My Next Adventure

A few months ago I decided to take some time off to reconnect with friends, family and hobbies that I had lost touch with over the past few years. It was so great to see people I haven’t seen for far too long and do things that I had been meaning to do for years, like taking an amazing trip to Alaska with my uncle and rekindle my love of mountain biking.

My original plan was to start exploring new opportunities this Fall, but over the summer I had the chance to meet the brilliant team at Imgur and learn more about what they’ve been building. If you’re not familiar with Imgur (pronounced “Image-er”), think of it as “YouTube for images.” Like YouTube, its a super simple way to share and discover the web’s most popular content, in this case images and memes. And again like YouTube, there’s a passionate and fast-growing community of over 140 million “Imgurians” who use the service to laugh together, cry together,find inspiration together, make things together, fund video game development together, and ponder life’s most important questions together, primarily through the 1.5 million images that are uploaded every day.

The Imgur story is fascinating: Alan Schaaf created Imgur as a “gift” to Reddit when he was a student at Ohio University. The service quickly grew in popularity and emerged as the source for most of what eventually goes viral across the web, all while being operated incredibly efficiently: the team earned TechCrunch’s “Bootstrapped Company of the Year” two years in a row.

But the team knows there’s a massive opportunity to help billions of people discover and share the web’s most entertaining content, so they just took their first round of funding this year from Andreessen Horowitz, adding Success Factors founder and a16z partner Lars Dalgaard to their board in the process. Huge win all around.

They’re also investing in helping businesses put Imgur to work, like helping America’s Funniest Video celebrate their 25th season. Which leads to my news: I’m joining Imgur as VP of Market Development and today’s my first day. I’ll be working on growing Imgur’s presence and relationships with businesses and helping them contribute entertaining, inspirational and valuable content that makes the Imgur experience better than ever for Imgurians. I’m honored and flattered to have been invited to join the team, and look forward to seeing my industry friends out in the market soon.

And with that, let’s get the party started :)

Thank You Pinterest

Friday is my last day at Pinterest.

I feel really lucky to have been a part of such a special company. When I joined about a year and half ago, I was employee #100 and the 4th member of our Partners team.

Now there are over 300 employees at Pinterest and close to 50 extremely talented people on our Partners team. I got to be part of some amazing developments like launching web analytics, launching our business blog, relaunching our business site, hosting our first-ever Partners event, launching rich pins and launching our first monetization product, Promoted Pins. I managed to recruit some amazing people and have learned so much from so many of my teammates, peers and leaders across the company.

And Pinterest continues to win the hearts and minds of millions of people around the world by helping them discover things they love and inspiring them to go out and do those things in real life. People just like Brandon.

At the same time, this is my 3rd early stage company in a row over the past 7 years and truth be told, I’m ready for a bit of a break :) So I’m going to take the summer off to reconnect with the family and friends that I’ve seen far too little of over the past several years, then figure out what’s next for me in the Fall.

Of course, that means that the greatest job in the world is now available :)

Have a great summer!

Steve

My Thoughts On The Instagram News

I think people may be a little over-concerned or, in some cases, missing the point around the Instagram kerfuffle, but if you’re not familiar with the ad industry and where it’s going, I can see why. Maybe this will help.

FB & Instagram want to create “native ads” – ads that look and feel like they are a natural part of the user experience – instead of cramming standard square ads or banners into the app. Having worked at Silicon Valley social media company, I’m very familiar with how these companies think, and believe it or not, this comes from a very well-intentioned point of view: we want people to love using our products, but we need to make money, and most likely that’s going to come from advertising. Like most users (and unlike most traditional publishers) they HATE standard internet ads; they feel they degrade the user experience and look like crap on their beautiful products. They want to take a page out of Google’s book, which figured out a way to insert ads that actually fit really well with the Google experience, and in most cases add real value. In Twitter’s case, this means “Promoted Tweets” that appear similar to regular tweets in your stream. In FB’s case, this means ads that appear in your newsfeed and look similar to how people share content on FB, and maybe indicate that some people you know like that advertiser’s page or that brand. Facebook is getting paid for that, but they’re not going to share the revenue with the people mentioned in the ad – which I don’t disagree with. 

Instagram is working on the same thing: how do we insert ads – since we need to make money somehow to pay for this technology that millions of people use for free – but make the ads feel like they actually belong, vs. something that appears to be a foreign object wedged into the page that interrupts or otherwise degrades the user experience? Well, let’s start with how our users actually use the product: they use it to share pictures in a very public way. So what if we created ad units that actually featured some of the photos that are being shared? Like an ad for Disneyland, that actually features some of the Disney pics your friends have shared, instead of stock photos? Or an ad for Tahoe that actually features some of the pics you and your friends have shared while there? Instagram is going to get paid to run those ads, and they need to make it clear that they’re not going to pass on any of those dollars to you, at least not directly – they’ll use them to continue to maintain the service that you’re using at no cost.

Could this get out of hand? Yes, but this approach has been happening on FB for a while now (“Your friend John likes Disneyland”), and the fact is it would be really stupid for an advertiser and/or Instagram to abuse this, since they’re ultimately doing this to get you to be a customer of the advertiser. I’ve seen advertisers do lots and lots of dumb things, and there will be dumb things they do with this (if Instagram proceeds despite the uprising), but I don’t think it’s as bad as people seem to think it is.

How Gilt Groupe is using Big Data to reinvent shopping.

The more that marketers use data to inform their decisions, the more relevant the marketing is for the recipient.  McKinsey has a great piece on how Gilt Groupe is creating highly-personalized marketing for their customers by leveraging the data they’ve collected over the past 5 years:

Within a single minute at noon everyday, there are over 3000 versions of our message that go out to customers, based on what they shop for, what they like, even what sizes they wear. It’s tailored, one-to-one communication with the customer.

Check out the full article here: http://cmsoforum.mckinsey.com/article/gilt-groupe-using-big-data-mobile-and-social-media-to-reinvent-shopping

How Marketing is Moving from Suck-Suck to Win-Win

Last week I was in the check-out line at a major retailer, reading a very interesting story on my iPhone while waiting, when a salesperson from a company that was showcased in the store approached me and started selling to me. The person was a very, very good salesperson and doing a very good job, but the whole experience underscored how broken the sales & marketing process has been for some time: I was annoyed by the interruption, I wasn’t in the market or interested in the product at the time, and even if I was, it was a high-consideration purchase that I certainly wouldn’t make without wanting to do a great deal of research and investigation on my own and with my wife.

Sound familiar?  It’s pretty much the same experience we encounter online and offline multiple times a day; while consuming content, doing work, or punching through our email, we’re bombarded with interruptive marketing that is often irrelevant or poorly timed.  And for the consumer, that sucks.

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How Social Networks Are Making It Harder To Maintain Relationships

I’ve had the good fortune to work for and spend time with LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, one of the leading thinkers on the topic of relationship management.  LinkedIn itself is very much a reflection of Reid’s philosophy: Relationships Matter. In his book, The Start-Up of You, and in recent blog posts, Reid hammers home the point that the relationship networks you build and maintain play a massive role in how you manage your career and interact with customers in the new world of work.

I couldn’t agree with him more, and I’d argue that while the social networks have made it incredibly easy to build relationship networks, they’ve arguably made it harder to maintain relationships, and the maintenance part is the piece that makes all the difference.  Most of us know that the key to maintaining relationships is to invest in them when you don’t need them, so that they’re active when you do; no one likes being the “fair weather friend” who only reaches out when they need something, and no one likes getting the call from that person.

A few considerations:

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Down and Out, Bottoms Up: Why It’s Not About The C-Level

Legions of B2B marketers and sellers have been trained to aim their sites at the C-level decision-maker.  Search Google for “selling to C-level executives” and you’ll get 2.6M links to articles, books, blogs and other forms of advice providing everything from timing tips (“call early in the morning!”) to crafting an elevator pitch (“make it simple and impactful”).

And for the longest time, I was a firm believer that nothing happened without a C-level engagement, and that our marketing and selling efforts should be directed towards only the most senior decision makers. Don’t waste time with people who can’t sign the seven figure checks, went the thinking.

But there have been a number of developments over the past few years that have flipped this thinking on its head, and more and more businesses are embracing a marketing and sales approach that runs completely counter to the traditional wisdom.  Let’s take a look at some of the big changes in the purchasing ecosystem:

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