New Employee Checklist

The primary purpose of this blog since Nov 2003 has been to discuss topics related to being an internet entrepreneur. But my own personal role has changed several times during these past 6 years, as I’ve been CEO of an internet marketing company (which was sold in June 05), head of an internet incubator (Provo Labs), and then since January 2007, I’ve been 100% focused on running FamilyLink.com (including its genealogy properties, WorldVitalRecords, GenealogyWise, and soon GenSeek.)

During that time I taught business formation classes at (what is now) UVU, and internet marketing for 2 years at BYU. I’ve live-blogged a few conferences, and covered some political and investor topics as well. So I apologize to some of my readers who have noted my lack of consistency in blogging (I used to blog several times a week–now I’m lucky to blog once or twice a month) and the fact that I cover too many disparate topics in one blog. Ideally, I’d have 3-4 blogs dedicated to different topics, but then I’d probably not update any of them often enough. But, things are often not ideal, so I’ll just continue to blog when I can and on what topics I feel are worth covering.

One thing that has been far from ideal is the hiring practices of FamilyLink.com. We don’t yet have a real HR department, though we do have a benefits group that administers our health plan, etc. Growing from less than 20 to more than 60 people in six months poses a lot of challenges, especially when so many of our employees are remote (Seattle, Boulder, So. California, Salt Lake, etc). In the last couple of months we have really improved our recruiting process, our interviewing process, and we have the offer letter step down pat. Our stock options spreadsheet is updated every time we issue an offer letter that is accepted. So things are improving.

But one thing that still needs to be improved is the integration of new employees into the company culture and information flow. I have met with or talked with new employees after say 2-3 weeks on the job, and I’m always surprised to know that they don’t know really critical things, like who some of our other employees are, and what their responsibilities and skills are. When things are moving so fast for our company, it’s hard for the hiring manager to take a full day or two to orient the new employee to the org chart, who does what, what all our plans include. It is easy to make sure the person knows what their immediate tasks are supposed to be, but not necessarily how it fits into the big picture.

I decided a few weeks ago that FamilyLink needed a checklist for the hiring manager to use each time a new employee joins the company, so we don’t overlook any step–particularly with regards to making sure each new employee gets plugged in to who is doing what, and who they should be sharing ideas and knowledge with, or coordinating projects with. (Again, this is especially important because we have so many remote workers.)

Because Yammer is such a powerful tool for internal company communications, the first thing on my checklist would be to invite the new employee to Yammer, ask them to update their profile with all their contact information, and to browse the org chart to see who reports to whom. I wish the org chart could link directly to every employees LinkedIn profile–because I would require all the new employees to review the LinkedIn profile of all current employees. I’d also like them to spend a few hours browsing through various Yammer posts, doing searches, and seeing who has been involved in past discussions on topics that are relevant to them. All this would really give them a feel for who is on our team.

But in order to join our company Yammer account, the new employee has to first have an @familylink.com company email address, so that is actually the first thing on my checklist.

So here is my (slightly modified for public consumption) checklist of what I want to make sure that our hiring managers use whenever a new employee joins FamilyLink.com:

Offer letter
Sign Employee Agreement (confidentiality, assignment of invention)
Get email account on @familylink.com from Michael Jensen
Join Yammer: add personal contact info, including cell phone
Connect with all colleagues on Google Talk
Define key metric, goal, and reporting tool
Hardware needs (Chad Wright)
Review mobile phone policy and our expectations
Orientation about company-wide stats emails and confidentiality
Access to survey results — training on why it is important
Access to Uservoice
Set up LinkedIn account–connect with Paul and other employees
Connect on Facebook with colleagues
Sign up for FamilyLink.com — become an active user of the FamilyStream
Access to Dashboard
Lunch meeting with CEO
Discuss which blogs they will read on Google Reader — share with other employees
Conference Plan — list 1-5 conferences they want to attend this year
Twitter / blogging policies
Discuss key metric, goal and reporting tool
Discuss list of books to read
  1. Offer letter
  2. Sign Employee Agreement (confidentiality, assignment of invention)
  3. Get email account on @familylink.com
  4. Join Yammer: add personal contact info, including cell phone. Review all employee profiles on Yammer.
  5. Connect with all colleagues on Google Talk
  6. Define key metric, goal, and reporting tool
  7. Identify hardware and software and equipment needs with our purchasing manager
  8. Review mobile phone policy (who needs iPhone, blackberry, etc.?) and our expectations (increased productivity and use of our company applications)
  9. Complete paperwork to enroll in benefits
  10. Orientation about company-wide stats emails and confidentiality
  11. Provide access to customer surveys — training on why it is important (hint: we listen to our customers)
  12. Uservoice orientation (we use this for each of our sites/apps so customers can vote on what we should do next)
  13. Set up LinkedIn account–connect with other employees
  14. Connect on Facebook with colleagues
  15. Sign up for FamilyLink.com — become an active user of the FamilyStream
  16. Sign up for Google Reader, and follow other employee bloggers, as well as top industry blogs
  17. Lunch meeting with CEO
  • Discuss which blogs they will read on Google Reader — enabling sharing with other employees
  • Conference Plan — list 1-5 conferences they want to attend this year
  • What LinkedIn groups, Facebook groups or real world networking groups they plan to actively participate in
  • Discuss how to find smart people to follow on Twitter
  • Company Twitter / blogging policies
  • Discuss key metric, goal and reporting tool
  • Discuss list of books to read

New employees in our engineering or web design/development team will have several more items on the checklist, like getting access to our development environment, our SVN source code check-in system, product roadmap, and bug tracking system. New marketing employees will get access to all our analytics and reporting tools for their particular area of specialty. And our ad sales and product sales teams obviously get a lot of training on particular systems, software, and selling approaches and collateral material. But the overall checklist is designed to make sure all employees get connected internally to the people and systems they need to be productive right away.

I remember reading that Google used to publish its daily sales figures internally to all employees until it started down the IPO path. Their philosophy seems to be hire smart people who gets things done and empower them with data. We really try to do the same thing. Our daily company-wide emails provide insight into all our company’s key metrics and our financial position. (Thus the need for a reminder about confidentiality.)

I emailed this checklist to some hiring managers last week and it was well received. But most of our employees haven’t seen this list yet, until today. I’m eager to get this implemented and tested in real life, and to get feedback on it. Some items are more important than others, and some can probably be done over time, instead of immediately upon being hired. I’m sure we’re missing some key items that haven’t surfaced yet.

I hope the checklist reflects some of my personal interest in helping each employee invest in developing their minds and expanding and enhancing their personal social networks. In February 2005 I published an article called “Investing in Employees: Designing a Curriculum for Key Executives.” Our new checklist doesn’t go as far as that article did in making sure employees have all the encouragement and opportunity they might need to become life-long learners, but I think it’s a decent start.

What do you think is missing from this checklist? Have you worked for a company that does a great job at incorporating new employees? What are the worst things you’ve seen companies do when new employees join up?

Please share your thoughts.

web-based software for virtual team meetings

Our hiring philosophy at FamilyLink.com has been to recruit the best talent we can find, regardless of location. So we have engineers, designers, and marketers scattered in several states and in two countries as well. As we have grown from a dozen to more than 60 employees and contractors, the challenge of communicating and collaborating becomes very significant.

Our social development team has been holding the equivalent of daily standup meetings for 15 to 30 min each day. We’ve been using some voice-only conference calling systems, but as of today, we’ve officially decided to dump voice-only and implement by tomorrow morning a new web-based collaboration system.

We aren’t going to take weeks to decide which system to use. We’re going to take a few hours. After all, the real-time web makes it possible to harness the wisdom of the crowds very quickly. I will use this blog post, LinkedIn Answers, and twitter to gather the information we need to make a good decision today. It may not be the best decision that is possible–but it will be a good one. And tomorrow’s social developer meeting will be far more effective than today’s.

I know that WebEx and Gotomeeting are traditional and well-known options for virtual meetings (both are in the top 5,000 of Quantcast), but I wanted to find some other options that might be easier to use, less expensive, and perhaps more innovative. Some quick Google and Twitter searches brought up several options that look more appealing than WebEx or Gotomeeting. The top five candidates so far are: Yugma, DimDim, YuuGuu, Adobe Connect, and Zoho Meeting.

We have a small internal team that is hoping to try all 5 services today, and evaluate them for ease-of-use and functionality. By this afternoon, we hope to make a decision. And by tomorrow morning’s meeting, we hope to have about 15 remote workers using the new system.

One of the filters I use when checking out new technologies, before making a decision whether to bet on them or not, is how well funded the company behind the service is. Typing in “company name” and “funding” or “venture” into Google usually helps me find what I need.

Quick Google searches showed the following:

I like to check Quantcast charts for companies too, to see if they seem to have marketplace momentum.

Then I also like to see if the company has been hit with layoffs recently, so I search for “company name” and “layoffs” in Google. I didn’t find any evidence that any of these companies has had layoffs lately, but several discussions about how the software from these companies can help other companies save money and even avoid layoffs by having more effective remote meetings, and boosting productivity.

Here are a few more interesting links:

If you have love any of the top 5 web-collaboration candidates that I mentioned, or if you use a different one that you think is perfect for a virtual team meeting every day, please share your comments on this blog.

Now Hiring: Mechanical Turk Project Manager

If you look on Simplyhired.com, a job site that 4,982,434 listings, and search for “mechanical turk” you’ll find several positions available at Amazon.com, where the Mechanical Turk is one of their most innovative web services, and two other job listings, both in San Francisco, that mention it.

I don’t know how many companies are using Mechanical Turk at this point, but I think it is one of the most amazing tools ever conceived. Here’s an example of how it could be used: Yesterday I showed my staff a book that was published 12 years ago in the genealogy field. It took the author months to compile it. She sent questionnaires to thousands of people to compile the data that she ended up publishing.

Based on our recent experience with Mechanical Turk, we calculated that we could compile the same data in approximately 1 hour for about $80. And then we could publish a similar book or just organize the data and publish it online. Of course there would be some editing and verification and layout required, but the existence of the Turk absolutely changes the information gathering piece. It turns it from a several month project to less than a day.

We also need a list of all the public libraries in the U.S., along with a phone number. Normally I would turn to InfoUSA.com or another mailing list company. But in this case we already found a good list online. But if we hadn’t, we could use the Turk and probably within a day or two have phone numbers for thousands of libraries for our call center to contact.

One of my former BYU students wrote a great blog post about how he used the Turk to conduct a survey on journal keeping and the unanticipated side effect was that 26% of the survey respondents turned into quality leads for his company’s online journaling software.

I won’t go into too many details about how we have used the Turk so far, but it has been so valuable to us that we have created a position (it could be part-time or full-time) for someone who wants to manage our Mechanical Turk projects and help us utilize this system to gather and organize genealogical and historical content from around the world.

Since we are located 1 block from the campus of Brigham Young University, I’m hoping to attract a student in Information Systems or Computer Science, who also has an interest in history, GIS, or genealogy.

The pay will be $12-15 per hour DOE, but the experience will be invaluable.

Quantcast getting better and better

I’m a huge fan of Quantcast. I’ve blogged before that it may be the best free tool for online marketers.

And now it’s even better.

Two weeks someone showed me that whenever you are looking at a web site, to see how much traffic it has, that there are two arrows that PREVIOUS and NEXT, so if you are looking at the 100th most popular web site, you can click on NEXT and see the 101st most popular.

So I spend a couple hours scrolling through the 200 most popular web sites, looking for those that appeal to an the demographic our company is targeting. So I wanted to find very high traffic sites that we could advertise on, or partner with somehow.

I found a dozen excellent sites that I had not heard of before.

But now, on the Quantcast home page, you can now easily see the top 100 highest traffic web sites, and then the next hundred, the next hundred, and so forth.

I can’t wait till Quantcast allows you to enter in your audience profile and have it show you all the sites that match your audience that you should be advertising on, and then enable you to purchase ads quickly on those sites.

I wish Quantcast would buy the old Top9.com web site, with its thousands of helpful categories, and update it with their current data. Top9.com became one of the very popular web sites for marketers years ago. It was powered by data from PCData.com, then it disappeared. Here is a snapshot of Top9.com from the Way Back Machine.

When I worked at MyFamily.com and our properties were ranked us as one of the top 50 web sites in the world, we had plenty of capital to pay for services like Media Metrix, Netratings, and later Comscore. These services cost tens of thousands of dollars per year, but gave us tremendous insights into media buying and affiliate recruiting possibilities, as well as some competitive intelligence. I especially liked the reports on Netratings that could show us where our competitors were getting their web site traffic from.

A couple years ago I blogged about Five Things Most Entrepreneurs Can’t Afford. This was one of my most popular posts that year. The second item on the list was “third party measurement services” like those I’ve mentioned above.

Amazingly, Quantcast provides most of the value that these super expensive measurement services offer, and it is disrupting the industry at the perfect time–Comscore has filed to go public and Hitwise was just acquired by Experian for $250 million.

Quantcast isn’t going to make money selling their measurement data. Paul Sutter, the cofounder of Quantcast says that audience measurement is a few hundred million dollar market, but media buying is a few hundred billion. Quantcast is planning to help marketers reach their niche target markets through the use of their data. And I’m sure they’ll get a portion of the media buys, as marketers and web site publishers use their tools.

This is going to be very exciting to watch.

With Quantcast raising $5.7 million in venture capital in March, and with thousands of sites signing up for their free “quantified publishers” program, their data gets better and better.

Comscore has filed to raise $86 million in their IPO (see the Comscore S-1 ). I wonder how hard that will be given what Quantcast is now doing to the industry. I suppose Comscore could change its business model, and do the same thing Quantcast is planning to do. But it is always harder to steer a large ship in a different direction. So in the new world, Quantcast would clearly have the advantage since they’ve been designing this business model from the ground up.

Smart entrepreneurs will spend many hours mining the Quantcast data looking for marketing/advertising opportunities among the thousands of high traffic web sites whose demographics and psychographics match their own.

These are good times for entrepreneurs.

(One other fun web site, a mashup called Attention Meter, lets you see data from Quantcast, Alexa, Compete, and Technorati.)

The best free tool for internet marketers in years

My friend Spencer sent me a link to Quantcast.com this morning and I tried it out and then made in the centerpiece of my training today at the Provo Labs Academy.

This is an incredibly powerful tool that provides demographic information on the visitors who visit your site, your competitor’s sites and any one of 20 million other web sites. It’s like the wonderful free Alexa tool combined with the extremely expensive data that comes from high end internet traffic companies like Comscore or Hitwise–but the Quantcast service is free.

You can see the age, gender, income, and education level of your site visitors. The power here, of course, is not to just get free data about your own site visitors, but to use this tool to find hundreds of other sites with similar demographics for media planning and buying purposes.

It also includes keyword research. You can see the keywords your site visitors are likely to search for. You can find other web sites that your site visitors tend to visit.

I know I will be spending many, many hours using this service.

At the Academy, one of the members expressed concern about how Quantcast would make money. I have no doubt that hundreds of thousands of internet marketers will get addicted to their free services, so that if they roll out premium services, they’ll have a willing audience to sell to.

I’m not sure a more important free service has launched since Goto.com (later Overture and now Yahoo Search Marketing) started providing its free keyword suggestion tool for search engine marketers.

This takes that concept to an entirely new level. I applaud the team behind this incredible new Quantcast service and predict that it will spread very quickly. The user interface is excellent. It’s fast and easy to use.

My first hope is that their premium service will provide access to “more….” data under each category that they track. But for now, I’m very excited to use Quincast for genealogy purposes, and to encourage all the Provo Labs portfolio companies to use it as well.

In our Academy training today we also discussed direct mail list brokers who can provide extremely targeted mailing lists for promotional purposes. We discussed Microsoft’s efforts to one-up Google with better demographic targeting and behavioral targeting on AdCenter, which is possibly because they have some demographic data on their 263 million Hotmail users, and they combine it with search engine query histories for each customer.

A few other topics we covered include:

  • Microsoft getting into Web Analytics with a free service to compete with Google Analytics
  • How to use Clickatell‘s SMS services to provide your customers with valuable opt-in SMS alerts. We discussed some potential uses of this service.
  • How some merchants are using Google’s $10 bonus for new Google Checkout customers to advertise “$10 off of our product when you sign up for Google Checkout.” (NY Times article from December).
  • Netflix is now letting its customers stream 1,000 movies as it finally launches its online movie rental service. Netflix has 70,000 DVDs in its rental library.
  • Skype’s founders are backing the launch of a potentially industry changing online peer-to-peer television platform called Joost. It’s been code-named “The Venice Project” for some time now; but Joost is now in beta. Based on this week’s Alexa chart for Joost, I would say this project has the most hype potential and therefore may be the single most disruptive play in online video to date. Skype’s founders first launched KaZaa, then Skype (sold to eBay for $2.6 billion plus.) The chances are good that this company will sell for even more than Skype after it gets its 50-100 million users; after all television is a much sexier industry than telecommunications. It’s too early to tell for sure, but I wouldn’t bet against this company and its backers.

I wanted to talk about several other things, but we ran out of time. They included:

  • Google may someday put advertising kiosks in Malls to compete with the OnSpot Digital Network.
  • Millennial Media, a mobile advertising network raised venture funding this week. It will compete with AdMobs (the leader I think) and Third Screen Media.
  • Geni.com launched this week with a very cool web 2.0 family tree builder application. They got TechCrunched and got a huge spike in traffic. (See the Alexa Chart for Geni. Also, see the 5-year chart for MyFamily.com and Geni.) It will be very interesting to see how much stickiness they have over time.
  • Bloglines may still be the most used RSS reader, but Google Reader may be catching up.
  • Popular Science’s best of CES 2007 included the Nokia N800 internet tablet, the Ion iProjector (plug in your video ipod and project!), the OQO Model 02, and the Garmin Astro 220 (used by hunters to track the location within 10 miles of their hunting dogs, who have mini trasmitters on them. Would this work with kids?)
  • MTVu acquired RateMyProfessors.com (900,000 professors rated, 10 million annual student visitors). They now have the 2nd highest trafficked college interest network.
  • Microsoft will be embedding hyperlinks in online video by this summer.
  • How Flixster got 5 million registered users for its social network around movies.
  • This week was an especially good week with news and announcements for internet entrepreneurs. It’s impossible to keep track of all of them, but with the help of my Google Reader and it’s 100 RSS feeds and my network of hundreds of business friends who pass along news, and my Blackberry which I can use any time to search Google News, we do a pretty good job at the Academy of covering the major ones.

Web Analytics Resources

One of the pillars of a successful internet company is access to advanced web analytics and the ability to use them.

I encourage or require all of my portfolio companies to use Omniture SiteCatalyst, which is truly an amazing analytics platform. (I noticed Omniture bought a European analytics company this week; and recently Josh James was listed as one of the youngest CEOs of a publicly traded company in the U.S. by Business Week magazine–very cool. He was one of the very youngest.)

Jimmy Zimmerman has an excellent post about Web Analytics Resources.

WorldVitalRecords.com uses Omniture. We’ve found that we have visitors from 117 countries already. Our unique visitor count is growing rapidly. Our conversion rate looks decent. And we can make changes to the site and add new features and databases to see how these things affect our visitor counts and conversion rates.

As The Game of Work points out, a lot of the fun in business is being able to measure your results, set goals, and achieve higher and higher levels of success.

Thanks, Omniture, for making online business so much fun.

Landing Page Tools

As important as it is to increase clickthroughs from your Google/Yahoo/MSN keyword campaigns by using Dynamic Keyword Insertion, it is even more important to match each one of those ads with a customized landing page that will maximize your conversion rate.

Here’s a good article that lists 11 things you can do to improve your landing pages.

My BYU internet marketing students are going to run some lead generation campaigns starting in November. Each team will be given a budget of $100 and will be able to choose their external marketing tactics. (We’ll discuss dozens in class so that can be familiar with a wide variety of traffic building tactics.)

Then, each will be given a landing page which they can use, which will include their lead capture form.

If they want, they can customize this landing page. Perhaps they can test dozens of variations until they have found the page that works best (or the page that works best for each keyword).

So I’m trying to find some landing page testing/optimization tools that the teams might want to try out.

There are high end tools like Offermatica.com that start at $125,000; but I’m not sure our student teams can’t afford that one.

So do you know of any freeware or open source landing page building tools that we might want to look at?

Yahoo Mail Question

I switched from Yahoo Mail to Gmail a long time ago, but I still get dozens of emails a day sent to my old Yahoo email address. I forward them to Gmail, but I’d like to make sure my 2,600 contacts in my Yahoo Address Book and many thousands of other people who have emailed me in the past know my new email address.

I’ve avoided using Plaxo just because it annoys me so much when other people use it. I love LinkedIn.com because the email addresses of my 480+ contacts there get updated automatically whenever they update their profile. Maybe I should use Plaxo, but I’m looking for another solution.

Does anyone know how I can email not only the contacts in my Yahoo Address Book but also the thousands of others with whom I have corresponded in Yahoo Mail, whom I haven’t added to my Address Book?

I’ve been looking for some kind of email harvest tool, but every one I found works primarily on external web sites and won’t allow me to legitimately harvest my own email contacts in my own personal address book?

That is my first question.

My second question is how do I harvest all the email addresses from people who have posted comments on my personal blog? I’d like to invite them to listen in on a free conference call and possibly join an online network of entrepreneurs in an exclusive private forum. I certainly don’t want to collect their email addresses on at a time. I use WordPress 2.03, and I read something about a MySQL query that could give me access to the email addresses of the commenters, but I don’t know more than that.

That is my second question.

Finally, how should I get around the Yahoo Mail limit of 100 emails sent at a time? To notify all my legitimate contacts that my email address has changed, I’ll need to send about 5-6,000 emails out, and I don’t want to do them in batches of 100.

That is my third question.

Any suggestions from all of the wonderful people out there?

May I help you grow your business with powerful internet marketing tactics?

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You’ll learn about pay-per-click marketing, search engine optimization, email marketing, online advertising, affiliate marketing, web site design and development, blogging, using web analytics to improve your conversion rate, customer surveys, online PR, using auctions to generate revenue, viral marketing, how online audio and video can help you succeed, and much, much more. Provo Labs tracks its portfolio companies in 51 important areas. You’ll learn how to make smart choices in each of these areas in order to improve your chances of success.

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Don’t overlook free products and services online

Blake Snow has a nice post about 20 free products and services that he uses online. He lists several that I have not used before. I’ll need to try them out so I can add them to my recommendations for entrepreneurs list, and make sure they get added to StrategyTree.com, my wiki for entrepreneurs.

I’ve recently mentioned Google Spreadsheets, which I love. And for years I’ve been recommending Vistaprint.com for free business cards (pay for shipping only). There are so many great free things online for startup companies, it’s amazing.