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Here's the quickest snapshot of me, what I care about and believe, and whether my AMA will be a good use of your time: Sorry for Marketing.

So, I'm Jay Acunzo, and I'm obsessed with helping craft-driven creators. These are people who believe deeply in creativity and their craft -- whatever it may be -- to build meaningful projects, companies, careers, and lives. They reject shortcut culture, and they're bothered by suck.

I try to serve that goal in my work as VP of platform at NextView, a seed-stage VC based in Boston and New York (flagship project: Traction podcast, creative and clever ways startups start). I also created and host the highly produced podcast Unthinkable, which is a show for people who love the c-word in content marketing and who generally prefer well-done, creative work to shortcuts and hacks. I also fly around the world speaking about creativity and content marketing, having keynoted conferences about everything from marketing to entrepreneurship to fire safety appliances.

I launched my career as a reporter for The Hartford Courant and PR writer for ESPN before landing a job with Google as a digital media strategist. I went on to lead content creation and marketing strategies for brands like Breaktime Media (fka Dailybreak) and HubSpot.

Say hi on Twitter @jayacunzo or go behind-the-scenes making my show at snapchat.com/add/jayacunzo

**Courtesy disclosure for founders: Although I work for a VC, I'm not an investor.**

Jay will be live on July 14 starting at 930 AM PT for one and a half hours during which he will answer as many questions as possible.

  • JM

    Jessica Meher

    about 3 years ago #

    1. Regarding women in venture capital, what do you think the industry needs to do differently to see more female partners and investors? And recommendations for the ladies who would like to get more involved in the industry?

    2. Love your podcast. Out of curiosity, has there been any overlap w/ that and your day job, or has your podcast had unexpected side effects in your career?

    • JA

      Jay Acunzo

      about 3 years ago #

      Hey Jess! We could just get a coffee since we’re down the street, you know ;) But happy to see you here too. Here are my answers:

      1A) Good God, so many things. It’s so broken. It’s great that some firms release diversity information, which is certainly a start, but I think we can go further and it can come in two forms: stories and data.

      First, more STORIES, more LIONIZING of women in tech, whether on the founder side or investor side. All the heroes of the industry look the same. Many deserve the praise (some don’t), but almost all are men, and almost all those men are white, and almost all those white men live in a certain few areas of one country. That is BROKE-PHI-BROKE (#ThrowbackKanye)

      So, that’s first — the narrative itself has to change. VCs, startups, conferences, and media outlets — anything producing content or experiences — need to use their storytelling platforms to do so.

      Second, more and different DATA needs to be shared too. I don’t mean diversity stats, either, though again, those are a great start. I mean research around the power of diversity when it comes to humans working together. How we don't realize this fact is beyond me, but creativity, ideas, innovation, etc., are all enabled to a much higher degree if you have a diverse group in the room — diversity of experiences, gender, race, beliefs, you name it!

      Unfortunately, it might take that kind of thinking (“your results get better”) rather than the obvious way of thinking (“stop being so damn biased, dammit”) to really push a capitalistic organization or individual in the right direction.

      In the end, those who actively avoid diversity are very few and far between (though often blow themselves up in the press by saying dumb shit). Almost everyone wants a more diverse industry, but almost everyone is ultimately bound by biases and the focus on results at all costs. But if you can say, look, diversity IS THE BEST OPTION to get results…then maybe we go from a few good organizations and incremental change to massive improvement. Kinda sucks to say it that way, but I think it might be the reality.

      1B) To get into VC, don’t start by trying to get into VC. From my limited few years in the field, it seems like there are only really 3 paths in:

      - Former founder (after 1 big hit or several companies) — this is the most important and prevalent, as being a good investor, offering advice, introductions, et al, often means you need to be a founder. VERY hard to be credible without ever having started a company.
      - Entry-level associate/analyst/admin. (hard to stomach if you’ve worked for awhile, since you reset to entry-level; long path to take even if you’re entry-level)
      - Side-door entrant (that’s a platform role like mine, though I personally don’t invest and don’t have those aspirations. But in talking to almost every firm that staffs platform in the last couple years, I’d say 3 out of 4 want to parlay the job into a partner role, for better or worse. I can’t say I’ve seen anyone but Sarah Downey make that move successfully though — she’s now a principal at Accomplice).

      One suggestion aside from those paths: Start adding value as much as possible to a firm right now, and maybe good things will happen. It’s never been easier, too, given the rise in platform (content, events, services/consulting, etc.).

      BTW! If anyone here wants to take that route, email me jay@nextviewventures.com, and I’ll tell you all the areas I need help with our content :)

      # # # # #

      2) Unthinkable tells stories about people who reject what they’re “supposed to do” and instead follow their intuition. The theme definitely supports what we do at NextView. The overlap isn’t exact, as if I had a newsletter about mobile trends, but we benefit from what I’m learning about my craft AND the audience I’m building.

      4 Share
      • SD

        Sarah Downey

        about 3 years ago #

        Hey! I'm the Sarah Jay mentioned above. I'll second his overall advice that most people I see who get into VC don't set out to do so. It's way more interesting, at least for us at Accomplice and a lot of the firms I see, to find someone who's kicked ass as a startup operator or founder--someone who's lived and breathed that existence for a few years--than someone who wakes up and decides, "Hey, I think I want to be a VC." It's the experience that counts.

        As for getting more women into VC...it's hard. A few tips:

        1. Existing partners need to pull in talented women and mentor them. Learning to be a VC takes a lot of personal investment from a mentor, and people tend to find and choose mentees who are similar to them. That's why we find a lot of white male GPs mentoring and promoting other white males. I don't think it's malicious or intentional; it's just comfortable. If you know an A+ talent, pull her in and invest in her. Then she needs to keep the pattern going.

        2. Do angel investing. If you don't have the household income to be accredited, start with an angel group where you can contribute smaller amounts. AngelList makes it really easy to find deals, research them, and make them happen fully online. It's way easier than it used to be. And once you're doing angel investments, you *are* an investor. You've taught yourself the basics. You also have an in to work with VCs that invest post-angel rounds by passing your best deals onto them. They'll appreciate it and get to know you in the process.

        3. Get board experience. Start with the nonprofit sector; get involved with an organization you truly love and can add value to. Value doesn't have to be monetary: you can help with your time and talents. Often, all you have to do to get on a board or be an advisor is ask about it.

        4. Be a stellar startup operator or founder. If you're doing amazing work in a VC's portfolio, they will notice you.

        Side note for anyone in Boston: I run an event/award for women in tech at the director or VP level called Rev and we're accepting nominations now. We select a group of 20 women each year who get private sessions on everything I just talked about here. The goal is to commend these women for the incredible work they've already done and put the world on notice that they're the next generation of CEOs, cofounders, and investors. You can nominate someone (or yourself) at www.revboston.org.

      • AA

        Anuj Adhiya

        about 3 years ago #

        People - this is a golden opportunity on a platter - send Jay an email asap!

        Also- whoa - talk about starting an AMA off with a bang! :raised_hands: :key:

      • AA

        Anuj Adhiya

        about 3 years ago #

        @sarahadowney Wow! Thanks for adding that perspective - super valuable!

  • BS

    Brian Sparker

    about 3 years ago #

    Hey Jay,

    I saw you speak at Marketing Nation recently was truly inspired. I immediately went home and started a blog to detail all my learnings from my side projects, thereby creating a NEW side project in itself. So... thanks!

    My day job is content marketing for a SaaS in Chicago. I sometimes feel as though I'm the only marketer on my team who is willing to do creative things, follow my gut, and even go against the data.

    Short of forcing them to listen to your podcast, how should I convince my team that the answer isn't always in the data?

    It's difficult for a software company to wrap their head around this, as I'm sure you've experienced.

    Thanks!

    • JA

      Jay Acunzo

      about 3 years ago #

      Hey Brian, thanks for that! That’s awesome to hear.

      So, it can’t be a head-to-head battle. (though it's profoundly sad and disgusting that being genuinely creative and creating truly quality things needs to be FOUGHT for...) But here’s how I always try to position creativity: Data tells you what worked in the past (even if very recently, it’s still the past). It can’t tell you WHY, nor can it tell you what might work BETTER. So think of it like the scientific method:

      - Creative types are great at asking questions, pushing the envelope a bit, taking risks, etc. Pose things as a hypothesis to be tested.
      - Data-driven types are great at measuring how things are doing, proceeding with more certainty and less gut, etc.

      In the absence of data, creativity and intuition are all you’ve got. You’re the tester, the hypothesis creator. You look out for constant improvement. Start small, because you don’t want to frame it as “this big new thing” but rather “this hypothesis I’d like to test.”

      BTW, “data” does not mean “numbers.” Data can be qualitative feedback from customers who jump and shout about how much they love something. That’s proof to proceed too. Look for small numbers of people reacting in big ways to your creative idea, then lean in and bring your data-driven colleagues along to course-correct and refine.

      Hope that helps. (Ultimately, there’s a big, scary failsafe, which is, if you’ve tried and tried and tried and just can’t push through anything new and creative … you might be at the wrong company. But that’s a relatively late-stage resort. And contact me if that happens to you. Lots of good cos need creative athletes like you.)

      Keep fighting the good fight, and as Unthinkable returns this August, more answers to come! Keep in touch man!

      3 Share
  • TM

    Ty Magnin

    about 3 years ago #

    How do you scale the roles within a content team over time? Curious esp. w/r/t contributor vs editor and as role might relate to medium.

    • JA

      Jay Acunzo

      about 3 years ago #

      What’s up, Ty?! We continue to interact more on the internets than offline. Oh cruel world…

      Anyways, I can’t give a blanket answer. I’d turn to the people on my team, dig into their career aspirations first, and then try to match that to company goals, our content strategy, and the various mediums or topics we need to juggle.

      Sometimes, you want to assign beats like a newspaper would. Other times, you want to divvy up mediums and have some write, some podcast, some design, etc. (or more specifically within one medium, some write articles, some write ebooks, etc.)

      Content doesn’t scale like programmatic and other forms of marketing and advertising because so much of it is built on talented creative PEOPLE.

      THE competitive advantage to great content marketing is content creators. So focus on how those PEOPLE want to progress in their careers — push them, too — and I think maybe that’s the right approach.

      Hope that doesn’t sound like skirting the question because I firmly believe this and have seen the good and bad side of when you do or don’t focus on people first.

      4 Share
  • GD

    Guerric de Ternay

    over 3 years ago #

    Hi Jay,

    I'm a big fan of the Traction podcast. Well done for the good job.

    I mentioned it as one of the top marketing initiatives in an article about content marketing and venture capital (https://boostcompanies.com/venture-capital-content-marketing/) and truly believe what I wrote. It's obvious that you're committing a lot of time and effort preparing and editing each episode. :D

    This leads me to my three questions:

    1) About Venture Capital & Positioning

    Venture capital is a very competitive industry. Money is a commodity and great startups are rare. Differentiation is key.

    How did you define NextView's positioning strategy? What was the process behind it? Have you written down some goals? How do you make sure each initiative is consistent with the current positioning?

    2) About Venture Capital & KPIs

    It's incredibly hard to set up KPIs in venture capital. The conversion cycle is not that straightforward. What are you marketing goals? How do you monitor them?

    3) About Podcasting

    a) How do you prepare the episode with your guests? Do you send the questions? Do you only share a brief outline? What do you do just before the interview?

    b) Since podcasts are not easy to search (no SEO), how do you optimize the discovery process for your potential listeners?

    Thanks again for doing this. Traction really inspired Contriber's podcast: Unlock People's Potential (http://apple.co/28Ii4Zs).

    • JA

      Jay Acunzo

      about 3 years ago #

      Hey Guerric — Wow, thanks so much for that! And great questions.

      I ran through a number of branding exercises, but to be honest, that was a waste, so I scrapped them quickly. Instead, I had a conversation with both our team and entrepreneurs in and outside of the portfolio, around one question: What is seed capital for? In other words, why do we as a firm even EXIST in the world? Our product helps you gain initial traction. Our advice does that. With me coming on board in 2014, now our content and support platform does that. It all has that one reason for existing (traction), and so that’s the one important thing. From there, it’s a simple Why-How-What exercise. If the best founder in the world is sitting across the table from us, and we’re trying to invest, and she has all the choice in the world for investors…WHY NextView? (hardest to answer) HOW do we execute on that why? WHAT are we? (easiest)

      Our goals are to be the most trusted resource on the planet for entrepreneurs gaining initial capital. That’s why we exist. It’s all we think about. A seed-stage company with 2 guys, a gal, and a garage is more exciting to us than anything at the Uber level. We are obsessive about seed (across every sub-section of “seed” today, too). So we look at qualitative reactions to our work, we care about subscribers but not at the expense of premium content and quality, and we monitor by obsessively talking to those we serve (it’s part of the job, but it’s also amped up to 11 here due to platform).

      Here is my entire playbook for making the Traction podcast:
      http://www.sorryformarketing.com/blog/podcast-production-playbook

      Re: discovery — I put out the best fucking show I can every week. And occasionally drop an F-bomb so people go, “Hey this dude is kinda real, maybe I’ll tell a friend.” (Considering we’re on all these Top Startup Podcast lists alongside competitors with 100s of episodes, it’s working. Now is it the quality or is it the F-bombs? Hmm….)

  • MM

    martín medina

    about 3 years ago #

    Jay,

    Thanks for doing this AMA with us today.

    How did you first get into podcasting and what tips would you have for aspiring podcasters just starting out?

    Also you linked your Snapchat, what do you like about Snapchat and how can creators use it to improve their marketing strategies?

    • JA

      Jay Acunzo

      about 3 years ago #

      Hi Martin! My pleasure. This is fun!

      So, like a lot of my work, it came down to me trying to have fun making something haha. But the real story is this: A friend was asking for advice to make one (he ran a nonprofit at the time) and I volunteered to try my hand at hosting. I tripped forward by just getting lost in the various free tools like GarageBand and Skype and a basic Alesis multimix w/ Shure microphones. Nothing fancy. Whatever the top Google results told me, tbh.

      After 3 episodes, my friend left the nonprofit, and I went a few months without podcasting before starting NextView’s. Today, I have a side business built on the back of a show (Unthinkable) that is lightyears better than my original for my friend.

      My advice is to embrace the AMAZING world we live in, where creating something mostly has no gatekeeper stopping you: If you want to podcast, start making podcasts. Start creating ugly, bad, awful episodes, get some feedback, get lost in the process, read a little, but mostly, just keep shipping lots of work in whatever it is you want to do! Not only do you get better and better, you create a body of work to be proud of AND to generate serendipitous opportunities and connections.

      Only good happens by shipping lots of work, and only today are there no more gatekeepers to do so :0)

      • AA

        Anuj Adhiya

        about 3 years ago #

        I think this is really important.
        I know I certainly fall into the trap all the time of wanting things to be at a certain level before I let it out in public. I have a really hard time letting that go and just being vulnerable and open to whatever comes my way by just putting things out there, however "imperfect" it may be.

  • ES

    Edward Stephens

    about 3 years ago #

    Hi Jay,

    Awesome to have you on and thank you so much for doing the AMA, excited to have you on. Couple of questions from me.

    1) What is the view of NextView on how the start-ups scene from the East Coast stack up against those from the valley?

    2) I work with start-ups in London a lot, do you think their will be more bridging of the gap between start-ups on the East Coast and London in the future?

    3) What start-up trends are exciting you at the moment and are there any sectors you would be bullish on at the moment?

    I can't wait for your answers.

    • JA

      Jay Acunzo

      about 3 years ago #

      Hey Edward! Great questions. Some thoughts...

      1) We invest across geographies but have about 80% of our portfolio (about 55 companies in total) based in either NYC or Boston. We don’t spend much time comparing/contrasting, but if I had to cite one thing, I’d pull from my experience consulting our companies in marketing specifically: East Coast marketing is very block-and-tackle, convert, measure, etc.; West Coast marketing seems to place more emphasis on brand, story, and big picture thinking. Obviously, you need both, and smart startups in any location do have both…but I’d like to see the two sides meet in the middle (it'd be hilarious to have an actual physical summit in the literal middle, like, Boulder or Chicago) and swap notes :smiley:

      2) Tough to say as I focus 100% of my time on Boston and New York. Haven’t been to London since 07, and that was just a layover. I really need to get out there! Especially on the East Coast, we're all so focused on building something incredibly special in our own backyards that I don’t know what initiatives exist to bridge two cities. If you know of any, send them my way! And if you want to be the person pushing for a stronger London Tech ecosystem, copy what we did with Boston (and are about to release for NYC): The Hitchhiker's Guide to Boston Tech -- http://bostontechguide.com

      3) We do these things call Startup Shootarounds at NextView. Initially, they were internal-only meetings. Recently, I’ve started recording them and sharing the transcript with the world. These are a good indicator of what we’re thinking about, though we’re less focused on a given sector or trend and much more focused on stage.

      Drones shootaround: http://nextviewventures.com/blog/startup-shootaround-drones/

      Voice tech shootaround: http://nextviewventures.com/blog/startup-shootaround-voice-technology/

      Personally, the most exciting tech startup community trend is the rise of VC platforms! (I’m biased, of course.) But putting my own job aside, it’s the best trend ever for entrepreneurs — VCs trying to differentiate, trying to add more value than ever before and after investing. Only good things can happen when well-resourced, smart firms focus more attention on out-helping their competition than out-chest-beating or out-thought-leadershipping, so to speak.

      Thanks for the great questions man!

      • JA

        Jay Acunzo

        about 3 years ago #

        Anuj -- Our focus on traction and the quality of our projects, especially the pod.

      • AA

        Anuj Adhiya

        about 3 years ago #

        Not to put you on the spot but what do you think is unique (if not better) about the NextView platform vs other VCs?

  • AL

    Arsene Lavaux

    about 3 years ago #

    Buongiorno Jay,

    E' un piacere vederti fare questo AMA in questa comunità GH incredibile di @sean

    So, to make it fair to everyone, a couple of questions in English:

    1) In every Italian family, il "sugo", or homemade pasta sauce, is the cornerstone of the cultural heritage and family pride. So my question to you is what is it that makes the "sugo" in your family so special?

    2) What is the one thing a startup needs to do to get its "sugo" right?

    Grazie mille!

    • JA

      Jay Acunzo

      about 3 years ago #

      Ciao Arsene! Piacere!

      1) This is the single greatest question I have ever been asked (I often use my family and especially our sauce as part of the talks I give!) Two things, one more important than the other: Time (gotta let it cook for hours and hours and hours) and of course, it’s MY family’s recipe! I’m sure yours is just as tasty, but nothing beats your own family’s :smiley:

      2) I don’t believe in single things to achieve anything. Life’s a mess of gray area and multitudes, but a beautiful one. Instead, let me give you the one thing I wish all people started with and continued being loud about no matter the situation (hiring, building, raising, growing, etc.) — What problem do you solve?

      It sounds SOOOO cliche’ and obvious, but you’d be amazed. I once spent 3 days straight doing nothing but staring at pitch decks, not to evaluate the companies but instead how they told their stories. Here’s what happened: http://nextviewventures.com/blog/surprising-lessons-from-startup-pitches/

      Suffice to say, people still lead with the tech, the story of the company’s founding, the team, etc. All important. All crucial. But missing is that simple, one-sentence idea: Why do you exist?

      From there, literally everything else gets easier. Do prospective employees want to run through walls to solve that problem with you? Do investors see the need for that problem to solve and want to be a (small) part of solving it? Press, sales, marketing, design, product, EVERYTHING flows from that. It is your foundational principle.

  • JF

    Javier Feldman

    about 3 years ago #

    Jay! Thanks for being here. Here's my question:

    How does NextView screen startups for Culture Fit as you described in your recent blog post?

    Javier

    • JA

      Jay Acunzo

      about 3 years ago #

      Hi Javier, first of all, thanks for reading that post. (If anyone else wants to check out what we’re discussing, that article is here: http://www.sorryformarketing.com/blog/nba-losing-startups-who-fail-to-screen-for-culture-fit )

      Just to clarify, I was writing about how startups hire their employees, not so much how NextView screens a founding team for a fit with us pre-investment. That said, it’s absolutely an important thing to do and worth addressing here how we make sure there’s alignment...

      Some context on us is important to get my answer: We refer to ourselves as “high conviction, hands-on seed investors.” This means that we need really strong alignment to work well with a founding team (I've never thought of this as culture fit, but you're making me realize it is just that in some way).

      We think of it like being craft brewers — you gotta really love your product, care for the quality, and want to do a few things well, versus mass-produce a lot of things, and at no point spend meaningful time with any one product, brewery, bottle, etc.

      (We even have a wall when you enter our office with empty beer bottles showing our startups — they each get a custom craft beer label using their logo and brand colors post-investment! It never gets old walking in and seeing that. Here’s are some images: https://gyazo.com/9ab89a17360888d04f90c4c6033a7081

      In no particular order, here's how we try to figure out alignment (though not being an investor personally, I'm sure there's more I'm missing):

      1) The usual array of meetings throughout our process. From 1 investor being your advocate to talking to more partners and eventually the team at large.

      2) A shared partnership. We don’t have Rob’s portfolio vs. David's vs. Lee’s, for instance. We call it the 5-for-1 deal. We’re all in on all deals, so we can have total, firm-wide alignment with a founding team. (Now, there’s plenty of dissent about the initial investment, which we've actually tracked and have seen it's common among our best companies. But regardless of the beginning stance you have, once they’re in the portfolio, it’s all-hands-on-deck, whether you’re an investor or in the platform seat like me.)

      3) Our firm’s Ethos. When Rob, David, and Lee started the firm in 2010, they established a set of principles that have continued to evolve with the team and the times. These are basically a strong set of beliefs that help us decide if we’re aligned with a founding team, in addition to guiding our internal work with each other and how we grow the firm and the brand.

      I won’t tell you what the ethos points are here. Instead, head to http://nextviewventures.com and see if you can trigger the Easter egg that reveals each of them, plus an article that explains them all :smiley:

      2 Share
  • JA

    Jay Acunzo

    about 3 years ago #

    Alright, all, as we wind down this AMA, I need to say THANKS and also WHOA to everyone participating! I'll check back in a little bit to catch anything I missed. Keep in touch, and happy creating!

    • AA

      Anuj Adhiya

      about 3 years ago #

      Jay - thanks so much for spending this time with the community. Safe to say that this was a really meaningful set of interactions that will benefit those that discover and rediscover this AMA for a long time. Cheers!

  • LC

    Liz Cozzaglio

    about 3 years ago #

    Love the idea of going with your gut and maybe not paying (as much) attention to the data. How does that reconcile with your impact to NextView as a business? How is whether what you’re doing, helping NextView (however that’s defined) measured?

    • JA

      Jay Acunzo

      about 3 years ago #

      Cozzaglio? So many fellow Italians in the house :smiley:

      Anyways, thanks Liz, definitely a great question to ask! I mean, this comes down to having pride in my work. Making something? Why not make it freaking GOOD for Pete’s sake (and Bill’s, and Jim’s, and Jenny’s, and Sandra's, and…)

      But to be less pithy: Data and creativity work in harmony as part of a scientific method.

      So, I’d never tell someone “don’t use data,” but I’d rarely if ever tell someone “start with what the data says.” (And if you’re a creator, get better at creating; don’t try to become an analytics whiz, bet on your strengths!)

      In a way, growth hacking is a wonderful example of how creativity can enhance what’s measured. A creative brain thinks “what if…?” and a data-driven mind thinks “what happened…?”

      I’m a one man band at NextView, and our goal is to grow an audience based on trust and depth of relationship. (As a seed-stage VC, we don’t have leads, sales, revenue, etc.) So the creator in me provides the hypothesis to my own scientific method — “WHAT IF we tried a narrative, highly produced podcast? WHAT IF we held a massive consumer tech summit in a city, Boston, where B2C takes a back seat normally?” I have no data to show we should be doing any of those things.

      In fact, the data (subscribers, downloads, ticket sales/attendees, etc.) would probably have pointed towards a podcast that’s simply a talking head show with as many episodes published as possible or an event that favors B2B. But asking “what if?” allows us to differentiate and stand out, in a world that’s only getting noisier.

      THEN once I’ve LED with creative, new, different ideas and projects, I can look at the data and learn what worked IN THE PAST.

      Our problem in marketing is that we’ve gone SO FAR over to the data-centric side that we’ve forgotten the value of creativity. It’s not to run COUNTER to data. It’s to complement it, push it forward, and continually find the new and differentiated rather than get stuck going down the rabbit hole of repeating “what works” (listicles, gated ebooks, whatever…).

      Hopefully that makes sense. This is a topic I could rant about for days.

      PS: Here is my most-read post of all-time, published earlier this year. It just so happens to be about this very topic. http://unthinkable.fm/hubris-of-data-driven-thinking/

  • AA

    Anuj Adhiya

    about 3 years ago #

    Jay - so stoked to have you on!

    What key insights (intentionally used the plural - I'm sure there's more than one) have you gained about yourself having created Unthinkable (and kept it going)?
    What impact have these had on your personal or professional self?

    • JA

      Jay Acunzo

      about 3 years ago #

      Anuj my good man! Knew you’d sneak in a question here!

      And WOW, I am learning SO MUCH about myself through this project. It's the hardest thing I've ever done, the most meaningful, the most existential crisis-inducing, and so forth. Lots of self discovery, but here’s what jumps to mind most immediately...

      1) Stop ignoring what you actually care about. Stop trying to become the picture of success you read about on medium, growthhackers, etc. Stop doing what you're "supposed to do," and try to follow your intuition.

      The biggest breath of fresh air to my career (and, I think, a major turning point as I try to do stuff in the world) was just being brutally and totally honest with myself like that. I don’t love marketing. I love to create stuff. If content stopped mattering in this world, I’d go elsewhere. I don’t love data. I love story. Turns out people need that skill just as much or even more than they need data (far less automation/tech exists on the creative side than on the distribution and conversion side, so I’ve learned my empathy, creativity, quirks, et al, make me somehow matter in this world — um, wut?).

      Unthinkable started by admitting out loud what a lot of people don’t seem to want to say (“I only really got into marketing because I like to make stuff, and that’s about it”). The louder I am about that, AND the more thoughtfully I try to explore what that means/how we fit into business/how we have great careers, the more people seem to run towards the show and turn it into an actual community.

      2) To find success creating things, look for small numbers of people reacting in big ways, then lean in with everything you’ve got. I used to get down if I felt my work was better than others, but others had a bigger audience. Now I realize, better things happen when you stop looking for the most followers/likes/subscribers, etc., and instead focus on big, emotional, qualitative feedback early on. That’s signal you’ve made something people genuinely want, which I think is the harder thing than finding lots more people in this hyper-connected world.

      With Unthinkable, I landed on the home page of Stitcher after 2 episodes (story of how that happened: https://medium.com/@jayacunzo/a-simple-growth-hack-to-get-50k-podcast-downloads-in-just-1-day-4d7dddf7ade7#.jo8dguud5 )

      … but that’s not my biggest achievement in the early going here. My biggest achievement and strongest signal won’t be seen by anyone but me and 1 other person per interaction: These giant emails being sent to me from listeners who want to commiserate about a theme or episode. I’ve even had some offer to work ON the project with me, for free.

      Can’t think of a more meaningful signal that I need to keep going than a creator offering their creative talent and time pro bono. I mean, holy crap!

      2 Share
  • PC

    Peter Castelli

    about 3 years ago #

    Hi Jay,
    I am a huge fan of Unthinkable.. your approach and ideas in the podcast cut down to a core that is extraordinarily thought provoking and transcends across business and life. Looking extremely forward to what's to come in the near future!

    Do you see a trend in the overvaluation of growth? Sure growth is inevitably necessary and an obvious measure of success. But can the over focusing on growth come at a cost to building the deep relationships and solid base that could increase value and enable a more steady and lasting growth profile? Interested in your take as I think it is applicable in today's marketing, startup, and VC environments. Perhaps this question is a different spin on the Quantity vs Quality balance that you had stumped Harvard with??

    • JA

      Jay Acunzo

      about 3 years ago #

      Hey Peter, thanks for that, sincerely. It’s still very weird for me that others interact with anything I put out there, let alone like and use words like “fan.” It’s weird, you know? But truly awesome.

      Anyways, I’m a believer in building an empire on solid ground, not sand. At past companies, I watched our “growth” machine generate 10s of thousands of leads per month in some cases, but the sales conversion rates were dwarfed by the Slacks and similar companies that valued brand, creativity, message, and doing right by other people first…conversions and gated content and all that second, if it existed at all.

      So, I’ve seen what happens when you’re so hellbent on growth that incentives get misaligned. And if you can somehow realign people around what actually matters (maybe it’s happy customers, through NPS and retention — who knows?), you might see less temptation to grow fast at the expense of treating people like actual people. I mean, good God, this isn’t just about building our companies, this is how we live our LIVES! Do we really want to spam the world or treat people like leads and other hollow ideas? I can only speak for myself, and I say hell-to-the-naw.

      The quality vs. quantity thing is the most bizarre debate ever. (Next, I’m addressing the general “they” — not you, Peter.) Have pride in your work. Create something meaningful. Stop looking for hacks. Anything else is a disgusting, short-sighted, purposeless life to lead.

      For a VC/startups-focused take on this, my colleague Lee had a brilliant article a little while ago: https://medium.com/startup-traction/seduced-by-growth-but-terminal-scale-still-matters-f5a2cf156ed8#.y6v1zibzx

      Thanks for your support of the show, Peter! Reach out anytime

      • JA

        Jay Acunzo

        about 3 years ago #

        Fear. Bad leadership. Misaligned incentives. Short-term thinking stakeholders.

      • AA

        Anuj Adhiya

        about 3 years ago #

        "Create something meaningful. Stop looking for hacks. Anything else is a disgusting, short-sighted, purposeless life to lead.". THIS

        So why do you think more people don't truly understand this?

  • BW

    Brand Winnie

    about 3 years ago #

    Hi Jay. Thanks for doing this.

    What do you think the most creative aspect of Unthinkable is?

    • JA

      Jay Acunzo

      about 3 years ago #

      Hmmm...let me go with the trickiest part to nail (i.e., the most differentiated part). Maybe that can act as our proxy for "creative" since it's a tough thing to really speak to.

      OK, so the most differentiated part of the show and the trickiest part to nail (not to mention the thing I take most pride in) is the ultimate goal of all my work: Making something that's both nutritious and delicious.

      I think businesses largely overindex on either extreme. The clickbaity, listicle-heavy type approaches are trying to be purely delicious (though with those examples, it's more like cheap candy than a filet). On the other end, you have the nutritious types of content. Yes, the advice is there. Yes, the information is sound. But man, it's no fun at all to experience.

      I'm hellbent on trying to make Unthinkable the most nutritious and delicious show on the planet, at least in my category. So far, I give it a 3 out of 10. I see SO MUCH we can improve...and that's mostly the fun part anyway :)

      Great question, and thanks!

      • JA

        Jay Acunzo

        about 3 years ago #

        Anuj -- I'd say if you're worried about finding success (and, damn, I haven't done jack in my career yet, so I'm right there), then you can't afford NOT to think like this. Why on earth would you go about creating something that's similar to what others are doing or safe? The very basic purpose of what you're creating is to make something people want, right? We all agree on that from both the tech and content side pretty often. People don't want informationally sound but hard to stomach; they don't want easy to consume but terribly misinformed. They want something that is both correct and delightful. If anything, you'd get better results thinking that way, if you're worried about making a living doing this kinda thing.

      • AA

        Anuj Adhiya

        about 3 years ago #

        So how would you respond to someone who says that the only people who have the luxury of thinking about their work in the terms you've outlined are the ones that don't really have to worry about audience building from scratch or don't have to worry about where the next dollar is going to come from?

  • JA

    Jay Acunzo

    about 3 years ago #

    Hi Jay, longtime listener (including your inner monologue show), first time caller. Question: How do you feel this AMA is going? Also, you are handsome and awesome and keep up the good work. K thanks bye.

    • JA

      Jay Acunzo

      about 3 years ago #

      C-minus, and damnit, Jay, we TALKED about this. We can't speak to each other like this anymore.

      OK?!

      (You look handsome too...)

    • AA

      Anuj Adhiya

      about 3 years ago #

      Hilarious!
      This person deserves an answer for sure! Maybe a tshirt too!

  • JM

    Jason Meresman

    about 3 years ago #

    Hi Jay,

    Thanks for doing today's AMA. What learnings if any did you glean from your past roles that you've been able to apply at your role at NextView and with Unthinkable?

    Thanks!

    • JA

      Jay Acunzo

      about 3 years ago #

      1) Doing the right thing is always the right thing (read: don't optimize for metrics, optimize for people; the metrics reflect back how you're doing with that)

      2) Focus on generating projects that create a small number of people reacting in a big way to them. You've now done the hard part of making something people genuinely love. Instead of doing more LIKE it next, do more WITH it. Lean in harder. Explore the theme more. Tinker on similar versions for new channels or mediums, etc.

      3) If you create content, and you the creator don't genuinely love the process regardless of the outcome, you're gonna have a bad time.

      4) Team, problem, job matter in that order.

      5) There's nothing so sweet as to create stuff for a living :)

      2 Share
  • TT

    TONY TOM

    about 3 years ago #

    Hi Jay

    I really love your way of thinking. The different one. I've seen your 'prolific creator' video. And I'm really obsessed with it. I'm trying to help people in creating content in a better way. Sort of an intelligent tool that could help writers/creators. Working now to create a business around this idea. What do you think? Would it help the creators to get intelligent assistance from machine intelligence?

    • JA

      Jay Acunzo

      about 3 years ago #

      Wow, thank you!

      And maybe. I feel like I've heard of similar tools that suggest ideas to write, and I rarely trust that over talking to people and constantly honing your intuition to then follow it.

      But more than that, I'd work on the problem statement first. If you can get that one-liner down, that's a super compelling way to communicate the idea to anyone at all that you want to share the idea with (for advice, customer adoption, investment, etc.)

      Here's a simple story structure to help hone it:

      1) Status quo. "Content creators today...X"
      2) Conflict. This begins to form the story (otherwise it's just a statement of fact). "HOWEVER...Y happens"
      3) Resolution. (Bigger than you. The way of thinking or doing things.) "So the solution is to....Z" (e.g. focus on generating a lot of ideas, not the 1 great one -- something like that)

      Then you hit what I call the "oh by the way" moment. "Oh by the way, the best way to achieve that resolution is the product/service I offer."

      Hope that helps!

      • TT

        TONY TOM

        about 3 years ago #

        Yeah. Thank you very much. Very helpful. So here it goes, content creators these days create content just for the sake of doing it. Most of them create lists and different ways to tap a real life problem, where they don't talk in stories. This is making a great shift in the paradigm in digital marketing space. However, the resolution is much harder since storytelling is something that takes time and effort. And to create this beneficial to marketing, more effort!!

        Here comes the "oh by the way" moment, our tool does solve this problem using machine learning, analyzing the content created and drive a path. What say now ?

  • TS

    Terence Strong

    about 3 years ago #

    Jay:

    Thanks for doing this!

    From your experience, how many new AB test per week are successful startups doing vs. unsuccessful startups?

    Also besides testing, what other best practices do you recommend startups perform?

    Thanks,

    Terence

    • JA

      Jay Acunzo

      about 3 years ago #

      My pleasure Terence. To be completely honest, I have no idea how many A/B tests startups run. I'd also caution you with all caps/bold/100-point font that absolutes like that are dangerous. No two scenarios are the same, so if I told you "12," you might need only 2, or 22, or 0.

      We've seen marketers get hired into our portfolio companies from large companies with a set marketing playbook and fall flat on their face. Their biggest issue is they think they know the answer, versus trying to figure out the answer in their specific context.

      The most successful early-stage marketers on the other hand are scientific about their process. Decide on your goal, then how you'll measure it. (We want to generate 1,000 customers by X date. We'll measure this by free account signups, active after 7 days.)

      Once you have that, whiteboard literally every single way you can go about hitting that goal, then pick the 2-4 you feel most confident about and test them.

      More so:
      - Read "Traction" by Gabriel Weinberg (or listen to him on our podcast, it's truly awesome: nextviewventures.com/blog/a-framework-for-startup-traction-pitfalls-to-avoid-traction-12-gabriel-weinberg/ )

      - Read my good friend and way better marketer than me, Ellie Mirman, discuss lessons from being Marketer 1 at an eventual IPO tech co: http://nextviewventures.com/blog/marketing-your-startup-billion-dollar-hubspot/

      Good luck, Terence!

      2 Share
  • DH

    Derric Haynie

    about 3 years ago #

    Hi Jay,

    Big fan.

    Questions:

    1. What do you say when people ask you what you do? From my perspective you just create amazing content and I have very little idea how it eventually ties back to making money. I'm sure it does... What do you usually tell people and are you doing what you want to be doing?

    2. How the heck are you tracking the ROI of your efforts? Podcasts, blog posts, emails, all going out in 100 directions. What's your true north metric, how does it tie back to putting food on the table for you?

    Thanks again for everything. You are doing such a great job that I'm like, "Hey, isn't he suppose to ask me for something at some point."

    • JA

      Jay Acunzo

      about 3 years ago #

      Hey Derric, thanks!

      1. If it's family/friends/non-techie or non-business people, I just say I'm a writer and podcaster. If they want to drill into it, I talk about how I cover startups at NextView and have a side business that's a media company called Unthinkable.

      But if it's someone that at least somewhat gets our world, I like to say I make things to help other makers. That's my guiding light, I guess!

      2. I don't have a true north metric. I don't know that I have a job where that works. Does that work anywhere? (Honest question. My gut says no, the world is too fragmented and hyperactive these days.)

      Things I look at to know if I'm doing well:
      - Did the right people react strongly to this project? If so, keep going with it. Explore the theme in other pieces. Repackage and repurpose in new places. Etc.
      - Did subscribers grow? Are they the RIGHT subscribers? (Boston, NYC; founders and similar, etc.)
      - I don't know how I'm putting food on the table, but people seem to want to pay me to make things on the internet, so that's pretty cool.

      In the end, I have very little idea of my direct return on investment. I can't say "blog post X took Y hours and got Z [metric]." And none of that bugs me.

      • DH

        Derric Haynie

        about 3 years ago #

        Thanks a bunch. This made me lol:

        - I don't know how I'm putting food on the table, but people seem to want to pay me to make things on the internet, so that's pretty cool.

        I will be quoting you on that. Ha.

      • JA

        Jay Acunzo

        about 3 years ago #

        Quote away my friend :)

  • HQ

    Hila Qu

    about 3 years ago #

    Hi Jay,

    Thank you for doing this AMA.

    1) What's your day like as VP of Platform at NextViewVC?

    2) Also from your blog (and your joke:), you seem to be an incredibly creative person, when producing content for business purpose, I imagine you face all kinds of restrictions, plus there are tons of contents about everything out there already, how do you generate content with something that can touch people?

    • JA

      Jay Acunzo

      about 3 years ago #

      Hey Hila, I can address the second question first: I'm terrible at working in large organizations because there are restrictions, so I make sure my team and my place of employment don't place restrictions on me. I have too much fun inserting my quirky voice and generally creating things that are different and risky, not similar and predictable.

      And uniqueness is really about two things:
      - Finding the white space (talk to people and figure out where they're struggling despite the wealth of information out there; take a firm stance or angle on what you do, like we do with the theme of traction and seed-stage problems)
      - Connecting disconnected things in a way that works but surprises people (take our podcast for instance: The storytelling aspirations of NPR with the practicality of a tech podcast)

      As for my day, oh man, it's all over the place! If I zoom way, way out, here's my week:

      MONDAY: NextView partner meetings. Platform is really key for us, so I sit in on all things investment too. We largely talk about the following in these meetings:
      - New potential deals (at varying stages). This is an open discussion for feedback, questions, getting on the same page to move forward or not, etc.
      - Portfolio updates. Any big news or changes to know about? Who needs help with what? Anything to celebrate? Anything to worry about?
      - Team lunch! We're right by downtown in Boston and Flatiron in NYC. Lots of good spots :)
      - Scuttlebutt. What's happening in our industry that affects our work? Big trends? Minor changes at competitors?
      - Platform. What are we building to help our portfolio? To help Boston and NYC? To help all entrepreneurs? Lots of collaborative discussion here. This last meeting, I presented a huge new vision for our podcast work (more coming soon!)

      Hope that was interesting :) It feels so mundane because it's my week! But thanks for your question, Hila

      • JA

        Jay Acunzo

        about 3 years ago #

        Hey Hila, I'd start by getting WAYYY more narrow than "millennials." Targeting "millennials" is NOT a strategy. Too broad. Too meaningless. Too varied as a group. So, spend a lot of time on the phone and out of the office and with sales/customer support figuring out who the actual audience is and how to better help them :)

      • AA

        Anuj Adhiya

        about 3 years ago #

        Mundane, my @$$! That sounds like a lot of fun!

      • HQ

        Hila Qu

        about 3 years ago #

        Cool, another one for you (just added)

        If you were hired to create content strategy for a B2C start-up targeted at millennials, which steps you will think through to do that?

  • EC

    Esther Chung

    about 3 years ago #

    Hi Jay!

    Huge fan here -- related way too much to your Confessions of a Content Creator piece on Unthinkable ;)

    I work at a tech startup that is letting go of their "brand-guideline-reins" and allowing the content team to test and try new things. A couple questions:

    1. How does a company that's primary goal is to sell a product (a.k.a. basically every company) transform into a company with real brand authority?

    2. How closely do you work with an SEO (if at all) and how much does/should that affect your content? I'm finding it hard to balance targeting keywords and writing actual, quality, shareable content.

    Thanks!

    • JA

      Jay Acunzo

      about 3 years ago #

      Aw thanks, Esther!

      You came out firing here haha, but happy to answer...

      1. The company goal isn't to sell a product OR be a brand authority. It's to solve a problem. How WELL you solve that problem for others is what determines both sales and brand. Authority comes from substance, not saying you're X when you're really not. Ditto for product success. You don't trick people into buying or, if you do, you suffer the churn that comes with that thinking.

      So in both cases, revert back to the very first principle of why the company even exists.

      If you do content, like me, then think of it this way: Content marketing is just solving the same problem that your product aims to solve (or fulfilling the same desire, if you're more B2C). The vehicle is different (media vs, say, an app), and the product should solve it BETTER than any content ever could (meaning consumers of your content can be easily upsold into the product) ... but ultimately, it's ALL serving the brand.

      Suggest checking this out for more on this idea: www.sorryformarketing.com/blog/what-is-content-marketing

      2. I've never thought about SEO in my entire career. (Well, okay, I use it as an easy target for jokes, but that's it.) NextView's blog gets about 80% of its traffic from search. Again, never thought about it. I spend a disgusting amount of time reading what our audience reads and talking to our audience directly though.

      Look, bottom line is, there's a lot to panic about in marketing, and my default stance has always been pretty naive:

      "Well, I don't know a thing about all that. But I know I can write stuff people like. Lemme try to bet it all on that." And to my relief, that seems to be working :)

      • EC

        Esther Chung

        about 3 years ago #

        Wow, #epiphany: "The company goal isn't to sell a product OR be a brand authority. It's to solve a problem."

        Gives me a lot to think about, and chew on. Thank you!!!

  • KF

    Keith Friedlander

    about 3 years ago #

    Jay,
    Two questions:

    1) If their on-field skills and attributes were converted into the startup realm, which Yankees player (past or present) would you most want to recruit as your co-founder, and why? e.g. Jeter for his leadership? Rivera for his ability to get sh*t done and close the deal? Arod for his ability to hit the long ball? Etc

    2) On "asking for feedback". You are always asking for feedback to help you improve. I admire this. I like receiving feedback and like working on improving myself, yet sometimes I struggle to just "ask" for it (pride? ego? fear? not sure why). Any recommendations, strategies, mediums, spare set of balls, that you can share on how best to collect feedback, sort it (i.e. filtering the good from the trash), and use it?

    • JA

      Jay Acunzo

      about 3 years ago #

      This feels like cheating on Snapchat for us, eh, Keith? :)

      Also your first question is rivaling the earlier one about Italian family cooking. Well played.

      1) Mariano Rivera. I'd need someone to complement me by being a closer, being steady, being softer spoken. But damn it's hard not to say Jeter for Jeter's sake too!

      2) I'm tinkering on an idea to address this very problem through the Unthinkable community/content. Stay tuned, but for now I'd say the best feedback I get isn't really from asking for it. It's by shipping before I feel I'm 100% ready. It's really the unprompted, real-world consumption of my work that has made me better. On the other extreme, I get great feedback from people supporting my work at NextView or Unthinkable as teammates.

      The middle ground (asking people for it) is a lot tougher because response rate is low and you're not able to go back and forth to really get into the meaning behind their feedback. (Classic product manager problem: You don't want to just build their feature request, you want to spend time drilling into their problems that made them want or not want a certain feature. Then build the best solution to that).

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