“We’ve already invested in over $700MM real estate transactions.” — Jilliene Helman, CEO of Realty Mogul
A clear, targeted, and amazingly disruptive business. Jilliene is also a talented and inspiring storyteller.
“We’ve already invested in over $700MM real estate transactions.” — Jilliene Helman, CEO of Realty Mogul
A clear, targeted, and amazingly disruptive business. Jilliene is also a talented and inspiring storyteller.
“Leave all the afternoon for exercise and recreation, which are as necessary as reading. I will rather say more necessary because health is worth more than learning.” — Thomas Jefferson
I was recently at a startup event here in NYC and was having a great conversation with a random set of folks. We all started shaking hands in preparation of splitting up, ready to charge forward and continue networking with other people. I extend my hand to one of the woman to shake goodbye and instead she says, “Sorry, I can’t shake hands right now. I hurt mine this morning.” She turns her hand over and reveals a set of band-aids over the top part of her palm. I smile and ask “What was the workout?”, while quickly turning over my hands to show my chewed up palms and the scars of a few old but nasty tears.
We both laughed and spent a few more minutes talking about Crossfit; what our boxes (home gyms) were like, the communities there, and which movements we hated the most (her = burpees, me = rowing). It’s not the first time I’ve met a fellow Crossfitter at a startup event, and it made me reflect on the similarities between Crossfit and the actual experience of being in a startup.
Some context: I do love me some Crossfit. I can talk for hours about it because it’s something I’m passionate about and it makes me happy. I’ve been doing it for almost six years now, having worked out with Eric and Nadia at the awesome Crossfit Belltown in Seattle for many moons, then joining the very hip Crossfit South Brooklyn when we moved back to New York last year. I’ve always been an athlete through soccer, swimming, and generally being a gym rat for as long as I can remember. I love it so much I even became a personal trainer and group exercise instructor at Boston Sports Club while I was in college (I taught a pretty mean cardio kickboxing class).
So what, then, does the Venn diagram of Crossfit and a startup look like from my perspective? Here we go.
1. Efficiency and productivity.
Crossfit is intentionally intense. It’s based on the premise of high-intensity work done over short periods of time (“intervals”), meant to maximize the benefit of the exercise. I go for one hour a day, five days a week, and always feel great because I know I was as effective as possible in getting my workout in. The same set of folks go to my 6am class almost every morning and many of them are now good friends of mine. We cheer each other on while pushing each other to work as hard as possible. The unique “Workout of the Day” is always different than the prior day and never lets you feel like you’re being repetitive.
To me it feels exactly like working in a startup: every day at work is different than the last, I often work super hard for intense sprints of time, and I could never get anything done without the support of my team.
2. The right kind of competition.
My friends Peter, Brad, and I are always racing against each other in our 6am workouts. We know each others’ strengths and weaknesses, so when we’re planning out how to approach a workout we share tips and then a few taunts to push each other. The coolest part? You’re never really competing with your friends (unless you’re doing a competition), you’re pushing and competing with yourself. Whoa, #meta. Your community at Crossfit, like your team at work, are your support systems for setting personal goals and working super friggin’ hard (see point 4) to achieve them.
3. It’s all in the data.
We use an dizzying array of technology at Klink to monitor our products and users, making sure we know everything about their experience via the telemetry that gets reported to us. Combined with the fact that we are a big data company building customer intelligence solutions, and you would be correct in saying that my work is full of data. The goal is to always make measurable progress with our products and our customers.
We similarly track everything at Crossfit: how long it took to do a workout or how many reps you got, how much weight you squatted or how many pull-ups you did. There’s an important belief in the Crossfit system that you can’t improve if you don’t keep track of how you’re doing, so I use an app called MyWOD to monitor my progress and refer back to it each week as I’m planning my strategy for the different workouts.
4. It’s friggin hard.
I like to do things to the max. Crossfit workouts typically have a concept of a ‘prescribed weight’, meaning the maximum recommended weight to use. I almost always use that weight and almost always finish the workout in time (or with high reps, etc.). Yet every couple of workouts, like the 4x4x4 one from mid-January, I get completely crushed. For that one I had to lower the weight from the prescribed amount and still finished over 2min past the 10min time cap – it was one of the hardest workouts I’ve done in months. The thing that got me through it? My entire 6am class surrounded me as I pushed through the last set and cheered me when I finished (and promptly collapsed onto the floor).
Super-hard challenges requiring a ton of personal effort and the support of a team to finish? See “Working at the office until 2am on a financial model due the next morning”, or the always fun “Dogfooding a hotfix all-day on a Sunday so you can fix an urgent customer bug”. Every week at work there’s always a day or two that feels like that 4x4x4 workout: it requires an all-out effort from everyone on the team, everyone works past the clock, and no one does it alone.
Are you a Crossfitter? What’s your favorite workout?
I think the single best feature of LinkedIn is one that most folks I talk to never use. I was sharing this with someone at the NYC Enterprise Sales meet-up this week and he encouraged me to write it up.
In addition to the standard ways of using LinkedIn – searching for people you’ve met or will meet, connecting with them, and then browsing their co-workers – you can use LinkedIn as a lighweight CRM system that has great mobile integration. If you’re in Sales, Recruiting, or any other discipline that requires a real CRM system than your needs are likely way beyond this way of using LinkedIn, but it works really well for me (a product guy who does a bunch of networking and hates holding on to business cards).
It’s all about the “Relationships” and “Contact Info” tab. When setup correctly and with a little effort put into note-taking, these two pieces of a contact’s profile can be very powerful for keeping track of your connection to that person.
How does it work?
It’s super simple (3 steps!), and it all starts with this magical button on LinkedIn:
The first thing I do after I meet someone new is search for them on LinkedIn. Then:
Done! Now what?
Now you have all of the important information about that person stored in a single place, and its tied to the profile that they control the updates to. Here’s an example for my awesome friend and fellow power networker, Mark Birch:
I can see a few really useful things in the “Relationship” section whenever I look at Mark’s profile, like how we met and our latest email interaction. If I expand the section I can see our entire email history:
Now, all of your local contacts will get updated with all of contact details you put into LinkedIn, including their emails, phone numbers, and LinkedIn profile ID. It will also get updated when they update their profile. It will add a new contact if you don’t already have one, or sync to an existing one if it finds it. Check it out:
To get the most out of this setup, you need to connect your email and calendar accounts on LinkedIn via this settings page.
My other CRM tip is to “Tag” contacts for easy follow-up and sorting. One way I’ve used it in the past is to tag folks that I wanted to physically meetup with once I moved back to NYC. I used the tag “NYC Reconnect”, and have been slowly making my way through the list (and adding a “Note” in the Relationships tab whenever we’ve met!).
I’d love to hear your tips on how you use LinkedIn as a CRM system. Later this month I’ll share more thoughts on how I network (hint: lots of coffees). Also thanks to Mark for letting me use his profiles in my blog post.
Inaki Berenguer, John-David Brown and I will be at the NYESM Mobile Sales Summit on Tuesday evening to talk mobile sales and how products like Klink are changing the way goods & services get sold. There are still tickets available, come down!
“People still make assumptions about us based on irrelevant things like clothing and mannerisms… and height and weight and age and gender and ethnicity and tons of other qualities and attributes that have absolutely no bearing on a person’s performance.”
I read this great post by Jeff Haden on LinkedIn, “Does How You Dress and Look Impact Your Career? Sadly, Yes“, and wanted to share my own thoughts and a classic pic, thanks Mom for finding it:
I remember it clearly: It was my first year at Microsoft right out of college and I was still rockin’ my blond spiked hair, earrings, and goatee. I went to my first customer event where we were meeting with C-level execs and wound up sitting down next to my VP. He turns to me and says “Wow, two earrings, huh?” Almost immediately I went to the restroom, took out the earrings, and have not worn them since.
I’m a proud supporter of individualism at work across every domain, from personality to attire to organizational styles. Working with such broadly different personalities over the years has given me some of the most rewarding experiences as a leader and contributed immensely to my personal growth.
I love working in technology for a number of reasons, one of them being its support of individualism across so many of those important domains. For me, it’s great to be able to rock flip-flops and shorts at work on a lava-hot day in NYC. At the same time, I agree with the author’s point that you have sometimes have to dress the part: either for a role you aspire to have, or for a customer you’re talking to. Today we’re meeting with a client in the financial services industry, so I’m sans flip-flops and am ready in my corporate gear (slacks + button down + blazer) to ensure my attire doesn’t get in the way of our conversation.
original image from http://blog.compuseum.de/gruppenfoto/
I absolutely love gadgets and have been addicted to them since I was a kid. I distinctly remember getting in trouble with my 8th grade math teacher because I was trying to write down class notes into my Palm Pilot (Personal, 1st edition) instead of in a normal notebook. My love for technology has never waned, but I do find that now instead of just buying products because they’re the latest and greatest I try to find ones that make my life more productive and enjoyable.
I’m often asked what are the apps, tech, and products I use regularly to be more productive. I decided to take a cue from my friend Omar Shahine and write up a post that lists out the top apps and products that I used throughout 2014. Similar to Omar, this will also serve the selfish goal of serving of being a look-back list at the end of 2015 to see what stayed in use and what fell to the wayside.
For reference the post is broken up like this: Devices, Products at Home, Desktop Software & Services, Mobile Apps, & Other.
Let me know if you have any questions about any of them. Thanks!
MacBook Air – This is my main laptop and what I use all day at the office. It’s the 11” version and is light and perfect for traveling. The battery lasts forever, and since 95% of my work is done inside Chrome I upgraded to 8gb of RAM. The 250gb SSD drive is perfect since the only thing I store locally is Google Drive and Dropbox for offline access. At the office it’s docked to a 24” Dell widescreen monitor, and when traveling I put it in the awesome Sling Sleeve by InCase.
Dell Inspiron – The computer in my home office is a Dell Inspiron workstation running Windows 8 that I bought several years ago. It’s Core i7 with 12gb of RAM and 1 TB Western Digital 10,000 rpm hard drive. It’s the “oldest” piece of technology I have and is likely going to get replaced by a new 4k iMac this year. It’s mostly been fine to use for the last two years since I spend most of my time in Chrome when working from home, and for personal tasks it just has to handle scanning and managing documents, and organizing photos and videos (but not editing, I’m not a big photographer).
iPhone 6 – I work at a mobile app company so I actually have several devices I cycle through, but the iPhone 6 is my daily driver and it’s an awesome device. I have the 64gb version in black and unlocked (better resale on Gazelle.comlater) from AT&T. The battery and camera are fantastic compared to the 5S. See more about what apps I use later in the post.
Nexus 5 – My primary Android device is the Nexus 5 which I love for two main reasons: it runs Google’s Android OS “naked”, without any of the crazy OEM customizations that happen to other provider’s devices, and the Google Now integration is incredible. Just have it notify you once of how a train delay is going to impact your travel time to a meeting on your calendar and you’re hooked. This make Siri and iOS 8 notifications feel like very immature.
iPad Mini 2 – The iPad is the primary way that Amy and I watch movies on airplanes when we travel. A long time ago I ripped our entire DVD collection to disk, so between those movies and what we rent from iTunes we have a ton of options to choose from. I also have it fully synced with all my work and personal email, so often when I’m around the house or traveling I’ll use it for most personal and work computing tasks. I take lots of work conference calls via Skype, Join.Me, and GoToMeeting using their apps. I used to read a lot more on it before I bought a Paperwhite.
Kindle Paperwhite – I forgot the last time I charged my Paperwhite and I use it every night. I was a long-time owner of the original Kindle (the one that had built-in lifetime 3G support and a keyboard), and finally upgraded to the PaperWhite last year. It’s super-readable, doesn’t need an external light, and the UX is very responsive. I actually use the highlighter functionality a lot when reading business and tech books. I average about 2 books per month.
Products at Home
Synology DiskStation DS411+11 – Despite its overly-complex name, this is a super-simple appliance that I’ve had for three years and serves as our home’s primary data storage for photos and videos. I bought it when Microsoft discontinued the Windows Home Server product line (which I *loved*). I have 4 x 3TB hard drives in this right now, giving me 6 TB of redundant storage, and I plan on swapping out two of the drives for larger sizes soon.
ScanSnap 300m – We’ve been totally paperless at our house since 2010 when I got this awesome sheet-fed scanner. When we first started I used a bulk-scanning service to get through my filing cabinets quickly, and then the ScanSnap has kept us current moving forward. Anything that arrives in the mail that needs to be saved gets scanned, as does receipts, documents, etc. The items then get shredded and thrown away.
Xbox One – I was a pretty big gamer growing up and have owned (and been addicted to) every major first-person shooter since Golden Eye, and had multiple Nintendo systems plugged into a single TV growing up. Did you know that if you plugged a normal controller into the first port of an NES (with the gun plugged into the second like normal), that you could control the birds in Duck Hunt? Can you tell I was addicted to Nintendo Power too? I digress… The Xbox One is our main media streaming system, and we our cable and sound system connected through it. My wife and I have become pretty reliant on the voice control provided by Kinect and often use it instead of the remote for main navigation tasks. My fav phrase is “Play Music” and in three seconds we have music when we sit down to dinner. I game on it occasionally nowadays, mostly FIFA so I can chat with my buddies in Seattle, and we occasionally Skype with some folks.
DropCam Pro – We changed pet-sitting services right before a recent trip to Jamaica, and the DropCam was perfect for providing us with a piece of mind that the sitter (a) didn’t steal anything and (b) arrived daily and spent the allotted time at the house. I have it set to only turn on and record when I leave the house (via location on their iPhone app). One feature I wish it had would be to pair with two or more devices, so that it only turned on when my wife and I both left the house. Instead I have it on a schedule so from 9am -5pm it’s not on (my wife works from home). I also have the 1-week CVR plan.
Harmony One Remote – We’ve had the Harmony for several years and it’s been the only remote on the coffee table until the introduction of the Xbox One into our home entertainment setup. Amy and I still use it for *almost* all tasks, but will frequently just use voice to navigate between things like music, netflix, or TV. The OneGuide on the Xbox is not good and can’t access any of the OnDemand services from our cable company, so we had to bring back the cable box’s native remote specifically to access those features when watching TV. I’m in the middle of creating custom activities on the Harmony to try and get us back down to one remote (no pun intended). Stay tuned.
Dyson Cinetic Big Ball Animal Vacuum – Yes, I’m posting about my vacuum. 🙂 I’m a clean-freak (says my wife) and this is like the Mercedes Benz of vacuums. It’s super-powerful (I’m always nervous about sucking up one of my cats) and the reusable HEPA filter is sink-washable. You can practically take apart the vacuum via the ingenious red tabs they put on all the parts, which is useful in the rare times something gets stuck in it. The top attachment is great for cleaning the couches (our cats love to lounge there).
FitBit One – I’ve been a FitBit user for years. The data junkie and super competitive athlete in me loves seeing my step count, and now that the service has Challenges with friends its even more fun. I doesn’t do well for tracking anything related to Crossfit (unless we’re running) and also sucks at tracking cycling, but it is still a good reminder to try and get my 10,000 steps every day.
Desktop Apps & Services
I use more software than just the items on this list, but these are the ones that get daily use or higher.
OneDrive – I have 200gb of OneDrive space and it’s where all of files are stored (expect pictures and videos). Our ScanSnap outputs directly into it, and I’ve got every I’ve ever created (back through high school) stored here. It’s simple, syncs well on my home Windows desktop, and accessing files via the web is a breeze. The iOS client is pretty good too, expect I stopped using the picture backup before it never wanted to finish.
Chrome – Chrome has been my browser of choice for years and is basically my “operating system” given that 99% of my work and personal tasks happen inside of it. The extensibility is excellent and the support for multiple users is great when you need to constantly switch account contexts. This happens a lot when you’re in a small tech company and have to manage and test multiple user personas throughout the day.
Gmail – Keep in mind that I helped build Outlook and Exchange for over eight years while I was Microsoft, so my choice of email service is as personal as my type of shampoo. I’ve had a personal domain (www.michaelaffronti.com) for over ten years and my personal email has always been mapped to that. For years I was using Hosted Exchange (via an employee beta program), and stayed with it when it became Office 365. When I joined Klink in 2013 I had to make the switch to Gmail for personal email. The biggest reason? Klink is a Gmail shop, and I discovered that sharing calendars and email between Gmail accounts is WAY easier than trying to do Gmail and Office 365. That and the terrible native support by Android for Exchange-backed email (I was using the Nexus 5 full-time for 2013-14) made me jump ship and point michaelaffronti.com at a Gmail account. There are LOTS of things I miss from being in Outlook all day for email (that’s a separate post that’s coming up shortly on MEATS).
Boomerang – I’m a big believer of email-based productivity workflows and hacks (see upcoming post on MEATS), and Boomerang has helped me keep my Outlook Flag-and-Follow mojo going in a Gmail world.
Asana – The development team at Klink uses JIRA to keep track of their tasks, and when I joined we had nothing to keep track of the (quickly growing) list of Product, Design, and Biz Dev tasks and follow-ups. About half-way through 2014 I asked my team to join me in using Asana, the product I had been using since I joined to keep track of my personal tasks. We don’t really use the collaboration features (comments, etc.) as much as the product wants you to, but its a great way to keep track of various tasks and especially with some people being in our remote office.
Evernote – I stopped using OneNote for note taking and switched to Evernote when I joined Klink, mostly because I needed a native Mac client to write notes in (I take a LOT of notes). I have this running on all of my computers and use the mobile app all the time to take pictures of whiteboards and sketches and get them directly into Evernote. Searching is amazing inside the app, and the Chrome extension for clipping content works super well.
Skype – We use Skype all real-time collaboration at Klink (video, audio, screensharing), and probably have between 5-10 group chat rooms that we use through any given day. There are lots and lots of things we need but don’t have (productivity-wise) with Skype, but we do a significant amount of international collaboration and it works very well for that, so for now we’re ‘stuck’ in it.
LastPass – I’ve been using LastPass for about five years to manage all of my personal passwords, and now many of my work ones. The Chrome extension makes using it an easy part of my day and the iOS app finally got TouchID access (sweet!). If all of your passwords are the same (or variations of the same word), spend the $1 a month and start making things safer with LP. I would also suggest upgrading some of the security settings (increasing time-out values for retries to prevent brute force attacks), and definitely turn on two-factor authentication.
Join.Me – One collaboration experience I sorely missed when I left Microsoft and joined a startup was the ease with which you could screenshare with audio and video via Lync conferencing. Join.Me is a close second in terms of experience, ease of use (just send the URL) and integration with the Gmail calendar for scheduling meetings. Another startup presented to my boss and I a month after I joined using Join.Me and the experience was incredible. We bought a subscription right after the meeting.
Docsend – I send *so many* PDFs working at Klink and rely on Docsend to make sure that anyone I send a deck to can open it without issues, and that I know when it’s getting passed around inside a company. I don’t use the slide-by-slide analytics as much as I could, but the control over the security and history is fantastic and is my primary use case. The team collaboration functionality is new and super useful. Russ (CEO) and Dave (CPO) are awesome guys and always open for feedback.
Parallels – We build a version of Klink for Windows. This lets me run it on my Mac, and also occasionally to reminisce by booting up Outlook 2013. The integration and support is seamless and fast, even on my MacBook Air with 8gb of memory. The virtual hard drive tends to occupy a bunch of space and on my small SSD that can be an issue, so the only setting I changed was to keep virtual disk to a fixed size.
Tumblr – This is what I host my personal blog on (http://blog.michaelaffronti.com). I switched to this from WordPress about a year ago because I post such a mixed set of content, and the Tumblr interface requires very little work to make all of it look great.
HootSuite – I’ve been reading and sharing tech content with my teams since my first year at Microsoft. It started with the “Neato” newsletter I sent out via email and has continued on for over 11 years. Now I use HootSuite to queue up #neato posts when I do my tech reading (at 4am, that’s another post).
Pocket – Easily the best way to clip articles from the web for reading later. I use the Pocket app to read stuff that I clip when I’m on the subway.
TripIt – I’ve been using TripIt to track my travel since they launched several years ago. I never upgraded to TripIt Pro but the normal feature set is great for me. My experience has gotten even better since I moved to Gmail for personal email since TripIt seamlessly parses and finds my travel docs, eliminating the need to do any forwarding.
YNAB (You Need A Budget) – I learned about this a few months ago and dedicated this winter holiday to taking all of the courses and learning the methodology. I’m a total convert and our house is now YNAB powered. My friend Omar Shahine has a fantastic article on his blog reviewing YNAB – I agree with everything he says about it. 🙂
goo.gl URL Shortener – Stop emailing 1400 character Mixpanel URL’s and get this Chrome extension now.
Like many of us I have lots and lots of apps on my phone. These are the ones that are on my home screen, and a quick blurb about why I like them.
Other Stuff At Work
Standing Desk – I’ve been standing at my desk since 2005. Technically during 2005 I had a physio ball in my office that I would sit on sometimes, but then I ditched it completely when I got one of those fancy motorized standing desks (thank you Microsoft). I cannot advocate enough how much better I feel because of my standing desk, especially when half my day forces me to be sitting in conference rooms for meetings (more so my old job rather than my current one). It’s actually trained me to hate sitting, making me always the guy standing on the subway even though its half empty or pacing in the back of a long meeting because I can’t sit any more. But don’t take my word for it, look at some of the amazing research that shows sitting is killing you.
Oban 14 – My favorite single-malt scotch. I always have a bottle on my desk. So should you
“A definite view, by contrast, favors firm convictions. Instead of pursuing many -sided mediocrity and calling it “well-roundedness,” a definite person determines the one best thing to do and then does it.”
Thiel, Peter; Masters, Blake (2014-09-16). Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future. The Doubleday Religious Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Last week I read Peter Thiel’s book “Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future” (Amazon link). It was a surprisingly easy but very engaging read. It’s sometimes difficult to find inspiration in business books, but Thiel’s background and stories are clear, understandable, and inspiring (at least for me).
Amy and I don’t have kids and neither of us are in school, but I am eternally fascinated by how the U.S. education system is evolving (or not, depending on your perspective), and how it impacts the U.S.’s ability to innovate. Thiel’s hypothesis that our education systems somewhat systematic production of “generalists” feeds our overall corporate and government cultures’ aversion to risk. Having a broad-based education is important to encourage and drive critical thinking, but I wonder if parents (and schools) encourage their students enough to pick one area they love and to go super deep in them, relative to all possible ‘broad’ areas.
I also really enjoyed the depth of his analysis about the cleantech bubble, and how he used it to support his points about building scalable, defensible business that also have a chance to make a lasting, global impact.