Quick hack: How to avoid spam filters with your emails to clients and prospects

I wanted to share a quick hack that can be useful for those of you who have to cold email a lot of potential customers, especially those at large institutions with firewalls, spam filters and third party email clients. For security reasons emails that often contain hyperlinked text are blocked by spam filters at larger institutions.

To ensure that your emails will get through, make sure that when you include links that you do not hyperlink text. The most effective way to ensure that your emails get through is to include the links as plain text with a direct reference to the full url. For example, instead of writing “Click here to read our update,” you should write “To read our update please visit: http://www.yoururl.com/update”

Most email clients will automatically recognize these links for the user so you won’t need to worry that they wont be able to hit the link that you send over.


FinTech Startup Weekend

154650_10100633420407327_1411620101_nThis past weekend I put together the first ever FinTech Startup Weekend which was a huge success! We had an amazing group of sponsors, API partners, mentors, judges and most of all, attendees. When we kicked off on Friday night we had 120 attendees that pitched over 50 different FinTech related ideas, and by the end of the evening we had narrowed them down to 13 amazing teams that spent the rest of the weekend building their MVPs.

I organized this event to bring together the FinTech community, and I am grateful for the great response we received with over 200 people attending our demo day yesterday. The talent at this event was incredible and the teams built real FinTech products that were beautifully designed and executed. I want to quickly recognize our winners and some other teams that really stood out:

1st place: John Dough – A new crowdfunding platform that makes private fundraising easier.

2nd place: Link Stream – Knowledge management and collaboration tool for the investment community.

3rd place: PriceLance – Payments focused startup where people can buy and sell services for a fixed-price.

OANDA API Winner: TraderEDU – A web community that provides educational resources for a wide range of traders.

Other impressive teams and products: CharTwits, Second Guess, VentureStat.

I also want to thank everyone who helped make the event possible:

Our Sponsors: E*TRADE, Andera, Box and the FinTech Innovation Lab.

API Partners: OANDA, Bloomberg, Estimize, OpenFin, StockTwits, Dwolla, Microsoft, Caplin, Tradable, and Benzinga.

Mentors: Mark Chou, Rajesh Jayaraman, James Weiss, Eugene Hawkin, Todd Zino, Jarrod Rumley, Nick Ditmore, Brian Shields, Matthew Gillen, Veeral Shah and Todd Kulkin.

Judges: Maria Gotsch, Mazy Dar, Matt Turck, Omar Qari and Phil Pearlman.

Co-Organizers:  Conrad Wadowski, Michael Giles and Jon Zanoff.

Volunteers: Frank Denbow, Eric Ho, Suraj Jain, Brad Hoover, James Lopez and Jeremy Lermitte.

Space: Alley NYC and Nsi Obotetukudo.

We are really looking forward to the next FinTech hackathon which is already in the planning stages!

Enterprise Tech Sales: The Who

Selling in enterprise is tough. We all know that. It’s a very long and slow process, however, it can be significantly accelerated if you take the right approach. They key is to finding the correct people to sell to. In my experience, it is generally a mix of technology and product executives.

What is key here though, is to understand whether tech is driving product, or product is driving tech. You can say it’s a mix of both, however, each firm is different depending on the economy, budget season, politics, etc so it is really important to understand this dynamic. If technology is driving product, you need to appeal to the technologists in the room:

Tech Demo: Having a great demo of your product that showcases the underlying technology is critical. You need to be able to showcase what your technology can do, and how it does it.

Code Walk-through: Having clean, well documented code that you can walk-through and explain clearly.

Stress Testing & Integration: Being able to provide statistics on the ability for your product to handle scale and heavy loads is very important. Being able to demo this is even better. You also need to make them feel at ease when it comes to integration or hosting the product in their own environments.

If product is driving technology, you need to appeal to the product and strategy executives with:

Product Demo: Same as the above, but aside from the technology the product demo needs to appeal to the product executives’ interests and core product strategy. You’re demo needs to speak to them and clearly show where you can add value to their existing products or day-to-day operations.

Design & User Experience: Design and UX is becoming a very important part of the enterprise. Today’s end users require great design and user experience that is on par with consumer technology. This should be one of your main areas of focus when pitching to product teams.

Metrics & Performance: Like the demo, you need to be able to show the product executives how you can add value and increase their bottom line. If they are going to be investing in your product, it has to have a positive ROI for them. Clearly showing them this path before they even need to think about it is a great approach.


Startup Hiring: Startup’s Key Considerations

Outside of having a strong founding team and finding product market fit, hiring the right people at the right time is crucial in helping scale both from an operational and product perspective. I have spent the last few months recruiting for a product role at OpenFin and have learned a quite a lot through the process. Note that I have previously blogged about getting a job at a startup, but here are some more points to add from both sides of the table.

Here are some of the key considerations when looking to hire new blood from a startup’s POV:

VC Approach: The best way to think about your hiring strategy is to think about how VC’s approach  investing in startups. With any new hire you are taking a risk and investing in them with the hope that they will come in and add value to your product and thereby positively impact your valuation.

Timing: It is very difficult to get the timing right at an early state startup. Growth stage is different and its obvious you need to hire to scale. Hiring at an early stage is not as clear–it’s very easy (and makes sense financially) to keep pushing on with the current team and just take on more responsibility. This may not be the best approach if there is talent out there that can help your company and product–it’s also difficult finding the right balance so you don’t drive your team into the ground. The best approach is to determine if you can scale without any additional headcount. If you believe you can then go ahead, but if there is any doubt it may be best to explore the talent out there. If you get it right you can end up scaling a lot faster than you could with the current team.

Always be looking: The management team should always keep an eye open for talent, even when you aren’t actively hiring. We are always recruiting and have met same amazing people along the way, some of whom we who we will hire as we grow. It is very easy to get caught up in product, testing, customer dev, etc and ignore the talent search. Doing this also helps build relationships and a talent pipeline that you can turn to or open up to other startups that are looking for good people.

Nature of the role: Although it may be difficult to do, you need to clearly define the role in the short and long-term and make sure the current team is aware of this new role. Defining the role will send a positive message to the team, provide comfort and security in what they are currently doing and you will come across as organized and serious to both your team and potential candidates.

Network and Involvement:  As I have written before, the best way to find a candidate and for a candidate to find you is through a warm introduction and relationship. Most agree that this is the best approach and candidates who are vouched for by those you trust will almost always get more consideration over others. One thing we like to look at is also how involved he or she is in the startup community. Do they attend meetups? Do they have a blog or online presence? Do they show a deep interest in the industry? Have they built a strong reputation in the community?

What are some other key considerations?

Product Market Fit: Enterprise Edition

Product market fit is one of the most discussed topics when thinking about early stage startups. We had an interesting session last week at First Growth Venture Network discussing this topic, but I also want share what I have been learning on the job and building an enterprise startup.

The general concept of finding product market fit applies to enterprise startups, but there are some differences and concepts you can take from consumer tech and apply to enterprise:

  1. Hunch vs Data: This can be debated either way and some may argue that there is more data available when it comes to enterprise. While this may be true we have found that following a hunch has led us toward finding product market fit much faster than data. There is a caveat: following hunches are good only when you have a deep understanding of the market, problem and domain expertise. Also, following hunches can lead to much faster iteration.
  2. Agile and Lean: We run a very lean startup and iterate as much as we can. We have found that this has been very helpful because it allows us to figure out what is not working, we fail quickly and begin testing our next hypothesis. We take this approach across all areas EXCEPT customer service. We truly value our level of customer support and do our best to respond to every single customer or user problem or question.
  3. Engagement: Building on our customer support approach, part of our philosophy has also been to engage as many potential customers as possible and get feedback on our product. This loops in with and drives our agile development and product approach. This is not as easy to do in the enterprise world because you are often dealing with large, slow-moving clients. You have to work hard finding a balance and choosing the right mix of early partners.

Chris Dixon and Fred Wilson also have some great posts on the topic. Definitely check them out.

OpenFin and First Growth Venture Network

I am really excited to announce that OpenFin has been accepted into the 4th Vintage of First Growth Venture Network!

We have been making some great progress and are all really excited to be part of an amazing network of VC’s, startups, and entrepreneurs.

You can read more here from the coverage on TechCrunch. Looks like it’s going to be a great class and an exciting 6 months ahead!

Funding words of wisdom

Last night I attended a Skillshare class taught by Chris Dixon on how to raise your first round. Over the last few months I have probably been to 50+ meetups/events and this was definitely one of the most informative ones I have ever been to. Chris was extremely candid about the funding process and with his advice. It was really  refreshing to hear his perspective on things. He told it like it is. I wanted to comment on a few things that he mentioned that really resonated with me:

Online Presence: Chris mentioned that its extremely important to have an online presence. The first time you meet an investor, one of the first things they do is google you to see what you are all about. If you don’t have much of an online presence (twitter, linkedin, a blog, comments on other’s blogs, meetups, etc) what is going to make them thing that you have a passion for tech or just a general interest in startups?

Domain Expertise: Something that Chris stressed was that he, and many other investors, invest in the people and the team. Of course the idea is important, however, the team and their ability to execute is even more so. What makes a team even more promising is if they have actual expertise in the industry, vertical, or market in which they are launching. There are a lot of bankers, consultants, and corporate employees trying to break into the startup world right now. The problem is while they may have good ideas, they often lack (1) the ability to execute (code/bring the idea to life) and (2) they lack the necessary startup knowledge. With the flood of startups looking for funding, it’s even harder today to raise money if you don’t have the necessary industry knowledge because someone else with that knowledge advantage is probably already working on the same idea.

B2C vs B2B: This is an obvious one but its nice to hear it from someone like Chris. The consumer space is flooded right now and he sees a lot of opportunity in the B2B space. So many new startups are focusing on the consumer, building another social network, or another airbnb for x that many have lost sight of taking these kind of features and new capabilities and bringing them to the business world. This is something I wrote about in my last post regarding the finance industry.

You can read more here on Chris’s specific advice on a follow up post he wrote today.