Category: Management

Marketing for Employee Recruiting

This is article #37 out of 50 in The Startup Marketing Playbook.

Since a startup consists of everyone wearing many hats, the marketing team has responsibility for not only building a brand amongst your target customer persona, but also amongst potential recruits joining the team. Consider the following brief overview:

1. Craft a story and messaging guide

Similar to your story for target customers, you need to craft a story for target recruits. What are the core value props of your team over others? How can you clearly communicate the culture, perks and opportunities? Follow a similar strategy to the Craft a Startup’s Story post here.

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Rise of the Technical Marketer

Screen Shot 2016-05-27 at 6.28.38 PMThis is article #31 out of 50 in The Startup Marketing Playbook.

In the not so distant past, “marketing” was primarily focused on large scale media campaigns in print, billboards and television. The marketing role often mandated expertise in project management or some serious creative juice. Those skills are certainly still important, but now there are new skills that are critical for marketers to have: technical skills.

If you consider hiring a recent graduate from college looking to get into marketing, the following technical skills have become a requirement:

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Culture Hack: Snapchat

ihrsnapcode_0_1432245461 copyAs a startup grows, the company naturally divides into functions (marketing, product, etc). When this occurs, the team starts to spend more time with people in their function, making it difficult to understand each other’s unique contributions to the company.

For my team at Netpulse, we’re about 85 people between San Francisco and Europe. It’s pretty tough to get to know everyone and understand what it’s like to do their job. So our People Ops Manager, Valerie Ramos, devised an interested strategy: use Snapchat.

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Weekly Reports

In a startup team, there is nothing more important than clear communication. If we get communication right, we are far more likely to build the right product, serve customers effectively and hit the goals necessary to raise funding and grow. The problem is, most startups move ridiculously quickly, which is a perfect recipe for communication to get lost in the shuffle. For this reason, I always implement my #1 favorite management tool: weekly reporting.

Weekly reporting is simply having each member of the team fill out a brief form at the end of each week with a summary of what they worked on, results, concerns and general information to share with the team. Each form submission should be emailed to everyone on that team. This simple process is amazing for keeping everyone aligned. Let’s break down what an ideal weekly report looks like.

Each weekly report has 4 key pieces of information to collect:

  • Top Objectives: what did you work on this week, and status of each?
  • Concerns: what is broken? Let’s air it out in writing so we can address it.
  • Plan for Next Week: what is upcoming so we can confirm we’re aligned?
  • Other Information: what details should the team know (e.g. travel plans)?

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Giving Feedback

feedbackThe best leaders spend more time listening rather than talking. After they listen, they provide feedback. One of the key traits of high-performance startup teams is the frequency and quality of feedback. Feedback is an essential currency in team management — it is how we optimize performance, keep people engaged and ensure that the entire team is aligned.

Like many aspects of people management in startups, feedback is often undefined and lost in the shuffle of product development and sales chaos. First, let’s define 3 types of feedback:

  • Positive feedback: “You did an amazing job here — very well done!”
  • Negative feedback: “This draft isn’t quite right, let’s review it together.”
  • Confirmation feedback: “Looks good to me — please proceed.”

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The All Hands Meeting

Every startup has rituals, from chiming a gong when a sale is made to the CEO writing a weekly email newsletter to the team. An important part of a startup’s weekly routine should be the All Hands Meeting. This is the primary staff meeting and likely the only time that the entire group (especially as we grow) is together, focused on the same thing in one room. It is an incredibly important opportunity for leadership to communicate directly with the team in order to:

  1. Share important updates from each functional area
  2. Praise successes, highlight individual achievements and areas to improve
  3. Get the team excited about the mission, vision and strategy

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Leadership Team Structure

tumblr_inline_nviv7dBKCq1qf1f17_540 (1)In the very early days of a startup, there are typically two founding roles: technology and business. The technology founder is architecting and building the product. He is essentially serving as the head of product and engineering. At the same time, the business founder is selling and supporting the product. She is essentially serving as the head of sales, marketing and customer success. Both founders are likely contributing to administration, fundraising and hiring, so they are both essentially serving as head of operations and in some cases, sharing CEO responsibilities.

There is a specific moment in a startup’s growth when it becomes clear: the founders can’t do everything anymore. This is a pivotal point in a startup’s lifecycle because it mandates some structure and organization to scale. Specifically, it requires hiring a functional leader for each operating area of the business. While the founders had to be generalists and constantly context switch between areas of the business, functional leaders (often Director, VP or Head of X) are domain experts that are highly specialized in making one area of the startup crank. Most technology startups have the following functions:

  • Product
  • Engineering
  • Sales
  • Marketing
  • Customer Success
  • Operations

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The Startup Operations Gap

5850.WorkingSocialThe startup world is full of visionary and often technical founders. We can stay up all night cranking on code, quickly bring a minimum viable product to market, and passionately pitch to customers and investors, fueling early traction.

Suppose all of that early stuff actually works: we have a product, people want it, we raised some money, and we hired our first few employees. The challenges of building the product, fixing bugs, going through the lean process with early customers and quickly iterating are overwhelming. However, I’ve noticed that the most painful problems for early stage startups more often include:

  • Team misalignment
  • Unclear goals and metrics
  • Confusion over who to hire first
  • Unclear timelines
  • Unstable engineering priorities
  • Miscommunication amongst the team

As I dug into the root causes of these most common issues, two quickly bubbled up to the surface: lack of organizational structure and poor focus.

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A Matter of Attitude

“Is the pizza here yet?!?” I sputtered at the new girl as I ran in and out of 150 Dodge Hall at Northeastern University, preparing for another packed room at the Entrepreneurs Club in the winter of 2012. It was Eileen Han’s first club meeting, and she had emailed me several times before to confirm her attendance. It was obvious that she was nervous; as an international student from Korea, Eileen rarely went to big events with mostly American students, always shy about her beginner English skills. It wasn’t until Eileen sent me the most appreciative follow up email I had ever received, that I even began to comprehend how her attitude enabled her to be so special.

Eileen began to send more emails to members of the Entrepreneurs Club’s leadership team, and before we knew it, everyone knew her name. She would post status after status on her Facebook page, recapping her genuine excitement and gratitude for becoming a part of our community at Northeastern. Truth be told, I had never seen anything quite like it: someone so incredibly excited about EVERYTHING, so visibly thankful for each opportunity she earned – Eileen quickly went from a stranger to a centerpiece in our group. By the end of the year, she was the only member invited to our management team’s BBQ and she received an award for her contributions.

After I graduated and took the helm as COO of influencers@, I knew I wanted the continued privilege of working with Eileen. Thanks to recruiting efforts from Matt Bilotti, Eileen joined our team there as an intern last fall. Similar to the Entrepreneurs Club, she started doing simple things like data entry. She was hungry for more, and quickly took on our accounting, bookkeeping, payroll and bank reconciliation responsibilities. She learned fast and just like at the Entrepreneurs Club, went from stranger to expert overnight. Eileen became known as the “rock” of our team – she would bake a cake when we were struggling with a tough week, and always be there with well articulated words of encouragement, which she called an #Eileenism. Once again, I had never experienced an attitude quite like hers.

Eileen’s success so far can be summed up with one word: attitude. Eileen always, and I mean ALWAYS, has the most optimistic, encouraging, positive attitude. When I am depressed, she is upbeat. She’ll pick you up when you fall and carry you to the finish line. It is that attitude that will enable her to succeed beyond most people’s wildest dreams. Similar to Orit Gadiesh, Eileen’s persistence, genuine positive attitude and caring for others will propel her to the top. Make no mistake – that great attitude will be coupled with a tremendous amount of hard work, staying up after everyone else is asleep to study more english. We can all learn an important lesson from Eileen: if you have the right attitude, you can start with nothing, knowing nobody, and quickly take yourself to a position of importance, where you are respected and valued by all. I’m excited to see all of the great things she does in the future, and I’m proud to call her a friend.

How to Fire Someone


Strategy, accounting, coding… nothing is as tough as firing someone. This is probably the most dreaded activity for most managers. It was also one of the haziest subject areas when I first started my role as a COO; I had no clue how to deal with it. After conferring with some great mentors and having to deal with firing a couple of times, I’ve learned some points on how to handle it properly. It certainly does not get easier, but here are some of the tips that I learned:

1. Make it expected

When you need to end a teammate’s relationship with the company, it should not be a surprise. That is because before getting to that point, you should:

  • Meet with the teammate and discuss the issues they are having
  • Clearly lay out the objectives they must meet to improve and stay on the team
  • Explain that if these objectives are not met, they will not be able to remain on the team

Keep in mind, if this person is definitely not the right fit for the team, you can provide objectives that they will not likely meet, such as major changes in attitude and personality. When they inevitably do not change, you can point to the warning and have a clear reason for getting to the point of termination.

2. Have specifics

You need to have highly specific reasons for terminating the business relationship, not just “you have been doing bad work.” Instead the reasons should be “You have been 20 minute late 5 times in the past month” or “your sales numbers are 30% below our targets.” This is why it is so important to have clear Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)… you know exactly where you want to be, and if performance is not there, you have a clear reason to make changes.

3. Schedule a time & place

Try to do any terminations at the end of a pay period (usually at the end or middle of the month) and have the teammate’s final paycheck ready at the meeting. It is best to have the meeting in a private setting first thing in the morning. The office conference room is a solid spot, and remember that you and a colleague should be present at the meeting… don’t do it alone.

4. Be honest & get to the point

When you sit down for the meeting, you will be incredibly nervous. The hardest part is the first sentence, so you must get to it immediately. No beating around the bush or small talk, it just makes the whole thing more difficult. I’d recommend saying (credit to Kevin Wang for helping adjust this sentence):

“Unfortunately, things just aren’t working out, and we have to let you go.”

5. End it quickly

If the person starts to argue or ask questions, you respond with:

“I understand that this is unfortunate. However at this point the decision is not reversible.”

6. Finishing up

At that point, you should stand up, shake their hand and escort them out of the building. At the same time, you should have someone standing by to immediately cut their access to company email, files, etc. Any passwords they have should be changed immediately as well. Ensure you ask for their key to the building if they have one, and watch them walk out the door.

This process should be done with courtesy, respect and professionalism. It is highly unpleasant for both you and the person who is being let go. The best defense is hiring slowly (to find the best people) and firing quickly (when it is clear someone is not a fit after all). 

Feel free to shoot me an email if you’re struggling with needing to end someone’s role at your company, it always feels good to talk it out. Good luck!