Our Yearning For Immediate Gratification

Sunny days wouldn’t be special, if it wasn’t for rain
Joy wouldn’t feel so good, if it wasn’t for pain

– 50 Cent (Many Men)

When I was a little kid I’d go with my dad to his office. He ran a sales team that did a lot of direct mailing and I got to stuff envelopes for awesome prizes – like a can of Mountain Dew from the cafeteria. Seeing the stack of sales material and envelopes turn into a box of ready-to-send mail was so rewarding. It was easy to measure my success and fun to try to get more done in the same amount of time.

As I got older, the lead time between work and gratification got longer and longer. Now, the delay is so severe that sometimes it’s hard to tell which work led to which gratification. That’s a serious issue if the gratification is what’s driving your decision making.

A few of my friends have told me they have similar feelings – and a bit of yearning for activities that have immediate gratification. Maybe that’s why many of us fill our social time with easily measurable activities with clear gratification. You set out to climb a mountain in the morning and you are fist pumping at the summit in the afternoon. You set out to run a race and you crossed the finish line to the cheers of your friends and family. You set out to cook a meal and your friends are licking their plates at the end since it’s so good.

A few weeks ago I noticed that I got enjoyment from watching my own flossing progress each night. What!? I set out to write a blog post about why this simple act would bring me joy, and look, it’s all written up. Hopefully you’ll enjoy and share it and give me some of that gratification that I crave.

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Our Yearning For Immediate Gratification

What Wikileaks can teach an entrepreneur

All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near. Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him.
– Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Behind the divisive politics, pundit rampage and laugh-out loud diplomatic correspondence of the past month lies a few great lessons in strategy. Every unexpected or game-changing event must be looked at as an opportunity to revisit our objectives and further our interests. As with most things in life, attitude and resilience in the face of a shifting environment is what defines success.

The market is never in our control, the best we can do is understand its basic dynamics. When the environment changes, much like it did for diplomats following the leaks, calm determined actions are required. The US government knows it can’t stop Wikileaks, so while they developed new strategies in each region, they also acted like very publicly like they were in panic mode.

Startups often get caught in in reverence for honesty and openness and forget that business is a complex strategic game. Their is a time and place for openness, and also for deception. A startup by its very definition survives by the sheer disbelief of the establishment, quietly building market share and technology assets. Help them ignore you and believe you are a non-entity.

What Wikileaks can teach an entrepreneur

The importance of a blog for entrepreneurs

Writing is an important tool for entrepreneurs because it helps them clarify their thoughts, reach new people, and build their brand. We’ve had this blog for 4 months now. The blog has been a great decision not only for our business but for me personally. I’ve learned to love an important medium that I largely discounted and neglected for a long time. In my previous job, pitch pages and verbal explanation were the sole communication medium. Obviously, both of those mediums did not necessitate the power of good writing.

In verbal communication, people aren’t focusing fully on what you are saying. A lot of times people miss something you say, are just waiting to make another point, or have already turned off because they don’t like what you are saying. Writing helps minimize these issues by presenting a unified, structured and concise explanation of your thoughts. If you still manage to confuse them, they can stop and reread until they do. In addition, the mere writing down of your thoughts forces you to be structured and prioritize the key arguments. It’s not a coincidence that I’m able to talk more clearly and influentially about subjects that I’ve written about.

An ex-girlfriend had a tendency to write emails to me when she was upset. At the time, I thought it was because she was nervous about discussing it in person and I attributed her writing “habits” to her insecurities. In both personal and business situations, I’m now the one writing emails when I am dealing with difficult situations. It has helped resolve issues in a better way than trying to tiptoe around the issue in a verbal discussion.

I normally write about the subjects that I dealt with heavily during the previous week in order to clarify my thinking on them. In the past this has included my thinking about entrepreneurship, big decisions Chad and I have made, and how-to guides for overcoming technical challenges for technology startups. I could have just written all this to myself if it were just about clarifying my thoughts. Instead we’ve made it all public. The benefit is that it builds a following, helps us solicit feedback, and helps potential partners and supporters understand our thinking process. Some entrepreneurs have built huge followings that have helped increase the success of their core businesses. A few examples include: 37 signals, Brad Feld, Fred Wilson amongst many others. This week ~110 people will read our blog post and for 12 of them, it will be the first of our posts that they read. By being open, honest, and doling out our honest statistics, we’ve convinced readers to support our business and follow our progress.

Interestingly I often find myself asking people if they have a blog and read whatever they have written. The blogs my friends are about a lot of things, from volunteering in Africa to business learning from mentors:

Sebastien Desmarais – Downshift
Ahn Ei – Flatiron Flavor
Steve Lowtwait – The CampSteve Blogazine
Monika Runstrom – BLOG
Al Doan – Hard Knock MBA

Clearly some of my friends are not technology startup founders, but they all feel the act of regularly writing has improved their writing, thinking and decision making skills. Writing—and blogging—isn’t just reserved for founders but it is a powerful vehicle of expression and brand building that no entrepreneur should neglect.

The importance of a blog for entrepreneurs

Learning What Makes You Influential In Social Media

We started blogging to distill our learning each week. It’s been fun but we’re not content to just write into the ether anymore after seeing the impact and influence many of our peers have garnered from their intelligent use of social media. The major questions are how to do you measure “influence” and how do you systematically improve yours?

Luckily there are plenty of great tools and strategies. Google Analytics to track traffic, Klout to track an algorithmic measure of your twitter influence and Bit.Ly to track clicks on your referenced links. As with everything else you want to master, you must use the tools to constantly test your hypothesis about what will improve your metrics. Don’t forget to be clear about which metrics you want to improve (for us it’s the number of responses and amount of traffic).

So how are we going to take this blog and our twitter accounts to the next level? Right now, this blog gets roughly 50 unique readers each week and is growing steadily at 10% per week. You may have noticed that in the past couple weeks I’ve released multiple tweets and Facebook announcements about the same blog posts at different times. It was a test, you guys all passed! We learned from these experiments that releasing the blog at a bad time impacts awareness, and have since learned that mid-week at noon EST is the best time to publish for our audience. It gives the post maximum awareness and allows people time before the weekend to read it, once the weekend hits the readership drops to zero. Another thing we’ve learned from some big bloggers in town is that we need to be more active on other blogs’ comments, be guest bloggers for others and have others guest blog for us. You’ll see both these strategies at work in the coming weeks.

On the twitter front things are different. Success for us is measured in large part by the interaction we get in the form of retweets and engagement in larger conversations with multiple people. Last week one of my tweets about a recipe was retweeted by a handful of followers and got hundreds of clickthroughs and a lot of new followers for us. How do we replicate this success with content relevant to our industry and at the same time enhance our brand? More importantly how do we leverage tweets to reach my talent acquisition goals? It’s a two pronged strategy, first we’re starting to monitor search terms relevant to greetings and the creative community as a whole in order to respond and engage with people doing cool stuff. For instance this past week we reached out to the official funny poet of Wimbledon! Another strategy is to interact with people outside of Twitter. For instance, in one of my personal side projects I’m reviewing every coffee shop in Boulder (bouldercoffee.tumblr.com) and have been using twitter to post “where is Joel at today” posts with a prize for the person who finds me in real life. This has been really successful. The combination of engagement, fun and games and relevance to my highly localized twitter following has resonated well. So that’s my amateurish approach and we’ll see how it works. I know some readers are the country’s foremost social media and community management experts. I’m talking about you @MikeFraietta, @AndrewHyde, @SativaBella, @tcabeen. Use that comment box and give me your thoughts.

At the moment we’re nobodies in social media, but after 3 months completely engrossed in the technology startup community we’re hooked. The value of this medium to propel your brand, enhance your influence and even help gain traction for your product is huge. As with everything, find the people who do it best and learn how to improve.

Learning What Makes You Influential In Social Media