Help Me Help You!

Here’s a quick sample of messages I received in the last couple of weeks from (mostly young) people looking for help.

Looking for an internship…

I am ___, recent graduate in ___, for personal reason I am trying to move in the Bay Area. […] that’s why I am searching for an internship (also unpaid) to network with companies there. […] I am wondering if you are able to give me some useful information/contact within your network that provides internships or exchange opportunities. If you think you can help me, I can send you a copy of my resume. Looking for a job…


I am looking for internships in startups or consultancy or financial services. I expect to graduate in my Master degree in ___ in 2014, so finding an internship this winter might help me to have an opportunity for next year. Thank you!

Looking for a job…

Hello, My name is ___, I am ___years old and I just graduated in ___ from the University of ___. […] I was wondering if you knew about any job openings I could apply to with my degree and that could allow me to exploit my double citizenship.

Looking for business contacts…

I am ___, Marketing Manager of ___. , a startup  operating in the ___ industry. Next week I will be in Silicon Valley to meet with ___ companies to explore partnership opportunities. We are confident that we could benefit much from key partnerships with ___ companies and we’d like to ask you to maybe help us present and introduce our project.  I would appreciate it if you could help us connect with potential partners or just give us some suggestions or addresses.

It is just an extreme sample, but there is a pattern. A lot of this help requests make it virtually impossible for me, or anyone really, to help.  A few reasons:

  • Inward focus. The messages tell me why the job/internship/contacts are great for the sender, which is great but does very little to stir my interest. I do not (yet) have an emotional connection with you, so I frankly do not care enough (yet) to jump into action.
  • Too generic an objective. What comes through is often someone who does not really know exactly what they are looking for.  How can I help in any way if I do not know what you want to achieve?
  • WIITFT?. What’s In It For Them. They often lack any indication of what value the person is bringing to the table. What are you good at? What are your top skills? The expertise you offer? If no values is expressed, there is nothing to offer to a prospective employer or business partner.

So how can anyone maximize the chances that I (or anyone) may be able to help?

  1. Start with your value proposition.  One short, crisp paragraph about how cool, valuable, expert you are (or your project is). Ideally you want to get an intro from a trusted source, but frankly I know it is work, so I am not big on that one. It is that simple.
  2. Be (extremely) specific. Tell in as specific a way as possible what kind of company, position, person, business you want to get in contact with and why. Specifically! e.g. “I am looking to sit down for a meeting with the CMOs of company A, Company B or Company C in the next 2 weeks to learn directly from them this and that…”
  3. Tell me what you want me to do. Be explicit about the kind of help you would ideally want from me and also give me a plan B if I can’t. e.g. “Would you be willing to introduce me to Jeff or one of the members of his team via email? If that is not possible or advisable maybe you can introduce me to someone else at Company A that you think would be the right person to talk to.”
  4. Reduce the risk. The less I know about you, the higher the risk I am taking in helping you. After all there is always the possibility you may be a bozo or a nuisance. If possible, you should try to reduce or eliminate that risk in the back of my mind. “e.g. You can ask such and such about me. I am sure they will tell you how professional I am. I promise I will only ask your contacts for 15 minutes of their time. I will let you know how it goes next week.”

Help me help you, please. Thank you.


Want to become more productive? Work in slots

Human physical and mental abilities have not changed much for thousand of years, yet you are required to be tens or hundreds of times more productive than your parents were. And the pace of the demands on our time are not likely to slow down in the future.

So we have invented the discipline of time management, knowing all too well that it is not time that needs managing, but rather our attention. We need to adapt the way we work to squeeze out more output out of each unit of time and build a moat to stem the tide of (digital) distractions.

The single most effective change that has worked for me is also one of the easiest to implement. I have divided up my time in slots. There are vertical slots (i.e. days of the week or of the month) and horizontal slots (i.e. hours in a day).

Vertical slots are allocated to work projects, domains or themes. For example Mondays are for Project A, Tuesdays are for Accounting, Wednesdays are for Sales and Marketing, Thursdays and Fridays are for Project B, etc.

Horizontal slots are for individual tasks, routine or one-off. For example 7-9 am writing and editing, 9 to 11 am phone calls and email, 11 to 1 pm meetings, 1 to 3 pm project management, etc.

The resulting matrix helps me allocate activity more effectively, procrastinate less and, crucially, stay focused and away from distractions. Try it!

Do you work on Sundays?

I sometimes work on Sundays. Usually not more than 2 or 3 hours, but still… I find it easier to start the week with the right energy and velocity if I take some time to prep on a weekend. Last Sunday was an exception, in that I spent the entire day and most of the night at my desk. While at it, I wondered how many in my extended circle shared this habit. So I ran a quick Linkedin poll.

Linkedin Poll Sunday work overall results

Turns out I am not alone. In fact, about only 14% of the respondents never work on Sundays and almost half (47%) work on Sundays often (2-3 times a month!)

Linkedin Poll Sunday work company size results

More interestingly, the results suggest a strong inverse correlation between the size of the company you work for and the chances that you will work on Sundays. The self-employed/startup/small biz people work harder?

When entering the US market, think about the cost

Entrepreneurs around the world often grossly underestimate what it takes to enter the US market. Take for example technology or software, sectors that I know. Attracted by the size of the American market and the potential opportunity to raise millions in capital that is not available home, entrepreneurs decide to take the leap and create a beachhead.

Conventional wisdom around Europe and Asia is that a local parent company will keep its engineering and product development home and “open a Silicon Valley office to market the product/service/technology”. Perfect. Until you get down to assessing what resources are required. And assessing you must, least finding out later in the game that you are grossly undersized for the challenge.

I may cover legal costs, accounting, infrastructure, rent and other investments another time. Now I want to focus on talent, the scarcest of resources, even in this market.

Continue reading “When entering the US market, think about the cost”

Breaking down a crowdsourcing business model

Logo Tournament Social AdI have been in looking into crowdsourcing business models for the last couple of months. Personal and professional interest. As often the case, when a subject is on your mind, you stumble upon it. So, when ads like this one started popping up on my Facebook page I clicked through.

The ads send you to Logo tournament (LT), a crowdsourcing play on logo design services. It’s quite straightforward. Company needs a new logo, it submits a “contest” to LT and sets a price. Designers send in one or more designs. The best design wins and the designer gets paid.

I tried to figure out how a business model like LT’s would look like.


LT charges designers a 15% transaction fee. Companies set the price they are willing to pay in advance, with a minimum allowed of $250. Paypal transaction fees are passed on to customers.

Note that LT will take the money from companies in “escrow” and select and pay a winner at the end of the contest even if a company does not select a winning design. That means that if a contest is listed, the money will be paid and the commission earned.

LT lists all open and closed contests at any given time. I counted about ~165 open concurrent contests with an average age of 5.1 days and ~1,800 closed contests. I sampled 100 contests at random and calculated an average prize amount of ~$315. Assuming a steady flow of contests, that means about ~1000 contests a month (i.e. 30/5.1*165=971).

With commissions at 15%, that adds up to a monthly revenue of close to $50,000. The estimate is obviously highly sensitive to the monthly contest count estimate. Here’s a back of the envelope revenue estimate (with lower and higher estimates to test for sensitivity).

Logo Tournament Revenue

Continue reading “Breaking down a crowdsourcing business model”

Are you an A-Player?

Out of 10 people that can do a job, 1 is an A-player, 3 are B-players and the rest are C-players, or so the story goes… Simple enough, right? So, I ran a couple of public polls on Linkedin. Just for fun. They probably have no statistical relevance, but the results are interesting  :).

First, I asked respondents to self select in the A, B or C player category. 78% put themselves in the A-Player list…

A player linkedin poll

Continue reading “Are you an A-Player?”

Are A-players available to you?

In a recent post, Auren Hoffman argues that, in this economy, hiring has become harder… and he is rather convincing at it:

That’s right … hiring in tough economic times can actually be much harder than when times are good.   In a downturn, the amount of resumes from C-Players massively increases while the amount of resumes from A-Players probably remains the same.

I generally agree with Auren’s premise and conclusions, though I believe it is important to recognize that most companies will never have access to the A-Player pool in the first place, and explained why in my comment.

Continue reading “Are A-players available to you?”