May 11, 2013 § Leave a Comment
For years conference rooms were my stadium. I would walk through hallways of cubicles as if marching out of a tunnel to meet my clients. I would enter my stadium flanked by colleagues and visualize scores of fans cheering for me on the dry erase walls. With a storyboard under my arm I drove down the field for a score. Post game interviews were granted in the elevator and parking lot.
Where is your stadium? That place where months and months of work are faced with a make or break moment?
I’ve had several memorable ones.
- A Hotel in Manhattan, where I pitched Tecate’s Hispanic account for my agency as a rookie copywriter.
- A ballroom in Las Vegas presenting a year’s worth of commercials to the Nissan National Dealers Convention. (Picture a room full of Boss Hog’s from the Dukes of Hazard.)
- A conference room at Banco Popular, presenting what felt like the new business pitch of the century.
- A beautiful farm, trying to get a trained pig to hold still enough for a trick shot that would just make our Heineken commercial that much funnier.
I can distinctly remember how I felt the morning I woke up to undertake each of these challenges. I can remember the excitement of my commute, the feeling that I was headed into the big leagues.
It is worth analyzing how you feel when you approach your stadium.
How has that feeling changed across the years?
Is your stadium as fulfilling as it once was?
For the past year I have launched several tech products, perhaps too many at one time, but my main venture has been Community Patrol, a service that allows neighbors to share crime alerts via SMS, mobile applications and email.
The stadiums of my journey at Community Patrol have been drastically different from those of my former life as a Creative Director.
Board rooms and production sets where replaced by Community Centers. Executives where replaced by worried housewives and security guards. Fortune 500 brands were replaced by family-owned businesses like security companies. (Think “Armed and Dangerous”)
My first sale came in August at the cry room of a local church. My presentation, full of mobile app demos, shared the wall with a poster of Jesus, his hands clutching his sacred heart. Somehow, it all felt like I was presenting at the biggest stadium in the world.
How do you feel in your stadium?
If you don’t hear Michael Buffer announcing your name as you walk into that room. If you don’t hear Howard Cosell call the play by play as you present. If you don’t feel like Chris Berman when you share the highlights of the day with your spouse, “Back, back, back.” It might be time for a change.
If so, check out meetups, classes or a conference. They are great ways to experiment with new challenges. Here’s a few that have helped me across they years.
Check out my Social CV at https://www.rebelmouse.com/fernandezcw/Social_CV/
I happen to be searching for a new stadium. Let me know if you think my skills might help you march downfield.
May 9, 2013 § Leave a Comment
What do you do when you feel like your startup is doomed? You panic and pursue a consulting gig to get some cash.
Enter Point Guard Insurance.
I met with Luigi Miranda, the president of Point Guard Insurance, a Puerto Rican car insurance company last June.
I knew that I could use the technologies that power Community Patrol crime alerts to automate customer service via SMS and Mobile Apps.
I also knew, due to a search for a Call Center to help moderate Community Patrol alerts, that Call Centers in Puerto Rico were charging from $5-$7 per call and reluctant to field inbound requests via technologies that would chip away at their high per call charges.
I told Luigi I could save him money. Reducing the amount of calls his call center bills by by automating claim status requests via SMS and an iPhone/Android Application.
He said yes. I automate 5% of the status requests Point Guard receives every month.
In addition to the consulting fee to build the platform I am paid every time a Point Guard Insurance client is anxious to know when they are going to get their claim money for that fender-bender they just had.
March 6, 2013 § Leave a Comment
An old Puerto Rican legend tells the tale of the loyal dog of a Spanish soldier. The soldier and his pet patrolled the grounds of a small fort that protects the entrance to the Condado lagoon. The fortified walls, watch towers and cannons kept San Juan safe from pirates and the British fleet.
One day, after years patrolling the fort together, the soldier was recruited as reinforcement for the Spanish Military in Cuba. Soon he was shipped away, leaving behind his loyal pet. The dog watched his master’s ship disappear into the horizon, standing on a group of rocks with the waves of the Atlantic crashing at his feet.
According to the legend, the dog went out to that same point day after day, waiting for the return of his master, his eyes forever fixed on the horizon. Years of longing, petrified him into the rocks, and today, if you visit Condado, you can still see the dog, now a loyal stone, staring out at the ocean.
I’ve always loved this story, but recently I fear that I myself may be waiting hopelessly for something that might never come.
I always pass the legendary dog when I go out for a walk. As an entrepreneur it pains me to feel so identified with his plight. I am constantly refreshing my inbox and verifying that my phone’s ringer isn’t on mute. I am always waiting for a sign of progress: a returned call, a spike in downloads or a reply to an email. I can almost hear a mocking version of the old-school AOL voice saying “You don’t got mail.”
There’s a limit to the amount of proposals you can send and cold calls you can make. Each action you take, sets off a new timer, a new response to wait for.
I guess this is true of any sales job, you’re lucky to get a response for 10% of your calls. But as an entrepreneur, you are the product, unanswered calls become even more hurtful. Sometimes there are streaks of success, days in which you are on fire. But in between, long stretches of silence make it hard to feel productive and stay focused.
I try to escape these silent stretches with long walks. My route forces me to face the legendary dog in Condado.
I admire his persistence but despise the loyalty that blinded him to reality.
This is the great risk of being so personally vested in something. It is easy to become blinded by your incredible loyalty to an idea. It’s hard to discern if you’re waiting for something real, or just becoming a human version of the legendary tale.
I am a very good networker, I take pride in in the response rate of my emails and I have become a good salesman. Are the replies and returned calls validation of these skills or a sign of the value of my product? It’s easy to confuse small short-term achievements, like the booking a meeting, for long-term success. The tide continues to rise and ebb, but will it ever bring the master?
The legendary tale that I loved so much as a child, has become a cautionary one now that I am an entrepreneur. The lonely dog has reinforced the value of the Lean Startup approach to building a company. Lean methodologies help take the stupid loyal dog out of the equation and makes sure that the human behind the project can truly discern when to pivot or simply pull the plug.
I can’t say I have been the best lean practitioner. The loyal dog in me is a strong and hardheaded beast. At times I have held on to an idea for too long, avoiding clear signs of a dead end. I have gotten restless and tried mini-projects, ways to feel productive during the long waiting periods. These detours have only delayed finding out whether my original venture was viable or not.
You can’t just set out to make it happen. You can’t just sit on the rock and do what you know what how to do. You have to set milestones, run tests, and give yourself a deadline. Running lean can help you operate with discipline and keep you from standing there, blinded by loyalty, wishfully confusing the mist of a couple of random waves as a sign that the tide is changing and that your master will come after all.
As I get ready for another pilgrammage to SXSWi this week I look forward to learning from other entrepreneurs who face the same challenges.
I would love to hear of any examples of how lean methodologies have helped any of my readers pivot or simply put your startup to sleep.
If you’d like to contemplate these issues while taking in the view of waves crashing into a Spanish Fort, visit Puerto Rico. Here’s a link to a couple of hotels with a great view of our legendary dog.
January 2, 2013 § 2 Comments
A year ago I was a creative director. In advertising, to gauge my productivity at year’s end, I would take inventory of the crop of work I had produced that was worthy of a spot in my portfolio. I created dozens of ads a year, but just 3 or 4 portfolio pieces, was enough for a stellar year.
I have been an entrepreneur for a year now. I am trying to gauge my productivity:
I have developed four products.
I launched two iPhone apps, one Android App and a text messaging platform.
I signed a contract that entitles me to compensation every time a user clicks a button within one of those apps.
I recruited a base of paid-users for each product developed in just eight months.
I did not develop a product that did not have a paying client waiting for it.
Since August, my startup has had the luxury of observing end users, providing real data to measure profitability of each product.
I spent more time in front of customers than building web sites and landing pages.
My products only have about 300 users. But I have emailed with, talked to or met about 65% of them in person.
I have users to learn from, but learning from them is not bogging me down.
They have taught me that certain upgrades that are still in the development pipeline add no value and can be scratched, while others that I invested to deploy were completely unnecessary.
I became a business development lead, one-man customer development lab, project manager, tech support specialist, mailman, beta tester, voice over talent, social media community manager, web master and consultant.
I have felt fearless, I have felt scared shitless; sometimes within the span of the same day.
I have met with more lawyers than I’d like to admit and confirmed my hatred of spreadsheets.
I have tried to bite off more than I can chew. I could’ve been leaner. I could have been faster.
There are plenty of things I did wrong, but plenty I did right.
I have swung for the fences.
After a year as an entrepreneur, I have a portfolio, similar to the crop I added to my web site each year as a Creative Director. But the bar is higher now. I am not looking for case studies or campaigns to add to the CV, I’m searching for a business model to add to the income statement.
This is my foundation. A year of interviews, proposals and spreadsheets has given me a clearer picture of the odds each product has of making it. I will invest my time in 2013 accordingly.
December 26, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Cada año pongo un árbol de navidad, no tengo nada en contra de mi arbolito. Pero más y más prefiero mi pesebre. Cuando miras a un arbolito, surge una pregunta: ¿qué me traerá la navidad? Cuando miras un pesebre, surge una respuesta: ¡Que mucho me ha traído la navidad! En vez de un vacío, el pesebre hace hincapié en lo que nos llena.
José y María no tienen nada y aun así lo tienen todo. Frente a situaciones de suma dificultad deciden traer juntos al mundo una criatura.
No hay que creer en el milagro de la Navidad, en la inmaculada concepción, inclusive no hay que creer ni en Dios. En el nivel más básico, la historia de la Navidad, es la historia de una familia. María no tuvo “baby-shower” y el pobre José no pudo ni escoger el nombre de su primogénito. Nada de esto los detuvo. El amor que se observa en ese pesebre es lo único que esa familia necesita para echar pa’lante y es capaz de darle esperanza hasta al más decaído.
En Puerto Rico, nos enfrentamos a situaciones de suma dificultad. Si tratamos de fijarnos un chin más, como José y María, en lo que tenemos, se nos hará muchísimo más fácil enfrentarnos a cualquier camino que surja.
Yo seguiré poniendo mi arbolito, pero no sin el contrapunto de mi pesebre.