We do startups because we can’t not do startups.

photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/mathoov/
photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/mathoov/

This essay is written in collaboration with Startup Edition – find this week’s essays here.

The startup life seems glamorous from afar, and sometimes from up close. There are rebels, pirates, and ninjas here. There are rags-to-riches stories and others who fall from grace after flying too close to the sun. In short, there are all of the archetypes you wish to see in the startup world. So how do you get a job here?

The short version of this answer is: we do startups because we can’t not do startups. Startups are the fastest way to level up personally and professionally. Startups make powerful friendships and lifetime bonds among teammates. And startups are a place where people do amazing things and learn how to do things they’ve never done before.

Startups are also emotional roller coasters that demand the routine of a monk to fight the continual randomness of change. Startups give you the opportunity to make bigger mistakes than you’ve ever made before. And startups are the place where you can’t hide behind a meeting or a title to avoid doing work. You must own your problems, and your successes.

So, Why should you work for a startup?

You should work for a startup if you like challenges. You should work for a startup if you like the idea of lifelong learning. You should work for a startup if you’re a person who is resilient and doesn’t want to know what they are going to do day after day. And you should work for a startup if you want to push yourself to do more than you ever thought possible and only realize it when you look back and see what’s happened.

Ok, I’m good – how do I get started?

Startups need doers. They also need people who can seamlessly shift between strategy and tactics. You need to be able to roll up your sleeves and do whatever is necessary to ship your product, make your launch date, and finish your code. You also need to remember that you have a life – and to make space for yourself and the things that you believe it – or you will be consumed rather than tempered in the startup fire.

Start by doing, and with a beginner’s mind. That doesn’t mean that you need to do things at a beginner’s level, but rather to find the thing you know and can do better than anyone else. Now, find a way to present that skill as a benefit for a business. Next, find the business that need that benefit.

Finally, never think that you’re done learning. We’re all wired to think that life is static. In fact, there’s change happening all of the time. So if you want to survive in startups – and elsewhere – you need to be resilient and practice improving the way you respond to change.

This essay is written in collaboration with Startup Edition – find this week’s essays here.


They found me through Quora? An Unexpected Job Opportunity

Quora is a great place to post questions to knowledgeable folks and to answer questions that are interesting to you. So when I wrote an answer to Twitter: Is Twitter an effective customer service tool? (by the way—it’s awesome for that) I had no idea that a post I wrote in March about customer care evolution would end up in an amazing new job opportunity.

Matthew G Trifiro, SVP of Marketing at Assistly in San Francisco, contacted me on Quora to let me know he really liked the piece and wondered if I would meet him for dinner the next time I was in San Francisco. I was totally flattered, and of course I said yes to this kind offer. And it started some amazing things in motion that never would have happened had I not shared my thoughts on Quora in the spirit of learning and growing by interacting freely (something that my friend Eric Koester calls “karma networking.”) The way Matt reached out to me, the interaction that we had both over Skype and in person when we met in San Francisco, and the trust and openness that he demonstrated paved the way for great things.

I had heard about Assistly’s product before, and thought about adopting it for my responsibilities at Gist. Like many startup companies, at Gist we adopted a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model for our Customer Support, and I was one of the administrators of our Zendesk solution. I’ve used Help Desk software from larger companies like RightNow and BMC’s Remedy, and understood the value of having a inexpensive solution that delivered many of the features of these enterprise systems, without the big price tag and personnel requirements.

I immediately saw that Assistly had customer service and social channels in its DNA (See http://www.assistly.com/why-assi… for more info) The ability to respond easily to customer issues in Facebook, Twitter, and email and also to create custom data structures for an installation was really powerful. These were two of the things I had really wanted to do in Zendesk and had never been able to complete successfully.

But product functionality wasn’t really the point here.

The way Matt acted spoke volumes about the way his company engaged. He found me in a social channel; engaged me in that channel; and then we met in person in San Francisco and shared a meal. Guess what? We got along – and it’s not just because we both appreciate good food. Matt and I connected because we share a passion to provide great customer service (he calls it Customer Wow) not just in our jobs, but everywhere, because engage = win.

So I had met an interesting executive at an interesting company in a field where I had good experience (cool!) Assistly was a great potential fit for me, but I wasn’t really looking for a job—Gist was acquired by Research In Motion (company) in February, and we still had work to do to reach BlackBerry scale. And then Matt unleashed his Ninja recruiting move—which was really just an opportunity to collaborate. Would I add my thoughts to an e-book Assistly was finishing up—Customer Service at the Speed of Twitter—a sort of primer of best practices for delivering Customer Wow via the Twitter channel. Working on this project was a great fit for me because it allowed me to learn more about how Matt and his team interacted on a real project.

What happened next? Some great things. I met more of the teamDan Stern, VP of Customer Wow; Mark Briggs, the VP of Sales; and Alex Bard, CEO of Assistly. I was impressed by all of them, particularly because one thing kept coming up over and over again: being great to customers. It’s easy to find bad service—in fact, it’s all around you—and any company that provides (and demonstrates) service as a core value is one to watch.

One month later, I am the Director of Customer Wow at Assistly. I’m excited at the amazing opportunity to interact with our customers at powerful brands (and at the brands you’ve never heard of and might never hear about.) The passion I bring to Customer Wow is the same emotion I want to instill in everyone who uses Assistly or who contacts us—customer love and the expectation of being treated well as an everyday experience—I think it’s going to be fun. I’ve already been writing about exceeding customer expectations on my personal blog (http://gregmeyer.com) and on a companion blog where I chronicle those who Deliver the Awesome (http://delivertheawesome.com) and now I look forward to meeting you! (And thanks, Matt, for believing in and participating in new social technologies where great conversations can happen.)

p.s. Thanks Quora!

Post on Quora

It’s time to work yourself out of a job.

picture by http://www.flickr.com/photos/donnr/

Imagine if one day, you walked into your office (or opened your email or received a text message or a phone call with the following information:

Congratulations! You’ve worked yourself out of a job.

Now, what will you do next?

I don’t mean to make light of this situation totally – if it’s a layoff notice, you might wonder, “what will I do next?” and feel a sense of anxiety or fear or anger. If the message is the result of an acquisition, you might wonder, “what will I do next” and feel those same emotions, along with excitement. And if it just happened “because”, you might feel another cocktail of emotions.

Act Like It’s Already Happened

“What will you do next” should be your mantra, not a tried-and-true axiom that you pull out when things change in your work situation due to forces beyond your control. You should be already trying to work your way out of a job by being more productive, learning more, and doing things faster than you did last week, month, or year. Ha! You say. “Do more, better, and faster” sounds great as a book title but isn’t always immediately attainable, so what can you do today to get a little closer to that point?

Find the “white space” – the space in between your productive activities – and do more

We all have our down time during the day, whether it’s checking social networking obsessively, taking a coffee break, or just chatting around the office (or perhaps a combination of those things.) Why not speed up the really unfortunate and boring parts of your day so that you can still spend time doing more of the things yon want to do? Nope, it’s hard sometimes to speed up the things that are beyond your control, but you can use tools like TextExpander to take anything you type more than a few times…ever and place it into a macro keystroke where you can use a tool like Tungle.me to hack your schedule.

Turn “hey, do you have time to meet next week?” into

Please suggest a time for us to talk at http://tungle.me/gregmeyer – this is a service I use to schedule meetings with fewer back-and-forth emails – I hope you find it useful.I look forward to speaking with you soon.

Let the other people around you schedule meetings with Tungle, and try to take a walk every day with the time you save not sending emails back and forth.

Do Better by Measuring

You can start measuring your work today. Don’t be afraid of it – it might just be noticing how many productive emails you send in a day (hint: look back at a week’s worth of this on a Saturday and you’ll realize which ones ended up being good emails.) If you improve your process and what you expect from yourself and your team, good things will happen. Now, spend 20 minutes in a room with a whiteboard, dry erase pens, and post-its, and you’ll have more ideas for tackling that next project than you thought you had when you started. Then, ask a friend to collaborate, document the results and … voila! Process mapping.

Do Faster by Asking, “Why Do We Do This?”

“It’s what we do because people have always done it this way”

Might be a good idea, or it might not be a good idea. If you don’t like an idea, suggest a different way to do it, demonstrate that it can be done differently, and see if everyone around you is faster. A great example of this is cutting down the default meeting length to 30 minutes (or even 15 minutes). Ask people to do homework. Send shorter emails. Use Skype to explain to remote people what you mean when you have an idea.

What will you do next?

None of this should sound unfamiliar to you (if it does sound unfamiliar, pick one of these ideas, try it out and see if it helps you do more things, be better at the things you do, and to be faster than the average bear.) If you ask a few productive people for one tip every other day, you will quickly accumulate ways to hack your time and help you work yourself out of your job (and spend more time working on the things you like to do and the things that provide value to you and the people around you.) P.s. Don’t forget to exercise and sleep. You’ll need both of those activities as you start writing your next job description, pitching it to your bosses, and winning new responsibilities and ideas.

Why I love working in Seattle

Pioneer square

Originally uploaded by gregmeyer

Working in the city of Seattle in the Pioneer Square area is a bit gritty. It’s nothing like gliding to work in the gleaming eastside office towers of Bellevue, pulling into the parking garage, and going up 16 floors of a LEED certified building. Instead, it’s a bus ride filled with people of all walks of life, a walk from the bus stop through a vibrant area of the city, and a reminder that a 100 year old building can be useful again in a web 2.0 (3.0?) world. It’s a bit of a romantic notion, and I love it.

Cities have been around for thousands of years because there is a certain critical mass required by (and inspired by) trade, commerce, and people. Even in the age of the Internet, it’s a great reminder to walk around in the downtown core of a city and see that location does matter. You can surf the internet from anywhere, but you can’t always walk around the corner and find a great restaurant or a place to hang out or see people who aren’t just like you alongside people who might be just like you.

I love the city, even when it’s a bit grungy and smelly. Pioneer Square reminds me that the industrial core of Seattle has come back to life with the information industry of the 21st century, and I’m glad to be a part of that (it also helps on the days when it’s sunny.) Working in other parts of the city might have been an easier commute, but now I feel like I’m part of the neighborhood.

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