What Facebook and Instagram Can Learn From Snapchat’s Incredible Success With Younger Users

Why can't Facebook and Instagram figure out how to get more young users per year than Snapchat? originally appeared on Quorathe place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by Mills Baker, former Product Designer at Facebook, on Quora:

When a marketplace features many comparable suppliers, consumer preferences get harder to understand, presumably because while rational calculations among distinct offerings are converged upon, less-rational calculations among equivalents show diversities rivaling that of individual humans themselves (indeed because of those humans: less-rational calculations often sum subconscious associations, little-understood aesthetic preferences, impressions born of experience, and other widely variable elements). The saturated US "personal sharing network product" market may be something like this, especially for teenagers (to whom Facebook's compelling differentiator --that it has everyone-- does not sound too good).

That said, we can assume that this (specific) market of US teenagers prefers Snapchat to Facebook, Instagram, or Messenger for some combination of these kinds of reasons:

  • Snapchat may have differentiating features or differentiating implementations of features (e.g. streaks; their specific frames; Map; etc.). I think there is some truth to this, but little. Most of Snapchat's features seem likelier to help with retention than adoption; some are inaccessible to new users.
  • Snapchat may have a differentiating absence of features, too (no profile; no feed crowding into your sense of self or presence or whatever; no reactions; etc.) I think there may be some truth to this. Feeds are very public. Teens, if I recall it correctly, are private in various ways.
  • Snapchat may have network advantages: if US teen usage has been declining at FB for several years, new teens continually compare heavily-used and -populated Snapchat with a FB that lacks e.g. their elder siblings, their older friends, their peers (and has their older family, their teachers, maybe their own baby photos!) Unlike Facebook, however, Snapchat's network has not evidently expanded beyond the contexts teen users want; that is, older siblings and even parents may be there, but (perhaps due to the aforementioned absence of feeds and profiles) it matters less. Or perhaps their day of reckoning is coming!
  • Snapchat may have marketing/branding-based differentiation, which can happen in some markets. Because marketing of this sort is extremely costly, it formerly appeared that this would be so expensive as to guarantee Facebook eventual victory. But Snapchat might for whatever reasons --perhaps some of the above, and especially the potential network advantage-- simply have a strong, persistent brand edge over Facebook, rather like Coke over Pepsi. Of course: Coke now faces its own brand threats.

It's interesting to note that it may be reasonable to think about marketing in a different way for network-based products: once at scale, no marketing at any cost will make a larger impression than your existing user base. Any advertising spend, any effort imaginable, might pale in comparison to the daily impact of your existing users on how other users, new users, and potential users think about your product. Given how intensely network effects can shift information flow, it may even be the case that changes to your product cannot have more influence than your user base! Facebook and Instagram now have many of Snapchat's features, and Instagram in particular has had a lot of success with them, but the influence of previous users, their use-cases, their norms, and their histories persists, both in behavior and in historical interfaces like feeds, profiles, and the like.

So:

  • For teens, what's good about Facebook for us --everyone we know is on it; we get the most feedback and see the most stuff there-- is not desirable at all. They don't know all these old people! They're building new social networks themselves, tentatively, and they don't need interloper nodes.
  • Thus: FB and IG have no network advantages over Snapchat. To the extent network matters at all, Snapchat may have more of their immediate demographic neighbors anyway: more of the good/relevant, less of the bad/irrelevant. Teens, as people building new social graphs in their lives, may have different networks preferences than adults.
  • In addition, Snapchat may beat Facebook and Instagram for teens as a product, in part because they're both optimized for a user at a different stage of life. One common observation: Facebook feels designed for people with social connections in many places; it makes it easy for e.g. kids at college to keep up with people back home, etc. It may be hard for Facebook not to optimize over time for this kind of network preference, as doing so will generally yield good results, which may put them at odds with teens and their concentrated, novel, shifting graphs.
  • And at last: in a market where no competitor has clearly advantageous differentiation --neither the features nor the networks confer anything clearly in this case-- brand can matter enormously. Teens may indeed be especially likely to seek an "other" brand, to differentiate themselves against older cohorts. (It's then a question whether Snapchat should prefer to somehow be a "perpetual teen" preference or to extend their features, e.g. with their Memories functionality, to support older and more "normative" use cases, which may eventually make them vulnerable to "the next Snapchat").

Whether Snapchat's brand reputation among teens reflects the facts of their product and network, the continuing "marketing effects" of their existing users, deliberate decisions made by the company in its marketing, good luck, or some combination, I couldn't say. It's also hard to say whether any of these companies can achieve serious differentiating advantage; whether Snapchat itself will "scale into" Facebook's problems or whether other new competitors will reveal a kind of "trendiness" to the social media space which makes all such companies susceptible to disruption.

This question originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world. You can follow Quora on TwitterFacebook, and Google+. More questions:

6 Easy Ways to Navigate Media Relations, Without a Public Relations Team

In our current climate, media is seen by both sides of the aisle as the enemy. We're now encouraged to question everything we hear, see or read. This isn't necessarily a bad thing; you should never just accept information at face value. However, it's also fostering an unfair view of the industry as untrustworthy.

I'm here to tell you that's not true. As someone who has worked in media relations and with media relations specialists, I can say that you really can't get anywhere today without media. Unless you're Beyoncé, which unfortunately, seven billion of us are not.

So how should you approach your relationship with the media? You don't have to grovel at their feet (they hate that), but you should also understand that the relationship is meant to be symbiotic. Yes, you can help them, but ultimately you need their help, and there are right and wrong ways to go about getting that help. These are some of my best tips for fostering media relationships, even if you don't have a fancy PR team to help you.

1. Forget about what's in it for you.

You know how when you're writing a cover letter, you're supposed to emphasize how you can help the company, not what the job will do for you? If you don't know, now you know, and you should apply this to your media relationships, as well.

When you're reaching out to a reporter, don't write about what you need from them or what media coverage could do for your business. Show them why the story is important to their readers--and thus, should be important to them.  

2. Be genuine.

We all want something from someone. Our friends, our family, our romantic partners--everyone has something to offer us. But we don't base our relationships around those benefits.

Instead of cold pitching reporters about your hot new product, start with an invite for coffee or a drink. Hopefully, you've actually read the reporter's work and know about their beat and their style; make that known in your e-mail, and offer a little bit of info about yourself and your company.

They'll appreciate that you see them as a person, not a one-way ticket to the front page, and in all likelihood will be willing to meet up and see how you can work together.

3. Don't be a bullshitter.

Sadly, some people can't see through bullshit. You know who can? Reporters.

If your story isn't worth telling, chances are, you know it, and you're wasting your time and a reporter's if you try to convince them otherwise. No one has a perfect pitch at the ready all the time; you need a key moment in your company's business to truly stand out.

We have a blog at Kiip, but we limit our posts to important announcements or innovations that we know are noteworthy. That's also what reporters do, so make sure you've really got a scoop before you fire off that e-mail.

4. Don't expect a puff piece.

If you're looking for someone to talk about how great you are, buy an ad. Despite what some people would like you to believe, media is an industry whose main value is integrity. Without integrity, the work of journalists is meaningless. That means puff pieces are a no-no, so don't expect them.  

I like to put myself in the reporter's shoes. The trick is to remember that the reporter isn't thinking like themselves; they're actually thinking like the reader. With me so far?

Readers want objective answers to their questions. Who runs the company? Are they good people? Have they been in any trouble? Does their product do what they say it does? The reporter's goal is to answer those questions, in order to best serve the reader, not you.  

5. Dangle the bait.

The best time to reach out to reporters is about something that hasn't happened yet; everyone wants to be the first to know something. So before you send out that three paragraph pitch to the 150 reporters in your media list, try letting your most trusted contacts in on a sneak peek.

When I was pitching Kiip, I reached out to my own trusted contacts with a simple, but intriguing line: "I've got a new form of advertising that's not intrusive, that people actually want." Advertising that's not annoying is newsworthy--although it shouldn't be!

6. Remember: They're the expert.

You might know everything there is to know about owning a startup or designing an app, but reporters know how to get people to actually care about those things. So when they tell you they're not interested, or that you need a different angle, put your ego aside and trust them. Rejection hurts, but media humiliation hurts more.

You can prepare for this, too: Workshop your pitch a little bit, and come up with multiple pitches that could be geared toward different audiences. Your idea doesn't have to die with a rejected pitch; plus, having different stories ready is always a good idea, in case multiple outlets want exclusives.

6 Easy Ways to Navigate Media Relations, Without a Public Relations Team

In our current climate, media is seen by both sides of the aisle as the enemy. We're now encouraged to question everything we hear, see or read. This isn't necessarily a bad thing; you should never just accept information at face value. However, it's also fostering an unfair view of the industry as untrustworthy.

I'm here to tell you that's not true. As someone who has worked in media relations and with media relations specialists, I can say that you really can't get anywhere today without media. Unless you're Beyoncé, which unfortunately, seven billion of us are not.

So how should you approach your relationship with the media? You don't have to grovel at their feet (they hate that), but you should also understand that the relationship is meant to be symbiotic. Yes, you can help them, but ultimately you need their help, and there are right and wrong ways to go about getting that help. These are some of my best tips for fostering media relationships, even if you don't have a fancy PR team to help you.

1. Forget about what's in it for you.

You know how when you're writing a cover letter, you're supposed to emphasize how you can help the company, not what the job will do for you? If you don't know, now you know, and you should apply this to your media relationships, as well.

When you're reaching out to a reporter, don't write about what you need from them or what media coverage could do for your business. Show them why the story is important to their readers--and thus, should be important to them.  

2. Be genuine.

We all want something from someone. Our friends, our family, our romantic partners--everyone has something to offer us. But we don't base our relationships around those benefits.

Instead of cold pitching reporters about your hot new product, start with an invite for coffee or a drink. Hopefully, you've actually read the reporter's work and know about their beat and their style; make that known in your e-mail, and offer a little bit of info about yourself and your company.

They'll appreciate that you see them as a person, not a one-way ticket to the front page, and in all likelihood will be willing to meet up and see how you can work together.

3. Don't be a bullshitter.

Sadly, some people can't see through bullshit. You know who can? Reporters.

If your story isn't worth telling, chances are, you know it, and you're wasting your time and a reporter's if you try to convince them otherwise. No one has a perfect pitch at the ready all the time; you need a key moment in your company's business to truly stand out.

We have a blog at Kiip, but we limit our posts to important announcements or innovations that we know are noteworthy. That's also what reporters do, so make sure you've really got a scoop before you fire off that e-mail.

4. Don't expect a puff piece.

If you're looking for someone to talk about how great you are, buy an ad. Despite what some people would like you to believe, media is an industry whose main value is integrity. Without integrity, the work of journalists is meaningless. That means puff pieces are a no-no, so don't expect them.  

I like to put myself in the reporter's shoes. The trick is to remember that the reporter isn't thinking like themselves; they're actually thinking like the reader. With me so far?

Readers want objective answers to their questions. Who runs the company? Are they good people? Have they been in any trouble? Does their product do what they say it does? The reporter's goal is to answer those questions, in order to best serve the reader, not you.  

5. Dangle the bait.

The best time to reach out to reporters is about something that hasn't happened yet; everyone wants to be the first to know something. So before you send out that three paragraph pitch to the 150 reporters in your media list, try letting your most trusted contacts in on a sneak peek.

When I was pitching Kiip, I reached out to my own trusted contacts with a simple, but intriguing line: "I've got a new form of advertising that's not intrusive, that people actually want." Advertising that's not annoying is newsworthy--although it shouldn't be!

6. Remember: They're the expert.

You might know everything there is to know about owning a startup or designing an app, but reporters know how to get people to actually care about those things. So when they tell you they're not interested, or that you need a different angle, put your ego aside and trust them. Rejection hurts, but media humiliation hurts more.

You can prepare for this, too: Workshop your pitch a little bit, and come up with multiple pitches that could be geared toward different audiences. Your idea doesn't have to die with a rejected pitch; plus, having different stories ready is always a good idea, in case multiple outlets want exclusives.

6 Tips for Government Contracting Success for Small Businesses – Part 1

You might think government contracting is only for big businesses. Think again. Small businesses CAN really excel in this space.  

When you think of government contracting - especially defense contracting - you probably think of gigantic corporations like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, or General Dynamics. But small businesses can play a big role as government contractors, too. In fact, in some cases, government decision makers prefer small businesses because they are more nimble, innovative, and can move more quickly than the behemoths.

There are many ways you can leverage your status to secure contracts successfully.   

As an African American woman technology entrepreneur, I have always obtained the Minority Woman Business Enterprise (MWBE) certification for every business I've founded. It helped present me as a "validated" solution to a new channel, group of large customers, or large defense contractors.

Here are some keys to success in government contracting:

1. Know the rules - most of them anyway

Government contracting is loaded with rules and regulations. You'll never know them all, so don't be intimidated, but you do need to do your homework.

A great example of a successful technology government contractor is G2 Software Systems (G2), led by Georgia Griffith, founder and CEO, who has steered the business for nearly 30 years and has grown it to over $50 million in annual revenues.

"There's a lot of rules and regulations," Griffith said during a discussion I had with her about the insights she's gained over the years. "But you have be courageous and know you'll never know all the rules and do the best you can. It takes a little nerve. You can't know everything, but you can't let that stop you either. Many large government agencies have experienced experts such as small business procurement advisors on their team to assist small business owners with gaining access to the latest regulations."

2. Get certifications when you need them

Government contracts require different certifications. If you don't have them, you probably won't be  competitive as competitive as you could be. One of the most common is the 8A certification, which is required to access federal contracts.

In software, Griffith said you need a CMMI (Capability Maturity Model Integration) certification in process improvement (like Six Sigma Black Belt).

The government also typically requires you use a Certified Cost Plus Accounting System, which can be set up in QuickBooks. And later, when you're a prime contractor on deals worth more than $20 million, you'll need a Certified Purchasing System.

3. Audits are standard operating process

Know that getting audited is just part of the job. When you're under audit, make sure you have someone who speaks the government's language. And keep all your documentation.

In summary, it never hurts to go by the book, especially when you're new to government contracting. You don't know what you don't know, so keep asking questions from those more experienced in this business. That will help ensure you get all the certifications you need and set you up to pass an audit with flying colors.  

About the author:

Kim Folsom is the founder of LIFT Development Enterprises, a not-for-profit, community development organization with a mission to help underserved, underrepresented small-business owners thrive. She is also the co-founder and CEO of Founders First Capital Partners, LLC, a small business growth accelerator and revenue-based venture fund. To learn more about Kim and her company's mission to help grow and fund 1000 underserved and underrepresented small businesses by 2026 via their Founders Business Growth Bootcamp program, visit http://fbgbootcampsignup.liftde.org/

How Bad PR Can Kill Your Business (and How to Avoid It)

In the age of social media, the speed at which bad news can spread makes it tough for businesses to manage a crisis. However, it's crucial that your organization have a set plan in place to prevent negative situations -- or, if necessary, deal with issues when they arise. 

Take it from me having a plan saved my business when an overzealous government regulator closed down my sole supplier of our top selling product and told the press that the product was unsafe. We anticipated in our planning this very scenario and made a plan B and fought back. 

Are you confident in your business's ability to both prevent and deal with potentially negative PR situations? Follow these steps to keep your team ahead of the game.

1. Keep your data secure.

When it comes to public relations, data security needs to be top of mind, no matter your industry. According to David Wagner, CEO of the email encryption and data security organization Zix, companies in less-regulated industries--retail, for example--may not have as robust security as they truly need. But this is based on an incomplete understanding of data breaches. "Regulatory fines and fees are damaging, but the damage to consumer confidence, brand standing, and the bottom line are much worse," Wagner says.

In other words, a data breach could seriously impact the trust of your customers, leading to lower sales and, in the worst-case scenario, a fatal fall from the marketplace. And don't think small businesses are immune: Nearly two-thirds of all cyber attacks target smaller companies.

"Hackers focus on the value of the data, not on the size of the business," Wagner says. "As hackers devise more advanced and less recognizable threats, organizations that continue to settle for cybersecurity strategies that rely on a 'feeling' of security are taking even greater risks in the coming year."

Do your business and your customers a favor and place data security at the top of your priorities. Meet with a data security firm to find out how you can start taking better care of your digital information and put those new processes into place immediately.

2. Be proactive in addressing potential workplace harassment.

Workplace harassment has become an especially important topic recently, with allegations spanning numerous industries. Although the problem is complex, the fix in your business should be simple: Implement a zero-tolerance policy against sexual harassment and begin enforcing it today.

This means making it clear to all employees that they are both able and encouraged to come forward and report possible misconduct. Emphasize that all accusations will be taken with the utmost seriousness and pursued to their full extent, even when high-level employees are implicated. Establish an environment that is both open and trusting, so employees feel comfortable in coming forward, knowing they will not face retribution.

If you're still concerned your employees will feel hesitant, make it easier by establishing a hotline or online process that allows them to report an incident anonymously. You can also establish numerous options for in-person reporting. Employees might report misconduct to their own manager, to human resources, or to a designated company leader, choosing the route that feels most comfortable to them.

Creating an environment where accusations of workplace harassment are taken seriously and handled appropriately isn't just something you should do to avoid bad press. It's critical to fostering an environment where all employees can feel safe and valued.

3. Establish a quality control process for all content that your brand releases.

From marketing materials to blog content to even a single tweet, a poorly thought-out message can have an absolutely devastating impact on a company and quickly lead to a PR disaster.

Avoid a communications crisis by designating a specific point person in your organization whose sole responsibility is to review all company content before it hits mass release, including tweets. A ticking PR time bomb could be buried in even the most mundane or seemingly lighthearted statements.

4. Have a crisis management plan in case something does occur.

Let's face it: You can't avoid all negative situations, which is why it's important to be prepared beforehand. "Thousands of organizations hit by natural and man-made disasters will have suffered far more damage than would have occurred with a fully developed crisis communications plan in place," says Jonathan Bernstein  President of Bernstein Crisis Management.

The first steps of such a plan have already been addressed here -- anticipate crisis ahead of time and have the right people looking over all communication efforts. But it's also important for your company to remember to focus its efforts internally.

When dealing with a tough situation, make sure to clearly communicate the circumstances to all stakeholders and coach them on what they should say when asked about it. Have a concise, straightforward company message available to all employees and present a united front to the press. It can even be helpful to develop general statements ahead of time for more common situations, such as personal losses or natural disasters.

Obviously, it's best to forestall a PR catastrophe by preventing situations that might cause them in the first place. And by putting the right processes in place, you will be more prepared for a PR crisis if one should strike. Remember, good crisis management comes down to good communication, so do the preventative legwork now and save your business -- and yourself -- a massive headache down the road.

Exploring Instagram for SMB: Interview with Morgan Cornelius of Instagram

With a large part of marketing resting in the social media space, it can be tough to know exactly how to best use the tools set before us by social networking giants like Instagram. Especially for the SMB owner who is already wearing thirteen hats. I sat down with Morgan Cornelius of Instagram's SMB team to find out what tools to use to reach your customers.

LM: Let's start with a snapshot of you and what you do for Instagram.

MC: I lead the SMB team at Instagram which means I get to meet, work with, and educate small and medium businesses every single day. I love working with entrepreneurs, and hearing how their businesses came to be.
LM: How did you come to join this team?
MC: Prior to Instagram, I worked at Yelp for five years as their Business Outreach Manager for North America. While there, I fell in love with the passion and drive small business owners put into growing their businesses. When Instagram started their SMB team, I knew I had to be part of it.

LM: What is your favorite part about working with the Instagram SMB team?

MC: There are so many incredible businesses that I've met over the years, and being able to have a front row seat to their success - whether that's starting their company from scratch, finding new customers, interacting with their biggest fans, or using new creative tools - is hugely satisfying.
LM: Tell me about the start of Instagram Stories. How did IG think of the concept and what was the inspiration?

MC: When our founders created Instagram, they wanted it to be a place where you can share all your moments. But as Instagram grew, so did the pressure around sharing. People felt like the feed was only for their highlights. Stories let people share all the personal moments from their day, not just the ones they want to keep on their profile. Since launch, we've seen people and businesses in the community sharing their behind-the-scenes moments, daily happenings, and personalities through stories.

LM: Why do you think it has become so successful?

MC: Instagram Stories is successful because businesses are able to take their customers and prospects places they otherwise wouldn't have been able to go. They are able to show BTS footage, create a sense of urgency with the products they are highlighting at given moment (like announcing a 24-hour sale), and in some cases, ask for real-time feedback from their audience on potential products. Instagram has always been a place for people and businesses to connect, and now businesses can do so in ways that feel real and personal.

LM: As a small business owner, what are the most effective tools that I could be using on IG to grow my business, but maybe don't know about?

MC: For starters, you'll want to make sure you've switched over to a business profile as it will allow you to enable a contact button (email, call, directions) should someone come across your account and want to get in touch with you. Beyond having a contact button on your profile, you'll also be able to access Business Insights which will help you understand your audience, including information like age, gender, and location, along with how your posts and Instagram Stories are performing.

In addition to switching over to a business profile, businesses should also consider engaging with Instagram Stories. Over 300 million people use Instagram Stories every day. Over half of the businesses on Instagram create stories each month, and the community is watching--with one-third of the most viewed stories coming from businesses.

LM: Is there anything that is an urban legend? Things that businesses are doing, but shouldn't or are doing incorrectly?

MC: I find that businesses tend to stick with what they're comfortable with, but diversifying your content can be really powerful. There are so many formats that you can use now on Instagram, so don't be afraid to shake things up! This doesn't have to be time-consuming, Instagram has a number of creative formats in Stories (like the recently introduced Type Mode, stickers and GIFs, and video features like Boomerang and SuperZoom) and feed which are easily accessible and simple to use.

LM: What is your take on the future of Instagram for business? What's next?

MC: We're doing a lot of work to help people discover and connect with their interests on Instagram. For example, we recently launched the ability for people to follow hashtags. This is a real opportunity for business of all sizes. People want to discover new business on Instagram, particularly those creating products which match their interests. You can find people where they spend the most time, where they are engaging in things that interest them the most - and insert your products into that experience.

LM: Any predictions about the rest of the internet world for the future?

MC: Speaking for Instagram specifically, we are committed to continuing to provide tools and features to help small business grow. For example, we will soon allow people around the world to shop directly from their Instagram feed, book an appointment, or make a reservation. These tools will give businesses even more ways to reach customers on Instagram, and we're excited to support the small business community with continued updates.

So start exploring the timeline and Instagram Stories. We can't wait to see what creative content you come up with.

Sometimes You Have to Change the Rules. You Always Have to Be Careful About It.

There's an old expression that "no good deed goes unpunished," which I sometimes think has become a clichéAnd then when I watch the trials and tribulations of a business like L.L. Bean, whose good-faith commitment and lifetime guarantees to customers have been shamelessly abused for years by flea market phonies, eBay a-holes and other crafty resale store shoppers, I remember that things become clichés, not because they're pithy phrases, but because they're sadly too true. It's unfortunate when a few bad apples (cliché alert!) can spoil things for the rest of us, but it's the nature of our world today.

When a first-class firm like Bean tries to respond-- in a reasonable and long overdue way-- to creeps and cheats gaming its return policies by implementing common-sense adjustments, the company is summarily subjected to cheap shots, bad press, a bunch of SM trolls and strike suits/baseless litigation by the omnipresent class action lawyers. I just hope Bean has the guts to stick to its gum-soled hunting boots. Honestly, knowing that merchants stand behind their products for the long haul is more a source of comfort and reassurance than some kind of dollar and cents consideration.

At the same time and in the interest of full disclosure: I'm a million years old and yet I'll readily admit that, when I bought my latest pair of Doc Martens, I went with the For Life 1460's because I liked the idea that I might actually be around long enough to take advantage of the guarantee. Was the lifetime guarantee really a deciding factor in my purchase or any realistic component of the "consideration" for the commerce?  Did I detrimentally rely on the guarantee, as the lawyers say? I don't think so. It was maybe a "nice to have" add-on or a "feel-good" feature, but it certainly didn't drive the deal. I just love the boots.

And more likely, what's really at work here is another version of the classic psychological observation that many of us who are still buying books (now neatly stacked on our nightstands or in our bookcases) actually do it in part because we think that buying the books will create the time we need to read them. (Concerned digital readers should rest assured that I also have a stack of Kindles sitting right next to the pile of books.)

Of course, in our "right now" world, maybe offers of lifetime guarantees have effectively outlived their viability and even their marketing value in an age where the demand for instant gratification is intense and overnight product obsolescence is virtually assured. On the other hand, if we're lucky, the ideas and values they stand for-- excellent execution, commitment and pride, and true craftsmanship-- will never go out of style, regardless of how many cute little gizmos we can 3D print in our garages. We may not always want to pay for it, but we know great quality when we see or feel it.

This whole "good deed" thing got me thinking about how in the startup world there are also a multitude of ways in which the best of intentions can easily lead to bad decisions and lousy results.  This is something for every smart entrepreneur to keep in mind. We see a problem and we want to be super responsive; we jump to a conclusion, we impose a quick solution (a new rule, a different process, more required approvals, etc.), and then we move on to the next fire.

But, in our desire to hurry up and do something--pretty much anything, if the truth be told-- it's too easy to overdo it. When your hair's on fire, you really want to avoid putting it out with a hammer. Sound familiar? We've all been to this movie but, as often as not, it doesn't have a happy ending, for a few important reasons.

First, effective and consistent communication is harder than you think. You know what your new change is intended to accomplish and how you expect to see it implemented but, in the heat of the moment, not everyone gets the right message. And then things start to quickly go south. Some folks take the news too literally and they end up slowing down every transaction in order to get things exactly right instead of only dealing with the exceptions and the outliers. People aren't good listeners and it pays to repeat yourself a lot. And also, it's very smart to keep an eye on the store so that, if and when things get off the track, you can intervene before it's too late.  As they will tell you at Cape Canaveral, a millimeter's deviation at launch and you miss the moon by miles. Head the problems off at the pass and save a lot of grief in the future.

Second, even startups can be surprisingly bureaucratic. You don't want to answer the same questions over and over again and, for sure, you don't want to waste time addressing the same problem repeatedly, so you make a new policy or rule in order to put things behind you and to bed. And sometimes that happens. But policies don't put themselves into effect; people need to be part of the program and, here again, it quickly becomes clear that one size (or one solution) never fits every situation. You've got to make room for some flexibility and exceptions to even the best rules. Rote rules make for robots, not great results. Overkill is a real issue and customers are very sensitive to changes in the ways you've always done things. This is especially true if you haven't done a good job of explaining the "why" for the change as well as the "what" that has changed for both your team members and your clients and customers as well.  

And finally, take your time and try to overcome your best/worst instincts to fix something fast. Not everything is a fire drill or a complete crisis and going off half-cocked is the worst thing you can do in sensitive situations -- especially when it later becomes clear that you charged off in the wrong direction. In the short term, people want answers, but in the long run, people don't remember how quickly you fixed something; they remember how well the solution worked out for them.