Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Judy's Book to Close, Lessons Learned

I really appreciate the willingness of Andy Sack to open up his thoughts about the missteps of Judy's Book over the course of it's existence. This sort of content is so useful and engaging for those of us that are onto the next thing, plugging away, yet need something to pull our head out of the details for a bit.

Judy's Book was a company that I followed closely because of our kindred beginnings in 2004; both funded by Ignition Partners, and both focused on social networking as a key lever in our businesses.

I wanted to add my thoughts to his points in this particular post- perhaps add a layer of perspective from Jobster.

The first mistake: we weren't aggressive enough in customer acquisition.
I remember this coming up several times in our feature meetings, where we had the opportunity to really "grease the wheels" of allowing a common consumer who does not have MS Outlook, and yet the notion was met with hesitation that is was too aggressive. Looking back, this should have been one of the first things we did, which was to make it seamless for a common user to pass on opportunities to contacts regardless of where they were stored (hotmail, gmail, etc.).

"We had the idea of using the address book as a hook into customer acquisition but we never spent the energy and focus to really maximize the use of the address book in growing the social network."
I believe Jobster has implemented this today, after nearly 2 years of considering it. I think in some cases we lost sight of some of the core social user scenarios that could have really changed the game for candidate referrals.

The second mistake: we expanded out of Seattle in August 2005 and went national.

Expansion is something that could be geographic or it could be expanding into another product line, or another market. This is really a fine line for a startup, in that strategically it makes sense to place a few bets, yet too many bets can stretch the focus of the organization too thin.

"At Judy's Book we had a BIG vision -- I think in retrospect, perhaps too big for a
start up and in retrospect I think we didn't take the necessary steps to break
that BIG vision (your friends yellow pages) down into sufficiently small enough
baby steps to prove out the concept before expanding the concept

Jobster had a BIG vision as well. Did we break that vision up into digestible pieces? I think we did so early on. Where we maybe did not do that good of job was in setting goals and metrics for each of those pieces, which would have told us when it was time to (1) accelerate our investment due to success, (2) shift focus on other areas due to lack of traction, or (3) create a SWAT team to troubleshoot the problem areas because we saw evidence that we were on to something.

For Judy's, competitive pressures maybe pushed them into making a decision that they truly did not yet need to make? That is a tough one as well; we struggled daily with how to respond to competitive pressures, whether they were subtle or audacious "shots over our bow."

I think a great example of smart expansion is Urbanspoon. Having watched these guys from the beginning, you can tell that they are being very thoughtful about expanding the scope of their restaurant review site. Although I haven't chatted with Adam, Ethan or Patrick much since their departure from Jobster, you can easily tell from the gradual evolution of the site that they only started to add cities once they had figured out what they wanted the site to be. Good stuff.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

OpenSocial is here

I have both joined and created networks on Ning and have found it to be a very compelling platform for organizing a group of people around a common interest. As an early user, I naturally wanted to be able to bring in content from other sources that also had value to the group, such as music and video recommendations or even just a classifieds listing.

As Ning's screencast shows here, Ning is joining the OpenSocial crew and it will enable exactly those types of experiences. The big plus of OpenSocial over the FB platform is that is does not require the apps to run within a specific "wrapper" like FB does. This is another leap forward in openness and should spur the next massive wave of interesting developments.

Find more screencasts like this on Ning Network Creators

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Halloween 2.0 style

I could not resist. Halloween as we know it may never be the same.

As a side note, I was having lunch with a former colleague of mine today and we were comparing notes on the actual usefulness of FB now that the novelty has faded. We have both logged in less than 3 times this month.

While the 30+ crowd are rushing to FB, I am skeptical that there will be anything to keep them there long-term. FB is interesting but yet has not eroded any of the value that I see with my LinkedIn presence, which I gain value from on an almost daily basis as a professional.

If college graduates that frequented FB as the site to "hook up" with girls on campus think they can transition their FB persona to something more grown up AND to something that provides them some social + professional value, then more power to the $15 billion valuation.

While I love watching the evolution of this and other services, I just cannot wrap my head around that number.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Back to Seattle

After leaving Jobster in March, I took on some projects for companies outside of the downtown area. I have to say that there is something about working in downtown Seattle that I truly miss. It's something to do with all of the vibrant and optimistic activity; it revitalizes me daily. I cannot say that the long quiet hallways of the corporate campus where I work today does much for me - but the top notch people I work with here help make up for it.

It will also be nice to start re-connecting with former Jobster folks, now distributed out among Seattle's best and most exciting companies.

I am fortunate to be working with a start-up client that has a tremendous product with measurable customer successes and a mountain of opportunity ahead of it. I look forward to returning to the small company environment - where I can have a daily and measurable impact on "moving the needle."

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Ad Supported Software

Over the last few weeks I have been watching the developing saga of the not-so-secret-but-possibly-fiction Google phone, the ad support office experiments going on at Microsoft in response to Google Apps, as well as other similar "adware" services.

The Google phone is actually a great example of the questions that I am asking: How viable is the ad supported software play as a business model? At a 50,000 foot level, the generally accepted ARPU (average revenue per user) in the mobile industry is $x (will post this figure as soon as I find a voice + data number). Can Google charge advertisers for niche ads that reach me in a targeted way? If so, does that potential exceed the $125 per month T-mobile milks me for? As my good friend Jason quickly tells me, I am not part of the most interesting or valuable demo anymore, so apply this simple question to 13-25 year olds. People in the know should know this answer and if not they should have asked it years ago.

Step away from phones and look at any software as a service model out there. Is an ad supported strategy viable? Have they asked the question or run the numbers?

Mark Maunder is a guy you would like to know if you are into the start-up and technology scene in Seattle. In addition to building and delivering an online service in record time, he is a serial entrepreneur who has run ad supported businesses before, so I trust he knows what he is talking about. Despite the fact he is too busy to answer my emails anymore, I enjoyed reading his thoughts on the ad supported model as it pertains to Facebook applications.

I am not yet educated enough in this area to make any substantial comments or assertions, but it is so incredibly interesting that I intend to get educated... and fast.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Intuit's Entrepreneurship Contest

For those of you who are incubating a business idea, this just might be the thing to get you to go for it.

Intuit is holding a promotion called "Just Start" in which it plans to give an entrepreneur $40,000 in cash and $10,000 in products to quit his or her job and start a new business. To apply, entrepreneurs can submit a letter or video describing their business idea to Intuit also plans to hold events promoting the contest at Westlake Center Wednesday and Thursday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


My mind has always been a meltingpot of business & product ideas. I always have something that I am noodling on in my spare time. The unfortunate reality is that my bandwidth rarely allows me to dive in and develop some of these ideas to a more interesting point - so they literally float around in the ether. For a person like me, this causes me a small dose of stress that I am not doing anything with it. Chain together 3-5 per quarter and they can start to weigh on me.

No more.

Productfoolery is a blog that is meant to give all of these ideas (baked or otherwise) a home. It is becoming a collection of product reviews that suppose there are real businesses behind them. I think the real interesting part of this is that some of these reviews will include actual market research I have completed, as well as conceptual screenshots and graphics. With 4 posts and nearly 15 reviews in draft form, I have found this to be a lot of fun.

I think someone once said, "If you have an idea you love, set it free..." Okay, maybe not.

Fictional Products. Real Reviews. Productfoolery.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Plaxo Sync could be the thing I need

I was super encouraged to try out Plaxo Sync recently. It seems like the Plaxo team has reconnected with their ability to solve fundamental problems that we have. They seemed to have gotten off track for a few years, wandering aimlessly through the woods barefoot, but are clearly back on track.

In 2006, I was in deep business development discussions with Plaxo as Jobster evaluated the potential to be more distributed across networks. Due to other priorities on our plate at the time, nothing really became of those discussions. In hindsight, Jobster was at that time in a unique position in the recruiting space (both from an industry traction and a PR perspective) to make a product play as the recruiting tool that orchestrated recruiting across distributed networks (social and other). As I see iLike evolving their value prop with new tools for artists to interact with their fan base on multiple networks, I am struck with the parallel.

They started with contacts, and have now moved to calendars, photos, socials networks. For me, this is more powerful and useful than what Facebook offers, because it is an aggregate activity feed across networks, which is much more valuable to me. Take a look...

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Turning your talents into a consulting business

As Prosys continues to grow, I have found myself talking with a lot of consultants (and would-be consultants) about how they position themselves in the marketplace. I have always been a generalist with a broad range of skills that I can bring to the table, but I have learned recently that I need to settle in on a few key ones. At first this felt like pigeon-holing myself and potentially limiting my project opportunities. In fact, it has done the opposite. When your name comes up in conversations, I think people are better able to quickly define your value proposition as a consultant. If you have heard much about Prosys, you'll know that word-of-mouth is our primary growth strategy, so making sure that the message is crisp and easy to grasp is absolutely important.

All of that being said, I have not completely settled on those key things for myself yet. I am getting close though. Product prototyping for upstarts in the area is probably going to be one of them...

Friday, September 21, 2007

Prosys Consulting Group, Open for Business

I am happy to announce that a former Jobster colleague and I have launched a consulting services organization, Prosys Consulting Group Inc. The concept for Prosys was born out of our own experiences as independent consultants, building our own businesses during much of 2007.

Prosys in a Nutshell

Business and technology consulting services are a well established economy in the
Pacific Northwest and beyond. Whether the firm is Accenture at the national level or Slalom
Consulting from a multi-region perspective, the typical business model of a consulting firm is to hire and train professionals as full-time employees and staff them to projects, charging the client up to and beyond $300 per hour, depending on the project and skill sets needed. Consultants are typically paid as salaried employees.

In this model, I believe that only the consulting firm truly wins, with rich margins. Clients are left with high consulting rates that climb steadily as the firm becomes more entrenched in the company. Experienced consultants, while they may see a competitive salary, see a low salary relative to the value they provide the client. I consider this to be a large gap in the current model, and a big opportunity for Prosys.

The Prosys Group has developed a consulting co-op business model that aims to change this equation, so that all stakeholders win. Prosys is an alternative to the high margin consulting firm model, empowering experienced professionals to become independent consultants. Prosys then provides member consultants with everything they need to set up and run their own consulting company, and removes the professional’s “fear of the unknown.” Some informal polling of professionals we conducted identified the some of the reasons that people decide not to independently consult - our goal is to "take the edge off" of those issues.

Prosys has put the finances, people and processes in place to handle key shared services for the consultants, including contracts, accounting, invoicing, upfront payment for work completed regardless of when the client pays their invoice. Most importantly, Prosys offers long-term value to member consultants by maintaining a "clearinghouse" of new projects to make finding the next project less daunting.

The result of these services is a win-win model that:
  1. Empowers professionals consultants to be independent, building their own business.

  2. Offer client companies the same consulting talent at lower rates than the large consulting firms.

  3. Consultants enjoy a higher salary, more in-line with the value they provide the client

Growth Strategy: Referrals

Core to our strategy is the way that we intend to grow. Rather than have a sales team pushing consultants out into the market, we are relying on a "pull model." When our member consultants come across new opportunities with their clients, they are relayed to the rest of the member community. On the consultant side, Prosys is very selective about the consultants that join our community, insuring the highest of quality. Recommendations and referrals from those who have personal knowledge of their work is a must to be accepted. We think that this rigorous approach will insure that the referrals continue to flow.

With a solid collection of consultants and opportunities in our pipeline, I am optimistic that Prosys will be a provider of great value to Northwest companies for some time to come.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

SMS request-response system up for sale

If you read my blog from time to time, you know about Paddlespot. Paddlespot is a free service launched in the Fall of 2005, that aims to provide real-time river levels to whitewater kayakers on their mobile phones. We chose SMS as the primary technology, because it was the lowest common denominator- available on all phones.

The user scenario is pretty straight forward: Whitewater enthusiasts (kayakers, rafters, fisherman) simply send a text message to Paddlespot with the first three letters of the river name. Paddlespot responds instantly with the latest USGS river reading (we index that data). Knowing how quickly river levels can change, this information is much more valuable when you are standing next to the river. Previous to this solution, kayakers would check the web up to 2 hours before they would get to the river. Anyone who knows rivers can tell you how much can change in 2 hours, and how the safety factor can change as well.

Today Paddlespot continues to run, with a stable set of mobile users across the country - now indexing about 4300 rivers. Usage sways with the whitewater season, but has continued to grow steadily only by word-of-mouth.

If you know anyone who is looking to build a request-response SMS system as part of their broader offering, please pass this along to them. The Paddlespot code is a great starting point and will get them up & running much more quickly than starting from scratch.

Contact me with any questions neilcrist @

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Last moments at Jobster

I still remember the first day that Marty and I met at the Ignition Partner offices. As part of the EIR program, we were joining as the first members of Jason Goldberg's team, focused on building a business in the recruiting space. This would start a 3 year partnership (Marty the program manager, me the product manager) to build an a software product for recruiters and sourcers.

As coincidence would have it, nearly 3 years to the day, Marty and I left Jobster to pursue other opportunities. By that time, Jobster had undergone a lot of change (strategy, headcount, etc.) and it was time for those focused on the next chapter of Jobster to take the reigns, and for us to get out of the way.

Friday, July 06, 2007

where have I been!?!?

I really do not have a good excuse for not posting anything for over a month. Needless to say, I have been wrapped up in a number of projects, too many in fact. About 4 weeks ago I hit a wall and decided there was absolutely no need to be multi-threading at that rate, and a more balanced approach made sense. So.... I made a plan.

My plan is very straight forward:

RULE #1: Family First. I am at a point now where I am truly in control of my schedule. Blocking out as much time as possible to be with my wife and boys has been really fun this summer.

RULE #2: Do not take on a new project, unless I can bump a project (or two). Being at max capacity, I need to be more disciplined about taking on new projects, whether they be my own, or a consulting gig, or whatever.

RULE #3: Evaluate some of my longer term projects to see if it makes sense to keep investing in them. These past weeks I am divesting away from things that are taking me away from more important things.

RULE #4: Simplify. Less is more. This one is the hardest but the most important. I learned this truth as a Product Manager at Microsoft years ago- you can either do 25 things at once of mediocre quality, or you can do 5-7 things at your best. Hmmm, that pretty much translates to life in general.

For those keeping score, I still owe some explanation about the project I was planning to launch in May. Our team hit some barriers in the market that forced us to re-evaluate whether we wanted to play in the space. We chose to put it on hold, which was absolutely the right thing to do.

More later.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

when are market conditions ripe for entry?

This is a question that I am working through today as I look at a short-list of opportunities in front of me. I think the answer depends on the type of business you want to have as well as your ultimate long-term goals.

Here are just a few of the things that we are considering:

In General
a) Do you intend to be privately held or is their some larger plan?
b) Do you want a product or service-based business?
c) Will you self-fund or raise capital or both?
d) What is your exit plan, if you have one?

On the Market
a) Could you be a first mover?
b) If not a first mover, how many players are in the market today?
c) Is there a clear leader in the space?
d) Are those players meeting market need sufficiently? (untapped market potential)
e) Is the market big enough to sustain more than one successful company or is it winner takes all?
f) Is the market stale with lack of innovation? (Jobster saw that in recruiting)
g) Who are the buyers of your product/service - how do they buy? (sales cycle time, type of sales approach required, etc.)
h) Have you interviewed at least 10-15 potential customers in the market to understand their needs and their perspective? (if not, Do not pass go - go straight to jail - do not collect your $200)

There are more. Perhaps when I get further down the path I will publish the ideas that didn't "make the cut" and why.

Monday, April 23, 2007

she was right

Mind you, I am only a few weeks into my first consulting gig at a former employer of mine based in Redmond. Just as I was leaving Jobster, my wife made a comment regarding her lack of confidence that I could stay out of the start-up arena for very long.

Another friend, who traveled a similar road a few years back, warned me that consulting at a former employer had a massive chance of being instantly boring. I interpreted that as an opportunity to leave some brain power on the table for the "strategery" of developing ideas I had in the hopper.

So, here I am, 2 weeks into my project and my wife's lack of confidence is turning out to be spot on. The nice thing is that while I am adding a lot of value on this project, I have the horsepower after hours to keep developing my next thing.

Speaking of the "next thing" I am ramping up for an unveiling of it sometime in the month of April or May 2007 (if all goes well), so stay tuned. I can tell you a few things about it: it is a technology start-up, I am passionate about it, it is an underserved market with no leader, and it provides a very important service to keep people informed and safe. My v-team is still finalizing market, customer research, and competitive work before we take the next step.

I better shut up now, I might give it away!

Friday, April 20, 2007

Virginia Tech tragedy strikes a chord

Most people probably don't know that I was a campus safety supervisor and manager while going to Pacific Lutheran University in the 1990's. Having been in US Army Intelligence prior to college, it was a perfect fit for me while I earned my business degree.

It was also eye opening in terms of understanding the fragile nature of safety and security on a college campus. Students at PLU called it the "Lutedome," which was this invisible cloak of safety that we all felt when we were on campus. Certainly having up to 6 safety officers patrolling the campus perimeter and buildings helped to preserve that cloak.

Two years following my graduation from PLU, a person walked onto campus and shot a music professor inside the Lutedome, less than 100 feet from where I had lived my freshman year. It was particularly hard to take given that I knew the professor, safety officers, and students involved. It was even harder knowing that the cloak of safety had been shattered so violently for the students.

I wish the families of the victims, and the broader Virginia Tech family the best as they struggle through the coming months trying to come to grips with what has happened. It has definitely consumed my thoughts this entire week, as it has the PLU Community.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Skip to Part IV - Jobster in the rearview mirror

Building strong relationships is key.

I have had a multi-part blog entry going on for the past few weeks to complete some thoughts I recently shared to a group of Pacific Lutheran MBAs. At the time of the talk, I had not yet announced my decision to leave Jobster. As my final day at Jobster passed by, it worked out nicely that one of the most important entries yet to be written was about building relationships. I shared my final day with a few other long time colleagues, Jeff and Marty, who are also moving on to some very cool opportunities.

They held a going away party for us on a Thursday night at the J&M Cafe, across the street from our first offices in Pioneer Square, which seemed fitting. As people started flowing in and grabbing a drink, it hit me how great it was to see "Jobster Alumni" in addition to current Jobster employees. Interesting side note: the population of Jobster alumni is now surpassing existing employees.

So, the title of my original entry was, "Relationships above all else." What I was going to talk about was how I try to use this as a guide when navigating through any situation, professional or otherwise. As conflicts arise, which they always do, I tend to handle it best when I keep an eye to maintaining a good relationship with that person (or persons, group, organization, etc). Having worked in some pretty high stress environments over the years, including Army Intelligence, Microsoft, and a start-up, I have plenty of data points that support this belief.

What time has clearly shown me me is that ideas, businesses, organizations, teams, and projects come and go - but strong relationships last far beyond these things. We all have at some point worked with people that clearly do not have this is mind. They burn through co-workers and team members like a chainsaw, or throw them under the "political bus" whenever it suits their agenda. I really believe that this behavior will catch up with them in spades. It may serve them well in the short or even medium-term, but long-term they will find that they are shut out of opportunities.

When I decided to leave Microsoft in March of 2004, I had no idea how small and insular my professional network was at the time. While I knew hundreds of people, they were all at Microsoft, Expedia, or one of the Big 5 firms. Now that I have been at Jobster and bonded with some of the smartest & talented people in the industry, I have a healthy network that spans hundreds of companies, geographies, and industries. That is a nice thing to take with me.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Lessons in Year 1 at Jobster

As I wrap up my transition from Jobster, I continue to reflect on the experience. I recently found this entry, posted on my 1 year anniversary. Very valid points that echo some of what I have written recently:

Here are just a few of things that I have observed- things I think have distinguished the Jobster story and kept us on track:
1) There are no sacred cows. Always be willing to re-evaluate your plans, assertions, and strategies based on customer learning. Taking a business concept and iterating it over and over leaves room for "over iterated," a.k.a. loosing touch with the fundamentals of the opportunity at hand. Pride, ego, or the love of one's own ideas cannot get in the way of developing a sound business idea. Be okay with the fact that your business concept may iterate to a point of not being recognizable from its source.
2) Implement forcing functions. There are times when a team can get caught in quick sand and not seem to make much progress for a while. It may be a standstill in good ideas, it may be the discovery of a show stopping issue, etc. There are a lot of reasons for the onset of quick sand. A forcing function provides a milestone or deliverable that a team can coalesce around and focus on. Our CEO has been a master of forcing functions on a variety of occasions- maybe I will tell you a story about one some time.
3) Ideas are cheap, people are EVERYTHING. Jobster the concept and Jobster the company was built on this notion. Being in touch with entrepreneurship and the venture scene since the beginning of my career, I have come across many great ideas. In fact, I have stared at what I considered to be great ideas that were huge opportunities. Ultimately though, great ideas are nothing without great people to develop and execute the business plan. I think most opportunities are not beholden to just the first mover, but to the mover who has experience on their side.


Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Holy mobile widget, Batman!

This is by far the most interesting mix of mobile and GPS that I have seen. The simplicity of drag n drop onto your handset makes it super consumable - as GPS enabled phones become more prevalent, this service should really find itself.

They even have a Zillow Widget for instant home values based on your location. This is huge for investors, home appraisors, and real estate professionals.

The "yeah but" is that this is only enabled for a subset of mobile phones on the Sprint network, and is by no means open to the masses. Same old story there I guess. I am looking forward to a day when you can run these types of apps across handsets... but I won't hold my breath.

Onward to the next chapter

This week, after much deliberation, I have decided to move on to the next chapter in my career. This was a tough decision because Jobster has been a very personal journey for me. When I joined 3 years ago, I gave up a promising job at Microsoft, with a firstborn son of only 3 months, and took a leap into the world of a start-up.

At the time Jobster was a powerpoint presentation and a few whiteboard sketches; no employees, no funding, not even a legal entity yet. To be part of the Jobster journey from that moment until now has been rewarding and full of valuable experiences that will shape my perspectives when I decide to build my own company one day (yes, I said when). Sure, I leave the company with much more experience than when I joined, but the thing I leave here with that I treasure most are the relationships with the people that make Jobster go everyday. Some are still here, and some have gone on to other things, but I won't forget their contributions.

Jobster is blessed with a high concentration of really smart people that are continuing to evolve the company with the goal to provide the recruiting industry with valuables tools and resources. I have no doubt there are great things to come.

Many people have asked where I will land. Quite honestly, I am landing in no particular place. I will be doing some independent consulting for a few clients (large and small) over the next six months, as I evaluate my next adventure. I imagine it will be a new business venture, but who knows?

One thing I will continue to do is keep up my blog.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Part II: Push yourself to see the larger context

I don’t believe this to be a "must have" in order to be an effective contributor in a start-up environment. I do believe, however, that if you want to play a leadership role, that seeing the larger context must become a default perspective for you to take. For some it is a natural thing, while for others, they have to work at it.

When I think about the UW Business Plan Competition that I competed in 3 years running, I see how our team’s inability to see the larger picture was a pivotal part of not placing in the top 3. Being a person who gets excited about new products and services, I took the approach of thinking the larger picture was a generally accepted fact, and that focusing first on the product was the way to go. I understand now that you must get everyone on the same page about the broader context before you can properly convey how big a business opportunity really is.

The winning plans always started by convincing the panel of VC & technology judges that there was a market for their product or service. Some would illustrate a market gap, or an underserved segment of consumers; some would show an industry languishing from a lack of efficiency. Once you convince investors of a certain market dynamic, this paves the way nicely for telling them how your product/service is going to address this need.

When Jobster was a 5 person team working out of Ignition Partner offices, we actually spent much more time refining our view of the industry based on research, both primary and secondary. We understood that having a thorough & accurate snapshot of the market would help us make better decisions about how Jobster could effectively enter it and gain quick traction. Those learnings would set us up for the next 18 to 24 months.

If you don’t look at the larger context today, how can you start?

First, decide which industries you naturally follow. You should not only include markets you are interested in, but also the industry you are in today (whether you like that industry or not!). Stay informed about the current topics, news, trends, and debates going on in those industries. Include the industry in which you work today, so that you can draw connections to your daily work & priorities. For me, I follow social networking, real estate, mobile technology, the start-up scene, and the VC markets.

Secondly, leverage online tools & technologies like RSS readers and content subscriptions to deliver information directly to your desktop. Tools like bloglines or Google Reader will help. This will set you up for a daily routine of scanning current events. Set up some email alerts when certain keywords come up in search rankings.

Lastly, review your news & blog sources on a monthly basis; add newly discovered ones as you find them. Blogs inherently track back to their sources of information, so I oftentimes will follow the news or commentary back three or four layers to see if I can find another solid source of information. About 1/3rd of the time, I find another source to add. If the subject matter is riddled with debate, I will try to find multiple sources that talk about the issues from multiple sides.

Keeping a top level view of what’s going on is enjoyable once you have done it for a while, because you start to see connections or analogous situations across disparate industries, systems and processes. Once you are seeing those relationships, you can start making educated guesses about where are particular market might be going next. Your ability to spot a market gaps & opportunities will sharpen as well, because you will have seen similar conditions in another context.

Entrepreneurs are familiar with the concept of an elevator pitch. These are simply a very concise description of their business opportunity. These are used to easily convey a business idea to an investor roughly in the time it would take to ride the elevator with them. For practical purposes, this is a powerful, 2-3 minute summary of your business idea, plan, and need.

I have found elevator pitches are useful beyond fundraising as well. If you can describe the industries you follow in an elevator style summary, this can become very useful at work, business networking, as well as talking to investors. Not only does this prove to yourself that you are informed, but it easily demonstrates to others that you are a bigger thinker; this can do nothing but build your credibility and “personal stock price.”

Early in my career at Andersen Consulting(Now Accenture), I made a point to make sense of the larger business objectives of the projects I worked on. At the time, I merely wrote code for very small pieces of a much larger CRM system. I remember distinctly having dinner with my colleagues at the time, and casually discussing the project with them, talking about how this software project would positively impact customer experience & sat for the client (who at the time was being hammered in the press for poor customer service). Just months out of school like myself, my co-workers would give me the “deer in the headlights” look. They clearly were not pushing themselves to see the larger purpose of the code we were writing.

Monday, March 19, 2007

PLU Talk, Part I: Know Yourself

Standing on the outside of the Seattle start-up scene in 2000, I can honestly say that I considered a VC backed start-up as one of THE most exciting opportunities that I could ever hope to be a part of. It would have all of the elements I wanted: Developing a concept into a business plan, partnering with really smart investors, successfully raising funds toward the goal of building a business from scratch. Who would want to do anything else?! Oh yeah, and don't forget the bragging rights.

Now that I have been doing the start-up thing for a while, I have come to some serious realizations about the realities of starting a business. One of them is to KNOW YOURSELF. Be honest with yourself, peers, co-workers and investors about your strengths and weaknesses. Particularly in a funded venture, this is critical in that you have many more stakeholders that are depending on you do great things. This is a critical thing at the earliest of stages, as it will help define the skill sets and talents that you bring into your venture first.

I would say that there are many more people out there that want to do a start-up than there are people who should. Start-ups are not for everyone, despite all of the excitement and interest they draw.

One experience that underlined this truth for me is our hiring practices at Jobster. Being a company that built referral sourcing tools for recruiters, you can imagine that we took great pride in building our company based on referrals. In doing so, I believe that we uncovered and hired some of the most elusive Seattle talent, particularly in engineering, sales and business roles. We found superstars in large companies that would be great additions to the team – both on paper and in person; they had what it took to help drive Jobster’s growth.

What we did not anticipate was the dramatic impact that a person’s workplace environment played in their success or failure on the job. Someone who was a rock star in a large enterprise environment might not have the same success in a small start-up like Jobster, unless they could quickly adapt to their surroundings.

Others found that the infrastructure of a large company provided them with a sense of security, direction and role definition that they needed to sleep soundly at night. In larger companies, you may have a team of people to execute the strategies that you define. You also may have interesting political distractions and enjoy playing Survivor at work. Not so in a start-up.

In a start-up, it is up to each person to define and stay on course, and well as shift their role quickly when needed. Every person is also expected to pick up multiple roles and wear a variety of hats, while swimming in a sea of ambiguity. For some, that environment spells opportunity, while for others, it means waking up in cold sweats at night.


The days leading up to March 25, 2004 were tense for me. After giving notice at Microsoft (a company I had no plans on leaving) two weeks earlier, I was anxious about the unknown ahead of me. Would I make it? What if Jobster did not get funding? Was I comfortable being a contractor with no commitment by Ignition and Jobster? How would it feel to not be an employee anymore? These were all of the things that rang through my head as I walked into my exit interview in Building 6 on Microsoft’s Redmond Campus.

After an hour of chatting with a very attentive & sincere Microsoft HR manager, I surrendered my keycard, my badge, and my parking pass as I walked out the door. WAIT… The world did not implode as I secretly thought it would!! In fact, the world seemed to be the very same place as I walked down the path to my car. As the days/months passed working at Ignition, I realized that I was finding all the same security I had before, with one big exception: My security came not from the company that employed me, but rather from my own skills and abilities. This was an important realization that has empowered me with a great amount of professional freedom. Today, while I continue to contribute to the future of Jobster, I have confidence in myself that I can be a valuable part of any team. I think that the most successful and effective entrepreneurs have come to this realization, and are empowered to charge after their dreams without hesitation.


Friday, March 09, 2007

Thanks to the PLU MBA Class

Yesterday I had the pleasure of speaking to the incoming MBA Class at Pacific Lutheran University, as part of the Executive Leadership Series. While there, I had the chance to meet MBA students from across industries and levels, which was great.

I wanted to have a more informal format, so I invited questions throughout the talk, hoping that this would steer the direction of the discussion to topics that interested the group most. We hit on some great discussion, mostly about starting a business, fundraising and building a team. Unfortunately I had prepared a number of discussion points to share, but time ran short.

As promised, I will be posting these topics on my blog over the next week or so. The areas include:
Part I: Know yourself
Part II: Push yourself to look at the larger context
Part III: Learn to Embrace change and ambiguity
Part IV: Relationships above all else
Part V: Early stage start-up advice

I will likely expand Part IV, as I understand there are many students getting involved in a business plan competition this Spring. Please let me know if there are any other topics your class might find useful.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

99 business ideas to start today!!!

There have been a few interesting articles over the last few months talking about the next wave of business and technology opportunities that are out there. As an idea guy (they pop in my head constantly) I love reading through these to see if they mesh/compliment stuff I think about and opportunities I see.

Years ago I would say that I considered the "idea" to be the golden nugget. If someone had a great idea for a business, that the idea itself was your advantage. I am SO FAR from that today.

Ideas are cheap, ideas are everywhere. If you think you have an unique idea- there is a slight chance that you might. Chances are, though, that someone is noodling on some similar concept.

What really sets a concept apart is having people behind the idea that are willing to dive in and take action. This is what sets an idea person apart from an entrepreneur. You have to be willing to take the risk for something you feel passionate about. I would argue that if a person cannot bring themselves to commit to their concept in some way, that they must not be as passionate about it as they think they are.

Over my three years helping start up Jobster, we have hired countless GREAT people, many who told me during interviews that they too had the idea for Jobster. My response to them was usually something like, "Why didn't you pursue it?"

In general the answers came down to:
- "I did not know how to take the next step"
- "I did not want to quit my job and give up my salary"
- "I was intimidated by the idea of going it alone"
- "I wanted job security"

These are all perfectly fine answers - everyone has their set of priorities for themselves and their families. What sets the entrepreneur apart is they acknowledge these in their analysis, but the drive & experience within powers their decision to go after it.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Map Mashup Mania

This is a fun site to visit if you want to see some of the interesting things being done using maps APIs, specifically Google. I am looking for some examples using Microsoft's API as well.

The post "50 things to do with Google Maps Mashups" is pretty interesting.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

I can have an iPhone too!

The moment I saw the iPhone, I thought about how I could get one - but I then was torn because I have been really happy with my new Blackberry.

So here is my middleground. I am downloading right now to see what is what. I will be sure to report back.

iBerry theme from

Monday, January 29, 2007

ignition links to yard art blog instead of my blog

Having been with Jobster from the beginning, I was really fortunate to work onsite with the Ignition team from March to July 2004. What an amazingly talented and experienced group. Even more than their experience is the sense of partnership you have as an entrepreneur with them, and their sincere desire to be a catalyst to great ideas.

I have to laugh at this, though. I was happy to see my blog was listed on Ignition's partner blog role. Someone pointed out to me that when you click on "Neil Crist's Blog," you are directed not to my blog, but to a blog about yard art... as opposed to yarddart.

If anyone links from Ignition, they probably wont think much of what I have been up to in my spare time. LOL.

Monday, January 22, 2007

another funny video from our all company event

Employees having fun, referring to the past, present and future of recruiting...

Is your resume really who you are?

This is the question that really describes the basis for Jobster when we started the company 3 years ago. Some folks at Jobster had fun with this notion at a company event last week.

Friday, January 12, 2007

making SMS sexy

Am I impressed with the iPhone? No doubt yes. As a full package, I think it brings a fresh new approach to the mobile arena, differentiated mostly by design.

What stands out to me the most is the SMS experience. I think that phone stands to make SMS as sexy as IM, if not more. This is just the boost that text messaging needs in the 25 to 35 year old segment.

Check out this interface for text messaging... what an improvement from what users have today.

This means a lot to me because in working on the paddlespot project for nearly 2 years, I have become pretty intimate with SMS, MMS, and how this all fits together across phones. This is the first time SMS doesn't feel to me like the lowest common denominator of mobile communications...

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Six hour commute home

Last week's storm resulted in my worst commute experience ever. This winter I have heard tall tales on the news of people taking 5 or 10 hours to get home in the storms. Of course I was always skeptical of such stories... until now.

At about 445pm I left the office as I saw snow starting to fall. Just 20 minutes earlier, I had watched frozen rain pelt the street below. The sooner I was on the road, the better. By 5pm I had merged onto Interstate 90 near Seahawks stadium - not bad at all, making good time.

Then traffic stopped immediately at the Mt Baker tunnel, just prior to crossing Lake Washington. That was at 510pm. I would later find out that frozen rain had turned the bridge and stretches of I-90 into a skating rink, leading to a 3 hour crossing of the bridge. By this time, snow accumulattions on the East side and Issaquah were building rapidly. Another 3 hours and countless abandoned cars later, I pulled into my driveway - 11:07pm.

The next morning we woke up to 11 inches of snow.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

I am having fun with geojoey

While I miss seeing MarkM on a daily basis here at Jobster, I have been really interested in the what he has been working on since he left several months ago...

This site allows users to pin interesting experiences they have had on a map (thanks google!), share it with others, and even post videos. If you have a trail or path you want to record, then use an open pen function to mark your route on the map!

Everyone who knows me knows about paddlespot and my love of anything related to the outdoors... good luck Mark!

Want to check out my experiences posted there? Check out my page!

Monday, January 08, 2007

still here, more focused than ever

By now, it is already known that Jobster has reorganized in 2007. Many of the reasons that I have not sat down to post anything on my blog are related to how "heads down" we have been over these past months.

Since "d-day" as many of the employees called it, I have been working frantically to endorse and recommend those that have moved on - all top notch. Although this process was an extremely painful and personal process (a company built via referrals), those of us still here are starting to heal and get re-focused on 2007.

What do I think about Jobster in 2007? I posted a comment to Jason's blog over the holiday if you're curious. To give you some context for the opening line, the holiday brought us a large volume of very personal attacks on our CEO over rumors...

I suppose if you are surfing for juicy comments slamming Jason, or looking for someone to valiantly defend him from masked stone throwers, then you should skip on to the next comment... I want to talk about Jobster in the New Year.

About this time 3 years ago, I connected with Jason Goldberg, and he pitched me on joining a new venture he called Jobster. Not too long after, I left a job I loved at Microsoft to join as the first team member- for two simple reasons: First, as a hiring manager myself, I felt the pain that drove the inspiration for Jobster. Secondly, some of the smartest folks in the industry were behind Jason's idea. They believed he was onto something- I could not pass up the opportunity to work with people of this caliber.

Now, fast forward to the end of 2006. The very same reasons I joined Jobster remain true today - and we have been busy. We have assembled the highest concentration of talented people I have ever worked with. We have been working hard to begin to fill the demands of employers and jobseekers, who are asking for something new. Our customer & sales numbers continue to prove to me that the demand & need in this industry are VERY REAL. That said, there is still a lot of work to do.

I believe that these past 3 years have given us a huge amount of information & data about our customers, this industry, and the vast opportunities that exist. The more we learn, the more we will likely adjust to meet those opportunities - that is our responsibility.

Someone very wise once told me that if you take a bunch of really smart and passionate people and get them together to work on tough problems, that special things can happen. From my perspective, that is what Jobster is today and will continue to be in 2007.

Happy New Year to everyone.