Partners won’t save your startup from failure (but clients will)

From the startup in 2008 to date, we announced at least 10 unique partnerships between Leverate and other companies. They cost tons and, at times, took all the brainpower and sweat we had. Every single one of these partnerships has failed (channel partners aside).

When I listen to startup founders, I sometimes notice the abuse of the word “partner”, and it reminds me just how unclear we were around the partnerships we took. I’ve heard this word from startup founders to describe what I would otherwise call “client”, “vendor”, “distribution channel”, “an opportunity to get some PR”, “another company that we want to have an integration with because it’s cool” or in the worst case “an established company in the industry who thinks we’re neat but we’re not sure what’s in it for us or them”.

Undefined partnerships are dangerous. And they often come with the promise of some PR, especially in fintech, where banks and consulting companies enjoy setting up accelerators and hanging out with the cool kids (startups). This has been funnily described as the fintech zoo. An executive at a bank or established company may talk to a startup about partnership opportunities that can generate a mention or two in the press, but…

startupculture
Pictured: the beginning of an epic failure

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Five types of communication in tech companies- and what tools you should use for them

In the previous post, I shared a few notes on internal communication in tech companies. In this post, I’ll take a step back to discuss what types of communication exist in a tech company, highlighting cross-department communication. For each type of communication, I will discuss the tools that can serve you best… and worst.

Here are the kinds of communication that I noticed along the years at Leverate:

#1 Boards

Boards = lists that departments maintain so that everyone in the company can check them out. Boards will usually reflect recent work, so their contents will change with time. Examples:

  • Next releases board– maintained by the product team
  • Latest sales board– maintained by the sales team
  • This month’s lead numbers board– maintained by the marketing department
  • This month’s birthdays board– maintained by the HR team
  • This year’s holidays in our offices worldwide– maintained by the HR team

Boards can come in different flavors:

  • Crucial for day-to-day work OR a nice-to-have transparency tool
  • Designed for internal communication in the department OR designed for communicating to other departments

If you ever worked in a sales team, you’ve most likely seen a board that sales leaders love: the monthly leader board. Nothing invites more motivation and focus than these cold hard numbers on the wall.

depulse
Example: board in daPulse

When shared cross-department, boards are perhaps the most simple and to-the-point transparency tool that I’ve seen. People love them (when they’re up-to-date, of course), and they create a feeling of accountability among critical departments. I highly encourage founders to introduce a board for product, sales and marketing to reflect releases, sales data and marketing data respectively.

What do we need in a board tool?

  • Public– anyone can easily check out boards
  • Collaborative– anyone can create boards, then quickly edit / comment / like items
  • Good lookin’– it’s nice to add some colors or communicate planning vs. execution with a ‘dashboardy’ feeling
  • Topics & subscriptions– would be nice if people can subscribe for specific boards (e.g. next releases) and get notified on updates
  • Interactive– it would be nice to click an item (e.g. a specific planned release) to get more information (the release notes)

Recommended tools for boards:

  • The board feature in daPulse
  • A public Google Spreadsheet
  • Trello
  • Build your own– home-made boards are always an option: in some offices I’ve seen TV screens projecting retention, sales and even revenues data to all employees
  • The wrong tool: emails

 

#2 Shouts

Shouts = casual cross-department announcements. Usually to the entire company. Usually happy. You don’t know exactly when they will come. They’ll stick around for a couple of days and then they will get washed away. Examples for shouts in a tech company are:

  • An introduction of a new key employee that everybody needs to know, including a picture of them with their dog
  • An announcement from the CEO about last week’s acquisition
  • Pictures from the crazy team building night that the marketing department had last week, including that video of the VP Marketing dancing on a bar table that will haunt her forever
  • An announcement from the VP sales on the epic performance of the sales team during Jan & Feb, including a chart

What do we need in a shout tool?

slack
Example: shout in Slack
  • Notifies everyone, but minimizes spam– shouts are cool, and sometimes you want to announce something to all, but people don’t like getting 12 random emails per week. Better find a tool that minimizes announcements to all, aggregates notifications and lets people choose their topic(s) of interest
  • Social– anyone should be able shout on any topic, because everyone has something interesting to celebrate every now and then. A good tool will let other people quickly like / comment on the shouts. It’s also nice to see who in the company read the shout
  • Allows attachments– it’s nice and engaging when shouts come with an inline chart, picture or video

Recommended tools for shouts:

  • Posts in Facebook at Work, daPulse or Yammer
  • Slack
  • Emails (not ideal)
  • The wrong tools: your company wiki, Trello

 

#3 Knowledge bases

Knowledge base = an evolving collection of articles and media items. Think about a company-wide wiki. Knowledge bases are naturally different from boards and shouts because they contain information that you want to evolve and stay long term.

Examples for knowledge bases in a tech company are:

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On internal communication tools for startups

Six months ago, a friend of mine who worked at a growing 30-people startup approached me to ask what tool we use to communicate between departments at Leverate.

Smart guy, I thought. I will never forget the colorful chaos that broke loose when we scaled from 30 to 140 employees in just two years. A headcount of 30 is an ideal tipping point for internal communication to take new forms.

Communication inside Leverate has evolved quite a bit along the years. We’ve been using a good number of tools to manage departments and share stuff cross-department. These tools include email, phone, boards, Slack, ConfluenceWiki, Yammer, daPulse, Google Docs, TFSSharePoint, Trello, Facebook at Work and more. Some of these tools were so beautifully designed, that they downright fueled me with insights on leadership and communication. Others stormed into the company for a one-week-stand that everybody hated.

trello
Left: Trello. Right: reality

Here are some lessons I learned on internal communication in startups: Continue reading

The maker crunch: is the HK tech scene doomed?

In a talk titled Inside Israel this month, I shared my company’s story and my insights on the tech scene in Israel. The next thing everybody wanted to know was what HK can learn from “the tech miracle” of Israel, a country only slightly bigger than HK in population.

It’s a good question, because the scene in HK is still hardly impressive compared to that of Tel Aviv, or London or Singapore (yes, Singapore). The government and local entrepreneurs have plenty of pride and good will. Some people say that HK will eventually explode. I understand where the argument comes from. After all, startup scenes are magic. The success factors (risk tolerance, talent, capital, ideas and heroes) get built up slowly and reinforce each other. Once they reach a tipping point, the scene catches fire and sustains itself in a big party. But I have a feeling that HK lacks some big things if it wants to catch up with the fully burning ecosystem in Tel Aviv or the catching-fire scene in Singapore. Let me present the most obvious one, in my opinion. Let’s look at some facts:

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