Why Readers Don't Want Related Content

(This article was first published on my Medium Page.)  The nice graphics and tables with data can be found there.)

In print, the act of browsing a magazine is second only to reading the actual content. Confronting a new, unrelated story at the conclusion of another… this has been the primary way audiences interact with their favorite publishers for a long time.

To the extent online publishing began as an extension of print mentality (for better or worse), this element — the element of unpredictability — was missing from the start.

It’s not that audiences lacked the means to navigate to the next piece of content. It’s just that the options were limited and, let’s face it, kind of boring.

The easiest thing for early, custom recommendation engines to do was simply surface a story related to the one you just finished. Let’s say you just read a blog post on healthy Halloween candy alternatives. You might find a set of a options that looked like this at the conclusion of the post.

“Related” as a proxy for “relevant” content may seem like a safe, educated guess on what audiences want to read next, but is relevance really the most desired outcome? How often do we want to experience a story that’s closely connected to the one we just finished?

The average Facebook feed or Twitter stream is a jumble of content that’s tenuously connected at best. Does that make them less engaging? We know in fact the opposite is true (and so do the algorithms). The unpredictability is what keeps us interested, keeps up scrolling the feed.

Similarly, Outbrain shows that unpredictability is what keeps audiences interested on publisher sites.

For content creators, this theory has far-reaching implications. As whole companies and industries spring up to try and solve the mystery of what makes content inherently social, what’s often overlooked is what makes content interesting to audiences. One doesn’t necessarily lead to the other.

Depending on who you ask, the correlation between what we share and what we read is ambiguous, but before we do either, our curiosity has to be piqued first. According to our data, the more unexpected the encounter with the content, the better. And it starts with headlines and images — the “front door” of content.

Giving Smartly

The art of giving can be a powerful tool to build your startup faster and your own personal brand.  Smart giving has been a significant contributor to building Outbrain into what it is today. At the core of giving, is trust and authenticity.   This works especially well for b2b businesses where trust is valued between trading partners.   We are giving LinkedIn's new publishing platform, Medium, a spin, so the full article is here on Outbrain's Medium page.  

Recovering From Crisis, Quickly

You’ve been there, your company has a crisis, your technology breaks, the client is negatively impacted, damage is done and now you must recover.  How do you recover as fast as possible?  How do you get the client back quickly?  The answer lies in building up a runway of trust and good will, long before the crisis happens, that you can fall back on when needed. Realize that every single touch point you have with a client contributes to your runway.  These touch points go beyond the highly visible sales meetings or regular communication between your account executive and the clients’ main business contact.  Other touch points that contribute to runway are also things like the technical help you administer, calls taken from their finance department on billing, emails sent from your product team to their development team, the online help chat you offer etc.  All of these little things have a place in how the client views your company, which builds their level of trust and ultimately makes up your runway.  The only guarantee we have in building technology is that it will eventually break.  When it does break, everything you have done for the last many months/years will dictate how fast you recover. 

The trick about all these little things is that you can’t cram them in on short notice.  Good, strong runway has to be built over time by paying close attention to the little things.  This is easy to write, but hard to execute.  Paying attention to little things has to be a mantra that is identified and practiced by the employees who are leading the account in sales, business development or account management.  When is the last time your business development lead publicly praised a junior accounting assistant for promptly responding to an inquiry from the client’s finance department? Many business teams focus on the clients’ main business point of contact, which is absolutely the right thing to do.  However, the strongest runway comes from also paying attention to other departments at the client who interface with your company. Business teams often overlook the benefit of creating positive inter-departmental chatter at the client.  Different departments routinely talk with each other about which vendors are easy to work with, who can be trusted, who listens to issues, responds quickly, who they actually have met etc.  When a client has a crisis with you, interdepartmental communication about your company will instantly start.  When this happens, having cross department support gives your main point on contact comfort in a decision to restore your service back.  In contrast, if cross department chatter is negative about your company, the client can delay or cancel restoration for not wanting to extend the risk beyond the crisis at hand.  The best way to ensure positive cross-departmental support for your company is to pay attention to the little things.

The only way to get a team to start paying attention to the little things is to model and call out the behavior internally.  This is not intuitive.   For example, when someone executes a little task well, account leads should publicly praise the behavior.  This shows others in the organization that their touch point, no matter how small, is highly valued and does matter.  Without this constant attention, the little things fade into the background and by default become undervalued over time.  Employees don’t see or feel the importance and this is opportunity lost, which translates over time into a shorter runway.

The best time to build runway is when things are smooth and uneventful.   I encourage you to think proactively and pay close attention to details, when things are going great.  Many companies do the exact opposite and pull back when things are running smoothly.  Small touch points can turn into big wins down the road.  Challenge all levels of your company to add as much value as possible when it comes to touch points, and to recognize that little things carry much weight.  Many people ask me what am I most proud of at Outbrain, and the answer is always “our team and reputation in the market.”  A sterling reputation is built on little things, and if you pay close attention to maximizing them, the runway will be there when you need it next.  

How To Shorten Sales Cycles

I wrote this in 2009 and it's still relevant today.

The TechAviv meetup at Stanford University last night sparked a conversation around how to shorten sales cycles.   Shahar Nechmad, founder - CEO of NuConomy put this question to the attendees.  I have been dealing with sales cycles for quite some time and would like to offer these observations on how to shorten sales cycles for founders like Shahar.  In NuConomy's case, as with most startups the goal is to get a smaller company's "stuff" onto a larger company's platform.  The "close" is identified as the moment the smaller company's "stuff" (read code, tags, API calls etc.) actually gets installed on the pages of the larger company's site.  The mistake most BD and sales people make is to think there is just one sales cycle.  This is simply not true.  Often there are multiple cycles that need to be overcome to win an account and truly shorten the time it takes to get your "stuff" integrated.  For technology sales, even if the product is free as is the case with many tech startups, there are often three distinct sales cycles that need to be identified. First is the sales cycle of getting buy-in from the senior business officials.  This process involves standard sales practices of setting meetings, giving presentations and creating a sense of urgency to act.  This is usually not where the delays come that cause sales cycles to extend unnecessarily. The second cycle often comes from selling senior ranking product folks who also need to be convinced to act from a platform perspective.  More and more companies are moving to an internal opt-in basis, as business units inside large companies can make their own choices on what to adopt or not.  That said, senior product folks need to "bless" the idea before individual business units can have the choice to opt in or not.  Working through this sales cycle requires a different set of selling points.  The mistake here is to use the same tactics and collateral with product folks as you might use on the senior business folks.  As a general rule, product folks must look out for the enterprise platform, so by nature they are in a more protective mode.  To answer these concerns, materials and pitches that deal with safety, security and stability will greatly shorten the evaluation period. Third is the sales cycle of getting the actual programmer or developer to integrate the code on the page.  After senior officials and product leads say ok, the last step often lies with the developer.  Often times this is where startups lose control and watch months pass without getting installed or integrated.  It happens to all of us, without exception.  First, a sales or BD person must treat this sales cycle with the same care and attention as they do with the other constituents.  This is where big mistakes are made.  Sales and BD folks tend to think that once they get to the developer level they have the power to "tell" the developer how it's going to go.  This is a blunder that can cost you in months, not days from getting installed.  Second, developers do not want to be sold, and the thought of being contacted by a sales or BD person is most often sickening to them.  To avoid this find out asap the best way to communicate with the developer who may have your "stuff" on their list of todos.  Often times developers do not want to be called, but rather prefer only email.  If you find this out early, you can shorten the sales cycle without doubt.  Third, when you get emails from developers look at the time stamp on the emails.  Often times you will see email sent at off-hours.  This is a clue as to when is a good time to send an email that will be looked at and maybe replied to immediately.  Often times, a simple reminder or inquiry to the progress of an installation is enough for a developer to squeeze your code into the next item on the todo list.  Lastly, don't forget who helped you.  Once installed send a personal thank you to the technical team for installing your "stuff."  Usually there aren't a lot of thanks going around in the back offices of IT or R&D of a big company, so let them know you appreciate the effort.  It will go a long way when it comes time to expand the installation or get recommended to another business unit. Although there can be three sales cycles within one deal, a sales or BD person does not have to follow the above order.  In fact, one can shorten a sales cycle drastically by starting the deal with a developer level contact or a product person.  These folks have the power to put a piece of code on a page, and this is the first step in proving your worth.  However, tread carefully as this approach does have its risks as senior business people don't like to play catch up so keep this in mind.  Any other good suggestions please comment and I will post an update on further best practices for shortening sales cycles if warranted. Overall this is one of the biggest challenges for BD folks and startups in general and one that I quite enjoy working on.  This is actually a good panel topic for a future talk.  If you are interested in exploring ping me. Thanks to Yaron Samid, founder of TechAviv for another great event. 

7 Tips To Cold Calling

Here is another post from 2009 that I thought worthy enough to port over to my new blog:

In this day with sales and business development folks working sites like LinkedIn, Facebook & personal email to break business, picking up the phone is still a great way to make deals happen. Cold calling still works, now more than ever.  Here are some tips and observations on how to cold call and make big things happen from scratch. 

Tip #1 - 9AM - 5PM:  

Your future clients are most likely at their desks and able to take a call from 8:30AM to 6:30PM.  This means that any task you are doing outside of trying to get in touch with your prospects can be classified as a distraction during these valuable hours.  So this means planning tasks like reporting, administration, and research outside of this valuable time period.  If you are not trying to get in touch with a valuable prospect, then you can be sure someone else is.  If it’s one of your competitors, you could be out. Since we are all buried in email most of the day, our phone rings less, much less in fact. I would bet the frequency of phone calls has dropped several factors over the last 5 years.  So for some this is an opportunity to catch someone by voice.  


Tip #2 - Pre-Call Preparation

Before you call here are a few simple steps to prepare for when a warm body (prospect or gatekeeper) answers your call. The ultimate goal on a cold call is to establish a positive rapport with whoever answers and in most cases you have ~6 seconds to succeed or fail.  Therefore before you call visit the prospect’s web site.  Make sure you have an idea of what they do, their structure, their needs etc.  Also look at the “News” section on the site to see any recent breaking news or announcements.  Often you will discover possible synergies here that can add to your pitch.  Know where you are calling.  Look at the “Contact” page or the area code of the number you are calling. Once you have the location check the weather report and the local news site.  These can be great little weapons in establishing a quick rapport with whoever picks up the phone.  Example – I was looking to get a meeting with a large media organization in California. Before I called I checked the local news sites and saw that some fires had been burning near the client.  So when I called, I mentioned this and in an instant had a robust conversation going. Rapport established.  

Step #3 - Love thy Gatekeeper:  

Most high-level executives still have someone answering their phone, even in the interactive space. However executive assistants now handle multiple executives so overall they are busier then they used to be.  However, since most BD/Sales folks use email as their primary method for prospecting, the number of incoming phone calls that gatekeepers answer on aggregate has dropped.  This is an opportunity.  These gatekeepers want to talk with someone and often times welcome a nice voice. The trick here is to not treat them like a gatekeeper but like the prospect you are trying to reach.  If you ask for “Mr. Smith” and the gatekeeper has you on hold ask the gatekeeper how their day is going, or about the weather that you know is happening.  9 out of 10 times they are happy to respond and you can start building a rapport with the gatekeeper.  Many times after you establish a positive rapport with a gatekeeper they will say something like; “Hold on, let me grab Mr. Smith for you….” 


Step #4 - Thanking the Gatekeeper: 

Most sales people drop the gatekeeper like a rock when finally getting to the prospect.  This is a huge mistake.  The best thing you can do is send a thank you email or voice mail to the gatekeeper for helping you.  This small amount of outward appreciation will set you apart from the many others who call and never circle back.  In general gatekeepers don’t get that much praise, so a little love from you is most welcome.  So next time, when the prospect you worked hard to contact and meet goes cold, and you need to get re-connected, you call on the gatekeeper for help.  If you said “thank you” the gatekeeper has the power to get you back on the calendar and on track to closing the deal.  

Step #5 - Getting On The Calendar: 

The Gatekeeper often runs the calendar.  So for all the reasons just explained, if you have a good rapport with the gatekeeper you can use this to schedule a call or meeting on a calendar.  This is especially effective when your deal might stall or get sidelined and the prospect has gone cold. Instead of becoming a pest with a steady stream of emails pick up the phone, talk to the gatekeeper and ask for help getting on the calendar. 


Step #6 - Prospects Who Answer: 

If you are lucky and get the prospect to answer their phone or get connected by the gatekeeper, you have ~4 seconds to start down a positive path.  For me, what works best is to introduce myself and ask if the prospect has a minute to chat with me.  This immediately gets the prospect into answering your question and if yes, into a loose agreement that you have a few seconds to speak.  The next few words should be your best elevator pitch custom fit for the prospect’s company.  In this short sentence you need to give the prospect one good reason why you deserve another minute on the phone or better yet a meeting.  Then *stop*.  Listen and hear the reaction.  A cold caller that does not know when to stop talking is in the wrong business.  If you cross that imaginary line of rambling, you are immediately thrown into the “used car salesman” bin and you are done.  Should this happen you have 2 seconds to dig yourself out.  The best solution is to say “I’m sorry, I just rambled, essentially I can deliver you “x,y and z” and would like the chance to explain in more detail how I can help.”  Then see what happens.  Often times the apology will get you back on track. 


Step #7 - Time Zones:  

If you have prospects in different time zones, plan your calls accordingly.  If you are based in New York, cold calling Eastern Standard Time prospects from 8:30AM to 11:30AM is best.  Then move to your Pacific Standard Time prospects who are just getting in or your Central/Mountain Time zones. Stay away from 12Noon to 2PM.  This will give your prospects time to eat, digest a bit and have a coffee.  The worst time to try and break in on the phone is when someone is hungry or tired.  Lunch takes the hunger away, and if you call after 2PM your prospect will likely have just had a coffee and is ready for the afternoon – which includes a call from you!  Good luck, deals are out there for those who call and ask.

LoGioco Family Beach Clean Up


The LoGioco family decided enough was enough.  We were sick and tired of looking at trash littering the beach and rocks on one of our favorite pathways that meanders along the water on the Sandy Hook Bay in Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey.  I also fish here in the Spring and Summer and actually recognized individual pieces of garbage lodged in the rocks from last season. When you recognize individual pieces of garbage, it's time for a CLEAN UP!  That's just what we did!  So here's a short 3 minute video on our mission.  

As you can see, we had to hike in about 1/4 mile to the beach so getting the garbage out was a bit hard.  Thankfully we brought the skateboards and scooters.  Along the way, as we were picking up garbage about 30 people passed us.  It was very interesting to see the reactions from these folks.  Here's the summary of how these runners/walkers reacted to the four of us cleaning up their path;

1.)  "Are you still able to get $.05 a can for those?" - this joker thought we were scavenging.

2.)  "Thanks for the help" - this lady actually got what we were doing.

3.)  "Makes me think  that most of us don't know what to do with this stuff" - this guy actually picked up a big piece and carried in half way out then dropped it.

All the others didn't say a word to us.  They either looked away or ran/walked faster as they passed us, even when our hands were over full either with garbage or full bags.

So a huge nod to my two boys and wife for coming along with me on this mission and nailing it.  And in the rain no less.  As numerous joggers in their black spandex pants ran past my family, with their heads down, my team had their hands dirty picking mostly plastic water bottles out of the rocks.  You rock!  We'll be back and next time with more people, more garbage bags and the same energy to simply clean it up!

Being Right About Microsoft Back in 2008

I recently moved my blog from Typepad to Squarespace, and as usual it's hard to export cleanly.  Anyway this post, originally written from July 31st, 2008 was pretty much on the money. The recent Microsoft acquisition of Yammer further makes this point.  

From the archives.....

Microsoft should forget about the Yahoo deal and concentrate on owning the cloud.

As big as Microsoft is, the company should stick to its core competence and focus on where it will dominate and succeed. What is this core competence for Microsoft? Is it search? Not really. Is it advertising? Not really. Is it developing products that make people more productive? Absolutely.

Microsoft’s global opportunity is to allow people to be as productive on the go as they are when sitting in front of a pc. Essentially lead the way in freeing me from the pc. Bringing Ms Word, Excel and Powerpoint up to the cloud are the basics. Advancing the concept of personal productivity is the huge opportunity I see. Give each of us the equivalent of having our own executive assistant who can support us, execute tasks and anticipate needs. Providing the backbone for this advance in personal productivity is a logical extension to put Microsoft’s core competence to work. The best acquisition I think they made in this direction was acquiring the voice guys over at TellMe. Voice is critical when it comes to mobile computing and this is an area that Microsoft can lead/dominate. In the race for on-line productivity apps, no other company like Google APPs,  Zoho or others should be leading Microsoft in this area. The emerging nations alone who have access to the cloud, but not necessarily a pc are a huge opportunity for Redmond. Right now, Redmond still has a war chest that can be utilized to secure this position and getting distracted with the Yahoo deal both in financial resources and attention would only give other competitors more ground to advance.

Hank Williams, guest writer over on Allen's CenterNetworks, gets it - he penned a great post on how to use the cloud for managing the rights to music.  This is a great idea and one that Microsoft could help power from an OS "Cloud" perspective.

Let's talk about owning the Operating System of the cloud.  One of the biggest threats to Microsoft that I see happening right now is the land grab Steve Jobs & Co. are taking with the lower priced IPhone. Yes it’s a phone, but it’s really the basis for an operating system that can make people more productive by connecting to the cloud. Case in point, why am I getting the IPhone? There are 2 main reasons,

1.)  So I can carry my laptop less
2.) Have reasonable computing power and a decent display on the go.

Consider this scenario;  I have my IPhone, and I also have a 12’ inch monitor and keyboard that can be connected to my Iphone, but that can also be rolled up and put in my pocket when I’m done. This does exist. Where does Microsoft fit in here? They don’t. If they own Yahoo, maybe they might get me to see some content, but when this day comes, I certainly won’t be clicking on any of the interruptive display ads that Yahoo wants to sell for 45B dollars on today’s market. So the Yahoo deal looks to me like a distraction.  The reach that Microsoft would gain by aquiring Yahoo versus the distraction it would be on the company does not seem attractive for net long term value for the company - or rather distraction > reach where reach = yahoo's UU.  


Let Google lead in search, but not “cloud” based productivity applications.

Let someone else buy Yahoo and their display advertising business.

Allow me to be as productive as I am now with my pc, when I am on the go and have access to the cloud.