I’m incredibly proud of this blog post by James OB, one of the engineers at Percolate, about why he likes the engineering culture at the company. The whole thing is well worth a read, but I especially liked this bit:
The autonomy to solve a problem with the best technology available is a luxury for programmers. Most organizations I’ve been exposed to are encumbered, in varying degrees, by institutional favorites or “safe” bets without regard for the problem to be solved. Engineering at Percolate has so far been free of that trap, which results in a constantly engaging, productive mode of work.
I spend a lot of time thinking about building products (and, more specifically, building teams to build products). With that in mind I really enjoyed this rc3.org post about the seven signs of a dysfunctional engineering team, especially this bit about building tools instead of process:
Preference for process over tools. As engineering teams grow, there are many approaches to coordinating people’s work. Most of them are some combination of process and tools. Git is a tool that enables multiple people to work on the same code base efficiently (most of the time). A team may also design a process around Git — avoiding the use of remote branches, only pushing code that’s ready to deploy to the master branch, or requiring people to use local branches for all of their development. Healthy teams generally try to address their scaling problems with tools, not additional process. Processes are hard to turn into habits, hard to teach to new team members, and often evolve too slowly to keep pace with changing circumstances. Ask your interviewers what their release cycle is like. Ask them how many standing meetings they attend. Look at the company’s job listings, are they hiring a scrum master?
One of the thing I try to communicate to the whole company is that it’s everyone’s responsibility to build products. Products are reusable and scalable assets. While process is a product, tools are (almost always) better. I am working on a long and sprawling explanation of all my product thinking stuff, but that will have to wait for another day.
I wrote a post over at 99U about the levels of designers and how I think you build a great design team. You can read the whole thing there, but here’s a snippet about states:
If level two comes naturally to most designers who have grown up in a digital world, level three most definitely does not. States are about understanding all the different possible outcomes of a given task within a product and being able to design for all of them. Things like errors are obvious, albeit often forgotten, while actions like escapes and backs are much less frequently planned for.
To draw a parallel, a great engineer thinks in states. Before they write a line of code they have come to understand all the different outcomes and use that understanding to design a fault-resistant system. One of my favorite lines from one of our engineers recently was, “when I start typing the work’s done.”
Excuse this bit of bragging, but this makes me incredibly proud. Today, Christa Carone, CMO of Xerox, wrote this about Percolate on Forbes.com:
As an active Twitter user and scanner, I’m constantly prowling for Tweet-worthy articles and insights to share with my followers. But, like every multi-tasker, over-committed, “not-enough-time-in-the-day” person I know, there are always competing demands for time that keep me from heeding the call of the little blue bird.
Thank goodness for Percolate, a small but fast-growing company that recognizes that marketing on the “social scale” requires content, content and more content, but only if it passes the relevancy test. Through algorithms, filters and other tools, Percolate scours the web and serves up content tailored to my specific areas of focus that I can review and easily share.
I’m grateful for and a tiny bit envious of this start-up. I marvel at how its founders quickly spotted a need and last year created a company that has scored a slew of clients and, in November, $9 million in funding. Besides that, everything this company does is on-brand, from its business cards and its Daily Brew email to the—yes–perkiness of its staffers.
One of my resolutions for 2013 is to spend more time learning from small companies like Percolate. Big organizations can be great marketers but often find it hard to act fast. Frankly, “seize” isn’t something that is easily said or done. But there are lessons that Goliaths like Xerox can learn from more nimble David-sized enterprises.
Beyond it being incredibly flattering, there are two things that make me especially happy reading this: First, it’s just the recognition around the brand. I spent a lot of time working with large companies with unbelievable brands and its fun to get a shot at building your own. I still believe deeply that there’s an opportunity within tech, especially on the enterprise side, to take advantage of the lack of thoughtful brands in the space. Second, and more importantly, it’s the recognition of people as part of the brand. When I worked for Naked Communications the tagline (or whatever you want to call it) was “everything communicates.” Brands aren’t built with collateral and style guides, they’re built through interactions and, for us and many other companies, those interactions are with people just as much as they’re with software. Your brand is the total of all those parts and interactions and the responsibility for it sits with everyone in the organization, whether they’re on the front lines dealing with clients or they’re just out at a bar talking about their jobs.
It makes me incredibly proud to read something like this.
I know I post these every so often, but today we announced that we’ve raised a $9 million Series A. This is a big number and what it means most is that Percolate is very much hiring. We’re pretty much hiring across the board, but here’s a quick rundown of the current open positions on the site:
- Account Executive: This is the title we have for our more senior sellers. The job is about getting in front of Fortune 500 brands and helping them understand the value of Percolate.
- Engineer: We’re hiring for both Jr. & Sr. engineers (as well as frontend). We are a technology company first-and-foremost and hiring the best engineers is part of what we need to do to succeed.
- Designer: We have a top-notch design team here and really believe that the product is dependent on keeping that quality as high as possible.
We’re hiring for some other positions as well and you should check out the whole list, but those are some of the more pressing ones. If you know someone who would be awesome please send them our way.
For those wondering what I’ve been up to lately, here’s a talk I did at the Media Evolution Conference in Malmo, Sweden about the interest graph for brands.
[Editor's Note: I try not to do these often, but since lots of you are from in and around the marketing industry I thought I'd post this job here as well.]
We’re hiring a brand strategist at Percolate (amongst other positions). The role isn’t to be a planner in the way you would be in an agency, but rather to take those same skills and help onboard clients, help them understand content opportunities/how to use Percolate best and help build out products that can help systematize parts of the brand’s content strategy. Basically we’re looking for someone who really understands how brands work, isn’t afraid to go in front of a client and present and has a mind for making products (which is essentially about looking at what you’re doing by hand and thinking about how to translate that into something that can be done repeatedly by computers).
This is a pretty good job for someone who has worked at an agency and wants to go try something different. I don’t want someone so senior that they’ve forgotten how to dig in and actually do work (not that there’s anything wrong with that, but we’ve all run into those folks and they’re not so helpful to have around). It’s a fulltime gig. I’d say the salary is mid-level, but it also includes equity (like all jobs at Percolate).
While I’m here and talking about jobs I should also mention that we’re looking for a few other positions as well and if you recommend someone for any of these and they get hired I’ll buy you an iPad (this is a NoahBrier.com offer only, so make sure you mention it):
- Backend developer: If you know someone who writes good code we want to talk to them. We do our stuff in Python, but if they’re awesome we’ll talk.
- Sales: We’re looking for people who can go in and help us tell the story of Percolate and really help us sell. We’re building an awesome team and a great culture around sales. I need to write a whole blog post about this, but watching the sales team build out their processes is a pretty amazing thing.
If any of this sounds like you (or someone you know) please hit me up either on my contact page or via firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is a cross-post from the Percolate blog. I try not to do this too often, but when it seems like it will be worth sharing I’ll go for it. If it’s annoying let me know and I’ll stop.
We talk about the idea that you must consume content to create content a lot around here, and I wanted to share a little anecdote that I’ve been using in presentations lately.
When Twitter first launched the big joke was that it was a place where people shared what they had for breakfast. Twitter fought tooth and nail against this idea, trying to explain that the service was actually much more serious than that.
But it’s not.
And that’s not a bad thing.
The way I see it, Twitter is just a big platform of what we had for breakfast. Except it’s not food, it’s what we ate on the web. A large proportion of Tweets have a link in them and those links are to whatever that person consumed moments before. It might be a Huffington Post article for breakfast or a YouTube video for lunch, but it’s still just what we ate. We are turning consumption into production.
My friend Grant McCracken wrote about social as exhaust data a few years ago and I think that’s a really nice way to think about it. Essentially what we’re seeing is a digested view into the lives of people and (increasingly) brands. Their social footprint is just that: a footprint. It’s the thing they leave behind after they take a step.
I haven’t written a ton about starting Percolate, partly because I don’t want this to become a place where I just promote what I’m up to and partly because I’ve been so busy I haven’t had a lot of time to write (as I’m guessing you’ve noticed).
Well, now I’m on a train and I forgot my Verizon card at my last meeting and I decided it would be a good chance to get some things down. These are a bunch of random thoughts, as much for my own safekeeping as sharing.
Before I start, a bit of an update on Percolate: We have 15 people, our own office and a healthy roster of Fortune 500 clients. James (my co-founder) and I started the company last January (2011). Alright, onto the thoughts …
One of the funny things about starting a company (and growing it) is the milestones you set for yourself (or discover as you go). There’s the obvious ones (first employee, first client, first check in the bank), but then there’s the less obvious ones like first office (alright, maybe that’s an obvious one) and first employee who relocated to come work for you (we passed that one recently). Every time we hit one of these it’s a moment to reflect and think about how crazy the whole process of starting a company really is.
I’ve written this before, but it bears repeating. I can’t imagine EVER starting a company without a co-founder. I can’t recommend it highly enough to anyone thinking about being an entrepreneur. As far as choosing your co-founder I think there are a bunch of factors that has led to a really strong relationship between James and myself, including: A lot of respect for each other, clear roles (but also enough respect that when we move outside those roles it’s accepted) and an ability to disagree and be stronger for it (I wrote a short post about this but I think it’s hugely important, if you can’t argue productively with your co-founder, you shouldn’t start a company with them). There are lots of others, but those top my list.
There is a fundamental difference between being a person running a company and being an employee. As the one in charge your singular goal is to keep the company evolving (at least it’s true of a technology startup). Stasis equals death. You want your company to look totally different tomorrow than it does today. If you’re an emplooyee, you often want the opposite: You like where you came to work and you want that company to stay the same. I’m not sure how to resolve this disconnect and I never recognized it until starting Percolate.
Recruiting, Marketing & Press
All three of these happen all the time. They don’t ever stop and we’re going to make sure they remain that way even when the team performing these roles moves past just James and myself.
A Little Disagree Is a Good Thing
Teams shouldn’t always agree about everything. Having different perspectives is ultimately what’s going to force things to be stronger. Understanding the roles different folks on the team play (and helping them understand those roles) is really important.
I never did a whole lot of managing before I got to Percolate. I thought it was pretty fine to let people do their job and support them when they needed it. James introduced a bunch of ideas to me around being more active and it’s a strategy we’ve been trying to live as much as possible at Percolate. We set quarterly goals with each employee and meet at the end of the three months to grade them together. We have weekly meetings and do monthly surveys of employee satisfaction. None of this stuff is perfect and hopefully it will all evolve (especially as we continue to grow), but it has really helped me understand the value of a more active management approach.
I’m sure there’s lots more, but that’s what’s coming to mind right now. Hope this is somewhat helpful/interesting.
Started naming all our product releases after street artists. Our first release under this new schema is Futura 2000 (one of my personal favorites). A little context:
I’ve been a big fan of graffii for a long time. When I was a kid and I’d go on vacation with my parents I’d make them walk me around to shady places so I could take photos of the painted walls. It’s never something I did myself (I don’t have the hand for spraypaint), but I’ve been a pretty voracious consumer of the stuff for my whole life. So that’s the plan, each release gets a number, a graffiti artist and a little history lesson on who they were (in addition to some notes on the release).
I promise I’ll get back to blogging more non-Percolate things, but here’s one more item. Over at the Percolate blog I wrote up a quick description of how our product development process has changed since we moved to running everything off an API:
Running a product team has been a really interesting shift in career for me. Some of the stuff I learned working at agencies has been a huge benefit (working in teams, managing creative people) and some other stuff has been totally new (continually improving something instead of launching and jumping to the next thing). It’s fun to work on improving the process and flow and when you land in a real rhythm it’s pretty amazing (not that different than being in the excitement and madness of a great pitch).
I need to write up a longer thing about my overall experience, but this was a start. I’ve got a goal to write more process posts over at the Percolate blog because people seem to like them, so hopefully there’s more coming soon.
We’re hiring for a bunch of different positions at Percolate and one of the big ones is sales. My co-founder, James, wrote a good post outlining how we approach sales and hiring salespeople. This part in particular hit close to home:
I’ve thought a lot about my profession as my career in digital advertising sales has evolved. It is an interesting profession that I’ve enjoyed but there are things about being a salesperson that I’ve always been intrigued by. For starters, a lot of salespeople, even very good sales people, don’t like to think of themselves as being in a sales profession. They will call themselves ‘business development’ or ‘account manager’ or ‘chief strategy officer’, while often their goals all ladder back to a direct sales relationship with the company that employs them. They might pass it off as, ‘well everyone sells’, and while that is hopefully the case, why shy away from what your profession is? Own it and be proud to say you’re in sales.
Towards the end of my time in agencies I began to fully grasp this. Most/all of your job as a senior strategy person is actually sales: You’re helping to get client buy-off on creative ideas. As we’ve been starting to hire salespeople I’ve been talking to some of the folks I know from the agency world and trying to get them to come over under this capacity. Surprisingly, most are much more open than I would have expected. To James’ point, the holdup is almost entirely in the title, they are worried about the implications of being a “salesperson” not in the actual selling (which most of the folks in advertising I know live for).
Anyway, no specific point here other than to say you should read the post and, if you like it, come work for Percolate.
The last year has been totally insane. Right around this time in 2010 I left my job at Barbarian Group and gave myself two weeks before getting started on building a company for the first time. To say building a company is different than building a product is an understatement for which I can’t find the appropriate analogy. It’s been crazy and amazing and scary.
Over the last twelve months we’ve started to build a brand I believe stands for something in the industry, created a product some of the best brands in the world pay for and built an amazing team that all came over to my apartment the other night for the first Percolate holiday dinner.
Last week we got through a big milestone and pushed our 2.0 release. Iterating is the thing everyone talks about when they discuss product development and that’s what we did: Looked at the data and built a better product for our core use case (brands publishing content across social channels and their .coms).
Yesterday we announced that along with that release we also raised a round of funding to support the Percolate mission of helping brands create content at social scale. On Tumblr someone asked why we raised money if we were profitable (this is our first round of investment) and the answer is simple: We feel like we’ve found a big opportunity for brands and we’re going to run at it hard. That means hiring good people to both help us build the product (designers, product people, developers) and also to help us bring the product to brands (sales, project management). (Obviously if you do any of those things and are interested in working with us hit me up.)
I was going to wait and talk more about Percolate a little later in the week when I had a chance, but then Felix Salmon went ahead and wrote a pretty epic post about what he saw as the future of online advertising and now I’m left with no choice but to write a response (because I found myself nodding so much, not because I disagree).
The world Felix lays out is the same one I’ve been seeing and thinking about for the last seven years. It’s a world where online advertising, mainly banner ads, has fundamentally failed brands in a crazy number of ways. The dirty secret about the business is that brands, agencies and media companies all run banners knowing that they mostly don’t work. Everyone is in on it. It’s not that they don’t care about their effectiveness, it’s just that there’s not really another easy way out there. All parties know the web is important and banners are the easiest way to check the box.
That’s never been my bag. I joined The Barbarian Group a few years ago because I fundamentally believed that for brands, earning attention was more valuable than buying it. I don’t believe there’s no place for online advertising (I’m using the word in the narrowest sense to mean the buying of placements on media sites), I just don’t believe it’s the center of a successful digital marketing strategy. Period.
I think most people point to the shift from one-to-many to one-to-one as the primary difference between the offline and online world for advertisers, but I think there’s something else at play. This morning an article I’ve been working on for a month or so came out on Adage, where I explain how I see the shift:
The idea of “buying media” always struck me as a bit odd. If anything, what brands have been doing is renting: Paying the media owner to borrow the audience’s attention for a short period of time. In the pre-internet days, rental was pretty much the only game in town and that was just fine.
But then the web came along and started to play with the economics. All of a sudden you could pay once and message continuously. (Think: Brands buying fans on Facebook.) The thing is, because of the peculiarities and rates of audience rental in traditional media, brands (and agencies) are built for campaigns instead of sustained communication.
Sustained communication is a real shift in thinking for brands (and agencies). Lots of people talk about this shift as a move from campaigns to products, but I think calling it sustained better explain the shift and value opportunity. That value opportunity is about building on top of previous success (and audience) instead of starting over every time. Microsites were probably the best example of this: Buy a bunch of advertising, drive people to a new .com, stop advertising, stop getting traffic, tear the site down, repeat.
Like Felix, I believe content needs to be at the center of a brand’s sustained communications strategy. Agencies seem to agree, bringing in content strategists en masse to work with clients on become publishers. The issue I’ve seen is that most of these strategies just aren’t sustainable. In my Adage article I put it in terms of stock and flow:
Traditionally, brands have been quite good at creating stock content in the form of ads and some of the more forward-thinking ones have found really interesting ways to translate that capability to beautiful web video and interactive experiences. While that’s great for short bursts, creating a sustained messaging strategy requires a combination of both stock and flow: longer-form, higher-quality content coupled with the quick-hit links to other interesting and relevant content on the web.
How does this look? On the extreme end it’s BabyCenter, RedBull.com or AMEX OPEN Forum, those brands are so far out ahead of everyone else from a publishing standpoint it’s just amazing. And look at the value they’ve created for themselves: Their sites are big enough that other brands want to advertise on them to reach the audience they’ve amassed. Not necessarily the most important thing for the brand, but a pretty good statement about what they’ve accomplished.
Now obviously those aren’t the most accessible examples and the two most common concerns marketers have when they hear them are 1) I don’t have the permission to speak to my audience in that way and 2) I can’t afford to build a content organization in the way that those brands have.
The idea of Percolate (you knew I’d come around to it) is to make it answer those questions and make it possible for every brand to create a sustained platform. On the permission question, it’s really just a problem with definition. Every brand with customers has permission to speak to them, they just need to find their voice. Look at the work of Weiden + Kennedy and BBH on deodorant brands if you don’t believe me and American Express is a credit card brand, that’s hardly the most exciting category on the planet. On the second point (staff & costs), it’s about a good balance of stock and flow and having the right tools in place (like Percolate) to make it all happen. The way we see it breaking down is in these three components:
- Calibration: To begin consuming, you’ve got to decide what to consume. If you’re a person, that’s easy, you’ve got your tastes and interests mapped out. If you’re a brand, it’s a little more difficult. We’ve worked out a method that we use to back out of brand/campaign strategy, and into a set of sources for Percolate to sift through.
- Algorithm: Separating the signal from the noise is even harder if you’re a brand (or an editor at a brand) than if you’re an individual. The algorithm does a lot of heavy lifting to try to get to the most interesting content.
- Publishing: The real point of all that lifting isn’t so it can display it in Percolate, it’s so the brand can find interesting content to comment on and push back out.
When you put the content produced in Percolate and combine it with the beautiful content that is an agency’s bread and butter you get a compelling publishing platform that can actually be sustained over time. Once you get that down, it’s only a short step to start thinking about what you do with the content, which is where Felix and I converge again:
It’s easy to create an ad unit which is primarily links to third-party sites; I’m sure with a bit of effort and creativity you could put one together which is even better than the Counterparties unit on Reuters.com. Start placing that ad over the web, and people will, for the first time, actually have a reason to want to look at your ad; when they see it, they’re even likely to click on it! Sure, that click won’t take them to your site — but it’s still a great measure of engagement. And they will love you for sending them to great content.
We’re not quite at that part yet, but hopefully this helps lay out the vision and explain what the hell we’ve had seven people holed up in an office on Bond Street working on for the past year.
In case you’ve been wondering what I’ve been up to over at Percolate, we’re starting to announce some of the brands using the platform to help them power content production. Last week was GE using it to keep things flowing at Healthymagination.com and this week it’s AMEX OPEN Forum curating content to their new Tumblr (the latter got a nice shoutout on The Next Web last week). Will try to put together a longer, and more cohesive, explanation of what we’re up to with brands later this week.
Just wanted to quickly update everyone on a few site changes. After seven years of using Movable Type to run NoahBrier.com I finally had to abandon ship after I couldn’t log in to post anymore. I spent a few days getting things ready and made the move this afternoon. For the nerdy amongst you, I wrote some scripts to make sure my old URLs don’t get killed which I will put up on Github if anyone is interested. Also, I rebuilt all the HTML with the help of HTML5 Boilerplate and Twitter Boostrap, the latter of which I’ve been blown away by (it lets you easily build out gridded sites without all the pain-in-the-ass normally involved).
On the less technical end, I’m now starting to import my posts from Percolate. If you’re on the site you’ll see them denoted by grey backgrounds. The idea is to use Percolate to keep the site updated with shorter curation posts: Linking off to the interesting content around the web with a short comment. I’m using a plugin we’ve been developing for some of our work with brands.
As always, thanks for all the support and let me know if you run into any issues. More posts coming soon, I promise.