Echelon 2012: Day One

My fourth year at the big startup event, courtesy this year of new email hotness THE LIST by Kristine Lauria. You should sign up to get a dose of fresh events every week.

Registration, as always, was a bit of an admin timesuck. Which is why I got there early and coded quietly whilst the queues extended.

My two semi-regular bugbears reared their heads.

  • Bad Badges: Bigger names! No need for so much conference branding, I know where I am.
  • Dreadful Hired MCs: Do not know the industry and mispronounce speaker & company names. Someone from e27 should do this job.

Anyhow, on to the content…

David Kadavy @kadavy

Did marvelously well to skate smoothly over the technological obliteration of his slides. The talk showed off some basic UX techniques, Personas and Use Cases, useful to those who haven’t had any design education.

David breezed through some analysis of use cases with regard to the twitter iPad app, am sure the audience enjoyed the “designer’s walkthrough”. He didn’t cover that often the best way to get use cases is to ask your users what they want after launch, something many startups could do with doing.

I thought the analysis of the San Francisco as a mind-expanding and creativity-fuelling city influencing the Valley mindset was an thought-provoking point and particularly apt given the recent local events involving #stickerlady.

Panel: Growth & Scaling

Not a fan of panels as a rule. However seems to be less ‘sponsor seats’ and more people who know what they’re talking about this year.

Kristine Lauria (chair), Bart Myers, Brian Wong, John Fearon, Cjin Cheng, Simone Brunozzi.

on early growth…

(BM) In early days, spammed pre-captcha youtube (!) otherwise known as “guerrilla marketing”.

Advised to use small budgets to test different channels, even on alternate branded sites for experimentation. Facebook ads worked for them, building a community brand extension on FB. Cost-effective, pennies per user.

(JF) Used large scale SEM on Google, cheap clicks - very unusual. 14 million clicks for a few cents. Landing pages super important for converting clicks into users. 3-4% conversion from the homepage (pretty decent).

(BW) Seeded rewards into their network to get over chicken and egg problem, then used their self-funded case studies to market to brands.

Press is important over time. Used ‘Ad Age’ to build legitimacy.

Know who your users really are. Be as annoying as possible when you’re finding out who your real users are.

(BM) Looking at which shows were being watched led them to find out who their users were. Test your hypotheses for what your users want. Use analytics, but go beyond visits.

on hiring…

(BW) Hire for the right stage of your startup. Hire young people with huge work ethic in hyper-growth stage, generalists. During growth, every seven people they say your culture changes.

(SB) Love for the startup’s mission is super-important.

(JF) Working at a startup is hard, you should expect to be up late. Often.

NB: I don’t necessarily agree that this should be an everyday occurrence. For emergencies sure, but not a regular pattern of behaviour. It’s not maintainable.

(BM) Look for employees in other places, everyone hired for community people came from users!

when things go wrong…

(BW) Everything will go wrong. At the start have all support requests go through your inbox. It does drive you insane, but be the hub. Useful for detecting trends.

(JF) Payment gateways a huge problem in SEA.

(BM) They broke their SEO without realising, which was their biggest source of traffic. Learn how your biggest source of traffic works. Don’t be dumb.

Panel: Speed & Execution

Carl Coryell-Martin (chair), Michael Smith, Bart Myers, David Weekly, Khailee Ng, David Kadavy

on achieving speed…

(DW) PBWiki built in one evening and had users before he passed out.

(BM) Perfectionism is the enemy, test your market - perhaps not even using your core brand. Paper prototypes or adwords experimentation to fake pages.

Build functional products, that may not be beautiful

(MS) Apply constraints on what you launch, e.g. Facebook login only means not dealing with profiles. Once running plans go out of the window. Using a help button in app & on web means they can be very responsive and notice trends.

(KN) Work out “what is the bet we’re testing here?” That’s a benefit to bring as a a non-coder. Buy-in from the team is important, code gets written faster when the people writing it believe in the feature.

on building a team…

(MS) Free-form office work. Location-agnostic, no holidays or sickness tracking. Once a week thoughtful weekend email to set priorities.

(DW) Democracy and autocracy: neither work. Google hiring uses a 1-4 integer score from each team member who interviews a candidate. Absolute consensus doesn’t work.

(BM) Geckoboard on a big TV showcasing key metrics. Virtual teams still a struggle.

(DK) Prioritising creativity within yourself.

(KN) Finnish style of meetings: what is the shared outcome? Then proposals aired and concerns addressed. Tree-structure for visuals. Not about right or wrong.

on quality or shipping…

(MS) No magical answer, adopted an exiting product - tried to avoid the big rewrite. Including RedDotRubyConf hat tip! Adopted the motto: “Nobody died, but still can’t ship crap”

(BM) Pre-launch send a few Adwords or launch your app in a small market. AllMusic relaunch in parallel enabled user feedback and the shock to feed into the ‘real launch’

(DK) Very rarely regretted shipping

(DW) Reframe the question. Could anyone use this? If so then you’re holding your amazing thing back from the world.

on tools…

(MS) Asana, Email, Skype, spreadsheets (hated but they work).

(BM) Human beings talking to each other, use Tracker but encourage human conversation, the tool is not a replacement.

(DW) Whiteboards…

(DK) …on the floor! No twitter, no Facebook to distract. The whiteboard is a brain enabler, not about the even about the final product. Look for Jesse James Garrett’s IA Diagramming

on managing investor expectations…

(DW) Investors care about your metrics, they care about the effects. Measurable forward progress.

(BM) Monthly update to investors on what is going on. Investors may make suggestions to help, but trust is already high, so not expected to execute on all of them.

one last thing…

(MS) Good startups play out over years. Take the long view.

(BM) Ship. Don’t run out of money.

(DW) Ship. Test your hypotheses.

(DK) Balance with the long view.

Carl Coryell-Martin @carlcoryell

A really insightful talk about building organizations rather than simply hiring. Speaks volumes about why {new context} Singapore is such a great work environment.

You’re hiring minds, not hands. Creative people with initiative. Hiring people not talent. A human is not a resource.

Best? Are you sure? What is ‘the best’? Hiring the best can be very expensive? Think about good enough with great potential. Good fit for you.

Focus on retention, maintaining excitement, not hiring. A startup is a “temporary organization in search of a business model” - Steve Blank.

Every job ad ever says they want: experience, initiative and good communicators. Trouble is these people have a job. Their job search never looks at these ads. Why should they work with you?

Think about you. A job is a product you offer to your employees. Find people who enjoy the work you do. Do not compete on price, it sucks. You don’t have to, it might even hurt your performance.

Reframe the question. Salary is “having to pay people they can afford to volunteer to work with you.”

Dan Pink’s TED talk explains about intrinsic motivators for humans.

  • Purpose - Something I care about
  • Autonomy - Want to control their lives
  • Mastery - People live to get better

Invest in people, think about doing some “resume arbitrage” - compromise on experience, invest in potential.

The question to ask yourself is “How can people who want to help find me?”

  1. Work on something interesting
  2. Tell people about it. e.g. Etsy’s Blog
  3. Let people figure stuff on their own: less management is good management
  4. Don’t hire assholes

Takes time to do this stuff. Not easy.


A solid first day. Echelon is not so much about the new startups for me this year… I’m neither looking for a job or in a position to invest. Although if you’d like to hear a pitch about ImpulseFlyer just grab me.


2012