Start counting (how many) of those people would come to your for business or personal advice.

Start counting (how many) of those people would let you crash on their couch. For a month.

Start counting (how many) of those people you would want at your wedding. Or your funeral.

192 (6)

4,367 (32)

459 (11)

In the very underrated Spike Lee Joint, 25th Hour, Edward Norton plays a former drug dealer about to be sent to prison. At his farewell party he delivers the following toast:

Champagne for my real friends. Real pain for my sham friends.

Stop counting sham friends. Start counting (real friends).