Product-Market Fit and the Bloomberg Terminal

March 17, 2015 | By Matthew "The Instigator" Guruge,
In: Insight
Bloomberg_PMF

Product-market fit (PMF) may very well be one of the most important terms to understand when marketing a product, and yet, we’ve noticed that not a lot of time is spent thinking or talking about it. This lack of consideration is surprising because PMF is a great lens to consider copy, pricing, market segmentation and product development.

PFM is simply the amount that a given product satisfies a segment’s demand. The term was coined by Marc Andreessen, the heralded entrepreneur who co-founded the first web browser, Net Scape Communication Corporation and Opsware (sold to Hewlett-Packard for $1.5 billion.) In his first blog post on the topic, Andreessen states that PFM is the most important concept to a startup.

Andreessen shrewdly states that independent of all other variables the market will determine the success of a company. This means that regardless of great features or brilliant management teams, the only thing that matters is the number of people that will pay for your product or service and how much they’re willing to pay for it. A slightly arbitrary measure of this consumer sentiment is whether or not over 40% of your consumers would be “very disappointed” without your product or service.

It’s important to note here, as Clayton Christensen, Scott Cook and Taddy Hall do in their outstanding Harvard Business Review article : “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!” So, when considering PFM, we must first consider the actual need that we are trying to satisfy, how many people have it and finally how well we can satisfy it.

Once you know the answers to the those questions, it’s easy to find your elevator pitch, price point, future vertices and necessary additional features because each business element stems from PMF. For instance, an elevator pitch is often just an explanation of PMF: problem statement, how we solve it, and why we are better at it than our competitors.

To understand how this can all fit together we dissected the ideal PMF of the Bloomberg Terminal in the early 1980s below:

1. Product-Market Fit starts with Timing

In 1981, a young Michael Bloomberg was laid off from Phibro Corporation, after they acquired Salomon Brothers, where he was a general partner and head of systems development. Bloomberg was given a $10 million severance package, at what turned out to be the ideal time to innovate in the financial industry. His many years in the segment had taught him one important thing: financial firms would pay top dollar for up-to-the-minute data.

A young Michael Bloomberg

src: nyc.gov.com

In that year, IBM released its first PC, the IBM 5150, to compete with the Apple II; the internet was based on the Deparment of Defense’s ARPANET, still two years away from TCP/IP protocols, which formed the backbone of modern internet; and most Wall Street executives weren’t using personal computers. A decade earlier, many people relied on ticker tape to get stock quotes.

Bloomberg set out into the entrepreneurial space just before the personal computer and the internet started to gain major prominence.

Timing: Ideal.

2. Product-Market Fit hinges on Stubborn Consumers

In 1982, Bloomberg assembled a group of computer engineers to develop the first product for his new company: Innovative Marketing Systems (IMS). The goal  was to build a complete solution that would provide up to the minute financial data, analytics and graphics in as many formats as possible.

The problem with developing a machine for financial executives was that many of them had never used a computer before and consumers are often slow to accept major paradigm shifts in the way they work. The early IMS engineers and Bloomberg needed to develop a trading-friendly system that any Wall Street analyst could pick up and use easily.

The group came up with a new color coded keyboard that changed the Enter key to a green Go and the Escape key to a red cancel. The F-series keys were also replaced with categories like “corporate debt” and “equity shares,” so that within just three keystrokes traders could find an exact quote and corresponding analytics for any financial product in the world.

Bloomberg keyboard

src: wikipedia

This user friendly design made changing to the Bloomberg Terminal more feasible for the computer illiterate Wall Street executives.

Consumer Stubbornness: Present but circumvented

3. Advantages over the Competition is Key

In 1983, Bloomberg and his team took their prototype to Merrill Lynch, who were so impressed that they bought 20 machines. However, their purchase came with a catch: Bloomberg couldn’t market the machines to any of Merrill Lynch’s competitors for five years.

After realizing just how powerful the terminals were, Merrill Lynch decided to invest  an additional $30 million into the company in return for 30% equity stake. With the additional capital, the IMS team was able to concentrate on product development and expand the functionality of the terminals.

Michael Bloomberg

src: businessinsider.com

Understanding how their product served their market, the team set out to build additional features. Most important of the upgrades was the addition of digitized financial data that had previously only been paper-based.

By 1984, the team was growing anxious about selling the product to a larger market than Merrill Lynch and its clients. So, they approached the firm and Merrill Lynch agreed to let IMS expand their sales efforts because it would benefit Merrill Lynch’s 30% stake in the company.

At the time, though, there were nearly 20 different companies offering financial computers to various firms.  However, IMS’s machines were more powerful, more user friendly and they had the major differentiator of digitized paper documents. IMS better served the market’s need and had a better PMF than their competitors.

Competition and competitive advantage: Highly competitive but with clear differentiation

4. An Established PMF enables Scaling

In 1986, IMS changes its name to Bloomberg L.P. Soon after, the firm began selling their product to the entire financial industry, instead of concentrating on buy-side firms. They opened an office in London; then, four months later opened one in Tokyo. Within a year they had installed their 5000th terminal.

New Bloomberg Terminal

src: wma.us

Subsequently, they acquired Sinkers Inc, a research company, that became the backbone of Bloomberg Princeton a 900 person research and data entry team that funneled even more information into Bloomberg terminals. The company was refocusing on their PMF. They knew that firms wanted more data and they were growing to further supply that simple need.

Bloomberg’s trajectory into other verticals like TV and journalism can be attributed to the same demand of more data and analysis. And that sort of concentration on the true need of a market led to a company that last year had almost $8 billion in revenue and has over 350,000 terminals installed around the world.

5. What to learn from Bloomberg

The  moral of the Bloomberg story is that the best way to grow a company is to concentrate on the true demand of the segment. In 2015, you might assume that Bloomberg set out to make the best financial computer, but if you examine the whole story, you realize that IMS was providing a data service. Their terminal was just the conduit through which the data came.

Once you understand that Bloomberg’s PMF is about an industry that has an insatiable appetite for data and a product that supplies the most data, you can easily figure out how to manage that product. Elevator pitch: “Wall Street firms need high quality data quickly to perform at their best. Bloomberg terminals  are a user friendly solution that can provide data and analytics on any financial product within three keystrokes. Moreover, our 900 person data team inputs more information into our subscription service than any of our competitors.”

The elevator pitch doesn’t even have to mention that its a computer, because at the end of the day, Wall Street Firms would have paid for a person to sit on their desk and tell them the information if that was the most efficient way to get it. Pricing, too, isn’t based on the computer. It’s based on the value of the data in the right hands. Today that’s worth about $20,000 a year per terminal. Bloomberg’s future verticals as mentioned above were mostly in journalism because it furthered Bloomberg’s ability to deliver data and analysis.

As marketers, then, we need to remember that everything stems from PMF. We need to consider timing, the stubbornness of the consumer and competitive advantages. And we need to ask ourselves: “are we the best way to make a quarter inch hole?”

 

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The Five Free Digital Tools We Use

February 22, 2015 | By Matthew "The Instigator" Guruge,
In: Insight
construction-management-main

There are a lot of collaborative digital tools out there. So many, indeed, that Tyler and I once spent a week researching and testing different ones to see which we liked best. Safe to say, we know just how much time can be spent thinking about what tools may work best within a company’s culture.

After a lot of experimenting, we found that the combination of Asana, Pocket, Sidekick, Hangouts and Google Drive works best for us. Here’s why we choose them and how we use them:

 

1. Asana:

Emails take up too much time. Asana was created for collaboration without email, which is exactly what it accomplishes. You may have noticed that we didn’t list any email orientated digital tools above. Gmail isn’t listed because we don’t use it internally, Asana completely replaces it (excluding chat.)

Matt's Asana

src: asana.com

Asana eliminates email by combining tasks, conversations, due dates, calendars and milestones into one slick product. The reason we think Asana works so well is that it hinges around tasks or action items.  This task concentration contrasts the ambiguity of emails which are saturated with useless information and verbiage. Moreover, the process of generating an email is comparatively a lot more time consuming than generating a task in asana. To put it simply, then, Asana makes project driven communication faster and more effective by cutting out all of the otiose aspects of emails.

The tool also allows users to attach files, set deadlines, comment on the tasks, like an action, add sub-tasks, and mark the tasks complete, giving you all the necessary components to collaborate without any unnecessary frill.

Asana was originally built internally at Facebook by co-founders Justin Rosenstein and Dustin Moskovitz. Moskovitz was Mark Zuckerberg’s roommate and the first CTO of Facebook. Rosenstein, a former Googler, had been working on an internal collaboration at Google before moving onto Facebook. At Facebook, the two tech stars put their heads together to design the original framework for the social network. In 2008, they decided to spin-off the company and give to businesses of all shapes and sizes. In November of 2011, Asana officially launched out of its beta.

Now the software is used by Airbnb, Dropbox, Pinterest and Uber amongs thousands of others. Even more, it’s free for up to 15 users, so you can give it a whirl without putting any cash down.

 

2. Pocket

Pocket is simply great. We read a lot of articles at F&F and Pocket completely changes the way you read, store, and share articles online. Pocket allows you to store articles and access them, ad-free, on any device as well as easily share the articles with friends.

For us, we use Pocket as a way to read articles on the go without having to go to a bunch of different websites as well as simply storing all the articles we like for easy access later.

Pocket, originally called Read it Later, was started by Nate Weiner in 2007. After getting millions of users, he moved the company to Silicon Valley, got venture funding and rebranded it to pocket. So far the changes seem to be working as the company has received millions in backing and has 12 million users.

 

3. Sidekick

Sidekick gives you a notification when someone opens your email and tells you what device the email was opened on. That’s it. The simple app is extremely useful, when emailing clients, because it lets you know if your emails are being ignored, forwarded on to many people or being opened right away.

Sidekick is a Hubspot app. Hubspot is the leading company in inbound marketing, offering a suite of various marketing and sales software. Sidekick is offered for free as an inbound strategy from the company that literally wrote the book on it. Hubspot get you to their website to download the app, gets your email and thereby, has you in the top of their sales funnel.

 

4. Hangouts

The only problem we have with Asana is that it doesn’t have a robust chat feature. So, we use hangouts for all of messaging. Hangouts is embedded into gmail, making it incredibly convenient and it has apps for all the major mobile devices.

Hangouts is a free Google product that was originally launched in May of 2013 as a consolidation of Google’s enterprise and free messaging tools.

 

5. Google Drive

Google drive should probably be listed as second on this list, but its nearly ubiquitous, so we thought it would be a boring number 2. Boring or not, Google Drive is integral for being able to work  collaboratively. The ability to share folders allows us to share all the files we are working on in the cloud, and access them anywhere.

To sum up, internally, all tasks are put through Asana, their files are stored in Drive, and their immediate conversations are executed in Hangouts. That’s how we do everything, it’s simple and it’s fast.

Google-Drive

 

 

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The New Bloomberg: a Lesson in Overgrazing

January 31, 2015 | By Tyler C. "The Composer" Hurst,
In: Insight
NewBloombergFeatured

[su_dropcap style=”flat” size=”4″]F[/su_dropcap]ollowing a long and tumultuous few months filled with strategic launch delays and software troubleshooting, the new Bloomberg site was finally released on January 27th. The eccentric product was immediately met with mixed reactions among users and publications.

The decision for Bloomberg’s big change up was an easy one to make. While the coveted Bloomberg Terminals remain its core offering and money-maker, its media platforms are responsible for the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars a year. It made sense, then, for Bloomberg Media Group to refocus and consolidate its many different publications ranging from finance to politics into a single web portal.

The new project had three simple objectives: expand influence with both consumers and financial experts, create novel advertising solutions, and use the portal to convert viewers to Terminal subscribers.

Except, execution was a little more convoluted. It began with a staff revamp and the hiring of two key strategists, Justin B. Smith from Atlantic Media as CEO of Bloomberg Media Group and Joshua Topolsky from The Verge as the Chief Editor. The two were tasked with constructing and supervising the bold reboot. What followed was 6 intense months of internal development, in tandem with creative studio Code and Theory, to organize the amalgamation of Bloomberg TV, Bloomberg Politics, Bloomberg Technology, Bloomberg View, Bloomberg Markets, Bloomberg Pursuits, Bloomberg Graphics, and Bloomberg Radio. Oh, and there is also a video section.

Cap the project off with 4 launch reschedules attributed to project prioritization and technical errors and, incredibly, there is a new Bloomberg. One that allows users to, as business magnate and CEO Michael Bloomberg put it, “…easily be able to capitalize on the combined strengths of our [Bloomberg’s] global media assets, which are unmatched.”

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Packaged with the site’s many functions is a new design reminiscent of the company’s weekly publication, Bloomberg Business (formerly Bloomberg Businessweek). The magazine’s bold direction, designed in 2010 by newly hired Creative Director, Richard Turley, injected discord into an otherwise boring form. Its alt-tone, bright colors, and dose of irreverence contrasted greatly with the comparatively dull Wall Street Journal or Forbes. Although Turley has now left the organization for MTV, his design principles have been adopted in hopes that Businessweek’s biggest differentiator will become Bloomberg’s biggest differenetiatior.

This visual mimicry, however, has not garnered resounding approval. While the few publications that have written of the new Bloomberg have remained fair-minded, Twitter users were not as conservative in their judgements of the site. More than a few users cited that it appeared as if the CSS had failed to load on the page, others claiming of actual load-time failures & operational issues, still more using vibrant descriptions like “atrocious,” “worthless,” or something to the extent of “Your ‘new’ website officially sucks the worst of any sucking ever seen, that is all.”

Analyzing tweets containing the phrase “bloomberg site” posted in the few days after launch reveals that, of the thousands, 39% express negative feelings, while only 27% were positive. Moreover, of that 27%, the vast majority appear to be ironically praising the new site’s wacky error pages – true examples of Turley’s guidelines used in extremes.

Twitter's Sentiments on New Bloomberg Site

SRC: twtrland.com

So, why all the hate for the new Bloomberg?

Primarily because most user pain points are the result of the amount of page noise the website suffers from. Page noise, in a sentence, is anything displayed on a webpage that does not directly contribute to the page’s design objectives. This is typically the outcome of a failure to create a clear visual hierarchy to follow. There are three types of page noise: Shouting, Disorganization, and Clutter. Shouting is when every element on a page is competing for attention, Disorganization is the mislabeling or misplacement of elements, and Clutter is the over abundance of elements, preventing users from focusing.

The blights of page noise can be easily understood if you are familiar with the Tragedy of the Commons, made famous by ecologist Garrett Hardin. In his theory, Hardin uses a simple metaphor to describe the finite amount of seemingly infinite shared resources.

In summation: There exists a community pasture, open to all. For every cow a farmer adds to the pasture that is sold, he receives all profit from the sale, +1. However, the cost of adding a cow is split among all farmers, making the cost for an individual farmer less than -1. The logical thing for a farmer to do is to continue to add cows, and assuming each farmer follows the same rationale, the pasture will become overgrazed.

Scrolling Through New Bloomberg SiteTranslated, the pasture is a web page, the farmers are page managers, and the cows are every element begging for attention. Many site managers have a propensity to promote everything, but with each addition comes a loss of exposure. With its “seamless” combination of 8 – 10 platforms under one URL, the new Bloomberg site has trouble deciding where to direct its users. To the first-listed, geographic ticker, or the blindingly blue navbar with browser-sized megamenu that lies just under the inexplicable black navbar with browser-sized megamenu? Maybe instead, to the perpetually running live video feed in the top corner, or the handful of seemingly mis-cropped images sporting 2 headlines a piece? Running a link counter on the new Bloomberg home page reveals 402 different links, 346 of which are internal. Needless to say, you have options. It’s the perfect example of what not to do on a landing page: submit new users to an incomprehensible amount of information and directions, never allowing them to successfully find anything of substance that would lead them toward conversion.

Choosing to ignore the current trend towards super-niche content, as well as the significant increase in conversions it brings, the new Bloomberg has committed to its expansive ideal of wanting “…to appeal to the broadest global business audience possible…” An ambitious undertaking, as a website has a mere 2 seconds to show viewers what they were looking for before they exit entirely. There is a simple metric used to track those exiting users called a “bounce rate,” and the new Bloomberg site has a bounce rate of 67%. If you are going to replace conventional design practices, you have to be sure that what you create is easy enough to prevent a usability barrier.

New Bloomberg Site Bounce Rate

This muddled interface only grows worse should a user decide to scroll. There is a startling lack of consistency in form on the new Bloomberg site; every scroll presents an altogether different layout for the densely packed information. They have also done the favor of adding the popular infinite scroll feature, ensuring that should a user become lost, they stay lost, on an eternal scavenger hunt to find what they are looking for. Infinite scroll is a creative solution, provided the content is relevant and painless to consume. The obstacle for the new Bloomberg site is their alien presentation of content. By scroll number 2, users are shown a 90s style gradient banner that appears to be unfinished, and a quasi calendar with a half-visible title. All sense of how to interact with the site is lost.

New Bloomberg Mobile SiteThis inconsiderate design does not getter better with a decrease in screen size. At tablet size, elements continue to stack on top of each other, and the experience at mobile device size is so sparsely populated with content that you are forced to wonder if it is the same site at all. Though this form is much easier to consume, it presents the opposite extreme: being far too shallow and uninformative.

Beyond the new Bloomberg Home Page

Beyond the home page, the new Bloomberg site has made a less noticeable change to its content pages: the removal of a commenting system. For Topolsky, the decision was easy, “I’ve looked at the analytics on the commenting community versus overall audience. You’re really talking about less than one percent of the overall audience that’s engaged in commenting, even if it looks like a very active community. In the grand scheme of the audience, it doesn’t represent the readership.” His reasoning holds weight, the number of comments is never a good indicator of whether an article is successful or not as the true engagement happens on social media platforms. He is also not alone in the decision, both Reuters and industry influencer Seth Godin have disabled comments as well.

Even still, removing comments could be a potential mistake. If implemented correctly, there is a considerable SEO benefit from commenting systems. Perhaps more importantly, though, is the denial of the users’ ability to engage and fact check, effectively alienating that 1%. It suggests that the comments were overwhelmingly negative, and if that is the case then there is a much larger problem with the brand’s overall reputation than can be solved by disabling comments. Much like a line at a club, commenting provides social proof that an article is relevant and worth some buzz.

There is also an impending increase in advertisements. In case you did not notice the plethora of bludgeoning ads at launch time, Microsoft sponsored the new Bloomberg. This partnership promises “unique and innovative ad” presentations, including a “Checkerboard Unit” to be unveiled in February in an effort to increase digital ad revenue. Topolsky also mentioned the, “ability to lock ads,” which is another way of saying users will not be able to scroll past them. While at the time of this writing Bloomberg has seemingly stripped its homepage of all advertisements, the guarantee of innovatively intrusive ads in the future is a scary thought.

As for those aforementioned error pages (1, 2)… While the gimmicky pages appeal to the sillier side of the internet, the truth is it breaks a user’s experience. Should a user end up on a 404 page because of mistyped URL, or broken link the appropriate thing would be to help the user navigate to whatever it is that they were after. There are solutions for this that involve analyzing the keywords of a link and listing the relating pieces of content, as well as giving the user simple steps to follow to get them back on track. Bloomberg spent months developing a new dynamic platform only to leave users hanging when they will inevitably become lost.

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Old Bloomberg Site, 2014New Bloomberg Site, 2015
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The new Bloomberg was a project of great ambitions to only realize 0.5 of 3 simple goals. The lack of project clarity prevents the formation of a true conversion funnel towards the sale of Terminals. It seems most attention has been put to creative ad placement, and the ability to rearrange the structure of the home page at will.  But the biggest evil is its attempt at engaging users, which got lost in the need to combine portals and promote content causing over three-fifths of its audience to abandon. It is unfortunate to see the home page in disarray when the new Bloomberg site is capable of making such beautiful content pieces like the recently published Chipotle article.

However, take these criticisms with a grain of salt; the new Bloomberg site could change everything in a short period of time. Topolsky has mentioned that one of their key focuses is A/B testing, and that the project is incredibly iterative, making adjustments as small as 1 pixel.  By next month our pain points could no longer exist, but until then the new Bloomberg will have too many cows in its pasture.

 

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3 Reason Why “We’ll figure it out” is the Best Phrase in Business

January 30, 2015 | By Matthew "The Instigator" Guruge,
In: Insight
People working together

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ne of the more interesting phenomena of language is our ability to convey a lot of meaning with a few simple words. From “I have a dream,” to “To be or not to be,” to “it was the best of times; it was the worst of times,” we have phrases made of no more than eight simple words that immediately resonate deeply with listeners.

Business, too, has its own aphorisms that when spoken indicate everything you need to know about the speaker’s mindset. At Flint & Foster, our favorite is “we’ll figure it out,” because when someone says it, you know with confidence that that person has the exact right attitude to get it done.

We tend to use the phrase a lot which is how we realized it was so powerful. Here’s why:

1. It indicates a collaborative mindset

Nothing important gets done alone. And the use of first person plural pronoun, “we,” is one of the best ways of indicating that someone knows this. By using “we,” the speaker is suggesting that they are going to put together an impromptu group to work on the problem.  And there’s a lot of data that suggests putting together small ad-hoc problem solving groups works.

In their seminal work, In Search of Excellence, which vigorously outlines the common patterns that emerge within America’s most excellent companies, Tom Peters and Robert H. Waterman Jr.  spend a great deal of time speaking about “skunk work teams” or ad-hoc problem solving groups.

The two actually begin the book speaking about Boeing’s group of product champions who, during a sleepless weekend, completely reimagined the design for the B-52 bomber after pouring through recently seized Nazi files. They confirmed days before the presentation that a swept-wing design was best for the wind tunnel and that if the engine couldn’t be on the main body, it was best to be suspended in front of the wing.  Over one weekend, a small group of Boeing engineers were able to put together a 33-page proposal and a 14-inch scale model put together from $15 worth of craft materials bought a local hobby shop.

Peters and Waterman go on to say: “The Boeing pattern emerged as the norm in companies as disparate as 3M and IBM; small, competitive bands of pragmatic bureaucracy-beaters, the source of much innovation.” While examining excellent culture, the two authors repeatedly detail walking into various great companies to find groups of people made up of random members from all sorts of divisions gathered around cafeteria tables, in front of white boards and convening in open conference rooms to work through problems.

All it takes to create these skunk work teams is one product champion who walks out of a meeting with a we-mindset and recruits whoever is around to work on the problem. Because at the end of the day, there is no mandate for creative problem solving, no step by step procedure, no rule book, there are just small groups of product champions who came together because one person said: “we’ll figure it out.”

2. It concedes that there is a problem without an apparent solution

The reason the term “solution” gets thrown around so much in business is because innovation and progress boil down to series of problems and hurdles that have to be overcome. Knowing that one of these issues has arisen is obviously the first step to solving it.

Admitting that there isn’t an apparent solution to the problem adds a level of nuance to the situation: “we know something’s wrong and we don’t yet know how to fix it” still conveys more information than “we know something is wrong.”

Essentially, this portion of meaning states that the speaker isn’t dancing with their language, they admit they know something is wrong and they don’t know how to fix it.

3. It affirms that the group will find a solution

While the speaker concedes the absence of a solution, they do affirm that they are taking control of the situation and through a collaborative process will find an answer. This portion of meaning, then, conveys that the speaker is responsible for leading the search for a solution to a problem.

By saying “we’ll figure it out,” then, a leader in a meeting can say that there is a problem that doesn’t have a solution, but that leader is responsible for finding one by working with other people. Not bad for four words.

 

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The 3 Pieces of Advice for Undergrads

January 29, 2015 | By Matthew "The Instigator" Guruge,
In: Insight
City with lights

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his Saturday, I am going to be a panelist for my alma mater, Wheaton College’s, “Sophomore Symposium”, a program that helps sophomores make the best career path choices. Following Scott Hanselman’s advice to write a blog post on anything that is longer than 3 to 4 sentences and that you are bound to repeat, we decided it would be a good idea to put down all the ideas that emerged when I asked our team what they wished they had known as sophomores.

While a lot of the ideas that emerged were pretty ubiquitous – work harder in school, drink less, think about the future more – some of the ideas were more novel and nuanced.

Here are our favorite three:

1. Spend Serious time on Introspection

While this may seem like a fairly obvious predicament, we put it into the list to suggest some strategies for attacking it. The ‘what should I do with my life’ problem is like a lot of business issues we encounter everyday because it is large, nebulous, daunting and seemingly intimidating.

I can remember being a sophomore, weighing the benefits of careers in finance, law and academia with no tools to legitimately consider them while feeling totally overwhelmed and lost. I think that being at a liberal arts college, immersed in academia and surrounded by mentors who espoused the merits of academia, was part of my problem because I couldn’t see anything beyond additional formal education. With that in mind, my sights were solely set on getting my MBA, law degree or PH.D. I had no inclination that maybe it would be best for me to just venture out into the business world and to see what would happen.

Looking back, I should have realized that I am too rebellious to truly excel in a traditional format. But, nothing I was doing at the time was making me aware of this, which is why our team thought it would be a good idea to recommend serious and methodical introspection as a sophomore. We know that attacking huge, complex problems is all about chunking and finding the next action item so we came up with one approach:

In his book, Good to Great, Jim Collins outlines the nine ways that companies make the leap from good to great. In the fifth chapter of the book, Collins describes the Hedgehog concept which states that excellent businesses focus on a small territory of one thing they can be great at, opposed to foxes that try and defend a large area of things they can’t focus on. We believe that the concept that deals with the three circles below applies to individuals just as much as it does businesses.

The graph states that a business, or person, should find the intersection of what they can be the best at, what they love to do and what there is a market demand for. We think that worrying about what there is a market demand for is a red herring, causing people to concentrate on the wrong things. Even our firm’s limited exposure to the marketplace has taught us one thing: if you are determined to make money at it, there’s a way to do it.

So, we’re sure that as sophomores, time would be best spent concentrating on the intersection of your interests and your talents. Alan Watt’s video below, “What if money was no object?” is a personal favorite and a great video to get you in the mindset of thinking about what your interests and passions are.

 

We are pretty sure that thinking broadly about your passions probably isn’t too difficult. Although most people do have a lot of different interests and passions and it may be worth while making a list of things you like doing or things that interest you. The father of a friend, a fellow entrepreneur, has often said to us that we had to find the thing that “we could work at without looking at the clock.” For him, it’s hardware development; for me, it’s been bringing grand ideas to life.

While thinking of all the things that you enjoy may be relatively easy, the difficult part is finding how those things can intersect with your talents and personality and, for that matter, determining your talents and personality. On the personality front, we recommend taking the Myers Briggs test and reflecting on your personality type.

Recognizing your talents, then, is probably the most difficult part of this process and the part we have the least advice for. But, we will say that you can notice your talents by identifying the traits about yourself that are objectively more developed than your peers. They could be public speaking, physical fitness, the ability to empathize with someone or anything in which a person can have a skill in.

Essentially, our advice is that instead of looking at the different career fields and trying to find which ones align with you, we recommend looking inward and determining the intersections of your passions and talents and then finding careers that conform to them.

2. Experiment with Internships Early

If you have completed the first step, then you should have some hypotheses of what you might like to do. So, the next step must be to gather experiential data, or essentially test out your hypotheses. As entrepreneurs and creative problem solvers, we go through this process a lot. We spend time brainstorming possible solutions then testing them out to see if we were right with our initial thoughts. (We generally are.)

Anyways, the best way to test your career hypotheses is to get out into the real world and see if you like what you thought you might. It makes sense then to start trying to do a bunch of different internships early so that you can zero in when you find what you like. Again, this may go against the conventional thinking on the subject, but as a sophomore, you have nothing to lose by doing an eight-week internship on a whim.

As startup people, we may have a large bias here, but we recommend doing at least one internship at a startup because there’s often a lot of flexibility in a startup. Unlike applying for a major corporate internships where you will have a clearly defined role, at most startups if you notice you want to be doing something else, there is a pretty good chance they’ll let you work on it. Put simply, startups offer a lot of freedom to explore and opportunity to change direction without changing internships.

Either way, startup or not, you should get out there and test your hypotheses to see what you actually like as soon as you can.

3. Bring a Positive, Can-do Attitude

As a sophomore, there’s a good chance you won’t have a lot of relevant experience but you can make up for that with 1. energy, 2. attitude, and 3. effort. The easiest ways to display that you will bring these things to an internship are to be preemptive and action-oriented throughout the interview process.

By preemptive, we mean that you should do everything you can do before an action to be adequately prepared for it. For instance, if you are going to write a cover letter, which you should do whether or not the internship asks for one, you should start by doing extensive, EXTENSIVE, research on the company. Being specific and detailed is one of the easiest ways to stand out in a cover letter.

You have to remember that the person who chooses interns probably has a handful of more pressing responsibilities at the company. You want to display, as early as you can, that you are truly passionate about the company and what your role could be within it. For instance, if you were applying to be a social media intern for a company you found had very poor Facebook presence, you may spend a paragraph in your cover letter explaining how you would create content about their x-initiative, share content about industry leaders, naming a handful and respond readily to comments.

The above boils down to one thing: know the company and be able to articulate clearly what you can and will do for them.

Secondly, being action-oriented is a great way to make a good impression. By that we mean take the initiative on something early on. For instance, at F&F we ask our interns to take the Myers Briggs test mentioned above. It’s a good sign if they take the test and respond accordingly. It’s a great sign if they take the test and respond by talking about how their personality type may fit into the role they are going to play at F&F. Going the extra mile on a simple task is an easy way to show that you will get things done at a position.

To conclude, none of us knew what we wanted to do when we were sophomores. But, you can start working through that process now by looking inward, experimenting and having a can-do attitude.

 

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