All posts by Annabel Youens

Annabel Youens

About Annabel Youens

I'm a co-founder and CMO at AE. I believe that truly successful internet businesses have to connect people. {wave} When I'm not online I'm exploring beautiful Vancouver Island. Things I love: everything scifi, literary fiction, coffee, Google Music, my workhorse sewing machine and board games.

Dave Moskovitz is one of the early investors behind our startup. Ten years ago, he had the vision to invest in our talents, mentor our people and grow our tech with us.

This year marks our first decade as a “startup.” We’ve stretched and grown and we now power some of the world’s largest marketing campaigns for global brands including Sony and UMG.

My team interviewed Dave on what it was like to step up with us back in the early days. I wanted to hear what he saw in us 10 years ago, and what made him want to invest in a young couple from Canada. Here’s what he had to say.

“Building a startup is super hard,” shares Dave. “The stories of many startups haven’t been told because they went from Mega to Zero or withered on the vine. Appreciation Engine is different. We’ve built something that’s reliable and sustainable.”

“Building a start-up is super hard. The stories of many start-ups haven’t been told because they went from Mega to Zero or withered on the vine. Appreciation Engine is different. We’ve built something that’s reliable and sustainable."

AE: What inspired you to want to support Annabel Youens and Jeff Mitchell as co-founders in 2009?

Dave: Jeff clearly knew his stuff inside out and was able to communicate it in a very clear and accessible way. He was executing tech that had been way ahead of the market. Annabel was very engaging, and was one of the few people around at that stage who totally “got” social media, what it would become, and how valuable it would be to brands. And we all shared a passion for music across many genres. They both struck me as having the skills, experience, resourcefulness, and most importantly resilience to build a great venture.

AE: What was your role in the early stages of building the business?

Dave: I was a partner in a seed fund at that stage, and my mates Stefan Korn, Nick Rowney and I had a conversation around using social media to help bands rise above the noise and get much better exposure in their specific target markets.

We had a relatively raw idea and some capital to deploy but didn’t have the capacity to make it happen, so we looked for a team to own it, iterate it, and make it happen. I knew of Annabel and Jeff from previous work they had done in New Zealand and approached them and asked if this was something the wanted to work on. They were very enthusiastic, picked it up, made it their own, and made it a success in New Zealand. Along the way, I was the initial investor, coach, mentor, and board member. I helped organize the seed capital to get it off the ground.

musichype appreciation enginenew zealand team
The original AE Team and Board of Directors

AE: What is your role now?

Dave: I’m now a director of the company, and help support Jeff and Bell in expanding the business. I’m mostly arms-length.

AE: What struck you as being key characteristics as to why you wanted to support them?

Dave: Building a company is hard. Really hard. Building an international company is even harder. And doing anything in the music industry is insane. Through all of it, Annabel and Jeff are excellent at separating the wheat from the chaff, focusing on the important stuff, and making and keeping customers happy, and just getting lots of sh!t done every day.

AE: What do you most admire about Annabel and Jeff?

Dave: I’ve never seen two people work so hard to excel to succeed against the odds, at the same time as retaining their very human core values. They’re both superb business people, excellent founders, brilliant at what they do on a daily basis, and battle-hardened … and yet they’re both honest, generous, and warm to the core. I feel very fortunate that we’ve been part of each other’s lives.

AE: What do you envision for the future of Appreciation Engine?

Dave: AE is one of those companies that has taken 10 years to be an overnight success. I feel we’re at the inflection point right now. The hard work the team has put in, correctly anticipating where the market is going, is really paying off. AE is becoming the go-to customer insights tool for a world that is suddenly aware of the importance of user control over their own data. We’ve baked user-controlled privacy into the core of the product from day one, and with GDPR and related issues coming into sharp focus, our main differentiator is finally being well-appreciated.

AE: What are you most proud of about the company?

Dave: The biggest players in the industry rely on our company and tech as a critical component in managing their relationships with their many millions of users. We’ve done this with a tiny team. This is the way tech is supposed to work. It’s architected and built to be rock-solid reliable at massive scale and super easy to use.

AE: In your opinion, what is a key distinguishing characteristic of the company Annabel and Jeff have built?

Dave: We deliver. In an industry full of hype and bravado, we make commitments to our customers and deliver. We don’t bullsh!t, and our customers know that they can rely on us to flawlessly deliver 24/7 to help them develop the best possible value relationships with their customers.

AE: What do you wish for them for the future?

Dave: The company is just starting to grow dramatically, and I wish a future for them where they have built a large powerhouse of a company that powers the world’s best brands from Victoria, BC. Silicon Valley may be the center of the Borg universe, but it’s places like Wellington and Victoria — which have a remarkable resemblance in many ways — where heart and soul still matter a great deal.

AE: What is your advice for other technology start-ups looking for success?

Dave: The key is to ensure you’re solving a global problem. Find a problem the whole world needs, solve it locally and then scale it back up. Having a relentless focus on solving a local problem that’s global in nature is the key.

Dave is clearly passionate about our company and the successes we’ve achieved together in our 10 years. As Dave paused to take a breath, we asked him if he had anything else he wanted to share. Here’s what he said, just before ducking off public transit and into his workplace in Wellington, New Zealand.

“You need to find your village where you can give and receive support. It took AE 10 years to become an overnight success. AE is all about heart. We’ve unleashed a passion through a technology platform that respects people. And it’s super reliable. AE enables our enterprise customers to connect with their customers. We value relationships and have a passion for both sides. That’s what makes Appreciation Engine different — and successful.”

“You need to find your village where you can give and receive support. It took AE 10 years to become an overnight success. They value relationships and have a passion for both of them. That’s what makes Appreciation Engine different -- and successful.”

***This article originally ran on Medium. Follow Annabel here.

These are the best marketing podcasts to give you those aha! moments we all crave as marketers. Keep reading to learn what’s working from top marketing minds in music, sports, gaming, and food.

Music Marketing Podcasts:

1. Music Marketing Manifesto

John Oszajca, Former Major Label Recording Artist and Expert in the Field, takes listeners through the logistics of the modern-day music business. From growing an online fan-base to using Spotify as a genuine marketing tool, there’s a whole lot to learn from this podcast.

Listen to the Music Marketing Manifesto podcast here.

2. Marketing Musician Podcast

Aiming to help musicians get more sales, more gigs, and more exposure, the Marketing Musician Podcast is worth a listen. Topics covered include ‘Growing Your Audience’ and ‘The 3% Rule’. Each subject is presented in a clear, precise manner.

Listen to the Marketing Musician podcast here.

3. Music Business Facts

Without a doubt, one of the most effective ways to learn is to hear from the experts who have been there and done it. Music Business Facts is a podcast in which special guests and music industry experts share their secrets. From Vinnie Paul to Devin Townsend, this is a podcast that certain draws big names.

Listen to the Music Business podcast here.

Gaming Podcasts:

4. Tripleclix Video Game Marketing Podcast

The Tripleclix Video Game Marketing Podcast is a new addition, but it’s certainly worth your time and attention. Chris Erb takes the lead on this show, offering insights into how to promote and launch new games. The podcast also features remarkable guest speakers, such as Aaron Greenberg, the General Manager of Xbox Games Marketing.

Listen to the Tripleclix Video Game Marketing podcast here.

Sports Marketing Podcasts:

5. The Tao of Sports

Esteemed host, Troy Kirby takes a deep-dive into the world of sports business in this insightful podcast. Guests on the show include industry experts from the pro, college, and minor leagues, among others. Each episode is quick at 30-35 minutes long.

Listen to the Tao of Sports podcast here.

6. Sports Geek

Dubbed the ‘podcast built for sports executives’, the Sports Geek podcast is exactly what it says on the tin. Presenter, Sean Callanan, takes a look at current marketing trends within the sports vertical. He is joined by expert guests including the likes of Bryan Srabian and Dwayne Hankins on this intriguing and educational show.

Listen to the Sports Geek podcast here.

Consumer Marketing Podcasts:

7. Loose Threads

Featuring in-depth conversations with entrepreneurs, Loose Threads is one of the most interesting CPG podcasts of our time. The show was actually named as one of Fast Company’s 10 Best Business Podcasts. You can expect to learn more about the consumer market and how you can capitalize on the current trends.

Listen to the Loose Threads podcast here.

8. Brand Builder

Teaching lessons from some of the biggest and most familiar brands in the world, this podcast is a must-listen for modern-day marketers. The show looks at key subjects including leadership, PR, and how to partner with influential companies.

Listen to the Brand Builder podcast here.

9. In the Sauce

From the Heritage Radio Network, In the Sauce is a podcast covering how to build and grow consumer brands. The show covers a wide range of topics including communication strategies, how to get investment, and how to create a more ethical business overall.

Listen to the In The Sauce podcast here.

10. Food Marketing Nerds

Ready to ‘talk shop’? The Food Marketing Nerds podcast is an interview series aimed at helping business owners grow their food brand. You can expert specialist subjects, such as how to oversee product development and the role social media plays in your business.

Listen to the Food Marketing podcast here.


What makes a city a great place for a startup? Beyond a great idea and an awesome team, there are certain factors that help a startup flourish. We looked at entrepreneurial culture, financial incentives, number of startups, and location benefits to create this list of top startup cities in the world. Enjoy!


1. Bogota, Colombia

bogota columbia
Photo by Claus Pacheco
  • Tax incentives for business founders; 175% tax deduction for tech companies
  • Currently over 1000 startups; over 800 in nearby Medellin
  • Easy access to South, Central, and North America
  • Strong entrepreneurial culture; plenty of networking and socializing events 
  • Notable startups in Bogota: Frutamour, Ascendo, Civico


2. Lisbon, Portugal

lisbon portugal
Photo by Liam McKay
  • Easy access to other startup cities in Europe and an affordable cost of living
  • Many accelerators, incubators, and co-working spaces to work from 
  • Member of the Startup Voucher which funds 400 entrepreneurial fellowships in the city annually
  • Notable Startups in Lisbon: Muzzley, unbabel, and aptoide


3. Los Angeles, U.S.A.

los angeles california
Photo by Olenka Kotyk
  • Established tech startup scene; currently has over 6000 startups
  • Respected universities nearby, thus lots of local talent to hire from 
  • Immense access to venture capital, loans, and grants 
  • Recognized on the world stage for technology and business 
  • Notable Startups in Los Angeles:, Mythical Games, Surkus, and many more 


4. Sydney, Australia

sydney australia
Photo by Dan Freeman
  • The national economy is stable; there hasn’t been a recession in nearly three decades
  • 35% of Australia’s startups are in Sydney, along with hundreds of accelerators and incubators
  • High-energy, youthful, and vibrant entrepreneurial scene and overall culture 
  • Notable Startups in Sydney: Muru, Hivery, veromo


5. Santiago, Chile

santiago chile
Photo by Caio Henrique
  • 90% of the country’s startups are in Santiago; it’s casually been dubbed “Chilecon Valley”
  • Extremely affordable cost of living and doing business 
  • Santiago is especially attractive to tech startups related to copper and mineral mining
  • Many co-working spaces are free to entrepreneurs, demonstrating the city’s entrepreneurial spirit 
  • Notable Startups in Santiago: Wanna Migrate, Trumpit, and Junar


6. Shanghai, China

shanghai china
Photo by Denys Nevozhai
  • The city is full of technologically advanced citizens, perfect for testing 
  • The government encourages venture capitalists to fund tech startups by reimbursing them for their losses
  • Shanghai is full of competitive, hard-working, and results-driven businesses 
  • Notable Startups in Shanghai:  FiFish, Hellobike, and E-Shang 


7. Istanbul, Turkey

istanbul turkey
Photo by Anna on Unsplash
  • Businesses have access to both European and Asian markets
  • Foreign investors enjoy the same rights as local Turkish investors
  • The cost of living, especially housing, is very affordable
  • Member and host of New York’s global accelerator, Endeavor
  • Notable Startups in Istanbul: Teleporter, BiSu, and Getir


8. Helsinki, Finland

helsinki finland
Photo by Jaakko Kemppainen
  • Easier access to early-stage funding
  • A large pool of tech talent, accelerators, hubs, and incubators
  • Access to the Finnish Startup Permit which makes it easier for tech entrepreneurs to grow in the city
  • Notable Startups in Helsinki: Nokia, Linux, and Clash of Clans


9. Berlin, Germany

Photo by Levin on Unsplash
  • Very international visitor-friendly; entrepreneurs from other countries highly welcomed
  • Affordable cost of living and cost of doing business
  • Focused on diversity and inclusion; many opportunities to network and socialize with other tech entrepreneurs and talent
  • Regarded as one of the top startup destinations in the world
  • Notable Startups in Berlin: GoEuro, N26, and Blinkist 


10. Vancouver, Canada

vancouver canada
Photo by Kyle Ryan
  • Home to over 3000 startups
  • An average cost of living and doing business, but above-average entrepreneurial culture
  • 16 local universities to pull talent from as well as plenty of grant opportunities
  • Vancouver is well-regarded all over the world for technological innovations and advancements  
  • Notable Startups in Vancouver: Hootsuite, Slack, and Weddingful

You may not have heard of these women in tech yet…but you should have! They are the innovators, founders, and engineers that are quietly making big waves.

Tech companies often pride themselves on being progressive.

Yet when it comes to gender equality in the workplace, tech employs a smaller percentage of women compared to the workforce as a whole. Female employees only make up 27-47% of major tech companies with even lower percentages when looking at the tech-focused jobs.

A big part of the issue is that there just aren’t a lot of female Software Developers. Globally, only 11% of developers identify as women. But it wasn’t always like this.

In the 70s to 80s, Software Development was actually considered a “women’s job.” What changed?

During the Silicon Valley gold rush in the 80s, new stereotypes emerged and were spread far and wide by mass media. Suddenly, male nerds were a thing and video games were toys for boys. Women weren’t enrolling in Computer Science anymore, meaning less female programmers entering the workforce.

Fast forward to 2020 where the tech industry is still very male dominated. Beliefs are slowly starting to shift with cool programs like Ladies Learning Code popping up globally.

Despite today’s underwhelming numbers, there are still a lot of women in tech doing amazing work. Too many to fit on this list!

We’ve all heard about the Susan Wojcicki ‘s of the tech industry, but what about the rest? Keep reading to discover the women in tech you may not have heard of…but that you should have!

1. Brenda Romero

Gaming guru Brenda Romero started her career in 1981 with the goal of “knowing everything there was to know about gaming.” She holds the record for the longest career of any other woman in the gaming industry. Today she is the Program Director for the Masters of Science in Games and Playable Media at UC. Santa Cruz.

Learn more about Brenda Romero

2. Jennifer Fleiss and Jennifer Hyman

This powerful “Jennifer duo” founded the startup unicorn Rent the Runway in 2009. The two Harvard grads launched their idea out of necessity when Hyman’s sister dropped $2,000 on a dress for a wedding, sending her into deeper credit card debt. These two fashionistas have changed the game for women in tech with a simple idea that snowballed into an online business with a $1 billion valuation.

Learn more about Jennifer Fleiss and Jennifer Hyman

3. Olga Fitzroy

Audio engineer Olga Fitzroy has produced music for everyone from Coldplay to the Beatles. Highly sought after by artists of all genres, she travels the world, creating modern masterpieces in the form of albums and film scores.

Learn more about Olga Fitzroy

4. Helen Boaden

Since 1979, Helen Boaden has been revolutionizing the role of women in media. From presenter to controller–she has held a wide range of roles since joining BBC in 1983. Today, she manages BBC’s global news and current affairs for online media, television, and radio.

Learn more about Helen Boaden

5. Kiah Williams

Startup founder Kiah Williams was shocked by the amount of unused medication wasted in the United States every year (over $5 billion worth). She decided to do something about it by launching SIRUM. It’s an online platform to collect and redistribute medication to patients in need. To date, the company redistributes over $80,000 in unused medications every month.

Learn more about Kiah Williams

6. Katrina Craigwell

As the VP of Global Marketing Innovation at GE Digital, Katrina Craigwell is leading the way for women in marketing technology. Her latest project, GE Neuro, takes viewers on a virtual tour of the human brain. In addition to her marketing role, Craigwell is a fierce champion for women of color in marketing.

Learn more about Katrina Craigwell

7. Kiki Wolfkill

No doubt a living legend to teens and twenty-somethings everywhere, Kiki Wolfkill is the Executive Producer behind the magic of the Halo video game series at Microsoft Studios. In addition to the game, Wolfkill oversees the entire franchise, guiding the direction of comics, novels, and branded merchandise.

Learn more about Kiki Wolfkill

8. Sarah Leary

The “digital neighborhood” Nextdoor has been bringing neighbors together (online) since 2008. Co-founder Sarah Leary has helped scale the business to a $1 billion valuation with over 180,000 participating neighborhoods in the United States alone.

Learn more about Sarah Leary

9. Marilou McFarlane

As the founder of Vivo Girls Sports, Marilou McFarlane spearheaded a global digital media property that has since been adopted by Olympians, advertisers, and young athletes. It was also the inspiration for the launch of the ESPNW network. Today, McFarlane serves as Founder and Board Chair for Women in Sports Tech.

Learn more about Marilou McFarlane

10. Sarah Kennedy Ellis

As CMO of marketing automation giant Marketo, Sarah Kennedy Ellis is passionate about creating a better customer experience. She encourages her team to experiment, but with one thought in mind: everything comes back to the customer. She is known for using her prior creative experience at Adobe to tell powerful stories about the power of marketing technology in business transformation.

Learn more about Sarah Kennedy Ellis


The women above haven’t been getting nearly the attention they deserve. If you feel inspired, head over to your social network of choice and show them some love!

What business books are the top startup blogs and publications recommending? The result of our thorough investigation is this top 10 list of startup books.

As you probably know, there are a lot of books about business. A lot.

Everyone seems to have discovered a new and innovative way that you and your business can be successful. Even as you get more niche and focus on startup books alone, there are a lot of paperbacks to wade through.

We decided to narrow our scope further and ask “What books are recommended time and again by the best in business?” We wanted a manageable list that wouldn’t scare away someone just beginning their adventure into business literature.

The following list is the result of our investigation. It’s in no particular order, so start with the book that intrigues you the most…

Spin Selling By Neil Rackham

Recommended by

What you’ll learn: How to improve a startup’s sales strategy when it comes to high-value accounts.

Spin Selling dives into helping entrepreneurs develop a killer sales methodology. It helps lay out a framework to achieve this by using what’s known SPIN (Situation, Problem, Implication, Need-payoff). This framework helps a startup ask the right questions when it comes to selling.

The Hard Thing About Hard Things By Ben Horowitz

Recommended by The CEO Library

the hard thing about hard things by ben horowitz

What you’ll learn: Key real-life learnings on how to successfully build, manage, sell, and invest in businesses from successful investor Ben Horowitz.

This book challenges commonly held startup beliefs and shares the many mistakes that were made by Ben while he led large billion-dollar corporations. The book is a fun read thanks to Ben’s trademark dry humor and no bullsh*t approach.

The 4-Hour Workweek By Timothy Ferriss

Recommended by Vin Clancy @ Startupgrind

The 4-Hour Workweek By Timothy Ferriss

What you’ll learn: Strategies to escape the 9 to 5 grind and build an entrepreneurial lifestyle that emphasizes freedom and passive income generation.

Timothy teaches readers how to build passive income-generating businesses that will enable one to free up time to focus on things that they are truly passionate about. He pushes the boundaries and walks one through how to build an ideal lifestyle, weaved in with his unique stories, detailed guides, and a list of resources to help readers get started.

The High Growth Handbook By Elad Gil

Recommended by TechCrunch

The High Growth Handbook By Elad Gil

What you’ll learn: Lessons from going from thriving startup to unicorn, and how to navigate the high-growth period in between.

The book goes over common growth strategies Elad has used. He focuses on providing advice for startups that have achieved product-market fit and covers vital topics required to successfully manage growth such as recruitment, managing shareholders, and setting up your business for a successful exit.

Zero to One By Peter Thiel

Recommended by Hiten Shah

Zero to One By Peter Thiel

What you’ll learn: How to develop business ideas that can change the world, and taking them from strategy to execution.

This book focuses on providing practical advice that help one tackle big business challenges. It goes into how innovation is not about building on other ideas, but doing something entirely new that can have a huge impact on the world. Carving out new industries instead of disrupting existing ones.

Trillion Dollar Coach By Alan Eagle, Eric Schmidt, and Jonathan Rosenberg

Recommended by: Forbes

Trillion Dollar Coach By Alan Eagle, Eric Schmidt, and Jonathan Rosenberg

What you’ll learn: The key principles that Bill Campbell used to advise and nurture the leaders of the Technology world today such as Google and Apple.

This book dives into the key management lessons they learned from Bill over the years that helped navigate Google to where it is today. It looks at the instrumental strategies Bill helped develop and execute in other organizations such as Apple and Intuit and the personal coaching he provided to leaders such as Steve Jobs.

Rework By Jason Fried and David Hansson

Recommended by Hiten Shah

Rework By Jason Fried and David Hansson

What you’ll learn: To dispel the notion that launching ideas require careful planning and lots of capital – this book shows how to build a business the fast and lean way.

The book talks about the tech-enabled era we live in. How one can start a business over a weekend with the various plug and play tools at our disposable. As a result, it challenges practices such as developing a business plan but advocates for moving fast, rapid prototyping, and experimenting to understand the viability of business models.

Think and Grow Rich By Napoleon Hill

Recommended by Startup Nation

Think and Grow Rich By Napoleon Hill

What you’ll learn: The principles one can follow in their personal and professional life to achieve the same mindset that has made many successful in their lives.

The book shares thirteen fundamental principles/steps that can be followed both in one’s personal and professional lives that can set them up for success. He backs these insights with over 500 interviews he had conducted with affluent women and men of his time.

The Lean Startup By Eric Ries

Recommended by Vin Clancy @ Startupgrind

The Lean Startup By Eric Ries

What you’ll learn: To take advantage of scrappy ideation and how to test product-market fit.

The book shares how one can apply ‘lean’ principles in rapidly testing and validating business ideas, and grow them efficiently. It shares how companies regardless of size can adjust to changing consumer and market needs through rapid experimentation, ignoring vanity metrics, and measuring what matters.

Measure What Matters By John Doerr

Recommended by Bill Gates

Measure What Matters By John Doerr

What you’ll learn: How to implement metrics in an organization effectively (OKRs), with lots of case studies sprinkled throughout to illustrate the benefits.

The book dives into the popular OKRs framework, which stands for objectives and key results. John walks you through defining such goals in companies and implementing them effectively to drive better decision-making.

Over the past 10 years, the internet has slowly but surely changed everything. Explore this global shift from the perspective of Annabel, CMO and Co-Founder of AE.

Ten years ago when AE was in its early days, privacy wasn’t really on most people’s radar. We were just happy to have access to content and excited about all the possibilities the Internet promised us.

In 2009 there were a lot of geographic restrictions in New Zealand, where we were living at the time. But even there, online forums were buzzing and people from all over the world were discussing films, TV shows and music in ways you just didn’t before.

I never thought much about what I was sharing. Obviously I wasn’t sharing my credit card number through email or transferring funds to a Nigerian Prince — but data privacy didn’t even cross my mind. I mostly remember just feeling grateful to have a world of content.

I don’t believe most major brands, back then, even understood how important data and privacy would become. Little by little, companies have seen the potential value of data, and Internet users have seen the potential concerns. But back in those early days, here’s what it looked like.

Way back in 2009 — Here’s what our online world looked like back then


Lets travel back to the dawn of data privacy


We Surfed The Net

Google’s Chrome browser had just launched in 2008. I was still using Firefox but testing work projects on Chrome. Chrome had a new password manager and I suspect that’s ultimately what made me switch. Two-factor authentication was only used by “nerds;” I certainly wasn’t concerned about it!

Communicated By Email

I was using my domain’s webserver for my personal and work emails. It was annoying when it fell over.

Apps Were A New Thing

The Apple App Store launched in 2008 – this totally changed the way people consumed content. Privacy rules weren’t terribly strict – all sorts of companies got in trouble for the type of information they requested from end-users. Getting approved on the app store took almost no time at all.

Got Our Toes Wet In Social Media

Memes were kicking off. Thank you Kanye. Imma Let You Finish. The world of internet hoaxes was just beginning. Everyone watched the video of a 6-year old boy flying in a weather balloon over Colorado.

Twitter was only 2 years old and seemed to mostly be used by journalists and writers. The “fail whale” was a fairly common occurrence.

Facebook famously changed its Terms of Service in 2009 without informing its users that Facebook now had the ability to use your content in any way it chose, even if you quit Facebook. As you can imagine, there was quite the push back! This may have been the earliest large-scale privacy scandal.

the twitter fail whale


Started Playing Massively Multi-Player Online Role-Playing Games

World of Warcraft was the biggest MMORPG. It started it all. Lots of people, kids and adults alike were banding together to complete quests. And yes, I was one of those folks.

Some Of Us Were Even Downloading Music Illegally

A lot of people were listening to music on MySpace and YouTube. There was still a lot of illegal downloading happening because you just couldn’t get access to what you wanted. Bandcamp was still in infancy but a lot of indie and emerging artists were populating the service with their EPs and albums. And while I couldn’t listen to Spotify from NZ there was a brilliant site called Grooveshark that let me stream tracks – it was a revelation!

Governments all over the world were pledging to crack down on illegal file-sharing. Teenage music fans were being sued and the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) was on a rampage.

New Ideas Were Sprouted

AirBnB had just launched (2008) and was still a risky new idea. Amazon had just acquired Audible, realizing the growing impact of audiobook listeners. Podcasts were picking up a bit of traction — listeners could use their iPhone 3G to hear them. And the concept of the Sharing Economy was soon to hit the mainstream, starting with Rachel Botsman’s book entitled, “What’s Mine Is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption.“

fast forward to the internet in 2019


Fast Forward to 2019…

We Create A LOT Of Data

People on the Internet now generate more than 2.5 quintillion bytes of data per day. Industry has realized the power of data. Large companies that leverage data have become powerful in the business world.

People on the Internet have seen a few data scandals, and are increasingly concerned about their privacy rights. As data legislation struggles to catch up with the big tech companies that collect data, it’s time to re-think what type of Internet we want to have in the future.

The new age of consumer data can be a positive one. Data can help brands be more useful and innovative. Think about movie suggestions on Netflix, or useful product suggestions on Amazon. The right products can be offered to the right buyers — even more so, the right products can actually be invented and refined to anticipate the buyers’ needs and serve them perfectly.

Moving To The Cloud

I still use Chrome for browsing and I’ve moved to a paid Gmail account for email. I know it tracks me, but I have a committed relationship with Google. I use Google for almost everything: email, documents, photos, music, and my Google Home personal assistant. Why? Because Google makes my life easier and presents me with useful information, like when I should leave for a meeting or if my flight has been delayed. And all my services are synchronized so that I’m not logging out and logging into different apps and services all the time. See more of my thoughts on the Dark and the Light Side of Data.

Apps Run Our Lives

How did we ever live without apps? I use 10 apps every day on my phone from Slack to Podcasts to AirBnB. I am also careful about removing Apps from my phone I don’t actually use and I never download an App from the Play Store that doesn’t have at least 1,000 reviews. Being safe about the Apps I have means I’m being safe about my personal data they have access to.

We’re Committed To Social

Maintaining a profile on social media is an expected part of life for many people around the world.

I’m personally in a committed relationship with Instagram and unfortunately, that also means Facebook. If I could exact myself from Facebook I would, however, I have a deep Instagram sewing community I’m a part of and I refuse to leave that. (Read more about my desire to leave Facebook.)

committed to social media


Games Are A Major Industry

Meanwhile, the Games Industry has grown to a massive $152.1 billion per year with 2.5 billion gamers globally! The US is the world’s largest gaming market, with mobile gaming at #1, making up 45% of the market. (Check out this article more facts like these.)

I’m not WoWing anymore. In fact, I’ve gone back to board games and have a weekly board game night with friends. My co-founder and husband, plays a lot of games on Steam so there’s still a lot of gaming in our household, but I’ve decided to keep my games 3 dimensional. With so many platforms now available to choose from it’s important to join trusted communities, because after all they’ve got your credit card and understand how you spend your leisure time.

The Music Industry Adapted To Digital

In music, I’m completely digital. In fact, I don’t even have much music stored on my phone. I stream everything I need and could possibly want. There’s so much music available I almost find it difficult to find anything. The music industry has completely changed over the past 10 years with streaming becoming the main way people consume music and share their personal data.

Big Ideas Are Changing Everything

The Internet has connected people around the world and changed the balance of power in our global economy. It’s no surprise that the world’s top 10 most valuable companies now include Internet-based companies Amazon, Microsoft, Alphabet (Google), Apple, Facebook, TenCent, and Alibaba.

Big ideas have impacted the way we live in North America and much of the world. Ridesharing, co-working, food delivery, car and bike shares, home delivery, podcasts, connected homes, and on-demand services are all a part of this new tech-driven world. Recent news has shown that some of these ideas are losing money for investors — it will be interesting to see what they evolve into over the next decade…

how the internet has changed everything in the past 10 years



Take advantage of all that the online world has to offer, without giving up your online data. Here is a list of the best online privacy tools that we know of in 2019.

The internet is an amazing resource. It allows us to research obscure topics, connect with distant loved ones, and learn how to fix anything from a video. The internet has become so completely interwoven into how we live, work, and play that it’s hard to believe it only launched for the public in 1991!

Up until recently, we have been focused on all the amazing streamlining and productivity that the internet has offered us. It didn’t occur to most people to ask whether there were trade-offs involved…and now we are starting to wonder: Is my online activity being tracked, stored and used? Where do I look for answers?

Thankfully there are individuals and organizations that have been asking these questions for a long time. Long enough to come up with solutions that make our online data a lot more secure.

Below is a list of some of the best tools for online privacy that we have found to date.

Best Online Privacy
Tools in 2019:

1. Ghostery

Ghostery is an anti-tracking tool that works through a simple browser extension. It blocks nearly 2,000 known trackers and is available for desktop and mobile devices. Since it was launched in 2009, Ghostery has built a base of over seven million monthly users.

2. Off-Facebook Activity

While Facebook has taken heat for violating data privacy in recent years, they are taking measures to enhance privacy for their users. Off-Facebook Activity, released in 2019, allows users to see and control the online data that apps and websites share with Facebook. When activity is cleared by the user, Facebook won’t send identifying information for the purposes of ad retargeting or other marketing technology.

3. Tor

Tor, popularly referred to as the “Onion Router,” is a browsing tool that makes it possible to access websites anonymously–including “.onion” addresses, which are only accessible through Tor’s browser. Since its release in 2002, the Tor Project remains one of the most foolproof applications for masking browsing history and online activity.

4. AdBlock Plus

Marketing automation relies heavily on advertising, and the result is often a better, more personalized experience for users. Solutions like AdBlock Plus simply protect users from irrelevant or illegitimate ads to preserve the customer experience with less risk of unwanted tracking. It not only blocks unwanted ads but also reduces the number of stored cookies that can track activity. It has gained over 50 million users since its release in 2006.

5. Tails OS

Tails gained notoriety as the system whistleblower Edward Snowden used to avoid apprehension by the United States. It is rumored to leave zero traces of user history behind since it operates from a read-only USB or DVD drive. It includes cryptographic communication tools and requires all ingoing and outgoing communications to connect through Tor (mentioned above). Released in 2009, it is still considered one of the most secure all-in-one operating systems.

6. HotSpot Shield

Virtual private networks (VPNs) are rapidly gaining in popularity as more consumer privacy issues come to light. HotSpot Shield uses VPN technology to bypass internet provider and government restrictions. Released in 2008, it has since expanded from a Windows and macOS client app to include iOS and Android devices. With end-to-end encryption capabilities, it allows users to browse securely in public places where hackers are more likely to infiltrate networks.

7. OpenDNS

OpenDNS is a free browsing protection tool. It works with desktop and mobile devices to offer botnet and malware protection, as well as web filtering to protect users from accidentally accessing sites that may put their data at risk. Launched in 2006, OpenDNS has over 90 million global users thanks to its promise of greater security combined with a better, faster browsing experience for its customers.

8. SpiderOak

Just over a decade ago, SpiderOak recognized a need for data storage services that operate under the principle of “no knowledge”–meaning that the storage provider knows nothing about the documents and data stored on their servers. Unlike other providers who hold encryption keys and could release information about stored information, SpiderOak designed a solution that puts encryption keys solely in the hands of its users.

9. Off-the-Record Messaging

Developed in 2004 as a university research project, Off-the-Record Messaging has since evolved into a highly-secure method for sending instant messages without exposure to possible surveillance. It is a simple, open-source tool that plugs into common messaging platforms to encrypt and protect conversations.

10. HTTPS Everywhere

HTTPS Everywhere was launched in 2010 as a collaborative effort of the Tor Project and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. It forces browsers to load a secure version of websites that are missing a security certificate. The result is a safer browsing experience through data encryption between the connected device and the server.

Here’s to a safer online experience where we can simply appreciate all that the internet has to offer!

Who are the richest gamers in the world in 2019? What are they doing differently?  We summarized the details for you here.

Since when are gamers making any money? Welcome to 2019, where E-sports is a booming billion-dollar industry and stadiums are being erected to house tournaments. 

The following players are the top 10 earners in the gaming industry:

10. Kyle Giersdorf, @bugha

Net Earnings: $3 million

  • At only 16, he won the 2019 Fortnite World Cup and took home the $3 million-dollar prize. 
  • Prior to this competition, he was only at $25,000 in earnings (which is still impressive for a 16-year-old). 
  • He says he will be spending his some of earnings on a new desk and investing the rest.

See Kyle Giersdorf play on Twitch.


9. Saahil Arora, @UniverseDOTA

Net Earnings: $3 million

  • This gaming vet has participated in 75 tournaments over a decade. 
  • A Wisconsin Native; considered one of the best offlaners in DOTA 2 in the world. 
  • Notably, he’s the only gamer to attend every Valve-sponsored event.

See Saahil Arora play on Twitch.


8. Sumail Hassan, @SumaaaaiL

Net Earnings: $3.3 million

  • Moved from Pakistan to America to further his gaming career. 
  • While playing DOTA 2 for EG, he became the youngest gamer to ever earn $1 million through gaming. 
  • He was also in Time Magazine’s 2016 Top Influential Teenagers. 

See Sumail Hassan play on Twitch.


7. Jesse Vainikka, @iamjerax

Net Earnings: $3.3 million

  • Began his gaming career with Heroes of Newerth.
  • Currently a top player in DOTA 2; he led the newly formed Team OG to victory at the International 2018. 
  • He also runs his own merchandise company, Jerax

See Jesse Vainikka play on his site.


6. Lasse Urpalainen, @MATUMBAMAN

Net Earnings: $3.5 million

  • Signed with Team Liquid in 2017 and has proven himself a valuable DOTA 2 player. 
  • In his youth, he played basketball for the Finnish National Team. 
  • He’s also hosted many major tournaments across the world. 

See Lasse Urpalainen play on Twitch.


5. Ivan Ivanov, @LiquidMinD_ctrl

Net Earnings:  $3.6 million 

  • An offlaner for Team Liquid; has built a strong DOTA 2 reputation for himself. 
  • He’s competed in over 60 tournaments and helped secure over 25 first place finishes. 
  • Despite some questionable anti-Russian comments made during a stream in 2018, he’s still a fan favorite.

See Ivan Ivanov stream with Team Liquid. 


4. Johan Sundstein, @OG_BDN0tail

Net Earnings: $3.7 million

  • The original founder of Team OG; has built a legacy of wins in Heroes of Newerth and DOTA 2. 
  • In 2018, he achieved victory with Team OG and helped them win the largest gaming prize in history: $11 million dollars.

See Johan Sundstein play on Twitch.


3. Amer Al-Barkawi, @Liquid_Miracle

Net Earnings: $3.8 million

  • Prior to signing with Team Liquid, he was a notable player for Team OG as well as an esteemed non-affiliated gamer. 
  • With OG, he helped win the first-ever DOTA 2 Major. 
  • Today, he’s responsible for the mid-laner position on Team Liquid. 

See Amer Al-Barkawi play on Twitch. 


2. Kuro Takhasomi, @LiquidKuroKy

Net Earnings: $4.3 million

  • One of the top 5 DOTA players of all time, he is the highest competition-earning gamer in the world. 
  • He’s won over 36 different tournaments and maintains a coveted spot on Team Liquid. 
  • One of the three players in the world to compete in every International Championship. 

See Kuro Takhasomi play on Twitch. 


1. Tyler Blevins, @Ninja

Net Worth: $15 million

  • Known as the King of Twitch; earned over $10 million dollars in 2018 from streaming on Twitch. 
  • The bulk of his earnings come from advertising, sponsorships, and donations. 
  • In terms of competitions, he usually earns $3,500-10,000 per tournament. 
  • Despite his low competition earnings, his immense profits from streaming have made him the wealthiest gamer in the world.

See Tyler Blevins play on Twitch. 


Synchronicity can be a beautiful thing — especially when you find the brand partnerships that connect your product to an entirely new market. Here are five examples of brand partnerships with social media influencers and the marketing strategies that made them successful.

Shopping for a pair of shoes, a device, or a rideshare? You may have noticed more and more cross-promotion everywhere you look. Here’s a look at 5 top brands that are partnering with other businesses, celebrities, and micro-influencers to reach distinct niche audiences.

1. Taylor Swift + Keds Shoes Partnership

taylor swift and keds brand partnership

Taylor Swift is well known for her high-profile brand partnerships. The majority of them are carefully curated, so as to speak to both her audience and the business’ audience.

Her partnerships are always on-brand, and her marketing team finds a way to use customer data to craft partnerships that:

    • Offers additional value to the shared audience (PixMob and LED bracelets for concertgoers, convenience for her listeners with Apple Music)
    • Embody and strengthen her brand (Keds reinforced the image of the capable girl next door – a persona that both Keds’ ideal audience and Swift’s existing audience identify with)
    • Improve her market positioning (Diet Coke ads in which one of her songs off 1989 premiered)

While the partnerships seem like serendipity at first, there is a well-thought-out strategy behind every single one. (Cross brand analysis is less chance and more powerful data analytics…)

Keds + Taylor Swift Brand Partnership Timeline

In 2011, right as Swift was releasing a new album, Red, she and Keds announced a multi-year partnership.

From that point onward, it was clear that Swift had always been smart about publicizing her albums and her own activity through carefully selected partnerships that reinforced her message, while also serving the needs of businesses she partnered with.

Her audience appreciates it, as Swift’s marketing team always finds a way for that partnership to stay true to the persona Swift embodies, and provides additional value to her existing audience.

According to Keds’ press release, they chose Swift as their partner because she “embodies their spirit, style, and sensibility.” For a brand that prides itself on comfort and casual charm, Swift was the perfect partner. Additionally, their audiences overlap.

Keds chose their partner wisely. As they state, they are a brand whose ideal customers are young women who “have moxie and lead multi-faceted lives.”

It’s no coincidence; Taylor Swift’s audience are also young women who are brave enough to be themselves.

The most notable aspects of the strategy consisted of:

  • Cross-promotion
  • Multimedia campaigns (Both Keds’ and Swift’s audiences use mobile devices)
  • Community creation (Scholarship opportunities, social media initiatives like shoppable Instagram feeds, limited edition Keds commemorating Swift’s album Red, product personalization)
  • Crafting a message that supported both Keds’ and Swift’s brands (Campaigns: Ladies First, Braveheart)

Results from the Taylor Swift and Keds Partnership

Keds + Swift’s 1989 promotion tour alone engaged over 2.1M fans who took part in her shows, generated over 400K Instagram impressions, and resulted in over 100K in sales of branded items and coupons.

Ultimately, Keds successfully rebranded their shoes to appeal to a new generation of women.

The major part of that success was their partnership with Taylor Swift. She helped them reach their shared audience; Gen Z and Millennial women who fell in love with their shoes and their mission by way of loving Swift’s persona.

2. Casey Neistat + Nike and Samsung Crossover Marketing

casey neistat and nike and samsung brand partnership

Casey Neistat is a product of the contemporary era, an individual whose claim to fame is that he is a YouTuber and a vlogger. After vlogging his adventures and reviewing products, Neistat rose to prominence and even went on to start his own multimedia companies.

Today, he is a filmmaker known for his modern approach to advertising. It was this approach that drew Samsung to him.

Neistat doesn’t produce ads or offer ad space to companies; he creates native ads through storytelling. He knows his audience well, and knows that they value authenticity before anything else.

In an era where brands are increasingly facing consumer pushback when it comes to ads (millions of users have ad-blockers installed), major brands including Nike and Samsung recognized it, and partnered with Neistat whose audience matches their own: Millennials.

Neistat and Nike’s Partnership Results

On April 8, 2012, Nike launched a video titled “Make It Count,” produced by Casey Neistat.
Officially, Nike wanted to promote its new product: Fuelband.

However, after collaborating with Nike for a longer period of time, Neistat wanted to help the brand reach its target audience in a way they responded to best: storytelling.

In the video, Neistat was upfront about being sponsored by Nike. He took his audience on a trip around the world to show them what he’s doing with the money Nike gave him.

Similarly to Nike, Neistat believes in telling authentic stories. In his words, “What [Make It Count] means to me is take a huge chance.”

Many could relate to that and consequently, they were also able to relate with Nike’s vision, leading to increased sales. Nike has always been vocal about encouraging people to make their dreams come true, and Neistat was the perfect partner to drive the message home.

(Find your perfect brand partnerships with AE…learn more here.)

The authenticity allowed both Neistat and Nike to connect with different members of the same target audience without compromising each brand’s unique reputation.

Ultimately, the video garnered over 14 million views.

Neistat and Samsung’s Cross-Promotion Results

Having the right audience data proved to be crucial for the success of Samsung’s Neistat-fueled campaigns.

Samsung’s original goal was to form deeper relationships with Neistat’s (and their own) audience. Since the majority of Millennials prioritize relationships with brands over price points, it made sense to approach the partnership from that standpoint.

As a filmmaker, Neistat needs high-quality gear to create amazing stories, and Samsung provided it under one condition: that he showed his audience what he filmed with Samsung’s products.

This led to Neistat:

  • Using Samsung’s 360-degree camera to show what it’s like to walk the red carpet at Oscars
  • Using specially-created Samsung drones to capture the beautiful landscape of Finland

The partnership left both parties content.

Neistat was producing high-quality content in an organic manner he is famous for, while Samsung rose in popularity among its target audience members. (Don’t know who your company’s target audience is? See your full customer picture.)

Not only did Samsung attract more customers, but they also won awards at Cannes in 2017.

3. KFC and DrLupo Brand Partnership

drlupo and kfc brand partnership

Gaming is the hottest new industry for brands who want to make sure their success isn’t forgotten in the era of entertainment-oriented Gen Z’ers.

Brands that want to integrate themselves into new spaces and attract the attention of new audiences are looking for influencers to pair up with. However, YouTuber influencers are no longer as popular of a choice. Twitch streamers, people who play video games for millions of their followers, are the new targets of brands.

(AE can help you figure out where your customers are spending time.)

DrLupo, whose real name is Ben Lupo, is a Twitch streamer who commonly plays Fortnite and PUBG.

In 2018, KFC partnered with DrLupo for a special event in which every viewer could get a coupon code whenever DrLupo won in the game.

The partnership was contextually appropriate; there is a saying in PUBG whenever a player wins a game – “Winner winner chicken dinner.” KFC used this inside joke to promote their own business.

Whenever DrLupo (or one of his partners) won, all viewers had to do was respond with the right emote and get a discount code. Additionally, the viewers got a chance to receive a special themed loot box.

Why the Audience Overlap Matters

KFC’s partnership with DrLupo was yet another example of a contemporary brand partnership done right.

After all, Twitch audience makes up for a significant portion of KFC’s audience. This partnership was a work of careful audience data analysis:

  • 81.5% of Twitch users are male
  • 55% of them are between ages 18-34
  • 80% of users view sponsored content in a favorable light

Finally, not only did KFC partner with DrLupo, but they successfully connected their brand to the famous video game saying.

This partnership goes on to show that, regardless of the nature of the brand, every business that wants to stay competitive needs to consider new media platforms as viable ways of connecting with their potential customers.

In turn, modern celebrities (such as YouTubers and Twitch streamers) can benefit from working with big brands who help them reinforce their credibility and stimulate even more positive sentiment from their audiences.

4. Apple + Oprah Winfrey Brand Partnership

oprah winfrey and apple brand partnership

Oprah Winfrey is never going to go out of style, and Apple recognized that. While the tech giant may have originally targeted techies, their target audience has changed over time. Today, even Baby Boomers have iPhones and show them off proudly.

So what better way to reach the older generations than with a partnership that helps both parties get more influence?

Apple originally decided to sign a multi-year partnership contract with Oprah Winfrey to promote its video streaming service.

Winfrey would create original content for them, helping them popularize their service while simultaneously reaching more members of her desired audience.

The official statement went on to say:
“Together, Winfrey and Apple will create original programs that embrace her incomparable ability to connect with audiences around the world.”

It is clear from that statement that Apple is looking to use some of Winfrey’s conversational charm and ability to connect with audiences across generations to boost its own figures as they prepare for launch.

(Discover where your customers overlap with another brand’s to form powerful partnerships.)

While the partnership is still in its infancy, it seems Apple made the right choice. Oprah managed to get Prince Harry to collaborate with her on her mental health series.

The conversation about mental health will help Apple popularize their streaming service not only among the demographic that Winfrey has been successful at capturing so far (Gen X, Baby Boomers), but Millennials, as well.

Additionally, this partnership adds a human note to Apple’s brand.

The second project Winfrey is creating for Apple deals with harassment in the workplace, yet another burning topic that could catch the eye of millions – if not billions.

Winfrey herself stated that she is looking forward to speaking to a much bigger audience, going on to say: “They’re in a billion pockets, y’all. A billion pockets.”

The Brilliance of the Partnership between Apple and Oprah

In order to fully understand the importance of the synergy between Apple – a modern brand – and Oprah Winfrey, a producer and TV show host loved by Gen X and Baby Boomers, it is first necessary to understand that each party is getting something out of the partnership.

Apple has decided to expand their influence across generations. They noticed their products and their brand are popular even with people who are not digital natives, and they couldn’t have picked a better partner than Winfrey herself.

Winfrey, on her part, is hoping to reach new audiences.

It is only a matter of time before Apple becomes synonymous with compassion and understanding – all because of this partnership.

5. Martha Stewart + Uber Brand Partnership

martha stewart and uber brand partnership

Speaking of seemingly counter-intuitive partnerships, Martha Stewart and Uber have joined forces to promote the luxurious version of Uber – Uber Black.

Following her social media posts where she ranted angrily about the state of her ride, Uber decided to partner with her to create a more stylish way of getting from point A to point B.

After her disastrous first ride, Martha’s been contracted to make Uber Black rides feel just like rides in limos.

It only takes consumer data analysis to understand that a significant portion of people who follow Martha Stewart shy away from getting Ubers. Some of them don’t understand the concept, or fear what will happen to them if they use the popular ride-sharing app.

Additionally, the partnership with Martha Stewart gave Uber a dose of nostalgia. It’s always a good asset for winning over the hearts of consumers (or at least, generating positive sentiment that Uber sorely needs after the 2018 fiascos).

(Locate your own successful brand partnerships using AE.)

The Logistics of the Cross-Brand Partnership

In May 2019, Uber published a post in which Martha Stewart created her perfect Uber Black trip.

It was a way of showcasing the new features created in cooperation with the domestic goddess.

The emphasis was placed on comfort, a significant problem for many potential customers who don’t use Uber because of that very reason. Uber showcased how Stewart requested a quiet ride and help with her bags – all features that are now available with Uber Black.

Publicly, Stewart has been complimenting Uber even after the first disastrous ride, and especially after partnering with them.

By saying that she is looking forward to new technologies that make lives easier, she has effectively managed to reach the significant portion of Uber’s potential customers who weren’t quite sure if Uber was more suited to them or their grandchildren.

As a de-facto spokesman, not only is Stewart getting more popular with newer generations, but she is also helping Uber reach the people they weren’t able to reach before. And according to Uber’s 2019 Q2 report, they are doing just fine.
It’s a win-win.


How our tech company is crossing the chasm without falling in (and bleeding out)

***This article originally ran in The Startup, a Medium publication. 

The chasm between early success and continued market acceptance of a tech product has been made famous by Geoffrey Moore and his 1991 book, Crossing the Chasm.

I like to think of the chasm a bit differently. To me it’s Jaws. Yes, like the giant shark the 1975 blockbuster movie was named for.

For most of the past decade, my husband Jeff and I have been busy building our SaaS (software as a service) company. We’ve developed proprietary technology and landed long-term enterprise clients with big visions who use it. Along the way, we’ve built an advisory board and even made it through rounds of investment funding.

Life in our small tech company is rosy. But to get out to a mainstream B2B market, we know it’s time to cross The Chasm. (And avoid sinking into the shark-infested waters!)

It’s time to cross The Chasm — and avoid sinking into the shark-infested waters!

The Jaws Version of the Technology Adoption Bell Curve
My Version of the Technology Adoption Bell Curve

The Technology Adoption Bell Curve

When I peek over the edge of the Early Adopter slope, I see a huge open shark’s mouth with never-ending teeth that glisten, hungry for my business. As one entrepreneur tips over the edge of the chasm and tumbles down, the shark gnashes and breaks teeth on the business bones. This Jaws is very hungry and he never tires.

Jumping this chasm is scary and challenging. You need to be thinking about the core foundation of your business and prepping for the journey on the other side..I think of that journey as Sisyphus pushing his boulder up the hill for eternity. But let’s not get caught up in Greek mythology just yet.

Jaws is hungry.

How do you jump over the chasm? It’s not science that’s for sure. It’s science, heart, and courage. Here are a few key things I’ve learned so far to help small companies get past the “Jaws” chasm in business:

RACI: Responsible, Accountable, Consulted and Informed
RACI: Responsible, Accountable, Consulted and Informed

1. Build Confidence and Accountability in Your Team: The Not So Racey RACI

As you grow your company, you’re hiring people, you’re getting jobs done and the slots are filling up. This is exactly what you should be doing.

However at some point, you’ve got a team but the time to get your work done has dramatically decreased. What’s wrong? You think to yourself, Why do I have less time with more people? This is surprisingly tricky to decode and where good old RACI rides over the horizon waving her stetson to help.

RACI (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, and Informed) is a Responsibility Assignment Matrix. Do not be turned off by the terrible acronym. It’s very effective.

RACI (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, and Informed) is a Responsibility Assignment Matrix. Do not be turned off by the terrible acronym. It’s very effective.

Do any of these sound familiar?

  • A project is running smoothly and at the last second a team member swoops in and everything changes — arghhh!
  • You have a project that never seems to end and drags itself along week-to-week looking very pale and sickly.
  • It seems like everyone at the office, including the potted plant Gary, is asked to contribute an opinion on the project
  • You have a couple of people who constantly respectfully disagree about a project and this leads to a lot of circular arguments and everyone feels dizzy and wants to get off the ride.

If you nodded your head to any of these you need some RACI rescue. RACI will put a grinding halt to these kinds of problems. When a project starts your team will determine the key roles and responsibilities of those roles. You could also give them branded sheriff’s badges.

Besides shiny-looking badges you’ll get:

  • Confidence that every team member knows where they sit in the project and how they’re expected to contribute
  • And while you will still have respectful disagreements everyone knows that the accountable person has the final say
  • You’ll watch more Clint Eastwood movies and say y’all around the office.
Build a Bridge, Not a Wall: Company Culture
Build a Bridge, Not a Wall: Company Culture

2. How to Make a Better Company Culture

Okay, so you might be rolling your eyes and thinking yeah, yeah — visioning exercises, and big-picture thinking and team lunches are nice but it’s not really going to impact my business. Wrong.

I spoke to an investment firm last week where the head of partnerships told me that the businesses he invests in that have a good culture outperform his other teams every year without fail. That’s a pretty good reason to care about culture.

Even Gary V, who I don’t always agree with, speaks about how culture is going to define the success of companies in the coming decade.

I think it’s really important to not think about creating a “strong” culture — have can have a super strong culture of misogyny and that’s not going to get you anywhere fast, plus it’ll be a really crappy place to work at if you’re not a young white man.

I had a brilliant culture experience at the first startup I worked for, Abebooks.

In 1998 it wasn’t even called culture. We worked hard, were given a lot of responsibility, had great parties, threw office competitions like Foods Of The World. At the time, I just figured every office was like this.

In 1998 it wasn’t even called culture. We worked hard, were given a lot of responsibility, had great parties, threw office competitions like Foods Of The World. At the time, I just figured every office was like this.

When I later started working with a government agency, I realized that no, the rest of the world is not a joyful, hardworking, and dedicated bunch of people. My government role wasn’t a shock to my system, it was more like a slow deadening of my internal drive. I got bored and lazy. This is not the kind of culture you want.

Let’s take a look at the words, “culture building.” I like the idea that building means to create something brick-by-brick, but you can build anything: a bungalow, a wall or you can build a bridge. How do you become a company that builds a bridge? Or at least, how do you support that direction?

How do you become a company that builds a bridge?

Find people that add to your culture, one brick at a time

Recently I saw Emily Chang speak about bro-culture in the technology space. My big takeaway from her talk was that, in order to build a meaningful culture, you need to be looking for more than just “culture fit.” You’re going to end up with a lot of people who are just like you. And while that will feel great, you’re missing out on the big wide world…the whole spectrum of people that make up a community.

Instead, look for culture add. This means your new team members share your values (ie. build a bridge and not a wall) but have interests, skills, and perspectives that differ from yours.

Build that culture bridge with lots of different people, skill sets and perspectives.

Avoid the Tsunami — Decide where to steer your business
Avoid the Tsunami — Decide where to steer your business

3. Avoid the Tsunami

What you want to achieve with your business directly impacts what you should be doing.

In the early days we’re told, find product-market fit, find paying customers and then keep growing. But at what point do we stand back and make sure we’re building the business we want to be in?

The most impactful planning in my business journey this year has been for us to re-evaluate what where we want our business to be in three years. This isn’t about vision or mission or even growth, but instead about options.

In three years do you want to:

  • Sell your business?
  • Raise capital to grow even larger?
  • Cap your growth and run a lifestyle business?

I’ve always known you need a goal to aim for but I didn’t realize how that should trickle down to every decision you make every day. Yes, I just breathed a big sigh typing that line. It sounds completely overwhelming like a tsunami advancing on your desk. And yes, it kind of is a tsunami and your desk is your ship. How are you going to avoid the tsunami if you aren’t pointing in the right direction?

The sailing analogy is strong in the startup world, but usually, you talk about reefing the sail and adjusting course. Sometimes you don’t need just a course adjustment, though. Sometimes you’ve turtled your boat and you need everyone in your family and your team to help you flip the boat, repair the sail and set course to where you just came from. And that’s the advantage of preparing to steer your business through those shark-infested waters, on your way to whichever horizon you choose.

What You Can Learn from Our Mistakes

Scaling a company is like successfully navigating shark-infested waters. So far, we’ve learned a few things that help:

  1. Instill confidence and accountability in your team so they’ll be ready to steer through shark-infested waters together
  2. Build up your team by adding people to it that make it more diverse, more opinionated and more adaptable
  3. Decide which direction to steer towards, and avoid ending up in the wrong place after all that work.