• Job Posting requests “sober person”

    We do a lot of research into the job search here at TheLadders (as a matter of fact, we’re the only job company that underwrites research into job search efficacy at American and international universities) .  As part of my look into the history of job search, I set out with my colleagues to find the oldest Help Wanted Ad we could find in the United States.

    Here’s the leading claimant thus far, an ad from the Williamsburg, VA Virginia Gazette of February 24, 1752:

    Transcript: ”A Sober Perfon, well recommended, who hath been us’d to the Employment of an Oyfterman on York River, may meet with good Encouragement, on applying to Benjamin Bryan.”

    In addition to the long s, I love the very, very soft sell of this ad: “may meet with good Encouragement”.  I wonder how much more effective our Job Postings could be if we all used a little more of the “soft touch” in our communications to professionals.

  • How to raise angel money with the ‘send’ button: TheLadders’ $635,000 angel round

    3-18-2011 8-25-00 PM

    There are lucky, fortunate, brilliant people who have the right entrée into the right environs in Silicon Valley who are able to raise angel money by dropping a leetspeak tweet early enough in the morning to close the round that day.  If you are one of those people: congratulations!  There is nothing I can add to your success, and I hope you realize how fortunate you are to live in America in the 21st century.

    But maybe that’s not you, and I certainly know that in the fall of 2003, that wasn’t me.  I wasn’t lucky or fortune or a brilliant seer into the future, and angels were most definitely not beating a path to my door.

    I was a kind of successful loser: I’d managed to avoid a paycheck for a year and a half after helping to sell HotJobs to Yahoo!, and I was hustling to get back into the online recruitment business with an outlandish idea about helping the top ten percent of America get into their next job.  But I wasn’t connected, I wasn’t in Silicon Valley, and I certainly didn’t have the finger-snapping ability to conjure up a million bucks for my curious fantasy.

    But I had a story.

    And the way I raised $635,000 in February of 2004 with my co-founders at TheLadders.com was to share that story — our story — with the right audience.  I’d send emails, like the ones below, to our potential investors weekly — short, sharp, to the point, celebratory emails that shared our passion, our excitement, our challenges and our adventures. And with this approach, we ended up raising more than the half million dollars we’d set out to raise.

    So before telling you how smart and clever we were and how you should be just like us, let me share with you my lack of qualifications: I know nothing about raising angel money, having only done it only once seven years ago, in a business closely related to the industry I’d just exited, from a group mostly composed of financial professionals and attorneys located in Manhattan.

    In other words, the one time I’ve done this right, I was a goofy newbie whose dumb luck overcame not having a whit of experience or street cred.

    But the way to overcome any of our disadvantages in life is to focus not on what you could have if you were somebody else, but on what you do have here and now.  And as an entrepreneur, you have a passion that attracts an audience, you have a story that people love hearing, and you have an opportunity for them to be a part of it without their risking everything by writing a check when you close.

    That’s what we did in the winter of 2004, and how we got to where we are today…

    Get an audience.

    Professional angels like Ron Conway, the Lerer Group, and Dave McClure are wonderful, insightful, clever, successful people, who I would love to work with if I were raising an angel round today.  Part of the fun of having a little success in this business is that you meet the most amazing people who you can’t wait to work with in the future.

    But the super angel community wasn’t as well developed when I was raising money in 2003 and that wasn’t an option for me.

    So you need to realize why angels are investing — for fun, for adventure, for the ability to be close to the fire without getting burned, for the ability have an interesting story to tell at cocktail parties, backyard barbeques, and family get-togethers.

    You need to realize that your investment opportunity is not a judicious choice with prospects for a reasonable return on a sensible investment.  Trying to make your start-up look like a good, safe place for your angels to put their money is ludicrous and counter-productive. If that was the case, they’d invest in Vanguard ETFs.

    Seriously, trying to point out what a great investment your start-up is, is, well, stupid.  It’s not.  It’s  a horrible investment with a 90% chance of failing completely, a 9% chance of returning your investors’ money, and a 1% chance of returning 10x or more.  Those are just the facts, so you really shouldn’t fool yourself or fool others into thinking this is a slam-dunk smart investment.

    No, what you need to realize is that smart, rich people set aside a tiny slice of their net worth to put into crazy ideas like yours, run by crazy people like you.  And you need to find rich people who have enough money in the bank such that $5,000 or $10,000 or $20,0000 isn’t make-or-break for their kid’s college tuition.  Otherwise, you’ll have to add guilt to all the other psychological challenges of being a start-up entrepreneur.

    The reason your audience is thinking about investing in your angel round is that they want a piece of the American dream.  Being a stalwart member of the American upper middle class pays the bills, gets the kids through college and is a lush, luxurious existence compared to just about any other time or place.  It really rocks.

    But it’s also boring.  Being a dentist or an audit partner or a corporate defense attorney is boring, boring, boring, compared to the high adventures you and your co-founders have embarked upon.  Let’s face it, you’re a living, breathing character out of mythology — you’re Jason and the Argonauts, you’re the Knights of the Roundtable, you’re the Old West and the Gold Rush and John Wayne all rolled into one.

    Your day-to-day existence might feel like sheer terror and anxiety and fear of imminent corporate death, but that is exactly why what you are doing is so exciting to people stuck in Dilbertville with their red Swingline staplers… it’s feels like being alive!

    So you need to find an audience of people who you can’t excite with your passion, and then you need to…

    Tell them the story.

    Now in order for a story to be captivating, it needs to have the truth about it.  Nobody wants to read a story or see a movie about cowboys sailing the open seas, or the three musketeers digging for gold.  Similarly, you’re startup story has to make sense, has to be true in the sense that you have a real idea that can help real people in exchange for real money.  You need to have a product or service that is going to change the world, because no amount of story-telling can cover up a bad idea.

    But presuming you have a great idea and great passion about it, the best way to tell your story is to tell it as it happens to you.

    Here’s how I told mine: I sent a weekly email to my audience of potential angel investors – -people I’d met at HotJobs, folks I knew from my brief stint in investing, friends I’d met in the internet business, anybody, really, who I thought could turn into a supporter, or who might know people who could be supporters.

    Here are four examples of my weekly emails to investors.

    You need to share your ongoing progress….

    … really celebrate your wins….

    …let ‘em now that you’re asking for dough soon….

    …and have some dorky fun sharing your adventures, your successes, and your customers’ thoughts….

    …and you need to be brief and exciting (six bullet points is the max!) to catch your audience’s attention during their busy day.

    And if I was doing this today, I’d be sure to include lots and lots of photos.

    And then you need to close your angel round.

    Nobody anywhere, ever, will write you an angel round check until the last possible moment when they absolutely have to sign on the dotted line or miss out forever.  Really.  They’ll indicate and promise and soft-circle and commit and intend, but until it comes down to the cold stark reality that if they don’t sign the check right now, their chance to be a part of the adventure disappears and they won’t have any high stories of adventure to share around the backyard barbeque… until it comes to that moment where not signing is more painful than signing, they absolutely will not actually write you the check.

    At the beginning of January, we picked an arbitrary date – February 23, 2004 –  and told everybody that come heck or high water, that was the date that all the other angels were committing and the door was really, really closing on that date.  It’s the only way to be fair to everybody and to actually get something done.

    So with an audience, our story, and a firm close date, we raised more than we’d intended to and closed our angel round of $635,000 the next day on February 24th, 2004.

    I hope what worked for me works just as well for you!  Now get back to succeeding!

  • A favor to ask

    ** From my weekly newsletter to TheLadders.com subscribers **

    Last week, I took you on a tour of TheLadders headquarters in New York City. Thank you for the thousands and thousands of comments, compliments and questions you sent back. To answer just three: yes, we all work together in an open environment, including the executive team; no, we are not all under 40 years of age (yours truly is on the “graying & distinguished” side of that line); and yes, three monitors really and truly are fantastic (and cheap!)

    So each year, after taking you on a little photographic tour, I ask a favor in return:

    Would you mind sending us a photo of yourself for our walls here at TheLadders headquarters?

    You see, we work all day on the internet, which means we don’t get to see you, our customers, in person. And what with the long hours, heartfelt dedication and total commitment to seeing you land your next gig, it makes an enormous difference to us when we can put a face with the, ummm, email address.

    So I’d like to ask you to do me a favor and send along a high-resolution photo of yourself to photos@theladders.com.

    Each year, about 10,000 subscribers like you send in their photos, and they now grace our walls, hallways and conference rooms. Our favorites have included the Marine in Iraq on a camel, the sportsman with a turkey, the subscriber who crossed the Alps on a bicycle in an eight-stage road race, and the loads and loads of pictures we get of families — at holidays, on vacations, at Opening Day (hint-hint), or just hanging out. Understanding that we are responsible for helping you and your family really hits home with the team here at TheLadders.

    Oh, and please be sure to include a little blurb — your name, hometown, your profession, and how you’re using TheLadders for your career — when you send your pics along to photos@theladders.com.

    We post your pictures along our walls and in our conference rooms to give our people a daily look at the folks we are helping. You can imagine how powerful it is during meetings when our customer is right there in the room with us.

    Please note, we just use these photos here at our headquarters and would never use them in any other way without asking your permission.

    So please send along your high-resolution photo — we print them out at 8″ x 10″ size. It would mean a lot to me and to the team, and we’ll “see” you soon!

  • How to use a camera to generate thousands of leads for your business

    How would you like to spend no money on a marketing program that gets you e-mails like this from real, live, breathing customers?:

    NICE piece! What a great idea to show it how it really is. Your candid photos bring a real homey feel to your network – great job!


    I have to admit that I normally pay little attention to these emails and I am pretty busy today, but this is the best email you have sent. I had no idea that The Ladders has 401 employee. I would have guessed about 50. I started using the site when I was making right at 100K. Several years and two jobs later, I have past that mark and hope to continuously move forward. Thanks for the early break in the day. I enjoyed reading about you company. I assume marketing came up with the idea for the email? It is a good one.



    I enjoyed the photos, that was a great personal touch. I’ve never heard of a
    company doing this, it makes a huge difference. After I send you this email I’ll
    be updating my profile with your company because I just returned from Kuwait
    doing contract work and I’m looking for assistance from a company who seams like
    they do care about the person that they are assisting in their career search.

    Thank you,


    Well, it is remarkably easy — pick up your camera, walk around your workplace, take pictures and then send them to your customers.  And here’s what I really love about it: pixels don’t cost nothing!!

    Too often, you can spend days and nights thinking up great marketing plans that require elaborate and sophisticated practitioners of that art to execute.

    I’m more of a “bang for the buck” kind of guy, and I’ve found that sending out pictures of the people who actually work here at TheLadders, unstaged, unprepped, untouched, is by far the most engaging way to tell our story.

    Now we’ve been fortunate and have built up our customer list to 4.5 mm subscribers over the past 8 years — that’s 27% of our target market, i.e., out of everybody in the United States in our market (earning over $100,000 per year), 27% of them are signed up on our newsletter.

    I’ve always felt that it is important for our newsletter to come “straight from the horse’s mouth” and so I personally write something up each Sunday — a bit of advice, an explanation of how we work, or, as in this case, a behind-the-scenes look at our offices — for sending out to our customers on Monday morning.

    Now I can, and do, use a number of those newsletters to explain how we can help, what we can do, and what our services are.  But a picture is worth a thousand words, and in the case of my newsletter last week, 23 pictures was enough to generate, literally, thousands upon thousands of complimentary emails from our customers. (And of course it is just as inexpensive to receive electrons as it is to send them!)

    All of the product brochures, market segmentation diagrams, and feature lists are important, but they can’t beat smiling, happy employees who enjoy helping your customers as a means of telling your story.   Pick up your camera today and you too can generate great emails from your customers like these:

    Marc: Nice strategy using the photos of the office environment in your
    newsletter. As a marketing guy myself I’ll have to tell you that it did change
    my perception that The Ladders was simply some computer program or just a web
    site..however, I have to admit that I haven’t really studied who you were before
    though either. I like the idea that real people are behind the effort and the
    photos made me much more likely to become a paid subscriber than before.

    I like the idea of an open office environment but wonder if it isn’t too loud
    with no barriers? Not that cubicles are better… maybe everyone is pleased
    with the set-up? If not, I bet there is a way to keep the feeling of openness
    while still providing some privacy. Sure looks like a lot of people in a small
    space. I suppose thats what you have to do with Manhattan office space.



    I am really impressed with ” Behind the Scenes”. It gives me a true visual of your operations. I hope that young lady with the three monitors will have some job offers for me up on the screen instead of the flower screen savers. Thanks for the opportunity to see your crew in action.


    I really enjoyed your captioned/pictorial presentation. Somehow, it was very heartening!



    Love it!!!! your environment is conducive to ‘TEAM’ and production!


    It looks as if it’s a great place to work and grow! Loved the photos… Thanks for sharing….



    This newsletter absolutely enhanced my already good opinion of the ladders. Even though I am not currently in the market for a new position, I will def join the ladders when the time is right.
    Thanks for your very funny, witty and extremely informative newsletters. And Keep up the good work!


    Marc -

    I just wanted to say that it was the neatest thing to see your workplace. I
    had no idea there were so many people in the organization. I think when
    we’re “out here,” the perception of the people “out there” is very nebulous.
    Great to see it in person. Anyway – loved it, loved it, loved it! Thanks!



    Hi Marc,
    It is so cool to see the “people behind the portal”. I can see from the pics
    your team is passionate about what they do! You should be proud to be the
    founder of this great organzation along with the fact that you help so many
    people better their situation.

    Keep up the good work!


    Hello Marc,

    Thank you for the time you spend on these weekly newsletters. They are always positive and well worth reading whether one is looking for a new hire, looking for a position or simply interested in learning more about what’s going on at TheLadders. This week I find myself in-between positions and, as is usually the case with people who find themselves in similar circumstances as I am now, negative emotions have a way of running amok.

    Seeing your newsletter this week and looking at the pictures of your team made me feel less alone in the search for my next opportunity. I must say I actually found myself becoming a little emotional and am grateful to you and your team for sharing these pictures with the rest of us.

    Thank you and your team for what you do and for providing a friendly and professional face to people in transition. When the world shows its difficult side, it’s people such as you and your team that remind us that there is always hope.


    Thank you for putting that personal touch to The Ladders.  Nice to know that we
    are not floundering out there in cyberworld.

    I must say that I truly cannot put a value to what The Ladders offers on a daily
    and weekly basis.  Your information is priceless.  Thank you for all that you

    Kindest regards,




    All of your emails are very very informative but this email was a great!




    Know you’re busy.  Quick note: Well done on today’s newsletter.  Excellent marketing & branding on behalf of The Ladders.  I respect that.



    You probably get a lot of these (and I don’t do this very often) but I just wanted to say thank you for this email. It was fantastic to see these images, to see real people behind this – looks like smart, dedicated people, and a LOT of people, too. The fifth pic down “…hundreds of people” really impressed me. I haven’t used the site as much as I would like, but will now. Just knowing that there are so many of you guys standing behind this is very reassuring.

    Thank you, definitely a breath of fresh air from all the spam and other emails I get. Glad I opened this one. BIG BIG kudos to marketing (or who ever had this idea).



    Nice touch — gritty and moving.

    Best Regards,


    Marc -

    Excellent! The pictures show you’re a real company (in this age of folks
    sending out stuff from their mother’s basement). I’m impressed . . . and
    will pay more attention to your missives from now on!


    Marc – this is THE BEST EMAIL you have ever written and probably one of the tops I have ever received!

    Great job personalizing your company!!



    The best newsletter ever! Great work!

    I want to work where you work.


    Usually I hate email ~ especially from job search companies ~ reason being they are all huge on potential and short on delivery.
    I found this last email personal and a great way to promote your business.  It was truly out of the box, I imagine your business will pickup even more.
    So, I am still in job hunt mode, if you have anything solid out in [my city], I’ll be looking.
    Best Regards,


    this was the most fun stuff in months! congrats on your great staff of happy lookin workers!

    This is your best email ever!

    Marc, thank you for taking the time to show the many faces that make The Ladders work. It is always exciting to see the people behind the website that make it all happen.

    peace and Prosperity,



    Good Morning, Marc…

    I imagine this newsletter with the attached photos will
    generate LOTS of replies. Love the photos of everyone…
    This is among, if not THE best newsletter you have sent out.

    Thank you for sharing!!!!!!



    Hi Marc,
    Thanks for sharing the pictures of your team!What you are doing is truly amazing, considering the nerve-racking competitiveness of the recruiting industry.
    All the very best to you!

    Best regards,




    Thank you for all the pix. They looked very family oriented. This is what many companies lack, at least the last employer I had. I felt like I was being fired from my position, when I was laid-off. I was the worst feeling I experienced. I like that your team members all seem to have smiles on their face. I hope to find a company that respects their employees and treats them as you do.

    Many thanks,




    Very smart newsletter business-wise…

    Understanding the mindset of a typical job seeker who has no idea who or what is
    behind the emails they get showing potential jobs out there, (Monster, hotjobs,
    etc.) is very smart. It distinguishes you and buys you massive amounts of
    credibility. At least that is what it did for me today. Having an
    understanding that all us poor schmucks are out there simply staring
    at our in boxes every day seeing the same old job-finder sites populating our

    Showing the vast amount of employees, then individuals, then departments and
    even the general ‘un-gorgeous’ nature of the office area makes the ladders be
    understood by the reader to be a physical, actual, ‘we really exist and are
    working for you’ image.


    Marc and company-
    This is a fantastic email. I’m not in the market for a job but was drawn in by the subject (kudos to your DM team). I’m a big believer in and promoter of team based planning and execution. This is part of what makes National Instruments great and it pumps me up to see you guys enjoying the same success. When you help people find the right job you create real value- value for the employee and the employers. What a great mission!

    Thank you




    Thanks for the backstage tour – what a great way to get to know TheLadders

    I landed a new job back in November, and almost doubled my salary, thanks to
    all of the helpful articles on your website.

    I still enjoy receiving your newsletters to help stay on top of my game.



    Ok, that’s all I got for this one.  Let me know in the comments how it works for you!

  • Quibbles & Bits

    Awesome awesome infographic (if you are a geek) , Google’s Collateral Damage.

    I want to work in this building. Badly.

    Downside of being President? “I’m getting on the plane now” isn’t an excuse to ditch work and turn on Glee.

    “Just remember, it’s never to late to change tables, and it’s never too late to ask if you’re playing the right game.”

    Celebrate Earth Hour by turning on the lights: “I’m celebrating man’s emergence from darkness.

  • What’s the most powerful question I can ask my boss?

    Whether you’re speaking with your current boss in your annual review or your future boss in an interview, there is one very powerful question that will help you set yourself apart, make your boss feel grateful for your being around, and set you up for success over the coming year.

    The question?

    Ask your boss: “How can I help you get a gold star on your review next year?”

    I’ve been testing this question with the 4.5 mm subscribers to my weekly newsletter for high-end professionals over the last two years. Time and time again, these super-powered professionals come back and let me know just how much of an impact this question has on their career. Here’s one:

    Here’s another:

    I actually just tried it during a phone interview with an internal audit director and it really caught him off guard in the best sense possible. After taking a few seconds to gather his thoughts, he actually came out and said that it’s the first time in his career someone brought a question to the interview that went in the direction of what can a person do for the department rather than what can the department do for them.

    Why is this question so powerful? Why does it cause people in power to look at you in a new light?

    The goal in any human organization is to make your boss successful. That’s how she or he gets promoted, that’s how you get rewards, that’s how you know that you’re doing the right thing in your organization.

    So by asking this question, you will learn how to help your boss be successful, which means that you’ll be clued in to what’s top on their agenda.  And when you make sure that you’re pulling in the right direction, that means the organization is going to see you as an especially valuable asset to its success.

    Bosses are human. OK, not always, but most of the time.  And just like any human being going through the rat race we call “employment” it can be a tiring, exhausting, nerve-wracking mess.

    By showing that you’re here to help out, not just help yourself, you’re changing how you’re viewed from being just another mouth to feed to being somebody whose goals and motivations are aligned with theirs. You’re setting yourself apart as somebody who will balance their own needs with the needs of others. And you’re showing that you’re committed to making your boss successful.  Who doesn’t like that on their team?

    You’re showing empathy. As Mary Kay Ash, the founder of Mary Kay cosmetics said:

    “Pretend that every single person you meet has a sign around his or her neck that says, ‘Make me feel important. Not only will you succeed in sales, you will succeed in life.”

    Just the mere fact that you are polite and considerate enough to ask this question shows that you have empathy for your boss and his or her situation; that you think their concerns are important.  And that is a great way to build a relationship.

    Good luck with this powerful question, and let me know how it goes in the comments!

  • Quibbles & Bits

    How to write great recruitment advertising in one example.

    Confucius, squashed.

    What personality types are more likely to stay unemployed?

    Involve your CEO in closing important hires.

    Did Fred Smith, the founder of FederalExpress really make payroll one time by taking his remaining cash to Vegas and playing blackjack?

  • How to persuade your MBA boss to buy you more monitors

    21st century work is thinking work.  Actually, to be more precise, it is typing and talking work.  20th century work was metal-bending, lathe-operating, furnace-stoking and plastics-extruding work, but 21st century work is typing and talking work.

    So, properly understood, the job of your CEO and managers is to help you type and talk better and better and better.

    There are a variety of ways to accomplish this: with formal training, with an informal environment that makes you more creative, by feeding and beverage-ing you so you’re never distracted by those needs, and so on.  But I can’t think of a bigger bang for the buck than buying you as many monitors as you can possibly use.

    When I shared pictures of our office space this week with the four-and-a-half million people that get my weekly newsletter, I got a lot of comments: on the open space, on the smiling people, on how young everybody looked, but especially on the number of monitors on each persons’ desk.

    At TheLadders, we started off with one, then two, and now three monitors as our standard setup for many of our staff.  (You’ll notice that some people have their monitors “turned up” into portrait mode – that makes it easier for them to work on resumes, which are portrait mode documents.  It is important to match the tool to the task.)

    And now, for some of our folks, we have the type of crazy setups that you’ll see on Wall Street trading floors.  I mentioned it in a comment of Fred Wilson’s blog and he’d said he liked to see it, so here it is:

    TheLadders Work Station

    It’s actually 8 desk monitors, a laptop and an iPad all wired together for one of our database people.

    I am incredibly passionate about the tools that we provide to our people to help them type and talk better — I may even be too passionate. In order to help people find their personal productivity peak, I once bought one copy of every style of mouse on Amazon, including some very strange ones like this Kensington Expert Mouse Optical USB Trackball for everybody to test out and figure out which one they liked best.  Like most social engineering experiments, it failed and people tended to stick with the basics.

    But for monitors, two or three are such a quantum leap better than one, that I can’t believe any corporation doing the math would come to the conclusion that one monitor is optimal for human productivity and happiness.

    In addition to being very conducive to a productive and happy office environment in the 21st century, a lot of monitors for each person makes sense financially.  In explaining this to your MBA boss, the important thing is to focus on “how much more productive would I have to be in order for the additional cost of more monitors to be break-even?”

    My personal experience, and I think the personal experience of many of the people at TheLadders, would be that two or three monitors easily makes you 10, 20 or 30% more productive — you can have multiple screens open, you don’t need to keep information in your head as you switch between programs, you can view the entire problem at once, etc.  [Actually, I am going to ask TheLadders’ employees to comment here with their viewpoint on how much more productive multiple screens makes them.]

    For the sake of argument, let’s look at somebody making $50,000 per year in salary and bonus — for people making more, the case is obviously stronger and stronger. “Fully loaded” considering rent, utilities, etc., overhead might be 20% of base cost, so let’s call it $60,000 all in.

    We’ve standardized on this HP 20-Inch Diagonal LCD Monitor, which now goes for $99 on Amazon.  I actually just found this out last night when I asked our Operations person to fill me in on the current economics, and I was flabbergasted.  When we originally started doing this, each additional monitor was $250 or more.  I’m stunned that it is now that cheap.

    So as our operations guy says: “Buy 3 and string them together with a $100 quad-head graphics card as TLC does, and you have a total 60” monitor for $397 when a single 32” costs $1,200.”

    Because you need to have at least one monitor anyway, the incremental cost for the two additional monitors and the card is $298.  As this setup will be good for three years, your “per year” cost is $99.33.  How much more productive would you need to be in order for this to make sense economically?

    The answer for your MBA boss is: in order for it to make sense economically for me to have a three monitor setup, it would have to make me 0.17% more productive per year.

    It’s a pretty easy argument to make, and win.  I will personally swear up and down that it makes me at least 10% more productive (and if I had to honestly guess, I think I’d say high teens).

    Oh, and one more thing — it’s not all upside with the multiple monitors at work.  Your home setup, with just one monitor, will never feel right again. : )

    OK, let me know how the conversation goes with your boss in the comments section!

    UPDATE 1: gbattle in the comments point to this 2003 Microsoft Research showing a 9 to 50% improvement in productivity with multiple monitors.  That means your boss is wasting at least $5,000 per year by not buying you multiple monitors!

  • The Chicken Itch

    Untitled Image 1

    You’ve awoken from a dream. It all seemed so real – the joy, the success, the elation of accomplishment.  They’d strewn your name in ribbons across the sky, carved multi-colored tattoos in your image, renamed August in your honor, soothed infants by cooing your name.

    It all seemed so real. So very, very real.

    You saw a different future: the future as it might be, the future that only you can create. A future that hides in the holds of your head, shines like the bright sun reflected on glass, peeks from behind your pupils.  It is the future-dream that encompasses everything you ever wanted to do, everything that is inside of you, and everything that you will ever be.

    And it was beautiful.

    You also dreamed of fear: fear like a serpent, clinging around your spine, twisting at the desiccated emptiness inside of you; the blood gurgling in your ears, every pulse a footfall closer to your finish; a fear that doesn’t so much make it impossible to open or close your eyes, as it sucks them shut from the inside.

    Everything you ever had – and the only thing you’ve ever truly known is you – and you’ve wasted it all.  Spent it on a spam hallucination of grandeur; lost it to the false joker god of ambition; pissed it away on the purchase of a totem of pride.

    You were tiny, alone, and afraid.

    And you loved it.

    You know now that the dream requires the fear; that the victory is compiled from the defeat; that the redemption in fact comes from the failure.

    You know that the dream is beautiful and you want it more than anything that has ever been born or bred or believed inside of you.

    Your goal is to achieve that dream.

    If you are an entrepreneur; if you see futures; if creation is your calling…

    Your goal is to achieve that dream.

    You won’t be alone.

    Your enemies will be there — they are time, money, competitors and apathy.

    Your friend is you.

    The fight is lopsided, unfair, cruel, but you keep thinking back to that beautiful dream……

    To dream, you’ll need to understand what you must do.  Yes, of course, you must do “everything”, but I would make a distinction between the Tasks and the Tack — the actions required for success on the one hand, and the destination of your dream on the other.  They seem similar in the roasting forge of Start-Up Land, but separating the two and understanding their differences is important to your success.

    The Tasks are all the little bits of the business that are required for its development, but for which you lack the proper staff, time, money or capabilities.

    Your Tack is your direction.  Based on your understanding and comprehension of the marketplace, where will you go?

    Tasks are comprised of the basics — marketing, operations, sales, technology, maintenance, design, customer service.

    You will only have you at the beginning to handle all of these things. (Over time, your business will grow to be dozens, then hundreds, then thousands of employees, and you’ll marvel at how such small functions blossom into full-time staffs — International tax compliance auditor?  Real estate lease manager?)

    But, at the beginning, there’s only you.  And you’ll be utterly inept, incompetent, insecure, and incapable of doing any of these things.  You may think that your prior work experience has prepared you, but it hasn’t.  Unless you’ve dreamed before, anything you’ve ever done as an employee, a student, a partner, a consultant, a leader, a soldier, is not like this at all.

    And that’s because there’s nobody there to tell you.  Nobody to tell you how to do it, whether you should do it, if doing it is important.  And even when you know you should do it, there’s nobody there to tell you in what order, to what degree, and with what intensity.

    Because of this, dreamers improvise.  When it comes to Tasks, you can, should and must fake it.  You don’t have the cash, clout, credibility, or consultants to help you.  Zeal must see you through.

    You’ll need to design your own site (worked for Google!), write your own copy, craft your own marketing, do your own sales calls, answer your own phones.  Because it is just you at the beginning, it is up to you to do all of the Tasks on your own.

    Now… when you have some success, you’ll get to hire people who can alleviate your company of your incompetence.  In one area anyway.  And now that that function is temporarily better-staffed, you’ll need to go be incompetent in another spot.  Not because you’re useless, but precisely because your usefulness is in the place that the company doesn’t have resources yet, the place where a dreamer can be as valuable as an expert because the dream hasn’t been invented yet.

    Tasks are required, incremental to your success, and learned.

    Tack, by contrast, is your direction; the vision that you have for your start-up.

    It must not be faked, it can not be outsourced, and it must be earned.

    Given that there are 6 million businesses in the United States successful enough to have employees, you can not simply show up on the scene and hope to make stuff up.  You need to have a reason to exist, a reason why you’re doing something those other 6 million businesses can’t. In the case of Tack, desire isn’t enough, there needs to be a compelling, well thought-out  purpose to your dream.

    So Tack is the answer to the question “what is your unfair advantage?”

    For a small retailer, it might be “there’s not been this level of selection and service before.”

    For a franchisee, it might be “there’s never been a Pinkberry on this corner.”

    For a services firm, it might be “we apply our expertise to the burgeoning industry of _____”

    And for your internet start-up, your answer is most likely going to be “our customers don’t realize they have this problem yet, and we will surprise them with what our solution can do.”

    So Tack is your unfair advantage, it’s your vig, your vision.  Entrepreneurship is not about taking risks, it’s about understanding them better than anyone else and only choosing the most rewarding ones — it’s risk arbitrage.

    Your Tack is your dream, and it can only come from inside of you. And just like your dreams at night, your dreams during the daytime come from who you have made yourself to be.  The hours and the days and the years on the hard bench, stuck in the middle seat, slouched over yet another dinner delivered to your desk while you’re listening, listening, listening to customers and suppliers and the marketplace.

    To dream, you need to know the marketplace like you know a lover, a spouse, a child, compelled by a deep hunger to know its ways; learning its expressions and knowing when they’re saying one thing but meaning another.  Watching it while it sleeps, understanding that when the market rustles, you’ll know in your heart of hearts that it wants more.

    And you probably have something else inside of you, too.

    In my East Asian trading days, I learned a saying that: “In Japan, everybody wants to be the tail of the dragon; in Taiwan, everybody wants to be the head of the chicken.”  It’s one of the few cross-cultural comparisons I’ve ever heard quoted by both sides approvingly, with an air of obvious superiority.

    So there’s something inside of you that wants to be the head of the chicken. You’d probably like to make it a big huge chicken. (Did you know that chickens are actually dinosaurs that made it through the extinction? Find your niche, baby!)

    That’s good, poultry ambition is good.  You’re going to need it.

    As for me, I, too, had the chicken itch.

    I’d joined HotJobs.com in April 2000 and helped sell the company to Yahoo! in February 2002 for $436 mm. And Yahoo!, being three thousand employees at the time, was too large a dragon for me.

    So I tried, and failed, at ventures… nothing ventures with nothing gained from them.

    I tried to raise money to buy Dice.com, I consulted and tried to raise money for an hourly job board start-up (damn clever idea — apply by phone!), I tried to find a way, an angle, into any of the internet, or recruitment, or internet recruitment businesses that I found fascinating, compelling, haunting.

    Now I didn’t set out to go two years without a paycheck, to find myself cashing my last unemployment check, to be feeding myself by day-trading options (month-trading, really, but that’s another post), to have ice cubes of fear scratching through my veins as I set out for my b-school’s fifth reunion unemployed, unpaid, undone.

    I didn’t set out to… but there I was.

    And I guess the advice I’d have for dreamers is that regardless of your situation, if you intend to dream, there is one thing you must invest in.


    (Or Venti Lattes, or green tea, or whatever your social drink just so happens to be.)

    I was fortunate enough to have met three of the best dreamers I’ve met in my life at HotJobs, and talking about dreaming with them over Guinness was the heady stuff that keeps you believing that it is not a setting sun, it’s just rising someplace else in the world right now, and your turn is coming.

    And, eventually, after a series of bad ideas, after a progression of failures, after watching the marketplace while it slept and guessing, guessing at what it meant, I hit upon a good idea.  Perhaps a great one.  Perhaps something that could help the customers who didn’t know they needed it yet. Maybe something that could change the world.

    I was alive, incandescent, glowing.

    And I was incompetent at everything I needed to be successful.

    But I wasn’t going to be stopped.

    I bought FrontPage from Microsoft, Dreamweaver for Dummies, and a slice of a shared sever in Jersey; anything, anything, so I could try to get “it” live: a site, a demo… hell, even brochureware would’ve been a good start.

    But it was useless and impossible. FrontPage wouldn’t make any pages, front or back, Dreamweaver…. didn’t, and a slice of Jersey isn’t enough to build a business on unless you’re a reality TV show.  I grew frustrated. This stuff wasn’t designed to help entrepreneurs like me get off the ground, it was window dressing, it was candy, it was fluff.

    So I went out and I talked to a bunch of developers.

    I told them about the dream, I told them about the future, I told them about the celebrations and songs and victories and beauty that were just over the hill.  I told them everything — truthfully, urgently, desperately.

    But they didn’t understand the dream.

    They thought about it a few days and came back to tell me it would take three months and $30,000 to build a prototype.

    And I didn’t want to wait, and I didn’t want to pay, and I didn’t know how the dream was going to be helped by a “prototype” (which, I suspected, when loosely translated from the technical jargon meant “hey, it worked during the meeting!”)

    But the dream had burned itself to the inside of my eyeballs.

    So I went to the Barnes & Noble in Union Square, Manhattan and bought the books that would teach me to dream in code.  I bought the whole collection: MySQL Cookbook, PHP Functions, MySQL and PHP for Dummies, and what turned out to be my core curriculum and my saving grace: “MySQL and PHP for Web Development” (you can’t hear it right now, but every time I read those words angels in heaven sing to me.)

    Now let me tell you what those days and nights were like.

    With a beach chair I’d bought at JazzFest, I’d prop the book on one knee and the keyboard on the other in my East Village apartment.  There was no night, there was no day.  I’d fall asleep reading in Tompkins Square Park, gulp down functions over soba at Sobaya, wander 3 a.m. streets to clear my head and go back for more.

    Need to figure out how to build an email system?  That’s Chapter 29!

    Code not doing what you need it to do?  Google the text of the error message!

    Unsure if the public site works? Call the cousins!

    Three weeks of fever, fever, fever, and I’d taught myself to code, wrought my dream from bits, and pushed the button to make the site live.

    Now when you take a look at the site I built in those three weeks of August 2003, you will find it easy to believe that I did it all by myself.

    But the important thing was that it was live! and once something is live it can get better.

    And living is the second most important thing for your dream, your Tack, your vision.

    Living can only occur when all of the Tasks — those discrete bits of work that need to be done so that you start-up can, well, start — are brought into being in the early days with nothing but your spirit and zeal and energy and Yankee ingenuity and Zen intensity and passion and desire. Nothing will conquer the Tasks like you on fire.

    But the most important thing for your Tack is that it be True.

    That it will mean something to the customers, that it will create the future you dreamed of, that it will make the days brighter, cars faster, TVs bigger, friendships better, abs tighter, and games more addictive than those damn Angry Birds and ‘Villes.

    That it will change the world.

    If your dream is a good one, if you’ve done the night-watching of your marketplace, if you’ve listened correctly, if you have destiny, if you’ve earned your place at the customer’s table, then the heaven-singing angels and the check-signing angels will be your boon companions.

    And you will find your way through.

    If… your dream is a good one.

  • The Helpdesk Corollary

    The “Helpdesk Corollary” to Murphy’s Law: “If only one user is still having trouble with the upgrade, that user will be the CEO.”