As I mentioned in my last post, I recently took my first couple Uber rides in D.C. and just wanted to touch on the experience briefly. Earlier today, Arpan Punyani posted about his recent experience of great customer experience resulting from a failed attempt to use Uber and in turn reminded me to post about how great the experience is when all goes to plan as well.
My first ride came at 2 a.m. in an unfamiliar city and when I needed to get back to my hotel to grab my bags before going to the train station for a 3 a.m. train. I was with locals who offered to try to find a number for a cab and call, but everyone was at best a little tipsy and it seemed like a perfect opportunity to show off and test out this cool little app. Within a minute I knew a car was on the way and in less than ten minutes I had a driver calling to make sure he was in the right place when I lingered inside with my friends a little too long. From there it only got easier as Yassir was a great guy and we discussed how Uber was helping his business, how it worked from his point of view, how the Valentine’s Day rose promo worked (spoiler: drivers were sent a message that they could pick up roses for free at a certain location to give out to Uber customers) and then before I knew it I was at my hotel, the bill was all paid without me having to do anything, Yassir rated me 5 stars on my first ride (a rating I enthusiastically gave him as well) and we even talked for another minute since the conversation was so great and he was so excited about Uber. A few minutes later my second ride to the train station was just as easy and just as smooth and while the driver was not quite as amazing , he was undoubtedly professional and polite.
Overall it was just exciting and a lot of fun. The novelty may wear off, but I suspect the level of service and ease of use will only improve over time because you can tell Uber is a company that cares about both its drivers and its passengers. There’s the Valentine’s Day promo I mentioned, Arpan’s experience, the email you get after your first ride from a community manager and that fun little rating system I mentioned as well. In both my experiences the drivers really seemed to enjoy the rating system in particular. They told me they gave me 5 stars and asked me to rate them (and hopefully give 5 stars!) as well. These ratings aren’t just a fun little end to the ride, but also clearly let Uber know if any of their drivers or customers are unhappy and to respond accordingly. Based on the type of customer service Arpan received, I’m sure responses to any poor ratings come quickly, and with a sincere desire to right any wrongs and learn from the experience. When it works well it’s really just a great app…simple UI, great UX (on the app and in real life), a little gamification element, and all backed up with awesome and personal customer service.
Just as a slight counterpoint though, I’m not as convinced of Uber’s value add in New York as I am in pretty much any other market. At least in Manhattan, there are just so many cars all over the place at all times that it’s much more rare that you’d think you need to order a car 10 minutes in advance and not just be able to find one in that time. Maybe more importantly, there’s really less incentive for drivers to join up since they rarely have to wait very long to find a new customer just by driving along a busy street. I’m sure it’ll work eventually, and I know Uber is pushing hard to make this work in NY but it’s gonna take some time to gain enough drivers and in turn be able to provide enough utility for riders so they don’t end up having to wait too long like Arpan would have if he stuck with Uber. That’s basically the story I got from another really great and intelligent NY livery cab driver I had just a few days before my rides in DC. The NY driver found me looking for a cab on the street during a rush hour drizzle (one of those times you might actually order a car 10 minutes out in NY), so no Uber this time. The immediate downside of not being an Uber ride is that I immediately had to ensure he was ok with me using a credit card since I had no cash at the time, but luckily this driver was unfazed…and surprisingly so if you’ve ever had this experience with a livery cab. Anyway, we talked about Uber and he basically said he tried it briefly, but found it just wasn’t worth it for him when he could find people so easily without it and that people in NY had been disappointed because it often took more than ten minutes for an Uber car to arrive in NY. When I arrived at my destination, to my surprise my driver pulled out an iPad equipped with Square and took the easiest credit card payment I’d ever had in a black car up to that point (with Uber beating it a couple days later by taking the credit card out of the equation entirely). In many ways this guy would be an ideal Uber driver: tech savvy, intelligent, polite and engaging…but even he wasn’t sold yet. So we’ll see what happens, but I definitely wish the NY team the best of luck and hope to see the service grow enough for me to take advantage on my next visit!
The tag line of this blog says it’s about finding a job, so I wanted to talk a bit about one of the main things that always comes up when looking at job listings or during an interview: experience. I’m very picky with jobs I’d want and jobs I apply for, and to be honest in most cases where I do apply from a job listing I don’t necessarily meet the exact experience “requirements” set out in the listing. I don’t apply to these positions to be obnoxious and waste people’s time, but only if/when I actually believe I can do the job well and be an effective member of the company’s team, but if you’re using a search firm…yeah, I’m probably headed to the junk pile. And for the record it’s not always that I don’t have enough or the “right” experience, I’ve been told that I’m overqualified for more than one position I thought might have been a good fit.
If you look at my resume I’ve been a corporate lawyer and done business development for a restaurant consulting firm, among other things, but that’s just the basics so here’s some of what I’ve learned from my work experience that I think applies globally…
At its core, it’s always about the people. I’ve always been very good friends with co-workers, even if the job itself wasn’t to my liking and I think that’s important. Some of my best friends today are people I met at my former law firm. When I’ve been the one making hiring decisions, or just deciding what job to take, my first question is always whether I want to spend a lot of hours in close contact with these people. Sense of humor, thoughtfulness, intelligence, politeness, comraderie…these are all important to the success of any workplace.
On the bad side I’ve also had the experience of losing trust in a business partner to the point that I felt compelled to leave a company I had sacrificed a lot for. There’s no way to completely avoid what you call co-founder risk/issues in the startup world, but I can tell you that my experience is part of the reason I’m now so picky about who I work with and a big part of the reason I will always strive to be open and honest with everyone I work with.
And it’s not just about employees or co-founders, but also other companies or contractors you work with. If you’re doing BD you can’t think any deal is a good deal. The right partners mean everything and are the key to success.
Obviously this is related to having great people, but culture comes from the top down. There were tons of people I loved at my law firm, but the culture…not so much. And for a startup especially, it’s not just about having a cool loft with a foosball table, it’s about founders who set the right example. If the people at the top aren’t working hard, aren’t open to new opinions, don’t give feedback, don’t care about their employees lives (or even think of them as employees more than colleagues, partners, teammates, friends) and don’t hold themselves to the same standards as everyone else, then your culture suffers and your company probably isn’t somewhere I want to work.
I’ve had experiences with a business partner who wasn’t putting in the effort others were, and it led to a loss of respect across the company. I’ve worked at a big firm where the top people didn’t show any empathy or interest in the lives of the more junior employees and it hurt morale, lead people to quit and reduced efficiency and creativity. People expect to work hard, but if they have to work hard and aren’t respected for it or don’t respect people above them it just doesn’t work.
What you need is to strive for a meritocracy as Shopify’s Harley Finkelstein put it in a great post for Fast Company. And you need to help people understand your company, your vision and your journey like the guys from Warby Parker explained in a recent interview with TechCrunch. Follow the lead of Warby Parker and don’t just give new hires a 100 page manual and a branded t-shirt and send them to work, but give them training, show them what makes you unique, give them something fun and/or interesting that helps them understand your company better and feel like a part of your family from the start. You need to create an environment where dialogue is open, feedback is given regularly and not just in some formal annual review, outside interests are encouraged and where everyone feels a part of a team with the same goals in mind. If you allow people to live and learn and bring their personality and experiences to the workplace, you foster innovation, you learn from others and you end up with a better result than you could have imagined on your own. And yes some of this just sounds like corny new-age workplace hippie culture speak or whatever you want to call it, but the point is that in my experience (and that’s what this post is purportedly about) the old school approach of having junior people who work hard and never speak unless spoken to, where seniority rules and with a formal annual review that doesn’t really tell you anything just isn’t good enough, not even if you pay people enough that you think they should put up with it. It sucks for them and maybe more importantly, it’s shitty business for you too.
Obviously relevant past experience is helpful. When I helped open a new restaurant I wanted experienced servers for example. But we also focused on personality and the culture we wanted to create and hired one person with no experience because he was passionate and proved he wanted to learn. Within a week he was one of our best guys because he gave a shit. He was grateful for the chance, worked his ass off and made himself into a star. I like to think I can do the same at any job I might take. I’ve always been a quick learner, I’m smart, as I said I’ll only take a job if I feel like the people and culture are a good fit and if I’m passionate about helping the company achieve its goals. Experience can be great, and I think my experiences of working with C-level people at huge companies and banks, as well as with managing others in a small business and jumping in on everything from dishwashing, to social media management, menu planning, staff training, contracts, finances, etc. help me deal with any situation I find myself in, even if I might not have “2-4 years prior experience in a consumer facing technology company” or whatever other nonsense you dreamed up for your job listing. You need some people with that prior experience, but you also need people who are just plain smart, dedicated and who bring a different viewpoint that adds diversity and leads to innovative solutions.
So yeah, I don’t blame companies looking for a specific set of prior experiences but any place I’d want to work would I think also be open to going outside that comfort zone and finding someone with the mindset, interests, skills, passion, and yes, experiences, that can add significant value to their company. My work and life experiences have taught me the value of being open in that way and have lead me to seek out the experience of working with likeminded people and companies. And now I’m tired of writing experience so much, but hope that made some sense. Let me know…
I’ve mentioned before that I was planning to go to Montreal Startup Weekend, but it’s going on now and sadly I’m not there. I bought my ticket early, I spent sleepless nights thinking of ideas to pitch, I read all kinds of advice on how to get the most out of the weekend…I really wanted to go. So why didn’t I?
The main reason is that I’m sick. Apparently hanging out in hospitals and air travel catches up to you or something… I had been sick since Wednesday or Thursday and woke up Friday feeling much the same: congested, unable to breathe, headache, looking like death, etc. I had an a.m. meeting with Ian Jeffrey of the awesome Montreal startup accelerator FounderFuel at Notman House so I medicated and actually managed to feel kind of ok for a bit, but when I got home and the meds wore off I felt worse than ever and the next batch of meds weren’t much help. I tried and hoped to still make it and took a shower around 5 with hopes of feeling refreshed,but it just wasn’t to be.
I just couldn’t imagine going through something as intense as Startup Weekend feeling like this and going through a box of tissues an hour (word of advice: buy stock in Kleenex, Scotties, etc. Monday), let alone pitching an idea in front of 200 people with limited breathing capabilities. Working long hours with new people and going out and testing/validating hypotheses in this state would be near impossible. Maybe more importantly, Startup Weekend is largely about networking and I don’t think looking like death and getting people sick is the best first impression. On top of it all, I was pretty sure I’d have to leave for a couple hours on Saturday for personal reasons which also was far from ideal, especially if I ended up pitching and leading a team.
So, it sucks, but I’m not there… Despite a hectic week I did take the time to work on some pitches, create quick and dirty graphics and landing pages (I’ve now worked with both LaunchRock and Unbounce, both great products) and read all kinds of advice about Startup Weekends. Some might see all that as a loss, but I really don’t. Thinking through short pitches, elevator pitches by any other name, for some of my ideas certainly isn’t only valuable for Startup Weekend, nor is working on branding and landing pages and securing domains, twitter accounts, etc. Even the advice about Startup Weekends is valuable even if I never attend one (though I definitely still hope to do so ASAP): advice on how to work with strangers, create a minimum viable product and be as efficient as possible is clearly valuable in any context.
I have to go for now, but good luck to all who are at the event! From following along a bit on twitter it seems like there are some great ideas and great energy there as expected. And if anyone wants to pivot to some sort of app that helps people with sinus colds/flu let me know if I can help out with market testing (hopefully I won’t need to use the app for shortest ER wait that I see one team is working on though)…
- Stop Thinking… (thisisnotajob.com)
No, this isn’t going to be a post saying you (or I) need to stop thinking about doing something and just fucking do it already. If that’s what you’re looking for, there are plenty of those out there and as usual Mark Suster’s is one of the best. No, I really just want to be able to stop thinking sometimes. Switch it off, go to sleep and dream pointless dreams. Instead, I’m left lying in bed each night awake with my thoughts of startup ideas, company names, landing pages, useful features, blog posts, job search ideas and eventually, though never before 3 am, non-sensible half dream, half awake plans and ideas.
Often this time late at night is when I have my best and most creative ideas that hopefully get added to the notes app in my phone, but it also leaves me stressed and tired every morning and I can’t help but think it’s not really the best way to work. So I started thinking about some possible solutions to make me more productive during the day and at night if need be…
1. Ambien. I know people who swear by it, but developing a dependency on drugs isn’t really my style. Also I don’t like swallowing pills. Don’t make fun of me.
2. Have a drink before bed. A partner at my law firm once advised us to do this if we couldn’t get work out of our heads when we got home. Of course if you got drunk or fell asleep and then he wrote you an email at 3 am and you didn’t respond right away he’d be angry, so he was a bit crazy. Nevertheless, while drinking is more my style…still doesn’t seem like a great plan.
3. Schedule some time during the day to disconnect and brainstorm. The real reason I think I end up doing so much thinking when I go to bed is that it’s generally the first time all day I’ve gotten away from email, twitter, phone calls, texts, blogs, podcasts, etc. This is less fun than drinking, but I think it’s what I need to do. So from now on I’m going to try to schedule some disconnected quiet brainstorming time each day: just me and a notepad or whiteboard. If you need me then and it’s not an absolute emergency, too bad. I promise I’ll have better ideas and clarity of mind for you when I reconnect if I stick to this.
4. JFDI. Ok, I know I said I wouldn’t but I guess I could also just take one of the ideas and just try to do it. Start a startup. And then I’d be up all night working anyway, so the problem would kind of be gone.
For now I’m going with number 3, but I won’t be surprised if it leads to number 4 since I expect to be more productive and have better plans and ideas as a result.
Some other semi-related thoughts… This blog is supposed to be about finding a job, so I’ll quickly say that I’ve had some interesting and productive conversations that may lead to something on that front. At the same time, the more I think, the more entrepreneurial I’m feeling. I wanted to get experience in startup first and still think that would be ideal and allow me to meet a lot of useful people while gaining skills and experience, but sometimes things aren’t perfect… I’m also planning to participate and possibly pitch for Montreal Startup Weekend the first weekend of February. Thinking about possibly pitching and trying to lead a team there is, as you might have expected, one of those things that I think about late at night. If you’re in Montreal, I hope you’ll sign up too, I’m excited to work with others to build something in such a short time!
Until now I’ve been looking for five different types of jobs in four different cities, all at once. I’ve been considering law firm jobs in San Francisco and Denver, in house legal jobs in New York, San Francisco and beyond, startup jobs anywhere, etc., etc. It’s been unfocused and a waste of time. I knew what I wanted to do, I just didn’t want to come out of my comfort zone, ignore all the random and generally useless suggestions from relatives (more on that in future posts entitled “Advice from Grandma”) and focus on making this happen.
First things first, what I want to do is work with a tech startup. In my last job I ended up reading a lot about social media and mobile technology and how they could be leveraged both to market our boutique hospitality consulting company and to help our clients (restaurants and bars) grow their businesses. This eventually lead to a great interest in technology and the startup community. In my first post I talked a bit about how the experience of working at a large law firm was uninspiring and unrewarding. The tech startup community, however, leaves me with completely the opposite feeling and that’s something I know I want to be a part of.
So if you’re a founder or an emerging startup team, I want to work with you. I don’t have a technical background beyond some time spent on Codeacademy, Try Ruby and the like, but I think I can bring something really valuable to your team. If your best skill is coding (or design, UI, UX, whatever), then coding is the best use of your time right now. I want to help you focus on what’s important. My skills are in the legal world, the business/finance world and in BD and that’s where I want to help you. Together we can make smarter business decisions, more informed pivots, faster and more effective iterations and increase our user base and partners. Even if you have a great product, traction doesn’t just come to your doorstep so let me help you make it happen.
I’m definitely open to any kind of company, but am especially interested in mobile, productivity tools, social apps, e-commerce and anything related to food, wine, sports or fashion. I’m in Montreal now and will hopefully be attending some meet-ups and demo days, so if you’re here too I hope to meet you soon. You can also always reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.