Photo used under Creative Commons. Taken by Fellowship of the Rich

Your Fiefdom Doesn’t Matter (Or Get your Head out of Your Regional Startup Ass)

Photo used under Creative Commons. Taken by Fellowship of the Rich

There’s this thing called Protectionism. Protectionism is largely a political word used to describe the retreat to self-isolationism for the sake of preserving well-being. It was a word tossed around in late 2008 and 2009 after the market crash when the international community joined together to try to stave off a global economic failure. There were some who believed the United States had their own issues and shouldn’t be worrying about bailing out Europe. This mentality still exists, for better or for worse.

But protectionism is also something that is hurting innovation, business, and startups in an Internet world. It seems like weekly, someone is writing a post about why NYC is the best place to start a company, or why Austin is better than the Valley.

Here’s the honest to God truth… your fiefdoms don’t matter. Your little land grabs and protectionist ideas are hurting the global collective that we all rely on and need. Austin is better than the Valley in some ways but the Valley is better than NYC in others and NYC is better than Europe in others and Europe is better than China in others. You get the point.

Let me pick on my Austin colleagues for a minute. Why don’t you pay attention to what’s happening outside of Austin for a minute? You touted Gowalla as the best thing ever. Why? Because it was from Austin. The data clearly showed differently. Foursquare was better. And now Gowalla is gone and in Palo Alto and doesn’t even exist anymore. Data can’t be argued with.

You think your little community (Austin and other places) makes any real difference? It doesn’t. It’s part of a global community and your little bubble can’t exist in a vacuum. It’s best you start understanding that. We need the Valley. We need Chicago. We need NYC. And they need us.

It’s best we stop pretending that Austin is the best place on earth. It’s not. It’s an awesome place among other awesome places. We are doing awesome things but we aren’t the only people doing awesome things. So let’s stop pretending, get rid of the navel-gazing myopia and get our collective heads out of our asses.

We need our regional fiefdoms for mentorship, collaboration and sharing. We are not the end of the story.

Austin. San Francisco. Europe. New York City. All of us.

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Honey Badger

Dude, Shut Your Effing Social Media Mouth.

Honey Badger
Honey Badger don't care! (Photo used under Creative Commons. Taken by Bruce McAdam)

It’s been awhile since I ranted. Like really ranted. I’m about to change that.

<rant>

It’s no secret that social media marketing has turned largely douchey. Self-important blowhards show up at SXSW, Blog World Expo and many other industry events every year with the sole purpose of being socialites and schmoozing with their peers and getting into the hottest parties. I’ve done it. We’ve all done it.

But there’s no authenticity in any of it. We call those self-labelled social media gurus as social media douchebags for a reason. It’s because no one (with rare exception) is actually doing real marketing. They are doing friend-mongering. If they can get their clients Facebook likes and Twitter followers then they are being successful. But largely, all they are doing is going to their network of peers who are doing the same goddamn thing and getting them to “Like” their clients Facebook page.

How is this genuine? How is this legitimate? Do I really like Ford because Scott Monty is the head of social media for Ford? Well, I might… and I do like Scott… and I haven’t actually interacted with Scott in a long time so this actually has nothing to do with him.

I added someone who I met in a non-professional setting in Chicago last week to Facebook. I joked with her that it’s surprising we weren’t already friends because we had 41 friends in common.

Why is social media all about clustering together? By all means, we see mutual respect among journalists, but I bet Paul Krugman isn’t tweeting Thomas Friedman asking for a retweet simply to get exposure to his economic op-eds. He doesn’t have to. His work speaks for itself and amplifies itself.

If we dig deep on the social media marketing industry, the discovery under the surface is mind-numbing. I’m about to blow your mind. Social Media people have no clout (or Klout, if you want to play on that metaphor). If they did, their work would self-amplify. They wouldn’t need to look like industry hookers trying to make money with the only assets available to them. They would just… be. And they would be successful. And they wouldn’t have to prove to their clients that they can get the job done. They wouldn’t need to add milestones like “Acquire 1000 Likes on the company Facebook page” or “Build up to 5000 followers on Twitter using mutual retweet tactics” to proposals. Their reputation would precede them. They wouldn’t need to write a book to falsely inflate their value. They would have reputation.

Take Dean McBeth, who I also met last week. Dean works for a small boutique agency in New York. I had never heard of Dean personally, but then he informed me that his claim to fame was architecting the now-legendary Old Spice ads. Ok, your reputation precedes you, then, Dean. Thanks for not asking me to let my network of people know to Like your agency on Facebook.

Look, I understand that there are people like Dean doing great work. For every Dean, however, there are 5 people doing shitty work, relying way to heavily on nerd cred and too little on reputation and results.

People earn their reputations through hard work, perseverence, and time. Yes, that involves networking and schmoozing. But there is no credibility lent to your client by getting a bunch of your friends to “do you a solid” and help you get your work done. If you need 1000 Likes on Facebook, don’t ask me to help unless it’s something that I genuinely like. I’m not going to follow you because you follow me on Twitter. I don’t care about your client… you do. Do good work and let it self-amplify. Otherwise it’s all smoke and mirrors.

</rant>

Update: If you still feel like you need to get a handjob, here’s a list of Social Media conferences where you can meet people, follow them on Twitter for the purpose of using your network for the benefit of your client later down the road.

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skunkworks

Skunkworks

Back in October, I announced my departure from WP Engine. At that time, though I didn’t talk about it on this blog, I decided to take some time off, more or less. Since 2006, I’ve been hard at work with very little time alotted to myself. I spent 2 years with b5media and jumped immediately into a failed role at Lijit (who has now been acquired by Federated Media – nice work, guys!). Upon my departure from Lijit, shortly after the market bottom in 2008, and needing money desperately, I went into full time WordPress consulting. I did that until I moved to Austin last year when I went in full time on WP Engine and stayed there for 15 months or so.

So basically, I haven’t had a lot of time to myself. So I took time. In the past few months, I’ve taken some large consulting contracts, but mostly, I’ve spent time travelling to Maryland, Seattle, Chicago – all for pleasure, nothing for work. I’ve spent time trying to weigh my priorities and wants. I’ve tossed around starting up a new company or doing something different.

At the end of the day, now that it’s 2012, I know what I want to do. It’s a bit unusual, but I think it’s important and can really revolutionize a boutique agency. I’m not comfortable doing social media work. I’m too honest and raw in my own online presence and many companies and clients may not be comfortable with my level of authenticity.

I also don’t want to do what is common among agencies – sweatshop site development. Hey, no offense. That’s what it is. Take on 30 new clients, promise them websites that are the brainchilds of the agency marketing “expertise” and ask the developers to crank them out with little to no strategic or creative input.

That might work for some developers, but I’m not a normal developer. I’m a highly established WordPress professional that has commanded 5 figure consulting deals, written a 700+ page book on the subject and have built some of the most complex WordPress solutions I’ve ever seen (Humble brag! Also proprietary, but can provide in person demos). I’m not a good fit for sweatshop site generation.

You know what agencies need that no one is doing because no one has taken the time to think outside the box? A skunkworks division. What agencies need to differentiate themselves from the thousands of other agencies they are competing with is a person or small group of people with autonomy and who are focused soley on creating disruptive technologies that no one else is doing. Try things. Fail at some, succeed at others. Test market demand. Offer exclusive access to stuff that no other agency has. Innovate, innovate, innovate.

That’s what I want to do. And someone sees the sense in that. And someone realizes that that is worth thinking outside the box for. Someone is willing to invest in that competitive advantage. Someone gets it. It’ll take money. It’ll take risk. It’ll take balls of steel. Or you can be normal. Who wants to be normal?

So as we enter 2012, I am open to conversations around this or other creative outlets you might want to explore if you want a competitive advantage. Email me at aaron@technosailor.com.

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