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Opinion Editorials

Is a startup’s funding status a valid metric for success? Hint: no

(OPINION EDITORIAL) Funding sounds impressive, but is it really indicative of where you stand in the market place?

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cash money

How would you measure it?

Allow me a moment to rant, but I’m worried that a startup’s funding status is now the metric for “success.” I ask myself, has the world become so IPO-centric, that anything short of that isn’t an indicator of success? Why aren’t we measuring success by P&L statements?

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To that end, I ask you to consider that instead of one’s funding status being the meal ticket to another level, it seems to me it’s just one of several signs that someone feels they can make money off you. In other words, while it’s true that raising capital means a select few believe in your potential, by no means does it mean you have a guaranteed success on your hands.

It’s academic really, and just scratches the surface in terms of how successful you are (or aren’t). It is certainly a viable method of growth and nothing to be bashed, but aspiring entrepreneurs often think it’s just free money that falls from the sky, or a badge of honor. Let’s dig into that.

The top ten – really?

According to a recent study, the top ten US startup cities last year were: Silicon Valley, New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, Seattle, Austin, Atlanta, Denver/Boulder and last but not least Philadelphia. Now as with any list, you can argue how valid it is. Any list can be manipulated or skewed in order to support one’s particular agenda. In this case, MacPherson’s argument is that the Big Apple is growing by leaps and bounds as seen by – here we go again – the amount of seed money being thrown around by investors.

But again I ask you, is the criteria valid?

Inc postulates on “5 Metrics That Don’t Measure Startup Success” and funding/capital raise is at the top of the list.

Smoke and mirrors

I concur, by the way, that NYC is on fire in terms of startup success. But I also feel that achievement owes itself to a number of attractive variables, and not all of them equate to money. Some other over-used metrics to consider:

How many people you’ve hired
The more people you hire, the more successful you are, right? Not really. Could be you’re just really ineffective in personnel management.

How many users you have
What matters at the end of the day is how many customers you have, how happy they are, and how often they use your product.

Customers pay you. Users don’t. Another often useless metric.

Where you’re selling
So you’ve opened a hundred stores and your product’s on thousands of shelves. As great as that sounds, it doesn’t mean you’re adding more customers. The more stores you have, the higher the risk that your inventory won’t sell.

If you’re unprofitable in one store, adding more won’t turn it into a healthier business.

The top ten [again]

The fact that the startup landscape is expanding beyond the Silicon Valley takes nothing away from the Valley. Heck, the playing field is big enough for everyone.

For example, our own COO opines that Austin’s identity is not popped collars and IPOs – success is seen in the margins.

Did your company make more than you spent this year? Did you coldly lay off a division and then pop champagne?

Austin is one city (and I am not from Austin by the way, just calling it like I see it and AG is headquartered there) that seems to distinguish itself by performance, not funding status.

I tend to think a lot of other up-and-coming cities should follow the same mantra.

#StartupSuccess

Nearly three decades living and working all over the world as a radio and television broadcast journalist in the United States Air Force, Staff Writer, Gary Picariello is now retired from the military and is focused on his writing career.

Opinion Editorials

Before you quit your job, ask yourself these 5 questions

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) Frustrated at work? Here are 5 ideas utilizing design thinking and exploration tactics to assess if you really are ready to quit your job.

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Man reclining on beanbag with laptop, thoughtful. Considering tactics before you quit your job.

We have all been there. We are in a job that just doesn’t feel right for us. Maybe we strongly dislike our manager or even our day to day work responsibilities. We find it easy to blame everyone else for everything we dislike. We question life and ask “Is this what life is all about? Shouldn’t I be spending my time doing something I am more passionate about?” But, we probably like the regular paycheck… Thus, we stay there and possibly become more miserable by the day. Some of us may even start to feel physical symptoms of headaches, stomach aches, and possibly depression. We also may go to the internet like this person seeking answers and hoping someone else can tell us what to do:

“I feel conflicted but I want to quit my job. What should I do?

I was thinking of quitting my job because I dislike what I do, and I feel I am underpaid.

However last week my colleague tendered her resignation too. Needless to say, if I leave too, my whole department will fall into a larger mess and that causes some feelings of conflict within me.

Should my colleague quitting affect when I want to leave too? How do I go about quitting now?”

We can definitely empathize with this – it’s really uncomfortable, sometimes sad, and hard to be in a position where we feel we are underpaid and we aren’t happy.

So, how can you navigate a situation like this? How do you figure out if you should just quit your job? How can you be an adult about this?

Here are some exploratory questions, ideas, and some design thinking activities to help you answer this question for yourself.

  • Before you up and quit, assuming you don’t yet have your next opportunity lined up, have you considered asking for a raise – or better yet, figure out how you add value to the organization? Would your supervisor be willing to move you in to a new role or offer additional compensation?
  • If you don’t have a job lined up, do you have the recommended AT LEAST six months of living expenses in your savings account? Some would recommend that you have even more during a global pandemic where unemployment is at an all-time high – it may take longer to find a new position.
  • Do you have a safety net of family or friends that are willing and able to help you with your bills if you don’t have your regular paycheck? Would you be willing to put that burden on them so you can quit your job?
  • Why aren’t you job searching if you are unhappy? Is it because the task seems daunting and the idea of interviewing right now makes you want to puke?
  • What would your ideal job be and what would it take for you to go for it?

Many people claim they don’t like their job but they don’t know what to do next or even worse, don’t know what they WANT to do. To offer a little bit of tough love here: Well, then, that’s your job to figure it out. You can go on Reddit all you want, but no one else can tell you what is right for you.

Here are some ways to explore what may be an exciting career move for you or help you identify some areas that you need to learn more about in order to figure out where work will align with your skills, interests, and passions.

  1. Consider ordering the Design Your Life Workbook that provides writing prompts to help you figure out what it is that you are looking for in a job/career. You may also like the book Designing Your Work Life which is about “How to Thrive and Change and Find Happiness at Work”.
  2. Utilize design thinking to answer some of your questions. Make a diamond shape and in each of the four corners, write out the “Who” you want to be working with, “What” you’d like to be doing, “Where” you’d like to be, and “Why” you want to be there or doing that kind of work.
  3. Conduct informational interviews with people doing work that you think you might be interested in. Usually these conversations give you lots of interesting insights and either a green light to pursue something or validation that maybe that role isn’t right for you either.
  4. Get your resume updated. Sometimes just dusting off your resume, updating it, and making it ready gives you a feeling of relief that if you did really want to pursue a new job, you are almost ready. Consider updating your LinkedIn profile as well.
  5. Explore what you can do differently. A lot of what we can be frustrated about can be related to things out of our control. Consider exploring ways to work better with your team or how to grow to become invaluable. Tune in to Lindsey Pollak’s podcast, The Work Remix, where she gives great ideas on how to navigate working in current times where there are five generations in the workplace. There may be ways you need to adjust your communication style or tune in to emotional intelligence on how to better work with your supervisor or employees. Again, focus on what is within your control.

You may decide that you need to quit your job to be able to focus your energy on finding a better fit for you. But at the same time, be realistic. Most of us have to work to live. Everyone has bills, so you may continue working while you sort out some of the other factors to help you find a more exciting prospect. Either way, wishing you all the best on this journey, and the time and patience to allow you to figure it out.

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Opinion Editorials

How to increase website engagement

(EDITORIAL) A website is vital to any business, but customer engagement guarantees success. Check out these powerful tips to boost engagement.

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Having a website for your business isn’t enough. If you want to grow your company, you need to maximize this digital asset by increasing user engagement. The question is, where do you begin?

What does healthy website engagement look like?

Launching a website is one of the quintessential first steps in building a business. It’s a new company’s way of saying, “We’ve arrived! See, we’re legit!” But the problem is that very few entrepreneurs and business owners know anything about building websites. So they use a drag-and-drop web builder to throw a few elements together and develop a site in a few hours.

Simply having a website isn’t enough. If it’s only a placeholder for your brand, you’re missing out on an opportunity to reach people and move them from awareness to purchase. You don’t need a website – you need an engaging website.

What is user engagement?

“Put most simply, user engagement is when visitors to your site appreciate your content enough to stick around, absorb, and convert,” web design and UX optimizer Rob Wells writes. “Most importantly, when user engagement is high, you’ll find that your audience becomes more loyal. You’ll notice more return visits and higher conversions, because your website simply works.”

Signs of high user engagement include reading and absorbing content, organic comments on blog posts, social media shares, watching videos, above average time on site, high click-through rates, and low bounce rates. We’ll tell you more about how to achieve these “wins’ in the following section.

5 Tips for Boosting Engagement

Every website developer, marketing guru, and entrepreneur has their own formula for boosting engagement, but there are a few tactics that everyone can agree on. If you want to see immediate results, start by doing the following:

    1. Make it About Your Target Audience: Too many businesses make the mistake of shaping their marketing messages around themselves. They mistakenly assume that customers care about them, when the truth of the matter is that customers only care about themselves.If you want to boost engagement on your website, start by transforming your messaging. Make it about your audience. Make the customer the hero of their own story. You’re just there to guide them along and point to solutions (products and services) that may help them get from where they are now to where they want to be.
    2. Tell Stories: Cut out the sterile corporate lingo and breathe a little life into your copy. Mission statements are lame. Tell stories!The Ward & Barnes, P.A. website is a perfect example of how storytelling can cause engagement to soar. They actually include client stories, testimonials, and quotes on their homepage. This helps visitors connect with the brand and immediately establish a feeling of trust and goodwill.
    3. Eliminate Distractions: “According to research by Google, people judge websites as beautiful or not within 1/50th to 1/20th of a second,” Website Magazine notes. “Perhaps even more interesting is the fact that visually complex websites are consistently rated as less beautiful than simpler sites.”Stop with the complex websites and sophisticated designs. You’re not a web design company – there’s no need for all of these bells and whistles! Eliminate distractions and simplify every page to one specific focal point. Anything more means you’re actually competing against yourself.
    4. Empower Your CTAs: Every page on your website should have a call-to-action (CTA). And when creating these CTAs, always ask yourself one simple question: “Why would anyone click this?”If you’re asking for an email address or sale without providing clear and direct value in return, you’re missing the point. You have to compel people to follow through.One of the best ways to empower your CTAs is to offer something in return – like a free eBook, a discount code, or a product sample. When there’s an enticing reward, people will be much more likely to follow through.
    5. Go Visual: The brain processes visuals much faster than text. Use this to your advantage by integrating visual content into your website. This means video, graphics, and original images. Skip the stock photos! However, don’t overdo it. Remember to keep it simple and avoid unnecessary distractions. Quality over quantity works every time.

Turn your website into a lead generating asset

Transform your website from a branded placeholder into a powerful, lead generating asset that procures leads, and converts them from curious visitors into profitable lifelong customers. This process can take time, but you have to begin somewhere. Start by leveraging the tips in this article and analyzing the data. Based on the numbers, you can optimize, iterate, and improve over time.

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Opinion Editorials

Improve UX design by tracking your users’ eye movements

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) Research shows that the fastest way to determine user behavior and predict their response is by watching their eyesight. Use this data to improve your UX design.

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UX design being created by a designer on a laptop.

By design, an ice cream truck is meant to entice. It is colorful, stupidly loud with two whole songs from the 30s (usually off key because no one is left alive who can service those bells), and lots of colorful stickers that depict delicious frozen treats that look nothing like reality. If you need an off model Disney character that already looks a little melted even when frozen, look no further.

This is design in action – the use of clever techniques to drive engagement. Brightly colored decor and the Pavlovian association of hearing The Sting in chirpy little ding dings is all working together to encourage sales and interaction.

These principles work in all industries, and the tech sector has devoted entire teams, agencies, companies, groups, and departments to the study of User Experience (UX) explicitly to help create slick, usable applications and websites that are immediately understandable by users. Tools to improve utility exist by measuring user behavior, with style guides and accepted theories preached and sang and TED-talked all over.

The best way to check behavior is to observe it directly, and options to check where someone clicks has proven invaluable in determining how to improve layouts and designs. These applications are able to draw a heat map that shows intensified red color in areas where clicks congregate the most. An evolution of this concept is to watch eyesight itself, allowing developers a quicker avenue to determining where a user will most likely go. Arguably the shortest path between predicting response, this is one of the holy grails of behavioral measurement. If your eyes can be tracked, your cursor is likely to follow.

UX design can benefit greatly from this research as this article shows. Here’s some highlights:

Techwyse completed a case study that shows conversion on landing pages is improved with clear call-to-action elements. Users will focus on objects that stand out based on position, size, bright colors, or exaggerated fonts. If these design choices are placed on a static, non-interactive component, a business will lose a customer’s interest quickly, as their click is meant with no response. This quickly leads to confusion or abandonment. Finding where a person is immediately drawn to means you should capitalize on that particular piece with executable code. Want it boiled down? Grocery stores put Cheetos front and center, because everyone want them thangs.

Going along with this, Moz found that search results with attractive elements – pictures and video – are given much more attention than simple text. We are visually inclined creatures, and should never undervalue that part of our primal minds. Adding some visual flair will bring attention, which in turn can be leveraged usefully to guide users.

Here’s an interesting study – being that we are social animals, follow the gaze of others. If you’ve ever seen kittens watching a game of ping pong, they are in sync and drawn to the action. Similarly, if we notice someone look to the left, we instinctively want to look left as well. While this sounds very specific, the idea is simple – visual cues can be optimized to direct users where to focus.

The Nielsen Group says we look at things in an F pattern. I just think that’s funny, or at least a funny way to describe it. We follow from left-to-right (just like we read, and as websites are laid out using techniques first developed for newspapers, it naturally makes sense that we’d do the same). Of course, cultural or national differences arise here – right-to-left readers need the opposite. Always be sure to keep your target audience in mind.

Of course, there are several other findings and studies that can further promote idealistic layout and design, and it should always be the goal of designers to look to the future and evaluate trends. (Interestingly, eye tracking is the first option on this list!)

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