Fundraising on the Subway

I was on BART, the SF Bay Area’s subway, heading into downtown Berkeley. My phone’s screen flashed – damn – I was *this* close to breaking my high score on Ninja Jump.

“Hey man, just want to give you a heads up, dont mean to scare or anything.” The words come from a few rows behind me. The train’s high pitched whine almost drowns it out.

The voice speaks again, this time much louder: “Excuse me, ladies and gentlemen, can I have your attention please.”

Wearing an electric green jacket, a tall black man is standing in the middle of the car holding two small plastic bind stacked on top of each other.

All kinds of interesting things can happen on BART.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, I represent Project Love the Children. We are a group of people based out of Oakland and we’re working to help get kids in the Bay Area back in school. We are holding an event in Berkeley later in August to raise money for our programs.”
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Things I’ve Learned in Three Weeks at a Startup

I’ve been working at isocket, a small VC-backed tech startup since mid July. We make a tool that helps web publishers sell display ads on their site (and we’re growing). It’s been pretty awesome so far.

I’ve always heard that you learn a ton of stuff when you work in a startup and now I fully understand why: you’re operating on an accelerated time frame, wearing multiple hats, and immediately doing real work.

Since work stuff can go by in a blur, I wanted to note what I’ve seen just in the first couple weeks.Here’s just a snippet of the stuff I’ve done/learned in less than a month.

Email Marketing
I’ve been emailing a list of people who signed up to get updates from us when we were in private beta. It turns out that people actually click-through about 30% to non-personalized subject headers – maybe because it looks less spammy. Also, you can get about 40% more opens if you resend the blast the next day with a more personal email that asks if they saw the previous email. It’s a useful trick.

Board Meetings
I got to sit in one of the board meetings with our founder/CEO John Ramey. I’ve sat in board meetings at nonprofits as both the executive director and a board member but this is different. I was never handed millions of dollars and asked to make it grow 100x. John handles it pretty damn well for a 24 year old. He gives the VCs the right amount of information and never gets defensive, even when our board members ask him some pretty tough questions. It’s a skill I’m trying to learn.

board meeting
Don’t get intimidated by the long table.

Usability Tests
I’ve gotten a chance to sit in number of usability tests – which help us learn how our customers use our product. Al, one of our designers, taught me the kinds of questions you should be asking and how NOT to lead the user on when walking them through the interface. Usability tests were generally video recorded with text notes attached. It showed me how serious design can be and hard it is to create a super elegant product.

Sales Calls
We very much do what you’d call consultative sales. That means we really are working with the customer to understand whether isocket is right for them. Because ultimately, we need them to make more money from our product or they’ll stop using it. Asking the right question to qualify the customer, controling the frame even when they push on why you don’t have ‘X” feature and relentlessly following up, are some of the keys to success here. I still have a long way to go on phone, screen share and in person pitches, so I’ll be busting my butt here to make sure I’m delivering.

Screen Casts
Helping customers understand how the product works and what they need to do to get set up is critical. Making a good screen cast isnt’ easy though, there’s lots of scripting, talking, cutting, and post-production processing that goes into an interesting, educational that moves along fast enough for people to not get bored.

Solving Customer Issues
In my very first week, both my boss and my main coworker was gone and I had to cover support. Talk about being handed responsibility. Without our customers, we’re nothing and we owe it to ourselves to solve the problems as soon as possible.
So I’m sure I’ll be learning a lot more in the months to come, and if we can keep up this rate, I’ll be pretty pleased. Oh yeah, and the one other thing I learned? Sometimes it’s ok to have a beer at lunch…

Lunch at desk

Fine dining at the desk.

Why Did esurance Drop the Animated Girl for Programmers and Customer Reps?

Esurance, “Dedicated” from Duncan/Channon on Vimeo.

It looks like esurance is changing their marketing scheme. Above is a video from ad agency Ducan / Channon shows programmers (Techies) and customer reps (Feelies) battling to help the customer.

I guess they decided they needed to retire Erin, the attractive but a little silly mascot that saves ordinary citizens from the evil of high car insurance.

While this ad is fun, it also highlights a more serious point – that car insurance is about service in both technology and human interaction. Here’s what Ducan / Channon says is the main message of the ads:

The revamped identity system and new type-only Esurance logo is designed to deliver a singular message: that the company that pretty much invented online car insurance continues to innovate on behalf of busy consumers, relentlessly striving to make the process of buying or using its products more intuitive, more convenient, more transparent and – yes, Feelies – more friendly. It’s about smartness in the service of simplicity.

Car insurance advertising seems to be filled with mascots – we’ve got Geico and the gecko …and the caveman …and the dollar. Actually, the messaging is kind of mixed there. Then we’ve got Flo from Progressive and Dennis Haysbert for Allstate. It’s an interesting bunch of folks and we’ll have to see how esurance’s new approach works.

What do you think? Is the new messaging clear? Is it a strong one? Will we ever seen the lovely Erin again? Here’s the official press release.

esurance girl