We just started inviting people into the alpha for a community product we’re developing called Groop. It didn’t solve any of their problems. It wasn’t supposed to.

The product is a community platform so it needed a decent amount of features even for an MVP, but we did the absolute bare minimum. We kept it so minimal that there was no way people would actually want to use it.

I knew that when we started invited people to try it out that the feedback would be pretty harsh. It’s so simple, and people have high standards for community platforms. There are a lot of features that people just expect to be there because they’ve seen them on forums or Facebook groups. We didn’t build any of them.

The biggest mistake founders make when building an MVP is they try to solve the problem instead of just starting a conversation.

They end up over-engineering the product because they don’t want to put it out in the world until it actually solves the problem. It’s rare that right off the bat, a product you build will solve a real problem. It’s like if you walked onto a beach with a metal detector and expected it to find something  as soon as you turned it on.

“If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.” – Reid Hoffman.

With our MVP, my goal was to make people say “Really? That’s it?!” so that I could respond with “What did you expect?” and “What would you need to see here in order to use this community platform for your company?”

It started a conversation that’s already leading us to really important learnings about what people actually need. Things that we never would have learned by just asking them.

Now we can continue to develop the product and figure out how to solve the problem based on what people actually want.

People will always tell you what they need to see in a product. They’ll never tell you what you should take away.

So we’re starting as simple as possible, so simple that it actually doesn’t solve a problem. Hopefully that leads us to the right solution. I’ll let you know how it goes.

If you’re a startup or a company launching a community for the first time and want to join the Groop alpha, email me. It won’t solve your problem, but it might one day. 

Today we shared an update with the CMX community on everything that’s happening behind the scenes at CMX. I wanted to share it here as well for anyone who’s been following along with our story.

We want everything with CMX to be transparent, especially within our community, and we’re excited to hear any and all feedback you have on our direction.

I’ll share a bit about where we’ve been, the big challenges we’re facing now, how we plan to overcome those challenges, and how you can help.

First, where we’ve been:

We’ve had a roller coaster first year in business. In the past 10 months, we’ve:

  • Hosted three summits, bringing together over 900 community professionals and founders in SF and NYC, and we hosted the first CMX Series event with another 75 attendees

  • Launched the CMX Hub publication, which will reach over 100k total visitors by the end of this year and is currently at 1,937 email subscribers (growing at 11% monthly)

  • Grew the Facebook group to over 800 members with high engagement levels at ~500 interactions per week

  • Helped dozens of companies find and recruit community professionals to join their teams

  • Built the prototypes for our first two software products (currently in alpha tests, more on that soon…)

In pursuit of our mission to fuel the community industry, we’ve also seen a clear shift in the conversation around the definition of community, the legitimacy of the community industry, and the rising number of companies who are hiring for true community roles.

Things have moved extremely fast, and we’re proud of everything our small team has accomplished in such a short time.

This progress hasn’t come easily, and we face some legitimate challenges in the months ahead.

Everything we’ve done to this point has been aimed at creating lots of value and resources for the community industry while building a strong long-term brand and community around CMX. But we learned that while conferences are amazing for building brand and community, they can be unpredictable and carry a lot of risk. Some conferences make a lot of money, usually by selling tickets for thousands of dollars and selling speaking slots. CMX does neither of these, since it’s extremely important to us that CMX is unbiased in its content and is as affordable as possible for members of the growing industry.

Basically, while everything we’ve done has created a lot of long-term value, in the short run, we’re going to need more sustainable, regular revenue to keep this train moving.

There are also some recent changes to the team. Max Altschuler, my friend and co-founder in CMX Media, also runs the Sales Hacker Conference. That’s his baby and it’s taking off quickly, so he will be switching his full focus over to Sales Hacker while remaining on as an advisor for CMX and stepping in for specific projects when needed. We’re incredibly excited for him and for Sales Hacker, and we’re truly grateful for his help in getting CMX off the ground. It never would have happened without him.

That leaves me and the unstoppable Carrie Jones to drive this ship (with Leah continuing part-time on events). A team of two. While it will be a challenge, I couldn’t imagine a team better suited to make this thing happen. We’re extremely clear on what needs to be done and how we’re going to do it.

So… What’s in store for the future?

Our short-term goal is to develop more consistent revenue that will give us the resources we need to continue to host CMX events, publish content on CMX Hub, and build out our software products. With that, we’re going to be highly focused on two areas over the next few months:

1. Consulting and Services:

We’re constantly asked to help companies with their community strategy, but we haven’t made that a focus, so we’ve always passed on those opportunities. Now it will be a focus. We will take on a limited number of consulting contracts with companies we care about.

We can’t wait to work with exciting companies with unique community challenges. It keeps our blades sharp and gives us many more success stories and case studies to share.

2. Training and workshops:

The first CMX Workshops sold out three weeks before the event. It’s clear that there’s a strong need for more specific, hands-on community training.

CMX will now develop online and offline training programs to help community professionals take their strategy to the next level. You’ve already received our survey for the “Coding for Community Managers” course, which we’ve partnered with Make it With Code to develop. There will be many more to come.

How can you help?

  1. If you or someone you know is in need of help with community strategy, community recruiting, or advisement, send them our way.

  2. If you’re interested in community training and workshops, tell us what you want to learn (take 60 seconds to fill out this form: http://bit.ly/1HTOLz6).

  3. Just keep doing what you’re doing. It’s your energy and involvement in this community that keeps us going. It makes it all worth it. If you’re happy and successful, then we are too.

So here we are… many challenges ahead. But I can honestly say we’re not nervous. I’ve never had as much clarity with my previous businesses as we do with CMX. It’s clear what we need to do, and we’re more motivated than ever to keep pushing this forward.

Let the roller coaster continue.

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I’ve always had this vague idea in my head that happiness is this point in life that I can reach.

If I work hard enough, make lots of friends, make money, travel, check off all the boxes…then I’ll be a “happy person”.

Other people seem to think the same way because I’ve been asked many times “Are you happy?”. I always struggle to answer them. Happiness just doesn’t seem to work that way. I start thinking…

  1. It’s not that black and white. There’s a spectrum of happiness
  2. What is happiness? Is it excitement? Is it being motivated? Is it laughing? Is it finding meaning?
  3. In this moment, I can be happy about some things and unhappy about others. I can be happy with my life in general, but unhappy about the gum I stepped on that day.

What I realized is that I don’t think happiness, however you define it, is a point in life that you can reach. There’s no one in life who’s achieved level 5 happiness and now they’re just happy all the time. Even the ones who seem to have it all, or always seem positive…they aren’t always happy.

Actually, if I was happy all the time that might not be so great. The moments of sadness in life are tough, but they make the moments of happiness that much better. There’s a spectrum of human emotion and happiness isn’t the only one that’s okay to have. You’re not broken if you’re not happy.

Whenever I feel stressed, angry or sad I try to accept it. They’re normal human emotions. Life is a crazy adventure and your emotions will ebb and flow with it.

So instead of thinking about how much I hate being stressed, I think about why I’m stressed and realize that given the situation this is a perfectly normal reaction.

And instead of asking myself, “Am I happy?” I try to ask myself things like…

  • Why am I doing what I’m doing?
  • Am I proud of what I’m doing?
  • Who do I want to be and am I working toward that goal?

Happiness isn’t a phase in life you can reach. Happiness is in the moment. And when it’s not there, that doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong. It just means you’re human.

Thanks to Mike Hrostoski for inspiring the post.

Photo cred: Angelo González

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I wrote this article over three months ago. It’s taken a while to hit publish.

I’ve wanted to share my story and be truly transparent but getting fired is a hard thing to talk about. Not just because it’s a bit embarrassing and might hurt my reputation, but because it involves other people. I don’t want those people to think I’m just airing dirty laundry.

I’m writing this because it’s an experience that a lot of people go through every day but it’s so rarely discussed. As a result, people miss the warning signs like the ones that I and my managers should have seen.

If you know me, you can probably guess what company this is but this post isn’t about the company, it’s about me and my experience.

This is the article I wish existed for my former self at the time I was fired. I can only hope that by sharing my experience, anyone else who’s going through the same thing will be better prepared to handle it.

So let’s start with my experience… 

When I’m at my worst, it’s because I feel like I’m irreversibly behind. I’m constantly catching up, treading water, taking sips of air but never quite getting my head above water.

In the last month before I got fired, I found myself in that scary place while working at a well-known startup. It’s hard to say how I found myself there exactly. Lack of communication, my own inexperience, confusion around direction, loss of motivation, focusing on the wrong things, taking on way too much work, the way I managed others, the way others managed me…I could go on.

I was in a funk. My alarm would go off and I would snooze for as long as possible. I’d wake up with 15 minutes to get out the door, take a speedy shower, grab a banana for breakfast and rush to the office.

I loved my team and the best part of the day would be saying hi to everyone when I walked in, but as soon as I got to my desk, the daily downfall ensued. I had so much to get done that I would start every day completely overwhelmed. The length of my todo list would be comical. I’d let the tasks I disliked most remain on the todo list day after day. I’d have 40 tabs open, occasionally browsing Facebook and doing what James Clear calls “half-work“.

I was in a perpetual state of distraction and constantly playing catch up. I’d start my day late, I’d get my work done late and it would keep piling on so I could never get ahead of it. I didn’t know what to do or how to do it. And I couldn’t communicate my situation with anyone because it was a fast moving startup, and I felt like everyone was too busy for my problems.

I was stuck in a downward spiral, unable to step back and gain perspective. It became impossible get back on track. I was just in over my head working on whatever fires I saw first. I got stressed, depressed and eventually I crashed.

I got fired

I remember the moment vividly, every word, every emotion. It felt like the world was crashing down around me. I had failed.

The couple months after that day, I became even more depressed, questioned my abilities, my motivations, my work ethic…everything I strived for felt like it was swept out from under me.

I blamed myself more than I should have. Later on, Dr. Hindsight showed me that while there were certainly a lot of things I could have done better, this was clearly a bad cultural fit for me at that time. As soon as I picked myself back up and starting working again, I felt much better.

Very few people are honest about getting fired and I was no different. When asked why I no longer worked there I’d usually say something like “we parted ways” or “it just wasn’t a good fit”. The company would say the same thing when asked.

Today when people ask, I’m usually honest. I don’t feel ashamed anymore. I realize now that it happened as a result of those countless compounding variables, some in my control and many not.

Fast forward to today and I’ve successfully worked with several companies and have started my second and third companies. Both through my experience getting fired and all of my professional experiences since, I’ve learned a lot about how to deal with situations like the one I found myself in before getting fired.

Should you find yourself in this position where you’re in over your head on a path to get fired, what can you do?

Hopefully these tips help…

1. Force yourself to take a step back and reflect

I felt like there was no way I could waste an hour to reflect. I felt like if I wasn’t working, I was doing something wrong.

But I wasn’t really working. I was distracted and tried to juggle multiple tasks, working at 50% efficiency at best.

I should have taken more time to reflect, which makes the rest of these tips possible.

Now that you’re committed to reflecting…

2. Get better at reflecting

Reflection can come in many shapes and forms.

Today, I try to maintain a habit of writing down answers to these 7 questions every Sunday.

You can take walks once each day, even if it’s just for 15 minutes.

Unplugging on weekends and getting out to nature is another great way to reflect.

Or taking a longer vacation may be what you need.

I also like to use calm to clear my mind every day in the morning or at the middle of the day.

3. Think about the bigger questions

Sometimes when in over our head, we reflect on the wrong things.

Before I got fired, I was only looking at the short term challenges in front of me. How can I make this manager happy? How do I get this task done? How can I quickly make a big impact and prove to everyone I’m awesome?

Instead, I should have asked bigger picture questions like:

1) Is this environment healthy for me? Am I happy?
2) What are the goals of the company and is my work helping them achieve those goals?
3) What are my personal goals and is my work here helping me achieve them?

Look at yourself, the environment and the people around you while thinking about the long term vision for yourself and your company. Often you’ll find that the problem isn’t just you, but the environment you’re in or the path you’re on.

4. Ask for help

I was an idiot and just wanted to do everything myself. I wanted to look like a badass and didn’t want people to think I didn’t know what I was doing.

I should have asked my teammates for help more often. I should have asked my mentors. I should have been more honest with myself, accept that I was deep in the shit and ask for help.

5. Accept the possibility that it’s a bad fit

I’m really bad at quitting stuff.

When I was in over my head, I was still convinced that I was in the right place. All the obvious signs just escaped me. The culture, the team and the product were all so attractive at the time but in hindsight, they weren’t right for me.

For me, all the problems seemed to lie in myself. I blamed myself for everything. The thought that the environment could be impacting my situation never crossed my mind.

It’s hard, because I felt like I was given great opportunity and I didn’t want to squander it. Now I know, there will always be more opportunities, and the face value of an opportunity isn’t always what it seems.

Sometimes quitting is the best thing you can do to move forward.

6. Change up your system 

My system was clearly flawed. I needed to change something up in order to get out ahead of the game.

Back then I had no idea what to change. Since then I’ve become a bit more patient and aware.

Here are some things that have worked for me in my more recent experiences where I’ve felt overwhelmed:

1. Prioritize

There was no way I was going to get out ahead of things while trying to do everything at once. I should have sat down with my manager and prioritized. It would have been hugely helpful to make sure we’re all on the same page about what needs to get done.

In startups it’s not often what you do, but what you don’t do that will decide how well your companies does. Don’t allow yourself to get caught up in the get shit done mentality and make sure the “shit” you’re getting done is of highest priority to your team’s goals.

2. Plan

Today I like to create timelines to accomplish each of the projects I prioritize. If I did that back then, I could have shared my timeline with my manager. I could have showed them that I was thinking strategically about what needed to get done and give them a system for holding me accountable.

Make it easy to track your progress both for yourself and for your team to see you’re getting your work done.

3. Embrace teamwork

As I mentioned before, I felt like everyone else in the startup was too busy, and it was all up to me to figure my issues out. I was wrong. I should have asked my team for help.

It doesn’t matter if the person you ask for help doesn’t have expertise in your field. They’re probably smart people who can help you think logically through any challenges you’re facing.

7. Take a stand

I was hired because the founders and team respected me, not because I’d blindly do what others tell me to do.

But that’s not how I acted when I was in over my head. I disagreed with the way some things were being handled but I didn’t say anything. I didn’t have the courage. I just went with the flow.

If you find yourself in that position, say what’s on your mind.

Be blunt. Be honest. Tell it how it is. Either they’ll respect your courage to speak up and address the challenges you bring up or they’ll condemn you for speaking your mind (which probably means you shouldn’t be working there anyway).

8. Remember that getting fired isn’t the end of the world

I remember the time leading up to that moment when I got fired. I had a feeling it was coming, and I thought that getting fired would be the worst thing that could ever happen to me.

Do you know what happens to most people who get fired? They end up being grateful because they learn from their mistakes, they realize that it was a bad fit in the first place and they become motivated to find a place where they can thrive and prove everyone wrong. Getting fired shakes things up, forces you to reflect on your path and makes you more self aware. It can also light a fire or create a chip on one’s shoulder to propel you toward whatever it is you do next.

I was blowing the situation out of proportion at the time but that’s pretty natural. I was so deep in the situation that I had very little perspective. I felt like getting fired would be the end of me.

It’s not, I promise. And if you had the perspective to see this moment in the grand scheme of things, you’d realize how little it means.

So if you’re in this position and you are deathly afraid of getting fired, change your paradigm. Think of it in a different light. Look at getting fired as a positive opportunity to reflect and grow. An opportunity to find a place where you can thrive. A reason to kick even more ass in the next thing you do.

When you no longer fear getting fired, you have nothing to lose. The funny thing is, that might be exactly what you need to save your job.

Thanks to Nadia, Max and Hiten for feedback on this post.

Photo Credit: photolibrarian via Compfight cc

freedomI had a really interesting discussion with Hiten Shah and Nadia Eghbal the other day about freedom and what it really meant for each of us.

Freedom is something many of us strive for. It can affect where we choose to work, who we date, who we live with, where we live and probably a lot of subtle things we don’t realize.

But what does freedom mean?

My knee jerk reaction would be that freedom is having control over what I’m doing at any given moment.

In reality, freedom can look different for everyone. For some it’s important that their entire life feels free. For others, they just want to control certain aspects of their life in order to feel free.

Freedom can be…

…making decisions for yourself.

…not having to answer to others.

…autonomy.

…working on a team.

…working less.

…being mentally challenged.

…being able to spend more time with your kids.

…doing physical activity.

…working from home.

…working in an office.

…vacation time.

…money.

People find a sense of freedom in such a wide range of things and probably a combination of things. As entrepreneurs, managers or leaders, it’s important to understand what freedom means to each person individually instead of creating overarching standards that apply to everyone.

Note that freedom is different from motivation. A lot of people seek to improve someone’s productivity by figuring out what motivates them. Some of the things listed above can be considered motivation as well, but it’s not about finding out what will drive someone to do good work. It’s about understanding the environment in which they’ll be truly happy and in turn, do good work. There a subtle but important difference there.

I think sometimes we don’t even pay attention to what brings ourselves a sense of freedom. We just assume it’s time, money, autonomy…all the things that society says should make you happy. Maybe if you take a step back and think about the moments in your life when you’ve felt completely free, it had nothing to do with those things.

What brings you a sense of freedom? What brings the people around you a sense of freedom?