The great stink in software pipelines

It’s the summer of 1858. London. The River Thames is overflowing with the smell of human and industrial waste. The exceptionally hot summer months have exacerbated the problem. But this did not just happen overnight. Failure to upkeep an aging sewer system and a growing population that used it contributed to a powder keg of effluent, bringing about cholera outbreaks and shrouding the city in a smell that would not go away.

To this day, Londoners still speak of the Great Stink. Recurring cholera infections led to the dawn of the field of epidemiology, a subject in which we have all recently become amateur enthusiasts.

Fast forward to 2020 and you’ll see that modern software pipelines face a similar “Great Stink” due, in no small part, to the vast adoption of continuous integration (CI), the practice of merging all developers’ working copies into a shared mainline several times a day, and continuous delivery (CD), the ability to get changes of all types — including new features, configuration changes, bug fixes and experiments — into production, or into the hands of users, safely and quickly in a sustainable way.

While contemporary software failures won’t spread disease or emit the rancid smells of the past, they certainly reek of devastation, rendering billions of dollars lost and millions of developer hours wasted each year.

This kind of waste is antithetical to the intent of CI/CD. Everyone is employing CI/CD to accelerate software delivery; yet the ever-growing backlog of intermittent and sporadic test failures is doing the exact opposite. It’s become a growing sludge that is constantly being fed with failures faster than can be resolved. This backlog must be cleared to get CI/CD pipelines back to their full capabilities.

What value is there in a system that, in an effort to accelerate software delivery, knowingly leaves a backlog of bugs that does the exact opposite? We did not arrive at these practices by accident, and its practitioners are neither lazy nor incompetent so; how did we get here and what can we do to temper modern software development’s Great Stink?

Ticking time bombs

Startups – TechCrunch

Private equity firm Great Hill Partners acquires stock media service Storyblocks

Storyblocks, the subscription-based stock media service, today announced that it has been acquired by private equity firm Great Hill Partners. The firm previously backed companies like Wayfair (and then exited that specific investment in 2017) and Custom Ink. Great Hill also acquired Gizmodo Media Group in 2019. Storyblocks and Great Hill did not disclose the price of the acquisition.

Storyblocks was founded in 2009 and raised about $ 18.5 million since its launch. Over the years, it went through a few changes. Its early focus was on video content, and until 2017, it operated under the VideoBlocks moniker (before that, it was FootageFirm). The company’s focus was always on its buffet-style subscription service, though it also offered an “à la carte” marketplace for one-time purchases. Only a small fraction of users actually bought from the marketplace, so last year, it doubled down on its subscription library.

“Our mission was really all about this idea of affordability and access,” Storyblocks CEO TJ Leonard told me ahead of today’s announcement. “That’s core to our DNA. It always will be. But as we look to the future, we see ourselves supporting our customers across their entire workflow as they work to keep up with the content demand of their audience. You wrap all that together and it felt like the moment was right to take the next step. Updata, North Atlantic Capital, QED [Investors] — all of our early investors — have done an awesome job supporting the business over the last eight years to help us get to this point. But Great Hill brings a track record — and I think an expertise — that is perfect for this next stage for us.”

Leonard, who just like the rest of the team is staying on, noted that Storyblocks is profitable and wasn’t actively trying to raise any capital to sustain its business or looking for an exit. Instead, he argued, this sale was simply a logical progression.

“We’ve long felt that even though the business is more than 10 years old, there’s still a lot of chapters left in our story. We’re really excited to continue to chase them down,” he said. “And we’ve said all along that if we were going to find a new partner, our first criteria was that they needed to believe in the same mission and vision that we had, they needed to believe the same market opportunity that we saw — and they needed to feel like we had the right model and the right team to go take advantage of that opportunity. As we got to know Great Hill better, it was clear that we were really well aligned across all those important points.”

He also noted that he tends to think of Great Hill as “a growth-oriented private equity investor, almost a growth equity investor masquerading with a private equity structure,” given that the firm tends to acquire companies but then also often spins them out again. “All of our conversations have been oriented around how do we change what’s working today and accelerate it. How do we take our long-term strategic growth plan that sets certain goals over the next five years and accomplish them in three,” he said.

Storyblocks will continue to operate as usual and continue to invest in its content libraries, Leonard told me. COVID-19 only made the demand for stock footage go up (Storyblocks now sees twice as many downloads per week compared to the start of 2020), but the company was already seeing a growing demand for its service before the pandemic, in large parts because the demand for video content only continues to increase.

“This doesn’t feel like an ending. It feels like we have a lot of good work to do,” said Leonard. “It feels like in a lot of ways, the market is just kind of catching up to what we’ve believed since our founding, which is that if you can help people create more high-quality video content, do it at an affordable price, do it in a way that saves them time, then there’s a huge opportunity out there.”

Startups – TechCrunch

WJR Business Beat with Jeff Sloan: Where Do Great Business Ideas Come From? (Episode 68)

Annemarie Cronin

Annemarie Cronin

Have you ever marveled at an entrepreneur pursuing a business idea and wondered, where did that idea come from? How did that business happen?

On this morning’s WJR Business Beat, Jeff chats with Annemarie Cronin, a local entrepreneur who has built a really successful boutique marketing business for physicians and medical practices.

When it occurred to Annemarie that this was a niche she could fill, she jumped at the chance.

Hear more from Annemarie and Jeff below:


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Tune in to News/Talk 760 AM WJR weekday mornings at 7:11 a.m. for the WJR Business Beat. Listeners outside of the Detroit area can listen live HERE.

Are you an entrepreneur with a great story to share? If so, contact us at editor@startupnation.com and we’ll feature you on an upcoming segment of the WJR Business Beat!

This segment is brought to you by Dell Technologies

WJR Business Beat Transcript

Good morning, Paul.

Have you ever marveled at an entrepreneur pursuing a business idea and wondered, where did that idea come from? How did that business happen?

Well, even though I’m immersed in startups, it never ceases to catch my attention. Well, I had the chance to interview a local entrepreneur this past weekend on StartupNation Radio, named Annemarie Cronin who’s built a really successful boutique marketing business for physicians and medical practices.

Think about it: doctors are good at their craft, but they don’t take a single business marketing class that I know of in medical school. And so they come out into the world ready to be great doctors and equipped to do so, but ill-equipped to be able to run and market their practices effectively.

And when it first occurred to Annemarie that there was an opportunity here, she jumped on it. Let’s take a listen.

One day I got a call from a doctor in New York who wants to hire me to market her practice. She had bought five clinics here and I said, I don’t do doctors. And she said, well, neither does anyone else.

She then persuaded me, oh I’ll pay your fee, can you consult with us? And when I sat down with her and talked to her and met with her, when she flew in from New York, I said, this is really not that hard. I’m kind of one of those people that just gets an idea and runs with it.

The lesson, if you want to build a business around a great idea, let me break it down for you:

One: be aware. Great ideas are all around us. Other people might’ve heard the doctor from New York when calling Annemarie say, “Nobody’s doing medical practice marketing” and move on. Annemarie heard, “Nobody’s doing medical practice marketing” and jumped on it.

Number two, if you think you’re onto something, immerse yourself in it, research and learn as much as you can about the idea to see if it really merits forming a business around it.

And if it does, that leads us to number three: carpe diem, that’s a good idea. You better jump on it before somebody else does.

Seize the moment, seize the day and make a great business opportunity out of it.

I’m Jeff Sloan, founder and CEO of StartupNation.com, and that’s today’s Business Beat on the Great Voice of the Great Lakes, WJR.

The post WJR Business Beat with Jeff Sloan: Where Do Great Business Ideas Come From? (Episode 68) appeared first on StartupNation.

StartupNation

Vroom’s new IPO pricing is great news for unicorns

Hello and welcome back to our regular morning look at private companies, public markets and the gray space in between.

Last week we noted that the IPO window was open, a seemingly incongruous reality when compared to stark unemployment figures in the country and what they would seem to bode for business health. But as the markets rise to near-record highs, it has become clear that investors are open to buying new, growth-oriented shares.

Our concluding point last week was simple: The open IPO window and its implied investor sentiment was good news for unicorns. The richly valued, private companies tend to lose more money than they would if they wanted to go public in normal times. But with the IPO window open today for more than merely profitable companies, surely it’s open for unicorns as well?

New evidence suggests so. This morning, let’s explore Vroom’s new IPO pricing and why the digital used car marketplace’s ability to charge more for its equity than the company initially expected bodes well for itself and other money-losing unicorns that may have feared the IPO window was shut for the rest of 2020.

New pricing, same margins

On Friday, Vroom changed its expected IPO price range from $ 15 to $ 17 per share and raised it to $ 18 to $ 20 per share. The number of shares the firm intends to sell in its debut — 21,562,500 — remained unchanged. The pricing change pushed Vroom’s maximum gross raise from $ 366.6 million to $ 431.3 million, a huge increase for the unprofitable business.

Startups – TechCrunch

7 Ways Entrepreneurs With Great Ideas Must Follow Up

entrepreneur-businesswoman-visionIn my experience with entrepreneurs, there seems to a wealth of self-proclaimed “idea people” who aspire to start businesses, but only a few who are willing and able to dig in and get the job done. All the great ideas in the world won’t make a business, if the ideas never get implemented. Only rare great entrepreneurs, like Bill Gates and Elon Musk, have proven to be both.

I worked with Bill Gates in the early days of Microsoft and the IBM PC, while I was with IBM. Bill was relentless in his focus on getting the software PC DOS project delivered, while continually challenging us with new business models. Elon Musk is known for his focus on implementation, often working 80-100 hours a week, while still able to offer an endless supply of innovative ideas.

If you or your team sees you as an idea person, your first task as an entrepreneur should be to find a co-founder who can deliver. Finding a co-founder is rarely a bad thing, since two heads are always better than one in meeting all the startup challenges. Let me be a bit more specific on how follow-up trumps ideas for success in the key challenges of a startup, or any small business:

  1. Networking with investors, partners, and customers. Meeting people and talking about your ideas won’t get you very far. First you have to listen carefully to what the other party is looking for, and then you have to follow-up to meet their connections, do personal dinner invitations for relationship building, and demonstrate traction.
  1. Tailor investor proposals and term-sheets. Professional investors expect far more than an idea pitch – they are looking for a documented opportunity analysis and realistic financial projections. They watch for formal follow-up to questions, demonstration of real product, and revenue results. Passionate reiteration of the idea won’t close funding.
  1. Detailed product specifications and prototypes. With great idea people, an initial product is rarely fully defined, as features are added and subtracted to meet the audience of the day. Milestones are not met because there is no implementation discipline. Products from idea entrepreneurs often try to be everything to everyone.
  1. Productivity and time management challenges. Idea entrepreneurs are largely driven by the “crisis of the moment” or the next event on their schedule. They are too busy to follow-up on a major partner opportunity, customer inquiry, or a critical internal process that simply isn’t working. Communication to the team suffers, and productivity is low.
  1. Managing marketing metrics and the sales pipeline. Effective marketing requires converting ideas to real content, creating programs to educate channels, and managing metrics to see what works and what needs to change. Follow-up is required for every sales lead, a pipeline built, and a sales process documented, with training for new reps.
  1. Customer acquisition, retention, and support. Ideas don’t generate customer loyalty – they want to see specifics for their case. Most experts agree that acquisition of a new customer costs six times retaining existing customers. Lack of follow-up after a sale can cost you more customers than poor service or poor quality.
  1. Maintaining professional relationships. No business associate will be impressed with ideas for long, if they experience unpredictable follow-up delays in email, phone calls, or delivery commitments. Disciplined execution is as critical to communication and relationships as it is to the bottom line of your business.

For business professionals, I would suggest that if you don’t do follow-up well, you should never aspire to be a manager or an executive. That’s what they have to do most of the time, so you won’t enjoy the job, and probably won’t be seen as doing it well. Most executives will tell you that their idea time is while sleeping, or while working out in the gym.

Of course, every small business needs to be built around a great idea, and every entrepreneur needs to find innovative new ideas regularly to stay ahead of the crowd. But the bulk of the real work and time to make a startup or small business successful is in the execution and follow-up.

In my view, idea people will be more at home and more appreciated in the design, marketing, or planning department of a larger and more mature organization, with an implementation team behind them. Successful entrepreneurs need to enjoy the journey, perhaps more than the destination.

Marty Zwilling
Startup Professionals Musings

Building a great product only gets you 20% there

Original post – https://breue.com/building_a_great_product_only_gets_you_20_percent_there

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“If you build it, they will come.”

Except, they won't. Even after begging them to, they won’t. Maybe they'll tell you they even hate it.

A lot of first-time founders think that if they build a great product, it will take over the world. That’s it, you just build it, and you're done.

Building your first version of the product, when you are trying to validate your hypothesis, without making it too clunky, and knowing what features to put in it and what to leave out, is a big challenge in and of itself.

Even if you do this part really well, you are at best 20% of the way there.

You have just entered the trailhead of a massive hike. A hike with a brutal incline, with pebbles everywhere, that you slip on, and bust up your ankles. As you make progress, you feel like you're not actually going anywhere. You are constantly debating giving up and returning home. Maybe you have the courage and patience to get to the summit. But even when you get there, you might not like what you see.

Anyone can find or come up with an idea. Some can build out the idea into a good product. But, very few can do the rest.

It’s a very common journey. After spending months or even years having your product built. You are ready. You start telling everyone you know. Friends and family. Every random person you have met in your life. You go down your contacts list. You post on Facebook, Twitter, and every other social media outlet. You write some blog posts. You email a bunch of reporters trying to beg them to write a piece on your product/startup.

You really give the launch all you got.

Then comes the shock. The shock that no one cares. That you can’t even get your friends and family to use your product. That you spent all this time, energy and money to reach this state, and literally no one cares!

This is the part of the journey where most founders choke. They don’t have the heart to keep going. They will do a bit more here and there to market their product. But, it ultimately just dies out.

Then there are the founders that understand that there is no such thing as “the launch”. They understand that they will have to launch a thousand times. That they will have to keep going at it again and again. That they will have to try everything and anything imaginable. They are the ones that don’t let rejection overtake them. They are usually those that have been on this journey before. And they have a better understanding each new time they navigate it.

They understand that it could be 6 months to a year before they see anything remotely worthwhile.

This is the hardest part of the journey — the 80%. The 20% is important. You can’t even start with the 80% if you don't do the 20% well. But it is ultimately the 80% that makes or breaks it.

The journey may not be worth it. It may be a total waste. But it’s part of the process. Almost no one ever gets to skip it.

But, it is the journey where great things can happen…

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Startups – Rapid Growth and Innovation is in Our Very Nature!

The Great Reset

Talk of an economic downturn can be frightening, especially one precipitated by a pervasive health crisis. At times, I’m overwhelmed by the images of countless patients on life-support and the near-endless streams of statistics regurgitating bad news.

Having started in venture at the beginning of two recessions, I’ve seen how the startup industry functions during economic trouble. My second day of work at Charles River Ventures was September 11th, 2001. My first project, analyzing the VC industry, propelled the firm to return more than 60% of its fund to investors, going from a $ 1.2 billion fund to $ 450 million. In May 2008, Mike Maples and I founded Floodgate in the midst of the Great Recession. We learned that great founders won’t wait for a better economic moment to start a company.

While we are currently embroiled in personal and professional circumstances unimaginable even three months ago, these very challenges will form the basis of incredibly innovative ideas. In order for the world to move forward, we need our greatest minds to imagine a brighter future and create solutions to make it a reality.

When I analyze our society and novel health situation, one thing is certain: COVID-19 is a paradigm-shifting event, creating massively accelerated social and economic change.

The Great Reset is not just another economic event

Our current situation is unique. It’s not merely a cyclical economic event, nor is it a standalone health crisis. What we are experiencing is not just an inflection point: it’s a societal phase-change unlike anything we have ever seen. We face an epic choice of how we move forward, and the decisions we make today will shape an entire generation.

Here’s why: COVID-19 is prompting us to reset many of our most fundamental behaviors. These changes are impacting our financial system, with effects visible throughout our homes, businesses and even the concept of “workplace” itself.

COVID-19 is pervasive

As a global pandemic, the virus itself has spread to nearly every country in the world.

Between February 20 and March 26, 100% of the world’s 20 largest economies implemented government-mandated social distancing. Globally, the number of scheduled airline flights is down 64%. In some countries, like Spain and Germany, flight numbers are down by more than 90%.

Since the timeline for lifting government restrictions is unclear — and even then, scientists are uncertain how the virus will spread — the question lingers: How long will this go on?

COVID-19’s impact is uncertain, long-term and potentially undulating, affecting every facet of our lives. You can’t simply wait it out with the expectation that industries will rebound. In 2001, September 11 felt pervasive, but its economic impact ultimately stemmed from just one single incident and the resulting fear… and that one single incident still cost more than three trillion dollars. How much larger will COVID-19 be?

Startups – TechCrunch

5 Characteristics of Great Crisis Communications

Getting your crisis communications right is critical to both weathering the storm and coming out on the other side with loyal customers who are still standing by your side. Like any form of customer communication, there are many details to take into consideration, including what tone you use, your ability to connect with the customer or client, and how well you’re managing their emotions and answering their questions.

As you craft press releases, don’t rely on old, stale messaging or the typical cookie-cutter version of empathy. Stand out and ensure your startup’s communications have an impact by keeping these critical crisis communications characteristics in mind.


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Empathy

People want to be heard and understood, especially during a crisis. That’s why empathy is a critical element of successful crisis communications. Overlooking what your customers and clients are feeling is overlooking them as people, not to mention missing an opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of one another.

“We all become more human when we’ve gone through pain, and we all become more deeply connected when we’ve suffered together. Those emotional realities are also valid when it comes to relationships between businesses and consumers. If we suffer together and yet support each other, those bonds will only strengthen over the long term,” Olaf Acker a thought leader in digital services for Strategy&, said.

Use this as an opportunity to really hear your customers and practice showing empathy. The best way to do that is to allow yourself, your business and your employees to be vulnerable. We’re all feeling anxious, stressed, and worried—and if you allow yourself and your team to share that, you may just find you’re more connected with your customers and clients than ever before.


Related: 10 SEO Tips and Tactics to Improve Communication During COVID-19

Transparency

How you act during a crisis can make or break your brand. Customers and clients are likely getting a lot of conflicting information right now, and they’re relying on you to be honest and transparent in what you share.

Caroline Liller, VP and Senior Account Executive for 10x digital, explains in her recent blog post, Transparency and Content: Now and Always:

“No one is ever fully prepared for a crisis but rooting your company’s response in transparency helps mitigate panic and unwanted repercussions within your business. The principal is simple: honesty is the best policy. Having clear and accurate communication during times of crisis, and as a general rule, can increase brand trust and allow you to accurately manage expectations with employees and clients.”

Luckily, being transparent doesn’t require any extra budget or an extensive plan. All it requires is that you share honestly and openly with the people who matter most: your customers and clients.

Bring this transparency into all of your communications—from website messaging to social media posts, and don’t be afraid to show emotion. Differentiate your brand from competitors by being the people who are sharing openly.

Be clear and succinct

Great crisis communications are clear and succinct in both the verbiage used and the medium you choose. During a time of fear and uncertainty, customers and clients want to know what you’re doing, how it’s impacting them, and what they can expect to come without any fluff. Don’t make them guess and don’t make them read through the lines.

Clarify your core message first and foremost and put that at the beginning of all communications, rather than buying it beneath jargon. Use this three-step formula to develop clear and succinct messaging:

  • Identify stakeholders: Employees, board members, customers, etc. You’ll have varying messages for each group.
  • Identify your communication channels: Video, blog post, press release?
  • Draft communications and secure approvals: Get everyone on the same page before sharing any communications to ensure clarity. 

Be conversational

Don’t just speak at your customers in a crisis, sharing updates and relevant content like everyone else—have a conversation using conversational marketing. This tactic “prioritizes quality feedback” and honest conversation, according to Jitendra Gidwani, founder of RightlyWritten, in his guide to conversational marketing.

He continues, “The idea that you can build lasting customer relationships through quality conversation over time isn’t just anecdotal conjecture; feeling as if they are genuinely heard is the single most likely thing to keep customers devoted to a brand.”

How do you facilitate conversational marketing during a crisis? You get the right tools in place to have those conversations, rather than simply fielding questions or providing answers.

A few tools that can be helpful include:

  • AI-powered chat
  • Social media listening
  • Automated emails asking for feedback or offering one-on-one calls

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Be customer-centric

Are you pushing messages and content just to do it, or is the crisis content you’re creating providing value to your customers? Your first question should always be, “Do we have a clear customer in mind for this piece of content?” As you draft communications in all forms, you have to know who the message and content is for in order to most authentically and powerfully connect with that customer.

For example, you may publish a blog post for all customers while crafting a more personalized email for your top clients. Knowing your audience is key to crafting a message that resonates and provides value, rather than simply existing because you have to say something.

Improve your crisis communications

Polish your crisis communications by making sure each press release you write, social media post you share or phone call you have all share these key characteristics. If you can get it right, you’ll come out of the storm with a stronger connection to customers and clients and a brand that people will remember.

The post 5 Characteristics of Great Crisis Communications appeared first on StartupNation.

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