Yesterday, 99u posted an op-ed piece I wrote called An Entrepreneur’s Take on Building a Great Design Team.
Here’s the intro:
For most of my career I have been working around, and many times managing, designers. During that period I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what makes designers unique and how to best work with them. When we started Percolate two years ago I got to put those theories to the test and, as we’ve grown the design team, I’ve refined my thinking.
Over the last few months I was having the hundredth conversation about how we think about design at Percolate and I thought it was probably worth articulating some of this publicly.
First, though, a warning: I’m not a designer. I can’t do any of this stuff, which is why I spend so much time thinking about how to get the most out of people with a set of skills that are the top of my “wish I could do” list. With that said, below is a look into how I’ve come to think about working with and hiring designers, broken into four levels:
Starting Friday the tech world was abuzz with talk of Yahoo! buying Tumblr for $1.1 billion. At the time it seemed like just a rumor, but it quickly coalesced, ending with a press release this morning trumpeting Yahoo!’s “promise not to screw it up“.
We’ve been working with Tumblr since we started and have been one of Tumblr’s A-List partners since they introduced the program in November of last year. A number of our brands are quite active and successful on the platform including American Express OPEN Forum, Denny’s and GE.
Anyway, since everyone is discussing the news this morning I thought I’d share some of my thinking around what this means for Yahoo!, Tumblr and brands.
First off, there is one main and simple reason Y! is buying Tumblr: It’s an entree into social and one of only seven global social platforms (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, and G+ being the others). With all consumer attention moving to social it would be impossible for Y! To compete without a car in the race.
With that said, there are a few specifics Tumblr brings that are worth pointing out:
Overall this is a big win for social and further proof that marketing is continuing to move towards real-time content creation at the intersection of brand voice and cultural relevance. While everyone is focused (and concerned) that we’re going to start seeing Yahoo! ads on Tumblr, I actually think the opposite is much more likely. As more and more brands come onto Tumblr as organic content creators and pay to promote their content, Yahoo! will find a way for this original brand content to live in the context of the broader platform, giving marketers expanded reach and engagement.
Overall a big congrats to the Tumblr team. It’s awesome to see continued success for NYC startups. We’re excited to continue to work together and see what’s in store.
I was also on WSJ TV this morning talking about the sale. Check out the video:
Last week I wrote a piece for Forbes titled Social’s Impact On Scale, Pace And Pattern, And What Brands Can Learn From It.
Here’s the intro:
A few months ago I was asked to put together a presentation about the future of social. As would be expected, I was pretty overwhelmed with the topic and turned it over and over in my head trying to figure out the best way to approach the question. Whenever I find myself in a situation like this I turn to my personal intellectual hero and the person I believe to be the greatest media thinker of the 20th Century, Marshall McLuhan. While he wrote long before the web existed, his theories around how media evolves and interacts with culture are more relevant than they’ve ever been.
At the heart of McLuhan’s theories is his most famous saying: “The medium is the message.” Though like most things McLuhan it requires a fair amount of unpacking, at its core is the idea that we’re affected more by our interactions with the medium itself than we are with the content we experience on it. “The ‘message’ of any medium or technology,” McLuhan explained, “is the change of scale or pace or pattern that it introduces into human affairs.” In his book “Understanding Media” he goes on to give an example: “The railway did not introduce movement or transportation or wheel or road into human society, but it accelerated and enlarged the scale of previous human functions, creating totally new kinds of cities and new kinds of work and leisure.” In other words, it realigned personal expectations and culture and expanded the definition of local.
What then, I asked myself, are the changes in scale and pace and pattern that have been introduced by social and what can brands learn from those changes?
LinkedIn has been on quite a tear for the last few months. Beyond the significant product and interface changes, they’ve made a full-on commitment to content. It’s seen in their influencer program, which has been amazing to follow and read, as well as their commitment to groups and company pages, the latter of which saw its first company (HP) break 1 million followers in late-February. This is clearly exciting for us, as we believe content is the lifeblood of social and LinkedIn is the leading platform for professionals. But beyond that it’s fascinating to watch a platform with 200 million global members ship new product at the speed and quality they have.
All of that is a somewhat long and glowing preamble to announce that we’re excited to be the newest member of the LinkedIn Social Media Management program. Our newfound status means that clients will be able to publish, target and track posts on their LinkedIn company pages right inside Percolate. This has been the single most-requested feature from our B2B clients over the last six months and now they’ll be able to publish, manage and analyze across LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr using the Percolate platform.
To show off the functionality we’ll use Tidy B2B, a fictitious cleaning company catering to small and large enterprises. To set the stage, Tidy B2B is on the (imaginary) cutting edge of eco/cleaning solutions and using Percolate to raise status around their green, design and innovation practices. Based on what the system knows about them, Percolate bubbles up a story about the London Underground’s carbon-reducing campaign that seems relevant to the brands interests, messaging and UK-heavy audience. The Tidy B2B community manager is inspired to create a post around the story and decides to push it out to their LinkedIn company page.
Since Percolate has already scraped the article’s keywords, the system is able to use those to recommend images that the brand owns or has the right to license through our partnership with Getty Images. Tidy B2B selects one, crops it and adds a bit of context for their LinkedIn audience about why this is relevant to the Tidy B2B mission.
As you can see below, Tidy B2B’s has now published an original piece of content on their LinkedIn company page all within Percolate. Percolate handled the entire workflow from inspiration to creation, editing, stakeholder approvals and publishing.
If you have any questions about our LinkedIn integration or would like to see a demo, please get in touch.
Last Tuesday I took part in an American Marketing Association webinar sponsored by one of our clients, Aquent. The topic was brands in a social world and I talked about the shifts in scale, pace, and pattern (as inspired by Marshall McLuhan) that we’re seeing these days. (If you’re so inclined, you can watch a video of the whole thing here.) It went for an hour and I wasn’t able to answer all the questions. I got to a bunch on Twitter, but there was also a chat room in the webinar and I thought it would be good to take a minute to answer some of the questions that were asked in there. So …
For Facebook, you can represent yourself as the “Insider”, but can that “Insider” label work in other social media/channels
This specifically referred to one of the ideas I discussed around brands being a little more informal in social than they might be elsewhere because of the personal nature of the medium. Specifically I suggested that brands that are successful in social these days are doing so by bringing brands behind the scenes, either figuratively or literally. I think the answer here is yes, that same tone can work across all the platforms. The key idea here is interpersonal with scale: While social makes it feel like a brand or individual is talking directly to you, they’re actually talking to a potentially massive audience.
What are your thoughts about branding is dead?
Not really sure where this question came from or why someone asked it, but I think branding couldn’t be further from dead. In a world of infinite channels and websites and Twitter handles, brands are more important than ever.
What is your definition of content marketing?
I generally try to stay away from defining things that other people are arguing about because it doesn’t lead to much good. I think for most of the people who are talking about content marketing these days they’re referring to things like SEO and blogging. For me, the most exciting content streams are, obviously, on the social platforms. On top of that I believe all marketing and advertising is, and has always been, content.
What are your thoughts on selling access to your social channels for other brands to leverage your followers/fans?
I haven’t heard of any brands doing this, but I suspect it’s something we’ll see in the future. Brands are the ones amassing the largest followings and they’ll find opportunities to partner with like-minded, non-competitive, companies to help build audience together.
In terms of scale, how do you scale social for B2B audiences vs. B2C?
I’ve always believed marketing for B2B and B2C should be approached the same way. I’m obviously not the first to suggest this, but at the end of the day you’re talking to people and the big difference is that B2B audiences are much more contained and targeted. With that said, I do think B2B has more experience creating things like white papers and other similar documents, and there is an opportunity to take that sort of expertise and transfer it to social. There I’d suggest thinking about how you break those big stock assets into smaller bite-sized flow pieces.
What is the role of marketing research as it pertains to the immediency of the social context?
I think research will have a bigger and bigger role in social moving forward. We’re still in the early days and we’re using the data the platforms are giving back to understand how our content is performing from an engagement perspective, but brands aren’t doing enough to understand what that means from a brand-impact standpoint. Twitter recently announced that it’s working with Nielsen on Brand Effect studies and I’m hoping that’s a start to a long road of platforms doing more to correlate engagement with brand lift. However, I think research teams can start getting involved now with social teams and start working together to think about how to make these sort of correlations on your own.
How do you keep people engaged with the social pace of “snacking”?
I think the answer here, at least in part, is that they keep themselves engaged. The natural behavior here is for people to dip in and out of the stream. With that said, the clear trend in the way social content functions (led by Facebook) is that higher engagement equals higher reach (since more people are going to see something more people in your audience engage with).
With the emergence of mobile, do we need to reconsider how we present content for that platform?
Yes, definitely. The good news here is that the leaders in mobile are the social platforms and they’re naturally situated to help you with that. When you use Instagram or Twitter (or even, increasingly, Facebook) you have no choice but to create content that’s naturally optimized for mobile. Obviously as a marketer you also need to think about your other touchpoints as well and the level of social adaptation should probably depend on the type of company, product, consumer you have.
How can a brand avoid coming across as being self-serving in their social efforts?
Create a balanced mix of content. Instead of all promotional messages, mix in a healthy amount of interesting (but still brand-relevant) content.
As we continue to grow the team we’ve realized that we need someone who is focused on recruiting, onboarding and nurturing employees. The challenge is that we didn’t have a good archetype for what we were looking for. How much should this person be focused on recruiting versus onboarding? What sort of background should we be looking for? So I tweeted out a request:
Anyone know any head of talent/recruiting I could talk to? Just want to meet some folks to get a better sense of the job.
— Noah Brier (@heyitsnoah) February 18, 2013
Luckily a handful of people came to my rescue and made some amazing introductions to folks at various talent/people/hr disciplines inside companies big and small who were willing to give me some of their time to help me understand what they thought the job took. As I was sitting in my fourth of these meetings this week, I got to thinking that it was worth writing up a blog post describing some of what I learned and how I think our approach is a bit different.
Director or Recruiter?
The first thing I needed to understand was where to start. Do we bring in someone more senior to oversee the process, build a team, etc. or do we bring in someone more focused on day-to-day recruiting? As I talked it out I realized that it was the former, not the latter, that we needed most as we were already doing quite well on the recruiting front and the primary need is to ensure that as we grow we continue to have a culture we’re proud of and employees who believe in the mission.
Growth, Growth, Growth
Another thing I heard over and over again, which shouldn’t be surprising, is to make sure that whomever we hire is able to deal with the ambiguity and change that comes from working in a high-growth environment. The company is changing, the product is changing, and whoever we hire to oversee talent will need to be able to adapt with us as we change. Along with this ability to deal with change was the need for creativity generally. Frequently HR is thought of as a dry discipline, but what’s really needed is someone who can come in and create talent products that are designed specifically for the needs of Percolate and can scale with the organization.
Building on that last point, the person needs to be able to listen very very well. Not just to current and prospective employees, but also to the needs of the organization and the culture. I have a deep belief that the number one job of a product company is to find opportunities to build products everywhere. These products include processes and, for a head of talent, those processes need to be custom-built for who we are as a company. We have spent a lot of time documenting and building out these internal products already, so any head of talent needs to come in and fully immerse themselves in both who we are now and who we want to become before being able to properly understand how to build a talent department here.
This was a big question that I had for everyone I talked to and I got pretty consistent answers. Does someone have to have an HR background? No. It’s less important than the creativity, ambiguity, organizational, and listening skills. Is an HR background really helpful? Yes, it definitely is. There’s lots of specifics that come with an HR background that will save a ton of time as you get up to speed with overseeing talent at a company like ours and having experience dealing with those things will be hugely helpful. In the end it fell in the “nice to haves”.
Broadly where I ended up is that we’re looking for someone to come in and help take on the role of growing and nurturing the employees and culture. It needs to be someone rooted in working in a people-related role, but not necessarily someone so deeply rooted that they can’t come up with new ideas for helping us reach our goal of being the best place to work in New York City. If this sounds like you you should apply for the job right now.
After Greg’s post on curiosity and communication the other day I thought it was worth digging a little deeper into Barista, our internal communication tool, which Greg introduced at the end of his post.
Like Greg, for a long time I’ve been fascinated by serendipity as a business driver. It started when I used to work for an agency called Naked Communications that was well-known for sitting around one big table. It struck me that this table allowed us to move quickly because we were all in a constant state of ambient awareness. Of course overhearing others’ conversations can sometimes be distracting, it also frequently leads to solutions you didn’t know were possible. What I realized at that point was that while most people identify communication as the major challenge as company’s scale, it’s actually serendipity.
Since starting Percolate I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how we do this. Greg pointed out some of the ways (process, documentation, small office, all-hands meetings), but I also felt like there was an opportunity to build tools to help us solve for more serendipity as we continue to grow (in December of 2010 we were 0, December of 2012 we were 7 and December of 2013 we were 30). That’s where Barista came from.
The idea is simple: Anyone can ask a question and direct it for answering to anyone else in the company. You can also subscribe to a question to get new answers as they emerge.
In addition questions can be “verified” by the admins, which means it’s an official company answer.
Where the power (and serendipity) comes in is from the “magic search” which looks for unique words as you search and shows you additional questions asked about that.
Like everything else here, this is a work in progress and we have lots more plans for where it will go in the future. But we’re excited about Barista and it fits into our belief that a product company needs to think about how to build products everywhere. It also speaks to our desire to try to keep building new things that are tangentially related to the product but drive value inside the company. To do these things we often bring in outside developers so as not to take focus off the core product and it’s led to a bunch of important tools we now use on a daily basis.
We’ll be talking more about Barista in the future, but wanted to show off our new toy.
We haven’t been great about keeping on our feature release blog posts recently. For awhile there we were pushing them out with every major update and naming them after some of our favorite street artists of all time, but, as is often the case, life got in the way (or more specifically pushing code did). So, while we’ve been quiet on the feature front, we’ve been pumping them out at a pretty rapid clip (the kids are calling it iterating these days I hear).
Anyway, we’re trying to get back on the horse, and to that end it’s time to return to the tradition. But first, a story …
A few months ago I got the chance to meet Lee Quinones. We were at the same party and after he introduced himself (and I got over a genuine case of startstruckness), we got to chatting. As I’ve mentioned in the past, I grew up pretty obsessed with street art. Something about people turning a wall into art was always amazing to me. I bought every book and magazine I could find on the subject, which was fairly limited for a 12-year-old kid in Connecticut. Henry Chalfant’s famous subway art books were pretty much all I could find and I pored over them constantly (they’re still on my bookshelf and I still sneak a peek every few weeks). Those books introduced me to all the original New York masters and, because no list of the masters is complete without him, the work of Lee.
His style is pretty representative of New York graffiti in the 80s and he’s one of the scenes most recognizable faces thanks to a starring role in Wild Style.
Something about the combination of letters, backgrounds and characters perfectly describes what we think of as graffiti. You see his style and flourishes (drips, breaks, etc.) in pretty much everything else going on today.
Awesome. Now that you know all about Lee, let’s go onto some new features.
As I mentioned earlier, we’ve had a bunch of stuff pushed out over the last few months, but this latest release had a few key features worth highlighting.
One of the interesting trends we’ve seen over the last six months is a big increase in the number of clients using Percolate on a global basis. As Facebook continues to expand from a US platform to a global platform, it’s pretty safe to bet this isn’t going to stop anytime soon. We have a lot of features in the pipe to continue helping improve global publishing, but an obviously major one is the ability to target posts to specific regions and audiences.
Using Facebook’s targeting options (and some pretty sweet auto-complete) we built a clean targeting interface for brands. Let’s say, for instance, you only want to target your message to 17-29 year-olds in Manhattan and Brooklyn who speak Pirate?* Not a problem.
One of the other places we’ve been spending a lot of time and attention is on expanding our analytics section to give community managers more insight into their posting behavior. The goal here since the beginning has been to go past just delivering the basic data, to actually helping brand content creators understand what’s working and what’s not. To that end, we’ve added this super snazzy post timing chart that helps break down when your posts perform the best with the ability to dig in and see which ones specifically are doing well. As you’ll see, I tend to do a little better earlier in the day.
In addition to this chart (we call them data stories), we’ve also added additional looks into the engagement data and the ability to download the raw data to share with the team and clients.
Of course, that’s not all we did. A few other small (and big) things that went in over the last few weeks: Native Twitter functionality (you can now retweet, favorite and reply to a tweet inline), drafts (another step towards allowing for better workflows amongst teams), and a few additional system emails (like “Best” to let you know you broke your all time engagement score). These went along with a bunch of work on the backend with how we handle data and general speediness of Percolate.
It’s been a great beginning to the year. We’ll be back soon with another artist for you.
In December of last year we wrote a blog post about our seed funding. In it we outlined year one at Percolate and how we got to where we were (at the time 9 employees and the official launch of our “non-alpha product”). Here’s what we said about why we raised and what we were going to do with the money:
Up to this point we’ve been funding the company with money from clients (we’re up to eight) and the decision to take funding wasn’t one we took lightly. Ultimately we believed that the time is right for a product like ours and with the help of our partners we can really ramp up operations and bring Percolate to market in a real way. Needless to say, we’re stoked.
As for what we’re going to do with the money, the first order of business is to hire some more folks to spread the Percolate gospel. So, if you’re an engineer or sales person and want to work with an amazing team you should check our jobs page and apply.
It’s almost 11 months to the day of that post and I am excited to report that we are well on our way to executing what we set out to do with that seed round of funding.
Marketers are coming to us with their biggest challenges that intersect at real-time communication and the data their growing social audiences are giving off.
The team is up to 28 people and we have more than 30 Fortune 500 clients. This year has been a wild ride of growth on all fronts (product, business, company) and we’ve hit many milestones (profitability, version 3.0 of the product, an amazing list of blue chip brands).
At the time of our seed round, we made the decision that we would look to raise again when we felt like the only thing holding us back was that we needed even more people to help spread the word about what we’re doing at Percolate on a daily basis. Well, we reached that point more quickly than we could have imagined and decided to jump on the opportunity by raising our second round of financing with the objective of really scaling out our business and building the best software in the world to help brands create content at social scale.
To that end I’m incredibly excited to announce that we’ve raised a $9 million Series A financing led by GGV Capital with participation from existing investors First Round Capital, Lerer Ventures and many others.
We are super excited to have such a great group of investors and even more excited for what lies ahead. We feel the opportunity has never been better to build the next great enterprise software company headquartered in NYC and to get there we’ll need to continue to hire the most talented people in the world.
If you are an engineer or sales person (or account manager or designer) looking for an amazing place to work, check out our open jobs. I’m sure you’ll fit right in.
Since a bunch of us Percolators are working out of Downtown Brooklyn (and we’re not alone) we thought it might be fun to get folks together for drinks tonight.
So, if you’re around Brooklyn Heights, Cobble Hill, Fort Greene, Boerum Hill, Downtown Brooklyn or anywhere else within walking distance and want to come hang out, here’s the details for our impromptu meetup:
Where: O’Keefe’s Tavern, 62 Court Street (between Livingston & Joralemon)
Who: Anyone. Bring your friends. Bring their friends. Let’s have a fun night.
Excellent. Feel free to share this around and hope to see you later.
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