Forbes Archive

How Instagram Helped Him Quit His Job To Become A Full Time Artist

My favorite stories are all about hustle and Jeremy’s story is precisely that. In the fall of 2014, Jeremy Wolff quit his nine to five day job doing marketing and sales in the pharmaceutical industry. He did this while living in New York City of all places and took a huge leap of faith to pursue his dreams: being an artist.

I spoke with Jeremy to get his story of how he went from a corporate slave to becoming a full time artist, and flipping the term “starving artist” on it’s head by making many, thousands of dollars for his paintings and selling them to artists, celebrities and athletes.

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Instagram “jwolffstudios: Getting there. Not too much left to do. Hope everyone has enjoyed the progress pictures. Also a nice glimpse at my work station.”

 

Dan Reich: What was the decision of quitting your job like?

Wolff: Quitting my job was probably the biggest and hardest decision I have ever made. It was not something I just did randomly one day. It was a thoughtful process and a decision I had thought about for years before actually doing so. It is my opinion that hundreds and thousands of people go through life never knowing exactly what they want to do with their career. They end up jumping from job to job, chasing that higher title and salary down a path through standard and monotonous corporate America. I often questioned what it was I wanted to end up doing. I knew I had a diverse and creative skill set, but I never was given an opportunity to show that at any of the jobs that I had during my corporate stint.

It wasn’t until I took a 10-day vacation on a trip to Israel for my birthright where I got to reflect on my career and think deeply about what I wanted my life to be. We were in a very artsy town and I had noticed a lot of street art and vendors selling their artwork for hundreds of dollars and I looked at my friends and said, “I can absolutely do that.” My friends looked at me like I was crazy at first but it was that day that I knew I was eventually going to give it a go.

Reich: What were some of the first steps you took to changing your career and becoming an artist?

Wolff: The first thing I thought about was whether it was realistic or not. I thought about my immediate network of family, friends, and past co-workers. I knew my strongest asset in the beginning would be word of mouth. In fact, I still think that is my strongest asset as I continue to grow and build my network. I have always prided myself as someone who never burns bridges. I have always made an effort to be the best I can at staying in touch with people. I figured if I could get one or two people from that core network to commission me for a painting in the beginning months it would be a great start. After all, I didn’t even have a portfolio of work to show off in order to gain any exposure. I knew I had to work diligently to have something to show in order to gain clients. Sure enough I did get a couple commissions from some friends and family and thus my art career had begun.

Reich: It must have been tough in the beginning not knowing when your next paycheck was going to come in. How did you manage to pay your bills?

Wolff: Tough is an understatement. It was always a grind. 20-hour days. Not all of those hours were spent doing tangible work, but more so brainstorming my next steps and figuring out my path. I knew I needed a way to make some quick cash any time I needed it. Gotta eat right? So, it was the beginning of September, nearing the end of the baseball season and September 25th, 2014 was Derek Jeter’s last home game. I thought this would be a great opportunity by doing a Derek Jeter portrait and having some prints made up to sell in front of the stadium. I painted an oil painting close up of Jeter taking an at bat, had 150 prints made, along with some business cards that featured the painting on it. I packed up the prints in a bag, borrowed my friends Jeter jersey, and stood out side Yankees Stadium selling prints from anywhere between 5 to 20 dollars each. Each time I sold a print I made sure to give the buyer a business card and told them I also work on commission. I ended up selling around 100 or so of those prints during that series and made right around $1200 cash. Not only that, but a dozen of those people that bought a print contacted me and commissioned me to do an original piece for them later on.

So I had figured out a way to make some quick cash while also getting my name out there. I continued with the New York sports theme for a little while and knew that whenever I needed some emergency money, I could go out to Madison Square Garden or Metlife Stadium to sell some Rangers or Giants prints. It was a large portion of my initial income when some would say I was a “starving artist”.

Reich: But you’re not starving anymore. I know social media has played a huge role in your success. Can you elaborate on your use of Instagram and other social media?

Wolff: There is so much to tell about social media so I will do my best to give everyone as much insight as I can. Instagram has changed my life and social media has given the term “over night success story” a new meaning. Instagram alone has over 600 million active monthly users. As a visual artist this was my obvious choice in terms of which outlet I focused most on. I told myself that I am not only an artist, but I must become an expert in social media as well. I consider Instagram half my job. In two years I have gained 16K followers and that number grows each and every day.

Reich: Tell us more about your Instagram activity. What are some tips you can give to other entrepreneurs?

Wolff: One great thing about social media is that everyone of importance is represented on social media and if they aren’t then they are way behind the eight ball. Because of that, it is so important to be as active as possible. The more activity you have the more you will align with the algorithm of Facebook/Instagram.

The first thing I recommend when it comes to Instagram is to have role models. There has got to be one person or business that you look at and say to yourself, “I want to be like that.” For me, there were several artists that I chose to use as role models for my career. I used well known artists like Alec Monopoly, Retna, King Saladeen, BK The Artist, Bradley Theodore, and Mr. Brainwash just to name a few. I made it a purpose of my life to study these individuals. What connections have they made? What people are they talking to? Not only that, but I have taken it further and gone out and met a lot of those artists and have become friends and acquaintances. I think it is fair to say that I have piggy backed off some of those artists success.

Every night before I go to sleep I will go to one of the aforementioned artists page, take their most recent photo and begin following the accounts that have liked the picture. I also unfollow accounts to maintain a comfortable followers ratio. Then I ‘like’ over 1000 random pictures using hashtags that align with what I am working on. I am sure many people are aware that there are plenty of computer robots that can do this automatically for you, and there are. You can pay for this service, but why pay to have something completely automated when you can do it yourself but smarter? I focus in on my target market. I am coming in contact with people who I know are already interested in art because I am finding them through other artist’s accounts. This gives me better odds that I will one day come in contact with one of there collectors who may be spending thousands of dollars and investing in emerging artists like myself.

Reich: Tell me more about the business side of art.

Wolff: I think I am learning it as I go. I think there is a whole side of the art world I haven’t even come close to divulging into yet. The gallery scene is something I have every intention of breaking into one day when the right opportunity comes along. One thing I do know is that it is changing. Artists are beginning to realize they don’t necessarily need the galleries. I like to think about Chance The Rapper and how he became who he was with out a record label. We have the tools to do everything on our own these days.

Reich: What are some of your best experiences so far on this journey?

Wolff: Oh wow, there are some pretty surreal moments, I can’t lie. That’s a tough question. I have met some of my child hood sports hero’s who have personally signed my original pieces. Kim Kardashian posted one of my paintings on her website, that was a wild morning. I got to live body paint a model during this past Art Basel in Miami. I have met some amazing people that inspire me to be great, people you wouldn’t normally get to meet. But, I think the best experiences are when I get to see people admiring my work. Putting smiles on faces from a painting is so powerful. Being able to inspire other people to chase their dream. Being able to spread a message through imagery that I created. It’s just a special feeling and one that is hard to describe.

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Jeremy’s Art Basel Show with the Kim Kardashian painting

Reich: What do you have on your horizon?

Wolff: I have some really cool projects coming up. I am currently working on my “Cartoon Money Team” series, which as you know features a Forbes Magazine cover with “Cartoon’s Richest Characters”. I have around 12 ideas in which I am going to include the 5 characters I deemed to be the Money Team. So you can be on the look out for that theme to continue. I also have a few murals planned to happen in 2017 and have already begun working out details on painting my first exotic car during Art Basel week 2017 down in Miami.

Reich: Give one piece of advice to other entrepreneurs and artists.

Wolff: My one piece of advice is the cliché that Rome wasn’t built in one day. While it is possible to get a viral hit in today’s day and age, being an entrepreneur is about gaining a reputation and that seldom happens over night. Just as in the corporate world you need a resume to get a job, it works the same way for yourself. I look at my career as an artist and entrepreneur the same way I looked at it while I had the normal 9 to 5. I told myself I am at the entry level of being an artist and I need to work my way up. For some it happens quicker than others as it does with corporate jobs as well. But, you need to crawl before you walk and walk before you run. Take it step by step. Small goals first and make them bigger and bigger each year.

Future Of Work Predictions For The Year Ahead

This post originally appeared on Forbes.

We’re unofficially past the “Happy New Year” stage of 2017; that new year smell has almost entirely worn off, people are back from their sunny vacations in the Caribbean, and many are hard at work.

A lot of enterprise tech trends have been predicted to establish themselves this year, but none is as buzzy as artificial intelligence. It has been on the horizon for some time, but 2017 is poised to be the first time that bots at work are natural parts of our everyday workflow.

Don’t be mistaken, AI has a ways to go, and could accelerate at an unpredictable pace as bots gather more data. But people’s hesitancy about committing to bots at work, and questions around the effectiveness of these tools, will gradually melt away.

With this theme in mind, let’s take a look at what some B2B leaders predict for the future of work in 2017:

Matthew King, Customer Engagement Consultant at Microsoft
“Artificial intelligence breakthroughs are occurring at a rate which will certainly result in significant swaths of both blue and white collar workers across the globe facing the risk of automation. Even professions like sales, which tout the importance of human-to-human connection, are facing the prospect of first being assisted by, and eventually completely replaced by machine intelligence. As a society we must fundamentally re-imagine what work means to us, what our purpose on this planet is, and how to provide for people in an increasingly stratified world. The gains of efficiency improvements mean greater profits for the owners of capital and greater poverty for those who lose their ability to trade labor and skills for wages. We owe it to ourselves to think through how we should adapt as individuals and as a society to the ascendance of hyper-efficient, hyper-intelligent machines.”

Dennis R. Mortensen, CEO and Founder of x.ai
“We will see less hype around virtual personal assistants in 2017, but also, and this is the important part, less stigma! People will begin to get a sense of the real world applications of intelligent agents and the AI that powers them. Given these agents will look and feel mundane compared to the AI’s and robots depicted by Hollywood, we’ll see fewer silly and cartoonish accounts of robots taking over the world and eliminating humanity.”

Ceci Stallsmith, Platform Marketing at Slack
“You’ll have a small army of bots to help you do your job. As businesses move from email to messaging, all of the software you use for work will connect with the most pervasive for-work messaging products. As every business and startup went mobile in 2011, bots are the next major trend. As Mailbox, Sunrise Calendar, and other mobile-first productivity apps rose up, there will be a trend in hot bot for-work companies rising up in 2017. The big question lies in how intelligent these little helpers need to be: do bots need to understand your every request? Will they be able to intelligently gather your needs, or will we be happy with their existence to fulfill a specific function? If intelligence is required for success, the major players—Google, Microsoft, IBM, and Facebook—have a significant advantage over smaller developers.”

Aaref Hilaly, Partner at Sequoia Capital
“It becomes normal to talk to computers at work. Natural language understanding catches up with image recognition. Home devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home train people on how they can interact. Application vendors start to build in voice and messaging interfaces into their products, leveraging research from Google, Microsoft and others.”

Andrew Berger, Head of Sales Development, Square
“Customers and buyers demand information at their fingertips, and technology is facilitating the speed of information. Collaboration across multiple teams, departments, offices, and organizations is much more efficient with streamlined communication tools, such as Slack, enabling rapid response and answers to customers. The ability to sync CRM data into these communication tools, with smart bots and agents facilitating the workflow in an automated fashion, ensures all stakeholders are aware of customer needs and provides a much-improved customer experience.”

Jake Schwartz, CEO and Co-Founder at General Assembly
“Just as with the telegraph, the telephone, the mainframe, the database, the fax machine, email, and the PDA, etc etc, there are always new technologies changing how we work. The deeper change is what that work will look like. The demand for people with skills in data, software development, UX, is growing at an accelerated rate YoY. This acceleration will continue as companies make their transition to the future, which will involve a constantly evolving set of trends around communication, automation, and the pace of change. In the year ahead we are seeing more companies face their own challenges around staffing these roles, and how to upskill their previous generations of workers. Here at GA, we’re trying to make an impact by enabling the sourcing and the training of this next generation of skilled talent.

There were more than 250,000 positions open last year for what are called hybrid technical roles. These jobs don’t only pay well – with annual salaries ranging from $65k-110k – but their required skillsets are actually trainable and do not require an advanced degree. Roles are growing in skillsets that don’t exist (or are just starting to) and there’s a limited talent pool from which to fill that seat. I think in the year ahead we’ll see challenges tied to that skills gap become a painfully obvious opportunity for non-degree programs to make an even larger impact. Here at GA, we’re trying to make an impact by training people to be the producers of the future. We’re working to create efficient programs that fill the need for people versus solely focusing on the need for jobs.”

Ray Carroll, VP Sales at Engagio
“In 2017, the industry will start to realize that Account Based Marketing is NOT a technology category, it’s a strategic business initiative. Just like demand gen and inbound marketing are ways of running your marketing machine, ABM is a way of running your revenue machine. And, just like demand gen, ABM breaks down into many categories – including account selection, account research, account-based analytics, account-based advertising, automated sales plays, and more. If you want to succeed in 2017, you must align your entire organization around this strategy, put the foundation in place with lead-to-account matching and account-based analytics, and focus on quality engagement with your target accounts.”

There will always be a fine line between AI that enhances our skill versus replaces us entirely, and unfortunately, some of us will wake up and find ourselves in the latter situation.

These questions will only begun to be answered in the year ahead, but in 2017 we will continue the march towards another step forward in automation and intelligent systems.

Disclosure: Slack is an investor in Troops.ai

5 Tips Every Small Business Owner Needs To Know

This post originally appeared on Forbes.com.

With companies like Squarespace, Wix, and Weebly helping people create their own e-commerce stores, taking a business online has never been so easy. And yet, it’s still a challenge to run an online business successfully. “It can be difficult for a small business to really make an impact online, even when it has a beautiful site,” says Olga Vidisheva, the founder and CEO of Shoptiques.com. The 4-year-old business is an online destination for customers to shop brick-and-mortar boutique stores. Having recently signed its 5,000th store, Vidisheva’s company is now the largest of its kind. I sat down with Vidisheva to get her perspective on what it takes for small businesses to thrive online.

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Shoptiques has over 5,000 small businesses on its platform.

  1. Have a point of view and unique product offering

Commodity businesses such as books and electronics were the first to see e-commerce really squeeze out mom and pop stores. The product offering is uniform and easily comparable. If you’re looking to buy a copy of the latest bestseller there isn’t anything distinguishable from one copy to another. If the differentiators are only price and speed, then purchasing from an e-commerce giant like Amazon is a clear choice even if there is a shop down the street that sells the same item. Amazon may be able to deliver it to your door before you have time to stop by the store.The more difficult industries for Amazon and others to compete in are those with high degrees of differentiation and low degrees of uniformity. “Your offering must stand out and have a point of view,” says Vidisheva. “If what you’re selling is not special, your business will never get off the ground,” she adds. This maxim is true for both e

The more difficult industries for Amazon and others to compete in are those with high degrees of differentiation and low degrees of uniformity. “Your offering must stand out and have a point of view,” says Vidisheva. “If what you’re selling is not special, your business will never get off the ground,” she adds. This maxim is true for both e-commerce and traditional retailers. Vidisheva explains, “for fashion, we really believe that boutiques selling unique items will continue to thrive and those are the boutiques we’re bringing to Shoptiques. It’s not enough to be unique to your zip code or postcode. Once your customers can access product from around the world, you need to be offering something truly special in the global marketplace.”

  1. Logistics are key

Consumer expectations today are heavily influenced by companies such as Apple, Amazon, and Uber. Consumers want products and experiences that are intuitive, operate smoothly, and arrive virtually on-demand. Once customers take the leap and buy from your store, restaurant or even a dry cleaner, it’s important you don’t lose their trust with a bad delivery experience. “Items need to arrive in perfect condition, quickly, and nicely packaged,” notes Vidisheva. “It is no longer enough to just offer the product, whether you are a large or small business, the consumer expects a lot from the start to finish of their purchase experience.”

  1. Embrace the omnichannel

Your brand is your brand, wherever customers experience it. “Cultivating a brand identity is critical for a small business,” says Pinkyotto boutique owner Peter Hsia. “Whatever the client sees or experiences becomes your brand.” That means your site, app, social media, and in-store aesthetic should be consistent. “The website shouldn’t feel like a departure from your product.” Vidisheva adds. “A customer should immediately recognize the look and feel. It builds recognition and repeat rate.” Eliminate the ‘e’ in e-commerce and think about how to use technology to serve all of our customers across every touch point. It shouldn’t matter if your customer wants to walk in the door and try something on or if your customer wants to purchase via a tweet from the other side of the world. Technology is what will allow small business owners to operate on a global scale.

  1. Always be on their minds

There are more ways than ever to be in touch with your customers. Social media is an essential communication tool for a company to engage with customers on a regular basis, and so is email. For brick-and-mortar stores, an online presence is also a way to cross-promote. Elliot Dejmal of New York’s Dor L’ Dor boutique explains, “I love being able to market the website to customers in-store and market the physical stores on the web.”

  1. See what else is out there – and use it

Companies like Shoptiques, PostMates, and OpenTable make it easier for small businesses to compete in a global scale. As Dave Kerpen, CEO of Likeable Local wrote, “As a result of technology, services that were once only available to multinational companies with millions of dollars in revenue are now only an app away for small businesses.” Small businesses shouldn’t shy away from using these types of services to grow their digital footprint.

Have more thoughts on tech and small businesses? Share them in the comments section below. And check out the independent boutiques on Shoptiques here.

This Startup Failed In Year One And Is Now Doing Over $6M In Sales Per Year

This post originally appeared on Forbes.com.

On January 19th Kyle Porter, CEO of SalesLoft, a sales technology startup out of Atlanta came to chat with the Building The Sales Machine community here in New York City about the challenges of building company as it relates to culture, values and building the sales organization. Kyle and the SalesLoft story is compelling because the business was pretty much a failure in the first year. But now, they are an 80 person company and grew sales by 1000% in 2015. Moreover, they went from $1M to $6M run rate in the past 5 quarters and was rated the #1 Best Place to Work in Atlanta.

As someone who is building a sales-facing technology startup myself, this story is especially compelling to me.

So how did they do it? Here is what Kyle had to say.

Dan Reich: How did you get started with Salesloft?

Kyle Porter: When we started this company, we flat out failed in the first 12 months. In 2011 I started the company and had no idea what I was getting into. I was a really good salesperson but had no idea had to start a company.

A sales person is the closest job to an entrepreneur. It’s the role where you control your own destiny the most. And you have to have this relentless pursuit to make it happen. I had that gene inside of me. But I didn’t understand software development. I didn’t understand the culture of an Engineering Org, the prioritization of product management philosophy. I didn’t understand that you can only do so many thing at once. I had these guys build, build, build and ultimately I scattered them too thinly.

The other big thing that I was missing was the people’s culture. Think to yourself right now about how you think people should behave… If you start a company you HAVE to inject those things into your business. I didn’t make that happen. I had people that I hired that I thought might be good, but the culture spun out of control.

On the reboot: I’m going to start over from scratch but do 2 things wildly different. 1 I’m going to put thought into product management 2. Pay a ton of attention to culture.

Reich: What has become of the modern sales organization?

Porter: You either have a modern sales organization or you don’t. Are you striving to do things better? Are you using the processes and tools that are available today to drive your team forward? What I keep learning is that there’s stages inside these sales organizations.

When I started sales loft we had this hot thing that a lot of people wanted. So we could reach out to anyone with a “soft touch” and were able to kind of “carpet blast” the universe and get some really good numbers. Eventually, you need to go deeper and build real relationships with people.

If you’re out there and have a sales process that’s working but doesn’t require significant sales skills, you should be skeptical.

If you’re sending emails and people are responding, but you’re not actually diving in and solving problems and going deep, building relationships, connecting with people… those sales are going to eventually dry up.

That’s what I’ve learned about the modern sales organization. The good ones aren’t taking anything for granted. They’re going deep to build true problem-solving relationships with their buyers. They figure out ways to get really personal and interactive with their customers over time.

Reich: What should the SDR and Account Management interaction look like?

Porter: Two years ago this was shocking stuff, but now we’ve all seen the SDR [Sales Development Movement]. We’ve seen the specialization in sales between the people who prospect and bring in the business, and those that nurture the relationships and close it down. Now with the specialization, you’re seeing both disciplines get better at their craft. But now those two roles are coming together a bit more. They have empathy for the role of the other person.

Reich: What are your core values and why are they important to SalesLoft?

Porter: As an executive at your company, work hard to inject your personal core values into your business. What are the 3 things that matter most to me? 1. Positive 2. Self Starting 3. Supportive. The first person I hired: are they positive, are they self-starting are they supportive. This ran down to everything we’ve done. The difference has been night and day.

Now as you grow, it get’s harder and harder to control this at a company level, but you can definitely control it at a team level. So hiring the right people to start, then putting your best people into leadership positions, that embody and understand your values, then having them hire their teams to those values and letting them run with it; eventually you have a solid team, built around your culture.

We went from 3 core values, then my team came to me and said, hey I see a few other things we’d like to talk to you about. “We see people who are positive, supportive and self-starting at this company but they leave a bit to be desired. We also see people that are doing things that are not 1, 2, & 3 but we love it. So we went out to dinner and I asked my team to write down: Who are the top 7 people at this organization, that if we cloned them it would lead us to market domination? Write out the top 5 traits of those people and put them in the middle. Sure enough, 1. Positive. 2. Self Starting 3. Supportive. rose to the top, from that we mined out 3 additional core values. 4. Empathetic 5. Transparent 6. Exceptional.

Reich: How can you use your core values to measure a team (hire, fire, train)?

Porter: I’m a super broken record when it comes to core values. I’m sure people say “Kyle’s an idiot, he says the same things over and over and over again.” Well, I might be. But you better believe everyone at SalesLoft remembers those 6 core values. No matter how long they’ve been there, they can walk you through them. That’s important. That means they run deep.

I’m a parent. I have an 18 month-old baby girl, Brooklyn. Every night before I put her to bed I tell her the rules of the house: be nice to Mommy and Daddy, be nice to others, be nice to yourself. I say that to her over and over until she gets it. If she does something dishonest or not fair. I’m going to tell her, “share, share share”. People think that the job of the CEO is to be some mad scientist and write these elaborate equations locked up in a whiteboard somewhere… The job of the CEO is to ingrain the vision and the values into your team. That simply takes repetition.
I’m the chief reminding officer.

Then I’m injecting it into the hiring process. We have a matrix. Anyone hiring at SalesLoft score candidates on a Matrix according to our core values. By the time I see a candidate in the 3rd round, “I’ll walk right in and ask what are the SalesLoft core values?”. If that person doesn’t know it, they’re out.

Then we work it into management. If I’ve seen that Alex has shown a ton of empathy to a vendor. I’m going to pull her aside, look her in the eye and tell her “thank you”, and explicitly call out what she did, how it tied back to our values and how great it was. All of our managers are trained to do that as well. It makes a difference.

I’ll do the same thing if with negative responses to the values. If I notice that Alex wasn’t attentive to a note that was sent around the office. I’m going to pull her aside again and say hey, you need to be up on this, it’s part of being successful. When you’re not up on this, it hurts our company and here’s why… and “I know you’re better than that”. That matters.

Now, the reprimands are like 1:6 on the compliments. Go heavy on the positive. But stick to your cultures. That’s how you inject that shit right into the business!

Promote on culture values, hire on culture values, fire on culture values.

 

How This New Podcasting Platform Pulled Off The Perfect Product Launch

This post originally appeared on Forbes.com.

In the world of technology startups, it seems many people look to a few select sites to figure out what products are new and exciting. Product Hunt is one of those sites. At the time of this writing, Product Hunt has 4,007 products listed, 15,795 comments, 71,842 upvotes, and 29,021 subscribers from around the world. So I was fascinated to see a company called Zula generate as much engagement as they did during their launch of their new product called ZCast.

Why was I fascinated?

ZCast is a podcasting product. It enables anyone to podcast live with friends and let anyone listen and interact in real time. In other words, it removes the barrier to podcasting.

With the world moving towards augmented reality and virtual reality, it seems like sometimes we take for granted tried and true mediums that people are accustomed to. According to the Washington Post, podcast downloads passed the 1 billion mark in 2014, and monthly podcast listeners reached as much as 75 million per month. By mid-2015, ad marketing spend on podcasts reached $50M. Several new podcasting services launched in the past two years, each promising new and exciting ways to allow users to broadcast themselves.

I sat down with Hillel Fuld, the CMO of ZCast, who recently led their launch to gain some insights into their product, their space and into their product launch.

Hillel Fuld

Hillel Fuld, CMO of Zula.

Dan Reich: This ZCast launch was pretty nuts. Most upvotes on Product Hunt, tons of press, and from what I can see, tons of traction. I opened the app and there were tens of upcoming casts. How did you pull off this launch?

Hillel Fuld: Yes, the ZCast launch was bonkers. I mean the team worked for months preparing for it and we hoped it would be good, but definitely exceeded our expectations. I’d like to offer some magical answer that anyone can just do and pull off a launch like this but the truth is, it was a whole lot of hard work. Building relationships for years on Twitter and other platforms, writing content myself so when I ask friends and followers to support the launch, most people were happy to after reading my content daily for years. I mean, there are definitely some useful tips I can offer like to coordinate the Product Hunt aspect of your launch way in advance. Choose the tag line, the person who will hunt it for you, write your first comment in advance, and make sure to spend time on Product Hunt for months before the launch. I wrote many more tips on Medium the day after launch. Read that post here.

Reich: I actually want to focus on Product Hunt a little more. It has become quite a central platform in product launches and you nailed it. I’d love to know five things you would recommend to anyone launching a product on Product Hunt.

Fuld: Sure. Here we go.
A: Spend a lot of time on the platform well before you intend on launching. Give back to the community there because without that, you can’t expect them to support you during your launch. By the way, apply this rule to all aspects of marketing. Give a whole lot more than you take.

B: Before you decide on your one liner, write 20-30 options down, gather feedback from people, team members, colleagues, and anyone else who will offer their opinion. The tag line should obviously talk to the Product Hunt community so be geeky but also make sure the tag line says clearly what your product does.

C: Make sure your graphics stand out. Whether it is screen shots, a video, or any other visual assets, remember that all people will see when determining whether to upvote is the name of your product, the tag line, and the visuals.

D: Find the right person to hunt it. In theory, you, the maker of the product should hunt it but if you don’t have a large audience there, then find someone who does and can hunt it for you.

E: Here’s something I learned the hard way. Coordinate the Product Hunt launch time with the press. In other words, if you sent out your release under embargo till 9:30 AM, then don’t launch on Product Hunt any earlier than that. If you do, the press can and probably will see the product on Product Hunt and write about it before, which might annoy other reporters and prevent them from covering the launch. I made this mistake and almost paid the price.

F: Bonus: Never ever ask for upvotes. Sharing the link to your page on Product Hunt? Totally fine. Asking for Upvotes in a Facebook post, tweet, email or any other way? Not ok.

Reich: So tell me about ZCast.

Fuld: ZCast is the most exciting product I’ve ever been involved in building. I can tell you that over the last five years, I’ve tried many times to podcast. I’m a big believer in content of all kinds and audio content is no different. The problem is that creating a podcast is super challenging. Either you sit in a studio with your guests and record the podcast with high-end equipment or you need to use some serious software to record the conversation then edit it after the show to make it into a podcast format.

With ZCast, choose a topic, invite your co-hosts and go live. That’s it. You’re podcasting. Approximately ten second setup time. The goal with ZCast is to do to audio content what YouTube did to video. Make it accessible to anyone. For now, it’s iOS and a full-fledged web app that enables you to listen, interact, and cast from your web browser. On Android, you can use the browser as well but an Android app is obviously on the roadmap.

Reich: What are your next moves with ZCast and what are the challenges?

Fuld: The launch was the “easy part”. Now getting content flowing into the platform is the challenge. The amount of casts we had on the first few days is astounding but now we need to take this momentum and leverage it to build out the community. Of course, there is also the fund raising, which is an essential part of building out a vision as ambitious as ours. Finally, we will be working closely with some strategic partners on ZCast. Think entertainment, think podcasting networks, and think different types of content creators who always wanted to podcast but simply couldn’t.

Reich: What was the most exciting part of the ZCast launch?

Fuld: Well we haven’t spoken about this publicly yet but we had many, many visually impaired individuals interact with their audience while ZCasting. Taking questions, answering them, and just literally hosting their very own interactive podcast. I am not talking one or two people, there were many. It was inspiring.

Reich: So I’ll just ask what many people want to know. What does being number one in terms of votes on Product Hunt, getting countless positive reviews in the press, and endless social promotion do to your download numbers? How is that going?

Fuld: Well, obviously it is too early to talk numbers but what definitely matters to us most is the amount of time each user spends on the platform. Downloads are less important to us since the web app has all the functionality needed to ZCast. Having said that, the numbers both in terms of downloads, average ZCast time, and just overall ZCast sessions are super exciting. We didn’t expect them to be this high and that’s an understatement. The retention, in other words, the people that start a ZCast, then come back to do another one? That is the number we are most proud of!

Reich: What’s the stage of Zula, the company? Are you raising capital now? Tell me about that.

Fuld: Zula is a small company with 6 team members. Two marketing, one iOS, one UI/UX, and The CEO. Super lean. Yes, we are talking to a few investors now about raising a round of financing primarily to be used to build out the ZCast platform and make it available to more people, starting with Android users.

Reich: If you had one wish for ZCast, one goal, what would it be?

Fuld: I think our dream here is to offer users everything they need to create high quality engaging audio content. My dream? To have ZCast accompany talk radio shows, sports events, and other less geeky and more mainstream events. We see ZCast as sort of the next-generation talk radio.

Reich: And you? What’s your end game?

Fuld: Well I am super excited about the future of ZCast and I think there is tremendous potential here. I can’t wait to start my own weekly podcast. Soon we will add recording in ZCast and I’ll be hosting my own show. The topic? Stay tuned. Other than that, helping push the Israeli ecosystem forward. It is exciting times for us with ZCast and exciting times here in the Israeli startup ecosystem!

How These Founders Built A $1 Million+ Business And Acquired A Competitor All While Bootstrapped

This post originally appeared on Forbes.com.

These days, it seems rare to meet entrepreneurs who have opted to bypass the route of raising venture capital in favor of a building a business that sustains itself through revenue. Josh Goldstein and Chris Muir, cofounders of an NYC-based hiring startup that’s quietly amassed a customer list with some of the best-known technology companies in New York and San Francisco, including companies like Kickstarter, Warby Parker, and Etsy, have done just that. Underdog.io took to its blog today to announce that it had acquired Sourcing.io, another company in the recruiting space, for an undisclosed sum.

I had the chance to catch up with Josh and Chris about bootstrapping their business, financing an acquisition out of revenue, and how they see themselves within a broader recruiting industry that’s rife with venture dollars.

Dan Reich: How did Underdog.io come about?

Josh Goldstein and Chris Muir: We started Underdog.io as a side project back in April 2014. At the time we were working on a different business – enterprise software for real estate property managers – but we weren’t close to making any money with it and started brainstorming some other products that would help us pay the bills. Underdog.io was one of those ideas, and probably the one that we felt the strongest about. After getting some early traction with it, we decided to go all in.

Reich: You both have experience at venture-backed startups. Did you guys plan to build a bootstrapped business?

Goldstein and Muir: We’ve never set any hard and fast rules about fundraising. The only rule that we had when we started Underdog.io  – and this was probably a result of both of us having worked at startups with no revenue – was to build a product that people would pay for on day 1. This was super important to us…much more important than raising tons of money or getting a write-up in TechCrunch.

Reich: Where did the idea to acquire Sourcing.io come from?

Goldstein and Muir: Both of us have been big fans of Alex MacCaw (the founder of Sourcing.io) for a while, in particular his blog and his writing about the state of recruiting in SF. As part of building Underdog.io, we tried out a number of sourcing products, including Sourcing.io. We loved the interface and some of the social and team features that Alex was building. Fast forward a few months and we jumped at the chance to meet with Alex when we found out that he was looking to move on and focus on another business.

Reich: Now that you’ve made this acquisition, what are your plans?

Goldstein and Muir: We’ve got lots of work to do to integrate our two products, onboard some new customers, and make sure that our existing customers understand where we’re headed. After that, it will be business as usual for us, which means staying focused on giving candidates the best experience possible and giving companies a cheaper and easier way to hire great teammates. The recruiting technology space is full of companies with big war chests and even bigger financial expectations. One advantage of bootstrapping is being able to stay focused on what matters to you, which is a luxury that we’ll take advantage of for as long as possible.

Reich: What’s one piece of advice that you’d give others that are looking to bootstrap a business?

Goldstein and Muir: Prepare yourself for a slow grind. Bootstrapping is neither harder nor easier than raising money, but it’s definitely slower. Almost every roadmap you have – from product development to hiring – will be extended because you have fewer resources than you need and, more than likely, fewer resources than other companies in your industry. Stay focused and try to use that slowness to your advantage in some way.

When R2D2 and TARS Show Up For Work – My New Company, Troops

This post originally appeared on Forbes.com.

I’ve been thinking about R2D2 a lot lately and it’s not because I’m a nerd or a big Star Wars fans. Although on some days I’m probably both. I’ve also been thinking about the other sci-fi movie robots out there like TARS from Interstellar, Samantha from HER, or even Arnold from The Terminator.

I think Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk have been thinking a lot about this, too.

Once upon a time artificially intelligent machines, talking robots and self driving cars were just some figments of imagination but now we have Siri, Amazon Echo and Tesla’s driverless cars.

And these are just the pre-school version of what is yet to come. You can be sure these technology juggernauts like Apple, Facebook, Tesla and Google are cooking up some next level, world changing solutions. I mean, Google just created an entire holding company called Alphabet to do precisely that.

Our society has finally crossed a threshold with technology, and there is a shift underway.

Invisible apps, zero UI, artificial intelligence, messaging-as-software. These are all phrases I’ve heard over the past few months that are meant to convey that shift which is: We’re at a moment in time where software can adapt to humans whereas before humans were the ones adapting to software.

Microsoft calls it “Productivity Future Vision.” I call it, “just getting stuff done.”

The software, computing power, hardware, interoperability of platforms, and APIs are all there for this shift to finally happen and for highly complex systems to be built and deployed at scale.

I saw a tweet the other day that said API’s were the unsung hero of technology. There is certainly some truth to that. They allow us to move beyond stand alone solutions to a world where solutions can work with other another.

And to date, those stand alone solutions, at least in terms of software have mostly been about drop down menus, check boxes, field and forms, and some mediocre UI and UX. It’s been about making screens look pretty. Making buttons click so that you can turn to yet another pretty page.

But the next 10 years will be about machine learning, artificial intelligence, natural language processing and technology that is contextually aware to human beings and their preferences. It will happen through interfaces that are intuitive and commonplace to human behavior.

Ben Evans says messaging is the software and not the other way around.

I agree.

I’m personally interested to see how this plays out in an enterprise environment and so I recently started a company with some amazing people to put these thoughts to paper and ideas to bits and code.

Someone once told me that we spend a third of our lives sleeping, a third working and a third watching TV. And it seems like an incredible time to try to make that “working third” a little better for everyone and to do so with entirely new engineering and software development concepts.

And the new company?

It’s called Troops.

How These 20-Year-Olds Raised $13M And Built A Massive Food Tech Company

This post originally appeared on Forbes.com

Being a young, first time entrepreneur is hard. Without a stunning success story or years of applicable experience, a new founder can face significant challenges starting and growing a company. A study by the University of California indicated that the average venture backed founder is 38 years old with 16 years of work experience. That’s quite a gap when it seems today that every new startup founder is in their early 20s.

What challenges differentiate a veteran entrepreneur and a newcomer’s experiences? What are strategies a first time business owner can employ to maximize the chances of success?

Eat Street's Office in Madison, WI

Eat Street’s Office in Madison, WI

Eric Martell started EatStreet, the largest independent food ordering company in the United States, when he was 20 years old with two classmates at the University of Wisconsin. EatStreet has raised $13 million and powers the online ordering of 15,000 restaurants nationwide. The startup, founded in 2010, exists in a cohort of foodtech and delivery companies that have some impressive deal flow: Instacart raised $220 million at a $1 billion valuation, Postmates has raised $138 million.

I recently chatted with Eric about starting a business in college and about the explosive growth of the food and delivery tech sectors.

Dan Reich: Speak to the challenges of starting a company at 20 years old.

Eric Martell: Early on, and to this day, we’ve had to convince others to take a risk on us, because we’re young and don’t have any pre-EatStreet experience running a tech company. In 2010, we had to convince the restaurants to take a chance on us. Matt was walking into every restaurant in Madison, WI with a simple pitch that our service would bring the restaurants more orders from new diners. Restaurants were wary of the entire idea, because if we took an order online and didn’t properly ensure that the restaurant received the order and could fulfill it, the diners would blame the restaurant for the poor experience. Additionally, we accepted payments online, which meant that we had to pay the restaurant every week, so they had to trust us with their money. Matt looked young for a 20 year old, and he heard more than once that the restaurant “just didn’t feel comfortable doing business with a kid.” Matt was able to sign up five restaurants when we launched February 1, 2010. With some results under our belt, we were able to expand that list to over 100 Madison restaurants within a year.

Additionally, in order to process online payments, we needed the trust of a credit card processor. We applied for six processors before getting approved… there was a lot of inherent risk to accepting online payments and transferring out the payments to restaurants on a weekly basis. It took over two months of searching before someone took the risk on us.

If it weren’t for those five restaurants and the credit card processor taking a risk on us, EatStreet would not exist.

Dan Reich: Do you still face challenges similar to these?

Eric Martell:  Although the nature of the challenges has changed over the years, we still face obstacles from being first time entrepreneurs. We’ve raised over $13 million from venture capitalists, and every single one of them has taken a risk in betting on our drive. We also form strategic partnerships with companies like Yelp, Google, Single Platform, and Hotel Communications Network. These businesses need justification to take risks on a company like ours. I’m glad to say that we’ve always been able to put up results, and the company is the strongest it’s ever been.

Dan Reich:  Do you think the current trajectory of food and delivery business funding and acquisitions will continue?

Eric Martell: We stand by what we’re seeing. GrubHub IPO’d a little over a year ago, and has consistently held its value as a multibillion dollar company. Over in Europe, DeliveryHero has raised over $1.5 billion, and Just-Eat also had a very strong IPO. With even Amazon and Uber eyeing the food delivery space, we’re happy to be where we are, with strong relationships with thousands of restaurants.

Dan Reich: Do you have any advice for first time entrepreneurs facing challenges regarding their experience levels?

Eric Martell: Persistence and results. Matt went to over 100 restaurants and only signed up five for our business’ launch. We could have called it quits after five credit card processor rejections. Our investment pitch historically has had less than a fifty percent success rate. Accept the failure as inevitable, and push forward. We’ve had restaurants that initially refused to sign up with us tell us today that when they finally did sign up with us, the additional orders we drove saved their business from going under.

Results might not always be present, but they speak louder than the best sales pitch. Focus on the aspects of your business you have control over, and grow like crazy. We didn’t raise a dollar until we had over $1 million in food sales, and that first million was the product of thousands of hours of promotion and hard work. It’s much easier to convince someone to believe in your vision if you have a track record of growth and hard work to back it up.

My Unhappy Customer Wanted to Kill Me

This post originally appeared on Forbes.com

When I was in high school, I learned two important lessons about business and life.

First, if it’s too good to be true it probably is and second, know who your business partners are. Unfortunately, it was only after receiving death threats from an anonymous Russian, that I came to understand these valuable principles.

About five months earlier my friend and I were sitting in the back room of history class. As a 10th grader, the back room is prime time real estate. It’s where you can get most of your note passing, whispering, and sleeping done. We had been talking about different ways we can make money. This was a hot topic because just a few weeks earlier I was making some spare change by selling bouncy balls to my friends. I’d buy them wholesale on eBayand then sell them for $0.25 to $1.00 per ball depending on the size and color. It was my first lesson in wholesale economics and my friend took notice.

bouncyballs

I sold these like hot cakes in high school.

The teacher continued on with the lesson and my friend leaned over, “I know a guy that sells urban clothing at wholesale prices. We should take a drive down there and see what kind of clothes we can buy. We could even resell them to our friends.” There wasn’t really much to think about. I already knew the answer. “Done” I said. “Let’s go after school.” I should of however asked, “how do you know this guy?” I would learn later that the wholesaler was involved with scams before.

Failure #1.

After a brief drive we arrived at some worn down residential home. We walked inside and immediately noticed that the interior was far from residential. It looked more like a warehouse. There were folding tables set up everywhere and the entire space was filled with piles upon piles of brand new clothes.

Jeans, shirts, shorts, blouses, skirts, you name it. It was all there. We sat down with the owner and peppered him with questions.

“Where did this stuff come from?”

“What kind of business is this?”

“Who are these other people in the warehouse?”

All of his answers seemed very legitimate and before we knew it, we were developing our business plan. We would pay someone to build us an e-commerce website, we would do the marketing, sales and advertising, and he would do our fulfillment and drop shipping right from the warehouse.

And that’s exactly what we did.

Within a month we had a fully functioning website and a full time client services representative taking and processing credit card orders. Each morning I would set up our Google and Yahoo ad campaigns and then my mom, aka client representative, would handle all client email correspondences and orders throughout the day. Slowly but surely the orders came in. First New York, then California, and soon enough, we were taking orders from all over the world. Including Russia. But as the orders and sales grew, so did the complaints.

“What did you send me? I want my money back.”

“Theses clothes have been worn. Is this a joke?”

We thought it was a joke, so we took another trip down to see our wholesaler. “What is going on?” And so his responses began. “We just had some issues with our shipment company. It’s being resolved now, and we’ll be able to replace and take care of those bad orders.” He continued with more of the same and again, the answers all seemed legitimate. In hindsight, my BS detector should have been ringing a whole lot louder, but what did I know? I was just some bouncy ball businessman.

We went through a few more rounds of bad orders and even worse complaints until we got the very descriptive email that said people were going to come after us. And so with a hit on my back and a dysfunctional business, we shut down the operation and returned whatever funds we could to the very unhappy customers.

I learned two very important lessons that day.

  1. If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.
  2. Know who your business partners are.

The wholesaler was eventually arrested, and I eventually bought more bouncy balls.

South Beach Wine And Food Festival Beginnings

This post originally appeared on Forbes.com.

If you’ve ever done sales before you know how important customer service is. At the heart of any sale, there is mostly always good old fashion communication and relationship building. That is why I find it fascinating to look at how some of the best people in the hospitality business do what they do and how they think about all facets of an experience or of a relationship.

Take Lee Schrager as an example.

Fourteen years ago, Lee attended the food and wine classic to represent his company, Southern Wine and Spirits. After a wonderful experience, he decided to try to create an event that benefited his brands in a place that he felt would be more conducive to a larger and more influential group of people. He realized that to win people over he would need warm weather and a closer location to NYC.

Shortly thereafter the South Beach Wine & Food Festival was born.

Today, more than 60,000 people attend the events, and Lee is able to attract big names like John Legend, Chrissy Teigen and others.

I was able to chat with Lee to learn about three things that he felt contributed to the successful execution of this event. Here is what he said:

Leverage your unfair advantage. Lee was very quick to admit that part of his success with the event stems from the fact that he works for a large and successful organization, Southern Wine and Spirits. Having the resources of a large organization gives him a tremendous platform to get things in place however, this is just a part of the puzzle.

Engage with tastemaker and influential folks. In the first year of the event, Lee had no track record to speak of when it came to producing such large-scale events. So he reached out to his network and engaged with friends who become early adopters which in his case, were people like Emeril Lagasse, Rachel Ray, Bobby Flay and Giada DeLaurentiis, all highly respectful folks in the food industry. Couple this with the amplification of social media and the popular shows on the Food Network, and building an engaging audience was not too difficult for Lee.

Create great products, programing and listen to your customers. Lee and his team are very conscientious of different demographics, price points and customer feedback. As a result, they recently revamped the festival’s signature event – the Grand Tasting Village – to offer a brand new layout and timing based on festival goer feedback. They also added more late night events with cocktail themes, instead of only adding more of their traditional daytime events, and intimate dinners with chefs ranging from international superstars to local culinary talents.

Lastly, everything Lee does is done with a mission in mind and in this case, it’s charity. To date, Lee and his festival have raised over $20 million for the Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management at Florida International University.  The New York City Wine & Food Festival is hosted by and benefits the Food Bank For New York City and Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign and 100% of the Festival’s net proceeds go toward helping these community based organizations fight hunger.

That’s not a bad mission to have, and with right skills and groundwork, it’s easy to see how an event like this can become and remain a success.

Nice job, Lee.