How to Sell Sealed

There are many ways to spin a product. Facebook could have been sold to baby boomers who wanted to reconnect with long lost college classmates. Twitter could have been spun as a way for activists to amplify their message. Snapchat could have been marketed as a tool for business professionals to communicate instantaneously across departments or between cities.

But Facebook started with, creating that initial scarcity that made it desirable. Twitter managed to combine microblogging-as-self-expression with tweeting-as-public-broadcasting, and Snapchat flamed its way through every high school in the nation as a way to thwart their parents.

How did these companies know to target the users that they did? Did they do extensive market research and customer validation? Did they run focus groups and a/b test taglines and color schemes? Was the process wholly scientific or was it human intuition that led to these decisions? Of course the answer is probably somewhere in the middle, but what does that mean for Sealed?

Sending a time capsule message is a very abstract concept, and as such, there are a number of different use cases that could be compelling to different users.

The Relationship-Driven User

Use Sealed to give your friends or family something to look forward to. Send your significant other a message in the morning that will unlock when they get out of work at 5pm.

The Pragmatist

Send birthday and holiday messages and gifts ahead of time. Never miss a birthday again.

The Sentimentalist

“Someday this moment will mean something.” These users are haunted by the passage of time and our ever-pending mortality, leaving themselves a trail of breadcrumbs for then they are old and “remembering the days when…”

The Joker

Send a friend a message for 25 years from now. Why? Because you can. Better yet, send a picture of nothing. Imagine the let-down…

– – –

Each of these approaches will appeal to a different user. How do I know which of these users will be the most engaged and likely to become an active evangelist? How can I decide on how to sell Sealed?

The following are potential strategies for customer validation.

  • Short ~$50 campaigns of Facebook / Google ads, A/B testing.
    Pros: nearly immediate results in hard data. Cons: expensive and hard to avoid bias in the testing process. Validately and Optimizely do this. This guy did it with $30.
  • Create an online survey.
    Pros: will receive subjective feedback in real sentences from real people, which could result in insights. Cons: survey design is tricky, hard to avoid bias. Hard to get large number of responses, and most people responding will know me personally, contributing another layer of bias.
  • Go out into the world and ask.
    Pros: real-time feedback from town centers, shopping malls, etc, could lead to enlightening conversations. In person I can make note of the subtler aspects of people’s reactions and probe deeper into unexpected results. Cons: very easy to ask ‘leading’ questions. Responses in person are likely to be self-censored to some extent in order to “be nice” / protect my ego.

What this all boils down to is a conundrum. I am currently trying to design a product for a user that I have not truly identified yet. My unscientific intuition-led gut-guess is first Sam and Sammy, 24-year-old lovebirds who value displaying thoughtfulness towards each other, and second, Mommy Jane with baby Jaye as she revels in those precious moments with her young child. People in relationships and young mothers are my top two guesses, but I could be completely wrong. Without a data-backed validation process, it’s impossible for me to know for sure whether I’m building a product that anyone wants, and that’s the number one rule of entrepreneurship… build something that at least SOME people really, really want.

Even with an extensive ad campaign and conclusive data, I’m still not sure I would accept validation or refutation without users having tested the actual app, because I think the experience of having an inbox full o’ surprises from your closest friends and family will be more tantalizing than a pre-product ad campaign or questionnaire can reveal. But I could simply be in love with my own idea and blind to its faults…

What do you think about how I am thinking about this? Do you have recommendations or ideas for most productive next steps? I plan to troll around the Natick Mall this coming week with some flyers and a sign-up form, maybe that will give me something to work with.

“The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.”
—Steven Pressfield

On Making Decisions

How do you make decisions? Do you have a process by which you systematically determine the best course of action, or do you live from the gut? Does decision-making come easily to you, or do you live in fear of regret? And once you make your decision, are you stubborn?

Recently, I have had a number of decisions to make regarding the manner by which I wish Sealed to be developed. While I am thrilled to have arrived at this position of choosing, I do feel the stakes rubbing up against my enthusiasm. To choose the wrong cofounder could be disastrous. To employ the wrong developers could lead to future setbacks. To entangle with the wrong source of money could be messy. To delay decision-making is equally a choice, as these opportunities will fade unless seized. So then, to seize or not to seize?

To dive into Myers Briggs for a quick minute, I feel a constant struggle between my dominant N (intuition) and my intellectually upheld tendency towards S (sensing). In plain English, that means that when confronted with multiple possibilities, I often have an early gut instinct towards the solution. However, I also believe in caution and methodological deduction as the route to a better decision. In real life, this often manifests as indecision.

In this battle between my instincts and my better senses, it can be easy to get carried away entertaining “rationality”. I have made some very, very thorough pro&con lists. I have “slept on” decisions for many nights, delaying response to emails and sometimes leaving people hanging. I am not so clueless that I employ overly rigid strategies at every turn, but I would be lying if I were to say that I have never procrastinated in face of uncertainty.

Where is the proper balance? How much should I trust my gut, and how much has my dedication to methodology actually improved my positioning?

While the canonical CEO may be guided solely by visionary instinct, and while I do often feel that initial inclination, I don’t believe, generally speaking, that I am wise nor experienced enough to operate in such a bubble.

So I talk to people. Peers and mentors, family and friends… you know who you are, because I’m often in your inbox.

In the next few days, decisions will be made. In the next few months, Sealed will be built. To all of you who have lent your expertise or ear in the last few days or months, thank you for being there, and expect future phone calls…

A List of Lists

Senior year in college I co-led a student forum on Entrepreneurship. It was a survey course with a different theme each week, progressing from theoretical subjects to more practical exercises over the course of 13 weeks. In the 5th week, the theme was “Who are entrepreneurs?” For the first half of class we talked about ideas such as Isaiah Berlin’s Fox and Hedgehog, “great man” theory, and the personality characteristics that may be conducive to being an entrepreneur.

In the second half of the class, we turned the focus away from examples of other people who have already gone and been entrepreneurs, and instead analyzed ourselves and our own personal tendencies. I had everyone in the class take a 10 minute Myers Briggs personality test, and then we formed ‘perfect teams’ based on our strengths and weaknesses. This sparked great discussion.

Finally, I encouraged everyone to make self-discovery an active, ongoing, and frequent activity. Personally, I love lists. Back in high school I discovered xPad and used it to keep track of my thoughts. Over time, I developed the occasionally obsessive habit of gradually adding to these lists and adding new ones. These days I use Evernote (along with more than 100 million other people..!). These lists form the backbone of my self-knowledge as well as my entrepreneurial potential, which I see as fairly closely related.

Here is a selection of lists that I have made over the years. Most of the prompts are obviously vague — they are meant to be interpreted differently over time to suit different purposes. I never start a list with the intention of providing an exhaustive “answer”. They are perpetual works in progress, a working databank that will serve you however you choose to serve yourself.

Problems I see in the world:
Problems I see in my daily life:
Sectors/fields I’d like to work in:
My favorite companies:
My personal theories:
“I am a strong believer in”:
What is my ideal situation in X years?
Questions for the world:
Answers for the world:
If I were to look back and have helped the world in one way, what would it be?
Potential project list:
How should I use my free time?
What would I do with a superpower of choice?
My favorite activities/things to do:
Subjects I am passionate about:
Fields that I might like to pioneer given any legitimacy I could automagically have:
Companies I would like to work for:
What am I not doing now that I will look back and wish I have been doing? What will I want to have been doing for years?
What change is needed?
List of questions that I should be asking:
To read/learn/general explore:
Why do I want to be an entrepreneur?
Where to work out of college?
Questions to start conversations:
Questions that stump me:
Coolest Ideas I hear about:
People in my life that inspire me:
One sentence examples of social entrepreneurship:
Concepts to learn more about:
Interesting facts about me:
List of my interests:
Some goals:
My favorite ideas:
Goals for technology:
I like it when technology does this:

Happy listing!

On the Persistence of Self

The persistence of self is a subject laden with seeming unanswerables. Am I still the same person that I was before? Will I always be the same person that I am today? If I will not be myself, who will I be, and how will I know that I am no longer me?

Of course, those black-and-white questions are likely to trigger grey answers. Am I still the same person that I was before? Well, biologically, yes, of course, barring unbeknownst full-body prosthesis or an alien brain infestation. But one day sometime in the past, I was ten years old. I looked different, I spoke differently, I had different daily concerns, and so on. Am I the same person now as I was back then?

Of course, the answer to this question is no. I am not the same person — I have had 12 years of experiences since that day, and all of those days and learnings and mistakes along the way have twisted together in my brain to produce “the person” that I am today.

The way I see it, I have been many people through the course of my life. I have been a gleeful whippersnapper, chasing soccer balls and complaining about math homework. I have been an up-and-coming cross country runner, living my life around a workout plan and caught up in petty rivalries. I have been an “American” living in a foreign city, missing my family at home and awash in the novelties of untetheredness.

I’m not just talking about roles that I play. Yes, I have indeed been an older brother and a boyfriend and a student and a young professional, but these are not the “people” that I have been, but rather are just chunks of some of my past selves.

I am referring to the succession of paradigmatic entireties that I have experienced. The things I thought about on a daily basis. The routines I developed. The people that were at the top of my recently dialed list. The issues I was concerned about, the media I was consuming, my emotional arc during each period of time.

And inevitably, periods of time end. You move to a new city. You switch jobs. You experience a trauma or a powerful change of heart. Selves might last for months, years, or even decades, but they will end, and a new reality will take shape and a new self will be born. At first, that self will still carry the influence of all of those previous selves and all of their wisdoms, but those previous selves are in immediate danger. The opponent? Time, and the twisted methods of human memory.

Memories are not discrete. They are amalgamations, assembled from components from some or all of the selves that you have been through the years. Trying to remember having breakfast on your 14th birthday is hardly more accurate than searching “kitchen” on Pinterest. Your brain will yank colors and objects and features from all of the kitchens that you have ever eaten in and photoshop them together — messily! If you zoom in, you can see the pixelation.

Memory is the linchpin in the persistence of self. If my entire life were to be filmed from my own eyes, with my emotional response catalogued and my thoughts streamed through a ticker tape, then perhaps I could know with certainty who I was relative to who I am now. However, even in this rich day, there is no such technology, and so the question remains:

If I will not be myself, who will I be, and how will I know that I am no longer me?

I cannot know if I am no longer “me”. My recollection of my previous selves is a messy reconstruction at best, and an utter falsehood at worst. I can simplify in revolt and paint a nice, tidy picture of what I imagine my self to have been like, and I can certainly choose to believe it. It’s probably pretty close to the truth, right?

Lacking the technology necessary to create any sort of objective representation of my current self, my response to this question is to scurry furiously between minutes, leaving myself a trail of bread crumbs that I think I’m going to care so much about in fifty years.

The better response is probably to live in the moment and forget I wrote this article.

Jeff’s Place

This year I will be working at Jeff’s Place, a children’s bereavement center in Framingham, MA. I got the gig through New Sector Alliance, an organization that matches young professionals with nonprofits that may not have the resources or klout to attract young talent. New Sector runs a few weeks of training, focusing on strategies around teamwork, strategic problem solving, and the social sector broadly, and then we spend the rest of the year at our host sites, with training days mixed in every few weeks.

So I’ve been at Jeff’s Place for a few weeks now, and it’s already been somewhat of a rollercoaster. I’ve been hired to do communications — PR, Marketing, and (shhh… fundraising, though I can’t call it that, as we’re funded through Americorps). Jeff’s Place was founded by Jenny Schreiber, a powerhouse of a social worker who has, with a dedicated team of volunteers, built this organization to serve more than 100 families in the metrowest area. Jeff’s Places’ funding is therefore almost entirely dependent on Jenny’s network, which, while immense, ultimately does have a limit. We currently have a wait-list to accept new families into our services, and due to resource constraints, we can’t meet the demand.

So my job is to make friends with local institutions and individuals to broaden our funding network. It’s an interesting challenge which presents the fundamental question — why would businesses or individuals want to partner with (read: donate to) Jeff’s Place?

For the families involved, Jeff’s Place seems to be a game-changer. As someone who has directly dealt with significant loss, the resulting feeling of being different from the rest of the crowd, the aloneness, is truly overbearing. I personally had to radically change my expectations of myself, as if the jenga blocks hadn’t just been toppled but rather consumed by a wood chipper and spat out into a vat of oil and flame. Loss is intense, and people react to it in myriad strange and unpredictable ways.

Jeff’s Place gets this. The first two days of training at Jeff’s were some of the most intense hours of reflection of my life, barring the incident itself. It essentially consisted of dissecting every aspect of death and bereavement, every permutation of loss and the journey thereafter. Jenny and Melissa, the program director, are truly experts in the field and understand better than anyone I’ve ever talked to that you don’t get over it, you learn to live with it.

And community can help. I never found this in my recovery, this ‘community’ that ‘got it’, and while I remember that I was pointedly not interested in finding it at the time, preferring to do my grieving alone, I was also 19 at the time, and Jeff’s Place is for children ages 3-18. Jenny and Melissa have seen their peer-based support groups work wonders, helping to normalize the abnormal and make not-okay OK.

So here’s where it all stands: I think Jeff’s Place is doing important work, and I will figure out precisely why other people should feel the same way, and hopefully that will translate into meaningful partnerships so that the institution can continue to grow. I feel privileged to be able to call this cause my own, as it was already my own, but now I have a way to make a small but larger difference for others who might find these services to be useful.

If anyone reading this knows of any organizations, business, or individuals who would be interested in donating, hosting fundraisers, or otherwise helping Jeff’s Place to grow, please contact me!

Thank you for reading.