Going International – Part 1- Startup Interview with Workable

This post is part of my “Going International” video interview series. It tells the stories of different startups expanding internationally and discusser the challenges and lessons learned.

In this first episode, I spoke to Nikos Moraitakis, the CEO and Founder of Workable. His company is a startup producing an online recruiting solution tailored to the needs of small and medium sized businesses, and their international expansion was a bit unusual, and therefore particularly interesting – check it out!

What I find the most fascinating about Workable’s story is the fact that they not realised early on that having an international presence is vital to their business – but also that they had the courage to actually do it, in multiple countries! And it worked.

Another important point for me is Nikos’ comment on hiring. Since empathy is one of the cornerstones of a great business culture, it is something to watch out for in your team members. Nikos mentioned that you cannot teach people to be empathetic, but that this quality is something you need to look for in prospective employees already.

Personally I agree that you cannot teach someone empathy from the beginning – you need a certain foundation in a person’s character to build on. However, you can sharpen someone’s understanding of empathy over time, helping them understand people even better. And I believe it is one of the greatest ways to unlock your team’s true potential.

Workable also shows the advantages of having a product with little room for product customisation, another pain point for many startups. This does help a lot when entering markets as it keeps complexity at a manageable level.

I am excited to follow Workable’s future journey and I hope you enjoyed listening to their story as much as I did! :)

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How NASA Taught me to Build a Culture of Excellence

Ideally, we all want our colleagues to make no mistakes, or at least get them as close to that as humanly possible. Simply telling them, however, has proven to be ineffective. You want to create accountability in people: “I truly feel responsible for my actions”. If you want your company to really thrive for excellence, you need to build the right company culture, and for that to work you need employee buy-in so you have your team’s commitment.

How do you do that? By becoming NASA!

You cannot manage excellence into people

Here is a typical situation which I have seen happening many, many times: The sales team has a product presentation, during which the client points out a flaw in the product. The sales team raises this issue with their colleagues, and all agree that customers should not be the ones finding the mistakes.

So the decision is made to have everyone focus more on attention to detail. This is then announced to the wider team, either through an email to “team@somefirm.com”, detailing the sales team’s recent dilemma, or in an all-hands meeting, or whatever the communication culture suggests.

And now management expects things to change. After all, everyone should have understood this is important, and therefore they are waiting for results to improve. Only, in many cases at least, they won’t. And while management then starts blaming people for being lazy and for not caring about the company’s success or culture, this very often is not even the problem.

The issue is rather that people quite often simply get no answer to the most important question: Why.

To build a culture of motivation, give reasons.

Changing behaviour starts with providing the bigger picture

Here is a little secret about human behaviour: If you ask someone to do something without explaining to them why they should do it, you might be very lucky and have someone very smart in front of you, who figures out the reason on their own. Very often, though, they add a little sentence to your request: “Because I told you so”.

This does not happen consciously, but subconsciously: falling back to the default reasoning if none other is provided. You give them none, so they assume there is none, other than this being your personal preference. And how much do you think they care about that?

When that happens, you can be almost sure that this person will not fulfil your request out of conviction. They might still do it, either because it does not bother them, or (worse) because they fear the consequences of not doing it.

Whatever their motivation will be, it will never achieve the passion and commitment you can unleash in people if they understand the reason for your request. Bigger picture helps building a team cultureIn our example, the product team will understand a lot better why attention to detail is important if you explain to them how badly it affects their colleagues in sales, how badly they feel in this situation, and how it ultimately harms the whole company’s success.

This may sound like the answer to your problems – but what if your culture simply is not strong enough? What if your colleagues are a little self-centred, or maybe lack the empathy to understand the impact of their behaviours on others?

That is when your company becomes NASA.

Understanding empathy, at rocket speed!

Why NASA, you may ask? What on Earth (pun intended) does outer space have to do with my company and its culture? You are right, this is not about the fact that NASA is all about missions in outer space – but the fact that it is about making decisions in the face of life and death. And this latter fact will help make our point about the importance of company culture. Empathy is the basis for accountability. In order for this to work, you should get everyone in your team together in one room. Then you explain to them that you want them to imagine that their company is now NASA.

To make this as realistic as possible, you can assign people actual roles: Steve here is an astronaut on the International Space Station (ISS), Alice is the pilot of your space ship, Robert works in the control center, and so on. Don’t worry, this is not going to make it insanely complicated, it just helps people’s imagination.

Then, you set the scene and talk about your next mission: sending a new replacement crew on Alice’s space shuttle to the ISS to relieve Steve, and also send much-needed supplies along with it – after all, their current supplies run out in a few months. So Robert should already be doing all the necessary planning!

Attention to detail, at NASA level

And then you give them the brutal, honest facts:

    • The ISS orbits Earth at a an enormous speed of X kilometres per second
    • Timing therefore needs to be precise to the 100th of a second in order for the space shuttle to reach the ISS as planned.
    • It also requires that everything is ready: the technical equipment needs to be in perfect order, the calculations for travel time and route need to be meticulous, and all crew members of course need to be in the required shape for the trip

Even without doing an actual calculation or going into further details (you can of course do it, if you think it helps your team understand), your colleagues will get what you mean when you say:

    • If Steve is not ready for the trip on time because he slipped just a little bit on his preparation, the mission will not happen.
    • If Robert has tiny mistake in his calculations for the space ship’s route, they will not reach the ISS – in fact, they will fail by a few thousand kilometres

Whatever examples you name, the message is simple:

You mess up because you are sloppy, and you put your team members’ lives at risk. Your mistakes can cost lives. Our culture as a team is not just important, but essential.

This is a very, very powerful message.

Implementing the NASA culture

Now that your colleagues understand what lack of attention to detail can cause in organisations other yours, you can add that NASA has only ever been successful because each and everyone in this organisation is aware of their responsibility for each other.

That they are all part of something bigger that can only function if everyone perceives a mistake as not just a personal failure, but as a failure towards their colleagues. This is central to their team culture and individual perception.

And now we finally close the loop and get back to your company and its culture. The example of NASA has helped your team understand that:

  • An organisation is not an anonymous entity, but an interdependent group of people
  • NASA employees do not just act out of mere duty (or fear of losing their job), but because they actually care about their colleagues, and possibly their higher responsibility towards advancing science in general
  • This leads to an extremely powerful culture where every member of the organisation thrives for achieving a zero-mistake score

At this point, your colleagues will understand why you asked them to join you in this little thought experiment – because everyone knows what it feels like to care for another human being. Maybe they just never saw their colleagues the way people at NASA see theirs?

This new level of awareness will help you build the culture you need to achieve excellence in your company. How exactly you go about it, is obviously down to you and your specific situation. However, asking yourself “how would people at NASA do it?” may help you and your team on the way to developing an empathy-driven, passionate culture – passionate about perfection!

How do I know about the culture at NASA?

The obvious question I already got asked by a friend while writing this post. Did I just make some assumptions about their culture, based on the environment this organisation operates in?

No. I was fortunate enough to talk to the last crew of the Discovery shuttle after their final journey. When I spoke to the astronauts and asked them about life aboard the ISS, the feeling of camaraderie and, yes, family amongst them, I got the picture.

Listening to those people who had actually been to outer space, watching them interact with each other, I could really feel it too. :)

Have you ever been through this process of developing such a culture? Share your thoughts in the comments! Got any other questions on how to ignite the fire in your own team? Email me!

In Social Media, Your Personality is the Silver Bullet

Have you noticed how many social media posts are actually just suggested content? Now that this feature has started disappearing, it is time to rethink social media and get personal again. This post shows you how!

When I logged into my Buffer account early on Tuesday last week to start my social media morning ritual, I was greeted with a small message, saying that Buffer will shut down their content recommendations bit by bit, completely discontinuing it by the end of August this year. While Buffer certainly is not the only company to provide content suggestions for Twitter and other social media channels (there are others such as e.g. Klout), it definitely is prominent and also a well-respected voice in social media in general. And therefore this move is noteworthy, especially since Buffer also offered an explanation for their decision here.

Content suggestions create peer pressure

While I have used content suggestions for multiple social media channels in the past, I was always aware that there was one primary reason why I did it: everyone else was doing it too. And by everyone I mean mostly people in digital marketing or the tech industry in general, because the content suggestions were mostly geared towards topics relevant for those people. So if work in one of those areas and didn’t want your Twitter or LinkedIn to appear empty compared to your peers, you probably also felt the urge to take advantage of a handy content suggestion tool and keep sharing away.

At this point I have a confession to make, and I do not like it: I did not read c. 80% of the suggested content I shared in the past – because I just did not have the time. I kept sharing it to make my account look more active and to tweet “smart stuff”. Why? Fishing for engagement (favourites and retweets) and new followers, of course. And this is not what social media should be all about – but nowadays often is.

Over time, as content suggestions gained more and more popularity, I observed bizarre phenomena: When checking my Twitter feed in the morning, I noticed how my friends’ Twitter feeds consisted solely of suggested content over night – when everyone was sleeping. So the algorithms were having a Tweet-fest during the small hours, and in the morning you were greeted by a large number of tweets which you could easily identify as scheduled content suggestions. Oh boy.

High-frequency posting ruins any social channel over time

If you now think that this is somewhat sad, I have to agree with you. And I would even take it one step further: The peer pressure to keep up with volume of posts is in fact capable of ruining not only your self-respect, but the entire culture of a social channel! Think about it: more content means less organic reach, less engagement, and ultimately less ROI on your social media posts and content marketing efforts. This means that marketers will eventually turn their backs on a channel, once profitability on organic posts approaches zero. This can of course happen for other reasons as well – for example, when a channel focuses more and more on paid content promotion, as it is the case with Facebook.

Facebook organic reach per fan
Facebook organic reach (data compiled by Socialbakers)

As a marketer you may now think that this does not really affect you, since you can simply keep doing it while it works – making hay while the sun shines. However, you would miss a very important point:

Using suggested content excessively will not do you much good – because it simply is not you posting!

Personality matters more than anything else

This is something many companies (and individuals) still do not understand: In today’s marketing world, users do not need simply more content, quite often they would like the opposite. A while ago I wrote a post on the problem of content overflow and how content marketers struggle with the ever increasing amount of available content and the resulting decline in user engagement. And my conclusion was (and still is) that users connect with truly personal communication, with a certain style they can recognise. This builds true loyalty, not just more volume.

And this is where suggested content fails to deliver:

Unless you add a personal touch to each tweet, each LinkedIn share and each Facebook post, your followers will simply not perceive it as coming from you.

It will be part of the white noise they hear all day. And which they have become really good at ignoring.

While you may not feel a direct penalty for using suggested content, you are missing out on the opportunity to build genuine, lasting relationships with your audience by being personal in your communication.

So when I learned that Buffer will shut down their content suggestions, it made a lot of sense to me, even before reading about their reasoning. In our age, and with the outlook of the internet growing by 600% until 2020, simply increasing the content volume and frequency on your marketing channels is not ineffective, but may in fact alienate your audience.

Instead, focus on being personal, on being human when interacting with your audience. Rather than flooding your audience’s news feeds with endless posts, try to inject the “human” back into your social media. Real connections are made through emotions, and if your social interactions have a personal touch, people are more likely to favour you over anyone who still tries to win the race simply by adding more volume.

Managing your social media in 5 steps

But how can you manage to be both personal and still active enough on social media? Here are 5 steps you can follow to manage your social media accounts every day:

  1. Have your hotlist of great sources you skim every morning at breakfast, and select 3–4 posts you really find interesting — that’s your personality talking
  2. Schedule them during the day using scheduling tools like Buffer or Hootsuite, including obviously some of your own content. Again, three tweets is enough
  3. Use Twitter saved searches (doing a search and then clicking “save”) to follow certain hashtags or keywords, and then jump into a few of those conversations, adding your opinion
  4. Be reactive — if people like your tweets, they will reply or retweet, and that’s a chance for you to be human and reply to them to build true relationships
  5. Retweet a few more interesting things you see in passing to show appreciation and make your feed more diverse

And there you go: This brings you to about 7 of your own tweets, plus some retweets and replies — which is great! And it makes you come across like a person, not like a bot. This is how you will win in social media in the long run.

What are your thoughts on content suggestions? Do you have any other ideas for being personal on social media? Leave a comment!

Why Most of Us are Terrible at Leadership

We often develop our personal idea of good leadership from being led by bad leaders and our desire to do it differently. Yet many of us end up being quite similar to the very people we once despised. Why? Read on. (hint: it is NOT because we are stupid!)

Earlier this month I was fortunate enough to visit One World Observatory on top of One World Trade Center. This magnificent building had been opened to the public just a few days before, it was a perfect day and I had an amazing view over New York.

Picture showing New York from One World Observatory
View from One World Trade Center

Looking at such a mighty city from above is one of those moments for reflection, and on this day I had one of my biggest in a long time:

Why most of us suck at leadership, and what do to about it.

I want to share it with you.

Learning about Leadership: Shock Therapy

Do you remember those classes you might have had on leadership at university or MBA school? Me neither. It was one of those courses which, although perhaps taught brilliantly, simply did not mean much at the time. The first real lesson in leadership is usually taught once we finish uni or do our first real internship.

Do you remember the first time a manager yelled at you or another employee? I do remember that moment very clearly – and also how it made me feel.

There you go, that’s your first real lesson in leadership. In my case, my reaction was two-fold:

  1. Something just went terribly wrong and I need to make sure I avoid doing this going forward.
  2. This person is a horrible boss for delivering criticism this way, and once I am in a senior position, I will never be like this!

Sadly, this was not the last time I experienced behaviour I thought of as bad leadership, but the beginning of a journey which has lasted throughout my career, now covering almost 9 years. Each time a new example was added to my personal collection of bad leadership behaviour, my determination grew to be a better person once I am ready.

Stepping up – and tripping over

And when I was ready, I made sure I never raised my voice at an employee, and until this day never have. Neither did I do anything else quite on the same level, which is something I am happy about. However, I did come to realise that I started displaying some other habits I previously criticised in my bosses! And here I was, responsible for a team for the first time, doing things I had loathed before when they were done to me.

Amongst my shortcomings were:

  1. Trying to make team members deliver against our targets, sometimes resorting to “Come on, it certainly is possible and we have to do it” when intrinsic motivation would not develop as expected
  2. Being bad a communicating because I felt too swamped and unable to handle it all, causing delays and frustration for others
  3. Defaulting to “management paradigms” trying to end a discussion I did not want to have at the moment, because I did not have time or the answer right away

Once I realised it, I felt terrible about myself. The fact that this happened confused me a lot because I could not understand why, until I realised I was not alone: Many friends of mine made similar experiences and were equally nonplussed by them!

So why on Earth does this happen to so many of us? Why do we display behaviour we previously identified as bad leadership qualities?

Leaders are just another brick in the wall

Assuming we are able to critically reflect on our own behaviour, it does seem strange that we adopt behaviour patterns we strongly despise in others. For me, there are two possible explanations for it:

  1. We have been conditioned to behave like this by our professional environment and are unwilling to break the pattern – we feel we now have earned the right to rule.
  2. We still do not agree, but succumb to the dynamics of the system and feel we are forced to behave this way – we feel we have no choice but to follow the pattern.

The first explanation indicates a desire to reclaim: we were once treated unfairly by our bosses, and now it is our turn to re-establish the balance – irrespective of the ethical implications. This often happens to people with very hierarchical world views. The second explanation demonstrates idealistic views, combined with the inability to overcome the (perceived) dynamics of our professional environment.

I do not wish to judge since I have empathy for both points of view. However, the first position indicates a questionable moral compass. As long as a person does not critically reflect on that, they will not be able to progress to the next stage.

To me, the second position is that next stage. You might see it as a weak position, but there is motivation to “do the right thing”. Let’s focus on this.

True leadership is about building the right system

Once I understood my situation – wanting to do what I felt was right, but feeling the organisational structure and culture inhibiting me – I focused on the limitations to my success. I realised that me (and possibly many others in similar situations) feel powerless even in positions one would normally associate with formal authority.

The reason is actually quite simple:

Formal authority itself means nothing – because you cannot force change in people who are conditioned otherwise.

In a system where people are used to a certain status quo, implementing change in leadership will not be possible unless you change the system itself from the bottom up. I believe in many cases this will only be possible when starting a whole new business – with people who are not already highly indoctrinated or at least are open-minded enough to go back to square one.

This is the true definition of leadership for me: To build the right system and then let people operate freely within it. It does not mean actively leading or managing them – you won’t have to if you build the system the right way.

Please don’t get me wrong: I am not saying that it will be easy to build the right kind of company identity, communication structure and, most importantly, establish a culture of mutual trust.

It actually is a very difficult process, and it will take time. And yes, you will mess up – it is inevitable. However, if you keep going, you will be able to create an environment for your team which allows them to unleash their full potential.

Putting it all together: From Leader to Architect

Declaring that building the right system will be the answer obviously poses the next question: So what is the right system? (“And don’t you dare end this post without saying it!”)

The answer is actually quite simple: The right system should make one position superfluous: the leader! In this system, this person should be an “architect” who is responsible for designing and setting up the structures for everyone to operate in. And that’s it.

If done correctly, actively leading people will not be necessary because they will be empowered and capable enough to make their own decisions. How so?

Because they fully understand their role in the business, they feel part of it and, because they feel it is based on fair rules, they also feel committed to its success. 

And you should leave them be and trust them – because it makes no sense at all to centralise decision making when you might not know nearly as much about, for example, the clients as your account management team does! Why not let them decide what is best? Why interfere?

To me, a major flaw in management theory is the basic agreement that people actually need leadership: It implies they are incapable without it. And this basic assumption is wrong. They only become incapable of acting independently once they have been indoctrinated with hierarchical thinking and top-down leadership!

If you set up the right system, hire the right kind of people who are open to working in an organisation without mind-numbing hierarchies and decision making, and if you are able to really live up to those principles, you can build a great, successful organisation with a solid structure – from the ground up.

Building the right organisation with leadership from the bottom up
One World Trade Center – from below

 

What are your thoughts? Have you ever been able to implement real leadership change in an established organisation? Either way, I want to hear from you, so email me: matthias@matthiaslissner.com or leave a comment!

7 Deadly Sins of Recruiting – Practical Insights from the Hell of Hiring

In this short post I show you the worst examples of recruitment behaviour I have experienced, I show you the root of all recruitment evil – and I also ask a small favour! :-)

Recruiting revisited – still terrible

Recently I had many conversations with different people who are intimately involved with recruitment: corporate recruiters, headhunters, CEOs, and of course candidates. Observing different processes at different companies is really interesting, especially when you hear the people in charge throwing around buzzwords such as ‘employer branding’ or ‘active sourcing’. And then putting none of that into action. I feel quite passionate about this topic, since I believe recruiting is a strategically important function in companies of any size and industry – and yet it is very often lumped together with HR, which really is not the same!

Recruiting is an active role concerned with finding new talent to secure the company’s future, while HR to me is more of an administrative role, trusted with matters such as payroll or disciplinary procedures.

While still important, the latter does not have strategic importance. Recruiting does. So I decided to list the 7 deadly sins of recruiting I have come across over the years. I believe each one of them is terrible on its own, but I have seen many companies committing more than one, which really is outrageous. Here we go:

7 Deadly Sins of Recruitment

The 7 Deadly Sins of RecruitmentWhy this behaviour is not ok
Take longer than two weeks to give feedbackThe candidate might decide to go with an employer who treats them as a higher priority
Suddenly go dark and never respond againNot even sure where to start on this one…just communicate and be honest
Tell the candidate they will need 2-4 more weeks (or longer!) to screen other applicantsThe candidate is expected to wait in limbo because the company has a terrible recruitment process
Send a template email rejectionMight be ok before first round interview, but after that feedback is not optional. It is good tone and fair
Be late for a phone call or face-to-face interviewOne of the first things they would criticise the candidate for - simply disrespectful to make someone wait
Be vague about what they expectIt is good to be open-minded. It is terrible to be unprepared
Be dishonest about the reason why it did not workThe truth usually is not that hard to take, and it is the only way the candidate can learn something

To me, this list shows one thing very clearly:

Employers still do not treat potential employees at eye level.

Imagine candidates displaying any behaviour of this kind – it would be the end for them. And quite rightly because it is terrible to do any of these things. For companies, however, it still seems to be perfectly acceptable. How many times have I seen a CEO frown at a candidate for being five minutes late, while he made it a habit to make people wait 10-15 minutes – because he is the CEO, right? Best to establish that right from the start: Know your place, and shut your face! Wonderful.

What is needed for recruiting to work

In order for recruiting to really work, companies finally need to start perceiving and treating it as an essential pillar of future growth, not a back-office department generating nothing but costs. This would also result in them treat employees with more respect, leading to a better quality of available candidates and, as a consequence, a better team.

The word candidate, in fact, should be abolished: It makes the company again look superior and the potential employee appear like a petitioner. In today’s world, I think neither party should have an edge over the other when it comes to recruiting. Even in a temporarily one-sided market, the “stronger” party should be smart enough and not take advantage: the tables will turn again eventually, and treating people fairly from day one will be repaid in loyalty.

All of this may seem like old news to you – but that is precisely my point: those thoughts really are not new, and yet it still has not changed, although everyone keeps talking about the importance of it. So I thought it is time to make this list and ask you to do one thing:

Please share this list on Twitter, LinkedIn and anywhere else suitable. The more people see this, the better. And whoever sees this – they will all benefit from recruiting finally getting the focus it deserves.

Making recruiting better than it is today is really important to me, and it would mean a lot to me to get your help with this.

Got any more deadly recruitment sins to report, or any other thoughts? Please leave a comment!

Twitter – Sleeping Giant or Sitting Duck?

In this post I will look at Twitter as a business, identify some of its biggest challenges, add my own experience as a user and draw a conclusion about the future direction of the company.

My relationship with Twitter – it’s complicated

People who follow me on Twitter probably know that I am quite active and that I like engaging with others on a number of topics, usually connected to entrepreneurship and startups. However, very few of you know that I actually only started doing this in January 2015! Before that, I had my account idly sitting there, not doing much at all. Then, I decided to give it a go and engage with people properly, and voila: from 80 followers to currently c. 2,500 in just over five months – without any aggressive following, I usually just follow back. So yes, you could say Twitter works for me, and I do enjoy sharing with and learning from others. Also, my Twitter presence has proven really valuable in both content distribution and content discovery.

So why, I hear you asking, do you feel you have a complicated relationship with Twitter? And why do you think Twitter, a platform with such a massive and active user base, is facing serious challenges?

Surprisingly enough, I have more than just one axe to grind with the old blue bird…and I am going to tell you why!

The Product – Twitter is not really evolving

Let’s get straight to the point: Yes, Twitter have worked on some features here and there over the past few years. They redesigned the profile quite a bit, for example, and built some really helpful analytics. From my point of view, however, not much has really happened to the core product. This becomes especially apparent when you compare it with two other companies who have undergone significant product updates, and even evolutions, in the meantime: Facebook and LinkedIn.

Please note: I do not suggest product updates for the sake of just doing them; they should add tangible value for the user. In Twitter’s case, however, there are many opportunities to even just iron out some glaring flaws – and yet nothing much happens. Here is my personal hotlist of significant UX improvements:

        • Abolish automated tweets: “Hey Matthias (+15 more people), thanks for following me!” Services such as IFTTT (otherwise a really great tool) have made it possible to send new followers impersonal, meaningless welcome tweets – for what purpose? Is it meant to make me feel welcome and appreciated when some algorithm tweets to me? I get why people want to do it, but Twitter really should think what kind of automation it wants to allow via its API to avoid spam.
        • Abolish automated Direct Messages: See above – just that it is even worse! “Thanks for following me, please also like my Facebook page!” Are you mad?! You just got something (a follower) and you immediately want more? The spirit of Direct Messages should be a very personal, private interaction – and yet automation has managed to completely ruin that feature. Again, why is Twitter tolerating this spammy behaviour.
        • Fix disappearing Notifications: Has it ever happened to you that months worth of Notifications simply disappeared? Sometimes they come back, sometimes they do not. While this may not be crucial to some users, I find it disturbing that such a basic, basic product feature has such obvious flaws!

This list is not exhaustive, and I am sure other people can tell you a lot more examples of low-hanging fruit improvements Twitter could make (hint: leave a comment!). To me, policing spammy user behaviour is particularly important as it can easily make or break a service in the eyes of its community. Other companies like LinkedIn should also work on issues such as spammy pictures in their news feed, but that is a story for another blog post.

Community management – if only!

There are a couple of things a company should do to be successful in the long run. While a lot of them are related to its inner workings (e.g. growing a solid culture to support organisational growth and preserve integrity), there is one essential factor no company can ever ignore: the voices of its customers and users.

In Twitter’s case, customers are advertisers, and users are people like you and me. I honestly do not know how well Twitter takes care of their paying customers, but if their handling of users is any indication, I would not get my hopes up.

In short:

Customer care and community management at Twitter are the worst I have experienced in any sizeable tech company!

I am the type of user who sends messages to customer support if I find something not working the way I believe it should, or if I think something could be improved. Why? Simply because I want to help companies I interact with understand what their users think. I have sent quite a few tweets to companies like LinkedIn or Buffer, and I was amazed by the speed and dedication with which they replied and often even followed up.

With Twitter, not so much: I do not remember ever receiving just one response to a tweet when I pointed out an issue or suggested an improvement. Other Twitter users I spoke to made the same experience, and I wonder why a social network thinks it is a great idea to be anti-social on their own platform? Should a company not be happy if their user base cares about the product? It is a strong connection which is easily weakened, if not destroyed, by a lack of responsiveness – because it sends a simple message: “We do not really give a f*** what you think!”

It honestly puzzles me as I simply refuse to believe that the people at Twitter do not understand this very simple truth – so why on Earth are they trying so hard to alienate loyal and caring users? If anyone has an insight, do let me know please.

One thing is certain though: Ignoring your users will lead you to disaster.

Twitter’s Business model – quo vadis?

Looking at Twitter’s business model again brings up the inevitable comparison with other social networks such as Facebook or career networks like LinkedIn. All three of them have an advertising-driven business model (although LinkedIn also heavily monetises their talent solutions and premium paid account models).

Comparing Twitter’s financial success to both Facebook and LinkedIn, established companies which have also been around for a few years, make Twitter look like a dwarf.

Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook: Revenue and Net Profit Margin
Data Source: Google Finance



While both Facebook and LinkedIn have shown not only impressive revenue growth over the past few years, but also managed to break even some time ago (LinkedIn dipped back into the red last year due to some big investments), Twitter has achieved neither.

Personally I am a big supporter of delaying profitability in the interest of fuelling growth: companies such as Amazon took a very long time to become profitable, and even nowadays reinvest almost all of their profits in order to further develop their product portfolio. However, Twitter’s situation is completely different: the company is not incurring losses caused by tremendous growth, but because the business model simply does not carry itself!

I have yet to understand how Twitter plans to ever drive significant revenue from their advertising business. Consider this:

  • According to numbers from Buffer, the average life time of a tweet is 18 minutes – very short compared to 90 minutes for a Facebook post, which is bad news for advertisers on Twitter
  • User’s attention span on Twitter, given the nature of the Twitter Home Feed, is very short (hint: this is where most of the ads appear in the form of sponsored tweets)
  • Recently Twitter started including sponsored tweets on user profiles as well – personally I find this is getting really spammy, and I am not sure how well it actually works

In a nutshell, I fail to understand how Twitter will be able to drive enough engagement to their paid ads to generate significant revenue going forward. Historic revenue is lagging behind that of its peers, and while you may argue that Facebook or LinkedIn are somewhat different products, Twitter’s valuation of currently $24.5BN, almost identical to LinkedIn’s $24.4BN, sounds very optimistic.

Unless there is a new monetisation strategy about to be launched which will be a game changer? If anyone has any insights on Twitter’s monetisation strategy and disagrees with what I wrote, please comment on this post as I would really like to hear about it!

The verdict

When reading this article you may think that I really hate Twitter. Not true. As I said earlier, I really love using the product, and it has been a tremendously helpful platform for me. In fact, this is the only reason why I wrote this fairly long post.There was a story the other day about Yelp being up for sale, and I never thought about writing about it, although Yelp is also facing considerable challenges. Unlike with Twitter, I do not feel a connection with their product.

So the reason why I wrote this post is because I wanted to share my point of view on a company which managed to build a really great product – and is now facing some big challenges in succeeding as a business.

Some of those challenges Twitter cannot necessarily control, such as their competitive environment. What they can (and should) improve, though, is their way of interacting with users and how they portray themselves. From my experience, Twitter is not seen as particularly progressive and innovative these days – something Facebook, for example, is a lot better at.

And finally, Twitter needs to come up with a completely new way of generating revenue. The nature of its product (very short half life of tweets, combined with extremely short user attention span) are a terrible combination. Unfortunately I do not have a perfect answer on which ad formate would work better on Twitter, but my instinct would tell me to look into other revenue channels, such as monetising access to user data a bit more. However, I still believe the big break through is somewhere else.

Personally, I do hope that Twitter takes a turn for the better. It is such an essential platform and one of the pillars of digital interaction – if anyone at Twitter is reading this, please know that your users care, and maybe you should do the same when it comes to them – it would be a really great, first step.

Got any comments, good or bad? Please tell me what you think, and what other thoughts and ideas you have on how to make Twitter better!

Product Standardisation – Walking on the Razor’s Edge

In this post I will explain why satisfying your clients inevitably creates conflicts in your product development, and how marketing and sales can help ensure that product standardisation is still possible in a customer-centric business model.

“I really like your product – it is exactly what I need, the best solution for me on the market! The only thing I am missing is an interface with this software we have used for years…but if you build that for me, I will definitely go with your solution and get it signed off by our Head of Digital right away!”

Does this sound familiar? If you work in sales or account management, I am pretty sure you have heard those words before – a potential client who really, really wants your product – it just needs a little extra bit of customisation. And unless you work in a industry where bespoke solutions are the norm, customisation should not be your focus.

Especially in an early-stage startup the temptation is very big to just go along and say yes to all client requests – you’re a young company, you need clients because you need proof of concept and, well, money. So it often happens that your first few clients get away with murder, since you simply are in no position to say no, so you end up doing exactly what they request.

And that is where you establish the basis for future account management nightmares and operational chaos! Why? Because you will never be able to achieve meaningful product standardisation.


Product standardisation is key for achieving scale

Making clients happy is important for any business, irrespective of the size and the current phase of development. However, imagine you continue to act like the hypothetical early-stage startup I just mentioned, and satisfy all your clients’ requests for extra features.

Do you think they will be happy? Pretty sure they will be, but will you? Once you start scaling the company by adding more clients, and also enlarge your operations to support more growth, your generosity will come back to bite you.

I have experienced it myself: suddenly your neat and tidy portfolio of 2-3 products has evolved into a jungle of 20+ different variations, with different features and pricing agreements here and there.

You want to role out an update across the platform without much hassle? Forget it. Cut off some features on future releases? Not a chance – after all, each client feels they paid specifically for all those little goodies you gave them!

So what are your options then? You can muddle through the way you did before, and never be able to really scale, or you need to make the hard cut at some point and push through the product standardisations you need – and risk losing many clients in one go.

Neither option sounds attractive – so consider the following instead.

Marketing and sales need to set the right expectations

In order to avoid your product variations growing like weeds on your lawn, you need to set the tone right from the start. Your clients obviously will not really care why product standardisation makes sense for your company – after all, you are meant to solve their problems!

So you need to deliver a different, customer-centric message to them:

  • Position yourself as an authority in your field through strong content marketing to gain expert status
  • Emphasise in your product marketing that you offer a standardised solution which is based on industry best-practice
  • Be consistent in your sales pitches and negotiations to ensure prospective customers have a clear understanding of your value proposition

You may even be honest and mention in a direct sales conversation that your business is dependent on speed and efficiency so that you are able to aways provide the latest updates to your clients – and for that, product standardisation is essential. Some of your clients will certainly understand, since you make it important for them.


This may sound like a lot of work and some extra hoops to jump through, especially for sales when signing new clients and facing their objections to standardised solutions. It is definitely easier to get a new client hooked if they get the feeling that everything they ask for will be possible, but as we established earlier, the cost for you will be much higher later on.

In summary

Promoting product standardisation right from the start may make it harder to win new clients for a company, but the long-term benefits cannot be ignored when you consider future growth. Managing complexity in your product portfolio comes at a high cost.

Marketing and sales can both help influence clients early on to ensure expectations are in line with product strategy and thus make it easier for account management to develop positive relationships with clients going forward.

How do you deal with product feature requests at your company? Do you rate them as an issue? Leave a comment or get in touch!

Sales vs. Marketing – A Proposition for solving the conflict

First, I would like to say that I did not really plan to write this post – it is more the result of my frustration over a topic which is well known to everyone working in sales or marketing: the constant struggle and blame game between both teams. Yes, let’s call it what it is: sales and marketing people hardly ever appreciate each other – but why, and how can we fix it? Here’s how I would do it.

Sales and marketing hardly ever get along

Have you ever spoken to a sales person about the marketing team in their company, or vice versa? I am willing to bet pretty much anything that 9 out of 10 times this will result in an avalanche of complaints, allegations and other varieties of displeasure.

“If only marketing could get our message across properly, we would not have such trouble closing deals!”

“If only sales did not try to squeeze the last cent out of every client, our marketing strategies would actually result in conversions!”

To me, this is really fascinating since I also worked in companies where this blame game took place, and from a management science perspective it was interesting to watch it unfold.

From an operational point of view of someone who was involved against his own will, it was hell. In high-def. Having dynamics like this in a company does not only endanger its performance, but also deteriorates the culture in no time. So I decided to take a closer look at why these two factions behave the way they very often do, and how it could be changed.

The unfortunate role of management

The first, arguably quite obvious observation I made was that this whole situation is completely absurd. Think about it: sales and marketing are both:

  • directly responsible for generating revenue
  • dealing with clients (at different parts of the purchase funnel, but still)
  • conveying the value proposition of the company


Looking at this, you would think that these two teams should act like one army, each group supporting the other, with a common goal and intimate knowledge and understanding of the other team’s function and processes. So this whole conflict does not make any sense now, does it?

It does, unfortunately, when you factor in the role of management. What does management do? That’s right, they seek to maximise the performance of the company by driving revenue up and costs down, and in order to do that they set targets. Marketing have their targets (e.g. generate x new leads per month, to make it very simple), and so do Sales (sign y new clients per month, again greatly simplified).

Now I will show you why this might work nicely on paper, but almost always gets messed up in practice.

Opposing targets – a firm divided

Let’s imagine our marketer now who knows about his monthly target: generate new leads. What kind of target is that? Correct, a very stupid one! It is very stupid because it incentivises the marketer to simply drive up the number of his leads, irrespective of quality, just to hit his target! (Note: I am aware that real targets often contain mechanisms to prevent such obvious flaws, but believe me they are not perfect either). A goal set in isolation, designated to work in a complex environment like a company, is a recipe for disaster.

So let’s switch to the sales manager who receives those leads from marketing, and who needs them to achieve his monthly goal of signing new clients. Will he be happy about the work marketing did here? Probably not. And will he blame marketing if he is unable to achieve his monthly target? You bet he will – even though his own performance might be mostly responsible, but hey, who’s counting?

What is happening? Both sales and marketing are doing exactly what management instructed them to do, and they are pursuing their individual targets. They key word here: individual. As you can see from our little example, the problem is not that either marketing or sales are underperforming; they are both trying to perform well – but according to targets which are set in isolation from each other!

So the answer is that neither sales or marketing are ultimately at fault, but instead the conflict of interest between both groups is caused by the KPIs put in place by management. Is this the case in every company? Probably not – but I have seen it happening too many times to believe that it only applies to a few.

As a manager I do appreciate the difficulty in setting the right KPIs for an entire organisation, which is quite a complicated system on its own. And when you then factor in the human component, it becomes highly complex. Sadly, there is no quick fix: you do have to take all of this into consideration when setting targets, otherwise you will achieve terrible results.

So let’s look at a potential solution to our problem here.


Removing the barriers: an experiment

Thinking about how to better align sales and marketing to avoid these unintended conflicts of interest, I came up with an idea: Why not combine sales and marketing in multiple, mixed teams?

The idea is to create small, agile teams of marketing and sales people and give each team the target to sign a certain number of new clients. That way you would assure that marketing provides not only a high quantity, but also the right quality of leads which can then be converted by sales. And sales would be incentivised to work more closely with marketing and communicate their message in a better way. Both groups’ interests would therefore be aligned.

An additional benefit of removing the barriers between sales and marketing should also be a greater exchange of information. From my own experience this only happens in a limited way if both teams act in isolation (again, lack of common goals), and it is crucial for a company that all information about clients is shared across the organisation.

I do not know whether this has been tried before, but to me it would be a worthwhile experiment to see how sales and marketing interact in small units with aligned goals – could this end the struggle between both teams?

What are your experiences with sales vs. marketing? Have you experienced similar situations? And do you think this solution could work? Leave a comment!

The Most Important Insight Of Changing Careers

In this post I will discuss what changing careers can do for your personal development, and how one crucial insight may boost your career more than anything else.

Career development today – off the beaten path

The recruiter glances at the CV. Five years in finance…analytical work, long hours, the grind. Then moved to the tech industry, done business development, sales and also marketing for three years, the whole mix. He feels confused by this flurry of jobs, industries and skills…so what on earth is this candidate? He does not fit into any bucket!

The recruiter I just mentioned could be any recruiter in any company in the world. The CV he looks at could also be anybody’s CV, but it is mine. I am the person people very often have trouble placing into a category. I spent 5 years in private equity, working 80+ hour weeks, then simply had enough of the industry and decided I wanted to do something more human and creative, so I started working in digital. After five years of building a career and a name in finance, I started over on a blank page, with no credentials and less industry experience than a 21 year-old graduate who had dabbled in social media for a few years. It looked pretty scary, not only from the outside.

Within three years of joining the digital world I managed to gain experience in sales, marketing and business development, and worked on some pretty exciting stuff. However, people still have this huge problem with my career: I do not fit into any of the categories people use! I am not a pure sales guy, neither have I spent years and years doing nothing but marketing – so I get this puzzled look on people’s faces when they hear my story. I can see their brains trying to label me, which produces the equivalent of dividing by zero: a system error.

As I talked to different people over the years, I realised how many were in a similar situation. With more and more people changing jobs and industries frequently, careers are less and less smooth and streamlined: they have breaks, seemingly abrupt moves and sometimes cross more than just two different industries in a decade.

When someone with such a CV then applies for a job, they often get the same reaction I described at the beginning: confusion, because the label won’t fit, the usual boxes cannot be ticked! Let’s rather look at the candidate with 5 years experience in the same industry before trying to put together this challenging career puzzle, shall we?


Changing careers gives you an understanding of your true self

Reflecting on this phenomena a bit longer provided me with a fascinating realisation which I think has the power to make you see yourself in a completely new light, which will in turn enable you to massively advance your career development. Let me share it with you.

When I think about the way many recruiters still look at people, ticking their boxes and slapping on their labels, it shows me how static this system is, relying so much on some blueprint on what “the ideal candidate” needs to look like. This presents a massive challenge to anyone who had a career change, because this is definitely not part of any “ideal candidate” concept and makes it more likely that such a candidate will not pass the first screening.

On the other hand, this also means that changing careers and jobs, and experiencing the static thinking of many recruiters, gives you the most important insight of your career:

It tears off the labels, removes the boxes you cannot fit into, and focuses you on something far more important: Your true identity.


When I realised that I do not fit any of the classic job profiles or role descriptions, that my background and skill set are combinations across multiple disciplines, it actually boiled it down to what I, as person, really am. And which of my capabilities connects all the dots that span 8 years, two industries and many different roles.

I am a communicator.

I can hear my friends and colleagues silently protest – after all, I also build financial models, define and implement company strategies or write technical product descriptions – so how does it make sense to call me a communicator and nothing else? It actually is quite simple: It is what I am best at. Period. Dealing with people, understanding and responding to them on a conscious and subconscious level is one skill I never really trained. And it is the one that makes me successful at sales and marketing, and where I feel like a fish in the water.

So there you go: This is the biggest accomplishment changing careers can ever do for you. Not only does it break you free from traditional definitions of roles, it removes roles altogether and replaces them with something so much more simple, and more wonderful: character.

5 ways of turning your character into your brand

What does this mean for all of us who have left traditional, prescribed career models and decided to wander off the beaten path? I think the answer is that we need to develop our own brand, to connect the dots in a way that is visible for someone else to understand. Someone who can see beyond labels, see you for who you are, and understand your character. These are, after all, the people you really want to work with.

Here are 5 ways of turning your character into a strong brand:

1. Start a blog which tells your story. Put a link to it on your CV / LinkedIn.

2. Write an intro text at the top of your CV which summarises your character.

3. Do the same for every professional social profile you have.

4. In cover letters, explain how your skills set fits around your persona.

5. And do the same when you are in an interview. Be authentic.

In some cases this process might be easier, in some cases harder, depending on what kind of career move you made. No matter how hard it seems, though, it will definitely be worth telling your story instead of letting someone else make up their own mind about you.

 

Have you made similar experiences in your career? How did you respond to rigid job descriptions or probing questions? Leave a comment!