Today was one of the best Sundays I’ve ever had. Nothing really crazy happened - I just got to do everything that I wanted to do.
This list includes:
Hours of productivity at a cafe (related to above)
Creative work (already thinking about Christmas gifts? yep)
Email inbox bulldozing sesh
Delicious dinner with fantastic company
In an ideal world I would also work out, but today was special (10 month celebratory dinner at Hard Water!) so we’ll cut myself some slack.
Some pictures of the evening:
Selfie right outside the restaurant
Our flight of whiskies (featuring 5 amazing, rich whiskies that were way too alcoholic for me - the first one felt like I was smacked in the face) and amazing food that included alligator and some of the best pork belly I’ve ever had (pictured)
Giant wall of whiskies
Life’s good. Feeling very fortunate to be able to spend a Sunday like this. Feeling so ready for this week!
It’s strange. I should be proud of so many accomplishments at Pinrose.
This is insane. Typical ‘good’ email marketing generates about $10 for every $1 spent. And this just showed that I more than tripled that.
It was such a basic idea - send visitors on an Easter Egg Hunt around the site, and I designed it all and implemented it with the CTO in a quick afternoon. We made a lot of money and the company was happy.
This has happened multiple times with new features (like the refer-a-friend campaign explained in the last post), various email pushes, and the like, but I never got that sweaty-palm, beaming-grin-on-my-face from seeing number spikes. They definitely felt good, but it wasn’t exhilarating.
My happiest moment so far was a moment that was simply a blip on the Pinrose radar, but the most meaningful to me.
I wear a lot of hats during the day, and one of them is ‘Customer Delight Representative’, which consists of handling all customer inquiries, calls, and the like. It also means I will take the brunt of any customer who is experiencing unhappiness.
One day, I got a two-page long, hateful, threatening email. It described how the customer hated our ethics, how we were scammers who stole, and how she was going to call the Better Business Bureau and make sure we got what we deserved. As someone who was proud of how I’d built out the entire Customer Service process as a ‘catch-all’ to make sure everyone was cared for, I was horrified to read about how angry she was with Pinrose.
For the next five minutes, I frantically searched through all of our online records - scattered through various portals, dashboards, and excel sheets because we were new and our data weren’t organized quite yet, and could find no evidence of her ever buying from us.
It wasn’t until the five minutes were over when I saw a new email pop up, in which she simply said:
"Sorry - that email was for another company"
And I was stunned. Stunned and extremely relieved - the Delight process I had so carefully curated had not failed!
But then I thought - wow, this woman had such a terrible experience with some other company. How about I share some scented happiness with her - maybe she’ll enjoy that.
So instead of deleting both messages and moving on, I wrote back. I told her that I was sorry to hear that she’d had such a poor experience, and asked her if she would allow me to send her some perfume to brighten her day.
I got a response back immediately. As I read it, I teared up. I would not have guessed the enormity of the gratefulness and joy in what she’d write back.
She responded quickly, and absolutely spilled ("I want to cry," she wrote).
Spilled the story of her personal difficulties - her dissolving marriage, the hardships of raising children, the struggles of trying to gain a part-time education because she hadn’t earned a degree earlier on.
Somehow the condolences, kindness, and simple gesture I offered made her feel completely comfortable with Ellen, the stranger from the Customer Delight Team.
I think at the end of the day, while I am thrilled that the numbers shot up as a result of my team’s hard work, it hits most at home when I feel a human connection.
No matter what I do in the future, measurable results are important, but feeling the positive impact will be essential. That’s what really drives me. It is so cliche, but after spending years of my life in STEM and obsessing with numbers, at the end of the day it’s all about the human impact.
I don’t know what I’ll be doing in 5 years, but I sure as hell know that it will be entirely human-centric.
Those who prefer their principles over their happiness, they refuse to be happy outside the conditions they seem to have attached to their happiness. If they are happy by surprise, they find themselves disabled, unhappy to be deprived of their unhappiness…
I’ve realized that being at a startup, it’s really hard to quantify what you’ve learned/haven’t learned, and what skills you’re building. If you say you worked ‘in finance as an analyst for two years’, those skills are much easier to list out and explain to others. The more standard positions also come with certain expectations, so it’s a little easier to wrap one’s head around what a person’s skills might be after that job.
After talking to my friends, it feels like there is an insane spectrum of experiences you can gain at a startup, in not just types of skills but also in terms of the quality of your new abilities.
So to help me think through what I’ve learnt and also have a way to share with others some sweet resources I wish I had known about earlier on, I’m going to post short blogs about things I’ve learned and how I did them.
Mini Lesson 1: HTML, CSS and graphic design
I was instructed to ‘put together a refer a friend program’. Sounded simple enough - set up a mechanism by which someone can share Pinrose with their friends, and then give them some form of credit when a purchase is made.
Problem was, I didn’t know much about backend, our CTO was backlogged as he normally is (he’s a one-man ecommerce running/building show) and my limited web experience restricted me to basic HTML and CSS edits. So making something beautiful was going to be a struggle. But, long story short, I was able to push the right buttons and ask the right people to have access to a liquid template of a beautiful refer-a-friend campaign.
So, problem solved right? No, because while the general framework was there, the backend wasn’t hooked up properly, none of the graphics were right (all branded for a completely different company), the copy was totally different, and portions of the campaign (4 pages and 3 emails total) didn’t link up right and were totally irrelevant. And to top it all off, there was no documentation to edit the Curebit files and no clues as to now things were meant to be hooked up to our site and transactional email service (Mandrill) because, as most things seem to be in Silicon Valley, the special liquid template we got access to was ‘in beta’.
So, the mini-Ellen-3-week Product Manager was born.
I learned a lot of things in those three weeks:
It’s really hard to juggle between the unlimited wishes of the cofounders and the limited bandwidth of the CTO.
When asking if someone can do something, get down to the specifics.
There need to be deadlines, even for the smallest of things.
If something is stalling, keep pushing to figure out what the problem is and find out who can fix it.
Email persistently, shamelessly for answers.
Learning and implementing HTML and CSS are a lot easier than tracking people/answers down.
People are lazy, especially if they don’t work directly for you. Hound with humility.
In just three weeks, while balancing a handful of other projects, we (the CTO and I) were able to pull together a fully functional referral program. Bugs abounded, and there were clear moments of extreme disappointment, as our setup would suddenly fail in the most random places (eg. the single-use codes would break, and when we’d backtrack to multi-use to make sure we had the backend wired properly, the whole thing would shut down even earlier), but we pressed on. By barreling forward with my own conviction, presenting pros and cons to the cofounders and the CTO, and pressing for a clean, functionally smooth and beautiful experience, we were able to produce a simple referral program.
This is a screenshot of what I was coding.
Let’s also not forget the Photoshop whipped out for the project. Each individual piece had to be redone in our branding style, which meant bouncing those ideas off of the branding agency, crafting it into photoshop, plugging it in, making sure the cofounders were happy with it as we went on, and repeating the whole process again and again. I do not envy full-time designers. It was extremely fun and personally rewarding, but difficult.
My favorite memory to look back on was when I was told that a text was supposed to be a certain kind of pink, and after I tried a few colors that were deemed ‘not quite there yet’, was sent a gradient. It made me realize how hard it is to be a designer, and how important it is to ask the right questions for direction. Instead of simply an ‘example of the color’, ask for ‘the color’.
What I learned:
How to manage one product from a choppy, in-beta framework to a full-fledged and functional 7-piece work.
How to communicate more clearly with technical people, non-technical people, designer-folk, and non-designers.
How to use Curebit
More HTML/CSS (why <br> sucks and padding is the way to go)
It was a fantastic experience (see the result here). Coming from a Chemical Engineering background and limited web-dev experience (think middle school fansite and myspace), it was so much fun to see what I could get produced. I can’t wait to work on more products for our ecommerce website - next big step is getting customer-generated reviews on. It’ll be a huge baby but oh so worth it.
This is an attempt of keeping track of what I’ve done/learned while holding myself accountable to goals. Studies have shown that when you share goals with friends, you’re much more likely to achieve them, so here are my goals for work.
This is a basic list (important details removed) of what I plan on doing over the next two days. Hoping this will become a weekly thing and I can look back and know what I’ve learned/what skills I’ve gained/what I’ve accomplished. Last week I got some really kickass conversions. This week and next week will be much more design UX/UI focused.
Design Design insert for our newest product (template —> CTO w/ instructions) Design new homepage banner to promote newest product Begin ideating for xxxxxx and create initial contact w/ developer
Email marketing Send promotion to people from (xx-xx to xx-xx) and set deadline/reminders for next 3 days
CRO Funsies Strategize for conversion push next month
Customer Service Send special returned packages Hone overall customer service process Develop solution for xxxxxxx using xxxxx and look into partner solutions
CRM Funsies (xxxxxxx vs xxxxxxxx)
Interns Reach out to chosen ones to come in and meet cofounders Email ones we’re passing on for now Reach out to xxx for xx xxxx
Tomorrow (to be determined by what happens today)
Design Design secret xxxxxx, get in contact with developer and plan meeting next week to crank it all out, get wireframes and initial designs approved Finish new homepage banner
Email Marketing Design content email regarding xxxxx for xxx Strategize for xxxxx
If anyone has questions, thoughts, or is doing any of the same things and wants to chat, let me know. Happy to help, provide resources, and grow/learn with friends.
Notes from the book by Clayton Christensen. Let me know if you want me to elaborate on any of these points - they’re concise.
Part 1 - Business
Just because you have feathers, doesn’t mean you can fly.
What makes us tick? Having hygienic factors covered and motivators set.
Deliberate plans vs emergent alternatives – have a plan, but be open to change.
Elucidate all assumptions – test each one in the quickest, cheapest way possible.
Be thoughtful of resource allocation.
When taking a job, make sure the company can execute on what’s promised. Do they have a partner/partnerships in that field? Do they have systems/processes set or plans in development in what you’re interested in?
Write out the person you want to be and the strategies, necessary experiences, and belief systems that person has. Make every decision based on that to become her.
Part 2 - Family
Good capital – impatient for profits, patient for growth. Don’t grow too fast.
Invest in specific relationships for future happiness.
Do not sequence life investments. Invest in parallel.
What job did you hire that milkshake for? Commute + Dads. Ikea story.
Sacrifice deepens our commitment.
Family is like a business.
Do not outsource too much learning for your kids to summer camps and the like. Have them take on a job. Asus and Dell story.
The act of accomplishing, building, or fixing something has huge rewards – self esteem. Have the kids solve deep complex problems on their own.
What – resources to do it How – processes to do it Why – priorities that make her do it
Kids have to learn to overcome challenges and develop critical processes necessary to succeed later in life.
Kids must be fully engaged – else raise red flags.
Children will learn when they are ready to learn, not when we’re ready to teach them.
Conundrum with Ship of Theseus and replacing every last part with Athenian goods
“The right stuff” – look for it from their schools of experience
What are all the experiences and problems that I have to learn about and master so that what comes out at the other end is somebody who is ready and capable of becoming a successful CEO?
Enroll more team players in the course ‘how to deal with pressure’.
Stein – ‘culture is a way of working together toward common goals that have been followed so frequently and so successfully that people don’t even think about trying to do things another way. If a culture has formed, people will autonomously do what they need to do to be successful.
Cannot just spend time communicating culture – all decisions have to be entirely in alignment with it.
“This is the way our family behaves.”
Kids ‘helped’ with mowing the lawn, were thanked.
Marginal thinking is a trap. You’ll end up paying the full price anyway.
100% of the time is easier than 98% of the time.
Conduct life with integrity.
I have a reflection that’s about 5 pages long single-spaced. This book was short but really thought-provoking. I highly recommend it to all (especially those in their 20s). Makes you want to make something of yourself and not toss away precious years of your life.
"Every fragrance is an opportunity to make an impression. Choose your liquid courage."
What an awesome play on the phrase ‘liquid courage’! It’s still alcohol, but not ingested to alter the state of mind physically. It’s more about the confidence generated in your mind from the feelings made from the scent. Does it still count as a form of mild inebriation? From this marketing ploy, sort of. In any case, I still love it. Go Sephora!