Category Archives: Business

You Don’t Need to Attend a Prestigious School to Network Well

I spent my first two years in higher-ed at our local community college, followed by two more at the University of Maryland (UMD), where I earned a bachelors in computer science. Both schools ranked okay nationally–especially for public schools–but I got grief from certain life advisers at the time for not attending a more prestigious school, like Carnegie Mellon or MIT.

I valued my family and friends too much at the time to move away, and I didn’t want to accumulate crippling debt. I was inclined to stay local. One thing I weighed losing out on was the ability to rub shoulders with future leaders. Being a commuter student who lived an hour off campus meant I would be spending most of my campus time in class, at the library, or in the computer lab. My classmates and I weren’t the best at networking. It simply wasn’t in the undergraduate CS culture at UMD.

I appreciate the connections I made while there, while also regretting not taking more advantage of the time I had with them or seeking out even more connections. I have learned since then that I didn’t need a prestigious school to network well. Several of my former classmates or schoolmates I met for the first time in industry years after graduation. We compared notes, figuratively, and realized we were in many of the same classes and even had vague recollections of each other. They have been great coworkers, advisers, and friends over the years. They are leaders at significant organizations. And I’ve had the fun of seeing them run circles around people who attended more recognized schools. Here’s just a smattering of examples:

  • Patrick Joyce, Director of Engineering at Stitch Fix
  • Jeremy Rickard, Staff Engineer at VMware
  • Ben Tedesco, Senior Consultant at Carbon Black
  • Nicholas Tedesco, Senior Consultant at Microsoft
  • Salman Haq, Engineering Manager at Capital One
  • Min Kim, Engineer at InstaCart
  • David Potsiadlo, Principal Product Designer at Main Street Hub
  • Kevin Conroy, Chief Product Officer at GlobalGiving
  • A co-founder at LivingSocial
  • And another I reconnected with at a private event at Skywalker Ranch

I have a wealth of connections and friendships that I’m extremely grateful for–all who attended the same public school I attended.

I’m not belittling prestigious schools in the least. I’m simply encouraging us all to get past the stereotype that to make significant professional connections you have to attend a prestigious and expensive school. Don’t limit your opportunities like I did those two years; you’re probably just a few feet from greatness.

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A Solution to the Stay-at-Home Mom Work History Gap?

My mom and I just came up with a novel way to solve the work history “gap” that seemingly endangers stay-at-home moms’ résumés when they return to the workforce–especially those who have been at home awhile.

Traditional options for addressing the gap, although well-intended and somewhat helpful, either dodge the at-home period by suggesting a functional résumé format over a chronological one, or, at-best, infer that the time is not worth citing but should be glossed over. These approaches identify and define the time at home truly as a gap in one’s work history. This is simply not true for many women. It’s work!

Former stay-at-home moms, or those in-transition, here is an idea for you: instead of leaving a gap in your chronological résumé, list the mom position like you would any other job in the workplace. Give a high-level summary of your role, non-obvious responsibilities, and list your children with their professional accomplishments as you have most certainly helped them achieve them.

Here is an example of what my mom could put on her résumé:


Stay-at-Home Mom, Home School Teacher, Life Coach (1981-2015)
Raised five children full-time, providing homeschooling to each child K-8th grade. Helped my children discover their interests and gifting and provided counsel, advice, and support as-needed.

  1. Ian Lotinsky: VP of Engineering at LearnZillion
  2. Adam Lotinsky: Project Manager at JFW
  3. Lauren Pucciarelli: Commercial CRM Auditor at Architectural Ceramics
  4. Aaron Lotinsky: Project Manager and Fulfillment at Decorative Films
  5. Nate Lotinsky: Junior, Electrical Engineering at Montgomery College

Now, “Life Coach” is intended to be slightly humorous, but is, in-fact, entirely true. 5 out of 5 kids on solid professional trajectories. That’s a parenting accomplishment if you ask me.

What do you think of this idea? I want to hear from moms and hiring managers.

Google Analytics Crash Course Notes

Thinking that you will adequately learn Google Analytics by clicking around the product, even over years, is a foolish concept. You will only understand a subset of its features and how they work together. You need to do your homework.

I cannot improve upon Google Analytics’ (GA) own crash course, titled Google Analytics IQ Lessons. It covers just about all the material in the paid Analytics courses (101, 201, and 301) at just the right level–not too high, and not too deep.

Here are my notes of the key gotcha’s and items to configure for your GA Web Properties. As well, I’ve linked to other helpful learning resources. As is my standard practice, this is mostly for my reference down-the-road, so it’s not comprehensive. However, I figure others can benefit from them as well.

Gotcha’s

  • Incognito mode and other browser privacy sessions count as new Visitors, Visits, and Page Views, as if the user had cleared his cookies. Not a huge surprise to most, I’m sure. (Although other trackers can still track you.)
  • Visits are separated by exits from the site or a 30-minute cookie timeout while on the site. Advertising Campaign attribution expires after a 6-month cookie timeout. Both are customizable.
  • Time on Exit Pages is not tracked because time is calculated between page loads on the same site. This also means that Bounce Page time is not tracked either. This has serious implications for some genres of sites, like blogs where a bit of traffic goes into and out of a single article. Know how to track Exit Page times and Bounce Pages, if you need to.
  • A Visitor can only trigger a Goal conversion once during a Visit, but can trigger an E-commerce Goal multiple times in a Visit.
  • Filters are applied between raw data capture and the Account’s Profile where the data is ultimately stored. Even if you change a Filter that sits in-between the raw feed and Profile, you cannot recover historical data. Try accomplishing the same filtering with Advanced Segments instead, which don’t run the risk of losing data. At the least, you should use Advanced Segments or other features to test concepts before creating a real Filter for them.
  • Domains and subdomains can break tracking in many glorious ways–especially E-commerce Goal tracking.

Basic Checklist

  • Always have a raw Profile that has no Filters, Advanced Segments, etc.
  • Have a Profile that excludes internal IP address so you’re not tracking yourself and your staff as they click around your site.
  • Have a Profile that exclusively tracks internal IP addresses for debugging Google Analytics code on your site.
  • Use the Google Analytics Debugger Chrome Extension for your own debugging and analysis of competitors’ tracking.
  • Enable Auto-Tagging between Google AdWords and Analytics if you are using both products.
  • If you create an AdWords Profile, set up two Filters to focus-in on AdWords traffic (Campaign Source: google, Campaign Medium: cpc).
  • Set up E-commerce tracking.
  • Set up Goal tracking.
  • Set up Internal Site Search tracking. (It’s much easier than you think.)
  • Utilize _addIgnoredOrganic to attribute Organic Search Visits for your web site’s address (i.e. someone searching for “example.com”) to a Direct Visit instead.
  • Set up appropriate Custom Variables to track additional information about Visitors, Visits, and Page Views.

Hopefully, all these will help us do a better job optimizing our customer average lifetime value (LTV).

The Art of Innovation by Tom Kelley and Jonathan Littman

Several years ago, my dad, Bo Lotinsky, showed me the infamous 60 Minutes special on IDEO–the mecca of innovation. After watching it, I couldn’t help but buy their book The Art of Innovation. I finally got around to reading it, and boy is it good. As always, a bulleted list of ideas and quotes don’t do the book justice. They’re more for me to remember what I read and for you to be intrigued enough to read it yourself. Enjoy!

Chapter 3: Innovation Begins with an Eye

  • Keep a list of what bugs you in products.
  • Ask “why/why not?” to understand and challenge what has already been done.
  • Observe the action–not what people say.
  • “Think of products in terms of verbs rather than nouns…as animated devices that people integrate into their lives–and you’ll become more attuned to how people use products, spaces, services–whatever you’re trying to improve.”

Chapter 4: The Perfect Brainstorm

  • Stick to one hour (one and a half max).
  • “Start with a well-honed statement of the problem…at just the right level of specificity…open-ended.”
  • Play: “go for quantity,” “encourage wild ideas,” and “be visual.”
  • Number each idea. Aim for 100 per hour.
  • Build on ideas with variations. Jump to other trains of thought when the current thread has died.
  • Use giant whiteboards, Post-It notes, or butcher paper. The brain is wired for spacial memory, so move around the room to write and to revisit topics.
  • Start with a mental warm-up exercise if people seem to be elsewhere. One great exercise is to survey products in the same category you’re trying to brainstorm in.
  • Sketch, mind-map, diagram; don’t just write words.
  • Spend much more time brainstorming than writing. You want to stay on the creative side of the brain.
  • Everybody is on the same level. No one is the boss, expert, or auditor.
  • No idea is to be critiqued. Just write it down and continue.
  • Don’t make up any other rules.

Chapter 5: A Cool Company Needs Hot Groups

  • Even the world’s best historical innovators worked in teams. Loners don’t succeed.
  • Build teams around problems to be solved, not a team role.
  • Bring in people from all roles and experiences.
  • Look outside the group for ideas, solutions, and feedback.
  • Team leaders pitch potential project members. No one “owns” people. (Note: movie studios, Google, and Netflix do the same thing.)
  • Don’t mandate attire or business hours.
  • Provide snacks.
  • Have a geek club where people can show off the latest technology or demo something they have built.
  • Play hooky as a team and go on a field trip.

Chapter 6: Prototyping Is the Shorthand of Innovation

  • “A playful, iterative approach to problems is one of the foundations of our culture of prototyping.”
  • “A prototype is almost like a spokesperson for a particular point of view.”
  • “A prototype is worth a thousand pictures.”

Chapter 8: Expect the Unexpected

  • “History teaches that innovation does not come about by central planning. If it did, Silicon Valley would be nearer to Moscow than San Francisco.”
  • It’s almost impossible to predict how the market is going to use a product.
  • Spend time absorbing what’s going on around the world. IDEO has subscriptions to at least 100 magazines.
  • Observe people in the wild accomplishing tasks.
  • Hold an open house to solicit feedback and ideas from people.

Chapter 9: Barrier Jumping

  • Organizational checklist: merit-based, employee autonomy, familiarity among staff, messy offices, lots of tinkering.

Chapter 10: Creating Experiences for Fun and Profit

  • “As you step through the innovative process, try thinking of verbs not nouns.”

Chapter 11: Coloring Outside the Lines

  • “The person who toils endlessly at his desk is not likely the person who is going to hatch a great innovation.”

Cutting Out the Middle (Wo)Men

SandwichBoard manOur first two customers are South Street Steaks and Aqui Brazilian Coffee respectively. As you can see, the sites will eventually need new designs; however, both establishments helped us develop a solid system, have been great beta-testers, and most importantly, they love SandwichBoard.

Today I walked Carminha Simmons of Aqui through SandwichBoard. She added a news article, event, and web page herself during the training. While she used the system, I took notes on anything she didn’t understand, things she got stuck on, and features that broke. When I got back to my home office in the afternoon, I went through my list and fixed the majority of the issues or UI flaws I saw before dinner.

I had direct contact with the customer and saw her every mouse click and facial expression. I was able to discuss with her how to fix things she didn’t understand. I didn’t have to go through a committee or get permission to fix what we thought was broken. All we have to do now is run a command to update our system live in a matter of minutes. Try doing that when working in an organization divided into job functions and heavy processes.

Building Something That Matters

If you read TechCrunch or any other news site focused on startups, you have noticed that there is a lot going on. However, the majority of the startups mentioned are focused on one of two things: social networking and media (music and video). He is why I wouldn’t touch one with a ten foot pole:

  • There is too much competition. Unless you’re a well-rounded genius, you’re not going to be much different than those competing in the same space with the same ideas.
  • Their business models are weak like all the startups that went belly-up in 1999. Most rely on advertising revenue. Although revenue is based on click-throughs instead of impressions, the same ads shown on multiple sites will become noise and people will stop clicking.
  • They are based on fads. Don’t get me wrong, I love Facebook and I love YouTube, but they can be an incredible time sink. The first two or three months I was on FB, I generated a lot of activity, as did my friends. I would have to visit FB at least twice a day to not miss anything. Now I see two to three days worth of activity on the homepage. The novelty of “Josia is eating gummy bears” is wearing off.

So what’s a budding entrepreneur to do? Solve a current consumer or business problem. Find a niche market or monopoly that you can beat at their own game because they’re just too big and bulky and outdated and used to doing things the old way. Create a novel device with BUG. Just don’t do what everyone else is doing because they’re all doing it.

Day Three

A few days ago I left my day job to take a serious stab at a startup with Patrick Joyce.

Day one: Patrick helped me get up-to-speed on Mac OS X; we defined our tasks for the week; we looked at the problem domain and designed the core of our web app; and we set up our Rails development instance.

Day two: we developed with Patrick in the driver’s seat and me in the passenger’s. I played back-seat-driver by helping to make design decisions, catching typos and logic bugs, and learning from the driver.

Day three: we developed with me in the driver’s seat and Patrick in the passenger’s. Patrick played back-seat-driver.

Affirmations

  1. Having two, complementary co-founders makes for good, quick, and concrete decisions. Good, quick, and concrete decisions lead to appropriate and quick actions.
  2. Mac OS X, Rails, and TextMate make web development super-efficient.
  3. Pair programming results in the development of correct, readable, and maintainable code.
  4. Working a reasonable amount of hours, remembering to eat healthy food, and sleeping well keeps you sharp.