Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Best Direct Mail I Ever Got

Meanwhile In Boston - car stuck under snow

The best piece of direct mail I ever got arrived today. I don't think I've ever been so delighted by an unsolicited postcard.

This is truly brilliant marketing.

The Volunteers of America sent this just as we're emerging from the worst winter on record, when car owners are cursing and mumbling "I can't handle another winter...". What a perfect solution to a timely problem! And of course, who doesn't love a good meme? After this winter, we could all use some humor.

If I had a car, I would donate it. I actually got rid of my car this past fall mainly because I didn't want to deal with another snowy Boston winter. This meme strikes a chord with me and, I'm sure, any other Bostonian who's had to deal with snow emergency parking bans, impossible shoveling, and ruthless space savers (or stealers!).

Ready to go car-less next winter? Visit They've earned it!

Monday, March 16, 2015

How to Find the Best Events in the Boston Startup Scene

Since diving into the tech and entrepreneurship community in Boston, I've attended many, many events. Lectures, workshops, mixers, conferences, classes, pitch parties -- you name it. Some of these have been incredibly informative, helpful, even inspiring.

There's always something exciting going on in this city, and you don't want to be struck with FOMO.

How do I find out about these great startup events? I thought I'd share my sources and recommend some of my favorite can't-miss meetups.

Where to Find Boston Startup Events



The majority of events in the innovation community are listed in Eventbrite.  Many of them are free, and you can even filter your search results to show only free events (which is great when you're a starving founder). You can search by date, location, and of course, topic. I recommend you skim the search results from the following keywords:
  • tech
  • startup
  • entrepreneur
  • founder
  • pitch
  • business
  • innovation
  • coding
  • developer
  • hack
Of course, if you're looking for a more specific, niche event, go for narrower keywords and phrases, ex., "women tech," "UX design," "content marketing," etc., depending on your interests.


Another source of discovering worthwhile events is

Again, I recommend searching the list of keywords above to find groups that might be of interest to you. Once you join a few groups, Meetup will suggest similar groups that you might like. Some groups are open to join with a click; some require you fill out some information about yourself first, and still others require admin permission. In your email settings, you can get alerts about new events added by your groups, so you never miss a thing.

Some Meetups I'm a part of:
  • Greater Boston Startup Culture Meetup
  • Startup Cafe Boston
  • Boston New Technology Meetup Group
  • Boston Startup Founder 101
  • Boston TechBreakfast
  • Boston Women-Led startups Meetup
  • WeWork Boston Events
  • Boston Entrepreneur ThinkTank

Coworking Spaces

Coworking space Boston

WeWork, Workbar, and Cambridge Innovation Center are three of the top coworking space franchises in greater Boston. Part of what makes them great is that they often host community events that are free and open to the public.

WeWork - an international coworking space franchise. You can browse events on their event page by filtering for city:Boston. Of course, there's also the Meetup group listed above.

Workbar - currently has 2 locations, one in Central Square, Cambridge and one near South Station in Boston. Check out event listings on their website or sign up for their email newsletter.

Cambridge Innovation Center - currently has 2 locations, one in Kendall Square, Cambridge at one on Milk St, Boston. Check the CIC blog for a weekly blog post by Geoff Mamlet about upcoming public events hosted by the CIC.


Mass Innovation Nights Email List

Mass Innovation NightsMass Innovation Nights is the brain-child of innovation guru and marketer extraordinaire Bobbie Carlton. The monthly MassInno events themselves are always a treat, great for discovering new products and ventures while networking with an excellent crowd. But beyond the MassInno events themselves, the MassInno email newsletters include an exhaustive list of upcoming events, free and paid, for the New England entrepreneurship community.

Recommended Boston Startup Events


Venture Cafe

Venture Cafe BostonVenture Cafe is a staple of the Boston startup scene. Every Thursday from 3-8pm, innovators of all stripes congregate in the cafe space on the 5th floor of the Kendal Square CIC. The beer and soda flow freely, often with accompanying snacks. The Thursday get-together are primarily for networking, but sometimes there are structured events like panels, speakers, or workshops. Check their calendar for special events.



StartupStir Boston - an evening of entrepreneurship all women panel
I always look forward to Startup
Stir events. They're consistently well-organized and informative, often with free food and cocktails, and sometimes free or with a nominal ticketing charge. Usually there's 30 minutes of schmoozing and snacking, followed by an hour-long panel discussion with experts on a topic. Past topics include social media branding, creating apps, and women in innovation. The founder, Aaron Radez, moderates the panels with grace and humor. 


MIT Enterprise Forum

The MIT Enterprise Forum of Cambridge has an excellent reputation for hosting quality events. You can join their email list to hear about what's coming up. If you plan on attending multiple events there, it's worth it to buy a membership. This gives you discounted admission, plus a bunch of other benefits they list on their website. The events I attended there have been catered both before and after the event, and attracted people who are seriously invested in the innovation economy. Great spot to network and keep current with the industry.


Boston New Tech

Boston New Tech Event
I hear about the monthly Boston New Tech events via their Meetup group. The events are always free, often heavily catered, and well attended. After generous networking time, attendees take their seats and listen to a series of pitches by presenting founders. Startups use Boston New Tech as a forum to announce new products, gauge interest in their business idea, and connect with potential investors or clients.


Do you have Boston startup events you'd like to recommend? Please share your favorites in the comments.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

7 Tips for Working From Home on Snow Days

snowed in from blizzard

If you're in the northeast, like I am, you've probably had to work from home once a week for the past few weeks. Thanks, climate change!

For those of you whose job depends on being physically present, enjoy your snow day with reckless abandon.

But for those who need to work remotely while their friends day-drink and tumble into snowbanks, here are a few tips for staying focused and getting work done.

1. Wake Up At Your Usual Time

Wake Up Alarm Clock

This helps your body recognize that it's a weekday so you can stick to your routine a little better. Personally, I could never follow the advice to wake up at the same time every day, since I love to sleep in on the weekends. So on a snow day, I compromise: I sleep in for the amount of time that I would have spent commuting, but I eat breakfast, shower, and start working at my usual time.

2. Wear Appropriate Clothing

Fleece Unicorn Onesie
I find I'm surprisingly productive in my fleece unicorn onesie. No joke.

When you get dressed for the day, wear whatever will make you feel most productive. Usually changing into your normal work attire is a good choice. Some people need to wear shoes in order to feel "on." Or maybe you need to compensate by dressing in a 3-piece suit. Generally, it's a good idea to change out of the PJs you wore to bed.

3. Claim Your Workspace

Work From Couch

It's important to distinguish between work space and non-work space. If you usually sit at a desk at the office, sit at a desk or table at home. Again, when you recreate your physical routine of working, you'll work more effectively.

Conversely, if you usually lounge on the couch to unwind from work, don't work from your couch. Your subconscious will be very confused.

4. Block Out Distractions

Literally, there are free tools you can use to block distracting websites for a specific amount of time. In the morning, carve out blocks of time when you need to be productive, and make sure to block Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, or whatever other internet black hole sucks up your time.

5. Don't Have a Working Lunch -- Have a Cooking Lunch

If you usually eat at your desk or grab a bite at the office cafeteria, take advantage of your snow day and try something a little different. Cook a warm meal, maybe something you don't usually have time to cook at the end of the day. Crock pot meals, stews, gumbos, stir fries, or casseroles are a nice alternative than the usual sandwich, right? And since you're already home with all your ingredients (you stocked up before the storm, right?) and cookware, you have no excuse not to cook.

I find that cooking a meal injects a much-needed change of pace into a work-from-home day. Give your brain a chance to shift gears, and you'll be fresher when you return to your desk.

If you need to work during your lunch, try cooking while listening to an industry podcast or webinar. If you have a lot of email to catch up on, you can use an app to read it aloud for you while you're chopping vegetables.

6. Keep In Touch

Tin Can Phone

If all else fails, hold yourself accountable to your coworkers. Check in with your team via email to review priorities and tasks for the day. Have a meeting via conference call -- or video conference if you're feeling fancy.

One tactic is to email your supervisor in the morning with your plan of action for the day, and indicate that you'll notify them at the end of the day if something didn't get done. That puts pressure on you to keep on task or else admit that you mismanaged your time.

7. Take An Afternoon Snow Break

take a snow break

When you hit your afternoon slump around 3pm, lace up your winter boots and take a snow break. The chilly air will perk you up, and a walk around the block -- or a quick snowball fight -- will get your blood pumping again. After a couple minutes, you'll be cured of stiff legs and cabin fever, eager to warm up with a mug of cocoa -- which you should promptly brew.

Enjoy your snow day, everyone!

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Don't Be a Toxic Networker

Bad Networking

Have you ever struck up a conversation with someone at a networking event, only to glance at your watch 5 minutes later and realize you still haven't gotten a word in yet? One of the following is happening:

1) They're really enthusiastic about their project and want to share it with you, but they're coming on a little strong.

2) They're telling a story but they're not very concise.

3) They just love hearing themselves talk.

1 & 2 are forgivable. Number 3 is not. 

I can usually tell when that's the case. I test out my theory by sending body language cues that I'm losing interest. I start by gradually reducing positive reinforcement: I stop nodding or saying "mhm" as they speak. Then I'll stop reacting vocally or facially to what they're saying. If it gets really bad, I'll stop looking at them entirely.


They're completely oblivious to the other person in the "conversation." They might as well be talking to a wall.

Clearly this does not make a good impression. It's insulting. And they've just spoiled a potentially valuable connection.

Don't let this be you!

Here's how to avoid being a toxic networker.

1. Ask them about themselves first

After the initial introduction, start off by asking them a question about themselves. This demonstrates interest in the other person, which is polite and flattering. A great way to start.

2. Allow for pauses

When you're chatting someone up, it's easy to get on a roll. But make sure you find natural pauses. Breathe between sentences. This makes for a more comfortable conversation anyway, and it gives the other person a chance to respond if they're truly engaged -- or a chance to change the subject to something more pertinent. The other person might really want to contribute to the conversation, but if you don't give them an opportunity, you'll never know.

3. Check for signs of disinterest or distraction

As you're talking, take note of how the other person is responding. Look for cues that they're engaged (nodding, making eye contact, smiling, etc.) or lack thereof. Similarly, look for cues that they're distracted (checking their phone, looking around the room, angling their body away, etc.). If you notice both a lack of engagement AND distracted body language, you're overdue to pass the conversation on to them.

4. Don't hog the conversation

It's fine to have a lot to say, but you don't want to dominate the conversation. That sends the message that your needs are more important or interesting than theirs.

To prevent this, pay attention to how much time you're talking vs. listening. If the imbalance is more than 60:40, let them do more of the talking.

5. Listen

If the other person is talking, make sure you are listening -- not waiting for your turn to speak. The difference is palpable. 


Stay tuned for more networking tips!

Monday, January 26, 2015

What's Your Problem?

What's Your Problem? Business
Does your business sell Oxygen, Aspirin, or Jewelry?

What's your problem?

This is the question you need to ask your business.

To put it more gently: what's the problem you're trying to fix?

They say that every successful business sells one of 3 things: oxygen, aspirin, or jewelry.

Oxygen is something everyone needs -- it's solving a big, universal, urgent problem whose demand remains steadily high.

Aspirin relieves pain -- it solves a painful problem that many people experience in reaction to a specific situation.

Jewelry is luxurious -- it makes you feel special; it's a nice-to-have, yet it's nice enough that people are willing to pay a premium for it.

Entire industries can fall into these 3 categories.

"Oxygen" industries: utilities, accountants, funeral services, etc. These industries have reliable demand. 
"Aspirin" industries: doctors, tutors, dry cleaners, plumbers, etc. These industries get sporadic, ad hoc business in reaction to a specific problem. 
"Jewelry" industries: massage therapy, resorts, designer clothing, spas, etc. These industries tend to be seasonal and fluctuate with the economy.

You get the picture, right?

Let's look at it another way. Within a given industry, can companies succeed by tackling different problems? Yes!

For example, in the food industry:

  • Oxygen: Stop & Shop. Everyone needs to eat regularly, so go here to stock up on necessities.
  • Aspirin: Bodegas. You're hungry and you need food close by, right now.
  • Jewelry: Whole Foods. You don't need to buy organic, fair-trade persimmons, but you can and do.
What's your problem? Food

Or coffee:

  • Oxygen: Folgers
  • Aspirin: Dunkin Donuts
  • Jewelry: Starbucks
What's Your Problem?

Or even water:

  • Oxygen: your municipal water
  • Aspirin: a bottle of water at a convenience store
  • Jewelry: Perrier
What's Your Problem? Water

You can try this exercise with pretty much any industry and start to notice how different companies position their product to solve one of these 3 problems. 

It also becomes very clear why certain companies succeed: they decide which problem they're solving and they stick to it. Imagine if Perrier wanted to be carried at rest stops. Or if Stop n Shop charged $30 for grass-fed organic steak. It wouldn't make good business sense, because their branding is aligned to fight one problem. More than that, they problem they choose dictates when, where, how, why, and who they sell to.

So what's your problem? Pick one. Solve that one problem like a champ and don't lose focus.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

12 Lessons from Free Marketing Events

mobile marketing trends

I am hungry for knowledge. If that knowledge comes without a price, even better!

I attend as many free networking events, classes, or workshops as I can, if I think it will help me become a better marketer. I'd love to share some bits of wisdom I learned at recent events.

The first 6 lessons are from the 12 Essentials on the Future of Mobile Marketing event, organized by the team behind Sleek Marketing University and hosted by Impact Hub Boston on December 2, 2014. The speaker was Joseph Carrabis, neuroscientist-turned-marketer and founder of NextStage. His claim to fame is harnessing the brain's natural tendencies to guide customers along the marketing funnel.

1. Consumers connect to brands faster on mobile.

This has something to do with the fact that you're physically holding the device. Deep inside our lizard brains, we trust what we can touch. Therefore, by default we trust the messages we receive on our mobile devices.

2. We treat our mobile phones like weapons

A sociological study compared our relationship with our mobile devices to how we treated swords in the Middle Ages. Back then it was customary to carry a weapon on your person at all times, often with your hand resting on it idly. You'd feel naked without it. You'd pull it out when feeling defensive or threatened. There's a sentimental attachment to the item, it's a symbol of status, the comparisons go on and on.

3. To maximize conversion, order designs like so: maybe yes no

This is a fun little mind trick. Designers can capitalize on ternary logic to guide outcomes: offer 3 choices with the first option a 'maybe' commitment, the last one a 'no,' and the middle as the intended CTA. The brain defaults to the middle ground whenever possible. And since the brain can't conceive of a negative without first understanding the positive, you should order the options in 'maybe-yes-no.' 

4. Humans can only be happy or sad. There is no intermediate. 

At least in terms of your brand impression. Surveys reveal stark evidence that when someone interacts with your brand on their mobile device, it's either a positive or negative experience, but almost never neutral.

5. Mobile menu interfaces must be iconographic

A picture is worth 1000 words, so you'd best use images to get your point across on a small screen!

6. Branded apps with a social factor perform better than mobile sites

If your product is both digital and social, this stat should convince your CTO to invest in mobile app development.

Here are 6 more lessons from the 20 Million Visitors: Content Distribution Secrets from The Daily Beast event, hosted by Boston Content on December,  2014. The speaker here was Managing Director of The Daily Beast, Mike Dyer.

7. People read longer content on mobile devices (rather than on desktops).

Maybe people are catching up on their blogs and news stories while commuting?

8. Evergreen content is always more valuable than topical content

Makes sense: people search for evergreen topics for year-round, whereas seasonal topics get a bump once a year and then a long lull. Topical content thrives only if it goes viral.

9. It's better to produce fewer, better pieces of content than to pump stuff out constantly

This is such a relief to hear from an expert! Please, free us from the rat race of constant tweeting!

10. Headlines should be tailored for their medium

Think about it: it would be weird to see a headline on Facebook that abbreviates 'you' as 'u', but you'd be foolish NOT to do that on Twitter if you need to space.

11. One way to distinguish content from advertising: content solves the user's problem first, and the brand's problem second

This hammers home the fact that content is great at generating leads and inbound traffic because people are seeking a solution for themselves. Advertising is responsible for seeking out customers in an outbound fashion. Different tactics demand different priorities.

12. Don't chase social media engagement unless it drives web traffic. 

I've wondered if I should be counting and tracking metrics like number of Twitter follows, repins, or Facebook comments. At the end of the day none of that matters if it's not generating site traffic.

There you have it! If you've got any tips to add, please share in the comments.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Can You Ever Really Trust a Brand?

Uber scandal

The tech world is reeling from the Uber scandal and new, damning revelations about Amazon

These scandals have me in a bit of an existential crisis as a marketer. A marketer's job is to communicate and build trust in a brand in order to attract paying customers. We are brand builders and brand ambassadors.

But what is a brand, really? 

Is a brand more like a company or like a person?

Is it a product or is it a feeling? 

Does brand loyalty mean you're loyal to the people running the company, or loyal to the product or service they provide?

Let's look at Amazon, for example.

As a consumer, I love Amazon. I buy from Amazon on a regular basis, I have the Amazon rewards VISA card, and my parents sell books on Amazon as a side business. 

As a business professional, I admire Amazon. It defined e-commerce as we know it, helped hundreds of thousands of small businesses bypass retail to sell direct to consumer, and pioneered innovations in recommendation algorithms.

But as a decent human being, I don't know how to feel about Amazon anymore. 

If I think of a brand as a person, I'm going to project human emotions onto the actions of the company or its leaders; as a result, I'll react to bad behavior as if I were betrayed.

But if I think of a brand as the-faceless-entity-that-delivers-product-X, and I am very pleased with product X, I'm not going to change my buying habits.

Contrary to Citizens United, I believe that corporations are NOT people, so I shouldn't anthropomorphize my relationship with companies. So by that logic, I should continue riding in Ubers and ordering from Amazon.

Then what's that icky feeling inside?

I'm really curious how people feel about this. What breaks your brand loyalty? Feel free to comment below.