MonthJuly 2015

How to Land a Blue Marlin

This week I was taught how to fish using Nando’s as bait…… no, I’m being serious!

Last week I attended the Chasing ED conference at Campus London. This was the first conference I had attended outside of university and it didn’t disappoint! Besides being in Google’s awesome office space for startups, I had a great day meeting new people from a variety of backgrounds.

Whilst all of the talks taught me something new, in this blog I want to focus on one in particular as it is a subject I am currently experimenting in!

“How to land a Blue Marlin” from StudentView founder, Raff McKenzie.

Why was he talking about this? Well, to encourage students to leave accommodation reviews on his site he needed to provide rewards that would actually interest university students – it’s harder than you think!

Currently he has partnerships with Uber and Spotify (to name just a few!) and was even able to provide one lucky student with enough Domino’s pizza to match their height!

So how did he do it? Well first he says you need to know who your Blue Marlin is. As he says “Your Marlin could be anyone that adds value to your business and they could fill a host of different roles and positions.” He explicitly explained how it is important to evaluate the current position you are in and see who can help most NOW.

Of course bagging an angle investor would be great, however an industry expert might be the best thing for you to get going.

What next? You need to catch them! This is where Nando’s comes in…..

So you’ve found your Marlin, you’re about to cast your line (send an email) but you want to make sure they are attracted to your line, you want to make sure they bite AND hold on! Raff was successful at this by using what he calls “The Nando’s Pitch – Hot and Cheeky!”

You need to stand out from the hundreds of emails they receive each day, make them remember and like you! Be different and add a bit of colour to their grey inbox. Of course it is important to remember who you are emailing and remember what you are emailing about. It always has to be relevant and appropriate, but where possible, do what you can to stand out!

What I have learnt

In my short time trying to catch Blue Marlin’s I have learnt one vital lesson – know what you want from them; that can’t be everything or anything!

Several times I have had responses from people saying they want to help, but asking how. From my perspective I think they can help in any way they want! However, by pin pointing exactly how they can help you, you allow them to actually know if they can – they will appreciate the clarity!

 

To continue with Raff’s comparison I will have to end by saying – cast your line, but when you do, know what you want to catch, how you will catch it and know what you will do once you’ve been successful!

TESTS – Do Them!

Assumptions can be dangerous. They are good to create, but not good to follow!

Assumptions aren’t fact, they are theories you’ve created and no matter how much you think you’re right, you can’t prove it…. Well not yet!

I’ve just finished reading The Lean Startup by Eric Ries.

lean startup

This book it regarded as one of the best business and entrepreneurship books going and I cannot disagree one bit! It is by far one of the best books I have ever read and a must read for anyone even remotely interested in business.

The book is full of stories of large companies in their very early days. The start of dropbox and groupon to name a few. Hearing about their humble beginnings put into perspective the importance of aiming high – they start out no different to any other company.

Besides being drawn into to hear the stories he told, the book is full of great business advice. Two stood out for me:

1 – Know what you’re assuming

You may not realise it but most startups have at least one critical assumption that if proven wrong, means failure.

It is vital that teams take the time needed to identify the assumptions their product or service is making.

Let me give an example –

uber – a hugely successful startup makes a huge assumption that people are willing to get in a car with a person who isn’t even a proper taxi driver.

Airbnb – they assumed that people would be willing to let strangers stay in their house!

For both of these, if they were false, the product wouldn’t work!

Once these have been identified, they must be tested. You can’t assume they are either true or false. Imagine, before the success of Airbnb, if someone told you people wanted to let strangers stay in their house? You’d probably think it’s absurd.

However on the opposite, even if something seems trivial, if you can’t guarantee it, find out!

2 – Testing from day one!

I had always seen the value in testing products, you can hear from customers what is good and what isn’t. However I had always assumed this had to be an almost final product. Not the case!

In the book, countless stories of testing from day one are told. Testing small features, colour changes, ideas and theories. Not can be guessed and anything that can be measured should be.

You wouldn’t build something people don’t want, but unless you find out from those people, you can’t know what they do want!

My testing experience

After reading a chapter on testing, I decided to test some of my thoughts for my latest project.

I wanted to test some different features to see how people would react. I dumbed down the process but kept the user experience as similar to the real thing as possible. I set out guidelines, offered a reward and spread the word.

The uptake was a disaster! No one was interested in testing the features, even with a free gift on offer!

The first question people might ask is, “How did you publicise the testing, did you personally ask people to be involved?”

Well, I didn’t personally ask people, however I made sure they were aware of it. This was key as it actually helped me learn something else. How I packaged and sold the actual idea mattered! People weren’t buying the vision I was selling and so that needed to change. ‘Forcing’ people into the testing would have clouded that result.

 

In short; read The Lean Startup, know what you’re assuming and never stop testing!

#TheMoment – the speed of social media

Around 30% of the world’s population are active social media users. That equates to approximately 2.078 billion users!!

global digital snapshot

On average 500 million tweets are sent per day. The average shelf-life of a tweet is only 2.8 hours! With all this activity how can businesses be heard?!

social shelf life

Success on twitter is all about capturing #TheMoment

the moment 1

“Content marketing is a lot like trying to catch a wave – timing is everything. Too early, and nobody cares. Too Late, and someone else has caught it.” – David Schneider

#TheMoment is a book all about twitter moments and their power.

The book shows how businesses have been forced to alter how they control their brand image online. No longer do companies have time to thoroughly plan and verify their content. Sometimes you only have a window of a few minutes to capture the attention of your customers. If you have too many hurdles in place you will miss it every time!

Social media gives companies a platform to interact with their customers in real-time, reacting to what’s happening NOW.

One of the best moment captures came from Oreo Cookie during Superbowl XLVII. When the lights went out it took just five minutes for the page to tweet:
oreo cookie dark

With just over 15k retweets, this is one of their best performing tweets to date, and it was created without long planning and verification!

Be seen

I currently run multiple social media pages and each and every day I am battling to get my content to stand out and be seen.

The first challenge is to get a user to stop and look at my post. Trying to not blend in is a priority! A good way to solve this is with pictures; they’re colourful, attract the eye and also take up more space!! Meaning it takes longer for the user to pass you, increasing the chances that they will look at your post!

But attracting the attention isn’t enough. What I find funny about social media users is how precious they are with their time. Users can spend hours online however with the amount that’s available online, time dedicated to each individual post is very small, if at all! So how can you actually get a user to part with just a few seconds of their time to read your post?

This is where language plays a part. The wording needs to be easy to read, informative, interesting and thought provoking – all in 140 characters. This is where some businesses blow the competition out of the water.

Improving the appeal of posts is a skill I am far from mastering but each day I’m learning new things, exploring new ideas and testing new theories.

 

 

 

How important are good grades?

Yesterday I received my final grade for my first year at university. I am very happy with the grade as it is what I had aimed for at the start of the year. I put in the work needed and it paid off. I feel like the work has been worth it to achieve this. However, did I really need to put in as much work as I did? I could have worked less and spent more time doing other things and still get the grade I needed to pass the year and continue into second year, after all; first year doesn’t count!

I know plenty of people who take this view and they are now progressing into second year just like me. Maybe they have been the clever ones to use as little effort and energy as was needed to pass. I can understand this approach completely. Although, for me, grades matter!

These are the three personal reasons why I aim for the highest grade I believe I can achieve, even if it isn’t needed:

1 – Proof that the work has paid off

Like most people, I find revision boring and dull. There are many other things I would rather be doing. So when I see that I achieved a high grade I know that the work was worth it and that I didn’t put the effort in to not get a reward.

A high grade is clear evidence that I worked well, without that evidence I would have to guess and hope.

2 – Habit

After a week off from any kind of work I struggle to get back into the swing of it. If I’ve spent a week being lazy, I will want to be lazy the next week. The good thing about this though, is that if I spend a week working really hard, I want to work hard the next week.

I recognise the danger that I face if I hold back from giving 100% and so I try to enforce positive habits. This is one of the reasons why I have worked hard this first year at university. If I had been lazy and done ‘just enough’ then I believe that in year two I would struggle to work hard as I’m not in the habit. Now I have spent the year working hard, I am confident that when needed next year, I will be able to work as hard as I like.

3 – Self-fulfilment

Often, exceeding the needed results doesn’t bring any extra external reward, however it brings a lot of internal pleasure for me.

My best example for this is with my A-level results. My offer to study at Lancaster was AAB. I had also applied to many other places, receiving higher offers from some. I had applied to Oxford, where I reached interview stage, but was then rejected.

When A-level results day came round and I found out that I had achieved A*AA, I remember lots of people asking me if I was annoyed that I had the grades to get into Oxford if I had received an offer. In short, no I wasn’t.

I was very excited to get into Lancaster, and the higher grades were a fantastic bonus. The feeling of knowing that my grades were good enough for all universities across the country was a brilliant one.

 

In summary, grades are very important to me. Not because they are needed to get to the next step, not because they show my ability in exams. But because they are proof to myself that I can achieve the goals I set.

The Missed Networking Opportunity

The opinion or voice of others can be extremely valuable. Whether advice is needed or just for confirmation that you are doing the right things. Often people will reach out to those they respect, seeking a mentor. It is also common for people to connect with those they believe are in a similar position as themselves in order to exchange ideas or for confirmation that they are doing the right things. However few people will seek those who are less progressed as themselves; in the position you were in 5, 10, 15 years ago. This is a lost opportunity.

The three tiers for networking

tier 1

People who live the life you want to live. They have achieved a goal you want to achieve. They may have more knowledge and/or experience. You want them as your mentor.

tier 2

People who are equal with you. They work at a similar level, they have similar challenges to you and you can work together to move forward. You can both teach each other valuable lessons.

tier 3

People with less knowledge and/or experience than you. They share similar ambitions however they are less able to make them a reality. Usually younger (although not always), they may view you as a mentor.

In my experiences all three levels are important and can provide huge benefits to your progression.

How can they help me?

For the lower tier the usual response would be to ponder how they can help you. If they have less knowledge and experience, surely they can’t teach you anything. This may be true, perhaps they can’t teach you anything directly, however you may be surprised as to how much they can help you teach yourself. What do I mean? Well here are the main benefits I’ve had from connections with these people:

1 – Action

I have recently become friends with an entrepreneur from my old college. He has less academic knowledge and potentially less ‘business knowledge’ – I say it like that as what I viewed as business knowledge is sometimes not even considered by him – and yet he is moving forward at a fast pace.

For myself at the moment I feel a strong requirement to understand the business theory behind the actions I must take and to strategically think through all steps. That means one important thing is missed out, action. Finding this person re-opened my eyes to the value of action and the value of jumping straight in and learning as you go.

2 – Questions

What do you do with a mentor; ask questions. So what do you think will happen if someone views you as a mentor? They will ask you questions.

I love speaking to someone with less technical knowledge than myself about a piece of work because when they ask questions to learn more, it tests my own knowledge. Often I may not have an answer and that shows me where my weak spots are.

 

It is important to understand that when I talk about networking with people who have less knowledge or experience than you, I’m not saying that the stupidest person you know will help you find your answers. Find people who are a similar path to you, just a few stages behind. As long as they have ambition, they are worth the time it takes to get to know them!

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