Jan 302007

Half Your Waking Hours

Half Your Waking Hours

I just came back from our annual Board/Management ski trip (and Board meeting) — we had about half of both groups join, which is typical given the time commitment.  We had a great time, and the conversation for the three days was a nice blend of business and personal. 

The thing that struck me during the weekend — and I am reminded of this regularly in the office and at other work events as well — is how much I genuinely enjoy the company of the people with whom I work.  Whether it’s my senior staff, my Board, or anyone I can think of in other roles within Return Path, we can manage to have a good time together and have fun as well as be productively thinking about and discussing work.

With generic assumptions of 8 hours of sleep a night and 8 hours of work a day (neither one being true of course, but canceling each other somewhat out here), we spend half our waking hours on the job.  So we might as well choose to work with people that we get along with!  That doesn’t mean everyone we hire at Return Path has to be like-minded or have the same sense of humor.  But it does mean that we look for people who have that spark in their eye that says "I get it"; it means we want to find people who are articulate and have strong convictions and are not afraid to speak their mind; and it means we screen for people who can be light-hearted and don’t take themselves too too too seriously when we recruit, interview, and hire.

Think about that "half your waking hours" thing the next time you’re hiring someone.  Which candidate (of the technically qualified ones who are in the right zone in terms of compensation) would you rather spend your day with?  In my former career in management consulting, we used to call this the "Cleveland Airport test" — as in, if you were stuck in the Cleveland Airport with this candidate, would you be happy or sad about it?

Filed under: Leadership

Jan 302007

Half Your Waking Hours

Half Your Waking Hours

I just came back from our annual Board/Management ski trip (and Board meeting) — we had about half of both groups join, which is typical given the time commitment.  We had a great time, and the conversation for the three days was a nice blend of business and personal. 

The thing that struck me during the weekend — and I am reminded of this regularly in the office and at other work events as well — is how much I genuinely enjoy the company of the people with whom I work.  Whether it’s my senior staff, my Board, or anyone I can think of in other roles within Return Path, we can manage to have a good time together and have fun as well as be productively thinking about and discussing work.

With generic assumptions of 8 hours of sleep a night and 8 hours of work a day (neither one being true of course, but canceling each other somewhat out here), we spend half our waking hours on the job.  So we might as well choose to work with people that we get along with!  That doesn’t mean everyone we hire at Return Path has to be like-minded or have the same sense of humor.  But it does mean that we look for people who have that spark in their eye that says "I get it"; it means we want to find people who are articulate and have strong convictions and are not afraid to speak their mind; and it means we screen for people who can be light-hearted and don’t take themselves too too too seriously when we recruit, interview, and hire.

Think about that "half your waking hours" thing the next time you’re hiring someone.  Which candidate (of the technically qualified ones who are in the right zone in terms of compensation) would you rather spend your day with?  In my former career in management consulting, we used to call this the "Cleveland Airport test" — as in, if you were stuck in the Cleveland Airport with this candidate, would you be happy or sad about it?

Filed under: Leadership

Jan 292007

Book Short: Virtuous Cycle

Book Short:  Virtuous Cycle

Danny Meyer’s Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business is a fun read if you’re a New Yorker who eats out a lot; a good read for entrepreneurs around scaling leadership skills as the business grows; and a great read for anyone who runs a serious customer service-oriented organization.  I’ve eaten at all of his restaurants multiple times over the years except for the new ones at MOMA (perhaps a few too many times at the Shake Shack), and while I like some more than others (perhaps the Shake Shack a bit too much), they all do have great hospitality as a common theme.

While there are a lot of good lessons in the book, Meyer talks about something he calls the Virtuous Cycle of Enlightened Hospitality that matches the general hierarchy of constituents or stakeholders in a business that I refer to at Return Path:   employees, customers, community, suppliers, investors.  His general point is that if you have happy employees, they make for happy customers, and returns for investors will follow.  While the specifics may or not be true of all businesses, I bet the first and last item are — especially for service-oriented businesses in any industry.  I wish we had a better handle on the Community aspect at Return Path, but we at least do an OK job at it, especially given the geographic diversity within the company.

(Note this was one of Fred’s favorite parts of the book as well from his review — nice to see a professional investor in agreement!)

Jan 292007

ROI Radio Interview

ROI Radio Interview

Greg Cangialosi, CEO of Blue Sky Factory and a client of ours, runs a podcast series on his blog called ROI Radio.  Last week, he interviewed me.  It’s a bit long, but feel free to listen or download here.  We mostly cover things related to Return Path — our products and how we do things — but we also talk a bit about the growth and development RSS/feed technology and FeedBurner.

Jan 192007

Help Me, Help You, Part II

Help Me, Help You, Part II

Thanks to the nearly 100 readers who responded to my reader survey this past week.  While I’m not sure it’s a truly statistically significant base of OnlyOnce’s audience (I’ll have to ask my friends over at Authentic Response), I’ll treat it like it is.  Here’s what I learned.  First, the general results:

  • Satisfaction levels are good – 46% are regular readers and love it, 48% read occasionally and think it’s ok, and only 6% gave it an “eh – wouldn’t miss it if it went away”
  • Entrepreneurship is the most popular topic, with 86% interest, and Leadership/Management is a close second at 82%.  Online/Email Marketing came in at 61% and Book Reviews at 43%.  Current Affairs and Travel (which I almost never use) were 31% and 25%, respectively
  • 72% of people feel frequency at 1-2 posts a week is on target.  Only 4.5% want fewer posts, and 24% (those kind souls) want it more often
  • Most people other than Return Path staff found the site through a link on another blog rather than search

Next, the open-ended comments were interesting.  A summary snapshot:

  • Positive comments were generally about tone and candid approach, succinct posts, and topics.  One nice person noted his/her favorite thing was “the author” (thank you Mom/Dad/Grandma/Mariquita/Michael)
  • Constructive comments varied.  Some good ones are noted below:
  • “assumes a level of knowledge not everyone has”
  • “too heralding of the VC view of the world”
  • “too much focus on email/marketing,” “too local/American” (that’s who I am, though)
  • I would like to see more about what it takes to be a CEO in day to day operations. what skills do you find you need, what obstacles do you come across, issues with driving a company.”
  • “A little too much PRish in regards to Return Path”
  • “It seems like everything you write about is too positive. Or at least a negative story with a happy ending. Nothing about what sucks to run a company. I run one and a lot of it does suck.”
  • “Not enough personal stuff — who is the author?” (see the About Me link on the blog)
  • “The word vigilante is bandied around way too much by the author”
  • And of course someone noted as constructive feedback that I haven’t yet mentioned my mother’s name (sorry, Mom/Joyce!).  And one person suggested I shave.  Thanks, really.

Finally, the demographics of my audience:

  • 3 % are under 24, 45% are 25-34, 41% are 35-49, 11% are over 49
  • 80% male and 20% female (surprising)
  • Company data wasn’t so interesting, or I phrased the question poorly – but one takeaway is that about 1/2 of readers seem to be “in the industry” generally speaking, with lots of Return Path staff subscribing as well as lots of other entrepreneurs and a handful of VCs
  • Level/title was more interesting – nearly half the audience is SVP-level or above at their company

Thanks again, everyone, and I’ll take note of this feedback for future postings!

Filed under: Email

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Jan 152007

Help Me, Help You

Help Me, Help You

I’m conducting a really short reader survey about OnlyOnce.  There are about 10 questions, half about the blog, and half about reader demographics.  Please take 2 minutes to complete it for me so I know how I’m doing!  All responses are anonymous, as you’ll see.  Click here to go to the survey.

Filed under: Email

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Jan 122007

Use Your Powers for Good

Use Your Powers for Good

Neil Schwartzman, our compliance officer for our Sender Score Certified whitelist program, wrote a great post on the Return Path blog entitled How the Sender Community Can Help Fight Spam.  If you’re a commercial mailer, I’d encourage you to read it.  It’s a great perspective from a long-time anti-spam leader.

Filed under: Email

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Jan 112007

OnlyOnce is Ok

OnlyOnce is Ok

Fred and Brad from Union Square Ventures have a great post today about the kinds of entrepreneurs they like to back and why.  I particularly like it because almost half their portfolio is made up of companies led by first-time CEOs, which as you probably know, is one of the founding themes around this blog.

Jan 072007

Book Short: Unsung Heroes

Book Short:  Unsung Heroes

If you like “entrepreneurship by analogy” books, you’ll like The Innovators:  The Engineering Pioneers Who Made America Modern, by David Billington.  I have to admit some bias here — Professor Billington was my favorite teacher and senior thesis advisor at Princeton (I almost majored in civil engineering because of him), and this book is one of a number he’s written that are outgrowths of his most popular courses at Princeton.  And while there’s no substitute for the length or energy of his lectures, the book works.

The book is basically a person-focused engineering history of America from 1776-1883.  Billington talks about four classes of engineering product:  public structures (mostly bridges), machines that produced power, networks like the railroads and telegraphs, and processes like steel manufacturing.

His approach is to acknowledge that the Americans innovators couldn’t do much without the right context:  learnings from their counterparts in Britain, a supportive government here at home, and abundant raw materials and capital.  But with that backdrop in place, Billington tells the tale of a number of the inventions that built our modern society with a focus on the engineers who got things right.  While some of them are familiar names (Morse, Edison), many are not (Thomas Telford, J. Edgar Thomson, Joseph Henry).

Sound familiar?  It feels at many point in the book that you could insert some different names and dates and be reading a history of the Internet or information age.  And as with the Industrial Revolution, while many of the innovators in our world today are known (Bezos, Yang, Brin/Page), there are probably an equal number who are unsung heroes — either software engineers or even buisness model pioneers who haven’t sought or won’t end up in the spotlight even though their contributions to society or to their companies are giant.  I know there are a number of unsung heroes in our own engineering department at Return Path — people who aren’t market facing and who never get quoted in press releases, but who really make a difference in how the company works and how competitive we are.  This book celebrates those people as much as it does the entrepreneurs you’ve heard of.

Warning, there are lots of pages which are full of mathematical formulas, which may or may not be interesting to you, but the book still holds together 100% if you skip over them.

Jan 072007

They’ve Destroyed Both Companies

They’ve Destroyed Both Companies

Just when you thought Verizon was in fact the worst company in the world to do business with (see my post here if for some reason you’re not on that page), along comes FedEx/Kinkos.

I used to be a huge fan of both companies.  I was even a fan of the merger and felt like it particularly made sense in light of UPS purchasing Mailboxes Etc.  And I don’t know if our experiences are representative, but Mariquita and I have had nothing but bad experiences with both FedEx and Kinkos for the past couple of years.

Kinkos is the worst — most of the people are surly, unhelpful, not smart, have massive attitude, and ignore you when you’re standing in front of them.  They never have packing materials, and when they do, they charge you for them and make you pack your own box in their store.  Their systems have no idea who you are.  We now walk out of our way to the UPS store, where you walk in, hand them a pile of stuff, give them your phone number, and walk out in 2 minutes while they pack your box up and bill it to the credit card on file for your phone number.

And FedEx, which used to be great at its core business, has slipped tremendously as well.  Its drivers and delivery guys are spotty; sometimes ok, but sometimes they don’t even try.  Their definition of going the extra mile stops at the first foot.  And its 800# operators are awful — they clearly went to the Kinkos school of customer service.  At least their packages generally get there on time.  But at work, we’ve turned increasingly to use Mimeo to both produce and ship high-quality documents without having to print and deal with the FedEx stuff ourselves.  A MUCH better alternative.

Again, I just say, why can’t they all be as great as Zappos?  It’s just not that hard.  And Starbucks has proven that a quick service retail operation can be as great at customer service as an Internet company.

Filed under: Business

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