April 14, 2014
Healthy Paranoia

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I recently gave a talk at Lyndbrook High School for a family friend of mine. I spoke about my career thus far, what it’s like working for a fun start up, and also some lessons learned in my 8+ years in the workforce. One of my lessons learned was around having healthy paranoia and the benefits of never assuming something is a sure thing.

Healthy paranoia can be a good thing. A recent example of this was during the keynote I had during our recent BoxDev conference. I was on stage presenting a metadata demo via an iPhone app I wrote. This app was a construction app that searched for Box files based on metadata, in addition to taking pictures and submitting them back to Box with associated metadata. All of it was live and projected on screen in front of a crowd of around 1000 attendees.

Do you know how many back up plans I had in case this demo went wrong? 4!

You might think I’m crazy, but I was paranoid about anything malfunctioning, so I wanted to do everything in my power to control the environment. First, I had a MiFi in my back pocket in case the wifi connection was spotty. Second, I had another iPhone on me in case the demo phone was malfunctioning. Third, I had an iOS simulator ready to go on the demo computer in case both the MiFi and Wifi didn’t work with the phone. Fourth, I had a video recorded as a last ditch effort in case all three of the other solutions failed. As an added measure, I even rehearsed what I would say if things went haywire.

Luckily, the demo went very smoothly and I didn’t have to resort to any of my backups; however, my nerves were much more calm during the presentation knowing I was covered. It’s a good reminder that healthy paranoia is a good thing every now and then—especially when it comes to game time.

March 29, 2014

When you look at successful companies and entrepreneurs, what do you see in common? Is it that they were in the right place and the right time? Was it that they were harder working than their competition or peers? Or was it purely luck that played a role in their success? Depending on who it was, it could be one or the combination of all of these—but there’s one thing that is common across all successful companies and entrepreneurs - acceleration.

I first became more aware of acceleration when playing competitive tennis growing up. When playing, you realize there’s a point in a match when you started feeling like you could overtake your opponent. There may be a couple missed shots by him, a couple winners by you, and then you would start to feel the tide turn. When it does, you don’t let off the gas petal—you accelerate. You accelerate by hitting more winners, forcing more unforced errors by your opponent, and you string together enough momentum so that you separate yourself enough that even at steady state, your opponent can’t comeback. Opportunities for acceleration are almost difficult to describe, but it’s something more derived from the gut. But when you feel it, it’s crucial that you capitalize on it.

Another great example of acceleration was when I first started selling at Box. About 6 months into my sales role, I started feeling this inner confidence that I never had before. I felt like I knew how to qualify well, understood the messaging and benefits of our product, and felt comfortable developing rapport with customers. When all of this was clicking, I started to accelerate. In our early days, we used to have a phone system for leads that rang to everyone’s desk, and the first person who picked it up would be able to sell to that customer. Feeling momentum on my side, I came in earlier and left later. I sat at my desk during lunch breaks. I literally placed my phone next to my keyboard so that I could pick it up faster with my left hand. I took every opportunity I had to get on the phone with customers. I accelerated as fast as I could, and it left me as a top ranked sales rep for the year.

If you look at three of our recent entrepreneurial success stories—Evan Williams, Andrew Mason, and Kevin Systrom—they each accelerated to build billion dollar businesses. What’s common across all three of these founders is that they all had unsuccessful ventures first, then created new opportunities to accelerate into hyper growth . Evan Williams branched from the fledgling Odeo to found Twitter, then leveraged South by Southwest in 2007 to accelerate into the main stream. Andrew Mason transformed his first site, the Point, to Groupon, and accelerated to a $1B valuation in just 16 months through a hustling sales force and non-stop media attention. Kevin Systrom pivoted from an unsuccessful check-in service called Burbn to Instagram, garnering 50 million mobile users in under 2 years through social acceleration, network effects, and top-notch usability. None of these founders sat idle when they started to see their numbers tick upwards. They each threw a ton of time, effort, and venture capital into accelerating their growth.

To grow as a successful product manager, it’s important to always be on the lookout for acceleration opportunities. If you feel like your team is really hitting its stride, don’t let them settle for the status quo—push them to get even more done. If you start seeing trends in user acquisition, invest even more into those channels. If customers start loving a specific new feature, don’t hesitate to dig deeper and draw even more attention to it. Acceleration opportunities don’t usually wait around, so when you see them, make sure you seize them.

March 29, 2014

BoxWorks 2013 keynote. I come in around 58:15 to present metadata to the world for the first time. More coverage here: http://techcrunch.com/2013/09/16/box-metadata/

October 27, 2013
Dusting off the cobwebs and getting back into Rails this weekend.  My goal was to build an app, but focus on test-driven development.  I still find myself learning new things every time I read through http://ruby.railstutorial.org/—it’s probably one of the best rails tutorials on the market.  
The app is an automator for Box.  By adding in a valid access token, you can fill up an enterprise account for purposes of testing.  I’m about 75% complete and hope to finish this up on my spare time over the next couple of weeks.  Here’s the github repo: https://github.com/tblos/box_automator

Dusting off the cobwebs and getting back into Rails this weekend.  My goal was to build an app, but focus on test-driven development.  I still find myself learning new things every time I read through http://ruby.railstutorial.org/—it’s probably one of the best rails tutorials on the market.  

The app is an automator for Box.  By adding in a valid access token, you can fill up an enterprise account for purposes of testing.  I’m about 75% complete and hope to finish this up on my spare time over the next couple of weeks.  Here’s the github repo: https://github.com/tblos/box_automator

10:55pm  |   URL: http://tmblr.co/ZG309uyqJwWx
Filed under: rails 
October 11, 2013
Had the opportunity to speak at an SVForum meetup the other night at the MSFT campus in Mt View.  To my surprise, I thought this was going to be a 5-10 person roundtable with only a 15-20 minute presentation, when it turned out to be a 30-40 person meeting for a 60 minute time slot!
However, I improvised, told a few stories, and filled the rest of the time with good old-fashioned white boarding and Q&A.  I was impressed with how engaged the members were and it reminded me that Silicon Valley is not just filled with 20 something whiz kids; there’s also a large breed of engineers and developers that have been around tech for 20-30 years.  

Had the opportunity to speak at an SVForum meetup the other night at the MSFT campus in Mt View.  To my surprise, I thought this was going to be a 5-10 person roundtable with only a 15-20 minute presentation, when it turned out to be a 30-40 person meeting for a 60 minute time slot!

However, I improvised, told a few stories, and filled the rest of the time with good old-fashioned white boarding and Q&A.  I was impressed with how engaged the members were and it reminded me that Silicon Valley is not just filled with 20 something whiz kids; there’s also a large breed of engineers and developers that have been around tech for 20-30 years.  

September 5, 2013
Provision Endpoint

We just recently launched an awesome product at Box called the provision endpoint.  I had the honor of being the PM on this project, working with a great team of devs over the course of several months to get this out the door.  It’s innovative in the sense that with just an email address, you can cloud-enable your application with Box and skip all the process of sign up you’d typically expect of any cloud provider.  Check out the blog post here: http://developers.blog.box.com/2013/08/19/cloud-enabling-your-application-just-became-as-easy-as-sending-an-email/

May 22, 2013

We recently held a day-long hackathon at Box.  I built a pretty cool application that leverages attachments.me’s Ruby SDK and the stripe API to help people make money off their files.  Use cases are infinite; for example, teachers could sell courseware, financial advisors could sell investment guides, or fitness instructors could sell workout videos.  Enjoy!

May 15, 2013

My latest tutorial from the Box dev blog: http://developers.blog.box.com/2013/03/13/postman-a-developers-best-friend/

September 25, 2012
How to give an awesome web demo to your prospects

At Box, we primarily sell through a large inside sales force.  This group is similar to inside groups you may find at Salesforce.com or LinkedIn, but in my personal biased opinion, we have the best reps in the valley right now.   Our day to day consists of introducing new clients to Box, shepherding current prospects through the evaluation processs, and closing new business with new customers.

At the end of the year, I’ll be coming up on my second full year of selling at Box, and I would say one of the most important things you can do during a sales cycle is a first time demonstration of the product.  If you think about it closely, the web demo is like taking a test drive of a car when you’re at the dealership.  You may have done your preliminary research online or through word of mouth, but getting hands on with the car could be the make or break.   For example, when I bought my last car, I was dead set on a Mini after weeks of research and seeing it around the roads in SF, but the moment I stepped into the car, I knew it wasn’t for me.  Similarly, it’s crucial to deliver a solid web demonstration to my prospects to make sure my sales cycle gets off on the right foot.  All in all,  I would say that I’ve probably given about 320 Box demos thus far (I’ve worked about 80 weeks and average roughlg about 4 a week) and I’m constantly refining my process.  In addition, I’m always observing the top reps around me and stealing their best ideas.  With this constant iteration, I thought I would share some tips and advice that have made me successful on closing new business.  If you’re in the same field or depend on online demonstrations, hopefully it can help you out too:

Preparation

Make sure you block out 30 mins to an hour before your demo to prep for your demo.  If the client looks more promising, block out the full hour to be safe.  Do a quick skim of their corporate website, financials, LinkedIn profiles, and a basic Google search of the prospect your pitching to in case there are things you should know about them (like an award they won, an article they were mentioned in, etc.).  Once you understand who you’re selling to, then create a basic outline of how you envision the demo going.  I start with the one main thing I want to accomplish in the meeting, then build an outline from there.  For example, if I want my client to launch into a 30 day trial after my demo, I will tailor my demo flow around convincing him that a trial is the way to go.  

Demo flow

Most my demos last an hour and flow like this: 15 mins qualifying the customer, 30 mins demo, and 15 mins discussing feedback and next steps.  In terms of importance, the qualifying portion is the most important part of the demo, with the follow up being second and the demo the third.  During the qualification period, it’s important to have 3 or 4 key open-ended questions ready for the client.  I typically lead with questions like “why are you interested in a solution like Box and what business need are you trying to solve”?  From there, I let my prospect’s answers guide me to how I should tailor the demo.  For example, if the client says they need a way to enable their sales people with the latest marketing materials while on the road, I would tailor my demo as if I were a sales person in the field who needs to find data sheets for my customer while using my iPad.  In the feedback and next steps phase, it’s crucial to close on the client for some type of commitment.  A “close” rarely means to get them to buy the solution on the spot, but rather, to get commitment to move along the sales cycle.   A great example of a commitment from a prospect looking at Box is for the client to get their technical team on a follow up call to do a deep dive into security and administration aspects of the product.  If they agree to it, try to nail down th exact day and time you’d like to meet and send them an invite immediately after the demo.

Follow up

Follow up separates the good sales people from the best.  The top sales person in my group right now is a master of follow up.  She’ll take all the top discussion points from a demo and list them along with the proposed next steps in a clearly written email to all attendees.  I usually start my follow up emails with the business driver of why they may need a solution like ours, then bullet out the follow up items.  Then, when you want to get an update from the client of where they’re at in the sales cycle, you can always refer or reply back to this email.

Bonus points

I’ve also picked up a few pointers from other colleagues that have made my demos run even smoother.  First, try to stand up as much as possible.  This helps your voice project and pacing will always help calm the nerves when speaking with new clients.  Second, if you’re on a group demo, I try to turn on my web-cam at least the beginning, if not all of the demo.  This helps put a face to the name and is a great substitute for not being there in person.  Last, try to have dual monitors set up during your WebEx.  Use your non-screen sharing screen to do behind the scenes research, take notes, or prepare a piece of the demo before presenting it to the clients viewable screen.

These tips will not guarantee sales or turn you into a demo king, but I’m a strong believer that sales is most successful if you put science behind the art. If you have a successful formula that you continue to iterate on, you’ll do better statistically over time then other sales reps who don’t approach their sales cycle systematically.

5:48am  |   URL: http://tmblr.co/ZG309ugx7XPt
Filed under: JustMigrated 
September 11, 2012
Google is missing 1 key ingredient: Social data

Check out 25:15 of this video,  where Zuckerberg talks about social search at TC Disrupt.  I think a fundamental flaw of Google’s algorithms can be explained here - they don’t have much social data about their users, which can lead to not having the best search results possible.  If they don’t have the best search results possible, then their cash cow can be vulnerable to competition.  

Video streaming by Ustream

11:27pm  |   URL: http://tmblr.co/ZG309ugx7Xf6
Filed under: JustMigrated 
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