Last Wednesday, I spoke to the inaugural Startup Institute class in Chicago about how to “introduce” themselves to startups. This reminded me of an introduction I gave for Georgetown’s business school head, Dean David Thomas. I’ve copied the intro below and included a few takeaways on what I did right and could have done better.
“Hi Everyone, my name is Rick Desai and I have the great privilege of introducing the Dean of our McDonough School of Business, Dr. David A. Thomas. Justine asked me to review Dr. Thomas’s profile. I interpreted that as memorize his accomplishments and present them tonight. That’s next to impossible. He’s done everything. Dr. Thomas spent over 20 years on the faculty of Harvard Business School. The H. Naylor Fitshugh Professor of Business Administration. Directed HBS’s Organizational Behavior unit. Dr. Thomas is widely published, having co-authored two books and over 60 case studies. He has been honored with a number prestigious awards and is widely regarded as a thought leader in organizational behavior and strategic human resource management. As now he is guiding the MSB into the future.
Now, with all that said, I did want to get to know the “real” Dr. Thomas before introducing him today. So I did a little internet recon. Google through the interviews and profiles reiterated that Dr Thomas is an extraordinary leader. LinkedIn provided his resume – and Facebook came up empty. And then I checked the last place I thought I would find our Dean: Twitter. Lo and behold, Dean Thomas tweets actively. And I want to share a few of his tweets which really resonated with me.
Dean Thomas is man of the people.
Still learning social media. A student yelled at me tonight, "Dean Thomas, you gotta tweet back to your students." Will do.
— David Thomas (@ProfThomas) April 18, 2012
The next will resonate with many of us in this room who are investing – time, energy, mentorship and capital – to transforming not only Georgetown but also Chicago.
To transform the world, we at @msbgu must continually transform ourselves. We must "be the change."
— David Thomas (@ProfThomas) March 30, 2012
And we also learned about the Dean’s interests.
He disliked the Hunger Games movie, tweeting about giving it 9 thumbs down. And he is a big fan of Jeremy Lin, tweeting about Linsanity and being Linsane a number of times.
Movie review: Hunger Games. Nine thumbs down. Save your money and time.
— David Thomas (@ProfThomas) April 8, 2012
Headed off to the Boston Garden to see Celtics v Knicks and Linsanity!
— David Thomas (@ProfThomas) March 4, 2012
Dr. Thomas, I assume you’ll be supporting Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls while you are here this week.
So, as a Georgetown alum, a Chicago resident, and our Dean’s 1,089th follower on Twitter, I’m honored to introduce Dr. David A Thomas, the Dean of Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business.”
Late last year, I participated in Potluck 2.0 and quickly realized that I was unaware of an incredible underground Chicago scene. Potluck is a speaker series (see: Ignite) where people from very diverse backgrounds speak undisturbed for 6 minutes. After presenting about taking the leap into entrepreneurship, I listened to a group of amazing and eclectic poets, actors, writers, and comedians tell creative and unfiltered stories. I was blown away. And they referred to a Chicago scene that I had honestly had never heard of: live magazines, books & beer, design based speaker series, and much more.
When friends in other cities ask me about Chicago, I evangelize the beach, our college football Saturdays, how nice people are, and of course, our summers – none of which is novel. When asked about trying new things like Yoga or Farmers Markets, I say that I can’t touch my toes and can barely cook but that I experiment with Chicago by regularly attending start-up events and trying new restaurants. Being with such diverse group of people at Potluck made me realize that I had never left my comfort zone. Even when I worked in finance previously, I would volunteer on junior boards composed of other young finance professionals. My exploring of Chicago was tied to my profession and my palette.
So I want to continue expanding my status quo. Saya, the co-host of Potluck, shared a list of events and activities that are underground to me. My experiment is to attend one new event each month. The list is below. Who’s with me?
Next week is the fourth edition of Tech In Motion** (TIM), an event at which a startup “pitches” its product, and panelists and the audience analyze the business.* In November, I participated in TIM III as a panelist along with Troy Henikoff, CEO of Excelerate Labs, Bob Sell, a Partner for Seyfarth Shaw, and Matt Cobb, VP of Product of the Chicago startup Valkre to hear from the presenting startup, Spontaneous.
During the Q&A session, we broke down what I consider the key elements of any startup business model: (1) identify the problem; (2) learn from customers and/or partners; (3) develop a corresponding solution; (4) prioritize which network to target; (5) revenue model; and (6) implement customer acquisition strategies. The last point is often a black box for startups. Dashfire brainstorms with a number of startups, and before we discuss technical feasibility, we always touch on customer acquisition and ask, “how will you acquire your first 10,000 users?”
The most common response is “we will build an awesome site that will attract new users.” Unfortunately, this is not the field of dreams. Just building something does not guarantee that people will come. Our attention is divided between 500K iPhone apps, 300K Android apps, and a gazillion web applications. Attention is a currency and startups need to focus on building up their reserves. Having a defined customer acquisition strategy is integral for a startups; the dreaded scenario is launching a site to no audience.
A business that targets end users (B2C) is often the most challenging. Where do you find your users? How do you convince them to not only try your application but to return? Going viral? That’s not something you can just will. It takes a perfect combination of position, product, and luck. Facebook? Twitter? Both are options, but the user bases are so vast making it difficult to target the key demographic. Search? The associated individual user acquisition costs with Facebook or Google can be a gamble and expensive.
Instead, go to where your customers currently reside. Make channel partnerships. Find a business, a group, or a targeted network and gain access to their users. It may be a longer sale cycle, but once executed, you can grow from 0 – 10,000 more quickly and cost effectively than acquiring users one at a time.
*Our very own JC Garrett will be a panelist at TIM IV.
**Video highlights from TIM III: http://vimeo.com/32249128
Here’s an idea for a new venture as described in less than 250 words…
Fourth grade math in 1992. I remember my teacher introducing a new topic, writing a question on the board, explaining the answer, and then handing every student the same worksheet of practice questions. A linear curriculum for a classroom of students who differ in not only the way they learn, but in their strengths and weaknesses. With the available resources, this made sense for 1992, but not 2012.
Addressing this archaic methodology makes education technology so exciting. At Dashfire, we have worked with companies that help high-school teachers, alumni organizations, and teacher training. Meanwhile, companies like Khan’s Academy (which should be used by adults too) are monumentally progressing the way children learn. I look forward to seeing how tablets influence children’s education. Although not initially designed for them, children have mastered the iPad, whether by sliding to unlock or playing Angry Birds. I envision students conducting their coursework on a tablet (or to a lesser extent, computers) with intuitive programming. The software would use how the student responds to a question – correctly, incorrectly, methodology – as a diagnostic to generate the subsequent question. Students will learn at a pace that is appropriate for them while teachers can identify (from a tablet of course) which students need extra, real-time attention. This would finally sideline reactive education – waiting for students to fail before addressing their needs. I imagine that there are leading engineers and/or decision science PHDs building this technology. And if there aren’t, let’s get started!
I am headed to the American India Foundation (www.aif.org) Chicago fundraiser tonight. On the surface, it is an elegant Bollywood-themed gala that will host over 600 corporate and philanthropic leaders from Chicago. Behind the scenes, the annual event is a primary source of capital that funds AIF’s mission to catalyze social and economic change in India. AIF packs a strong punch for a lean organization that relies on hundreds of ambassadors, volunteers, and supporters. It has partnered with 115 NGOs that has impacted the lives of 1.5 million underprivileged Indians by partnering with and funding vetted Indian NGOs. I appreciate this model because rather than blindly donating to a cause or a country, AIF supports local organizations that can execute, not just ideate. It is also the organization that granted me and 22 of my peers the Clinton Fellowship in 2008 to work directly with the NGOs it funds. I’ve posted candidly about my fellowship experiences working in Gujarati slums with the incredible NGO, Saath (www.saath.org) here. But in short, my 10 months in India were a perspective-changing experience. I learned that through innovation, creativity, understanding, and entrepreneurship, anything is possible; but I also learned that social change requires patience and diligence and takes years or generations, not months.
Tonight’s event will likely raise thousands of dollars which will continue to expand AIF’s reach and impact. But what excites me most about AIF and the general social development landscape is the new market-based approaches. Donor-based investment is critical to charitable organizations, but it is susceptible to recessions, and therefore, not entirely sustainable. Many of AIF’s programs, including the ones employed by Saath, utilize the model illustrated below. One investment recycled for continual empowerment.
I presented at Ignite Chicago late this summer. Ignite is a speaker series (see: local TED Talks) where presenters discuss a topic of their choice for five minutes but have only have 15 seconds per slide before it auto advances. Not easy. The topics ranged from why dogs should wear seat belts to bob dylan’s art collection, and in the past have discussed “why you hate comic sans” and ” boobs & boys.” My favorite presentations from this night were @BoopBoopBDoop: Annie – in her a mile a minute delivery – had the crowd in fits; and @jersmith22: Jeremy spoke about how his love affair with parking tickets fueled his start-up idea.
I spoke about how non-engineers can and should lead internet start-ups. Like I’ve done during previous presentations, I polled the crowd to see who had a start-up idea and roughly half the room raised their hands. But when I asked how many engineers were present, only 4 hands went up. It’s becoming more apparent that people want to launch the next. big. idea., but don’t know how to get started. I spent my 5 minutes explaining how to do just that. I was asked to publish my slides, so I’ve linked them below with text descriptions.
Here’s the actual video, however, the sound quality is poor.
Here’s an idea for a new venture as described in less than 250 words…
Let’s start recognizing individuals who influence us in a tangible manner. Over the past year, I’ve actively created a social brand beyond Facebook and have connected with a variety of individuals – many of whom I’ve never met. But while I’m finally developing a rapport with my Twitter followers and LinkedIn connections (at least according to Klout – a social influence ranking site), my social profile doesn’t capture the people who really move the needle for me. You see, most connections on social networks provide me with intangible benefits – general knowledge and information shared through insights and, of course, links.
Intangible certainly doesn’t mean inconsequential. When Brad Feld shares an article, I read it. And when Shaq tweets about a new company (see: Tout), people check it out. But are these actions tangible to my day-to-day life? I’d like to factor and weigh depth of influence more heavily than the number of followers, retweets, and mentions. My influencers – those who make introductions to key individuals or companies, provide thoughtful feedback, or help advance my status quo – should receive infinite points for how they have moved the needle for me (see: PBOD). Similarly, my offline influence of advising companies, networking, career guidance, etc. are more valuable than my tweets. Are current metrics actually just smoke and mirrors? I’m not discounting the power of the network, as I rely on Linkedin for introductions and Twitter for awareness. But to appropriately measure clout, we should document tangible impact from our network.
Note: I commented on a post my friend Varun wrote about how quickly the news of Osama’s death spread via social media. I’ve added to my original comments in the post below.
A decade has passed since 9/11 and since then, our security and privacy has forever been altered. As expected, our security measures are far more stringent (see: airports) and the government redrew personal privacy boundaries in an attempt to keep us safe. But over the same time period, we, on our own accord, lowered our guard on personal privacy. Why? Because Facebook (and now social media) presented us with a unique value proposition: exchange your information for access to others’ information, and personalized and relevant content. The latter – a result of Twitter, push notifications, and being “mobile” – has led to revolutions in the Middle East and real-time breaking news (see: Osama’s death). But this didn’t start after 9/11. In fact, it was happening during 9/11. We already had in place the foundation that drives today’s network effect.
I was attending Georgetown in DC during 9/11 and was oversleeping when, my mom, a morning news fan, called from Michigan to tell me to turn on the TV. She actually called my land line before trying my cell. In the aftermath of the Pentagon attack, cell phone lines in DC were flooded and we were no longer accessible to concerned friends and family. So we turned to AOL Instant Messenger. Long before G-Chat, Facebook Chat, & Tweeting, my entire universe was on AOL. On 9/11, I was able to connect with family and friends on my Buddy List and let them know we were safe. Patriotic Away Messages that week resembled my patriotic Facebook & Twitter Newsfeeds after Americans learned that the architect of 9/11 had been killed.
AOL Instant Messenger was one of the earliest tools that facilitated real-time communication. In participating, we were making ourselves more accessible and thereby, less private. This value exchange relaxed the flood gates for next decade’s social expansion. I have not IMed anyone on AOL in over 6 years, and I wonder what application will consume our attention 5 years from now. But, the takeaway remains the same. We are willing to give up personal privacy for access to transparent and better information and connections. This transparency is pervasive and provides us with a huge benefit: it allows us the freedom and ability to be more aware and shed our dated assumptions and misinformation, especially as we reflect on that tragic day in 2011.
-rd423 (my very dated AOL Screename)
My dad just turned 61 and for his birthday, I really wanted to buy him a Batman belt so he could holster in his iPhone, hospital pager, and pedometer. And if an iPad belt holder existed, I’m sure he would clip that on his belt too. The same guy – who didn’t have Cable TV until 1999 (“son, it’s for your own benefit”) and lectured my sister and me when we used star-69 to make-up for our caller ID-less house – is undergoing a technical renaissance. He has over 10 pages of apps on his iPhone and is now venturing to social media. My mom says he spends more time on Facebook liking and commenting than checking his stock portfolio (prior to the recent bloodbath) or listening to Bollywood music. He is also an avid follower of Dashfire’s partners’ tweets and recently earned the compliment: “Your dad is a baller. Only uncle i know on Twitter.”
So it was a no-brainer for Rishi and Arjuna, the founders of utellit, a new Dashfire partner, to select my dad as a beta tester. He is addicited. And although it is only a sample size of only one, we have identified our first key demographic. In just over two months, he has sent 158 utellits or 2.6 utellits per day mainly comprised of:
· “happy birthday” wall posts to his Facebook friends;
· “long time no talk – hope all is well” texts to his doctor colleagues;
· “why won’t you pick up my calls” messages to my sister; and
· “you can’t beat me at racquetball” notes to me
Here is why my dad loves utellit: http://utell.it/am/SzL4d
You will love it too. Learn more: www.utell.it.
I really want things to work out between us. I know that my relationships with your siblings have ended abruptly (see: Buzz & Wave), but I’m extremely loyal to your family (see: Search, Gmail, and Maps) and want to invest the time to make this happen. Your family is the Kennedys of the internet, and you were crafted by engineering Gods, which makes you irresistible to date. But this is a two-way street, and I’ll need you to make some sacrifices too.
First, I don’t want to move too fast. It’s not that I’m a prude; it’s just that I’m in a few other long-term relationships and I can’t commit all my time to you. I know you have friends, photos, streams, statuses, group video hangouts (see: awesome), and circles (who doesn’t like curves?), but it’s overwhelming and disingenuous to pretend that we’ve been together since the spring of 2004. We can’t just fabricate our past by circling up 700 million friends and billions of photos. Relationships take time. I know you hate Facebook, but she and I took gradual steps to improve our relationship over the past 7 years. We may have been poking early on, but we weren’t emoting our “I love you” statuses publicly until our 3rd anniversary.
If I marry you, Google+, I’ll also be cheating on Gmail. And I don’t want to do that, I love Gmail. Gmail is my journal, my confidant, my best friend. And like Facebook, Gmail will surprise me with awesome new gifts like Chat or Talk or Labs. These presents are easy to embrace because they are given gradually and not desperately thrown at me all at once.
You know what? I’m realizing that I want to take the next step with Gmail, not you, Google+. All of my circles are already on Gmail. I communicate with them incessantly. Add the group video and the stream to Gmail, and let’s start hanging out.
Related: An e-mail to my blackberry.
BREAKING NEWS: BOTH MSU AND OSU DISQUALIFIED FROM BIG 10 CHAMPIONSHIP. LOVE ACTUALLY AIRS ON TV INSTEAD. #GoBlue
it's rare to have witnessed the life of a transformative leader and not just read about one in a history book. rip #NelsonMandela