So you want to contact a startup?
At a startup—or any small company, really—dealing with the outside world is hard.
If you are not a customer (current or prospective) or a PR opportunity, startups often have no use for your email or phone call, and in that chronically understaff world, there’s likely no one assigned to “the public”. If you’re lucky, they have assigned an office manager or their customer support group to field incoming traffic. If not, you might be reaching a managerie of PR/BD/sales/marketing folks.
At some one point or another I’ve been privy to almost all our incoming traffic, including email, phone, chat, and social media. Due to my role, my personality, and my tenure with the company, I have a good sense for how to reply directly, where to forward various audiences, which are OK to ignore, and which deserve a snarky response.
Here’s my advice for specific groups trying to reach a startup.
- First, email the company through the provided address or form
- If necessary and possible, call the company
- Tweet at them
Note: Twitter can be good for getting attention, but it also could also mean relying on the social media folks to get your info over to support, and also means you won’t actually have a ticket, which can actually drag out resolution. (Yes, some companies use something like desk.com and choose to monitor tweets as tickets, but it’s an exception to the norm.)
- Take five minutes and read the actual text on the website. You’d be surprised how much time has gone into answering your questions.
- B2B: Submit whatever marketing/sales form is provided. This will route you to someone whose purpose in life is to contact you.
- B2C: Email your questions to support. They have better ticketing than a general inbox and are already equipped to answer product questions, even though it’s not really their job to sell you.
- Send an actual, well-formed question which you will use to make a purchase decision, not something like “Tell me about your product, thanks.”
- If you submit info and a B2B company does not get back to you, it might be because you’re not a good fit for the product (yet). There are many reasons this might be the case.
- Email a company executive directly with an interview request
- Email a press inbox
- Call a press inbox
- Email a general inbox
If possible, and in order:
- Contact someone you know and have them refer you directly to the hiring manager and (if applicable) recruiting lead for the position
- Apply for the job
We’re organized enough to handle applications as is. But if you’re feeling antsy and need to follow up, I suggest you:
- Follow up directly with the recruiting lead or team
- Follow up directly with the hiring manager
- Follow up directly with the department head
- Email the company’s general inbox asking for a response
- Email the company’s general inbox asking to have coffee with someone to learn more about the company/position
- Ain’t nobody got time for that.
Salespeople / Cold Calls
In general, you’re wasting your time. But if you must hit your rolodex, email someone directly, particularly the person likely to make a purchase decision.
I’m amazed how many salespeople skip their own research and email our general inbox expecting us to forward their pitch email to the right person.
- Email the press inbox (immediate blacklist)
- Email multiple general inboxes (ditto)
- Email the same thing to 10 people (it’s a startup: we sit next to each other, we talk, we roll our eyes at you)
- Try to connect with someone on LinkedIn out of the blue
- Call the company
Do you know why you don’t call a startup to sell something? Because most people at startups don’t use company phones—they email, chat, and tap each other on the shoulder, or use their own cell phones. I only use my VoIP phone to dial out; the only people who call me at work are salespeople, so I literally never answer the phone.
"Buy my company or technology" Pitches
Unless you know someone at the company and contact him/her directly, it’s a total waste of time. Even if you do have something interesting, the company can’t risk the chance that you’re a patent troll lining up a lawsuit.
Recruiters Pitching Services or Applicants
- Contact our recruiters directly (if you’re good at your job, you’ll figure out how)
- Anything sent to a general inbox is deleted
If I’ve forgotten something, tweet me @superstrong
WordPress local development using WP Stack
I’ve been working with a local development extension of WP Stack for a couple months at Knewton, and this now my workflow. I can usually develop in local master, but when needed I’ll work in a local development branch first.
My point is, it’s much simpler to do this than it used to be—so easy a marketing guy can do it. I don’t know of many places where the marketing team has developed this level of self-sufficiency.
- Open iTerm2
The dev guys told me this is better than Terminal. I use these three panes to manage my stuff. They use like 12.
- "marketing-deploy" is a private repo (hosted on Github) that handles all our deployment configuration
- "vagrant" is Vagrant, which handles virtualized development. I’m basically running a second computer on my computer.
- "knewton.com" is a copy of our WordPress-based site, including database and server configs
Fetch and merge from the repo’s origin (Github)
Boot up the Vagrant virtualization
Sync the database from production to local
vagrant knewton:localdev on
Change my hosts file to point www.knewton.com to my local version
- Do some work
- preview my work on www.knewton.com
vagrant knewton:localdev off
Revert hosts file
Shut down the Vagrant virtualization
- ssh to the admin box
The admin box is a separate instance hosted on AWS that handles deployment, rollback, restarting nginx/memcached/etc., and more with single-line commands
- switch to the deploy user
Parse’s Cloud Code is the Hotness
A few months ago, my gf (a product manager) was excited about a mobile feature she wanted to build into her company’s iPhone app: a new sorting feature that used a ton of data from different tables in the db. She couldn’t do it, unfortunately, because her mobile team operated independently from the API team, each of which had their own roadmaps, timelines, and managers.
The API team would not create a new call to provide the calculated data, and the app couldn’t do it because the client would have to download a ton of data from the db just to crunch it and display the result. (The API team there operated oddly, creating excruciatingly client- and feature-specific calls rather than exposing data more generally and enabling clients to combine calls.)
My suggestion was that they instead have the API team expose some data generally, then build an interim API layer that could make the call to the existing API and cache the results, then provide an endpoint to the mobile clients.
Turns out Parse is doing just that. Parse just released “Cloud Code”:
For example, if you were building a restaurant review app, you’d probably want to display the average star rating for a venue. Instead of grabbing all the reviews and averaging them on the client, you could specify a custom endpoint.
All your clients would immediately have this functionality available to them. Furthermore, if you wanted to use a more sophisticated averaging algorithm, you would be able to alter it without having to update any code in the client.
There are analogous services in the marketing world, where marketers need the ability to create landing pages, add tracking code, A/B test images, send emails, etc. without dragging developers through their manic experiments. Tools like HubSpot, Marketo, Test & Target, and more charge thousands per month to provide this independence.
Similarly, Cloud Code seems like a great way for front-end teams to operate more independently, developing experiments and features for their mobile clients without bothering the API team, which sometimes (usually?) operates on an independent roadmap, or at least its own timeline.
This sounds big.
How to put a local (Mac) folder on Github
- Create a new repo on Github
- In Termal, navigate to your local folder and run “git init” to initialize Git
- Add and commit your files
- Set your Github repo as the origin/master and start tracking it: “git remote add —track master origin [github-repo-url]”
- Merge the remote project into your local version. For this first step, I prefer “git pull —rebase”
- Now push while setting your Github repo as the upstream for all future pushes: “git push —set-upstream origin master”
- Drink a beer
How to leave a secret message for someone who runs a website
In a Google search, say whatever keywords you need to say (usually the name), then add your message but negate it from the search. It will show up in the owner’s traffic stats under organic keywords and you’ll have their attention for a few moments.
Coda Hale -“You should work at Knewton! You don’t have to move to NYC. Email me email@example.com”
It’s suuuuper soft, but kind of interesting. Aside from recruiting developers, it could be used by B2B companies selling anything related to marketing teams, where the prospective customers are the most likely people to be sifting through organic keywords.
I noticed recently that a number of project owners seemed to have converged on Trello as a lightweight project management tool. On their own!
To build on that traction, I set up a “Hive Mind” board for everyone in the company to join and use to talk about general, ongoing stuff. What beer should we have in the kegerator? What should new hires know? What should be our next merch item? These are things people think about. Now it’s easy for everyone to add ideas, comment, and even vote.
Over 70% of the company has joined. It’s working pretty well so far.