Last week, in the midst of Denver Startup Week, we had a full day Foundry Group Exec conference. Ben Deda from FullContact convened about 100 execs from our 60 or so portfolio companies for the day. We had seven topics of one hour each, led by a different set of execs. The result was an incredible range of discussions across an amazing group of people.
One of the attendees was Jeff Malek, the CTO of BigDoor. Jeff is super passionate about what he does and mixes humor with intensity with math. Following is something from Jeff to kick you in the ass this morning and get you charged up.
Last year I put together a slide deck for what the FAAAC was all about. Amongst other things, it describes a start-upper’s most valuable core attributes: fire, ability, agility, adaptability, and clear, concise communication skills.
A couple of months later FAKEGRIMLOCK published his incendiary work BE ON FIRE. As I read this wonderful post, I got very positively charged up. I thought : what the FAAAC is up there, with FAKEGRIMLOCK? Yes, it seemed to me: it is totally up there with FAKEGRIMLOCK!
Was I somehow channeling the King of Awesome? Could I be some sort of supernatural vessel, carrying the same caliber of limbic wisdom as the great, giant robot dinosaur? After asking around, the consensus was “probably not”. Someone even mentioned that I might be confusing “vessel” with “vassal”.
Still, I felt compelled to reach out to Brad and pointed out this cosmic parallel. Brad asked if I’d like to write a guest post. I thought, “hmmm…lucky FAAAC opportunity…” and began a mental draft immediately, in tandem with other P0 efforts I had in the works at the time (e.g. sharding our database systems).
One year and fourteen pounds of irony later, I’ve completed my assertion of reasonable ridiculosity for the FAAAC.
Behold, the Fire in the FAAAC Proportionality Theorem:
Which can be read per line thusly:
- There’s a unit of awesomeness comprising fire, ability, agility, adaptability, and good communication
- A good start-upper exhibits unusually high, varying degrees of each trait.
- An impressive academic pedigree doesn’t predict startup awesomeness (although it’s always impressive)
- Fire is the most important aspect of them all, composing up to 80% of all the awesome. Fire can drive learning (ability), help you duck punches (agility), and get you off the ground when you’re hit (adaptability). This is all just paraphrasing what Edison said about perspiration, and what FAKEGRIMLOCK drew about bears, bombs and arrows.
- If fire is compensating for lower levels of the other traits, then to be a great start-upper you’ll need a proportionally large sense of humor to get you through acerbic code reviews, failed biz-dev deals, and communication breakdowns.
- That’s what the FAAAC fire has to do with anything and everything.
It may seem like I’m just pointing at the clear connecting lines between myself, Brad , Edison, and FAKEGRIMLOCK. Fishing lines, maybe even.
But seriously, we have a rigorous process at our startup that tests new job candidates for these traits, making it easy to determine whether they should be leveled-up to the next interview stage. It involves running through our sprint process on a compressed timeline, working with a hypothetical customer, in a typical solution space. After 30 minutes a ruleset is produced in English, and supporting code is produced within an hour. The whole point is to determine whether the candidate is someone we could work with, and whether they have fire, agility, adaptability, ability, and good communication. I don’t care if someone can figure out why manhole covers are round. I want to know how well they’re going to perform in the context of our team, and our business. The best candidates rock these qualities out, just like the most successful entrepreneurs I’ve met do the same.
One of the most enduring challenges any Internet marketer faces is getting users to come back regularly and engage on their website. In other words; loyalty. Social gaming companies and a few very popular consumer web services have gotten extremely good at creating loyalty, where loyalty rate is defined as Daily Active Users (DAU) / Monthly Active Users (MAU). Yet when you look at loyalty rates on the rest of the web, they look downright abysmal. According to data from Nielsen, of the top 2,000 biggest sites in the US, only 21 of them have a loyalty rate better than 25%. In fact the average loyalty rate among the top 2,000 US sites is less than 7%. Do some quick math (7% * 30 days) and that means that on average their “active” users are only visiting their site two days out of the month.
That doesn’t feel very loyal, and this is the challenge, or opportunity, that our portfolio company BigDoor set their sites on. The team at BigDoor has been busy building a gamification and rewards platform, but after two years of work and a lot of learning they discovered that what they had really created was an engine that helps publishers increase user loyalty and engagement. Once they realized this, they also realized they needed to have a drop dead easy way to measure the impact they were having on loyalty rates. So they built in cohort analysis that automagically creates a random control group and the analytics engine needed to compare control groups versus reward user groups. Next came an iterative exposure function, because no smart marketer would roll something out to their entire site without testing it first on a subset of their traffic. Then they made it as easy as possible to implement, with the requirement being that it should take the same technical ability that a person needs to install Google Analytics.
BigDoor has been in private beta with this latest version of their gamified rewards program for the last few months, and the results surprised all of us. That’s because when a user goes to a site that is using BigDoor, they see a tightly integrated and highly gamified rewards program that lets them earn real rewards for engaging with the site. The more loyal and engaged the user is, the more points and rewards they get. Think of it like a fun and engaging frequent flyer program for any website. But behind the scenes is a white-label gamification engine that is churning through data, comparing cohort performance, and measuring results. And what has their impact been on loyalty rates? On average, across all of their publishers, they saw a lift in loyalty rates of over 150%.
If you talk to the BigDoor team they will tell you that they still have a ton of things to improve upon. They want to make the implementation process for a new publisher even simpler. They want to create more and better integrated widget templates. They want to get their loyalty score lift even higher. They are busy doing all of those things, but what’s already there is working incredibly well. That’s why we decided to double down with our investment in BigDoor and lead another round of investment into the company.
In addition to announcing their new funding round, yesterday BigDoor also announced they were bringing their gamified rewards program out of private beta, so it is now available to everyone. They currently have a huge pipeline of publishers they are working with, but if you manage a website that is struggling with that never ending challenge of loyalty and engagement, give their gamified rewards program a look and let them know what you think.
I love getting post board meeting emails that are retrospectives from execs in the meeting. This one came a week ago from Jeff Malek, the CTO and co-founder of BigDoor. They’ve been on a tear lately and are in the process of a massive set of Q1 launches for new customers.
We had a solid board meeting, but I suggested they were being too casual about a couple of things, including communication about what was going on. This is NOT a casual group and I knew using the word casual would press a few buttons. And they did – the right ones. Jeff’s retrospective is awesome and he was game to have me share it with you to get a sense of what’s inside a CTO’s head during and after a board meeting.
I have a retrospective addiction. But as a result of looking back at our meeting today Brad, words like ‘casual’ still ringing in my ears, I recognized I’d let some of my own assumptions drive away potential opportunities, maybe even creating some problems along the way. I’ve always run under the assumptions that :
- your inbox is an order of magnitude more onerous than mine (quite)
- the best way to respect and value your time would be to limit email/communication
- you and Keith have regular communications complete with bits about what I’m up to and thinking
- you know even in the absence of communication from me that I’m working like a madman, doing everything I can to make it happen
- you also know through some process of osmosis how much I value you, Foundry, your approach, feedback, etc
Just so you don’t get the wrong idea, it’s not that I took your feedback and concluded that I needed to give you more BigDoor insight, or that you needed more info in general to get a better picture – that’s what the numbers are for.
So while all of the above assumptions are probably true to some degree, here’s the new protocol I’m going to start optimistically running under:
- thanks to your candor and aversion to BS, you’ll tell me to STFU as needed
- you’d like a concise ping about whatever, whenever from me
- you’ll give me feedback if/when it makes sense to, and I won’t expect a reply otherwise, unless I’m asking a direct question
- doing so is likely to benefit both of us, one way or another – hopefully more candid feedback will ensue
- you know that I value your time highly, and mine specifically in the context of devoting most waking hours to making BigDoor a success
- you know that I am incredibly grateful to know you and have you as an investor
Those are my new assumptions. I felt like giving this topic some time and thought, glad I did, will keep it (mostly) short going forward but hopefully you know a bit more about where I’m coming from, out of this.
Thanks again for the time today, I thought it was an awesome f-ing meeting. I always leave them on fire.
Today one of our portfolio companies BigDoor announced the acquisition of San Francisco-based OneTrueFan, a community and web check-in company. We invested in BigDoor a little over a year ago and they’ve made amazing progress on their gamified loyalty platform since then. In addition to having over 300 live customers, BigDoor is also conducting a private beta of a truly innovative solution that they call the Engagement Economy, and we expect it have long lasting implications on how the digital world engages and monetizes their audiences.
Recently the market demand has been outpacing their ability to keep up, so they turned to OneTrueFan as a means of accelerating their product development and overall growth. When there is a great fit, I love seeing our portfolio companies make acquisitions. In this case, BigDoor gains access to a team of incredibly talented entrepreneurs (led OneTrueFan co-founders Eric Marcoullier and Todd Samson), thousands of publishers, and tech that fits perfectly into BigDoor’s gamified loyalty platform.
The former OneTrueFan team will be primarily focused on building and running a BigDoor branded rewards program that is targeted to long tail and medium size web publishers. When they launch BigDoor Rewards next month, it will carry with it many of the same characteristics publishers loved from OneTrueFan; brain-dead simple to implement, great analytics, increased content sharing, and far more user engagement. Shortly thereafter BigDoor will be taking the wraps off of their Engagement Economy private beta, and making it publicly available to larger publishers and online communities.
Todd and Eric have been friends of mine for a long time. Between the two of them they have co-founded IGN.com (IPO in 2000, acquired by NewsCorp in 2005), MyBlogLog (acquired by Yahoo in ’07) and Gnip (which I’m an investor in). Needless to say, I’m excited to see what happens as they join the BigDoor team.
I’ve thrown my hat into the SXSW Panel Picker this year – please click here to upvote my panel titled An Inside Look at BigDoor’s Venture Funding.
I’ve never presented at a SXSW panel because I usually like to stay flexible and check out whatever’s interesting, but we came up with an idea that got me excited enough to commit. An Inside Look at BigDoor’s Venture Funding is going to be me, Keith Smith (BigDoor CEO), and Andy Sack (Lighter Capital, Founder’s Co-op, and the TechStars Seattle Managing Director). Both are good friends of mine and have really interesting philosophies about startup funding.
I think Keith was once quoted as saying “I’d rather give up my left nut than give up equity in my company” and having gotten to know him over the past couple years, I don’t think that’s far from the truth. Keith has over a decade of experience running startup companies and is extremely passionate about BigDoor, which made him aggressive in any discussions involving giving up a stake to both Founder’s Co-op and Foundry Group.
Andy’s a serial entrepreneur who has spent the past few years working on ways to make the funding process better for entrepreneurs. He led the first round of funding for BigDoor through Founder’s Co-op, but used a creative structure, partly because Keith is such a stickler on valuation. Andy and Keith will discuss this more on the panel, but they used a RevenueLoan approach to bridge the gap on price.
The RevenueLoan structure is something new Andy’s been working on at Lighter Capital, where instead of making an equity investment, they get a set percent of the company’s revenues over time. It’s a cool idea that worked out well for Andy and Keith, since it got Keith the funding he needed on terms that Andy was comfortable with.
As a side note, Lighter Capital is the leader in a new funding approach called revenue based finance which is an interesting alternative for entrepreneurs to fund growth in their small business. I may write about this more in the future, but in the meantime Lighter Capital is funding an “explosive” company in August (you’ve got two days left to apply), a fun idea to keep small business funding interesting and worth checking out if you need 100K to 500K right now.
During the panel, I plan to bring Keith and Andy water to support them, as is my typical role. I actually didn’t like Keith’s business when I first came across it but as we got to know each other he did an awesome job keeping me in the loop, listening to my feedback, and iterating, so after about six months, I came around especially to Keith but also to BigDoor’s business. I’ll be giving my thoughts on how Keith convinced me to invest by just running his company and interacting with me over an extended period of time rather than by pitching me.
If you are into this, upvote our panel. Either way, I’ll see you at SXSW.
Many of the companies I’m an investor in are hiring a lot of people right now. For a current view, take a look at the Foundry Group jobs page. I’ve interviewed and hired a lot of people over the year and I’ve developed my own perspective and philosophy on the best way to do this. However, I don’t feel like I have all the answers so I asked a few people that I respect a lot (and fit in my definition of VP of People) to weigh in with their thoughts.
Ring Nishioka from BigDoor is up first. I’ve loved working with Ring over the past year as he’s helped grow the BigDoor team from five people when I first invested to the 20 or so people it is today. Ring totally gets it, has a great interviewing philosophy, and also has a fun blog called HRNasty. Enjoy.
Interviewing sets the tone of the culture to everyone that comes into the company. This is the very first exposure to the company. It can be an effective tool to use to not only set the culture with new hires but to reinforce the culture to existing hires involved during interviews. If you want a culture of teamwork, reinforce that during the interview process. If you want a culture of “always closing” reinforce that. Ring the bell during an interview and let the candidate know you celebrate closers.
I believe that everyone who comes into contact with a candidate should go through interview training. Even if the person doing the interviewing is a senior person, they should hear from the HR department what the company’s interviewing philosophy is. Just because they understand the Microsoft interviewing philosophy and conducted interviews there for 10 years doesn’t mean they know how to interview at a small startup, or what that start up is looking for. Interviewers should understand exactly what the company is looking for in the position, what specific questions need to be asked and how to represent the culture. If your company uses Behavioral Interviewing, that should be shared.
The candidate should have a consistent experience between interviews. Interviews hopefully consist of the following:
- Introduction from the person doing the interview including name, role, and tenure, and what they like about working with the company.
- Offer of a beverage and the opportunity to use the restroom.
- Explanation of what will happen during the interview. (We have some questions for you, I’d like to be able to answer any questions you have at the end, HR will tell you what your next steps are)
When I worked in Corporate America, we would dedicate an entire day to interview training through an interviewing class. A long time you think? This is the vehicle that will vet out the folks that you are going to pay 1000’s of dollars a year, maybe 100’s of thousands. Why wouldn’t you invest a little time into interview training? This will be way too long for most startups, but again, interview training can reinforce the culture. We had a lot of exercises including mock interviews in this class. We wanted folks to complete six mock interviews before letting them loose on our next potential candidate and chasing them to the competition. At BigDoor, I spend about one hour explaining our philosophy and then follow up with candidate specific training.
Even if the candidate is not qualified, you don’t want the candidate walking out of the interview feeling crushed, dumb, or stupid. Even if they are dumb or stupid you want them to walk out of the interview wanting to work with your company. Sometimes, when folks are not able to answer an interview question, the person doing the interview feels like they are wasting their time and body language conveys this. There is nothing worse than feeling put out while going through an interview process.
If the candidate isn’t a fit now, they may be a fit for another position in six months or two years. You want the candidate feeling like your company is a great place to work and remembering the experience as one of the best, especially if they made it through a few rounds. You want them telling their friends and family about your company, your openings, your products and especially your team. Just like we all share are car buying stories, we all share our interview stories. This is free advertising and the person that you are interviewing probably has friends with similar interests.
Most of our initial interviews are at a local coffee shop. I am trying to create a situation where the candidate is a little less nervous, and it is a more of a personal atmosphere. I want to create a personal connection between our company and the candidate. This isn’t something that most recruiters at the larger companies will do, and can set us apart. I want to see the best in a candidate; I don’t want to see their “nervous worst.” Some folks will feel like if they aren’t able to perform in a job interview, they won’t perform in the work environment. I believe that if you have the support of your peers, you know what is expected of you, you will perform better. You don’t have either of these in a sterile interview room.
I love watching our portfolio companies iterate on their products, especially when they are in the early days. Initial efforts often provide nothing more than learnings, but turning those learnings into an improved product offering is a huge part of what being an early stage company is all about.
BigDoor has been going through that iteration process over this past year and this last week they quietly launched a pilot of a new feature called “Quests” on UGO.com and a dozen other sites. BigDoor partnered with the talented folks at SpectrumDNA to bring Quests to life. At first blush Quests may just appear to be the addition of a directed-engagement type game mechanic, but what is going on behind the scenes is really interesting.
The BigDoor team believes strongly that gamification should be a profit-center for web publishers and app developers, not a cost-center. As a result, they don’t charge for the usage of their API or their widgets. However, in order to fulfill their vision of providing a free gamification platform as well as sending checks to publishers, they’ve known that they needed a solution that worked not only for publishers and end-users, but also for advertisers as well.
Just in time for ad:tech, BigDoor’s Quests allow advertisers to create a series of tasks that direct users to visit multiple sites/pages and in the process deeply engage those users into their brand. The user earns rewards (badges, virtual currency and discounts) for completing quests, and the publisher makes money every time a quest is completed.
Any solution that gives advertisers traffic, publishers money, and users rewards has the promise of being a big win. It’s too early to tell yet if this first iteration of Quests will accomplish all of that, but the early numbers look promising. Across all of their pilot partners BigDoor is already seeing that 35% of initiated Quests are completed (a Quest requires a user to visit and interact with five different websites), and 40% of users who complete a Quest tweet or share their accomplishment.
Having worked with the BigDoor team since mid-year last year, I know they will listen to their advertisers and publishers, watch the metrics, learn from this pilot, and then iterate and improve before they make Quests available to all publishers and advertisers sometime this summer. If you want to check out what Quests look like now, visit UGO.com and “Start Your Quest Now.” If you are an advertiser or a publisher who is interested in participating in the Quests pilot, feel free to contact the BigDoor team to see if there is a fit.
Wow – that was cool. Thanks for the help with the experiment in the post How To Score 30 Minutes With Me. Tons of great feedback – both in the comments, by tweets, and by email.
In case you missed the post, I decided to offer one 30 minute session with me per week for the next four weeks in exchange for 10,000 Feld Gelt. At least one person found the “Purchase Feld Gelt” option (which I’ve since disabled, at least for now) and bought 9,995 Feld Gelt’s for $10 valuing my time at around $20.01 / hour! Oops.
I was surprised that the slot for the first week of running this was purchased within eight hours (I posted last night – by the time I woke up it was gone.) It’s also super interesting to me to see the movement on the leaderboard (via the detailed BigDoor stats that publishers get to see) which just reinforces the importance of having more options here (e.g. daily leaderboard, biggest movers).
The next 30 minute session goes on sale in “about a week” which means you need to check back periodically in the BigDeal section to see if it’s active. In the mean time, activity on Feld Thoughts earns you more Feld Gelt, as does activity on my partners blogs (Jason Mendelson, Seth Levine, and Ryan McIntyre) and activity on the Foundry Group blog. Yup – the Minibar works across blog networks!
I’m still getting my mind around how to integrate Feld Gelt with Brad Feld’s Amazing Deals. I’m also contemplating getting a pet unicorn.
Long ago I concluded that life is just a video game. We fly on airplanes to get mileage points so we can get free stuff and or level up to get more priority. We used to get green stamps (when I was a kid) whenever we bought stuff so we could get free stuff (most of it shitty, but free). Our credit cards have points programs (and lots of free miles), we get credit (implicit and explicit) eating at the same restaurants over and over ago, and when you buy a dozen cups of coffee at the coffee shop down the street from my (they still keep track of it with note cards and one of those funny metal punch things) you get the next one free.
I love the current concept of gamification. This isn’t just my inner investor speaking; I really believe as a society we’ve embraced this completely (Forbes 400 list anyone?) Gamification is more than just flinging pissed off birds at ramshackle construction sites on your iPhone; we all set some out-of-the-way goals and try to reach them because we want to feel like we’ve accomplished something special, get something free, or receive recognition for our activity. And, yes, I own up to plenty of farming and citybuiding in order to share the results.
In the spirit of learning by doing, I want to try an experiment over the next thirty days. In conjunction with my friends at BigDoor who provide the “minibar” you see anchored at the bottom of Feld Thoughts,
I’d like to offer 30 minutes of my time as a prize for anyone who wants to exchange 10,000 Feld Gelt for that opportunity. You may ask yourself, “How do I earn this fashionable currency?” There are currently five easy ways:
- Check in when you visit my site.
- Add a comment to any blog post.
- Share or tweet posts you like.
- Like any post from the minibar.
- The best way of all to earn Feld Gelt is when people click on links you share or Like links in your Facebook activity feed.
If you can put ten grand in Feld Gelt together, you can trade them in for 30 minutes with me in person in Boulder (if you’re in town) or Skype, or by phone if you are old fashioned*. Just click on the BigDeal button in the minibar.
I’d like to see whether the usual activities you do when visiting the site will be amplified once you’ve got an incentive beyond the content and conversation already found here. Plus I’m also eager to connect with those of you who may stop by here regularly but haven’t met me out in the physical world yet. So start working your way up that Leaderboard and just maybe I’ll be see you in a Boulder coffee shop, or on a Skype chat, sometime soon.
If you want your own minibar on your site, Oh – and please comment on what you think of this and the implementation (good and bad). You’ll earn some points for doing it.
* The fine print (or mouse print if you prefer): One appointment per person. I’m only “selling” one session per week (a total of four), so act fast. I’m going to commit to testing this for a month, and then decide if I have the spare 30 minutes in future weeks. I reserve the right to reschedule or even refuse service.
Update: Wow – that was fast. The deal sold out in about two hours. I’ll review the data tomorrow and figure out a new deal soon! Of course, your Feld Gelt will be useful for that deal also so keep earning it.
If you are reading this on my website you’ll see a new bar popup at the bottom of your browser. It’s the BigDoor MiniBar. If you are a regular reader of Feld Thoughts, check in and join the community.
We invested in BigDoor earlier this year as part of our Distribution theme. BigDoor’s goal is to “gamify” any website. They’ve built a very deep and rich set of functionality around game mechanics via a programmable API – things like checkins, points, badges, trophies, levels, and a virtual economy. For an example of a deep integration, take a look at Devhub or the summary article on TechCrunch titled DevHub Now Turns Building A Website Into A Game.
Three months ago at a board dinner in Seattle we discussed the idea of creating a much lighter weight implementation – basically something that a publisher like me could implement on my site without having to write any code. This lighter weight implementation, now called the MiniBar, actually uses the full BigDoor API but has a UX for configuration and implementation in front of it that makes it easy to set up BigDoor on your site within five minutes.
I’ve been an investor in a number of publisher-enabling businesses and have learned a lot over the past five or so years. I learned the most from FeedBurner, which was one of the first publisher-enabling businesses I invested in. They did a remarkable job of providing both a five minute implementation as well as a very deep programmatic API that allowed a publisher to control many aspects of the system. They encapsulated this in a brilliantly executed UX that made it easy to implement a variety of complex features with simple choices. This UX also allowed FeedBurner to regularly roll out new features without impacting the old UX.
With the release of the MiniBar, BigDoor is taking a page from the FeedBurner playbook. Now any web site, from a single blogger to a high end multi-site international media property or high volume ecommerce site can quickly (in under five minutes) implement a full game mechanic system, while preserving the ability to manipulate any aspect of it, either through the MiniBar UX (which will continue to evolve with every two week sprint) or the rich BigDoor game mechanic API.
The first MiniBar implementation includes Facebook Connect, an XP (experience point) system, a checkin system (throttled to allow checkins every 30 minutes), badges, a leaderboard, a daily deal (purchased with virtual currency – Feld Gelt – that you can earn or buy), and site sharing on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and via email.
You’ll see this evolve regularly. BigDoor runs on a two-week sprint with a full release every two weeks. I’ve seen the next version of the MiniBar due in mid-January – there’s much more UI configuration control along with several new features.
If you are a publisher or blogger and want to gamify your site, give the BigDoor MiniBar a try – I’d love to hear your feedback (and check in on your site). And – if you want a direct connect with the company, just email me.