Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Startup Sprint Silver Tsunami in Krakow

The aging population in Poland is progressing. As is apparent from the research - in the year 2029 people aged 50 and older will represent 44% of the entire population. Silver Tsunami (name of the consumer) - are a group of people which also affected lifestyle and changed the perception of their role in the society. Polish market is unprepared for this situation and for this reason we decided to create a project Startup Sprint Silver Tsunami.

On 5-7 December we will organize Startup Sprint Silver Tsunami in Krakow. If you have an idea for a business aimed at the senior citizen group, it is one of your targets, you want to join the team or spend time creatively - register here: http://silvertsunami.startupsprint.org

Starting time of Startup Sprint: December 5, 2014 at 18:00
Ending time: December 7, 2014 at 18:00
Place: Wyższa Szkoła Europejska im. ks. Józefa Tischnera 
            ul. Westerplatte 11, Krakow 
Facebook link: https://www.facebook.com/events/1513497838911203

Thank you for reading another one of my posts done just for you!  If you liked what you read please share it by using one of the buttons up top and check out other posts in this blog.  I don’t want you to miss out on future posts so please follow me on Twitter @Eurodude23 If you haven’t done it already, please like my fan page by clicking here See you next time!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Helping Polish Startups level-up their Global Game

Paul Chen

There have been several articles lately where Marcin Szelag of Innovation Nest in Krakow, Bartek Gola from Speedup Group in Poznan, and Andrzej Kosminski of Kosminski University in Warsaw, asked this question,"Why is there no Polish product which is internationally famous? Why is there no Polish Apple or Google? Why hasn't Poland produced our own unicorn yet?"

Well guys, do you want the easy answer or the hard answer?  

Mind of a Programmer

You say that Polish programmers and coders are constantly winning coding competitions and hackathons but they can't build a great company.  This is the same as complaining, 'if I am such a great guy, why can't I get a girlfriend'?

Sometimes nice guys don't make good boyfriends.  Girls are looking for something that they guy can't offer, thus he remains in the friendzone.  Just like the nice guy the awesome coder are not able to offer what the customer want.  Sometimes the startup is made of great designers and developers, but to be a great startup, that is not enough.  Poles are great at doing things that take great deal of concentration and being able to manipulate the code to fit a certain need.  The Polish language is very influential in this regard.  With conjugation and declination, forming a sentence is like trying to write a line of code. 

However, research says that this type of cognitive activity does not foster creativity.  In order to be creative, you need to have a good awarness of the world around you and be able to see things from different points of view.  Unfortunately, Poles lack this capability.  Most Poles are target oriented.  And those who work in corporations providing BPO services could suffer even more from this.  Most have a difficulty being able to feel other's pain.   
As a result, Polish businesses and startups will continue to plow forward pursuing that target without much notice of what the customer really need.  They will think, well, we have a good product, so you must want it or you are a fool.  This 'take it or leave it' attitude is good in some cases but it is deadly in customer acquisition.  The thing is that in this globalized society, the customer has choices.  If Estimote will not satisfy me, I can literally go down the street and talk to Kontakt.io.  

Going back to the mind of a programmer, because he can't see thing from the user's point of view, he will not be able to build what the user really need or want.  And because he can't grasp what is going on in the world around him, he would not understand the market trends and where the market is going.  As a result, innovation would be very hard.  

The most difficult three words in the English language are,"I don't know."

When you talk to most supposed Polish executives, professors, and supposed experts.  They love to show you how much they know.  In fact they can be just as bad as the most obnoxious Dr. Who fanboy.  They will never admit that they are wrong.  In an Economist article, it state that most Polish firms are reluctant to invest in R&D.  For telecoms like Orange and TMobile, they have opened incubators.  However, the more traditional Polish powerhouses, no.  

For a long time, Polish firms and institutions are seen as experts who know all the answers.  The shopkeeper knew when the banana was coming in.  The professor was able to depend on some theories in fields like business or science.  However, as technology becomes more complicated and the customer has more choices, the answers weren't so simple anymore.  However, the business being very stubborn decide to continue as if they knew everything.  As customers are not satisfied, they leave.  This is what is happening to the Catholic church.  

As a good business, you need to be able to adapt or you will face oblivion.  To adapt, you need to go by the idea that you don't know everything.  Then, you experiment and try to find new answers and new models and products that will satisfy the insatiable appetite of the customer.  

What a difference 2 percent makes

The great Dr. Neil Degrasse Tyson once mused: The difference between humans and chimps in terms of DNA is 2%.  Just imagine, if there were aliens that are 2% beyond us, what would they be like?  The biggest problems and hardest questions of 2014 would be like something that even their 5 year old would know.

Sometimes, giving that extra little extra will make a big difference.  Countless times have I gone to stores with just 5 to 10 minutes left in the day and the store personnel would not let me in or I would be chased out of the store with just 2 minutes left.  The other day, I went to get a hair cut, the place was empty, the appointment book was empty, and there were one employee free.  I was turned away and told to make an appointment for another day.  The same thing happened after the TechCrunch event here in Krakow where we had many really influential and wealthy people in our party, but we were turned away because they were closing.  Many of my American friends will acknowledge this, we will be going to a restaurant or a bar and have to wait like 30 minutes before we are served.  

Spending money is supposed to be a pleasant experience.  My dad always says,"when a customer comes to your store, he is bringing his hard earned dollar to you, he deserves the best treatment because he can just as easily go the the next guy."

Polish businesses continue to miss this point.  These businesses treat the customer like a statistic, not a person.  The cashier will not even give a customer a few seconds to gather his goods before pushing it out of the way to do the next order.   Spending money is a really unpleasant experience in Poland.  Businesses are less than transparent when showing you a deal.  This again proves my point with the inability of businesses to see things from their customer's point of view.  

Going global

Poland with its population of close to 40 million people, it is enough to do businesses domestically and earn a good living, but if you want to be a unicorn, you need to go global.  More and more incubators and VCs are looking for startups that is looking to go global.  However, you can't go global speaking only Polish.  You might get as far as Greenpoint, London, or Chicago.  You will need to up your English game really quickly.  The reason why startups in Germany and Scandinavia is succeeding is because their average citizen speaks better English than the average Pole.  One of the reason why there are so many unicorns in Silicon Valley is because success breeds success.  And America is a big country with lots of customers who speak the same language and love new technology.   Americans love downloading the next clever app.  Because of the idea of Manifest Destiny, Americans are constantly looking for the next frontier.   And it doesn't hurt that the US is currently the only global superpower and tastemaker.   There is a bridge in Trenton, NJ that says 'Trenton makes the world takes.'

In order to go global, you will need to speak at least a B2 level English.  When you are pitching to American VCs, unless your product can explain itself, they will tune you out if your accent is too heavy. You will need to have a comprehensive website that is in both Polish AND English.  When doing the English version of the website, don't get cheap, it should have as much information as the Polish version.  Have a native speaker go through it to make sure it sounds right.  I cannot state this enough, all major startup meetups and conferences should be in English.  You need to get used to talking about your product in English.  Don't be too concerned with using correct grammar.  The reason Poles are not confident with English is the fear of using incorrect grammar.  It is good to use good grammar, but it is even better just to speak.  

What does it mean?

The reason why so many seasoned business professionals are asking the same question is because Poland has reached a plateauing point.  It doesn't know how to grow anymore than it already has.   The domestic atmosphere can only provide so much help but sometimes can inhibit growth.  In biology, in order for a physiological activity to progress, you need a catalyst.  

You have two options:

1. Revamp the whole system to one that will foster entrepreneurship and update the education system for the children, and re-educate the workers.    

2. Get help from outsiders like those from the Valley or people from other parts of the world who have done some amazing things.  

Thank you for reading another one of my posts done just for you!  If you liked what you read please share it by using one of the buttons up top and check out other posts in this blog.  I don’t want you to miss out on future posts so please follow me on Twitter @Eurodude23 If you haven’t done it already, please like my fan page by clicking here See you next time!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Taxify is set to become Poland's Anti-Uber

Paul Chen

Uber has been a disruptive force to cities everywhere. No matter where they go, be it Grmany or London, people are upset by their presence. They offer you an alternative to the local taxi companies by offering you rides by private individuals. They have a clever app that uses GPS's to get you the closest ride at an affordable rate. However, they have been accused of unfair business practices by their rivals like Lyft as well as local established taxi firms. As a result, local taxi firms feel that technology is leaving them in the dust.

Taxifyis trying to help local taxi firms become more competitive. The app was developed by a team in Estonia. They are funded by the VC that brought you Skype. They have successfully set up their services in Tallinn, Helsinki, Riga, Kiev, Minsk, and Gdansk. Recently, they have set up a network in Krakow and are hoping to extend their reach to the rest of southern Poland.

All you need to do is to download their app. Choose a car near your location and order the ride. The taxi will show up, you verify your identity and off you go. Taxify have already locked up 5 of the smaller taxi firms. In the future, the larger ones should follow suit. Unlike Uber which is quite hard with their commission model, Taxify is willing to negotiate with the taxi companies. Taxify also will offer the taxi companies a dispatch software for more effective distribution of rides. (Personally, I don't know if this is a good thing or a bad thing)

Taxify will be the only firm from Poland to be part of EU's International Road and Transport Union, which tries to put everyone on a level playing field.

Thank you for reading another one of my posts done just for you!  If you liked what you read please share it by using one of the buttons up top and check out other posts in this blog.  I don’t want you to miss out on future posts so please follow me on Twitter @Eurodude23 If you haven’t done it already, please like my fan page by clicking here See you next time!

NorthStar Consulting to Launch Pitch 2.0

By: Paul Chen

Last year in the Google for Entrepreneurs conference space in Krakow, NorthStar Consulting and Google organized the first iteration of Pitch. The goal was to help registered startups with their pitch to investors. The startups were educated in the art of acting, public speaking, drafting a sales talk, and understanding what is going on in an investor's head while they are being pitched to. It was through this program where we met Flowbox, Mavenpad, WhenVisited, Mofables, and Arios.

This year they are launching their Pitch workshops again. This year the workshops will be held on November 14 and 15, 2014 at the KPT campus on ul. Życzkowskiego 14, Kraków. During the workshops, the teams will be mentored by some of the best in the business.

The teams will be focusing on:

  • Developing an effective elevator pitch
  • How to prepare awesome presentations
  • How to schedule a presentation
  • Best way to negotiate price
  • Building a product image

When a startup leaves this set of workshops, they will have, in their hand, a sales maual of how to pitch to clients.

Przemek Stanisz the organizer says that startups die because of the lack of knowledge of effective sales strategies. He believes that the workshop will adress this need to its core. What they are looking for are startups with an existing product, whereby the team and implement the knowledge they gained the next day. He believes that the knowledge is best used when it is fresh in your mind. Basically, strike while the iron is hot.

You can apply to participate in the program here (in Polish). http://pitchprogram.pl/

Thank you for reading another one of my posts done just for you!  If you liked what you read please share it by using one of the buttons up top and check out other posts in this blog.  I don’t want you to miss out on future posts so please follow me on Twitter @Eurodude23 If you haven’t done it already, please like my fan page by clicking here See you next time!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Why Poland needs to bet on young Entrepreneurs

By Paul Chen

In 1961, during a speech John F. Kennedy proclaimed that by the decade’s end, the United States will land a man on the moon.  And sure enough it happened on July 20, 1969.  In his inaugural speech he said, ”Let’s….seek to invoke the wonders of science instead of its terrors. Together let us explore the stars, conquer the deserts, eradicate disease, tap the ocean depths, and encourage the arts and commerce.”

With the current situation in the Middle East and around the world, such ideas are more important than ever.   Before working on destructive nuclear weapons, Robert Oppenheimer was an astrophysicist.     The great Dr. Neil Degrasse Tyson, said that we stopped dreaming for greater achievements in science because we have no drive and no enemy to compete with.  However, he may be wrong.   Our biggest enemy, at the moment is ourselves with the problems of global warming, lack of food, over population and etc.  There is a way out, it is with science and research.  It was the vehicle that got Europe out of the dark ages, drove the industrial revolution and fueled the rise of Silicon Valley. 

Earlier today, President Obama wrote an article in the Medium explaining why he is betting on America's entrepreneurs to fuel the new American economy.  I am doing the same.  As an American, I am quite certain that had President Obama bet $20 on this, he would be $20 richer in the future because entrepreneurship is in the American DNA.  

However, in Poland it is another situation.  As a teacher in a major Polish university, I get a first hand view of the future of Poland.  There are somethings that gives me hope, however, sometimes I feel a bit scared of what is to come.  

The background

It has been 25 years since the Berlin Wall came tumbling down along with all of the former Warsaw Pact Communist governments.  However, despite the current state of the Polish economy, the Stalin brain wash persist.  Many articles state that Poland was the only nation in Europe to escape the recession with positive numbers.  Technically, it is true.  However, globalization means that no country lives in an economic bubble.  the export and import market was still affected by the recession that was killing the rest of Europe.  In Poland, many businesses made major cutbacks because of the "crisis".   

The positive economic numbers are the result of many different factors that happen to play in Poland's favor.  Poland wasn't on the hook for the financial problems of the Club Med countries who were using the Euro because Poland used their own independent currency, the Zloty.  Strict banking regulations meant that Polish people and businesses couldn't borrow unless they had sufficient collateral.  Because Poland were to host Euro 2012, a large amount of capital were made available to help them build major highways and stadiums.  Because a large amount of the Polish economy is connected to construction, there were gains. 

Envy of the West

Whenever I tell people that I live in Poland, people young and old would ask me, "Why Poland?"  This meant that they still look down on their own country.  Many Poles are still quite envious about the lifestyles of those in the West.  Little do they realize that they are living just as well if not better than the traditional Western European nations.  Beaches in Sopot is cleaner and nicer than beaches near Naples.  Polish people play around with the latest smartphones and tablets.  They drive BMWs and Mercedes.  In their homes, they are watching "Games of Thrones" on big screen LCD Smart TVs.  When I look on my Facebook timeline, I see my Polish friends on holidays in exotic locations like Thailand and Rio.  

In the United States, the Millennials by the look of things are quite patriotic.  Many of them profess the desire to start their own business.  Many kids are entering school studying STEM and high tech subjects.  Even the trust fund kids, based on a recent Morgan Stanley survey profess the desire to use thier inheritance in a socially acceptable manner.  They would like to use their funds to help solve the big problems.  

After communism fell and the country opened up.  A flood of multinational corporations came into the country because of favorable tax conditions, brand new offices, and cheap labor.   In the short term, this is good as it lowers the unemployment numbers and makes the politicians look good.  However, in the long run, it is not so good.  Just ask the people who live in Detroit.  Countries like Romania and Bulgaria are becoming quite competitive.  
The "ME" generation

As many young Poles entered the corporate work force, their economic stiuation got better.  As a result, as they became parents, they wanted their kids to have better lives so they bought their kids toys, believing that material good would substitute time spent with their kids.  Consequently, in Poland, they are going through a "ME" generation.   This is leading to a number of social problems.   These kids who are becoming young adults are at a loss.  They are more materialistic and many lack ambition and direction. 
Having experienced campus life in Harvard and Stanford as well as my own alma mater, I can say that during weekday nights, students are in the library and in their own dorm studying trying to keep up with the readings and homework assignments.  The exterior of the quads are usually empty.  However, as I walked through the dormitory yards of my Polish university, it is filled with students drinking beer and just hanging out.   I have said this in another post, this just didn't feel right.  

My proposal

There is still hope.  There has never been a better time to be a Polish university student.  You have so many advantages given to you.  You can study abroad under the Erasmus programs.  in the US, studying abroad are only available to those who can afford it.  However, the EU subsidizes much of the cost for their European students.  Due to the lower ZUS payments, Polish companies are able to hire students to work part time.  In this, the students are able to gain valuable on the job experience.  

Unlike their American counterparts, Polish Universities are free, so they will not graduate with the burden of paying off a hefty student debt.  However, I believe that Polish Universities should not be free. A nominal fee should be administered so the parents would put more pressure on their children to do well in school.  Other remedies were proposed in another post.   Polish students can travel virtually free and pay a massive reduced rate at many of the finest cultural institutions in Europe.   The Polish economy is doing relatively well.    

Polish startups like Estimote, Kontakt.io, UXPin, and Misbehave are gaing global recognition.  VCs in Silicon Valley are starting to invest in Polish startups.   Jakub Krzych, founder of Estimote, told me that Polish talent is pretty much on par with those of Silicon Valley.   Many startups went abroad to get funded but are returning to Poland.  Google is opening up another Campus in Warsaw, one of three in the whole world.  Estimote just opened up a new place in Krakow.  Intelclinic has a whole house in Warsaw.  And if fashion is your thing, Showroom in Warsaw will help you get noticed.  Gain your experience as a student and start your own company after leaving school.  Multinational corporations will come and go but startups will truly help the local economy in the long run.  

Poland cannot stay part of someone's supply chain, they need to be at either the beginning or the end of it.  Other nations have globally recognized brands, Poland doesn't.  We need one.  As JFK said at the end of his inauguation speech," Ask not, what your country can do for you, but ask, what you can do for your country." 

Thank you for reading another one of my posts done just for you!  If you liked what you read please share it by using one of the buttons up top and check out other posts in this blog.  I don’t want you to miss out on future posts so please follow me on Twitter @Eurodude23 If you haven’t done it already, please like my fan page by clicking here See you next time!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

TechCrunch Comes to Wroclaw, Poland

By Paul Chen

Later this month, TechCrunch will hold the European version of their famous startup festival Disrupt.  It will be in London on October 20-21, 2014.  The lineup of speakers is quite impressive.  However, before the festivities begin in the English capital, TechCrunch will make a stop in Wroclaw, Poland for a one day conference.  The event is organized by the guys who brought you TechSaturdays, TechSorted.  Speakers will include John Biggs (TechCrunch East Coast Editor), Maciej Jarzebowski (Founder of LiveChat), Michal Sadowski (CEO Brand24), Richard Lucas (Angel Investor), Giancarlo Maniaci (Co-founder of Tapit), Rafal Styczeń (Co-founder Comarch), and Gabe Gotthard (Serial Entrepreneur). 

The event will take place on October 18, 2014 from 10:00 am.  Tickets are available on the event website.  It will be hel dat the Eter Club in the city center of Wroclaw.  There will be keynote speeches.  There will be a pitch-off competition as well as a demo alley.  And attendees will party the night away at the afterparty.   With 11 hours packed with the best that IT has to offer, it will be legen…wait for it….dary!  If you can’t make it to London for TechCrunch Disrupt, WroCrunch is a awesome alternative.

The event website: http://techsaturdays.com/pl/News

Thank you for reading another one of my posts done just for you!  If you liked what you read please share it by using one of the buttons up top and check out other posts in this blog.  I don’t want you to miss out on future posts so please follow me on Twitter @Eurodude23 If you haven’t done it already, please like my fan page by clicking here See you next time!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Krakow Incubator revolutionizing Startup Meetups

By Paul Chen

In many incubator and accelerator programs and some VC's, once a startup gets up to a certain level where they have raised millions of dollars in funding and/ or have acquired a large amount of customers and are earning revenue, the incubator and accelerator starts to phase out their involvement. Once in a while, it is encouraging to see a VC continue to develop their startups professionally even after that point. Piotr Wilam, the founder of Innovation Nest said that this meetup was organized to give startups a chance to connect with each other. They don't usually have a chance to talk and exchange ideas.

He would like to keep it as an invite only meetup inorder to connect the right type of people and to make the time spent more effective. Ideally, Mr. Wilam would like to hold a meet up every other month. And in the next meetups, he would like to invite startups and mentors for other parts of Poland as well as Europe.

On Friday October 3, 2014 Innovation Nest decided to take a startup meetup to the next level. They organized a whole day event where there were mentoring sessions, keynote speeches and a series of mini-conferences. Innovation Nest invited just about all their portfolio startups to this meetup.

The main topic of the Meetup was „How to get your first 1000 paying customers”. Unless you are a social startup, your main goal is to make money. It is obvious that getting paying customers is a lot more difficult than getting customers when you have a freemium product. Answering this question is essential to the survival of every startup.

The day started with a intense session of speed mentoring. The mentoring staff included senior members of Goldenline (Polish version of Linkedin), Grzegorz Blazewicz (CEO of SalesMango), Giancarlo Maniaci (co-founder of Tapit), Zack Onisko (Chief Growth Officer at Creative Market), Ela Madej (founder of Applicake), Monika Chodakowska (Head of Sales at Codility), and Dimitar Stanimiroff (EMEA Managing Director of Stack Overflow). All of the partners of Innovation Nest were also on deck as mentors. Each startup were given chances to talk with multiple mentors about sales and growth.

Zack Onisko then gave a keynote on growth hacking. He gave the startups insights on how to engage customers and build a following. He advised that SEO's are important and providing engaging content can help you connect with your customers. Monika Chodakowska talked about how Codility became the first platform where employers can test how good a candidate can code with a test. She said to nail your product, meaning know what you are selling inside and out. She also advocates for a constant stream of communication with your customers. Last Dimitar Stanimiroff talked about Proving product value, understanding your pitch, and scaling the organization. He also suggested that you should run your sales process by using Scrum.

One of the most interesting parts of the day was the Open SpaceTechnology sessions. It was as the organizer called it, a longer coffee break. The cool thing is that there were topics like Content Marketing, Freemiums, using Social Media, and how to keep your costomer coming back for more. The positive points of this approach is that you can join the discussion that interest you and that you can switch discussions when you want. Sometimes, the best way for a startup to solve a problem is to consult other startups. This was a wonderful opportunity to do so and to share some ideas and to understand that there are other startups that are going through the same growing pains as you.

When asked about their feeling about the day's event, they were generally quite positive in their feedback. They would be eager to do it again in the future. Zack and Dimitar were both very surprised by the talent and the maturity of the startup community here in Krakow. Zack observes that the startups are trying to solve the same problems that his colleagues are trying to solve in Silicon Valley.

The participating startups were:

UXPin – UX software design
Enteye – Connecting you to the cloud
Children's University – Educational ogranization aimed at kids
Sigmapoint – Backend for mobile
POSbistro – Point of sales software
Rublon – 2 factor authentication for web apps
Clime – Sensors for homes
Notatek – Notes for university courses
Landingi – Landing page design
Sher.ly – Micro-cloud service
TurboTlumaczenia – Fast translation service
Triangly – Personal branding platform
Gardenmate – Creating your dream garden
PressPad – Online access to periodicals
Trawell – Management of travel groups for travel agents
Pirx3D – 3d Printing
Edrone – Social CRM for e-commerce

If you are interested in joining future meetups you can contact Chris at Innovation Nest here.

Thank you for reading another one of my posts done just for you!  If you liked what you read please share it by using one of the buttons up top and check out other posts in this blog.  I don’t want you to miss out on future posts so please follow me on Twitter @Eurodude23 If you haven’t done it already, please like my fan page by clicking here See you next time!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

9 Things you need to Make the most out of a Y Combinator group Viewing

By Paul Chen

So Y Combinator has organized an one semester course in StanfordUniversity called „How to Start a Startup” (CS183B). It started last week and will continue until the beginning of December. It has been met with much praise from the global startup community. Startup communities all over the world are orgainzing viewings including here in Krakow. However, in order to add value to the viewings, it is essential to have these elements in place.

  1. A studious viewing room

    It cannot be too comfortable. Couches are discouraged. Remember, it is an educational occasion. The viewing should be taken seriously. A classroom or a open space at a coworking space is optimal.
  1. A proactive host

This could make or break the viewing. The job of the host is not only to organize the space, but to make sure the event is successful and that the attendees took something away from it. It might sound counterintuitive, but it might not be a good idea to show the lectures as soon as it becomes available online. The host should take some time to view the lectures once or twice to come up with discussion topics, and a list of questions on each topics for the attendees to talk about. Remember, because it is online, people can just watch it at home in their pajamas. If you want them to put on pants and leave the house, you need to add value to the experience. The discussion adds plenty of value. The host should have a strong and commanding personality to be able to control the flow of the event.

  1. Startup founders

It would be valuable to the discussion to have startup founders from your community to share their experiences and add comments to what the lecturers have said. They can share valuable insights about product and business development, hiring, execution, and fund raising.

  1. If available, Y Combinator alums

Here in Krakow, we are lucky to have two YC alums in Estimote and Applicake. With over 700 funded companies, chances are your community might have a YC alum too. It would be invaluable to invite members of their senior staff, and if you are lucky, a founder to give you a behind the scenes insight. They went through it, here is your chance to live vicariously through them, even if it is retroactive.

  1. Local VC and/or angel investors

As a startup, you will be knocking at a VC or angel investors' doors at some time. It is nice to get their opinions about that the guest lecturers have said. The viewing provides them with a point of reference to share their experience and a window into how they make decisions.

  1. Don't watch it all the way through in one shot

Unless you are lucky enough to be sitting in the classroom when Sam Altman or Paul Graham is lecturing, you have the option to pause the video, use it! As a good host, if you did what was recommended in #2, you would know when is a good time to stop the video and have a discussion. Discussions are a valuable tool to make important points stick in people's minds. And it adds perspective. This is when the VIP guest have an opportunity to share their insights and experience. From what we saw from the first two lectures, they are chock full of knowledge. There are too many bits of valuable knowledge to watch it in one shot. You will be overwhelmed. However, by pausing and discussing, it gives the audiences' brains a chance to digest the message.

  1. Mini group discussions

Rather than have a whole group discussion if the group is lager than 5, if say your viewing group is larger than 10, break the big group into mini groups of 2 or 3. Then more people will have a chance to talk in depth about the topic when the videos are paused and after the VIP shares his insights.

  1. Food, tea and coffee

Since this is a cerebral exercise, your brain needs energy. Refreshments are important to break the ice. If you can get sponsorship for pizza or beer, that would be great. If not, chips, popcorn, soda, juice, coffee, and tea should suffice.

  1. Networking time

As with any good startup event, a chance to network after the lectures is important for attendees to make meaningful business connections.

I believe with these in place, a startup community can benefit greatly from their viewing sessions of this great opportunity to hear from the giants in the global startup community.

I can see that there is a marked difference between the first and the second lectures. Sam Altman took time to answer questions. My personal feeling is that Y Combinator should remember that they are doing an university course now. It is not like a conference keynote, where it is a monologue. In most good university courses, there is a dialogue between the students and the one on the stage. Modern education methods are those that the teacher would draw the knowledge from the students using discussion rather than just showing how great and smart they are. I understand it could be an one-off thing, but still if it is an educational exercise, good modern education methodology should be implemented. I can imagine that if it is a success, it could become a normal part of Stanford's course offerings.

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Friday, September 26, 2014

How to crack the code of great customer service


It’s no surprise that data from the American Customer Satisfaction Index shows that the stock returns on customer service leaders have outperformed the S&P 500 nearly five-fold over the last 13 years.
However, despite its enormous value to a company, providing great customer service can be an exceedingly difficult code to crack.
While the vast majority of companies would say that they strive to offer a great customer experience, few businesses are able to execute and deliver a world-class experience consistently. It’s not that CEOs and their teams don’t want to offer great service – no one sets out to disappoint – it’s that they have underestimated the challenge and have not spent the requisite time and effort to carefully lay the foundation of a great customer service system.
Looking at companies that have earned a reputation as customer service leaders, five best practices emerge in providing an exceptional customer experience, day in and day out.
Make employee engagement a priority
It all starts with people. If employees aren’t happy, they won’t provide great customer service. WestJet Airlines Ltd. believes that highly engaged employees, or in its case owners, will go above and beyond to provide a truly memorable experience. Their strategy is spectacularly successful – WestJet has earned a spot alongside only five other companies in Canada’s Most Admired Corporate Cultures Hall of Fame, J.D. Power has recognized them as a customer service champion, and they are one of the most profitable airlines in North America.
Telus Corp., another Canadian Corporate Cultures Hall of Fame inductee, reported world-leading employee engagement last year. Telus’ highly engaged work force helps to explain why the company receives about 75 per cent fewer complaints than its major competitors according to the telecommunications services complaints commissioner.
Define a clear vision and goals

In 2006, the Commonwealth Bank of Australia was that country’s worst-rated retail bank when it came to customer service. The bank set out to transform itself with a manifesto of seven customer promises and a clear goal of having the highest customer satisfaction rates of all major Australian banks by June 30, 2010.
This clear target and timeframe created a sense of urgency, and the need to provide better customer service became real. While they didn’t hit this specific objective, the team was focused and driven towards an inspiring vision. It took longer than expected, but by 2012 they reached the top spot and have now held it for 26 consecutive months.
Make customer service an integral part of your brand.
When Jeff Bezos founded Amazon.com, he set out to create “the earth’s most customer-centric company.” Mr. Bezos’ meetings were famous for the empty chair at the table to represent the customers’ point of view. When customer service is inextricable from a brand, it cannot be an afterthought – it must influence every decision.
Looking at Canada’s retail banking industry, Toronto-Dominion Bank has built into its brand the core concept of making banking as comfortable as a green leather chair. It’s not just clever advertising; for eight years, J.D. Power has ranked TD the highest in customer satisfaction among the country’s big five retail banks.
Build a system

Successful companies are able to hardwire accountability amongst employees. If there are no measures in place to represent what great service means to the customer, no process for identifying and fixing customer pain points, and no method for linking employee rewards and recognition for achieving customer-focused goals, then companies are reinforcing the wrong types of behaviours.
In the hotel industry, Ritz-Carlton is known for its fixation with customer metrics and process improvements. While on the outside, Ritz-Carlton employees seem to be extraordinary at personalized service, the reality is that the company has created a comprehensive customer service program that includes extensive onboarding and ongoing training programs, a robust customer relationship management system, as well as policies and processes that reward employees for going above and beyond to delight guests.
Create cultural norms, not rules

Customer service leaders must strike a balance between micro-managing employees and giving them carte blanche. Letting employees do what they think is best can be risky, but a rigid system of rules and scripts prevents them from being empathetic and creating a connection with customers.
At Telus, employees are guided by a set of commitments it crowd-sourced from its team. When a Telus employee picks up the phone, they know they should be “friendly, helpful and thoughtful” and “take ownership of every customer experience” – but from there they are empowered to let their personality shine through and deliver an unforgettable experience.
Most of us can think of at least one organization that has been so consistently impressive, we’ve been compelled to tell our family and friends about it. Behind that great customer service, there’s a clear vision, strong leadership and a perfect balance of goals, people and systems.

Becoming a customer service leader doesn’t happen overnight – it’s a long journey that takes focus, persistence and resilience. However, by taking the time to understand the necessary building blocks of a great customer service experience, along with the effort required to get there, companies can crack the code and turn customer service into a powerful and sustainable competitive advantage, creating satisfied customers and happy shareholders.

Thank you for reading another one of my posts done just for you!  If you liked what you read please share it by using one of the buttons up top and check out other posts in this blog.  I don’t want you to miss out on future posts so please follow me on Twitter @Eurodude23 If you haven’t done it already, please like my fan page by clicking here See you next time!

This is a repost of an article that appeared on http://www.theglobeandmail.com/ on September 25, 2014