The Surprised Entrepreneur turns Rebel Entrepreneur

What makes a rebel.

What makes a rebel.

“Judy,” a sweet tech project manager said to me recently after I discussed some of the gaps in the social marketing ecosystem “You are on a crusade.”

I didn’t see that one coming so it stopped me dead in my tracks. What crusade was that I wondered? I probed but she dodged answering me. The word crusade is laden with meaning so it stuck with me – what had I said to give her that impression?

In hindsight it seems obvious but in the moment, I was oblivious to the shift in my thinking from simply being a Surprised Entrepreneur (as I posted here) to becoming a Rebel Entrepreneur.

My cause was simple – to put the human element back into the business of marketing that has been platform’d to a near digital death. I am driven to re-infuse marketing with the sense of wonder, joy and creativity that I had the good fortune to revel in during my earlier career days.

In those ancient days (one generation after Mad Men but before the Internet revolution had really hit) we could put hearts into our work because there were few tools or platforms or technologies to guide the work. It was pure creativity and smarts. It was hard to measure the effectiveness of the much of the work but you knew your work made a difference when the company did better – jobs were created and bonuses were happily doled out.

Over the years, technology improved how we deployed marketing but we continued to be driven by our nobler motivations to create great marketing that improved people’s lives. We knew we could make a difference.

But there’s been a shift in the industry over the past 3 years. Marketing, especially social marketing has become a tech-heavy exercise of manipulating retargeting platforms, or reward systems or algorithmically based big data platforms. Social marketing is reduced to a conversation about content syndication or sentiment analysis.

So it’s no surprise that over that period of time, inextricably, I have seen tech and platforms taking the joy and the nobility out of the system. I have become overwhelmed by the supremacy of marketing platforms over serving people and algorithms over inspiration.

My sense of alarm was quite publicly aired in the digital pages of Ad Age and Huffington Post. I ranted at Facebook when I felt defeated at using Facebook productively. I admitted frustration at the black-box techno-jargon wave that swept over us marketers drowning us in confusion. I’ve even had the chutzpah to question the funding strategies of VCs who are basing their investments on marketing principles that simply don’t apply anymore. But mostly I challenged the 20 something CEOs who created marketing platforms that are long on cool but short on practical application for real marketers.

In the process, I have been:

  • Flamed by Macboys and called a hack (look up “Judy Shapiro” and “mac security”)
  • Accused of being techno-phobic and capable of only kitchen related work, ideally pregnant at the same time thus preventing me from ever writing offending articles ever again
  • Tarred and feathered as an “old line” marketer unable to keep up with the iteration savvy tech guys
  • Harangued for questioning if the “Content as king” model was sustainable
  • And very nearly digitally lynched when I first suggested in 2010 that perhaps Facebook had jumped the shark.

And so against all odds – here I am, founder and CEO of a social tech company, readying the BETA launch of our new network called Eden for Q1.

Against all odds, this little venture that started a year ago will be introducing a different type of social marketing framework that is a based on an “opt-in” paradigm. We are going up against the big “push based” social marketing platforms and networks. It is an uphill but noble fight. In our vision, Eden is a place where users control the action – how they see content or which brands they interact with. It is a reversal of the; “It is our platform so you have to play by our ever-changing rules” social network that dominates social marketing today.

Against all odds, we managed to secure funding including from an early stage VC for which we are eternally grateful. We’ve created relationships with agencies ready to sell Eden to their clients and we’ve sealed meaningful partnerships that help us gain access to the highest levels within publishing and brands.

Against all odds, as one woman in her 50’s, I am privileged to be joined by a community of seasoned marketers to help in this crusade. Our collective goal is to right the marketing ship listing dangerously to one side from the weight of platforms and big data. I can’t express my gratitude to this brave league of fellow crusaders other than to give them full credit for their invaluable role in our noble adventure. I give them a place of honor in our company’s history:

  • Peter Hubbell, CEO of BoomAgers and former Saatchi Board member. www.boomagers.com
  • Griffin Stenger, a founding partner of Concept Farm, a leading social marketing agency [Crain’s]. www.conceptfarm.com
  • Robyn Streisand, Founder and CEO of The Mixx Group – a branding agency and an early investor in engageSimply. www.themixxnyc.com.
  • David Hoffman whose career spans four decades as a film producer and corporate strategic communicator. Wikipedia’s simply calls David: “One of America’s veteran documentary filmmakers.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Hoffman;
  • John Bowman, was Exec VP Strategy at Saatchi working on their premier brands and is now authoring a book about his great Grandfather, Archibald Stark Van Orden http://theassassinsassassin.com/about/
  • George Collins, a long time database expert and CEO of Research & Response – a database management consultancy. http://www.rresp.com/
  • Mark Bonchek, Founder of Orbit + Co whose strategic consultancy is “creating a new direction in business by shifting the relationship of individuals and institutions from PUSH to PULL.” http://www.thinkorbit.com/

Against the odds, I have been able to attract a seasoned management team of  marketing practitioners who had to “build it” after the consultants talked about loving it but conveniently left when the real work began. They were the ones who built those first generation eCommerce sites and created the principles that good UE designers use today. Our journalists understand SEO and our artists are offering their images for free all in an effort to be a part in the creation of an alternate social marketing reality – a fresh start called Eden.

So against all odds, I find I have become a Rebel Entrepreneur – so strange especially given my training, temperament and age. The potential high rewards of being a rebel all too often comes at a high price and we’ve seen our share of deals gone bad, betrayal by trusted colleagues and funding plans gone awry (Sandy was devastating to the startup community).

And yet, despite the odds, we are close to the launch of our network.

So I invite you all over to Bit Rebel to experience this journey with us as we sprint to Eden’s launch in Q1. Celebrate our highs and feel the unnatural lows that are endemic to startups. Share our anxiety as our burn rate increases but our funding outlook seems further out (we are doing a second round of seed funding now). Take a peek behind the startup curtain, see what’s really going on and help shape what happens. The success of Eden will be a triumph of us marketing practitioners like web designers, SEO geeks and developers over algorithmic feats of IP muscle.

Our mission is noble and our cause true.  Come join us.

I guess like any good crusade, we need a flag and a manifesto. Stay tuned – I am just learning how to be a rebel. Kinda of exhilarating actually. But

Judy Shapiro

P.S. My rebellion gets its own website: http://judyshapiro.wix.com/rebel-entreprenuer. Viva Le Rebellion.    

The Surprised Entrepreneur-Diary of new venture (Entry #4): A tale of two VC meetings.

For the last 3 months I have been very focused on sales of our Interaction Engine system and we are doing well on that score. As a result, though, I have not really shaped the business plan and the structure of our company for the inevitable VC round to come. Getting funding has not been an urgent requirement and it seemed far better to generate real revenue and then go for funding.

So as we are chugging along, our work has gotten the attention of two VCs who reached out for a meeting. This was my first introduction to the world of VCs and I confess, the meetings were startling and sobering; leaving me strangely ambivalent about the journey ahead on this front.

VC meeting number 1.

It was a rainy, NY winter day and we decided to meet at a coffee shop. I knew that this fund was more an incubator type which offered me the potential of being part of a startup community. It seemed like a good idea that I perhaps become part of the NY “Tech/ CEO club” since now, I am an outlier. I don’t hang out in Meetup sessions and I am not trekking across the country chasing the cool tech conferences (OK – I confess I am going to SXSW but only because they asked me to speak).

I enter the coffee shop with only the vaguest sense of what the VC looked like (his Twitter pix was decidedly not very useful). It took me a solid 8 minutes to spot him. As I approach I see this 30ish guy with a quirky winter cone hat that was just 2 degrees “off” – IMO wandering into “silly land.” It was hard not to laugh out loud at the effect – but I held my composure.

I sit down and we start chatting.  I was curious to understand his investing philosophy. His focus decidedly was on individual technologies – why Foursquare will be huge or how this new app model will revolutionize some trend or other. When I wondered with him about the lack of a clear business model which limits their practical use for marketers, he dismissed that concern with a wave of the hand. “Well, that’s won’t be a problem for long – once the old guard is gone.”

Wow. Clearly that meant me. I took his comment to mean that only the “newer” generation have the depth to understand new marketing technologies. I was dumbfounded and I was shaken. The gap between us was, technologically speaking, generational – perhaps never to be bridged. But mostly I was stunned at how immature his thinking was about how the business of marketing really works. I was shaken knowing his company was helping drive the evolution of marketing without a clue about what marketers really need.

The rest of the conversation was a haze TBH. I left traumatized and angry at how dismissive he was of the impracticality of his vision of marketing technology evolution.

VC meeting number 2

This CEO leads a well-respected large VC shop that does $2- 5MM deals. I had been introduced to this VC through a mutual colleague and we met at his office one snowy day.  He sat down in comfortable business casual attire that was in keeping with his experienced CEO role.

We started by talking about his company which was relocating to the East Coast from the West Coast. Interesting move and I asked him why. “Increasingly the smart money is coming to NY as this where many of the major new media and marketing operating business trends are evolving,” he said.

This was my dream VC – he understood the space and the problem my company was trying to solve – how to practically create the “many to many” marketing model. We compared notes on how the technology in this space was similar to CRM in the 1990s – full of possibility but lacking in coordinated systems to activate the technology. I suggested that we are a bit like what Siebel who, at the time, integrated all the telemarketing technologies into the system we now know as CRM. I feel that is what we are doing for the emerging “many to many” marketing model. We met for a solid 90 minutes at which point he asked me “What next?” Shockingly, I had no “ask.” I had been so traumatized by the first VC, that I had not really expected a question like that. I stumbled around and just admitted – “I don’t know.”

But then I turned it around and asked him: “How would you categorize my company? We are part system integrator, part content and media company. We are a “creative shop” in that we create customer interactions with technology. Are we a tech company, a services company?”

I could see he was sensitive to the dilemma of my question. Finally, he said, “I would put you in the digital media space.” I was shocked until he hastened to add: “You need to be defined somehow so people know to work with you and help you.” But in his gentle smile I could see his answer left him unsatisfied as well.

We parted agreeing to keeping up the dialogue. As I walked out of his office, I felt cautiously optimistic that the work we are doing is needed in the market.

One thing I learned from both meetings – the journey of starting a company will continue to be a journey of surprise. I never expected to have so dramatically divergent experiences as I tentatively start down the path of funding my company – even if I don’t know exactly what type of company I am creating.

All I know is that the “smart investment money is going towards the business operating companies” and that’s me. Cool – right?

Judy Shapiro

Creating trust in the new corporate branding model comes down to one person.

Time was before the advent of social media, corporate communications programs were well organized. You had your corporate brand strategy and position which was then communicated via well understood channels such as investor relations, PR, advertising and so forth. In this well oiled marketing machine, individual corporate thought leaders were used to support the corporate message and in this model the goal was clear: create a clear brand value proposition at a corporate level that customers would trust to do business with. The ultimate top down model.

That was then. This is now and the model is turned upside down.

In today’s social networked world, trust is not generated by the corporate communications machine. It is generated by a dynamic I call the Law of One — the brand proposition is carried by an individual who can create trust on behalf of the brand.

In the new socially connected world – individuals are far more effective at conveying trust in social networks than corporate spokespeople or an army of communication specialists. In this new world, non employees or line employees can be the most vocal and valuable trust creators.

Tapping into this dynamic requires a new approach commensurate with the opportunity.  For example, creating a programmatic approach to systematically create personal brands for company “experts” or thought leaders or front line employees integrating existing company social networks, affinity networks with a coordinated approach to content distribution. For non employee trust champions, driving these engaged individuals to a corporate sponsored community driven by a shared interest is a key way to harness and leverage the Law of One within the social network experience.

The new corporate branding machine – creating trust one person at a time.

Judy Shapiro

Ten things that will thrive BECAUSE of the recession

                                             

I read a recent an article in ComputerWorld entitled “Ten things that won’t survive the recession” by well respected reporter Mike Elgan (http://www.computerworld.com/action/article.do?command=viewArticleBasic&articleId=9124260&intsrc=hm_list.)  The article was depressing largely because it was so well written and his casualty list was well considered. It was not a pretty picture.  

 

So in a defiant act of faith, let me offer my counter list … “Ten things that will thrive because of the recession”. (At least I’ll feel better trying to come up with such a list.)

 

1)     Direct marketing … but reinvented.

To me, the internet is one big direct marketing engine where prospects “self select” via their searches. When thought of this way, many of the principles that drive great DM will also drive great internet marketing.  Dust off those old “Direct Marketing 101” books – they’ll get the job done in this digital age.

 

2)     Good ol’ fashioned marketing common sense.

I hear many pitches from agencies and online properties that make no sense whatsoever on any normal metric. These are often made by companies trying to sell me on the “branding value” of an online buy.

 

Get real. Branding value in the online world is about effective as a one of those banners that flies behind planes. Limited.

 

Advertising in the online world is based on good old fashioned reach and frequency and has to roll up into a business metric. If the buy does not make financial sense – just walk away. Online marketing is not the place to make branding campaigns. If you don’t know why, see #1.

 

3)     Social marketing campaigns.

If you think great social or viral marketing campaigns just happen – think again.

 

Good viral marketing engages a well coordinated set of tools to create the effect you are looking for. It is not haphazard and it is not “luck”. It is a planned promotion that you can manage once you know the elements. Best of all, many of the elements are free if you know what to look for.

 

Here are some of the top components:

·        A viral video BUT …

Do not expect much to happen – no matter how interesting you think it is – unless you overtly build in the “kicker element”. Meaning, it must have an element that satisfies some specific emotional need to directly compel someone to send it along (think direct marketing call to action). It’s not about spending a lot of money either – it’s about getting to a concept that is built around its “virability”.

 

For example, a recent no cost success in viral videos was a web cam of six new born puppies hanging out in their basket. It was viral because it was so sweet to look at and people wanted to share it. It taps into our deeply ingrained satisfaction in looking at babies – or cute animal babies J. Here’s another example of a very successful video where the recipient looks like they were running for president.http://www.columbusalive.com/live/content/features/stories/2008/10/09/ca_l_net.html 

 

Do viral video – just do it right otherwise you will be disappointed. 

 

·        Customer feedback platform for a site. This is one of the most effective ways to leverage the power of social networking. You can even do this for free with a UserTrust, a feedback platform from Comodo, a leading Certification Authority.

 

·        Community chat.- you can get this for free too from Paltalk chat software. Just download the software and you can start a room for free where people can chat with each other.

 

·        Video streaming – You want to demonstrate your new product? Use a video streaming platform – also from Paltalk using their premium rooms.

 

·        Start a blog — You can share ideas and get honest feedback from your visitors. But beware, never say anything in a blog you wouldn’t want showing up on Page 1 of your local newspaper. ‘Nuf said.

 

4)     Comprehensible data run businesses.

I read a disturbing factoid that asserted most companies (80%) have lots of information and not a lot of comprehension. More simply, too much data of the wrong kind without the intelligence to allow someone to get what they need.

 

This issue has plagued CIO’s for at least a decade and the holy grail of delivering usable, configurable data is close. Why? Because the industry is moving away from rigid taxonomy driven databases where everyone “categorizes” everything the same way to a more fluid metadata structure which provides a new opportunity to get to the Promised Land.

  

5)     Explosion of Internet community groups and micro-businesses

The chat room of yesterday will reinvent itself as a vital part of the ecommerce sector. Rooms with video streaming capability can be secured so that they can handle transactions. This sector is the digital pushcart equivalent of the real world pushcart business of today, a low barrier to entry to eCommerce.

 

6)     Configurable, web based rich media communication services.

That pile of techno babble simply means that people will be to use video, audio and text in any combination interacting with as many people as they want when they communicate online. They will be able to choose whether they want a small media rich chat or a large multi person video streaming conference – just with a click of the button.

 

7)     Online authentication services.

We must become practical about how we bridge the trust gap that now exists between our ability to authenticate in the real world versus the online world. As we conduct more and more of our business online – this is not a nice to do – but must do. There are innovative companies like Comodo creating these type of centralized and distributed authentication services using new techniques in smarter surfing and authentication as an integrated business process.

 

8  ) Practical eCommerce driven ways for everybody to “go green”.

Today, if you want to contribute to help our planet’s environment, it’s difficult because there are so many disconcerted programs and projects and charities. On top of that, local community efforts seem well intended but often lacking in practical application.

 

In the next few years, consumers will get tired of waiting for government to act and will demand better ways to link environmental efficiency with an economical benefit. Companies that let people easily manage their eco-evolution will thrive. These companies will be a single resource that helps people contribute to reduce their own carbon footprint and will also offer guidance on ways to reduce costs using eco-friendly methods.

 

9)     Nanotechnology

This has been on my radar for about 4 years now and I still think it is one of those “step change” technologies. As resources become scarcer or more accurate sourcing for resources becomes more challenging, technologies that can scale up in terms of productivity while scale down in terms of resource consumption is a no brainer winner. Nanotechnology is one of those few technologies that meets both criteria.

 

10)  Digital and identity protection services.

We are living in the Wild West of digital landscapes in some ways because it’s often hard to know who to trust online and it’s even harder to deal with a problem once it emerges.

 

In response, a new set of coordinated services will emerge that covers a wide range of needs from secure backup services (there are great free ones today though like Comodo Backup), to identity protection and restoration services to PC management and protection against the relentless technological warfare being waged against ordinary PC civilians.

 

So there you have it – my predictions for winners that could only be possible in current conditions.

 

Now that I think about it – I’d love to have the longest “who will succeed in this recession list” on the planet. Send me who you think will succeed and have your friends send me their bets on future winners too, I’ll add them all.  

 

Maybe by sheer force of positive thinking we can help in ways that the economists could never guess. (This reminds me of the scene in Peter Pan when he asks the audience to clap for Tinker Bell to save her…)

 

Send me your digital clap. It’s worth a try.

 

Judy Shapiro

 

 

12/26 UPDATE:

Here are 3 additions to our 2009 Companies that will thrive because of the recession list. Keep ‘em coming…

  • Printers, books and printing … a resurgence of old fashioned direct mail – submitted by Ben
  • Trains transportation – submitted by Harvey and Lisa
  • Gardening and farming – submitted by Kay

 Spread the word and we’ll keep adding to the list. Judy Shapiro

 

 

 

_____________________________________________________________

Update: December 30, 2008

 

These winners were just in  

  • Cloud computing for ASP type application (thanks Ira)
  • Multi-player real time gaming
  • Wireless marketing (OK – I have heard this before – maybe this year if smart phones reach a critical mass)
  • Which leads us to Smart Phones

Keep ‘em coming :)

HAPPY 2009!

Judy Shapiro

 

 

 

 

 

Blogging and communities and affinity networks – oh my :(

Sometimes too much of a good thing is, well, too much. I talk to my marketing colleagues at big and large companies and they seem to be plagued by the same syndrome – the “am I missing the viral marketing angle because none of my agencies seem to get it” blues.

They consistently sense that there is more they could be doing but not sure how to proceed, not sure how to integrate viral marketing into their existing programs, not sure how to measure these tactics and on and on.

And who can blame them. Marketing agencies seem to take perverse pleasure in “black boxing” these newer marketing tactics that leaves many marketers feeling insecure – about what they don’t know nor their ability to manage it.

And worse, when you try and nail down an agency to explain what they do you often get lots of fancy words that seem to be the right buzz words with no real traction. You know you are in trouble when you talk to an agency about viral marketing and after an hour you still can’t name a specific tactic or specific program. In fact, you often feel like you are getting snowed.

So what’s the remedy? Arm yourself with information, education and intuition. Or if you can, find yourself a viral mentor – someone who either does it for a living or someone who has had success doing it. Seek out the advice of those who know this space so you can calibrate your tool kit. Agencies can’t or won’t do it for you. This is something you must do for yourself.

So here’s an offer. Got a question in viral marketing and can’t find a viral mentor. I’ll help. Not sure your agency reco is making sense. Run it by me and I will help you assess it.

Take me up on my offer. You’ll get objective feedback and I’m sure I’ll learn a thing or two also.  

Together, we can get to Oz.  

Judy.shapiro@verizon.net

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