• Daily Life,  Startups

    I Don’t Do That Job Anymore

    Something has changed, permanently, in me. I’ve been trying to figure out how to express it, because the transformation has been so interesting, unexpected, and meaningful to me. If you are a first time founder, or planning to be, this might resonate. I’d love to know if you’ve had a similar experience and what that was like.

    Jobs I Don’t Do Anymore

    These aren’t job titles, but roles I’ve played in the past that I no longer care to play. During YC (Summer 2012) I made a clean break from a lot of these things in order to totally focus on building Referly, and after letting those activities go for a few months I discovered something cool: I don’t want them back in my life at the same level of importance as before.

    Professional Extrovert

    For 3 years I was paid to be many things at Twilio, and one of them was what Mark Suster calls a “Conference Ho”. I’m not cynical about it, it was necessary and I made sure I was damn good at it. I did that job so that the three Twilio founders could completely focus on building the company, but I don’t do that job anymore.

    I don’t feel like being around people all the time, and never have. Friends who know me understand that there is a deep divide between my public face and my private life. People who don’t know me that well assume I am so transparent online that there couldn’t possibly be more below the surface. I was paid to be extroverted, and I loved it, but I don’t do that job anymore.

    Professional Hobbyist

    I love hackathons and always will, because they were the first place where I really felt the warm embrace of the hacker community. I came to developers I respected, hat in hand, and asked for help and advice and a safe place to ask stupid questions and I am so grateful. I didn’t have to worry about my code being elegant, and I only built little prototypes to demo the Twilio API for cool videos and live demos at conferences. Now I write code 50% or more of my time, and it has to work. So I don’t do that job (of being a professional hobbyist) anymore.

    Startup Mentor

    I sometimes thought I knew how to pick the startups that were winners, but as time passes and companies I referred to investors or invested in myself struggle, I realize I still have no idea. I could say that picking Twilio was my stroke of genius, but in truth it was a lot more of luck meeting preparation. I like mentoring founders, but more to help them with personal struggles than company struggles. Lately I’ve taken a big step back from mentoring and decided to double-down on people I already have relationships with. I don’t do that job anymore.

    Marketing “Guru”

    Twilio was the first place I ever had a marketing job. I’m not a marketing guru, and when Jeff hired me it was to do customer support and make blog posts and video. I told him we should put a reasonably senior job title on my business card so I could get meetings, so we did. I wasn’t really operating like a true Director-level person until probably the last year I was there. I was an avid student of marketing, and I wanted to earn that title and stop feeling like the business card was a lie. I achieved that, but I don’t do that job anymore.

    I’m Taking Me with Me

    When I say I don’t do these jobs anymore, it isn’t that I don’t take their lessons and skills with me. I carry them every day, to every conference, conversation, interview, coding session, morning walk, phone call, lunch with a founder, late night freak out. I loved those jobs, and when I did them I believe I did them well and gave them my all. But now I am learning to do new jobs, and I have new interests. I am passionate about making things – both with code and with prose. I’m either building Referly or using it to create content, and that’s all. I’m working on being a good CEO, good product person, and better developer.

    So if you’ve pinged me about stuff related to any of the jobs I don’t do anymore, and haven’t heard back, I hope you understand why. I don’t do that anymore.

    This blog post doesn’t really convey how strange it feels, to let go of things that were so important to me. Things I worked on and worried about and shaped my identity. But if I hold onto them and stay the same, and just get better at those things and lean on them then I know I won’t grow… so I’m putting them away for awhile. It kind of feels like breaking up, that’s the closest experience I can compare it to.

    This video kind of sounds like what it feels like:

  • Posts

    Call the Shots & Stop Being So Nice

    I gave a long rambling talk at Thinc Iowa.  So rambly in fact, that I was scared to watch it on video for a few months.

    Here’s the short version:

    • Stop being so nice
    • Gather the facts and judge people
    • Don’t be the no in your own life
    • If you don’t make decisions no one will
    • Inertia is death

    Don’t miss the part where I tell people to STOP DOING ALL THE THINGS and also the part (around 17:20) where I’m really honest about how women having the biggest problem with being too nice.

  • Advice,  Code

    Don’t Break the Chain

    Before I decided to take Referly full time it was just a side project for a couple years. For New Year’s 2012 I set a personal goal to code every day (my job at the time was head of marketing for a developer company), and in early February of this year I decided to get serious with a “don’t break the chain” mindset.

    Referly was the project I decided to rebuild from the ground up and 6 weeks into my routine I let Jeff know I would be leaving so we could start the transition plan.  Shortly after that conversation I had some beers with Joseph Walla from HelloFax and he convinced me to at least try to get into YC.  We all know how that turned out.

    So thank you Jerry Seinfeld for your advice on productivity – it worked for me.

    From the article:

    He said the way to be a better comic was to create better jokes and the way to create better jokes was to write every day. But his advice was better than that. He had a gem of a leverage technique he used on himself and you can use it to motivate yourself—even when you don’t feel like it.

    He revealed a unique calendar system he uses to pressure himself to write. Here’s how it works.

    He told me to get a big wall calendar that has a whole year on one page and hang it on a prominent wall. The next step was to get a big red magic marker.

    He said for each day that I do my task of writing, I get to put a big red X over that day. “After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain.”

    “Don’t break the chain,” he said again for emphasis.




  • Advice,  Referly,  Startups

    Startup Metrics to Obsess Over

    I obsess over my startup’s metrics.

    I constantly have Google Analytics realtime running in my browser to monitor traffic on Referly, and throughout the day I check it to see how many people are concurrently visiting our website (scroll to bottom to watch video on how to use this tool). I can see how many are new and how many are returning, where they came from and which parts of the site their are viewing, all within a glance. The psychology of this quick data dump into my brain is powerful, either reassuring me that people are discovering us or scaring me into thinking we might live in obscurity forever.

    This is one of the worst images a startup founder can imagine (an empty bank account balance is at least an order of magnitude scarier) – and I saw it this morning:

    The saving grace here is that it is before 8am Pacific Time as of writing this, so traffic is just beginning to climb. However, that does also indicate that Referly is primarily being adopted by West Coast people in the early-adopter tech community. We are working hard to branch out and reach people all over the U.S. who want to make a little extra income referring products they love. Looking at you New York!

    For Google Analytics Realtime, in my head I set a “low water mark” where if the concurrent visitors on the site drops below it I treat it as a red flag (and usually go tweet, blog, etc. to drive more traffic).  For the past few weeks the low water mark has been 0, and this week I raised it to 1.  To put this in perspective, just 2 months ago when I was using this practice at my previous company this number was in the hundreds.  We have a long way to go.

    Find Metrics You Can Obsess Over

    One great piece of advice from PG, which reminds me of the early days at Twilio, is to find a single metric you can obsess over. For us, it is not web traffic because of the nature of Referly’s business, but for a lot of consumer startups being able to drive traffic successfully is a great place to focus in the early days as you are getting people to kick the tires on the product for the first time and building a word-of-mouth revolution where people are coming back and bringing their friends.

    Here’s what our traffic has looked like over the pay 2 months (we launched May 14th):

    The Psychology of Looking at Web Traffic

    Web traffic can be a dangerous metric to obsess about, because it is fickle. The graph above is smoothed at the monthly level, and on the daily and even weekly levels you can see major peaks (launch announcements, other press) and valleys (nothing interesting has happened for 5 days ahhhH!)

    It can also become a vanity metric, because it is something you can buy.  This is a big reason why I advise companies not to take any paid traffic unless they have very clear mechanics for converting that traffic into actually revenue in a short period of time.  For businesses with very high lifetime customer value, or high anticipated revenue in the first 90 days of a user registration, you can justify paying for traffic.  But for social sites, meme generators, news sites, fashion sites, and any other site where the user and her data ARE the product — don’t buy it.  If you can’t make it organically you don’t have a product yet.

    The reason this is so dangerous is that once you buy traffic you will have this graph that you can make go up and to the right on command.  Simply pump more money in, and the visits numbers will go up — probably as conversion rates go down (if they don’t then keep going!).  As your team and investors begin to see this graph it sticks in their mind.  People love to cling to the only scrap of apparent success in an otherwise muddled heap of we-don’t-really-know-yet.  Beware vanity metrics, Google Adwords can be very difficult to put down once you’ve started.

    Graphs That Shape Your Life

    I remember attending an art appreciation session years ago lead by Lee Sandstead (OMG I just Googled him and he is Emmy Nominated now! congrats Lee!!!) where he talked about the power art has over our everyday lives.  Simply by having it on our walls, by looking at it in passing, it shapes our world view.

    The most amazing observation was that it doesn’t even have to be art one likes.  Take for example the most common piece of artwork found in the Western world, Ave Maria – which is the baby Jesus sitting on the lap of the Virgin Mary.  Definitely not a piece of art I’m into putting up all over my house (I’m an atheist).

    But Lee made this amazing point — it would be better to have this artwork on your walls than nothing.  If he lived in a world where this was the only artwork allowed (as was the case for hundreds of years) he would welcome it.

    It would shape you — you would look at it from time to time and reflect on it.  It might be simply religious symbolism to you at first, but over time it also might take on other meanings and conjure up other thoughts and memories.  It would become a point of conversation, maybe with other people, but certainly with yourself.  It would become a dialogue you returned to over and over again – anything from the mother to son relationship, to asking why he gazes at her but she does not appear to return her gaze to his eyes.  You might have questions about the halos they wear on their heads, or maybe what she is reading, or why his torso seems so misshapen.

    Metrics are the startup version of Ave Maria.

    Stick them on the wall, talk about them with each other, reflect on them privately, turn the data this way and that way in your mind trying to understand what it means.  Forge new connections.  Place two graphs next to each other which you assume are unrelated and test that assumption.

    Metrics You Should Consider Obsessing Over

    Here are some other metrics you might consider measuring and understanding. Some of them are more important than others to different kinds of businesses – and what you really want to look for is a single metric that can really tell you whether you are succeeding or failing.

    • Visits & % Unique Visitors (you could have very high visits because you have the same people coming back over and over again — not a bad thing!  but important to differentiate from the number of truly unique people)
    • Change in your bounce rate over time (are people who come to your site sticking around?  is it what they expected to see when they clicked through from wherever they were before?)
    • Number of times your website is mentioned each day on Twitter
    • Number of sites advertising against your website on Google, Facebook, etc.
    • % of users who come back more X times
    • % of users who come back and perform an action more than X times
    • % of users who contribute to revenue
    • % of users who have made a “round trip” in your product (completed the GOAL of the product)
    • Average number of days (or hours) it takes for a user to go from signed up to achieving the “round trip”
    • Signup conversion rate (by day of week, by region, by time on site)
    • Email open and click through rates (transactional emails vs. newsletter emails)

    Some of these things can’t be tracked with Google Analytics alone, I definitely suggest checking out Pardot and Kissmetrics for more sophisticated event tracking.

    There are probably many more, and I’ll keep adding to this list.  Do you have a startup metric you obsess over? Share it in the comments and help your fellow entrepreneurs.

    How to Use Google Analytics Realtime

    Great video from Darren Rowe to help you get started



  • Daily Life

    Don’t Waste a Single Moment

    I’ve embarked on a new adventure as CEO & Cofounder of Referly – a startup that is helping anyone earn rewards for referring products they love and generating purchases.  We are in the YCombinator class this summer.  Learn more at http://refer.ly

    Lately I’ve been waking up really early, and working “farmer hours” (StarCraft caster reference – there are farmers who have 9-to-5 schedules, and gamers who get up late and stay up late).  It started back in October when I made my first extended trip to London to launch Twilio into the European market, and then I would come back and keep the early morning schedule so I would be awake to talk with the team and partners I was assembling.  I needed an alarm clock at first, and I would set it for 6am and 7:15am.

    If I woke up at 6am and felt good, I’d hop out of bed.  If I woke up and felt crappy (usually if I’d had some drinks the night before) I would get up, brush my teeth and wash my face, and give myself permission to go back to bed until the next alarm.  I used the 2nd alarm only 3 times in the first two weeks.  Something strange happened.


    I started waking up naturally, before my 6am alarm.  I woke up feeling good, and I really prefer waking up without the blaring sound of an alarm so I was able to gracefully put my mind and body together.  The most amazing thing, when you work in tech, is that from 6am to 9am NOTHING HAPPENS.  Of course there is news, but there are few emails or phone calls that you’re expect to handle during that time.  None of your employees or coworkers are awake.  You’re completely free to do whatever you want, for a solid 2-3 hours.

    I also have a healthy disdain for mortality – and I truly appreciate now what adults used to say when I asked them why they got up so early.  “I can rest when I’m dead” is the refrain.  My previous sleep schedule had me getting up between 8am and 10am (with multiple alarms) and going to bed around 1am.  My schedule now has me getting up at 6am or earlier (without an alarm) and going to bed to at 11pm.  I always believed I was one of those people who just needs 9 hours of sleep, but I am now easily rested on 6-7 per night and reclaiming 2-3 hours a day.  So assuming I’ve reclaimed 2 hours of waking hours that is 730 hours a year – and I use about half of that time to do work, so I’ve given myself about 45 more 8-hour workdays in a year.  More time to hustle!

    I adhere to this schedule 7 days a week – I don’t see the weekend as a time to “catch up on sleep” as many people do.  Partly that is because I don’t really have a weekend and haven’t for many years while doing startups – Referly is the third in a row.  Saturdays are the “light day” on our team, but for me I find it much easier to just get up the same time every day.  On the weekends I let myself waste time on sites like People.com or Pinterest, which I severely limit during the week (thanks to RescueTime which helps me monitor my social media use and make sure I am using it in a goal directed way for the business).  I also tend to use the weekend early hours to catch up on all the feeds I have set up on Flipboard, or stuff I’ve saved through the week to read about the industry/competitors/etc.


    I had another habit I wanted to break – checking my phone for texts, emails, Facebook, Twitter, and news as soon as I woke up.  I wanted to stop doing this because it pulled me into the reactive world of other people’s needs, focuses, and demands on my sacred morning hours.  I got a dopamine hit from scrolling through all the tweets mentioning “Twilio” overnight, and on rough mornings looking at that was great motivation to get out of bed.  But it was becoming a crutch.  I needed something else to look forward to in the morning that was more internal.

    We moved from SOMA to Potrero Hill 3 months ago (and just moved to Mountain View this weekend), and both places offer something I didn’t have in SOMA – a place to safely take a long walk before dawn.  For me, early morning sunlight and birdsong feeds my soul.  I don’t entirely know why it is so soothing, but I spent the first 19 years of my life with nature in my day-to-day routine and I don’t think I considered the impact of moving somewhere so urban.  When I was a kid, my mother would clip roses in the front yard wearing her robe and slippers soaked through with dew, and a coffee cup.  She was always so proud of her fresh vase of fragrant blooms on the table, and I see now that this was her morning ritual before my sister and I woke up and made the house crazy with our energy.

    My routine was simple, roll out of bed and throw on the nearest sweatshirt, walk down the huge hill to Starbucks and grab breakfast, walk halfway up the hill and sit on the stoop of the pilates studio and watch the sun rise over Oakland, walk home and sit on the fire escape drinking coffee for 10-20 minutes and think about anything (basically meditate).

    Adrenaline & Stress

    Waking up stressed out is the worst – its great to have a sense of urgency around the day, but I went through periods where I was so anxious to get started on work that I would literally make myself sick.  If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, think about when you wake up late for a flight or a really important test or meeting and that wave of disgusting panic rolls through your stomach and makes your body shake.  A few times it was so bad that it would quite literally bring me to my knees.

    The most annoying thing about this, is that it gets in the way of exactly what you want to do: get to work!  I really have no idea how many people are afflicted by this feeling, and for me it tends to come and go with how much other pressure I have to deliver on business goals, but I did talk about it with a handful of people and discovered several successful people who suffer from this overblown sense of urgency first thing in the morning.  The best analogy someone gave me to work with is that adrenaline, once in your bloodstream, is like any other powerful drug you can take — you need to learn how to trip.  Once your body has dispensed you a jolting dose you really have no choice, so you can either enjoy the ride or exhaust yourself by fighting it.  Much easier said than done, but here is what works for me and of course I am not a psychologist and your mileage may vary:

    0.  Preventative – make peace with the limitations of time and your body -if you are giving 14 hours of work plus active monitoring and engagement to your startup online then you are maxing out.  If you feel like this isn’t propelling you forward then re-assess *what* you are doing, don’t blame it on *how much*.

    1.  Forgive Yourself – you wake up a ball of stress, heart pounding, hands sweating and thoughts immediately fly to “ugh not this again, why can’t I just get control of myself and this won’t happen anymore…” you have to let it go.  You are already in this, don’t pit your mind or body against itself.  But how to let it go?

    2.  Talk to Yourself – You need something to occupy your mind while you quickly get through the rituals of getting ready for the day – I am a big fan of talking to yourself.  Stop worrying about if your spouse or roommates will think you’re crazy – you ARE going a little crazy, and this can help.  Things I talk to myself about range a lot, but most of them are topics that I can easily get lost in that distract me from my stress:  practice introduction of myself and company – even going so far as to mock interview myself, practice a talk I’m working on and extemporaneously come up with next content, talk through my plan for the day, week, sprint, launch etc. in step by step detail, describe in detail something I saw or learned recently.

    3.  Triage the Damage – Generally my anxiety falls into two camps: things I can control (yay!) and things I can’t control (damnit!) which means that for the things I can control there are actions I can take, and I need to capture what those might be so that they can become work items.  But the bigger thing is to deal with the things you can’t control.  Anxiety isn’t a freak accident, its your bodies way of throwing up a major red flag – and its going to keep throwing it up until you acknowledge it.  Things you can’t control might be: a conversation that you had that went poorly, a situation you wish you could go back and handle differently, a sense of foreboding about a decision that was made where you felt a red flag but didn’t raise it, an argument you had that you fear damaged an important relationship irreparably.

    4.  Apologies & Thank Yous – (This section could be a whole blog post on its own)  So imagine you’ve triaged the stuff you can change, and that’s in your working queue and you’re on your way to the office feeling much more composed.  Don’t forget the last step – now you have this nagging frustration with something you wish you could redo/undo.  For this example let’s say I lead a team brainstorm session last night, and now I am worried I marginalized the concerns of one of my team members in the interest of getting to action items faster.  I’m concerned that I sent a message to the entire team that I’m not actually looking for their creative ideas, and that I’ve got my own agenda and just want them to rubber stamp it.  Ugh – these are the worst, when actions and intentions don’t line up.

    I’ve been an employee and managed people for over 10 years now, and it is a humbling thing.  I’ve resolved hundreds of conflicts, had hundreds of really difficult conversations, given and received painful but true negative feedback, and one common thread that runs though a lot of  this is a need for better appreciation on both sides of the table.  As a manager, I need to make sure I’m saying thank you often [for something meaningful and specific] and “I apologize” [and clarifying intent vs. action] occasionally (instead of never).  Its not weak to say you’re sorry.  Its honest.  Being honest is the best possible way to earn and keep the respect of the team.

    So that’s great as a manager, but what about as an employee?  The same rules apply but with a twist.  If you aren’t getting the appreciation or treatment you believe is right, you need to ask for it.  Take an active role in the relationship with your manager and let that person know how they can win your trust and respect.  Conversations like “I felt that when you said _______ you didn’t understand/appreciate/listen/etc. and that makes it difficult for me to do my job” or “I am working hard on _______ and want to make sure I’ve shown you how its make an impact against [some goal]” are awkward, but they need to happen. Especially – ESPECIALLY – in a startup with a bunch of 20-somethings who have never managed let alone been employees until 2 years ago.  This is basically “managing up”.

    I remember being a little kid and crying when my Mom told me to “go say you’re sorry to your sister for pulling her hair”.  I also remember my parents had to remind me to say thank you, and I could be really stubborn.  That kind of mystifies me now, and I see other young kids do it, but saying sorry and thank you get a lot easier now that I do them a lot more often.

    Don’t Waste a Single Moment

    I’ve seen the incredible power of time passing and the importance of the small choices we make every day.  Its crazy to realize the success or failure of a company is a collection of days and the things we decided to do or not do on those days.  But that’s it.  It really is like poker or chess – trying not to make mistakes that will undermine days, weeks, years of effort.  Trying to take our days, weeks, years and make them add up to something meaningful.  We are what we focus on.  Never have I seen this more clearly than at Twilio, where the company’s ability to focus and move toward several goals with singular determination is what makes it so formidable.  I will spend my entire life working to build companies like that, because in that environment you never feel your effort is wasted.

    Things that look like small actions can be huge in sum, and every moment is another chance to turn it all around.

    Waking up early has changed my life.  By reclaiming a couple hours a day I can take the time to be thoughtful, solitary, and answer the hardest questions.  Edit: I can also fall asleep at night (though I still struggle sometimes), knowing I have reached the physical limit of what I can achieve in a day and that I have maximized my opportunity to win. When I am unsure what is next, I can work through it with a little less pressure from the outside world.  And when I know exactly what I need to do, you will never catch up to me.


  • Daily Life,  Referly,  Startups

    Saying No

    I love saying yes.  I love helping people, and being generous with my time whenever I can.  I love being a mentor.  I love the brain dump, having my brain picked and picking others, coffee, chats, happy hour, walks around SOMA, lunch, drinks, late night drives and all the other social activities that I’ve used over the years to build relationships, dispense advice, and make memories and connections.

    I love my friends, our regular spots to eat out, drink, brunch, lunch, gossip, bitch, support each other, and hang out.

    I love my family, our regular 4th of July drunkeness around their pool, riding the horses, fireworks on the Indian reservation across the street, driving the truck to the dump and smoking a cigar with Dad, the driving range, the “golden hour” and sitting by the burn barrel appreciating the light, walking around the yard in my PJs clipping flowers for the morning table, handmade Irish soda scones.


    Guess what?  I’m not going to be doing any of this for awhile – at least for the summer while Referly is in Y Combinator and probably slowly phasing these things back into my life slowly in the next 6 to 12 months after that ends.

    I’m going to be saying no to answering long emails, writing long comments on personal blog posts, taking intros to people who want help with developer marketing and developer evangelism, giving career and startup advice, and hundreds of other things.  I’m not going to do inbox zero.  If it doesn’t relate directly to the metrics I’m driving for the company, I’m not interested.

    We both know its nothing personal.  I’ll try not to be terse about it.  Thanks for understanding.

    We’re moving to a house in Mountain View this week, and the team will be living together and cranking for the next 6 months – I’ll miss you SF but its for the best!

    (Yes, I am still advising all the companies on my AngelList profile — I have carved out dedicated time for them each month.  If you are on that list, do not fear.)

  • Referly,  Startups

    Timeline: Starting Referly Took Me Three Years

    On Monday we launched Referly, and announced we will be participating in YCombinator this summer. While this is only my second full-time week as a founder, I thought it would be fun to rummage around in my email and Github to grab a timeline of how Referly went from idea to actual company.

    As Kim-Mai Cutler of TechCrunch reported, I haven’t been particularly secretive about the idea. I’ve gone through period of active and passive engagement with this idea since October 2009, and got really serious about just this past February.


    April 2009
    Just a few weeks after starting at Twilio I was still working out of Founder’s Fund and coffee shops and living in the Travelodge in the Presidio for $49/night (I hadn’t yet moved to San Francisco from Seattle, and Kevin was still based in Beijing with Microsoft). I met my future Referly cofounder Al Abut for the first time, at the first Startup Weekend in San Francisco. We vowed we would work together someday and stayed in touch.

    October 2009 – Women 2.0 Startup Weekend SF

    In October of 2009 San Francisco hosted Women 2.0 Startup Weekend (read my recap blog post of the event).  I was invited to join a panel with Dan Martell, Jessica Livingston, Xochi Birch, and Shanna Tellerman.  Quite frankly, I was pretty starstruck – these people had built companies, written books, and launched Y Combinator — what had I done to deserve to sit next to them?  But I knew what I had done… I had participated in more Startup Weekend events than anyone there.

    As panelists our job was to walk the audience of about 150 people through the process of forming an idea, making plans, and answering some questions from the audience.  As we convened to figure out what to pitch I threw out an idea that had stuck in my mind for a month or so – affiliate for everyone.  We were down to the wire on time, no one else had another idea (and knowing myself I was probably pretty forcefully determined to my idea: Obsession) so we pitched it.  The audience had a few questions, but I’d say the reaction was a collective yawn.

    We went on to build something completely different on my team, launching Escape My Date and winning the People’s Choice award (Foodspotting was created won the event!) and even getting a little press.  I pushed the idea for Referly to the back of my mind.

    February 2010 – Leadscon Conference

    Went to support our customers and had heard a little about the lead generation industry from the year before (enough to form an idea of it and the idea for Referly) but my eyes were really opened fully for the first time. I was surprised people weren’t doing something similar to Refer.ly and shocked by how little Social Media was part of the conversation for generating business in this channel. It was surprising that it made me wonder if there way some big barrier to entry that I just didn’t know enough to see.

    June 2010 – Registered Refer.ly

    I signed up for the refer.ly domain name on Libyan Spider:

    And another chat that night with a friend from a previous startup, on the idea. Its amazing how little it has changed, and I’m actually surprised to see how confident I was that this was my future company even then!

    February 2011 – Shared First Version with Friends

    I got the first version of Referly built and shipped to about 50 friends for feedback.  In fact, I just found a screenshot of some bug reports from the lovely Liza Sperling, who has been so supportive!  This might be the only image I have of the old site.  Edit: And yes I do own fuckyeahitscales.com and used to host a lot of my side projects there.

    November 2011 – Meeting Alicia at Skimlinks

    At first I thought Skimlinks was going to be a huge competitor (I was bummed for about a week, because they are clearly kicking butt and would have been a formidable competitor), but then I realized what I wanted to build was in the consumer space and that they could be a potential partner instead.  Meeting her tipped me off — maybe the time was right for this idea.

    February 2012 – Refactoring & Redesigning Referly + Alpha Launch

    At first I just wanted to reskin Referly using Twitter Bootstrap, but my PHP skills had evolved a lot since I first wrote the app, and reviewing my previous code I found tons of bugs I couldn’t have spotted before. I decided to completely re-write it and move it from my Dreamhost box to its own instance on EC2.

    Once it was working, I got good feedback from friends and decided to start talking about it a bit more and to launch to a bigger audience.  We added about 500 people through invites at this point. People told me about Gumroad, Pinterest had drama with Skimlinks, and Facebook announced it would re-launch Beacon. The market seemed right.

    March 2012 – Applying to YCombinator

    I hadn’t really planned to apply to YCombinator when I started coding in February. I felt like I might not be a fit as a solo founder who already had some funding commitments. As the deadline approached I started to fill out the application – at first just on a whim and then more seriously.  The morning of the deadline I woke up early and quickly recorded my application video at a friend’s office. I only had time for 30 minutes of practice, then it was just cut it and send it and head off to work.

    I also made a ton of last minute edits to my YC application (which I was never very happy with) and sadly I didn’t save the text or I’d share it as well.

    April 2012 – Interviewing with & Getting Into YC

    I was very surprised to get the invitation to interview. The process of prepping for interviews and interviewing with YC is a total blur to me now, probably because I didn’t sleep much during that time – doing Twilio by day and Referly by night.  Byt the time I interviewed I had two employees on board: Alexandra Harris (who I went to middle school and high school with on Bainbridge Island) and Hudson Kelly (who I met while he was visit Silicon Valley with his college class).

    I am indebted to many YC founders who agreed to meet with me, and gave their brutally honest feedback on the product and pitch. The more skeptical they were, the better they made me – and I’d often fall asleep feeling raw but wake up feeling like I had grown thicker skin and greater wisdom overnight. I met with one every day between submitting my application and going to my interview. I think Referly developed faster in this period than at any other point.

    April 2012 – Wrapping Up at Twilio

    I love Twilio, and after spending over 3 years there building the marketing team from the ground up to 18 people, I was very passionate about making a solid transition.  We brought in two great hires: Lynda Smith from Jive to head things up as our CMO, and James Parton from Telefonica to take the reins in Europe as Director of Marketing in London.

    May 2012 – Launch

    On Monday, we launched Referly to the world on TechCrunch, AllThingsD, PandoDaily and Geekwire. Next week, the team will be full time and June 1st we move into our house in Mountain View. So in some ways, this is all brand new, but in other ways it is a continuation of something that has been an obsession of mine for quite awhile. I used to think 3 years was forever, but sometime in the last few I’ve learned a bit of patience.

    We now are a team of 5, as Kevin Morrill (my husband) agreed to join as cofounder and CTO and Al agreed to join as cofounder heading up all things design.  We’ll be moving into our house in Mountain View the first week of June.


  • Advice,  Startups

    500 Details: The Process of Mentoring Startups

    This morning I posted a link on Twitter & Facebook to How I Mentor Startups & Entrepreneurs.  After it went out, I realized it doesn’t tell the full story.  Where are the details of how this whole thing works.  I knew I’d written it down at some point, so I dug up this email I wrote to the 500 Startups list.  New personal rule: emails longer than 4 paragraphs might need to be blog posts.  Enjoy!


    As a mentor who has gotten involved in ~12 companies and ended up writing checks to 3, so far, I want to share a little about how I think about the whole process.  First of all, I love mentoring and it is one of the most rewarding things I’ve done with my free time.  Its teaching me a ton about myself, things I’m interested in that I don’t always get to think about in my day-to-day work, and I get paid back with data — either the advice I give helps the startup or it doesn’t.

    However, I don’t work with every start that approaches me.  For other startups/mentors here’s my process:

    0:  I get an inbound request/intro from a founder/startup/investor/etc. — my first question is, “can I help these folks?”.  If they have a startup in an industry or problem space that I don’t know anything about, or can’t find excitement for, or think is a dumb idea then I tactfully decline.  Those things make it impossible to become a “true believer” and every time I have gone against this I have regretted it.

    1:  I agree to meet up for coffee and find out my about the team, their vision, their execution so far, and how they think I can help them.  Usually they come to me for my broadly advertised skills in marketing, but often they find Ican help with a bunch of other stuff too.  I can usually tell if I am likely to invest in them after my first meeting, and this sets how much time I want to commit.

    2: Usually I find that there is a period at the beginning where the startup needs a lot of time and attention, and has a specific use for me as a mentor.  I like to commit to meeting a few times over the next 3 months for 2-3 hour working sessions, and if things are going well then I’ll usually write a check in the next 8-12 weeks.  If not, then I’ll usually wrap things up after the 3 month period and move on.  Some startups just stop using me, whether its because they’re busy or because I’m not helping I don’t know, but I am laissez faire about it.  If you keep asking me for my time you will get it… but don’t expect me to pursue you too much.

    3:  Writing the check.  Usually $5k and really I don’t worry about the valuation or think I’m going to get the money back (or care) - I’m paying to be at the table for the long term.  Its a way to have skin in the game.  I also have companies where I have a small % equity in return for my time… which is usually only something the really early stage ones can offer.  And yes, if one of these companies had a moderate return I would super happy — but the reality is that I’d probably just invest it in more companies (or maybe my own one day).

    4: The ongoing relationship - I block out time for my investments/mentorships on my calendar.  Sunday is my 500workday :)  I host an office hours at a local coffee shop doing 20 minute lightening mentor sessions, and I meet withstartups at their offices or at my house if they don’t have an office yet.  I work on them even when I don’t meet with them, doing research or catching up on their news.  They probably don’t even know how much I stalk them.

    And that’s how it works for me, I spend about 6 hours a week on it… so it will take me about 32 years to hit my 10,000 hours of mastery.  That’s cool, because my 58 year old self will be a really quirky and fabulous angel investor.  Here’s hoping  🙂

  • Lessons In Startup Marketing

    Close the Loop on Your SXSW Campaign & Leads in 5 Steps

    This is a followup to my post last week How to Hustle SXSW for Fun & Profit, which is part of my sporadically ongoing Lessons in Startup Marketing blog post series and its focused on what to do post-SXSW to make the most of all the hustling you’ve been doing.

    Please let me know what other followup tips you have for event marketing, and thank you for reading!


    Hello 500!  I hope your hangovers aren’t too brutal.

    I wanted to followup on my post about “How to Hustle SXSW for Fun & Profit” and make sure I also told you how I think about closing the loop on the leads and communicating internally about results, ROI, learnings, and expectations for next year. Just sat down in the airport (headed back to SF) and jotted this down, please let me know if I left out any important follow up steps that work well for you.

    Who Needs to Do This

    If you used more than $5,000 of your company’s money at SXSW you *need* to do this and be accountable for what went down.

    Why This Process Matters

    This is crucial for a bunch of reasons: it builds trust for the marketing function in your company, it recognizes the marketing team’s version of “shipping”, it increases the chances of opportunities resulting from the leads you worked so hard to collect, it sets you up to justify SXSW next year and understand the value you are getting from this event and events like it company-wide.

    Day 0 – Sleep

    After epic trips like this one, which involve getting up early, being “on” all day, and staying out late — you are going to be tired.  Rest.  Getting sick after this trip is likely, because if you hustled hard [link: ] you shook over 1,000 hands.

    Day 1 – Schedule a Post-Mortem

    This should only take 30 minutes, and should include the people who attended and those who were directly involved in planning/execution.  The post mortem with the events team can be a more private opportunity to talk through things that went wrong, and make sure to air any lingering frustrations so that you don’t bring them to the office permanently.  This isn’t a group therapy session though.  If individuals exhibited any inappropriate behavior, it is better to talk with them 1-on-1 about this.  Instead, focus on the goals of the event as a whole and the execution of each piece.

    Walk through each piece of the plan, and ask different people on your team to describe how it went, what they liked and the value they feel your company got, as well as what could have gone better.  Make a list of learnings for next year and a list of achievements to include in your email blast to the company.

    Day 2 – Distribute an Event Recap (Internally)

    While its still fresh on your mind write a recap for yourself, and then send it to your team (or entire company).  Make sure to show through stories how high impact the event was and also how much work it was – for those who stayed home and might resent not getting to go.  Make sure to thank people by name individually and call them out for specific contributions.  Remember, they worked extremely hard for you 14-16 hours each day and you want them to feel valued.  They’re also likely to be the same people who will attend SXSW with you next year.

    Its also helpful to be transparent and to share learnings company-wide, but don’t turn it into a laundry list of things that went wrong.  Inevitably things went wrong (I definitely have a list from our trip this year) but focus on just one or two keys things that had valuable lessons attached to them.

    Make sure to call out conversations you had that have a lot of value, opportunities that arose spontaneously, unexpected wins, and how your brand was received.  Had people heard of you before?  Did they have a positive impression?  What were the most common questions?  What was the elevator pitch that worked best?  How did you change your interpersonal style to adapt throughout the event?  Who did you feel you connected best with?  Encourage your team to reflect on the same.

    Day 3 – Send a Followup Marketing Email (Externally)

    Take all the email addresses on every business card, all the emails from your party RSVP list, and any other contacts you made and send a big email blast thanking them for spending their time with you and giving your company some of their precious attention at SXSW.  If you are getting a high volume of leads I hope you are using a CRM like Saleforce, or even a marketing automation and lead scoring tool like Pardot (we use both at Twilio) to capture and organize leads and associate them with a source.  It will be amazing to see exactly the $ amount in opportunities and revenue these leads have accumulated 6 months from now, and this is ultimately the most objective way to justify the trip.

    This email can be pretty HTML or just plain text – the most important thing is SEND IT WHILE SXSW IS STILL FRESH IN PEOPLE’S MINDS.  I know you are tired, but if you wait 2 or 3 weeks to send it then you are losing permission to contact these people.  Ideally, you should be ready to send this email by Thursday March 15th… and probably actually send it the following Monday morning at 8am PST.

    What should be in this email? Keep it simple, include some pictures if you have anything extraordinary to share, and focus on the person you met and how they can continue to build a relationship with your brand.  Provide only ONE link / call to action for them to click on.  This could be something like claiming a promotional code, viewing a more in depth blog post, entering a contest, whatever.  The key is to have just one and keep it focused around that.

    Day 4 – Finalize Your Accounting

    Invariably you spent additional money on food and booze, and this year things like ponchos and umbrellas were definitely on our list.  Take an account of all costs and finalize your total into a single Keynote slide, breaking out the line items.

    Day 5 – Be Accountable

    Make a 4 slide deck which includes:

    • Overview of activities and their total reach (# leads collected)
    • Accomplishments & Learnings
    • Final Budget slide
    • Callouts for each person in the team and their contributions

    This is how you will start the conversation next year about SXSW and whether you should go, what you should do, how much you should spend, etc.  You’ll be able to update these slides with ROI information as the leads you generated start converting into opportunities and revenue.  Send it to your senior management team (at least CEO & CTO if not more).

    You’re done.  Next big event for me is Salesforce’s Cloudstock on March 15th in San Francisco – hope to see you there along with 3000 developers!

  • Advice,  Events,  Lessons In Startup Marketing,  Startups

    How to Hustle SXSW for Fun & Profit

    This is a copy/paste of an email I sent to 500 Startups Founders & Mentors email distros.  Another reason why you should join our program – I will fill your inbox with swear words and unsolicited advice.  Enjoy!

    Thank you so much to everyone who voted this up on Hacker News, where it spent 3 hours in the #1 position and more than 12 hours on the front page.  This post has now officially beat out How I Built a Multi-User Door Buzzer for our Apartment, with over 8,000 unique pageviews in the last 12 hours.

    This is the email where you all find out I am a hyper-socially sensitive (if you didn’t already notice) and have an incredibly intense meta level dialogue going on in my brain during every social interaction.  Basically, it is my super power.

    SXSW is upon us I want to share with you some tactics and strategies for having fun and hustling hardcore at this event.  This is a jumping off point for conversation, because I have spoken to several entrepreneurs with various fears/concerns/questions about SXSW.  This does not cover everything, it got really long and I wanted to get off my soapbox and have a beer.

    Before I forget

    Save my number in your cell 425-698-7497 DANIELLE MORRILL (I know, a lot of double letters) —- TEXT me when you are at SXSW and we can hang out!  I roll in the Twiliomobile (like “Batmobile”, not the mobile version of Twilio, see pics a the end of this post) version 3 (although I will not be hand painting it this year) and I love breakfast burritostacos.  I also have access to a lot of interesting activities off the beaten path, so if you happen to find me you might consider saying, “hey Danielle, where are you going next?  Can I come?”  If the car is not full, the answer is YES.

    Prepping your calendar

    Don’t fucking do it.  At least not in the way everyone else seems to.  Here is what is going to happen.  You are going to think you are being a front of the class kind of kid and spend PRECIOUS HOURS carefully picking through events, judiciously adding what you perceive to be highest value to your calendar and RSVPing for those event.  And guess what — BOOOOM! — the magical serendipity of SXSW is going to screw it all up.

    Instead, put EVERYTHING on your calendar so you know what ALL your options are, RSVP for EVERYTHING (yes I use an intern to do this — get one athttp://www.internmatch.com #500strong) or use getwillcall.com/sxsw also #500strong.  If there is something you absolutely have to be at, like an event your company is hosting/sponsoring then make it a different color.  But if you are the CEO/most senior person going and you have a team there then *tell them you will not be there every moment*.  They will live, and if you are less stressed about getting there in time you will hustle better.

    Prepare like a soccer mom on crack

    So you aren’t going to plan your calendar beyond knowing all the options, but that doesn’t mean you can throw all planning out the window.  You need to treat yourself and the team like athletes.  Anything that could keep them from finishing the game/series/season is a problem.  I rent an SUV (getting 2 this year – covering them with vinyl decal branded stuff) and fill it with supplies for me and for the people in the Twilio community.  This includes bottled water, granola bars and other fast snacks (don’t do chocolate bars or candy – it melts in the Texas heat), and First Aid kits.

    First Aid is REALLY REALLY REALLY important (you can buy a standard kit at Walmart)!  I took an attendee of one of our events to the hospital, he sliced his foot open climbing off the bus and needed 10 stitches!  Did it ruin the event/day/trip?  Hell NO!  I got to spend an hour with one of our newest community members stuck in Austin traffic, trying to come up with things to distract him from how much blood he’d lost — we keep in touch, and I can’t wait to spend time with him this year.

    Your game face

    Okay fast forward and we’re in Austin now.  Repeat after me, “I am more hardcore than you” – hold this in your mind for a minute and feel a little competivie adrenaline rush.  This is the web marketing Olympics and its time to play ball.

    If you have ever played sports, team or otherwise, or crushed nerd face in StarCraft II like I do every Sunday then I want you to imagine getting and keeping your game face on for 5-7 days.  For those of you without these experiences, imagine how you feel trying to get out of San Francisco after a Giants game win.

    You have 3 game faces you will need to master:

    1. Company Figurehead (external facing) – You are repping your company 24/7, so whatever public persona you have or are developing needs to be in top form.  My recommendation: set the bar low.  For me, this means rarely wearing makeup, speak in plain English, and share exactly what I think without (too much) self-editing.  Again YMMV, but you are going to get stuck with this persona you created so think about it.
    2. Mercenary for the Leads / Missionary for the Brand – why the hell are you even going to SXSW (I probably should have started this email out with this) — to GET SOME leads.  Make this fun if you can, what I did last year with a team of 6 was to make a competition with daily prizes and overall prizes for most business cards, most Twitter engagement, and other *measure-able* things.  Measureable is key.  I gave out the prizes and announced the new challenge at breakfast each day, and each person gave a recap on cool people they met.   The order of magnitude for the challenge: MINIMUM 100 business cards per day (usually you’ll get 20 – 30% high quality leads).  This is totally DOABLE, don’t let anyone tell you it is not.
    3. Fearless Leader (internal facing) – your team is looking to you both for guidance and approval (always), don’t forget how important this is in an exhausting and stressful situation.  Make sure to praise things they are doing well but also to give quick, straightforward, helpful feedback if you see things that are slipping.

    If you need supplies, get to the grocery on day one with the team and make it happen.  Go to Walmart like we did last year (its on the way from the airport to downtown Austin) and buy up all the chalk, bubbles, glitter, and other fun cheap awesomeness you can.  Not sure how you’ll use it yet?  You’ll find a way.  Then take your team to eat a solid meal, probably the best one they will get and the one they will enjoy the most because they won’t be ready to fall asleep with their face in their plates.  Have a toast, make it count, this is an exciting moment.

    Mind like water

    Stress.  It’s going to happen because you’ll wake up Thursday and plans will constantly fall through, and you will be forced to be “on” 24/7 in person (which is much harder than online) for several days back to back.  You need to at least try to have a mind like water.  I am a Type A on a level that generates panic attacks so let me tell you other type As out there – forget the fucking details.  This is going to be a shit show organizationally — this about it like you are planning for a natural disaster and embrace the chaos, or you will be miserable.

    Mind like water = “oh cool, there’s another party down the street? let’s check it out”
    Mind like water = “looks like the wifi here is making our product demo impossible, lets get a beer and try again later”
    Mind NOT like water = “oh shit this is a nightmare, who forgot to ship the tshirts, you are all fired”
    Mind NOT like water = “why are you drinking, its 10pm on a Saturday but you are supposed to be WORKING!!!!!!!!!111111”

    You get the idea…

    You need a mind like water to work a room, to put up with the constant change, to understand that everyone else is also trying to adapt to this strange environment.  You need a mind like water so that you won’t be totally burned out at the end of the trip, or damage relationships.  But mostly you need a mind like water because once you let go a little bit it is extremely FUN.

    Okay, I hear everyone gets drunk at SXSW

    If you are going to get ridiculously drunk, and especially if you are considering using substances that the United States considers illegal, PLEASE DON’T WEAR YOUR COMPANY TSHIRT.  It is every PR person’s nightmare.  Please just no.

    Getting drunk at SXSW is deceptively easy, because if you are hitting nonstop events from noon to 2am and having 1 drink per 90 minutes (and are a lightweight like me) you are going to feel like shit by 10pm.  YMMV, but I did SXSW on a 2 drink per day rule last year and felt massively better.  One exception: if you are the host/MC of an event take 1-2 shots of tequila/vodka right before things kick off.  I do this with my team, and it really does help chill out the nerves around a massive event.  We hosted 800 people at Pure Volume house, with 2 VIP rooms and 2 signed bands on stage — to say I was freaking out abou the line wrapped about the building and the angry requests re: “the list” (from Type A people who planned ahead no doubt!) — so I needed it.

    Designated drivers = do it, take it seriously.  Love your team and protect them.  Make sure they drink water.  Even if that means sitting together on the curb til 4am because no one is sober.  Do it together, life is too short.

    Sleep & Hangovers

    You best be getting out of bed by 9am and taking your team to breakfast every day chief, this is your army – feed them, cloth them, inspire them.  If you still have the hangover shakes at 1pm you are doing it wrong.  (See: substances)

    Doing Deals at SXSW

    Pick a single day, pick an expensive bar, camp out at a table, make friends with the staff.  Don’t spread your stuff all over or it will be obvious you’ve been there all day.  You’re just the guy who happened to get there early for every single meeting, as far as the person meeting with you knows.  Expensive is relative if you are not drinking much, but it keeps the place from being loud or crowded.  The nice bar in the Hilton right across from the Convention Center always has tables because they charge $15 for a glass of wine — its PERFECT.

    Tell your team what day is your deal day (I pick Sunday – because you will have time to fill the funnel) and cherry pick people from their business cards that you want to meet and call/text them to introduce yourself and set up a time.  You invite, you pay.

    It’s going to cost maybe $300 for the day if you have a table from 11am – 6pm and take 10 meetings — ~45 min apeice — at $30 each.  If you can’t afford this (you probably should have stayed home: “I am more hardcore than you”) then invite people to meet you at other events OR invite them to the VIP section of your own events.  However, events are not where you close deals (unless you are Dave McClure).  Events are for lead gen.

    If you spend $300 and have a 10% success rate from those 10 meetings then I am guessing you will recoup your cost.  Have > 10% success rate!!!

    —– end email

    Twiliomobile 2010

    Twiliomobile 2011