Productivity Hack: Staying In Touch

for the tl;dr – 1)Create a mailchimp mailing list for those you want to stay in contact. 2)Once a month (or whichever frequency works for you) send an email with a personal touch and ask that people reply with their latest happenings. 3)Create an email address to easily auto-subscribe new contacts to the email list. 4)Create a zapier tasks that will add new subscribers to your mailchimp, when a new email is received by the created email address. 5)To add new contacts to your list, send them an email and bcc your created email address.

I’m absolutely miserable at staying in touch. There are so many people that I meet. And I want to know with all these people what they have been up to, what they are working on, any personal status changes, what can I congratulate them on, and/or what areas of their lives need support or encouragement. In the past years, I’ve defaulted to facebook to help me connect and keep my relationships with people that I meet. However, I currently have 1170 friends on facebook and with the fb algorithm, I usually only see the noisy people on my timeline. If I switch to the “most recent” view on fb, it still only shows status updates for the time that I am logged in. Combine that with the fact that a lot of people don’t post much on fb anymore (including myself — but I do lurk *hehe*), and its impossible to stay in touch. Oh, and I’ve never been the type of gal who picks up the phone (sorry).

Most people will argue that its impossible to stay in touch with everyone. Especially, as you get older, move around, and change jobs. I do agree, but I still would like to make some effort to maintain contact. Besides having a general interest in people that I care about, there is also a benefit to “networking” within your existing networks. There are many people who find their next job, opportunity, or mate from introductions from friends. And you never know who will connect you to that “next one” and vice versa.

I am a problem solver. My problem is I want to stay in better contact with friends, family, and associates. My first attempt at solving this problem, was to build a complex software application that keeps an eye on who I interact the most with on fb and suggest people with whom I don’t interact with often. But fb’s graph api isn’t well suited to do this. I also had to rethink a simpler solution.

Here’s the solution that I came up with: Once a month, I’ll send an short personal email out to family, friends, and associates, sharing my latest news, and invite them to reply to the email with their latest. Last month, I sent the first email. The email was sent in mass using mailchimp. Although, it was a mass email, my words were personal. I added a huge caption at the top of the email explaining why they were receiving the email, and it was ok if they wanted to unsubscribe to the email. I also asked friends to let me know whether they hated or loved my approach to staying in touch. Honestly, I was expecting most people to hate the email and unsubscribe with no response. It was quite the opposite. Most people replied and told me they thought it was a great idea. In addition, I learned a lot from the responses, and was able to reestablish contact with many friends. Some of my friends had recently moved or switched jobs. Some shared books that they were reading, and for a few, we made arrangements to meet up in person. I only heard from one person who responded and stated that he didn’t like the email because he thought it was impersonal. I was even thankful for his honest feedback. Overall, my first month of the “keep in touch” email was successful.

Later in the month, as I met more people at events, I found it a pain to log onto mailchimp to add new contacts to my email list. So, I created a Zapier task. Normally, when I meet someone at an event, I always send them a “Nice to meet you/Stay in touch” email. For the Zapier task, I created an email account specifically for this task. So, now when I send a “Nice to meet you” email, I bcc the created email account. The Zapier task is triggered once the account receives a new email, and then it automatically adds a new subscriber to my mailing list. And this is my staying in touch productivity hack.

How do you stay in contact with your network?

Creating Meteor Packages

I’ve had a crush on Meteor for about a year now. And have done a few sample apps. Yesterday, I decided to create a meteor package. One of the cool things about Meteor is its smart packages. The smart packages are similar to other package or libraries in other languages, like Ruby Gems or NPM. However, the Meteor packages really appeal to the lazy programmer in me. For example, a social connect oauth (facebook or twitter login) can be added with two lines of code. One line at the command line to add the package, and the other line in the view to display the login buttons. {Oh, lazy programmers everywhere rejoice} So, yesterday, I decided to take a stab at building a package myself. Currently, packages that are not included Meteor’s core are managed by Atmosphere. Here are some basic steps for building your own meteor package.

0. If you haven’t already installed Meteorite, install it.

$ npm install -g meteorite

1. Create your package using the Meteorite scaffold command

$ mrt create-package my-package
$ cd my-package

2. Inside your directory, you’ll find smart.json and package.js. Your smart.json file contains your name, author and other describing data about your package. This file is mainly used by Atmosphere. Here’s an example smart.json:

{
  "name": "my-package",
  "description": "My package does awesome things",
  "homepage": "https://github.com/diyahm/awesome-package",
  "author": "Hadiyah Mujhid (https://github.com/diyahm)",
  "version": "0.0.1",
  "git": "https://github.com/diyahm/awesome-package.git",
  "packages": {}
}

The “packages” in the json is where you would place any package dependencies. You should only place packages that are not included in Meteors’ smart packages, basically the only packages that are included here are the ones on Atmosphere.

Your package.js file is a javascript file loaded by your package. It contains “instructions” used by Meteor for your package. Here’s an exampe package.js file

Package.describe({
  summary: "My awesome package"
});

Package.on_use(function(api) {
    api.use('http', ['server']);

    api.add_files('awesome_common.js', ['client', 'server']);
    api.add_files('awesome_client.js', 'client');
    api.add_files('awesome_server.js', 'server');
});

In this file you include all the packages including Meteor base packages needed. In addition, you specify which of the files you want to load and if they apply to the client or server.

3. After you’ve written the code for your package, it’s time to release it and send it to Atmosphere. (if you haven’t already you will need to create an account on Atmosphere). While in your package’s root directory release and publish your package.

$ mrt release ./
$ mrt publish ./

You will be asked for your Atmosphere credentials when you publish the package at the command line. And voila, that’s how you create a Meteor package.

Marketing for Startups: Meetup Notes

Notes from SOMA Tech Panel Meetup, Marketing for Startups, hosted at Tradeshift.

1. Know your audience. It helps to create personas for your customers. ie. Becky, a 35 year old, stay-at-home mother, may be a persona for one of your users. Where does Becky hang out online and offline? What does Becky read? These might be helpful questions to guide you as you develop your marketing strategy.

2. Understand the culture of the platform that you use for marketing. Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn can serve different purposes. Typically people using facebook do not like to be “sold at.” Instead they often engage in posts that are entertaining.

3. Identify and connect with the influencers in your market. Listen to their tweets, engage in conversation, develop a relationship. Use social media tools to identify your influencers and when they are online on twitter.

4. Ask influencers to republish their content on your blog or have them as a featured blogger. Ask them for an interview.

5. Attend events and conferences that your customers are attending. Organize events that bring value to your customers. Create blog posts after attending an event for content.

My App is in the App Store (Self Congratulatory post)

I’m pretty ecstatic to announce that I now have an app in the Google Play Store. For all of September, I spent most of my evenings, (along with a cohort of other engineers), learning Android mobile development with CodePath. The coursework was pretty intense, but extremely rewarding. Each week students wrote sample apps, and were responsible for a final team project by  course completion.

My team consisted of Ari Lacenski, Sachi Shah, and myself. Our final project was a airport status mobile app. The app auto-detects your closest airport, and gives you the current status of delays at the airport. It also give relevant information, such as current weather, driving or transit directions. It also allows for the saving of frequently used airports. If you have an android phone, please go to the Android Play Store, search for “airport status playpen”, and download our app.

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On Being Vulnerable in Startup LaLa Land

This past week, I started my first week of 50 coffee dates. In my previous post, I was not excited about any of the coffee dates. In the past, these meetings have been somewhat blah. We meet — then talk around each other for an hour — then promise to connect again — but never really do. However, every single coffee meeting this week has been beyond incredible. I believe a true connection was established at each meeting. I thought about the foundational difference between these recent meetings and meetings in the past. And then I realized, what was different was that each of us had taken an approach of being vulnerable in the meeting. Each meeting was authentic and sincere. We spoke about the realities of where we were in our projects, (the good and bad). We even discussed our own insecurities about being a founder. The past week has been a great refresher.

I had to rewatch Brene Brown’s TED talk on vulnerability. Practicing vulnerability in a community that I’ve nicknamed “Startup LaLa Land,” can be very difficult. If you read (and believe) any startup newsletter or media site, everyone has just closed their round of funding for x million dollars. So-and-so just sold their company for x million dollars. And everyone is implementing lean startup and lean metrics so perfectly. Digesting these type of success stories often can be discouraging. When you meet with people in Startup LaLa Land, you often feel that your story has to be the success story, or at least well on your way to the same success story. It is this thought process that holds us back from truly building authentic connections and relationships, with each other and with customers. Brene Brown’s often quoted line on vulnerability is, “What makes us vulnerable makes us beautiful”.  I am curious about the difference that can be made by embracing and practicing vulnerability in our meetings, in our working relationships, and with our customers.

Thanks for the read!

Why I am dating again and other random happenings in my life

Don’t you love it when blog posts have catchy titles for the purpose of baiting the reader. +1 for me

So this blog post is not about dating in a romantic context, but more related to a networking context. A few months ago, my husband and I started our own incubator to work on our “projects”. (We’ve deliberately chosen not to use the word “startup”, mainly because of the overuse of the word and all the false meanings the word implies in the SF and Silicon Valley areas. Our end goal is to start a company based on our project learnings. But for now they are just projects, and the incubator is the company.) In the 3 months, since our projects started, we’ve defined our target industries, met with customers, and built mvps. Last week, we met for a “quarterly review”, and created a wishlist for the next quarter. About 80% of my wishlist was tied to interfacing with more people. ie Find cofounders and meet with more customers. So, my husband suggested that I do a “50 coffee dates” challenge that he read about in another blog post. If anyone really knows me, I do not enjoy talking to people (especially meeting new people at a networking event). But out of necessity, I’ve learned how to do it, but it is not anything that I enjoy or look forward to doing. You can imagine my thoughts about 50 coffee dates. But the other part of me is always up for a good challenge. So, the challenge has been accepted — 50 coffee dates in the next quarter. This equates to about 4-5 coffee meetings per week. (sigh) I have a goal of catching up with old friends and to meet new ones alike. With a primary goal of learning about my dates’ current happenings/projects, and finding a way to help. A secondary goal of talking about my current project and asking for introductions.  Most All of my opportunities in the past, have come from people that I known, and vice versa, I’ve been able to introduce others to opportunities floated to me through my network. I’ll keep you posted on the status of the coffee dates. But in the meantime, if there is someone you believe that I should meet and they are able to meet in San Francisco, (preference for anyone working in or passionate about the specialty foods, restaurants, or grocery space), please do an introduction. If they don’t work in any of the spaces, but you strongly believe we should meet, I welcome an introduction just as well.

Thanks for the read!

Field Notes: A Lesson in Customer Discovery

This morning I had a customer discovery interview…(I know I haven’t blogged in a while, but in short: I’m working on a new independent project and working with foodies all day)…ok, back to the blog post.

So, this morning I had a customer discovery interview with a small grocery owner for said project. During the interview, she asked me to describe the product that I was building. My description went something like this…”blah blah blah, streamline, blah blah computers, software, blah blah blah technology.” Yeah, I really didn’t say blah, but I truly believed that’s what she heard. Her previously friendly disposition and body language had now become agitated. This wasn’t the first time I experienced a negative reaction to my words when talking to my potential customers.

See my potential customers are food entrepreneurs. They spend most of their day making, selling, or producing food. The first time, I had a negative reaction to my “techie startup jargon” was when I told a farmer that I was going to “followup” with him by “email”. The farmer then responded by letting me know he’s a simple guy, and “things nowadays” are too complicated, and asked if I could just simply call him by telephone. This one of my first interviews and really didn’t think anything about it.

In a few later interviews, I also noticed non-ideal responses to some of my startup talk. But honestly, I didn’t have the ah-ha moment until this morning. In some of the cases, where I experienced this response, I noticed that the terms, “app”, or “software”, even “technology”, implies that the user will be in front of a computer. This is not ideal for the food entrepreneur who for the most of their day are making or preparing food. And if they have to sit in front of the computer, its usually for the most unenjoyable part of their day.

What’s interesting is that when I ask the potential customer to describe their current workflow. They *are* using technologies, apps, and computers. Their language is just different from mine. One customer was explaining to me how she processes all of her orders through the phone. Loosely quoting her, she said “We don’t use computers at all, its so much quicker to pick up the phone. I process everything by phone.” I assumed that she meant she was making phone calls. However, as I asked more questions, it turns out she was using an app on her iphone. Gee Whiz!

So, the moral of this post is to learn your customer’s jargon. Most of customer discovery is empathy. And empathy includes the ability to truly understand. Which includes being able to speak and communicate like your customer. It’s really simple in theory, but so much harder in practice.   My ux consultant (ok he’s my husband) stated that I should start jotting down nouns and verbs that my customers use in the interviews. And practice saying those nouns and verbs in later interviews. He also went into this long discussion (very long) about how it will drive the design of my app, versus the ui of my application being database driven. But I’ll share those helpful tips in another post. (after I ask him for the cliff notes — cause I stopped listening when the ux person started talking about code)