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Reinventing Teleconferencing With The Double

Posted by | Business Tips | One Comment
Back in the mid 90’s my family received an odd gift from a close family friend – a video phone.
He worked at AT&T at the time. He’d snagged of one of their new demo video phones to play around with when he quickly realized Problem #1: Video phones were worthless if no one else had one.
It’s easy to scoff at the thing now. I think we used it maybe three times ever. And it wasn’t so much a “video” phone as it was a collection of still images that would update every 30-60 seconds. Remember connection speeds back then?
The screen…well HD was still years away.Like our good friend realized, since no one else we knew had a video phone it just collected dust.

And look at the marketing! Is this family having a video call or posing for Glamour Shots?!

Teleconferencing Has Come a Long Way

Think about that first video phone compared to what we have now.

Services like Skype came out that made it insanely cheap to talk to anyone, anywhere in the world.

The big boys entered the market with enterprise level video conference solutions like WebEx and GoTo Meeting.

And now there are dozens of video chat/screen sharing combo solutions, from the ultra high end (and expensive) Cisco TelePresence to the free (yet still feature rich) offerings like join.me, Meeting Burner, Meetings.io, Google+ Hangouts, you get the point… Even while writing this post a new article from Wired popped up showcasing conference call startups.

And remember that first video phone? I’ll take iChat instead, thank you.

Meet The Double

The Double. It’s an intriguing mashup of a robot + a video phone.

It’s fully remote controlled, letting you freely move it around any distant location, enabling you to see, hear, show, and talk to anyone, anywhere.

Oh and all from your iPad.

My first reaction is: this is really cool!

My second reaction is a bit more tempered: ok so this may be cool, but is it anything more than a toy?

The key thing setting it apart from a regular conference call is its mobility. So do you need to buy a Double for your daily status call? Probably not.

But maybe there are some practical applications for this thing…aside from having a creepy likeness of yourself to spy on your office-mates while you’re out of the office.

Touring Factory Floors
This is actually why the Double was created. The Double team was initially working with Chinese manufacturers but became frustrated without being able to see the factory floor. Their solution turned into a pivot for the whole company.

New Home Buyer Virtual Tours
How cool would this be? Take a virtual tour of a home that’s for sale without having to be there. Especially useful for cross-country moves.

Social Dressing Rooms
When buying new clothes you always need a second opinion, right? Next time you’re shopping alone use the Double to show a full 360 view of your new outfit to help your friends give you the go/no-go from anywhere.

In addition to the mobility, the other key to me is the price point: $1,999. Obviously this isn’t cheap, but it’s not outrageously expensive either. Very reasonable for an early-adopting real estate agent or retail store.

So what about you? Would you want a Double and if so, how would you use it?

UPDATE: Hope you didn’t get too excited. Looks like The Double is sold out till 2013.

How to Follow Up on That Unanswered Meeting Request

Posted by | Business Tips, Meeting Tips | No Comments

Sometimes simply scheduling the meeting can be the hardest part.

    You were at an event last night and met Brett. He had some awesome ideas to help your startup so you got his card and he suggested you get together soon.
    The next day you email him to schedule a meeting but you never hear from Brett again.

You know you need to follow up with Brett but don’t want to annoy him in the process, which may stop him from helping you at all.

photo credit (creative commons)

How Do I Follow Up With Brett?

What people don’t realize is why the other person – Brett in this example – didn’t respond to the initial email.

Perhaps he never intended to help me out, but that’s simply unlikely. And even if that’s the case, an extra follow-up can’t make it any less likely that he’ll respond.

Here’s what’s more likely:

  • He never saw my email among the hundreds in his Inbox,
  • He started to respond but got sidetracked and then forgot altogether, or
  • He has a laundry list of stuff to do, and meeting with me just isn’t a high priority

So it’s ok to send follow-ups…it’s even necessary.

The obvious next question is, What do I say to Brett?

1. Keep it Short
Don’t overwhelm Brett. People read shorter emails more often. Wouldn’t you?

How: Keep it to 3-5 sentences max.

2. Make it Actionable
You break down your own tasks into small, manageable pieces, right? (Or should be according to GTD.) Do the same for Brett. Be direct and make it easy for him to help you.

How: Ask a specific YES / NO question. “Can we have a quick call on Tuesday? I’m free from 9-12.”

3. Make them Want to Help You
Remember, you’re asking for the favor. Remind them of the benefit to them, or add in some humor. Put a smile on their face and your chances have just shot up.

How: “As a thank you I’d love to give you some eBooks that you can give away to your own customers.”

4. Wait a Few Days
Like the character in a movie who gets the girl’s number (and doesn’t want to seem desperate), be patient.

How: While it always depends, I try to wait a week before sending a follow-up.

Putting that together, here’s what your follow-up might look like:

Hi Brett,

Looking at my calendar I’m open for lunch this Thursday and Friday. Can you get together either of those days around noon?

I’m looking forward to hearing more of the ideas you had at [NETWORKING EVENT], or even just an excuse to get out of the office and treat ourselves to a free lunch on my company.

Thanks!

It’s short, up front and asks a simple yes/no question.

Most importantly, if Brett is someone I don’t know well this follow-up shows him I’m serious. That in turn makes him more willing to invest his time in someone he doesn’t know.

A Couple Tools to Make Follow-Ups Easier
And if you have a hard time remembering to follow up in the first place?

Fortunately there are some great tools that make this part easy and automatic.

Boomerang
Boomerang is an awesome app that lets you set automatic email reminders. Send emails later, Hide messages from your inbox until you need them, OR, Remind yourself if you don’t get a reply to an email you sent.

FollowUpThen
FollowUpThen works a lot like Boomerang, but doesn’t require any installs. All you have to do is add a formatted “@followupthen” email address to your email.

Tungle
Tungle helps people pick a time slot on their calendar to meet. This is especially helpful when you can’t see the other person’s availability.

Sometimes people really are too busy and you’re never going to get the response you need. But for all those other times remember that a quick follow-up is easier than you think and makes a huge difference.

PS – While writing this post I found a great post that makes it easy to know when to hyphenate “follow up”: if it’s a verb, leave a space; if it’s a noun or can be preceded by “the”, add a hyphen. My trick is, Noun = No space.

Should I Bring My Laptop To Your Meeting?

Posted by | Business Tips, Meeting Tips | No Comments
A couple weeks back I was in a client meeting giving a presentation of two alternate solutions. Afterward I asked the lead architect for her recommendation.“Uhhhhh, can you repeat that again real quick?” she blankly asked.Seriously?! I’ve just spent the last 10 minutes describing everything, but you were too busy hacking away on your Blackberry. Wouldn’t it be so much better if we could just ban technology altogether in meetings?

Well……maybe not.

Please Check Your Phones at the Door?

You’ve likely witnessed some variation of this mandate to ban computers & phones from meetings. This isn’t realistic though. Nor does it even solve the root cause.

And do I really want to go back to hand writing all my notes & then typing them up afterward? Or do I want to deal with printing handouts instead of emailing a PowerPoint? And what happens when someone didn’t do their prep work and we need to look up a stat real quick?

So, banning devices from meetings might not be that great after all.

Don’t Boycott Technology!
In fact it does more harm than good by prohibiting technology in meetings – you lose all the benefits technology brings. Remember 37signals’ Boycott A Meeting Day? Instead of not having any meetings at all, we realized it’s better to focus on making our meetings better. Same situation here.

We should stop trying to go cold turkey and instead focus on moderation and setting boundaries! I recently saw a great post that set rules for what you CAN and SHALL NOT do with your devices during meetings:

You Shall Not:
  • You shall not surf the web during a meeting.
  • You shall not send an instant message to anyone in the meeting.
  • You shall not send text messages with any mobile device.
You Can:
  • You can research topics that are relevant to the meeting.
  • You can type notes.
  • You can share information from your device to a projector for all to see.

Take a moment to also consider why you’re not getting the attention you think you deserve. Maybe the person sending an email from their phone shouldn’t have been invited to your meeting. Or ask, is the meeting itself really necessary?

So remember, keep bringing your phones and computers to meetings (e.g. LessMeeting), just stop looking at those Lolcats.

image: TIME

2 New Great Web Conferencing Tools…and they’re FREE

Posted by | Business Tips, General Productivity | One Comment
Whether you’re a traveling consultant or you work for a company that has multiple office locations, there’s a good chance that you use conference calls for meetings. In the past you would get a conference dial-in number, send that to all of the participants,and then dial in the admin code yourself. There’s a handful of problems with this:
  1. The dial-in process is painful: “Oops, I pressed a 4 instead of a 7! Now I have to start all over.”
  2. People rarely arrive on time: “Sorry, I couldn’t find the dial-in information.”
  3. It is hard to pay attention: “What did you say? Could you please repeat that?”
  4. There is no collaboration: “I can’t see what you’re looking at.”
Fortunately technology has fixed most of those issues, but up until very recently the solutions were costly. One of the most common solutions is GoToMeeting, but that costs $50 per month per person. Skype is free, but it doesn’t allow you to share your screen, so really it only solves the first two issues listed above.Enter MeetingBurner and Google+ Hangouts. Web conferencing has never been freer or easier.

We’ll reiterate that: Free and easy web conferencing. The holy grail of conference calls!

MeetingBurner

About a month ago TheNextWeb wrote an article about MeetingBurner. We tried MeetingBurner out (it’s FREE!) and found that it was very easy to use and attendees didn’t need to download any software. The meeting organizer needed to download software to share his or her screen, but overall it took less than a minute to start sharing a screen for the first time.

MeetingBurner also offers a dial-in phone number for those that cannot join through their computers. Overall our experience was very positive and we’d definitely recommend it for anyone who needs to organize a web conference with screen sharing.

Google+More recently, Google has announced that Google+ Hangouts will have a screen sharing feature, as well as other collaboration tools such as shared documents and a sketchpad. The key question is whether Google+ can be used for web conferencing in a business setting?

What do you think? Do you have your business contacts and/or co-workers in your Google account? We’re really happy with the functionality and ease of use that MeetingBurner provides, so we’re sticking with them for now. We’d love to hear from you if you want to comment.

Lessons Learned For Startup User Signups

Posted by | Business Tips | 6 Comments

Startup Sales 101 – Conversions

For any web service based startup, sales are driven by 2 key factors:

  1. People visiting your site – You’ve got to get people to your site. Whether it’s viral campaigns, one-on-one sales, online ads, or traditional marketing, people need to see your product or service. For online advertising this is typically the ‘Click Through Rate’.
  2. People signing up for your service – Once people take a look at your site, you need to make a compelling case for them to sign up. This is your ‘Conversion Ratio’.

While there’s always room to improve the number of eyes reaching your pages (e.g. throw more money into advertising), you should be most interested in improving your conversion ratio.

Lessons Learned – “Why isn’t everyone signing up?”

In addition to the new features we rolled out recently (more here), we invested a considerable amount of time into updating our pricing and signup model. The LessMeeting homepage, features, registration, and pricing pages all got makeovers. Why? Simple – we needed to make the decision to try LessMeeting simpler.

Using tools like Google analytics we analyzed why people were coming to the site but not signing up. (Of course they could simply be disinterested in the product, but our research has told us that typically isn’t the problem.) The 2 culprits we discovered were:

  1. Features and benefits need to be very clear – We overwhelmed users with too much information. We had to make key benefits as clear as possible so visitors could understand why this tool would help them.
  2. The signup process & pricing model must be dead simple – We had too many pricing tiers and our trial/freemium model was too complex.
The new Features page

The Make-Over

We learned that customers were getting too confused about our pricing & registration and as a result, bailing on us before even giving LessMeeting a try. In retrospect I don’t blame them…and I’m especially impressed by those who made it through! So let’s look at a few mistakes that we made and how we approached a new solution.

Mistake #1 – A Complex Freemium Model

The Intent – Meetings are a team activity and we wanted to encourage teams to try LessMeeting together. In our initial freemium model, the first 3 customers at a company (defined by email address domain) could sign up for free and any additional users from that domain would have to pay for an account.

What really happened – Too complex! How do you define a “company”? What if all 3 licenses have been taken up but there is someone else at the company who really wants to try your product? What if the 3 licenses are taken up by a team in a completely different area of the company than someone new who wants to try the product? These questions go on…and get worse.

How we’re making it better – Don’t over-think your freemium model. Remember, the point is to get people using your product in a manner that makes them want to pay for more advanced features. Your freemium approach shouldn’t deter new users from signing up.

We have changed our approach so signing up is free. Always. For everyone. No credit card required. Try LessMeeting for free for 30 days and if you like it after that, then it’s a simple $12 flat fee per user per month.

Summary – Freemiums should be simple. Their goal is to get your product in as many hands as possible; anything else and you’re overdoing it.

Mistake #2 – Too Many Pricing Tiers

The Intent – We originally had three pricing/feature tiers. We thought this would allow us to uniquely cater to power users, casual users, small companies, big companies, team leads, and team members alike.

What really happened – Our customers didn’t need tiers. Every one of our paying customers had signed up for the same middle tier. We got a lot of questions regarding the features related to the different tiers (e.g. “can I pay for the teams pages, but just for 5 of our users?”). In general, we found that having more pricing/feature tiers was just confusing to our users and added barriers to the buying decision.

How we’re making it better – Tiers makes sense for a lot of startups. But not us. If you’re a startup (or any software company) consider if your customers really need the additional pricing levels. We ended up trying to build useless features just to justify different tiers that no one even used. Now we’ve changed to a single tier with a simple $12 flat fee per month.

Summary– If your customers don’t understand your pricing model, don’t try to explain it to them. Change your pricing model.

Mistake #3 – Overzealous Signup Process

The Intent – We wanted to give you all the information we could about LessMeeting so that there was no possible way you wouldn’t want to sign up.

What really happened– No one read the text filled feature pages. Users got lost getting from the homepage to the registration page. There was no call to action. In the end, users didn’t sign up as often as we thought they would.

How we’re making it better – It’s critical that you streamline your signup process. It’s no different than the “shopping cart” process online retailers use. Identify what your target “funnel” is and build your registration process around it, including a clear call to action at each step.

For LessMeeting, we want you to: 1) Start on the homepage, 2) View a much improved features page, 3) View our simplified pricing model, 4) Register and signup, and 5) Start using LessMeeting. Users need to be able to complete this in just a couple minutes too, as that’s likely all you’ll have their attention for.

Summary – Make signup as fast as possible.

Mistake #4 – Complex Incentives

The Intent – We want to encourage customers to buy by providing discounts.

What really happened – Only the squeakiest wheel was heard. All of our customers deserved to know about the discount options but only those that asked about them found out. While we didn’t intentionally hide our discounts, we didn’t do the best job of announcing them either.

How we’re making it better – Advertise your discounts. Sign up for a group of licenses (starting at just 10 users!) and get a discount. Or, pay yearly instead of monthly and get a discount. Discounts should be your friend. We want to give these discounts to every single one of our customers. First, it helps our cash flow (Startup Finance 101) and builds momentum via a larger user base. More importantly, it makes your customers happy.

Summary – Reward your customers for buying behaviors that help out your company too.

Guess the Theme? (hint: it’s a simple answer)

Notice a theme? It’s nothing new, but we needed to be reminded of it so decided it’s worth passing on – Keep It Simple. Having a great product or service is only half the battle for startups…you need to get people to actually sign up for your product. In summary:

  1. Avoid complex freemium models
  2. Reduce the complexity of your pricing
  3. Reduce the number of actions required to signup
  4. Reward your customers for the right things
  5. Above all make you product easy to understand