Category Archives: Business stuff

Reducing my inputs

I’m taking more control of when I receive messages and notifications from the external world.

I’m finding that when I received a LinkedIn “connection request” or “so-so tagged you in a photo” on Facebook” or “your answer was upvoted…” on Quora, even if I didn’t look at it or respond to it right away, the notification showing on my locked screen and on the app icons are just too distracted. It’s like having a loose string on a t-shirt. I can live with it for about three seconds before I need to deal with it.

(PRO TIP: Here is a VERY detailed post on how to turn off notificaitons on your iPhone…)

Taking stock of my iPhone apps, there are only a few content and communication apps that I use – Facebook, Twitter, FourSquare, Quora, LinkedIn, Flowdock (work), and text messaging. I’m purging a few, and turning off notifications for others.


So… decisions were made… Here’s the recount of my inventory taking:

FourSquare – Was on my phone home page and I only used it for airports and occasionally when I’m at a place like the Farmer’s Market where I like to snap a fun picture of my son of what I’m doing and post to Facebook. I never go back and reference places I’ve been. Who am I talking to here anyway?

Decision: Deleted

Facebook – Sorry friends. I really don’t look at what you’re doing all that often, and if I have a few idle moments of time – say in line at a store or airport, I want to fill that time with more targeted learning for my brain like podcasts or book reading.

Decision: Deleted

Twitter – This was a bit of a decision for me. I have a more focused list there of people I’m following, so in a way, it’s sort of learning through semi-curated content, except there’s still too much noise. The chances of hitting good content on the fly on my phone is too small. I have TweetDeck on my laptop and I have a few lists there, and whatever. I can find what I need when I need it.

Decision: Deleted

LinkedIn – This app made the cut.I’m keeping this one for now. I do use it when I’m going into a meeting (or in a meeting) to check out someone’s background and look for common connections and interests. (It’s also an app I keep open constantly on my laptop when I’m working.

Note: I’m also putting together a series of e-books on tips for using LinkedIn. Stayed tuned… You can sign up now right here and I’ll email you a copy when it’s ready.

Decision: Stays, with notifications disabled.

Quora – Somewhat personally curated content for topics that I chose. The quality is generally good, and mostly I use the mobile app to save questions that I might want to answer later on during a writing sessions.

Decision: Stays, with notifications disabled.

Flowdock – This is a work app that we use for internal chatter. This needs to stay on my phone, and I’ve turned off the notifications from showing on my locked screen. I have my account set up so that I receive an email when someone messages be here, and turning off the notifications prevents weekend interruptions.

Decision: Stays, with notifications disabled. 


Dear LinkedIn: You can do better with your UI.

Last night, I tweeted:

Screenshot 2014-03-12 07.47.35

And received this response:

Screenshot 2014-03-12 07.47.44

I consider myself a LinkedIn power user. I’m a Premium subscriber and keep LinkedIn open in my browser as part of my work flow  – identifying customer development and sales prospects, researching people on a call invite I’ve never met, and connecting with new and old contacts to continually build my network. Spending this much time in any application reveals warts, and LinkedIn is a pretty hairy toad.

So okay, LinkedIn. Here are a few – not all – of the problems I have with your UI:

1. Why do you shut off third party API access? I mean, I know why you do it. And it’s stupid. I received this email from RelateIQ, my CRM, yesterday:

Screenshot 2014-03-12 08.16.52

I just googled “linkedin api shut down.”

Screenshot 2014-03-12 08.18.17

Silly. Just silly. You know that job change notification service you shut down? That’s how I got my current position at Blend Labs. I received one of these notices for our CEO when he updated his profile on starting the company. I thought – “Oh hey – I’ve haven’t talked to Nima in a while. I should ping him.” And I did. Three months later I was consulting for the company and now I’m the VP of Sales and Marketing. Pretty cool. Because of one simple, silly little email notification that you shut off. Thanks for that.

2. Why can I click the direct user page URL from a profile, especially if I’m connected to that person? I used the search box to find a contact and then clicked on the search result. See below. From this view, the URL is gobbly-gook. All I wanted to do is grab my contact’s personal LinkedIn URL to include in an email. Now I have click the “Contact Info” tab to find the contact’s personal URL. Ridiculous.

Screenshot 2014-03-12 07.40.47Screenshot 2014-03-12 07.50.33

3. Why can’t “Reminders” be added to my top navigation bar? I started using the “Reminder” feature in the “Relationship” tab. The only place I’m reminding is buried at the bottom of my daily email feed from LinkedIn which I don’t get to everyday or simply forget to check:

Screenshot 2014-03-12 07.53.21

4. If I am a successful InMailer, why can’t I get props for that? My InMail ratings are 5-star. I’ve sent out more than 50 InMails, and received responses for about 50%, with 100% of those responses giving me a 5-star rating. No joke. 100%. For the rest, a response wasn’t received and the InMails were returned to me.

If I’m that good on InMailing, why not give me credit? Think of it like NFL challenge flags. When coaches challenge two calls successfully, they get another challenge. If the goal of LinkedIn is to build networks, why not reward excellent networkers like me with more InMails.

Getting three (3) InMails per month is kind of crappy, with the next step to 10 Inmails or pay $10 per InMail. In most cases, I think $10 for a successful InMail is a really good deal all things considered. It just feels like you’re nickeling and diming me, or just pushing me up to the next subscription level.

5. Why is your Inbox pull-down UI so bad? 

Screenshot 2014-03-12 08.04.32

When I hover over my mailbox icon, a pull-down menu shows my messages. The UI is so sensitive that clicking over the person’s name sends me to the person’s profile. To read the message, I have to remember to click on the gray space to the right of the message listing, which also happens to be to the right of the “Delete” button. The UI doesn’t discern for me what action I will be taking based on where I place my pointer. This is just bad usability.

6. Why can’t I tag, sort, or archive LinkedIn emails categorically?

Screenshot 2014-03-12 08.07.56

I’m doing some heavy outreach this week, setting up meetings at conference next week. As I’m pinging and emailing with people, my LinkedIn email inbox fills quickly and I can’t sort, tag, or otherwise categorize my emails. Instead I have to use  “Search Inbox” to find emails. I’d like to tag emails and correspondence into buckets – i.e. by conference, by client type, by outreach method and source, etc. I can’t do that.

7. Why do you have two search boxes within the Inbox page? Do you know how many times I’m trying to search for a person by name in this top navigation bar only to get search results from my Inbox? So. Freaking. Frustrating.

Screenshot 2014-03-12 08.24.08

8. Why can’t I search more naturally? For example, I searched “duke university fuqua 2002” and the results were not ordered or relevant except for the very first result who was a classmate and a first-level connection. I have 10+ first-level connections from my MBA cohort in my Contacts. Why is only one shown and the rest of the search results garbage?

Screenshot 2014-03-12 08.25.42

9. Why does the page reset after viewing a profile on “People You May Know?” If I take a few minutes to scroll through your suggestions and then click on a profile, when I go back to the “People You May Know” page, I have to start all over at the top of the page. I may have been scrolling down for several minutes before clicking on an individual profile. Blech.

Screenshot 2014-03-12 08.29.44


So there are nine ideas for you. That’s all I’ve got time to do. Time to get to work. And spend a couple of hours in LinkedIn.

What it took to retrieve a lost bag on Amtrak’s Capitol Corridor. [hint: too much effort]


amtrak stations

I commute to San Francisco a few days a week, using Amtrak’s Capitol Corridor line from Davis to Emeryville, then the Amtrak bus connection to San Francisco that stops a block from my office. Wednesday was a normal commuting day, except that I had my carry-on suitcase in tow, as I was flying from SFO that night for a two-day business trip. I almost forgot the suitcase on the train in Emeryville, only remembering it because I happened to select the door to the left of my seat which led me past the storage shelf where I left it when I boarded in Davis. Whew… Crisis avoided.

After I disembarking the train in Emeryville and boarding the San Francisco-bound commuter bus, I placed the suitcase across from my seat in an open space.

Well, I think you know where this is going by now…

Here’s play-by-play of my story retrieving the suitcase after I left it on the commuter bus. Plenty of customer service lessons here from a company that clearly hasn’t thought through “Customer Service” from the perspective of the customer. I have praised Amtrak in the past, most recently during the BART strike in October:

amtrak bart strike

In the end, my suitcase was found and left at a spot where I could easily retrieve it. It only took me 11 phone calls and 46 minutes of phone time over 66 minutes to reach that conclusion. Too frustrating. Should have been 1-2 calls. Most of the frustration was due to a lack of communication system interoperability within Amtrak and how the front line Amtrak agents communicate with customers. Once I reached the back office operations team, the problem was resolved quickly. Getting to them took persistence. A customer should not feel that they put in all the work to resolve an issue.

This was my mistake – I’m the one that left my suitcase on the bus. I just can’t believe that I’m the only person that’s ever done this.

Here’s my phone log of the entire escapade:

amtrak phone log

Here’s the play-by-play:

7:40 – Disembarked Amtrak Bus #3323 at the corner of 9th and Market Street.

7:48 – Sat down at my desk and realized that I left my suitcase on the bus. I initially think this is a nuisance but one that should get figured out pretty quickly considering the proximity to the bus line that runs every hour near my office.

I thought this would be resolved by 1) called Amtrak Customer Service, 2) having them contact the bus driver via dispatch, 3a) ask the driver to either hold the bag for the next loop around and I would retrieve the bag or 3b) take it to Emeryville where I could retrieve from there. I expected 3a to be an acceptable and realistic outcome.

7:49 – Called the Amtrak Capitol Corridor line at (800) 872-7245. The recording told me – “Thank you for calling Amtrak Capitol Corridor. Our office hours are from 8am to 5pm, Monday through Friday…” Now I’m annoyed that I need to wait another 11 minutes and the bus is moving along on its route.

7:50 – Called Amtrak main line reservations line and after six minutes on hold, I talked to a reservations agent that told me that the main Amtrak reservation system was not connected to the Amtrak Capitol Corridor system, and that I’d have to wait to contact Capitol Corridor (CC) when they opened at 8am.

8:00 – Called Amtrak CC line and spoke to Alexis. She told me that there was no way for reservations to contact dispatch at the Emeryville station. I asked if there was a phone number for the Emeryville station. “I know that the drivers are constantly in touch with the station. If we called the station, they could radio to the driver.” She replied – “ No, there is no phone number for that station. We don’t have anyway of contacting them.”

To reiterate, the reservations team is in Oakland, the next town over from Emeryville, and there’s no way to contact that station.

Instead, the agent told me that she could connect me to Customer Service “upstairs” at (510) 464-6995, which I learned after asking, is in the same building as her in Oakland.

I explained to her – well actually, I begged her – “Please understand – I am flying from SFO tonight for a business trip and I really need to have my suitcase. I’m sure you can appreciate this situation.” She told me – “There’s nothing we can do” and asked if I’d like to speak with a supervisor. I declined the invitation and asked her to transfer me to Customer Service.

I was greeted with a voicemail message – “If you’d like to leave a comment, please leave a message.” The recording also offered the Amtrak Lost and Found number in Sacramento. I didn’t leave a message.

8:13 – Left VM on the Lost & Found line. Their recording indicated that all goods found on Amtrak’s Capitol Corridor train would be delivered to Lost & Found in Sacramento. Now I’m really starting to worry that my bag will filter there for no other reason that I’m not able to speak with someone to stop it.

8:16 – Called back to Capitol Corridor reservations line and spoke to another agent. She also said the reservations could not contact stations or dispatch, and suggested that I talk to Customer Service. I explained that I had left a message with Lost & Found, and that time was an issue. She transferred me to Customer Service, where I was greeted with the same recording. I left a message this time.

8:37 – Posted a request to Twitter:amtrak tweet 3

8:40 – I realized another bus would be coming around for next round of commuters a block away very soon. I checked online and saw the next drop off time was scheduled for 8:55am. I walked outside, crossed street and saw the Amtrak bus already pulling over a block away. It was ahead of schedule.

I took off at full sprint and caught the bus driver. I explained my issue and to please call dispatch. He said he would and had to keep motoring along to make his next stops. I headed back to office.

8:43 – I called into the Customer Service line again and Georgeanne answered. A real live human!! Told her my issues and she quickly transferred me to Hubrit Harrington (sp?) in Operations. He took my info and said he would call me right back after contacting Compass Transportation, which is the outside company Amtrak Capitol Corridor contracts for the bus service.

8:50 – Hubrit called back and said Compass would contact me. I asked Hubrit if I could call him back with questions. He said he would be there until 11am, and if I needed to call after, to call back to Customer Service line and ask for Tamika White.

8:52 – Andrew from Compass called me to tell me that the bag has been found and would be left at Amtrak ticket office at the Ferry Building. He gave me his personal cell phone number in case I had any questions.

8:54 – I called Hubrit back to thank him for his help.

9:46 – My awesome wife saw my Twitter post on Facebook. She found the phone number for the Emeryville station that supposedly did not exist: 510-450-1080. Fortunately I didn’t need the number at this point.

11:49 – Ordered an Uberx for a ride to Ferry Building and back.

12:19 – Back at the office with my bag.

Phone numbers: Amtrak Capitol Corridor in Oakland: (510) 464-6995Amtrak Emeryville Station: (510) 450-1080

Speaking & presenting

I’m meeting with Jim Prost this morning. Jim is a speech and presentation coach, and the guy that helped me deliver my TEDx presentation back in 2012. I would have withered on stage without his help in the days leading up to the event.

I’ve also been reading a couple of Judy Carter’s books – The Comedy Bible and The Message of You. Both are enormously helpful, especially when you do the exercises she’s developed.

I think I’m pretty good at speaking now, and do it often via workshops, sales presentations, hosting Meetups, and conferences. I want to be much more than pretty good. I want to be freaking awesome, and I think I can get there.

“What the heck is happening?”

Captain’s Log: Friday, November 22, 2003. 4:16pm.

Location: Cloud Forest Cafe, where all non-office SalesQualia productivity takes place

Report: We launched our “Startup Selling” course late on Saturday, and had a small flurry of sign-ups on Sunday and Monday. We flattened out around 25 users after the initial posting, then on Thursday the rocket ship took off.

Email after email came in – “____ just joined your Startup Selling Udemy course.” We couldn’t figure it out. Well, turns out someone posted a link to the course on a forum, which has been driving traffic to us ever since. We’re now north of 225 users and climbing.

I spent the afternoon sending out a few more invitations to friends and colleagues, with lots more to go on this front. We’ve also earned two reviews.

Udemy sent us a list of updates to make – relatively minor (from their perspective) – such as cleaning up the audio and adding better images. Yes, the course is under constant improvement.

Comments on the Team: Robert “The Man With No Title” Wharton is a beast. He’s been handling all of the technical issues like a champ. From Robert earlier today:

Subject: Finished Sound Editing!!

Robert Wharton
1:51 PM (2 hours ago)

to me
The subject line says it all!!! Don’t take this personally, but I’m really tired of listening to you… All I have to do now is finish exporting all of the revamped videos and then upload them to Udemy.

I’m almost finished with all of the lecture descriptions as well and will then create a new cover photo.


He even updated his LinkedIn profile. We are in rock-and-roll mode right now.

Next Steps: Udemy will post to it’s public forum after the updates, then it’s off to the races to hit 1000 users.

Current State: Happily tired. Relieved that the course is taking off. Satisfied with our progress. A little surprised by how much we’ve accomplished this week, and over the last four weeks.

It’s live.

I clicked “Publish” on our Startup Selling Udemy course last night.

Then I emailed all of the people prepaid and preregistered for the course via our numerous landing page campaigns this week.

This morning, I already started updating and revising the course. It’s now 12noon, and we have our first two completely random people join the class. Cool. I sure hope it’s good.  So many more ideas – ways to improve, more work to do, paranoia that it’s too long, too complicated, not complete enough, that the video angles should be better, that I should have included quiz questions, that I should have presold more, that I should have set up better marketing channels, and …, and …, and …

Time to start learning – both for the course takers and me.

My notes from last week’s Zappos tour

Life coach
Western day
Culture names
License plate after a year
Culture book – employee generated. Like a year book. Core values after books written.
Vending machines are .25 each and $ goes to charity of the quarter
Fred is the No Title Guy
All employees take 8 hours of phone service time.
Personal service levels monitors performance – call reviews once a month. 85% is minimum. Rating based on Connection and Accuracy. 80-85% call time of total work time.
Resource desk is customer service to customer service. “The Pirate Team”
Shift bids every six months.
Open 24 hours
Get Off Your Butt Sean Stevenson
$2000 offer to quit
Monkey Room. No Executives.
Time Ninjas.