BC

Chartbeat: Real Time Analytics for the Publishing World

photo 1While Boston was getting pounded by snow, I had the opportunity to head a little ways south where I got to visit NYC analytics startup Chartbeat.  My hosts were Account Executive and BC Alum Andrew Oddo and Head of Talent Cat Hernandez.  The company itself creates sleek dashboards and monitoring tools that help publishing companies visualize in real time what stories, topics, and key words are performing best at any given moment.  The immediacy of the information and insights allows its customers to act upon it in real time to tweak headlines or social stories and see real time results.  The companies tools also help to build a social strategy and the company is constantly evolving to find new ways to help its customers.  I had the opportunity to tour the offices and to see some of the dashboards in action.  Not only were they useful and intuitive, but the design was super sleek and eye friendly…just seeing them made me want to buy the product!  It is no wonder that even though the company is still a relatively young startup, it boasts a customer base that includes many of the biggest names in publishing including Time, NBC Universal, and Forbes.

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Even cooler than the products themselves, however, is the company’s culture.  Like most startups, the company is young and positive on the whole, it has the obligatory games and kitchen, and of course its people are entrepreneurial.  What really struck me, however, was the description of the company as having a Learning culture.  Just about every company wants employees to learn of course, but these guys really live and breathe that mantra.  They try to move people into new positions outside their comfort zones, and encourage the pursuit of interests even if they are outside of the person’s normal functional role.  When it comes to learning, Chartbeat puts its money where its mouth is, or at least where its office is.  Located directly above the Strand Bookstore, employees are just an elevator ride away from 18 miles of books where they can spend the $30/month the company gives them specifically for reading material.

It’s always great to meet fellow Eagles doing cool things in the Tech space and I am grateful to Andrew and Cat for hosting me at Chartbeat.  Check them out http://www.chartbeat.com.  Not only do they do really cool stuff but they are growing like crazy!

David LoVerme is a 2nd Year MBA at Boston College and the President of the Grad Tech Club

Lessons from a VC and a Founder

Meeting with a Tech recruiter in NYC last week, I was given the advice to monitor where VCs were investing in looking for potential employers.  I was reminded that one of the world’s leading VCs, Spark Capital co-Founder Bijan Sabet resides right in my backyard.  It’s moments like those that remind me how lucky I am to be at BC, because today I had the opportunity to spend an hour with Bijan and Runkeeper founder and CEO Jason Jacobs as they visited the Undergrad TechTrek Class.  As with Rent the Runway and Bain Capital at Cyberposium, it was fascinating to hear the story of the initial Runkeeper investment from both the Entrepreneur and VC perspectives.  As I have come to expect from anything Professor John Gallaugher organizes, the event was a veritable firehose of knowledge.  Jason shared his experiences in starting a company without a Technical cofounder, scaling a business, and the ups and downs of running a consumer startup in Boston.  Bijan talked about what he looks for in founders, Bitcoin and the TV industry, and how to approach reunions.  While I highly recommend any opportunity to hear these guys speak, I have included some of the key takeaways I found most interesting below.  Please note, however, that these come from my notes and are not direct quotes.

Runkeeper

Runkeeper’s Jason Jacobs

  • On Consumer Products: The key is to remove the friction and add some magic.
  • The biggest blessing of running a startup is also the biggest curse.  In a normal company you can work like an owner, do twice as much as anyone else, and maybe get 10% more.  A startup is a neverending firehouse of knowledge and opportunity.  The rewards are there but the more you do, the more things need addressing.
  • On Culture and Scaling Up:
    • Runkeeper might actually have waited too long to define values.  As the company scales, the stresses increase and you need to keep reinventing the leadership team.  Some people will be scared of bringing in new members but the key is to keep the focus on growing the company and keep people who prioritize that.
    • We are in the middle of a business school case.  The first half is already written and there are two possible endings.  We have to do everything we can to choose the right one.
  • On starting a company without a Technical Co-Founder: When you are dropped into foreign territory, the rulebook goes out the window and its all about survival.  Jason was singularly focused on product evangelism.  Ideas aren’t the key, its the execution.  You have to do anything and everything you can to make it work, tell everybody and force accountability on yourself.  Jason even ran the Boston Marathon dressed as an iPhone.  As Bijan put it, he “willed Runkeeper to happen!”

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Spark Capital’s Bijan Sabet

  • On what impresses him:
    • We are drawn to areas where traditional gatekeepers are no longer needed.  We look for disruptive technologies that draw us to the edges.
    • At the earliest stages, its less about growing the user base and more about compacting it and making a small subset really happy.
    • The thing we look for is the “why.”  Why is the founder starting this company?
    • I value Founder, Product, and Mission more than I value Market, Model, and Team.
    • I ask myself, “would I want to work for this company?”
  • On Venture Capital Firms:
    • Imagine running a company with five CEOs, sounds dysfunctional, but its intentional dysfunction.  We don’t make a move unless everyone is excited.
    • I’m more “on demand” than “push”.  My job is to help my entrepreneurs find true north, not to prescribe a step by step approach.
  • On Bitcoin: As an alternative currency it probably isn’t capturing its full value but as a protocol for facilitating payment, that’s what we are excited about.
  • On TV industry: TV Ads are an $80B/yr industry but half of US households own a dvr and we know social engagement peaks during prime time.  People aren’t paying attention to ads and something is going to break.
  • On scaling a company: Every company hits some turbulence during scaling, its normal.  If you go through adolescence without getting a pimple, that’s weird.
  • On college reunions: I was a computer geek who married a cheerleader, I make sure I go to every reunion!

David LoVerme is a 2nd Year MBA at Boston College and the President of the Grad Tech Club

A Zillion Things Home (And the Data Behind It)

Last week, I was lucky enough to join BC’s Grad Tech Club on their visit to Wayfair. I was excited for the office visit for a few reasons. First, it was due to Wayfair’s unanimous rank as one of the best places to work for. Because of that, I have been keeping a keen eye on their job board for any potentially openings. I wanted to get a good sense for the culture and work environment before submitting an application. Prior to BC, I worked in a very early stage startup in San Francisco’s SOMA district at a shared workspace with several other startups. After working in an environment like that, it’s hard to me to think about going back to a strictly corporate office environment. Wayfair, although now a public company with thousands of employees, they have somehow managed to maintain the vibe of a startup. It was incredible walking around. They have maintained the culture and environment of their early days while growing into a billion dollar company. After our visit and seeing what they were about and what really drives them, I’m 100% going to apply for a job at Wayfair and would be thrilled at the opportunity to work there.

Taking a tour of Wayfair's offices with other members of the GgradTech Club.

Taking a tour of Wayfair’s offices with other members of the GradTech Club.

At first glance, I wasn’t sure what to think of Wayfair. I certainly wouldn’t consider myself a home furnishings enthusiast, so was weary at the thought of working behind a product or business that I wasn’t sure I could get 100% behind. But we had a chance to sit down with BC alum David Aaron and his colleague Chris Roe who really broke down the business intelligence and data science that really gives them a competitive advantage. I saw, firsthand, that the passion David and Chris have is not necessarily for home furnishings, but rather for understanding and predicting user needs and behavior. They are 100% behind their work and their enthusiasm was obvious. Combined with their talent and that of the rest of the Wayfair crew, this passion for data is clearly what has driven Wayfair to be at the forefront of ecommerce analytics, giving them a clear competitive advantage.

I’m thankful to Grad Tech for not only allowing me a sneak peek into working at such an awesome company, but also for giving a rare peak under the hood of a thriving company. It’s a unique experience that we MBAs have access to, and I encourage others to take advantage of future BC Tech Club outings.

-Emmett Shipman is a 2nd Year MBA at Boston College and a member of the Grad Tech Club

Digital Marketing Experiment 2: Marketing on LinkedIn

Having had some success driving traffic to our site using Facebook Ads, we decided to target LinkedIn for our next experiment.  As a professional social network, LinkedIn has significant information about education, work history, and industry that could help us target BC Alumni in the Technology Space.  Our goal with this campaign, therefore, was to find decision makers in this space, and bring them to the Alumni Central landing page of our site.  From this page, they can learn more about how to help the club including checking out the Hire an Eagle profiles, following us on social media, and even signing up to be a resource.  All in all, we expected that LinkedIn would provide a great opportunity for us to learn a new channel and gain some significant alumni exposure in the process.

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Initial Experience

In beginning the process, the first thing I noticed was that the flows to set up an ad do not make for a great user experience.  It was not immediately apparent to me how to get started, and when I did get on the right track I ran into issues uploading images and making edits that required backtracking.  Despite this, however, I eventually got the ad set up how I wanted it proclaiming “Help out an MBA at BC!” and directing them to our Alumni Central page to find out how.  Once the content was written, I moved on to setting up the parameters.  LinkedIn requires you to set a minimum budget of $10 per day.  The lowest I could set my max bid for impressions was $5.73 should anyone click the ad.  This was not particularly well explained, so it took some time to figure out the settings.  With a total budget of just $50, I was worried that we would exhaust our funds very quicky and with only a few folks clicking through to our site.  While some clicks were better than none, my expectations were that we would only get a few visits to our site and even fewer responses to our contact form.

The Ad in Action

As it turns out, my fears about burning through our whole budget immediately were misplaced.  Despite a target audience of more than 6000 individuals, we only got 3 impressions over the course of a month, none of which resulted in any clicks.  As a result, the campaign was costless for us, but it was also resultsless.

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Adjusting

My first indication that something was wrong came in email form from LinkedIn, where the Ads Optimization email showed a whole lot of zeroes.  Despite the name of the email, however, the only guidance given was a suggestion to widen the audience.  This begged the questions of how much and who to include?  Widening the audience would mean making tradeoffs regarding target industries or the level of decision-making power.  At the end of the day, the tradeoffs simply didn’t seem worth it and the user experience was not pleasant enough to continue.  Instead, I shifted my strategy to personally post in a number of BC related alumni groups.  Theoretically, the exposure would be less as alumni would only see the post when in the group as opposed to it appearing whenever they browsed, but in practice, BC’s active alumni presence actually led to wider exposure, and organic visits to our site.  Four alums even signed up to help out the club.

Key Takeaways

While we had high hopes for LinkedIn ads, it turns out they were not a great choice for our purposes.  With a small budget, and less experience in the realm of social marketing, the constraints and user experience made it difficult for us to launch a useful campaign.  Likewise, the reporting and optimization insights are far from prescriptive.  Overall, it seems that LinkedIn advertising might be useful for companies with experienced digital marketers and high budgets, but that smaller bootstrapped organizations such as our own are better off using the organic channels that LinkedIn provides such as groups and stories.

Up Next: Targeted Tweets!

David LoVerme is a 2nd Year MBA at Boston College and the President of the Grad Tech Club

Some Initial Thoughts on Landing a Job at a Startup

Our own Bobby Gooch shares his thoughts on landing a job at a startup!

Unstructured Data

Trying to get work at a startup has become a popular goal for a lot of people in today’s job market. And for good reason: small technology companies tend to attract smart, motivated people and allow you to do work that can actually have a pretty significant impact on the business. But how do you go about getting a job at a company like this, especially with little to no background in coding? While there is no definitive, step-by-step process, I hope my experiences can give you a bit of an idea of how you may want to go about trying to get a job at a startup. I’m planning to do a couple of posts on this; here’s number one:

First, a little background on me: I spent 3 years working at a fin-tech company where I learned the basics of SQL. I’m now finishing up business school while…

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2014 Annual Report

Dear Grad Techers, Alumni, Friends, and Supporters:

It is with pride that I look back at the past semester for the Grad Tech Club.  In less than four months, we have accomplished a ton, always toward furthering our mission of equipping our members with the knowledge and skills necessary for success in the tech industry, raising the overall profile of the BC MBA program within Tech, and getting our members hired!

Toward the first goal of building hands on skills we have had several initiatives.  Each Friday, MBAs led by GradTech VP Kori Kenerson, plug away at CodeAcademy’s Python course for Code & Coffee.  Likewise, on Thursday evenings, the Product Team gets together to ideate, test, and release a real tech product.  We are currently in the proof of concept phase with a few very interesting ideas.  You can check out our progress here and here.  Finally, each month we take on a new Digital Marketing Channel to explore its options.  So far we have tried Facebook and Linkedin and we are currently exploring promoted tweets on Twitter.  In addition to these, GradTech members are gaining html and web development skills from using WordPress and A/B marketing skills from experimenting with Mailchimp.  We will continue these initiatives as we move forward so that BC MBAs won’t just graduate having done case analyses with hypothetical solutions but will also have applied the skills we learn to real tools and real products in the Technology space.

Our biggest initiative to raise the profile of the MBA program in Tech has been our website and social programs.  We do lots of cool things and then we blog, Facebook, and Tweet about them. From a previous best year of just over 200 visitors, we now get hundreds per month and we hope to break 1000 MAUs in 2015. Among our members we enjoy a sky high Net Promoter Score of 75 and we have had alumni express interest in getting involved, companies reach out to partner with us, and prospect students cite our club as one of the main reasons they are interested in BC for an MBA.  All of these are indications that we are pushing forward but the biggest differences will come from placing our people in meaningful Tech jobs and helping out future Eagles.

To that goal, we continue to push forward.  We have attended job fairs and industry events put on by Microsoft, the Boston Product Management Association, and even sponsored the Startup Job Fair.  We have visited the Cambridge offices or Microsoft and Facebook by ourselves and many more including Spotify and Paypal in conjunction with the Undergrad IS Academy through the TechTrek Boston program.  Furthermore, on campus we hosted Alum Arnie Sookram from XBox and four MBA Alumni from Google, LogMeIn, Hubspot, and Wayfair to talk about the different careers and cultures within the Tech space.  Well attended and highly praised, the Careers in Tech Panel has already led to a number of connections and we hope to hold a similar event featuring even more functional areas in the spring.  Finally, we continue to drive alumni to help our cause through our Alumni Central and Hire an Eagle Page.  We already know of some jobs coming out of these initiatives and we hope for many more.

As we move into the spring we will continue to move forward towards the three pillars of our mission.  Off campus we will visit as many industry events, offices, and career fairs as we can, and on campus we will host another Careers in Tech Panel, an event on What Every Manager Needs to Know About IT, a discussion on Women in Tech, and a Digital Marketing Dinner.  We will continue to develop our product and hope to host a rousing Launch Party in April.

I thank you for all your support thus far and look forward to a fantastic 2015!

Sincerely,

David LoVerme

President, BC Grad Tech Club

David LoVerme is a 2nd Year MBA at Boston College and the President of the Grad Tech Club

Cyberposium and Why an MBA Matters

Earlier this month, several members of the BC Grad Tech Club attended the 20th Annual Cyberposium, presented by our friends at the HBS Tech Club.  As we have come to expect, the event featured solid speakers and was very well run.  A huge thank you to the HBS Tech Club for a job well done.

For me, the highlight of the event came early in the day during the first keynote which was a tag team effort  by Jenny Fleiss of Rent the Runway and Scott Friend of Bain Capital Ventures.  Many of us visited RTR’s NYC offices last spring as part of TechTrek NYC and I was impressed by how much growth the company has seen in such a short amount of time.  This particular presentation was eye opening because Scott was the VC who met with and funded Jenny and RTR and therefore we had the unique opportunity to hear the story of the company from both the Founder and Investor perspectives.  Among the key take-aways were the concepts of “do it first, scale it second” and using B-School profs as advisors, after all they have to listen to us!  From the VC perspective, Scott said that one of the first things that impressed him was that Jenny and her co-founder stood up when presenting and had already done the legwork to prove the concept.  I note this because good presentation skills and due diligence are key attributes we develop and polish as MBAs.

The marquee keynote for the day was Y-Combinator President Sam Altman.  I am one of the many folks out there following his “How to Start a Startup” course via YouTube so it was particularly neat to see him speak in person.  One of the things Sam noted was that in many ways you actually have to untrain yourself.  He was a particularly interesting speaker because he gives the impression, sometime quite straightforwardly, that he does not think particularly highly of business school and MBAs.  When asked where MBAs can add value to a startup, he suggested once they really hit the acceleration point on the growth curve and need to scale quickly.  Other key take-aways: “If you don’t have an idea, don’t start a company,” and “Startups commit suicide far more often than they are killed.”

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While I really enjoyed the event on the whole there were a couple of recurring themes with which I took issue.  To some degree, despite the location there was some advancement of the idea that B-School is a bad investment or toxic to starting a startup.  Obviously, as an MBA myself I have a biased perspective but I firmly believe that an MBA can be an extremely powerful asset, if for no other reason than it requires you to think about a number of different businesses and to go through some serious self-examination for at least two years.  If taken advantage of properly, this can give the time needed to identify an issue, a suffering population, and some hypotheses to address it.  Indeed, a little digging reveals that a full third of Unicorns (Billion dollar companies founded in the last 10 years) have at least on MBA founder, and more than half have an MBA executive.  (http://bostonvcblog.typepad.com/vc/2013/11/unicorns-and-mbas.html)

Another (perhaps more prevalent) theme was that an MBA is only worth it if you go to one of the top 5-10 schools.  Certainly these are over-represented in executive positions, etc. but as I approach the end of my two-year B-School journey I can honestly say that the experiences, skills, and time for reflection has made me a much more effective professional and I would not trade it.  I am working on two different products at the moment (read about one here) and have chatted with CEOs at the likes of Etsy, WePay, ThredUp, Rethink Robotics, and IBM, and other executives at companies like Apple and VMWare.  Furthermore, I am a firm believer that education in all its forms is generally a good thing and an a strong appetite for learning is a key tenet for success.  I found a kindred spirit at the conference in Jeff Engler, cofounder of Podimetrics.  His positive energy and passionate defense of the value of MBAs, Accelerators, and any opportunity to work hard alongside other driven people was inspiring.  (Not surprisingly he is a fellow Columbia History Undergrad-long live the liberal arts!)

All in all, I thought the event was great and very insightful.  While we at BC tend to be more collaborative and less cutthroat than some other business programs, we certainly are determined and can be competitive.  At the Tech Club in particular, we love bucking conventional wisdom and I am excited for the great startups that will continue to come out of Fulton and combat these notions.

Other Key Take-Aways

  • Customer Success is very different than customer satisfaction. Cant be successful without it.
  • If you’re not having fun in business school, you’re blowing it. -Mark Wallach
  • Keep a keepers list of the best ppl you work with then use that to hire when you start a company. -Sam Clemens

-David LoVerme is a 2nd Year MBA at Boston College and the President of the Grad Tech Club

Code and Coffee

As part of the Tech Club’s goal of creating opportunities for students to further develop their “hard skills” through practical learning experiences, we’ve recently been hosting weekly Code & Coffee sessions. We had our first meeting two weeks ago, and it was a great success as we crushed code and rocked out to “Don’t Stop Believing” Pandora radio.

These meetings are primarily designed to promote a collaborative learning experience for those trying to learn programming. Instead of individuals tackling it on their own, the idea is to create an environment where students can seek help from each other as they move through the same curriculum.

The sessions are essentially structured as a self-directed study group that meets on a weekly basis to go through a set curriculum together. The curriculum we’ve been following is the Python tutorial on Codecademy. Python is a great introductory coding language due to its heavy emphasis on readability. It also appears to be the language of choice among data scientists. The Codecademy platform is highly interactive and especially intuitive / user-friendly for beginner programmers. The entire tutorial only takes about 13 hours to complete, and we’ve already made solid progress during our last two sessions.

Grad Techers getting their code and coffee on!

Grad Techers getting their code and coffee on!

Setting aside a weekly meeting time is also intended to maintain a higher level of discipline when it comes developing these hard skills. From my own personal experience of attempting to teach myself programming through an online course, I’ve struggled to keep up with it. Something more important or pressing always seems to come up—it’s so easy to push off going through that next online lecture or exercise without a set schedule. We’re hoping that working alongside others in a collaborative group setting that meets regularly should make it easier (and hopefully more enjoyable!) to keep up with the material.

Once a group of us is able to develop a decent comfort level with Python, the longer term goal of these sessions is to work on a Kaggle project together to really put our skills to the test. Kaggle is a platform for predictive modeling and analytics competitions on which companies and researchers post their data and then data miners/statisticians compete to produce the best model (essentially the data science version of TopCoder). Tackling one of these real-life projects would provide a great opportunity to practically apply the skills we develop.

We’re hoping that interested students will take advantage of the opportunity to develop their technical “hard skills” to supplement the conceptual material and softer skills of BC’s MBA program. Join us on Friday afternoons at 2:30pm—if not for the coding, then at least for the free coffee, good music and good company! What better way to spend a Friday afternoon?

Also all levels of programming experience are welcome! In fact, advanced programmers are particularly encouraged to attend. If you have any other projects you’re working on using languages other than Python, please don’t feel restricted at all – this group is truly designed to learn and collaborate as much as possible.

If you have any suggestions for our group, please don’t hesitate to let me know. These sessions are definitely a work-in-progress! Email kenersko@bc.edu for any questions, suggestions, etc.

Kori Kenerson is a 2nd Year MBA and VP of Analytics for the Grad Tech Club